Atomic Show #234 – Update from South Australia

Ben Heard of Think Climate Consulting and DecarboniseSA.com joined me for a discussion about the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia. In early February, the South Australian government announced the formation of a royal commission to investigate the state’s future role in the nuclear fuel cycle.

As Ben explained, royal commissions are fairly rare and only formed for the most important questions. They are held in high regard and staffed with credible, unbiased members. They often spend a year or more reviewing evidence covering all aspects of the issue or question they have been formed to review. They have the power to gather evidence and take testimony. They are generally trusted to provide a factual basis for in depth discussions.

Ben also described his efforts as a PhD candidate to build functional models that quantify the potential penetration of weather dependent power sources whose output cannot be fully controlled by human beings or automated control systems. We talked at length about his view of the potential benefits of fully developing sources like industrial wind and rooftop PV and the clear need to be more specific about what is included within the “renewable” energy brand.

We spoke about the unrealistic notion that it is possible to devise a power grid that approaches 100% renewable energy; part of his thesis work will be developing models that realistically show what the limitations really are. Neither one of us believe that the number is 50% or greater, but we are not sure how much above 20% it might be. That answer will vary with geography and local weather conditions.

We discussed the habitat and land use impacts of large scale development of power sources like hydroelectric dams, wind turbines and solar panels. We mentioned the recent paper by Barry Brook and Cory Bradshaw that investigated the effects of energy system development on ecology and biodiversity conservation.

Ben will be visiting the US soon; he is scheduled to visit New Mexico and Idaho. He is looking forward to meeting up with some of the people who often read Atomic Insights.

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