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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bounding the Renewables-Nuclear Debate

Figure 1: From NREL Renewable Electricity Futures Study

Very few people out there are arguing for a 100% nuclear future, and most are not arguing for a 100% renewable future. When we toss the extreme views out, the debate is over how much of what.

If you bound your debate to electricity generation in 2017 in a given geographical area, say, Seattle, you get:

Hydro 87.3%
Nuclear 4.7%
Wind 3.1%
Coal 2.1%
Natural Gas 1.3%
Biogas 1.1%
Other 0.4%

Not bad. Who said you can't cost effectively decarbonize with renewables (when 87% comes from hydro)? Doing that with wind and solar, on the other hand, remains an untested hypothesis.

If you bound your debate to electricity generation in 2050 in the continental United States you might get what you see in the lower half of Figure 1 above, which encapsulates the four-volume mega-study from the National Renewable Energy Lab to replace 80% of our electricity generation with "renewable" sources.

If you can't trust the NREL to come up with a competent study biased to favor renewable energy, who can you trust?

Some things to note about that study:
  1. If their assumed reduction in electricity use fails to pan out, the 50% that is wind and solar combined, drops to 36% of electricity use, or about 14% of total energy and for all renewables combined about 57% of electricity, or about 23% of total energy.
  2. If the massive expansion of biomass (to displace baseload coal) does not materialize, the 80% value for all renewables drops to about 65% for electricity, making renewables about 26% of total energy.
  3. If neither the energy reduction or biomass expansion pan out, renewables will be providing about 46% of electricity use or about 18.4% of total energy use.
  4. If their massive expansion of storage does not pan out, the entire study unravels. 
  5. Note that nuclear is still part of the solution.
  6. Note that had they displaced coal with nuclear (making it the second largest low carbon source behind wind) they would have far fewer emissions.
  7. The study was not trying to find the lowest cost per unit emission.
  8. The study was trying to find the lowest cost path to 80% renewables (not the lowest cost period).
  9. Had they been looking for the lowest cost per unit emissions, nuclear would have expanded to displace coal.
  10. All results are purely theoretical (it's just a study).
Thanks to the recent bankruptcy of some nearly completed nuclear power projects, many wind and solar enthusiasts think that we should leave new nuclear out of discussions bounded by electricity production in the United States. We have lost the expertise to do it cost effectively and if we want to build our own, we'll just have to have to climb back up the learning curve.

Fair enough for now but the costs of integrating wind and solar will eventually begin to climb as the last of the low hanging fruit gets picked, their financially destabilizing sporadic power gluts grow, transmission costs rise, and subsidies end. And as shocking as this may sound, despite the low LCOE values for utility thin film in sunny places and wind in windy places, there is no evidence that wind and solar are reducing citizen's electric bills anywhere in the world. Germany would have gotten far more bang for their buck had they expanded nuclear instead of renewables.

If we expand the boundary of our discussion in the United States to include emissions from all energy use, nuclear comes back to the table. See Figure 2.


Figure 2: NREL study to optimize use of nuclear, wind, and solar

Because assumptions 1-4 are very unlikely to all materialize, we can expect renewables to fall far short of what needs to be done to decarbonize. Come to think of it, they fall far short even if all assumptions materialize. Obviously (or not) because coal is generally used to provide steady baseload, wind and solar are not displacing it (they are anything but steady). They are displacing natural gas. Natural gas has about half the emissions of coal. Nuclear on the other hand, tends to go toe-to-toe against coal, providing twice the emissions reduction per unit energy of wind and solar. To recap; all else being equal, when it comes to emissions reductions, every unit of nuclear added will tend to eliminate roughly twice the emissions of wind or solar.

The potential failure of assumptions to materialize is a measure of risk. If you want to minimize risk, you would maximize use of a source that has a long  history of safely providing low carbon energy. In short, you would displace coal with nuclear and use wind and solar to minimize the use of gas.

When extending your boundary to include the planet, globally, nuclear is, to date, holding its own, especially once Japan finishes restarting its nuclear. Some countries are still building low cost nuclear at a very fast pace (South Korea's KEPCO is, on average, building a 1400 MW nuclear power station for the UAE about every two years).

The difference between the red and green curves in Figure 3 demonstrates the damage done to low carbon energy production by multi million-dollar fear mongering antinuclear groups like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, UCS, and the NRDC.

Figure 3: World Nuclear Output TWh Adjusted for German and Japanese Closures, Relative to Wind, and Solar (Data from 2016 BP Statistical Review)

Look at the red and purple curves again in Figure 3. Antinuclearists cynically view it as a contest between nuclear and renewables. They're waiting for the day when the green and purple curves cross but they're kidding themselves because those curves don't represent equal emission reductions. The green curve represents roughly twice the emissions reductions. The convergence of those two curves represent  a period of no progress in emissions reductions. In reality, nuclear is our biggest and most powerful ally in the battle against climate change.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Do We Have the Tools to End the Fossil Fuel Age?


I turned a comment I made under The Energy Endgame: We AlreadyHave the Tools to End the Fossil Fuel Age into a post. The article was written by “Tyler Norris [who] served as a Special Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Energy in the Obama administration. Until May 2017, he was a Director at S&P Global Platts/PIRA, a market intelligence consultancy, where he co-led the firm’s cleantech practice.”

There is no indication that he has any engineering background, which may explain why he does not understand basic concepts like baseload and LCOE verses system costs.

The author’s arguments rest on an untested hypothesis. There is no evidence that the world can be powered with renewables alone. From a peer-reviewed study in Science Direct:

While many modeled scenarios have been published claiming to show that a 100% renewable electricity system is achievable, there is no empirical or historical evidence that demonstrates that such systems are in fact feasible.

Of the studies published to date, 24 have forecast regional, national or global energy requirements at sufficient detail to be considered potentially credible. We critically review these studies using four novel feasibility criteria for reliable electricity systems needed to meet electricity demand this century.


Eight of 24 scenarios (33%) provided no form of system simulation. Twelve (50%) relied on unrealistic forecasts of energy demand. While four studies (17%; all regional) articulated transmission requirements, only two scenarios—drawn from the same study—addressed ancillary-service requirements. In addition to feasibility issues, the heavy reliance on exploitation of hydroelectricity and biomass raises concerns regarding environmental sustainability and social justice.

The author continues:
Baseload goes bust
Norris doesn’t seem to understand the definition of baseload, which is the minimum level of demand on an electrical grid over a span of time. Most certainly, that is not going to “go bust.” He’s parroting an old antinuclear argument that never did make any sense but continues to bounce around the internet echo chamber. You can provide baseload in any number of ways; including, but only in theory, the use of wind and solar if you have enough storage and/or an intercontinental HVDC super grid.
That’s why it’s essential to preserve and extend as many existing nuclear plants as possible and continue making long-term public investments in advanced nuclear and carbon capture technology, even if their scale-up is less than likely -- and even if the United States government doesn’t lead.
He is right about keeping existing nuclear power stations open, but there is no need to wait for even more advanced nuclear to deploy more nuclear. Nuclear power station designs being built today are perfectly adequate; safe, and if built by the right company, highly economically competitive. Carbon capture is a canard that is distracting from the conversation.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Amory Lovins's Comments on a Fred Pearce Post

I recently stumbled on a comment by Amory Lovins under an article by Fred Pearce at Yale 360 called Industry Meltdown: Is the Era of Nuclear Power Coming to an End?

360 holds every comment for moderation, which tends to thwart any meaningful dialog but that's a little better than no comment field at all (VOX), and much better than CleanTechnica's method of systematically censoring comments and commenters who have viewpoints that differ from that of the moderator. Watch for his confirmation bias and the backfire effect--a term that describes how people will cling ever more, ah, heartily, to a strongly held belief when confronted with facts that dispel it. There is very little difference in that respect between creationists and anti-nuclearists like Lovins.
Assuming that not all edits and comments will appear or will appear in a timely fashion, I thought I'd throw them into an article. From Lovins:
In the first five years after Fukushima, Japan has displaced 70% (64% without GDP renormalization) of its previous national nuclear output with electricity savings, renewables, and a bit of other distributed generation.

Your link is broken and your source which states that its mission is to “establish a society based on renewable energy,” is suspect. 

From Bloomberg:

From 2011 through 2013, Japan’s trade balance worsened by a cumulative 18.1 trillion yen ($169 billion), estimates Taro Saito, director of economic research at the NLI Research Institute in Tokyo. Of that amount, 10 trillion yen, or 55 percent, came from energy imports.

$169/3 = $56.33 billion
55% OF $ 56.33 billion = $30.98 billion.

2016-2011= 5 years.

5 years x $31 billion/year = $155 billion dollars lost to fossil fuel costs as a result of antinuclear fear mongering that has closed Japan's nuclear. How many nuclear power stations would that have paid for in that brief period?

(Note that my original comment had misinterpreted the $169 billion as being for each year instead of the cumulative total).

The uptick in coal-fired generation ended in 2013

Coal use was 10 percent higher in 2015 than in 2009 (source: BP statistical review).

…and was more than entirely due to record net power exports (particularly to France) as renewables helped drive German wholesale power prices well below French ones. (Data in German…)

Data in German? Wholesale prices drop when wind or solar create a glut on the market (because it has little value). Exporting that glut to areas without wind or solar is a way to minimize damage to the finances of your own domestic power producers (who have bills to pay).

Beware of the many press reports about German CO2 that confuse the power sector with the whole economy. The notion that Germany substituted lignite for nuclear power or built backup capacity for "intermittent" renewables is nonsense…

Beware of those who want you to believe that German emissions would not have been less had they closed coal instead of nuclear. Roughly 40% of German electricity still comes from coal.

The French Academy's "common-sense" claims are a throwback to the 1990s, ignoring extensive European analysis and experience in achieving high renewable electricity shares (e.g. in 2014, as a fraction of total annual domestic consumption, 46% in Spain, 50% in Scotland, 59% in Denmark, 64% in Portugal) without adding backup capacity or bulk storage, and with superior reliability.

 From the Breakthrough Institute:

When wind oversupply would crush their energy market, they export it to other grids that have little wind. So what happens when those grids have as many wind turbines as Denmark? Denmark won't be able to export it. So, in other words, because Denmark is part of the Nordic Synchronized Area, it isn't really supplying 40% of the energy to that Nordic grid with wind. It's supplying about 10%.

Denmark just happens to use most of that wind because the turbines are located in Denmark and closer to the sources that use their electricity. The game's over once the other countries in their grid get as much wind as they have. And that's the point. They will likely stop wind development far short of Denmark because they don't want to be crushed by their own wind causing oversupply. They will use Denmark wind, i.e., Denmark is only supplying about 10% to the grid it is part of. This is also true for the other countries in your list.

Indeed, the ultrareliable former East German utility 50Hertz in 2015 got 49% of its electricity from renewables, three-fourths of them variable (PV and windpower), and its CEO says it could readily go to 60–70%, still without adding bulk storage.

Indeed …but growth of the non-intermittent renewable sources (biomass and hydro) as well as solar are grinding to a halt in Germany which leaves wind as the only source with much potential for further growth. Note that wind currently supplies only about 2% of Germany’s total primary energy consumption.


John Finnegan's cited blog endorsing certain nuclear operating subsidies is puzzling because it tracks only carbon, not also dollars. It therefore overlooks the opportunity to reinvest a distressed nuclear plant's saved operating cost into several times more energy efficiency (or cheap renewables), thus saving both carbon and money by closing the nuclear plant

What I find puzzling is the lack of evidence that high penetrations of sporadic energy sources decrease the electric bills for citizens. Your above comment rests on the assumption that they do.

 

Nuclear advocates' claim that closing a reactor always means burning more fossil fuel is worth examining but is clearly untrue in Japan, Germany, and even Vermont, where the uptick in gas-burning lasted only a year: NE-ISO's 2014–16 nuclear output loss was 91% offset by renewables and hydro-dominated imports, and another 69% by reduced sales.

Japan? Nuclear output dropped 158 TWh while the combination of wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and biomass only increased 42 TWh (data per 2016 BP Statistical Review). The increase in renewables did not offset the much greater loss of nuclear. And if the rest is from energy conservation, then clearly reductions would have been even greater had nuclear not been shut down.

Germany? Like I said earlier, beware of those who want you to believe that German emissions would not have continued to decline had they closed coal instead of nuclear. Roughly 40% of German electricity still comes from coal.

Vermont? Your comment about Vermont appears to say that 91% + 69% = 160% of nuclear power was replaced by renewables plus hydro power (which is a renewable) along with reduced sales. But a reduction in emissions from energy efficiency would have existed with or without replacing one zero carbon source (nuclear) with others. Certainly, few nuclear plants can be replaced by hydro and if that is really the case in Vermont, it must have been excess hydro not being used by somebody else already or hydro taken from some other user who has had to replace it with something else, low carbon or not.
Grid integration of variable renewables has at least ten flexibility options, not only in supply but also demand (efficiency and flexibility), and not only in bulk electrical storage but also in thermal storage (in buildings' thermal mass, hot water, cold water, ice), hydrogen, and distributed storage worth buying anyway (such as bidirectional smart-charging electric vehicles).

Why did you say “variable renewables” when you mean wind and solar? And why have these options not scaled up in the decades you have been promoting them? Why will they suddenly scale up a few orders of magnitude in the next few decades just because wind and solar need them? And if they are feasible, why couldn’t nuclear baseload charge all of these storage devices at night when demand is low to minimize the need to run gas power plants in the day, and why haven’t they already capitalized on all of this theoretical profitability already?

Well-designed systems running largely or wholly on renewables will need no added backup capacity and little or no bulk storage…
You are confusing untested hypothesis with facts. And again you said renewables when you meant wind and solar.

…that's the costliest option, so it would be bought last, not first, we needn't wait for it, and the market isn't waiting.

We already know that hydro works without need for backup. Don’t know what you mean by “the market isn’t waiting.” Remove wind and solar subsides and growth would come to a standstill, as happened in Germany with reduction of the solar feed in tariff.

Shellenberger's claim about land use is wildly off.
Your renewable energy footprint paper should be used to teach classes about confirmation bias.
Material per TWh by Russ Finley at Biodiversivist.com


 



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Jon Talton of the Seattle Times writes the ten-millionth uninformed, sensationalist, antinuclear energy article

Antinuclear poster from 2014 Climate March


Below I offer a few thoughts on a mind-numbing article by Jon Talton found in the Seattle Times originally titled Nuclear Energy Fears Exceed Its Benefits.
Among the four words one least wants to hear are “Hanford nuclear reservation emergency.”
Really? Isn’t that a rather sensationalist, not to mention, disingenuous remark? How will assorted pieces of irradiated junk buried in the ground as a result of cold war nuclear weapons production harm anybody not standing in close proximity to it?
At one time, the site had nine nuclear reactors.
Those were devices to produce weapon’s grade plutonium, not to be confused with commercial nuclear power stations. The University of Washington had a nuclear reactor for many years as many large universities still do. A nuclear reactor is not a nuclear bomb or a nuclear power station. The reactor is only the source of heat for nuclear power stations.
But don’t look for a major surge in U.S. nuclear power anytime soon.
There will be quite a surge as the power stations now under construction are completed. At this point in your article you segue from a problem with waste at a military super fund site into commercial electricity production. You have conflated the two for readers who now see using nuclear fission as a heat source for a power station as the equivalent of making material for nuclear weapons. That’s disingenuous and irresponsible in this age of the internet and man-made climate change

Part of the problem was revealed in last week’s Hanford incident.
Actually, waste storage isn’t part of the problem with the building of nuclear power stations. No nuclear power station has been closed because a long term storage facility isn’t available yet.
Inside the collapsed tunnel was radioactive waste buried inside rail cars, no doubt some of it from Hanford’s reactors. The same issue applies to modern commercial reactors. They haven’t released carbon into the atmosphere, but they have left 75,000 metric tons of spent fuel in the United States alone.
Except used fuel from commercial nuclear power stations isn't buried in train cars a few feet underground. The commercial nuclear power station located on the reservation has nothing to do with the military waste stored there. Long term storage facilities for used nuclear power station fuel are being built by other countries and two have already been built here but are not used for storage of that fuel yet thanks mostly to antinuclear lobbyists. You phrase the amount in a manner that makes it sound huge. Spent nuclear fuel is very heavy but takes up very little space. See Figure 1 below to get a feel for that:
Figure 1

And that waste can be deadly for 250,000 years.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Which Electric Car Would you buy, Bolt, 2018 Leaf, Model 3, Model S, or Model X?

Bolt, Leaf, Model 3, Model S, Model X (Tesla images via Next Big Future)
Cue the Sesame Street song, "One of these cars doesn't belong here." That would be the Model 3, of which, none have been delivered. Is it just me, or do the Tesla's all look like they all came from a storyboard for a James Bond movie?

My Leaf's range is approaching the point that it will no longer meet my minimum criteria, which is to get to Everett or Renton from Seattle on a cold day without need to hit a fast charger.

Musk and Trump share at least one thing in common, ah, make that two things: both are quite wealthy, both are consummate salesmen. Musk's Battery Wall pitch a few years ago was near total BS. His purported game plan has been to use the profits from his high-end sports and luxury cars to fund the development of an affordable electric car for the masses--the Model 3. But, I've been driving an affordable electric car for almost six years now.  Lots of car manufacturers beat him to that punch. The Chevy Bolt also beat him to the punch, and the new Leaf, with similar range as the Bolt, may beat him to the punch again.