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Friday, March 24, 2017

Which Low-Carbon Plan has the Lowest Risk and Cost?

Figure 1: 2017 Technology Neutral Low Carbon Solution from Joint IEA and IRENA Study for Germany

Jesse Jenkins and Samuel Thernstrom just published a paper that might be described as a meta study of meta studies:
In addition to the 30 papers directly reviewed, this literature review also covers other review articles (Cochran, Mai, and Bazilian 2014; Morrison et al. 2015) that summarize findings from an additional 21 previously published studies, as well as Kriegler et al. (2014) and Krey et al. (2014), which describe results from a detailed inter-model comparison exercise involving 18 energy economic and integrated assessment models.
As it turns out, dispatchable baseload significantly decreases the cost and technical challenge of decarbonizing power systems. Huh, could that be why we use it in virtually all power systems today? There are only three low carbon, dispatchable power sources: nuclear, biomass, and hydro.

All three are resisted by major environmental groups but only two out of the three are resisted for rational reasons:
  1. Biomass displaces carbon sinks while usurping land needed for food production and biodiversity and in most cases isn't low carbon at all.
  2. Hydro destroys thousands of miles of river ecosystems (think end of the Amazon, extinct river dolphins and salmon runs) and can produce massive amounts of methane as submerged vegetation decomposes. In addition, it can't always be used for baseload depending on precipitation patterns, and to ice the cake, dams eventually silt up.
This paper was, in turn, written about in Utility Dive where Mark Jacobson (mastermind behind a hypothetical global zero-carbon energy master plan based purely on wind, hydro, and solar), was asked to weigh in on the critique of his work found in said paper.

Jenkins is fundamentally wrong about nuclear generation, Jacobson told Utility Dive. “In the U.S., nuclear is absolutely not dispatchable.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Could Wind Power Become the Fourth Largest Source of Unnatural Avian Mortality by 2050?

Photo by Thomas Kohler Via Flickr Creative Commons

The largest single cause of bird mortality from Mark Jacobson's 100% renewable energy plan comes from the increase in the number of high voltage power lines to connect wind and solar to load centers.

Figure 1: Annual Bird Mortality According to Sovacool Study
Many of you have seen the chart in Figure 1 from the study by Benjamin Sovacool which launched the internet urban legend that nuclear kills more birds than wind. After correcting his errors, it turns out that wind turbines kill far more birds per unit energy than nuclear. But, to Sovacool's credit, that wasn't his main point. His main point was that fatalities from wind and nuclear are very small in comparison to other unnatural sources of fatalities.

And that may have been the case in 2011, with wind supplying a percent or two of our power and nuclear supplying about 20%. Figure 2 shows an estimate of what may happen if we attempt to implement Mark Jacobson's 100%renewable energy plan.

Figure 2: Potential Impact on Mortality from Mark Jacobson's 100% Renewables Scenario (right click + view image to enlarge)

Note that Sovacool's estimate for the annual impact of climate change (23,448,000) from fossil fueled power stations is almost three times lower than Jacobson's impact from wind power (63,193,729), suggesting that the cure is worse than the disease when it comes to bird mortality.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Is smaller better for nuclear energy?

What follows is an imagined conversation I'd have using quotes from two articles from the Environmental Progress and Third Way websites if I could get all of these talking heads into one room. And although he was not actually a participant in the real discussion, just to remind everyone that the integration of wind and solar has been even more expensive than nuclear, I also threw in a quote by David Roberts writing for VOX.

On February 14th I posted a tweet suggesting that the world may end up purchasing large nuclear power stations from just a few players the way the airline industry does large wide-body aircraft (leaving other, smaller players to build smaller versions of the big things). On February 17th, an article appeared in Environmental Progress using an airliner analogy. On February 27th, an article appeared in Third Way, also using that airline analogy to critique the Environmental Progress article.

I parsed Shellenberger's Environmental Progress article here. The current status of global nuclear power costs is discussed here.

The internet is a wonderful source of ideas. Once in a while I see an idea I floated in a book, article, comment, or tweet appear in another person's book, article, comment, or tweet, which leads me to at least suspect that I may be having an impact on the conversation.