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Thursday, December 29, 2016

David Roberts Thinks "Solar is Winning"--Still Antinuclear

In his article "2 remarkable facts that illustrate solar power’s declining cost" Roberts starts off well:

First, there’s no such thing as an electricity source that is cheapest in all circumstances, nor is there likely to be such a source any time soon. All sources have advantages and disadvantages; they all have circumstances in which they excel.

But goes downhill from there, concluding with the following nonsensical remark:

 “Solar is winning.”

What does that even mean?

Industrial solar is going to play an important role in future grids but unless it’s located in one of the sunniest of places, it won’t be the least expensive source. And even when it is the least expensive source, it will never be the only component of a grid. More expensive components, be they nuclear, wind, gas, and possibly some amount of much more expensive storage, will have to be part of that grid ...especially at night. So, what matters is the total cost of operating all of the components of a grid. The fact that you may have lowered the cost in very sunny places of just one component (solar) will not necessarily lower your electric bill. Evidence to date strongly suggests the opposite.See Figure 1.

Why? One reason would be integration costs, which are not included in LCOE calculaltions. The price charged by the solar farm owner does not reflect all costs to the grid operator (which all get passed on to the consumer) of the additional transmission needs of industrial intermittent sources. For example, in Texas, the integration costs for wind can double the final price charged to customers. If the wind farm is charging $25/MWh and the cost of installing new transmission lines to export excess power produced when it's not needed locally is $25MWh (see Figure 2), the real cost is twice that being charged by the wind farm. Integration costs of intermittent sources tend to be much higher than for dispatchable sources because of the need for more transmission infrastructure to export excess power produced at times when it is not needed in the local grid.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

David Roberts on Illinois Passes Huge, Bipartisan Energy Bill--Still Antinuclear

Shortly after the elections I tweeted the following:

Below, David kicks off his article about bipartisan politics:

With the possible exception of California’s recent bill, it might be the most significant state energy legislation passed in the US in decades.

Interestingly enough, the link he provides in that quote goes to an article by Brad Plummer which had the following quote about California's bill:

Few countries have ever achieved cuts this sharp while enjoying robust economic growth. (Two exceptions were France and Sweden in the 1980s and ’90s, when they scaled up nuclear power).

Below are some examples of David doing his usual antinuclear energy double-speak:

The bill is somewhat misleadingly being headlined by most journalists as a bailout for nuclear plants.

But while the bailout is in there ...

Lots of them are pushing for bailouts ...

So that’s what Exelon wanted: a bailout for its nuclear plants...

...many enviros and consumer advocates remain deeply opposed to the bailout.

Government assistance for nuclear zero carbon energy is called a bailout but for wind and solar it's called a subsidy?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

CleanTechnica Watch: Comment Analysis of Thorium Article--Volume 1

In this article I clean up behind CleanTechnica's community manager who made a total of 87 comments under an antinuclear article published on CleanTechnica. Consider it a debate where each debate partner is banned from the other's comment field :  )

Some pronuclear commenters had their remarks held for moderation (even though CleanTechnica's comment rules claim they never do that) which were subsequently never published, while others had comments deleted. I saw one instance where this community manager posted a long rebuttal a comment he'd deleted! Apparently, he does this fairly routinely.

Because the CleanTechnica community manager made 17% of the 509 comments before he shut them down, I'll be parsing them by category. I'm also breaking this up into more than one volume. This is Volume 1. The community manager's arguments occasionally trip on each other but in a nutshell they are based on his erroneous insinuation that wind will always cost less everywhere and that storage will fix the intermittency problems.

Feel free to drop into that comment field to see quotes taken from it in full context.


The CleanTechnica community manager's main argument is that when wind costs less then nuclear, we should replace nuclear with it.

Using that simplistic reasoning, we should eliminate all other new low carbon sources of energy that may cost more than onshore wind (which, in the U.S., would, in addition to new nuclear, include solar PV, solar thermal, offshore wind, geothermal, and biomass). See Figure 2.

Monday, December 19, 2016

CleanTechnica Watch: Is Thorium A Future Option For Nuclear Energy?

Previous CleanTechnica antinuclear articles reviewed:

Screenshot From Documentary of Sunniva Rose, Nuclear Physicist
Sunniva Rose explained some nuclear physics terms in the documentary. Be sure to see her TEDx talk: "How is it possible to worry about global warming and not be pronuclear?"

Click here to learn more about CleanTechnica watch. 

The CleanTechnica version of this article was originally posted on the German antinuclear energy website Energy Transition.

The article is an ad for the author's book in the disguise of a review of a TV documentary that aired in October on Arte (a Franco-German TV station), promoting a thorium molten salt reactor design. I found a version with English subtitles here. I recommend that you read Myths and Misconceptions about Thorium nuclear fuel instead of watching the film. It will save you an hour and the article is far more factual.

In his first sentence he calls pressurized-water reactors "awful." I'm not convinced that a total of three incidents of note in over a half century of low carbon energy production with only one of them releasing enough radiation that will (after eighty years), result in a statistically possible total number of fatalities that are less than a percent of annual global car deaths ...fits the definition of awful.

The film clearly calls for tremendous investments in thorium nuclear, with a prototype reactor costing “a billion euros.”

If that's a "tremendous" investment, what would you call the $30 or so billion Germany has been spending annually for several years now trying to displace its existing nuclear with wind and solar? Ginormous?

Just as there are millions of ways to skin a cat, there are thousands of potential configurations for nuclear power reactors. Using a thorium fuel mixed with molten salt is just one of them and would come with its advantages and disadvantages if ever put into commercial operation. The film touted three advantages: the abundance of thorium, the potential for passive safety (lose power, the fuel drains into a big bathtub and just cools off) and less waste.

The Story of the Semi-off-grid Apartment Building

Picture an apartment building in a city that gets almost all of its electricity from nuclear power stations. It has solar panels and a gas powered generator.

The power lines from the utility are only connected to the ventilation fan that runs continuously at the same power level. A gas powered generator heats and cools the building via a heat pump in addition to powering lights and appliances. The constant current flow from the nuclear power station to the ventilation fan is the building's baseload electrical energy need.

On sunny periods of sunny days, the generator output decreases because the panels are providing electricity. The panels are acting as fuel (and emissions) reduction devices for the generator.

The owner is very concerned about climate change and wants to minimize emissions. One day, a stranger knocks at the apartment owner's door and tells her she should disconnect from the nuclear power and add more solar panels because, ah, sunshine is free. So she does but soon finds that the gas bill and attendant emissions are higher than they used to be.

Why is that? Because the solar energy was often produced when not needed (nobody was home) and was wasted. Adding more solar panels didn't change when they produced power, it only increased how much was wasted when they did produce power. The extra panels displaced what nuclear had been providing but only when they were producing power for part of sunny days, which is why they were never able to reduce gas flows to the level seen when the ventilation fan was being continuously powered with nuclear 24 hours a day, every day.

The stranger returns yet again and tells her to add batteries to store the wasted solar. Alas, this city is located where there is very little sun for months at a time and the cost of having enough batteries to store months worth of energy (called seasonal storage) is twice the value of their entire apartment complex (this is actually the case with my home).

Because the addition of more solar panels did not lower the emissions to the level seen when there was a ventilation fan running on nuclear power, the owner reconnected it to the grid and sold the extra panels on Craigslist.

The apartment owner eventually learned that the stranger who she had assumed was a power systems engineer, was actually the pizza delivery guy, who having been imprinted at an impressionable age with antinuclear dogma, had been parroting things he had read on the internet but didn't really understand.

The End

This story is an analogy to explain how a real power grid works and why emissions rise when nuclear is removed from it. It also demonstrates that a grid is composed of many players and they all have different costs. Assuming that the solar panels were the cheapest to install and operate, you still could not eliminate the other, more expensive players because intermittent sources like wind and solar can't do the job alone. To minimize emissions a grid must minimize fossil fuel use. Using wind and solar as fuel reduction devices to minimize the use of natural gas in load following and peaking power stations and using nuclear for baseload instead of coal could rapidly decarbonize our grid.

The story  is also a warning that we shouldn't be taking advice from the fry cooks, journalism, and philosophy majors out there writing articles about a complex topic like power engineering.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

CleanTechnica Watch

CleanTechnica Watch will be an ongoing series of articles that discuss their antinuclear energy articles, which are typically either republished from other antinuclear energy sources or written by an assortment of antinuclear guests.

You can think of these articles as a form of public peer review.

Their policy of hoovering up antinuclear pieces to put on their website is a convenience for me in that they have become my go-to source for nuclear energy misinformation material.

In a nutshell, CleanTechnica promotes the belief that the planet can decarbonize without help from nuclear.

Reality Check

The German Energy Transition

Studies, and there is no shortage of them, have limited value. As any experienced engineer knows, real world data trumps theoretical calculation.

Luckily we have the German experiment (often referred to as the Energiewende or Energy Transition) which has been testing the hypothesis that a highly motivated, wealthy, industrialized nation can rapidly decarbonize its electrical grid by displacing nuclear energy with wind and solar.

The experiment isn't complete, but it has already provided a wealth of real-world data.

Putting the cost into perspective

The roughly $30 billion dollars being spent annually to expand wind and solar in Germany could build enough third generation AP 1000 nuclear reactors to fully decarbonize their grid over a ten year period (similar to what France did decades ago).

$30 billion a year would pay for forty custom built $7.5 billion Generation III AP1000 reactors over ten years.

$30B/year x 10years  = $300B

$300B/$7.5B = 40 AP1000 reactors

Add those to existing reactors and they could supply about 97% of Germany's electricity by 2025.

From the German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, second in command to Merkel, who was also the Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety from 2005 to 2009:

I don’t know any other economy that can bear this burden [$30billion a year]...We have to make sure that we connect the energy switch to economic success, or at least not endanger it. Germany must focus on the cheapest clean-energy sources as well as efficient fossil-fuel-fired plants to stop spiraling power prices."

While renewable aid costs are at the “limit” of what the economy can bear, Germany will keep pushing wind and solar power, the most cost-effective renewable sources, Gabriel said. Biomass energy is too expensive and its cost structure hasn’t improved, he said.


Growth of biomass essentially stopped when its subsidies were truncated. It currently provides roughly four percent of Germany's total energy (electricity, heat, transport) consumption.

Given the discussion about the sustainability of biomass, the question is therefore whether the Energiewende itself is sustainable. That’s one reason why the German government has slammed the brakes on biomass.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

CleanTechinca Writes Last Antinuclear Energy Article—Pigs Fly

Frankly, we primarily stopped writing about nuclear since everyone in the industry should know by now it is an industry entering its retirement stage. says Zachary Shahan in yet another antinuclear article. Interestingly enough, I wrote an article earlier this year critiquing yet another of their antinuclear energy articles.

However, because of the interest (and backlash) the Before the Flood article raised, I decided it was worth communicating this point one more time [emphasis mine].

If CleanTechnica really believed that nuclear energy is “entering its retirement stage” they wouldn’t still be writing antinuclear articles.

Using Bill McKibben’s climate change war analogy, Figure 1 below lists our four main weapons against climate change in descending order of deployment:

Figure 1: Low Carbon Sources of Energy in United States via 2016 BP Review

Pronuclear comment is not welcome at CleanTechnica. From their original comment policy page:

This site is not the place to discuss future nuclear designs that might make nuclear affordable, the unproven GenIV type stuff that might or might not work. If there’s a clear demonstration of affordable nuclear sometime in the future [China will begin replacing the furnaces in many of its coal plants with Gen IV, gas cooled, pebble bead reactors as soon as 2018 and Russia just put a breeder reactor into commercial operation last month], then we can open up the discussion about the role nuclear could play in replacing fossil fuels.

In the meantime, there are several sites where they love to discuss nuclear ideas. Feel free to take your speculations to one or more of those sites. We’re going to stick with stuff that is affordable and practical.


 Shahan began his article with praise of another antinuclear article.

Monday, October 31, 2016

David Roberts concedes that the progress of wind and solar have been over hyped ...blames television.

Total Global GHG Emissions in Million Tonnes CO2 Abated by Wind and Solar

As in my previous articles, consider this one as a replacement for the missing comment field at Vox. Wind and solar (when not disrupting or displacing intact ecosystems) have a place in our grid, as does nuclear. It's only a matter of how big their respective roles will be.

Roberts found a poll that exposes how badly Americans have been misinformed when it comes to the progress of wind and solar.

The average American, at least according to this new survey from communications and PR firm Makovsky, has it at 20 percent — 11 percent from solar, 9 percent from wind.

That is … quite wrong. In reality, solar is at 1 percent and wind is at 2 percent.

Meanwhile, the average American thinks that in five years, solar will be at 20 percent and wind will be at 14 percent.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that in five years, solar will still be at 1 percent and wind will have grown to a whopping 3.

I don't know where Dave got his numbers (he didn't provide a link), but the 2016 BP statistical review has wind at 4.5% and solar at 0.9% of U.S. electrical energy production for 2015, not that it matters. Could be he's talking about global values instead of U.S. values.

Coincidentally, James Conca just wrote a piece at Forbes about a poll showing how Americans ranked nuclear power as the number 1 threat to safety way back in 1987.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

IEA Renewable Energy Medium-Term Report 2016

I received an invitation from the IEA (International Energy Association) to participate in a WebEx presentation of their Renewable Energy Medium-Term Report 2016 (a five year market analysis and forecast), which was at 9:00 PM Paris time ...arrrgh, 6:00 AM my time. I also received an embargoed PDF of their report, not to be released until October 25th. The PowerPoint presentation was given by Paolo Frankl, head of the IEA Renewable Energy Division. I took several screenshots of the presentation as well.

In a nutshell:
Figure 1: Screenshot From the Presentation--Renewable Energy Capacity Additions

 Some things to note about Figure 1:
  • Most growth in renewable energy has been in wind and solar, wind in particular.
  •  Shows capacity, not actual energy production.
I tend to read between the lines of studies to ferret out what the researchers chose not to highlight. If you want to see what they chose to highlight and how they chose to do it, here's the link to it.

In the end it's energy production that counts, capacity, not so much. Installing solar panels in a cave will increase installed capacity but produce no power. Actual production for solar might be something like 10-15% of capacity and for wind, about 20-30%. A solar panel in Seattle will produce a fraction of the energy of a solar panel in a sunny place, ditto for wind. If Figure 1 were to plot actual energy produced instead of capacity, it would look very different in both magnitude and shape.

I created Figure 2 below using data from the 2016 BP statistical review and an IPCC Assessment report to put the impact of wind and solar into perspective. I wanted to put it into perspective to demonstrate that wind and solar alone are very unlikely to get us to an 80% reduction in emissions.

Keep in  mind that emissions displaced depend on energy source displaced. If hydro or nuclear were displaced, emissions actually increase. If natural gas is displaced, emissions will drop but natural gas emits a lot less carbon than coal. Wind and solar rarely displace coal because coal is primarily used for baseload. Claims that wind and solar have replaced coal are actually the result of switching from coal to gas so that it can dampen erratic wind and solar output. Typically, wind and solar serve as fuel reduction devices for natural gas power stations which limits their ability to reduce emissions, particularly from coal.

Figure 2: Total Global GHG Emissions in Million Tonnes CO2 Abated by Wind and Solar
Typically you see bar charts that paint solar and wind in a more favorable light.
  • They may show installed capacity instead of power output.
  • They may chart growth rates as opposed to percentages of emissions abated.
  • They may show power output instead of emissions abated.
  • They may only compare their abatement to emissions from electricity production as opposed all sources of emissions (deforestation, heat, transport etc).
  • The chart may not start at zero, making their contribution appear much larger, and on and on it goes.

Friday, September 16, 2016

David Roberts of Vox, on Exploiting "Clean Energy (whatever that is)" Rifts

Consider this article to be a comment under David's article which has no comment field.

Here's an idea, how about using the term non-fossil fuel energy instead of clean energy?

I can see where this might cause readers to realize you're including nuclear, and yes, I can see why antinuclear bloggers in sheep's clothing might want to avoid doing that. At no point in this article does Roberts say that nuclear is included in his definition of clean energy.

...that he identified as champions of clean energy ... have broken with their party on a few climate or clean energy votes ... the House guarantees inaction on climate and clean energy ... incline the party against climate and clean energy ... it seems to me that clean energy solutions stand or fall together ... no form of clean energy will ever get the support it needs ... part of a growing number of purple and red states with clean energy hubs ... Here is a rift within the party on the subject of clean energy ... Helpfully, the anti–clean energy side is represented by Trump ... while the clean energy side is represented by a longtime, rock-ribbed Republican ... and tying clean energy opposition tightly to Donald Trump ... Conservative opinions on clean energy are still mutable ... this is an opportunity to visibly signal that clean energy support is perfectly consonant ... backs powerful incumbents against clean energy challengers ... institutional stance on climate and clean energy... make mildly supportive noises about clean energy.

It's not easy having an intelligent discussion when words being used have no clear definition. Because readers all have different definitions in their heads, they all walk away with a different interpretation of what has been said, like with David's sixteen instances of the use of the term "clean energy." Now, admittedly, everybody uses that term, so there's safety in numbers. However, it's obvious when a strong nuclear advocate uses it that they are including nuclear. When David uses it, renewable enthusiasts assume he's excluding nuclear, nuclear enthusiasts suspect he may be including it ...but maybe not.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Brad Plumer of Vox on Wilderness and Costa Rica's Renewables

I think both of Brad's articles are excellent. I'm just adding comment and although some of it may come off sounding anti-renewables, let me just state for the record that I'm "not anti-renewables." No, seriously, I'm fine with rooftop solar, properly sited wind farms, and I think we should keep most existing hydroelectric. Nuclear certainly can't do it all.

Money quote:

A new study in Current Biology reports that Earth has lost 10 percent of its wilderness since the early 1990s —an area twice the size of Alaska. "The amount of wilderness loss in just two decades is staggering and very saddening," said lead author James Watson of the University of Queensland.

A wilderness area is, by definition, free of human industry (roads, agriculture, mining, etc) which includes the the sight of power stations on distant ridge lines and hilltops as well as the forest cleared to provide corridors for the power lines that lead from them.

The loss of wilderness is only part of the story. As was mentioned in Plumer's article, you can't recreate intact ecosystems once you destroy them, including those that are not part of a wilderness area. A case in point is the Ivanpah solar thermal power station that usurped intact desert tortoise habitat , and never mind that it may also be incinerating up to 6,000 birds a year.

Kudos to Plumer for including a link to a report from the Breakthrough Institute about using technology and innovation to shrink our environmental footprint (GMO-free organic gardening, grass-fed beef, wood stoves, and the 100 mile diet are not in the game plan).

Thursday, September 8, 2016

David Roberts on Coal Company Environmental Remediation

There are groups out there dedicated to stopping every energy source you can imagine. Antinuclear organizations have convinced their supporters that nuclear power is evil incarnate. They can't change their policies now if they wanted to because they actually have created a monster. Acknowledging the truth about nuclear energy at this point would likely bankrupt many environmental organizations.

David's article: As coal companies sink into bankruptcy, who will pay to clean up their old mines? reflects what I have called his good versus evil world view. I have, on rare occasion, made mention of this propensity in the Grist comment field.

As a philosophy major, Roberts might enjoy this 2008 article by Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature titled The Moral Instinct:

At the very least, the science tells us that even when our adversaries’ agenda is most baffling, they may not be amoral psychopaths but in the throes of a moral mind-set that appears to them to be every bit as mandatory and universal as ours does to us. Of course, some adversaries really are psychopaths, and others are so poisoned by a punitive moralization that they are beyond the pale of reason. (The actor Will Smith had many historians on his side when he recently speculated to the press that Hitler thought he was acting morally.) But in any conflict in which a meeting of the minds is not completely hopeless, a recognition that the other guy is acting from moral rather than venal reasons can be a first patch of common ground. One side can acknowledge the other’s concern for community or stability or fairness or dignity, even while arguing that some other value should trump it in that instance. With affirmative action, for example, the opponents can be seen as arguing from a sense of fairness, not racism, and the defenders can be seen as acting from a concern with community, not bureaucratic power. Liberals can ratify conservatives’ concern with families while noting that gay marriage is perfectly consistent with that concern.

In short, it would help to stop pouring gas on the fire. He seems to have a really hard time empathizing with his opponents, be they conservative Republicans or fossil fuel companies. Now, you may be tempted at this point to stereotype me as a shill apologist for big coal and also take this opportunity to show readers in the comment field that you have heard of the Godwin's Law meme. My environmental credentials likely put yours to shame, nobody is paying me anything to write, and we have all heard of Godwin's law. Coal took the pressure off of our forests just as oil did for whales, but it's time for coal to go just as a time came to stop using wood for energy, whales for oil.

Monday, September 5, 2016

David Roberts on the latest NREL 30% wind and solar study

As suggested in my earlier article, consider this article to be a comment under David's article: The Eastern US could get a third of its power from renewables within 10years. Theoretically, which has no comment field.

Because David is a self-labeled climate hawk, I'm going to start by addressing (what should be but isn't) the overarching concern of climate hawks with regard to energy production--carbon emissions. Had the study also replaced all remaining coal with nuclear, which technically, is certainly possible as France proved long ago, there would have been a 30% + 33% (see Figure 2) = 63% reduction in emissions. Even more simply, they could have replaced all coal with nuclear from the start and added no renewable energy for an emissions reduction of 46%. But because this study was done by the National Renewable Energy Lab, that possibility was not considered.

Why did they stop at 30% penetration? Why was no attempt made to show what it would cost to implement? We do know what it has cost Germany to get to this approximate level of renewables, as I have pointed out uncounted times before:

I don’t know any other economy that can bear this burden [$30billion a year]...We have to make sure that we connect the energy switch to economic success, or at least not endanger it. Germany must focus on the cheapest clean-energy sources as well as efficient fossil-fuel-fired plants to stop spiraling power prices.

While renewable aid costs are at the “limit” of what the economy can bear, Germany will keep pushing wind and solar power, the most cost-effective renewable sources, Gabriel said. Biomass energy is too expensive and its cost structure hasn’t improved, he said.

Germany is demonstrating the real world cost of trying to reduce emissions with only renewables; $30 billion a year, according to Germany's economics ministry. $30 billion a year would pay for forty custom built $7.5 billion Generation III AP1000 reactors over ten years ($30B/year x 10years  = $300B, $300B/$7.5B = 40 AP1000 reactors). Add those to existing reactors and they could supply about 97% of Germany's electricity by 2025.

The Eastern US could get a third of its power from renewables within 10 years. Theoretically.

That word David stuck on the end of his title is all important and should be in the preface of any of these studies. But what does theoretically mean? David takes a stab at it below:

Saturday, September 3, 2016

David Roberts of Vox (formerly of Grist) -- Not "Pro-nuclear"

A little history from Grist:

Climate Hawk takes flight

"It is with great sadness but also no small degree of pride that I'm writing to share the news that David Roberts will be leaving Team Grist shortly to join Vox ...

...When he applied to be a news writer at Grist in 2003, he didn't know much about climate change or any issues we covered--I.e., he was a philosophy grad who used to write movie reviews for IMDb--but he definitively knew how to write, so we took a chance on him."

Although he wrote for an environmental website, David does not consider himself to be an environmentalist (whatever exactly that is):

From David's Twitter account:

Why is he compelled to point out that he isn't a doctor? Because, believe it or not, less astute readers out there fairly routinely think the dr in his Twitter moniker stands for doctor instead of David Roberts. There is a Dr David Roberts who writes for Foreign Affairs, so maybe that's part of the confusion but more than likely it's an artifact of a roughly bell-shaped IQ distribution.

Nature just isn't his thing. David's thing is climate change. I don't recall him ever writing about nature in the decade or so he was at Grist. A climate hawk does not "focus on things like land preservation or biodiversity." When put to a vote by Grist readers to pick a term that describes someone who wants to focus on climate change instead of, say, nature, the term Climate Hawk was chosen ...which is somewhat ironic considering that raptor deaths have always been and continue to be a major concern with improperly sited wind farms (not a problem if properly sited). The irony can be taken a step further considering that every self-proclaimed climate hawk I've ever encountered is also antinuclear energy--the second largest source of zero-emission energy on the planet.

Global Zero Emissions Sources of Electricity

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Is the Tesla Model X the Hummer of electric cars?

Another Tesla goes up in smoke. I've written about some of the other incidents here and here.

When I built my electric bicycle back in 2007, I had been waiting for a battery that was less volatile than what had been available. I didn't want to risk having a fireball under my seat. Tesla traded volatility for power density.
2007 cell phone photo of Hummer and Cherokee

I think electric cars are great for all kinds of reasons, which is why I bought one in 2011. But like any car, they are not created equal, and as marketers begin the process of differentiating them to get us to buy them, that inequality will grow and diversify as it has for conventional cars. And for any fellow electric car enthusiasts out there who think electric cars are going to make a significant dent in carbon emissions in the foreseeable future, read Robert Rapier's article on that subject. Even a strongly biased study by the UCS shows that electric cars, on average, presently produce about half of the emissions of conventional cars in a cradle-to-grave analysis. Eliminating fossil fuels (instead of nuclear) from our energy mix will improve that over time.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

First Annual Clean Energy Forum at the Columbia (nuclear power) Generating Station

Photo Credit Utilities Service Alliance

I was recently invited to attend the first annual Clean Energy Forum, hosted by Energy Northwest in Richland, Washington, which included a tour of the Columbia Generating station.

The Tour

We were greeted at the security gate by three polite security guards who inspected the bus and checked our photo IDs against a list. This level of security isn't unique to nuclear power stations. You would have to go through a similar procedure to take a tour of Hoover dam. We also had to leave our cell phones on the bus (which would also be the case should you ever get the chance to take the highly recommended Boeing, Everett factory tour).

Next, we had to pass through metal detectors very similar to the ones I had to walk through at the airport. Between the airports and tour, I passed through metal detectors four different times on this trip.

We were given radiation dose badges (to document that exposure levels were well-below any amount that could possibly affect health).

We saw the control room mock-up where crews are trained to staff the real control room. They ran through a simulated core shutdown from an earthquake (including a shaking floor and emergency lighting), which took only a few seconds to complete. It looked complex but I doubt that there were many more gauges, lights, and switches in that control room than you would find in a 747 cockpit (between 365 and 970 of them, depending on model). Because a control room does not have to fly, the gauges and switches were quite large and widely spaced in comparison.

 Photo of 747 Cockpit National Air and Space Museum

Friday, July 29, 2016

Robert McCullough writes third antinuclear op-ed piece this month

Photo Columbia Nuclear Power Station via Tri-City Herald
Here we go again. First McCullough gets an op-ed in the SeattleTimes. Next, he posted essentially the same thing in an op-ed in the Oregonian, which was rebutted by the operator of the nuclear power station, and now, the Oregonian gives him yet another op-ed, where, for the most part, he repeats the same rebutted arguments for a third time.

We should all cross our fingers that McCullough does not get hired by an anti-airliner organization (in addition to the antinuclear organization that already commissioned him) to tell airlines how to run their business. Think about it. A jet airliner uses turbines to move passengers in a similar way that solar thermal, natural gas, geothermal, and nuclear power stations use turbines to make electricity.

The operating costs certainly are not the same for an aging 747 and a brand new 737. But there are very good reasons why a given airline will keep its aging fleet of 747s. Based on the simple cost of operation and maintenance, McCullough might tell an airline operator to retire its older 747s. But do you really think he would know better than the airline operator (or grid operator)? Not a chance. He's a hardcore antinuclear economist using smoke and mirrors to attack one of the biggest sources of low carbon energy in the state.

"As I write this response, the on-peak prices for electricity in fiscal year 2021 is $31.30/megawatt-hour (MWh) and the off-peak price is $25.05/MWh [note that wind receives a $23.00/MWh subsidy]. The Columbia Generating Station's cost forecast for December 2021 is $49.60/MWh."

I'm a big fan of solar, but as I write, the world's cheapest unsubsidized solar photovoltaic power price in very sunny Texas is purportedly $57.10/MWh,(1) 15% higher than the Columbia Generating station. In general. PG&E paid $200.00/MWh for electricity from the Ivanpah solar thermal power station last summer.(2) Why isn't McCullough calling for their closure?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Mark Jacobson thinks a desert ecosystem usurped by mirrors is a beautiful thing

Photo Ivanpah Solar Thermal via US Fish and Wildlife Service

I disagree.
Above is Jacobson's Twitter response to my comment: "...what is beautiful about displacing natural desert ecosystems with mirrors?" Below is my response:

Bird scorched by Ivanpah solar thermal power station

Update 7/17/2016 below:

Mark responded with a pointless remark and got one back:

The term "Twitter debate" is an oxymoron (i.e, you can't debate someone using Twitter). Attempts to use it for debate would make good material for a modern Monty Python skit not unlike the classic Department of Arguments skit:

Monday, July 4, 2016

Our future is in low carbon energy, not just green (whatever that means) energy

Columbia Nuclear Generating Station in Washington State
 Cross-posted to Energy Trends Insider.

Robert McCullough has an Op-Ed in the Seattle Times titled "Our future is in green energy not aging, costly nuclear plants" that rebuts an earlier Op-Ed by James Moss supporting Washington State's single nuclear power station. McCullough:

"I read James Moss’ recent Op-Ed with interest and some amusement. The interest reflects whether Washington’s aging and very expensive nuclear plant is a good use for our energy dollars. Moss is doing a good job for his union constituents and takes a position I normally support. Sadly, we may not be on the same side regarding the costs."

I read Robert McCullogh's Op-Ed above with interest and some amusement.

Which got me to wondering who these Northwest clients might be? Neither the Times article nor the study he references says. But based on the Wikipedia article about this power station, I'm pretty sure I know who it is:

In December 2013, Robert McCullough, ... published an analysis of the economics of Columbia Generating Station commissioned by Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group that advocates eliminating the use of nuclear power.

Shouldn't the Times have divulged that information so readers would know he was being paid by a well-known antinuclear energy group? And don't let the group's name (Physicians for Social Responsibility), which is an argument from authority, fool you. It would be a big mistake to ask a physician to fix your brakes. I'm married to a physician. I know a lot of physicians. Physicians don't know any more about nuclear energy than any other lay person ...maybe less.

His antinuclear bias is further exposed by his repetition of old, dog-eared, antinuclear talking points. Below I will show you where he isn't being completely accurate with us using my tried and true (and mostly arbitrary) veracity score system with a rating of ten defined as a cold hard fact all the way down to one, which can be defined in any number of colorful ways.