Australian Heat Waves: Ode to Adelaide

What with Australia’s record-breaking multiple-heat-waves January, amidst talk of frying eggs on the sidewalk and melting asphalt and bats dropping dead because their brains cooked in the afternoon heat, we’ve looked at temperatures down under. We’ve noted overall warming, and the increase in the number of hot days. But we haven’t specifically looked at heat waves, which require multiple hot days in a row — usually, 3 or more, which is what we’ll go with.

The city of Adelaide, capitol of South Australia, has been in the news for setting a new record: hottest temperature in Australia ever recorded in a major city, at 46.6°C (115.9°F). It sounds a bit iffy to say “in a major city,” but I’ll let Adelaide have its day and look at its past heat waves.


I defined a “hot day” as one with high temperature in the top 2.5% of all days. For Adelaide, that turned out to be days reaching 37.6°C (99.7°F). I then defined a “heat wave” as any string of 3 or more consecutive hot days. That made it straightforward to count the number of heat waves each year, where I defined the year as starting in July and ending the following June, so the summer season (Dec-Jan-Feb in the southern hemisphere) won’t be split between years.

For Adelaide we get this (using ACORN data from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology):

The blue line is actually a quasipoisson fit, and is used to test whether or not there’s some statistically significant change happening (in this case, yes). The red line is a lowess smooth, which helps visualize what’s likely changing and when.

I can use that blue-line test fit on all the stations in Australia’s ACORN data set, and map the trends with red “x”s for more heat waves, blue circles for fewer heat waves, thus:

Most of Australia shows an overall increase in the number of heat waves. Clearly, Adelaide is no exception.


Despite occurring more often, when they do happen, the heat waves in Adelaide don’t seem to be getting longer.

There is that very long heat wave in 2008, but there are also more short heat waves than before, and the estimated trend (the red line) is just flat.


Heat stress comes not just when daily temperatures get too high, but when overnight lows don’t get low enough to cool off. I decided to form a quick, rough-and-ready estimate of heat stress, based on intuition and a few experiments. Don’t expect too much from this, but let’s have some fun.

First I transformed daily high and low temperatures into daytime and nighttime “raw” heat stress, using logistic functions (with, I think, well-chosen parameters). Here’s what I got, daytime heat stress in red, overnight in blue:

Some events, such as the heat waves in 2009 and 1939, are notable for showing high hazard levels from both daytime and overnight temperatures.

Then I modified the raw hazard levels, to increase them when hot days/nights came in groups; after all, two hot days in a row, is worse than twice as bad as a hot day. This gave me a “base” hazard level for both daytime and overnight temperatures:

Finally, I averaged the daily-high and overnight-low hazards to get the estimated daily heat hazard:

Now, we can estimate the total accumulated heat hazard throughout the year (July through the following). I got this:


These data include the 2017-2018 summer but not the most recent (2018-2019) because it’s still ongoing, not finished yet. But we’ve already seen enough of this summer to know, that however you choose to quantify how bad heat stress is, there’s going to be a new worst year in Adelaide, and over Australia as a whole. Australian heat waves are entering new territory.


This blog is made possible by readers like you; join others by donating at My Wee Dragon.


Advertisements

38 responses to “Australian Heat Waves: Ode to Adelaide

  1. A quick note re the lingo down under. There are no sidewalks here, only footpaths. Asphalt is rare, usually it’s a tar road, or the well educated might refer to it as bitumin. For a second there I was thinkin ‘Where the bloody hell are ya?’

    [Response: I’ll try to learn from my mistakes.]

    • Mmm bitumen…so much for ‘well educated’. I’m always learning too.

    • And, while we’re on such matters: “The city of Adelaide, capitol of South Australia…”. Nope, Adelaide is the capitAl of South Australia. “CapitOl” is a weird US (and US-influenced) word for the building in which a legislature meets coming from a particular Roman building. In all other senses the spelling is “capital”: capital letter, capital city, capital punishment, etc.

      The US Capitol is in Washington, DC, the capital of the US.

      This is only a US/British/other-English difference in that it’s more usually, though not exclusively, Americans who make this mistake.

  2. Reblogged this on jpratt27 and commented:
    Some parts of Australia will soon be uninhabitable and yet the LNP ignores climate change and continues it’s love affair with coal.

  3. Now I’m confused. If we have three days above 37.6°C, then directly after that one day below and then directly after that one day above that would be two heat waves. But if we have seven days in a row above 37.6°C then that is one heat wave. And one heat wave is just half as much as two heat waves? Or how should we really count?

  4. Correction of sloppy comment: “directly after that one day above” should be “directly after that three days above ”

    [Response: I quite agree, there are illogical aspects of the system of counting heat waves, and a cool day breaking one heat wave into two is one of those illogical aspects.]

  5. As this goes on – and coal power stations break down in the heat – our conservative Australian government is offering subsidy support for more coal fired power stations. Go figure. But they get their cues mostly from the elements of mainstream media that are gung-ho denialist – not sure they even pay attention to any other kind of reporting. They certainly aren’t basing policy on the expert advice from nearly 3 decades of studies and reports on the issue. They may be imagining (as they did with same sex marriage recently) that such views represent a silent majority – or at least that apathy and immediate self interest will outvote concern on the issue, especially with added diversionary button pressing on issues that reliably get an unthinking voter segment riled enough to think about important issues like climate and energy even less. Delusional is the word that comes to mind.

    It may make it a clearer election choice (election coming soon) to have Australia’s conservative Liberal National Party abandon all pretence of taking climate change seriously – the meaningless gestures and appeasements that were standard fare under the previous Prime Minister, that overlaid absolute support for maximising the use of fossil fuels and absence of clear emission policy – were apparently too much like admitting there is a real and serious climate and emissions problem to be tolerated. There is not much expectation that they can win the upcoming election and climate and energy policy is unlikely to conveniently remain a low priority issue this time.

    It remains to be seen if the likely winners – Australian Labor Party – will engage in meaningless gestures of appeasement or will actually commit strongly on climate; having the conservatives in disarray and the election (at least the House of Reps part) in the bag can lead to less ambition on difficult issues.

    • I am *extremely* suspicious of any generator “breaking down” in the heat. The Australian electricity market is constructed so that generators make most of their money in the short periods where there is a shortage of capacity, and wholesale power prices spike alarmingly.

      While their are many companies running the generators, I think that they have an “understanding” that when you have a really high demand day, someone has to make the sacrifice and take one of their generators offline, for the good of the many. That is, when conditions are right, you create an artificial shortage so that the industry as a whole makes more money.

      I have no information at all that would make me believe this is what happened with the latest power shortage in South Australia, but given it is the sort of thing that definitely has happened in the past, why not now?

      It should be noted that in Western Australia we do not have the perverse incentives (power generation capacity is largely state owned), and we tend not to have the same types of power outages as they do in the rest of Australia where there is a wholesale electricity market.

  6. Heat records for Adelaide go back well before 1920.
    Your Acorn map of Australia does not specify time periods for these “heatwaves”.
    Out of interest are some only 30 years old or does every site shown go back to 1920?
    It is easier to show a heat wave in 30 years when temps have gone up in that time as to guessing into the past.
    As an aside I remember hopping from tuft to tuft of grass in bare feet in Summer in South Australia in the 1950’s. You could not walk on the bitumen even in shoes and it would have fried eggs back then. It is Australia.

    • And I recall in South Perth primary school in the 1960’s that seeing how long you could stand on metal manhole covers in the playground without your feet burning was a popular activity on hot days.
      In primary school shoes were not compulsory, and we used to go in bare feet quite a lot.
      But our perceptions of heat have changed a bit, because most people who aren’t poor have air conditioning these days, which they didn’t have back then.
      Back in February 1985 Perth had a scorcher of a month, and there were several nights where the beaches were packed, with quite a few even sleeping overnight rather than going home to their hot boxes. If a month like that happened now, the beaches at night would be quite empty, as people would think that it was too hot to go out.

    • I’m not an expert, but I do know that the ‘national analysis’ for Australia begins in the early 20th century.

      Here’s what the BOM has to say:

      While equipment has been standardised and calibrated by the Bureau since 1908, there have been large changes in technology since that time. This includes the gradual replacement of manual observers with automated equipment. There are now 530 automatic weather stations, 490 of which report data every minute.

      The Bureau’s climate data experts have carefully analysed the digitised data to create a consistent—or homogeneous—record of daily temperatures over the last 100 years.

      The ACORN-SAT homogenised temperature database comprises 112 carefully chosen locations that maximise both length of record and network coverage across the continent…

      So, no, you won’t be finding any 30-year long records in that lot, I think. But you can browse the stations, if you’d like to try. This should be a good place to start:

      http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/change/acorn-sat/

  7. Well done.

    In the medical literature, much analysis of counts of mortalities are done using the Cox proportional hazards model. I’m suggesting counting heat waves as if they were deaths, and using the maths machinery to help develop trends.

    I don’t see anything wrong with your approach, but there may be statistical power being dropped on the floor, and these Poisson models often need to deal with time varying means or overdispersion.

    Professor Frank Harrell, Jr devotes the 20th chapter of his second edition to these. He also has a Wiki devoted to its material, associated with a regular course. In fact, the course is highly enlightened, as it has its own place for questions on Cross Validated.

  8. While Adelaide has been really hot this year, areas further north have copped it much worse. The cold fronts this year have been much weaker and haven’t had as much of an effect in areas further to the north. The monsoon troughs have also been slow to kick in. For this reason, a large number of places have had extended unbroken periods in severe heatwave conditions.

    Cloncurry, in Queensland had 43 consecutive days above 40C (I understand that the previous record for Cloncurry was in the teens and the previous Queensland Record was ‘only’ 31 days in 2012 in Birdsville and 1973 in Boulia and Urandangi). Yesterday was its first day below 40C where it reached only 36.6C – the January mean max at Cloncurry is 36.5C.

    The really striking thing about this summer’s heat is the number of days above the 90%ile or number of days exceeding given high values. Cloncurry is convenient because the 90%ile for Jan (Cloncurry Airport Station 029141 – data since 1978) is 40.5 (close to 40). Mean days above 40C in Jan is 4 (27 so far this month). Number of days in Jan 2019 above 90%ile – 25! (i.e. over 80%). This is at the extreme end but there are a lot of sites with over 30% of the days above the 90%ile figures. In short, for much of the Southern and central half of Australia it’s been extremely hot and for extended periods. The east coast has had a bit of a reprieve due to strong coastal sea breezes but this effect is generally limited to about 10kms from the coast and it brings with it high humidity. So far, this is, without a doubt, one of the hottest summers I’ve seen in Aus with very little reprieve in most inland areas.

  9. I lived in Adelaide from 1987 to 1995. We built a robot for sheering sheep. But it took longer for the robot to sheer a sheep than it took an experienced sheep shearer, so it never caught on. It was a dry heat.

    • I remember that robot, Martin. I worked for ‘Beyond 2000’ at the time. Pretty sure we covered it more than once.

      Nowhere hotter than a shearing shed if the cross breeze isn’t blowing.

      • The coincidence gets worse. A few years later, I was on Beyond 2000 for completely different project. We built the first of its kind computer application that computed walking directions on the city map from a person’s current location to the nearest bus stop for whatever bus service the person wanted to ride. Beyond 2000 came to film it in operation, but they didn’t have an actor to play the part. As the principle engineer, I was standing there to answer their questions. I looked presentable so they impressed me into service to play the part.

  10. Stuart Johnson

    I think another trend in heatwaves may be that they are spreading out in time as well. That ridiculously long one in 2008 was actually in March – if I remember correctly it started on March 1st and lasted two weeks. (I have a clear memory of the first day of it when I walked down North Terrace in a suit despite the heat, and very much out of character for myself in any sort of weather, determined to be dressed up to see Ornette Coleman at the Festival Centre).
    Traditionally heatwaves would be expected here only in January and February. The following year, 2009, we had the first November heatwave on record.

  11. although not inherent to this post, I’m interested in historical SLR data around Miami for a comparison with Venice. Is it possible to have a direct contact? thanks, Stefano

  12. It’s the 5th day of fires in the south of Tasmania where the smoke is reducing visibility around built-up areas to about a kilometre or less. As I was pondering the situation I was thinking about exactly this type of analysis, so it was serendipitous to read Tamino’s post tonight.

    The thing about these fires is that it’s not a ‘pulse’ sort of weather system that is fundamentally behind the situation, that one would normally expect for an extreme event of this type – to wit, an isolated hot high pressure system spilling off the mainland. Instad, the set-up for this has been a ‘press’ of months of warmth, and of lowish rainfall, and a distinct lack of soil moisture. My own paddocks are a good proxy for this: decades ago they’d crack at this time of year and later, and then seal up again with autumn rains. For the last few years though they’ve stayed cracked throughout winter and the cracks now are the biggest I’ve ever seen.

    Blinkered folk like angech above are wont to dismissively say that Australia’s always been a hot country – the iconic droughts and flooding rains – but there’s an objectively distinct change of climate here. I’ve previously noted that my kids’ mum used to be prevented from attending school a few days every winter from the snow on the ground where she grew up – that valley doesn’t even see any amount of snow on the ground anymore. Apple growers are changing varieties because of the reduction in chill hours, and other pome and stone fruit horticulture is being similarly affected. The waters off the coast have to date warmed by about 4 K – aquaculturists, marine biologists, and oceanographers are in no doubt what’s happening…

    The current fires are a slow burn of huge tracts of forest resulting from a confluence of accumulating climatic parameters, rather than an errant weather system encroaching from the mainland to the north. Some of the burning forest would rarely see fire once in centuries. If the observable shift in climatic extremes superimposes on the extreme ‘pulse’ weather events that in the past would have been the primary driver of a fire season such as the current one, the forests will have no change to recover their biodiversity before the next burn occurs. The signs are that this pattern is already in train.

    Three years ago Tasmania’s amazing relic Gondwana pencil pine associations suffered a serious hit:

    http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4437596.htm

    If this week’s fires continue much longer they’re going to destroy significant amounts of other unique ecosystems, and pummel the populations of a number of rare species. At some point in just decades it’s likely that the Tasmania that we once knew will be a memory only, recorded in books and on video and in journals and paintings and museum collections. Old growth forests will tend toward pioneering assemblages of grasses and acacia and dry-country eucalypt species, and the Southwest Wilderness World Heritage Area will suffer huge loss of its remarkable endemic conifer and non-eucalypt broadleaf vegetation.

    There’s little to celebrate in the situation. Politically, the conservative government remains intractably mute about any mitigation efforts to halt carbon emissions, let alone to reverse the effects of those emissions to date. Pragmatically the only thing that is worth being mildly happy about is that the fires aren’t being fanned by the full strenth of the summer winds that often come down at this time of year – if those had occurred there’d be many times more area burned than already has been. Although tomorrow might see a pick up…

    It frustrates and infuriates me that after all these decades we are still trying to convince the conservative Anglophone world that there’s a slow motion train wreck unfolding before their unseeing eyes. What will it take for us to finally attempt to salvage a remnant of the world that we inherited from our predecessors??

  13. We live 110km due east of Adelaide and last week our thermometers threw in the towel. We have one under the west verandah and another under the east and both are only marked up to 50 degrees C and they both reached that at about 4pm. We need new thermometers [as well as new governments – state and federal].

  14. Blinkered folk like angech above are wont to dismissively say that Australia’s always been a hot country – the iconic droughts and flooding rains –
    Antarctica is cold, Australia and Saudi Arabia are hot, just statements.
    But
    “ The waters off the coast have to date warmed by about 4 K – aquaculturists, marine biologists, and oceanographers are in no doubt what’s happening…”
    Using facts with some truth in them to argue for a larger effect is not fair or reasonable.
    Have the worlds oceans in general warmed 4 degrees to “date”.
    You are using a specific area, fed by specific currents which can bring a change in surface temperature of a few degrees for a short time to argue, in effect, that this is a permanent large increase in recent times.
    I hope that is what you imply by to date.
    By all means use warming figures overall but stay realistic.
    If the worlds oceans warmed 4C in 60 years we would not be blogging here about it.

    • Well, BOM graphs for the entire Tasman Sea show warming of nearly 2 C since the early 20th Century. Not as bad as 4, obviously, but nothing very encouraging, either.

      http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/change/#tabs=Tracker&tracker=timeseries&tQ=graph%3Dsst%26area%3Dtas%26season%3D0112%26ave_yr%3D0

      (You may have to input selections to get the right data.)

    • Using facts with some truth in them to argue for a larger effect is not fair or reasonable.

      I’m telling you what’s happening on the ground and in the water around Tasmania. The island is located in a confluence of climatic systems that makes it particularly vulnerable to the impacts of global warming, and it is therefore one of the planet’s canaries in the coal mine. The climatic shifts of the magnitude already observable in Tasmania will spread across the rest of the planet over coming decades and centuries, with similar effect, and the longer we leave it to address mitigation the worse it will be for our children and grandchildren.

      Of course the world’s oceans are unlikely to warm by 4 K acrosss the whole planet, mostly because humanity would be extirpated long before we could emit sufficient CO₂ and methane to heat the planet that much. To be clear – and I concede that I should have thought to be so earlier – the 3-4 K over-mean pulses that are now regular occurences are tempered by cooler incursions from other parts of the Pacific/Southern system. This does not, however, in any way diminish the fact that our impact on the planet’s climate at regional levels will have profound effects, and where such impact hit biodiversity hotspots or high concentrations of humans, the consequences will be severe.

      To illustrate, the winter water temperatures off Tasmania are not as anomalous as the summers, but they are sufficiently warm that the ecological sequelæ are profound. It’s the reason that the long-spined sea urchin has spread down from the mainland and established in the region, with the result that the iconic kelp forests are largely wiped out and pretty much doomed to extinction:

      https://www.themercury.com.au/lifestyle/tasweekend-tassies-disappearing-underwater-forests/news-story/a62e76e745b46e6a69caadac50181bcc

      https://e360.yale.edu/features/as-oceans-warm-the-worlds-giant-kelp-forests-begin-to-disappear

      The rate of the loss of the kelp forests off the east coast of Tasmania is astonishing. There was little warning before the bulk of them had disappeared. There are many other ecosystems around the planet that are also ultimately as vulnerable, and although their demise will in most cases take longer than the loss of the Tasmania kelp associations, the warning signs are there.

      You do the planet no service by attempting to diminish the ecological effects, and by using the ploy that I was implying that the whole of the global ocean system has warmed by 4 K. That is ludicrous, considering that I have only this week been commenting about the fact that the planetary warming is 1.2-1.3 K over pre-Industrial. Angech, it’s time to stop pretending that human-caused climate change isn’t as bad as science says it will be. Your constant and persistent diminishments of the issue are an obstacle to action, and they make you proportionately culpable for the damage to the planet that results.

    • The marine heat wave has impacted here in New Zealand as well .
      We will see a collapse in marine ecology’s in time just as proposed above for Tasmania’s land based ones .
      Marine life is often not a resilient to extremes in temperatures as land based life.
      The forecast demise of coral reefs from increasing bleaching events will probably have far reaching impact on humanity. As much as 25% of all marine species rely on reefs for part of their life cycle.

      Marine heatwaves under global warming
      https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0383-9

  15. Which version of ACORN-SAT are you using? (a new version was released in December 2018). Won’t make much difference to the Adelaide results but may at some other sites.

  16. For an overview of the recent heat here:
    Special Climate Statement 68—widespread heatwaves during December 2018 and January 2019.
    http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/statements/scs68.pdf
    Eight of the ten hottest daily mean temperatures, and six of the ten hottest
    nationally-averaged minimum temperatures, have also occurred this summer.This makes this period clearly the most significant multi-day heatwave on record at the national scale.

  17. David B. Benson

    Adelaide is locally major as according to Wikipedia 77% of the residents of the vast expanse of South Australia live in or near Adelaide. Anyway, it is of a size with San Jose, California; big.

  18. David B. Benson

    Actually the Australian power grid, which excludes West Australia and Northern Territory, held up to the heat wave quite well. As best as I can ascertain no generators tripped off. The localized power failures were due to “fuses” opening, each soon manually replaced or closed. By the way, I assume “fuse” is Strine for circuit breaker.

    Generators are scheduled to operate by the ISO, independent system operator, depending upon need and prices earlier bid. The ISO attempts to maintain a reserve of about 13–15% in case of generators tripping off. Therefore some generators normally sit idle or underutilized.

    Thermal power plants utilize a Rankine cycle steam turbine to energize the synchronous electricity generator. These require substantial cooling, usually via water. If the source water is too warm the plant cannot operate. This has happened in the southeast USA and also southern France. However, I see no news indicating such difficulty in Australia, so far.

    • Not so fast! Apparently 3 or 4 coal-fired units went down due to mechanical issues and/or scheduled maintenance, leading to ‘load shedding’–i.e., rolling blackouts.

      https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/power-stations-fail-as-victorians-brace-for-hottest-day-since-black-saturday/news-story/b404770015b841f39e348b19e5eec3a7

      https://www.pv-magazine.com/2019/01/28/renewable-energy-is-the-way-of-the-future/

      The power outages will likely feed into the energy debate, after previous problems in South Australia were blamed on the state’s high proportion of renewables.

      Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he wants to focus on “fair dinkum power”, defined as reliable power that functions when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

      Now that the sun is shining and it’s the conventional power stations that are struggling, the debate is sure to hot up again.

      There are mounting concerns about the ability of coal stations to cope with heatwave conditions.

      • David Bernard Benson

        Doc Snow, thank you. As I now read it one generator was down for scheduled maintenance. But there should have been ample reserve remaining. However, there wasn’t enough for the event of two generators tripping off. Not quite. So load was shed via rolling blackouts. That was in Victoria.

        Away over there in South Australia the problem was attempting to put too much energy through the transformers, resulting in “fuse” failures. From the news it seems that those circuit breakers had to be manually reset. So the blackouts were random, not planned as in rolling blackouts.

        I conclude that South Australia needs more wires and transformers.

        In my opinion, Victoria could use a nuclear power plant. The Koreans could build one for US $4/W. Won’t happen until the Australians change their minds about matters nuclear.

      • Your description of the events in Australia sounds consistent with my takeaways from the articles I read.

        So, maybe the Koreans could build Aus reactors at the price you cite; I’ll take your word for it. (Though I must note that the ability to build at a given price in one jurisdiction does not automatically confer similar ability in another, due to the importance of financing for the long build-out times, and the fact that financing cost can vary enormously between nations and even regions.) But Victoria would presumably need to wait until 2028 or so to see a reactor come online:

        https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-26/u-a-e-completes-korean-built-nuclear-power-plant-seoul-says

        The AP-1400s produce, nominally, 1.4 GW. So at $4/Watt, that’s $5.6 billion. (A bargain to my jaundiced South Carolinian eyes, given that we spent $9 billion for no new nuclear power whatever in the failed Summer expansion–technically, infinity $/watt.)

        I don’t know what SA paid for the Hornsdale Power Reserve that Tesla built for them, but reportedly the Reserve cost Tesla $50 million to build.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hornsdale_Wind_Farm#Hornsdale_Power_Reserve

        So, allowing 100% markup just for argument’s sake, it’s probably safe to guess that SA or Victoria could build at least 56 such for the price of a Korean AP-1400. The demonstrated build rate is basically one in 3 months, so they’d have to step it up a bit to get all 56 built by 2028. But given how modularized they are, that shouldn’t be a problem. And the benefits start to manifest almost immediately. Even the one extant reserve is apparently having a noticeable benefit for the whole SA grid:

        https://cleantechnica.com/2018/10/08/teslas-battery-in-south-australia-breaks-stranglehold-of-natural-gas-industry/

        (NB: I do take that report with a grain of salt; there’s a lot of confusion in reporting on electricity generally, and certainly in the highly polarized Australian context. But FWIW…)

        It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, I know; reactors are strongest for baseload applications, whereas storage isn’t technically generation at all, and in terms of market niche competes more with gas peakers. But if we’re talking about peak loads and avoiding blackouts, we’re talking about peaking anyway, right? So my bottom line conclusion at present would be skepticism that that hypothetical Korean reactor, were it even buildable given the attitudinal issues you mention, would be the most cost-effective approach.

      • @Doc Snow,

        It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, I know; reactors are strongest for baseload applications, whereas storage isn’t technically generation at all, and in terms of market niche competes more with gas peakers.

        That isn’t necessarily the case, but the industry made some basic decisions long ago and they may kill them off. Instead of using engineering experience to turn nuclear reactors into modular, commodity products, they built bigger and bigger ones. Maybe there was perverse incentivization in that industry which encouraged this. Dunno.

        But if there were modular reactors which could be lashed together to produce any given amount — and especially if these were relatively portable — that would at once solve several the industry’s problems. The biggest problem they have is their negative learning curve. Well, if you are cranking out modular copies of the same thing, that should turn positive, fast. If one goes offline, so what? You’ve got N-1 left. If you need only M of N, well, then crank down N-M of them. If one needs to be refueled or repaired, shut it down and cart it away, and replace it with another modular unit.

      • Michael D Sweet.

        Doc,
        The VIctorians will have to wait longer than 2028. The report you cited about the reactor starting up in 2018 has been superceded. It is now expected that the reactor will not open before the end of 2019 or 2020 https://www.thenational.ae/uae/uae-s-first-nuclear-power-plant-delayed-until-late-2019-or-2020-1.734445, if they open at all. If they took 5 years to approve the reactor, typical for developed nations, they would not see electricity until 2035.
        And they would still have to hope they don’t end up screwed like you were in South Carolina.

      • One factor of storage you missed is they can be sited anywhere removing the constraints in local transmission that cause the tripping faults.
        In fact one such system being built now in in south Australia is based on domestic panels and storage at the individual home level. Aussie has one of the highest number of domestic solar installations storage is an ideal add on for the infrastructural they already have .
        https://www.powermag.com/tesla-virtual-power-plant-takes-shape-in-australia/
        Nuclear advocates always rely on some future as yet unrealized technology. A proliferation of small reactors even if they are individually safer is going to increase the risk of nuclear disaster as many times more will be needed. More plants more probability that one will suffer from an unpredictable human error or natural disaster.

  19. ecoquant,

    Instead of using engineering experience to turn nuclear reactors into modular, commodity products, they built bigger and bigger ones.

    Indeed. Even Bill Gates is struggling a bit with this; he is a nuclear fan, and has been working on modular reactors, since as you say, they could potentially solve some problems for the nuclear industry (and maybe beyond).

    But he didn’t see a way to get development done in the US, and his partnership deal to do it in China was scuppered by the US Feds:

    https://www.onenewsmedia.com/2019/01/25/bill-gates-comes-to-washington-selling-the-promise-of-nuclear-energy/

    Now he’s trying to find a way in the US, and there’s another outfit in the ‘modular reactor’ space, who may be about to gain licensing–“about” meaning, sometime next year.

    https://www.nuscalepower.com/about-us

    But given all the uncertainties (including reports that TerraPower still has major unsolved engineering problems) it doesn’t seem very likely that any of this will happen soon enough to have a material effect on the timely mitigation of our carbon emissions. Even NuScale will take some time to scale, even if all goes well–which has seldom been the case in the nuclear industry in general.

  20. David Bernard Benson

    Gentlemen — I recommend reading

    Nuclear is for life
    Wade Allison, Oxford Emeritus, Physics
    2015
    Available in a pdf or a softback

    A Bright Future
    Joshua Goldstein & Staffan Qvist
    2019
    PublicAffairs

    Those interested in Small Modular Reactors might care to explore the Nuscale Energy website as their SMR is “almost ready” to begin manufacture for their first customers. I estimate US $4.45/W, net to customers.

    Speculation about nuclear power plants in Australia is idle as there is a national law forbidding such. Perhaps enough Australians will read the two books mentioned above to remedy this sad state of affairs.