If you really care about carbon…
By Paul Lorenzini
Two recent reports ought to frame the conundrum for environmental activists who oppose nuclear power and offer guidance for all who are concerned about carbon.
Renewables and efficiency are not enough
The first was BP’s Energy Outlook 2035. It challenges the prevailing narrative that has been driving the thought of many environmentalists for four decades: the notion that we can meet all our energy needs, including carbon reduction, with renewables and energy efficiency alone.
Partly the narrative claims we haven’t been giving enough support to these initiatives. BP’s report shows that is not the case. First, energy efficiency is not only working, it is a major assumption in the plan. They project a decline of 35% in energy intensity (the amount of energy required per unit of GDP), with an expectation that this trend will accelerate: “the expected rate of decline post 2020”, they report, “is more than double the decline rate achieved 2000-2010.” OECD countries have, they argue, “started to ‘crack the code’ of sustaining economic growth while reducing energy demand”.
Even so, global energy production rises by 41% by 2035, with 95% of that growth coming from emerging economies. Embedded in this assumption is an increasing trend toward electrification, with electricity accounting for 57% of the growth in primary energy consumption.
In other words, efficiency has limits. Energy consumption still grows, driven mostly by the need for improved living conditions in emerging countries.
Second, the report shows a major shift toward renewable energy resources. “Renewable energy”, they write, “will no longer be a minor player”, growing more than three times faster than any other resource:
Yet even with these successes with efficiency and renewables, carbon emissions increase by 29% through the period. Coal and gas each contribute 38% of the increase, and coal remains the largest source of power through 2035:
Taken together there is a critical point here: focusing only on efficiency and renewables will not solve the carbon problem; carbon emissions continue to grow in spite of global efforts to move forward with efficiency and renewables and don’t approach the levels needed to achieve the kinds of reductions most consider necessary, illustrated above by the IEA 450 scenario.
Seeking a real non-carbon energy policy
The pervasive dependence on fossil fuels that is driving carbon emissions has been and will be intractable until we alter our thinking on energy policy. The IEA has attempted to frame the magnitude of the challenge with their “450 Scenario”, a path forward that would keep atmospheric carbon concentrations at levels below 450 ppm. It will require a significant course change.
By way of background, in their World Energy Outlook for 2013, the IEA compares their “450 scenario” with a “Current Policies” scenario (only policies enacted by mid-2013), a “New Policies” scenario (includes commitments not yet enacted). Focusing on the period we can most influence today – 2020 to 2035, the contrast between energy futures in the three scenarios is shown below:
The message here is pretty clear: to achieve the kinds of carbon reductions required by the “450 scenario”, global coal generation must decline significantly and gas generation does not grow. To replace gas and coal, nuclear, hydro and renewables all increase: nuclear by 2.5x and renewables by 2x.
The nuclear challenge
The second report, released in December, draws attention to one of the major challenges to be faced as we think about a future role for nuclear power. To fully utilize nuclear power, not only must we consider policy support for new builds, we must assure existing plants continue to operate safely. The American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs studied the pending problem of nuclear plant license renewals beyond their current regulatory limit of 60 years, drawing attention to the fact that 100 gigawatts of nuclear generating capacity will begin shutting down by 2030 and would need to be replaced by other resources.
APS stressed the urgency of this situation by observing:
- Nuclear plants “do not emit any of the six air pollutants identified in the Clean Air Act”;
- In contrast to coal and gas, “nuclear plants provide near carbon-free energy, currently accounting for over 60% of the nation’s near-zero carbon energy production and displacing an estimated 600 million tons of carbon per year”; and
- “Renewing licenses preserves a low-carbon energy source at a time when there is no economical way to replace that capacity.”
There are technical and regulatory issues that must be addressed and resolved in order to achieve these license extensions and the focus of the report was on steps needed to address them. An important point was the urgent need to achieve resolution since resource replacement or life extension choices will need to be made well before plants retire, roughly by ten years.
Putting nuclear power back on the table
More broadly, however, the APS report reaches beyond life extension issues to address basic policy questions, arguing for three major policy initiatives.
The first is an “Enhanced Energy Strategy Pathway”, emphasizing not just license renewals, but arguing that “the federal government or more individual states could enact policies that support lowest-carbon sources; or, financial institutions could weigh environmental impact in evaluating utilities”. One of the major recommendations is the adoption of “Clean Energy Standards” (CES) that include nuclear power. A second suggestion relates to financing and the inclusion of nuclear power in Environmental Societal Governance Criteria, a means of encouraging nuclear investments.
The second is an “Enhanced Research Pathway” aimed at addressing issues specifically related to life extensions, while the third calls for an “Enhanced Leadership Pathway”, calling upon the U.S. to adopt “a concentrated program to support the development, manufacturing and licensing of new nuclear reactors that can be built, operated and eventually decommissioned in a manner that is safe, environmentally sound, and cost effective.
Nuclear power in a post-Fukushima world
The growth of nuclear power is problematic given the persistent opposition from environmental groups. It surfaces in several ways, one of the most important being the exclusion of nuclear power from renewable portfolio mandates, a problem not just in the US, but with many global policies as well. Last November, for example, the World Bank announced that $600-$800 billion will be needed to support the United Nation’s “Energy for All” program, targeting universal access to electricity; yet nuclear power would be excluded: “we don’t do nuclear energy”, said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
For nuclear power to be considered a real option, it must be recognized nationally and globally as an important resource to be added to the mix and that interest needs to be reflected in energy policies. It is especially critical that it be done in the post-Fukushima world given the obvious public concerns left in its wake. There are reasonable answers to these concerns if we look for them, such as newer, safer nuclear plants of many stripes.
During the past year a shift has begun to take place within the environmental community, influenced to a great extent by Robert Stone’s documentary “Pandora’s Promise”, reinforced by numerous articles in the punditry calling for a re-examination of nuclear power (see this discussion between Michael Moore and Robert Stone following a recent showing); a study co-authored by climate change scientist James Hansen showing the real environmental and safety benefits of nuclear power measured in lives saved for the past few decades; and a letter signed in November by four leading climate change scientists including Hansen, urging their colleagues to re-consider their historical opposition to nuclear power.
It has been an encouraging development, but it is a shift that needs to be translated into policy actions, such as those recommended by the APS leaders.
The environmental movement is key here. Over the years they have gained credibility and influence and their thoughtful consideration of nuclear power, urged as noted above by key climate scientists, will be an important step forward. Ultimately we need to stop thinking about renewables and nuclear power as competing resources. It is not “either/or”, but “both/and”. To that end, we also need to rethink the way we integrate resources to create the least cost, lowest carbon and most reliable operating grid.
Integrating wind and solar into the grid
Current thinking is that renewables need gas generation to complement their intermittency. Gas works because capital costs are low and it is a suitable resource for load following and intermittent operations. The contrasting cost profiles are shown below.
There are, however, some issues here that don’t get the attention they deserve.
First, as gas runs at lower capacity factors (CF) its economics deteriorate (see above). Once the CF reaches levels near 30%, its economic advantages over nuclear power and coal in terms of life cycle costs are virtually lost, ignoring completely the impacts of carbon penalties or adding carbon capture/sequestration technologies. This is not an academic number: the global capacity factor for gas generation in 2035 under the 450 scenario in WEO 2013 is roughly 31%, reflecting a diminished role for gas to accommodate the growth of renewables.
Second, gas is, after all, gas. Other than coal, it is, by at least an order of magnitude, the largest carbon emitter in our energy portfolio. As California considered its future, they found the heavy use of gas can compromise carbon goals:
“If electric generation is predominantly intermittent renewable power, using natural gas to firm the power would likely result in greenhouse gas emissions that would alone exceed the 2050 target for the entire economy.”
While gas has been popularized as a “bridge fuel”, rational common sense says that is not compatible with reducing carbon emissions. The whole point of the 450 scenario is that reliance on gas needs to be curbed. While gas is clearly the cleanest fossil fuel, it is still a carbon emitter and it should be a last resort, especially if non-carbon alternatives such as nuclear power are available.
Losing the plot?
The notion that gas is the best approach for integrating wind and solar has become so locked into our thinking that it can lead to some strange thinking. One emerging narrative is that the benefits of wind and solar are measured by their ability to “displace” existing fossil generation. A co-author of the NREL’s recent study on the cost impacts of cycling fossil fueled plants (Dr. Debra Lew) was quoted by Greentech Media making this point: “we all know that the primary benefit of 1 megawatt-hour of wind and solar is to displace 1 megawatt-hour of other generation, typically fossil fueled generation because that is what’s on the margin. Displacing a megawatt-hour of fossil-fueled generation displaces the costs and emissions associated with that fuel.” Stop and think about this: gas generation is installed to be sure the system can serve load at all times, then solar and wind are installed to make sure the gas does not generate unless absolutely necessary.
This is basically what California has done. During the last decade they installed over 14 GW of gas generation, accounting for roughly 88% of new capacity; wind and solar installations during the period were less than 10%. By the end of the decade, there was sufficient excess gas generating capacity that gas plants were running, on average, at under 30% capacity factor. Now, with plenty of excess generating capacity in hand, they had the luxury of turning to wind and solar, which they did not need to meet load – they had plenty of gas – but was required by their renewable portfolio standard. During the next two years, over 90% of all new generating capacity was wind and solar. When the San Onofre nuclear plants were taken out of service, the deficit was easily accommodated with increased gas generation as capacity factors for gas facilities in California increased from 23% in 2011 to 31% in 2012. Renewables played virtually no role in filling the San Onofre deficit.
In the end, a state that is bleeding red is spending billions on renewable generation they don’t need.
Rethinking the link between gas, nuclear and renewables: is there a role for nuclear power?
As more and more intermittent generation is being installed under the force of mandates and subsidies, there is a growing appreciation of the challenges the system will face.
In CitiGroup’s recent analysis of Germany’s grid, they note the role solar is currently playing, picking up peak loads during the day, with a typical winter workday (left), a sunny workday (middle) and a sunny weekend (right).
They then show what is expected to happen as more solar is added to the grid for the same three scenarios:
What they observe is the daily solar loads eventually close down baseload generating facilities pushing them to the shoulder periods.
The picture at the far right is not dissimilar to the so-called “duck curve”, named for its duck-like shape, generated by California’s system operator as they face the realities of growing solar installations:
As more and more solar is added to the grid, solar generation during peak hours increases and dispatchable resources such as gas are cut back. As the sun sets later in the day, dispatchable resources must increase in both amounts and ramp rates to match the dropping levels of solar generation. Today it is not a big problem, but by 2020, the increased solar generation causes the “belly” of the duck to increase in size, magnifying the rapid changes in generation as the sun goes down, just as loads are increasing toward the end of the day when people return home and fire up air conditioners.
The solution will be difficult as even gas generation will be stressed by these rapid changes. Some form of fast acting storage will be needed.
But it is only a problem because of the way we have chosen to integrate solar into the grid. If adequate storage were used instead to store solar generation during peak hours for use during off-peak periods, management of the grid would be greatly eased. But thinking this way poses another opportunity: if intermittent generation were integrated with some form of storage, they could together provide an energy resource that becomes dispatchable, facilitating both load management and control of frequency and voltage fluctuations. Excess energy generated during peak periods could be stored and used to balance the system while operating baseload generating facilities such as nuclear plants at high capacity factors where they are most economic. As a by-product, nuclear plants would replace gas facilities, minimizing carbon from gas and avoiding the capital investment in gas generating facilities that were never intended to carry much of the load anyway.
The need for a national nuclear policy
None of this will happen unless there is a recognized national interest to be served by encouraging the role of nuclear power in national energy policies, much as the APS report recommended.
We have for too long been guided by utopian visions that are impractical, and uneconomic. At issue is the “renewables-only, no-nukes” energy vision first articulated four decades ago by Amory Lovins and now embedded in the DNA of too many long time environmental advocates. As many studies have shown, it is possible in theory, but at what cost and with what infrastructure challenges?
The problem was summed up well by Kevin Bullis, editor of MIT’s Technology Review:
“… delve into these roadmaps and you’ll often find jaw-dropping numbers of solar panels and wind turbines, radical changes to existing infrastructure, and amazing assumptions about our ability to cut energy use that make switching to renewable energy seem more daunting.”
In October 2013, a study was released by Megan Nicholson and Matthew Stepp of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation critiquing what they called the “clean energy deployment consensus”, meaning the view held by so many that such futures are a legitimate aspiration. They conclude these scenarios “downplay significant and possibly infeasible renewable capacity scale-up”, they “overlook or misrepresent persistent storage and integration challenges that will pose significant costs to consumers at high levels of renewables penetration” and they are weakened by limiting “the technology options of a renewable future to wind, solar, and water resources, instead of incorporating other low- and zero- carbon solutions into the projections to maximize cost effectiveness”. They further argue that nuclear energy “should not be excluded from future plans when considering economically feasible futures.”
It is long past time to face the global realities of the energy challenge facing this generation: decarbonization, serving emerging nations, and doing so with an achievable and sustainable pathway that will actually achieve these ends. It is not that renewables per se are the problem, but that the focus has been too intent on using renewables only with gas as a bridge fuel while excluding nuclear power, in some cases taking on the character of a parlor game (e.g., “Wind power is poised to kick nuclear’s ass”), with various interests competing against each other.
If the same intellectual and financial energies were invested in an alternate vision, one that uses our best non-carbon resources including nuclear power in the most cost effective, complementary and resource efficient ways, it would be possible to pursue policies that offer a much greater chance of achieving our energy and environmental goals with lower social costs. Getting there will require a shift in old paradigms, and agreement that such a vision serves the national interest. Given developments during the past year, there is positive hope for such a change.
Interesting graphs from Citigroup. The worst cast solar (sunny weekend) graph looks like it would make the case for government subsidies for batteries to store excess power. Of course in the case of my state, Colorado, the law specifically will not provide any tax breaks for residential solar if you connect batteries to your system (which, to me, basically negates one major advantage of a solar electric system, redundancy).
I wonder how much of the increased energy efficiency in the OECD countries is simply the shift of manufacturing to China? Some colleagues just got back from Beijing. The air pollution is horrendous. It has to be clear to the Chinese by now that nuclear is the only way to clear the air and maintain that level of manufacturing … and that is without even considering climate change.
You cannot see the sunshine in Beijing. Period.
China will have to put all of its might to build 20 or so nukes very rapidly in and around Beijing.
It will happen. You can bet that 10 EPRs and 10 AP1000s will be under contract this year.
I would bet on 15-20 CAP1400s instead.
First question: To what extent is the construction of nuclear reactors dependent upon dictates handed down from the CPC in their five year guidelines?
From what I can gather, in the 13th five year guideline (2016-2020), there will only be 18GW of new nuclear capacity built, which will have little effect on air quality in major population centres, including Beijing. Does anyone know what the qualitative goals of the plan are at this stage?
Second question: Do municiplal-level cities such as Chongqing and Beijing have more or less freedom/resources to pursue local-level initiatives than do cities in ‘special economic zones’ such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen?
I’m guessing that cities under control of the CPC could be allocated huge amounts of government money IF the CPC saw a need to do so. On the other hand, SEZs would only have access to government resources generated at the local level, BUT could also gather substantially more private capital than other areas?
I’m not exactly an authority on the politics of China, but I think that would be the best place to start in determining whether nuclear remains a low priority relative to coal, or is poised for a huge, exponential expansion.
“there will only be 18GW of new nuclear capacity built” – with CFs around or over 100% ?? As opposed to what? Wind and solar they diont even bother to connect to the grid?
Mainland China has 20 nuclear power reactors in operation, 28 under construction, and more about to start construction.
Additional reactors are planned, including some of the world’s most advanced, to give a four-fold increase in nuclear capacity to at least 58 GWe by 2020, then possibly 200 GWe by 2030, and 400 GWe by 2050. ( WNA )
China’s existing coal capacity is around 750 GW.
I agree that they should expand nuclear capacity with gusto, and I believe it is their only option to ensure their citizens have a reasonable standard of living. Although, they may need approximately 5 more years to ‘smooth out’ their trajectory, that is, to figure out the design and supply chain of indigenous reactors.
However, my question was a one of practical politics. While I’m finding it difficult to find much information on the 13th five year guideline, my question is: To what extent is China, as a country of peoples, not the body politic, able to act outside the guideline’s scope? What resources are available to different organisations that aren’t received from on-high? I’m wondering how bearish/bullish one ought to view China’s nuclear expansion.
Hope that clears my position and question up?
Oh sorry. That is a interesting question. In some ways I think the five year plans are so lose as to encompass some of issues they may encounter in their original state. Ive actually read a bit on this.
Are we still in the 12th five year plan? I have not seen much on the 13th.
This article makes little sense.
The progression seems to be:
1) The future should be both nuclear and wind/solar.
2) Wind/solar has the problem of intermittency. Graphs show problem. Plays poorly on the grid with other generators, yet the other generators are absolutely necessary to grid reliabiltiy.
3) Waves hands and says storage will solve problems.
4) Casts bone to nuclear claiming that having storage is no reason to dispense with nuclear.
Let’s go back to 2. The graphs clearly state why wind and solar are ridiculously expensive and impractical. No viable storage technology exists and none can be counted on, though it could materialize.
Why in the world should we waste money on wind and solar, when nuclear can solve the problem faster, cheaper, and without so much threat to grid reliability and the affordability of electricity.
The article had a really calm, reasonable tone, but the words made no sense.
Lets start with the basics. The standard efficiency, renewables-only, no nukes narrative is (1) we can do without nuclear, and (2) this is a pathway to a low carbon future. In virtually every op-ed piece critical of Pandora’s Promise during the past year, the starting point has been “what about efficiency”. The point of the first section is that the data is in – the combination of effi8ciency, and renewables cannot solve the problem alone — we need nuclear.
Part 2 discusses the challenges of nuclear and emphasizes the need for a national policy that acknolwedges its importance. It address two understated concerns: first, the need to address the pending issue of nuclear retirements; and second, the need for a shared national vision that endorses nuclear power.
Part 3 addresses the issue of how nuclear integrates in an existing renewables system. I admit I may have skipped a step in the logic here, but it oparates on the premise that renewables are a reality that must be faced. Virtually every major forecast sees wind and solar playing a major role and I know of no serious policy person who is challenging the reality of that future, thought there are certainly many who querstion its wisdom. Even if they crash in the next five years, we will be left with a legacy system that has lots of wind and solar. This makes no atempt to debate that future; it asks how we live with it and integrate nuclear power into it.
The challenge, therefore, is finding the right energy source to integrate the pre-existing intermittent generation. That is the situation energy planners are facing — thay are aopting to gas as the default resource for all the rasons stated in the article. Nuclear is a difficult resource ot but for that system because of the pre-existing paradigm that nuclear must load-follow, whic is nhjot economical.
The point of part 3 — which I admit assumes an appreciation of all this, is to argue (1) that defaulting to gas is a mistake if carbon is the issue; and (2) that there is another way to think about integration in which nuclear and intermittent resources can work together effectively. Yes it assumes storage, but I see no future involving intermittent resoucrs that wil not rely on storage at some point, even though there’ work to do.
As a pooint of interest, the largest energy storage facility in the world is a pumped hydro system in Virginia that is used for integrating a nuclear plant — stores nuclear at night for use during the day.
I hope this helps.
It’s much simpler to repeal a few regulations to make the legacy RE more grid-friendly. For instance, repealing the must-take portions of carbon-free portfolio standards allows wind and solar, rather than nuclear, to be curtailed when there’s an immediate surplus. If this e.g. forces someone in Phoenix with a lot of PV to make a use-it-or-dump-it decision, this is a GOOD thing. They could install an Ice Bear system and dump their PV surplus into storing ice for A/C loads later in the day. They could use the same Ice Bear to store overnight nuclear-generated electricity as ice to cool things as the morning heated up.
If there’s no way to effectively use or store the feast-or-famine output of renewables, they shouldn’t be built.
Storage is much more economical in combination with nuclear than wind/solar. Nuclear can do daily cycling of storage equal to a few hours of average load. Wind and PV need storage equal to 1-2 DAYS of average load.
The push for “renewables” has been, as some have noted, an outgrowth of Romanticism, a desire to go back to a bucolic paradise that never existed. Despite all our technology we still can’t make it exist, so we need to stop demanding it. Replacing “renewable” portfolio standards with carbon-free portfolio standards would be far more productive. Michigan would already be well upwards of 30%. Vermont would have no excuse for shutting down Vermont Yankee. Credits for displacement of other fuels would spur sales of EVs and installations of chargers.
We need to stop feeding the hogs slopping at the troughs of tax credits and implicit ag price supports, and get down to brass tacks.
Where do you get this nonsense?
That is a question you’d better ask the mirror.
Did you read the lead article (and supporting material), or did you not?
If you don’t wish to engage with the issues as people understand them (particularly as regards storage applications and available engineering options), I am unclear why you are raising some of these issues in the first place?
The push for “renewables” has been, as some have noted, an outgrowth of Romanticism, a desire to go back to a bucolic paradise that never existed.
Hasn’t been said as directly or as well I think. Invoking Romanticism is both probably descriptive and historically correct leading into both American Transcendentalism and later marginally rationalized in German Idealism.
@John T Tucker
Huh? A wind farm (turbine, power substation, control center, battery banks if available, transmission lines) are all very large and conspicuous pieces of industrial equipment. I don’t consider them very bucolic or evocative of a paradise that never existed.
Do you think this might be a little bit of hyperbole or a “straw man” type of thing (or is there an actual poll and public opinion research to back this up)?
There are not a lot of evocative poems on the bucolic or romantic aspects of industrial sources of energy (renewable or otherwise). A handful of exceptions is far from proving the rule.
Aren’t German’s (the Protestant Work Ethic) and Americans also rational capitalists, consumers, and materialists as well? What is your explanation for Denmark and Spain (or Iowa and North Dakota as the focal point for this kind of development in the US). Pretty conservative places, or has transcendentalism taken up root in the American heartland, and is slowly but surely moving its way west?
Pure fantasy EL.
Land use, necessary infrastructure and intermittentcy are the elephants in your Green living room.
I see you have another helping of green platitudes for me. I think the philosophical motivation is the primary one here. I think we have the correct answer.
Thank you for your explanation of your viewpoint.
If we accept as a given that installing so-called renewables is a bad idea, we then have a question of strategy of how to address the current situation.
I’m not sure that your strategy is the wisest, but I can certainly see the arguments behind it.
However, my viewpoint is that every dollar spent on renewables is wasted and that’s a dollar which was not spent on the very immediate and threatening problem of climate change and CO2 reduction. It is a tough slog to get that message out, but it is essential that society come to see it.
I suspect that other countries will embrace it long before the USA and western Europe, and we’ll find that all those smug, self-righteous Kyoto protocol originators have been surpassed by the countries which originally had large dirty emissions, but which avoided Kyoto’s nuclear hating directives and largely went straight to nuclear.
However, my viewpoint is that every dollar spent on renewables is wasted and that’s a dollar which was not spent on the very immediate and threatening problem of climate change and CO2 reduction. It is a tough slog to get that message out, but it is essential that society come to see it.
I agree with this, it becomes even more absurd in my home country Sweden. Our national grid has been CO2 neutral since around 1980. We still have mandates of financial support for wind, solar and biomass into the electrical grid. The cost calculations for going from 10 TWh of wind to 17 TWh of wind is somewhere around 100 billion SEK (~14 billion USD) in just tax benefits and grid expansions until 2025 (so the cost for the actual wind tubines and the new roads to the wind turbines are not included).
So that is 100 billion SEK that might replace some nukes, but will not do any difference when it comes to CO2. Meanwhile we lack the funds to proper maintain and expand our railroad system. We can not find the funds to expand the underground tube system in Stockholm or Göteborg (Gothenburg). One proposed tube system in Gothenburg would cost 8 billion SEK, cut the travel time through the central city with 10 minutes and help speed up the other tram lines due to less traffic on the central tram lines.
A 1 GW nuclear reactor would produce about 8 TWh of electricity annually. So, if your country is spending 14 billion USD on a 7 TWh increment of wind, it’s a complete waste compared to what that money would purchase in nuclear generated electricity.
With new 1.6 GW reactors costing about $7 billion on the high side, Sweden could purchase two nuclear reactors and get ~ 25 TWHr of clean annual electrical capacity for the same money.
“If we accept as a given that installing so-called renewables is a bad idea, we then have a question of strategy of how to address the current situation.”
You work out the details but here’s one big picture approach and it’s simple. Right now the rules are ambiguous at best about nuclear investment. The rules must be changed so that it is a “boom” investment. Why do people wildcat oil wells? Why do people pan gold in the Klondike? Why do people spend years of their lives looking for long lost doubloons? Partially it’s the adventure and partially it’s the chance to make some money.
If some simple rule changes are done so that nuclear gives Wall Street a big smile your problem will be solved. If the return can simply be made to reflect nature’s reality, then the dollars will no longer be chasing after wind and solar.
The people who need to be convinced are those with the money. Those with a politician or three in their back pockets can get the rules changed. They will make more money, the new nukes will be built, the world will be cleaner and money will chase after even better reactor types.
Yes, the details are still left to you.
And the prospect of a carbon-tax — even a small one — was what fueled the pre-fd “nuclear renaissance” that fizzled rather than boomed when the administration spent its political capital elsewhere. Tragic yes, but it remains the reality.
I recently reviewed three deep-penetration renewables studies that envisioned cost-minimised renewable generation 80% – 99% of grid energy by 2040 – 2050 compared with projected bau baselines based on current proportions of fossils and renewables. Two of these studies were of U.S. grids, the third from Australia. Additional nuclear build was excluded from each. (In interest of balance I also examined three studies that bit the bullet and asked “Okay. And what if you do allow new nuclear build?”
Results were interesting, if intuitively predictable. Up to the 85% carbon reduction level, the cost of renewables+fossil (including coal co-fired biomass) exceeded that of nuclear+gas alone (simply replace all coal in bau baseline scenarios with nuclear) by factors of 1.5 to 3, depending on a host of assumptions.
And apart from the U.K.’s Carbon Plan and World RCP4.5, 80% electric grid carbon reduction was what most studies shot for. And at that level we’re better off cost-and-carbon-wise forgoing wind and solar entirely and concentrating our efforts solely on nuclear and gas. Nothing new here — others came to the same conclusion long before I did. However, wind and solar are political realities, we’ve got them needed or not, so we may as well make good use of them. And getting beyond that 85% grid carbon reduction with nuclear alone will be, at today’s capital cost, horribly expensive. This is because in U.S. today coal runs at about 78% capacity factor and gas at 20%. Drop out 300 GW 78% CF mostly baseload coal and replace with 78% CF nuclear = good. Drop out an additional 390 GW 20% CF mostly variable load gas and replace with nuclear = there-gotta-be-a-better-way.
I haven’t run estimates on that last one yet, but am hoping unreliables plus whatever incremental hydro and biomass we can eek out can help with that last 15% variable load. We’ll still need the gas capacity and infrastructure of course, but the ratio of gas to unreliables to go the last fifteen miles can probably be something much more realistic than if that combination had to cover baseload as well.
Were you considering existing grid load in isolation? My 2004 calculation suggested that electrification of US ground transportation could add on the order of 180 GW of average load. If the bulk of this was fed by overnight charging, there’s your 15% variable load almost three times over.
While doesn’t show up in your review, did you have a chance to look at the following study that does compare and contrast high renewables v. high nuclear approach to the question of deep greenhouse gas reduction (and associated costs), including electrification of ground transportation.
With respect to fullness and relevance, I highly recommend you look at study and incorporate it into your review.
The study you linked does not define it’s cost assumptions. They say they use learning curves from literature for costs of energy generation in the future but don’t define them. Since there is controversy in the literature over these curves (especially for nuclear power), the authors need to do more to show their work.
As it is, we have no way of knowing whether they used nuclear power learning-curves similar to historical observation in France (which was highly positive and led to an all-in nuclear electricity cost including all costs and subsidies of less than 4 USDct/kWh in the year 2000 at 80% penetration of nuclear electricity, according to analysis ordered by French Parlementary inquiry), or whether they used the so-called ‘negative learning curve for nuclear power’ which has been misrepresented and cherry picked by anti-nukes from politically sabotaged or FOAK nuclear projects and elevated to received wisdom by most if not all Greens who ignore the reality of highly competitive nuclear power projects in countries which don’t have powerful anti-nuclear vested interests.
Similarly, we don’t know how optimistic they are on the other hand about RE learning curves. Many Greens even to this day deny that the learning curve of off-shore wind – for example – was highly negative over the course of the last decade, almost tripling the cost of offshore wind. Similarly, recent studies show that the impressive cost reductions of solar PV have much more to do with deteriorating margins, illegal state aid, lack of environmental protection laws governing PV production and the large scale usage of prison labour. Future PV costs are unlikely too fall much further from today’s level, and some people (including me) think that only radically new technologies will bring the costs of solar electricity down further. Obviously, we have no way of predicting when or whether such technology will arrive.
We also have no way of knowing how they treat the future cost of nuclear fuels, which are supposed to become far more expensive in the near future according to many anti-nukes who embrace the bogus fabricated “Storm-Smith” version of uranium mining prospects and implications. For that matter, we don’t know whether they even acknowledge that the Russians are already commercializing fast reactor technology which is arguably likely to become ever more competitive in the coming decades.
The authors state that “Smart EV charging is essential for reducing the cost of electrification”. In other words, the authors depend on large-scale distributed EV charging to absorb oversupply from wind and solar during sunny days and windy periods while EV charging is minimised during period of low RE availability (windless nights, cloudy winter days). Perhaps the owners even envisage EV’s as a suppliers of stored RE electricity (V2G)? But modelling how that is going to work is complex since it depends on how well the EV charging demand and EV battery capacity match up with RE oversupply/undersupply timing. V2G also presumes high power charging/discharging of EV parked at home or on company parking lots, which would require adding significant transmission and distribution capacity just for the purpose of V2G. Costs of this? We just don’t know from reading this study. I’m ready to assume the authors simply ignored such costs, since almost all authors who deny the superior economic performance of nuclear vs renewables do it.
BTW, I visited Ed Leaver’s website and read his many analyses of all the different energy studies. It’s very worthwhile. Have you done so as well, EL?
“Drop out 300 GW 78% CF mostly baseload coal and replace with 78% CF nuclear = good. Drop out an additional 390 GW 20% CF mostly variable load gas and replace with nuclear = there-gotta-be-a-better-way.”
I think this better way is advanced nuclear powered hydrogen production. In my perspective, liquid fuels are inherently crucial for so many applications – such as aviation, heavy long-distance trucking and for the military for example – that nuclear hydrogen production for synfuels is virtually certain to be developed (assuming we want to eliminate co2 emissions), since we already know that the costs of nuclear synfules will be largely – if not quite – competitive with the equivalent of $100 oil (though not likely with the equivalent of $4 natural gas).
Such a cost expectation for nuclear power derived hydrogen and/or synfuels means that low-CF gas turbines running on nuclear derived fuels should be not be too much more expensive than natural gas (or gasified coal) powered peakers. In any case, the major cost component for low-CF power generation is I think not so much the cost of fuel anyway, but rather the cost of capital and maintenance.
I doubt that sustainably and affordably produced biomass will be abundant enough to supply global demand for low-CF combustion applications in the future. I expect global energy demand to at least triple and perhaps quintuple this century. Ultimately it might even increase tenfold from todays level in the next century. That would mean perhaps half or more of today’s total energy demand in absolute terms would still be produced by low-CF generation in the future. From memory, that would be on the order of 250 EJ of primary energy or more, which is already bumping against the projected limits of sustainably producible biomass from literature (which is 250 EJ/y), thereby leaving no such biomass for application in the industrial and chemical sectors as a substitute for existing fossil derived feedstocks.
It’s possible advanced biomass from algae might supply vast amounts of affordable energy, but I doubt it. Algae energy production is more complex and costly than people seem to assume or expect. If I had to choose now, I’d bet on advanced nuclear powered hydrogen production to ultimately supply least-cost (environmentally and financially) low-CF zero-carbon fuel demand.
“so that it is a “boom” investment”
LOL. Where I live, there isn’t a university nuclear engineering programme within a radius of 1000 miles. The heavy engineering capability in this socialist banana republic is ZILCH.
Its amusing reading all the socialist fools blather on about emissions like they really have something to offer the world. Keep fantasizing about The Next Big Thing now…
Since I don’t know where you live, I can’t argue with you. However, I can argue with your assumption that “nuclear engineering” is the only heavy engineering required for new nuclear power plants. Most of a modern LWR is a steam plant. The primary engineering skills required are electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and structural engineering. We have some of the best programs in the world in those fields.
There is not much nuclear engineering required; we have a sufficient number of skilled people to get a good start. We can train more as needed.
“Wind and PV need storage equal to 1-2 DAYS of average load.”
That should be 2 to 3 weeks for wind.
Perhaps to get full replacment of existing energy, but to eliminate the overhead of off-spec operation and rapid ramping of other generators, 48 hours is sufficient. CCGTs can be cold-started in a few hours, SCGTs in tens of minutes.
At which point, one has still paid for generation infrastructure **twice**. Why not just skip the wind and/or solar and build the gas in its most efficient form in the first place? And then skip the gas and just build nuclear instead?
Precisely. Nuclear + 6 hours of storage is better than RE + 48 hours of storage + backup.
Who’s suggesting we do this?
Are you assuming no access to a grid and no adequate resource planning to account for seasonal and daily scheduling shortfalls?
I don’t know of anybody who is suggesting we build RE and storage systems as you are describing. If nobody is seeking to build such a system, I’m curious, why do you keep bringing it up?
Simply because EL it should have been implemented BEFORE massive wind and solar installs.
@John T Tucker
You typically address variability of energy resources with forecast models, grid expansion, capacity and operational reserves, resource planning (for seasonal shortfalls), available storage, overbuilding, curtailment, demand response, and the like.
You don’t build out two days of storage (at average load). This isn’t how energy resource planning and design is done.
I believe most people know this (you, Don Cox, and Engineer-Poet appear to be the exception).
You mean playing the numbers with more infrastructure and uncertainty. Yea. We know.
You don’t build out two days of storage (at average load). This isn’t how energy resource planning and design is done.
So how are you going to handle wind and solar as grid power without storage or backup? Because today in Denmark and Germany the single largest problem is how to handle to uneven power production, especially as Germany and Denmark tend to overproduce electricity during the same time. It is such a problem that EU has a special research program to find ways to handle the issue.
For Denmark one of the solution is to expand storage of heat in distributed heat system. So at least Denmark is trying to store energy during times of overproduction.
“So how are you going to handle wind and solar as grid power without storage or backup?”
I think the strategy is to roll-out the application of so-called ‘smart meters’ and variable-pricing of electricity for households on the minute-by-minute scale. In this way, households will be “able to optimize their energy costs”. Whenever insufficient energy from wind or solar is available, the price of electricity will skyrocket to whatever level is nececssary for enough households and business to determine that shutting down their operations is really the only option.
This strategy is problematic since it will knee-cap energy intensive and capital intensive industries on the one hand, and it will hit poor households far harder than rich households. In other words, the promise of the many ‘benefits’ of smart metering are sham. In fact it will increase inequality, increase energy poverty and drive capital and energy intensive industry off-shore.
Which is not even a problem for many Greens, especially the elitist Greens who don’t like heavy, energy intensive industry in the first place (which they tend to call ‘obsolete dinosaurs’ or ‘not part of the society we should aim for’) and who believe only the rich deserve to live comfortable lives while the poor should be “stimulated to organize their lives around the availability of cheap renewable energy”, and more of such claptrap…
@Joris van Dorp
If this is what EL is proposing his/her solution will just mean distributed storage. The only way the poor will be able to afford energy in such a solution is owning their own batteries. The next thing that the poor will do is raiding the local forest…
Who said we are going to be doing this without any of the ordinary services (bulk, ancillary, etc.) for integrating variable resources?
I can think of numerous resources (both in US, Europe, and elsewhere) for better understanding energy storage services and benefits. Since there is a considerable level of misinformation provided above, I recommend one resource as a start.
The electricity industry (EPRI) in the US, in collaboration with Sandia and NRECA, recently updated their Energy Storage Handbook (2013)which is a “guide for electric systems engineers/planners, energy storage system vendors, and investors to aid in the selection, procurement, installation, and/or operation of stationary energy storage systems in today’s electricity grid.”
There are a lot of changes happening in this area, including many recent updates to FERC rules (here and elsewhere) to better utilize renewables and available technologies (as described in lead article), energy storage services, enhance reliability, and lower costs for consumers (particularly at peak times with renewables being fed into the grid). I fully anticipate these trends to continue, and expand in the future.
I could provide numerous other links on energy storage, ancillary services, grid enhancements (including smart grid), efficiency, demand management, virtual power plants, costs, etc. But I’ve already been told by E-P that my links are too numerous and page heavy for some readers to handle … please advise if you want me to include further references by way of providing better resources and information to yourself or others on the site. The DOE/EPRI (2013) handbook is a good start.
I remain curious about how you have enough time in the day to work on your graduate studies AND read all of the voluminous documents on a completely different subject area from your dissertation that you link to here.
After I figure that one out, my next question to answer is, “Why do you bother?”
What makes you think this is particularly difficult or time consuming?
I enjoy doing research and sleuthing for answers in technical and scientific literature. Learning and enjoyment are their own rewards.
LOL no doubt! I dont see the motivation in the shifting sands of ELs arguments; e.g. environmental expertise or concern. Being sick for months at a time and sleeping on the concrete floor of my graduate office became quite common as I didn’t have time to even go home in grad school. When I asked my advisor, his response was always “grad school is supposed to be difficult.”
yea, I must have picked the wrong one.
Grad school cannot occupy every waking moment of one’s life (not if one wants to maintain one’s sanity until the end). A hobby to occupy one’s spare time can be a useful diversion. Some people like to fly fish, others like to troll.
How did you know. I’m an avid fly fisherman. I’ve fished far and wide in Alaska, N. Canada, Pacific Northwest, and Michigan (near my current home in Chicago). I could probably guide on many rivers in Montana and Idaho (spring creeks of Livingston and Bozeman), Bighorn River (my all time favorite), Slough Creek (inside the park), Silver Creek (really challenging dry fly water). You’ll find me these days on the Pere Marquette in spring and fall fishing for Steelhead, and in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin.
What are your interests besides making snide and insincere comments on line (and offering a cavalcade of distraction around noteworthy scientific studies on climate change, radiation health risks, and renewables)?
EL – Cool! My cousin was an avid fly fisherman while he was working on his doctorate (in atmospheric science). Perhaps that’s why I thought of it. He tried to take me fishing with him, but I could never get into it. I’m more of a hunter than a fisherman.
My spare time in graduate school was spent helping out in the Free Software movement — i.e., developing and improving software that is given away for free, source code and all. The skills that I developed as a result have since proven extremely valuable, but they were useful even then, since my graduate work, which was funded by NASA, involved developing advanced numerical methods to be used in the “dynamical core” of General Circulation Models (what’s usually known to the layman as “climate models”). A good knowledge of computer software is very helpful for this type of work. What’s your experience working in the climate area?
What was “spare time?” You science and engineering types and your cush grad schools.
Grad school cannot occupy every waking moment of one’s life (not if one wants to maintain one’s sanity until the end)
In the humanities some degree of insanity is a prerequisite for graduation. I had only two years to finish as my advisor used to say. “With or without a degree.”
I’m well familiar with it. I have several friends who are software developers (and make a living adapting their own open source applications for businesses and other professional clients). It’s a great community … lots of hard working and very passionate folks.
As I’ve mentioned before, I worked as a contract researcher for several years helping implement my city’s climate mitigation policy. Basically doing social science work in diverse and low income urban communities, and helping with program delivery, public awareness, and documenting community values about the environment and a social history of city programs (effective or otherwise). Community environmental activism is very strong in my area, particularly in South Chicago were closing of steel mills (deindustrialization) left many people without jobs, and a region infused with brownfields, and a newer plague of landfills and petcoke piles. The community has been very effective advocating for it’s interests, and has several notable gains. But it’s never been easy, and every gain is always at risk of getting undone. South Chicago has some of the most scenic lands in the city, and also some of the most polluted.
So what you are saying is that your expertise is finding out how people feel about energy rather than understanding how energy systems work.
That would be useful if people could vote on how electrons flow, or how neutrons behave, or how high pressure systems are contained. That is not exactly how things work in the real world.
Something tells me that the blighted areas that you have described would be improved rather dramatically if there was a source of abundant, cheap energy that could be used to clean them up and make them productive again.
I have spent the past few days at my families vacation home in the white mountain national forest. Besides the obvious withdrawal symptoms from having no cell or internet service (lol. It’s actually kind of relaxing) I have notice just how low the energy density of “biomass” (wood in this case) really is. I like to get a nice roaring fire going in the fire place, we have fire wood comprised of logs split into wedges (logs cut into thirds then quartered) The speed at which the wood gives up it’s energy is astonishing. It seems every 10-15 minutes I have to add another couple of pieces to maintain a reasonable heat/light (flame) output. It makes me realize just how large of an area would be needed to maintain a feed stock for even a small sized power station. Then you have to factor in enough growth to cover the re growing periods that make it “renewable” also the amount of smoke and ash from burning wood is an issue.
“You typically address variability of energy resources with forecast models, grid expansion, capacity and operational reserves, resource planning (for seasonal shortfalls), available storage, overbuilding, curtailment, demand response, and the like.”
Wind don’t blow; sun don’t shine – no electricity and lights out
forecast models – can’t read forecast cause lights are out
grid expansion – more lights out
capacity and operational reserves – Good Nuke plant reserve – lights back on
resource planning for seasonal shortfalls – Nuke Plant covers seasonal shortfalls
available storage – flashlight batteries when no wind or sun
overbuliding – big wind turbine offline – no wind
curtailment – they shut my lights out due to lack of wind
Intermittent – Yes Off and On
demand response – No response to my demand for electricity because there’s no wind
I wonder if they will laugh at this generation for building all those windmills.
Where have the lights gone out due to renewable energy? Given the expansion we have seen of late (and your statements above), it’s a miracle you can even send your comment to the server, eh (much less read what other are posting from the convenience of your computer)?
I’m wondering if you had a look at the CITI study in lead article?
Evolutionary options upstream in developed markets are likely to involve 30-40% from distributed resources (solar, CHP, wind), centralized renewables (meeting 30-40% of eventual demand), and conventional generation (nuclear, CCGTs, and coal) meeting only 20 – 40% of eventual demand (p. 77).
I’m not sure what you take away from this, but I take away from it that renewables are making a pretty good showing (and are giving conventional generation a definite run for the money).
I’m not sure what you take away from this, but I take away from it that renewables are making a pretty good showing (and are giving conventional generation a definite run for the money).
Why should I pay attention to a study about energy generation sources from a bunch of bankers? Here is the basic question – if unreliables are so favored in the market that they push conventional generators into shut down decisions, who is going to operate the conventional generation that is absolutely required to provide grid stability?
Unreliables do not pull their weight. They assume the grid will be there to support they unpredictable supply. What if it isn’t?
Please remember that my background in energy generation is from the perspective of a completely off-grid ecosystem that was operating on the output of a single nuclear power plant for 99.999% of the time.
I’m not sure what you take away from this, but I take away from it that renewables are making a pretty good showing (and are giving conventional generation a definite run for the money).
So let us remove the conventional generation from the equation, how do you maintain grid stability?
CITI isn’t projecting that there will be no conventional generation. For deep greenhouse gas cuts and high renewables … the costs, operability, and reliability for such a system appear to be little different from that of a high nuclear option.
In addition, CITI is rather pessimistic on the expansion potential of nuclear and gives a low estimate for the future. They note a number of limiting uncertainties, foremost among them: competitive uncertainty and very high initial capital costs.
Because the lead article makes reference to it, and energy projects aren’t built without financing and investors. If you eschew bankers, how do you intend to get your nuclear projects built?
You might want to read through this to get your answer (an article appearing in Bloomberg yesterday). It’s not clear me why charging excessive rates at times of peak load are the most efficient, predictable, and reliable way to make profits from conventional generation. Where is the incentive to provide service and better manage demand (in an efficient and cost effective manner for the consumer)? The incentives are all wrong to me. Renewables are changing this picture, yes, and reforms to guarantee grid stability are coming. I don’t see this as a bad thing, particularly when it’s better service for the consumer (at a lower cost), and better control over emissions, conservation of fuels, and variable costs from fossil generation that are the benefit. It’s a different model, for sure, and informed by disruptive circumstances, no doubt. But I’m not sure it is any worse than the alternative?
The model is changing. We’re not going back to the antiquated and dumb grids of the past (where “big, dirty, and central” runs the show, and efficiency and conservation are likened to swear words). It’s wishful thinking (from your perspective) to suggest otherwise.
Quick comment about you Science/Technology Path 2050 study :
– They write that nuclear requires much more transmission than CCS. Makes no sense, both essentially use the grid the same way. Maybe in their scenario more nuclear export is needed because it’s baseload, but this certainly doesn’t need massive grid capacity, just an increase at the borders.
– They also write that nuclear means much more export than renewables. They didn’t do an hour by hour simulation of that. Robert Wilson did here, and the result is hugely in disfavor of renewables :
I just redid his “penetration %”/”export or storage %” for nuclear with the French number for 2013. I was a bit surprised, but the result is exactly the same as what he found with England (I thought electric heating would mean a more shocking % of overbuild needed to get to 100%). This means that in Germany 100% could be reached with a lot less overbuild than in France or England (their yearly power consumption curve is much flatter).
With regard to a real mix, the simulation he does is simplistic because it assumes the rest of consumption is covered by a source that has a 100% ideal load following ability. In real life it’s not the case, and export/curtailment is already needed at a significantly smaller % than his figures show (both for renewable and coal). But this simplified model is already quite useful. Please note that only in the nuclear case does the curve go to 100% penetration. This would mean 40% curtailment. After all this would only mean a 40% increase on the electricity generation cost, when the Germans currently are paying more than 100% of this cost for the EEG. You can see that in a case like France, more than 80% penetration is reached with only 10% curtailment.
Have you looked at the supplementary materials for the paper?
You are correct … they did a 4 hour simulation (not hour by hour). They miss some of the finer details in this, no doubt, but mainly seek to allocate resources along load curve (baseload, load following, and peak generation), and also account for seasonal variability (summer AC use, water availability, etc.). By this approach, they conclude high renewables (74% renewable, 6% nuclear, and 20% other) requires highest “installed capacity, transmission, and energy storage” of each of the available options.
It looks to me that nuclear requires more transmission than CCS because there are many existing coal plants in California and Southwest (and pre-existing transmission lines). California and the West have fewer nuclear plants, and new transmission expenses would be higher in this option. By their account, nuclear also requires a larger export market for excess generation than CCS.
@EL : Thanks for the link to the supplemental data.
Seasonal variability is not enough, except if you have enough storage to remove intra-seasonal variability, this means 2 to 3 weeks of storage.
They did write on page 3 that “high nuclear case requires the largest export market for excess generation”, with no mention of compared to CCS, that’s what I relied on.
I see no reason not to install the new nuclear very near the coal plants and reuse most the existing transmission lines, that’s what Austrians did in reverse when replacing the nuclear plant Zwentendorf with the coal one of Dürnrohr.
You don’t address seasonal variability with bulk storage, but with adequate resource planning.
Many of the decommissioned coal plants in California are smaller units than replacement nuclear plants (typically under 180 MW). Thus meriting transmission upgrades.
All I can report is report what they have stated in their study (and I’m trying my best to answer your questions). The main reason they state for the difference between transmission requirements of high nuclear and CCS models are the dispatch characteristics of the resource. “The three low-carbon generation technologies also have very different characteristics from the standpoint of electricity system operations, in terms of their ability to provide the baseload, load following, and/or peaking generation that grid operators employ to flexibility and cost-effectively met varying demand” (p. 39).
There are also considerations related to “the geography of resource availability relative to load” (p. 40). They appear to be drawing on various planning models and siting practices as described in CPUC guidelines and mandates (in particular ones having to do with water use, cooling towers, cost effectiveness, transmission planning, etc.). It’s worth adding, the high nuclear scenario is only 55% nuclear (and some existing transition capacity is likely already committed by other resources).
Transmission (as I see it) are not a major difference between high nuclear and high CCS models (and associated costs). Storage is a much greater issue. And they also specifically highlight the following:
“The political challenges surrounding the development of a high nuclear scenario for California are substantial, given the moratorium, the lack of an imminent solution to the waste management problem, and public opposition to nuclear plant siting. Nuclear proliferation and accident safety concerns are also barriers to public acceptance. While the high nuclear scenario did not make a distinction among different technology generations or designs for nuclear power plants, the successful development of “Gen IV” nuclear reactor technologies, which are intended to have minimal waste generation and high resistance to proliferation, accidents, and terrorism, may be required for this scenario to be achieved in practice” (p. 42).
The lights have not gone out anywhere because every major renewable system is backed up by a big battery — in California, it’s gas; in ther PNW it’s hydro; in Denmark, it’s hyrdo; in Germany, it’s hydro from Norway/Sweden and their own fossil system. But what are we debating? The point of the article is renewable installations is a reality that we must face. The conventional answer is we will use gas to firm the intermittent resource. The fact that we need a duplicate resource- whether gas or hydro — is a done deal. The point is we are making a big mistake to rely on gas because that will not solve the carbon problem. We need to find a way to integrate nuclear – if so, how do we do it? The answer is we must not try to force nuclar to load follow — that is uneconomic — we must use it as baseload – if that is the case, the intermittent resources (wind and solar) can be used as the flexible resource if they are worked in tandem with storage.
Re the kinds of storage that we will need — see my poast last week on Germany and coal –
Your sources indicate that carbon mitigation (rising renewables, better efficiency, and fuel substitution) is going pretty well in OECD countries. Increasing coal use in Germany has been a problem (primarily because of it’s low cost, and the collapse of carbon credits in trading markets). Not because there is any inherent benefit to using coal as a balancing resource. Germany is currently making a number of shifts to energy and environmental policy to curtail onshore wind and solar, expand offshore wind, address rising costs in energy markets (balancing out costs among consumers), streamline permitting process for new transmission, perhaps add capacity payments, provide greater focus and financing to research and development, and more. They have built some new coal plants, but these are modern and highly efficient units that do load following very well. German coal consumption is expected to decrease, and is widely expected to meet it’s emission targets in the short and middle term.
The larger challenge, as your links suggest, is primary energy consumption in China and “Other” (page. 8). Energy policy and reforms in OECD regions (focused on renewables, efficiency, and fuel substitution), appear to be keeping pace and doing significant work (environmental benefits, jobs, global trade, new technology development, even cost benefits, etc.). The challenge is expanding these reforms to regions that are expanding very rapidly … and primarily doing so on the backbone of dirty fuels. If nuclear is going to be providing 10% or even 20% of electricity generation in such regions (China may get to 6% relatively soon), I don’t see this as a very great service or benefit. This will likely serve to boost industrial capacity, and boost energy consumption from coal in the process (and won’t serve to mitigate or displace anything). China appears to be more interested in developing new technologies for export (more than it is interested in using nuclear to mitigate is carbon challenge).
There are lots of ways to deal with issues of global carbon emissions and mitigation alternatives in developing regions (while at the same time promoting effective, reliable, and balanced development). They are all very difficult. But sending energy consumption off a cliff is typically something that adds to these challenges (rather than takes away from them). Nuclear can certainly be part of the picture, but not without a number of other important policy consideration and reforms to go with it.
If nuclear is going to be providing 10% or even 20% of electricity generation in such regions (China may get to 6% relatively soon), I don’t see this as a very great service or benefit. This will likely serve to boost industrial capacity, and boost energy consumption from coal in the process (and won’t serve to mitigate or displace anything). China appears to be more interested in developing new technologies for export (more than it is interested in using nuclear to mitigate is carbon challenge).
Why do you think China is going to stop at 10-20% nuclear? I suspect their goal is far higher. Never forget that coal is not just adding invisible CO2 with a future threat; in China, decision makers are still breathing the nasty air that results when you burn coal without containing fly ash, scrubbing SOx, or working to lower NOx.
Coal is also putting a great deal of strain on their railroad transportation network. Moving uranium is a lot less resource intensive.
Their HTR-PM reactors seem eminently suitable for replacing coal fired furnaces in their large inventory of nearly new steam plants. This is not yet in their published “plan” only because the HTR-PM proof of concept is still under construction.
Concern-trolling, and false to fact to boot. Neither France nor Ontario have gone on a coal binge after displacing their coal-fired generation with nuclear. The replacement is real, Green religious demonizing of cheap energy notwithstanding.
Primarily high cost, increasing protests and decreasing public acceptance, insecure uranium supplies, lack of viable advanced technologies, and China has already significantly scaled back ambitions in this area (inland plants continue to face major headwinds).
You’re going to have to re-check your facts. Ontario has always had a fair bit of coal. It was McGuinty, and Green Energy Act, that made coal phase out a reality in the Province.
France burns coal as well … particularly to cover unmet seasonal demand from nuclear, and shortfalls from hydro. It also seems to be used as a hedge against rising gas prices. Similar to Ontario, France has a plan to decommission half its coal plants by 2015 (“under a plan to lower energy consumption, cut carbon emissions and more than double the share of energy from renewable resources by 2020”).
And I’m not sure what “binge” you are talking about for Germany (either)? Whatever trends you think exist (are they long term trends or short term trends in your estimation)?
One difficulty with being a voracious reader with a strong confirmation bias is that you have difficulty selecting accurate sources of information.
To get a better idea what China is planning to do in nuclear energy in the future, I suggest a close reading of the World Nuclear Association’s China page.
Since I have a pretty good understanding of the cost drivers for nuclear energy, I find it very difficult to believe that China would be discouraged by its cost performance. They have a technically qualified regulator that also works for the good of the country, so they do not place unnecessary cost or schedule burdens onto the nuclear plants that the country has decided it needs for its future development.
Here is a relevant quote from the link above:
China has a lot of ground to make up in regulation. I simply selected the first source I found documenting concerns with inland power plants (particularly earthquake preparedness). Not any confirmation bias. Other articles (the first in my search) also point to the same.
I agree with the WNA assessment for China, the country has made “nuclear safety” a primary policy concern, especially in the aftermath of Fukushima (and with increasing attention to a history of prior shortcomings in this area). Is there any country who is NOT promoting “nuclear safety” in the aftermath of Fukushima, with a smattering of policy reforms to back it up?
Let’s wait and see what happens in China. Cost drivers are heavily subsidized in China (WNA suggests technology advances and future market factors will play a role). And unless they can make a significant dent in coal, or start building power plants inland, they aren’t going to get very far with it. China has just as large investments in non-hydro renewables (wind, biomass, solar). They seem to be thinking everything is going to help them expand, remain competitive, bring benefits to their people, economy, etc. Perhaps there is something to learn from this. I’m not sure why your admiration for their outlook and approach stops with the consideration of nuclear power?
Ontario is shutting down the coal-fired plants at Nanticoke. Nuclear made that possible; nothing else could have done it.
You’re not familiar with Green Energy Act in Ontario (2009)?
Why didn’t Nanticoke get shut down much earlier, then? Nuclear has been operating in the Province some 60 years. Nuclear’s share of the generation has been slipping since 2008. Ontario’s long range plan is to go from a current 56% of generation to 39% in 2032.
The Bruce Point refurbishments were delayed by provincial action.
YFOS. The first commercial nuclear plant in the world wasn’t started 60 years ago. The first CANDU (the NPD) was started in 1962, not even 52 years ago. The first CANDU of significant scale didn’t start until 1968.
Bruce Point units 1 and 2 were returned to the grid in late 2012. Their 1.5 GW net capacity is roughly equal to Nanticoke’s 1,880 MW rating. As I write this, Ontario Power Generation reports a whole 2 MW thermal being produced, out of more than 5 GW total.
This is only possible if fossil consumption (and carbon emission) is radically increased.
I was using establishment of AECL in 1952 as start date. The first national experimental reactor was built at Chalk River in 1947. But yes, CANDUs took a decade longer, and commercial reactors as well.
Fig 4 (pg. 132). Generation from nuclear in Ontario hit its peak in 1995. Pickering is getting decommissioned in 2020. Additional refurbishments are needed at Bruce and Darlington over next decade.
The plain truth of it. Nuclear gets a haircut in Ontario. Renewables get a boost, and coal gets phased out. Emissions are down in Ontario (Figure 3a), and are heading lower in LTEP to 5 Mt in 2030 (not higher as you incorrectly claim).
You wrote “Nuclear has been operating in the Province some 60 years.” That was a lie. Doing research and construction is not operating. Laboratory work is not commercial operation.
That report is 10 years old, and woefully out of date. It projected that Ontario nuclear capacity would be under 5 GW by now. In the real world, nuclear generation in Ontario is greater than 10 GW this morning.
The main report is subtitled “Towards a Sustainable Electricity System for Ontario”. The implicit biases are obvious, and the last ten years have shown just how wrong the rosy RE projections were. To list a few:
1. The ruling party in Ontario was forced to scuttle plans for the wind plan’s required gas-fired backup turbines due to intense local opposition. Without those gas turbines, wind’s expansion is severely restricted.
2. NG prices are on the way up, with the Henry hub hovering just under $5/mmBTU the last I looked and spiking over $7 a few days ago. At $7/mmBTU and 40% efficiency, fuel cost alone for gas turbines is about 6¢/kWh.
3. The entire rationale for RE has proven to be poorly supported, with rapidly diminishing returns as RE penetration exceeds 20%.
Ontario has been talking about building new reactors. Plans are currently going nowhere, but the very notion wasn’t seriously considered ten years ago. I would not be surprised if Pickering gets refurbished. Even your LTEP report states “Nuclear will continue to supply about 50 per cent of Ontario’s electricity needs.” With NG prices rising and the obvious need for more electricity to run plug-in vehicles in the future, the next go-round is probably going to result in orders for new nuclear plants.
Mankind adopted coal and steam because wood was scarce and wind and sun irregular. Our current use of fossil fuels has allowed many to forget that, but nothing has changed to make “renewables” any better. Nuclear is the only way to ditch the carbon and keep what people expect to keep. Since it is the only option, it will be done sooner or later.
The book review of Energy in Australia at BNC includes this jaw-dropper:
I get it … you are hopeful. Pickering is shutting down (and is not getting refurbished). No new reactors are scheduled. Ontario’s long range plan for nuclear is to meet 39% of electricity demand by 2032 (not 50%). China is ramping up to 6%; UK is overspending; France is uncompetitive, has an insecure grid, and is scaling back; Japan will have three reactors on the beach for 100 years, an exclusion zone for 30, and many reactors will never pass safety checks; Czech Republic can’t get a reactor built without price guarantees; plants are shutting down early in the US (Vermont Yankee, San Onofre, Crystal River, Kewaunee, Oyster Creek) and likely more to come; nobody yet knows the full extent of decommissioning costs, waste storage is on an ad hoc basis (at least for next 30 or 40 years), renewable generation “is expected to surpass that from natural gas and double that from nuclear power by 2016,” new markets are scaling rapidly in non-OECD regions (here, here, and here); and more.
Nobody is lying. Ontario had one of the largest research reactors in the world “operating” in the Province in 1947. AECL was established in 1952. And I already agreed with you commercial reactors came a decade later (and have been operating in Province in excess of 50 years). Are these facts still correct, or do you have something else to add?
Hope is a great thing. I actually encourage it. If you have good arguments to make, by all means, please make them. And I will try and do the same. I have no doubt nuclear will continue be an important resource in many regions as a source of baseload power (particularly in support of heavy industry). But as “the only” option to mitigate global carbon emissions (and “keep what people expect to keep,” as you suggest), I am doubtful, and I think you are very far away from making your case.
Doesn’t change the fact that Ontario hit it’s nuclear peak in 1995 (and is not likely to return to it).
Nonsense. Your blog post is is exaggerated (contradicted by available research), and I’ve already addressed it here.
“Where have the lights gone out due to renewable energy?”
As a matter of fact, the lights went out on Curacao last year due to renewable energy. Curacao has an excellent wind resource that is relatively strong and predictable. The resource is so excellent that the Curacao energy company execs decided that they could perform maintenance on some of their main oil-fired generators since the weather forecast showed a week of reliable wind resources. Their wind turbines would cover their lack of conventional generation capacity. However, the weather unexpectedly turned out to be a little different then forecast, which cast the island into a blackout which was solved only by emergency curtailment of ‘non-essential’ load centers.
There is to my knowledge no online news bulletin or description of this story. (I wonder why?). The reason I know about it at all is because the director of the holding company including the curacao airport told me this in person.
@Joris van Dorp
Technically speaking … this sounds to me like poor planing and inadequate capacity reserves for scheduled maintenance shutdowns of an energy resource (in what is likely a constrained grid). You don’t think they could have avoided the emergency measures by simply planning for the scheduled maintenance shutdown better?
el — I would suggest you look at my earlier article on Germany. I think there are a couple of points to be made: first, the lights have not gone out … yet .. due to renewables because everywhere they have been heavily installed, they are backed up by huge batteries that maintain system adequacy — Hydro in the PNW, gas in California, gas in Texas, hydro in Denmark (from Sweden/Norway). Second, the problem is the need for new resources for system adequacy as more is installed, a major pending problem in Germany where they need new fossil resources, as pointed out before and well spelled out by the IEA. That means carbon. When you shutdown nuclear, carbon goes up — everywhere it has been done.
I don’t think anybody is recommending expanding renewables in any insecure way that doesn’t provide adequate system resources? We can argue about the best way to do this, system design, available technologies, interconnect and market rules, transmission requirements, costs, etc., but the choice isn’t between one option to do it insecurely, and another option to not do it at all. As more renewables are installed, we need more reform. I think we agree on this. Much of our energy infrastructure and generation fleet is already very old. We’re going to be getting many these reforms and significant generation stock rollover regardless of what we do. If the market is trending in one direction, getting out ahead of it sounds like a good idea to me (and planning for the forseeable and perhaps even the unforeseeable future), and perhaps best positioning ourselves to remain globally competitive and energy secure in the future.
Germany had a lot of nuclear plants near demand centers in the south and northeast, and it now has lots of distributed generation throughout the country (and primarily in the North). I don’t think this means Germany “needs” new fossil resources. They do need to address long standing transmission bottlenecks that contributes to high exports of renewables from the North, and increasing burning of fossil fuels in the South. They have a 10 year plan in place to do so. They also need to address rising costs. Their development targets in electricity are for 50% renewables by 2030, 65% by 2040, and 80% by 2050. These are very ambitious targets (no doubt). And there is a lot of uncertainty between now and 2050. But the idea of “needing” more fossil fuels, and ignoring current and future system needs, does not appear to be a significant central feature of their long range plan.
Any thoughts about Germany’s north-south divide with regard to renewable energy?
Indeed. These delays are very long standing (and are very disruptive as well). It’s a very challenging issue (everywhere new transmission lines are proposed). I actually like that people are involved with the issue and having their say. Energy issues are not easy, and when people are involved in collective decision making (even if they don’t get their intended outcome), public interests are strengthened, policy is improved, and those who are end users are better informed (and make stronger arguments next time the issue comes up, or something similar along the same lines). It may even result in more people coming to the side of nuclear (or a more careful and informed engagement with alternatives).
Public support for Energiewende is still very high (a “no brainer” by US standards). It’s my understanding Merkel understands the politics of this, and has provided assurances that energy corridor is getting built. It’s messy. This is nothing new.
Seems to me like there is a bit of wishful NIMBYism going on. We’ll see how it turns out. I’m glad to be watching rather than participating in Germany’s experiment in energy policy-by-popularity.
@EL : Germany had a lot of nuclear plants near it’s demand centers that are in the south and northeast, that’s it exactly !
The production was distributed near the demand. Now it’s spread everywhere.
This means that opposite to the previous situation, it’s not anymore local production near where is the demand, and many more costly, surroundings damaging, transmission line are needed.
One way that will definitely help with people’s carbon scores: Limit family size. Think twice before having more than 1 child. Did you know that when a couple has a child their carbon score increases by a factor of 6? Stop being so child greedy!
“I’m wondering if you had a look at the CITI study in lead article?”
I hadn’t looked at it before, but I did give it a look now. It’s a hundred pages and both my time and interest are limited. I did see that the bankers did not think nuclear was a good investment. It makes me realize more than ever that there is a disconnect between the financial community and the needs of people. The report discussed all major forms of energy and not just intermittent types. The focus was on potential returns of each of these as an investment and certainly not on how well the needs of people overall were met by each source.
Thanks for pointing it out to me. It makes me realize more than ever that we’ve got to change a few laws to make buildin’ nukes a good investment.
“If you really care about Carbon…”
No, I don’t.
From the IPCC “Hide the Decline” scandal, I took a keen interest in the issue and came to the conclusion that;
1) The Earth has had substantial temperature variations since before the emergence of civilized man. These Ice Ages and Warming Periods did not – and likely do not – result from anything man has done. Sea levels have went up and down accordingly.
No tax policies nor legislation was involved.
2) When government suggests a solution, one should consider their record of colossal failures in addressing the myriad of solutions it has previously proposed.
In 1979 the US DOE was established to address our energy issues. We still have no coherent federal energy policy, nor do I expect the government to develop one.
If one expects government to act with the people’s interest at heart, one should study the history of the American Indian. They signed treaties in sincere belief it would benefit their future. Such is Carbon Cap and Trade – you’re promised a new Earth and plentiful energy.
You’ll get what nature delivers and a large bill.
I have worked in nuclear power since 1978. I also served in the US Navy as a Reactor Operator, then in commercial power since those days. The industry has much to offer on its own merits. If it comes to a point where it doesn’t – the buggy whip manufacturers will find new endeavors.
I don’t want the industry viewed as another ObamaCare “for your own good” government mandate.
Lets not hitch our record of excellence to junk science and the low information advocacy groups.
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