Mark Cooper is wrong about SMRs and nuclear energy

Mark Cooper of the Vermont Law School has published another paper in a series critiquing the economics of nuclear energy; this one is titled The Economic Failure of Nuclear Power and the Development of a Low Carbon Electricity Future: Why Small Modular Reactors are Part of the Problem and Not the Solution.

It is not the most comforting paper for a nuclear energy and small modular reactor advocate to read, but it is worthy of attention and discussion. Cooper’s conclusions and recommended actions are almost directly opposite of mine; we look at the same set of facts through different lenses of experience and values.

Aside: Nuclear professionals place a suitably high level of importance on the need for continuous learning and brutally honest self-evaluation. Though it might not seem so to people outside of the profession, we also pay careful attention to criticism and view it as an opportunity to improve.

I’ll somewhat reluctantly admit that I have not always been happy about the need to take criticism so seriously. I entered the profession with a high level of personal vanity, but I gradually learned the value of listening, evaluating and properly responding. It’s still not easy for me. End Aside.

It might be best to start by identifying the areas where Cooper and I agree.

We both recognize that the nuclear industry has a poor history of controlling the cost and schedule associated with designing and building nuclear power plants. We both believe that future energy systems must address both fossil fuel dependence and the need to reduce overall environmental impact, including reducing CO2 emissions. We both recognize that developing commercially successful small modular reactors is going to cost more money and take longer that we would like. We even both believe that SMRs are not the solution.

We disagree, however, about the ability of nuclear technologists to learn from the past and to develop effective solutions to recognized problems. We disagree about the ability of inherently unreliable, weather-dependent energy sources like solar and wind to provide the kind of energy product that our modern society requires. We disagree about the potential for energy efficiency to reduce overall energy consumption without dramatically reducing our prosperity and freedom of choice. We disagree about the acceptability of a growing dependence on natural gas as fuel for electrical power production.

The SMR development story supports my contention that the nuclear industry has learned some valuable lessons from the past. Like Cooper, I have read both Komanoff’s Power Plant Escalation: Nuclear and Coal Capital Costs Regulation and Economics and Bupp-Derian’s Light Water: How the Nuclear Dream Dissolved. Both of those critical works described in excruciating detail how chasing the mantra of “economy of scale” did not work out so well.

Size escalation led to more and more unique, super-sized components. Quadrupling size without sufficient operating experience led to a growing number of safety concerns, even from within the industry. Those safety concerns led to additional layers of active safety systems — often imposed after the design was complete and construction had already begun — new inspection requirements, and costly new requirements designed to ensure reliable power.

SMR developers have taken a different approach; they are carefully designing their systems to take advantage of smaller reactor cores with smaller inventories of radioactive materials, a larger surface area to volume ratio, and natural forces like gravity and density differences based on water temperatures to ensure adequate cooling without electrical power. They are taking advantage of modern advances in instrumentation to ensure adequate monitoring, even with restricted quantities of DC power or no power at all. They are taking advantage of modern control systems and concepts of human-machine interface design. They are also taking advantage of many decades worth of research and testing that was not available to the designers of the first and second generation of nuclear power plants.

Despite Cooper’s claim that SMRs represent a leap in nuclear technology, all of the near-term SMR developments in the US are use pressurized light water reactor technology whose characteristics are well understood by manufacturers, operators and regulators.

Potential customers have also learned lessons from the past. Cooper points out that two of the major vendors who have invested substantial sums into SMR development, Westinghouse and B&W, have announced that they are slowing investment due to a lack of customer orders. Unlike the first Atomic Age, customers are not joining a bandwagon or placing orders based on sales pitches. They are expressing interest and even participating in the design efforts, but they are logically cautious about buying an incomplete and unapproved product.

Cooper slants the truth with the following statement about Westinghouse’s decision on page 5 of his paper.

The reason for the decision: Westinghouse could find no customers. Instead of pushing ahead to build SMRs, Westinghouse said it would focus on decommissioning of existing reactors.

Though the announcement about the pull back from SMRs included the fact that Westinghouse was going to work on developing its decommissioning business, the announcement also stated that the engineers who were working on the SMR have been reassigned to work on the AP1000, which has a growing order book with eight reactors already under construction.

Danny Roderick, president and CEO of the Cranberry-based nuclear firm, said Westinghouse recently “reprioritized” staff devoted to small modular reactor, or SMR, development and funneled their efforts to the AP1000, the company’s full-scale new generation pressurized water reactor currently under construction in China and the U.S.

Nuclear advocates agree with Cooper that SMRs are not the solution to energy supply challenges, but we’re pretty sure they are a part of the solution.

The remaining US vendors that are still moving forward in SMR development at a purposeful pace have expressed confidence that they will attract firm orders once their design is complete and moves closer to approval. NuScale, one of those remaining vendors, has been testing and refining their design for more than a dozen years. It has numerous carefully chosen features that make it starkly different from the Westinghouse SMR or the B&W mPower reactor. Holtec, the other US vendor that is still moving forward, is a private company with patient owners that is developing a design that is also quite different from the two that have slowed investment.

Cooper is correct when he points out that building the manufacturing infrastructure required to take advantage of series production techniques for either or both of those designs will be a multi-billion dollar effort that will not happen overnight. He exposes his agenda and bias in the following statement from page 25 of his paper.

Those who fear that the historic pattern of nuclear crowding out renewables will be repeated have good cause for concern.

If his real concern was taking logical and necessary steps to reduce fossil fuel consumption, he would not be so worried about the future potential that investments in nuclear energy might slow investments in renewables. There is little chance of that investment happening if customers have not been convinced that the characteristics of the finished product support a decision to place a firm order.

Cooper is also exaggerating a bit by accusing SMR advocates of substantially underestimating their costs or making overly optimistic assumptions about the time that it will take to work through the approval process. The cautious customer interest is evidence that the marketing teams have resisted making promises that cannot be delivered and have honestly pointed out the risks and uncertainties associated with the current licensing process.

I’ll plead guilty to Cooper’s accusation of being a nuclear advocate who is participating in an effort to remove the cash incentives, tax favors, and mandates that have turned inherently limited wind and solar technology into lucrative investment vehicles. The inability of humans or control systems to order changes in the weather make it unavoidable that those power sources will add complexity and cost to the process of delivering reliable energy products to customers.

I do not agree with Cooper’s fascination with the idea of a 2-way electricity grid in which customers produce power whenever it’s convenient for them to do so and then expect that the power company will supply whatever they need at other times. Most of the people I deal with on a daily basis have no desire to deal with the complexities of operating and maintaining electricity generation systems; they like the system that provides them power when they need it at the flip of a switch.

Cooper is also a proponent of the notion that the cheapest energy is energy that is never produced at all. That formulation focuses only on cost and ignores the value obtained by using the energy. It is also a strategy designed by incumbents to help avoid the need to improve and to compete with newer technologies. I just finished reading David Goldstein’s Invisible Energy, which many energy efficiency advocates point to as one of their bibles that explain how their ideas work.

I’ll describe that experience in more detail some other time, but suffice it to say that Goldstein’s habit of assuming exponential energy use reductions of a certain percent per year or assuming that energy efficiency improvements can be compared to improvements in microprocessor computational speeds and disk storage capacity left me unconvinced about the rigor with which he has studied the fields of material science, chemistry, safety engineering, and thermodynamics.

His concept of net-zero energy buildings makes me believe he has never heard of the “sick building” syndrome that is often the result of inadequate heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. I’m also not sure how cutting production in so many different ways is supposed to help improve the economy.

My current interpretation of the enthusiasm among renewable advocates for energy efficiency is that they clearly recognize the weakness of their touted power systems and understand that their system cost numbers will look a lot more attractive if they only have to provide 1/3 as much power as we are already consuming today.

Like many other renewables/efficiency advocates, Cooper accepts a sustained and growing role for natural gas as a fuel for electrical power generation. That position generally makes me suspicious; natural gas may be cleaner than coal, but it shares many of the same problems and is not a low carbon fuel source. Of course, natural gas vendors are some of the richest and most politically connected enterprises in the world, with plenty of connections to individuals and foundations that support places like the Vermont Law School.

Cooper also selectively extracts bullets from the most recent report of the IPCC to imply that the major finding of the report with regard to nuclear power is that it is plagued by long-standing problems. A more careful reading of the report shows that it advices policy makers to work hard to resolve those problems and either triple or quadruple the current nuclear energy capacity before 2050.

I know this is terribly unfashionable to admit, but I’m a happy, life-long American suburbanite with two cars in the garage and one in the driveway, even though my wife and I are empty nesters. I grew up in a green, leafy suburb in South Florida and like having a big enough house for family gatherings and enough separation between neighbors so that we each have our own space and do not hear each other. I am a member of a solidly middle class family that engaged in numerous activities and enjoyed long, summer vacation, car trips to visit friends, relatives and interesting places around our large, diverse nation.

I’m well aware of the fragility of that way of life and the fact that it cannot last if we continue on our current trajectory. However, I believe that proper energy choices will result in the opportunity for a growing number of people to share in what used to be known as the American Dream.

My world view and choice of professions were dramatically impacted by the energy crisis of 1973-74, which occurred a year before I was old enough to start driving a car, and the energy crisis of 1979, which occurred a year or so before I chose to become a nuclear-trained submarine officer. It was also impacted by paying careful attention to the almost magical capabilities enabled by the power packed into a relatively tiny cylinder in the middle of a very large submarine.

That little cylinder contained enough fuel to power a 9,000 ton submarine carrying a crew of 150 people for 14 years, yet the active portion of the fuel was not much heavier than I am. It provided enough power for the engines, air conditioning, cooking, food preservation, entertainment, computers, making fresh water from salt, scrubbing contaminants from our atmosphere, and even creating new oxygen by splitting water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen molecules. That magical technology was installed in both of my submarines in the early 1960s.

The almost miraculous fuel that enables that kind of performance costs about 1/3 as much as cheap natural gas in its current commercial form, even though there are dozens of ways to substantially improve its utilization and economic competitiveness.

We have the resources and the technical knowledge required to provide the world with almost unlimited quantities of clean energy. It is not an easy, cheap or fast process to change over to a different kind of fuel source, but that change over can be done gradually without the kind of radical reconfiguration of society and the power distribution system that Cooper’s vision of a capacity limited, 2-way distribution system dependent on efficiency, unreliables, new transmission lines and demand management entails.

About Rod Adams

134 Responses to “Mark Cooper is wrong about SMRs and nuclear energy”

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  1. Mitch says:

    Public perceptions that there’s heavy insider squabbling over reactor types isn’t good nuke PR. If the public’s confused to being scared, they’ll run to and support the easiest understood tech like wind & solar. Why Obama’s greens are getting over. Also, where’s the open academic challenger to Cooper coming from to bust the FUD or is he/she going to be another John come-too-lately?

    • seth says:

      “where’s the open academic challenger to Cooper”

      Cooper has diplomas in sociology and English. Don’t see nothing about engineering or economics. Normally in academia this character would be considered so far out of his field of expertise he wouldn’t be given the time of day – Big Oil money changes all that.

      What is it with modern Sosh majors anyway. When I went to college, they were always, it seemed, really pretty ladies that needed their bikes repaired by an engineer. Now we have a Sosh major that claims to be an Economist and an expert in nuke power in the Big Oil media all the time. Is Sosh the new ticket to an engineering certification? I guess with Big Oil owning the media anything is possible?

      • EL says:

        You left out his scant publications, minimal expert testimony, lack of teaching or other professional experience, and that he probably doesn’t see very well (since he wears thick coke bottle glasses).

        Any other ad hominem … maybe he’s vegan too?

        • John T Tucker says:

          Actually EL where professional credentials/expertise are used as a part of the argument (see title page) ad hominem is logically valid.

          Why is this report even a thing above the comments of any random blogger?

          A criticism is also not an ad hominem argument if a person’s merits are actually the topic of the argument. ( http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Argumentum_ad_hominem )

          See Also :

          An argument from authority, when correctly applied, can be a valid and sometimes essential part of an argument that requests judgement or input from a qualified or expert source ( http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority )

          I would hope you would know already know all this.

        • seth says:

          Yup Big Oil makes big donations to ensure he gets published, obviously he has no expertise, and he is only qualified to teach about things like the effect of income assistance on single moms.

          Obviously his illiterate and innumerate spew shows he can’t see very well.

          Presumably he revels in the the millions of air pollution deaths his kind with their implicit support of Big Coal/Oil cause, so he is likely a carnivore.

          Anything else?

          • poa says:

            How many here are schooled in nuclear science??? Perhaps bringing up educational backgrounds and fields of expertise ain’t such a wise tactic for a few of you.

  2. Meredith Angwin says:

    Rod,

    Honestly, I never thought I would say this to you, but here goes:

    I think you are being too kind to Cooper!

    Cooper claims that nuclear energy has never been economically competitive.

    Cooper claims that though nuclear technologies have received 10 times as much subsidy on a life cycle basis {as renewables}, nuclear advocates attack the much smaller and more productive subsidies received by renewables.

    These economic claims are wrong. These claims are in the press release linked below, which is much faster reading than his report. These claims are what Cooper choses to present in his own press release. Using these quotes, I cannot be accused of cherry-picking and attempting to find only his most outrageous statements.

    http://216.30.191.148/smrstudy.html

    Meanwhile, I am sure Cooper will find the use of negawatts is the best way to spread his message. I hope so, anyway.

    • EL says:

      Cooper claims that though nuclear technologies have received 10 times as much subsidy on a life cycle basis {as renewables}, nuclear advocates attack the much smaller and more productive subsidies received by renewables.

      @Meredith Angwin

      He makes a claim that renewables have received a smaller share of subsidy support than nuclear, and that this smaller share of support has resulted in a greater number of patents issued (by comparison), and a dramatic decrease in costs in little over a decade (eluding that of nuclear industry for half a century) … pg 50 – 53. As he summarizes, subsidies for renewables have been more productive than nuclear in extent of innovation activity (as measured by patents) and cost reductions. He suggests this “reflects the decentralized nature of innovation in the renewable space and leads to the dramatic pay-off in terms of declining price” (p. 52). More rapid gains, he suggests, are imminent in solar.

      His comment about nuclear never being competitive is made on p. 32, and is a bit overstated (and should be clarified). He appears to be saying the cost trend for nuclear power has never been competitive, and projections for “large numbers of reactors” fell short and were overshadowed by cost overruns and cancelled orders. Current costs are higher (and the costs for renewables are falling), which raises his primary concern about the “productivity” of subsidies.

      If these economic claims are wrong … how so?

      • Nathan Wilson says:

        I suppose if the goal of subsidies is to funnel money to lawyers via patent applications, then he has a point.

        If the goal of subsidies is clean energy, then nuclear wins hands down, due to the 80 life of nuclear plants. If the goal of subsidies is reduction of emissions, then again nuclear wins, again due to long life, but also as it mostly displaces dirty coal, where as solar and wind mostly replace fossil gas.

      • Frank Jablonski says:

        No, EL, patents are not the same as life cycle costs.

        Read the press release that Meredith was quoting from. Hell, just read her post, where she explicitly quotes the press release as saying:

        “nuclear technologies have received 10 times as much subsidy on a life cycle basis {as renewables}.”

        The word “patent” does not even appear in Merediths quote. It also does not appear in Cooper’s press release from which she drew the statement she declaimed as false.

        LIfe cycle costs are not measured by counting technology patents.

        Converting a false claim about subsidies on a life cycle basis into a claim about patents is creating a “straw man.” Please refer us the 10x lifecycle subsidies documentation (try to leave the Manhattan Project out of the calculation, if you could) in Cooper’s study, if you want to dispute what Meredith said instead of something she didn’t.

        • Meredith Angwin says:

          EL and Frank and Nathan

          I was reluctant to comment because EL took one of Cooper’s quotes and claimed it was about totally different things: not about life-cycle-subsidies (the direct quote from the press release), but rather about patent applications. When I read something like that I think: “Huh? What was THAT about?” In such a case, I usually don’t like to waste my time going any further with the discussion. Thank you, Frank and Nathan, for pointing out the topic switch.

          EL, I appreciate that you did admit that “His {Cooper’s} comment about nuclear never being competitive is made on p. 32, and is a bit overstated (and should be clarified).”

          Onwards to patents. Let’s talk about patents for a moment. The “number of patents” is not a good way to keep track of “amount of innovation.” Though I do admit that federally funded research often uses “number of patents” in this manner.

          I would like to talk a bit about patents and improvements and so forth. I have a few patents and my husband has more. We are “inventors” on the patents, and the patent “owners” are the companies or government agencies that funded the work.

          Writing a patent is a business decision. In several cases that I know about, a company decided not to write a patent. They decided that “trade secret” protection would be a better strategy than a patent. When you file a patent, people can read it and begin using it in their own little ways. Yeah, I know, people shouldn’t do that…but sometimes they do. Then you have to go chase these people (often through international courts) in the hopes they will stop. In contrast, trade secrets remain secret.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_secret

          So I would not assume that “number of patents” was directly linked to “amount of innovation” unless I had a pretty clear idea of the business environment. On the other hand, government-sponsored work is often a little too liberal about obtaining patents, because the patents “prove” the work had results. The government does not always care whether the patents are used, stolen by others, or whatever happens.

          Also, we must give the nuclear utilities a lot of credit for innovation, in the most cost-effective way. Over the years, the capacity factor of the nuclear fleet rose from around 70% to around 90%. This was done NOT through adding new material, but by better use of the existing plants. This is an increase of about 25% more power per year produced by the nuclear plants. The nuclear industry did this by rethinking and planning. This type of thing is also innovation, and it was co-operative innovation, throughout the fleet.

          One of my favorite books about this type of innovation is Blackett’s War. This book explains how a Nobel Prize winning British physicist revolutionized the fight against the German U-boats. He did this by thinking-through how to fight the U-boats, not by patenting new weapons (though eventually they had new weapons also). However, since this kind of thinking is sort of quiet and you can’t list it (like you can list patents) this type of innovation is often overlooked. It is, however, very powerful.

          http://www.amazon.com/Blacketts-War-Defeated-U-Boats-Brought/dp/030759596X

          • Brian Mays says:

            Meredith – I’m glad that you overcame your reluctance, because you’re spot on.

            Just imagine what the world would be like today had the value of the multinational government subsidies given to the European Organization for Nuclear Research, a.k.a. CERN, over the years been measured only by the number of patents produced. There almost certainly would be no HyperText Markup Language (HTML) — the well-established lingua franca of the World Wide Web — which was invented at CERN and immediately released to the public domain, sans patent.

            What if the original author of the “personal home page” software (now known as PHP) had been more interested in protecting and profiting from his intellectual property than producing a useful tool, which is one of the core technologies that powers WordPress web sites, including Atomic Insights?

            Like everything, there would have been good and bad points. The upside is that we wouldn’t be subjected in this forum (because this forum would never have existed) to the asinine comments of people like EL.

            The downside is that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to laugh at his unabashed hypocrisy. Here he is applauding the exuberant funneling of public money into something that contributes solely to the short-term profits of private enterprises. The guy actually has the gall to call himself a “liberal” after cheering that public funding of research that results in privately held patents is a good thing!

          • Meredith Angwin says:

            Hi Brian

            I am not really replying to myself, I’m trying to reply to Brian but his comment doesn’t have a “reply” link.

            Brian, thank you for your support!

            Still, when the government gets a patent, it doesn’t give it away to a single company in the private sector. The government licenses the patent to companies that want to buy a license. Then the government receives revenue from its innovation, and the companies can use the innovation.

            Alternately, the government can just make it a no-cost, everybody can use it, type of thing, as in the examples you cite.

            I am not a patent attorney, and I don’t want to go further on this. Still, I want to say that government patents are not just handed for free to some private company.

            Meredith

          • EL says:

            Read the press release that Meredith was quoting from. Hell, just read her post, where she explicitly quotes the press release as saying … The word “patent” does not even appear in Merediths quote …

            @ Frank, Nathan, Meredith …

            You are continuing to misread and misinterpret the relevant comment in the press release? It seems all three of you need to take a little more time to understand this study (and the basis for the claims made in the press release). Cooper states quite plainly the subsidies on a lifecycle basis for renewables are “smaller” than they are for nuclear. I am not sure what you think he has described incorrectly here? The issue is why (in the same sentence) he subsequently describes these subsidies as “more productive” for renewables. This isn’t a grammatical error (as you seem to be suggesting), it’s actually a central claim of the study.

            Please look more carefully at the quote again:

            … even though nuclear technologies have received 10 times as much subsidy on a life cycle basis, nuclear advocates attack the much smaller and more productive subsidies received by renewables.

            There are two points here … not one. The first point concerns the level of subsidies on a lifecycle basis, and the second concern their effectiveness (or “productivity” with respect to innovation and lowering costs). His argument is specifically spelled out on page 50 – 53 (in the section titled “subsidies”). Nuclear has received the greater share of subsidies NOT because of the effectiveness of these subsidies (he suggests), but because “they were picked in the past and have been favored with policy advantages over a long period of time” (a reflection of “lock-in,” as he terms it in note 131, and other concerns regarding incumbent technologies). Renewables, by contrast, have received far less subsidies than nuclear on a lifecycle basis but been far more effective (or productive) in meeting specifically stated goals and aims: namely innovation activity (patent production) and rapidly declining costs (described specifically in the section on “subsidies).

            You can certainly disagree with his argument (and reference a different measure for assessing the effectiveness or “productivity” of subsidies), but it seems to me pretty odd to claim he is not making such an augment (and to completely misconstrue the central point and topics of his study by doing so).

            Read the press release that Meredith was quoting from … The word “patent” does not even appear in Merediths quote.

            @Nathan Wilson

            Typically, one should endeavor to understand what an author is writing about before attempting to take issue with it. I mention the word “patent” because Cooper writes quite extensively about them in his paper. It is an important part of the context for the quote you have highlighted, and, in the section titled “subsidies,” is one of the main considerations he has given for why renewables subsidies have been more productive than nuclear subsidies (despite the fact that nuclear subsidies have outpaced renewables subsides on a lifecycle basis by a ratio of some 10:1).

            Have we simply forgotten the very simple fact that the best way to refute and rebut an argument is to first read it (and understand what is being claimed). Yes, Meredith’s quote is cherry picked, and even worse, taken out of context. She has failed to understand a pretty basic and fundamental point of the paper, and it seems at least two others reading this thread have done exactly the same. Agreeing with the study is not required, but reading it (I would suggest based on these errors) is a pretty simple and perhaps more reliable place to begin.

          • Bill Rodgers says:

            @EL,

            The entire subsidies discussion within Mr. Cooper’s paper is a cherrypicking exercise on his part. He has chosen reports developed by renewable advocates to support his position. Dr Gross’ report was written for WWF and focused on the UK generation system not the US generation system. DBL Investors, who wrote one of the other reports used by Mr. Cooper, is a “venture capital firm that invests in and nurtures cleantech” (their words not mine). IOW they are always looking to further their own interests in solar and wind to recoup their venture capital investments. Additionally, anything with Doug Koplow’s name attached to it is automatically suspect since every publication he has produced regarding energy subsidies is slanted anti-nuclear since he is anti-nuclear.

            The subsidy programs were not created with the intent of enabling patents. None of the energy subsidies in the entire history of government energy subsidies were set up with that purpose in mind whether it is for wind, solar, hydro, nuclear or natural gas. Even coal. None. Subsidies are for breaking current market barriers. Since wind and solar are now able to make money though negative sales, I would say that the current market barriers have been broken and therefore subsidies for those two technologies need to come to an end once and for all.

            So this attempt by the renewable advocates to shift the debate from effectiveness of subsidies in the marketplace to the effectiveness of subsidies in the patent arena is a shell game.

            Don’t look at the real data, look at the bright shiny lights. See how many patents have been created since 1970 in CLEAN TECH. What…. Nuclear power has been around since the 1950’s? Huh, Congress was lobbied to begin zeroing out the nuclear energy R&D line items decades ago? Well our patent data only covers the period since 1970’s and we aren’t going to factor in the politics of nuclear R&D funds so too bad for those nuclear advocates. But we will continue to cherry pick the data and skew the timeframes of the patent discussions to suit our goals of more wind and solar power ——(Yes that was extreme sarcasm on my part.)

            This discussion of subsidies which then lead to renewable patents and that is somehow supposed to make wind and solar better than nuclear power is bunch of noise and mirrors.

            At the end of the day it still comes down to powering the grid 24-7-365 using low carbon tech and doing it so it won’t create a wealth transfer system from the US taxpayers to AWEA members or solar manufacturers. Mr. Cooper’s report continues the system of wealth transfer but does not further the real discussion of how to transform gigawatts of high carbon on-demand generation to gigawatts of low carbon on-demand generation that are needed in this world. That can only be accomplished by nuclear power which Mr. Cooper doesn’t like and continues to lobby against.

          • EL says:

            Subsidies are for breaking current market barriers.

            @Bill Rogers.

            There are many ways to assess the effectiveness and costs/benefits of energy subsides: job creation, economic activity and competitiveness, market performance, cost reductions and economies of scale, learning curves, environmental impacts (especially pollution and carbon mitigation costs), global security benefits, lower energy security risks, health and environmental risks, dependence on fuel imports, minimizing legacy costs and public expenditures, meeting state, national, or international obligations, conservation targets, sustainability, public v. private sector involvement, ratepayer or household impacts, price volatility costs, expansion of R&D efforts (including patent production), and more.

            The IEA puts it this way:

            “Fossil-fuel subsidies carry large costs. They encourage wasteful consumption, exacerbate energy-price volatility … and undermine the competitiveness of renewables and other low-emission energy technologies … When they are well-designed, subsidies to renewables and low-carbon energy technologies can bring long-term economic and environmental benefits” (here). Cost reductions in wind and solar PV “are set to continue … The portfolio of RE technologies, which includes the established hydro power, geothermal and bioenergy technologies is now, therefore, cost competitive in an increasingly broad range of circumstances, providing investment opportunities without the need for specific economic support … RE technologies should no longer be considered only as high-cost, immature options, but potentially as a valuable component of any secure and sustainable energy economy, providing energy at a low cost with high price stability” (here).

            Meredith Angwin mentions cost reductions that are the result of rising capacity factors at nuclear plants. I’m not aware that these have resulted primarily from subsidy support to the industry? It seems to me that these are the result of regulatory reforms, and better oversight of the industry (and R&D efforts that have added significant new engineering and operational costs to newer power plants).

            Since Cooper’s second point is about rapidly declining energy costs, how would you describe the relationship between historically very large subsidies for nuclear and comparatively very small subsidies for renewables (and the statement from IEA that “A portfolio of renewable energy technologies is becoming cost-competitive in an increasingly broad range of circumstances,” etc.). If Cooper did not reference this finding, he certainly should have (since it adds a great deal to the other findings he has referenced in his study).

            Mr. Cooper’s report .. does not further the real discussion of how to transform gigawatts of high carbon on-demand generation to gigawatts of low carbon on-demand generation that are needed in this world.

            “Power generation from hydro, wind, solar and other renewable sources worldwide will exceed that from gas and be twice that from nuclear by 2016 …” Share of non-hydro renewables will double from 2011 to 2018 (to 8% of total), and is one of fastest growing sectors in energy markets today. According to IEA, rapid growth is being driven by two primary concerns: 1) fast-rising demand, energy diversification, and low pollution options in emerging markets, and 2) declining prices and cost competitiveness “in a wider set of circumstances” (here). Sure sounds like a lot of gigawatts to me!

          • EL says:

            @Bill Rogers.

            Reply stuck in comment queue.

          • Bill Rodgers says:

            @EL,

            First while I agree that there are many ways to measure the effectiveness of how a government spends taxpayer money that, however, is not the topic at hand.

            Mr. Cooper purposefully slanted his argument using non-standard references to say that subsidies mandated for wind and solar are somehow “better” than subsidies used for nuclear power because more patents have been issued. That is an incorrect and cherry picked argument.

            Mr. Cooper uses a mix of timeframes and data sets. In order for his argument to be effective, some type of normalization or levelization process would be needed in order for his claim to stand up. He did not do that. Instead he mixed and matched to suit his purposes. Your commentary does nothing to change that mixing and matching process.

            As Meredith discusses, businesses do not always file for patents. Taxpayer money used for energy subsidies is not going to a NASA type organization. NASA is an R&D group with several purposes one of which is to aid in the development of patents and commercialization of their R&D efforts. The money allocated to wind and solar subsidies is not going to a single entity for the sole purpose of R&D. That money is going to individual businesses that may OR may not decide to file for patents.

            The primary purpose for the wind and solar subsidies is an attempt to level out the market forces of the grid to sway wind and solar developers to risk their capital in order to develop wind and solar power generation, not fund R&D or patent efforts. That subsidy pendulum has swung too far now that wind and solar are able to be profitable when wholesale power prices are negative.

            Mr. Cooper did not discuss IEA references, so bringing them into this discussion is adding verbiage to his report that he chose not to include. I would ask that you use the references he uses if you are going to argue his point.

            I also won’t describe, argue or otherwise comment on any relationship of costs, “large” subsidies for nuclear versus the relatively “small” subsidies for renewables, etc. The reason is that Mr. Cooper did not define what he considers subsidies in his report. Mr. Cooper needed to define what he considers nuclear energy subsides and what he considers renewable energy subsidies. Then a timeframe would also need to be defined. Finally the word “large” would need just a little more quantification. Large is such a subjective term. So minus those three definitions, any discussion between the two of us on Mr. Cooper’s point would be fruitless and end up going in circles.

            Now knowing that Mr. Cooper is using Mr. Doug Koplow as a source of information, and knowing that Mr. Koplow has a bad habit of including many items in the nuclear energy subsidy bucket that are questionable, I suspect I know why Mr. Cooper is using the subjective term large. One of those items Mr. Koplow uses to define nuclear subsides is a what-if scenario of the Price Anderson Act. What-if scenarios are not actual taxpayer money being paid out. They are hypothetical scenarios that can be skewed one way or the other to suit an individual’s goals.

            Finally, while I agree there are gigawatts of wind and solar power that supply electricity to users, you missed the key point I was making. It is a key point that many of us are trying to make to renewable advocates such as yourself. It doesn’t matter how many gigawatts are available if we have to wait for the wind to blow or the sun to shine to power our electrical devices a
            allowing us to live in this modern world. Modern life is moving away from one being controlled by the weather, affected by the weather and sometimes dramatically but not controlled in the same fashion as our ancestors. WWS advocates seem to think that modern society will gladly move back to a system where the weather dictates how we do business to avoid global climate change. That is not going to happen.

            By the way the phrase you skipped over was on-demand. Wind and solar are not on-demand technologies. Therefore a grid system dependent on wind, solar and water power generation while not relying on fossil fuels or nuclear energy will need energy storage systems to keep the grid powered 24-7-365. That is a fundamental point that cannot be denied. A key point that many WWS advocates, including Mr. Cooper and yourself, continue to avoid discussing in realistic terms.

            Our grid system may have developed through an ad-hoc basis over the past 100 years but it is now a system that is integral to our daily lives. WWS, if implemented, will be a fundamental change to that system requiring massive structural changes to how the grid is operated if nuclear power is not a major part of the generation mix as Mr. Cooper is advocating. If you continue to disagree with that point from a system wide perspective then you need to step back and spend some time studying the purpose, legalities and goals of the US grid based electrical distribution system.

          • EL says:

            Mr. Cooper purposefully slanted his argument using non-standard references to say that subsidies mandated for wind and solar are somehow “better” than subsidies used for nuclear power because more patents have been issued. That is an incorrect and cherry picked argument.

            @Bill Rogers

            It seems to be working for NuScale.

            The primary purpose for the wind and solar subsidies is an attempt to level out the market forces of the grid to sway wind and solar developers to risk their capital in order to develop wind and solar power generation, not fund R&D or patent efforts.

            His data suggests patent production is higher for wind and solar so this argument doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. There is plenty of direct support of R&D efforts in renewables (as there is for nuclear). And removing barriers and expanding markets for renewables is an important driver of innovation (so your distinction isn’t very meaningful).

            I would ask that you use the references he uses if you are going to argue his point.

            Why? This makes no sense. I’ll use whatever references are relevant to answering the questions raised by his study (and by our discussion). There is nothing unusual or untoward in this. In fact, I encourage you to do the same. If there are other studies about business activity of nuclear, cost data, productivity of subsidies, patent activity, etc., you should use it. If Cooper has left out this information (and it informs any central questions in his study) even better. Relying only on the paper to critique the paper is a really odd way of going about things (and is not how most people review or discuss such work). There is an extensive literature on these topics, pretending it doesn’t exist (or deliberately burying your head in the sand to avoid contrasting or comparative research) isn’t going to get us very far. Why we’d do this is entirely at odds with research, and obtaining better results from the questions asked by a specific study.

            I also won’t describe, argue or otherwise comment on any relationship of costs, “large” subsidies for nuclear versus the relatively “small” subsidies for renewables, etc.

            You really should … because it is a central feature of the study (and is a major consideration for policy makers, developers, investors, and others on whether to invest and further develop these technologies, and whether they can be cost-effective over the long run). A recent example comes from EDF on “spiraling upward” costs as older reactors face numerous upgrades and legacy costs (which are much higher than initially projected).

            – Production costs have risen 21% in last three years.
            – There have been increases in operating costs …
            – Rising dismantling costs …
            – Additional spending on safety (14% increase in public spending on research and safety from 2010 to 2013) …
            – Additional waste treatment costs and deep geological storage …

            As a result, France is considering scaling back it’s commitments to nuclear. It seems a lot of folks elsewhere are doing the same. If you don’t wish to address comparative cost considerations, that’s certainly one response that could be offered. But it doesn’t mean people will stop looking at them (and considering whether research budgets and production subsidy support, direct and indirect, for nuclear are the best and most effective use of these scarce pubic funds … and any potential measures we might use to assess their effectiveness).

            One of those items Mr. Koplow uses to define nuclear subsides is a what-if scenario of the Price Anderson Act. What-if scenarios are not actual taxpayer money being paid out. They are hypothetical scenarios that can be skewed one way or the other to suit an individual’s goals.

            You appear to misunderstand Koplow and others. You aren’t going to make much headway on this argument. It is pretty well understood that Price Anderson is an indirect subsidy to the industry (CBO scores it this way, for example). It is not calculated on the basis of a “what if scenario” but on cost savings on insurance from private insurance markets. It’s a liability to the taxpayer, and an immediate benefit to the industry (lowering cost of full insurance). Insurance companies aren’t in the business of offering liability coverage free of charge, and neither is the taxpayer (even if these benefits are indirect). The industry is fully aware of the many benefits it receives as a consequence of public liability coverage under Price Anderson Act. People should really stop pretending it doesn’t exist (or get such insurance on their own).

            If you continue to disagree with that point from a system wide perspective then you need to step back and spend some time studying the purpose, legalities and goals of the US grid based electrical distribution system.

            Nobody minimizes the importance of the system wide performance of a well designed and well operated electricity grid (that is fully responsive, reliable, and includes very high shares of renewables and low carbon resources). I’m not aware of anybody advocating for what you are suggesting: an electricity grid that does not power our electrical devices or allow us to “live in this modern world.” Do you think you might be making a straw man argument … just a small one?

            If you haven’t been following too closely … the goals, purposes, and legalities of energy policy and regulation in US (and elsewhere) have been evolving in directions to facilitate more flexible and fully reliable system performance goals with greater shares of renewables (not less of them). There are a host of reforms in this area: smart grid enhancements, demand response, economic dispatch, interconnect rules (greater use of FACTS devices), reforming energy storage rules, bulk energy transport, and mandating long term reliability assessments. Many of such reforms benefit all energy resources (not one just one technology). NERC and FERC improved standards are quite extensive in this area. Are you suggesting there aren’t people who are adequately informed about these issues, or paying adequate attention to system wide performance goals (to such an extend that our modern way of life is seriously imperiled)? I would beg to differ.

          • Bill Rodgers says:

            @EL,

            The reason I made my comment about the references is that Rod’s original post is about Mr. Cooper’s white paper.

            Not your preference to rewrite Mr. Cooper’s white paper with your own references.

            In that case you should write your own white paper about your beliefs on how the US electricity market is run.

            And I don’t really care how or why Mr. Cooper discusses patents. That is a smokescreen. The PTC subsidy system was NOT, repeat NOT, created to further wind/solar/hydro/biomass, etc R&D nor was it created to push patents through the US patent system. It was created to reduce the financial risks to companies that might decide they want to invest in wind and solar as does Mr. Buffet’s companies. You have read that Mr. Buffet wants the PTC back to lower his tax bill haven’t you. It isn’t about the wind power. He in fact does not like wind power since it is costing him money from his coal investments but he does like that tax break the PTC and other subsidies provide him.

            And no I don’t misunderstand Mr. Koplow. I understand his anti-nuclear slant very well. And I did not discuss CBO, I discussed Mr. Koplow’s own analysis. So again by bringing in other references you are attempting to shift the debate in a different direction away Mr. Cooper’s slanted references. Mr. Cooper is using white papers developed by Mr. Koplow not the CBO guesstimations which by the way are also what-if situations as identified by the usage of words like estimates or scenarios .

            This discussion is not about what is going on in Europe, India or some other country. Mr. Cooper’s report was written about the US and the US grid. So bringing issues, white papers, etc written about, and for, another country’s grid is adding little to the discussion regarding how the US powers its own grid.

            I have been paying attention to the direction the politicians and the NGO’s are trying to push the direction of the US grid. It was my job and still is, just in a different way now. I used to work for a municipal utility where we had on-going discussions about how to match the legal requirements written into the Renewable Portfolio Standards that were imposed on us by wind and solar lobbyists with the legal requirement to provide cost effective power 24-7-365.

            Those two legal requirements seldom work together.

            And when they don’t work together, rates increase.

            So I understand more than the average citizen about how the grid operates here in the US.

            FERC became a politically motivated government agency under its former Chairman Wellinghoff. And if his hand-picked successor is nominated into that position then FERC will become even more politically aligned with those that have an agenda to push more wind and solar onto the US grid. Again, I do pay attention to not just the technical, but also the political aspects of the US grid.

            NERC is working very diligently to keep up with grid instability issues and grid security issues. I used to work with people on a daily basis who dealt with NERC issues. So please stop trying to insult me with the insinuation that I am suggesting people working on those issues don’t know what they are doing. I never stated that and by your attempts to add verbiage to my commentary you are pushing into territory you have little working knowledge.

            And in regard to your own reference to the Edison report. I think you need to read a little deeper. It was a report written by an investment banker who has spent years analyzing the utility industry. His recommendations were written to push utilities to lobby for methods to recover stranded costs for the investors, not for a larger push into the DG or to accept DG willingly. One of his recommendations is to have utilities focus on developing value creation streams that are beneficial to the investor. His report is not written in support of wind and solar generation or distributed generation. His report is pushing utilities to do what Exelon is doing which is lobbying the Illinois state legislature to reduce the impact of its Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) to ensure negative pricing is eliminated from the open market as it should. Negative pricing does not help the ratepayer, it only lines the pockets of wind and solar developers.

            And really on-shore wind power is competitive? No it is not.

            The subsidy equation for wind and solar is a two sided equation. The one side is the PTC that provides direct payment to the wind and solar developers for “risking” their capital to build a generation facility. The other part of the subsidy equation is the Renewable Portfolio Standards in at least 30 states that force utilities to buy wind and solar power whether they need to or not. In other words wind and solar developers are able to recoup up to 30% of their initial investment in less then 5 years and then recoup the remaining 70% due to government mandates that force utilities to buy wind and solar output. Another reason Mr. Buffet wants the tax advantage of the PTC brought back.

            Your green tinted glasses prevent you from seeing things clearly as it does with most wind and solar advocates who haven’t worked in the industry. You also clearly have an agenda to push wind and solar which is fine but reality about the grid needs to be part of the discussion which seems to be a challenge.

            Let me know when you are in a position of working for a utility and in a position of being responsible for meeting investor, ratepayer, and legal obligations that are required of any utility whether they operate in a regulated or non-regulated environment. Then we can talk again.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @Bill Rogers

            Thank you for your clear and well argued statement. It is terrific when one can refute academic references with personal experience. Of course, academics like EL may not like the tactic or event understand the points you are making.

            FERC became a politically motivated government agency under its former Chairman Wellinghoff. And if his hand-picked successor is nominated into that position then FERC will become even more politically aligned with those that have an agenda to push more wind and solar onto the US grid. Again, I do pay attention to not just the technical, but also the political aspects of the US grid.

            I often regret that I was seduced by rhetoric into voting for a man who had so little experience and allowed himself to be surrounded by people who have no understanding of the importance of selecting independent, knowledgable professionals to run “backwater” but vital agencies like FERC and the NRC. Before Wellinghof was appointed to the role of Chairman of FERC, he was an attorney in Nevada with a practice built on advancing the interests of renewable energy industries. Somehow he parlayed that practice into being a “consumer advocate,” but his accomplishments probably did not do a lot for consumers in terms of improving their grid service or electricity bills.

            He wrote Renewable Portfolio Standards that gave wind and solar even more subsidies — from consumers — than those provided by the federal government.

            http://www.stoel.com/jwellinghoff

            Care to make a wager on his sponsor for the appointment to FERC?

          • EL says:

            And no I don’t misunderstand Mr. Koplow. I understand his anti-nuclear slant very well.

            @Bill Rogers.

            You are still incorrect. Koplow describes very clearly what he means by subsidy and the Price Anderson Act, and it is not as you describe. It is consistent with CBO and other reports and studies on the topic.

            “Subsidy Value of Price-Anderson Caps … this subsidy is equal to the premiums that would be required to purchase full coverage, less any premiums actually paid for the partial coverage under Price-Anderson” (p. 83).

            There is no changing of the topic here, just a clear search for accuracy and a more informative understanding of these issues.

            The reason I made my comment about the references is that Rod’s original post is about Mr. Cooper’s white paper.

            Cooper’s study is not a white paper.

            The PTC subsidy system was NOT, repeat NOT, created to further wind/solar/hydro/biomass, etc R&D nor was it created to push patents through the US patent system.

            Let’s repeat my statement, since it appears you not read it or understood it the first time. Subsidies that remove barriers and expand markets (including the PTC and others, as you describe) ARE important drivers of innovation. Even more so when they have to do with operational details, maximizing efficiencies, learning curves, improving maintenance performance, testing storage applications, software development, and much more. Your claim really doesn’t make any sense. Building power plants (especially in technologies that are developing rapidly and are not fully mature) is always a driver of innovation. I’m not sure how it could be viewed otherwise?

            Again, I do pay attention to not just the technical, but also the political aspects of the US grid.

            Energy development has always been infused with politics. Recent shifts have been no different (whether it’s addressing legacy and environmental impacts from coal, modernizing grid, boosting incentives for energy storage, or expanding resource diversification with renewables), and many of these shifts are long overdue in my mind.

            And in regard to your own reference to the Edison report. I think you need to read a little deeper.

            Study is about changing retail electricity business (primarily deregulation, expansion and declining costs of DR, consumer driven DSM, subsidy picture, slowing growth trends, etc.), and about pro-actively addressing these challenges (drawing on comparative historical experience from telecoms and airline industry). It specifically recommends revising utility tariff structures in the short term (supporting “economic implementation of DER while limiting stress on non-DER participants”), and longer term shifts (“thirty year investments”) in capital structure of utilities to ensure they better meet these challenges and changing circumstances. And other reforms. The study warns there is no going back to the past, utilities (who are often slow to adapt) need to plan for these changes today, or face an increasingly uncertain future (particularly as concerns availability of new investment capital and flexibility).

            If you understand this study differently, please be clear about it. It’s an important study, and I think both of us recognize it as such. It would be helpful if more people were exposed to it, and took it’s recommendations seriously (and need for advanced planning and meeting the emerging challenges of the future). And perhaps NOT framing the question (as you seem to be doing) as an “either or proposition” between business as usual, and emerging consumer and retail market trends. I am sure there are many people with a stake in the matter who are taking this report very seriously. It would be terrific if you, and other nuclear advocates, had a better response on these emerging trends and retail market shifts (rather than simply ignoring them and wishing them to go away).

            Today, Bloomberg provides a good (albeit early) example of the scope of these issues and the emerging energy battleground (in “Technarians at the Gate“). Worth a look for those who are interested. A few snippets … tech, cable, and phone companies who are better at meeting consumer expectations (primarily for DSM solutions and cost savings) and are taking away market share from utilities.

            “It helps,” said Pedersen … “that we’re competing against an industry that isn’t particularly evolving” …

            “When we think of who our competitors or partners will be, it will be the Googles, Comcasts, AT&Ts who are already inside the meter. We aren’t worried about the utilities because they have no clue how to get beyond the meter, to be inside the house,” said Crane, who has voiced ambitions to turn NRG into the Amazon.com of the U.S. energy industry …

            The problem, from the utility viewpoint, is that profits are tied to a century-old model: A regulated monopoly that undertakes a steady expansion of power plants and distribution lines to serve an ever-expanding customer base. In exchange, it gets a guaranteed rate of return from regulators. Competition and disruptive technology do not fit well into that arrangement …

            EEI said its utility members understand the dynamic and are working to address the competitive threat. “Customers today want more information about their electricity usage and how they can manage it better,” said Lisa Wood, executive director of the Edison Foundation Institute for Electric Innovation. Many utilities are working to smarten the grid in ways that encourage efficiency and empower their customers. “In fact, utilities see these new technologies as an opportunity to really engage customers and provide benefits on both sides of the meter,” Wood said …

            Usability, controllability, consumer empowerment … pretty powerful messaging. It’s still early in the game, no doubt, but more is coming in this battleground (and utilities are aware of it, perhaps even a handful of former municipal utility employees). The question is who is going to adapt, and who is going to get left behind. Will it be nuclear (the warnings on capital structure in the EEI report would seem to highlight challenges in this area).

  3. martin burkle says:

    “His concept of net-zero energy buildings makes me believe he has never heard of the “sick building” syndrome that is often the result of inadequate heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.”

    “Air tight” homes and SMRs are both partial solutions to the CO2 problem. Each solution has its problems but together they can contribute. Here’s how. I live in Indiana where there are no nuclear plants at all. If ever there is a nuclear plant in central Indiana, it will need to be an SMR because we just don’t have the water cooling for a large plant. Let’s assume the plant is built and I now have carbon free electricity but I heat my house with gas. My house is “air tight” and well insulated and takes advantage of some passive solar heating, but I heat my house with electricity from coal.

    My house is “air tight” but is not “sick” because it uses constant air exchange unit. It is a silent low volume unit that brings in a little outside air exchanging heat with the inside air as it leaves the house. My air exchange unit is over 20 years old but most people including builders have never heard of one. The builders find it easy to build a tight building that does not have good air circulation. Thus “sick” buildings.

    I am in favor of the synergy between energy efficiency and nuclear power. We need to convert everything possible from fossil fuel to electricity as we build more nuclear electricity.

    Please do not let your nuclear advocacy become your hammer (to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail).

  4. EL says:

    We disagree about the potential for energy efficiency to reduce overall energy consumption without dramatically reducing our prosperity and freedom of choice.

    @Rod Adams

    Cost of energy is increasing no matter what we do: natural gas, renewables, nuclear (new reactor development or long overdue legacy and financing costs), long overdue upgrades to grid, carbon costs, and much more …

    These aren’t going away. And if you don’t do anything about efficiency (as a driver of cost savings for end user), you resign customers to a bifurcated world of haves and have nots, those who can afford their suburban homes and three car commuting lifestyle, and those who have to make tough choices and budget to keep the lights on, make ends meet, get leg up (with rising education costs, health care costs, home ownership costs, and larger share of the tax burden on local governments thrown in the mix). To say nothing about environmental benefits, energy security, risk assessment, and other concerns.

    There are plenty of valid and well demonstrated reasons for pursuing conservation and efficiency programs:

    http://www.iea.org/publications/insights/ee_improvements.pdf

    Individual, sectoral, national, and international benefits include broader access to energy, improved quality of life, enhanced competitiveness, job creation, reduction in public energy expenditures, reduced emissions, enhancement to global security and development goals, and more …

    I’m not sure where the argument comes from to disregard rising costs for energy and suggest more expensive options in the future, such as advanced nuclear and associated supporting infrastructures and technologies, means we have to spend less attention to conservation and efficiency (and it’s many well documented consumer and end user benefits). If the only way nuclear can compete (and pay for it’s large up front costs and expensive research and development budget) is to ramp up end user consumption, I’m not sure that’s a very successful or winning argument. It seems to be more of a deficit than a virtue. There is no promise of endless or infinite consumption. I’m not sure nuclear advocates put their best foot forward by continuing to make one.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @EL

      Please reread my statement more carefully. I do not oppose energy efficiency. I said I do not agree with the claims that Cooper makes about the potential for energy efficiency to reduce overall energy consumption.

      There are still many people on this planet that do not used enough energy to light a bulb. There are also a lot of work to be done that is not being done. Even if when we use it more efficiently, overall energy use continues increasing.

      • Keith Pickering says:

        In fact, energy efficiency, though admirable, cannot reduce overall energy demand because of the Jevons Effect. To the extent that efficiency reduces demand it reduces price, which in turn increases demand as new activities become available to the demand market. Although the Jevons Effect is controversial in some circles (particularly among efficiency advocates) its formal proof in a thermodynamic frame can be found in this reference:

        Garrett, T. J. (2011). Are there basic physical constraints on future anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide?. Climatic change, 104(3-4), 437-455.

      • Jenny Sommer says:

        Wouldn’t PV be the better way to light bulbs and run irrigation pumps where no electricity is now?
        I guess that is the idea behind distributed energy, solar and wind reaches everywhere.
        Why not storage? It helps and it is a fast way to get power where it is needed.
        In Germany the utilities are getting better all the time. There are virtual renewable plants which can provide detachable power.
        We are quite an engineering country and I am confident that we can solve all the problems associated with RE.
        Most people are happy to pay for clean energy and it doesn’t really matter if you pay 10€ more over a year. The cost of energy for industry is even cheaper than in France and the overall economic impact of RE is positive. If we can’t afford to develop these technologies how can?

        I also read some weeks ago that the US is imposing higher import taxes on Chinese pv. I don’t think it matters because they are in need of their whole production anyway.
        Interesting read:
        http://www.businessinsider.com/china-laughed-when-it-saw-how-cheap-solar-could-be-2014-6

        That suggests that the US is going to get left behind if they are not investing in solar or wind technology. It won’t be a problem for China though if they can supply you with their products.
        I wish we would even spent more money building pv in Germany. There are also very innovative wind technologies being developed in my part of the world (x-wind, kitegen, ampyx). These are also systems that can be built everywhere and not only in the developed world where they are really needed. (70% of all nuclear plants are situated in G10 countries).

        Passive house standard seems to be something a lot of people outside Europe are not very familiar with. It’s just good engineering and I am surprised that people around the world are rather ignorant about this topic but do discuss different high tech small reactor designs to keep wasting energy.
        Meanwhile I can heat my house by cooking once a day (and excess heat of my refrigerator and other electronics.)

        Why has this to be a battle between different groups anyway?
        Even nuclear organisations are investing in solar.
        http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/2232101/china_nuclear_and_coal_giants_go_solar.html

        Also pv does not have to be distributed. There is CSP and if you go higher the sun is always shining (strato solar).
        What if PV+storage beats any other technology by (say) 2025? Would you still be advocating nuclear or is it just that you don’t believe wind+pv+storage could do the job?
        This is very confusing and I don’t believe that anyone is 100% right. Whatever we do there will always someone that knows better (like people criticizing Germany for actually doing something).

        I wish people would stop to fight on the internet. You just read it and every side really believes in the data or the arguments they are coming up with, it all seems a little kafkaesque.

        btw. I also trust Greenpeace because they have a good history of predicting things like PV and wind development.
        http://i2.wp.com/reneweconomy.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/graph-of-day-greenpeace.jpg

    • David says:

      @ EL.
      “Cost of energy is increasing no matter what we do: natural gas, renewables, nuclear (new reactor development or long overdue legacy and financing costs), long overdue upgrades to grid, carbon costs, and much more …”

      The base cost of energy is only rising because those selling energy have worked successfully to restrict supply. This is a political decision. I agree that there is a vast change over from Coal plants that are retiring, from populations in China, India and Africa that are moving toward middle class, and from many other pressures on the use of power. However, these pressures are being manipulated to make sure that market share is restricted and prices are high.

      Nuclear power can be very inexpensive and Mark Cooper is very very wrong about SMR’s being too expensive. NuScale had quotes on their design that came in at about $4/kwh. (I wish could quickly pull up the link). That is very much in line with the current cost of construction for ANY new power plants.

      My work in researching the cost of a new wood burning power plant showed that you need 10 cents / kWh to pay back the capital costs of a power plant that uses borrowed money for construction. For investors who are willing to gain from the sale of power 7 to 8 cents / kWh works. The point being that even with free fuel (which we were planning on from waste wood) the capital costs need to be repaid. The capital costs of wind are being subsidized as well as giving them payment for any electricity they produce even when it is not needed. Try that trick with any other power source.

      Nuclear power’s “subsidies” are barely a relaxation of the cost of regulation.

  5. Nathan Wilson says:

    Cooper’s one-sided attack on nuclear mostly ignores the crucial question of “how effective are alternative low-carbon technologies at high penetration”. The obvious answer is that a solar or wind deployment with 20% or 30% capacity factor can supply about 20% or 30% of grid power before further growth becomes impractical (if you need more clean energy at night, the last thing you need is more solar). The follow up question must be, “is a 70% fossil fueled grid acceptable going forward?”.

    He does not raise these specific questions, but hints at his answer at the end of the executive summary: “The available and emerging alternatives can certainly carry the effort to meet the demand for electricity with low carbon resources a long way down the road, certainly long enough that the terrain of technologies available may be much broader before we have to settle for inferior options like nuclear power. “

    In other words, he knows (but doesn’t say) that energy storage is cost prohibitive today, but he’s willing to kick the can down the road and gamble our children’s future on a breakthrough.

    It is also quite surprising that the historic cost data he presents for nuclear power spans the 1970s (which was a period of high inflation in the US), but he does not correct for inflation. This would be malpractice if he were an economist.

    • EL says:

      He does not raise these specific questions, but hints at his answer at the end of the executive summary: “The available and emerging alternatives can certainly carry the effort to meet the demand for electricity with low carbon resources a long way down the road, certainly long enough that the terrain of technologies available may be much broader before we have to settle for inferior options like nuclear power.”

      @Nathan Wilson

      No … this isn’t the answer he is “hinting at” with this quote at the end of the executive summary. It’s exactly the opposite. You left out the preceding sentence: “… there is growing evidence that prospects for high penetration renewable scenarios for the long terms are quite good.”

      He is suggesting (not hinting) that “there is growing evidence” that renewables will be sufficient and that “inferior options” will not be needed (and is cautioning against an allocation of scarce resources towards non-productive and wasteful ends). “The paper concludes that the prudent approach to resource acquisition is to build the institutional and physical infrastructure that achieves the maximum contribution from the more attractive resources available in the near and mid-term.”

      If wind has a 35% capacity factor, you don’t need 65% fossil fuel backup to nameplate capacity to fully integrate that resource. Not sure where you got that idea, but it is incorrect.

      • David says:

        “If wind has a 35% capacity factor, you don’t need 65% fossil fuel backup to nameplate capacity to fully integrate that resource. Not sure where you got that idea, but it is incorrect.”

        What are you saying? That wind is reliable enough that we don’t need fossil fuel backup? You know, both of the two “renewable” resources have been consistently shown to be inadequate. Your arguments don’t address this or change the physical nature of what is needed.

        You also never address the root causes of the high cost of the current designs for Nuclear power. That is – over regulation. Far excessive, over reaching politically motivated please stop doing this regulation. We permit people who have no interested other than stopping Nuclear power to act as interveners. Then we say “well it is too expensive.”

      • Nathan Wilson says:

        He actually does not provide any details describing the evidence for high renewable penetration, so reading the hints is a valid analysis. I’ve seen the NREL RE Futures high penetration scenarios, and they are not appealing compared to nuclear on environmental impact (way too many forests cut down in the name of biomass power) or economically (too many demand-response brown-out events and too many low-capacity factor power plants in hot-standby). He does not attempt to defend or compare these to high penetration nuclear.

        On the renewable capacity factor vs fossil backup, yes, I’ve made a simplification. But if you study a detailed analysis (such as this one from Kreifels et al at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ente.201300090/full ), the answer comes out surprisingly close to my rough estimate. For the current Germany grid, which has pumped hydro storage with peak output equivalent to 15% of the average grid demand, the authors project that when solar and wind combine to provide 35% of demand, the average curtailment will be 7%. But importantly, for the first half of the solar and wind installations, the curtailment is zero, and for the second half, effectively 14% of the generated energy is discarded. They show that doubling the energy storage does make things better, allowing penetration to 55% with similar curtailment (for comparison, France gets 75% of its electricity from nuclear with modest curtailment).

        Generally, claims that nuclear costs more than renewables ignore the need for storage, or state without proof as does Cooper that future technology will fix the problem. Expensive storage is the weak link of the renewable chain. Proceeding down the renewable road without storage is equivalent to committing to continue heavy dependence on fossil fuels. Ignoring this issue is nothing short of dishonest.

        • EL says:

          He actually does not provide any details describing the evidence for high renewable penetration, so reading the hints is a valid analysis.

          @Nathan Wilson

          Did you look at note 114 and 115. They concern the issue of system integration and management, and also cost recovery (applicable to “electricity markets in general”). The point of the paper, as highlighted in the section you have quoted, is specifically not to “engage in the hundred year debate today,” but rather look at spending in near and mid-term (and how to most effectively allocate scarce financial and development efforts). As he suggests, a $80 billion spending program on SMR (with few customers interested in the technology) represents an inferior option. It is not a particularly “productive” use of subsidy dollars (as his analysis suggests), and exceeds the projected levels of spending on renewables over the next decade (drowning out more effective spending programs that are delivering results and contributing more “productively” to innovation, cost benefits, infrastructure and market reforms, and carbon reductions).

          Cooper specifically does not claim a “one hundred year debate” (which is not the topic of the paper) to be a simple or easy task. And weighing the options with SMR don’t make it any easier (he notes). As he specifically writes: “We certainly do not mean to suggest that the solutions for the challenges of building a 21st century electricity systems are all in hand. It is the case that much of the thinking about how to build and manage the physical and institutional infrastructure to operate the 21st century electricity system is in the early phase. However, this is equally, if not more true of the effort to conceive of a new SMR technology” (p. 49).

          Are you sure you are not faulting him for an issue that he has mentioned clearly in short (but hasn’t made a central topic of the paper). I agree with you, he is suggestive by noting: “there is growing evidence that prospects for high penetration renewable scenarios for the long terms are quite good.” Perhaps in future versions of the paper, or in subsequent papers by himself or others, he can make this a more central concern (and address more directly issues related to technology road maps over the next 100 years).

          But if you study a detailed analysis … the answer comes out surprisingly close to my rough estimate.

          This isn’t a very detailed study, and at larger levels of storage capacity (with parameters set to 90% availability) the study does not come out comparable to your rough estimate (of 70% fossil fueled grid going forward). “Concerning the determination of required storage systems [where technical efficiency is the reported goal], it was shown that the optimal mix becomes 55% wind and 45% solar power to serve Europe’s electricity demand entirely by using fluctuating renewables.” That’s 0% fossil fuels.

          I agree with their assessment, at lower levels of renewables production a flexible power plant is a very effective means of minimizing curtailment and ensuring adequate integration of renewables into the grid. At higher levels of penetration, storage represents the better option.

          • Keith Pickering says:

            Really? RE + storage is a “better option” than nuclear, even though RE+ storage is significantly more expensive than nuclear, and likely to remain so? Forgive my skepticism, but from my perspective the fastest way to decarbonize is to deploy the cheapest technologies first, and the moment RE begins to require storage, it’s no longer the cheapest option. Nuclear is.

          • EL says:

            @Keith Pickering

            Ok … fine. Then find a customer for a SMR, and build it. Failing in that effort, what do you think we should do next? Divert more funds away from projects that are paying dividends, driving innovation, jobs, advancing markets, enhancing energy security, lowering energy costs, revitalizing rural economies, empowering homeowners, bringing hope to the third world, advancing development goals, reducing carbon emissions, etc., etc.

          • David says:

            @ EL,

            “Ok … fine. Then find a customer for a SMR, and build it. ”

            That is a crazy insane wacko way to market something and the NRC insured that we would NEVER build SMR’s with that regulation – force of law “find a customer first and then we will review your design.” Mr Nuclear manufacture goes to a customer and the following conversation ensues. “Mr Utility we have the greatest wis-bang Nuclear power just right for you.” “Oh, Mr Manufacturer is the design approved?” “No not yet, but we are really sure that it will be.” “Why are you sure?” “Because if you buy this the NRC will review it for us.” “How long will the review take?” “They said 42 months, but honestly it can take up to 15 years.” “You mean you want me to buy something you have not built that we don’t know the actual cost of and that the government has not approved yet and could take up to 15 years for the government to approve?” Mr. Manufacturer, “Well yes! This is a great opportunity for you.” Mr Utility, “Please stay quite in the seat, we have called the hospital and they will be here soon. Stay calm now.”

            “Failing in that effort, what do you think we should do next?”

            We should change the hostile regulations and environment that stops us from building an SMR before we get a customer for it.

            “Divert more funds away” Nope – just let investors have a reasonable chance at actually building something they can sell.

            “from projects that are paying dividends, driving innovation, jobs, advancing markets, enhancing energy security, lowering energy costs, revitalizing rural economies, empowering homeowners, bringing hope to the third world, advancing development goals, reducing carbon emissions, etc., etc.”

            Dude, I have LIVED in the third world. You are not even blowing smoke. Have you ever lived where the electricity went off every few days for several hours randomly for months on end? You ought to look at the cost of backing up unreliable sources of energy. Everyone buys generators to help backup. Those are expensive to purchase and maintain. I have paid 24 cents and at times 40 cents a kWh for unreliable electricity. It’s kinda funny but the more unreliable the higher the cost.

          • EL says:

            Dude, I have LIVED in the third world. You are not even blowing smoke. Have you ever lived where the electricity went off every few days for several hours randomly for months on end?

            @David.

            Yes I have. They have achieved significant gains, lots of economic growth, and a much more reliable grid with new capacities in wind and solar, efficiency and conservation efforts, a better maintenance team on diesel station, and are also exploring geothermal options for the future.

          • David says:

            @EL,

            The Caribbean? The link you gave said they are making plans and hope to bring the cost of electricity down. It says little about actually accomplishing this. Frankly, I would be very surprised if the UNSUBSIDIZED cost of electricity actually goes down using wind and solar.

            These islands are areas that SMR’s would work fantastically in. The Islands of Chuck tried to do solar for it’s people. They subsidized it and installed it across their islands. 2 years after they started no one was using the solar panels any longer because they did not know enough about how they worked with the batteries to keep them maintained. Diesel electricity is very expensive. Wind turbines in the Caribbean would be under great stress when hurricanes come through – as they do on a regular basis. An SMR is a much better solution for them, but Hey, we are back to the crazy way that the NRC is asking manufactures to work. Who has one for sale? A small Nuclear reactor like NuScale would be safe, effective and able to handle the full load with load following.

          • EL says:

            The link you gave said they are making plans and hope to bring the cost of electricity down. It says little about actually accomplishing this.

            @David

            Indeed, they intend to build on gains already made. They have a single wind farm that provides 17% of electricity on the island, solar hot water is very common on the island (and has alleviated congestion on the grid and returned cost savings to consumers), efficiency efforts (with rebates and incentives to purchase high efficiency appliances have benefited consumers and boosted grid reliability), and more. Electricity cost is 35 – 45 cents/kWh (driven primarily by high cost of diesel generation). Consumer cost is subsidized (but they are slowly phasing these out). You don’t think residential solar, or industrial wind competes at this level?

            These islands are areas that SMR’s would work fantastically in.

            Not if you’re familiar with the maintenance record at the diesel station. You also have active volcanos in the region (and a fair bit of seismic risk). Not to mention public attitudes about foreign owners and operators of significant local resources, fuel security risk, etc. Every 10 years or so, Nevis debates the merits of independence (and session from it’s neighbor). Doing it yourself, owning and operating your own technologies (even if you do it very poorly as they do with diesel station), etc., are important features of local culture and public opinion.

            What SMRs are currently available, and do you recommend they purchase in a commercial version to somehow decrease their reliance on foreign fuel imports, and lower their electricity costs?

          • David says:

            @ El,

            “What SMR’s are currently available?” Thanks Lucy for pulling the ball out of the way again. Why are SMR’s not available? Because the NRC has moved to make sure they CANNOT be licensed under the current set of rules. “You need a customer before you can begin to get approval for a design.”

            Now, if Adam’s Atomic Engines were available (pebble bed reactor using Nitrogen as the working gas) would you support their deployment on a island?

            Sure adding to the supply of Electricity might possibly bring down the cost. Between wind and solar – Solar is much better especially at a large size like 2 MW. It matches daytime demand fairly closely. Yes, building solar is better than nothing, but I doubt it will be cheaper than diesel. It sounds like the Clinton foundation is working to subsidize the cost of installation. If the cost’s go down it will be due to the installation of subsidized equipment.

            Yep, hot water heaters are the best bet for using solar. I would install them on my own home.

            “Not if you’re familiar with the maintenance record at the diesel station. You also have active volcanos in the region (and a fair bit of seismic risk). Not to mention public attitudes about foreign owners and operators of significant local resources, fuel security risk, etc.”

            Yep, I am familiar with the maintenance records of diesels on islands, local squabbles over properties. But a design like NuScale or AAE’s that could load follow would just keep working. Seismic risk is next to nothing. Volcanos are not really a problem other than loosing the investment. You are trying to say that the nuclear materials inside these reactors pose some intrinsic risk. If an earthquake happens, not much happens. Even LWR’s 40 years old handle earthquakes just fine. Volcanos might bury a reactor but nothing would spread.

            NuScale had quotes to construct their reactors at $4/KWH. Rod estimates that his design would be profitable in markets where the cost of electricity was more than 10 cents / kWh.

            Reliable electricity that lasts for years between refueling, that is intrinsically safe, that follows the load automatically would be a great value to these islands.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @David

            Thanks for the Adams Engine plugs.

            One of the conundrums I have is that I tend to get inspired by the vision of distributed generation where massive transport of electricity over power lines becomes less and less necessary. I also like reliable power that is available on demand.

            There are plenty of issues to address, but I wonder how people like EL would react if some nuclear engineers changed paradigms and were inspired, motivated, and incentivized to build the smallest, simplest, and safest possible generators instead of the largest possible machines made adequately safe by intensive training, QA based on highly detailed specifications with compliance enforced by redundant oversight, multiple layers of back-ups, and active safety systems?

          • EL says:

            Because the NRC has moved to make sure they CANNOT be licensed under the current set of rules.

            @David

            Ah. So it’s the NRC’s fault. Always the the meddlesome NRC, eh!

            So how is the NRC holding things up (with rules to prevent licensing) everywhere else in the world. That’s a pretty powerful national agency if you don’t mind my saying.

            “Intrinsically safe” (in an active seismic zone, a very small land mass that takes some 30 minutes to circumnavigate, to say nothing of hurricanes or volcanoes) … good luck with that one.

            If you don’t understand the obstacles to constructing nuclear (as well as renewables), including finance and operational challenges in developing world, we just aren’t going to get very far in our discussion. Pretending these obstacles don’t exist, or that all it takes is a good lava flow to solve all your problems, I take as a religious claim (not a scientific one).

          • David says:

            @ Rod,

            I like your design better than any other design I have heard about for exactly the kinds of islands in the Caribbean, Indonesia, Philippines, Micronesia, Guam, Siapan, Hawaii and others. I have been in most of the places I just mentioned. I also travel throughout other Asia countries where governments are fragile and infrastructure poor. Your off the shelf idea is perfect. The intrinsic safety is huge. Turning the core into anything other than fuel (i.e. a bomb of any kind) would be incredibly difficult making it self protecting against terrorist attacks. The ability to load follow is perfect for these situations and I can’t imagine that the monitoring system would be that complex. I like keeping the same core for a number of years and then swapping it out. I really liked Hyperion’s initial design. The simplicity was great. Your design has the advantage of using Nitrogen rather than helium. Helium was the killer for the pebble bed designs in South Africa.

            If the US Navy can train high school graduates to run Light Water Reactors, I am sure that it is possible to train high school graduates to run a pebble bed reactor. Honestly, this is less complex than many cars. While I really like the Thorium LFTR’s I don’t think they would be suitable for marginal situations because of the chemical processing that needs to be done. But, I love the idea of using thorium as a seed blanket around the initial core which would make the cores last and last and last.

            If you ever need a sales person I would be interested… :)

          • Rod Adams says:

            @David

            One comment about “seed and blanket.” The vast majority of the references I have seen about “seed and blanket” design for breeders describe a central region of enriched fuel that is surrounded in circumference by a region of fertile material serving as a reflector and absorber of neutrons that leak out of the central region.

            I then ran across some documents describing the detailed core design for the light water breeder reactor. It included numerous fuel assemblies that were each “seed and blanket” with central rods containing a higher enrichment than the outer rods. Twelve of the seed modules were movable and used as controls – by dropping them out of the active region of the core, reactivity decreased.

            In addition to the individual “seed and blanket” modules, the central core region was surrounded by rods that contained only fertile material. Every one of the 17,290 fuel rods in the core contained a stack of pure thoria (ThO2) pellets at the top and bottom of each rod. Between those stacks of thoria was a carefully selected pattern of pellets, each with one of about 500 different blends of UO2 and ThO2. The pattern depended on the location in the core.

            In the LWBR core, 98% of the U was U-233.

      • John ONeill says:

        ‘ If wind has a 35% capacity factor, you don’t need 65% fossil fuel backup to nameplate capacity to fully integrate that resource.’ No, you need closer to 100% backup capacity, either hydro or fossil, and the same for solar. It might only be used to 65% capacity factor, or less if there are synergies between solar and wind, but you still need effectively a complete conventional power infrastructure, since there is no guarantee that wind or sun will provide, no matter how many panels and turbines you build. Concentrated solar with molten salt storage might change that, but nobody’s building it because it’s much more expensive than PV, but gets the same subsidies.

        • John T Tucker says:

          Good point. Ive made that mistake in argument. Hydro also runs 50 % or less CF.

        • EL says:

          there is no guarantee that wind or sun will provide, no matter how many panels and turbines you build.

          @John ONeill

          Wind and solar doesn’t have capacity credit in resource planning?

          http://www.nerc.com/files/ivgtf1-2.pdf

          We’d do far better starting with basic facts and common understandings. Just a thought.

          • David says:

            @ El,

            I read the document you linked. Thanks for this document. It makes clear that the more penetration there is of unreliable and unpredictable sources of electricity the more difficult it will be to make sure the grid is reliable. Do you read something different in the document? I noticed the number of variables that are unknown with no data sets and the close relationship with the weather. In the following quote the difficulties are expressed clearly.

            “Systems planners require consistent and accurate methods to calculate capacity contribution attributable to variable generation to ensure the stability of the bulk power grid. Long-term historical data sets allow for characterization and trending of key performance metrics, including those factors that contribute to resource availability and adequacy. Variable generation, like wind and solar, does not have long-term historical data sets, and this lack of data limits the understanding of the long-term implications of variable generation performance. The potential output levels of variable generation show a large degree of variance over a vast geographic scale, so the ideal type and capacity contribution of variable generation will differ by region. This report discusses the known characteristics of regional variable generation along with the current practices used by systems planners to predict variable generation output potential and capacity contribution during peak-demand hours to ensure grid reliability.”

          • EL says:

            Thanks for this document. It makes clear that the more penetration there is of unreliable and unpredictable sources of electricity the more difficult it will be to make sure the grid is reliable. Do you read something different in the document?

            @David

            They are arguing for rigor, improved data sets, and better standard practices to better account for assessing capacity value of variable resources and reliably integrating variable resources at “substantially” higher levels than we have today. These concerns are not new to the grid, and techniques for dealing with them (and the challenges they present) are not new either.

            Among other quotes, here are a few to highlight these points:

            Reliability-based methods of measuring system adequacy are not new, nor are they unique to variable generation. The value of these methods will increase with the integration of large amounts of variable generation … There are existing simplified approaches to calculate wind capacity value. These can be easily extended to cover other forms of variable generation. In general, these methods calculate the resource’s capacity factor over a time period that corresponds to system peaks. These approaches can provide a reasonably good, simple approximation to capacity value [and recommend benchmarking simplified approaches to more rigorous ELCC metrics] … Variable generation is anticipated to increase substantially in the North American grid

          • David says:

            @ El,

            “These concerns are not new to the grid, and techniques for dealing with them (and the challenges they present) are not new either.”

            Yes, these challenges are new to the grid as the document makes very clear. This is why they DON”T have data sets….. While they can calculate capacity factors based on historical weather patterns, they cannot predict output with any greater degree of confidence than the weather guy at the local news station. They will not have any additional information to work with than we get off the internet or over the news concerning the weather.

            Why not simply use Nuclear power? What is wrong with just placing some SMR’s at the same locations we currently have small coal generators?

          • EL says:

            Why not simply use Nuclear power? What is wrong with just placing some SMR’s at the same locations we currently have small coal generators?

            @David

            They don’t exist for one, and there’s little direct evidence that SMRs will beat the cost of larger plants operated on a baseload basis (much less as a load following plant). Large plants are already getting squeezed out of the market (regardless of whether they are new models that need to be heavily subsidized, or old models in need of upgrades, higher operational costs, and rising legacy costs).

            … they cannot predict output with any greater degree of confidence than the weather guy at the local news station.

            Do you have any evidence that WPF tools (MORE-CARE, ANEMOS.plus, POW’WOW, WILMAR) are not living up to their potential. I’m thinking you might want to tell the good folks at Argonne about this (and other folks who are using these tools on a expanding basis to provide better, more reliable, flexible, and cost-effective service to their customers). In my experience, the guy at the local news station does a pretty decent job predicting the weather. Even the gals too. Maybe you need to write your local news station as well.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            In my experience, the guy at the local news station does a pretty decent job predicting the weather. Even the gals too. Maybe you need to write your local news station as well.

            Our local weather reports are not bad if all you want to know about is the chance of rain or some generalities about wind velocities.

            However, if you are really interested in the specific wind speeds at specific locations on a minute by minute (or hour by hour basis) you will find the reports sadly lacking. I don’t own or operate any wind generation, but I do occasionally find myself being powered by the wind — or not — and being quite frustrated that my competition seems to have a breeze while I don’t or by having gusts that stand us on our ear for brief moments because we need to have enough sail area up for the lulls in the wind that come on God’s schedule, not man’s.

            As a sailor, I have felt the power of the wind in my hands and have a personal feel for the fact that doubling velocity increases the power by a factor of eight while dropping from 21 knots to 3 knots means that useful power almost entirely disappears. Since I have spent hundreds of days out on the water over the years, I know how quickly and unpredictably the wind changes, especially in the afternoon when anywhere near the ocean or the mountains.

            Sure, if you have generators strewn all over the place with plenty of interconnections and excess capacity, it is possible to integrate wind into the grid, but please don’t pretend that it is easy or that the wind generators bear their fair share of erecting low capacity factor transmission lines into areas where there were never any customers or generators before.

          • EL says:

            However, if you are really interested in the specific wind speeds at specific locations on a minute by minute (or hour by hour basis) you will find the reports sadly lacking.

            @Rod Adams

            Personal accounts of the weather aren’t really the best case studies to draw on in this instance. As with climate change, so with wind generation. Lots of really good information and studies on this topic (especially from folks who manage this resource, are accountable to regulators and investors, and deliver a service on a reliable basis to consumers).

            Perhaps the experience of Xcel in Colorado is a good place to begin. Ultra reliable forecasts, communications with each turbine and fine tuning production, low reserve margins and high penetration from wind (sometimes meting up to 60% of demand), and a skeptical utility turned country’s largest wind power provider (touting benefits of affordably, fuel savings, emissions reductions, price volatility risks, environmental compliance costs, expanded range of choices and green energy programs to consumers, and more).

            … on nice days with steady, abundant wind, he might shut down all his fast-response backup plants, even those normally reserved for responding to changes in demand. Under such circumstances, Jones can use the wind farms themselves to ensure that power supply matches demand: the output of a wind turbine can be changed almost instantly by angling the blades so they capture more or less wind. Computers at Xcel’s building in Denver tell wind farms how much power to produce, and automated controls coordinate hundreds of turbines, changing output minute by minute if needed.

            Add in some energy storage (at 20 year operating lifetime and 1/5 the cost of current batteries “demonstrated at large scales” and “closest to market right now”), and Jones’ job in Denver just got a heck of a lot easier. And the same story is being told in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, Texas, and elsewhere. Even the smoking guns in Ohio (Republicans voting party line and purchased by legacy fuel interests) are sounding pretty scared of the alternative.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            Once again, I find it amusing how selective you are in using corporate marketing stories. When they support your claims, they are gospel; when they don’t they are propaganda.

            I understand that it is quite possible to fine tune the output of a wind turbine when the wind is blowing. As a studious sailor, I know a little bit about shaping sails and adjusting the angle of attack. I also understand that a grid with plenty of interconnection and excess capacity can produce reliable electricity using unreliable sources of energy that supply power from places where the wind is blowing to places where it is not blowing.

            My point continues to be that it is not easy or cheap and that the cost is often pushed to other suppliers and customers on the grid.

            Maybe my problem is that I don’t live in the Great Plains, but in the Southeast. Here, we have weeks and weeks of still, muggy days every summer.

  6. Nathan Wilson says:

    Cooper also ignores the energy economics in the growing nations of China and India. They are each installing nuclear plants for about $2/Watt, and solar and wind power for about $1 per peak Watt. Correcting for capacity factor, this means that nuclear costs one third less than wind power, and 65% less than solar.

    Furthermore, in order to use wind and solar, nations with growing grids must first build fossil fuel backup capacity, which will continue to supply the majority of grid energy, even after the solar and wind power is added.

    [It's not that he focuses exclusively on the US; he repeatedly mentions the French EPR reactor, and he predictably brings up weapons proliferation, which obviously has no merit in the US, wherein civilian nuclear power is helping to consume fissile material from decommissioned weapons.]

    • John T Tucker says:

      Today in N fla I got a robo call from the “Petroleum Institute” telling me to call my congress person and help push through approval of a NG export terminal somewhere in Maryland I think. Gas is where its at now.

      Solar, hydro and wind are just nice words for a “Mostly Gas” philosophy, Thats what this Mark Cooper lawyer person is pushing. It has little to do with environmentalism or reliable energy.

    • EL says:

      Cooper also ignores the energy economics in the growing nations of China and India. They are each installing nuclear plants for about $2/Watt, and solar and wind power for about $1 per peak Watt. Correcting for capacity factor, this means that nuclear costs one third less than wind power, and 65% less than solar.

      @Nathan Wilson

      Aren’t you leaving out the much higher O&M costs for nuclear, decommissioning, fuel costs, etc. We know the current and projected energy costs for comparative technologies. Cooper cites Lazard (p. 33). You disagree with him?

      • David says:

        El,

        Nope, those costs are included in the cost of electricity. They are currently included in the average 2.4 cents / kWh of electricity in the USA.

        El, aren’t you NOT addressing the point? That in China the cost is FAR below that of wind and solar and in fact at $2/watt is far below the cost of a new coal plant. Check out the new plant in Indiana that Duke just finished at 650MW and about 3 billion in cost.

        • EL says:

          @David

          $2/watt is not a cost of energy, but cost per unit of capacity. And the average wholesale cost of electricity in US is around 68.76 MWh (not 2.4 cents/kWh).

          • David says:

            @ El,

            Yes, and so a Nuclear power plant which averages 2.4 cents / kWh in costs should make 4.4 cents / kWh in profit. But something strange happens to markets these days and the actual profits are at times a minus 2 cents due to wind subsidies, or to say that a Nuclear power plant is forced to pay (at times) 4 cents a kWh into the grid to stay online.

            Why did you bring up wholesale costs? Why did you NOT address the cost of construction in areas where the regulations are more reasonable?

      • Nathan Wilson says:

        To a first order approximation, those other cost components for nuclear can be ignored (in economic analysis, all future costs are discounted compared to up-front capital cost; decommissioning costs 60 years in the future can be ignored entirely, and future fuel and O&M costs are low). The most important things I left off are the huge cost of energy storage for solar and wind and the large cost of transmission for wind (about 20% of the wind farm costs, based on NREL analysis), and the cost of fossil fueled backup.

        Again Cooper ignores the enormously important cases of China and India, so in a global sense, his numbers are not important, even if I believe them.

        But as to his projections of future nuclear cost, I completely disagree. It is indefensible to use a learning curve for nuclear which is any different than what is used for solar and wind (if the concept of a learning curve has any validity, it must be universal, otherwise the burden is on Cooper to prove his analysis is free of confounding influences). He justifies doing this by using historical data, from a period in time that nuclear was dying, nuclear regulation was growing, and with high inflation; which will obviously produce very pessimistic results.

        By the way, we have no way of the knowing the future cost of energy storage (other than to assume that pumped hydro continues to be the least cost option). The learning curve does not really apply to batteries, since the price-leading lead-acid battery industry is so Giga-large already; there may or may not ever be a technology which can displace it.

        • EL says:

          To a first order approximation, those other cost components for nuclear can be ignored (in economic analysis, all future costs are discounted compared to up-front capital cost; decommissioning costs 60 years in the future can be ignored entirely, and future fuel and O&M costs are low).

          @Nathan Wilson

          Discounting is used to assess the rate at which future revenues are used to pay off current liabilities and obligations (in this instance large up front capital costs). They add to the cost of a project (don’t deduct from them). For projects that are paid off over a very long time period, these rates can be very high. “For example, a benefit of £100 occurring in 10 years’ time is worth ~£60 now at a discount rate of 5% and ~£38 if discounted at 10%” (p. 2).

          I don’t see where there is any reasonable basis to discount (or otherwise not include) plant operating costs (decommissioning, fuel, waste handling fees, etc.) as part of the energy costs for nuclear power. Advanced nuclear even moreso. This doesn’t make any sense. Please consult standard sources on Nuclear Power Economics.

          The most important things I left off are the huge cost of energy storage for solar and wind and the large cost of transmission for wind (about 20% of the wind farm costs, based on NREL analysis), and the cost of fossil fueled backup.

          Absolutely not! Where are you getting this stuff? You can’t count cost of energy twice (and attribute it to a single energy resource). There is no separate cost to fossil fuel backup (it’s simply the cost of fossil fuel energy). You don’t count it twice. There are efficiency losses from operation of spinning reserves (and these are known and measurable integration costs). They are not very large in the case of wind energy. The same for energy storage (it’s not a generation resource, but an ancillary service, and is valued differently from generation assets). It can reduce the costs associated with building and maintaining additional capacity reserves. Transmission costs are shared costs (and aren’t attributable to specific projects … beyond interconnection costs or other costs mandated by a public utility commission as attributable to a specific project). Wind production costs plus about $2-5/MWh about covers it.

          It is indefensible to use a learning curve for nuclear which is any different than what is used for solar and wind …

          Huh … why not? How do you explain the different historical record of rapid declining costs for solar and wind, and elusive cost reductions for nuclear given increasing technological complexity, historical developments, lessons learned, declining ore grades, uncertain financial risks, rising legacy costs, early plant retirements, closing the fuel cycle, regulatory uncertainty, etc.

          • Nathan Wilson says:

            When comparing costs that occur at different points in time, the discount factor must be used to discount future costs. The technique you suggest, of just adding up all costs and interest and reporting the total is only ever used as a propaganda tool. Please go learn about the “present value equation” and the ” levelized cost equation” (preferably from an actual industrial accounting class and not one of your propaganda sites). There are valid discussions about what discount factor to use, but not whether to use it.

            Regarding transmission cost, renewables currently benefit from a cost allocation system that was conceived when all generators used similar technology, and imposed similar external costs. Viewed from the point of view of society, variable renewables impose external costs on society (e.g. the need for new transmission and energy storage or support from flexible generation) that are not present or are much smaller for nuclear (the 20% number I gave came from an NREL 20% wind study). A fair comparison must acknowledge them.

            I don’t have to explain the learning curve any more than renewables do. I have given reasons why Cooper’s data for nuclear should not be used for extrapolation (e.g. the industry was not getting new orders, so it does not fit the model for the learning curve). And of course the factors you list are non-sense: ore grade is irrelevant since ore is a tiny cost of nuclear power, increasing tech complexity (wake-up to the computer age – complexity can be free), legacy costs and early retirements are unrelated to future plants, etc.

            If there is a recurring theme, it’s that reading single-issue propaganda on the internet cannot replace learning the fundamentals in school. The reason is that the emcumbant big companies (e.g. fossil fuels) control the propaganda (even though alarmists like Cooper may think he’s doing the right thing, it’s the fossil fuel companies that amplify his message for him). We’ll never be free of fossil fuels if theirs is the only information source we use.

          • EL says:

            … and not one of your propaganda sites …

            @Nathan Wilson.

            WNA is a propaganda site? Thanks for the clarification.

            You don’t get to energy costs without accounting for all costs associated with production (plant, finance, operating, fuel, etc.). If attending an industrial accounting class means you get to exclude everything but upfront capital costs, I’d ask for your money back.

            I use present value and levelized cost correctly. How will attending an industrial accounting class help me understand your flawed claims above any better?

            And I don’t understand why wind should be exclusively charged for equipment (the transmission grid) that benefits every generation resource? Are you suggesting we should re-engineer the grid so that there are separate lines from each supply source to each end user (and consumers be charged a higher rate if they live further away from an energy resource)? That sounds brilliantly wasteful, and I don’t understand why you are suggesting a shared piece of equipment should not also imply a shared cost?

          • turnages says:

            EL,

            You show a real talent for presuming words into other people’s mouths, then attacking them for what they neither said nor meant.

            To answer the point about transmission costs for wind power:
            – Costs remain relatively low if the penetration remains low enough not to exceed the local transmission/distribution capacity already installed. They then get an easy ride, but by the same token, do not contribute very much energy to the overall scheme of things.
            – Large wind farm developments are typically spread out over sites with high average wind speed. These seldom correspond with urban areas and existing loads. They therefore typically need extensions to the transmission system to connect all their turbines to the existing grid, which would not be needed without the wind farm. Why should this extra transmission not be charged to the wind project?
            – This new transmission is disproportionately expensive because it has to be sized for the full nameplate capacity, rather than the average 30%-or-so capacity factor in operation.

      • Keith Pickering says:

        Actually I do disagree with Lazard. There are currently four new-construction NPPs building in the US, two at Vogtle and two at VC Summer. The combined capital cost for those two projects is $5550 per kW. Lazard puts the capital cost for new NPP construction in the US at $7591 / kW. Hard to see where they’re getting that number, because Lazard isn’t saying.

        But more importantly I have an issue with how Cooper is using Lazard. For example, Lazard (v 7.0.1, 2013) puts LCOE for utility-scale thin film solar at $89-99. Cooper’s Exhibit III-1 puts the diamond at the $89 level, then extends a line upward to 99, and another line downward to about $60. Where did that downward line come from? Not from Lazard, certainly. Meanwhile, Lazard puts nuclear at $86-122. But here, instead of putting the diamond at the bottom of the range, as for solar, Cooper puts the diamond at the top of the range. So Cooper is bending Lazard’s data to make solar look cheaper and nuclear look more expensive. Utterly deceptive.

        • EL says:

          The combined capital cost for those two projects is $5550 per kW.

          @Keith Pickering

          Current costs at Vogtle are $6051 per kW (based on projected all-in-cost of $6.759 billion, Table 1.1) and a completion date of 2017 for the first unit. I believe there are several lawsuits on cost overruns pending as well. Financing on VC Summer is pretty unclear to me … do you have a good source on this?

          But more importantly I have an issue with how Cooper is using Lazard.

          I might be looking at something different, but on page 2 it looks to me that Lazard put utility thin film solar at $64 – 99 (consistent with Coopers graphic)?

          http://gallery.mailchimp.com/ce17780900c3d223633ecfa59/files/Lazard_Levelized_Cost_of_Energy_v7.0.1.pdf

          Lazard also provides a range of 86 to 122 for nuclear (as you suggest), and puts the diamond at 115 (which is pretty darn close to the high end). These look pretty consistent to me (although the diamond is large and covering the full top of the scale on nuclear).

          • Keith Pickering says:

            Thanks for the link to Vogtle’s official cost numbers, quite a bit lower than the $15 billion I had assumed from news reports. VC Summer’s cost is $9.8 billion, again according to news reports.(Also note that the Vogtle cost in your linked source is for both reactors, not just one.) So that would mean a total of 16.65 billion for four reactors of 1117 MW each, or $3707 per KW. A pretty far cry from Lazard’s numbers.

            Lazard’s numbers for solar are even more fishy. They claim current capital cost for utility-scale thin-film solar of $1750-2000/KW. The world’s largest thin-film solar plant, Agua Caliente, was just completed last month in Arizona. It cost $1.8 billion for 290 MW, or $6207/KW, more than three times Lazard’s number.

            So Lazard overstates nuclear by a factor of 2, and understates solar by a factor of 3. Are we supposed to take these numbers seriously?

          • EL says:

            Also note that the Vogtle cost in your linked source is for both reactors, not just one … VC Summer’s cost is $9.8 billion …

            No … it’s per reactor cost. $6051/kW is the number you are looking for (not $3707). VC Summer costs are often quoted in 2007 dollars (not “constant dollars”). “With escalation applied, the total cash flow budgeted for the project is $5.422 billion” (here). They are also having some delays and overruns (and we don’t yet know the full impact of these on final costs).

          • EL says:

            Correction … gross construction cost at VC summer is currently $5.651 billion (or $5059/kW).

          • Keith Pickering says:

            @ EL:

            Examine Table 1.1 in your own linked source. It says, right at the top, that these numbers are for the Vogtle 3 AND 4 Facility: BOTH reactors.

          • EL says:

            Examine Table 1.1 in your own linked source. It says, right at the top, that these numbers are for the Vogtle 3 AND 4 Facility: BOTH reactors.

            @Keith Pickering

            It’s much worse than this (and much less transparent it appears). This is only Georgia Power’s share on the two reactors. Their share stands at 45.7% and remaining 54.3% is with “Oglethorpe Power Corporation, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and the City of Dalton, Georgia.” Assuming total project cost at “the same proportion of indirect and owner’s cost as Georgia Power” …

            http://www.nuclearinfrastructure.org/resources/EPIC_OvernightCost_Report_100411jh__2__clean_vs_print.pdf

            … we get $13,311 billion in project cost and $5958 unit per kW cost (p. 11).

            Why ratepayers can’t get a clearer answer than this (when they are covering a major share of these costs prior to construction, and the financial risks) is really beyond me.

            Thanks for the additional clarification and update (and pointing out these discrepancies) … are we getting closer yet (would you agree these are “approximate” current estimated projected costs for both AP1000 units at Vogtle)?

        • seth says:

          Yup damn good work on Vogtle with several $billions in unrelated transmission costs included. Not many first of a kind civil constructions (stadiums, bridges) come in so close to budget especially with the vehemently anti nuclear NRC commissioner Jazcko delaying the project for so long ringing up IDC costs.

          Westinghouse predicts that after the first score of so AP-1000’s are completed costs would drop to under $2B/GW to 3 cents a kwh down from todays 4 cents for public power, half the cost of gas at its current price of 50% the cost of production and still the cheapest form of power there is.

    • Keith Pickering says:

      The proliferation issue is a total red herring. The US already has nuclear weapons, as do China and India. That ship has sailed.

      • Rick Armknecht says:

        Keith,
        In general, I agree with you. The “nonproliferation” aspect of “acceptable” reactors can be an unnecessary limitation for technologies that can greatly benefit the standard of living in many nations where it really doesn’t matter. Not just US, China and India — but the UK, Russia, and France as well. Still — What about countries that do not have nuclear weapons? There certainly should be limitations to keep even more nations from getting nukes.

        • Keith Pickering says:

          Of the nine nations that have nuclear weapons, eight of them built their first bomb without having a nuclear power plant. Nuclear power plants are no more a threat for nuclear bomb proliferation than gasoline automobiles are a threat for napalm proliferation.

          • poa says:

            Yeah……after all, Isreal developed its nuke arsenal by stealing the technology from us, then doing exactly what we are accusing Iran of doing. But hey, that’s what “friends” are for, right?

          • jmdesp says:

            @poa : Not totally right. In the initial stage, almost all the technology came from France, the socialists before De Gaulle thought they had a debt to pay to Israel. Even though if it was in part a partnership, with Israel scientists also helping the French team. Of course France itself stole most of the technology from the US, even if partly through UK (IIRC France had enough chemists to develop it’s process for plutonium extraction independently however).

            Journalists Pierre Péan and Pierre Razoux have written 2 very informed books about that.

            @Keith : Isn’t it both Pakistan and India that had first a NPP ? Careful examination of facts show even those two didn’t use material from the NPP for the bomb.

          • George Carty says:

            @jmdesp

            France and Israel were friendly in the ’50s because they had a common enemy in Nasser’s Egypt (which France was hostile to because of its nationalization of the Suez canal, as well as its support for Algerian freedom fighters).

  7. Marcel F. Williams says:

    “We both recognize that the nuclear industry has a poor history of controlling the cost and schedule associated with designing and building nuclear power plants. ”

    Yet those nuclear power plants still produce electricity cheaper than fossil fuels.

    The economic advantage of small nuclear reactors is that they will be serially mass reproduced. So if the demand is high, small nuclear reactors will be very cheap. However, if the demand is low then small nuclear reactors will be expensive and the world may be doomed towards a super greenhouse world.

    Of course its easier to build renewable power plants in the US because many states legally mandate that they have to be built while tax payers also heavily subsidizing their cost.

    Building new nuclear power plants in the US, however, is legally forbidden in some States for various reasons such as the inability of the Federal government to take control of spent fuel. Plus it takes almost forever to get the NRC to license a new nuclear reactor for construction.

    More than half of the renewable energy in the US is in the form of hydroelectricity, a sources that has pretty much reached its limit in the US. Wind and solar only represent about 4% of electricity production in the US while America’s old nuclear power plants represent nearly 20% of electricity production in the US.

    Wind and solar represent barely 1% of total energy consumption in the United States. Even if you increased current levels by ten times, it would still barely represent a little more than 10% of total energy consumption in the US, assuming there’s no population increase in the US– which seems very unlikely. Plus you’d have to deal with a dramatically increased environmental impact associated with wind and solar which both industries are already having a very difficult time dealing with!

    Marcel F. Williams

    • Nathan Wilson says:

      The economic advantage of small nuclear reactors is that they will be serially mass reproduced.
      Of course large reactors could also be mass produced. If the US were to replace all fossil fuel power plants with nuclear, we’d need about 12 GWatts of new reactors every year (assuming each had a lifetime of 80 years), triple that rate if we wanted to finish the build-out in 30 years.

      But SMRs do have the advantage of allowing more factory fabrication of sub-assemblies while preserving rail-transport-ability. Great for plant sites that lack barge access.

  8. Australian Physcist says:

    I always find it interesting the way that advocates for unreliable power sources push so hard for a reduction in energy consumption. Energy consumption allows all of the positive aspects of modern life, and in order to lift more people out of poverty we need lots more cheap energy. I never hear claims that wind and solar will provide this but instead hear about how we need to cut back. It seems that wind and solar advocates are more anti-development than pro-energy, and that seems very regressive to me. After all, if they really thought that their technologies were so good wouldn’t they make a big deal about what they could achieve?

    • EL says:

      I always find it interesting the way that advocates for unreliable power sources push so hard for a reduction in energy consumption.

      @Australian Physcist

      Sounds like a good candidate for a straw man argument. Adding low marginal cost energy resources to the grid with economic dispatch frequently lowers peak and wholesale price of energy (as Cooper’s study, citing c2es study) suggests. So much so, traditional monopoly business model (with revenues collected primarily at constrained peak energy periods) find it hard to compete. Better supply side and demand side management is not about constraining energy supply (and curtailing residential consumption), I think you have it backwards. It’s about efficiency, responsiveness, and delivering better service to the end user (and at a lower cost). Designing a system around “scarcity rents” doesn’t serve the consumer (it serves the producer), and it’s not particularly efficient or reliable (with monopoly control of production, not open resource acquisition, underpinning the system).

      I don’t really understand your claim that renewables advocates argue for “a reduction in energy consumption.” We argue for a reduction of waste and resource planning that better balances stakeholder interests (for the environment, consumer, operator, investor, owner of resources, etc.). We don’t like development goals that are not consumer based (and only serve the interests of capital, and have the effect of unnecessarily boosting consumption or constraining resource availability at peak utilization rates). These policies don’t’ work for the consumer, and impact consumers exactly when they are most vulnerable (when they need energy most). If adequate resource planning merits it, and it is economic to do so, you don’t think renewables advocates recommend and advocate for more power plants that are adequately sited, properly reviewed, and more fully meet the needs end users (fully supporting economic growth, quality of life, business competitiveness, and everything else that goes with a well supplied, safe, and resilient community.

      I see it a bit like sugar consumption (to take one analogy). It’s very delicious and is an excellent source of nutrition. But too much of a good thing makes you sick, obese, diabetic, and producing the stuff simply to drive untoward consumption puts at risk other better uses of land, funds, labor, public expenditures, increases health care costs, lowers productivity, etc. Margins are high for sugar so it benefits producers to push the stuff (especially so if you can lobby for production subsidies, grow low cost high fructose corn syrup and increase your margins, bust up unions, push onto society health care costs and other externalities, etc.). If nuclear is high fructose corn syrup, renewables are cane sugar. It takes a little more effort to produce, sure, but it doesn’t need to be put in everything. It doesn’t mean we don’t live a life with delicious foods are adequate nutrition (we actually live better lives this way).

      You don’t have to look hard to find other examples. Today in the news, India boosting off-grid solar expansion and meeting modest development goals (enough power for two lightbulbs, solar cooker and TV) to hundreds of millions of people who lack access to electricity with renewables. Georgia power expanding solar capacity to 900 MW by 2016 … matching production from two Votgle plants (“delivered at or below Georgia Power’s avoided cost” according to Company statement). Coming on-line years earlier than Vogtle plants, and with none of the advanced cost recovery penalties for consumers (which are currently eating a 30% hole in many consumer’s pockets). Pretty delightful news if you renewable’s advocate. Such projects are about meeting demand, not a “reduction in energy consumption.”

      • EL says:

        Correction …. “production cost” (according to Georgia Power).

        • David Walters says:

          “Georgia power expanding solar capacity to 900 MW by 2016 … matching production from two Votgle plants (“delivered at or below Georgia Power’s avoided cost” according to Company statement). Coming on-line years earlier than Vogtle plants, and with none of the advanced cost recovery penalties for consumers (which are currently eating a 30% hole in many consumer’s pockets). Pretty delightful news if you renewable’s advocate. Such projects are about meeting demand, not a “reduction in energy consumption.”

          Typical spin and confusing nameplate capacity with capacity factor. The “900MWs of solar” equals a name plate capacity of about 150MWs. Votgle plants are 2400MWs not 900MWs. But ok, fine.

      • seth says:

        You just can’t stop the lies can you. Is it a religious thing with you?

        ” Adding low marginal cost energy resources to the grid with economic dispatch frequently lowers peak and wholesale price of energy”

        Yup sure does when the capital cost is 100% paid for by subsidies, and the marginal cost by more subsidies.

        ” expanding solar capacity to 900 MW by 2016 …matching production from two Votgle plants”

        Yup that’s about 100 MW average compared to 2200 MW average from the nukes. Why shame yourself with your innumeracy?

        delivered at or below Georgia Power’s avoided cost” according to Company statement)

        Yup after subsidy it all looks good. The latest giant solar plant in sunny Arizona Agua Caliente just came in at over 50 cents a kwh.

        • John T Tucker says:

          Yea the solar thing was just over the top misinformation.

          Georgia Power Co., the largest U.S. utility company owned by Southern Co., will build and operate three 30-megawatt solar projects at U.S. Army bases in Georgia.

          Votgle reactors are about 1,200 MW Each (old) and 1,215 MW each (new).

          WHATS MORE:

          Votgle “block footprints of Units 3 and 4 will require an area of 77.5 acres.” So about just over 100 acres for the whole basic facility itself (Substantially more acreage is used for transport access and transmission typically in energy projects)

          The Fort Gordon solar farm alone will cover a 250-acre tract. ( http://beta.mirror.augusta.com/latest-news/2014-05-15/army-bringing-solar-ft-gordon?v=1400158275 )

          So via equivalence at that rate – solar 30 x .2 CF = 6

          Votgle 4860 x .9CF = 4374

          So 4374 / 6 = 729 x 250 (acres needed for solar) = would equal 182,250 acres needed to replace Votgle with that type of project – if it was even possible (which it isn’t of course because solar is not base-load).

          I would be hiding in a cardboard box somewhere, with a paper bag over my head, if I tried to make that argument with a straight environmental face.

        • EL says:

          The latest giant solar plant in sunny Arizona Agua Caliente just came in at over 50 cents a kwh.

          No it didn’t.

          And please consult my correction above.

          • Eino says:

            You got me curious just what these things do cost.

            From Wikepedia:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agua_Caliente_Solar_Project

            They say it will produce 626.22 GWH in a year

            They say it cost 1.8 billion dollars.

            For one year I figured $2.87 / kWH

            Over a 20 year life, I guess you could divide by 20 and get about 14 cents a kilowatt hour. For 30, it would be 9.5 cents a kwH. This is excluding maintenance costs. As this is a fixed cost and there is no fuel, it looks quite economical.

            I don’t see much more than a 20 year life for such things. By then the nation should be building Thorium reactors that can be placed closer to the load.

          • EL says:

            I don’t see much more than a 20 year life for such things.

            Agua Caliente has a 25 year PPA.

            http://www.bloomberg.com/bb/newsarchive/a7lPIqXAHjQM.html

          • seth says:

            You are well known for your innumeracy.

            Because of the enormous risk of green energy projects (as investors in Spain found out) they require much higher rates of return

            Google “solar-15-percent-returns-lure-investments-from-google-to-buffett”

            Plugging those numbers into to Aqua Caliente comes to over 50 cents a kwh.

          • EL says:

            You are well known for your innumeracy

            @Seth

            Huh? What is your system for arriving at these numbers … dart throwing?

            Look it up yourself.

            If you can explain the alchemy by which you get $500 MWh from $150 MWh (reported in the link you have suggested “we look up”), please be my guest. The ball is in your court.

      • Australian physicist says:

        Hi EL, thanks for the interesting reply. It’s tough to respond to you though, because almost everything you say is either factually wrong or missing the point. Cane sugar is cheaper than high fructose corn syrup once you take government subsidies and tariffs off the table. Traditional power monopolies make their money from bulk supply, only modern competitive markets produce most of their profits at peak demand. The electricity supply system in India is devastatingly bad and is one of the main things holding the country back. Is this really the example that you want to choose?

        • EL says:

          The electricity supply system in India is devastatingly bad and is one of the main things holding the country back. Is this really the example that you want to choose?

          @Australian physicist

          What do renewables (off grid or micro grid deployments) in India have to do with historically poor performance of their grid? These reforms are a response to historical challenges, and are bringing reliable service to millions (sometimes for the first time) not impeding it. It’s a terrific example of energy options that are moving the country forward.

          Traditional power monopolies make their money from bulk supply, only modern competitive markets produce most of their profits at peak demand.

          Please consult “Disruptive Challenges: Financial Implications and Strategic Responses to a Changing Retail Electricity Business” (a study written by the utility industry). Or Cooper for that matter (the study that is the topic of this thread).

          “The financial risks created by disruptive challenges include declining utility revenues, increasing costs, and lower profitability potential, particularly over the long-term. As DER and DSM programs continue to capture “market share,” for example, utility revenues will be reduced. Adding the higher costs to integrate DER, increasing subsidies for DSM and direct metering of DER will result in the potential for a squeeze on profitability and, thus, credit metrics.”

          If you have something relevant to add here, I’m all ears.

          Cane sugar is cheaper than high fructose corn syrup once you take government subsidies and tariffs off the table.

          And this contradicts my general point how? Onshore wind is one of the most competitive resources out there (especially so you remove fossil fuel subsidies, and historically large direct and indirect subsidies for nuclear, as discussed in paper by Cooper and elsewhere). In aggregate, solar can be quite competitive as well, especially so as a peak energy resource (lowering wholesale costs of energy for consumers more generally). Costs continue to drop for these resources.

          Nuclear does not currently have value as an intermediate or peak energy resource (such energy is very expensive with longer cost recovery at lower capacity factors, significantly higher finance, equipment, fuel, and O&M costs). Only in a very tightly regulated and non-competitive market (with large public subsidies and socialization of development and risk in the mix) does such an approach make sense (as in France).

          It’s tough to respond to you …

          If you are finding it tough, perhaps you should be making different arguments?

          • turnages says:

            Yes, EL, it is tough to respond to you, because
            – you indulge in rhetoric and cherry picking, and change your ground every minute,
            – you blithely confuse nameplate capacity with actual generation,
            – you have obviously no practical engineering experience in a real power utility context.

          • EL says:

            @turnages.

            If you have any specific examples to cite, please mention them (I am happy to reply). Blanket statements aren’t very effective (especially when I have no idea what you have read that has given rise to your misinformed and ad hominem blanket claim).

    • Jeff Walther says:

      Wind and solar advocates are all selling a poor future in which you and most everyone else, will be miserable. That’s what smart meter really means.

  9. Leslie Corrice says:

    I would like to throw my two cents into the mix. For all the bombast about SMRs and Thorium-fueled nukes, I have always said that standardized design is the way to go. In my 45+ years in the nuclear energy community, the single-most cause of nuclear being more expensive to build that alternatives is custom design. It is, has been, and will continue to be the industry’s economic Achilles Heel as long as it continues. It should be noted that standardized design would also lower maintenance cost due to economy of scale…replacement parts would necessarily be cheaper than custom. Standardized design made the automobile affordable for the public more than a century ago. The nuclear energy community should learn from this historical fact and embrace it.

  10. Charles Barton says:

    Rod, IN 2007, I argued with David Roberts about the use of Nuclear Power to fight Anthropogenic Climate Change I concluded that the use of factory constructed Molten Salt Reactors would solve all of the problems which Roberts raised as objections to nuclear power. I was familiar with the Molten Salt Reactor (and the LFTR) because my father had done research on the technology from 1950 to 1969.

    I was aware that the manufacturing and construction methods used to build conventional reactors added to their cost, and that if reactor manufacture could ne shifted to factories cost could be lowered. Size thus becomes a critical issue. If large reactors are manufactured in factories, the whole core could not be built in one peace. The Westinghouse AP-1000,l a large reactor is assembled on site from two to three hundred shipping container size pieces, that are built in a factory or factories, and trucked or shipped by rail or barge to the reactors home for assembly.

    Building the reactor’s home, and final assembly of the reactor takes three to three and a half years. Still the Westinghouse method of reactor construction will save time and money over traditional methods of reactor construction. In addition, the AP-1000 uses significantly fewer parts, while the reactor is housed in a smaller, and thuse lower cost structure that require less material and fewer labor hours to construct. Mark Cooper, am anti-Nuclear fanatic, ignores all this in his assessment of nuclear costs.

    I am concerned about the cost of Light Water SMRs, although not as nearly dogmatic about LWSMR cost as Cooper is. At any rate my choice in 2007 to chose SMMSRs built in factories still looks good.

    Cooper completely ignores the reality of MSR development in China and North America. At present there is a major MSR R&D program underway in china, while one Small MSR development program is underway in the United States, While a separate program is underway in Canada. Both programs are financed, and both have a customer. A third program, one designed to build a medium size MSR, Also financed, with a potential customer, is underway in the United States. Both the Chinese and the Canadian programs expect to have commercial products within 10 years. Small, factory built, MSRs can be factory built and shipprf to construction sites for final assembly, They will be simpler to assemble than a small LWR and their housing will cost significantly less, although yhey will be even safer than a LWSMR.

    I have read a copuple Mark Coopers earlier reports, and noted that Cooper is an expertt at ignoring information that will compromise his case. Unfortunately I can no longer read more than a few words at a time, and Google Chrom will not read it to me. I canl, however search the document, and it contains no reference to Molten Salt Reactors. Cooper ‘s research is junk, and he is an ignoramous.

  11. Marcel F. Williams says:

    I also think its naive to believe that there is going to immediately be strong demand for a future commercial products that currently– only exist on paper– and has yet to be properly demonstrated to the public and private industry.

    So the most important thing, IMO, is for private companies to get some of these full scale small reactors up and running for a few years perhaps at a few TVA sites and perhaps by the US Navy on floating barges (for floating synfuel production) to demonstrate the inherent safety of these power plants.

    Once these small reactors– actually exist– and have been demonstrated to be safe and reliable then there should be tremendous demand for these reactors in the US and around the world for both commercial use and use from the military for synfuel production.

    But America needs to get full scale demonstration models of these small reactors up an running before 2020 so that they can go on the market by the early 2020’s.

    Marcel

    • Eino says:

      “But America needs to get full scale demonstration models of these small reactors up an running before 2020 so that they can go on the market by the early 2020′s.”

      This is exactly right. They may look good on paper, but reality may have some new wrinkles in that paper. Think of the automobile industry. Lately, I’ve been seeing recall after recall. These are design and material flaws. You don’t want these flaws in the new reactors.. To have design and material flaws in serial number one is expected, but to mass produce these things without a trial run is asking for trouble.

      There are too many people out there who will amplify the effect of the smallest defect in a new reactor.

  12. John T Tucker says:

    Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) has introduced a bill to provide states with more authority in the shutdown of nuclear power plants. ( http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/house/206499-bill-would-give-states-bigger-role-in-closing-nuclear-power-plants )

    As the academic arguments for energy in that state are clearly so poorly made, this is probably a bad idea.

    • John T Tucker says:

      You know Rod im not going to probably EVER be cheerful about the kind of “environmentalism” coming out of Vermont. Their decision to classify new hydro as “New Renewable” is an obscenity.

      Recent Hydro-Québec like the Romaine Complex extension is flooding hundreds of thousands of acres. Altogether they have flooded over 7 million acres of land. Thats habitat, natural and human, utterly obliterated. Underwater. Not to mention the unknown costs of carbon sinks of the forests lost and the lost migration routes and natural populations disrupted by the rivers dammed.

      As a matter of fact even if I had money to travel I wouldn’t go to Vermont because of that and Vermont Yankee. This layers work, its irrational arguments and lack of perspective is obviously part of that. They need to get their environmental house in order.

  13. BobinPgh says:

    Why does anybody care about a report from someone who went to what sounds like one of those diploma mills that advertise on late nite TV? I mean, Vermont Law School? Rod, as someone who went to one of the toughest universities on Earth (Annapolis) why even care? What lawyer would brag they went to Vermont Law School when they could have gone to Harvard, Yale, Georgetown…

    • Eino says:

      BobinPgh:

      “Vermont Law School?”

      Most people do not know of either school except through their athletic programs. Having completed a law degree impresses many of us. In fact, I’m sure many would be impressed more than for example, a naval architect degree from Annapolis.

      Rod is right to make this posting. Factual rebuttals to what Mark Cooper presented are the best way to go. To ignore a problem does not make it go away.

      • BobinPgh says:

        Oh, Eino, I don’t know. I you were accused of a crime you didn’t really do and wanted to get off, wouldn’t you want your lawyer to have gone to a top law school like Harvard? Or would you want them to have gone to Vermont Law School? One thing I do know, OJ Simpson’s lawyers didn’t go there. Now, I wonder, did “better call Sal” on Breaking bad go there?

  14. James Greenidge says:

    This morning FoxNews and CBS were having a cow featuring the Fukushima water dump, almost making it sound like hot core coolerant was being dumped the Pacific. Isn’t there ANY nuclear professional body out there that can cool the media’s heels on issues like this? It’s dismaying to know from feedback email that NONE of the media outlets received any peep from NEI or ANS at all, not even since Fukushima! How the heck are we going to get the public enlightened enough to accept nuclear power if these nuclear orgs with the coffers and manpower and talent don’t fight back??

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  15. Panikkiya says:

    For the absolute same reasons Rod pointed out; to power submarines over long periods of time supporting energy needs and human biological functions, nuclear power might be the only known way of sustaining human life away from earth. If this country ever hopes to do anything like that in its future, it better retain and celebrate this technology without receding to the dark depths of the caves of illiterate ignorance. Today the country’s energy policy follows the whim of a few with absolutely no science background, who would not understand the difference between the mean and the median, and doesn’t know how many kilowatts are there to a megawatt, or what electricity is. Very recently a prominent anti-nuclear activist said that “Electricity is magnetic force piped through metals, and the need of metals to conduct electricity helps even a 5 year old understand electricity is nothing but magnetism”. He smiled and added “Have you seen non-metallic magnets”?

  16. Andrew Benson says:

    “Those who fear that the historic pattern of nuclear crowding out renewables will be repeated have good cause for concern.”

    Where is Cooper’s evidence for this? California banned new nuclear power plants in 1976 and renewables went nowhere for decades until the state mandated in 2002 that utilities buy renewable energy. California utilities were eager to build more nukes (three proposals were on the table at the time the ban was enacted) but they did not rush to renewables once nuclear was banned. They went back to building more natural gas plants (and even a few coal plants, which previously did not exist in California).

    Renewables are only “crowded out” when you let the marketplace decide.

  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Rod……is there a glitch in your comment doohickey? On my phone, I don’t get a comment box, nor do I get a place top click on comments.

    Here on my desktop, this is the only thread that has a place to click on comments.

    • Eino says:

      Same here about the comment box. I guess you get a lot of repeat comments, but there’s always something new as well. i think you’ve got some software glitches.

      The following link fits in with your article. It is from the US Energy Information Administration. It does show natural gas prices rising to the spike in 2012 in just a few years. It explains that natural gas may (will) be exported, used for new industrial production and long haul transportation. Regular readers of your posts know that there will be no new coal plants built due to EPA regulations and that renewables are not a reliable energy source 24 hours a day.

      http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/MT_naturalgas.cfm

      Mark Cooper can write whatever he wants. As natural gas use increases in many sectors of our economy, the demand will rise and the price will rise. Remaining nuclear plants will once again mint money for their far sighted owners.

  18. Jagdish says:

    Not only the costs of photovoltaic panels are going down but newer and better storage systems/batteries are also being developed.
    http://powerjapanplus.com/about/news.html
    http://dailyfusion.net/2013/06/new-photovoltaic-cell-doubles-as-solar-energy-storage-system-10771/
    In combination, they could be an alternative distributed generation for areas not so far linked to grids or requiring costly renovation with low usage. Leaving such areas to distributed generation could reduce the grid support cost for most of users.

  19. Eino says:

    Same here – I just placed a post and it appeared to go into the bit bucket. Here’s the short version. Natural gas prices are going up. Cooper can write what he wants. High natural gas prices will encourage new nuclear plants. Here’s the source for my belief that natural gas prices will rise.

    http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/MT_naturalgas.cfm

    When large trucks use natural gas, a lot will be used.

    • Engineer-Poet says:

      I’m with you.  Per the EIA, total gas consumption in 2013 was 26.6 quads.  Distillate fuel consumption was 8.15 quads.  Converting a substantial amount of distillate consumption (diesel) to NG would eliminate the gas glut and create a fraction of demand that would not be at all price-sensitive until prices rose toward ULSD levels.

  20. poa says:

    Well…..I’ll be glad when the glitch is fixed. I enjoy the banter here.

    Speaking of banter, I’m curious why Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear energy program isn’t discussed here. Its truly a shame that we often determine our own policy in the middle east at the behest of Israel. Iran’s membership in the NPT, and Israel’s refusal to join, rarely is included in the narrative seeking to demonize Iran’s pursuit of nuclear energy. One would think that on a site such as this one a defense would be waged on Iran’s behalf on its rights, as mandated in the NPT, to develop nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes.

  21. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Anyone know what is going on with the comment section here?

    Has Rod been abducted by aliens? On the road? Ailing? Arrested for stepping outside a Free Speech Zone?

    • Eino says:

      “Has Rod been abducted by aliens?”

      I would think it would be more likely if it was one of those oil or coal companies worried about the “smoking gun” getting just a little too close. The Koch brothers maybe?

  22. John T Tucker says:

    Expect the basically ignored gas pipeline mishaps to continue:

    Nationwide, utilities repaired nearly 480,000 leaks on gas mains and smaller gas pipelines last year and have an additional 105,500 leaks that need repairs

    After decades of neglect, replacing the huge backlog of old gas pipe is nearly impossible, says Mark McDonald, a pipeline-safety consultant and president of the New England Gas Workers Association. Digging up the aging lines and putting in new ones is so expensive and time consuming, there is not enough manpower—or materials—to get it done in short order. ( http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303948104579537540826635808 )

    It will probably take utilities from about 2040 to 2060 just to get the system up to today’s standards.

  23. David says:

    @ El,

    I am moving to the top level to continue.

    “Ah. So it’s the NRC’s fault. Always the the meddlesome NRC, eh!”

    Well I will take the “always” as hyperbole, but there are many places around the world that will not consider a design unless it has been approved by the NRC in the USA. It is the gatekeeper organization for almost all the world. Do you think it is not the gatekeeper organization? Do you think any island nation would even consider a reactor that was NOT approved by the NRC?

    “So how is the NRC holding things up (with rules to prevent licensing) everywhere else in the world. That’s a pretty powerful national agency if you don’t mind my saying.”

    How? By issuing rules that are nearly impossible for an SMR manufacturer to follow. Most of the world is not equipped to develop nuclear power plants – we lead in that area – but those who can develop (i.e. have the necessary skills and knowledge in the USA) are hindered greatly by the above rules. Do you disagree with this assessment? How? Please respond to the argument I am making and quit implying that I don’t’ understand markets.

    ““Intrinsically safe” (in an active seismic zone, a very small land mass that takes some 30 minutes to circumnavigate, to say nothing of hurricanes or volcanoes) … good luck with that one.”

    No luck needed, just good design. By intrinsically safe this means that in any type of event the additional danger from Radiation to the population is essentially zero. Pebble Bed reactors are intrinsically safe in every design I have seen. What would a volcano do? You might loose the investment but no one will be hurt.

    “If you don’t understand the obstacles to constructing nuclear (as well as renewables), including finance and operational challenges in developing world, we just aren’t going to get very far in our discussion. Pretending these obstacles don’t exist, or that all it takes is a good lava flow to solve all your problems, I take as a religious claim (not a scientific one).”

    I don’t pretend anything. Lava flowing over a NPP would simply bury it. Huge financial loss but not a danger to the public. I have spent years in the developing world. I understand a great deal about the obstacles. Reliable power attracts investors to develop business that will purchase that power. Unreliable power drives them away. I could go on for pages of specific examples from places I have lived. At a cost of over 40 cents / kWh unreliable electricity drives away business investment. Reliable electricity at 15 to 20 cents a kWh would easily repay the capital costs of new generation. In fact – your touted renewables are much more expensive than a similar sized reactor would be. One of the neat things about a nuclear reactor is that if you run it more slowly the fuel lasts longer. So a load following reactor with a capacity of 45 MW could run at a reduced level for several years and then as demand increased the designed capacity could be reached. The cost of the core would be spread over the actual number of years it took to burn it up.

    If the Clinton foundation is willing to subsidize Renewable – why not help subsidize Nuclear?

    You see El, you are not really arguing about economics, you are still arguing about safety. You still believe that Radiation is dangerous at any level and that Nuclear power will kill us.

    I don’t believe that. I believe the science. The good proven reliable science. Even with the LNT standard Radiation is no more dangerous than most of life around us. It is a normal risk /hazard.

    You prove you have another agenda other than economics every time you quote renewables ability to develop the needed parts to a system (smart grids / backup storage / etc) which are incredibly expensive and at the same time express a great confidence in the decreasing price of renewables – which is actually taxes being paid for business to sell something. (Look at the fight going on in Ohio over an attempt to reduce that subsidy).

    I don’t believe we need expensive energy. I don’t’ think that taxes are the way to reduce CO2. On a level regulatory playing field Nuclear will win. We only need two things from the NRC.

    1. Allow any design to be reviewed, at cost to the investor, whenever the design is presented. This should include the ability to bring a working reactor to the NRC (well the NRC to the reactor) as a demonstration of it’s safety.
    2. Stop using ALARA and switch to as low as reasonably safe. In other words put a threshold at a radiation level equivalent to the background radiation of the natural background radiation around the world.

    The NRC does a fine job of keeping Light Water reactors safe. It does a poor job of reviewing new designs.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @David and EL

      For a good overview of the NRC’s own evaluation of its readiness to review advanced reactor designs – meaning almost anything but conventional light water reactors – I recommend reading this 2012 document titled Report to Congress: Advanced Reactor Licensing.

      http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1215/ML12153A014.pdf

      Pay attention to the timelines and note statements like the following:

      “In the event that these initiatives develop to the extent they would be expected to result in licensing activities, the NRC would request appropriate resources through the agency’s planning and budgeting process.”

      As a former federal government budget analyst, let me translate that statement for you.

      “Once someone has developed their design enough so that they come to us and announce that they are ready to proceed to a license application – and they have a US based, credible customer – we will begin the process of adding the resources to our budget request. Since our request has to be submitted at least a year before the President’s budget is submitted to Congress so that it can go through the OMB budget requirements priorities process, and since the President submits his budget to Congress at least 6 months before Congress acts on that budget, we will inform that potential applicant that we might be able to start hiring a team of people competent in their design in about 2 – 3 years.

      In four years, we should be ready to accept a high quality application, but we have never defined what that term actually means, so we reserve the right to ask a bunch of questions before docketing the application or even to reject it outright — just like we did for the recent South Korean application.

      Once we have accepted the application for docketing, we will review it on a timeline that will be at least as long as the one we promise for light water reactors, which is currently 42 months. However, since we don’t know how to review most advanced reactors and have not yet done the independent research required to provide us the capability, we are pretty sure it will take longer than that.”

      • David says:

        @ Rod,

        This is one of the most important points in dealing with Nuclear power. Frankly whatever your opinion on AGW all of the other ways of dealing with CO2 are not effective. Taxes will not work (Europe is showing that now), some transfer scheme will not work, no legal authority to make this type of transfer and the transfer overhead will become filled with corruption. EPA’s regulations on coal will not stop burning coal because it will simply shut down plants and make our grid more unstable, or it will make coal pay fees driving up costs for power but not actually changing the mix.

        Without new Nuclear and new styles of Nuclear power there is no hope to reduce CO2.

        As a conservative, I love Nuclear power because it has the real potential to radically disturb markets and introduce real competition into the energy market. I may not buy the whole apple blowtorch thing, but I know that in order to bring the cost of fuel down we need a whole bunch more energy from different suppliers with different backers and different motivations.

        We can change the NRC with a change in the political environment.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @David

          We can change the NRC with a change in the political environment.

          There is a path towards a sustainable, important, and politically acceptable change at the NRC that would make a world of difference.

          The agency’s mission statement is clear:

          The NRC licenses and regulates the Nation’s civilian use of radioactive materials to protect public health and safety, promote the common defense and security, and protect the environment.

          Unfortunately, it has always been interpreted to mean that the NRC has no position — positive or negative — on the choice between using nuclear energy and using something else (which most of us here recognize know nearly always a fossil-fuel dependent technology.)

          The words of the NRC’s mission seem to imply that it should recognize the security, environmental and economic advantages of using well-designed, cost-effective nuclear energy systems that do not pollute, do not use imported petroleum products, and do not require the installation of massive, industrial-scale machines in formerly pristine or rural areas.

          It should recognize its own role as the agency that can enable safe systems to be built and operated instead of as a gate keeper that imposes enough uncertainty and overhead in its quest for perfect nuclear safety to discourage developers. Under the current interpretation, the NRC design certification process is convoluted enough to scare away developers that have demonstrated their ability to invest $400 million over a five year period just to get close to being ready to ask permission to build a machine that has a lot in common with the machines that we have been successfully operating for the past 60 years.

          People claim that B&W’s decision was made because they couldn’t find investors or customers, but that analysis ignores the real question – “Why couldn’t B&W mPower find investors or customers for its evolutionary, sophisticated product?”

          There simply was insufficient interest in taking the chance that the NRC would approve the design in a reasonably timely fashion. That meant holding off on developing the required supply chain support until there was more certainty of approval, which would have meant an even longer delay before spending could start slowing and revenue could start flowing.

          A rough, but by no means limited, estimate on the remaining expenditures before starting revenue generating sales was another $600 million, with the DOE injecting perhaps $120 million more than it had already provided. The error bars on that estimate were at least as large as estimate itself, but they started near the top number; there was little to no chance that the cost would be any lower than $600 million more. My time estimate for the review under the current paradigm is at least 42 months from the date of application acceptance.

          A Canadian, South Korean, or British review might have been able to be completed in 12-18 months for 1/4th of the cost, but as an American designer, B&W mPower was expected by all to complete the US NRC process first.

          • David says:

            @ Rod,

            I like your idea, it would only require that a new (or existing) chairperson take leadership and state the obvious – that the health risk from Radiation is less than the health risk from Coal particles, or explosions from Natural Gas.

            Under the rubric of AWG the hazard from Radiation is much less than the hazards from increased Global warming. In either way, having an authority like the chairperson of the NRC state the obvious and scientifically demonstrable that the increased use of Nuclear power will, ….

            “protect public health and safety, promote the common defense and security, and protect the environment.”

            BUT it will also mean a large management overhaul. Setting reasonable goals for reviewing designs within 2 years. One of the effects of these types of goals is to make the whole organization more efficient so that they are able to do more work using the same or fewer people and hours. There are many opportunities to increase output while at the same time improving quality.

            For example, once an issue has been studied it should be placed into a database so that when the same issue comes up the decision has already been done and does not need to be reviewed again. Once a design has been approve it does not need to be reviewed again. The use of equivalent designs – such as the color yellow allowed to be a range rather than a specific mix. Standards for concrete that measure strength and not the exact pattern of rebar.

    • EL says:

      Do you disagree with this assessment? How? Please respond to the argument I am making …

      @David.

      I”ll try … if you’ll listen.

      I don’t agree with your summary of these issues (or your understanding of the role of the NRC and the burden of regulation for SMRs and nuclear industry more generally). Your claims are only true if you hold the personal belief that the NRC is actively blocking the advancement of nuclear power, and I don’t hold this belief.

      We have some operational experience with commercial small reactors, but current SMR prototypes are advanced reactor designs and there are many regulatory issues to be fully developed and reviewed. The NRC does this on an adequate basis (consistent with its public responsibility and legal mandate), and based on input from a wide variety of stakeholder groups and extensive experience in design certification, licensing, and oversight of large LWRs over the last 40 years. Many in government (and elsewhere) hold a very high opinion of the NRC. I know this from personal experience (from those involved in government oversight and budgeting in DC), and it is regarded as a highly competent and professional agency. I understand why proponents of nuclear may find the NRC slow to act or overly bureaucratic and point to arcane rules that are slow to change and are highly burdensome, but this is little different from other regulatory agencies (and is fairly typical of stakeholder interests who seek to advance technologies and bring them to market as quickly as possible and at the lowest cost). Likewise, there are many who view the agency as beholden to nuclear interests, the opposite side of the coin, and cite numerous examples where rules were relaxed in US, and strengthened elsewhere.

      Given the very high cost and extensive review and regulatory infrastructure that must be developed as part of every licensing process to review new reactor models, I think it’s prudent to assess the commercial viability of these technologies and make a preliminary determination on the commercial interest in such projects at an early stage in the pre-application process. This is no different (it seems to me) than submitting a business plan in order to secure a private bank loan. You simply can’t allow “any design” to be reviewed (as you suggest). This is highly impractical. You may have noticed that NRC budgets have been cut back over the years (as well as numbers of employees and available technical staff). Such prudence (from a sound management perspective) is clearly warranted in such an era of rising deficits, shrinking budgets, accountability for use of public funds, and a contentious political environment that makes new government spending anathema to progress (whether it’s SMRs or anything else for that matter). I find it a bit of misdirection to be blaming the NRC for these prudent measures, and not those who are setting budgets and priorities for these agencies (including setting the availability of financing from the industry, which is similarly constrained for some of the same, and many other, prudent and entirely reasonable bases).

      It’s clear you view SMR reactor prototypes as “inherently safe” (perhaps all reactors for that matter). I think this is a matter that merits very close attention and careful scrutiny, and benefits from thorough independent review and assessment (not industry branding and marketing claims). In fact, the commercial acceptance and global deployment of these reactors benefits from such careful review and scrutiny (and would be adversely harmed by a process that wasn’t adequately funded or fully developed). SMRs carry the additional burden in this instance because of additional demands being made by the industry (lest restrictive EPZ standards, smaller and less robust containments, underground siting impeding emergency intervention and flood protection, reduced and less costly operational and support staff, reliance on passive cooling, lower liability requirements, etc.). Given these circumstances, it is by no means unusual or unexpected that one should anticipate a very robust and through review. Do you think anybody looking to seriously advance this technology (and I count the current Administration on this list) would significantly benefit from the contrary?

      The NRC is being pretty generous with the industry (in my view). Why else would these relaxed standards be on the table (were it not for a careful balancing of interests, and an active awareness that licensing must also be matched to market competitiveness, or else the whole endeavor for all parties — taxpayer, consumer, developer, regulator — is a waste). Everyone appears to be doing their job to me (including nuclear advocates communicating in social media about the burdens of over-regulation, and even the risks for regulatory capture of a very important government agency). This doesn’t make nuclear proponents correct in these matters. It just makes them one voice among many.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @EL

        based on input from a wide variety of stakeholder groups

        Including some that have many reasons for wanting to do nothing but stop the whole process by inserting as much cost and delay as possible.

        As we used to say when I was a bureaucrat – hundreds of people involved in the process can slow it down; dozens can stop it cold. No one can speed it up.

  24. David says:

    @ EL,

    “Your claims are only true if you hold the personal belief that the NRC is actively blocking the advancement of nuclear power, and I don’t hold this belief.”

    Beliefs do not make something true or untrue. My belief in gravity or disbelief in gravity does not affect the fact that I fall when I trip.

    “that the NRC is actively blocking the advancement of nuclear power, and I don’t hold this belief.” Yep, I understand that you don’t “believe” this. But in fact you do believe this and support the delay and obstruction!

    You spend paragraphs actually demonstrating my point. That the process is long, with impossible numbers of people involved and way overly detailed.

    Yes the NRC is highly respected and among regulatory agencies it is far better than many. There are many many good professionals that work there.

    “…. but this is little different from other regulatory agencies”

    I see, you would compare Nuclear power development to the development of medicine. As thought the health and safety of Nuclear power were similar to the health and safety of new medicines.

    “Do you think anybody looking to seriously advance this technology (and I count the current Administration on this list) would significantly benefit from the contrary?:

    Yep I think everyone would significantly benefit from the contrary.

    Nope, I don’t think this administration is interested in advancing SMR’s No mention in presidential speeches on energy. Appointment of 2 Chairpersons who have been willing to vote against the combined wisdom of the other members and ask staff to continue to study issues that have no reasonable hope of coming up with a different answer.

    I think you are saying “Everything is strongly regulated so Nuclear should be as well. Since it is inherently dangerous it should be reviewed strongly even if that stops it.”

    By the way, did you know that the NRC is FULLY funded by charging fees? That the NRC is the one who proposes reduced budgets, even when customers of the NRC are willing to pay fees to have their products reviewed?

    Are you aiming to work in Washington?

    I notice that you did not produce a single argument about reviewing several designs, you simply don’t like the idea. If the people who are bringing the designs to the table are willing to pay for the review what is the problem?

    Also, please note that I am arguing for a policy change.

    1. Stop demanding that a nuclear manufacturer for anything other than a LWR/PWR bring a customer to the table before a review is undertaken.

    2. Allow the investor to pay for the review upfront thus providing the NRC with the resources to hire additional people to conduct the review.

    3. Put a reasonable time limit on the review. 5 or 6 years at the most. But practically a review should only take 2 years.

    Would you agree with any of these proposals?

    • Rod Adams says:

      @David and EL

      1. Stop demanding that a nuclear manufacturer for anything other than a LWR/PWR bring a customer to the table before a review is undertaken.

      This is an important point. Why would anyone with any fiscal responsibility commit to purchasing something that the government must approve BEFORE the approval process is even started?

      I spent the better part of 20 years (1991-2010) trying to bootstrap a company (http://www.atomicengines.com) aiming to design and build small, simple, safe power generators using a nuclear heat source. During that time I made dozens to hundreds of presentations to interested people, both potential investors and potential customers.

      There was almost universal excitement and interest until I got to the end of my slide deck and described the licensing process required before we could get permission to begin the still lengthy process of completing detailed design, establishing a supply chain, ordering parts, and building machines. The only people who ever got past those slides and provided money were family and friends.

      That still keeps me awake most nights.

      • EL says:

        Why would anyone with any fiscal responsibility commit to purchasing something that the government must approve BEFORE the approval process is even started?

        @Rod Adams

        Why do you consider this unusual? These seems to go with the territory of being a regulated activity. Power producers do this because they wish to operate power equipment that satisfies legal requirements (and are endeavoring to obtain a license). The NRC does not pick what prototype reactor models to advance on a commercial basis. The NRC only considers applications for design certification submitted by commercial utilities and power producers (by those who seek to operate such equipment). If Babcock & Wilcox wished to develop their products as power producers, and submit their prototype reactors for design certification on this basis, I don’t see what is standing in their way? It doesn’t seem to be the NRC.

        Their failure to secure a contract from a power producer to build their design is not the fault of the NRC. It seems to be the fault of their business and marketing departments. NuScale has such a contract (as does Areva and others with designs in the queue). Why should Babcock & Wilcox, who have been unable to secure a contract to build their reactor, be treated any different from other companies advancing their designs on a fully commercial basis? Intentions don’t merit regulation, physical structures that exist in the world and operate in a commercial market do.

        I’m not sure what alternative you are proposing. Would you rather have the government decide what reactor models to advance (rather than private markets and developers who are putting up the funds to purchase equipment that they feel is the most promising, and meets their specific needs in retail energy and consumer markets)?

        • Rod Adams says:

          @EL

          You seem hopelessly confused.

          Though it is currently possible for a reactor plant design company to be a “power producer,” that is the result of a relatively recent change in law that has not actually been implemented in practice. Up until 2005, it was actually illegal under federal law for a company like GE, Combustion Engineering, Westinghouse, or B&W (or NuScale, or Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.) to design and market power generation equipment AND to own and operate power generating equipment to produce commercial electricity. That law dated back to the 1930s and the breakup of the Insull empire of interlocking firms. (See section 13 of the PUHCA of 1935 http://www.channelingreality.com/Power/PUHCA_As_Of_1998.pdf)

          A company that builds power generating equipment has a substantially different business model and employee skill set than one that OPERATES power generating equipment and sells electricity.

          Those that operate equipment want to purchase approved equipment; they do not want to be involved in the nitty-gritty details of designing that equipment and working through the process of obtaining design certification. IF they did want to get involved in that process and were willing to invest the sustained resources required over a period that might last a decade or more before they moved into their real core competency of operating equipment, they would logically demand a substantial portion of ownership of the design. That could cause some issues later down the road when the vendor wanted to sell that equipment to other power generating companies, some of whom might be competitors with their initial customers.

          I say again – As the founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc., I have given presentations to dozens to hundreds of potential customers. Essentially all of them said they would be willing to buy once we had a product that we could sell. They were not willing to expend their resources in the process of doing detailed engineering design and working through the detailed regulatory process of getting a design certified.

          I also have a bit more knowledge of the actual level of commitment of NuScale’s customer and B&W mPower’s customer than you. It was not a lack of customer interest that resulted in B&W’s decision to scale back on mPower; it was a lack of customer financial and other resources COMMITMENT that caused the problem. The reasons for a lack of commitment before the approval process has even started is perfectly reasonable under the current uncertain regulatory regime where there is no predictable schedule and no predictable cost.