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20 Comments

  1. I don’t know Rod, do we really want nuclear energy overrun by engineers that haven’t figured out that wind is a loose?

    1. @DV82XL – I think you may know as many engineers and technicians as I do. Many of them thrive in jobs where they are faced with solving difficult problems every day, as long as the paychecks keep coming. The engineers that I know do not spend as much time as you might think trying to change the basic assumptions of a problem, they take the assumptions given to them by the people writing those checks and then do the very best they can to solve the resulting problems.
      One of the reasons that the nuclear industry faces a human resource challenge is that far too many very good engineers and technicians have faced way too much job uncertainty over the past 20 years. They might love the overall technology, but that does not help to put bread on the table during a time of layoffs.

      1. I concede that my remark was somewhat facetious, rather than a considered opinion. I am more than well aware that one must often work towards ends that you may not agree with for the sake of a regular paycheck.

  2. When I read the headline of the post I thought it might have something to do with the many jobs that the wind industry hopes to create for maintenance and construction workers, not engineers. My point of which is that energy production should free people from hard labor, not create more of it. If wind power were scaled on the level that Mark Z. Jacobson wishes, then a lot of these jobs could be created to support an inferior infrastructure.

  3. From Rod’s Post: “They will also never be able to make it simple or safe to gain access and perform corrective maintenance on a turbine that is on a 150 meter tall tower located 10-20 miles offshore.”
    I’ve learned that with engineers, it’s often dangerous to use the word “never”. I don’t want to get into details, because he’s still in the early stages of trying to find a manufacturer to partner with, but my father has an idea for a tower which can raise and lower itself, so that you don’t have to do maintenance at the top of the 150 meter tall tower – you lower it and do maintenance at maybe 20 or 30 meters.
    My point is, whether my dad is successful or not, engineers sometimes have a way of completely rethinking the problem, so that what you think is an “intrinsic” problem which cannot be overcome, isn’t necessarily. You never know when some engineer will have a transformative idea which completely redefines the problem.

  4. I question what I see as a premise here, that engineering aptitude is universally applicable across every possible field of endeavor. Nuclear engineers are in that line of work because they’ve demonstrated that they are proficient at tasks that require knowledge of the breakdown of the atomic nucleus, heat transfer in fluids, and so forth. They don’t necessarily have the same skill sets that would be found in wind turbine engineers, and vice versa. If all we needed was generic engineering aptitude, I suspect that there may be more of that sitting idle in the United States among former automotive and manufacturing engineers than there is being drawn away to wind turbine work.

    1. @E. Michael – if you look at the nuclear industry, you will find that a relatively small portion of the engineering jobs require “nuclear engineers”. The vast majority of the engineering jobs are actually filled by mechanical, electrical and systems engineers. As someone else pointed out on this thread, the portion of jobs in the nuclear industry that actually require engineers is not as high as most people think – many of the jobs require more hands on skills in manufacturing and construction.
      The skill set that the nuclear industry needs includes many of the specific task skills that Ms. Aabo described in this video. We need people who can solve difficult challenges related to reliability, manufacturability, supply chain management, materials, logistics, marketing, finance, maintenance, etc.

      1. Couldn’t these challenges be addressed by unemployed or underemployed people, with engineering backgrounds, who were in sectors (automotive, manufacturing) that no longer employ them? I just don’t see opportunities in wind turbine work drawing away so many competent people that there would be too few left for nuclear, either for assigned work or for transformative innovation.

  5. Amazing, did you notice her last statement on reliability? “We now expect the components to be reliable when they are going into a 500MW power plant.” The implication is clear. Current 20MW designs are NOT reliable. Small, unreliable, hum. Also, did you notice the whole context of the discussion, that making them last for 24 years was a big step forward and that people now need to be more serious about the process…. That says that the turbines we have today are much more UN-reliable, and will need to be replaced quickly – or decommissioned.
    A biomass to energy plant at least has a known lifetime of 30 to 40 years using off the shelf technology with about the same output 20MW to 40MW.
    Contrast this with a Nuclear plant whose expected lifetime is easily 40 to 60 years, with some having potential for 90 + years.
    I would love to know the cost per KWH of this “wind power plant.”
    Finally, Can you imagine balancing a grid that just lost 500MW when the wind stopped? Wow!

    1. There are numerous studies of this sort, including many real world case studies for small, industrial scale, onshore, offshore, off grid or grid connected wind energy systems, and their associated costs and material impacts.
      http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2008.09.004
      Costs have risen for wind over last several years (because of rising material costs), but it still remains in a close range with past numbers. 4.5 – 8.7 cents/kWh for onshore wind, and 6 – 11.1 cents/kWh for offshore (in Euros).
      Let’s not over inflate the challenges of wind variability. Managers have been dealing the variability of power sources for a long time, and seem secure that relatively high levels of wind penetration (above 20%) can be accommodated with very little operational changes:
      From NERC Report on Wind Variability:
      in many areas where wind power has not reached high penetration levels, uncertainty associated with the wind power has normally been less than that of demand uncertainty. Operating experience has shown that as the amount of wind power increases (i.e., greater than 5% of installed capacity) there is not a proportional increase in overall uncertainty. Consequently, power system operators have been able to accommodate current levels of wind plant integration and the associated uncertainty with little or no effort (54).
      They recommend better forecasting, maintaining sufficient reserves, managing ancillary services and demand aggregation, scheduling and other procedures for dealing with long-standing issue. You talk about a 500 MW wind plant going off line (with a typical 40% production capacity)

      1. “…what happens when a 950 MW nuclear plant (and all of its capacity) is shut down for hours, days, weeks, or months for regular maintenance, upgrades, fuel supplies, or something more serious? Balancing and variability happens with nuclear industry too?”
        Yet again your utter ignorance of the electric power system and its components is showing. The arguments concerning balancing and variability, as they pertain to wind and solar, are related to the concept of dispatchablity, that is the capacity of a generator to a supply a certain amount of power, on schedule for a given period of time. Nuclear power plants can do this – wind and solar cannot. Normal outages, which are common with all forms of generation, is not an issue.

      2. Are you willing to write your congressperson asking them to equip / fund the NRC so that a license can be issued in about 24 months rather than the current 42 months?
        The pricing for a NuScale or an MPower Small reactor is about 4.5 cents /Kwh. They will produce between 45 to 125MW. They can be designed to load follow. These will eliminate the need for wind power. (Oh man, perhaps I shouldn’t say this to a wind advocate…) They will last between 40 to 60 years and perhaps as long as 90 years. As more and more SMR’s are produced the potential for reduced costs from the 4.5 cents is very great. There are other designs that have potential to be even less expensive when mass produced. LFTR’s do not need the massive steam containment shell that Light Water Reactors do and might be even less expensive to produce and operate since they can be refueled online under operation. The physical characteristics of a Molten allow it to load follow without needing operator intervention. Even the small LWR reactors can be grouped so that a 500MW plant only needs to have 10 to 20% of the capacity taken offline during a refueling and that refueling can be done much more quickly than our current massive nuclear power plants because it is easier to access the pressure vessel and because you have a large number of identical units which allow workers to gain expertise.
        Like moving the rope to the ground for that tightrope walker.
        The difference between a PLANNED outage on a very tight schedule every 18 to 24 months is vastly different than the UNPLANNED outage or overage that has no relationship to the need for electricity.
        From the same report you quote above,
        Further, the output of variable resources is characterized by steep

          1. @EL – the numbers I provided for Cape Wind are actual contract numbers. There is some indication of an effort by the Massachusetts attorney general to negotiate a more palatable contract that provides lower initial numbers, but the escalation clauses and other sweeteners remain with fewer details. Your source is an industry sponsored “study”, actual contracts and money changing hands leads to different numbers.
            http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/20277
            In support of DV82XL’s comment, there is a major difference between unpredictable outages that can happen at the most inconvenient time and scheduled outages that usually occur during seasons of low electricity demand. I will grant that not all nuclear outages are scheduled, but an increasingly large portion of them are. The unplanned outage rate in the US is tiny.
            In contrast, the wind often disappears exactly when it is needed the most – during hot, steamy summer heat waves and during cold, still winter cold snaps.
            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/8234616/Wind-farms-becalmed-just-when-needed-the-most.html
            http://www.ecolo.org/documents/documents_in_english/Wind-heat-06-5pc.htm
            When those kinds of weather events happen in areas with a large installed base of widely distributed wind turbines, the grid has to try to meet peaks with much of its “capacity” off line. That is why ERCOT, an organization dedicated to grid reliability, will only credit wind with about 8-9% of its nameplate value as “capacity” in its calculations of grid requirements.

          2. @ El,
            I am not pushing for illogical extremes. I am looking at a stated problem – Global warming caused by excess CO2. Other stated problems might be, high energy costs, resource wars, national sovereignty and security. For each of these problems we need an energy solution that is capable of actually supplying the needs.
            I brought up the example of the wind dying in the middle of winter not as a reductio ad absurdum but as a illustration of the need for spinning reserve. These events need to have a backup that is a large percentage of the capacity of the wind generators. The 80% back up reserved is exactly what is needed for these 1% events. This is not an unlikely event but one that clearly must be planned for and that can be anticipated to happen several times each year. Thus the need for the quickly responding reserves. At the moment the kind of reserves that can be switched on to accommodate the fast decline (or excess) are Hydroelectric or natural gas turbines. A Molten Salt nuclear reactor could also accommodate the changes. You mentioned pumped storage. There is a very limited number of geographical areas that this can be done.
            The currently proposed “solutions” are some form of smart grid. This sounds possible to non-technical ears but when you look at line losses over distance, the cost of building extra capacity (for the total potential generation) that is rarely used and the desire for control over household consumption. When you realize that the major consumers are industries and that home based conservation has a very minimal impact you begin to realize that there is no need for wind. We have a solution that can work with the existing infrastructure at a reasonable cost and that will on a known historical basis replace fossil and remove profits from the bottom line of fossil companies.
            I will take your words exactly, If nuclear creates jobs, boost economic productivity and displaces fossil fuels from the energy mix I think this is enough reason to pursue it. If with reasonable regulation Nuclear proves to be a better solution, the wind turbines will die down.
            Wind only exists now because the green lobby had decided (especially greenpeace) that nuclear should always be opposed. You keep saying we are pushing for 100% of the energy mix. Are you not exaggerating? Who on this forum has said 100%? Especially in the next couple of decades.
            What do you mean “If nuclear can only meet technological concerns, and can’t address policy goals or environmental priorities”? Can you expound on how nuclear does NOT address policy or environment?
            We have clearly replied to your assertions that mining is a problem. You admit that it is only ionizing radiation that makes uranium and thorium different and we have pointed out that this can be mitigated to reasonable levels.
            So, what do you still feel is a problem?
            Thanks for a good discussion.

      3. @EL – I am not sure where you are getting your cost numbers. You must be reading studies from the wind industry, not looking at actual behavior of the wind industry when they actually have to balance budgets and real expenditures.
        The power purchase agreement signed between Cape Wind and National Grid is one example of reality. It starts with an initial price per kilowatt hour of about 20.5 cents in 2013 and escalates at 3.5% per year (automatically) for 15 years, at which time the price per kilowatt hour (guaranteed) will be 33.5 cents. Those costs ASSUME that the Cape Wind owner ALSO continues to receive the federal and state subsidies, like the 30% cash tax credit on the cost of the project.
        My point in this post is that offshore wind is an incredibly challenging engineering problem that is receiving a lot of attention. Many engineers just love working on hard problems. Unfortunately, the asymptote that limits its ultimate performance is really quite low compared to the factors that limit the ultimate performance of nuclear energy.
        It might very well be possible, with a lot of time and effort, to train teams of cyclists that can occasionally achieve speeds of 50-60 miles per hour with the right kind of wind while going downhill. However, if you want to deliver freight from one place to another on a regular schedule, you might want to invest that same time and money in somewhat more capable transportation system.

        1. @EL – You don’t know it but I’m the best friend you have here. The bottom line is that you are making an ass of yourself with these laughably ignorant statements that you make, and I’m the only one considerate enough to tell you so.
          You are still laboring under the impression that you are engaged in a debate – you are not – what you are doing is serving as an example of the worst sort of renewable ignoramus that we run into. Clearly you seem to think that you are bringing new and relevant observations to the table, but I’m telling you you are not, and that you simply must do more research in these areas if you don’t want to continue making a fool of yourself.

  6. From Reuters:
    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6BC25Q20101213
    The message is France needs to play catch-up in developing offshore wind turbine power! Huh? The French already get ~90% of their power from a combination of nuclear and hydro, but their nation is in danger of falling behind in developing unreliable and expensive wind power. Does this make sense to anyone?

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