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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The smart money will no longer support new nuclear, and where it does, required interest rates and public insurance will be so extreme that only the most committed governments will underwrite their development. Some carbon capture projects will go forward, but without a high carbon price and major public investment in technology scale-up, it will not achieve more than marginal penetration.
Will not achieve more than marginal penetration …interesting perspective considering that nuclear has been the largest source of low carbon energy (next to hydro) for the last half century. The author shows his antinuclear bias by referencing the highest proposed cost for nuclear he could find when in reality the cost of building nuclear varies a great deal from place to place and can be very economically competitive depending on who is building it.

The United States has lost the ability to build low cost nuclear over the decades that we were building gas and coal power stations instead. We will have to crawl back up the learning curve but other countries can be contracted to build nuclear at very competitive prices.

The cost to build nuclear power varies greatly from country to country. But when you look at the global range, average, and median LCOE (levelized cost of energy) for the new nuclear power stations built in the last five or so years, they're amazingly competitive. And keep in mind that it is the total system cost, not the LCOE of any given component in a grid that drives the final rate for consumers. To get the lowest cost for consumers the system uses a mix of components, some costing more than others, just as any circuit board does.

A South Korean company (KEPCO) will bring on line a 1,400 MW reactor, Barakah 1, (the first of the four being built in series for the United Arab Emirates) this year after starting construction in July of 2012. All four are ahead of schedule for completion by 2020, which is an average of one nuclear reactor every two years. Two years is the same time frame used by Lazards to calculate the LCOE (levelized cost of energy) for wind and solar. The LCOE for these Korean reactors being built in the UAE is in the lower portion of the nuclear range in Figure 1.

The author of this article concluded with the following statement:

The best analysis today tells us that making solar and wind the dominant sources of energy will be substantially cheaper if we maintain a minority share of low-carbon baseload.
Close, but no cigar. The study says nothing about nuclear being a minority share or wind or solar being the dominant share. See Figure 2 below. Note that nuclear is the dominant low carbon energy source in the lowest cost scenario (33% less expensive) with wind a distant third place and solar in fourth place.

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