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View Diary: GETTING TO ZERO: Is renewable energy economically viable? (313 comments)

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  •  In general... (11+ / 0-)

    In general when I see nuke advocacy I feel like I am face to face with a used car salesman and I find the claims HIGHLY unreliable: gross overestimates about how good nuclear is, gross underestimates of the potentials for other sources. etc.

    Your diary is by far the best and most logical I have seen. I remain skeptical of an industry that has been so untrustworthy (much like the oil and coal industries) but I appreciate your diary. And read it through, which is rare when I see a pro-nuke power diary.

    FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes. NYC's Progressive/Reform Blog

    by mole333 on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:46:22 AM PDT

    •  Thanks. My position has been evolving too (7+ / 0-)

      I'm a numbers guy, and I need to see real-world numbers before committing to an action. The real-world numbers on climate change are sobering to anyone who takes a look, and the real-world ways to deal with it -- and rapidly -- demand an equally hard-headed response.

      I was a big advocate of wind back in the 80's, and was actively considering putting up a turbine on my farm, but in doing the numbers I realized it just wasn't going to make economic sense. Even today with the FIT it's pretty marginal.

      In a future diary I'm going to address the intermittancy issue, which also looks worse the closer you examine it.

      We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

      by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:58:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I saw some (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        numbers regarding the effects and costs of renewable intermittency as solar and wind went above 30-50% of total generation.

        It solidified my opinion that nuclear will be necessary for any near-term zero emissions implementation.

        I second the recommendation of the NREL website. It's a wonderful resource for people who like numbers.

        •  Nuclear reactors should be safe, legal and rare. (0+ / 0-)
          It solidified my opinion that nuclear will be necessary for any near-term zero emissions implementation.
          It's not like anybody rational would pick nuclear power as some kind of ideal solution.  But we have a civilization to maintain.

          So yeah, I take your point.

          It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

          by Jaime Frontero on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 09:23:57 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Grid level storage IS coming Real Soon Now (4+ / 0-)

          There's several companies working on it. The one I'm banking goes to market at a price point that makes it viable is Ambri with their liquid metal batteries.

          When you can efficiently and effectively store wind and solar on scales that can provide constant smooth grid level power, it doesn't matter much if you have cloudy days or days with no wind.

        •  Solar isn't "intermittent" the way wind is. (0+ / 0-)

          Solar is pretty predictable.  Enough cross-region transport and you have a balanced grid.

          Yes, you have to stabilize the grid, but that problem's been solved in a forthcoming paper...

      •  Conservation too! What's the EROI for it? There (6+ / 0-)

        are a million little things, such as white-painted roofs, that would add up to a lot of conservation, and it needs to be compared to these other options on the same basis.

        •  Excellent question, but hard to quantify (3+ / 0-)

          ... because there are so many ways to conserve. My off-the-top-of-the-head guess is that a lot of conservation efforts will come in above the line, and a few below. You have to consider each case individually.

          We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

          by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 09:30:29 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Actually (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          raoul78, deep info

          It couldn't be analyzed with this framework since this analysis is about production per energy produced. Since conservation involves simply producing less it wouldn't be possible to analyze here in this way.  Efficiency would show up, although the way it is formulated, a more efficient economy would make lower energy production less economical, which seems to be a highly suspect conclusion which tells you the whoe framework is pretty problematic

          Touch all that arises with a spirit of compassion. An activist seeks to change opinion.

          by Mindful Nature on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 10:57:22 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That sounds sensible, but EROI may still be equal (0+ / 0-)

            to a "shadow production" value equal to the amount of energy saved, vs the real energy inputs of e.g. painting roofs, installing insulation, and other observable inputs. It would get trickier for auto fuel conservation and the like. Thus such an analysis should probably be kept disaggregated to avoid comparing apples to oranges.

            I don't think it would ultimately be any worse than computing carbon offsets, which are a similar analytic headache.

      •  Well, you motivated me (5+ / 0-)

        to finally look up the thorium reactors on Wiki and read the entire article there, which is quite extensive on the pros, cons, and unknowns.  So you succeeded in getting someone who was firmly anti-nuke on the risk side of the equation to evaluate the evidence.  And I'll say that looking at that evidence, it's certainly worth experimenting with.  But it's ridiculously optimistic to project such outstanding efficiency from a system that's never yet been tested under real-world conditions.  Most systems simply AREN'T as efficient in practice as they are in theory, and there's still a number of kinks to work out in this one.

        Which is not to say, that it's not worth trying.  We can't work out those kinks if we never build one.

        •  Thanks very much. (2+ / 0-)

          Getting readers to think is the most important thing any diarist can hope for.

          We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

          by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 12:26:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  You are about 30 years late (0+ / 0-)

            Solar and wind have passed nuclear by. The distance will only get longer and harder for nuclear to ever recover. LCOE estimates have wind below coal and nuclear. Solar is not too far back. Nuclear that is already built is still more expensive than all new energy projects (clean or fossil). That is why we are not seeing any new nuclear reactors and we see the US shutting down reactors. The owners are losing money, since you can't throttle back a reactor when power is not needed.

            Even if the US does come out with a new commercial type of a reactor, how much advancement do you think we will have made on geothermal, solar, wind, and storage during that +10 year period while the designs are processed through the NRC and someone comes up with a location and $50 billion for a plant that won't produce energy for six to ten more years?

            Maybe you can address this issue with predictability:

            Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), one of California’s major electric utilities, shut down its 1,122 MW Unit #1 at its Diablo Canyon nuclear plant last week just as the state prepared for a serious heat wave.
            Based on experience in France during the killer heat wave of 2003, Chabot has described nuclear as “intermittent and unpredictable” for its unscheduled outages when most needed. In contrast, he notes that renewable sources of energy are “variable and predictable”. That is, generation from wind and solar resources do vary, but they vary in a predictable manner. Chabot’s assessment turns on its head the oft-repeated charge that wind and solar energy are intermittent and, hence, unreliable.

            Or, maybe this issue with reliability:

            Another issue for the government to consider, he said, was that generic defects would probably appear in several reactors at around the same time, leading them to stop working abruptly.

            This echoed comments earlier this month by Pierre-Franck Chevet, the head of France's nuclear safety agency, who said the country needed to ensure there was enough available electricity generation capacity to cope with the sudden outage of 5 to 10 nuclear reactors.


            Or, maybe price:

            The projected cost of the 1,600 megawatt Hinkley Point C reactor in England is 14 billion pounds or $22 billion. That’s $13,600 per kilowatt. And just because the projected cost is $22 billion doesn’t mean that it will cost $22 billion.
            Plus, what about reasonable estimates for:
            The costs of fuel, operations and maintenance, nuclear waste disposal, decommissioning, and government oversight and inspections.
            •  It's pretty false 'conclusion' about the (0+ / 0-)

              unreliability of nuclear. If California had 10,000 MWs of nuclear (about 20% of ISO load requirements) you wouldn't have made the statement, neither would this false picture presented in the take out above.

              Reliability is based on capacity factor...that is overall usage. USA nuclear CF is 91%. In S. Korea it's 95%, highest in the world. Come again with the 'unrelability' of nuclear.

              I should point out that during the 2003 heat wave in France it was only regulations about hot water discharge that ordered this plants shut down...and not enough to effect the grid, I might add. The water discharge regulations have to be adjusted upward and, cooling towers installed in some of the inland plants. The sea side plants in Normandy were totally unaffected by the heat wave.

              You what else? There was almost ZERO wind energy available during this time, not due to regulations, but do to fact that heat waves, regional temperature inversions, tend to produce almost not barometric differences and thus reduce wind out put to zero. Wind did not save the day and of course solar is available really only from around 10 am to 5pm (at those hours only at about half capacity factor).

              What we know about France is that nuclear virtually eliminated the burning of oil and coal for generation in that country. It can do the same here.

              Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

              by davidwalters on Wed Jul 10, 2013 at 07:43:50 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  What we also know about France... (0+ / 0-)

                is that there is a good chance they will walk (or run) away from nuclear, too. Just as the Japanese, just as the Germans. You are running out of examples.

                Again, nuclear (or coal) advocates like to speak in the past about solar and wind. Germany is doing just fine without nuclear and they run about 25% clean energy. Their goal, which they are ahead of target is to be 35% in 2020 and 80% by 2050.

                We could have a discussion on smart grids, distributed energy and storage, LCOE, waste and safety issues with nuclear, and the falling prices of wind and solar, but you guys have your minds set on nuclear.

                We'll just have to let the market decide, which they are doing today, and the bulk of new energy coming online is solar and wind (and some gas). What is going offline: nuclear and coal.

                The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts power generation from renewable sources will exceed natural gas and be twice the contribution from nuclear energy globally by 2016 – just three short years from now.
                By the time you come up with a viable technology and build it (ten years at a minimum), the amount of wind, solar and storage will have doubled again. Meanwhile the prices will have been cut in half for solar and wind, while the price for nuclear continues to rise.

                You are backing "buggy whips." Too late.

                •  This is based on what? "walk away (run away" (0+ / 0-)

                  from nuclear? Seriously? There are zero opinion polls that show support for this. At worse, they want to reduce their nuclear grid from the current 80% to 50%. Thats the most radical plan there is. It would make them fall from 1st place in nuclear to second, as South Korea's industrial economy is on schedule to get to 59% of their grid on nuclear using Gen III APR1400 reactors.

                  Germany is not doing fine. They have the SAME % of dirty coal supplemented by scads (dozens) of new Gas Turbines. Hardly a success story. Same with Denmark.

                  Also, Germany has not shut down it's nuclear plants, they are still humming along, though not as many are on line (made up for mostly by dirty gas planned by outgoing SPD Chancellor Schroader, now working for....Gazprom).


                  Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

                  by davidwalters on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 07:42:31 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  German CO2 emissions (0+ / 0-)

                    Germany produced 450 million tonnes of CO2 in 2012 from industry and power stations, about the same as last year. CO2 from fossil fuel consumption like home heating, transport etc. went up from the year before since it was a particularly cold winter so the total carbon footprint for the leader in European renewable energy promotion has increased slightly despite the rollout of yet more wind and solar energy plant. The combination of low-priced emissions credits and the recession cutting demand for power has meant cheap coal is getting burned in ever increasing amounts while they close non-CO2-emitting nuclear power stations.

                     In contrast France's carbon footprint has been 50% less than Germany's for the past thirty years or so due to its dash for nuclear power in the 80s while at the same time providing domestic electricity at half the cost of their neighbour.

                    •  You missed part of the story (0+ / 0-)

                      I noticed the nuke crowd doesn't cite their numbers. Fine, I guess it is easier to not understand the numbers that way.

                      Is Germany still producing a ton of storage from the coal? Yes, but they aren't using all of it anymore. 22.8 TwH were exported mostly from base load power plants dumping their load as they take advantage of solar and wind resources.

                      The issue with Germany is that their government is not focused on curtailing carbon, and they have willing buyers across Europe. Maybe a carbon tax, which was narrowly defeated will fix that problem one day.

                      The issue with France can be summed up in these statements:

                      You can't spread the exit of nuclear over half a century. It's very dangerous," he said, adding that this consideration partly explained Germany's decision to opt for a fast exit to avoid a loss of skills. France's state-owned utility EDF, which operates its 58 nuclear reactors, faces a wave of retirements and will have to replace half its nuclear staff by 2017-18.

                      And then in these statements:
                      Mycle Schneider, a former energy adviser to the French government, questioned whether EDF could finance the investment. “EDF is in big trouble. The whole of the nuclear power industry in France is in big trouble,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

                      Mr Schneider said that EDF with debts of €39bn (£33.3bn) might not have the cash to put into Hinkley and added: “It’s not certain it will go ahead.

                      They could be in a world of hurt. No skill, a broke company, and half a fleet of reactors set to be retired (or potentially fail at the same time.) Thank goodness they are situated right next to Germany and Italy that have chosen a different path into the energy future.
                      •  Nuclear fleet retirement in France (0+ / 0-)

                        The forty French reactors in use today were brought into operation over a ten-year period in the 80s, at a time when France was running out of economical coal deposits and they decided that living on imports of fossil fuels was not the way forward. With an expected 60-year lifespan (with possible extensions beyond that) their nuclear fleet will start being decommissioned in 2040 and beyond. The first French EPR is being built at Flammanville with great difficulty as the forerunner for the next generation of nuclear builds to ramp up over the next three decades or so, to cover increased demand for electricity from a growing population and to lower operational costs (nearly all of France's 40 existing reactors produce about 1GWe each, the new EPR designs produce 1.6GWe with similar staffing levels and general plant costs).

                         In contrast Germany has hundreds of years supply of low-cost brown coal and lignite within its borders to ensure its energy needs into the far future so long as it can figleaf its ongoing carbon dump into the atmosphere with cheap Russian gas and use intermittent renewables to justify the high domestic cost of electricity. They show no signs of shutting down their large coal-fired power station fleet any time this century.

                        •  France and Germany (0+ / 0-)


                          1) Losing all of their nuclear expertise,
                          2) plants could all face simultaneous failures due to age,
                          3) cost and the time to build are becoming almost laughable,
                          4) government propped-up EPR is swimming in debt

                          Aside from everything that is happening to nuclear after Fukushima, and the market basically turning up their nose at nuclear investments without government guarantees, you are still going to ride this train.

                          Germany: In 2000 to 2006, the German fossil fuel industry was planning on building over 35 new coal plants or additions. This was BEFORE their plans to move away from nuclear. Of those new coal plants, 20 have already been CANCELLED and scrapped. All of the coal plants that have been permitted are replacing older coal power plants. Realize that no new coal power plant has gone online in the last five years in Germany (that I know of from my readings.)

                          Regardless of what would have happened with nuclear power in Germany, the industries that control coal will fight to the death to stay in business. However, renewables continue to grow, and they are expected to be as high as 50% by 2020-2030. The coal proponents will only survive with a small piece of the market (25%) and hopefully a drying up export business, while being harassed by the environmentalist movement over there. They face a dismal financial future.

                          •  Nuclear versus coal (0+ / 0-)

                            Germany could unilaterally close down all its coal-fired and gas-fired CO2 emitting power stations as they've done with nuclear, set a deadline of 2022 or so and say after that there will be no more fossil carbon used to generate power, no gas, no lignite, no hard coal. Not going to happen though is it? Instead they are planning to release another billion tonnes of CO2 over the next five years and another billion tonnes over the five years following that while closing down non-CO2 emitting nuclear baseload power generating capacity for what I can only assume is religious reasons.

                             Coal is big business and it has spent big to persuade the German people that nuclear is evil and coal is good, jobs and employment and prosperity and please to ignore the global warming, pollution, mercury, sulphur and other toxins we are making you breathe danke.

                             As for new coal, 2013 alone will bring 7GW of replacement coal generating capacity online in Germany. These new plants will operate 24/7 for at least forty years, producing about 7% of Germany's baseload power while emitting about 45 million tonnes of CO2 each year for the next four decades. There's also over 20 gas-fired plants coming on-stream in 2013 to deliver about 15GW capacity and dump 30 to 40 million tonnes of CO2 per annum into the atmosphere depending on load. The funniest part of this is that the construction of these new coal plants is being partially funded by the German government's energy and climate change budget because with the nuclear stations shutting down they're facing a baseload shortage they need to bridge with coal.

                             "Climate change -- I do not think those words mean what you think they mean".

                  •  and what do the independent financial folks see (0+ / 0-)

                    in their crystal balls:

                    Assistant VP-Analyst with Moody’s Infrastructure Finance Group:

                    “Large increases in renewables have had a profound negative impact on power prices and the competitiveness of thermal generation companies in Europe. What were once considered stable companies have seen their business models severely disrupted and we expect steadily rising levels of renewable energy output to further affect European utilities’ creditworthiness.”
                    The title of the report says it all

                    Here is Moody's basically telling you that owning nuclear and fossil fuel plants are akin to owning rotary phones and Hummers.

                    Regarding Germany, you are not well-informed:

                    As a reaction to the nuclear phaseout, Germany has thus started building zero coal plants but stepped away from six. At current power prices, all conventional projects are on hold, and coal power may soon be unprofitable in Germany.

                    Coal plants take around five years to build, so don’t expect any new ones as a reaction to an event in March 2011 until 2016. And if the German government ever sees fit to support ambitious carbon trading, which it only recently rejected, we might get a switch from nuclear and coal to natural gas and renewables by 2016 instead – the intended outcome.

                    Minus six

                    "though not as many are on line"

                    Nuclear: Half would be a better description. And, in less than 8 years, nuclear will be at zero. If not sooner. And, your point is what?

                  •  South Korea (0+ / 0-)

                    I was sort of hoping one of the pro-nuke Daily Kos triumvirate would bring up South Korea:

                    South Korea’s nuclear power industry has been plagued by a series of forced shutdowns, corruption scandals and mechanical failures in recent years, undermining public confidence in atomic energy even as the country’s dependence on it for electricity is expected to grow.
                    What a shining example of what we can expect. I mean what is a little corruption and mechanical issues? Not like the thing can blow up.
                    South Korea has 23 reactors, and Tuesday’s decision means that 10 reactors are temporarily off line for safety concerns, maintenance and other reasons, raising the risk of power shortages in the summer, when electricity consumption peaks.
                    I guess 13 out of 23 is not bad. Shoot, you would be a decent NFL quarterback with those type of passing statistics. Of course, losing a little under half of your power during the summer peak is probably not a good thing.
                    The country resorted to various power-saving measures to avoid blackouts. Several nuclear power engineers and parts suppliers were later jailed for involvement in the scandal.
                    The good news is that South Korea will nevertheless continue to ram these down the throats of their population, which is the only way the industry will survive. (South Korea being the ones that manufacture nuclear reactors to other countries.)

                    Faked Certificates

                    Let me ask you, does this raise safety concerns for you, especially after what we saw in Fukishima?

      •  I'll go farther. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Keith Pickering, raoul78

        As a Druid living in central Virginia, fully bonded to the Earth and under the legacy given to me by my dead brother mage as Wizard of Southside, I will support the building of an experimental thorium reactor IN MY TERRITORY, under the conditions that it be overseen by a reputable non-profit organization and built to the standard of Best Practices for safety and environmental protection.  My hand and psychic thumbprint on it.

      •  You're taking numbers which sandbag solar (0+ / 0-)

        rather deliberately, and yet solar still looks good.

        Take a more serious look at solar PV.

        Wind has been known to have a relatively low max deployment for a while.

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