The purpose of this post is to stimulate more discussion about this post, and other aspects of a successful solution. I’ll contribute a few comments of my own, but I don’t have real expertise in this issue.

It’s true that wind and solar have intermittency issues. It’s also true that by smart use of the grid, we can distribute the power generated by those methods and smooth out the irregularities in supply. So, I don’t think the intermittency issues are as much a problem as some others say, but I don’t buy in to the “everybody’s rooftop solar makes them independent” utopia either.

I have no faith at all in CCS. The energy required to do it seems prohibitive, and the technology is still in the “demonstration” phase — if that.

I don’t think the energy storage situation is as bleak as others claim. There are existing technologies that, I think, are underexploited. But storage too is not yet up to snuff — we’ve been spoiled by fossil fuels, whose abundance (up to now) has encouraged waste.

Perhaps the greatest short-to-medium term benefit would be an increase in efficiency. The sheer waste of energy we show is, it seems, staggering.

Finally, if we’re going to institute a Manhattan-project scale effort, I think its first goal should be energy storage, which will make the solar/wind resource even more valuable.

That said, have at it. Keep it civil.

342 responses to “Solutions

  1. Solar hot water heater and PV panels on the roof, and a wood pellet furnace in the basement make sense now, at least in Maine where the wood pellet industry is established. This setup appeals to conservatives who have no love lost for the monopolistic electric companies, love to save money, and get some joy not buying oil from governments we don’t like. And liberals love the carbon footprint reduction to near zero. With the two ends of the political spectrum eventually behind this, I see big positive changes in the relatively near future.

  2. The problem as I see it is that fossil fuels, if you take away the carbon issue (and for coal a few other pollution issues) are ideal fuels: versatile, cheap, abundant, and energy dense. Nothing else comes close to matching them by all four standards. As a result, we have built up an industrial economy dependent on them. We have no obvious easy substitutes. And yet, if we want to keep temperatures below 2 or 3 deg C below pre-industrial we have to nearly completely decarbonize by ~2050.

    Efficiency is nice, but like population control strategies, it does not help you much if your goal is less than 2 or 3 degrees warming because that requires near zero emissions. If it was good enough to go from US emission levels to German levels then efficiency would be vital.

    However, if it is possible to decarbonize then efficiency becomes nearly irrelevant. Who cares if you have 30 or 60% efficiency if your emissions are zero?

    So, I see efficiency as a way to buy a little time (perhaps a couple decades) and, if decarbonization fails, a way to avoid the most extreme emission scenarios. I day this as a person who has a German level carbon footprint in a region of North America where 80% of our electricity comes from coal. So I do take efficiency to heart at a personal level.

    As I said earlier, no one (or two) alternative source can replace fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. As such, the best strategy I can think of is to support every conceivable approach with the hope that collectively they can substitute for coal, oil, and gas.

    To me that means an escalating carbon tax, starting at ~$10/tonne and growing annually to ~$100+, with international trading agreements that allow for tariffs against countries with lower carbon taxes. This would encourage other countries to follow suit because if they don’t tax their own industry, others will do it for them. The tax should also be near revenue neutral, with (I would argue) flat tax credits. That is, a billionaire gets the same $/year credit as a welfare recipient.

    Probably tl;dr, but I needed to get that off my chest.

    • Philippe Chantreau

      Ernst, carbon fossil fuels are not ideal because they are not sustainable on the long term, being a finite resource. It is really that simple. I said this recently on SkS and I stand by the statement: Even with all carbon pollution problems aside, there would be at best a century of oil (most likely less) and a few more of coal. There is no long term future for humans on this planet that does not require the complete eradication of widespread, industrial scale use of fossil fuels. That is an inescapable fact. How the eradication happens may be up to us until a certain level of exhaustion is reached.

      Of course, the likelihood that carbon pollution problems can be set aside is very low, so we really don’t have centuries to make the transition.

      • Philippe, I think you completely misunderstood what I was trying to say.

        The word I used was “abundant”, which in no way implies infinite. They are more than abundant enough to build an awfully big industrial society for numerous generations, which made them extremely useful.

        Are you really trying to argue that fossil fuels haven’t been useful?

    • johnrussell40

      “Who cares if you have 30 or 60% efficiency if your emissions are zero?” Well surely it depends on what a unit of energy is costing you to buy, or to capture? Unless the energy is really cheap, efficiency will always matter. And apart from anything else, from an engineering perspective, inefficiency means you’re generating waste heat which you’ll need to get rid of. Heard of the ‘urban heat island’ effect?

      • I’m talking only in the context of anthropogenic climate change. If we get can emissions to zero, efficiency has no bearing on climate. Or, if we get extremely close to zero emissions, efficiency has little effect.

    • cosmicomics

      “The problem as I see it is that fossil fuels, if you take away the carbon issue (and for coal a few other pollution issues) are ideal fuels: versatile, cheap, abundant, and energy dense. Nothing else comes close to matching them by all four standards.”

      This passage misrepresents much about the status of fossil fuels today. Conventional crude oil production peaked in 2005 and many areas have seen diminishing production. Whatever increases there have been in liquid fuels have primarily come from sources such as deepwater wells, shale, and tar sands. These are environmentally far riskier, far more damaging, and far more expensive than traditional crude. While the end product is energy dense, the energy expended in producing these liquids results in an EROI that is lower than wind’s and that will continue to fall. “Oil” may be abundant, but oil that is recoverable at affordable prices is not.

      The shale revolution has been greatly overhyped. Not too long ago the estimate of recoverable oil from the Monterey formation was cut by 96%, and with that cut the estimate of total U.S reserves was cut by two thirds.
      Previous to that the U.S Geological Survey had cut reserve estimates of the Marcellus shale by 80%.
      It now appears that U.S. shale production will peak by 2020, perhaps as early as 2017.

      Fracking wells have precipitous decline rates and maintaining production means drilling more wells in less and less favorable plays. The economics are not propitious.

      Click to access DBD-report-FINAL.pdf

      The environmental advantage of shale gas is that it produces less CO2 than other fossil fuels. However, gas is associated with methane leaks, and the extent of these leaks seems to undermine its position in a CO2 reduction strategy. Fracking has largely taken place in areas that already are subject to water stress, and has increased competition for scarce water resources. Moreover, it is increasingly well-documented that fracking has been responsible for water and air pollution and earthquakes.
      All fossil fuels, especially coal, cause damages that individuals and communities wind up paying for. If these externalities were included in the cost, fossil fuels would be considerably more expensive than they are. A 2011 report, Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal, found that including externalities would increase the price of a kWh by from 9 to 27¢.
      A summary can be found here:

      Click to access MiningCoalMountingCosts.pdf

      To conclude: Fossil fuels cause climate change and other kinds of environmental damage. They are finite, and increasingly risky and expensive to extract. The sooner we replace them the better.

      • I have no idea how any of that counters what I said, other than to weaken the “abundant” to “fairly plentiful” or the like. There’s still a lot of fossil fuels out there, which is a problem because CO2 warms the planet.

        It’s really weird having people here argue that fossil fuels are finite and not abundant.

    • cosmicomics

      “Who cares if you have 30 or 60% efficiency if your emissions are zero?”

      It takes energy to produce energy and the production of energy infrastructure requires the use of finite resources. Efficiency matters.

      • cosmicomics

        I might add that efficiency is far broader than what I referred to above. It’s also about how we plan our buildings, cities and transportation systems. It’s fine to make cars more efficient. It’s even better to provide the infrastructure and the incentives that encourage people to get out of their cars and use mass transit, bikes, or their feet. It’s also about rethinking our economies, so we focus less on quantitative and more on qualitative growth. The cult of exponential growth can only lead to disaster.

    • “To me that means an escalating carbon tax, starting at ~$10/tonne and growing annually to ~$100+, with international trading agreements that allow for tariffs against countries with lower carbon taxes. This would encourage other countries to follow suit because if they don’t tax their own industry, others will do it for them. The tax should also be near revenue neutral, with (I would argue) flat tax credits. That is, a billionaire gets the same $/year credit as a welfare recipient.”

      I’m with you most of the way on this. There’s an argument that international trading agreements already allow for tariffs (their called Border Tax Adjustments) matching an importing country’s own carbon taxes, but it will probably have to be adjudicated. A “tax and dividend” would be politically appealing, but if completely revenue neutral it wouldn’t allow for relief for unemployed coal miners, or help with home insulation and other efficiency improvements. I still think a proposal like yours has much to recommend it.

      And I’m no market fundamentalist, but I expect that internalizing more of the climate costs of fossil fuels would encourage energy efficiency generally, while at the same time making alternative sources more competitive and promoting the development of renewable infrastructure, including smart grids and storage capacity.

      This site has been instructive for me:

      Even Republicans are taking up the idea 8^)!

      • I’m no market fundamentalist either. Fundamentalist’s think the market flawless. I just see it as a powerful tool that should be used for human benefit wherever possible.

        As for the international trade component. Every time I’ve heard a carbon tax proponent argue that we could tariff goods from countries without such a tax someone says “WTO/GATT …” like it’s a killer argument. Well, WTO, GATT, etc are human institutions not a laws of physics. We can change them. I think it would be a good idea to explicitly exempt such tariffs from existing global trade agreements. Otherwise the fear of retaliation could prevent good policies and laws from being made.

    • cosmicomics

      “There’s still a lot of fossil fuels…”
      Bad grammar. Fossil fuels (plural) are, so: There are still a lot of fossil fuels.

      You’re failing to distinguish between resources and reserves. Resources are what is underground. Reserves are the small portion of resources that are technically possible to extract and that can be extracted economically. If energy prices are too low, fields that are too expensive to develop will not be developed. If the price of oil is too high, it affects the price of transportation, food, and other essential goods, leaving less for discretionary spending and throwing the economy into a recession. (The economist James Hamilton has shown that 10 of the last 11 American recessions, including the most recent one, which saw an oil price of $147 bbl, were preceded by spikes in oil prices.) It doesn’t matter if fossil fuels are plentiful if they’re no longer economic. And the economics of shale, upon which American oil and gas development is based, are not good:

      “We are all losing our shirts today. We’re making no money. It’s all in the red.”
      (Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, Wall Street Journal, June 2012)
      “Shell writes down $2.2 billion in shale assets and puts Eagle Ford properties up for sale” (Reuters September 30, 2013)
      From: HUGHES GSA Oct 28 2013 – Short.pdf

      “As another example of risk, despite the ‘shale boom’, we would also note that the returns of the US E&P stocks have remained sub-WACC, not something that might have been expected given the excitement surrounding the shale gas boom.” p.8

      “Clearly the value at risk from plant or the fuels that supply them becoming uneconomic in certain regions, both in terms of upstream assets and power generation, is enormous.” p.10

      Investments in power plants have to take future fuel costs into account, so financial corporations and utilities are beginning to back away from investments in fossil fuel generated power:

      “Who would have thought…that utilities would be putting on hold conventional generation projects and building renewable capacity in their stead, even without sizeable subsidies or incentives? The energy market has changed dramatically in recent years and we believe that this mix is only going to alter more rapidly going forwards.” p.7

      “In a major new analysis released this week, Citi says the big decision makers within the US power industry are focused on securing low cost power, fuel diversity and stable cash flows, and this is drawing them increasingly to the “economics” of solar and wind, and how they compare with other technologies.
      …Gas prices, it notes, are rising and becoming more volatile. This has made wind and solar and other renewable energy sources more attractive because they are not sensitive to fuel price volatility.
      Citi says solar is already becoming more attractive than gas-fired peaking plants, both from a cost and fuel diversity perspective. And in baseload generation, wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydro are becoming more economically attractive than baseload gas.
      It notes that nuclear and coal are structurally disadvantaged because both technologies are viewed as uncompetitive on cost.”

      Another point you made is that fossil fuels are cheap. My point is that they’re no longer cheap, they’re becoming more and more expensive, and that if price reflected externalities they would cost even more. Also, cheap in relation to what:

      “So why are renewable technologies being adopted far more quickly than was previously expected? The simple answer is that costs have reduced far faster than anyone expected, for a variety of reasons. The fastest reductions in cost have been seen in the solar sector where the price of an average panel has fallen by 75% in just four years. Given that there are no ‘fuel costs’ to solar, and that the investment is all up-front capital expenditures (capex), the impact of this on the competitiveness of solar vs. conventional generation is clear. Indeed solar is already at or approaching ‘socket parity’ in many markets, and is being built on a larger scale by some utilities (even in the shale-endowed U.S.) instead of gas peaking plants…While the cost reductions in wind turbines have been slower (given its more mechanical and multi-component nature), they are nonetheless impressive and are helping to make what was already a competitive technology even more so.” pp.14-15

      Fossil fuels are becoming more expensive and more uncertain, renewables cheaper and more reliable. When all relevant factors are included, they out-compete fossil fuels. It’s that simple.

    • “Who cares if you have 30 or 60% efficiency if your emissions are zero?”

      Emissions won´t be zero unless we stop eating cattle and rice, making cement, and so on and so forth.

      There´s also the renewables´ higher costs. I already pay a very high electricity bill because we have wind and solar power subsidies applied to the electric bill. If renewables and nuclear were to supply 100 % of my electricity then I would have to become much more efficient, whether you have a program for it or not.

      • Bob Wallace

        You need to be sure you’re comparing new:new and not new:paid off.

        The cost of paid off nuclear is in the 1c/kWh to 5+c/kWh range. New nuclear is 11+c/kWh. Coal is in the same range, perhaps a bit more at each end.

        The cost of paid off solar is <1c/kWh. New solar is about 8c/kWh. Wind is about 1c and 5c, paid off/new.

        If you compare new solar/wind to paid off nuclear/coal then renewables seem expensive. Getting your electricity right now from a paid off thermal plant may be cheaper. But old plants wear out and have to be replaces with something new at some point in time.

  3. Australian economist John Quiggin is adamant that the barriers to stabilizing carbon emissions are not technological, and that it is a mistake to think of the problem as insuperable:

    “As I have said, the problem of stabilising the global climate is not ‘Can we?’ but ‘Will we?’ When the Kyoto protocol was agreed in 1997, the world seemed to be on the path to a steady reduction in global emissions. Instead, foot-dragging by major nations, most notably China and the US, has slowed progress

    The ultimate barriers to achieving a good life for all, free of the lash of financial necessity, are neither technological nor environmental. They are in our beliefs, values and social institutions.”

    As he points out, its something we could have embarked on in the 90s by tackling the suite of “wedges” premised on efficiency. In fact, its something we could have embarked on in the 70s, like California, which has emissions per capita less than half that of Texas.

    So if California’s 11t/yr is doable, Austria’s 8t/yr is doable, Portugal’s 5t/yr …

  4. Energy storage – the battery or capacitor [I’m waiting for the jigawatt flux capacitor] is key but the prize is such that there are numerous research programs going on.

    In the short term the Germans have looked to hydrogen as a carrier and the principle is simple- use spare solar/wind energy to crack water and pump the hydrogen [or plus CO2= methane] back into the gas grid which has a storage capacity over a period of days, weeks and months.

    I believe Aston uni in Birmingham UK convert spare solar to hydrogen for cars for a little cheaper than the UK petrol price [no tax of course].

    A smart HVDC grid [i.e. low transmission loss] across Europe or the US evens out renewables- solar across the continent of the US allows for 4-5 hours of ‘midday’ sun and extends the day. Free energy trade would allow wind in one area to feed demand in another. The system which works best is the Denmark/ Norway one where Norway switches off hydro when the wind blows in Denmark and where a drop in wind means the Danish buy Norway hydro.

    A big problem is we built an infrastructure on cheap $30 barrel oil- we process all water to be drinkable which we flush down the low and then use energy to clean that sewage up- an earth/sawdust toilet may not be the solution but it demonstrates a low energy tech. We shop by taking a 2 ton steel car a few miles for a bag of groceries when more energy economic systems exist.

    I can’t fix where the shops are located but I can vote with my feet and at home we are investing not just in solar and wind but also a low energy house with lots of passive comfort.

    the problems are really an investment issue.

    • Hydropower does seem like a convenient, existing power storage system – when wind or solar power are operating, let the incoming water pile up behind the dam, and then run it through the turbines when they’re not.

      There are environmental constraints to this downstream though. And since hydropower is cheap it’s usually used as the first preference, not as backup, so there’s an economic cost too.

      • Bob Wallace

        It sort of depends on which is cheaper, wind/solar or coal.

        If renewables are cheaper then use them when available. Hold back hydro and use it as a fill in.

        Wind/solar + hydro < coal + hydro.

  5. In short we could probably get quite a ways down the road in the USA-CAN-EU by phasing in a price of $200/t on carbon at the wellhead, coalface, or terminal together with grounding half the airliner fleet.

  6. People may be interested in ‘Sustainable Energy – without the hot air’, a book/website by the Cambridge University Professor of Engineering, and UK government advisor, David MacKay – . It’s an examination of paths to zero carbon energy use – mainly from a UK point of view, but generally applicable too.

    • johnrussell40

      Precisely. I mentioned this excellent book on the other thread and it can be downloaded free. Believe me, this is a book on energy supply which is an ‘un-putdownable’ read. It should be compulsory reading before anyone is allowed to comment. As MacKay says, “I’m not pro-anything… except the maths”.

  7. Ernst, you ask who cares about efficiency if we get no emission energy. Even if we find the technology that still means replacing much of the production capacity in lots of countries, and that’s going to cost *a lot* of money. The less energy you use the less need for new production capacity and the faster we can close down old power plants. Furthermore, whatever technology we use next is likely to have its own problems meaning we want to use as little of it as possible. Wind power may not emit CO2 but it is ugly and kills birds etc.

    When it comes to energy storage, here is an interesting use of a coal mine as pumped energy storage:

  8. John Mashey

    I also recommend Mackay’s book (and he gives good lecture, too).
    The constraints and energy mixes vary among geographies, but the analysis style is very useful.

    Even more than climate, this is a topic that takes much study and ideally, substantial live interaction with experts.

    Look around in the videos/presentat6ns at GCEP, and if you’re in the Bay Area, think about attending October 14-15 this year. I go every year and they are great.

    Some people think that, CCS is already technically practical (companies pipe CO2 around already), and at the right CO2 price, economically practical. Some think that making some forms of CCS will be necessary.

    Now ,they may or may not be right, but I’d tend to at least listen to someone who is Director of Carnegie Dept of Global Ecology @ Stanford, Member of the US National Academy of Sciences and IPCC WG II Co-Chair (Chris Field).

  9. You may be making more of this – and, at the same time, less – than it deserves. Solving the carbon issue isn’t “our” problem (at least, it shouldn’t be). If we say zero carbon emissions – and mean it – then it becomes something that the guys who want to sell carbon products to us have to deal with. Let them come up with ways to improve efficiencies, decarbonize the air, whatever. Same with intermittancy. If the solar and wind guys want to have viable products, they’ll come up with solutions. Zero carbon emissions doesn’t take any more heavy lifting than requiring it. That said, I’d bet on the solar and wind guys – they seem to have the wind at their backs – and if the fossil pukes have to include the costs of cleaning the mess they make from the environment in their pricing model, they will be unceremoniously going the way of the steam locomotive. And good riddance.

  10. Petronius Knipetang

    Energy efficiency do matter. Why not cut the fuel subsidies in the US? The fuel prices in US are less than half of european prices….

  11. lewiscleverdon

    “It’s true that wind and solar have intermittency issues. It’s also true that by smart use of the grid, we can distribute the power generated by those methods and smooth out the irregularities in supply.”

    This appears to assume a surplus of intermittent renewable energy is available in an area exporting power to an area whose plant lack enough sun and wind to meet its needs.
    It follows that the exporter must have invested in a local surplus despite knowing that when the importers needs are met from local sun and wind there will be no export sales.
    It also follows that both areas must invest in having surplus capacity if they are to be able to carry each others’ demand. And that if each area is to be able to carry say nine other areas to give a good margin of security of supply, each will have to invest in plant with ten times its own needs.

    While I fully accept the crucial role of HVDC in delivering power from areas with very high RE resources to those poorly endowed with RE resources, I’ve yet to hear a cogent rationale for investing in the massive overall surplus of intermittent plant needed for HVDC to overcome the intermittency issue. I suggest that a rational ‘portfolio’ approach will include reliance on the baseload renewable energies (such as geothermal, solar thermal, offshore wave, etc) with wind and solar deployed to the extent that they can compete locally particularly by avoiding long transmission costs.



    • lewiscleverdon

      Given the lack of any response to the arguments above, despite dozens of comments below, I’m faced with the conclusion that, in lacking any counter arguments, people here would rather just ignore these issues than acknowledge them.
      Is this correct ?

      • I suspect nobody feels the need to defend the straw men you have erected.

      • no one responded to my contribution, do I assume it was dismissed or agreed with?

        wind is predictable, we have good weather records and good forecasting with wind in playing a predictable role in energy production.

        all electricity production has over capacity- if all the French Nuclear plants were up and running they would produce huge excess. The new UK nuclear power plant is expected to provide 5% of the national demand, but nuclear plants need to go off line requiring capacity to cover the loss of that 5%

        the German solution seems wise- use spare capacity to produce hydrogen gas to feed back into the grid and have gas backup.

      • Bob Wallace

        Let’s throw in some real world numbers from the US.

        The CF(capacity factor) for coal in 2011 was 57.6%. In 2012 it was 51.4%
        The CF for natural gas was 24.2% in 2011, 28.8% in 2012.
        The CF for nuclear was 84.3% in 2011, 81.4% in 2012.

        US nuclear is offline a lot more than 5% of the time.

      • lewiscleverdon

        So the Chicago area can be expected to put enough panels on its roofs to supply its own needs plus those of New York, Miami, Dallas,Washington and Boston and others when those cities happen to lack sunshine ?
        That is not going to happen regardless of how fine an HVDC grid is built to facilitate it.

        WRT the storage option, when the “Do the Maths” blog applied the skills of a very experienced scientist to the potential of pumped-hydro storage, it was shown not only that there are a very limited number of suitable large sites for mega-dams in the US, but also that with reliance on Solar + Wind the sheer scale of the power storage capacity required from any technology even for a few days of still cloudy weather across the US would be simply vast, and thus vastly expensive. Reliance on its eventual provision despite its costs is to pursue a miasma, as the running costs of incumbent fossil plant will likely remain cheaper than new storage capacity for decades. In effect, it postpones the loss of viability of fossil plants. For example, storage to replace a single 660MW fossil plant for three days (72hrs) of low wind and sun would require capacity to store 47.5Gw-Hrs of power output, as well as a reserve margin.

        The rational alternative to an arbitrary reliance on Intermittents + Storage + HVDC grid is to focus intense R&D efforts on the Baseload renewables including geothermal, solar thermal, offshore wave, etc, Their inclusion in the mix allows a sensible portfolio approach to non-fossil energy supply where each option can find its optimum share of demand to reflect its advantages, and unproductive energy-costly storage is limited to meeting unpredictable disruptions of production or delivery.

        To claim that these are strawmen arguments is as rude and pathetic as the earlier claim that they are straight out of the deniers’ playbook. The reality is that the fossil lobby benefits by the postponement of the Baseload renewables’ development, for it they which will pose the primary challenge to Baseload fossil energy supply, as the fossil lobby have been well aware for decades and have steered policy and investment accordingly.

        So if you think you can refute these arguments I suggest you go ahead and try to do so. I shall take further dismissive ad hominems or your mere silence as an acknowledgement that you have no refutation to offer.



      • Bob Wallace

        The Midwest has lots of wind. And good solar during their hot summer when ACs are sucking the power.

        The Northeast has lots of hydro and great offshore wind. And they have good summer sunshine.

        The Northwest has lots of hydro and wind. And great summer sunshine if you get a short way inland.

        The Southwest has lots of sunshine, some good wind, and geothermal. It’s also about to get wind input from Mexico.

        Coastal areas have tidal resources. And perhaps wave power can be harvested.

        Each region has its own strengths. We’ll build off our strengths.

        but –

        ” the running costs of incumbent fossil plant will likely remain cheaper than new storage capacity for decades”

        Battery storage (lithium-ion) is already competing with gas peaker plants.

        If EOS System’s zinc-air batteries prove themselves out (10c/kWh) they will knock a lot of peakers off line. And flow batteries look to be even cheaper.

      • lewiscleverdon

        Jules – thanks for your response.
        I would emphasize first that my reply above is to ‘numerobis’

        Given that I challenge the rather triumphalist group-think expressed in the video, I assume that a lack of response doesn’t imply agreement. Hence the follow up comment.

        The relatively very poor predictability of wind compared to that of geothermal, offshore wave, solar thermal, etc is surely a secondary issue here; the wind turbines’ deficiency as a main supply option lies in the quite limited fraction of the year they’re in full operation – unlike the baseload options.

        I’d of course agree that any grid must be able to draw on a reserve generating capacity over and above expected peak load to allow for maintenance, outages, grid disruption, etc. What is not justified in practical energy supply management is having a massive overcapacity in a very low reliability supply option (aka intermittent) backed up by massive storage capacity, as this would be a very wasteful and costly approach.

        The German ‘renewable methane’ project is a case in point, and it may be that concerns over future security of gas supply are a significant motivation for Berlin. The energy costs of the process are substantial:
        of 100 units of energy put into electrolysis of water you can get over 80 back in the potential energy of H2 & O2, but only the H2 is used with the O2 being sold off to industry, implying a major loss. Further energy is then used in extracting carbon from airborne CO2 for methanation with the H2 to form CH4, methane. That is then stored before being burnt in a 42% efficient combined cycle gas turbine to produce electricity when required. I don’t have precise figures but it seems unlikely that you’d get more than one unit of electricity out for every eight units put into this process.

        The new Gravel+Argon storage tech promises a far better EROEI, but it still faces the basic limitation: the less reliable the main generating techs the larger the storage capacity required, AND the larger the surplus of unreliable generating capacity required to meet the storage energy-costs and keep the storage capacity topped up. The nearer the generators are to a true baseload tech of predictably giving ‘power-on-demand’, the lower the surplus capacity required and the lower the storage capacity it has to maintain. Given that the goal is to close the last FF plant as quickly as possible, which means displacing it with the minimum ammount of new-built generators and storage, continuing the prolonged failure to develop the baseload renewables would plainly be an irrational diversion from that goal.



      • Martin Vermeer

        > but only the H2 is used with the O2 being sold off to industry, implying a major loss

        Huh? There’s an atmosphere full of O2, readily available when and where it is decided to burn the H2…

      • Bob Wallace

        “The energy costs of the process are substantial: of 100 units of energy put into electrolysis of water you can get over 80 back in the potential energy of H2 & O2”

        Don’t we lose about 50% of the energy input when we use electricity to crack water into H2 and then either compress or liquefy it for storage?

        And then we lose another significant amount turning the H2 back into electricity or into another fuel (methane, ammonia) and back into electricity.

        H2/methane/ammonia might be economically feasible for very deep backup, but it’s far too lossy for short and medium time frame storage. The other options we’re considering (batteries of all sorts, pump-up, and hot gravel) are far more efficient. Anything less than 70% efficient would need to be very, very cheap in order to compete.

      • Martin Vermeer

        > being burnt in a 42% efficient combined cycle gas turbine

        Eh, current-generation CCGTs reach 60%. Also the full methane from electricity process using the German tech proposed reaches 60% efficiency. 0.6 x 0.6 = 0.36, i.e., better than one third. With hydrogen instead of methane, even 0.8 x 0.6 = 0.48.

        But rather I should commend you for going quantitative, because that’s what’s needed. Your previous ‘argument’ to which no one responded, was words, words, words. That doesn’t work (and is impossible to respond to without more words, words, words). Numbers work, preferably from computer simulations with realistic (like, weather) inputs. Hint: these exist in the literature.


      • Bob Wallace

        36% efficient or even 48% efficient isn’t going to fly unless the process is very much cheaper than storage systems that are 70% or better.

        It takes 13.9 cents worth of 5c/kWh electricity to produce a kWh with 36% efficiency.

        It takes 10.4 cents worth of 5c/kWh electricity to produce a kWh with 48% efficiency.

        It takes 6.25 cents worth of 5c/kWh electricity to produce a kWh with 80% efficiency.

        Technologies like pump-up, flow batteries, and molten salts batteries have very long cycle lives which spreads their capex over a long time period. Then, with their much higher efficiencies….

      • Martin Vermeer


        you’re probably right. As I noted elsewhere, storage technology is currently immature and expensive as there is no case for wide deployment at current penetration levels of renewables.

        All I wanted to argue is, that even with existing technology there are attractive storage solutions — more attractive than some are willing to admit. And about your kWh prices, sure, but note that these expensive kWh will be needed only occasionally, so we can afford them even if their electricity is expensive. As a metaphor, think of the emergency generators of a hospital. Used only very rarely, kWh-price sky high. Still worth having if it saves patients’ lives…

        More important is the capital cost of gas generators. This is low, typically 25% of total cost, fuel being 75% for a continuously run plant. Open cycle, even cheaper in capital (but lower efficiency, of course). This makes them attractive for occasional-use roles like this.

        But, battery technology is developing, and I am hopeful that it will beat gas turbines at price and efficiency. But not today.

  12. Bob Wallace

    Efficiency is the low hanging fruit. Every kWh we don’t use is one less kWh of fossil fuels we need to convert to renewables. US demand peaked in 2007 and while the economy has recovered since the 2008 recession demand has stayed lower. And we should expect ordinary demand to keep falling.

    Overall electricity demand will rise as we move vehicles off oil and to electricity but that will be result in a further decay of fossil fuel use. We won’t build more coal plants and EVs don’t need the dispatch-ability of NG generation.

    Large scale grid storage is not a problem. We have a perfectly acceptable and affordable solution in the event we don’t invent something better. Pump-up hydro storage has been in use for about 100 years. The US has 125 pump-up facilities totaling 20 GWh of storage. We have thousands of location to build more pump-up if that’s what we decide to use. But large scale, time-shifting storage just isn’t needed now and won’t be for several years.

    In the meantime we have several different storage technologies under developed which promise to give us even cheaper and easier to install storage which we can distribute around the grid, lowering transmission requirements.

    Wind is now our cheapest way to bring new generation to the grid. The average US PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) price for wind in 2011 and 2012 was 4 cents/kWh. Adding back in the subsidy that makes wind less than 6 cents. We have preliminary, unconfirmed information that puts the 2013 average PPA at 2.1 cents. Less than 4 cents without subsidy.

    After the 20 year payoff the O&M cost for wind drops to around 1 cent/kWh. Our first generation of wind turbines lasted 30 years, with improvements over those three decades we might expect at least 40 years out of current turbines. This will be very cheap 30 to 40 year electricity.

    Solar PPAs in the US SW have hit the 5 cent/kWh level. A bit less than 7 cents without subsidy. And extended to the less sunny NE the price would be under 9 cents. The cost of solar should fall by 50% over the next few years, we’re installing utility scale solar for around $2/watt and lagging other countries which are approaching $1/watt. Once paid off solar has O&M costs well under 1c/kWh.

    And we don’t know how long solar panels will last. Our oldest monitored array is now 40 years old. At age 35 it was taken down and the individual panels were evaluated. Over the 35 years the array lost 3.85% of original output. About 0.1% per year. Panels in places like high deserts are exposed to more UV and will degrade faster, but their losses are running less than 0.4% for panels made after 2000. That tells us that a 40 year old array will produce at least 84% as much as when new. And at 100 years output should be in the 60% to 90% range. That is a long period of low cost electricity.

  13. If we seriously wanted to do this there would be one and ONLY one obstacle to getting it done. We can build a really low-tech battery with railcars on a hill. There is no obstacle to improved solar and wind taking over at all, no obstacle to building advanced nuclear. Except one.


    Entrenched business interests, and bankers, have fought and are fighting, tooth and nail, lie on lie, to prevent ANY actions that will alter the balance of payments deficit between most of us and our bankers. They fund the conservative think-tanks. They fund the fud as well as the fed.,36361/

    This is not a technical problem. It is a political/economic problem. It doesn’t get solved technically, it gets solved when the consequences become too “in your face” for people to ignore.

  14. Bob Wallace

    The cost of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables?

    Actually, little. Probably less than zero.

    Our fleet of thermal plants is old and aging. The average lifespan of a coal plant is about 40 years and we are going to have to spend money to replace them with something.

    It’s just a question of whether we spend our capital on climate destroying fossil fuels or cheaper renewables.

    Then, we spend $140 billion to $242 billion a year in taxpayer money to cover the external costs of burning coal.

    Investing some billions in order to shut down coal will return dividends for decades to come. Using the lower $140 billion number, in a decade we’d save $1.4 trillion dollars.

  15. Thinking quantitatively, perhaps a bit like a physicist, it seems civilization is in an energy well in terms of its mix of energy sources. What could propel us out of the well? What keeps us there? There is financial momentum, where fossil fuel investments breed more fossil fuel investments, because they are assessed as successful and safe. As noted above, if these were all directed to renewable energy, we would be well on our way. Also, present investors will suffer the stranded assets problem because their (now new) plants will not have depreciated fully when the transition is demanded. I say that’s a wolf cry, and investors need to realize they are taking risks by continuing to support a questionable source of income.

    It’s more than energy sources. Think of what a fee-on-carbon-and-dividend would touch. Energy and transport, of course, but also food, since much fertilizer is derived from petroleum byproducts, and certainly the energy to create ammonia is needed. But also much of the products we consume, anything with plastic is presently sourced from petroleum. It’s possible to do it from other sources, but petroleum is cheaper. So, all these things will be hit, and there will be dislocation as the market shifts from one source of materials, increasingly more expensive, to others. This is what has to occur, but I’m saying it’s not just going to be energy.

    And, no doubt, the average American and average world citizen will pay more for everything because we are getting a free ride based upon polluting the atmosphere and churning through millions of years of stored sunlight in a decade.

    That all defines the energy well.

    • Bob Wallace

      “There is financial momentum, where fossil fuel investments breed more fossil fuel investments, because they are assessed as successful and safe.”

      The US and Europe have largely quit building coal plants. The World Bank and multiple large international investment banks will no longer finance new coal plants.

      New coal projects in Australia are being canceled.

      Investing in coal has become very risky.

      • I think, too, that investment in new energy needs to consider the financial landscape, that being nearly zero inflation. Cost of capital is large, so, however long term attractive nuclear might be as sn option, its HUGE capital costs names it unattractive relative to nearly any renewables project.

      • Bob Wallace

        Citigroup recently did an overview of the two reactors being built at the Vogtle site. They calculated a LCOE of 11 cents/kWh – if no further cost/timeline overruns occur.

        They also said that it is unlikely that future reactors could be built as cheaply (meaning higher electricity prices) since the very favorable interest rates Vogtle got won’t be available as we experience more economic recovery.

        US unemployment just hit 6% and yesterday there was talk of the Fed starting to consider raising interest rates.

  16. lewiscleverdon

    It seems worth pointing out that solutions to AGW that focus on USA conditions are addressing only around one sixth of the GHG production problem.
    And that is only one aspect of the 120ppm of historical anthro-CO2 in the atmosphere with its 100yr residence period.
    And that is only one aspect of the acceleration of the eight main interactive feedbacks that are on track to exceed present anthro-GHG outputs in the coming decades.

    Moreover, unless solutions proposed for American FF dependence mesh politically and diplomatically with commensurate solutions globally, they are a part of the problem, not the solution.



  17. Dino Rosati

    Nuclear. Zero emission, fully dispatchable, 90% capacity factor, 10,000,000(!) times the energy density of combustion, safest large scale energy technology ever deployed. Generation 4 reactors like molten salt reactors and integral fast reactors are inherently safe (can’t meltdown, operate at 1 atmosphere pressure) and can use nuclear waste (spent LWR fuel) as a fuel and can burn almost all it’s uranium/thorium giving virtually unlimited fuel resources. Downsides are trivial compared to dangers of global warming/air pollution.

    • Bob Wallace

      Nuclear. 2x to 3x the price of wind and solar. And many years more to bring on line.

      If money and time are not of the essence.

      Plus the radioactive waste problem we will to our heirs;;..

      • Dino Rosati

        Cost of wind and solar will likely be much larger than nuclear. You’re not including the cost to make them dispatchable – storage, backup, overbuild, massive scale up of grid size and complexity, land use, all to compensate for intermittency and low capacity factor and energy density. Nuclear has none of these problems. See David MacKay’s analysis of these things, it’s a real eye opener.

        As for time, France almost completely decarbonized its grid in 15 years (beginning in the late 70’s due to oil shock) using nuclear. They built standardized designs on an industrial scale (unlike the one-of-a-kind builds done in the US). They have 1/5th the carbon intensity of Germany (grams of CO2 per kWh) at 1/2 the cost of electricity to consumers. Electricity is also their fourth largest export. If the French could do all that back then, why can’t Americans do it now with access to decades of technological advancement?
        Here in the province of Ontario Canada, we have closed all our coal plants and expanded our CANDU nukes so our carbon intensity is comparable to France (among the lowest in North America).

        As for waste, the gen-4 reactors consume it – greatly reducing its volume. Since only fission products are to be buried (actinides are recycled into reactors for burning) the fission product waste decays to background in about 300 years and can easily be accommodated at an existing site like WIPP.

        The problems encountered with nuclear and renewables has more to with politics than technology.

      • Bob Wallace

        Dino, let’s look at costs. And I’ll stick to US costs because that’s what I know best. I’ll take away the wind and solar subsidies but leave the nuclear subsidies, just to be overly fair to nuclear. OK?

        Wind is now about 4 cents Solar is about 8. Storage (pump-up hydro) is about 5 cents. New nuclear is at least 11 cents.

        The wind blows a lot of hours. We could likely get 40% of our electricity directly from wind at 4c/kWh. The Sun shines during high demand hours. We could likely get 30% of our electricity directly from solar at 8c/kWh (and dropping fast). The remaining 30% would need to be a combo of wind and solar (6c/kWh) plus 5c for storage, or 11c.

        40% @ 4c + 30% @ 8C + 30% @ 11c = 7.3c/kWh

        7.3c < 11c

        Storage could be 10c/kWh and wind/solar/storage would still be cheaper than nuclear at 8.8c/kWh.

        Now, don't forget that nuclear needs backup. In fact, nuclear needs large amounts of spinning backup since reactors go offline without notice. Wind and solar are highly predictable so we don't need backup spinning all the time with them, only about 15 minutes before they fade out.

        And nuclear needs storage or dispatchable generation. Nuclear can't load-follow at the speed needed to keep the grid stable. And load following makes nuclear even more expensive. (It divides the total cost by a smaller number of produced MWh.)

        You should read MacKay with a more critical eye. He made mistakes. And his book was written before the price of wind and solar plummeted.

        As for France, yes they built a lot of nuclear in a hurry. And recently they admitted that their production cost for nuclear electricity was 9c/kWh. France does not have cheap wholesale electricity.

        Nuclear has multiple problems. There is an unsolved waste problem, we can reduce it but we can't eliminate it. There is a safety issue, which we can reduce but not eliminate. There is a siting problem, nuclear needs a cooling water source and a "willing neighborhood". But what is really killing nuclear is its cost.

      • turboblocke

        Dino Rosati: French electricity is not half the price of German: it is about 90% for large industrial users and about 60% for other users.

      • In addition to what Bob says, nuclear energy is not a global solution. Lots of countries do not have the political stability or technical know-how to build and safely maintain nukes. But they too need energy to develop, and if we (meaning advanced nations) do not deploy renewables (and bring costs down), these countries will have no choice but resort to coal and natural gas, negating any gains from nuclear energy.

      • After accounting for the higher capacity factor of nuclear, the higher systems costs for RE, and the much longer plant lifetime, nuclear is cheaper than wind and MUCH cheaper than solar.

        And it’s not waste if we don’t waste it. The existing stockpile of “spent” nuclear fuel contains enough energy to power the entire US electric grid fossil-free for 150 years, if we have the intelligence to use it.

      • Bob Wallace

        Let’s not get carried away with our love of all things that glow in the night.

        Let’s assume that we can build nuclear plants that last 60 years. Good place to start?

        20 years at 11 cents plus 40 years at 2 cents = 5 cent power.

        We know that wind turbines last at least 30 years. (We’re just now replacing the 30 year old turbines at Altamont Pass.

        20 years at 4 cents plus 10 years a 1 cent = 3 cents/kWh. After 30 years pull down the old turbines and put up a new set and get another 30 years of 3 cent power.

        We know that solar panels last at least 40 years and we have no reason to suspect they won’t last 60.

        20 years at 5 cents (we’ll be there very soon) plus 40 years at 1 cent = 2.3 cent power. Add in a bit to account for the small annual output decrease for solar. Still under 3 cents and well under the cost of nuclear.

        As for nuclear waste, if we had a good way to deal with it don’t you think the nuclear industry would be putting those processes into effect in order to clear one hurdle out of their way?

      • Bob, it would be useful if you would link to your sources, because otherwise it just looks like you’re pulling numbers from thin air.

        There are four AP1000 reactors (1117 MW each) currently being built in the US. Two at Vogtle are coming in at $14.9 billion for the pair, and two at Summer are coming in at $10.5 billion for the pair. That’s a capital cost of $5.68 per installed Watt.

        Meanwhile, Warren Buffet has just invested heavily in five Iowa wind farms to install 1050 MW for a total price of $1.9 billion, a capital cost of $1.81 per installed Watt.

        The four NPPs should operate for 60 years at a typical 90% capacity factor, generating 2.11 billion MWh during their lifetimes. That’s $12 per MWh from capital cost.

        The Danish government has extensive records of every single wind turbine that has been connected to their grid since 1977. Although a few of them have lasted 30 years, that’s far from typical. From those records the average lifetime of a wind turbine is 22 years with a standard deviation of 3.7 years. This is very close to NREL’s assumption of 20 years.

        So Buffet’s wind farm should last for 22 years, at a capacity factor of 35%, generating 70.9 million MWh during its lifetime. That’s $26.81 per MWh from capital cost — more than twice the capital cost of nuclear on an energy-delivered basis.

      • Bob Wallace

        I’ve linked them earlier in the conversation, but I’ll be glad to link them again.

        Wind – $0.04/kWh average 2011 and 2012 PPA price.
        DOE “2012 Wind Technologies Market Report”

        Click to access 2012_wind_technologies_market_report.pdf

        Wind – $0.021/kWh average 2013 PPA price. Unconfirmed number from a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

        Solar – $0.05/kWh PPAs being signed in the US Southwest. Working backwards through a LCOE calculation extrapolates a cost of about $0.02 higher for the less sunny Northeast.
        Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory entitled “Utility-Scale Solar 2012: An Empirical Analysis of Project Cost, Performance, and Pricing Trends in the United States”

        PPA prices for wind and solar are lowered about 1.5 cents by PTC (Production Tax Credits). Both wind and solar are eligible for 2.3 cent/kWh tax credits for each kWh produced during their first ten years of operation. Half of 2.3 is 1.15, but getting ones money early has financial value.

        An analysis of the Vogtle reactor costs by Citigroup in early 2014 found the LCOE for electricity from those reactors to cost 11 cents per kWh. That is assuming no further cost/timeline overruns.

        They also stated that reactors build after the Vogtle units would likely produce more expensive electricity as they would not be able to receive as low financing rates as Vogtle has.

        Any more you’d like?

      • Bob Wallace

        Now, let’s talk about wind farm life and other stuff….

        Our first generation wind turbines at Altamont Pass Wind Farm are just now being replaced after 30 years of production. It’s very reasonable to assume that over the last three decades our engineers have learned a lot about design and material selection. We now have the ability to install sensors all over turbines and blades so that problem are identified before they become significant. To claim that new tech turbines would last only 22 years, well, that’s a very questionable claim.

        I’d be very surprised if Buffet’s new wind farm shows only a 35% CF. Tower height and turbine/blade technology is increasing CF so that numbers in the mid-40% range are more common.

        And, to date, we’ve seen no reactor last longer than 50 years. We could design reactors to last 60 but that would be more expensive and the chances of a disaster mount as radiated metals become more brittle.

        But that doesn’t matter. Even at the unlikely low price of 11 cents for the first 20 years and 2 cents for the next 40 nuclear can’t compete with wind and solar.

        Then, when you do your nuclear math don’t forget to include financing cost. It seems that people who advocate for nuclear have difficulty remembering that interest can double the overnight capital cost with nuclear due to the number of years it takes to bring a new reactor on line.

        And you might want to keep checking your Vogtle and Summer costs. Recently Summer reported a roughly half billion dollar cost overrun along with (interest building) delays of the better part of a year.

      • Bob Wallace

        The Danish Energy site you link is quiet interesting. Did you happen to notice the size of the turbines Denmark as decommissioned? They’re tiny. Short towers and small swept area blades.

        They average just over 150 kW, 0,15 MW. Currently most turbines are much, much larger. 1.5 MW and 2.0 MW are common. Denmark is currently testing a onshore 8.0 MW wind turbine that is 720 feet tall and has 260-foot blades. That turbine has more than 50x the output of the ones they’ve taken down.

        I know Germany has been taking down small, but still fully functional turbines and installing much larger turbines in their place. Stands to reason that the early (small) turbines would have been sited in the windiest places and now with much taller, longer blade turbines Germany is maximizing its wind output by replacing their first generation turbines well before they have worn out.

        The other thing we’ve learned since the early days is that the wind blows harder up higher. We’ve moved from the sort of short towers of 30 years ago to 50 meter towers, then on to 80 meter towers. New research has found that using 90 to 110 meter towers would generate a lot of onshore wind in the US SE where it was thought there was little wind potential.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if Denmark is not doing the same as Germany. The average time to decommissioning is likely an indicator of replacement with superior equipment rather than turbine life.

        In fact, many of the turbines that are being replaced are being refurbished and sold on to countries with lots of area to install turbines but not enough capital to go for state of the art.

      • cosmicomics

        Kap55 links to the following site:
        and assumes that the amount of time between the connection of a wind turbine to the grid and its decommissioning necessarily provides us with meaningful information about durability. It doesn’t. A significant number of Danish turbines have been replaced as a result of a government program to reduce the number of small turbines and replace them with larger ones, thus increasing efficiency and power production, and diminishing the number of turbines spread over the Danish landscape:

        “Udskiftning af vindmøller kan være ønsket af forskellige grunde. Den politiske begrundelse for de gennemførte udskiftningsordninger har således både været ønsket om færre møller i landskabet og en større produktion fra nye vindmøller.”

        Click to access P11.pdf

        Rather than indicating that turbines wear out after 20 years, the program underlines the flexibility and scalability of wind energy. It also indicates that improvements in wind technology are so significant, that they justify this kind of program, which has been renewed by governments of both the left and right.

      • cosmicomics

        “Denmark is currently testing a onshore 8.0 MW wind turbine…”

        The Vestas V164 8MW is an offshore turbine that currently is being tested on land. It has a projected lifetime of 25 years, and will be operating under far more demanding conditions than land-based turbines.

        The link below shows the capacity factors of Danish offshore wind farms. The newer farms generally have higher numbers. A large, modern turbine like the V164 would push the numbers up even higher.

        This link provides additional information about the increase in turbine effect.

        Click to access udbygningen_maj13.pdf

        The four graphs on the bottom of the page show that most of the decommissioned turbines produced 150 kW or less.
        Antal fordelt på opstillingsår – Number by year of installation
        Antal fordelt på møllestørrelser – Number by size
        Effekt fordelt på opstillingsår – Effect by year of installation
        Effekt fordelt på møllestørrelser (kW) – Effect by size
        (Red = decommissioned)
        The total numbers – i alt – show that the 2,937 turbines that have been decommissioned had a total effect of 400,645 kW, or an average of 136.4 kW. The remaining 5,090 turbines (Møller nu iDanmark – Turbines currently in Denmark) have a total effect of 4,442,573 kW, an average of 872.8 kW, which is approximately 6.4 times the average effect of the decommissioned turbines.

      • Bob Wallace

        Thanks. That gives us a better indication that we can’t use decommissioning data from Denmark to determine expected turbine lifespan.

        Denmark has taken down a large number of very small (my current standards) turbines. Most likely because it made sense to install taller/larger in those spaces. Even if the turbines were taken down due to rising maintenance costs one couldn’t safely extrapolate from decades old small turbines to current technology.

      • Bob,

        PPA prices are net of subsidies, and therefore do not reflect the full cost of generation to society. Using FY 2010 budgetd subsidies and 2012 production data, federal subsidies for wind were $35/MWh, for solar $262/MWh, and for nuclear $3/MWh. And that’s not counting state subsidies.

      • Bob Wallace

        KAP55, I have been very clear in reporting that PPAs include subsidies. PPAs also include other non-LCOE costs such as owner profits.

        Wind and solar receive a 2.3c/kWh PTC for their first ten years of operation. Wind has the option of a 30% ITC which seems to work out to about the same cost to government but can have more value to the wind farm owners due to more rapid cost recovery.

        In general, there are no state subsidies for utility scale wind and solar. I believe New Mexico might be the exception with a state subsidy for solar.

    • cosmicomics

      Fuel density is one parameter. EROI and LCOE (levelized cost of electricity) are a couple of others. On both of these wind does considerably better than nuclear, and solar too does better now. Economically nuclear has become an investor’s nightmare. New construction has been beset by delays and cost overruns:

      “Construction costs are a key determinant of the final nuclear electricity generating costs and many projects are significantly over budget. Cost estimates have increased in the past decade from $1,000 to $7,000 per kW installed. The U.S. Vogtle project, now officially under construction, is built by the same firm whose two previous reactors at that site were originally budgeted at $660 million and were later estimated to have cost $9 billion.” p.8

      “HELSINKI/PARIS, Feb 28 (Reuters) – Finland’s TVO was unable on Friday to estimate a start date for its long-delayed Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor as the utility and French supplier Areva, already battling in court, blamed each other for the latest delays.
      Finnish daily Kauppalehti cited sources from the site saying the startup of the reactor could be delayed until at least 2018 as work had slowed.
      …Areva also took a new 425 million euro ($587 million) provision on Olkiluoto, taking total provisions on the project to 3.85 billion euros and knocking Areva into a 494 million euro loss for 2013.”

      Not only construction costs, but also maintenance costs have risen, and in addition the industry has been burdened by the cost of upgrades following the Fukushima catastrophe.

      Credit agencies are downgrading utilities that are heavily invested in nuclear and the price of nuclear stocks has fallen:

      “• Credit Rating. Over the past five years, of 15 assessed nuclear utilities, 10 were downgraded by credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s, four companies remained stable, while only one was upgraded over the same period. Rating agencies consider nuclear investment risky and the abandoning of nuclear projects explicitly “credit positive”.
      • Share Value. The share value of the world’s largest nuclear operator, French state utility EDF, went down by 85 percent over the past five years, while the share price of the world’s largest nuclear builder, French state company AREVA, dropped by up to 88 percent.” p.8

      Meanwhile, 2012 saw the installation of 45 GW of wind, 32 of solar, and only 1.2 of nuclear.

      Finally, all talk about intermittency has focused on renewables (and there’s good reason to believe that intermittency isn’t much of an issue). One overlooks that nuclear has intermittency issues of a different nature:

      “They need a lot of planned or unplanned maintenance and repair; and being centralized power plants, they often have to be shut down completely for this work to be done, and, thus, are unable to furnish any power to the grid when this occurs. As a result of all this downtime, nuclear plants only generate electricity 83% of the time…More than a quarter of them have to close down for repairs for at least a year or more at a time.

      • Very good. Very interesting.

      • Dino Rosati

        “On both of these [EROI and LCOE] wind does considerably better than nuclear…”
        Nuclear is dispatchable. None of these costs reflect what it would cost to make renewables dispatchable, massive new grid, massive amounts of storage, etc. Scaling renewables up to a significant fraction of the electricity supply will cripple the grid unless solutions to these problems are found. I hope they are found, we need all the help we can get. In the mean time replace coal with nukes, base load for base load.

        “One overlooks that nuclear has intermittency issues…”
        Reactors is the US have capacity factors of around 90%. If that’s intermittent then you must be using a new definition of the word.

        As for nuclear construction costs being high, yep, they can be high. Plenty of other countries seem to be able to build reactors on time and on budget (Canada, China, South Korea, Russia, Sweden…). I wonder why they can and we can’t.

        “Economically nuclear has become an investor’s nightmare…”
        Worked out great here in Ontario. Bruce Power (consortium of investors) refurbished CANDU reactors at Pickering and Bruce and are doing just fine. I wonder what the investors building the three new US reactors are thinking, I’m betting they did there homework.

        “Credit Rating…Standard and Poor’s…” Ah yes, the geniuses that rated mortgage backed securities triple A, that went well.

        “Meanwhile, 2012 saw the installation of 45 GW of wind, 32 of solar, and only 1.2 of nuclear.”
        Those are maximum nameplate capacities not delivered energy. Nuclear currently provides over 60% of zero emission energy in the US with hydro providing most of the rest. Renewables still have a way to go. I hope that changes but we need to be realistic about these things, there’s a lot at stake.

      • Bob Wallace

        “Nuclear is dispatchable.”

        No, nuclear can be shut down and started up at will. But that takes a long time. That is not how utilities use the term “dispatchable”. Dispatchable generation includes things like gas turbines which can go from full off to full on in less that 15 minutes. Or hydro plants which are even faster.

        We can build nuclear plants which can load-follow to some extent. But using them in that fashion makes their electricity even more expensive.

        Scaling up wind and solar will require storage and/or dispatchable generation. (Gas turbines running on biogas are one clean dispatchable source.)

        Scaling up nuclear would also require storage and/or dispatchable generation. Don’t forget, back when the US was building nuclear reactors we also built ~125 pump-up hydro facilities to time-shift nuclear output from low demand to high demand hours.

        As soon as nuclear output exceeds the annual minimum demand storage becomes necessary. A largely nuclear grid would require massive amount of storage.

        US reactors have more of an 85% CF. France’s reactors are much lower.

        China is having trouble completing their recent reactors on schedule. France, the other country building nuclear, is having massive problems staying on schedule.

        One of the people working with the new US Vogtle reactors has stated that. with hindsight, they made a mistake building new nuclear. They should have installed NG to meet their current needs. Vogtle is also being undercut by wind imported from Oklahoma and solar.

      • Martin Vermeer

        > Meanwhile, 2012 saw the installation of 45 GW of wind, 32 of solar, and only 1.2 of nuclear.

        Eh, those are nameplate capacities, before considering the capacity factor. But point taken.

      • Bob Wallace

        “2012 saw the installation of 45 GW of wind, 32 of solar, and only 1.2 of nuclear.

        Eh, those are nameplate capacities, before considering the capacity factor. ”

        45 GW of wind at 35% (new US is running above 40%, new technology has boosted wind CF). That’s 15,75 GW.

        32 GW of solar at 18%. That’s 5.7 GW of solar.

        1.2 GW of nuclear at 90%. That’s 1.1 GW.

        21.45 GW vs. 1.1 GW. 19.5x more.

      • EROI for nuclear: 74
        EROI for wind: 3.9
        EROI for solar CSP: 9.6
        EROI for solar PV: 2.3

        Source: Weißbach, D., et al. “Energy intensities, EROIs (energy returned on invested), and energy payback times of electricity generating power plants.” Energy 52 (2013): 210-221.
        Note that older studies understate LCOE for nuclear because of currently known-incorrect assumptions regarding plant lifetime and diffusion enrichment.

        LCOE for nuclear: $ .07 / kWh
        LCOE for onshore wind $.07 / kWh
        LCOE for solar PV: $.32 / kWh
        LCOE for solar CSP: $.18 / kWh

        Source: Open EI Transparent Cost Database

        Regarding your diatribe on costs, ooooh, scary! Seven billion! Look at the big number! But here’s a bigger number: 400 billion. That’s the number of kilowatt-hours a typical nuclear power plant will generate in its lifetime. Citing the cost while ignoring the benefit is a cheap trick. Only the innumerate are scared by big numbers, and you won’t find many of those on this blog.

        “Meanwhile, 2012 saw the installation of 45 GW of wind, 32 of solar, and only 1.2 of nuclear.”

        False. In 2012, 3.9 GW of nuclear was installed worldwide, according to the World Nuclear Association. This year, China alone is scheduled to bring over 9 GW of new nuclear online.

      • Given that we have little time to adjust to zero emissions, given that we are quite late starting out of the blocks, I care less about equilibrium costs than I do their first time derivative: How much zero-carbon power can we bring online fast? I also care about the derivative with respect to capital investment.

      • Bob Wallace

        “LCOE for nuclear: $ .07 / kWh
        LCOE for onshore wind $.07 / kWh
        LCOE for solar PV: $.32 / kWh
        LCOE for solar CSP: $.18 / kWh”

        Those numbers are simply incorrect.

        US onshore wind PPAs in 2011 and 2012 averaged $0.04/kWh. Add back in the federal subsidy and the price is about $0.055/kWh. And, remember, the PPA price includes more than the LCOE. Owner profit, for example.

        Click to access 2012_wind_technologies_market_report.pdf

        Preliminary reports from a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory state that the 2013 average onshore PPA was $0.021/kWh. That puts the non-subsidized price of wind a under $0.04/kWh.

        Solar PPAs in the Southwest have been running $0.05/kWh. Call it just under $0.07 without the subsidy. Extrapolate that price to the less sunny NE and the price would be under $0.09. Thirty-two cents is a bizarre claim.

        A LCOE calculation for the new Vogtle reactors by Citigroup puts their LCOE at $0.11. If there is no further cost or timeline overrun.

        Furthermore Citigroup states that future reactors would be unlikely to meet the 11 cent price due to rising interest rates.

        “Citing the cost while ignoring the benefit is a cheap trick”

        Using the wrong costs makes for worthless decisions.

      • Martin Vermeer

        > EROI for wind: 3.9
        This cannot be right. The literature that I know gives payback times of under a year, meaning EROI > 20.

      • cosmicomics

        Kap55’s EROI figures are not credible.
        According to an article in the Scientific American, The True Cost Of Fossil Fuels (2013), wind, solar, and nuclear have the following EROIs: 20, 6, and 5.

        According to Murphy & Hall, 2010, wind has a far higher EROI than nuclear, which is higher than pv.

        Considering the learning curves of the three technologies, it seems likely that the EROIs of solar and wind would be growing in relation to nuclear.

      • Bob Wallace

        Energy payback time for wind turbines runs 3 to 8 months based on wind resources where they are installed. Silicon panels repay their energy input in less than two years, thin film in less than one year.

        But is EROEI for wind and solar really important?

        EROEI is all about whether it makes sense to extract/refine fossil fuels based on how much fossil fuel energy it takes to get the job done. Are we losing too much ground trying to get the sticky dregs to market?

        But with renewables we have more annual wind and solar production than we use annually to annually manufacture our wind turbines and solar panels. We’ve bootstrapped wind and solar with fossil fuels and now they, essentially, run on wind and solar energy. From here on out our turbines and panels will be built with power from the Sun. Even the petroleum used in mining and transportation is being offset with electric vehicles.

        There’s no practical limit to wind and solar energy. EROEI is not something worth considering.

      • Martin Vermeer

        > But is EROEI for wind and solar really important?


        you hit on an important and valid principle, but one can formulate it even sharper: for all non-carbon-based power generation technologies, the EROEI is unimportant / the wrong parameter to look at, provided it is well above unity (a technology where it is unity or less, is not worth deploying).

        If it is, say, 5, that means that net energy production will we 80% of gross energy production, increasing the kWh price by 25%. If it is, say, 20, net will be 95% of gross, and the price increase caused by the need to pay off the initial energy investment, a little over 5%. Etcetera. It’s much more practical to directly look at the cost of a kWh produced — using proper accounting, of course.

      • “Kap55′s EROI figures are not credible. According to an article in the Scientific American, The True Cost Of Fossil Fuels (2013), wind, solar, and nuclear have the following EROIs: 20, 6, and 5.”

        Scientific American based their numbers on Sustainability Volume 3 (special issue) which contained only one paper relating to across-the-board EROI, Gupta and Hall 2011. That paper was not original research, but rather a survey paper of prior research, about which the authors state, “we found that few studies have been undertaken since the 1980s, and such as have been done are often marked more by advocacy than objectivity.”

        Weissbach et al. 2013 is new, original research using a consistent methodology across all technologies and identical values for energy content of component materials. In my view, that is vastly superior to meta-analysis based on decades-old assumptions, variable methodologies, and unknown biases.

      • michael sweet

        KAP55 cites Weissback et al. This paper is more off a hagiography than a real scientific paper. A brief read shows that he references a 1997 review of wind turbines for his wind data. I imagine they have improved since then. His wind data is also.very old and outdated. He claims 60 year lifetime for nuclear based on the claim that US regulators are considering that for lisensing. No reactors have actualy lasted that long, and many have shut down early. He uses 20 year lifetime for wind when that was the minimum design life (in 1997) and it is rutinely exceeded in practice. Anyone who uses that as their primary source should be closely questioned.

    • Lars Träger

      Apart from safety there is one problem proponents never mention: cooling. NPPs have to be shut down (and take weeks to go back online) whenever there is no water for cooling, or when the water is to warm. Cue Global Warming.

      Every summer (and sometimes in winter, when rivers freeze) France with its heavy reliance on nuclear has to import energy from neighbors. While Germany exports energy all through the year, despite having so much unreliable wind and solar energy.

    • cosmicomics

      (This is a reply to . The reply button was missing.)

      “Nuclear is dispatchable. None of these costs reflect what it would cost to make renewables dispatchable, massive new grid, massive amounts of storage, etc.”

      You are vastly overstating the amount of backup necessary, and thereby overstating the costs. According to a peer-reviewed paper I cited earlier, interconnected wind farms can iron out irregularities within the system and supply what amounts to reliable, baseload power:

      “As more farms are interconnected in an array, wind speed correlation among sites decreases and so does the probability that all sites experience the same wind regime at the same time. The array consequently behaves more and more similarly to a single farm with steady wind speed and thus steady deliverable wind power…Equally significant, interconnecting multiple wind farms to a common point and then connecting that point to a far-away city can allow the long-distance portion of transmission capacity to be reduced, for example, by 20% with only a 1.6% loss of energy. Although most parameters, such as intermittency, improved less than linearly as the number of interconnected sites increased, no saturation of the benefits was found. Thus, the benefits of interconnection continue to increase with more and more interconnected sites.”

      Click to access aj07_jamc.pdf

      This is confirmed by a Citigroup study that I’ve also referred to:

      “While wind’s intermittency is an issue, with more widespread national adoption it begins to exhibit more baseload characteristics (i.e. it runs more continuously on an aggregated basis). Hence it becomes a viable option, without the risk of low utilisation rates in developed markets, commodity price risk or associated cost of carbon risks.” p.9

      Moreover, as I’ve also mentioned, wind and solar are complementary technologies. Wind is strongest when sun is weakest and vice versa, and this applies to both time of year and time of day. While connected wind has baseload characteristics, solar provides peak power:

      “While solar generates only a relatively small amount of units of energy per unit of capacity (a low ‘load factor’ or utilisation rate of about 10-15%), it is the time of day at which it generates those units which causes the biggest headache for utilities.
      Figure 23 shows actual German electricity demand curves from various days in 2012, showing which type of generation supplied that demand in terms of conventional generation (i.e. nuclear, gas, coal etc.) vs. solar and wind. The perhaps surprising conclusion is that on hot sunny workdays and weekends, the peak level of demand in the middle of the day (which would previously have been supplied by gas) is now entirely provided by solar. What is even more impactful about this is that this is the most ‘valuable’ part of the curve to supply, as electricity prices are highest at periods of maximum demand. For other countries, the hotter/sunnier the climate, the bigger the mid-day peak is likely to be, due to air conditioning, those sunnier characteristics of course only serving to make solar perform better. Hence while the amount of units supplied by solar are currently relatively small, their share of the ‘value’ of electricity supplied across the day is considerably higher.” pp.20-21

      The reliability of a system based on wind and solar would be further enhanced by the addition of geothermal.

      If you have evidence that these arguments are incorrect, please provide documentation with links. If you don’t, addressing your other points is superfluous. Nonetheless, I’ll address one more:

      “Credit Rating…Standard and Poor’s…” Ah yes, the geniuses that rated mortgage backed securities triple A, that went well.”

      The credit rating agencies stood to gain financially by giving the securities higher ratings. How does that compare to downgrading utilities and perhaps losing their business?

      • Dino Rosati

        “Wind is strongest when sun is weakest and vice versa, and this applies to both time of year and time of day…If you have evidence that these arguments are incorrect, please provide documentation with links”

        You are saying that wind and solar a perfectly anti-correaled! That is demonstrably false. Here is data for Germany (from the federal grid authority). Now do a correlation between the yellow (solar) and blue (wind) lines. Think you’ll get anywhere near -1?

      • Martin Vermeer

        > You are saying that wind and solar a perfectly anti-correaled!

        Can you say ‘straw man’? cosmicomics said nothing of the kind. And do you understand German? Your choice of graph suggests not.

        Solar and wind are anticorrelated. Not 100%, but enough to be useful. On the diurnal, annual and synoptic time scales. And even if they weren’t: statistically variability is reduced when you combine two independent randomly varying sources. And, solar is correlated with load on the diurnal time scale, and wind with load on the annual one.

    • cosmicomics

      (Reply to , cont.

      As I quickly and effortlessly can dispatch your second argument, I’ll do that now. But first let me remind you that Bob Wallace has already pointed out that you don’t know what dispatchable means:

      “No, nuclear can be shut down and started up at will. But that takes a long time. That is not how utilities use the term “dispatchable”. Dispatchable generation includes things like gas turbines which can go from full off to full on in less that 15 minutes. Or hydro plants which are even faster.”

      I overlooked that mistake, but I might ask, why do you insist on making the same mistake after you’ve been corrected?

      Your second argument is this:
      “Scaling renewables up to a significant fraction of the electricity supply will cripple the grid unless solutions to these problems are found. I hope they are found, we need all the help we can get. In the mean time replace coal with nukes, base load for base load.”

      I have some consolation for you: in December more than 50% of Danish electricity came from wind. In January, more than 60%. Recently renewables provided 74% of Germany’s peak power demand. Neither grid was crippled, so it looks as though the problem has already been solved.

      Click to access elprod_apr14.pdf

      (Upper right hand graph: Vindkraftdækning, faktisk)

      • cosmicomics

        I owe you an apology for saying that you insist on misusing dispatchable after having been corrected. I’ve just noticed that your reply preceded Bob Wallace’s. Sorry.

      • Dino Rosati

        Now I owe you an apology for responding before seeing your apology!

      • Dino Rosati

        “But first let me remind you that Bob Wallace has already pointed out that you don’t know what dispatchable means”
        Really, your seriously think I don’t know what dispatchable means? The CANDU’s at Bruce can go from 10% to 100% full power in 30min. This lets them track from low night time base load to the bulk of daytime loads. The few percent of remaining fluctuating loads are handled by nat-gas turbines and hydo. As this is a small fraction of the load at any one time we can achieve the lowest carbon intensity in North America.
        How dispatchable is a solar plant at night or a week of cloudy bad weather that blankets half the continent? By comparison it seems pretty obvious that nukes are far and away more dispatchable than renewables! Now, this might change in the future (and I hope it does) but we don’t live in that world yet.

        “I have some consolation for you..Danish 60%…Germany 74%”
        Thanks, but it isn’t much of a consolation. Denmark has a population of 5 million souls. They use the resources of surrounding countries (like Norway’s Hydro) to handle the intermittency of their paltry loads. Germany achieved 74% renewable penetration (I’ll assume that number is accurate) for what, one day? What about all those coal plants in Germany. Ask yourself why their carbon intensity is 5 times higher than France. Where did all that carbon come from? Seems to me it would have made much more sense for the Greens in Germany to have shut down the coal plants and kept all those perfectly good nukes up and running, don’t you think?

        It doesn’t have to be nuclear OR renewables. It needs to be nuclear AND renewables (and NOT coal). Each can use their respective (and evolving) strengths to compensate for their respective weaknesses. We all want the same low carbon outcome.

      • Bob Wallace

        Let me add, in Dino’s defense, some months back the coal and nuclear industries began calling their technologies “dispatchable” based on the fact that they can be turned on and off at will. Seems to me that they are probably in panic mode and doing anything they can to increase confusion.

        Then, wind and solar disrupting the grids. Several months back we reached the point at which we were producing more electricity with solar in a year than we used to manufacture solar during the year. We reached that point with wind turbines long ago.

        Solar and wind have been “bootstrapped” using fossil fuels and now are carrying their own weight. As their production increases fossil fuels will be forced off the grid. No disruptions should be expected, the grid has vast amounts of flexibility.

    • cosmicomics

      Your argument was that a significant amount of renewable energy would cripple the grid. I showed that your argument was disproved by reality. Instead of acknowledging that, you chose to supplement your argument with irrelevant objections. The German example referred to a one day record that, if your argument was correct, would have caused the grid to break down. It didn’t. And a one day record is not a negation of longer periods with significant contributions from renewable sources. A number of other countries, e.g. Spain, Portugal, and Ireland have also seen renewables supply a substantial amount of their electricity needs. I documented that the Danish grid was able to manage a contribution of slightly more than 60% from wind in January. In the U.S. Iowa already gets 25% of its electricity from wind, so there are engineers in the U.S. who are capable of integrating substantial amounts of renewable energy into the grid while avoiding grid breakdowns. So, once again, the answer to your argument is this:

      “Claims that renewables could never generate more than a few percent of grid power without taking down the grid have been given the lie by the real-world experience of areas that deliberately adapted their grids.”

      Furthermore, you’re responding as though the present situation represents a final state of affairs. It doesn’t. The integration of a sizable amount of renewables into the electric system is a fairly new phenomenon and should be seen as an ongoing process rather than in terms of what can or can’t be done today. More and more renewable energy is getting integrated into grids and there are plans to integrate even more.

      As the links below indicate, wind and solar are indeed complementary technologies. pp.10, 11, 13 pp.10, 11, 13
      This doesn’t rule out fluctuations, but the complementarity is unmistakeable.

      The graph you linked to pertained primarily to the relationship between the export of electricity and “injection of renewable energy.”

      I noticed that your link referred to a study by the Danish think tank CEPOS: Wind Energy – The Case of Denmark, CEPOS, 15 Sep 2009. CEPOS is a right-wing think tank whose main preoccupation has been the lowering of taxes for those Danes who earn most. Their study on the export of Danish wind energy was debunked by a group of Danish researchers.
      The critical report, which is in English, can be found here:

      Click to access DanishWindPower_Export_and_Cost.pdf

      In any event, using the CEPOS report as a source calls the credibility of your link into question.

      You insist that nuclear has a capacity factor of 90%. Here are some figures from a Canadian who is favorably disposed toward the plants I believe you are basing some of your arguments on:

      “At the end of 2013 Darlington had a four unit average lifetime capacity factor of 84.3 percent and an annual capacity factor of 82.2 percent. Bruce B had a four unit average lifetime capacity factor of 83.4 percent and an annual capacity factor of 86.5 percent. Pickering B had a four unit average lifetime capacity factor of 76.8 percent and an annual capacity factor also of 76.8 percent. Very respectable performances.”

      Another source gives a somewhat lower lifetime capacity:

      “Moreover, the 90% average capacity factors for existing plants experienced in the last decade has been short lived. The average capacity factor over the lives of the plants has been under 75%.” p.5

      You have not been able to disprove that financial institutions have given up on nuclear because it is not an economically viable solution (and hasn’t been for a very long time).

      It may very well be that you have a nuclear plant in Canada that is able to generate dispatchable energy. However, I don’t see that this improves nuclear’s economic outlook.

      You have not contested that the plants under construction in Western countries have been hampered by delays and cost overruns, which will make the price of energy from these even less competitive than it otherwise would have been. You have not been able to demonstrate that the positive learning cycle of wind and solar – better efficiency and lower costs – has not only not been matched by nuclear, but that nuclear has in fact gone backwards.

      You have also failed to show that investments in nuclear that would first lead to concrete results many years from now would be able to play a meaningful role in the struggle to limit CO2 emissions, and that those investments would not be better used on something else.

      “As energy analyst Amory Lovins calculates, »Each dollar spent on a new nuclear reactor buys about 2-10 times less carbon savings, 20 – 40 times slower, than spending that dollar on the cheaper, faster, solutions that make nuclear power unnecessary and uneconomic: efficient use of electricity… and renewable energy.«” p. 13

  18. Dino Rosati

    Also recommend MacKay’s book, especially his analysis of nuclear option.

  19. Horatio Algeranon

    “Imagination Deficit”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    Our greatest lack
    Is imagination
    Holds us back
    From realization

  20. I like solar especially. I like efficiency a lot. But I’d *really* like to see more investment in the ITER project to make fusion power work. If this works, I think it will be the least resource intensive of any means of generating power.

    • Ken Fabian

      I wouldn’t like to see fusion R&D stopped, but how many other lines of energy research, that face far less formidable technological challenges subsist on a tiny fraction of the budget of an ITER?

      Nantenna’s? Better batteries? If it’s so extremely difficult to do as efforts to date show, I doubt cheap and reliable and abundant fusion is anything we can rely on to solve our energy/emissions/climate dilemma.

    • Fusion energy is still decades out, and every indication is that decades from now, it will still be decades out (as was true decades ago).

      It would make no sense to focus on fusion as being anything other than a research project, which, at the moment, is exactly what it is. Tokamaks have been around for a very long time, breakthroughs have been “near” for a very long time, and thus far there’s no reason to believe that practical power plants can be built on the concept.

      So, yes, everyone sensible should support investment in ITER and competitive approaches to fusion power, but no one should imagine that fusion power’s going to come online fast enough to make any difference in our current state of affairs regarding emissions and climate change in the 21st century.

      It would be a wonderful christmas present if true, but I don’t believe in Santa Claus.

    • I’ve been a fusion physicist for about the past 40 years. I’m a strong supporter of ITER. However, I also recognize that ITER is in deep trouble with substantial cost overruns and technology delays. The administration budget propose cuts in the US contribution to ITER, with the Senate voting to cut off all funding to ITER completely. ITER will never produce electricity; it’s an experiment, although a much needed experiment. Even if ITER works as predicted, there are still major problems that need to be overcome before one can have a working reactor. I won’t bother to go into it here.

      Recently, I became interested in climate. I wrote a short essay that tried to place fusion in context of when it might make an impact on the climate problem. Let’s just say I started off very optimistic and by the time I was done with the essay I changed my mind. Fusion seems like it is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the climate problem. You have to read between the lines a bit. You can find my essay here:

      Constructive comments would be appreciated.

  21. Ken Fabian

    Nuclear’s golden moment to shine has probably been and gone – far more damaged by friendly fire from that part of politics that, on the face of it, presents itself as pro-nuclear, than anti-nuclear activism. Far more IMO than it’s most vocal proponents can bring themselves to admit – a consequence of the most pro-nuclear sector of politics being the most vigorous opponent of action on climate. The biggest boost the nuclear option could get is the collapse of opposition to urgent action on emissions by pro-nuclear Conservatives. I have my own reservations about massive global expansion of nuclear but there are sincere proponents out there – proponents who could do well to reflect on how damaging climate science denial and obstructionism within mainstream politics is to every effort to address the climate problem.

    Climate science denial and obstructionism facilitates the fossil fuel based energy sector’s desire to avoid costly and inconvenient change and Energy companies that are heavily invested in fossil fuels do not, as a rule, actually want to pursue any low emissions options, whether nuclear or renewables and don’t and won’t except where they are forced to by regulation or imposed pigovian pricing. They must not be offered the option of NOT cutting emissions, because pure financial self interest will see them take it up with enthusiasm – and with PR, lobbying, advertising, tankthink and strategic political donations.

    Tamino, I agree that energy storage is not the insurmountable obstacle opponents of climate action/ opponents of renewables seek to portray it. I wish for it to get the kinds of R&D&D (and Deployment) funding the scale of the problem merits – rather than being the poor relation, fed on leftovers as an afterthought.

    Some interesting and optimistic developments include –

    Isentropic’s Pumped Heat Energy Storage System, with a pilot plant under construction in the UK. Claims to have cheaper electricity to electricity storage costs than pumped hydro, without the geographic or climatic constraints and based on non-toxic materials (hot gravel and cold gravel in insulated steel tanks, with Argon as working fluid).

    Quinone (organic) based flow batteries, a whole new battery chemistry that looks likely to be cheap to make, non-toxic, and have a long service life.

    • Dino Rosati

      “Nuclear’s golden moment to shine has probably been and gone”

      Someone should warn China, India and Russia about nuclear’s demise. The Chinese are currently building/planning about 40(!) new reactors. Russia just announced its flagship fast reactor, the BN-800 (apparently already sold one to China). UAE is building 4 APR-1400’s. Even the US has 3 AP1000’s currently under construction…

      • Bob Wallace

        You have just listed three country’s where massive amounts of government money have been made available for nuclear builds. That speaks more to political belief than careful financial consideration. Private money won’t touch nuclear builds.

        And even with those proposed builds there are more coming reactor closings in the pipes. Nuclear reactor numbers peaked in 2002 at 444 and have now fallen to 429 with continued falling numbers projected.

        Nuclear’s share of the world electricity market peaked in the early 1990s at 17% and is now down to 11% with more decrease on the way.

      • Ken Fabian

        Nuclear doesn’t have a serious problem with acceptance as a primary means for dealing with the climate problem? I don’t think I’m imagining that it’s an industry that’s been struggling to take advantage of the climate problem in open democratic nations where fossil fuel resources are abundant or are the backbone of their electricity sectors.

        If Conservative politics put half the effort into genuine commitment to climate action with nuclear, as they put into protection of fossil fuels by promotion of climate science denial’s lies and deceits, nuclear would be in a far better political position to be a major part of the solution.

        Climate science denial and obstructionism is the enemy of renewables and the enemy of nuclear. Hell, it’s THE Enemy, and mainstream, popular support for it’s lies and deceits – that lasting wealth and power beyond all imagination is utterly dependent upon the unrestrained use of fossil fuels – will condemn the whole of humanity to an effective eternity in a world made irreversibly hotter and more hellish.

      • Bob Wallace | July 7, 2014 at 6:47 am
        “Private money won’t touch nuclear builds.”

        False. Both the V.C. Summer project (SC) and Vogtle (GA) were privately financed, and construction was started under private financing. Both projects later received federal loan guarantees (at a hefty cost to the building utilities), but the private financing was there at the start. The effect of the loan guarantees was to lower the interest rate.

      • Bob Wallace

        Yes, short term loans were made with the knowledge that federal loan guarantees were in the work.

        October 2013

        “In February 2010, the Department of Energy (DOE) conditionally offered Southern Company and its partners a total of $8.33 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to build two nuclear reactors in Georgia, but the award has yet to be finalized.”

        Click to access TCS_LG_Vogtle34FactSheet_Oct2013.pdf

        Construction was begun with a short term, low interest bridge loan.

    • Dino Rosati

      “…a consequence of the most pro-nuclear sector of politics being the most vigorous opponent of action on climate…”

      That’s a bit of a stretch. Obama and the head of the EPA have lots of good things to say about nuclear. So do people like James Hansen, Steward Brand, Mark Lynas etc (see Pandora’s Promise). Not many climate change opponents among them.

      • Bob Wallace

        Dino, PBO hasn’t said much good about nuclear. All he’s said is something to the effect that everything is on the table. As far as I know he has toured exactly zero nuclear plants but made many appearance at wind and solar sites.

        As for your ‘gang of four’, do you realize how short that list is? And do you know how uninformed Hansen is about renewables? He’s way out of his field of expertise.

      • Dino Rosati

        “Hansen…He’s way out of his field of expertise”
        James Hansen seems pretty competent to me. His resent paper, “Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical
        and Projected Nuclear Power” makes for interesting reading, seems to know his stuff.

        “Now, don’t forget that nuclear needs backup. In fact, nuclear needs large amounts of spinning backup since reactors go offline without notice. Wind and solar are highly predictable so we don’t need backup spinning all the time with them, only about 15 minutes before they fade out.”
        And you think Hansen is way out of his field of expertise!

        “You should read MacKay with a more critical eye. He made mistakes.”
        Right, another one way out of his field of expertise. By all means, show me were these mistakes are. I’m starting to wonder if anyone who disagrees with you is way out of his field of expertise.

        “Nuclear can’t load-follow…”
        Molten salt reactors are excellent load followers. Think how useful the reactors in a nuclear sub or aircraft carrier would be if they couldn’t load follow!

      • I’m not familiar with NP technology options today, either, simply controls safety certification, which I was once licensed by NRC to do. However, whatever the technology, we can’t wait for new developments, e.g., thorium. Whatever the solution, it needs to be turn-key. That’s because any new technology is going to have to have its own set of safety procedures developed, assessed, documented, and put into procedures, in a civilian context. The naval nuclear reactions are excellent, but it’s not realistic to think you can simply move them to a civilian, profit-incentivized and NIMBY-rich political context and think all will be fine.

      • Bob Wallace

        I’m sorry, Dino, but nuclear is simply too expensive to be a major player in our energy futures.

        You are free to double check my numbers. If you need them I’ll give you any links I may have failed to include earlier.

        You can look up criticism of MacKay on the web. And do remember, his book was published in 2008, which means 2007 cost numbers.

        Just to give you an example, the cost of installing solar in Germany in
        January, 2009 was € 4,110 per kW. ($5.59/watt). By May, 2014 the cost had fallen to € 1,340. ($1.82/watt).

        That’s a 77% cost drop for solar and MacKay was writing from even earlier cost basis. Wind has enjoyed a very large price drop since 2007. Back in 2007 the price of nuclear would have been competitive with both wind and solar, Especially solar.

    • I was also going to mention Isentropic’s pumped heat storage, which The Economist has written positively about:

      Isentropic calculates that the “levelised” cost of storage of a PHES system, based on its capital cost amortised over 25 years and its running costs, is $50 a megawatt hour. The price of pumped-hydro varies a lot, as installations differ, but is typically around $65 a megawatt hour.

      Dino Rosati, I don’t think being broadly in support of nuclear energy on balance is the same as being the most pro-nuclear sector of politics.

    • Bob Wallace

      And Ambri’s liquid metal batteries. They are now in the process of factory design, the prototypes have been made.

      Fact is, EOS System’s zinc-air battery, which is now being tested on grids, at 10c/kWh is “good enough”. Between their battery and current lithium-ion batteries for grid smoothing and pump-up hydro for long term storage we can build a 100% renewable grid.

  22. Philippe Chantreau

    Ernst, I did not misunderstand your comment. I’m afraid you misinterpreted mine. Fossil fuels are, right now, still abundant enough but we know that it will not last. They did and do have their usefulness. I can not find where, in my comment, I hint that I might not find them useful. However, they are finite so at some point, under continued use, they will run out. The only way out of that is to discontinue their use, or bring it low enough.

    This should have been evident from the beginning of their historical period of usefulness. Of course, back then everyone was too busy taking advantage of their convenience (usefulness if you prefer). The problem is, nothing has changed and everyone is still too busy enjoying the convenience to do anything about the facts that these fuels will run out. The ease of utilization they still present should be entirely dedicated to executing the transition away from them but that’s not happening because there is still way too much cash to be had. So, year after year, the transition becomes more difficult and the means available to execute it decrease. That was my point. It does dispute that fossil fuels are convenient and still relatively plentiful at the moment. However they are finite and transition away from them will have to happen. I don’t see an incompatibility between these two realities, do you?

  23. Philippe Chantreau

    Correction: should read it does not dispute that FF are convenient and still plentiful etc, etc…

  24. notjonathon

    For those of us living in Japan, the idea of nuclear as a solution is, what shall I say, suboptimal. With an ongoing crisis in the country’s northeast and no place to store the massive quantities of radioactive waste still being generated, Fukushima is a model for all that is wrong with nuclear power. Nuclear plants are built with massive government subsidies and payments to local communities to allow them, and when accidents happen (as they will), the damage is widespread, if not global; no one is responsible, and the only ones punished are the victims chased from their homes and deprived of their livelihood.

    There’s a great deal more to say about the dangers of nuclear power and the interests of governments to downplay them, but in order not to get trolled, I’ll leave those issues merely implied.

    [Response: I don’t allow trolls. I am sometimes accused of moderating comments with too heavy a hand — but I’d say a better description is “troll control.”]

    • Horatio Algeranon

      “Self Con-troll”
      — by Horatio Algeranon

      Con-troll’s all we need
      To keep the trolls at bay
      Silence all we feed
      To keep the trolls away

    • I think that should be “For some of us living in Japan”. Personally speaking, the suboptimal thing is all the fossil fuels we are burning to make up for all the shuttered NPPs.

      Looking at Fukushima, we have a nuclear disaster, caused by a once in a millennium event, leading to an evacuation of a large part on one of Japan’s 47 Prefectures. We now know about these millenial events, and can guard against them. So, in essence, we have, on one hand, the need to evacuate part of a prefecture against all the woes that are coming our way because of global warming.

  25. notjonathon

    Yes, I admire your skill in dealing with difficult commentators, as well as your skill in skewering denialists.

  26. Enrst’s comment about 30% or 60% efficiency not mattering if you are at zero carbon emisisons is important.
    Simply becoming more efficient with fossils fuel usage is important only to the extent that it buys time – it means a smaller volume of greenhouse gases emitted during the transition to zero carbon.
    But efficiency is not enough without that transition – it will simply delay the inevitable.

    • I must say, I found Ernst’s comment confusing, and this reference to it no less so.

      My perspective would be that energy efficiency (AKA ‘demand reduction’) is decarbonization: every joule not used in the first place comes off the top of the energy budget. How ‘carbon efficient’ the mix is that supplies what’s left is then the question.

      While it may be true in an abstract way that a miraculous carbon-free energy supply would render energy efficiency moot, we aren’t talking about abstractions; we’re talking about the historical moment in which we find ourselves, and how best to respond to it. And while progress in renewables is both exciting and hopeful, there’s still a massive hill to climb.

      • Bob Wallace

        We have a very important problem to solve. According to the IPCC we need to get our carbon emission down 40% to 70% by 2050 in order to stay below 2C warming. That means bringing as many tools as we can find to the job.

        Efficiency is such a no-brainer. Just take lighting. Moving from incandescent bulbs to LEDs results in an 80% cut in electricity demand. LEDs pay for themselves in a few months via lower utility bills and elimination of bulb replacement costs.

        The same sort of demand reduction and savings (but perhaps not as dramatic) hold for all sorts of electrical devices. If we simply replace less efficient units with more efficient units as the old wears out we effortlessly cut demand which allows us to burn less coal and gas.

  27. First: The best storage for renewables is the barrel of oil not consumed and the ton of coal not burned.

    Second: The concept of “renewable methane” (i.e. converting electricity from solar or wind into methane) has big potential because methane can simply be mixed into the existing natural gas grid and storage facilities. (google “solar to methane”)“renewable-methane”-energy-storage-an-efficient-enough-option/

    The technology doesn’t seem so popular outside of Europe – maybe because natural gas is widely used and the grid is well established.

  28. Philippe Chantreau

    Back at SkS, Paul D just shared an interesting link about a new and promising energy storage technology that seems to show a lot of promise:

    There is a YouTube vid, the link can be found at SkS.

    The scalability and lack of harmful chemicals are especially appealing. It seems to open lots of possibilities for off-grid living and utility scale as well.

  29. Generation Efficiency is important, and intermittent source storage too. But the biggest key is the Negawatt concept. Each Megawatt not used is less capital needed for the plant and less pollution.

    Passive and positive energy housing is one area where you can get strong results as shown in Germany and Austria where you can now build such a house for a only little overcost of the usual energy sink most homes are. That is is about 15% over a same size EU style build house and is easily recouped over the house life. It must be done at building time and is a lot less efficient and more costly to retrofit. US type housing is more difficult to convert due to the lighter type of houses (much cheaper initialy but insulation is poor which means full HVAC is needed instead of simple heating) and the higher average size. HVAC is 70% of the EU houses energy budget and about 30% of the total energy used in the countries

    Most industry buildings are even worse. that is 12% more here.

    Simulations have shown that this 42% slice of the nationals energy needs could be reduced at least 35% and more probably 50%. You need to make the initial investment palatable with eg taxes incentives but it can be done albeit long term as it affects only new contruction.

    Short cycles in the industry and transportation (electric cars are not a solution in my mind without looking how you generate the electricity) are also important but here you have quite a lot of hurdles to pass as you need to change the lifes of peoples.

    • Yes, demand side reduction is critically important, I agree. That’s because each Kilowatt-Hour or Joule of consumed energy is produced and delivered by generating 10x-20x energy at the generator, and each Joule of delivered fossil fuel takes much more than that Joule to get out of the ground. That means contributions of burnt fossil fuels at the consumer end are just part of the greenhouse gas problem. Only way to stop that is to not use it, or need it, and drive demand for these to zero. This is also why I do not believe a market-only system can ever fix this. That’s because as demand for fossil fuels goes to zero, so will its price. It might not, then, be extracted any longer, since the costs wouldn’t be covered by the price, but there will be an increased incentive to burn it. Accordingly, the only thing that can be done is to impose an appropriately large fee on the fuels to represent the external damage they do, and this cannot be done without government action. Note it’s okay to refund the fee to people (not companies), because what that does is change the price structure of fossil fuel derived products and transport. Non-fossil fuel-based products and transport will then become comparatively inexpensive.

  30. rabiddoomsayer

    In the rapid ramp up to World War 2, did we need bullets or bombs, bombers or fighters, corvettes or battleships, generals or soldiers or sailors? Did we need tanks or trucks? No we needed all of that plus a whole lot more.

    Pretty much we need all of the above, plus a whole lot more. We need PV, concentrated PV, wind, water power. We also need rainwater tanks, grey-water recycling, “Victory Gardens”. We need to deglobalize, localize

    However the biggest, quickest and most painless changes can be made with efficiency. We need greater efficiency in so many ways at so many levels. Our societies wastefulness is beyond appalling.

    More than anything we need to get rid of the notion that stuff makes us happy and that more and bigger stuff will make us even happier. Once our needs are taken care of, bigger and better makes that makes the tiniest of difference.

    Our industrialized consumer society is going away. Do we remake it into something sustainable or do we crash and burn. It would seem that collectively we have chosen to crash and burn.

    What we need more than anything is the will.

    • rabiddoomsayer –

      The interesting thing is that much of our energy use is not the consumer society. It’s keeping things hot and/or keeping things cold. Heating, air conditioning, cooking, refrigeration. The consumer appliances in my home are barely detectable, energy-use wise, in comparison to the mundane but essential tasks.

      And this is important. Efficiency – yes, but where it’ll actually make a difference.

  31. david gould

    I have my doubts that the real cost of solar is approaching parity with the cost of coal or gas. If it is true, then climate change is solved. Nothing to worry about – no new policies are needed, no protests, no fighting of climate sceptics. The free market has provided exactly what we needed at exactly the right time.

    If solar is as cheap as coal and gas, then why are people still building coal and gas and nuclear power stations? The Chinese are not stupid. If solar was truly cheaper, they would not be wastiing their money. Energy companies are not stupid, either. If this was really the case, they would only be building solar power stations, with their current systems sufficient for backup and they would be phasing them out over time as solar became better. They could charge the same retail price and make a killing.

    I suspect that the calculations demonstrating that solar is on a par with coal and gas are only done using the most optimistic assumptions.

    • Jim Lovejoy

      If by ‘most optimistic assumptions’ you mean actual contracted prices, then you are correct.

      • Bern from Aus

        If by ‘actual contracted prices’ you mean ‘actual contracted prices when you know you can rely on other dispatchable energy sources to pick up the slack when the sun stops shining’, then you are correct.

        Not meaning to troll, here, but the term ‘dispatchable’, as used by electricity grid experts, is key – it’s the ability to supply power *when the customer wants it*, irrespective of the weather forecast.

        If you factor in the necessary overbuild or storage requirements, the cost of solar / wind power goes up several times – in some cases, by a factor of four or five. One assessment I saw on wind power in Australia (all of Australia put together, assuming a hypothetical grid to distribute power as required) came up with a dispatchable capacity for wind power of just 8% of rated nameplate capacity, suggesting a 12-fold overbuild would be required to be able to reliably meet demand on still nights.

        I’ve seen some LCOE figures that show wind & solar PV are cost-competitive with new-build coal plants. But that analysis specifically *excluded* the cost of storage / overbuild to combat intermittency.

        $50/MWh energy storage (as mentioned by someone earlier) is pretty good – but that’s about 80% of the total price per MWh of coal generation, all by itself. Add in the overbuild to cope with cloudy / still days, and I suspect the price would climb further.

        While it’s indeed possible to fix the intermittency problem, it’s not cheap, by any means.

        Here’s hoping someone comes up with an even better (cheaper!) way to store & distribute that energy, so we can turn off the fossil fuel plants that little bit sooner…

      • david gould


        Then you would have to agree that the climate change challenge has been met, and there is no further need to be concerned. With solar so cheap, it will rapidly replace coal and gas over the next three decades with no need for any government intervention whatsoever.

        Alternatively, there must be an economic reason for why China, India, the US, Germany, Australia, Great Britain and many others are continuing to build coal, gas and nuclear power stations. The only economic reason that I can think of is that solar is not cheaper than these energy sources or, if it is, only in certain areas of the world for certain times of the year – as I said, the most optimistic of assumptions.

        And if that is the case, solar is at this point part of the climate change solution, but nowhere near the whole of it.


    • Oh, sure, there’s plenty more to do. As I mentioned elsewhere here, energy production is only one part of our dependence upon fossil fuels, the rest being their participation in product manufacture, both as a material and as an energy source for production. These need to be assessed a fee so their price in the marketplace reflects their true cost.

    • Bob Wallace

      “The cost of large-scale solar projects has fallen by one third in the last five years and big solar now competes with wind energy in the solar-rich south-west of the United States, according to new research.

      The study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory entitled “Utility-Scale Solar 2012: An Empirical Analysis of Project Cost, Performance, and Pricing Trends in the United States” – says the cost of solar is still falling and contracts for some solar projects are being struck as low as $50/MWh (including a 30 percent federal tax credit).”

      “Another interesting observation from LBNL is that most of the contracts written in recent years do not escalate in nominal dollars over the life of the contract. This means that in real dollar terms, the pricing of the contract actually declines.

      This means that towards the end of their contracts, the solar plants (including PV, CSP and CPV) contracted in 2013 will on average will be delivering electricity at less than $40/MWh. This is likely to be considerably less than fossil fuel plants at the same time, given the expected cost of fuels and any environmental regulations.”

      Since that was written it seems that the price of wind has dropped even lower.

      China has massively stepped up its wind and solar programs. In 2012 and 2013 China produced more electricity with wind turbines than with nuclear reactors. China will continue to build reactors for a while, they need clean power desperately. They’ll be willing to pay more for nuclear, at least for a while. And, remember, these very low wind and solar prices are very recent. it takes a long time to turn a large ship.

      It doesn’t take optimistic assumptions to determine that 4 or 5 cents for wind and 7 to 9 cents for solar (non-subsidized prices) are cheaper than new nuclear at 11 cents (with subsidies) and new coal at that price or higher. Much higher if we include external costs.

      Those are simply real world prices you can look up.

      • david gould


        Why are they willing to pay more for nuclear if solar is cheaper?


      • Bob Wallace

        Activities have momentum. It takes a while for large organizations (governments/corporations) to rethink and reorganize their strategy.

        You get people in power who “know the truth” and it takes them some time to learn what the new truth is or to be replaced. Look at Cuba. Castro has been unable to learn that many of his ideas of socialism haven’t worked for the Cuban people and he’s hung on to power so that no one with a better grasp on reality could take over.

        That said, remember that solar have become affordable, cheap-ish only in the last couple of years. Many people simply don’t know the current price of wind and solar. Neither do they know the price of storage and how inexpensive a combined system would be.

    • turboblocke

      The reason that FF plants are still being built is that in many cases they were planned a decade or so ago and have become legacy decisions. The important metric is how many are now, today being planned for commission in ten year’s time. I suspect, seeing the number of European plants that have been cancelled or postponed or even built, commissioned and then immediately mothballed, that the numbers are not very great. The reason for the cancellations etc, is mostly financial: there is no guarantee that the investment will pay for itself, let alone generate a profit. No one is willing to bet that FF are going to be cheaper than renewables.

    • OK, why are people building *more* renewable capacity than all those alternatives you list? Because that has been the case for a while now.

      Do you think that they are ‘stupid?’

      • david gould

        Doc Snow,

        According to the US Energy Information Administration, the following additions to the US energy system were made in 2013:

        natural gas – 6,861 megawatts
        solar – 2,959 megawatts
        coal – 1,507 megawatts
        wind – 1,032 megawatts
        biomass – 549 megawatts
        hydroelectric – 384 megawatts
        other – 214 megawatts

        While it is very impressive that solar added 3,000 megawatts, natural gas plus coal combined added double that of solar and wind combined in the US. Coal loses to solar, though, which is great.

        This indicates that solar may be cheaper than coal, or that people are willing to pay the cost differential because they want to go green. (Incidentall, that is the choice that I have made – it is more expensive to buy solar and wind where I live than it is to buy coal, but I am paying the difference for around 70 per cent of my electricity).

        Over 70 per cent of the solar power installed was in California, by the way, indicating that it may be economic in certain locations and not in others. Or that could be politics at work rather than economics, meaning that perhaps other states – such as Texas – where it would be viable are resisting.


      • We have switched off oil as heating source, ripped out our central A/C, and installed ductless minisplit heat pumps in six zones, powered by electricity. We are sourcing all of our power, paying a premium, from New England Wind.

        We retain the oil furnace as backup when temperatures drop below zero, Fahrenheit, and have a propane emergency generator. We rely upon the grid for delivery and pay transit. Our hot water remains heated by oil, an engineering problem because the oil furnace will not remain sound on standby without use. We are investigating solar for our home, not on the roof, but on panels in the yard, due to too much shading by trees.

        Sure, it will be more expensive, but our view is the the discount at which fossil fuel energies are offered is partly subsidy and mostly because these have a free atmospheric sewer in which to dump their wastes. If that sewer were properly priced, they would be much more expensive. Because we’ve gotten used to inexpensive energy doesn’t mean we have been stealing from the future and ought to feel guilty about it.

      • Bob Wallace

        92.1% of all new US capacity in the first quarter of 2014 was renewables. (Don’t yet have second quarter data.)

        Solar – 584
        Wind – 427
        Natural gas – 90
        Geothermal – 30
        Biomass – 10
        Hydro – 8

        Click to access mar-infrastructure.pdf

        Globally, 32% of all new capacity for the first half of 2014 was solar.

        It’s solar boom time….

      • david gould

        I should add that there was an estimated 2,000 megawatts of rooftop solar added also, which is great.

      • david gould

        I would also add that according to the IEA, only 15 per cent of investment in the energy sector go to renewables, biofuels and nuclear combined. Of the $1.6 trillion invested annually, over $1 trillion is in various aspects of fossil fuels.

        There main scenario has fossil fuels being around half of a projected $48 trillion in investment over the next 20 years. Renewables make up $6 trillion.

        These guys are not stupid. Their projections will be wrong, of course, but Birol is a climate change believer, and he is worried about the path that he sees us on. He does not see solar becoming dominant in the next two decades. And neither do I.

      • Bob Wallace

        How do you define “dominate”? More than 50% or a big a player as nuclear at 19%?

        If ‘as big as nuclear’ I think solar will be there before 20 years are up. The price falls for solar are stupendous.

      • The BP statistical review shows 2013 to have been a great year for renewables, with the total energy consumption from renewables increasing 16.3 per cent, or to 279.3 millions of barrels of oil equivalent from around 240.2.

        However, the combined total increase from renewables, hydro, nuclear and biofuels was 72 millions of barrels of oil equivalent, 39.1 of that from renewables.

        Total energy consumption from coal increased by 111.5 millions of barrels of oil equivalent.

        Total energy consumption from gas increased by 41.7 millions of barrels of oil equivalent.

        Total energy consumption from oil increased by 65.9 millions of barrels of oil.

        Renewables are obviously not yet on par with fossil fuels in terms of price, although they must be coming relatively close. However, each of oil, gas and coal beat renewables in terms of total energy consumption globally.

        Given that global energy consumption was 12730.4 millions of barrels of oil equivalent and is increasing by around two per cent annually, renewables would need to keep increasing by 16 per cent annually from now until 2037 to reach over the 50 per cent mark. I doubt that such a percentage increase can be maintained given normal economic circumstances. Government intervention – either through a carbon price or in some other fashion – on a very large scale imo, is required.

      • Oops – BP statisticsal review *2014*. It is about 2013, but dated 2014.

      • Thanks for the information, David. But I think you’ve moved the goalposts a tad (perhaps inadvertently.) We were speaking of electrical generation, and your numbers appear to be relevant to total energy consumption (i.e., all sectors.)

        But to document what I said above, here, for instance, is the NREL press release relating to the 2012 numbers:

        The most directly applicable bullet point is this:

        “Renewable electricity has been capturing a growing percentage of new capacity additions during the past few years. In 2012, renewable electricity accounted for more than 56% of all new electrical capacity installations in the U.S.—a major increase from 2004 when renewable electricity installations captured only 2% of new capacity additions.”

        Similarly, from the REN 2014 status report:

        “In 2013, renewables accounted for more than 56% of net additions to global power capacity and represented far higher shares of capacity added in several countries.”

        Click to access gsr2014_full%20report_low%20res.pdf

        (Quote is from Executive Summary, p. 13.)

        More specifically about solar (which you mentioned above) are a couple of sentences from the same paragraph:

        “For the first time, the world added more solar PV than wind power capacity; solar PV and hydropower were essentially tied, each accounting for about one-third of new capacity. Solar PV has continued to expand at a rapid rate, with growth in global capacity averaging almost 55% annually over the past five years.”

        One of the great things about solar PV is that it is, in fact, assembly-line tech to a considerable degree. That’s why–or at least one reason–it’s scaling up so well, and with such unexpected rapidity.

  32. Philippe Chantreau

    I understand your point David but the current costs of gas/coal/oil do not include all the costs associated with the consequences of using them. Fish so contaminated with mercury that you can’t eat it more than 2-3 times a month. What is the cost? Storm surge flooding the metro with seawater, what kind of cost? Populations plagued by respiratory problems, entire days lost to outside air being dangerous to breathe, what is the cost? Flooded dwellings or unusable agricultural land, what is the cost? Bark beetle infested trees going up in smoke? Drought parched pastures? The true cost of the ton of carbon should factor these.

    • david gould

      Philippe Chantreau,

      Yes, that is true. But people are claiming that solar is as cheap as or cheaper than coal right now. If that was correct, those other things would not matter – coal would be replaced and we would not have to lift a finger. The free market would do it all for us.

      I am not convinced that the climate change problem has been solved, and I think that this over-optimism will actually slow us down in the fight when we should be speeding up. Technology optimists are not allies, in my opinion.

      • Markets are never as free as you are assuming, even without government interference. Firms that dominate markets will spend money to maintain their dominance, whatever it does to consumer prices, especially for products in which there is no price elasticity.

  33. Someplace along here there was a bringing up of the “If we can’t solve the world’s problem, why should the U.S. try” argument. Apart from it being based upon a logical fallacy (Nirvana fallacy, to be specific), note that it is entirely possible to fix this problem by changing U.S. policy. For example, several of the carbon fee-and-dividend or carbon tax and reduce income tax proposals include assessing the carbon tax on ANY item which enters U.S. borders, including products. While it is not clear whether upstream costs of manufacture of such products could be so assigned (why not?), this is entirely reasonable as, in operation, it is no more than a particularly reasoned tariff. If this were applied to all incoming products, excepting those from countries with acceptable carbon taxes themselves, the United States could indeed change international behavior.

  34. To follow up on some really good points the US has a fabulous opportunity- according to the concerned scientist report on US coal generation 3/4 of the US coal fueled power station fleet has passed its 30 year useful life with 17% being more than 50 years old.

    Inefficient they have survived because fuel price is artificially low and pollution controls were not fully implemented. US coal currently has a profit of just 28 cents a ton with costs rising and fuel price falling and new EPA rules will price coal out of the market.

    On this occasion shale gas may be the allie – and the coal generators and producers will fight and lobby and spread FUD- what they need most is the investors to believe coal still has a future.

    Renewables are seeing costs fall – it is a no-brainer for the investors, unless government offers more special deals in the form of guarantees. The biggest obstacle in the short term is political, not technical – when renewables of all forms gets to 30% then there will be solutions needed to be tested.

    Go USA- because sometimes we really need you guys to be a super power.

  35. For fans of “Without the Hot Air”, I recommend the 2006 Sandia report “Solar FAQs”, at This is a brief, MacKay-style look at the entire world’s energy needs in 2050 and 2100. The short answer is that we need at least another 15TW of low-carbon energy by 2050 to supply growth in demand and some decarbonization, and they find that only solar can do that. (Current world energy use is about 10TW). They estimated that cost needs to fall to $0.06/kWh to compete with electricity, and to $0.02/kWh to compete with all other energy sources, and we are well on the way to that. Since there is currently 130 GWp of solar installed (I think that’s large-scale solar only, not house-scale), let’s call that 30 GW continuous supply, to get to 15 TW by 2050 needs a growth rate of 19%/year. The current growth rate is 40%, but it remains to be seen if that can continue as production scales up. It will also need a lot of overnight and longer-term storage, presumably molten salt or similar, and demand management. At the moment the cost of guaranteed supply is hidden from consumers, but that could change.

    Incidentally a low-tech storage solution is already in use in Denmark – spare electricity is used to run heat pumps to heat the ground. The heat is saved for the following winter when it is used to run district heating. It would be interesting to look at whether that could scale up to large cities. One of the fun calculations in “Without the Hot Air” showed that if all the houses in the UK were heated from ground-sourced heat pumps, the draw-down of heat would exceed its replenishment from the earth’s interior. So some extra energy source would be needed.

    There were some comments about energy efficiency. The long term trend for energy/GDP is -1%/year, that trend goes right back to the start of the industrial revolution and continues today. So I find it hard to believe it possible to do much better. Even reaching -2%/year would be an impressive feat. It would be useful to calculate the impact on energy/GDP of a certain rate of switching from ICE to electric and from gas/oil central heating to heat pumps.

    • It’s interesting to contemplate gigantic flywheels for energy storage. This is done on much smaller scales as electrical continuity for small data centers. What’s interesting is that big turbines at coal and hydro plants effectively serve as grid smoothers when smaller power supplies switch on and off by changing their storage of energy and hence angular momentum to correspond. Flywheels could do this, too.

  36. David B. Benson

    Energy storage will help of course, but the costs are still too high for most applications. For example, the best utility scale battery claimed to be forthcoming, with a link towards the end of
    is about US$250/kWh. For comparison, the Mid-Columbia Hub price for firm, high demand power is around US$0.03/kWh. Therefore batteries are not yet viable on a large scale and it is not clear batteries ever will be.

  37. David B. Benson

    The LCOE for new nuclear power plants (NPPs) depends upon many factors. For example, the 4 South Korean NPPs being constructed by South Koreans in the UAE is still on schedule for an all-in cost, including finance charges, of US$4,777/kW. Using
    I obtain LCOE of US$0.058/kWh.

    For the new Westinghouse AP-1000s @ Vogtle, I obtained just under or at US$0.08/kWh. I don’t believe a variety of claims for too high price of new NPPs.

  38. Shouldn’t the goal be to supply human industrial society with _less_ energy, not more? Even if it were all carbon free, what are we using all that energy to do–mostly rape the world of its resources thus stealing them from our children and from all other species.

    But if we are talking about ‘solutions’ and pathways, here is the latest report presented to the UN on the subject–much to chew on (and to object to) here:

    Click to access DDPP_interim_2014_report.pdf

    (large pdf–218 pages)

  39. OT: There have been a number of reports about increased likelihood/certainty of ice sheet collapse in Greenland and Antarctica lately, most recently this one:

    Paul Spence, Stephen M. Griffies, Matthew H. England, Andrew McC. Hogg, Oleg A. Saenko, Nicolas C. Jourdain. Rapid subsurface warming and circulation changes of Antarctic coastal waters by poleward shifting winds. Geophysical Research Letters, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/2014GL060613

    Any chance tamino would want to comb through these, add up the numbers, and tell us where they put us as to likely sea level rise by century’s end? (I can send links to other studies, if these have been off your radar screen. Apologies if this was already covered somewhere and I missed it.)

    • So, I’m not an oceanographer, and not a glaciologist. I know a little bit about oceanography, but am a statistician. I took a look at the Spence, et al paper. This is a very complicated business. Perhaps Tamino can make something of a timeline, but I doubt anyone can. To illustrate, there’s a phenomenon called Ekman pumping which, for complicated reasons, causes upwelling near a coast if there is a strong current parallel to the coast. (See Knauss, Introduction to Physical Oceanography, 1997, pages 125ff.) What Spence, et al appear to be addressing, as I understand it, is a reduction in that upwelling, due to winds being more onshore than being parallel to the circumpolar wind pattern which often characterizes the Antarctic region. (Rotate and look at the South polar region.) This means deep ocean currents, which are warmer and more saline, can interact with marginal ice near the grounding line, hence the potential problem.

      A prediction, were it possible, would need to include a consideration of the ice-ocean nonlinearities, which Spence, et al admit they don’t consider in their modeling, as well as the interaction of an ice flow with its margins and basin, something which is very much at the edge of current research. Moreover, mapping of the terrane of the ground below line has not been done, and Our Dear United States Congress has just voided funds for expanding such mapping, which involves airborne radar penetrating the ice. There is also some sentiment in the U.S. House to prohibit Department of Defense support for these projects, something which is crucial. Knowing these details is critical to getting the details and models right. Without these, I fear, estimating rates are a shot in the dark.

      I’ve written about this at my blog, arguing that there’s plenty of criticism of climate models and glacial models, but when the opportunity arises to improve them, those sympathetic with the critiques deny funds to do so. This means to me they are disingenuous, and not really interested in improving the science. In other words, they are shooting the messenger.

      Just my opinion, BTW, but it really chaps my a__.

  40. Thanks, hgm. That pretty much was my impression, but I was hoping someone with more statistical chops than I have (=none) could quantify _some_ sort of relative probability of reaching various amounts of slr at various points in time. As you say, the non-linearities, uncertainties about interactions with underlying features, and the idiocy of congress all make this difficult if not impossible. The actions of these congressmen should be criminal, and certainly prove what most of us strongly suspected–that they are pseudo-skeptics, only pretending to want better science while busily defunding as much actual relevant research as they can.

  41. What I’m seeing is a relatively small amount of renewables creating a powerful carbon price signal that may prove more potent than deliberate Carbon Taxes or Emissions Trading schemes; solar shaves demand for fossil fuels from daytime peak, which was the most profitable period. A relatively small amount of storage will shave demand off the next most profitable evening peak; PHES developers – Isentropic Ltd – seem to think 3 hours will initially be the most profitable for their large scale storage. The cost of fossil fuel generation goes up, perhaps to closer to where the price ‘signal’ needs to be to drive a low emissions energy transformation.

    Centralised generation is being forced, by market impacts of renewables into intermittency and, whilst this phenomena gets spoken of as a death spiral for the old energy business model, might it be better described as market imposed carbon pricing?

    The role and value of existing infrastructure as intermittent backup during a period of transition should not be underestimated and best if it happen with foresight and planning. I hesitate to say it, but circumstances may arise where there is a genuine case for some subsidy to prevent premature financial collapse if the industry can’t cover it’s costs as backup to renewables – but it needs to be tied to planning and forethought that makes it more suited to that role rather than a means to undercut renewables.

    In any case the commercial value of energy storage is going to become increasingly apparent and drive a wave of innovation and investment.

    • Bob Wallace

      Capacity payments already happen. Generators whose power is not often needed are paid to stay available.

      Exelon recently tried to get capacity payments for their Illinois nuclear plants. Unfortunately for them the utilities turned them down and we’ll probably hear about reactor closings in the near future. Six of their reactors have been running at a loss for five years.

      I can easily see us paying some coal plants to mothball most of the year, coming back on line during high demand summer hours. We’ve got gas turbines that run only a few hours a year now.

  42. kap55, “After accounting for the higher capacity factor of nuclear, the higher systems costs for RE, and the much longer plant lifetime, nuclear is cheaper than wind and MUCH cheaper than solar.”

    Indeed, let’s compare two state of the art installations the ivanpah solar thermal plant, and an AP1000 nuclear plant. From Wikipedia, ivanpah power 0.377GW, capacity factor 31%, lifetime 25 years, cost $2.2B. AP1000, power 1.1GW, capacity factor 90%, lifetime 60 years, cost $9B.
    Since the nuke produces more energy, we have to scale up ivanpah to the same delivered energy. Scale factor would be about (1.1/0.377)(90/31)(60/25)=20.3. So you would have to pay $44 Billion! to make ivanpah deliver about the same energy as the nuke. And people think nukes are expensive!

    • Bob Wallace

      My cherries are getting ripe as well. I chased a Western Tanager out of the tree this morning. Let’s all go cherry picking and then we can bake a tasty pie.

      Or we could do a apples:apples pie and compare the cost of nuclear to a technology which is at least a bit mature, say onshore wind.

      Wind – $0.04/kWh average 2011 and 2012 PPA
      DOE “2012 Wind Technologies Market Report”

      Click to access 2012_wind_technologies_market_report.pdf

      Wind – $0.021/kWh average 2013 PPA. Unconfirmed number but from a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

      An analysis of the Vogtle reactor costs by Citigroup in early 2014 found the LCOE for electricity from those reactors will cost 11 cents per kWh. That is assuming no further cost/timeline overruns.

      They also stated that reactors build after the Vogtle units would likely produce more expensive electricity as they would not be able to receive the low financing rates as Vogtle has obtained.

      (Both wind and nuclear stated costs are subsidized.)

      • David B. Benson

        As I stated above, I do not find Citibank’s reported finding credible. I suspect the LCOE for the new Vogtle units is about US$0.089/kWh at the distribution end of the transmission line.

        Wind is less but is neither dispatchable or available in South Carolina or Georgia. Nuclear is a low carbon generator for baseload power.

      • Bob Wallace

        I’m not sure whose LCOE I should believe, yours or a very large, highly regarded financial research organization.

        But, never mind. 9 cents isn’t competitive. It’s more than a mix of wind, solar and storage.

        As far as your claim that wind is not available in Georgia and South Carolina, it’s wrong three different ways.

        First, Georgia is already starting to import wind-electricity from Oklahoma. As are other Southeastern states such as Alabama and Tennessee. (See below.)

        Second, both Georgia and South Carolina have very good offshore wind resources. The US is late to the game with offshore and initially offshore will be more expensive than (mature) nuclear, but will probably drop lower in price as the industry matures.

        Third, Georgia, South Carolina and much of the eastern part of the US have much more wind potential than we realized. Remember when we moved from 50 meter tall turbines to 80 meter tall ones how we discovered the wind resources were very much better? Look up 50 meter and 80 meter US wind maps.

        A new study finds that by using 96 to 110 meter towers there’s great wind to be harvested

        Here’s a large scale version of the new US ‘up high’ wind map.

        From that same article –

        “Wind energy from the Plains will make its way to Georgia next year. The news became official late last month, when the Georgia Public Service Commission unanimously approved the state’s first wind farm proposal. Georgia Power is entering into two long-term contracts for the purchase of 250 megawatts of power from wind farms in Oklahoma, enough to power over 50,000 homes. The main decision to approve these contracts stems from the extremely low cost of energy for ratepayers.”

      • David B. Benson

        Citibank is not universally highly regarded. I used the interest rate the utilities active obtained. Did Citibank?

        A mere 250 MW isn’t much more than a token. I suspect that offshore wind will prove to be more expensive than nuclear. What is the LCOE for the Nantucket project? And not even dispatchable…

      • Bob Wallace

        David, we’ve been building nuclear reactors for over a half century and we haven’t figured out how to make them affordable.

        The US hasn’t even started building offshore wind. There is a learning curve ahead of us.

        Thirty years ago onshore wind was $0.38/kWh. Now we have brought it down to under $0.06/kWh. Offshore will likely enjoy a similar, but perhaps not as dramatic price decrease.

        Perhaps you missed the part about Citigroup stating that future nuclear builds would be unlikely to come in as low as 11 cents since they wouldn’t likely be able to finance as low as Vogtle did due to the very unusually low rates of the time. That should answer your interest rate question.

      • Bob –

        I do think it’s a bit disingenuous to compare wind with no backup to Nuclear. The intermittentcy problem has not been fixed.

        New nuclear build is expensive for a couple of reasons – we keep paying ‘One-off’ costs for new designs, and nuclear plants have to account for exernialities in ways that no other energy source is expected to. Imagine the cost of a coal plant that had to account for and store all of it’s waste. Or a wind turbine that had to include storage.

        As other have said, though.. Renewables vs Nuclear is a silly argument. We need at least an order of magnitude of both.

      • Bob Wallace

        Nuclear needs storage as much as do renewables.

        Imagine the normal utility need for new capacity. It’s almost always for more peak power, the time when people are up, about and active.

        You add a nuclear plant in order to get that peak supply and now you have excess production at night. You can’t turn off that nuclear reactor.*

        Back when we were building reactors in the US we built 125 pump-up hydro storage facilities (20 GW) in order to time-shift unneeded off peak nuclear to peak demand hours.

        “we keep paying ‘One-off’ costs for new designs, and nuclear plants have to account for exernialities in ways that no other energy source is expected to”

        No, the Vogtle and Summer reactors are AP1000s. It a shared design that’s been built before. China built the first ones in 2005.

        Nuclear does not cover its external costs. Taxpayers are on the hook for any nuclear disaster than runs more than ~$12 billion. Fukushima will clearly be over $100 billion and estimates run as high as $500 billion. That money will be paid by Japanese taxpayers.

        The problem of long term fuel waste is also going to be partially born by taxpayers.

        Wind and solar have to cover 100% of their liabilities.

        * You might be able to turn it down some (more recent designs) but that lowers production and ramps up cost. Cost of electricity = total annual costs / total annual production. There would be a financial decision whether to ramp or store. Either adds cost.

      • Dino Rosati

        Bob Wallace: “Nuclear needs storage as much as do renewables”
        You don’t appear to know what your talking about.
        France provides about 80% of their electricity with nuclear, where are they hiding all that storage? Ontario is about 50-70% nuclear depending on load, no-storage.

        For moderate power changes nukes (or any other thermal plant) can simply bypass the turbine (steam bypass). This has negligible cost for a nuke since the energy density of its fuel is millions of times combustion energies. For slower predictable changes (night vs daytime) they can simply throttle power with control rods – that’s what they’re for! They have been doing this for decades. This is not some new whiz-bang feature of new reactors!

      • Where does France hide their storage?

        All over Europe. France dumps its excess nuclear onto other European countries and buys back power when it needs more than its reactors provide.

        I can’t tell you exactly how Ontario balances out their nuclear, but I’d first look at the amount of hydro they have.

        Tell you what, I’ll check that for you…

        Ontario, 2012
        Nuclear 6,606 MW cap – 49 TWh
        Hydro 6,996 MW cap – 39.6 TWh
        Thermal 5,447 MW cap – 4.1 TWh

        Based on that I’d say that Ontario lets its nuclear plants run most of the time, cuts back on hydro, and really cuts back on thermal when demand is lower.

        Their thermal is mostly NG which is highly dispatchable.

        Ontario also sells power to other grids when it has surpluses.

        Now, can you see that if a grid was all nuclear it would need a lot of storage in order to move power around in time? Exactly how a wind/solar grid would work. The difference is that nuclear can’t be easily/cheaply turned on/off and wind and solar have to be grabbed when they are available.

        “For moderate power changes nukes (or any other thermal plant) can simply bypass the turbine (steam bypass). This has negligible cost for a nuke….”

        No. The cost of electricity is determined by total annual costs / total annual electricity produced.

        Run a reactor full time (90% CF) and the cost will be 12c/kWh.
        Run the same reactor half as much, by either turning it off or ramping it down, and the cost will be 24c/kWh.

        Nuclear has almost no variable costs. They are almost all fixed. Almost nothing is saved by ramping back or shutting down.

        OTOH natural gas has low fixed costs (cheap capex and quick to bring on line = low finex) but high variable (fuel) costs.

    • Ivanpah is thermal, not PV. The latter is now cheaper, and prices continue to drop. (I’d also question the CF and lifetime numbers you use, in line with comments above, but that’s more of a quibble.) And don’t forget that PV parks such as the 290 MW Agua Caliente project ($1.8 Bn) are unlikely ever to experience extended periods of unavailability (R & R is modular), and are exceedingly cheap to operate.

      But I really hate this renewables verus nuclear stuff. In the real world it’s not a zero-sum game. The two have complementary strengths and even (as Charles Forsberg points out) potential synergies. I am not convinced that nuclear by itself can possibly scale large enough, fast enough, to get us close to where we need to be on emissions. (Whenever I ask this question, I basically get told “Of course we can! France!!!”, which I find less than convincing–France is not the world, and this is not 1980.) Yet it can provide reliable, stable, carbon-free power in places and/or times where renewable resources aren’t abundant, while energy storage is still immature. We are going to have both over the coming decades, and my gut feeling is that we really need both. The question is, in what measure, and where?

      • “Ivanpah is thermal, not PV. The latter is now cheaper, and prices continue to drop… And don’t forget that PV parks such as the 290 MW Agua Caliente project ($1.8 Bn) are unlikely ever to experience extended periods of unavailability (R & R is modular), and are exceedingly cheap to operate.”

        From Wikipedia – Agua Caliente PV, 2012, capacity factor 25%, lifetime
        is hard to say, most manufactures are claiming 20-25years, let’s call it 30 years. Comparing it with delivered energy of AP1000, scale factor is about (1.1/0.290)(90/25)(60/30)=27.3. So PV equivalent would cost $49 Billion!

        Land use is insane, plant covers 9.7 Km^2, scaled to equal annual energy that’s 132 km^2(!). That’s much bigger than the area of Manhattan (87 sq KM). Imagine the resources (concrete, steel, etc) to cover such a vast area, and keep the panels clean. Imagine the amount of toxic chemicals required to produce enough cadmium telluride to cover that area (chemicals with an infinite half life). And this does not include cost of storage or grid integration to compensate for lack of dispatchability.

        And I support PV use! I own a company that has covered it’s roof with PV. We need to be honest about the strengths and weaknesses of the technologies we deploy if we’re going to find solutions.

      • Yes, let’s use 30 years: “Overall, the picture is very encouraging: Both our own experience at CAT and the research by LEE-TISO suggest that PV panel power output decreases by less than 1% per year. Panels do experience a significant amount of physical decay (yellowing, laminate peeling off) if they are exposed to the elements for 10 or 20 years, but the effect on their performance is limited. This suggests a PV installation should produce electricity for 30 years or longer.”

        Land use is only “insane” because you’ve confused km2 with ha–your source clearly states it’s the latter. A factor of 100…

        And while you are being ‘honest’ about the strengths and weaknesses of various energy sources, will you give equal hand-waving time to the low-level radioactive waste produced by your AP1000 as you gave to Cadmium Telluride?

        Lastly–and again in the name of honesty–perhaps you might recognize that there is value in an energy source reliably correlated with daytime peak use, and consider whether CF is really as important a metric as you’re making it?

      • By the way, an interesting discussing of the load-following capability of the French nuclear fleet is here:

        (Scroll down to the section helpfully entitled “Load-following with PWR nuclear plants.”)

        It’s non-quantitative, but illuminating.

        And below is a bit more on capacity factor and load factor. Regarding the French fleet, the former isn’t given, but the latter is pegged at 73.6%:

        “Considering 400 power reactors over 150 MWe for which data are available: over 1980 to 2000 world median capacity factor increased from 68% to 86%, and since then it has maintained around 85%. Actual load factors are slightly lower: 80% average in 2012 (excluding Japan), due to reactors being operated below their full capacity for various reasons. One quarter of the world’s reactors have load factors of more than 90%, and nearly two thirds do better than 75%, compared with about a quarter of them over 75% in 1990. The USA now dominates the top 25 positions, followed by South Korea, but six other countries are also represented there. Four of the top ten reactors for lifetime load factors are South Korean.

        “US nuclear power plant performance has shown a steady improvement over the past twenty years, and the average load factor in 2012 was 81%, up from 66% in 1990 and 56% in 1980. This places the USA as the performance leader with nearly half of the top 50 reactors, the 50th achieving more than 94% in 2012. The USA accounts for nearly one third of the world’s nuclear electricity.

        “In 2012, ten countries with four or more units averaged better than 80% load factor, while French reactors averaged 73.6%, despite many being run in load-following mode, rather than purely for base-load power.

        “Some of these figures suggest near-maximum utilisation, given that most reactors have to shut down every 18-24 months for fuel change and routine maintenance. In the USA this used to take over 100 days on average but in the last decade it has averaged about 40 days. Another performance measure is unplanned capability loss, which in the USA has for the last few years been below 2%.”

  43. Bob Wallace – I think you can only get so far on efficiency. I have to NZ figures because I dont US one, but overall consumer energy use here is 88kWh per day per person. (USA raw no. is 250 kWh/d/p). Of that, lighting is between 2-4kWh/d/p. Even an 80% reduction dont do much but reality will be less because commercial lighting is already efficient. Typical household energy use (lighting/heat/refrigeration/hot water/gadgets) is 11kWh/d/p. You might get that down to 10 with changing light bulbs. Transport and embodied energy in all the stuff we consume (MacKay puts your morning paper at 1kWh/d for instance) are tough ones. For NZ, about half of our CO2e is from FF burning – the other half is methane from ruminants. Now that is a tough problem to solve.

    Going all out on conservation, I figure you might get 10kWh/d/p saving – a lot more if you could go to electric transport – and while that is not insignificant, I think you really have to look to alternative energy for big savings.

    • Bob Wallace

      US per capita electric usage is roughly 36 kWh/day. About 40% of that is generated by coal or ~ 14.5 kWh. If, as you suggest, we could cut 10 kWh/day with conservation that greatly reduces the amount of fossil fuel to renewables we’d have to do.

      I don’t know if we could cut that much. I used light bulbs because they are such an obvious example of how we can cut usage and keep more money in our pockets.

      Greentech Media is running an article today, let me paste in the first couple of paragraphs –

      “Last year, there was a missed opportunity to save the amount of energy produced by 133 mid-size coal-fired power plants. And it did not involve adjusting thermostats or turning off lights.

      Instead, the 400 terawatt-hours of wasted energy globally were sucked up by network-enabled devices such as set-top boxes, TVs, computers and game consoles.”

      I’m going to do the math publicly so someone can catch my (probable) mistake.

      400 terawatt hours. 400,000,000 MWh 1,095,890 MWh/day

      US population ~ 314,000,000 3.5 kWh/day/person

      The EIA finds that with technology in hand today about 65% of that power could be saved. 2.3 kWh/day. That’s another obvious way to cut demand. Stuff like computers and game machines tend to turn over very quickly. New, efficient units probably wouldn’t cost noticeably more and would put money back into people’s pockets.

      TVs, set top recorders, refrigerators, AC units, resistance heaters, lights, washing machines and dryers, dishwashers, …. Make them all more efficient and that’s less fossil fuel -> renewable work to be done.

      I don’t disagree with you, there isn’t likely enough efficiency to let us shut down fossil fuels, but if we come at them from two directions we get rid of them quicker.

      • And from three different directions, it could be done even faster.

      • Bob Wallace

        Actually, adding nuclear in the mix would likely slow our ability to cut CO2 emissions.

        Nuclear reactors take a long time, several years, to bring on line. Using that money for wind and solar means that carbon releases can be slowed in months.

        Standing a new wind turbine takes about three days. With the modular characteristic of wind farms, that new turbine can be hooked to the grid and start producing coal/gas-canceling electricity while the next turbine is being stood.

      • Bob, the estimate of 400 terawatt hours is globally, not US, so saving is much smaller. MacKay’s estimate is that saving from switching off your phone charger for 1 day, is what you will use in 1 second of car-driving. A year’s saving is equivalent to one hot bath. I am not against these saving obviously, but there is a problem in thinking small actions will save the world. Again, from MacKay – “if everyone does a little, we will achieve only a little”. It is all too easy to get feel-good illusions of making a difference. Someone might feel green living in on a lifestyle-block, generating all their electricity with solar etc, recycling – but if they are commuting to work each day over 25km, then they are using more energy, doing more emissions, than inner-city dweller, with coal-fired electricity who is able to walk/bike to work instead.

      • ” but there is a problem in thinking small actions will save the world”

        That’s a meme which you started. The rest of us (seems to me) are saying that efficiency is the low hanging fruit and can help. I see no one claiming that we can solve the problem with efficiency alone.

        And, Mackay, it might be best to leave his book behind. It’s both wrong (in places) and out of date.

    • Ruminants isn’t that hard to solve: eat fewer of them!

      • True (if unpopular.) Some of the estimates of the emissions savings of eating less meat are ‘highly non-trivial’.

      • Bob Wallace

        There are diet changes that can cut methane belches from cattle. It seems that most of the methane comes from (unnaturally high) grain diets.

        There’s at least one study that finds adding omega-3s in the form of fish oil to the diet of cattle can reduce methane emissions. Other work is underway.

        My very quick, and very shallow, looking into the problem finds that the problem is mainly with dairy and feedlot cattle whose diets are 100% under the control of animal managers. Cattle grazing on pasture seem to have much lower methane releases.

        Humans, beans, and bratwurst….

      • This is NZ remember? Quite a few of our ruminants are grown for wool and the bulk of the cattle problem is dairy. While I dont want to underestimate in impact high milk prices are having on converting cropland to dairy, there is a lot of land that can grow meat that is very unsuitable for cropping.
        For meat – we dont do grain-fed meat here. They eat grass.

      • Bob, you’re missing a big factor in the carbon footprint of meat: it’s not just (or primarily) a matter of methane, it’s that you’re a trophic layer up–ie., higher on the food chain. And as a rule of thumb, that means about a factor of 10 more energy per unit of food. Management practices will never mitigate that inherent inefficiency.

      • Horatio Algeranon

        Personally, I eat only “certified CO2-fed beef” and occasionally methane fed beef, when it is on sale (which is rarely — I think it was on sale once…or maybe that was “propane fed”. It was quite some time ago, at any rate)

        But on a less serious note: forests also get cleared for cattle grazing.

    • It is not only important what energy is used, but WHERE it is used. Demand side reduction is very powerful because of an aspect which I feel you are neglecting in your calculations, Phil. And that is that for every unit of energy required to power that lighting at the consumer end requires 13 units of energy at the production end. (See figure from Kevin Anderson’s talk.) Thus, if energy is produced locally it is inherently more efficient than being produced centrally. Utilities were created for convenience, safety, and efficient use of capital, not of energy. Demand side reductions are also available by reducing consumption of products, which, according to my lovely and smart wife, Claire, who is an expert on solid waste, for every pound of consumer product there are 88 pounds of discarded material upstream, all the way to mining. (This is the basic rationale why recycling is such a good idea.) The making of a single aluminum can from virgin bauxite consumes enough electricity to power an old style TV tube for a half hour. This is also why, I think, President Obama’s notion that we can do the necessary emissions reduction and not impact the economy is wishful thinking, even if doing so will be unpopular.

  44. My comments on your post, point by point:

    1. “wind and solar have intermittency issues. It’s also true that by smart use of the grid, we can distribute the power generated by those methods and smooth out the irregularities in supply”.

    Response: No we can´t at this time, because we can´t dampen the transients set up when the wind dies. Think about it as if electricity were water, the wires were pipes, and we lack the water towers to dampen the fall in pressure when the pumps delivering water at the supply nodes stop pumping.

    2. “I have no faith at all in CCS”.

    Response: I agree. The Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects involve CO2 injection into depleted oil and gas reservoirs using gasifiers to generate high pressure CO2. I think there´s a slim possibility to make CCS work if the CO2 is injected into partially sealed containers and it´s allowed to leak out over a (long) period of time. However, we have impractical leaders and engineers who can´t connect their thigh bone to their shinbone, and can´t visualize 90 % solutions. So I give this little hope.

    3. “I don’t think the energy storage situation is as bleak as others claim”.

    Response: There are no practical cost effective solutions at this time.

    4. “Perhaps the greatest short-to-medium term benefit would be an increase in efficiency”.

    Response: No perhaps about it. That´s a slam dunk. However, as I wrote previously, we have too many people who can´t accept an 80 to 90 % solution. They go for 100 % and they end up with 10 %. Try telling Poland to stop burning coal or do it with CCS like the EU seems to be peddling, and see how far you get.

    5. “Finally, if we’re going to institute a Manhattan-project scale effort, I think its first goal should be energy storage”.

    Response: Agree. Another slam dunk. Cost effective energy storage seems to do the trick if coupled to some nuclear, hydro, selective use of fossil fuels, and the dreaded population controls via soap operas, education for women, and things like that.

    Not commented but I think needs to be considered: Geoengineering research. We do need to figure out how to control ocean pH, and this means trying to see whether we can enhance carbonate deposition. This topic seems to be opposed the same way religious extremists oppose abortion. It´s not something one wishes to do, but it has to remain an option we can use intelligently.

    • “The grid” is a problem without base load if it doesn’t embody a new controls system and if tomorrow’s grid looks like today’s, with a hundred or two regional “utilities” doling out the power. It is less of a problem if the “utilities” are only responsible for 30% of the power and 70% comes from community units which generate and consume their own power, and can borrow from nearest neighbors.

      “Base load” makes today’s grid manageable because it’s turbines and load are so large compared to fluctuations, control is relatively easy.

    • I’d like to see some support for your contention at point #1, because I’ve seen zero evidence suggesting that meaningful ‘transients’ result from the cessation of wind, based on the real world experience of grids running wind power at high penetrations.

      And it seems a physically unlikely proposition, in that simultaneous, sudden cessation of wind at all turbines even in a single park would be, er, ‘unlikely’ ever to occur.

      As to your flat statement at point #3, well, I’m sorry, but there are a number of strategies that are not only possible, but in use today.

      “Published sources and interviews show that more than a dozen
      different options are available to utilities to balance variable
      renewables. These options encompass technical, planning, and
      market-regulatory changes. Utility experts pointed out that some of
      these options are already widely used even without the presence of
      renewables. Experts also emphasized that each grid is unique, and
      solutions will be diverse.

      Sources point to a range of planning and market-regulatory changes
      that will be important in the future, such as: (1) new power market
      designs that support greater flexibility; (2) expanded diversity of
      resources within geographic grid “balancing areas”; (3) coordination
      or merging of balancing areas under central balancing authorities
      (grid operators); (4) faster balancing response times through market
      and operational mechanisms; and (5) new types of system optimizations.

      One operational change that some utilities are already
      implementing is to use power dispatch models that incorporate
      day-ahead weather forecasts for wind speeds and solar insolation.
      In conjunction with these options, utility experts pointed to six key
      technical-operational measures: controlled curtailment, demandresponse,
      gas turbines, energy storage, strengthened transmission
      capacity and interconnection, and ramping and cycling of conventional
      power plants. These are described below.”

      That’s from chapter 2, REN Futures Report:

      Click to access REN21_GFR_2013.pdf

    • Bob Wallace

      1. The real world disagrees with you. We have significant amount of wind on our grids and we’re doing fine. As penetration grows we will likely need more battery storage to smooth things out, we’ve already added some.

      The grid deals with transients. Large thermal plants go off line without warning.

      2. Agreed. CCS was simply a stalling move on the part of fossil fuels.

      3. Pump-up hydro at somewhere around 5c/kWh. EOS Systems zinc-air batteries at 10c. Vanadium flow batteries at some price between the two. Those are large scale storage technologies and affordable.

      Lithium-ion batteries are starting to replace gas peakers for short term storage.

      4. Agreed. Efficiency is the ‘easy and cheap’ and can provide part of the answer.

      5. We don’t yet need mass storage. May not for several years. Our grids could be 35+% wind and solar before we would need large scale storage. We’re now around 5% and aren’t quite adding 1% per year.

      As we add electric cars and develop other dispatchable loads that number could rise above 60%.

      What we need right now is to start building large scale storage so that we can devise the best answers when we need them.

      • David B. Benson

        EOS website states the LCOE is US$0.12–0.17/kWh. Kinda expensive.

        I remind all that I have previously posted this.

      • Bob Wallace

        In the video on their site they state that once they are producing at scale they expect the total cost (not just LCOE, but all costs) be around 10 cents per kWh with reasonably frequent cycling.

  45. Horatio Algeranon


    The United States federal and state governments gave away $21.6 billion in production and exploration subsidies to the oil, gas, and coal industries in 2013
    At the federal level only, largely due to increased oil and gas, production, fossil fuel production and exploration subsidies have grown in value by 45 percent since President Obama took office in 2009 from $12.7 billion to a current total of $18.5 billion.

    Cashing in on all of the above: US Fossil Fuel production Subsidies Under Obama (Oilchange International, July 2014)

  46. David B. Benson

    As a demonstration project DOE is subsidizing 3 utility battery projects here in Washington state. The subsidy alone is about a million or two per megawatt-hour of storage capacity.

    • Bob Wallace

      $1,500,000 for 1 MWh. $1,500 for 1 kWh.

      That doesn’t sound excessively high for a prototype build. If it was a lithium-ion battery storage facility, for example, then the battery costs might be $300/kWh. Power and monitoring electronics could easily double that to $600 or more. Design costs are going to be high for prototype and labor/staffing are going to be high.

      Unless I made a math error it doesn’t sound crazy high.

      Look at the first fuel cell cars. IIRC they were $1 million or more each. Toyota is bringing them to market for about $70k.

  47. David B. Benson

    There are 38 operational pumped storage facilities in the USA, according to the Energy Storage Association. The total capacity is about 2% of the total generation and there are plans to double that.

    • Bob Wallace

      I’m going to jump in here to make a correction. I think I posted at one point that the US had 125 pump-up hydro sites. That was a number that I had found on one site. More recently (a few minutes ago) I found the DOE site and a quick search of their database shows about 38 (I didn’t count carefully) operational PuHS sties along with others in the planning stage.

      Sorry if I mislead on the number, the overall capacity of 20 GW holds, just not how many individual sites. Here’s the link if others would like to take a look…

      Interestingly, Bison Peak isn’t listed. I guess it isn’t far enough along in the permitting process. If built it will be impressive with its maximum head of 927m.

  48. (Excuse the interruption, I don’t have the option to reply directly to Bob for some reason…)

    Bob Wallace – “Where does France hide their storage?
    All over Europe. France dumps its excess nuclear onto other European countries and buys back power when it needs more than its reactors provide.”

    Let me get this straight. You think France would *dump* excess nuclear power at a loss and pay to buy it back, when they could nudge some control rods down at virtually no cost? Glad your not running our grid. Why would they pay for importing energy when they have a fleet nukes on hand that they already paid for and are capable of providing virtually all their electricity? Like I said, you don’t know what your taking about.
    Dumping excess power and buying it back at a net loss is what Denmark does because their wind power isn’t dispatchable (much to the glee of Norway). They could sure use a storage solution.

    As for hydro as storage, Ontario didn’t develop hydro as a storage mechanism for nuclear, hydro was almost fully exploited here before nuclear reactors even existed. We built nukes when hydro was tapped out and we didn’t want to choke our cities with more coal pollution. Worked out just dandy.

    “Ontario also sells power to other grids when it has surpluses.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing. Notice we don’t need to import.
    Even if we had 100% nuclear, we would *never* need storage.
    Throttling down would have no significant costs. If no one needs the power, who would you sell it to anyway? If you have buyers, then by all means sell it. This is true of any dispatchable power source. You add nukes as forecasted demand requires so you don’t have brownouts or have to pay for imports and be vulnerable to the whims of other jurisdictions, then sell any excess if you can. Very simple. No storage required.

    This is why Ontario, France, etc, enjoy low electricity prices *and* low carbon intensity. This is a viable proven solution to decarbonizing a grid. The bulk of the world’s population are in places that already have nuclear power. There are of course other potential solutions like RE, the more the merrier. But denying that nuclear is one solution is just silly and self defeating.

    • Bob Wallace

      “You think France would *dump* excess nuclear power at a loss and pay to buy it back, when they could nudge some control rods down at virtually no cost?”

      Do I think that? Well, that’s what the data suggests.

      Here’s what the RTE has to say about France’s electricity industry in 2012….

      “As in 2009 and 2010, the balance of trade in electricity showed net imports from Germany, of 8.7 TWh.”

      That tells us that France in 2009, 2010 and 2012 bought more electricity from Germany than they sold to Germany.

      Here are the numbers for 2010, 2011 and 2012 for France and Germany’s power exchanges…

      Fr -> Gr Gr -> Fr Net Gr Exp
      2010 9,571 16,081 +68%
      2011 10,834 8,445 -22%
      2012 5,200 13,985 +63%

      I don’t have France’s net profit/loss on power exchanges, but Germany earned a profit in 2012.

      In 2012 Germany exported 66.6 TWh of electricity, earning 3.7 billion euros or 5.6 cents/kWh.

      In 2012 Germany imported 43.8 TWh of electricity, paying 2.3 billion euros or 5.25 cents/kWh.

      That’s about a 7% profit.

      Now here’s some data for France’s trades with the rest of Europe…

      2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
      Exported 67,600 67,600 58,690 58,690 44,910
      Imported 10,780 10,800 10,680 10,580 24,700
      Net Export 56,820 56,800 48,010 48,110 20,210
      % Net Export 84.05 84.02 81.80 81.97 45.00

      I’ll apologize in advance because I doubt the software on this site probably is going to mess up my nicely aligned columns. But I suspect you can see that a lot power is flowing into and out of France. France is doing the power shuffle.

      And I’ll share this –

      PARIS, Jan 22 (Reuters) – French net electricity exports fell by nearly one fifth in 2012, hit by competitive German electricity produced from cheap coal and renewables, France’s power grid operator RTE said.

      France’s power export surplus dropped by 21 percent in 2012 to 44.2 terawatt hours (TWh), although Europe’s second economy remained the bloc’s biggest electricity exporter, said RTE, a subsidiary of former power monopoly EDF, in its annual report on Tuesday.

      For the first time ever, France was a net importer from Germany every month of last year, RTE added.

      “This situation is quite paradoxical at first glance because Germany stopped 7 nuclear reactors in March 2011,” RTE said.

      The grid said the rise in German power (exports) was due to a big increase in sun power capacity and because coal-fired power plants were now far more competitive. Coal prices have dropped as a result of lower demand in the U.S., which has massively developed shale gas production in the last few years.

      Now, we know that France is also curtailing their nuclear to some extent by looking at their CF which is pretty low. Around 75%.

      They are, in addition to selling surplus power, nudging in those control rods.

      That probably accounts for part of the high cost of nuclear electricity in France.

      • David B. Benson

        France has the lowest domestic rates in Europe.

      • Bob Wallace

        As you know, the best metric of how much a country spends to generate electricity is the wholesale price (unless one can get actual production prices).

        I don’t know France’s wholesale electricity price and it’s kind of hard to determine since their utilities are so enmeshed with their central government. But we do know that France’s price of nuclear electricity is about 3x Germany’s wholesale electricity price. And nuclear produces most of France’s electricity, over 75%.

        Germany’s high retail electricity prices, as I’m sure you know, are due to taxes. European countries have taxed utilities and fuel heavily for a long time in order to encourage efficiency.

      • Chris O'Neill

        we know that France is also curtailing their nuclear to some extent by looking at their CF which is pretty low. Around 75%.

        No. Your cited article says over 75% of France’s electricity generation comes from nuclear, NOT 75% CF.

        “This situation is quite paradoxical at first glance because Germany stopped 7 nuclear reactors in March 2011,”

        No that’s not paradoxical because Germany’s shutting down of nuclear generation increases the disparity in generation profiles between Germany and France, thus increasing the opportunities for worthwhile electricity flow between the two countries and other countries.

      • Bob Wallace

        France gets about 75% of their electricity from nuclear and their nuclear CF is about 75%. If I posted an incorrect link, I apologize. Here’s a link which gives both CD and penetration numbers.

      • Chris O'Neill

        their nuclear CF is about 75%

        Sorry, I had to hunt around on your cite to find the statement:

        “France’s nuclear reactors comprise 90% of EdF’s capacity and hence are used in load-following mode (see section below) and are even sometimes closed over weekends, so their capacity factor is low by world standards, at 77.3%.”

        So their CF is only 77.3%. This is partly because such a large proportion of their generation is nuclear (90% of EdF) so their nuclear CF can’t help but be relatively low.

        Other quotes from your cite:

        “From being a net electricity importer through most of the 1970s, France has become the world’s largest net electricity exporter, with electricity being the fourth largest export. (Next door is Italy, without any operating nuclear power plants. It is Europe’s largest importer of electricity, most coming ultimately from France.) The UK has also become a major customer for French electricity.”

        Nuclear generation has been an economic success story for France, The risk to this is political interference as your cite points out:

        “Following the election of President Francois Hollande in 2012 with his policy to reduce the proportion of nuclear power in the energy mix,”

        It also points out:

        “In 1999 a parliamentary debate reaffirmed three main planks of French energy policy”.. “It was accepted that there was no way renewables and energy conservation measures could replace nuclear energy in the foreseeable future.”

      • Bob Wallace

        This site uses a comment form that makes it difficult to follow a sub-topic. Did this particular discussion not begin with the question of France’s “storage” with their very high nuclear penetration?

        IIRC, I stated that one way France “stores” electricity is to sell surplus nuclear generation and buy back power when needed.

        “France has become the world’s largest net electricity exporter, with electricity being the fourth largest export”

        If you have a bunch of nuclear reactors you will have a lot of electricity to unload when your demand is low. With French electricity cost of production now about $0.08/kWh it would be interesting to hear how that is working out for them. Are taxpayer euros being used to lubricate those sales?

        Your Italian statistics might be out of date. Italy has added a lot of solar recently. In 2012 Italy’s electricity imports plunged to about 10% of what they had been for years. I don’t find numbers for 2013.

        Found some. 2012 to 2013 import/export balance basically unchanged (-2.2%).

        “In 1999 a parliamentary debate reaffirmed three main planks of French energy policy”.. “It was accepted that there was no way renewables and energy conservation measures could replace nuclear energy in the foreseeable future.”

        How the world has changed from 1999!

        I can’t find any prices for installed solar going back to 1999, probably because it was too expensive to install except on satellites and research stations.

        By January 2009 the average price of installed solar in Germany was € 4,110, $5593 per kWp. By May 2014 the price had fallen to € 1,340, $1,823 per kWp. $5.59 to $1.82 per watt.

        Panel prices were over $4/watt in 1999 and are now well under $1/watt. I suppose the French Parliament couldn’t see this far into the future.

        Who of us saw solar prices dropping so far and so fast?

      • Chris O'Neill

        “With French electricity cost of production now about $0.08/kWh it would be interesting to hear how that is working out for them.”

        Perhaps you don’t realize the difference between marginal cost and total cost of production. Nuclear electricity has a marginal cost of virtually zero because costs are virtually fixed regardless of how much or how little electricity a nuclear power station produces.

        Consequently, it is worth selling all the electricity produced by a nuclear power station as long as the price is above zero. Your $0.08/kWh refers to total cost, not marginal cost so is not relevant to economic dispatching strategy.

        “Your Italian statistics might be out of date. Italy has added a lot of solar recently. In 2012 Italy’s electricity imports plunged to about 10% of what they had been for years.”

        There’s something very fishy about those figures on that site because they don’t add up. If you calculate Production + Imports – Consumption – Exports then you should get zero. Instead it gives 14.27 for 2011 and -16.43 for 2012. Very, very fishy.

      • Bob Wallace

        I understand what marginal cost is. And I understand what production cost is.

        France, the hero country for nuclear fans, is reporting that it costs them 8 US cents to produce a kWh of electricity. That is not cheap electricity.

        France nuclear CF is around 75% rather than the hypothetical 90% CF for well-tuned nuclear plants. The fact that France is having to curtail 15% of their potential production strongly suggests that there’s no market in Europe for that portion of their potential production, which France would be glad to sell since there would be almost no additional marginal costs.

        With increased wind and solar installations France is likely going to find the market for their electricity tightening.

      • Bob Wallace

        I put the Index Mundi numbers into a spreadsheet. I confirmed what you reported, a 14.3 billion kWh difference for 2011 and a -16.4 billion kWh difference for 2012.

        But I took it a step further and looked at how large that difference was in terms of the larger picture. The 2011 difference is 4.3% of production + imports. The 2012 difference is -5.6% of production + imports.

        And even a step further than that. I ran percentage of measure error for all the reported years, 2000 through 2012. Prior to 2012 production + imports ran from 2.8% to 6.0% higher than consumption + exports.

        Looks to me that measurement of production, imports, consumption and exports is not very exact.

        BTW, those numbers come from the CIA World Factbook.

      • France gets about 75% of their electricity from nuclear and their nuclear CF is about 75%.

        No. You’re still wrong. You simply reposted the same link that you did before. As I pointed out before, your cited article says over 75% of France’s electricity generation comes from nuclear, NOT 75% CF. Please try to check your facts before you claim them.

      • Bob Wallace

        Here’s what I posted the first time –

        “Now, we know that France is also curtailing their nuclear to some extent by looking at their CF which is pretty low. Around 75%.”

        And here’s what I posted the second time –

        “France gets about 75% of their electricity from nuclear and their nuclear CF is about 75%.”

        (Notice the “Around” and “about”?)

        Copy and pasted from the linked site…

        “France derives over 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy.”
        “France’s nuclear reactors comprise 90% of EdF’s capacity and hence are used in load-following mode (see section below) and are even sometimes closed over weekends, so their capacity factor is low by world standards, at 77.3%.”

        When I read “over 75%” I assume “less than 80”.

        In 2011, France derived 79 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.

        In 2012 France got 74.85% of it’s electricity from nuclear.

        France’s President François Hollande Friday renewed campaign promises that swept him to power in May to reduce his country’s reliance on nuclear energy to 50 percent by 2025 from its current level of more than 75 percent – the world’s highest atomic energy dependence rate.

        And here’s some more CF data
        2007 78.5%
        2008 77.1%
        2009 72.9%

    • Bob Wallace

      “As for hydro as storage, Ontario didn’t develop hydro as a storage mechanism for nuclear,”

      Didn’t say they did. You asked how Ontario was dealing with nuclear on their grid and I brought you some data on hydro (which is dispatchable) and their low NG CF.

      ““Ontario also sells power to other grids when it has surpluses.”
      You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

      No, I said that as an example of another way Ontario deals with extra power. It’s how all grids deal with surplus power. If there’s a market where they can make some money, they sell into it.

      “Even if we had 100% nuclear, we would *never* need storage.
      Throttling down would have no significant costs.”

      I’m sorry. You simply haven’t figured out how power is priced. You can’t meet monthly payments on a huge loan by cutting production in half and then selling power at your “full production” rate. You need to take a some paper and pencil and do some simple division.

      1,000 / 100 = 10
      1,000 / 50 = 20

      If one is dealing with (efficient) older reactors that may have operating costs around 2 cents/kWh then load following isn’t going to be so bad. But some paid off US reactors produce 5+ cent power when running at max capacity.

      BTW, I suspect you don’t know what nuclear produced electricity costs in France. How about I share that as well…

      “Production costs from the existing fleet are heading higher over the medium-term,” France’s Cour des Comptes said in a report to parliament published today.

      The report, which updates findings in a January 2012 report, said that in 2012 the Court calculated the cost of production of the current fleet for 2010, which amounted to EUR 49.5 per megawatt-hour.

      Using the same method for the year 2013 the cost was EUR 59.8/MWh, an increase of 20.6 percent over three years.

      Now, please note, those numbers are from the French government. And 59.8 Euro/MWh is a bit over $0.08/kWh. For comparison, the most recent wholesale electricity prices I’ve got for Germany (about six months old) are roughly 35 Eruo/MWh or under $0.05/kWh.

      You can get a low carbon grid with nuclear with reasonably priced electricity. After the reactors are paid off. It’s the first 20 years of power costs than knock nuclear off the table. During that period you’ll pay about 3x as much for electricity.

      • David B. Benson

        More like 30 years but this doesn’t stop power supply planners around the world from including nuclear in their generation mix.

        For example, the Vietnamese are planning 10.

      • Bob Wallace

        It’s going to be interesting to see how many plans survive the next few years as more countries come to realize how affordable renewables have become.

        Who would have thought five years ago that such a price gap would open between wind/PV solar and nuclear?

        I just saw an article today where Vietnam was opening investment in 1,000 MW of wind power by 2020. Apparently Vietnam has excellent wind resources. And, having spent a little time there, solar is abundant.

    • Chris O'Neill

      You think France would *dump* excess nuclear power at a loss

      It doesn’t sell it at a loss. Because the costs of a nuclear plant are virtually fixed, the marginal cost of producing electricity is also virtually zero. Thus it is worth selling its electricity for whatever the price is at the time (as long as it’s above zero), which is just the same as for wind and solar, and for run-of-the-river hydro. All these sources are worth selling their electricity for whatever price they can get (as long as it’s above zero),

    • “Dumping excess power and buying it back at a net loss is what Denmark does because their wind power isn’t dispatchable (much to the glee of Norway).”

      Would you be so kind as to document your misinformation with a link?

  49. “And, Mackay, it might be best to leave his book behind. It’s both wrong (in places) and out of date.”

    Well I did a NZ version and we updated it with 2012 figures. I am sure there are mistakes with MacKay, but the approach is a good one. I have no problem at all with efficiency – I do as much as possible myself – just so long as you dont stop there. There are serious limits to how much you can achieve. Like MacKay, I am pro-arithmetic and want to see effective BIG steps taken.

    • Bob Wallace

      I’m also very pro-arithmetic. But I think we’re most likely to kill the climate change monster with a thousand cuts as opposed to a small number of very big stabs.

      For example, if we can improve fuel efficiency for vehicles while moving more people to electrics, public transportation, and bikes we lower transportation carbon emissions.

      A new transmission design for gasmobiles that improves efficiency 1% would be a small thing but small things accumulate into large numbers

      • I am also in favour of wedges theory, but 1% improvement in vehicle is considerably less than 1% CO2 reduction. You need to be very careful how efficiency is defined. I couldnt make arithmetic add up to better than 20% and that was pushing a lot of improbables. I was be very happy to see better calculations.

      • Bob Wallace

        I think I mentioned that President Obama was able to get the car industry to agree to a doubling of vehicle efficiency. That would mean roughly half as much CO2 from vehicles, within the range the IPCC says we need to hit.

        That 50% cut is going to come not from one major tweak but from lots of small tweaks. Better aerodynamics, lighter materials, less friction in drive trains, …. There might be 50 1% improvements.

  50. rabiddoomsayer

    This has got bogged down on power generation, can we have a separate thread for other solutions, perhaps an entire thread on efficiency. Plese

    • That would be good… and if we’re contemplating alternate threads, what about ‘best practices in climate change organization, activism, and education?’ I’ve previously noted on RC that while most of us commenting tend to look down on ‘salesmen’, what we are facing is, in one important sense a huge and daunting job of ‘selling’ an idea, or rather a set of interlocking ideas.

  51. Horatio Algeranon

    “The Carbon Heats”
    — by Horatio Algeranon (after The Secret Sits, by Robert Frost)

    We dance round in a ring and debate
    But the carbon heats the air, check-mate

  52. Dino Rosati

    Can some kind soul explain to me why some comments have a reply link and some don’t? Apologies again for interrupting the flow.

    Doc Snow – “Land use is only “insane” because you’ve confused km2 with ha–your source clearly states it’s the latter. A factor of 100…”

    From Wikipedia, the Agua Caliente Solar Project land use is 971 ha = 9.71 Km^2. Scale factor for same delivered energy as the AP1000 is (1.1/0.29)(90/25)=13.7 ignoring differences in plant lifetime. Scaled land use is 9.7*13.7 = 132 Km^2. So yep, land use is insane. Unless you think covering an area larger than Manhattan to gather the energy equal to one nuke is sane.

    “And while you are being ‘honest’ about the strengths and weaknesses of various energy sources, will you give equal hand-waving time to the low-level radioactive waste produced by your AP1000 as you gave to Cadmium Telluride?”

    OK. By ‘low-level radioactive waste’ I’m assuming you mean radiation released by the plant during normal operations. EPA limits that to a maximum of 250 uS per year (annual release target is 30 uS/yr). Note this gets dissipated into the air so no one person would actually be exposed to all of it. Average dose from background is about 4,000 uS/yr. One flight from NY to LA is about 40 uS. Coal plants release about 100 times more low-level radiation than a nuke. So if we replaced all coal plants with nukes we would *reduce* our exposure from the generated energy by a factor of 100. Not to mention saving thousands of lives *per year* cut short by air/water pollution.

    In the 60 odd years of nuclear power production in the US (and Canada) no member of the public has ever been harmed by radiation released from the plants, let alone killed. Even the TMI accident had a maximum exposure to a member of the public at about 1000 uS, about 7 times less that one CT scan or about the same as living in Denver for one month.

    • 971 ha is not the land taken by the thermal project, but the total area on which multiple thermal projects may be built.

      Take a look at the layout of the 2,400 acres that were obtained for this and other projects.

      You’re continuing the “nuclear isn’t as dangerous as coal” argument while ignoring the fact that there are ways to generate electricity which create nothing like the danger of nuclear and coal. We really don’t need to chose between the two worst, we can avoid both. Save money. And cut our carbon emissions faster.

      • Horatio Algeranon

        Yes, 2,400 acres for solar down there in Yuma County, Arizona is some truly “insane” land use

        Prime real estate it is.

        Buzzards love it. :)

        Actually, the solar project is located on “non-prime agricultural land with limited productivity”. In Arizona, that means “land that is not good for much”

        Take it from someone who has lived in Utah (SLC) and Arizona (Tucson) and explored much of the American southwest, to appreciate just how BIG and how DESOLATE much of it is, you really have to experience it first hand.

        Suffice it to say that the deserts of Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California (large parts of which are Federal lands and largely uninhabited by humans) are VERY LARGE (millions of acres) and almost ideally suited for solar arrays (and/or wind farms) on a truly massive scale: huge flat dry areas that stretch for miles in all directions.

        I’m not among them, but some would undoubtedly say that these lands are worthless for anything other than solar arrays and wind farms (and perfectly flat straightaways for setting land speed records).

        The US DOE has concluded that

        with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity“

        Click to access 32529.pdf

        Of course, that does not consider all the details of what would be required (distribution, storage, etc,) but it does give a good idea of what is possible using what amounts to a relatively small fraction of the land area in just one western state (of several).

        Some countries may be short on space for solar and wind, but the US is certainly not among them.

      • Bob Wallace

        I ran some numbers a while back to see how much of America we would use up with an all ‘one kind’ grid.

        If we produced 100% as much electricity as we did in 2010 using nothing but 3 MW turbines the land required for tower footings, access roads, ancillary buildings and transmission would be 93,854 acres or 147 square miles. That’s any one of the following…

        3.13 Disney Worlds.
        6.5 Manhattan Islands.
        39% of Los Angeles.
        12% of Rhode Island.
        0.7% of San Bernardino County, CA.
        0.02% of Alaska.
        0.004% of all US land area.

        Solar – using 17.4% panels (they’re more efficient now) It would take 4.37% of the Lower 48 land to produce 100% of the electricity used by all 50 states.

        Rooftops, parking lots, industrial brownfields, capped landfills.

        According to the EPA, there are just under half a million contaminated properties around the country, including tens of thousands of Superfund sites and brownfields. That amounts to 15 million acres of land. 23,400 square miles.

        (We’re already building solar farms on brownfields.)

        Of course we’re not going to build a 100% anything grid. That would simply be silly….

      • Dino Rosati

        As far as I can tell, the total project has 2 phases, 100MW and 190MW. For a total of 290MW which is what I used in the calculations. The project web site doesn’t mention anything about additional phases. Also it’s solar PV not thermal. So the energy equivalent (to AP1000) version of this project would cost $49 Billion and occupy an area about one and a half times the size of Manhattan. And it’s not even dispatchable energy at that. Sounds like a great deal.

        “We really don’t need to chose between the two worst…”

        Seems to me we should not chose FF and keep all other options on the table. Especially a proven, zero-emission, dispatchable, 24/7/365 option. One that can not only provide electricity but also industrial heat for steal, concrete, ammonia, water treatment, desalination, fuel synthesis…
        God forbid that we should have more options, after all, what’s the worst that can happen? You’re right, let’s put all are eggs in the RE basket and cross our fingers. I’m sure it’ll work out just fine.

      • Bob Wallace

        You are correct, PV not thermal. My mistake. Sorry.

        As I reported in a previous comment the cost of the first round of the Agua Caliente is over $6/watt. It wouldn’t be wise to use this price in calculations as utility scale installed solar is now under $2/watt. (The AC price includes land costs where installed solar costs don’t include land costs.)

        “Seems to me we should not chose FF and keep all other options on the table”

        Clearly we need to quit using fossil fuels. But we need to build our future grid with the cheapest, safest, and fastest to install alternatives. Based on current and foreseeable costs our grids will be mostly wind and solar.

      • Chris O'Neill

        Save money.</blockquote

        Wind and solar won’t save money because even though they might be able to beat other sources when the wind is blowing or the Sun is shining, they’re economically useless when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. So the cost of supplying power when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining has to be factored into this system. That cost is NOT trivial.

      • Bob Wallace

        Chris, how about telling us how a largely nuclear grid would operate and how much it would cost?

        Remember that you need to include demand following and backup reserve. And at least acknowledge taxpayer subsidies for nuclear, including acceptance of liability.

        Just work out a cents per kWh price.

        You do that and I’ll post the likely price of a wind/solar grid and we’ll compare.

      • Chris O'Neill

        Bob, you should be able to look up how a largely nuclear grid would operate and how much it would cost by looking up the figures for France.

        Just let us know the likely price of wind/solar grid electricity (i.e. one that gets most of its electricity from wind/solar) when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

      • Bob Wallace

        “Just let us know the likely price of wind/solar grid electricity (i.e. one that gets most of its electricity from wind/solar) when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.”

        I’ve done that multiple times already, Chris. I’ll do it again for you.

        The estimate I use is a blended (current, unsubsidized) price for wind and solar ((5.5c + 8c) /2 or 7c) plus a range of costs for storage from ~5c for PuHS to ~10c for zinc-air batteries. Vanadium flow batteries seem to cost somewhere in between.

        Somewhere between 12c and 17c/kWh is my best guess of the price of stored wind/electricity.

        Of course the amount of that relatively expensive electricity can be minimized by using load-shifting and cheaper dispatchable supplies (hydro, biomass, biogas).

        And, do realize, I’ve used high, unsubsidized prices for wind and solar. Wind is likely now below 4c and solar is on its way to becoming as cheap, or cheaper, than wind.

        By the time any new nuclear (post Vogtle and Summer) could come on line we could be looking at 3c wind and solar along with 5c or less storage. You might not want to hear those numbers, but I’m giving you a heads up warning. There is very high agreement that this is where we are heading.

        I’d suggest not investing in either nuclear or gas peakers.

      • Chris O'Neill

        a range of costs for storage from ~5c for PuHS to ~10c for zinc-air batteries

        If those figures were true, then all peaking supply would come from PuHS. The fact that it doesn’t proves that they’re not.

      • Bob Wallace

        Utilities aren’t going to build PuHS that gets used only a few hours a year. Overnight costs are far too high. There would never be enough fuel savings to make up for the cheaper overnight costs of gas peakers.

        EOS System zinc-air batteries were first connected to the grid in January. Whether they will replace peakers will be determined over the next year or so.

        Lithium-ion batteries are starting to replace peakers.

        You’re setting an unreasonable test. Once a better technology emerges it doesn’t replace the old technology instantly.

      • Chris O'Neill

        If those figures were true, then all peaking supply would come from PuHS. The fact that it doesn’t proves that they’re not.

        Utilities aren’t going to build PuHS that gets used only a few hours a year. Overnight costs are far too high.

        In that case your figures for storage (~5c for PuHS) have little or nothing to do with reality. I don’t know about you, but my only interest is the real word, not some fantasy. I’m not sure if I’ll bother reading anything else from you because you have proven that you have little, if any, interest in reality. So if you don’t hear from me again then you’ll know the reason why. In fact I’ll unsubscribe from this thread now as I’ve already had enough dose of unreality.

      • Bob Wallace

        Chris. The more frequently a storage cycles the more revenue it produces.

        Do you need me to explain how that works?

      • Why build solar out on wild land anyway? The panels work equally well on rooftops. As a bonus, the infrastructure for getting equipment to the rooftop already exists, and the power doesn’t need to travel as far before getting to its customers.

      • Bob Wallace

        Some of those out of the way places have incredible solar resources. Antelope Valley, for example, has 360 sunny days a year. Along California’s coast it gets foggy from time to time.

        With solar being expensive in the past it has been necessary to get as much as possible out of the panels. That means going out to where it’s sunnier and using an existing transmission line to feed back to the city.

        I don’t think a lot of large scale solar will be built far from urban centers. As we dial down the cost of end-user solar we’re likely to see all the solar we can use on people’s roofs and over parking lots.

        Thermal solar, I don’t know how that will play out. It’s unlikely thermal can compete with PV, but thermal with heat storage might find a niche in the market. Thermal with storage can store heat during the day and then use that heat to generate in late afternoon/evening hours when demand is hight, the Sun down, and and wind not fully kicked in.

        That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see PV solar and battery/hydro storage beat out thermal plus solar. It looks like we might get fairly cheap battery storage (flow/liquid metal). Battery storage is genetic, it doesn’t care what generates to power, unlike heat storage.

        Because it’s generic battery storage can charge up at night from onshore wind, sell into early morning demand, charge up during the solar day, sell into late afternoon/evening. That’s two cycles per day and that increases revenues. The more frequently storage cycles, the cheaper it is to store.

        Going to be interesting to watch.

    • Sorry about the area error. Obviously, you are correct, and I was hallucinating a decimal point. Further to Horatio’s point, here’s a satellite view of Agua Caliente. Compare to nearby irrigated fields for scale.

      However, you were the one who brought up cadmium toxicity. It’s pretty common in industrial applications, so solar PV is just one more situation in which existing regulations need to be applied. And the operational answer to my question to you is clearly “no.” When you brought up the ‘toxic chemicals’ used in solar panel production, you said “imagine how much…”
      When it comes to accidental releases of radiation, you offer numbers. Back of the envelope numbers, and ones designed to minimize concern, but still numbers. You don’t make yourself look like an ‘honest broker’ with that kind of differential response.

      Finally, I suggested above that the scaling analysis you offer is conceptually wrong: the rational thing is not to try to somehow give solar the identical characteristics to nuclear, or force the nearest numerical equivalent for comparison purposes. The rational thing would be to use nuclear to provide base load carbon free power, and solar to provide low cost peak day power. Complementary characteristics, as Dr. Forsberg points out.

      • Bob Wallace

        Just some information for those who might be concerned about the use of cadmium in the manufacturing and use of solar panels….

        “The U.S. CdTe PV industry is vigilant in preventing health risks and has established proactive programs in industrial hygiene and environmental control. Workers’ exposure to cadmium compounds in PV manufacturing facilities is controlled by rigorous industrial hygiene practices and is continuously monitored by medical tests, thus minimizing health risks.”
        Contrast that with “coal is 3.7 g/GWhr”, which means that coal’s Cd is being spewed into the environment while solar’s Cd is being contained.”

        “The only pathways by which people might be exposed to PV compounds from a finished module are by accidentally ingesting flakes or dust particles, or inhaling dust and fumes. The thin CdTe/CdS layers are stable and solid, and are encapsulated between thick layers of glass or plastic. Unless the module is ground to a fine dust, dust particles cannot be generated. The vapor pressure of CdTe at ambient conditions is zero. Therefore, it is impossible for any vapors or dust to be generated when using PV modules.”

        Of course, most solar panels are not CdTe.

      • Bob Wallace

        “The rational thing would be to use nuclear to provide base load carbon free power, and solar to provide low cost peak day power. Complementary characteristics, as Dr. Forsberg points out.”

        Why would that be the rational thing to do when a mixture of renewables and storage would be cheaper than nuclear for baseload?

      • Chris O'Neill

        a mixture of renewables and storage would be cheaper than nuclear for baseload

        Says who?

      • Bob Wallace


        40% of 5.5c wind + 30% of 8c solar + 30% of 17c stored wind/solar = 9.7c/kWh.

        9.7c < 11c for new nuclear.

        I used high, unsubsidized prices for wind, solar and storage. And Citigroup's LCOE for nuclear. I did not remove nuclear's subsidy. And, as Citigroup points out, it is unlikely new nuclear could be built for 11c as interest rates rise.

        Wind is apparently now around 4c/kWh. Solar should soon be as cheap or cheaper than wind. Pump-up hydro storage and flow batteries are already cheaper than the 10c/kWh cost I used. But I wanted to be overly fair to nuclear.

      • Chris O'Neill

        40% of 5.5c wind + 30% of 8c solar + 30% of 17c stored wind/solar = 9.7c/kWh.

        You’re assuming the energy put into the storage comes from a free source.

        That is a false assumption.

        Your assumptions about how much energy can be directly supplied by wind and solar require justification too.

      • Bob Wallace

        “40% of 5.5c wind + 30% of 8c solar + 30% of 17c stored wind/solar = 9.7c/kWh.”

        Let me break down the 17c stored wind/solar for you.

        First, assume a 50/50 mix of 5.5c wind and 8c solar. That’s 6.5c which I rounded up to 7c. (I generally attempt to move things in favor of nuclear.)

        Then 10c for storage (including efficiency losses).

        7c + 10c = 17c

        Is that simple enough for you to grasp?

        “Your assumptions about how much energy can be directly supplied by wind and solar require justification too.”

        We know that the wind blows a lot of hours (in the windy places). Archer and Jacobson found that wind farms linked over a moderate distance (well within the reach of a single grid) provide reliable electricity 85% of the time. That suggests that we can get a good deal of our power directly from turbines. I assume 40% in my argument.

        We know that the Sun shines during the hours of greatest demand (daytime) and the US has an average solar CF of just under 20%. So, considering the higher demand, especially the high correlation between sunshine and air conditioning draws I have no problem assuming 30% of our consumption directly from solar panels.

        And those percentages will likely grow as we add more EVs and PHEVs to the grid. Dispatchable loads reduce the percentage of electricity that needs to be stored.

      • Dino Rosati

        “When it comes to accidental releases of radiation, you offer numbers. Back of the envelope numbers, and ones designed to minimize concern, but still numbers. You don’t make yourself look like an ‘honest broker’ with that kind of differential response”

        Look, I’m not trying to fool anyone here. I have no vested interest in nuclear or any other technology. I’m simply interested in the energy problem and looking for viable solutions. The rad numbers I quoted are mainly from the EPA, I didn’t make them up and I’m not trying to spin them to look better. They are simply put in perspective so that you can compare the risk of radiation exposure from a nuke to other every day exposures, since most people are not familiar with the confusing array of units used for radiation.

        When comparing PV to nuclear I chose real, existing, state of the art plants (not the fantasy future technologies that we keep hearing about in these comments). I simply scaled them to have the same average energy output. I’m not clear as to why you think that is “conceptually wrong”.

        If PV turned out to compare favourably to nuclear I would be happy as a clam, I have a soft spot for PV, having deployed it myself. The fact that it doesn’t should give one pause. I honestly think that nuclear is a viable option. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why people passionate about solving climate change problems would arbitrarily rule out one of the most promising options. Especially when nuclear has demonstrably worked, in real life, at decarbonizing a number of real power grids.

      • “I simply scaled them to have the same average energy output. I’m not clear as to why you think that is “conceptually wrong”.

        Because time of day matters. Actually, both solar PV and nuclear have ‘inconvenient’ characteristics: the former is limited to the midday hours while the latter is continuously on and has constraints on load following.

        But there’s a silver lining to solar which your analysis obviates, and that is that there’s a pretty good correlation between peak output and peak demand. (Use patterns do vary with geography and time of year, of course.) Here are a couple of real-life graphs:

        Note that for the New England curve that’s the first one shown, you get around 50% more demand from around 8 AM to 6 PM–daylight hours. But that means that when you install solar you are installing power that will be used when it is needed–well, I initially wrote ‘needed most’, but that’s not correct, since the peak is early evening (inconveniently for solar.) (Hence the current popularity of gas peaking plants in this country. In New England, I’m guessing that a lot of peak demand gets met with Quebec hydro power, though.)

        So by using the capacity factor metric your analysis implicitly assumes that power at 3 AM is equivalent to power at 3 PM–it simply fails to capture the diurnal differences. In doing so it forces solar into a Procrustean bed, and, IMO, distorts the economic conclusions. By way of illustrating, here’s a graph of pricing for the PJM system; various types of generation are broken out by marginal cost. As you can see, renewables are by far the lowest by this metric.

        “In green, we have renewable generation, which has very low marginal costs. This should make some sense – hydro, solar and wind power get their “fuel” – rainfall, the sun and the wind – for free, so the marginal cost of producing a little bit more hydro, solar or wind power is essentially zero. In purple, we have nuclear power, which has a pretty low marginal cost, because the fuel contains a very large amount of energy for a small mass.” (This comes from a more extended discussion, linked below.)

      • Chris O'Neill

        But there’s a silver lining to solar which your analysis obviates, and that is that there’s a pretty good correlation between peak output and peak demand.

        That’s definitely not true over the whole year because solar panels produce so much less power in winter than in summer. Try calculating correlation over the whole year and then see how well it stacks up.

      • Bob Wallace

        Chris, in most parts of the world the Sun still shines in the daytime, even in winter. If your get really close to the poles then that doesn’t happen, but everywhere else it does.

        It is true that the Sun is less strong in the winter, but the wind generally blows harder.

        Pro-nuke, pro-coal, anti-renewable people paint themselves into corners by not thinking about what our renewable grids will really look like. They get trapped by their talking points.

        “How can you power the US with solar when the Sun doesn’t shine at night?”

        When one starts thinking of single source grids they set themselves up for failure.

      • Chris O'Neill

        in most parts of the world the Sun still shines in the daytime, even in winter. If your get really close to the poles then that doesn’t happen, but everywhere else it does

        We only have to look at some real world data to see how weak your claim is. For example, says German PV output ranged from 214 GWh on the 21st July 2013 to 12 GWh on the 25th Feb 2013 (ignoring earlier years), a ratio of more than 17 to 1. So my original point about lack of whole year correlation with demand is most likely true.

        As for your claim about wind energy supposedly compensating for this, for a start wind energy is not correlated with daily demand, so even if you have enough PV to cover demand in summer you will be relying on a source which is not correlated with daily demand in winter, so overall you still have a problem with lack of correlation between supply and demand.

        Secondly about your claim that there is more wind power in winter to compensate for the lack of solar energy at that time of the year, have a look at the analyses on this page: for South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania in Australia. You’ll notice that wind power doesn’t rise above average for a substantial period until after the shortest day of the year. So your claim of more wind power when there is less solar power certainly doesn’t stand up for that location. Perhaps it’s time to take off your rose-colored glasses.

      • Bob Wallace

        Germany is grid-tied to the rest of Europe. What were wind and solar resources like in the rest of Europe at that time?

        Part of making a renewable grid work is making it large.

      • “Why would that be the rational thing to do when a mixture of renewables and storage would be cheaper than nuclear for baseload?”

        Well, we’re talking about the immediate prospect. It’s unclear (to me, at least) how fast storage will develop; it’s certainly not mature now, and the problems are non-trivial. (Though I acknowledge the exciting prospects for some of the tech you have mentioned.)

        And on the other hand, we have nuclear plants now, and will almost certainly have them for decades to come. (Next to renewables, they have the lowest marginal cost, so they won’t be retired preferentially for economic reasons, as coal plants are now being closed.) As a Georgia resident (and part-time South Carolina resident) I well know that we’ll even have a few new ones built.

        So how best should they be used? Obviously, their strength is baseload. Forsberg’s idea of using them to create biofuel when renewables are in high supply–which can be seen as a form of storage, of course–is also intriguing and elegant, if still at the ‘proposal’ stage. As you say, if we lick the carbon problem it will probably be by a ‘thousand cuts.’

      • Bob Wallace

        Storage, at this point, is chasing the price point set by PuHS, which is likely in the 5c/kWh range. Maybe a penny or two higher, it’s very difficult to pin down a number. We’ve been building PuHS for 100 years, it’s not a new/developing technology. It’s a mature (and improving) technology.

        We know “worst case”. It’s PuHS at an affordable cost. What we’re looking for now is even cheaper solutions and ones that are capable of being spread around the grid. (Improves grid reliability and lowers transmission needs.)

        “And on the other hand, we have nuclear plants now,…(Next to renewables, they have the lowest marginal cost, so they won’t be retired preferentially for economic reasons, as coal plants are now being closed.)”

        Some of our existing reactors have low production costs while some have high enough costs that they are failing. Kewaunee was in fine working condition and licensed for operation for several more years when the owners shut it down last year. The major reason was the price of NG production but the same thing will be happening as wind and solar capacities grow.

        Exelon has six nuclear reactors in Illinois which have operated at a loss for over five years. Expect some or all of them to announce their closures soon. About one fourth of our US reactors have similarly high operating expenses and probably won’t survive very much longer.

        “As a Georgia resident (and part-time South Carolina resident) I well know that we’ll even have a few new ones built.”

        I just saw this page last night. I’d label it “interesting” but won’t give it a lot of “respect” until/unless I hear similar reports from other sources. (For all I know it could be an Onion piece.)

        “A week ago, a story in The Times warned readers that the construction of Georgia Power’s two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle is over cost and behind schedule. Today, the Public Service Commission must decide whether to continue funding the project or stop where they are.”

        “The five men sitting on the PSC have been given responsibility and power by Georgia General Assembly to modify or revoke Vogtle’s certification if it “… finds that the certified capacity resource is no longer needed … to assure a reliable supply of electric power and energy for the utility’s Georgia retail customers.”

        The fact that Georgia Power is not fully using its present capacity was recently exposed in analysis of financial and operating data from Georgia Power’s 2002-2013 annual reports. The data show that both retail and wholesale electricity sales are flat, and Georgia Power’s utilized capacity has fallen to just over 50 percent. (83 percent capacity utilization is the industry’s norm.) The 6 percent additional capacity from Vogtle is simply not needed.”

        “The energy picture is changing. The market is in renewables these days — wind, solar, geothermal, and other technologies that harness the power of natural forces rather than extracting energy from limited, and polluting nonrenewable resources.”

        I’ll let you read the rest. But let me point out that Georgia is going to be importing much cheaper wind from Oklahoma. That we’ve recently discovered that Georgia has significant wind resources if 95 to 100 meter towers are used. And that Georgia has a lot of sunshine.

        Additionally, someone involved with the Georgia utility business stated a few months ago that the Vogtle reactors were likely a bad idea, with hindsight. That was based on looking at the cost of NG generation.

        Might the Vogtle reactors never be complete? That would be a shocker, but it’s something which has happened plenty of times before. We’ve abandoned reactors during construction based on the ‘no reason to throw good money after bad’.reasoning.

      • Good points. But pumped storage is limited in scope, isn’t it?

        And one-fourth is, well, one fourth.

        Thanks for the link on the Vogtle project. This bit is interesting:

        “Look at how the project is funded. Georgia Power is using a financial instrument called Construction Work In Progress. CWIP allows Georgia Power to bill its customers for the electricity they are using now, and in addition, to bill in advance for electricity supply Georgia Power hopes to generate in the future, if and when and Vogtle reactors Nos. 3 & 4 come on line.

        CWIP funding gave Georgia Power an edge in borrowing $6.5 billion tax dollars from the U.S. treasury, with no down payment and 0 percent interest. The PSC allows Georgia Power to automatically make an 11 percent profit, so the federal government is figuring the massive loan will be repaid because Georgia ratepayers are on the hook for the money.

        But here’s the clincher! Even if the new reactors are never completed, the extra money Geogia Power has and will collect stays with Georgia Power.”

        Can’t vouch for every statement made there, but it most certainly is true that we having been paying for this project for some time now via higher electricity rates; that agreement was explicit and well-reported. I’d like to see the project completed because it seems reasonably likely to displace coal, which is a good chunk of the mix in Georgia.

        I did some further looking around, and found a couple of tidbits relevant to the current discussion. First, there are now new delays and cost increases:

        “In-service dates for two nuclear units under construction at Plant Vogtle in Georgia have been moved out to December 2017 and December 2018, and the total project cost is now estimated at $6.76 billion—$650 million more than the certified cost—staff from Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) reported this week. ” For Vogtle 3, that’s 20 months behind the original projection.

        The delay is attributed in this way: ““The engineering completion schedule identified that hundreds of activities were pushed out past the construction need date due to late engineering which delayed necessary procurement,” they said. “This in turn pushed out the start and end dates of some construction activities.””

        Moreover, “Further delays are likely because some components for the AP1000 units have never been built before. The shield building, for example, is a first-of-a-kind design, fabricate, and assemble activity, and the design of the fully digital control system is also a first-of-a-kind activity, staff said. Schedule risks include technical difficulties with development of other key pieces of equipment as well, including the canned rotor coolant pumps, and the squib valves. Meanwhile, startup testing and resolution of problems identified during startup “will take longer than presently planned,” Roetger and Jacobs projected.”

        There’s that ‘one-off’ thing again… one hopes that succeeding AP1000s won’t need to redo this. Then again, the Chinese units were under construction first–in fact, Sanmen is supposed to be online now, but I don’t see anything online yet about whether that is the case.

        This is an interesting piece (well, for those who either live around here or who’d like a snapshot of the ‘on the ground’ view for one state as it is affected by the new EPA regs.)

        For purposes of the present discussion, I’ll only note that the Vogtle expansion is to account for 1/3 of the state’s required emissions reductions under the EPA projections.

        And from the most consistent source for Vogtle news, the Augusta Chronicle, comes this:

        “About 4,200 workers are employed at the Vogtle expansion project, where the first two reactors built in the U.S. in more than three decades are rising from the red clay. In the next 12 to 18 months, the workforce is expected to peak at 5,000, Georgia Power spokesman Brian Green said….”

        On balance, I’d say that your description of possible Vogtle non-completion as a “shocker” is an understatement.

      • Bob Wallace

        When this plant was started, during the planning phase, the energy world was different. Demand was expected to rise. Renewables and natural gas were much more expensive than today. Nuclear wasn’t really affordable, even with “seizing” money from customers it was going to create a significant (9%) increase in electricity costs.

        These folks get busy building their whiz-bang reactor and the world shifts beneath their feet. Efficiency becomes a big f-ing deal. Fracking lowers the price of NG. The price of wind and solar plummet. Fukushima melts down.

        Were I one of the decision makers for this project I’d be giving very serious thought to shutting ‘er down.

        Going to be interesting to see what happens.

      • Chris O'Neill

        Fukushima melts down.

        Of course, Fukushima’s meltdown could easily have been avoided with the simplest of reliability concepts without even using standard concepts normally used elsewhere in nuclear power generators such as defence in depth:

        For example, the heat that melted it down could ironically have been used to continue running the power station to supply power to the water pumps. Just needed a few switches set properly. So, so easy to avoid the problem but it wasn’t part of Japanese “standard procedure”.

        [Response: It’s amazing how simple and easy it is to solve such problems *after they’ve happened*.]

      • “…solar panels produce so much less power in winter than in summer.”

        Which may be a drawback in colder climates, but is an advantage in warmer ones, which are dominated by cooling loads, not heating ones. IMO the discussion about which one size best fits all situations is misguided, but for some reason it seems to be the one nuclear enthusiasts here are bent on having. Better to look at what makes sense in particular cases, and better to look at quasi-realistic mixes of generation types.

      • Chris O'Neill

        but is an advantage in warmer ones

        That’s great if you live in a climate that rarely gets cold but a lot of us aren’t so lucky so for a lot of us solar cells are poorly correlated to year round demand.

        IMO the discussion about which one size best fits all situations is misguided, but for some reason it seems to be the one nuclear enthusiasts here are bent on having.

        Where was I talking about a one size fits all situation? I would appreciate it it you didn’t make up strawman arguments in response to what I say. As you say, solar cells are well suited to places that don’t have a heating load in winter but a cooling load in summer. Unfortunately a lot of places are not like that.

      • michael sweet

        In Florida, where I live, the utility is guaranteed 10% profit on anything they spend on a nuclear plant. In Tampa, they spent $1.5 billion on a plant, where they did not even apply for a building permit. When they decided not to build, they pocketed $150 million profit and rate payers have to pay the bill with no power ever generated. As long as they spend money they make a profit. They will probably build out and then mothball to maximize profit, ratepayers be damned.

      • Bob Wallace

        When I lived in Florida we were allowed to vote for our state government. And Tallahassee wrote the laws.

        Time for Florida citizens to install a government that works for them?

        You may not be able to undo past wrongs, but you certainly can put a stop to this sort of thievery. Both the right and the left should find common grounds on having ones money stolen.

      • Chris, comments such as this one:

        …lead me to interpret your paradigm as being rather ‘one-size fits all’, in that the comment* proposes a head-to-head comparison of near-monoculture electric grids. My perspective is that such are rather nugatory–though perhaps that word is overly harsh.

        If I’m misinterpreting you (easy enough to do, since subjective commenter contexts rarely align perfectly), please feel free to elaborate.

        *And similar ones elsewhere, though I have insufficient patience for long bouts of scrolling up and down to link them too.

      • Chris O'Neill

        If I’m misinterpreting you (easy enough to do, since subjective commenter contexts rarely align perfectly), please feel free to elaborate.

        My comment was in response to Bob Wallace so it was largely (oh no, not that word) hypothetical. Elsewhere I have made the hypothetical point that in a system where the peak load is double the minimum or base load and nuclear power is used to continuously generate the base load then overall it would supply two thirds of total energy. Thus I’m only suggesting that nuclear power should be used to continuously supply at a constant level of the base load which would represent a very large fraction (two thirds) of total energy supply. I’m simply making the point that nuclear supplying continuously at base load is a very efficient use of resources and that it can supply the majority of electrical energy very efficiently. This is the only case I’m interested in considering and anything else, which a lot of people for reasons best known to themselves like to bring up, are just strawman arguments.

      • Bob Wallace

        ” Thus I’m only suggesting that nuclear power should be used to continuously supply at a constant level of the base load which would represent a very large fraction (two thirds) of total energy supply”

        Nuclear power could be used to continuously supply the “baseload”, the absolute minimum. Notice that I used “could” instead of “should”.

        I think you agree that whatever we use for baseload should be the least expensive low-carbon source. And, unfortunately for nuclear fans, that is not nuclear energy.

      • Huh?

        Bob provided prices for each source of power, so how is it all assumed to be ‘free?’ That seemed to be the whole point of the calculation.

        If your comment makes sense somehow, you are going to have to make that sense a bit more explicit, Chris.

      • Darn. The link in my previous comment was wrong, going to an article about India’s new renewables target. (Speaking, as Chris and I were elsewhere in this thread, about places where solar aligns well with demand.) I was trying to link to his comment here:

        If anyone cares… :-)

  53. Dino Rosati

    Horatio Algeranon – “Some countries may be short on space for solar and wind, but the US is certainly not among them.”

    Nice. Well, as long as the US is OK, we’re good to go! I’m sure the rest of them will figure something out.

  54. Dino Rosati

    DOE – “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity”

    Hmm. Electricity is good but we’re going to have to reduce our CO2 to near zero to prevent accumulation. That means roughly providing for all primary energy not just electricity. What would that look like?

    We will keep it simple and use a state of the art solar PV plant (Agua Caliente) and compare it to a state of the art nuke (AP1000).

    US primary energy (2011) is about 25,484 Twh (Wikipedia). This is thermal so it assumes electricity is generated at 33% efficiency. We should correct this down in the case of RE but OTOH we will have to deal with storage inefficiencies, which would drive it back up, so for now, we’ll just go with that number and keep it simple.

    The RE plant produces 0.626 Twh anually so we will need 40,709 of them. At 9.7km^2 per plant that’s about 400,000 km^2, almost the size of California. At $1.8B per plant this would cost $73T spread this over let’s say 50 years so that’s about $1.5T per year (about 10% of GDP). We would have to build about 814 of these plants per year.

    Of course costs would drop with scale and we can optimize the mix of RE for a weighted measure of cost and area. Wind would be cheaper but add more area etc. OTOH we haven’t added any cost of storage or intermittency so that will drive costs back up. Not sure how that might wash out in the end.

    If we used nuclear (AP1000) it’s anual output (thermal) is 26.9Twh so we’ll need about 946 of them at $9B per plant that’s $8.5T. Spread over 50 years that’s $170B per year (1.1% GDP). That’s 18 plants per year, about what France managed in the 1980’s.

    Of course the cost would come down with factory based modular construction at these scales and storage and intermittency won’t be a significant problem.

    So this is very (very!) roughly what we’re up against.

    • Bob Wallace

      It is kind of rough. Your argument puts a nice, fat thumb on the scale in favor of nuclear.

      You used an example where the cost of solar is over $6/Watt. Utility solar is now under $2/Watt (exclusive of land costs) and heading rapidly toward $1/Watt.

      You used a common pro-coal/nuclear argument of a renewable grid built on only one renewable technology. And you picked the more expensive one – solar. Using (currently) cheaper wind would create a different outcome.

      You omit the need for storage with nuclear. Either storage or the additional cost of load-following (increased power prices due to less output to cover costs). Any penetration for nuclear above the annual minimum demand requires either storage or load-following.

      And you haven’t addressed a very basic, and very important, issue. Where would we site 946 nuclear reactors in the United States?

      Reactors need cooling water. They need sites that wouldn’t be impacted over the next 100 to 180 years by rising sea levels and increased flooding. (40 to 80 years for active operation, 60 years for cool down before the reactor can be decommissioned.) With the likelihood of increased droughts and heatwaves inland sites become more difficult to locate. We’re already seeing existing reactors close in heat waves and threatened by flooding.

      And reactors need communities willing to host them. It’s highly unlikely that a new nuclear reactor could be sited along the US Pacific or Northeast coasts without the use of military forces to suppress local opposition. (Whether you think that opposition is rational or not, it’s there and it’s real.)

      • Dino Rosati

        “Your argument puts a nice, fat thumb on the scale in favor of nuclear”
        The actual facts do that Bob, my ‘fat thumb’ had nothing to do with it.

        “You used an example where the cost of solar is over $6/Watt…”
        I used an actual, real, just completed (almost 40MW to go) plant. I thought it best to use something real as opposed to one of the imaginary ones in your head.

        “You used a common pro-coal/nuclear argument of a renewable grid built on only one renewable technology”
        Really Bob, you think I’m ‘pro-coal’? I compared one *real* RE option with one *real* nuclear option. Please feel free to substitute in your favourite *real* RE tech, I think you’ll find the comparison equally illuminating. As to including all RE options we’d be looking at a book length comment. Did I mention David MacKay’s book. Oh, right, you think he was out of his field of expertise if I recall.

        “You omit the need for storage with nuclear.”
        Well Bob, I also thought it best not to include any imaginary storage requirements. You’ll notice I didn’t include any (really required) storage for PV either.

        “Where would we site 946 nuclear reactors in the United States?”
        A more pertinent question might be where to sight an object the size of California. But to answer your question, there are about 40 existing nuclear sites which could be expanded to accommodate a nuke or two. Then there are all those thermal coal plant sites, I’m sure the locals would appreciate the jobs and a break from debilitating air and water pollution (don’t think we’ll have to call in the military there). And, what the heck, let’s build twenty or thirty new sites. If we run short on locations with access to cooling water (which is pretty much impossible since the US is blessed with thousands of miles of coast line and the largest bodies of fresh water on earth) we can always use air cooled plants at a loss of around 10% efficiency. Molten salt reactors operate at 750C and are especially well suited to air cooling because of the gigantic temperature gradient with ambient. That opens up all those superfund sites you were going on about. With let’s say 200 sites we should have an average about 5 per site. Darlington in Ontario is sited for eight reactors. Seems doable to me.

        “And reactors need communities willing to host them”
        Yep, jobs, clean air/water and cheap electricity are pretty good incentives. The people of Carlsbad actually competed to get the WIPP site (military nuclear waste!). Lots of money for the local economy with negligible risk.
        Here in Ontario siting wind and solar is a real problem, people want clean energy but they don’t want to see vast areas of wind mills and solar panels marring their beautiful views. Saving the world can be a bitch.

      • Bob Wallace

        There’s nothing imaginary about the price of utility scale solar dropping below $2/watt. Things cost more when Aqua C was designed and contracted out.

        No, Dino, I don’t think you are pro-coal. I recognize that you are very, very, very pro-nuclear So much that you are willing to ignore nuclear’s problems.

        But, hey, everyone needs a hobby.

      • Dino Rosati

        LOL. That’s rich coming from the guy who challenges facts with imaginary RE plants and magic storage solutions.

      • Bob Wallace

        “LOL. That’s rich coming from the guy who challenges facts with imaginary RE plants and magic storage solutions.”

        I would appreciate your identifying any imaginary RE plants and magic storage solutions I’ve used.

        If I’ve made a mistakes I would like to correct them. Misleading is the last thing I wish to do.

      • Chris O'Neill

        You omit the need for storage with nuclear.

        In a grid with maximum demand equal to double minimum demand, e.g. California 1999: , a power source supplying the minimum demand constantly would supply about two thirds of the total electrical energy consumption. Thus nuclear power stations are excellently suited for supplying two thirds of electrical energy in such a grid.

      • Bob Wallace

        No bearing on the discussion. The slack, in this case, is being taken up by flexibility already built into the grid. The same holds for wind and solar added to the present grid up to a 35+% penetration.

      • Chris O'Neill

        No bearing on the discussion. The slack, in this case, is being taken up by flexibility already built into the grid. The same holds for wind and solar added to the present grid up to a 35+% penetration.

        I don’t know what you’re talking about. If you’re saying wind and solar could supply 35% of energy then that is NOT the same as my hypothetical example of nuclear supplying 66% of energy. 35% is not the same as 66%.

      • Bob Wallace

        I’m talking about the NREL study which found that the Western grid could transition to 35% wind and solar with no changes to the grid. (Except for selling power in shorter time blocks, which has since happened.)

        If 66% of peak is the absolute annual minimum demand then 66% of our electricity could come from nuclear. But that would ruin our economy.

      • Chris O'Neill

        It’s highly unlikely that a new nuclear reactor could be sited along the US Pacific or Northeast coasts without the use of military forces to suppress local opposition. (Whether you think that opposition is rational or not, it’s there and it’s real.)

        At least you don’t pretend they’re rational.

      • Bob Wallace

        Here’s what I said.

        “Whether you think that opposition is rational or not, it’s there and it’s real”

        Personally, I don’t think nuclear disasters are high probability events, but the probability is clearly higher than zero. I can see no reason to add any additional risk to our lives when we have almost-zero, cheaper, faster to bring on line alternatives.

        Willingly paying more, waiting longer to reduce CO2 and bringing more risk into your life – you think that rational?

      • Chris O'Neill

        when we have cheaper

        Once again you are making an argument which is either untrue or a bait-and-switch. Solar energy is never cheaper when the sun isn’t shining and wind energy is never cheaper when the wind isn’t blowing. Please try to stick to honest arguments.

      • Bob Wallace

        Chris, you’re starting to act like a petulant child.

        How about engaging in more adult like discussion?

      • “There’s nothing imaginary about the price of utility scale solar dropping below $2/watt. Things cost more when Aqua C was designed and contracted out.”

        You are right about that, and that’s a crucial point that some here don’t want to get–the price curves for new solar PV (especially) and nuclear are bending in opposite directions (at the moment at least.) And the solar PV curve is both very steep, and quite likely to continue its present course for the next several years at least.

        On the other hand, Dino wanted to do a current cost comparison; the fact that real projects take time to build is hardly his fault!

  55. “That amounts to 15 million acres of land. 23,400 square miles.” This is more like it. With CSP at 15W/m2, this would supply about 16% of America’s current consumer energy consumption.

  56. rabiddoomsayer

    It is clear that all the other commenters here have a very different opinion on the future reliability of infrastructure than I do.

    I want solar on my roof, with my battery back up, attached to my inverter separate from the grid. I have grid electricity, I want electricity when the grid is down. Not a huge system just enough to run a few lights, the fridge, and charge the phone.

    I want my water tank collecting water from my roof. I have mains water, I want water when the mains supply is off. If I was in a state where this is illegal, then I would hide it.

    I am starting to grow veggies in the garden and have planted fruit trees.

    I read about the state of bridges, some of the grid infrastructure and the low level of dams. I do not want local back up, I want my back up. I do not see the choice as being nuclear or solar, I see the choice as my solar or no electricity (at times)

    • Bob Wallace

      I’ve been off-grid for over 25 years. IMHO, you don’t want to disconnect. The grid is the most affordable storage and backup you can get at this time.

      (I’m off-grid because the hookup fee was $300,000.)

      A grid-tie with battery backup is not a bad idea. But consider this – an EV or PHEV that has a 120 vac inverter.

      If one of your household cars could be a ~70 mile range Leaf, for example, you could plug your house into your Leaf when the grid is down.

      Or if you live somewhere that has a grid that tends to go down and often then a PHEV like the Volt might be a better choice. You’d have a very efficient (and very quiet) generator sitting in your driveway.

      • rabiddoomsayer

        Bob I was thinking of a small solar system so that I had power when the grid was off. Not big enough to run the house as I would like, but big enough to survive for a few days. The grid where I am is very reliable, one six hour outage in well over ten years.

        A Nissan Leaf would be a good idea, but the Leafs available here are diesel. (Complete with Zeo badges). Past tense just checked again and the advertized leaf was all electric

      • 1x 6 hours in 10 years. There are probably better ways to spend your money than to set up a storage system.

        What I’d probably do is to get a small fuel generator that would run your basics. Make sure it uses the same fuel as your car and get a siphon hose.

        I backup my panels with a 3500 watt generator which burns about a quart of gasoline per hour. In 10 years you’d use about 1.5 gallons (siphon it out so that it’s fresh) and look for some carbon offset to cover your sins. (I purchase carbon offsets as penitence for mine.)

        If you watch for sales you could probably get yourself a generator for under $500. Then use the rest of your ‘green’ money for something that would do more to cut carbon. Perhaps some solar panels without storage, even if they are only the ‘plug into your wall socket’ type. Or an EV/PHEV.

  57. Horatio Algeranon

    To think that here’s what we could be doing with that land currently being used (wasted, really) on Agua Caliente solar: Burning Man

    Kinda makes your blood boil, don’t it?

  58. David B. Benson

    Standard figures for availability for wind and solar are 30% and 25%. So when the wind blows or the sun shines one needs considerable energy stored to cover the other times. Typical recovery from a storage means is 80–90% so even more overbuilding is required. Don’t forget that the storage operator has to buy energy when available to be able to sell 80% of it.

    In addition, there is the non-trival issue of new transmission. While the nominal planning figure is an additional US$12/MWh the lines have to recieve all the necessary permits. As I mentioned before, read about Idaho Power’s tale of woe in attempting to put in one 500 km transmission line; maybe the permitting will be finshed by 2020, having started in around 2005.

    • David, you’re confusing CF with hours of production. They’re pretty close for solar (25% is high, best to use a number in the high teens for the US). But wind blows a lot more than 7.2 hours on average per day in the US.

      If you’ll recall Archer and Jacobson found that if you link wind farms over a relatively small area they produce significant power 85% of the time.

      And more recent wind farms are returning CF numbers considerably higher than 30%.

      Obviously a wind/solar grid would mean a need for storage. No one suggests otherwise. And 80% efficiency means that in order to get a MWh out one has to put 1.25 MWh in.

      Transmission is being built. Transmission is an investment with a long number of years of returns. Even if the towers have to be replaced after 100 years the permitting/real estate stuff is done and paid for. Idaho might have stumbled, but HVDC lines are going in around the world.

      For example, the TransWest Express Transmission Project designed to bring Wyoming wind to the West Coast is expected to begin construction this year.

      BTW, would you please list the numbers you used for your Vogtle LCOE?

      Terms, discount rate, capital cost, CF, fixed and variable O&M, heat rate and fuel cost.

      Thanks in advance.

      • David B. Benson

        Capacity Factor (CF) is the hours of full, nameplate production equivalent divided by the number of hours in a year, nominally 8760. Availability sets the upper limit to CF. The figures you see are the conventional CF divided by availability, or some other way to cleverly disguise how little power wind farms actually produce over the year.

        Yes, 25% is for solar in the Mohave desert. Most places won’t match that.

        Wind has to blow some minimum to get any generation and similarly some maximum or generation ceases. But minimum wind provides only a tiny fraction of nameplate capacity. The Columbia Basin has been a popular place for wind farms because of its 30% wind (although the wind farms only manage to produce with CF=28%). You can watch the generation take place via
        BPA Balancing Authority Load and Total Wind, Hydro, and Thermal Generation, Near-Real-Time

        For Vogtle,via
        NREL’s “Simple Levelized Cost of Energy Calculator”,
        I used the total cost of both #3 and #4, US$17 billion (includes transmission), which includes all the finance charges but assumes no further significant delays. I take that as capital cost, divided by the generation capacity of two AP-1000s. So the discount rate goes to 0. The CF will surely be at least 92% for the first 30 years (loan lifetime). The fixed O&M includes the uranium costs as replenishment must be done every two years and the uranium market is very stable; I use US$185 for all of that. The variable O&M will be around US$0.005/kWh (or less). The heat rate is irrelevant as the fuel cost, not be broken out separately, is 0. Possibly to fixed O&M is too low, but I determined that figure by running the calculator knowing the actual price of electricity from the Columbia Generating Station.

      • Bob Wallace

        “Capacity Factor (CF) is the hours of full, nameplate production equivalent divided by the number of hours in a year, nominally 8760. Availability sets the upper limit to CF.”

        No, CF is total annual production divided by what would have been produced had the unit run full speed 24/365.

        CF simply tells one nothing about the number of hours a wind turbine produces electricity. Only the average production over time. A turbine could run few hours at very high output or a lot of hours at a modest output and turn out the same CF.

        BTW, onshore wind CF numbers are rising as we learn better how to fit hardware to the specific site and how to make turbines more responsive to upcoming wind patterns.

        Thanks for the LCOE numbers. I’ll work through them tomorrow (if nothing comes up).

        I’m not sure how you come up with a discount rate of 0. When/if those reactors come on line there’s going to be a $17 billion bill and it won’t be interest free.

        And I’ll use the EIA’s heat rate for nuclear.

        You also make a slightly high assumption for CF. US nuclear has been running in the low 80% range, but I’ll use the traditional for nuclear projections which is 90%.

        And you used a 30 year term. The LCOEs I’ve seen use 20 years as the standard. I’ll run it both ways.

        I think I’m starting to understand how you came up with a lower number than Citigroup….

      • Bob Wallace

        OK, Vogtle 3 and 4 are 1250 MW reactors, so 2500 MW. At $17 billion commission price that’s $6,800/kWh.

        Using your numbers:
        Term 30 years
        Discount rate 0% (Had to use 0.001%. Calculator would not accept zero.)
        CF 92%
        Fixed O&M $185/kW
        Variable O&M $0.005/kWh
        Heat Rate 0
        Fuel Cost 0

        I get a LCOE of 5.6 cents/kWh.

        If I use the numbers I would normally use:
        Term 20 years
        Discount rate 6%
        CF 90%
        Fixed O&M $88.85/kW (EIA Open Source Database Median)
        Variable O&M $0.0005/kWh (EIA Open Source Database Median)
        Heat Rate 10452 (EIA 2012 Annual Energy Review)
        Fuel Cost 0
        I get a LCOE of 8.7 cents/kWh.
        If I move the discount rate to 8% then the LCOE jumps to 10 cents/kWh.

        That’s lower than Citigroup’s 11c/kWh but I don’t have access to their numbers so don’t know how their inputs might differ. They might have a better handle on probable completion date, for example. Delays have already pushed the cost from $15 billion to $17 billion IIRC.

      • “When/if those reactors come on line there’s going to be a $17 billion bill and it won’t be interest free.”

        Don’t forget, Georgia power users are already paying in advance… :-/

      • Bob Wallace

        That’s a problem with calculating the LCOE. Georgia Power has gotten some of the capex money for free. That lowers the ‘day of opening’ cost but there’s no way for someone working with only web information to determine how much.

        Looking around for a number I found –

        “Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) is an accounting term utility companies have borrowed and added as a line item on a project’s balance sheet. The CWIP line item allows utility companies to collect from customers, prior to the completion of a project, to offset construction costs.

        1) Reduce total projected rate increases for the plant from approximately 12% to approximately 9%.

        2) Cut financing costs $300 million during the construction period, directly benefiting customers.

        3) Help preserve the company’s credit ratings, which will reduce borrowing costs, saving customers as much as $100 million annually for all company projects (not just nuclear).

        4) Ease the plant into rates in a way that does not cause “rate shock,” by phasing in the cost over seven years (starting in 2011) versus applying the full cost increase in just two years.

        5) Reduce the in-service cost of the plant by $2 billion, saving customers additional financing costs over the life of the plant.

        (I added the numbers.)

        #1 – If I read that correctly they are admitting that electricity costs will be 9% higher in the service area because of the plant. For a plant that isn’t needed.

        #2 – That’s a hidden cost that makes the “casual” LCOE low.

        #4 – This is the biggie. “We’ll turn the heat up really slowly so that you won’t notice that we’re now cooking your butt.

        #5 – This distorts the LCOE by $2 billion as it lowers financing costs while not accounting for loss of money to non-owners/customers.

      • “For a plant that isn’t needed”–Well, it’s needed to reduce carbon emissions, to the EPA’s way of thinking! True, Georgia hasn’t needed the power, lately, but probably a lot of that is due to the effects of the Great Recession. Manufacturing here has been picking up, so maybe future demand is looking a bit better.

        On the other hand, Georgia does have a pretty good solar resource–not as outstanding as the Southwest, but pretty respectable. And some pretty cheap land, too, where the economy is in the doldrums (quite a few of our rural counties fit that description.) But Georgia Southern had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the solar age by the PSC.

        “In service cost”–I wasn’t sure what that meant. But to the Arizona Department of Revenue it means this:

        “…the actual cost of acquiring or constructing property including additions, retirements, adjustments and transfers.”

        That doesn’t clear up for me just how the pre-charge reduces in service cost, other than by reducing finance charges, which seems already to be counted under points 2) and 3), and is given in point 5) as a consequence, not a cause, of the cost reductions.

    • “While the nominal planning figure is an additional US$12/MWh the lines have to recieve all the necessary permits.”

      That’s more reason for generating close to points of consumption, even if there are places which have more production potential. Nevertheless, permitting for local plants is a problem, even for solar ones, let alone the whole “flutter” thing for wind.

  59. Doc Snow – “But there’s a silver lining to solar which your analysis obviates, and that is that there’s a pretty good correlation between peak output and peak demand. (Use patterns do vary with geography and time of year, of course.) Here are a couple of real-life graphs:”

    OK, I’ll bite. Let’s say we are engineers in charge of providing New England with the linked power demand curve. We’ll compare PV with nukes and require them to do the same job.

    With nukes we can just use brute force and buy enough of them to cover the peak demand. According to the graph that’s about 17GW for a cost of 17*$9B = $153B, yikes! We can probably get a price break on 17 plants but, whatever. The maximum hourly power change is about 2GW or about 11% which is no problem for the nukes.

    For PV, the situation is much more complicated. As you point out, the solar peak nicely coincides with part of the peak demand curve, but there is also a gigantic hole at night, that no amount of scaling is going to fix. So we need some storage. Well, vanadiun redox flow batteries have been used for applications like this and are commercially available.
    To cover the total energy (estimating about 336Gwh/day from graph) and storge efficiency (75%) we would need about 268 PV plants at $1.8B each = $482B.
    Hard to find real pricing for the battery but as far as I can tell it’s about $1/wh. How much storage should we provide? For one day of storage that would be (336/0.75) = $448B for a total of $930B(!). We still can’t be sure this would actually work, what happens when the weather is bad for a week? Also the capacity factor for this plant was based on a location in Arizona, so it will be much worse for New England. The winter output would be brutal.

    Obviously no engineer would pick PV since it’s hugely more expensive and probably wouldn’t even do the job. Not to mention the size of the thing, about 10% of the entire state of Massachusetts!

    Even if PV fell to $2/w it would be more expensive and unreliable. Of course a large scale nuclear deployment would also drop prices for the nukes (at least in half). As for future tech, it’s not like nuclear is standing still. There are designs on the horizon that make an AP1000 look like a dinosaur. But I suppose they don’t count, not part of the RE religion.

    “On the other hand, Dino wanted to do a current cost comparison; the fact that real projects take time to build is hardly his fault!”
    The PV plant I used is brand spank’n new! Should I use plants that don’t exist yet instead? Hard to get good numbers on imaginary projects. I guess a fair comparison of two current technologies is out of the question since one of them looks so ridiculous next to the other. Reality is a bitch.

    Bob Wallace = “Personally, I don’t think nuclear disasters are high probability events, but the probability is clearly higher than zero.”
    More members of the public have died maintaing wind and solar projects than have ever died by nuke in the US (i.e. zero) – google ‘deaths per twh’. With that attitude, why would you ever get into a car or a plane? We’d still be living in caves.

    [Response: No construction workers were ever killed working on a nuclear plant? Nobody ever fell to his death from an unfinished cooling tower? I’m skeptical that you’re giving us a genuine “apples-to-apples” comparison.

    As for “zero” deaths from nuclear — are you absolutely certain that disease rates didn’t increase due to radiation release from Chernobyl? From Fukushima? Considering that the health impact from exposure to radiation can lag exposure by (in some cases many) years, I suspect you’re painting a much too optimistic picture of the safety of nuclear.]

    • David B. Benson

      Yes, construction workers have died building nuclear power plants. Indeed, workers at fully constructed nuclear power plants have died when cranes collapsed, etc. It is all quite, quite safe, but not perfect.

      As for radiation, I don’t have the figures for Chernobyl but the major impact was that many people who had been exposed started to drank themselves to death, figuring that was preferable to cancer.

      As for Fukushima, the only potential hazard is thyroid cancer. All the possibly affected children will now be monitored; thyroid cancer is now survivable. I gather the epidemiologists estimate perhaps a dozen cases.

    • Dino Rosati

      “ deaths…”
      Not sure if construction workers are included. I was referring to US and Canada which are indeed zero deaths due to radiation exposure from operation/maintenance/accidents. For world rates (deaths/twh) they are solar 440, wind 150, nuclear 90 (includes Chernobyl & Fukushima). Note that the wind and solar numbers are at 1% global deployment compared to nuclear’s 17%. These numbers a pretty minuscule compared to FF, but tragic none the less. See also James Hansen’s paper on nuclear/FF power related deaths.

      “I suspect you’re painting a much too optimistic picture..”

      Well, for deaths/cancer due to Chernobyl see the reports by the official UN/WHO body UNSCEAR. They publish very thorough reports on major accidents every few years. Their summary, about 30 direct radiation deaths and about 15 deaths (out of 6000 potential cases) from thyroid cancers (mainly due to the inept Russian response). They can detect no longer term cancer rate increases or deformities likely related to radiation exposures and are tracking 500,000+ ‘clean up workers’ many of which received substantial doses and may be at increased risk . As David points out, they report that, most of the detectable medical problems were due to fear and forced displacement (alcoholism, unnecessary abortions, depression, etc) .

      Remember, this was a reactor design from the 50’s with no containment(!), a core design (graphite moderated, water cooled – basically a repurposed weapons reactor) that was known to be unstable at low temps (and impossible to licence anywhere else – US repeatedly warned them against using it for power generation) where the operators actually turned off all safety systems(!) before running an ‘experiment’. Practically the entire core went up in smoke. Hardly the poster child for modern gen-3+ nukes and safety culture.

      UNSCEAR is also tracking Fukushima, they don’t expect to be able to detect any long term increases in cancer rates as the release was much smaller than Chernobyl and the Japanese response was much better than the Russians. These were vintage late 60’s LWR designs and TEPCO has a lot to answer for – not keeping up with safety upgrades, ridiculous placement of backup power systems, and the fact that operators were not allowed to vent gasses without political permission during a crisis(!) – which finally came about a day after it was too late, much to the exasperation of the beleaguered operators. Not to mention all this happening in the midst of one of the largest natural disasters in Japanese history.

      UNSCEAR points out that most of the big cancer numbers bandied about were due to ‘enthusiastic’ use of the so called no-threshold model which is useless for predicting the effects of low-level (below about 100mSv) radiation. It has no empirical basis at low-levels, in fact the bulk of empirical data flatly contradicts it. UNSCEAR explicitly warns against using it for ‘predicting’ effects of low-level exposure. Needless to say, Greenpeace uses it enthusiastically, they claim deaths from Chernobyl at 100,000+! Bit of a discrepancy with the scientific numbers. Did I mention fear as large contributor to health effects? Reprehensible.

      We know a tremendous amount about the effects of radiation on health because of it’s use for medical treatment/diagnostics (about a century of research). There is a gigantic literature on the subject. Unfortunately this info doesn’t seem to be getting out to the public in an easily digestible way. Exposures below about 100mSv have no empirically detectable long term consequences (background varies from about 2-15mSv/yr). Note that Ramsar Iran has a background of up to 260mSv/yr(!) and have lower cancer rates than socio-economically equivalent Iranian towns in the control group.

      [Response: So your initial claim of *zero* deaths from the use of nuclear isn’t merely “too optimistic,” it’s false. That would support the idea that you have a tendency to exagerate its safety. If you want advocates of wind and solar to acknowledge their shortcomings, you should do the same for nuclear.

      I think it should be pointed out that risk = probability times cost. You might make a strong case that the probability is low, but the potential cost of a major release of radioactivity is astounding. There’s also the danger of the proliferation of nuclear material, which could be used for weapons of mass destruction, and there’s risk associated with the disposal of nuclear waste. Please don’t tell us that there won’t be any because it can all be used as recycled fuel; we weren’t born yesterday.

      I’m not necessarily opposed to nuclear power generation, but I object when the risk is glossed over.]

      • Bob Wallace

        “I was referring to US and Canada which are indeed zero deaths due to radiation exposure from operation/maintenance/accidents”

        That is not factually correct. Three people died at SL-1. Technically one of the fatalities was mechanical, but had the person not been killed in the explosion he would have quickly died from radiation.

        That said, it’s not the number of people who have been killed by radiation. It’s the amount of effort that must be expended to keep people from being killed. There’s a level of risk created by nuclear energy which is unique to nuclear.

        A significant amount of the cost that makes nuclear unaffordable comes from protecting workers and the general public from radiation.

      • Right, forgot about the SL-1, late 50s experimental US Army reactor. What was I thinking?

      • I don’t know what you were thinking. But I know what you were doing, carving out a space in which you can claim “Nobody died”.

        It’s kind of like gerrymandering a voting district in order to get a specific outcome.

        Nuclear is dangerous. I totally agree that no one has died from acute radiation poisoning in a US commercial plant. But I also realize that there have been multiple times when we came close to melting one down. If fact, we did melt one down at TMI but got lucky and the containment dome held.

        A nuclear disaster is a low probability event but the probability of a nuclear disaster is greater than zero. The possible cost of a nuclear meltdown in the US is tremendous. Imagine torching one off at Indian Point. There’s no way to quickly evacuate all the people who live around there. The cost in human lives and ruined real estate/infrastructure could easily be over $1 trillion. (And you want to put hundreds more reactors in our backyards.)

        There’s simply no reason for this foolishness. We’d be spending extra money and making our lives more risky. All for nothing.

        Think about what you’re pushing.

      • Chris O'Neill

        Remember, this was a reactor design from the 50′s with no containment(!), a core design (graphite moderated, water cooled – basically a repurposed weapons reactor) that was known to be unstable at low temps (and impossible to licence anywhere else – US repeatedly warned them against using it for power generation)

        Impossible to license AND ILLEGAL anywhere else.

    • Quite a “bite.” I wasn’t suggesting that we consider how to power New England; that graph was just an illustration of the principle. (And yes, New England wouldn’t be my first choice for the location of an all-solar grid. Duh.) But above all, considering that my larger point is that you can do better by using a diversified grid, why on Earth would you respond with a comparison of two ‘monoculture’ grids?

      You seem to be persistently missing the point, which is precisely that it doesn’t make sense to compare different technologies without considering the advantages and disadvantages that each has. I’m proposing that solar presently can provide very inexpensive daytime power, and that it’s rational to use it for that purpose–it can scale up very rapidly (as the boom in its deployment is amply demonstrating) and is extremely safe and clean. For other times of day, other solutions will be appropriate–and what they are will depend upon the situation in question. And you keep illustrating that solar doesn’t make for a good baseline source–a straw man, though artfully decorated by BOTE numbers which basically serve to inflate the real cost per kilowatt hour to a satisfyingly large hypothetical figure which WOULD apply IF solar were baseload.

      As to why nuclear can’t, IMO, be ‘the solution’: it’s politically unpopular, very hard to finance, and too slow to deploy, relative to the need. (Vogtle will have taken at least eleven years by completion, and even Sanmen I has taken more than 5 years–probably quite a bit more, if we but knew more about the planning and permitting processes.) That’s not what I want to be true; but it is what appears to be true, from the reading and listening that I have done. And I suspect that there are significant constraints based on the availability of cooling capacity (curtailment of nuclear generation has occurred in both Texas and France as a result of water shortages during drought) and on the available technical work force which would be needed if we were to try to go ‘all nuclear.’

      Luckily, nuclear needn’t be the whole solution; as I keep saying, in the real world it will be a part of it. So will wind and solar–and it looks to me as if they will be a very important part. It’s admittedly a subjective impression, but I really suspect that what we’re seeing is the renewable energy ‘railway moment’ arriving–you know, Heinlein’s line, “When it’s time to railroad, people start railroading.”

    • “The PV plant I used is brand spank’n new! Should I use plants that don’t exist yet instead? Hard to get good numbers on imaginary projects.”

      Yes, that was precisely my point. Why not take ‘yes’ for an answer?

      • Dino Rosati

        If we a free to use imaginary RE plants then we are free to use imaginary nukes as well. I could use Terrestrial Energy’s beautiful molten salt reactor design and the numbers would come out even more in favour of nuclear. Then of course I would be accused of making up unrealistic numbers for nuclear, no matter how much I tried to be realistic about those numbers. See the dilemma?

      • Bob Wallace

        Would you tell us what imaginary RE plants you’re talking about?

        The ones producing 4 (or 2.1) cent wind and the ones producing 5 cent solar?

        The average utility solar price under $2/watt installed ones?

        Or something else that I missed?

      • Still not taking ‘yes’ for an answer, I see…

  60. David B. Benson

    The most cost effective solution for utility scale batteries for general use is explained in
    which, while not as efficient as other methods is certainly cleverly engineering lo-tech. I hope this actually is able to reach the intended market.

  61. Bob Wallace

    Doc – this is out of sequence. You inquired about places for PuHS if that’s the storage technology we use.

    We have ~80,000 dams in the US. We use ~7,500 for power generation. I did a review of existing dams on federal lands and found well more than 10% of the existing dams which aren’t used for generation have adequate head and are close enough to transmission lines to make them usable for PuHS. That’s over 8,000 possible sites. We’re already converting some to storage.

    We’ve got over 1,000 abandoned rock quarries on US federal lands alone. There’s currently a PuHS plant under construction at an abandoned quarry outside Chicago.

    There are open pit mines and subsurface mines. There’s at least one PuHS system being installed in a subsurface mine.

    And there’s closed loop PuHS. All you need is a place where the elevation changes rapidly. Excavate a reservoir up high and one down low. Connect them with a tunnel (feedstock). After the initial filling all the water needed is evaporation replacement.

    There are “turkey nests”. Japan and (I think) Australia have built one. You need a piece of high land near the ocean. A table bluff. Excavate and line a reservoir on top, use the ocean as your lower reservoir.

    No shortage of places at all. A survey in Europe found thousands of places where one or both reservoirs already exist.

    Belgium is building a “hollow island”, a hole in the ocean. They’ll pump water out of the island with surplus power, take the water level below sea level. Then when they need power they’ll let the water flow back in through turbines.

    • Bob, I approve and applaud. You don’t really have to convince me that storage is doable, and probably very practical, given some time. But it would be a lot more encouraging if we had some real action in doing some of these projects–we are fearfully short of time, as you know.

      • A 2010 NREL study found that the Western grid was able to accommodate 30% wind and 5% solar penetration to the grid.

        The study also found that if utilities were to generate as much as 27% of their electricity from wind and solar energy across the Western Interconnection grid, it would lower carbon emissions by 25 to 45%, while decreasing fuel and emissions costs by some 40%, depending on the future price of natural gas.

        IIRC it was found that the Eastern grid could accommodate 30% wind/solar and the Hawaii grid 40%. Since those studies we have converted a large amount of coal generation to natural gas and that will allow even more wind and solar penetration.

        Additional penetration will be allowed as EVs/PHEVs come on line as long as they are charge mostly when wind and solar are producing.

        At the end of 2013 we were 4.13% wind and 0.23% solar and adding the combination of both at less than 1% of total generation per year.

        In other words, we’re some years away from needing large scale storage. For now we can simply turn off fossil fuel generation.

        And we are moving on large scale storage. Lake Hodges PuHS came on line recently. Eagle Creek has been contracted. Silver Creek, Lake Elsinore, Maysville, Eldrado, Prineville have been announced (pre-contracted stage).

        More are being studied. At least two of the California utilities are studying PuHS sites in response to CA requirements that a percentage (5%?) of peak hour power come from storage.

  62. Chris O'Neill

    I understand what marginal cost is.

    If you understand what marginal cost is then you’re missing the point when you wonder “With French electricity cost of production now about $0.08/kWh it would be interesting to hear how that is working out for them. Are taxpayer euros being used to lubricate those sales?” Just because they sell some electricity for less than $0.08/kWh doesn’t mean there are “taxpayer euros being used to lubricate those sales”. I was trying to make the point that they don’t need to sell every unit for more than $0.08/kWh to make it worth selling those units without “taxpayer euros being used to lubricate those sales”. I’m astounded that someone who professes to understand power system economics can make a suggestion like that.

    • Bob Wallace

      Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your point, but let me respond to what I think you’re saying.

      First, nuclear costs are largely fixed. Variable costs, the money saved by not producing, are close to zero. $0.0005/kWh for US reactors. Nothing is really saved by shutting down. Nuclear reactors have essentially no marginal costs.

      Second, nuclear reactors take a long time to shut down and restart. Reactors commonly dump power at a loss rather than shut down.

      Now, 8c/kWh is what the French government reports it costs them to generate power from their reactor fleet. The French government and the French nuclear industry are one and the same.

      Given that Germany’s wholesale electricity price is much lower than 8c/kWh, some countries are still burning cheap coal, and some countries have cheap hydro I’m wondering what it takes to offload those extra kWhs.

      One would assume that France is selling mostly into late night, low demand hours when they don’t need the power. Is someone willing to pay 8c or are sales being subsidized?

      There’s no market for 8c electricity in the US during off-peak hours. Companies that own reactors producing 5c electricity are losing money. They are having to sell for so little during off-peak that the higher peak rates does not return them to profitability.

      • So, Bob–trying to follow this back-and-forth–when you say that the French taxpayer ‘lubricates’ sales, you really mean that he/she is ultimately on the hook for the losses if the nuclear-generated power sells at 2 cents (or whatever?)

      • Bob Wallace

        I’m not saying that French nuclear energy is being sold at a loss at taxpayer expense, I’m wondering.

        The news that it costs France 8c/kWh (government report) set me wondering how that plays out on the European power market. France exports a lot of electricity. Are there countries who have higher production costs, especially at French low-demand times, and will pay 8c?

        Germany exports and imports electricity in significant amounts. Last set of numbers I saw reported Germany was making a net 6% profit.

        I’d love to see the balance sheets for France….

  63. This thread seems to be winding down, though trying to predict that is a bit like the annual Sea Ice Sweepstakes (now well underway, of course.) So, in praise of demand reduction, here’s a ‘perversification’ of the Tedeschi Trucks Band song, Simple Things. Watchable at:

    (That should ensure the thing doesn’t embed, per house policy.)

    “Simple Things”

    When you look into the mirror
    Are you proud of what you see?
    Do you take it all for granted?
    Do you have all that you need?


    Oh and I don’t want to tell you
    That I’ve heard it all before
    ‘Cause I’ve been taking
    More than I’ve been giving

    Oh and underneath my shadow
    There’s so much that lies in store
    Simple things
    Make it all worth living

    Lookin’ for life without carbon,
    NOX or methane (2x)

    So you’ve built these walls around you
    To protect all that you own
    You have kept out what’s important
    How’s it feel to be all alone?

    (Prechorus & chorus)

    I don’t claim to know the answers
    I just know I could do much more
    No more excuses anymore

    Now I’ve opened up my windows
    To hear the children on the street
    Love has stolen all the bitterness
    And swept it off with the breeze

    (Prechorus, Chorus, Coda)

    Only had to change the chorus–the original of which runs:

    “Looking for life without sorrow
    Love without pain”

    Which is also perhaps germane, in a slightly oblique fashion–we’re so addicted to convenience and the easy way out, and so afraid of change.

  64. Dino Rosati

    Bob Wallace – “If fact, we did melt one down at TMI but got lucky and the containment dome held”

    Luck had nothing to do with it. The containment was designed for that purpose.

    “There’s no way to quickly evacuate all the people who live around there”

    It’s becoming clear (after Fukushima) that evacuation is a bad idea. If there should ever come a need to vent containment to reduce pressure in an emergency, the radiation release would be far less harmful (as demonstrated by TMI) than the results of a panicked evacuation. The containment is vented through hardened stacks with filters to trap radionuclides, something that Fukushima didn’t have. Also the Fukushima containment was far too small, US contaminants are huge nowadays. Stay indoors and let the pros handle it. Cleanup any remaining hot spots. Loss of life would be very unlikely, again as demonstrated by TMI and Fukushima.

    And yes, the cost of an accident would be huge, which is why so much effort is placed on defence-in-depth. But your making it sound like we learn nothing form these accidents and new designs don’t incorporate those lessons. After TMI, extensive safety changes were required for all US reactors and again after Fukushima. The AP1000 is thousands of times safer than the old TMI style reactors according to the PRA done by the NRC for licensing.

    Technology marches on, speaking of which, the molten salt reactors proposed by Terrestrial Energy, are actually *inherently safe*. The fuel and coolant are not separated, it’s all in the molten salt, so a loss of coolant accident is impossible. If the vessel is breached, the salt spills out into the containment and flows into drain tanks designed for air cooling – no power is required to remove decay heat, unlike current reactors.

    If the salt overheats, the salt in a freeze plug at the bottom of the vessel melts and the fuel is drained by gravity alone (not pumps) into the drain tanks. Fission stops immediately in salt that leaves the vessel since there is no moderator.

    There is no water and the associated high pressures anywhere in the system (runs at ambient pressure since the boiling point of the salt is about 1200C and about 500C above operating temperature), hence steam/hydrogen explosions are impossible. The salt is chemically inert.

    Unlike current reactors, there is virtually no excess reactivity in the fuel salt. It’s continuously fuelled as it operates so there is no down time for refuelling. Any loss of salt would carry fuel away with it and the reactor would immediately become sub-critical, so no control rods are required!

    All volatile fission products are continuously removed (since the salt is liquid) during operation so that the salt in a spill would emit virtually no fission products as gases, and would simply freeze solid. In current reactors, volatile fission products build up in the fuel elements and are released all at once if the fuel melts, which is the primary source of radioactivity in an accident. Of course, a meltdown is also impossible since the fuel is always molten! The reactor is designed to be walk-away-safe, no operator intervention or outside power is required in an emergency.

    They would also be far cheaper to build than current reactors. They don’t require a large expensive stainless steel pressure vessel with 9 inch thick walls and miles of thick, expensive, difficult to weld piping. They don’t require all the elaborate engineered safety systems and their backups to protect against loss of coolant or steam blow down. They don’t have any elaborate internal structures or expensive fabricated fuel bundles. They are also far more compact as they don’t require huge containment domes to hold steam under pressure. The salt has a huge heat capacity, so requires much smaller and simpler heat exchangers. The cores are simple enough to be mass produced in factories as opposed to assembled and welded on site. They would be brought to the site and installed underground.

    They operate at very high temperatures so the thermal efficiency for electric generation is much higher, allowing them to be smaller and require less external cooling and can in fact be designed for air cooling. Also the high temperatures make them ideal for all kinds of industrial heat applications.

    They have a large and prompt negative temperature coefficient of reactivity which also makes them excellent load followers and very safe to handle large power fluctuations. They also have much longer fuel residence times (decades) and thus much higher fuel burn up. In fact they require *one twentieth* the uranium fuel for the same energy output as current reactors.

    And a reactor of this type was operated at the Oak Ridge national labs in the mid 60’s for about 5 years and still holds the record for the longest continuous chain reaction. Born and bread in the USA.

    And yes, I would love to have one of them in my backyard.

    • Bob Wallace

      I had to stop reading at this statement.

      “It’s becoming clear (after Fukushima) that evacuation is a bad idea.”

      Sorry, Dino, you’ve jumped the shark. (I suspect not for the first time.)

      • David B. Benson

        Many of the professional radiologists agree that, at least in hindsight, evacuation at Fukushima was a bad idea.

      • If you’re in a building and have to evacuate because of a bomb threat, then it turns out that there was no bomb, does that mean that evacuating was a bad idea?

      • Dino Rosati

        What a coincidence Bob, I feel the same way about pretty much everything you write on this subject. Agreement at last!

      • Dino Rosati

        The Fukushima evacuation resulted in the deaths of about 500 people, mostly elderly and critical patients. They would probably be alive today if they didn’t evacuate. Read on MacDuff.

      • And if the reactors hadn’t melted down there would have been no reason for them to be evacuated.

        Shark jumped again.

    • I didn’t stop reading when Bob did. But I’d note that it’s one thing to say, after the fact, that not evacuating for Fukushima would have saved lives, and quite another to be sure that the outcome in a different case would necessarily be the same. The nature of risk comes in here again: while the probability of mass radiation exposure may not be large in LOCA accidents, it can’t be ruled out. And the cost of such an outcome would be horrific.

      Be that as it may, thanks for the nice description of the advantages of molten salt reactors. I’m sure they will be very useful, though just when seems a bit doubtful–the Chinese project seems the best-supported from the little I’ve read; if all goes well for them, we may see a commercial design sometime before 2030. Unfortunately, such a timeline takes it a bit past relevance for this particular thread–though conceivably we could use them to power some sort of carbon sequestration scheme.

      • You’re quite welcome, thanks for reading it. Terrestrial energy expects to licence by 2021 in Canada (much less of nightmare than the NRC), but who knows? Apparently people involved in the tar sands are interested, they are getting killed by natural gas prices for use in extracting and cracking the stuff. Can’t say that I like the application but it would be poetic if a tar sands company paid for the development of a technology that eventually put them out of business.

        In the mean time, AP1000’s and there ilk will do just fine.

      • License in 2021. After that, it seems to take at least 10 years of licensing and hearings and construction. That would put first criticality in 2031 — if all goes well. Pretty much exactly as Doc Snow predicted.

      • “Apparently people involved in the tar sands are interested…”

        More than that; according to the TEI website: “TEI’s founding board consists of executives from the oil-sands, mining and finance sectors.”

        It raises the specter (or “spectre”, since TE is Canadian) of using clean energy to create dirty energy. (There has been some discussion of this WRT renewables as well, at RealClimate at least, so it’s not unique to TEI, or to nuclear power.) Theoretically at least, you could end up with even worse cumulative emissions that way.

        To me, such possibilities just raise the importance of carbon pricing, and of the Kyoto process–as well as continuing educational work about climate change and carbon, of course.

      • Bob Wallace

        Let ’em build some nuclear to cook their sludge.

        By the time they can get up and running (5 to 10 years from now) we should have affordable, long range EVs and our ICEV fleet mileages will be a lot higher than they are now.

        The price of petroleum will be collapsing due to dropping demand and they’ll be sitting there in the wilds of Canada with a great big concrete mausoleum….

      • Unfortunately, the tar sands execs are precisely the people with deep enough pockets to rapidly make MSRs a reality. They estimate saving many 10s of billions a year by avoiding natural gas combustion in their operations. They are interested in cheap, continuous, industrial heat, not electricity, which make MSRs a natural fit.

        It’s common for FF companies to promote renewables since it makes them look greener and they don’t really believe they’re a significant threat to their business. It’s more unusual for FF companies (especially coal companies) to back nuclear as it is much more likely to become direct competition. Then again, if carbon rules make tar sands uncompetitive, they will have MSRs to fall back on.

        As you say, carbon rules will be needed. It seems they will become inevitable, as demonstrated by the recently proposed EPA rules, or we’re doomed.

    • michael sweet

      What happens to the non-volatile radioactive ash? How do they separate it from the rest of the molten core, or is it just left in? How much of it precipitates out in the core? How is the precipitate cleaned out of the core? What is the salt used? Can you provide a link to the performance of the experimental reactor? Why did they decide not to follow up on this design in the ’60’s, there must have been some reason they only built one.

  65. The normally pro-status-quo, pro-big-business daily in Montreal reported this fluff piece about wind power:

    They represent the political base of the current government, so if they are strongly in favour, that’s a good sign.

    Quebec is currently over 95% hydro, so it won’t affect our CO2 footprint much, but we export a lot of electricity to New England and Ontario. Apart from VT, there’s fossils to displace in all those places (Ontario has already cut coal out, but they still burn some gas).

    The only hitch is they want to build new high-voltage lines straight through the Whites to send power to Boston. Hopefully, local pressure can make them deviate to go through somewhere that isn’t a revered national treasure, or to bury the lines through there.

    • Bob Wallace

      Burying transmission is expensive, but we should be willing to spend a bit more in order to protect our most beautiful spots. We have too few now for the size of our population.

  66. Lots of food for thought in the Deep Decarbonization report:

    Click to access DDPP_interim_2014_executive_summary.pdf

    From the conclusion:

    “What the DDPP process illustrates is that at least two new elements will need to be part of the global deal in 2015 at COP21 in Paris…

    “Country DDPs:
    A shared global commitment that each country will develop and make publicly available a (non-binding) DDP to 2050 that is consistent with the 2°C limit and their national circumstances. Official country DDPs (as distinct from illustrative DDPs, developed by researchers) would be predicated on a shared commitment to the global target and to all aspects of global cooperation needed to achieve it, including technology cooperation, financial support, and policy coordination.

    “Global, large-scale RDD&D of low-carbon technologies:
    A massive and sustained global public-private effort to develop, demonstrate, and diffuse various low-carbon technologies that are not yet technically mature or competitive and are key to the success of deep decarbonization.”

    One of the major thrusts of this report is the idea that national policy needs to be driven, not by targets set mostly by political expediency, but with actual reference to what is needed to have a better than two-thirds chance of avoiding 2 C warming. In other words, they seek to close the climate ‘ambition gap.’

    Moving on to an illustrative case bearing more directly on what we’ve been talking about here for the most part, according a summary story, the US team determined that a technically feasible pathway for the US to achieve emissions compatible with the 2 C target would see:

    “…30 percent of its electricity [coming] from nuclear power and 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like hydro, wind, and solar by 2050. Electric vehicles would handle about 75 percent of all trips. Large trucks would get switched over to natural gas. The coal plants that remained would all capture their carbon-dioxide emissions and bury them underground. Every single building would adopt LEDs for lighting.”