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Friday, December 30, 2011

Chevy Volt--Mechanical Engineer Perspective

Chevy Volt Plug-in Hybrid

1926 Model T tractor conversion

I took the above photos at the county fair this summer. The Volt and Model T tractor conversion are both the result of ever present engineering compromises that tend to be exacerbated when designing a multipurpose machine. With the Model T kit you could convert your car into a tractor for planting season. Although the idea of combining two machines into one was appealing, the kit was not very successful because the resulting tractor preformed poorly compared to real tractors.

With the Volt, you get an electric car and a gasoline car all in one. The electric car is inefficient because it has to lug around an inert gasoline engine, fuel tank, fuel pump, fuel injectors, radiator, oil filter, muffler, catalytic converter and other attending air pollution devices for when you run out of charge.

The gasoline hybrid mode for the Volt is inefficient because it has to lug around a large depleted battery and  two large electric motors in addition to the gasoline motor and its attendant hardware. This explains its dismal 33 mpg performance for a four-seat gasoline hybrid. The lack of a fifth seat is yet another compromise.

Another example of engineering compromise would be those pocket knives that combine just about anything you can imagine into one handy package. However, none of the tools contained in that knife work nearly as well as a separate tool designed for a specific use. Picture trying to measure something with that knife's ...measuring fish hook remover thingy. This explains why car mechanics and carpenters have thousands of dollars worth  of tools at their disposal instead of just one of these babies in their pocket.

Volt owners can also expect higher than average maintenance costs (lower than average reliability) thanks to the complexity of having two drive systems--an internal combustion engine driving an electric motor that in turn drives yet another electric motor.

Powered by electricity without being tethered to electrical outlets, the Volt does everything a great car does ...?

True to America's modern corporate culture, GM attempted to baffle consumers with BS rather than give them a product that earns its market share with superior engineering and performance (like the Prius and Leaf). To this day, journalists are still lumping the Volt in with electric car reviews instead of with other plug-in hybrids. GM's marketing machine had managed to convince the public that the Volt is an electric car. The latest commercials are an attempt to cool the hype because a small consumer backlash was growing ...not to mention Chevy needed a comeback for this Nissan Leaf commercial (look for the Chevy Volt in it). The gullibility of the American public isn't boundless after all.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Animal Liberation and Climate Change

I recently concluded a comment field debate with a member of Animal Liberation of South Australia over at Brave New Climate. It's a good article and well worth a read. I made a few critiques in the comment field which blew up into a full scale debate. Go have a look if you've nothing better to do.

I don't disagree that livestock is doing tremendous damage to the biosphere and I wish more people would look for answers instead of continuing to rant about the problem. I suggested that his proposed solutions (taxation and education) were woefully inadequate. I also disagreed with some details in his argument. The truth is that eggs, dairy, and meat add variety to the diet of the third world poor who are at risk of nutritional deficiencies because their diet, although possibly adequate in calories, may not be be varied enough. Domesticated animals were humanities original multivitamin. In first world nations the excessive consumption of animal products has become a bit of a perversion.

He mentioned that about a third of all crops are not used for food but are instead fed to livestock. In reality, livestock is a means of processing crops into more varied forms of food. So it's misleading to claim that a third of crops don't go for food. Biofuels are the real danger there.

And to be honest, although we could and should consume a lot less egg, meat, and dairy, it isn't all that much per person when you think about it. The main problem is that there are 7 billion of us doing it. The few cups of brown tainted liquid called tea and coffee we consume every day is also wreaking havoc with ecosystems.

The backbone of his argument is the fact that people can get adequate protein without "meat" if they have enough variety in their diet, which is true for most people today, especially in first-world nations, but somewhat misleading because this argument rests on the assumption that all 7 billion of us have the needed variety and would be fine without "meat."

I pointed out that since meat, eggs, milk, cheese, whatever, are roughly equivalent when it comes to resource use, environmental impact, and green house gas emissions, that it's somewhat misleading to keep using the term "meat." I suggested he use a more accurate phrase. The term animal sourced food (ASF) is commonly used for this. He didn't bite. His second article sticks to meat.

I realized in the course of the debate that I was focusing too much on protein supplied by animal sourced foods and switched to terms involving nutrients in general.

The second installment in this series is now up and his argument has been honed, in part, thanks to our debate. In one of my comments I critiqued one of his sources, "A 124 page paper on child nutrition and not a single mention of protein?"

In his new post we find the sentence:

A 124 page paper called “Explaining child malnutrition in developing countries” by acknowledged experts (yes, from IFPRI), has not a single occurence of the word “protein”.

Not sure how relevant that is. Turns out, there are also no instances of the words vitamins, minerals, fats, or even nutrients in that PDF. Nutrition issues involve a lot more than just protein. Some more food for thought:

"...nutrition programs have shifted their primary emphasis from control of protein deficiency, to energy deficiency, and now to micronutrient deficiencies... ...1) the most important findings of the CRSP were that faltering in height and weight of children occurs early and was not caught up later in life; and 2) the quality of food (specifically ASF and micronutrient content) was a much stronger determinant of nutritional status than was the quantity of food. ...1) growth stunting started at birth (or before) and was complete by 18–24 mo; 2) protein intakes and protein quality were adequate in all three locations as were energy intakes except when a famine occurred in Kenya; and 3) ASF intake was the strongest predictor of functional capacity (such as growth, lactation outcome and cognitive function)..."
See for full quotes in context.

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Photo courtesy of devlyn via Flickr

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Electrification Nation--Why Natural Gas Won't Save Our A**

Right click on the above figure to open it in a new window. Note the modified text on the left.

The DOE report of their first Quadrennial Technology Review strongly suggests, at least to me, that we must greatly increase electrification of transport, manufacturing, and even home heating, using the lowest carbon sources available, which would be nuclear and renewables. In other words, we must generate much more electricity and all of it must come from nuclear and renewables.

By replacing all coal in the United States with natural gas (more than doubling the amount of natural gas burned today) we would reduce our total GHG emissions a mere 15%. In comparison, if we replace coal and natural gas with 30% renewables (which is as far as wind and solar photovoltaic can scale because they are so intermittent) and 70% Gen III reactors of the small modular variety, we would reduce GHG emissions about 57%.

Once electricity generation has been decoupled from GHG production, it can be used to power compressors to turn natural gas into liquefied natural gas (LNG) without incurring an additional carbon penalty associated with LNG today that uses coal or natural gas sourced electricity to compress the gas. This lower carbon LNG can in turn be used to replace petroleum in many applications. By replacing petroleum for transport with a combination of plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, LNG vehicles, we would be approaching the needed 80% reduction in GHG releases. Some petroleum could still be used for things like aircraft where there simply is no other less environmentally destructive alternative fuel to be used.

What is a Gen III reactor? From Wikipedia:

A generation III reactor is a development of any of the generation II nuclear reactor designs incorporating evolutionary improvements in design developed during the lifetime of the generation II reactor designs. These include improved fuel technology, superior thermal efficiency, passive safety systems and standardized design for reduced maintenance and capital costs.

What is a passive safety system? From Wikipedia:

The mPower is designed so as to make loss of coolant accidents impossible due to the Integral Reactor Vessel which contains the entire primary coolant loop within the reactor pressure vessel. If secondary cooling is lost, creating an effective loss of standard heat removal, there are water supplies located above and within the containment that can be used to cool the IRV with gravity driven-cooling. Further advanced means of heat removal can be used in the event that these systems are exhausted, such as by flooding the containment and establishing natural circulation.

What is a small modular reactor? From the DOE report:

And from Wikipedia:

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are part of a new generation of nuclear power plants being designed all over the world. The objective of these SMRs is to provide a flexible, cost-effective energy alternative.

Small reactors are defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency as those with an electricity output of less than 300 MWe, although general opinion is that anything with an output of less than 500 MWe counts as a small reactor.

Modular reactors are manufactured at a plant and brought to the site fully constructed. They allow for less on-site construction, increased containment efficiency, and heightened nuclear materials security.

Large nuclear power plants are generally rather inflexible in their power generation capabilities. SMRs have to have a load-following design so that when electricity demands are low they will produce a lower amount of electricity.

Why small modular reactors? Again from the DOE report:

The policy and market risks make it easier to finance assets with low capital and uncertain operating expenses (e.g., natural gas generators) than those with high capital and low operating expenses (e.g., renewable and nuclear power plants).

Because planning, regulatory, physical, security, and capital risks increase with scale, investors and policy makers have preferred modular deployment of new technologies at the scale of a few hundred megawatts, ... Smaller-scale technologies also enable consumer deployment of generating technologies—a trend in the residential,commercial, and industrial sectors. Generators closer to the load also provide more reliable service and lower transmission costs, although there can be local resistance to new deployment. generating capacity distributed over many locations can also increase reliability and energy security.

Translation: SMRs are a lot cheaper than conventional nuclear plants. The market is hesitant to spend so much up front on large conventional nuclear power just as I am hesitant to spend $60 grand on solar panels although I know they will pay for themselves over time.

And some more on this subject from the DOE:

As other technologies mature and attempt to enter the electricity market, easy integration into the established system is a competitive advantage. Generators that run on fuel [natural gas and small modular nuclear] can be sited more flexibly than those that directly capture a diffuse, renewable resource. In particular, they can be located near load centers and existing transmission infrastructure, lowering barriers to deployment.

...of 442 civilian nuclear power reactors and an additional 65 reactors currently in some stage of construction, civilian nuclear energy sits at the nexus of energy, climate, and security.

Let me take a moment here to point out some problems. If the United States were to accomplish the above, we would have a glut of oil and natural gas. Just as we export coal and corn ethanol today, and import Canadian tar sand oil, we would likely export our oil, coal, and natural gas. There would be a lot of money made but no progress on global warming if countries like China burn all that we do not.

The asinine idea that our military should go green and use biofuels to kill people would also go away because they would have all the oil they need to fight any just or unjust wars with.

Following are some more charts (modified by me) from the report.

Most of the rest of our emissions essentially come from liquid fuel for transport--petroleum. So ...what options does the DOE think we have for liquid fuel for transport?

According to the report, after two decades of government subsidies and five years of mandated use, ethanol replaces only 7% of gasoline, usurps 40% of our corn crop and would require the most massive build out of infrastructure (fuel pumps, pipe lines, tanker trucks/trains), of all transport energy options. Oh, and it exacerbates increasing food prices and land use change around the world, does not reduce the impacts of price or price volatility on the consumer ...and as you can see above, does next to nothing (if anything) to reduce GHG emissions (because most of the energy in a gallon of ethanol comes from natural gas).

According to the report, for mass transit (urban buses, passenger trains) and light duty transport (cars and small trucks), our best option is electrification and efficiency--not replacing petroleum with biofuels. You certainly don't want to use natural gas to make electricity for transport because you would generate about the same amount of GHG as burning petroleum because about 40% of the energy in the natural gas is lost at the generator and power lines and another 30% from the electric motor inefficiency.

We really don't have any non-petroleum options for airline travel. And although this DOE report claims we don't have any options for long haul vehicles like semi-tractor rigs and ships, I don't see why truck stops could not provide natural gas and the rigs could certainly carry very large tanks. I also don't see why ships can't run on natural gas as well because they certainly can carry tanks of methane big enough to get across an ocean.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Accusations of "another Solyndra"

Photo courtesy of Major Clanger via Flickr

Dumb headline, I know. I borrowed it from an article discussing a Mill Valley town council decision "not" to put in more electric car charging stations.

A local resident stood up to call electric cars something that was being forced on the community by the Federal government, "another Solyndra" that just "plain doesn't work."

Whatever. The cost of putting them in is relatively small (as will be the cost of tearing them out again when it's realized they are unnecessary). I suspect the real concern is lost parking space.

As the owner of a Leaf (and an electric bike) I tend to agree that the government should not be installing chargers. They are for the most part a waste of money. It's a bit foolish to rely on a charger being available at your destination if you need it to get home again. You may find your spot taken by another vehicle, or the charger may be out of service. And if you don't need it to get home again don't need it.

What are the odds? Pretty high from my experience. I know one guy who was counting on a Nissan Dealership who didn't come through. I know another guy who found the plug filled with mud and rocks (vandalism) and a woman who found the outlet she was counting on to get home was just plain dead, probably from a thrown breaker.

I've had no need for a public charger primarily because I don't intend to ever need one. I've used our other car twice in the two months I've owned the Leaf. Electric cars should not be used out of their designed range and are best suited for urban two-car families. They are not for dummies.

Let the market decide if and where to put chargers. My local Fred Meyers store put a charger in. I've never used it but I know a person who has. She certainly does not need to plug in to get home so I asked why she bothers. When I pointed out that she is only getting a few cents of free electricity and less than a mile or so of extra range she replied, "Every little bit helps." In other words, she does it because it feels good and you know what they say, "If it feels good ..."

Fred Meyers and a lot of other businesses will find out if the chargers increase profit margins because it feels good to enough electric car owners ...or not.

There are many things that government is best at. Some things just can't be left to the market. In general, the government should not attempt to do anything that the market can do better. I suspect that the installation of car charging stations is one of those things. Read Governors of West Coast States Nominated for Nobel Prize.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Electric Bicycles Unite!

Click here to read about a rally sponsored by the Northwest Electric Bicycle Network last year (read the full blog here).

Although the Northwest Electric Bicycle Network is not officially organizing an event this year, electric bike riders will be congregating at 10:00 AM, Saturday, September 24th at the gate entrance to Golden Gardens Park in Seattle in support of the Moving Planet event. You are free to join in. It is suggested that riders form into groups of five or six, spaced out at five minute intervals to avoid causing traffic congestion at intersections and along the trail. The trail speed limit of 15 mph should be strictly adhered to.

Each rider is of course on their own recognizance and will be responsible for their own safety if they choose to ride to Gas Works park. A group of regular bike riders will also be heading to Gas Works from Wallingford Park to rendezvous with electric bike riders. They will be heading from there to the South end of Lake Union to join the festivities and you are welcome to join them on that ride as well.

(click on the above image for a larger view)

Click here to view high resolution photo.

Also ...pictured above is the latest incarnation of my electric bike (just finished it last week). My controller recently blew after almost five years of reliable service. It took out three of the four BMS circuit boards in my Dewalt battery packs as well.

This seemed like a good time to upgrade my components. Go here to see a video of the original Ultimate Hybrid Electric Bicycle.

I was using the old Crystalyte 408 motor and the bearings were starting to go out. I also wanted to upgrade to the latest CycleAnalyst power monitoring system so I could limit current draw by my motor and eliminate the magnet-based speedometer. I purchased my new components from Ebikes SF and everything works as advertised.

Crystalyte has a new motor design that is bigger in diameter but thinner than the 400 series motors. It has more power for about the same weight and can accept a rear brake disk.

They offer a version of the motor and controller that does not use halls sensors. Halls sensors are tiny little devices in the motor that send signals to the controller that allow it to send power back to the motor even when it is not spinning.

Without halls sensors, the motor must start spinning before the controller will send power to it. This is called a sensorless motor/controller configuration. The advantage of not having halls sensors is that you are not prone to overcurrent your controller when starting up from a dead stop. You also have a simpler system that is less likely to fail because of a problem with a sensor.

This new motor starts so fast and smooth with just a small amount of rotation that I can hardly tell the difference from my old version with sensors and it has quite a bit more power as well.

Starting from a dead stop going up a steep hill will be problematic ...but that's always true and that is also how I blew my old controller.

Ray Brown (co-founder of the Northwest Electric Bicycle Network) recently replaced his geared hub motor (bike pictured above), also purchased at Ebikes SF.

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Don't Need No Stinking Pickup Truck

The F-150 is the best selling "car" in America.

I recently drove my beloved 89 Cherokee to the junkyard. It was time... But instead of getting another Cherokee, I bought a Leaf. Before buying the leaf, I put a tow hitch on my Yaris to see how it would handle my trailer. No problem for short around town trips that don't require freeway driving.

This certainly is not a rig you would want if you made a living in the construction industry, but for the occasional trip to Home Depot for plywood or gypsum board (you can lay as many sheets as you desire on top between those upright 2 x 4 posts), or to haul home an appliance, or for the occasional trip to the dump (has extension sides for larger volume), this trailer is more than adequate.

The trailer will also hold more stuff (by volume) than the truck. It is limited to about half of a ton by weight, although you really would not want to tow that much with a Yaris because it could not safely stop a load that heavy.

The F-150 holds two people (three with bench seat option). The Yaris holds five.

The trailer can be folded in half, tipped up on its roller wheels and stored in the corner of a garage, oh and costs about $200.

Very few people who own an F-150, need one--all hat, no cattle.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Green Parrots

Below I Fisk an article titled Monbiot is "Part of the Problem": Jonathan Porritt on the Folly of Nuclear Power written by Sami Grover over on Treehugger.

A contender for the title of my article was: Is Sami Grover "Part of the Problem?"

The definition of a green, or environmentalist for that matter, is not very precise. If your definition of a green is a hemp-wearing, dreadlocked, tattooed, vegan, organic-gardener, animal rights activist, with a degree in environmental whatever, then no, I don't fit that stereotype very well ...neither does Sami come to think of it.

However, I do own eleven acres of forest that I'm allowing to return to old growth. I also own solar panels and a Nissan Leaf, and was the first to incorporate the A123 battery technology into an electric bicycle, designed the hybrid solar home and solar fence and have written roughly a thousand articles on all things environmental including a 400 page book on the topic of biodiversity and population. I'm greener than most greens you will ever meet although instead of a degree in environmental whatever, I have two engineering degrees, and for what it's worth, my youngest daughter (17) is an enthusiastic urban gardener with several chickens, ducks, and meat rabbits in our/her backyard farm there.

From behind the skirt of another writer, Grover viciously attacks George Monbiot (who is IMHO the most honest and courageous environmental journalist on the planet). Unlike most of us, Monbiot has the integrity (and balls) to speak the truth even when it means being ostracized from green monkey troops (or parrot flocks). I used the adjective "viciously" only as a tongue-in-cheek nod to Grover's ridiculous use of the same word to describe nuclear power proponents.

Are anti-nuclear activists paving a road to hell? In their self-righteous zeal, have the anti-nuclear activists become the bad guys?

Here are two articles by Monbiot that Grover forgot to provide links to:

The unpalatable truth is that the anti-nuclear lobby has misled us all

The double standards of green anti-nuclear opponents

Not long ago I concluded a debate in the comment field over at Grist with an anti-nuclear activist. In the course of the discussion he called me naive, childish, pathetic, petulant, stupid, weak-minded, a shill, a zealot, a fool, an ideologue, and an intellectually dishonest troll. He was, in a nutshell, a bigot.

Later I was banned from commenting on the website of an anthropology professor who also has a propensity to call commenters names ...just prior to banning them.

Like the rest of us environmentalists, Grover has been fed a steady diet of misinformation for decades now by overly zealous, anti-nuclear activists who have embraced the philosophy, "When you know you are right, the ends justifies the means." There may be some merit to this philosophy when you are right, but when you're wrong, you end up paving a four-lane highway to hell. Happens all the time.

A few years back I began looking into this information and discovered it was at best, grossly distorted ...when it wasn't a complete fabrication. The fact that Grover has never applied any critical thought to these anti-nuclear arguments speaks volumes.

We can't all be experts in all fields. Sometimes we're forced to pick champions. On the pro-nuclear power side you could pick NASA climatologist, Jim Hansen, author of Storms of My Grandchildren who (putting his money where his mouth is) was once arrested for protesting outside of a coal-fired power plant. His book makes a strong case for nuclear power.

You could pick George Monbiot, environmental journalist and author of Heat, written when Grover was probably a teenager (reprinted in 2009).

Or James Lovelock, formulator of the Gaia hypothesis.

How about Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog fame? Barry Brook of Brave New Climate, or maybe Steve Kirsch (who received the National Caring Award from the Caring Institute in Washington DC, which celebrates those special individuals who, in transcending self, devote their lives in service to others, especially the disadvantaged, the poor, the disabled and the dying) and on and on.

Followers rarely apply critical thought to the words of their chosen champions, they simply parrot what they are told and thanks to the internet echo chamber, the noise can bounce around for years as it is parroted by other uncritical non-thinkers. We are basically herd animals after all and an anti-nuclear stance is an important tribal marker for many green monkey troops/parrot flocks.

When feed-in tariffs for renewables were introduced in the UK, George Monbiot denounced them as a rip-off subsidy for the better off.

Translation, Monbiot pointed out that some parts of the world are very sunny and some are not. Spain and Tucson Arizona for example, get seven times more sun than Seattle, or England, or Germany. Solar makes much more economic sense in some places than in others. Wealthy Germans used tax money from poor Germans to put solar panels on their homes. It will never be an economically viable major source of energy there.

Here in Seattle, solar makes little sense, however we are blessed with lots of precipitation in nearby mountains allowing us to use water to generate our renewable electricity, which would be a poor option in Spain.

Despite tumbling solar prices and rising installations, Monbiot has stuck by his guns—

Tumbling solar prices? Grover needs to pop in to this solar panel cost estimator to see why so few can afford to displace their electricity use. It would cost my family over $100 thousand dollars, not including maintenance over their life span, when they have to be replaced.

...arguing that a combination of wind, nuclear and energy efficiency are the only sensible way for Britain to generate clean energy.

Monbiot does not own this argument. This is the consensus of electric power engineers world-wide.

Now a war of words has erupted, with a leading green pioneer, Sir Jonathan Porritt, denouncing Monbiot's "weird contrarian crusade", and arguing that nuclear and renewables cannot coexist.

Monbiot's green credentials easily surpass those of Porritt, who appears to have been born with a silver bucket over his head. From Wikipedia:

He was born in London, and educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford. Like many other environmentalists of his generation he lacks any formal scientific training. Despite training as a barrister, he decided to become an English teacher at St Clement Danes Grammar School (later Burlington Danes School) in Shepherd's Bush, West London in 1974.

Porritt is the son of Lord Porritt, 11th Governor-General of New Zealand. His father, who served as a senior officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War II, was also the bronze medalist in the Olympic Chariots of Fire 100 metres race. As well as receiving a non-hereditary life peerage, Lord Porritt had previously been awarded a baronetcy. Jonathon Porritt is entitled to claim the baronetcy, becoming The Hon Sir Jonathon Porritt, 2nd Baronet, but has so far declined to do so.

Pip pip. Grover continues:

It all started when Monbiot challenged Porritt to explain his stance on the incompatibility of renewables and nuclear. What, he asked, had the Government's Committee on Climate Change got wrong in advocating for nuclear? What should the nation's energy mix be like? Aren't there times when nuclear might even be preferable to renewables?

Porritt's response on why the UK must choose renewables is as fiery as it is detailed.

I can think of at least one German politician in the thirties and forties who was also known for his fiery and detailed responses, however, he was still very wrong.

He begins by arguing that the Committee on Climate Change's cost projections for nuclear are way off base—most notably because they exclude the issue of insurance liability ... Does Monbiot - or anyone, for that matter, on the Committee on Climate Change - actually understand the scale of this subsidy?

Certainly, Porrit does not understand the scale. He's just parroting what he's read. This insurance argument is alive and well here in the States as well. But it's another deception. Here's the truth:

The main purpose of the Act is to partially indemnify the nuclear industry against liability claims arising from nuclear incidents while still ensuring compensation coverage for the general public. The Act establishes a no fault insurance-type system in which the first approximately $12.6 billion (as of 2011) is industry-funded as described in the Act. Any claims above the $12.6 billion would be covered by a Congressional mandate to retroactively increase nuclear utility liability or would be covered by the federal government

And as I pointed out above, it would cost my family over $100,000 to put solar on our house. That would drop to $60,000 if we could capitalize on all of the government subsidies. We got a $3,300 subsidy when we bought our Prius, $1,500 when we installed our high-efficiency gas furnace, and $11,700 in subsides when we bought our Nissan Leaf electric car.

Arguing against nuclear in favor of renewables (which are not even technically capable of powering the United States) on the grounds of cost and subsidies is a serious case of the pot calling the kettle black.

...would increase the price of nuclear electricity by a range of values - €0.14 per kilowatt hours (kWh) up to €2.36 per kWh - depending on assumptions made

The code words here are "depending on assumptions made." You can get any answer you want from a spreadsheet depending on assumptions made. This reminds me of a favorite anti-nuclear argument claiming nuclear power produces as much CO2 as coal, depending on assumptions made. You have to assume you are using a coal fired electricity plant to power electric grinders to grind up granite to get at the minuscule amount of uranium ore it contains.

Meanwhile, he says, Monbiot also seems oblivious to research that the ferocious cost reductions in solar could lead to grid parity by 2020, even in rainy Britain.

Ferocious cost reductions? Riiight. How cheap can a solar panel possibly get? It would cost me $20,000 to replace the windows in my house with cheap vinyl ones. Solar panels are a lot more complex than a window, and they eventually wear out and before that their inverters fail. But the real missing link in this cost argument is the huge cost of the super grid that would be needed to smooth out the fact that solar does not work at night or on cloudy days.

I repeat: Grover needs to pop in to this solar panel cost estimator to put the cost of residential solar panels into a real world perspective.

I'm a big fan of solar but even I am hesitant to convert my house into a tiny power plant with all of its attendant maintenance problems, costs, and risks. There is much to be said for having two wires coming to your house, just as public water and sewer systems are preferred over septic fields and wells.

Why Renewables and Nuclear Cannot Coexist

From the the vicious anti-renewables lobbying of the nuclear industry, to the problem of balancing a grid that uses renewables that may ebb and flow ...

Riiiight ...vicious. Monbiot and I have both experienced "vicious" verbal attacks from renewable fuel advocates. A biofuel enthusiast once left spittle on my sunglasses after cussing me out at a protest I was participating in.

All industries lobby, including the renewable energy lobby. George and I know from personal experience that you just don't get more vicious than a fellow environmentalist having his belief system challenged.

And when asked what his ideal energy mix would be, he suggests that 100% renewables are possible by 2050—if an aggressive push for efficiency is also followed—and that natural gas with carbon capture and storage provide a favorable alternative to nuclear as a bridge technology ...and nuclear power that must run 24/7 (as opposed to more responsive biomass or gas plants), Porritt provides plenty of material on why the two technologies can't exist side-by-side.

The above quote demonstrates in no uncertain terms the complete and utter ignorance of both Porritt and Grover when it comes to power engineering. This is a classic case of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Natural gas is a fossil fuel and methane leaks from it are 30 times more powerful than CO2. It is a bridge to nowhere. Build a natural gas power infrastructure and vested interests will never let you dismantle it. Carbon capture is an untested hypothesis. How smart is it to risk our children's futures on untested hypothesis?

Baseload power is necessary (providing power 24/7) regardless of how you choose to make it. The argument is over what should provide it, nuclear or something else, not that baseload power is incompatible with renewables. I wrote a very detailed response to this latest asinine argument when it first appeared in the parrot echo chamber:

Dirty, Baseload, Centralized, Renewable Energy

At the risk of evoking that false balance we always warn of, I will confess that I am stumped.

I'm not exactly sure what he's trying to say above, but I will agree that he's stumped alright. Translation: he understands what he is parroting about as well as a parrot does.

While my green-leaning background has lead to an inherent distrust of nuclear,

Green leaning? That's a bit of an understatement. His distrust of nuclear is--sarcasm alert--perfectly rational. The latest incident at Fukushima killed nobody while biofuel policy quietly kills a hundred or so thousand annually from malnutrition and our cars slaughter 40 thousand annually, maiming ten times that number.

I have always tried to keep an open mind about what tools are best for fighting climate change and ensuring clean energy.

...ah, crap, just spewed coffee all over my monitor.

And in a topic with so much data coming from all sides—many with vested interests in one side or the other—it can be hard to tell fact from fiction.

Data always comes from all sides. What am I missing here? It's always hard to tell fact from fiction. Once a person's livelihood gets tied to a given energy scheme, their ability to speak honestly is toast, and that is as true for corn ethanol, wind, and solar, as it is for any other energy scheme.

This lack of critical thought is stepping on our children's and grandchildren's futures, so think harder, and really open your minds.

Yet try as I might, I find it hard to envision a disaster scenario stemming from solar or wind that comes even close to the problems at Fukushima.

Try as you might you find it hard to envision? That's not a good sign. It makes little sense to choose a power source based solely on how expensive it will be when a natural disaster takes it, although that possibility should always be part of what drives its design and siting, but let's use our imaginations and envision a scenario for solar.

A Tambora-like volcanic eruption would shut down any economic engine dependent on solar power for years on end causing global economic chaos. Collapse of a large hydro electric dam could kill thousands and cause billions in damage.

And as I said earlier, the latest incident at Fukushima killed nobody while biofuel policy quietly kills a hundred or so thousand annually from malnutrition not to mention that our cars slaughter another 40 or so thousand annually, maiming ten times that number.

And with relatives in the UK emailing stats on the impressive production from their solar panels,

The word impressive does not convey much useful information. Compared to the output in a place like Spain, annual average solar output in Britain is comical.

I find it hard to believe that we humans can't make a 100% renewable future if we actually put our minds to it.

It's much easier to choose to believe something when you have so little understanding of it. Energy systems are the product of science and engineering, not personal belief systems. If we had centuries and an unlimited budget to develop renewable energy, I have no doubt it can be done. We have neither. Today's renewable technology certainly isn't capable of doing the job alone within the budgetary and time constraints available.

Both Monbiot's challenge on why nuclear and renewables should be mutually exclusive, and Porritt's denouncing of Monbiot's "controvercialist tendencies" are well worth reading in full.

I'm confident that Aristotle's dumber critics were also forever trying to stick labels like "controvercialist" and "weird contrarian" on him. Clear back in 2005, before it was fashionable (or even safe) to critique biofuels, Monbiot was the lone voice warning the world of their negative ramifications in an article titled Worse than fossil fuels. Then, as now, the spittle beflecked vitriol spewed by his fellow environmentalists was disheartening to behold. He has recieved death threats.

Whichever side you fall on, it's clear that battle lines are being drawn that will shape our energy future for decades to come.

So pick carefully. The anti-nuclear fanatics have evolved into a flock of green parrots who don't know what they are talking about.

Photo courtesy of tracie7779 via Flickr

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Reflective Metal Roofing--Cost Effective Guilt Relief

A few days ago I designed a device to prevent the detritus that comes through my gutter downspout from clogging the drain pipe it feeds into. I won't bore you with the details. My roof is getting old and the grit from the tar shingles is coming loose.

I noticed the water was tar colored. This can't be good for runoff water quality. This got me to thinking about metal roofs.

They can be painted a light color to reflect solar radiation and are preferred for solar panel installations. They can also be recycled.

According to this study, a 30-foot-wide by 30-foot-long white metal roof would reflect enough solar radiation (depending on where you live and roof pitch) to offset roughly 10 tons of CO2, which coincidentally is about how much CO2 equivalent the average American house emits annually.

That's right, you can offset your home's CO2 footprint with a simple reflective colored metal roof. I suspect it would also reduce air conditioning costs and related emissions as well. That's a lot cheaper than trying to do it with solar panels. The combination of a white metal roof and solar panels could double the impact of just one or the other, depending. It's one of those rare "can't lose" situations.

And according to the EPA, this is what you would be offsetting:

The three main sources of greenhouse gas emissions from homes are electricity use, heating and waste. Emissions from electricity generation occur at the power plants that supply your electricity. In the U.S. , greenhouse gas emissions associated with home electricity use are about twice those associated with heating. The greenhouse gases associated with waste from your home occur at the landfill that receives your garbage.

My next roof will be metal.

Photo courtesy of jahluka via Flickr

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Orphaned Nissan Leaf Finds New Home

You can read my earlier Leaf posts here, here, here, and here.

The Leaf I ordered is not due to arrive for another two months. Another engineer that I work with called me up (while he was on vacation) to tell me that he had just test driven an orphaned (the ordering party decided not to purchase) Leaf. It was fresh off the truck and had a 12 percent charge. He warned me that the dealership wanted to sell it for $3,000 over MSRP. I called them the next morning and made an offer to pay cash for MSRP, which they accepted without any hesitation (possibly because my colleague had softened them up when he accused them of price gouging). I drove it home that afternoon.

I decided to buy this car instead of wait for the one I ordered for three reasons:

1) My Nissan account (which I can't log into) tells me that my email address is not in its database, although I have an email with a confirmation number from the dealership for the car I ordered. This made me nervous.

2) I had ordered a black car because a blue one (my preference) would take six weeks longer to arrive.

3) A Leaf in hand is worth two on order.

I called ECOtality (the company installing 240V chargers for Nissan) and asked if they could move me up the schedule. They normally wait until two weeks before your delivery date. Some people have gotten the chargers installed for free thanks to a DOE credit but chickened-out when it was time to pay for the $35,000 car when it arrived.

I've never heard back from them. Not a problem in the short term. The 120 volt charger that comes with the car has been adequate for my needs to date (about 40 miles per day).

I wasn't overly impressed when they inspected my house to see if it would qualify for the DOE credit. The guy showed up in a beater car with no hub caps and pulled a form out of his pocket. His new-hire assistant arrived late in a cab and they didn't leave a card or any other way to contact the company. At least these cars are creating jobs.

[UPDATE 7/29/2011) I have electronically signed the waiver form to let the DOE monitor my charger once it is installed. Another email asked for the car VIN to verify that I really have an orphaned Leaf.

I will be elaborating more on this technological marvel in a later post so get on the list:

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Greg Laden: Please bend over while I kick your freakin ass

What does this video have to do with global warming, nuclear energy, or Greg Laden? I'll get to that later and my apologies up front for that title. I adapted it from an old 2007 blog article by Laden titled:

"James Watson:Please bend over while I kick your freakin [80-year-old] ass" [words in brackets are my own and ah, were added for clarity].

...which, admittedly, I found while doing a Google search on the text string: greg laden pompous a**. I was doing that search because Laden had been calling his readers names again in the comment field of his blog at

As I mentioned in a previous article, Laden often turns his spot at ScienceBlogs over to a third party (29 times and counting) to dump their collection of lay press news articles about the damaged Fukushima power station. Following is a very recent quote from chemical engineer and (liquid) energy expert, Robert Rapier about the lay press (unrelated to nuclear energy):

Many politicians lie, pander, and promote misinformation to get elected. I have come to the conclusion that many media outlets do the same to sell papers. The casualty in both cases is a citizenry whose views on energy are perpetually distorted, and that leads to a perpetually dysfunctional energy policy.

In general, you can't rely on the lay press for accurate information about anything more complex than sports scores (just ask Arianna Huffington) but apparently Laden hasn't quite figured that out yet.

You also can't rely on the anti-nuclear activists to tell the truth (just ask environmental journalist, George Monbiot):

The unpalatable truth is that the anti-nuclear lobby has misled us all

The double standards of green anti-nuclear opponents

While doing that Google search I also stumbled upon an article by Laden plugging Jim Hansen's book Storms of My Grandchildren. I also read it and learned that Hansen is a huge proponent of using nuclear energy to fight global warming. Here is what Laden said about the book:

James Hansen is probably the world's best known climate scientist, partly because of his own work and his testimony before Congress, and partly because he has become a target of Global Warming denialists who seem to revel in every opportunity to accuse him of fraud, deceit, or incompetence.


This is "An Inconvenient Truth" on steroids. The book is well written, well presented, captivating, and depressing. The perfect Christmas gift for your favorite climate geek, or even your favorite denialist!

So ...go figure. The roads to hell are many and well-paved.

Oh, and about the video. After watching it, what would you say the odds are that the majority of American citizens will ever be convinced that global warming is anything more than just another liberal "belief?"

Reducing GHG emissions will only be accomplished as a side effect of eliminating the combustion of organic materials, be they ancient fossil versions or the modern biofuel version. They will not be reduced by convincing the majority of Americans that global warming is real (or by calling proponents of nuclear energy names and cobbling up excuses for banning them from commenting on your blog).

Here are the three comments leading up to the expulsion of that reader:

HP, sorry, your very informative comment was held in moderation until just now.

Looking at your comment and my post, though, I think you failed to answer Andrew's question. I'd love to know what I got wrong so I can fix it. Or are you just going to continue to be a self congratulating undocumented (as in, we really have no idea who you are) obnoxious shit, as usual?

Posted by: Greg Laden Author Profile Page | June 23, 2011 10:21 PM

Self congratulating obnoxious shit ...says the pot to the kettle. Note that Laden is one of the few (if not the only) person at ScienceBlogs to name his blog after himself.

Comment fields are a new phenomenon. It always amuses me to watch male hominids say (from behind the safety of their firewalls) things they would never say to another male hominid sitting within arm's reach on an adjacent bar stool, who might reach over, put you in a head lock and buff a shine on top of your head with their sweater sleeve. Any student of human nature knows what will happen when one upright walking male hominid disses another. The retaliation instinct kicks in:

Greg -

Why does it matter to you who I am? Are you a sucker for Argument From Authority? My comments are scientifically sound, though that may be obnoxious shit for you. Too fucking bad. Defend your arguments against my arguments, not who I am.

I fully answered Andrew's question, but I will provide an analogy for the Landenites.

Suppose I put you in a room with 100 malaria-Laden mosquitos for an hour. Your Exposure is 100 mosquito-hours.

But if only three mosquitos bite you, then your Dose is 3 mosquito-hours.

Exposure is different than dose.

I don't expect too many people reading this blog to understand the difference. Hopefully there is one or two.

Posted by: healthphysicist | June 23, 2011 10:33 PM

Laden closes the trap and gives another critic the boot:

HP: Again, you are being obnoxious. You are abusing the privilege of anonymity by acting in a way no one would (usually, normally) act if we knew your name, but for no good. You're not using your anonymity for an good purpose here. I am not a sucker for argument from authority, but you have made the argument from authority, and have not seen fit to back up what your qualifications are.

I may be wrong about what Andrew was asking, but I think he was asking you not to blather on about exposure and dose, but to point out where in this post it was wrong. Which you have not done.

I don't expect too many people reading this blog to understand the difference. Hopefully there is one or two.

Oh. You just insulted my readers.


How noble, protecting his readers in this fashion.

I was once accused by a commenter of not being a PZ Meyers. I was honored that anyone would even compare me to Meyers, who I have tremendous respect for. I often read his blog Pharyngula (note that he did not name his blog after himself). The comments are the best part. Because he is so well-informed, smart and witty, he attracts an army of really well-informed, smart, witty people there. Just last week one of his minions touched my forehead with her noodly appendage at a the Fremont Solstice parade.

Meyers can afford to be cocky. Landen, not so much, particularly when he strays outside of his field of expertise.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Electric Car Purchase Update

Just got an email from Nissan:

Hi Russ, congratulations! Your vehicle is scheduled to arrive at your Nissan Dealer in the month of September 2011.

As your Nissan LEAF™ is being built and shipped, we will continue to update your vehicle's status. So make sure to sign in to "my account" to stay current with your estimated delivery date.

Please be aware that it is normal for delivery dates to fluctuate by a few days as production is finalized. Should your delivery date change by more than two weeks, we will send you an email to notify you of the change.

In an earlier post I was pondering which electric car to buy. I have not heard back from Mitsubishi after plunking down (a refundable) $299 dollars to reserve a place in line.

My neighbor just bought a brand new diesel Jetta wagon. These cars get far better mileage than the American average. Three months from now there may be a Prius, Jetta, and Leaf parked in front of my house representing the most efficient car technology available. The Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid will be missing but not for long I suspect.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Nuclear Debate Argument

Environmentalists are squaring off over the use of nuclear generated electricity to fight global warming. I recently concluded a "debate" with a guy in the comment field that followed an anti-nuclear article at an environmental website.

In the course of the discussion he called me naive, childish, pathetic, petulant, stupid, weak-minded, a shill, a zealot, a fool, an ideologue, and an intellectually dishonest troll. There is a word for this kind of behavior. From Wikipedia:

A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs.

Note that bigotry can be left wing or right wing, and granted, I did egg him on just a little. Does that make me ...evil? For many, an anti-nuclear stance has become a tribal marker and most were imprinted with it (like the music they prefer) in their youth by others who had in turn been imprinted in their youth.

For this person, nuclear energy is evil and no amount of evidence was going to dissuade him of that fact, which is common and predictable, like trying to persuade a devout Christian or Muslim that they have picked the wrong religion.

But that isn't what debate is about. Debate is about informing an audience. That's why I resist debate one on one, like in an email exchange. It's pointless. There is no audience to be informed and even if you could change your partner's perspective (which is very unlikely), would it be worth all of that time and energy for one person?

About a month ago I was banned from commenting on a Science blog website. I often read ScienceBlogs because they tend to be more accurate and better informed than the general lay press and environmental websites. A few weeks ago I was disappointed to find that one of the writers had turned his blog over to another person to use as a news feed about the damaged Fukushima reactors long after the crisis had been averted and clean up efforts had ensued. It was his opinion that the crisis wasn't over and that the lay press was dropping the ball (after grossly over-sensationalizing it).

That seemed to me to be an inappropriate use of this coveted blog space meant for science writing. I don't know about you, but an anthropologist's opinion on nuclear energy carries little weight with me.

I finally vented my frustration in the comment field (complete with a typo) by pointing attempting to point readers to the Brave New Climate website that is devoted to fighting global warming with help from nuclear energy, but as shown below, the link was deleted:

In addition to the above link I also highly recommend part 2 as well. My comment (sans link) was then followed up with the following comment from the Science Blog writer:

Riiight. You can go here to see the aforementioned about page.

Compare the Brave New Climate articles above to the nuclear power articles written by Laden (an anthropologist) then go read about the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dirty, Baseload, Centralized, Renewable Energy

Update: This is an older article that I have slightly edited. It wasn't my intent to republish it, so my apologies to anyone who got an alert who read this when it was originally written.

Below I Fisk an article titled How to get to a fully renewable power system. It's largely an anti-nuclear article in sheep's clothing.

Anti-nuclear environmentalists are becoming as much of a stumbling block to low carbon energy as the head-in-the-hole conservatives. They were taught as impressionable adolescents that nuclear energy was evil and they just can't unlearn it. As a father of two, it pisses me off frustrates me that attempts to protect our children from the ravages of a warmed world are being hampered by adolescent imprinting--on two fronts. Predictably I suppose, tribe identity (and the defense of the markers that define your tribe) tends to trump rational thought.

Thanks to the Internet, the old anti-nuclear arguments are in a shambles. It's interesting to watch new ones trying to evolve. The very latest is to claim that the world's power grids don't need baseload power ...plants (or something fuzzy like that).

Admittedly, Dave does a pretty thorough job of laying out what it would take to get a fully renewable power system. First, you have to temporarily increase the number of natural gas power plants (and hope those who invested in them will later give them up peacefully and in a timely manner).

Next, you have to build ...

...the crap out of renewables. The more renewable sources there are on the grid, the wider the geographic area they cover, the more every region has maximized its local, distributed resources, the steadier the total supply is. That's especially true if you ramp up hydro, geothermal, and biomass, i.e., non-intermittent renewables. can shrink the peaks (nerdspeak: "peak leveling") by moving demand around (nerdspeak: "demand response"), either by persuading people to spread their consumption out by charging more during peak hours (nerdspeak: "variable pricing"), or by building appliances that can cut back automatically.

Second -- another species of peak leveling -- there's energy storage. Stored energy is dispatchable: you can send it where you need it when you need it. "Pumpspeicher" on the chart above is pumped storage, which today is one of the few cost-effective, large-scale storage technologies in common use, though others are coming online. There are also batteries, ultracapacitors, compressed air, flywheels, fuel cells, and the distributed storage ...

Oh, and one more thing. You have to get rid of "nukes." As a thought exercise about how to get to all renewable energy it makes sense you would exclude nuclear power simply because it is not renewable (although natural gas isn't renewable either). He dropped the ball (and raised my ire) when he suggested that we should drop nuclear because it is centralized and provides baseload.

But there is nothing inherently wrong with centralized baseload power plants.

So, summing it all up, what he's actually saying in a very roundabout way is that we must stop using nuclear because it will reduce how much renewable energy we will need. If we really knew for sure that we could replace all electricity production with renewables I'd have no quibble. But we don't know that, not by a long shot.

He wants us to dump a known economically feasible zero carbon energy source and bet our children's futures on an untested hypothesis (of unknown cost) that we can keep the lights on coast to coast, rain or shine, day and night by stringing together a Rube Goldberg collection of variable, intermittent and/or non-dispatchable renewable sources without any help from "nukes."

This argument might carry more weight if the overarching priority is to use only renewable energy. But that isn't the overarching priority. Eliminating the burning of fossil fuels is the overarching priority (because they are the main source of green house gases). Renewable may be the ultimate goal but it is not the more immediate one.

The lion's share of renewable energy is either centralized (wind and solar farms, hydro, etc) and/or baseload (hydroelectric, geothermal, biogas, biomass, solar thermal with storage). For example, burning biomass in place of or along with coal is centralized baseload power (that may be partially renewable, but is probably not low carbon and certainly is not clean).

Read the following to see how convoluted the reasoning can get.

So you've got your baseload plants and your peaker plants


From the Wikipedia article on load following:

“…A load following power plant is a power plant that adjusts its power output as demand for electricity fluctuates throughout the day. Load following plants are typically in-between base load and peaking power plants in efficiency, speed of startup and shutdown, construction cost, cost of electricity and capacity factor…”

There are three basic power generation modes: baseload (full throttle all the time), load following (variable output), and peaking (off or on—binary). Some gas fired power plants may turn off some of their turbines instead of all of them to provide a measure of load following as well (throttle back).

One out of three of the main modes of power generation is missing from Dave’s plan to get to “a fully renewable power system.” What are the odds of getting an accurate answer when a third of your input data is missing?

“…Once they're built [“baseload” power plants] they're pretty cheap to operate and you can run them around the clock…”

He got that right.

“…The idea, in a nutshell, is to reduce and eventually eliminate the need for baseload power plants (the big polluters) …”


The goal is to eliminate coal, period. Unlike coal, nuclear baseload power produces no emissions, levels no mountain tops, has no railroad tracks jammed with thousands of carloads of coal, and fills in no river valleys with mine tailings (i.e., coal and nuclear share almost nothing in common other than economics).

Most renewable energy produced today is coming from centralized baseload power sources (hydroelectric, geothermal, biogas, biomass, solar thermal with storage). And although wind and solar photovoltaic farms are not baseload, they most certainly are centralized power plants. Confused? I don’t blame you.

Dave states that we must “eliminate the need for baseload power plants.” However, he acknowledges the need for baseload power when he points out in a chart that “…renewables are providing, in effect, baseload power.”

He appears to be saying that we must eliminate power sources that run continually (baseload) unless they are renewable (hydroelectric, geothermal, biogas, biomass, solar thermal with storage) or made to act like a single baseload power plant by stringing together a conglomeration of intermittent sources with a hypothetical, untested, super smart grid of unknown configuration and cost (HVDC, superconducting, conventional high voltage wire).

There is a propensity for us enviro types to favor distributed energy even though most renewable energy comes from centralized power plants. We don't like the term "power plant" because they are run by the man. But like it or not the man is in charge of solar and wind farms as well. And even though the one main advantage of distributed is that you don't need a gargantuan coast to coast grid, we acknowledge the need for some kind of new coast to coast grid to tie it all together. Contradictory and schizophrenic are two words that come to mind.

In the comment field of the article I'm critiquing you will find those who have not only confused baseload with centralized power but have also been convinced that both are bad, even though wind and solar farms are both examples of centralized power and to ice the cake, both can (as Dave points out in his chart) serve as baseload if enough can be strung together with tens of thousands of miles of power lines.

“…However, they're not well suited to ramping up and down in response to short-term fluctuations. (It takes days to turn a nuke plant off and back on.)…”

Here he suggests to readers that a nuclear plant can only alter power output (“ramping up and down”) by turning off and on. Imagine if cars had only two modes like a rocket ship—full throttle and off.

Nuclear plants can’t be used as peaking power plants like the gas fired variety that often actually do turn on and off. However, some nuclear designs (like those in France) can ramp up and down like your car engine does and are often used for load following.

Although it tends to be more economical to design nuclear power plants for baseload, some designs are capable of load following as well and if there is enough economic incentive to do so (to support renewables for example) they can be designed specifically for that purpose.

“…They [wind and solar] are variable and intermittent, with low capacity factors, so they can't satisfy baseload demand. But the wind and sun are not dispatchable, so they can't reliably satisfy peak demand either…”

The above sentences are accurate once you remove his suggestion that this is false conventional wisdom and that the problem is with the peg board filled with round holes, not the square pegs (wind and solar) you are trying to jam into it.

“…When I was in Germany recently, though, the reaction among folks I talked to was, 'Yes, that is a problem. We are going to solve it!'..."

You would of course get the same reactions here as well depending on how selective you are about who you talk to. There are lots of ways to solve the problem, like burn fossil fuel gas in peaker plants and nuclear in baseload and load following plants to maximize how much wind and solar you can effectively use. And yes, you could also try to string together a gargantuan super grid from sea to shining sea but that isn’t likely to be the highest probability for success.

In a nutshell, Dave is biasing the data to get the result he wants, which is that we don’t need “nukes” as he calls nuclear power plants (a term originally used to denote nuclear weapons, which have nothing to do with nuclear generated electricity).

The conflation of thermonuclear devices with peaceful electricity generation is as manipulative as it is disingenuous. I try to point this out every time I see it no matter how subtle the conflation.

Just last night I watched the documentary Trinity and Beyond (narrated by former Starship captain, William Shatner). It was unsettling to watch the detonation of one thermonuclear weapon after another. The sight of the Russian 57 megaton thermonuclear device going off raised the hair on the back of my neck.

The United States alone detonated over 330 nuclear weapons (submerged in the ocean, buried underground, shot from canons, launched into space, you name it). The realization that all of the nuclear powers were repeatedly releasing all of that radiation into the environment is sobering but at the same time it puts into perspective just how out of perspective the public’s concerns are over radiation from nuclear power plants.

“…In Germany, on the other hand, they get it. That's why they are eschewing nukes and going all out on renewables. They are leading. Remember leading? Seems like America used to do more of it…”

Ironically, Germany also features very prominently in the film Trinity and Beyond. Nuclear weapons were developed as a result of Germany leading the world into the worst conflagration in all of human history.

Maybe this “eschewing of nukes” is a form of subconscious societal guilt relief for the sins of their fathers. Time will tell how successful they will be. Odds are good that they will end up burning more fossil fuels as well as importing more energy (which is actually fine as long as it is low carbon energy). Certainly, George Monbiot sees their solar program as a form of robbing the poor to subsidize the rich.

I also find it ironic that their neighbor, France, gets almost 80 percent of their electricity from nuclear. Such a stark contrast this will be.

Update 5/29/2011: From an article at the Energy Collective:

...none of these scenarios discussed in the previous section would result in any net reduction in carbon emissions, as each would simply see renewables and/or efficiency displace Germany's existing nuclear plants, a zero-carbon energy source, rather than coal or natural gas-fired power plants. Germany contemplates simultaneously phasing out it's nuclear fleet and meeting ambitious goals for carbon reductions, the country is actually poised to dig itself an even deeper hole, as the country is in the process of building 10 coal-fired power plants, which would add 11,311 MW to the country's installed capacity. These plants would emit 69.4Mt of C02 annually, over a quarter of the Germany electricity sector's 2008 total carbon dioxide emissions...

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