Plenty of Power to the People

Energy discussions often frustrate me, partially because so many people in the discussion ignore what customers want. Perhaps my view is wrong, but my conclusion is that people really want power, not energy.

There is a fundamental difference; power is energy per unit time. Power units measure the rate at which energy can be consumed; power also comes with the notion of being able to adjust that rate with a simple flip of an on-off switch, movement of a foot on the gas pedal, the spin of a throttle valve or the push of a stick in a cockpit. (I count quite a few jet jocks among my close friends and casual acquaintances.)

It is with that thought in mind that I offer a slogan for nuclear energy that just might catch on.

Power of a ton of coal between your fingertips

Power of a ton of coal

Power of a ton of coal

About Rod Adams

16 Responses to “Plenty of Power to the People”

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  1. Joris van Dorp says:

    A good slogan.

    One thing that bothers me is the large amount of hope and expectation that is being put into the concept of Demand Side Management. I see that concept being bandied about a lot in my line of work. We are supposed to encourage the installation of equipment that would make DSM possible for households and businesses. DSM is then supposed to make energy from solar and wind easier and less costly to ‘integrate’ into the power system.

    But this is all bunkum, as is actually stated in a Greenpeace sponsored research report by EnergyNautics:

    “The DSM levels did not create significant differences to the grid infrastructure required in 2030, or the amount of CO2 emissions mitigated. With the implementation of storage mediums and EV’s, the impact in reducing the amount of curtailed energy was minimal, unless unrealistically large quantities of storage are placed at unique points within the system”

    See page 4 in this report:

    http://www.energynautics.com/downloads/competences/energynautics_EUROPEAN-GRID-STUDY-2030-2050.pdf

    I carry a copy of this report with me whenever I visit conferences on energy and sustainability. It works kind of like a crucifix in keeping at bay the most obnoxious advocates of ‘unreliables’ and it is working very well.

  2. Gareth Fairclough says:

    First of all Rod, I like the slogan and love the photo! The “fuel pellet” argument is something I’ve been using for a while now, it’s a surprisingly effective argument point to make, one of the real “killer apps” that the supporters of unreliables can’t counter without resorting to personal attacks and FUD.

    Thanks for sharing that report Joris, an interesting read. But there is something that keeps nagging at me when discussing energy solutions. If we were to go more or less all nuclear, quite literally replacing the old coal, oil and gas fired plants with reactors would the grid in it’s current form be able to function as it does? I don’t know enough about such things to come to a good conclusion but my (uneducated) guess is “yes”.
    Would we need to spend that kind of money on infrastructure if nuclear were a major player in the energy mix of Europe?
    Unreliables need to be in the most remote positions possible to work ‘effectively’ as far as I can tell and if that is the case then surely we’d be tearing up and disrupting an enormous area of our natural land laying cables and whatnot.
    Perhaps it is a good idea to keep the engineering complexity in one place rather than spread it out to the far ends of the earth?

    • Daniel says:

      The fuel pellet is cool in comparison to coal in terms of energy. But the waste generated would also be of interest. Coal is pretty linear in terms of matter and waste generated. Nuclear is not.

      The waste paradigm with nuclear would have merit to be expressed in a mathematical function. We know the energy comparison to E=MC2 with nuclear. What about the waste functions from coal and nuclear ?

      That’s a mental challenge.

      • gmax137 says:

        Well, burning one ton of coal makes almost three tons of carbon dioxide. It is released into the atmosphere. “Burning” the uranium pellet doesn’t create any CO2. It creates other things, of course. But here’s the deal – the waste stays right there in the pellet. The process doesn’t rely on the “free ride” permission to blow it’s waste into our atmosphere.

        Burning coal also results in all kinds of other crap being released into the air. Sulfur, mercury, arsenic, etc. Everything that’s included in the coal in trace amounts. Now check into how much coal we burn – I think its around a billion tons a year, just here in the US.

  3. DV82XL says:

    Your right, people really want power, not energy and they want it cheap, reliable and if at all possible, clean. Our job is to show how nuclear energy can do all these things and do them better than any other source.

    • Cal Abel says:

      The problem is hat it is not the technical assets that make nuclear energy inherently expensive but the regulatory demands on hose technical constraints and the ability of a third party to prevent capital from being used for a period of time. I think the job of showing how nuclear can be inexpensive and affecting regulation is the first priority. More natural gas explosions could bring this to a head as we have hung our collective hats on this fuel source being a white knight.

      What would the impact of a “China Syndrome” like movie where natural gas leaks threatened a city and were pushed under the rug by regulators that were in bed with industry resulting in shoddy infrastructure, then unbeknownst to everyone terrorists created a massive Fuel Air Explosive inside a city using natural gas pipelines. Lets take Boston as a possibility, there you even have the LNG tankers. This might get Markey out of office, as the plot could be enhanced by a crooked politician.

  4. Robert Steinhaus says:

    Typically, nuclear energy is used to provide base load power. While the power output of nuclear reactors can be adjusted safely, it is not easy to do so over short periods of time on the order of minutes. It is safer to operate nuclear plants such that they are slowly brought up to full power generation, and then held at that level for long periods of months and years, while other energy sources vary to adjust to changing power demand.

    If your concept of

    “power also comes with the notion of being able to adjust that rate with a simple flip of an on-off switch, movement of a foot on the gas pedal, the spin of a throttle valve or the push of a stick in a cockpit”

    then LWR based nuclear, as it is typically operated in the US as a base load power generation, is not that. Load following or peaker power generation is typically left to natural gas, big hydro, or coal fired power plants.

    There is an instant, reliable, and economical nuclear power generation technology that can provide dispatchable power on demand when needed that is not restricted to the base load only operation. That technology is capable of producing very high and widely adjustable levels of power (typically as much as 256.4 zetawatts or 2.56 x 10^23 watts) with a latency of ~39 nanoseconds and it produces only non-radioactive helium (and a tiny stream of Thorium fission products) as its nuclear waste.
    That technology is called PACER fusion, and is a form of fusion that requires no physics or engineering breakthroughs to economically build today.

    Practical fusion to fully power the planet longer than the earth has existed or the sun will burn – http://goo.gl/1DZhq

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Robert

      You are getting a little tiresome. You forget that I have operated responsive LWRs, moving from self sustaining to maximum power in less than a minute. We’ve built hundreds of those machines and operated them for millions of ocean miles over 5 decades.

      That is an enormous base on which to build a commercial enterprise.

      On the other hand, you keep advocating for a system that requires the production of tens of thousands of tiny nuclear weapons every year.

      You’ve got to be kidding me.

      • Robert Steinhaus says:

        Rod – A PACER Peaceful Nuclear Explosive is not really a weapon, it is a nuclear explosive of advanced design that is carefully designed to maximize production of heat energy (and neutrons) from fusion and minimize the production of fission products from the fissile (U-233) igniter. While you could kill someone with a low yield peaceful nuclear explosive, you could also kill someone with other energy producing fuels like burning a gallon of gasoline.

        All current Inertial Confinement Fusion concepts currently are repetitive pulse energy generators producing energy through a succession of controlled small fusion explosions.

        National Ignition Facility produces a 1.8 Mjoule explosion per shot which is the energy produced from burning 0.014 gallons of gasoline (while producing no net energy)

        Sandia z-pinch experiment produces a 30 Mjoule explosion per shot which is the energy produced by burning 0.23 gallons of gasoline (while producing no net energy)

        PACER Fusion experiment produces 1.2552 x 10^7 Mjoules per shot which is the energy produced burning 92,290 gallons of gasoline (with commercially significant large amounts of net energy)

        I would ask you which of the above fusion technologies is practical given the need to produce power to heat homes and light factories to preserve American quality of life.

        Millions of dollars are budgeted each year to fusion projects based on diffuse energy ignition of fusion plasma. Why not put some funding and effort into a system that uses nuclear fission to produce the conditions for nuclear fusion and has low technical risk and can produce safely net energy, instead of dozens of high technical risk fusion systems that have never produced an erg (of net energy).

        Note: You know allot more about nuclear Navy ships than I do. Is it unfair to say that if you frequently change power level on a submarine reactor “like flipping a switch” on a minute by minute basis you will eventually cause accelerated wear and maintenance problems?

        Dr. Ralph Moir – PACER Revisited – http://www.osti.gov/bridge/purl.cover.jsp?purl=/6718615-nhbbsq/

  5. gmax137 says:

    There is this myth out there that nuclear units can’t load follow. The belief is based, I think, on a superficial knowledge of xenon transients in the core. While the potential for xenon oscillation is a real physical phenomenon, there are a number of ways to avoid the issue (for instance, limiting the physical size of the core, as is done on the machines Rod discusses above). Even the largest of the commercial cores (11-foot long fuel with cores approaching 4000 MWth) were designed for daily load follow; the associated cost is in the boron recovery equipment. The real reason that the commercial nukes are run for baseload is that they (along with coal) provide the cheapest generation. The power producers follow a simple rule – run the cheapest plants first.

    • DV82XL says:

      The whole load following issue is nothing but a red herring and really shouldn’t be part of the discussion over nuclear energy. To the degree that load following is necessary, it can be accomplished by other means including the judicious use of natural gas. It is using combustion driven generation for base load that is the crux of the problem. Were that eliminated, we could tolerate gas peaking to the extent that it would be needed.

      • Gareth Fairclough says:

        Even if a reactor couldn’t load follow down to the minute, wouldn’t it be possible to run some pipework that causes the steam to bypass the turbines and go directly to the condenser, at the press of a button or the throw of a lever?

        • gmax137 says:

          The turbine bypass system is already in the plants, and has been since day one. It’s function is to act just as you say during load rejections (ie, when the grid wants less power than the generator is making). They probably had it on the Nautilus, tho Rod is more qualified to speak to that.

  6. EZ says:

    I like the slogan.

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