Explaining my dismissal of fossil fuel alternatives that are NOT nuclear fission
I’ve been engaging in a discussion with several commenters who strongly disagree with my assertion that atomic fission is the ONLY technology that has the technical potential to beat hydrocarbon combustion in the market. It can provide cheaper, cleaner and more reliable heat that can be converted into useful power in almost exactly the same ways that we have invented to turn combustion heat into power.
Some of that conversation is interesting enough to promote to the front page of the blog so that it is not buried deep in comment threads that few people have time to read. This post continues the conversation that I published yesterday in response to the State of the Union Address.
Commenter EL wrote:
Rod Adams wrote: “@EL, Pretend I am from Missouri. Stop pointing to academic studies and models created by “many fine people.”
I gave my rebuttal to these comments on “academic studies and models” that you so effortlessly dismiss and discount in the other thread. For those who might be interested, it’s probably worth reading the whole thread (and see if you are in agreement on the merits or deficits of new and advanced technologies, assessment of investment and regulatory risk, timing in current and future global markets, basic common ground … or whether there are some obstacles that are just too great to overcome and that engineering and markets cannot solve on a practical or cost-effective basis).
I argue my points, I think, objectively and forcefully (while I also keep an open mind). It’s my hope others will do the same (otherwise, there is little hope that any further debate will yield any positive fruit or rose petals, in honor of the upcoming holiday, and we better all hunker down and get very used to a long and bumpy ride on the non-renewable oil, coal, and natural gas crazy train).
The following response is a combination of several of my comments joined together and slightly edited to produce a more coherent, stand alone piece that is not so dependent on the context of other people’s comments.
Humans have known that there was energy that was free for the taking in the wind and in the sun for as long as we have been aware beings. Windmills and sails have been used for power for thousands of years. They were used to produce electrical power almost as soon as electricity was discovered. People have been collecting and using solar energy for tasks like salt making, curing, and drying leaves for thousands of years. The photovoltaic effect was discovered at least 110 years ago.
Don’t give me this anti technology mumbo jumbo that we have only just begun to try to figure out ways to collect useful energy from these well known sources. Don’t try to tell me that human beings have always found that hydrocarbons were just too cheap to beat; massive fortunes have been made by controlling supplies of those products and pricing them at levels that were painful for many customers.
Many highly intelligent and motivated people have been trying for a VERY long time to produce useful power from the wind and sun. They have always come away dissatisfied and looking for something that was more reliable and less capital intensive. Do you really believe that Szilard, Noddack, Frisch, Meitner, Einstein, Curie, Fermi and dozens of other equally scientifically skilled people were motivated to learn about nuclear fission because they wanted to build bombs?
I have pointed out the weaknesses in your cited studies dozens of times. Some of them assume its okay to cover large areas of land they do not own in order to collect unreliable and diffuse flows of “natural energy” from the wind and sun. Some assume we will figure out a way to economically move and safely store billions of tons of CO2, which is a gas at STP, and that it will somehow be easier than storing a few tens of thousands of tons of solid used nuclear fuel. Others think it is okay for a supplier to manage demand by turning off customer access and calling it “negawatts” and “smart grid technology.”
Some of the authors of the studies that you cite think that the solution to inherent unreliability it to connect up a whole bunch of unreliable sources spread out over thousands of square miles and hope that some of them keep producing. They ignore the costs of the wires and the costs of having to built double, triple or quadruple as much capacity as required, expecting that someone else will pay. They ignore the substantial risk of overproduction during times when most of the unreliable sources happen to be producing well at the same time that no one is terribly interested in buying the power.
It’s no surprise why demand does not correlate to production when you are trying to harness the wind and sun for power; when the weather is sunny with pleasant breezes many people decide it is a fine day to be outside instead of watching the big screen or doing laundry. Your sources also ignore the very well proven fact that both the wind and sun are frequently missing in action just when people NEED power the most – on hot, muggy evenings and nights in the summer and during frigid, still nights in the winter.
You don’t seem to mind if natural gas is the backup. You probably think it is fine since it is pretty clean and the capital cost is relatively low. Have you investigated the capital cost per unit of power when a gas plant is operated with a low CF? The really cheap, flexible gas plants are inefficient simple cycle machines; they have a high cost per unit of power if they operate a few hundred hours per year. Emissions from burning gas are not much lower than those from burning coal when the gas is burned inefficiently.
I don’t actually want to be a “part of the conversation”. If I had my druthers, I would be building nuclear energy systems that were designed to be simple, safe, reliable and extremely competitive in pricing. Those systems would be directly improving the lives of the same kinds of people that you claim to care the most about. I would let my actions and products tell my story and show how much I cared about making the world a better place.
I started writing about atomic energy after I had already started a company to build useful products, which was after I had already given up a well-paying job and invested my entire life’s savings. I even invested some generous investments from family members who trusted my knowledge about power and my judgement about the market opportunity for significantly improved technology.
Unfortunately, the laws of the same land that allow me to write as much as I want with very few restrictions has decided that allowing people like me to develop better energy systems using fission is so risky that we need to spend decades obtaining permission to get started. After a few years, I figured out that the problem was not a concern about safety, it was a concern from wealthy and powerful people that the technology that I and “many fine people” have recognized has incredible potential was a threat to their wealth and power.
You and your activities are part of the problem that prevents clean, affordable atomic energy from taking market share away from hydrocarbon combustion. You are the one who is guilty of anti science mumbo jumbo by continuously claiming there is something better that we just have not yet discovered.
I will freely admit that I do not have an open mind about energy technology. My brain has been stuffed full of knowledge about the limitations of the possible competitors and the proven, but virtually untapped technology of nuclear fission. Objectivity tends to disappear in engineers; we are trained to make choices with firm technical basis for those decisions. Open minded engineers never build anything because they are always still evaluating various options.
I think there is a basic reason why Rickover frustrated many scientists; once he had learned enough, he stopped evaluating options and started building hundreds of useful power plants that helped make the world a safer, cleaner, and more prosperous place.
They are now discovering problems with sequestering high pressure CO2 deep in the ground. Seems like this highly toxic, non inert substance is even more so when injected to great depths or into old oil/gas wells. The CO2 will combine with water, form carbonic acid and dissolve the “container.” Then there is the problem with the higher temperatures and the effects that the carbon compounds have on the walls of the “container.” It is hard to tell what compounds will be created and what they will do to this container. These toxic compounds and CO2 will leach its way to the surface creating even more toxic compounds on the way up. And these people are worried about the effects of fracking? Are their brains actually functioning?
As I have said many times about Yucca Mt. – within 100 and no more than 500 years from the time they start burying “used” fuel there someone is going to discover that the buried fuel is worth more than its weight in gold or possibly diamonds and it will not be left there long enough to “leach out into the soil.” Anyone that thinks otherwise is not worth arguing with.
I share your lack of an “open mind” in this case.
I was teaching a class on an Island powered by a large Hydro Electric dam. There was a drought at the time. The power was being rotated between areas and we only had a few hours of power a day. It was a challenge to try to teach the class. I didn’t mind sleeping on a table under a mosquito net. I didn’t mind the lack of air conditioning. I didn’t mind using a real chalk board rather than a white board or a projector. What I did mind was having the power go out at 7:30 or 8:00pm. The Sun goes down the lights come on, we eat and the lights go off while we are eating. One of the men hooked up a 12 volt light to a battery so we could keep going for an hour or so longer.
I had been studying every type of power production system for years trying to find ways to power these small island grids. I had finally come to understand Nuclear power. I understood that it was safer, smaller, MORE POWERFULL and had less environmental impact than any other system I had studied by a huge margin. Every night when the lights went out and we had to stop class or stop eating until the battery was hooked up I did a slow burn inside. I had been a big fan of Hydro power. I liked the clean power and the reliability of the systems. Now I saw the weakness – drought. As I watched the lights go out I would do a slow burn inside. I realized deeply that these power outages did not need to happen.
I understood that if a Nuclear power plant had been powering the island, there would still be power even during the drought. Not only would the lights be on for my class, but those factories in town would not be having their machines damaged by the constant power outages. With power, people would not loose their work, communications could happen, business deals could be made, water could be pumped into rice fields and homes.
The local papers began to run articles about how expensive it was to do without power. Even 40 cents an KWh was cheeper than NOT having electricity. So barge generators were installed to feed the grid, using a model that paid for the power if it was actually generated or not.
I personally knew folks who were buying fuel for a buck fifty a gallon and selling wholesale for three dollars a gallon so the stations could sell it at four dollars a gallon. I knew how many hundreds of thousands of dollars a few Megawatts is worth a year. In other words, I understood the power market and how much money there was in it. I knew who would be hurt by a substitute power source.
I was in a slow burn each night because I knew that if a Nuclear power plant had been placed on that island, a whole lot of money earned would be displaced, that is there would be millions of people who would be able to create wealth with that power. It angered me then (and still does) that the standards used for Nuclear power were unreasonable and that people were being taught to fear even the small radiation used to scan luggage, or run a cell phone tower. (Yes I know these are different types but I also know that scare mongers conflate them constantly in order to stop people flying or using a cell phone).
One other thing happened during that class. Near the end of the class, a couple of kids started scribbling on the board. I went over to see what they were doing and found them doing advanced algebra. In fact they knew more than I did. One was in 9th grade and the other in 8th. They had good teachers even in less than optimal conditions. In other words, they had the smarts necessary to actually run a Nuclear plant. What was stopping this place from using a clean, abundant, environmentally friendly source of energy?
I listen to both sides of a debate and make up my own mind. While I cannot follow the details of statistics very well, I can read reports and understand that when there is an overall decrease in the number of deaths, but the report writers want to bury that fact in technical jargon or emphasize a very small portion of the data to exaggerate “harm” that a scam is being pulled. The scam in this place is to reinforce the “Dangerous Nuclear Power” meme. Why use inferior technology when a much better solution is at hand? Usually because vast amounts of money and power are at stake.
Drought ? Nuclear plants. If I recall correctly, in cases of drought plants in the US have been asked to shut down or slow down to preserve water that is used as coolant.
So I grant you that nuclear would have fare better, but the drought could have had a nimpact on the nuke’s performance or output.
Thanks for the reply and for reading closely. Did you see the Hyperion design? It was going to last for 10 years and would then cool down for a while when a replacement was being put into place. It simply produced heat, and there were no external controls needed. You could hook that up with many types of heat exchangers to draw power and steam is only one of the possible ways.
Water makes an excellent cooling medium for the low side of a steam plant, but if your temps are high enough air cooling is possible. B&W and NuScale are both able to use air cooling in some configurations. The other point here is that you can build a pond / lake for cooling that only evaporates but does not need to feed a hydro turbine. In that case, a deep lake will still have more than enough capacity for cooling even in drought conditions.
In the case I am specifically referring to, this was on a fairly large island. With Tsuanmi and Typhoon protection built into the design, using sea water for cooling is very possible. You just have to keep out the jelly fish….
@David – Very well said, and especially powerful because these statements are coming from someone who has lived the life of energy starvation. The facile arguments of the proponents of unreliable renewable power are coming from those who have lived their lives in energy abundance, where the lights always come on when the switch is flipped.
Rod Adams wrote:
I think there is a basic reason why Rickover frustrated many scientists; once he had learned enough, he stopped evaluating options and started building hundreds of useful power plants that helped make the world a safer, cleaner, and more prosperous place.
There is a saying in engineering that there comes a time to shoot the engineer and build something. That time is certainly now with regard to nuclear energy. While it is good and necessary to do computer simulation of a reactor to make sure it will work, it has its limitations. The best simulations are done on things we understand well, so designs can be optimized to yield good operation with little risk. There is not a lot more to be learned.
The problem is in other areas that are less well understood. If we want to have good simulations there, we need to build stuff and see how well it works, so that better simulators can be built.
The promise of inexpensive nuclear energy can come only through the experience gained by building nuclear energy sources. With the right regulatory environment (similar to aircraft and automobiles), we could enter a golden age of energy where nuclear is clearly cheaper than fossil fuels including coal. Selecting an energy source for a new power plant would be a “no-brainer”. Coal-fired boilers would be replaced by nuclear reactors. We would have nuclear reactors being built frequently, with their cost decreasing because of the production experience and improved manufacturing base. There would be competition in the market between various types of reactors because the market would be large enough to support this diversity, further driving down costs.
I cannot think of a better reason to re-commission the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment reactor, and start renewing the experience that corrupt bureaucrats decided to throw away 40 years ago.
This is a question for Rod or anybody? I am fully supportive of everything Rod says.
Just a hypothetical situation. And I’m not trying to poke holes in your beliefs. If you were stranded on a desert island like a Gilligans Island and the island also had Uranium and Thorium but no access to the modern world would you ever be able to create a nuclear plant? Of course most of us are thinking no. But it does make you wonder about scenarios where an abandoned cruise ship washes up on shore but cannot float and you have access to the ships tools and engine room. The complexities of a nuclear plant are the best example of our civilized worlds best engineering and would never have evolved in primitive society. Not sure what point I am making other than the fact that we are not humbled by our own awesome discoveries. Not humbled enough to recognize that we have a gift before us that only evolved because we made science and physics an institution that allowed us to “stand on the shoulders of giants” so to speak and yet we are arrogant enough to think we ( I mean civilization as a whole) can look for better alternatives than the miracle that has been placed before us. It is very unfotunate.
@Rick – Does the island have a supply of graphite as well?
If so, then yes, I think I could build a functioning nuclear reactor and heat engine that could provide all of the power I needed for as long as I would last. The thorium would not be useful; my reactor would not have many extra neutrons to help thorium become fissile.
It’s early morning and your question has encouraged me to muse a bit. It’s my blog, so I get to determine what is “on topic.”
I have been thinking for quite a while about some long ago late night conversations regarding Ginger versus Mary Ann as a way to express personality differences.
I did not realize it at the time, but my favorite character really was “the Professor” who could apply knowledge and available materials to make life reasonably comfortable for all of his fellow people.
You are right that nuclear energy would not have been discovered or used by primitive people, but it was discovered and used by people who understood the world in which they lived, even though they did not have access to massive industrial facilities or vast quantities of wealth.
I’m no longer very religious, but I also have no particular faith in the hypothesis of random chance evolution. Creative human minds can mold the world; why can’t the force in whose image we were created do the same? Human inventions don’t evolve; they progress through a series of iterations based on experience and previously developed knowledge. Serendipity plays a role, but I have never experienced any evidence that indicates that random chance without creative force can ever result in a finished, well-organized product.
The path of our civilized development is twisty; many invention stages don’t disappear but remain comfortably in the same realm as more developed iterations. For example, we still cut rocks for structural material; we still use hand-sharpened metal to cut meat; and we still pack black powder into small metal containers to blow things up. At the same time, we build tall buildings from high strength steel; we cut meat in automated factories with lasers; and we know how to build explosives that can turn islands into craters.
Why can’t we imagine that the world in which we live took the same kind of iterative path under the direction of a creative, stubborn, learning force?
We still use little bits of paper to wipe our …
Although for many people, I suppose that the period of time just before that action has improved with technology and the introduction of the iPad, etc.
I just read your comment in haste, saw “we still use little bits of paper to wipe our a…. that action has improved with the introduction of the iPad …”, assembled a mental picture of using an iPad for said purpose, burst out laughing, and then read your comment properly!
Thanks fo a good laugh!
Well, you never know. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an app for that. 😉
I like your answer Rod. That is encouraging. It does challenge us to question the existent of a higher intelligence when such a natural order exists in the creation of fission. I have had similar thoughts about the delicate balance that keeps our atmosphere and biosphere from being destroyed. It is fitting that fission, whether seen as divine or not, be the one discovery that allows us to maintain that delicate balance.
I’m well aware of the requirements for a neutron moderator when using natural uranium fuels. I have a book or two in my library, which I’ll have with me on that island. It will take longer than Fermi’s pile did, but without any NRC slowdowns to worry about, we’ll move along smartly to produce power.
Rod, you on your island would probably have better luck constructing plants than all of us stuck here in the NRC mess. This begs the question, can I come? Haha
You could always extract heavy water from the sea around this island if you were short on pure graphite deposits 🙂
The Oklo natural fission reactor comes to mind. Fuel fabrication, reactor construction and waste disposal without any intervening creative force.
The Oklo reactors were analogs to a forest fire, not to a power production system.
I have always thought of the Oklo reactors as a testament to how *natural* fission is. It is not some odd destructive power that humans developed completely outside the bounds of nature, it is a common process that even mother nature likes to dabble with from time to time.
“I have never experienced any evidence that indicates that random chance without creative force can ever result in a finished, well-organized product.”
But the ecosystems and organisms of the Earth are neither finished, nor organized. They have clearly evolved into existence and are still evolving, and the evidence of this is overwhelming. My mind is even more closed regarding this than regarding my conviction that fission is the number one power source. I’m sorry to say, your reputation just took a hit.
I’m not talking about ecosystems, but about the individual organisms that make up our inventory of life on earth. All of them provide evidence of order, not disorder. They have delicately balanced systems performing tasks that would otherwise require carefully engineering design. In fact, many engineers are working hard to emulate the processes performed in such natural activities as photosynthesis.
It really does not matter to me whether or not you find me to be a credible information source and it does not matter to me if you make that decision based on a misunderstanding of the thoughts I’m sharing here.
Random chance plus selection for better properties does, though. Even in engineering; that’s what genetic algorithms are about. By exploring regions of the solution space that humans wouldn’t, they often find optima that would otherwise have been missed.
I’d also argue with you about living things being “well-organized”. The human body is an example of a half-baked adaptation from a quadrupedal body style. We have back and knee problems because our legs and spines aren’t fully adapted to bipedalism. Other things are cobbled together; aerobic metabolism is tacked on to glycolysis, not a separate and optimized pathway, and the mammalian brain is built in layers of newer developments on top of structures like older forms of life, with many parts of the prefrontal cortex being unique to primates.
Biological structures ultimately originate from DNA, and if you study the structure of genes and regulatory regions it’s easy to see how these things happen. It’s hard to create something completely de novo, but it’s relatively easy to change a gene regulator or duplicate a gene and re-purpose the copy. These changes occur by point mutation, duplication or loss of stretches of DNA, insertion of retroviruses, and a host of other effects. Whenever something arose that was advantageous, it tended to be conserved and spread; disadvantageous changes tended to be lost (along with their unfortunate bearers). There’s no intelligence required, and a parsimonious explanation leaves it out.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to write a sermon.
And something that just popped up in the news:
@Ron: It’s a pity that it doesn’t matter to you what people think about your credibility. I think you do important work in nuclear power and that should not be tarnished by an uneducated belief in (or even openness for) intelligent design. I would recommend that you invest a few hours in researching this matter and then come back to us.
You could start by reading how evolution often get stuck in local maximas that it can’t get out of, even though there obviously are better global maxima. Here is a good list.
“I’m not talking about ecosystems, but about the individual organisms that make up our inventory of life on earth. All of them provide evidence of order, not disorder. ”
They have quite a bit of evidence of both, actually, and lots of logic and experimental evidence on why and in what conditions we could see the former.
I don’t need to convert you to the cause of evolution and you don’t need to be converted, so we won’t go into the details. But I’m sure it irks you when when a non-engineer makes sweeping statements about the ‘evidence’ they see in regards to nuclear energy, and comes out saying that solar or wind are clearly the superior energy sources or some other sort of rubbish. Try to keep that in mind when you make judgments about other fields with complex and vast intellectual and experimental traditions.
I really quite confidant that if you went back to school now and worked your way through a graduate degree in biology, you’d change your tune. When you don’t have the knowledge to make a good judgement yourself, but you still don’t want to trust the experts, than at least keep an open mind.
I happen to agree with Rod on this. The mechanism for change at the nano scale level is not adequate for the effect. I do have a Nuclear power / radiation based question for you about this specific issue. Since I began to study Nuclear power I came to realize how good a radiation shield that WATER is. Seems as though you can swim at the top of a spent cooling pool and not even get as much radiation as a good strong Sun is giving from the other direction, (assuming the pool would be open to the Sun).
Given this natural radiation shielding. How did the mechanism for evolution (after the first life began to duplicate itself) work under the Ocean? I understand that it is radiation working on DNA that provides the “raw materials” for random chance to give some opportunity for improvement in survivability? Very little radiation down there.
Could you help me with that?
I also cannot find any account by Evolutionists of how that first life came into being. Can you point me to a good source that explains the chemical, and the quantum mechanical steps it took to assemble that first life? The best that bio engineers can do so far is to tack on some extra information onto DNA and then run it back through an already living cell to clean it up and then put that into a living cell which can then duplicate. I remember reading one article in Sci Am that had a researcher who worked for 20 years to create simple machines and boxes on a nano scale using DNA strands.
So, I also have my doubts about random chance working with radiation on DNA as being adequate to explain the quantum mechanical connections we find in the nervous system or many of the existing highly integrated and interdependent systems that make up life. I believe (notice I have moved now from science to faith) that we are created. Of course if you believe (notice you have moved now from science to faith) that all life is the produce of purposeless non-directed chance you are welcome to struggle with the questions I have raised.
Nuclear radiation has a relatively small effect on DNA compared to thermal agitation and free-radical byproducts of metabolism. Copying errors in transcription (duplications, deletions and point mutations) are also major sources of variation.
We are not bad at collecting information/knowledge and expanding and creating based on that knowledge. Unfortunately they are a minority and not so influential when it comes to decidng large scale adoption of practical technologies. Profit is always the prime motivator.
Not that it matters a great deal but I like to think of ourselves as co-creators with a “higher intelligence.”
We seem to be pretty good at getting the technology right but emotional, psychological and humanist insights do not seem to be part of the shared intelligence with that “higher intelligence.”
Since we are on an inspirational bent, lets be reminded of what President Eisenhower said in his now-famous Atoms for Peace speech at the U.N. (December 8, 1953, just under 60 years ago):
“Who can doubt, if the entire body of the world’s scientists and engineers had adequate amounts of fissionable material with which to test and develop their ideas, that this capability would rapidly be transformed into universal, efficient, and economic usage.”
That is one of my favorite quotes from any President.
Rod – Your nice article spends a reasonable amount of time considering diffuse energy based challengers to nuclear fission, but spends no time considering the potential of practical forms of Deuterium-Deuterium nuclear fusion, whose potential is very great.
Why completely ignore nuclear fusion and not even give it a one sentence acknowledgement of “maybe someday” like most energy commentators?
There is a form of nuclear fusion that could be built today that requires no physics or engineering breakthroughs to build safely and produces net energy (more power out than it takes to operate the fusion reactor). This field tested system is a form of Inertial Confinement Fusion.
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.
The complete conversion of deuterium nuclear fuel releases an energy content of 250 x 10^15 joules per metric ton of deuterium. The quantity of deuterium in the world’s oceans is estimated at 4.6 x 10^13 metric tons. Deuterium present in seawater will yield around 5 x 10^11 TW-year of energy. In the year 2011 the entire planet consumed around 16 TW-years of energy, which means that the energy content of the deuterium in seawater would be enough for 31 billion years of energy supply.
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 very 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 in 50 years of trying)?
Fusion based Energy Longer than the earth has existed or the Sun will burn –
We’ve discussed this in detail. Fusion is too hard. There is no need for it. Fission is good enough for the foreseeable future.
Hey, Rod Adams,
I’m a big fan of yours, so please allow me to explain that evolution is less a matter of random chance than I or you are. The point is, that if an egg and sperm from your parents or mine had been randomly flawed enough in just one codon, to produce a fetus unable to go thruogh the necessary development stages, that fetus is selected out. That’s called natural selection. There are a considerable proportion of spontaneous “abortions” by this process. Richard Dawkins’s book, “The Blind Watchmaker” includes an account of an evolution program he wrote, which generates quite a remarkable variety of drawings from an amazingly simple set of mathematical rules — the equivalent of genes. The operator, the selection agent replacing cruel Nature, picks one out of a set of random small “mutations” in that small set of rules, and the selected genes proceed to evolve as th operator picks and chooses.
The choices in Nature are not necessarily the weather and the food supply, some are predators, some are prey (oops, I already said food supply), some are disease. But in the case of the peafowl, the peahen evidently must be the agent that chooses, and chose in the past, for progressively more spectacular cock-tails, or strictly speaking peacock fans. Dawkins even points out that it’s a positive feedback system, because a peahen that mates with a well endowed peacock is likely to have male chicks inclined to grow splendid fans, and female chicks inclined to choose the most spectacular cocks.
@ Albert Rogers
Except that you are describing a teleological system not a random one. Also, Dawkins (a very brilliant man and a good writer) wrote that book in the 1970’s. The current understanding of Biology is a systems approach at a much smaller nano level than Dawkins had access to when he wrote that book. I would like to see Dawkins use his amazing writing skills to write a book on the blind watchmaker constructing the atp synthase motor. That is, a step by step account that can be reproduced in a lab (otherwise it is just a story) that builds this motor by small random steps, each improving on the next. Or if the motor can be assembly suddenly by a sudden coming together of likely (possible) chemicals to create the motor and the DNA instructions that produce the motor at the same time. The description can’t have a teleological input – aiming to get the motor – it must be random and as likely to fail as not (otherwise it is not random). Frankly, I can’t image how that would happen. Perhaps Dawkins can.
That you cannot imagine how such a structure could evolve is no proof that it did not.
Also all statements about processes can be trivially translated into teleological statements, and vice versa, but true teleological statements structurally are more explanatory in nature. In other words the appearance of what looks like teleology may be an artifact of language and not really part of the argument.
As S. H. P. Madrell stated: “the proper but cumbersome way of describing change by evolutionary adaptation [are often] substituted by shorter overtly teleological statements for the sake of saving space, but that this should not be taken to imply that evolution proceeds by anything other than from mutations arising by chance, with those that impart an advantage being retained by natural selection.”
This is known as “the argument from incredulity”. People were once incredulous that the Earth was a spheroid, or that it was not the center of the Universe. Facts of nature are not limited by what humans are willing to believe.
I am not the one postulating a mechanism I cannot demonstrate. It is clear that intelligent people can construct nanoscale machines in a lab. We read of their successes almost weekly. It is not clear that random, non-directed, non purposeful processes can construct machines on a nanoscale. When I say not clear – I mean never actually demonstrated.
If the mechanism is effective – able to actually achieve the result – it must have happened suddenly at some point. It must be likely enough to be replicable. I am asking that demonstrations of the ability to construct atp synthase using random chance be demonstrated.
The construction of this enzyme must show 1. how the molecule came together; 2. how the instructions for continuous reproduction of this molecule in the cell was developed; 3. how the hardware that helps construct the molecule also came together. The order of the steps is not important, rather the outcome of a working system is what I am expecting.
If these elements can be demonstrated in a lab using only random, non-purposeful steps, I will be convinced that this is a true description of the way the world actually is.
I have flown around the world. I have experienced it’s roundness.
@David: “I am asking that demonstrations of the ability to construct atp synthase using random chance be demonstrated.”
Why atp synthase? Because you ID people have proposed that lots of other complex stuff, like eyes, are “irreducible” in their complexity, i.e. cannot come into existence step-by-step where each step is an improvement from the former state. You have then been served with plausible explanations on why you are wrong, you have been shown some intermediary forms, and then you move the goal posts. ATP synthase is your current hold-out, and it’s as silly as the rest of them.
I won’t debunk your argument in detail here, as there is no point. Anyone who is interested can just google “irreducible complexity”, sift through the enormous amount of ID pseudo-science and find the real science. One example is here.
Jeppen, the entire site http://talkorigins.org is devoted to the debunking of the claims of creationists.
Excuse me gentleman,
But you are the ones postulating a mechanism without proof. I can demonstrate that intelligent people can construct machines on a nano-scale. Can you demonstrate that random non-teleological processes can construct machines on a nano-scale? Again, the standard for this is not a reshuffling of existing parts. But the initial construction of these machines. If they were assembled randomly, without any purposeful input – that assembly must have been sudden in the first place.
It is not an argument from incredulity, but an argument from sufficient cause. You are nitpicking my language rather than producing links to demonstrations that the mechanism claimed has the effect seen.
First of all this is not the place for this sort of discussion, second, you obviously have a weak grasp of evolutionary biology or you wouldn’t be asking the questions you are nor would you attempt to constrain the argument the way trying to do. Really now, trying to invoke teleology to discredit evolution is old, and has been attempted by far greater minds than yours. I suggest you try and study the topic of evolution and some of the attempts to use sufficient cause type arguments to undermine it.
The other thing is that if you have a different hypothesis, the onus is on you to provide proof, not on anyone else to prove you wrong. I personally don’t care if you wish to go through life not believing in evolution, you seem to care that other will which is why you have brought this argument up. OK, now prove you have a better model – don’t assert that you can’t grasp the fundamentals of the standard one and demand proof tailored so that it fits your set of constraints.
Finally it is a matter of semantics and the appearance of apparent teleology in casual statements made on the subject of evolution are common and are just artifacts of language. It is the same thing that is happening when one refers to a ship as ‘she’ technically this is anthropomorphism, but in reality this is only a common cultural practice and does not indicate that there is any belief that the ship is a woman or any attribution of human characteristics
I know that deuterium-deuterium is easier to achieve than H+H+H+H ->He, but still I was flabbergasted to realise that the data on the core of the Sun show that a human-sized volume of it doesn’t supply as much energy as that volume of human requires just to sustain life. A bumblebee sized volume is even more inadequate to supply a bumblebee.
I just thought you’d like to know this.
In other words, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”
Robert Heinlein noted this in one of his books a few decades ago. One of his characters had an internal dialog that went something like, “The human body generates more heat per cubic inch than the Sun. Of course, the Sun has many more cubic inches….”
This fact also leads to an interesting (to me anyway) reflection on the ratio of surface area to volume of spheres. The Sun’s much smaller ratio of surface area to volume means that even though it generates heat at a lower volumetric rate than the human body, it’s surface must be hundreds of times hotter in order to radiate away the heat.
Actually, the surface of the Sun is only about 20 times absolute human body temperature. But that’s my internal dialogue doing nit-picking….
I forgot to convert to Kelvin first. Doh.
I’ve come across a unique, dramatic, and (to me) interesting way that atomic energy was used to mitigate the release of the massive amount of greenhouse gases associated with methane production:
Shortly after the Soviet PNE (Peaceful Nuclear Explosives) Program was established, an urgent industrial problem was brought to the leaders of the program – could an underground nuclear explosion be used to put out a gas well fire that had been raging for some 3 years?
On December 1, 1963, while drilling gas Well No. 11 in the Urtabulak gas field in Southern Uzbekistan about 80 km southeast of Bukhara, control of the well was lost at a depth of 2450 m. This resulted in the loss of more than 12 million m3 of gas per day through an 8-inch casing, enough gas to supply the needs of a large city, such as St. Petersburg. Formation pressures were about 27@300 atmospheres.
Over the next three years, many attempts were made using a variety of techniques to cap the well at the surface or to reduce the flow and extinguish the flames. However, because the bottom 1000m of the casing had not yet been cemented, such attempts led to diversion of the gas into nearby wells and to serious personnel safety problems because of the high H2S content of the gas. Underground attempts were hampered by the fact that the location of the lower portion of the hole had not been logged at the time control was lost.
Finally, in the fall of 1966, a decision was made to attempt closing the well with the use of a nuclear explosive. It was believed that a nuclear explosion would squeeze close any hole located within 25-50 m of the explosion, depending on the yield. Two 44.5-cm (13.5-in) diameter slant wells, Holes No. 1c and 2c, were drilled simultaneously. They were aimed to come as close as possible to Hole No. 11 at a depth of about 1500 m in the middle of a 200-m-thick clay zone. This depth was considered sufficient to contain the 300-atmosphere pressure in the gas formation below. A number of acoustic and electromagnetic techniques were used to estimate the distance between Hole No 11 and inclined explosive emplacement hole at 1450 m. The final estimate for the closest distance between Hole No. 11 and Hole No. lC was 35 +/- 10 m.
The location for the explosive in Hole 1c was cooled to bring it down to a temperature the explosive could withstand. A special 30-kt nuclear explosive developed by the Arzamas nuclear weapons laboratory for this event was emplaced in Hole 1c and stemmed. It was detonated on September 30, 1966.
Twenty-three seconds later the flame went out, and the well was sealed.
“I will freely admit that I do not have an open mind about energy technology. My brain has been stuffed full of knowledge about the limitations of the possible competitors and the proven, but virtually untapped technology of nuclear fission. Objectivity tends to disappear in engineers; we are trained to make choices with firm technical basis for those decisions. Open minded engineers never build anything because they are always still evaluating various options.”
This puts me in mind of a discussion I read recently.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “A mind is a like a parachute. They both work when open.”
But the discussion I read carried the analogy a ways further and pointed out that the purpose of a parachute is not to stay open indefinitely. It is to stay open long enough to carry the person to a safe landing somewhere. One can argue that the purpose of an open mind is to let one consider all the options intelligently and reach a usable, near optimal conclusion, but once the facts are evaluated, absent strongly new evidence, there is no need for the mind to remain open on that topic.
Thanks to author Timothy Zahn for the philosophical insight.
Another variant of this I’ve seen goes something like “The purpose of opening one’s mind is to close it on something solid.”
This research may be of some interest: https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news-events/press-releases/rethinking-wind-power
Our good friends over at the Oil Drum have posted a very good piece from Luis de Sousa (titled “The Price of Solar Power“) on the impact of zero marginal cost renewables on evolving electricity markets, the role of Feed In Tariffs (stabilizing prices in concurrency markets), adverse impacts to baseload and very high variable cost fossil fuel resources (that are getting squeezed out of markets), and the increasing shift to competitive off-grid solutions and commercially viable storage alternatives.
I thought this article was worth bringing to attention to readers here (several users here have already commented on the author’s website, where this post originally appeared), but the discussion has been far more thorough and robust on the Oil Drum site.
Some highlights from the article:
1) Solar levelized costs are beating grid prices in many locations (even with poor solar resources). Cost continue to decline, and many recent improvements have yet to reach the market.
2) Merit order effect is real and having a large impact on price and market structure. See graphs from companion piece, or summary from more official source here.
3) Impact is changing the competitive market structure for energy resources, especially for those that can’t adjust to load (baseload generators), or have very high variable or marginal costs.
So far, according to de Sousa, the response of legacy producers (lobbying government for reforms) has been to scale back FIT programs, cancel subsidies, minimize RE portfolio standards, or even delay transmission additions (needed for fuller adoption and management of renewables). As he suggests, this is not a sign of weakness but of strength of renewables: “The actions recently taken in Europe against solar power are not a sign of failure but rather a consequence of the highly successful progress of PV technologies.” Perhaps?
What’s clear from the piece is that levelized costs of renewables are dropping fast, RE projects are relatively easy to finance with FIT rates (or other price supports) in the mix, and such reforms are changing how energy markets work (and significantly lowering the costs of energy in deregulated markets for ratepayers and industrial consumers … even when FIT rates are much higher than market price of electricity). And hinting at the future, storage (at modest 6 or 12 hour intervals) is likely to be a game changer in the industry.
It’s an interesting piece, and well worth a look for those interested in electricity market design and structure (and the impact of new developments on price, grid operations, policy aims and objectives, and changing incentives and opportunities for both developers and consumers alike).
Just because your golf buddies ask you to lower your handicap by a few points doesn’t mean that you’re ready to play in the Masters, nor does it mean that you’re not still a crappy golfer.
Just how desperate are these solar boosters? Are they really proud to be competing for the “most improved beggar” award? How sad.
Not sucking as much as everybody expected is hardly a “game changer.”
Have you looked at study (or is this just a boilerplate snarkiness and leaping before you look)?
Could you please explain further. Are you suggesting we don’t do merit orders by low marginal cost in power supply curves. Exactly how would that work to the advantage of nuclear?
I believe the study suggests it’s nuclear that is in need of a handicap (and not the other way around). Can nuclear compete in a market where there isn’t capital cost recovery (regulated AFUDC rates), or where there are non-linear dispatch rules? It’s unclear to me what you are saying in your comment.
Your “study” is more like a marketing brochure than a fact based study.
Solar PV economics cannot take a path similar to computers because the energy density of the sun is fixed. Even if collectors and inverters were free, solar would still be uncompetitive because its output cannot be controlled.
The sun doesn’t come up every day? Why be so detached from current energy markets to make yourself almost entirely irrelevant to the conversation. To hear yourself describe it, it’s a wonder anybody gets any reliable electricity when they turn on an appliance or light switch.
I’m sure you can do better. Care to give it a try (or is this the best you can do)?
For solar collection systems, no, the sun does not come up every day. Have you been paying attention to the weather while you were living here in the real world, not on some kind of fantasy marketers brochure? I know enough about you and where you live to know that you have spent some time camping in Canada. You must have learned that there are days when the weather is simply nasty all day long. How much solar energy do you think can be collected through thick cloud cover with pouring rain?
You might have also noticed that the days get kind of short sometimes. In some parts of the world where there are people living, winter days can be really short to even non existent. For people who do not have abundant sources of power, winter can be a time of virtual hibernation.
Sure, people have reliable power – by burning fossil fuel. I want to reduce that consumption by replacing it with fissioning uranium and thorium while producing zero emissions. Why do you consider that to be detached from the energy markets. Sure, nuclear is not doing as well as it should, and it is not terribly popular with decision makers who often have conflicts of interest because they love selling hydrocarbons instead. So what? Changing that situation is why I do what I do and why I spend as much time sharing the truth about atomic energy technology as I do.
Let’s stay in the real world where the wind blows on god’s schedule, not man’s and where the vagaries of solar energy have been part of man’s motivation for finding other sources of power for thousands of years. Uranium and thorium are the lastest discovery in that quest; they are orders of magnitude better than any previously discovered sources.
It has been a while. I have been busy. Sure, let’s do better.
1. Sure the Sun comes up every day, and goes down every day. But the cost of batteries to store that Sun is very expensive. When I did the calculations for my home in a country without any Government subsidies, I added up several thousands of dollars for batteries, which would last me about 6 to 8 years and need to be replaced. (10 years is a dream, without very careful maintenance).
I read the battery news for years before giving up. Every article had nearly the same text. “Wow, we just found a super duper break through! With our break through all those XXX technologies will now be possible. We only need X more years to finish the research…..” Most of the news writers seemed to be cutting and pasting articles because they “had” to.
2. “Entirely Irrelevant to the conversation….” So, unless we agree that Solar and wind are “relevant” to the “conversation” we are “irrelevant.” Let’s play with what you are saying for a bit.
a. What is the conversation about? Is it about getting as many renewables dispatched as possible? Is it about reducing CO2 in the atmosphere? Is is about transferring wealth from some people to others? Is it about a future where we have to do less with less? What is this conversation?
For me this conversation is about providing the most amount of power to the most number of people with the least impact on the environment. In every one of these points Nuclear power is a hands down winner. Especially, in the long term.
Let’s take a look at that conversation and see if we are irrelevant.
My daddy taught me that a small part of a big pie is much better than a really big part of a small pie. So let’s see what size our pies are.
Solar = about 200 watts / sq meter (flat you cannot stack them for some reason).
Nuclear = about 20 MW in a 30 meter cube. (Some a whole bunch more).
So, even a small part of that pie will be much larger than the whole solar pie. Why should I peddle around on a really fancy tricycle when there is a Porsche 911 waiting?
3. Economics – will the price go down? The article is clearly about how Europe is busy destroying it’s industrial base and shifting it to Asia. Making electricity “cheaper” is making the grid unreliable since there are not revenues to pay for the times when the Sun is down and the wind keeps blowing. These are real costs that must be born to keep the lights on for everyone. With fewer customers buying and more outlets selling (while the government buys) the remaining electricity is VERY expensive. It has to be in order to keep the systems working. Strange thing that – you have to pay for those big systems that actually move the electricity around.
The article assumes that SUBSIDIZING the purchase of Solar in the first place and the SUBSIDIZING the generation of power is the right way to go. It is assumed, not challenged or examined. (i.e. by comparing the overall actual effects of competing power generation schemes). Panting breathlessly the author is trying to point out that with prices crashing below cost it MIGHT be possible to make a 20 year purchase that may keep paying off if Governments keep giving us money.
“Governments should be working towards the complete integration of solar systems into the grid, not to their exclusion. In the first place they must reckon that only by using schemes like feed-in tariffs can they guarantee the long term permanence of solar producers in the grid. With marginal generation costs close to 0 €/kWh, these systems will never be able to yield proper cash flows in the liberalised electricity market. If the investment on grid connected solar technologies is to continue to come from private investors somehow stable revenues must be guaranteed in the long term. Looking at laws in member states like Luxembourg some advantageous changes become obvious: first of all extend the feed-in tariff to the whole lifetime of the technology and then lower their values.”
You see, I understand that while some consumers can generate electricity using solar power, I also understand that I have to pay for their power. I have to pay for their un-reliability (paying for infrastructure). I get taxed to pay for their subsidies that make the electricity “cheap” for them but not inexpensive for me. I loose my job in a factory because power in Asia is reliable enough to build stuff there. I live in an Apartment. So do millions of others who pay for these foibles.
Finally, I did research on building a bio fueled power plant in Indiana. I found the greatest barrier was the low cost of electricity. The economy was pretty good compared to other places and our little 35MW plant would have been a nice retirement income. But wholesale electricity at 8 cents / kwh made it challenging to figure out how to pay back the loans for the plant. On the other hand, there were several factories still in town because they could still afford to operate.
When Solar power backed by conventional batteries gets below 8 cents an hour let’s talk. But you still won’t be able to run factories…
@David. Thanks for your input David. I take it you won’t be surprised that I differ with some of your views. This seems rather straightforward to me (people don’t always agree), and technology options necessarily involve an evaluation of different values, risks, and tradeoffs (and not everyone shares the same view). But what is bothersome to me is how conventional and predictable the conversation has become. I’m at a loss for how to break out of it. You give me arguments about nuclear perfection, and I give you arguments about real world development challenges (and commercial viability of sustainable alternatives), and never the twain shall meet. We simply stand in our respective corners and sharpen our knives (bringing out old arguments and refining them to near certain and clear rhetorical perfection).
I think changing circumstances in global energy markets, nuclear costs, public acceptance, international finance, environmental policy, externalized risk, technology innovation, price volatility of non-renewable fuels, and more are reshaping our world and changing the fundamental dynamics of the energy debate. Here are some specific replies to your observations.
Batteries are hardly the only game in town, and we don’t run complex energy systems off a single resource (solar in your example). I’m pretty sure you are aware of the complex options in this area, and the engineering principles behind them. With fossil fuels still at a relatively low cost, battery development has not been robust (or a sexy field for new research funding). We do have breakthroughs, in other storage technologies as well, but nobody is in a rush to develop them (fossil fuels still dominate the debate). Distributed generation, balancing resources, demand management, grid enhancements, adequate resource planning … we know how to do this (and it’s not particularly complicated). We’ve been doing energy storage effectively for over 40 years. We just have little current incentive to do much more of it (other than niche research programs in government and universities, and auto makers starting to get into the fray).
Good example. I feel the conversation has changed. There is broad consensus that we can’t meet current environmental, consumption, and demand growth projections without significant attention to conservation and efficiency as dominant values in our energy system. More power (endless power) is an illusion, and is not a credible alternative in today’s world.
For a resource that has only reached 13 percent of global production (and is currently in decline), your goal of “most power for the most people” is a long ways from being met. How much longer do we have to wait. How do we scale nuclear to countries with unstable governments (who are continuing to pollute with the dirtiest of energy resources). Do you think there might be other alternatives that are better suited to these locations, bring greater international security and broader humanitarian, environmental, and economic development opportunities (and that modern, industrial, and highly diversified stable Western democracies could be leading the way)?
Yes. I understand you see it this way. But do you think it is correct? Energy costs have been lowered as a result of new supplies (and keeping demand growth under control). Factories are exempt from RE surcharges, and are seeing lower energy rates. Reliability of energy system in Germany is among the highest in Europe. Germany has a very successful industrial policy, and it seems to be complemented by growth in renewables. The same appears to be the case elsewhere.
I understand you want public investment and subsidies re-directed to your preferred energy alternative (nuclear). Is this the most effective use of these limited funds. The ideal of fully un-subsidized energy doesn’t exist in today’s world (and it is unlikely to change anytime soon). The conversation is about effectiveness of subsidies, not whether they should exist or not.
A line in the sand … I get it! So how is new nuclear doing (with new power plants in Europe projected at around £165/MWh). The article is compelling about average wholesale rates, and how you get cost savings from low marginal cost energy supplies.
If only we all had such pretty rose colored glasses? You certainly have great personal affection for your preferred technology (and some real down home folksiness to back it up), but I’m not sure this is an adequate basis for making meaningful and informed resource development decisions.
For a development program that is only a year and a half old, meeting most of your peak demand (summer and winter) with solar and wind is pretty good. 8.2% gross generation from wind, and 5% gross generation from solar. And wholesale power prices at an all time low (reduction of 15% over last year, mostly due to solar). From available graphs (see larger report too), it even looks fairly predictable and controllable (with generation consistently matching demand). Wind production is at high in winter (when solar production is at low). With an additional 25 GWe of offshore wind, energy targets of 30% by 2030, broad carbon reduction goals, competitive cost savings in efficiency and conservation, it all appears to be heading in the right direction (and Germany keeps its reputation as technology innovator, and supply hub for net regional energy exports).
With new nuclear in Europe clocking in at £165/MWh, I have to ask where this is all going. It’s worth thinking about evolving markets, consumer expectations and preferences, and where development options can be expanded (and how they will fit in). And yes, we do share common goals of a reliable grid, sustainable, low impact on environment, low risk, and boost to jobs, technology innovation, market competitiveness, economic growth, and energy security.
What are you talking about when you say the following?
“For a development program that is only a year and a half old, meeting most of your peak demand (summer and winter) with solar and wind is pretty good.”
What do you consider to be the starting line for this development program?
@El: First, electricity demand is hugely, hugely, concentrated to countries that are stable. Countries that are so unstable that they are unsuited to nuclear power can use fossils for the little electricity they consume.
Second, remember Germany bragging that half of its electricity came from solar PV during a few summer hours last year. That was at 4% penetration. At 20% penetration, 250% of consumption would have been solar that day, which means most would have been thrown away somehow. Same goes for wind.
What this means is that spot prices for electricity will go towards zero or below for the days and hours there are lots of wind or sun. This means however cheap you produce it, any investments above 20% will be mostly wasted. So how do you produce the other 60%?
And I don’t even want to think about that Germany increased its coal generation in 2012. They are not closing coal, just nuclear, and their goals beyond closing down nuclear are slideware that don’t stand a snowballs chance in hell. The climate, the consumers and the victims of coal cancer are the losers. Germany has lost 25-30 years already and are very determined to lose at least 10 more. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Agonizing.
That’s not correct. Solar is not being curtailed in Germany (yet). 4% is an aggregate number for the month (or year), correct? As a share of peak generation in 2012, the maximum daily amount was 0.19 TWh on May 05 (meeting some 15.2% of total demand). There is still a lot of room to grow.
The detailed energy statistics for Germany in 2012 are provided by Fraunhofer (and are well worth a look).
The system seems to be in pretty good shape and balance. I’m not sure what you think is so bad about negative or very low peak energy wholesale prices? That’s how a market is supposed to perform, and has the effect of pushing coal and other high marginal cost fuel resources off the grid. Renewables are doing just what they are designed to do (displace other non-renewable resources), and on a cost effective basis. This is good evidence of a market working.
There are obviously concerns if this goes too far (and they have not reached that point in Germany yet) … although you hear a lot of complaining from legacy producers (nuclear among them). Germany at some point will need better market integration to handle higher levels of renewables. Renewables are typically not participating in these markets (because of feed-in rates, PPAs, quota schemes, or premium options), and distortions can occur at higher levels. There are many tools available for dealing with this: capacity payments, limits on spot price, demand side management (Denmark boosts electricity demand via smart grid), independent market pool for low marginal cost renewables (with costs arising from deviation of agreed upon pool size and delivered energy), etc. I’m sure many of these options will be developed … and market participants will get their fair share. But crybabies (used to getting unfettered access to unaccountable profits) are going to have to adjust.
I’d really like to know what you see as an optimal alternative?
I’ve looked over Fraunhofer study, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for commercially available and cost effective nuclear. You can combine nuclear with brown coal and get a combined total for baseload, and this is somewhere in the range of 20 – 25 GW for the month (meeting 26 – 33% of peak demand). I understand it’s “agonizing” that Germany is currently producing much of this energy with coal, I agree with you, but they aren’t counting on this as being a permanent condition. They are phasing out old baseload coal plants, and phasing in newer and more efficient flexible units. In the near term, I understand they want to meet much of their baseload requirements with a mix of offshore wind, and balancing reserves of coal and natural gas. In the long term, they are hoping an active research program from “Energiewende” (on energy storage, CCS, software, grid enhancements, etc.) will pay dividends. Current pumped storage capacity stands at 2 – 3 GW (p. 45 of Fraunhofer study). Boosting this, for obvious reasons, would do a great deal to bolster grid reliability, efficiency, and better integration of any current and future energy system or market.
I suppose you think this is fanciful stuff (and is high risk for uncertain future rewards). But what’s the alternative? Baseload to 30%, and business as usual for the rest?
I suppose you think this is fanciful stuff (and is high risk for uncertain future rewards). But what’s the alternative? Baseload to 30%, and business as usual for the rest?
My preferred alternative is a grid that approaches the success of France, Sweden or Switzerland, Vermont, the US submarine fleet or the US aircraft carrier fleet in pushing fossil fuels out of the power generation market so that they can focus on the markets where nuclear fission cannot be applied.
That result is a world in which valuable hydrocarbon resources are conserved for future generations and where emissions of greenhouse gases fall back to within the range for which natural processes – perhaps with some assistance from enhanced cultivation of trees and even some CO2 capture from the atmosphere – can achieve a system balance.
Germany’s decision to build a large quantity of more efficient and flexible coal plants is still a decision that will result in greatly increased emissions compared to the alternative of continuing to operate their nuclear plants and building more efficient and flexible versions that are available today – and have been for many years.
With every comment, EL, you are reinforcing my growing realization that you favor an “anything but nuclear” path that includes lignite as one of your favored fuels.
Keep on writing; we will keep on disagreeing in public. I have no worries about which of our visions is more attractive for the people that you claim to represent, though yours is probably more “popular” in circles of certain decision makers that cling to their Establishment wealth and seek to delay the disruption that nuclear fission acceptance will inevitably cause.
They are taxing the Nuclear plants to give money to solar.
They are building new coal plants to make sure that Nuclear does not come on line.
They are making sure that their policies ensure an outcome rather than allowing energy to compete on a level playing field.
Yes, we will need massive numbers of Nuclear power plants to make up the needed process heat, ship propulsion and other power needs.
When I look into the future and measure the upcoming population of the earth at about 10 billion. When I see that the penetration of cell phones and consumer electronics has reached most of the current population and will likely reach nearly all the next 3 billion coming along. I realize we need VAST amounts of power.
Your solution – do less with less. (negawatts)
My solution – build with our best. (megawatts).
Solar is a toy solution. The real big boys are Coal, Natural gas, Petroleum, and Nuclear with Hydro thrown in where it can work.
You can disagree with me that Solar can run a factory – hey you might even find ONE factory that is being run on a test case. But I bet it is not being run 24/7 like most factories do. I will also bet it is not a normal factory where they build parts like the one my wife worked in. They burn through energy in those places like no bodies business.
You gloss over energy density like it does not even matter. Why?
How about Myanmar? Where folks were fighting to keep their lands from being flooded so China could build a new Hydro plant to power western China? You can buy cheap solar panels all over that area. Why did China think it still needed a massive Hydro project?
Solar is a toy.
For me, the choices are, burn coal and breath dirty air. Try the cities in Asia. Burn Natural Gas for a fuel and watch your forests burn down. As the price of cooking gas goes up…. the incentive to turn trees into charcoal goes up. Hey, I have watched the clear cutting. I have friends who want to eat. Burn Diesel to generate electricity and pay 40 cents / kWh.
Or make a long term investment in Nuclear. I am very glad to see China building NPPs. I know they are needed in India, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, as well as nearly every other nation in the area. The Micronesian Islands would be very blessed by SMR’s, as would Tonga and Fiji.
By the way – please stop putting words in my mouth. I did NOT say I wanted Nuclear subsidized. I simply want it regulated in a way that is reasonable – at the same level as other power sources. You keep putting words in my mouth because you would rather argue against what I did NOT say than to argue with what I said.
Solar is a toy. An expensive toy that governments in Europe have been willing to pay for. It is not a toy we need to try and sell to the world.
Solar is not being curtailed in Germany (yet)
No, but lots of solar PV is being retrofitted with the ability to do just that.
maximum daily amount was 0.19 TWh on May 05 (meeting some 15.2% of total demand)
Yes, but during the best hours, it was close to 50%, so already at 8% total penetration, PV will meet full demand during some hours of the year.
The system seems to be in pretty good shape and balance.
It does not. First, they are devoting $55 billion to grid investments until 2030 to support about 25 percentage points additional renewables. Please note that this is likely to be happy numbers, and the real costs will come in higher. The same money could buy them 10 large reactors supplying 15% of their electricity.
At the same time, Germany’s neighbors are moving to disconnect themselves from the German grid, since it threatens their grid stabilities when excess German power is dumped onto them.
Also, within Germany itself, the industry scrambles to protect themselves as fluctuations in the power grid are causing major damage to equipment as well as costly interruptions in production.
I’m not sure what you think is so bad about negative or very low peak energy wholesale prices?
The lower the prices, the more of the bill the feed-in tariffs need to take. If solar penetration goes above some 10%, then more panels will add very little economic value, but keep being expensive.
on a cost effective basis
You cannot be serious. As I said, their 4% solar has eaten enough money to have replaced their 50% coal. And for 60 years instead of the PVs 20 years!
There are many tools available for dealing with this
That’s a frustration: Renewables advocates cannot present a working solution to the problem of intermittency, but muddy the waters with a long laundry list of mitigation techniques, knowing that it is too much work to prove that the mix won’t work well enough.
But crybabies (used to getting unfettered access to unaccountable profits) are going to have to adjust.
The FiTs are expanding the German electricity market’s volume enormously without adding any value. The jobs this create are thus a net loss for the German citizens – whose wealth is due to the opposite trend, which is doing more with less resources.
I’d really like to know what you see as an optimal alternative?
Look at France. Their energiewende was 1973 to 1992, 19 years, and took nuclear from some 5% to 75%, while greatly expanding electricity production. Germany is HOPING to go to similar amounts of renewables in 40+ years, but needs to halve consumption to make it happen.
In the long term, they are hoping an active research program from “Energiewende”
Exactly, that’s the problem. Hope of renewables and radiation fear works together to kill the climate, or at least postpone the solution in a very risky way. At the same time, Germany is killing far, far more every year with coal particulates than Fukushima radiation ever will.
France is shifting away from nuclear. It’s too costly, their energy system is bloated and lacks efficiencies, it is unsustainable without massive levels of public support, public is increasingly saying no (to risk, to waste, to debt), they are no longer exporting electricity in any significant amount (but instead are relying on others to meet their daily demand … increasingly Germany), and companies are turning away from nuclear and are diversifying into general service power companies.
Switzerland has long been on the fence with nuclear. After Fukushima, they cancelled plans for three new reactors (citing risks and rising costs), and the country is phasing out nuclear by 2034.
Vermont … really?
The nuclear experiment is over. It needs to either re-invent itself (and I am not opposed to this), or whither on the vine. If you read my posts, I have offered a clear and definite path for re-invention (which involves no longer denying current and evolving market trends, long term liabilities, fiscal challenges, competitiveness of alternatives, social acceptance, “too big to fail,” delays on long overdue tasks, better international cooperation, technology shortfalls, etc.). Nuclear currently exists in a business as usual and status quo establishment niche (and I agree with you, there are vested interests that want to keep it there). It’s basically something akin to an assisted care living facility, and nuclear proponents shouldn’t be satisfied to stay there and eke out a marginal existence (on medicare handouts, shrinking fixed income accounts, and a diet of overcooked green beans and apple sauce). You get nowhere attacking other energy resources and pointing the finger of obstinacy and blame (“get off my front porch” … please see your title to this piece). You advance your cause by offering strong and visionary alternatives, long term strategic thinking, and building firm and productive new alliances to get you there.
If I speak out against nuclear, I speak out against old and obstinate status quo approaches. Delusions of an energy resource so dense we don’t have to bother with efficiencies and better stewardship over limited non-renewable resources and consumption, an endless source of unlimited power. Nobody takes this seriously, and nobody here should either. If you have something else to put on the table, you should do so (because as France and the rest of the world are showing, time is running out).
And I hear you, but the false choice of coal is not an effective argument either (or comparative mortality statistics of nuclear vis a vis other resources). It’s too bad tempered, evasive, and complaining. This isn’t an all or nothing negotiation (where “no” is the only response to a pragmatic and strategic alternative), these are tough choices. It’s time to start making them.
You see “bloat”, I see abundance. You see an election where a guy making promises he cannot keep won against an unpopular diletante and see a trend. I see an aberration that will be corrected as soon as reality sinks in.
Nuclear is unpopular among the very people you claim to dislike – The Establishment folks whose only thought of aboriginal lands is to wonder about how many natural resources they can steal from them.
The alliances I aim to build are with energy consumers; it is difficult to imagine that many energy producers will ever recognize that their long term interests can be served by shifting resources into building up our nuclear energy capability. They are far too comfortable; they like the scarcity and high prices that hurt people who want to spend their time living instead of counting kilowatt hours.
I think you are either delusional or a diabolically clever marketer.
Rod – Yeah …. I’ve met brick walls that were less stubborn. When you’ve drank this much kool-aid, it’s almost impossible to come back, and this person practically quotes from the Amory Lovins handbook.
It’s also popular at cocktail parties comprised of people with degrees in law and the social (and other soft) “sciences,” who think that the laws of physics are something that can be changed on a whim or are suddenly malleable because of their deep “concern” for the “environment.” These are social gatherings where you are expected to check your brain at the door, and EL sounds like a regular attendee.
The experience in Germany is a perfect example of how, if you can artificially distort a market enough, you can produce any kind of short-term results that play well to your propaganda (and Germans are notorious for their skill at propaganda). However, you can only fool yourself for so long.
“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.” — Richard Feynman
I find it interesting and amusing that EL’s comments focus entirely on public relations.
Rod – You left out an option: someone who has fallen for diabolically clever marketing.
I vote for kool-aid drinker.
@David and Jeppen.
No positive perspectives to offer on fully sustainable, renewable alternatives, and evolving market conditions (that are likely to become the future status quo). Just a great deal of partisanship and backward looking “golden era” nostalgia and vested interests. I think you are making my point about partisanship, obstinacy, and turning away from current energy debates and moving targets (and not seeking to be a part available new development opportunities or conversations).
Grid investments are overdue in Germany (despite expansion of renewables).
And nobody has mentioned radiation fear.
I’ll review for specific points later, and post them if warranted.
EL – Yes, most certainly. It’s up to the reader to be the judge, but I would put my collection of comments on this blog up against yours at any time. What I have written here over the course of many years is far more substantial than the idiotic BS that you regularly post. Your collection of comments is largely a simple-minded repetition of material that can be found on a Greenpeace, USC, or RMI website. It’s not original, and it’s not intelligent. In fact, it’s so frick’n bad that you won’t even attach your real name to it.
You might actually learn something from my contributions to “the debate” if you weren’t so damn bull-headed. Let’s face it. There is nothing that I can say that would change your mind. You have made this clear again and again, regardless of how I try to coach the information that I provide. Thus, my only recourse left is to ridicule you for being the stubborn ass that you are.
I’ll be honest. I ignore most of the worthless drivel that you write here. If you have a problem with what I write, you’re welcome to do the same and ignore it as well. I won’t take offense. But apparently, I’ve hit a nerve, and so you get defensive. I feel sorry for you.
Let’s add narcissistic to long collection of adjectives that apply to you. Apparently, only your thinking can be considered to be above mediocre or above average. That is what you’re trying to say, right?
Geez, if there’s one thing worse than a boring jerk, it’s a boring jerk that thinks too much of himself.
@Brian – You might find this interesting. http://northernwaterways.com/MYCCR/horton_biblio.pdf
@jeppen : your comment about spot prices is incorrect, you should not use the future tense for something that occurred during 30 hours during the last Christmas week :
http://www.epexspot.com/en/market-data/intraday/chart/intraday-chart/2012-12-29/DE (select the week view)
Not only were the prices negative all though the night, but they also were barely positive during the mid-day hours. I’m quite convinced the recent declarations of minister Altmaier are very much influenced by that.
@EL : Yes, negative prices are a huge problem; if only because together wind and solar produce only 12% of Germany energy production (the 22% number adds hydro, biomass, and incineration), so the other producer have to be paid to produce 88% of Germany electricity need, or they will go bankrupt, and renewable are not by far able to supply enough to compensate.
And the Fraunhofer data here show in page 201 for Wind and 258 for Solar, in the case of Solar, multiplying production by 2 would physically mean having to throw some away (surprisingly Germany has set a cap at 52 GW solar which is exactly that), and in the case of wind for the week 52, the ratio is even lower than 2.
The current situation about nuclear in France is fully pushed by the greens, which smartly have convinced the socialists they are the one with the real energy expertise, and socialists have few experts that would counterbalance.
Nobody who actually runs Nuclear sees a problem with it. The industrials who use a large quantity of it are worried about what might happened in the future, and were at one time considering investing their own money in it to guarantee future access (they probably would still, but they see little opportunity for that to happen). They liked when they could negotiate very advantageous prices directly with EDF, they like the price safety ARENH gives them, and don’t believe at all the future will be so great.
Did I strike a nerve. Why are you so completely loosing your cool? Tired of losing the argument on substantive merits, so you’re turning to hostile barbs and stammering your way through a cavalcade of profanities. It reflects poorly on you, and poorly on the site. Nobody really wants to hear it. I wish you would keep your ugly and unattractive thoughts to yourself.
If you want to talk about anything substantive or relevant to the topic of the thread, please do. We’re here to engage each other on the issues (and nobody has a monopoly on the truth). If you thought you did, your ego must be a great deal larger than you have already presented it on the site.
And yes. I chose to not use my real name. I think the reason should be obvious given your comments above and your socially and professionally inappropriate character attacks on the site.
Rod seems to welcome alternative (and well defended) point of views on the site. I am a little unclear why you don’t, and always endeavor to shut down the discussion with nothing substantive to add except personal attacks on another user?
By what measure, bankruptcy doesn’t appear to be a credible risk. See DIW assessment of electricity prices and market projections.
Average spot market prices are rising since the economic crisis in 2008-09 (and a sharp reduction in fuel prices). In fact, they’ve rarely been much higher over the last 13 years (Figure 3).
Market conditions look pretty favorable to me (leaving out the fact that some shares may be dropping over the long run because of expansion of sustainable, low carbon, and low marginal cost alternatives).
DIW projects “an average inflation-adjusted electricity price of 49.3 euro per megawatt-hour in 2020” (p. 40), which is higher than 2010 inflation adjusted average. In addition, “additional demand for electricity will be created through the expanded use of electric vehicles and other technologies such as heat pumps. We therefore assume conservatively that electricity demand will remain constant.”
So please tell me … where is all the doom and gloom? And if these projections are off, what makes you think such issues won’t be addressed in reforms that provide for better market integration in the future, improved capital structure for all valued participants, and assured reliability for the grid?
What should we think of prediction 9 years ahead for 2020 that have already been proven completely wrong only 2 years later ? :
“Although electricity generation from renewable sources is forecasted to more than double by 2020, the EEG apportionment borne by consumers will in real terms only be 3.64 euro cents per kWh, and thus only slightly higher than it is today”
The EEG for this year is already 5,28 €cts /kWh.
Not quite correct. Yes, a sharp uptick when a lot of new capacity comes on-line (and EEG, which is digressive, is phased in at it’s highest value). The quote is correct for a sharp increase in the rate for 2011 to 3.53 kWh, and subsequently for the following: “the apportionment currently stands at 4.2 euro cents per kWh” (p. 38). But not over the long run.
They estimate an apportionment of 3.6 euro cents per kWh in real terms in 2020 due to digressive features of the surcharge. What makes you think this projection won’t be born out (all things being equal) for 2020?
I must admit that I am too confused by the analysis you are quoting to offer a point by point rebuttal. The feeling that I have here is a bit like the frustration I feel when trying to show people just how wrong Amory Lovins has been over the years.
Why should people accept a situation where the “inflation adjusted wholesale price” of electricity is EXPECTED to increase by 11% and where some suppliers are being paid an extra subsidy that amounts to as much as 4 times that price for an inferior version (less reliable) of the same product (kilowatt hours of electricity) provided by other suppliers in the market. Sure, on some measures, wind and solar have emission advantages, but isn’t that advantage supposed to be covered by pricing the emissions?
As Germany continues to alter its power grid, it seems on the path towards more emissions, less reliability, and higher costs. Did you know that 2012 emissions (931 million tons CO2) were fully 18% higher than those in 2009 (789 million tons CO2) and 12% higher than those in 2010 (827 Mton CO2) , years prior to shutting down the 8 smallest nuclear plants in the country?
What do you think is going to happen as the amount of nuclear generated electricity in Germany falls from 100 billion kilowatt-hours per year (roughly 16% of their current consumption) from 9 plants that run at an average capacity factor of 90%? Just think what Germany COULD be showing the world if they kept their nukes running and instead used whatever renewables they could install to shut down fossil fuel plants?
EL – Not at all. Most people reserve ridicule for something that is either ridiculously funny or totally pathetic. Either way, it is a lighthearted way of dealing with frustration, and no “nerves” need be touched. I’m sorry that you have no sense of humor.
I’ve tried reasoning with you and I’ve tried providing useful, credible information to counter your nonsense. Unfortunately, neither worked.
Now, you still seem to be under the delusion that I’m trying to have a discussion with you. Sorry, but no, I am not. I’ve given up on you. My comments are written for our audience, to demonstrate just how stubborn, misinformed, and frankly, silly much of what you write here is.
Ignorance can be cured. Stupidity apparently lasts forever.
Goodbye, Ed. I’m done with this thread.
The short reply … much of the projected future price increase is the result of rising fossil fuel prices and CO2 certificates, as described in the report (only a “modest increase” is due to renewables and at a lower level than the apportionment). “In the absence of expanded deployment of renewable energy, a higher price of 20% can be expected” (p. 37). And new nuclear in Europe is coming in a four times the wholesale price of electricity (at £165 per megawatt hour).
More broadly, however, it’s not exclusively about price. 83% of elected officials voted for Energiewende. Public polling remains very high, even on issue of prices. Germany wants to be a leader in technology innovation in expanding global markets. It’s not just about energy, but about modern values, sustainability, being ahead of trend lines, economic competitiveness (and post-industrialism), and changing industrial landscapes (modern, efficient, and well supplied with flexible, well managed, and abundant energy supplies). Energy independence and security are important. Germany has coal, and wants to use it (and also reduce total carbon emissions). Other countries have lots of available domestic resources (natural gas in the US).
And more directly, it’s also about the challenges of nuclear (which nobody here appears to understand very well or be willing to acknowledge). I have talked about them numerous times (and only received bland platitudes from users in response, arguments there may be a conspiracy afoot, or even hostile personal attacks). But they are real (I’m sorry to tell you), the technology is not as advanced as many people make it out on the site (particularly with respect to Gen IV and advanced fuel cycles). Expanding into future energy markets (given public attitudes, long term liabilities, investment outlooks, and available alternatives) is looking very, very hard. And none of this gets better (brings more certainty to markets or acceptance from consumers) by minimizing regulation, minimizing safety standards, minimizing long term liabilities, plundering the ratepayer base for absent development funds, keeping reactors operating past their design life, maligning alternatives that are increasingly attractive and popular in the marketplace, counting on government for large public sector windfalls and development aid, and more. Your allies in Congress are pulling the plug (public financing on everything is on the chopping block). Everyone wants to do better, we even want the industry to succeed, and I’m starting to believe the industry has no idea what it wants to do next, or any strategic or rational long term plan or vision. It’s entirely focused on the short term, it’s small obsolete niche, and survival. I find the current obstinacy towards retrofitting US plants with filtered venting systems a perfect example. Regulators, investors, and developers aren’t loony folks operating out of ignorance and fear. Nuclear is losing the debate, and many are deciding to pull the plug. I guess folks here are complacent to let it happen (or eager to look away and ignore any of the tough challenges).
@El: You have a way with words that I, as a non-native English speaker, cannot match. But what is the contents of those words, really?
You vaguely point to “modern values, sustainability, being ahead of trend lines, economic competitiveness (and post-industrialism), and changing industrial landscapes” and so on. You talk about the nuclear industry and nuclear proponents being backward-looking and generally tired and dull. You paint nuclear power in France in extremely dark colors. And so on.
While you are doing this, the latest BP energy statistics has world coal, oil and gas increase 228 Mtoe (from 2010 to 2011) while non-hydro renewables increase 29 Mtoe. Nuclear dropped 27 Mtoe, with -6% in OECD and +6% in non-OECD.
So you can talk all you want about “modern values” and “being ahead of trend lines”. To me, the above trends show a weakness, not a strength, in modern democracies. The logic of media reporting and journalism, and their interaction with politics, make us lose the fight against AGW and particulate cancer even though we have a perfectly sound, quick and proven solution in front of us.
You talk about us having to reinvent nuclear power to stand a chance. I certainly think we can do a better job PR-wise, but I think the basic problem is not here. We have a much larger problem at hand, evident in a wide range of safety regulation, licensing requirements and so on throughout the economy. We need to reinvent democracy and/or media to not suffer a slow strangulation death by security and bureaucracy in general. And perhaps we slowly ARE reinventing them, in here for instance, using the Internet. But if so, you are clearly fighting it, tooth and nail, every inch of the way. For you, the difficult media situation nuclear power is in, is a reason in itself to abandon it. Very sad.
Did you say something relevant to the conversation? I looked back on your comments, and I think I missed it. Was it that Germans are skillful at propaganda, did it have to do with masonry techniques and laying brick, harping on Greenpeace (when nobody brought them up), conceit that nobody invites you to faculty parties, or was it your stammering your way through profanities?
Can anybody else help to summarize?
@EL : EL, you are certainly not stupid, but you are very stubborn. Unfortunately the stubbornness here includes obstinately watching only the part of facts you are interested in, and deliberately not considering the picture as a whole.
The FIT tariff in Germany are valid for 20 years. Anything that was put on line after 2000 will still be there in 2020. In 2007, there was only 4,170 GW of capacity which means that 87% of the currently FIT subsidized solar will be there until 2027. Whilst the average price for solar before 2007 was higher, the amount of EEG paid was still manageable, which means that removing it won’t lower the spending much, even taking that aspect in account. And anyway there was basically zero solar before 2000, which mean no reduction at all until 2020.
Also, as is getting more and more clear recently, in order to handle that renewable energy, especially solar which is produced during a short time-frame in the middle of the day you need to store it, which means you need to invest into storage solution in addition to paying the EEG.
But so much money has been used for EEG, that they recently failed to find 50 million for subsiding battery storage. Which mean EEG is starting to kill the long term solution. I have a feeling that you may be willing to give years for renewable energy in Germany to see the light at end of the tunnel, but that the German politicians might be starting to be fed up. As the production gets significant, the problems grow instead of lowering, and I feel they start to strongly dislike that.
Today and yesterday, production of solar was already peaking at 20 GW, *but* only for a very short duration, which means that at the end of day it’s not that much energy and it’s very hard to integrate. Yesterday, the price was at 32€ at 13h, but at 72€ at 20h. I’m waiting to see what it will give in May, but very large production for a very short duration is not good, it’s a major problem by itself.
And it’s very likely it will be seriously problematic in May during the week-ends. At least in Christmas, the wind didn’t disappear after just a few hours.
Your words are quiet effective, and I’m grateful for any input you have to offer on the situation in Germany (and energy matters in general). I believe this is how we get better public policy (energy, industrial, or otherwise) … critical engagement, and rational and substantive debate. If we all agreed with each other, we literally would get nowhere.
I always think of the Alaska oil pipeline. They wanted to put the thing in the ground (buried in permafrost). They were almost ready to do so, and then the environmental movement organized. They tied it up in the courts, changed the requirements of the project, moved it above ground (and got a far more long lived, easier to maintain, lucrative, and feasible project as a consequence). Consensus in a democracy is the death of good ideas (and probably sound engineering as well). I’m glad people challenge conventional notions, and say they can do better. Every effort to shut down debate is a vote for the status quo (and against more serious progress and change).
We are already several years out from Hanson’s famous dictum about coal and the necessary requirement of nuclear. TMI set back the industry four decades, and Fukushima is looking like it will do the same. The industry (and some of the discussions here) appear to be ossifying around some really backwards notions of anti-regulation, anti-science, anti-intellectualism, blame, conspiracy, and building future castles in the sky that may one day end all this trouble and nuisance. Maybe this is a short term trend, maybe not. And since nobody else is asking these questions here, I thought I might. Where is this going?
From where I stand, nuclear appears to have lost the confidence of investors. It’s lost the confidence of the marketplace, utilities (putting up the resources to build these projects), and the public. Perhaps not absolutely, but certainly in degrees. And alternatives are taking a major bite out of coal (and have the potential to continue to do so in the future). Nuclear needs to change. With grid enhancements, distributed generation, community power, market reforms that favor energy storage … conventional energy systems are going to look very different in 20 to 30 to 40 years. $1.9 trillion will be invested in “clean-energy” technologies over the next 5 years. People are doing this for a reason … they aren’t a lunatic or radical fringe (they are hard headed scientists and engineers and they are having a decisive impact). I believe it has been positive. I believe Hanson’s famous dictum is multifaceted (and not a single resource). And I believe we’re all going to have to work on it together. In order to do this, nuclear will have to think differently and accept it’s invitation to the party (and agree that hanging out with faculty types, people with fancy degrees, who sail in their spare time on diffuse energy, and that eating sauerbraten or spaetzle on occasion doesn’t make them a sell out). Areva is doing very well at it, why can’t everyone else who is passionate about nuclear power and wants to see it succeed?
I’m grateful for any input you have to offer on the situation in Germany (and energy matters in general).
Are you? I gave you lost of input March 3, 2013 at 10:04 AM, which you basically ignored.
TMI set back the industry four decades, and Fukushima is looking like it will do the same.
We’ll see. China seems to move along, as is India, Russia, Korea and some others. Even Britain seems to be poised to accept a high price to get going. And I can’t imagine Germany putting up with current policies for 40 years more.
The industry (and some of the discussions here) appear to be ossifying around some really backwards notions of anti-regulation, anti-science, anti-intellectualism, blame, conspiracy
I’ve not seen enough to judge, but I assume you just paint concerns such as mine in black. There is way, way, way too much regulation. That’s simply a fact. And it is mostly due to the interaction between media and politicians. Is that “blame and conspiracy”? I don’t know, but it is true.
From where I stand, nuclear appears to have lost the confidence of investors. It’s lost the confidence of the marketplace, utilities
Of course it has, since political risk is enormous, since alternatives (even coal) are arbitrarily subsidized and since red tape and too high security requirements adds costs. And thus hundreds of thousands die each year due to coal pollution, and we risk our climate.
And alternatives are taking a major bite out of coal
They do not. Just look at the renewables’ poster child, Germany, that is expanding coal generation in 2012 and will add 5 GW of it this year while retiring only 1 GW.
Nuclear needs to change.
Again, democracy and media needs to change. Voters need to change. Perhaps AGW will force them. Perhaps the economy. Perhaps reason.
With grid enhancements, distributed generation, community power, market reforms that favor energy storage … conventional energy systems are going to look very different in 20 to 30 to 40 years.
Or perhaps more shale gas and flexible, efficient lignite plants.
$1.9 trillion will be invested in “clean-energy” technologies over the next 5 years.
How much of that is already locked in FiT?
People are doing this for a reason … they aren’t a lunatic or radical fringe (they are hard headed scientists and engineers
No, they simply respond to market incentives and laws.
In order to do this, nuclear will have to think differently and accept it’s invitation to the party
You’re blaming the bullied boy for being bullied, and you’re doing it in very vague terms. Do you have an aversion to math, to life cycle analyses, to climate science, to cost estimates? What exactly is it nuclear should do, except what it already does, that is providing an overall superior alternative.
I do value your input, and you are not being ignored.
Please study the German FIT program a bit more closely. There is (at the lowest amount) a standard digression rate of 1% per month on all solar projects. It’s 2.5% per month on many newer projects (for the time being), and it can be as high as 29% per year on some projects. This means over time solar will beat average residential retail rate for electricity before 20 year period is over. The same for other renewable energy resources as well. Germany also recently introduced a premium option for developers wanting to directly participate in wholesale markets.
Properly speaking, FIT has little to do with cost of energy (averaged over the lifetime of the equipment). It’s a cost recovery scheme, intended to provide better certainty to developers in non-mature and developing markets, and incentives for more rapid cost recovery. Saying that initial FIT rates exceed wholesale or retail rate of electricity by a certain amount is essentially meaningless. Since this rate declines over time in Germany, it’s the average cost of these rates (and the amount of electricity generated) that is the comparable figure. And yes, it appears to be higher than the market rate for residential consumers (who seem to favor this). For industry, the program is actually lowering their cost fir energy (since they are exempt from renewable energy surcharges). With consumers on board to the changes, this is typically described as a “win-win.”
None of this is difficult to manage (and a look at German energy statistics suggests as much). Since you have looked at Fraunhofer study, you know that wind has higher output in winter than summer. I take your recommendation to stay focused on the whole picture (and not just a part) a very good one.
No. In fact, most of my posts are filled with this kind of information.
A relevant question. The answer remains to be seen.
What do you think is the best way to assess the effectiveness of regulation or whether it is excessive or not? I measure it by the very high performance standards of industry on reliability, safe operation, very high capacity factors, and public confidence of investors and consumers leading to additional construction of new power plants. If the industry wants to take on more of the risk of operating power plants (and rely less on the government for liability backstops, financing, and environmental and public safety protection), then it would be fair to devolve some of this responsibility to the industry. Until that time, however, the government (on behalf of the taxpayer) has every right to oversee best practices in the industry. There are ample current examples (Crystal River and SONGS) where industry, left to it’s own devices, performs quite poorly.
@EL : Please answer to the arguments that are being opposed to you, and not to others that are more convenient.
The digression rate applies only to new projects, *not* to the older one.
That the amount to pay grows more slowly as new capacity is added at a cheaper price, is clearly irrelevant against what I was referring too, the already committed amount of around 20 billions € a year that will take many, many years before starting to go down.
IMO FIT should truly be seen as a credit sale. You don’t have enough money to pay the full price now, so instead you pay for it on credit. Credit may seem initially a great invention to buy many things without having to pay their full price.
But if you buy more and more on credit, just never stopping, you’ll find out that at some stage you’re actually paying as much each month as if buying them one by one, but the total cost will be much higher. Finally the cost of interests each month gets so high, you don’t have money anymore to continue buying. From that point you still have to pay just as much each month, but can’t afford yourself anything new anymore.
And credits sounds a lot less nice at that point.
Especially if in between the price of the goods got much lower, but you are still reimbursing them on the base of the initial price.
Let’s say you buy a buy a 100€ good with 7% interest during 20 years.
First year you will pay only 9.4. It’s very cheap. Second year, you buy a second one, and again, again, The amount grows 18.8, 28.2, 37.6.
On year 10, you will be paying 94€ for your new 100€ good. Almost as much as paying cash. Year 11, you are paying 103.4, more than cash. Then you stop. And then from year 13 to 20, you are buying nothing but paying the same 103.4€. You will actually go on having to pay something until year 31 when you stopped getting anything new on year 11. And you will have paid in total 2068€ for 1100€ of goods, whilst paying for 10 full years of the duration a bit more than someone who payed everything cash.
Someone who chooses to do that obviously needs an economy lesson. FIT make sense only if it’s foremost important to get the capacity extremely fast, and you will *stop* them after just a few years, at most 5 or 6, or they will end having cost much more, and actually from year 10 even with a low interest of 7% actually *lowering* your buying capacity.
About this power being easy to integrate, let me tell that even if I later switched to other sightly different interests, I received both a technician and engineer formation in electricity/electronics and I have discussed about it with a few engineers from the French grid, RTE, and I’ve received definitive confirmation it’s both difficult and *expensive* to integrate. Many technicians/engineers have been sold that this was something that absolutely needed to be done, so they are desperately jumping through loops to make this works anyway, but it’s extremely difficult and demands changing many equipments that used to work perfectly well before.
All proponent of renewable have no idea about what it truly means to manage a real grid, with the 5 or 6 nines reliability the whole economy depends on, and obviously have very little interesting in learning about it.
It’s quite an amazing propaganda victory to be able to claim that a grid that cannot handle the constant variation of renewable power is outdated, instead of admitting that’s fully a problem *of* the renewable themselves. They are several places in the world (in Belgium, some units in Japan, more or less in Germany) where the cheap nuclear provided the money for the accompanying pumping hydro, to make it easier to provide the exact power needed. When have renewable made the equivalent ? Except in some very specific places like the Falklands were the cost initially of expensive oil based power generation was so high that it was not overly expensive comparatively to put about as much flywheel capacity as wind power capacity ?
@El: It seems you confuse me with jmdesp.
Theoretically speaking. In practice, it’s a fairly good guide. Best is a levelized energy cost calculation, which comes close (at €0.15 or thereabout). This is expensive compared to nuclear, especially if you consider the external costs of solar and its lower value. It gets worse at higher penetration.
One thing that is fairly revealing is the pollution limits in comparison to levels that pose a significant health risk. Another is the amount of paperwork required and the lead times this paperwork creates. Yet another is the requirements on technical barriers, such as the ability of new plants to withstand airline impact.
These high standards come at a cost, and the ever-increasing requirements pose a regulatory risk to continued operation. It is fairly easy to require improvements, but when the requirements make new builds all but impossible, we are stuck with worse alternatives. I would like to see the NRC (and similar in other countries) being merged with other agencies to an all-energy regulatory body required to optimize across the entire spectrum of power technologies. As it is now, the suboptimization inherent in NRC’s work is simply staggering.
Very common critique that also misses the point. The excessive regulation is the reason the industry needs government help. It is beaten repeatedly with a stick and then handed some band-aid. Btw, the liability requirements are singeling out the nuclear industry. Medicine, food and chemical has worse risks and worse pollution, but need no Price-Anderson Act. They are allowed to have very limited insurance and simply go bankrupt if they mess up really badly. (Granted, medicine is fairly hampered in its innovation too, and in Europe, the food industry can’t do GMO. This is more evidence that the regulatory problem is more general.)
There is an obvious right to do this, since we have voted for politicians that set these things up. But, again, the suboptimization is gross, to say the least. All over the world, the yearly casualties from exercising this right is likely well exceeding a million.
Argh, I don’t seem to have much luck with citation tags. q cite didn’t work, at least. Oh well.
Has the capital cost of a completed project built in year N somehow become less in subsequent years (N + 2, etc.). The original cost still has to be paid for (does it not)?
It’s not like credit at all. No money has been loaned, and no taxpayer subsidies have been provided to cover financing costs. The risk of putting up capital to build the project belongs entirely to the developer (and nobody else). I have described it correctly as a financing scheme, and not a taxpayer subsidy or a market rate commodity. It is not based on debt capital, but on real development cost of energy and advanced capital recovery (when properly designed). As the market matures and development costs come down, FIT rates are adjusted and should come down as well (in line with development costs). And this is exactly what we are seeing in Germany (and elsewhere).
If you are trying to say current renewable energy costs are higher than conventional energy in Germany, I agree with you. They are. But you don’t need to distort how the FIT program works in order to make this argument.
You don’t think a nuclear power plant has some of the same capital cost recovery issues as renewables with large upfront costs, and borrowed capital on top of it (and FOAK costs being much higher with developing technology compared to future costs when the technology is fully mature)?
Germany has one of the most reliable grids in Europe. They also have a detailed and thorough 10 year plan for grid expansion. What makes you think these issues aren’t well understood or aren’t going to be addressed (now or in the future). All new capacity additions typically require grid enhancements (nuclear is no different). Germany wants to be a leader in advanced grid solutions (and is making an active push to get out ahead of their competition). This is a high risk and high reward bet at this time (I think it is high reward). The costs of intermittency are well documented, and are not very high for a commodity that by most available measures consumers want (and are willing to pay for). And with rapidly declining costs (and rising costs for fossil fuels and nuclear), renewables may end up being more competitive than many available alternatives (or at a minimum, much easier to finance). And with a grid to handle them, Germany (and others doing much the same) will already be way ahead of the game.
@jeppen … apologies if this is the case.
I think something is getting lost in translation here. I only have so much time (and to be honest, some of your confusion with FIT is easily cleared up by looking up the information yourself). I know my audience, and I know I am unlikely to change anybody’s mind … that doesn’t mean we have to go around and around in circles. I am presenting my argument. If you have a better one … please make it.
That said … I’m out of town Fri-Sun (so don’t feel in a hurry to put all your ideas out at once … unless some others wish to pick up the debate as well)?
In general, I agree with this. And I don’t think nuclear is a special case. I would like to see the regulatory standards improved and firmed up for all energy technologies. Especially unconventional gas, and also wind siting standards and solar sites. And where public land is taken for development, I’d like to see public land added elsewhere and managed for conservation values. Basically, I’d like to see a level playing field and regular and more consistent rules. It will likely add costs (which can be managed in any number of ways to favor job growth, stable development, and minimize price impacts on consumers), but it will also add to a more certain business environment and favor long term planning efforts. The system we have now doesn’t work. Everyone lobbies for exclusions and exemptions, and it’s a race to the bottom. It’s a winner take all system, and we shouldn’t be deciding energy policy on the basis of who gets regulatory requirements lowered and who does not. Natural gas would be an easy fix, but we leave it to the States, who compete for business by having the most attractive development options, and what consumers get in return is an unsustainable glut in supplies, boom and bust cycles for local communities, and lots of pollution (some of which the taxpayer has to pay for).
I’m not sure how to best balance competition (which leads to innovation and risk taking) and oversight. I think we are a long ways from figuring that out. But it seems to me worth the effort … especially with so much at stake in our economies, environment, national security, public health, growing wealth and income disparity, food security, and the like. I don’t feel like we are currently on a very sustainable path, and the longer we wait (the more risks we take, the more impacts we face, and the more long term costs keep rising). I’d be happy with the following: we need to better understand the full costs of carbon, and also the costs of inaction.
@EL, who wrote
Every once in a while you write something that gives me hope that you might eventually realize why some of us are so stubbornly unwilling to compromise our firm technical evaluation that fission is inherently superior to combustion and also superior to alternatives that are inherently diffuse and unreliable. Those characteristics of natural energy flows (wind and sun) cannot be overcome by any amount of brilliant engineering; those “features” imply that they will always require massive capital investment that might never be able to pay for itself due to a lack of actual generated wealth in the form of reliably available power to do work.
My odd background as a nuclear technologist, a caring leader, a dad, a student missionary (brief but memorable time in my teens), a student of strategic planning, a writer, a small businessman, a granddad and a current paperwork pusher all combine to tell me that we need a power source that can do all of the things that atomic fission can do – if some of the human imposed constraints (some of which were imposed by competitors that could not compete any other way) can be removed.
The power source that society needs must be controllable by humans or control systems; it needs to have an abundant fuel supply that may never run out; it needs to have plenty of headroom for future improvements; it needs to be well proven in actual operation; and it needs to be able to produce power without pollution.
You have often derided the contributors here as being ossified or rehashing old ideas. Have you ever taken the time to really read and understood why there are people here who are interested in the IFR, the LFTR, the Adams Engine, or even Robert’s stretch goal of controlled nuclear fusion? Do you really believe that the NGNP, the AP1000, the EPR, the ESBWR, the ABWR, NuScale, Gen IV and the B&W mPowerTM reactor indicate that the industry does not have any ideas or improved designs to offer that demonstrate we have learned some lessons over the years?
Don’t you realize how our general agreement that used fuel should be recycled and that well-maintained plants should continue to be reused every day fits with the world view that you claim to have?
Even your notion of a redesigned grid based on smaller plants that are more distributed and closer to the load centers can be enabled if each of the contributing generation sources is a smaller, more reliable, more flexible fission based system that can respond as rapidly to changes in power demand as those well proven reactors that have been driving ships at sea since the mid 1950s.
EL, think about your basic values. Do you really think that the German path of increased dependence on domestic lignite and Russian natural gas – brought via a subsea pipeline specifically designed to “cut out the middle man” of eastern European nations – is sustainable or even reproducible? Do German gas purchases from Gazprom do anything to improve income distribution around the world?
Please look past all of the highly visible windmills and solar panels to realize what is really powering that centrally located, politically powerful industrial country of about 80 million people. Ask yourself – “is the planned outcome actually better than a system where 25% of the country’s power comes from just 17 individual reactors produced by some of the best engineers and operated by some of the most dedicated technicians in the world?”
Think about that for a moment. Germany could have implemented a completely different path; it could have decided to build a couple dozen more reactors and almost completely decarbonized its electricity grid. Instead of the path chosen by people like Gerhard Schroeder, a fission based program would have been a far more massive job generator AND resulted in a more stable, secure power system with real long term benefits.
“Energiewende” is a specific legislative proposal to accelerate expansion of renewables, efficiency programs, research and development, carbon reduction goals, and phase out of nuclear by 2022. It was introduced and debated six months before Fukushima accident (Sept. 2010), and was passed by a large majority (83%) in Bundestag on June 30, 2011.
El, Do you read what you post?
Wow, dude, the quote specifically says that they changed their mind on Nuclear which was the “Biggest source of low-carbon electricity.” How is this a good thing? Was this the right decision – in your opinion – for Germany?
Popular I grant you, but right?
The quote was provided to highlight the shift in german energy goals (and the starting point for this timeline). And yes, the shift includes a move away from nuclear power (as the post indicates), and as we are discussing in the thread.
What makes you think I didn’t read the quote before posting it?
Considering I am building a singularity generator fusion is insight.
The difficulty is the current establishment for now wont except this technology. .. Why? There’s silly money in green technology. Give the world free energy and they are screwed.
Its all about less bang for more bucks. Not the fissile waste. Just an excuse. But then by my theory any temp superconductivity is possible. So fissile waste is not an issue. if anything perfect as the source material for massive fusion generators.
The end of the day… They only want to make money. .. It is that simple…
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