Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The cost of supporting renewable energy is high

by Alex Cannara (originally posted here)

Here are some good reports, and the graphic shows how their grid management costs have skyrocketed as wind/solar are deployed...

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Mark Z. Jacobson spins an illusory tale about renewable energy

Jacobson imagines a "Roadmap to repower California with all-purpose energy from wind, water, sunlight (WWS)". He, and others, cost it at [3] "$1.1 trillion installation cost of 603 GW of new power needed for a 100% all-purpose WWS system within ~7 (4–14) years."

That seems impossibly cheap considering that, up to 2014, various EU countries paid €1 trillion (~ $1.1 trillion) for 216 GWe of RE nameplate installations [2]. Europe was mostly installing unbuffered electricity. Jacobson proposes to go much further: a complete replacement for California's predominantly fossil fuel energy systems. Not just its electricity, he imagines transport, industrial and domestic heat to be renewable powered, and buffered with storage.

Returning to that EU country price tag (€1 trillion for 216 GWe of RE nameplate). The capacity factor averaged ~18%, which works out at €29 billion / GWe. i.e. The €1 trillion actually provided 34.5GWe of a nominal 100% capacity supply. Let's compare that to nuclear power, AP1000 reactors in particular, such as those proposed for Moorside in Britain. These are projected at €4.152bn / GWe (operating at ~90% capacity). When I normalize it for a nominal 100% capacity, I make it 4.613bn/GWe. So Europe could have paid just €160 bn (instead of €1 trillion) for the same nuclear electricity as all that RE provides, but without the headache of intermittent supply! The normalization I'm doing here is just to compare like with like: to compare the capacity actually delivered instead of, largely fictional, nameplate capacity. Nuclear power can be much cheaper than the AP1000. ThorCon estimate their costs will be only a quarter of AP1000 capital costs, a mere $1bn/GWe.

I can't help but feel European countries have been ripped off here. They bought expensive, intermittent renewable energy at prices over six times what the equivalent nuclear power would cost. In many cases, for example Germany, this hasn't even led to significant drops in carbon dioxide emissions. German emissions were the same in 2014 as 2009. No change in six years.

Getting back to California. There are a number problems with Jacobson's proposals. He wants to go much further with renewable energy than any country before; including buffering (energy storage). He says it will be done cheaply with technologies that have never been tried at this scale, for which no suitable manufacturing capacity exists.

  • His cost estimates are ridiculously low.
  • He assumes technologies which have not been shown to work at scale.
  • He has not provided a credible model, or simulation, to show his system could cope with, for instance, long periods of very low wind, which are frequently found in the real world weather systems.
  • His estimated timescale to transition to this RE utopia is ridiculously optimistic. I doubt that a totalitarian governed California could achieve it; let alone, the real California
  • He proposes a complete renewable energy system for all California's needs. Nothing like this has ever been achieved. The closest we have is a country like Iceland which claims to provide 89% of its primary energy from renewables. Maybe it does? Yet Iceland's per capita carbon dioxide emissions are still over twice that of France! Pray tell me Iceland, what was the point? And France has only decarbonized its electricity with, mostly, nuclear power!
  • He ignores potentially higher commodity costs which might well happen when vast new resources must be exploited to make very large amounts of machinery for low power density, renewable power, collectors.
  • The costs of renewable energy, whatever they are, will recur. Wind turbines last 20 years. Energy storage systems will need periodic replacement. Practically, solar PV will last no more than 35 years. Vast amounts of machinery will need to be periodically replaced.

As far back as 10 years ago, I too believed in 100% renewable energy systems. Now I'm more responsible. I've studied energy. I understand that getting it wrong will wreck the lives of millions of people. It would be grossly irresponsible for me not to criticize Jacobson's fantasies. I don't for a moment think California can succeed in its solartopia dream. I think a lot of harm could be done trying to get there.

This isn't even about climate change, and stopping global warming. Most fervent opposition to nuclear power is typical of a mindset which sees climate change as a mere symptom of humanity using too much stuff. The solartopia delusion is about living in a fantasy world where vast resources are deployed to provide the renewable energy needed but it doesn't count as too much stuff because it's renewable energy. 100% RE is more a moral project than a practical one. It will not be an environmental saviour. Au contraire, it will be an environmental disaster.


  • WWS: wind, water, sunlight renewable energy
  • RE: renewable energy
  • GWe: Gigawatt of electrical power
  • AP1000: An advanced pressurized water reactor, with intrinsic safety
  • nameplate: The power output assuming 100% utilization
  • capacity factor: The actual power output achieved as a proportion of nameplate
  • ThorCon: are just one of many nuclear power startups planning to provide intrinsically safe, nuclear power cheaper than coal. Many of their competitors plan similar low capital costs and low electricity prices


  1. Green Mythology and the High Price of European Electricity
  2. European Renewable Energy Performance And Costs: 2014, by Ed Hoskins
  3. "A roadmap for repowering California for all purposes with wind, water, and sunlight", Jacobson et. al., Energy Volume 73, 14 August 2014, Pages 875–889, doi:10.1016/j.energy.2014.06.099

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

How one of world's cleanest & greenest technologies became viewed as bad for environment

Copied from Storify

by: Mike Shellenberger, Amended on further reflection, July 22, 2015

  1. As pro-nuclear ranks grew among people who care about climate & environment, we were treated as something of a novelty — but we weren't.
  2. Alvin Weinberg & other post-war scientists saw nuclear as huge breakthrough in pollution-free, low-impact source of electricity.
  3. While California & others embraced nuclear, faction in Sierra Club saw cheap power as opening door to more people & more development.
  4. Nuclear was so obviously superior environmentally to all other energy technologies that opponents had to invent new concerns.
  5. Amory Lovins worked with David Brower @SierraClub (against Ansel Adams) to make up various reasons to be against nuclear energy.
  6. They made up & publicized scary myths about proliferation & waste that notably had nothing whatsoever to do with the environment.
  7. Anti-nuclear env. leaders of 1970s knew they couldn't win on scientific or environmental grounds so they had to start fear-mongering.
  8. But because it was "environmental leaders" who were doing fear-mongering, media misreported concerns as "environmental" — they weren't.
  9. Nuclear waste is deemed the environmental problem, but from environmental point of view it is exactly the kind of waste you should want.
  10. From environmental point of view, production you want is highest output using fewest inputs & least amt. of waste: that's nuclear.
  11. Anti-nuclear leaders turned a huge strength of nuclear — its small amounts of highly manageable waste — into a weakness.
  12. Grossly exaggerating nuclear waste risks was critically important to undermining its reputation as an orders-of-magnitude cleaner tech.
  13. Much of "environmental" attack on nuclear had nothing to do with tech per se but paranoia of "large systems" e.g. the electrical grid.
  14. Fear of big systems & utopian views of small communities underlay anti-nuclear movement rejection of both big government & companies.
  15. Today anti-nuclear activists routinely talk of "nuclear industry!" but mostly are referring to public or heavily regulated utilities.
  16. In truth, nuclear's biggest advocates weren't profit-motivated private companies but publicly-minded scientists & utilities...
  17. ... their motivation & excitement was around vision of powering California & world with pollution-free low-footprint energy.
  18. In sum, it was the environmental benefits that were *the main motivation* of pro-nuclear advocates like Weinberg in the 1960s...
  19. ... while it was highly ideological *non-environmental* concerns that drove fear & opposition to nuclear energy starting in the 1970s.

Amendment based on further thinking, July 22, 2015

  1. The vision of a world powered 100% by renewables is an old one, not a new one. John Etzler proposed 100% solar/wind/water U.S. in 1830s.
  2. Ralph Waldo Emerson was captivated by Etzler's vision but Henry David Thoreau was horrified at implications of 100% RE for environment.
  3. The 100% renewables vision was resuscitated by Amory Lovins in service of David Brower's NIMBY campaign against nuclear in late 1960s.
  4. Their goal was to slow/stop development by making energy more expensive & moving the US and world to a low-energy society.
  5. "Giving society cheap abundant energy is... like giving an idiot child a machine gun" said Population Bomber Paul Ehrlich.
  6. It'd be little short of disastrous for us to discover clean, cheap abundant energy because of what we would do with itAmory Lovins '77
  7. Energy consumption [is] rough, indirect measure of tot. impact civilizat. inflicts on Earth’s life-support systems - Gretchen Daily '94
  8. In that sense, environmentalist opposition to cheap, clean energy (ie nuclear) had environmental motivation — slowing & stopping growth.
  9. The problem was that such opposition to energy & development failed not just in poor & developing nations but rich ones too.
  10. The paradoxical result of anti-high energy degrowth ideology has been more coal, as @mark_lynas discussed in Nuclear 2.0.

The Plowboy Interview talks to Amory Lovins

The original, very long interview is here. Below are the controversial highlights (page 13 of the web page)

The Plowboy Interviews spotlights Amory Lovins, energy Analyst and environmentalist and author of the 1976 essay, "Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?"
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors | November/December 1977

Mother Earth: it wasn't so long ago that our energy leaders were pointing at atomic fission as the panacea that would — in a couple of decades — solve all our energy worries forever.

Amory Lovins: Yes. And now it seems that many people have begun to say the same sorts of things about nuclear fusion. The people who are always saying "something will come along to save us" are now pointing to fusion.

Mother Earth: What do you think of fusion's potential?

Amory Lovins: I used to think it would be a good idea to try to build a fusion reactor, but I don't think so anymore, for three reasons.

First, fusion will — at least with the designs we're pursuing now — be rather dirty. It won't be quite as bad as fast breeder reactors, but it won't be clean enough to be attractive. You'll still have the problem of what to do with radioactive wastes. But even if — contrary to most fusion experts' expectations — fusion turns out to be a clean source of energy as advertised, I think we would lack the discipline to use it with restraint. If you ask me, it'd be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it. We ought to be looking for energy sources that are adequate for our needs, but that won't give us the excesses of concentrated energy with which we could do mischief to the earth or to each other.

Which brings me to my second point . . . namely, that fusion produces a lot of fast neutrons that could — and probably would — be used to make bomb materials. The kind of fusion research that involves compressing pellets by means of high-energy lasers is a technology that I think should be abandoned immediately because of its very worrisome military implications.

Thirdly, fusion is nothing but a very clever way to do something that we don't really want to do. That is, it's just another complex, costly, slow-to-deploy, centralized, high-technology way to make electricity. And that's not what we need.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Shiny white roof good, solar PV panel bad.

It seems that all this fuss (e.g. the Guardian solar subsidy campaign) over installing solar PV panels is actually bad for the environment. Solar PV panels cause global warming! The best way to prevent global warming is by reflecting sunlight back into space using white and/or reflective surfaces. For example shiny white roofs! If one really wants to save energy, and stop using fossil fuel, the best contraption to put on one's roof is a solar water heater. Wikipedia has two articles on this: Solar radiation management | Reflective surfaces (geoengineering)

Alex Cannara: tell your friend that roof of his does more to damage climate than he gains from energy savings! Remember, the sun delivers 1kW/square meter. PV only converts ~20%. The pic shows what we should all do, as recommended for many years by The Heat Island Group [2], Lawrence Berkeley Labs,the CEC, Steve Chu.

Alex Cannara: your friend's panels aren't better than 20% efficient, no matter how he loves them. That means they radiate ~800 Watts per square meter back into air ... That waste of convection and IR radiation adds directly to local global warming. By the way, solar hot-water is good, because its collectors run at lower temps and transfer most heat to their intended target -- insulated water storage.

Alex Cannara: The fundamental point is that a 100 square meter, poorly-reflective roof/solar installation, generates about 100kW of waste heat/IR while the sun is on it, giving the physical effect of greater GHG concentration that actual. That waste dwarfs whatever savings the design & systems in the home can make, or cause to be saved, at a serving utility.

Solar reflectivity increaseCO2 offset by 100 m²CO2 offset globally
White Roof0.4010 tons (~ 2 cars)
Average Roof0.256.3 tons24 Gt
Cool Pavement0.154 tons20 Gt
Total potential----44 Gt
Value of 44 Gt CO2 at $25/t ~ $1 trillion
100 gallons of gasoline/year => ~ 1 ton CO2
Global CO2 emissions in 2009 ~ 24 Gt
(Akbari, Menon, Rosenfeld[1]. Climatic Change, 2008)

Alex Cannara: just increasing roof reflectivity around the world by 40%, would have the same warming prevention as parking all 700,000,000+ vehicles on Earth for a decade.

  1. Akbari, Menon, Rosenfeld. Climatic Change, 2008, DOI 10.1007/s10584-008-9515-9
  2. The Heat Island Group, Lawrence Berkeley Labs,the CEC, Steve Chu.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

"The Bicycle: Freedom Machine"

The BBC praise turning people into animals. See: "The Bicycle: Freedom Machine". Prior to industrial revolution 50%, or so, of our energy use was muscle power, but at least a lot of that was animal. Hence the term horsepower. The BBC promote turning people into animals just to generate a tiny bit of electricity. BBC (Bridget Kendall):

"Could you just go and peddle for 20 minutes please I just need to put on the kettle"
At the margin, at least Bridget does her research. Bicycle power generates 80 watts maximum (i.e. in 1 hour). Pedalling for 20 minutes a day, 30 days a month, gives (30 × 26.7 =) 800 watt-hours, or 0.8 kWh. My kettle uses 2kW, taking about 110 seconds to boil 2 cups of water, using about 61 watts. 23 minutes for a near athlete peddling flat out gets you your cup of tea (plus one for the cyclist). He'll need it after that!

Meanwhile, ThorCon announce a nuclear power plant that can make non-GWG electricity at about 2.5 pence per unit (wholesale), with the expressed aim of powering half the planet's electricity needs PDQ. So world media black-it-out as it's not there. ThorCon claim they can make electricity at about £25/MWe [2.5p/unit] - less than one third the cost of Hinkley C, or the cheapest wind power. They intend to start delivering such electricity in Indonesia within 5 years:
ThorCon press release | ThorCon executive summary (page 79 for their cost estimate).

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Renewable energy makes radioactive waste

This is a pile of waste near Fort Meade FL deemed too radioactive by the EPA to be used for any applications like paving roads. It is phosphogypsum, a byproduct of mining phosphate fertilizer and it contains relatively high concentrations of radium. Corn requires more phosphate than other crops and the intensive agriculture of corn for biofuels has increased the consumption of phosphates - and the amount of radioactive waste produced. Now it's one thing to say that coal releases radioactivity to the environment. Everyone already knows coal is evil. But here it's the supposedly environmentally friendly biofuels that are generating radioactive waste. This wasn't caused by any once-in-a-thousand years earthquake & tsunami. This is normal operations waste.

by Jaro Franta

How the DDT "ban" killed millions

"Now, what did the banning of DDT do to the peoples of Africa? There’s been no effective control. The world got the impression that they were spraying the jungle; this was not so.

At that time most of the use of DDT, effectively, was by spraying inside of the huts once a year or twice a year — especially the lower part — with DDT. And the insects, the mosquitoes, during the day when the sun is bright outside, they hide in darker parts. And it used to — In the case of India, when they started using DDT for malaria control, that swamp, the Torai area, was worthless. There was probably… no one knows how many millions of people with malaria. It’s not only a killer, it’s a debilitator, people can’t work effectively. It affects different people in different ways. So Ceylon, the little island, India had reduced [the number of people with malaria] from millions down to 250-300,000 people, when the ban came [on DDT]. They took it off and [the number of people with malaria] went back into the millions. In the case of Sri Lanka, they were down to 14. Took the ban off and it exploded. This is the same story, many places."

--Norman Borlaug

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The problem with climate alarmists

I have no problems with climate science

My issues with alarmist climate campaigners are:

  • Alarmism, and spreading moral panic. Looking back over the course of my life, I can honestly say every moral panic I've witnessed did more harm than good
  • Corruption of free speech and the public sphere by pursuing "no platform" campaigns of ostracization and demonization against "deniers"
  • Promoting pseudo-science. Prioritizing alarmist climate models over the best evidence is anti-science
  • Climate campaigners don't even have the best solutions:
    • Their focus on energy saving starved the developing world of much needed wealth
    • Their focus on subsiding expensive non-carbon energy makes energy more expensive for those in poverty, and increases poverty
    • Downplaying R&D. In terms of solutions: energy R&D should have priority over the two mistaken policies above. It's the only proper solution

Monday, 2 November 2015

Germany will miss its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target.

Today, the Guardian tell us:

While Britain visualises a nuclear future, Angela Merkel’s aim of replacing it with renewables by 2022 is well under way
it being nuclear power

What is meant here by replacing nuclear power with renewables? One can't replace dispatchable and baseload nuclear power with intermittent renewable energy. One can't replace very low greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting nuclear power with higher emitting renewable energy. The LCA figure for nuclear power = 14. The LCA for wind and solar = 100 (when inefficiencies in fossil fuel backup power is accounted for).

Germany's Energiewende has made their GHG emissions worse. The 6 years 2009 to 2014 (inclusive) saw no reduction in German greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. German GHG emissions in 2009 = 912 Mt CO2eq. The same in 2014. See: Germany’s 2020 greenhouse gas target is no longer feasible. These 6 years saw the greatest increase in renewable energy (wind and solar) for any country in Europe. So according to the spin-masters of renewable energy over at the Guardian, there should've been a big reduction in emissions. Post-Fukushima also saw the closure of half of Germany's nuclear power plants (a reduction from 25% of its electricity in 2010 to 17% today).

In 2007 Germany set itself the target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990. In 1990 there were emissions of around 1250 million tonnes CO2 equivalent; the target for 2020 is therefore 750 million tonnes. According to the latest estimates, Germany emitted around 950 million tonnes CO2 equivalent in 2013. This equates to a reduction of 23.8 percent ...the programme can bring about a total reduction of 82 million tonnes
-- Climate Action Programme 2020

Germany admits it will not meet its 2020 target. The forecast is 80 Mt CO2eq off : a reduction of 33.6%, compared with the 40% target. By 2022, they will be in a worse position still. All this leads me to understand that emissions reductions are not the real goal of renewable energy and anti-nuclear power campaigners.

The eurostat figures paint an even less optimistic picture: Greenhouse gas emissions intensity of energy consumption

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Capacity market payments are an economic externality imposed on the system by intermittent renewables

Two (related) points:

  1. Geographical location is important. Britain is between 51º and 59º latitude. We have short winter days with the sun low on the horizon. Quite long summer days. Summer solar provides a decent amount of electricity. Solar in deep min-winter is about an eighth of summer's. Peak electricity demand occurs in winter, between 5:30pm and 7:00pm long after the sun has set. Meeting peak demand is now a huge concern.
  2. Likewise wind is intermittent. At any time an anti-cyclone could cover Britain reducing wind power to about 5% of its nameplate (600 MWe in Britain is 5% of 12GWe). Such low wind days can hang about for up to 6 days [as they did in early Sept 2014 (3 times)[4]].

The British government recently introduced a scheme to pay providers able to guarantee baseload supply at peak demand time[1]. We never needed capacity market payments before intermittents but do now. Capacity market payments are an economic externality imposed on the system by intermittents.

Last winter, during the capacity market auction, the greens[3] and their renewable allies furiously campaigned against these capacity market payments.

PS: Some links on capacity market payments:

  1. Capacity market payments
  2. First capacity market auction results
  3. UK coal plants could get up to £2.1bn in capacity market subsidies
  4. Gridwatch database downloads

Monday, 26 October 2015

Why is it so hard to convince climate science 'deniers' of the AGW thesis?

-- AKA : the boy who cried wolf

Climate science has long been associated with environmentalism. For example, the great champion of global warming is Al Gore. His movie An Inconvenient Truth, 2006, won him world wide fame and numerous awards. Al Gore himself is a long time environmentalist, and anti-nuke. He was instrumental in banning advanced fission research in the United States back in 1994.

Climate science's strong ties with the environment movement is both a strength and a weakness. It's clearly a strength in terms of mobilizing many greens, green money and organizations to support the man-made global warming, AGW, thesis. Yet this association is also a big weakness for climate science. Any opponent of environmentalism will instinctively be suspicious of AGW because:

  1. many leading climate scientists are obviously environmentalists too,
  2. climate campaigns tend to use the same strategies and tactics as environmentalism

The general campaigning tactic of environmentalists has long been to scare people witless into banning technology and curtailing development. This has been particularly effective against GMOs and nuclear power.

Climate campaigners scare people. But do they tell lies? Climate science is mainly premised on mathematical models. Such models are really just fancy speculation. Speculation has always been a deadly trap for thought that seeks to understand the world. Speculation is generally wrong. The recent GFC showed us that just about every economic model was wrong! Yet science gets models wrong too. Many academic physicists spent the best part of 20 years search for a grand unification theory based on string theory. Countless thousands of physics graduates were channelled into string theory research. All for vain. There is, of course, the core climate science : the more greenhouse gas, GHG, we emit, the more we warm the atmosphere. This core climate science - GHG causes global warming - is widely agreed upon - even by many 'deniers'. In contrast, the climate models which amplify this basic effect between 0.85 and 10 times are disputed - not least by mainstream climate scientists! Which model is right? Many models settle on an amplification effect of 3. We call this effect climate sensitivity. e.g. No amplification = climate sensitivity of 1; 3 × amplification = climate sensitivity of 3.

People promoting environmentalism and campaigning on climate are often the same. Let's consider other similarities between climate and green campaigns.

Let's tally the score
Do they? Climate campaigners Environmentalists
tell lies 'deniers' frequently accuse them of exaggeration yes
promote fear with their campaigns yes yes
promote regulation to stifle energy intensive economy yes yes
promote energy saving yes yes
favour more expensive fossil fuel yes yes
oppose plentiful energy often yes
favour degrowth by implication whenever they promote energy saving or higher fossil fuel prices yes
promote renewable energy as main source of non-carbon energy very often always
oppose nuclear power sometimes always
oppose energy R&D sometimes often : "Calls for R&D are just a 'delaying tactic' - we already have the technology, we just need to build it!"

I think climate science 'deniers' may often be people who've had a bad experience with environmentalists. Quite a few 'deniers' see climate science as just the latest, most sophisticated, environmental campaign.

As such, seasoned environmentalists and deniers often share contempt for each other. One can imagine how difficult it will be to convince a 'denier' when one adopts the habits of environmentalists. Yet the majority of climate campaigners seem to do precisely that! Their habit of preferring to fight battles rather than bother trying to win a war is most puzzling. Their refusal to let go of long-time environmentalist tactics (exaggeration, and existential threats aimed at humanity) doesn't engender them to me.

Lastly: It goes without saying that an anti-nuke climate campaigner, or opponent of energy R&D is faux by definition. Fake. Yet there are a lot of them out there! Faux climate campaigners - what will the environmental movement dream up next?


Also known as
Anthropic global warming - AKA: man-made global warming
Economic contraction and, generally, less people.
Term of abuse for anyone disputing mainstream climate science. The term was explicitly chosen to associate with holocaust deniers
existential threat
A matter of life and death, a threat to one's existence
Global financial crash
Greenhouse gas : a gas emitted into the atmosphere which, very slowly, causes planetary warming
Research and development

Friday, 23 October 2015

Women are more susceptible to irrational environmental fears than men. Why?

GMOs, nuclear power, fracking. 3 perfectly safe technologies. In every case women are more susceptible to irrational fears than men. Why is it?

(1)Women 'less likely than men to support fracking, due to instinct'

A survey of 7,000 people by the University of Nottingham and YouGov found that 31.5% of women believed that shale gas exploration should permitted in Britain, compared with 58% of men.

(2) Men Much More Likely Than Women to Favor Nuclear Power

FavourOpposeSafeNot safe

(3) Pew Research Poll, PDF page 62: The % of U.S. adults saying they favor/oppose building more nuclear power plants to generate electricity


(4) More women say no to GMOs

The poll ... found that 71% of men said they would eat genetically modified foods, and 59% they would feed it to their children. By comparison, only 50% of American women would eat genetically modified foods and 37% would feed it to their children.

(5) Effect of GMO labeling on food choice

... while 49% of men say they'd be less likely to buy food labeled as genetically modified, that jumps to 65% of women.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Why do greens really oppose nuclear power and GMOs?

Greens oppose nuclear power because it can provide plentiful energy not because it's an existential threat to human life.

Yet greens promote fears about safety and nuclear proliferation when they campaign against nuclear power. It would seem I'm wrong! Or am I? Here's my rationale:

If the real reason greens opposed nuclear power was safety and weapons proliferation fears, they would be consistent. They would oppose genome technology too. That's because it's cheaper and easier to apply genomic techniques to create WMD. Greens don't oppose genome tech as such, but they oppose one result of genome technology :- GMOs. What do GMOs and nuclear power have in common? They are technologies of plenty. One offers plentiful energy, the other plentiful food. What possible motive could greens have for opposing plentiful energy/food? One reason stands out: fear of overpopulation. Fear of overpopulation is a perennial green fear reaching back 200 years to the start of green ideas (with Thomas Malthus). It's a kind a Ur green concern. Their overpopulation fear works like so: the more resources humanity has, the more we can consume, the easier we can populate. So according to this Malthusian view, greens should take the long view. That means opposing technologies of plenty because, in this long view, greens hope to slow down the economy, and save the environment from humanity. They understood energy was a key resource and believed it would lead to more environment destruction. Much of this is 'understood' in a quite irrational, fearful way.

"If you ask me, it’d be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it."
— Amory Lovins: key early anti-nuclear power thinker, and renewable energy guru, 1977

Of course, many greens are just hoodwinked into thinking opposition to nuclear power/GMOs is about safety and environmental protection. I'm not proposing that the majority of greens campaign over overpopulation fears. Yet it's also clear the greens have no consistent principles when opposing nuclear power. Hard-core anti-nukes, for instance, will apply any Gish Gallop. They will promote any anti-nuclear power argument they think works. Internet anti-nukes will often cut 'n' paste into a discussion any old anti-nuclear power argument; mostly without bothering to read what they post. Nor can one normally engage such people in a dialogue about what their real concerns are. Then there's the green organizations :- almost as hodge-podge in picking out anti-nuclear power arguments as their supporters. Neither supporters nor organizations have ever produced a convincing argument that nuclear power is environmentally bad, in the conventional sense. It is in fact, the cleanest, safest energy technology we have available.

Why do greens need to go this roundabout route to oppose GMOs and nuclear power? Why can't they be honest and upfront over their fears of overpopulation? Two, or three reasons. First it's politically incorrect to raise the issue of overpopulation. Second, because if they told the public their opposition to GMOs and nuclear power was based on opposition to plentiful energy/food, they'd get no public support. Greens themselves find it politically incorrect, so they can't even bring the issue up even if the feel it. On a practical political level, it's just far easier for greens to oppose things by kicking up safety concerns. Scaring people out of their skins works to get a minority of fanatical supporters on your side, and makes many other people very queasy about an issue.

We've long known that wealth and plenty lead to declining birth rates, that poverty leads families to have lots of children. Hans Rosling, The Overpopulation Myth. If greens were really about protecting the environment by reducing population growth, evidence shows they should support plentiful energy not less energy.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Scientific theories ('paradigms') are not incommensurable

... science is a process that builds continuously upon existing theories—that is, upon existing cumulated knowledge—but continuously revises this knowledge, keeping the possibility open of questioning any aspect of it, including the general rules of thinking that appear to be most certain and beyond question.
It follows that scientific theories are not incommensurable, as some contemporary philosophy of science would have it. Theories can be easily translated into one another, including insufficiencies, approximations, and errors. Copernicus’s discovery that the Earth revolves around the Sun remains true within the frameworks of Newton and Einstein. The discovery is translated and re-expressed in the new language. There may be great differences between Copernicus’s language and the new ones, but the discovery remains recognizable. In fact, Copernicus’s theoretical discovery survives not only as a true fact about nature (the Earth revolves around the Sun) but even as a key conceptual ingredient of the new conceptual systems (there is a “Copernican principle” in Einstein’s cosmology).
Perhaps the most obvious example of what I mean is provided precisely by the Copernican revolution itself, the prototype of scientific revolution and conceptual reorganization. Ptolemy’s Almagest and Copernicus’s De revolutionibus are two of the finest scientific works ever written. In moving from the first to the second, the cosmos is turned upside down. In Ptolemy, there are Heaven and Earth. One category includes all everyday objects and the Earth upon which we walk, the other includes Moon, Sun, stars, and planets. In Copernicus, there is the Sun in one category; Mercury, Venus, the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in a second one; and the Moon, alone, in yet another category. Before, we were still; after, we are on a top spinning along at thirty kilometers per second. Can one even imagine a greater conceptual leap? Can two so very different conceptual systems even talk to each other?
Well, open the two books: Copernicus’s treatise, as observed earlier, is extraordinarily similar to Ptolemy’s; indeed, it seems almost a corrected edition of Ptolemy’s! Same language, mathematics, epicycles, deferents, tables of trigonometric functions, techniques, same general structure, same meticulousness, and same immense, vast vision. The two are impressively similar, and different from anything else written earlier or later. Incommensurability? It is obviously the same research program. If there exist two people who truly understand each other, they are Ptolemy and Copernicus. They could almost be lovers.
The First Scientist: Anaximander and His Legacy, by Carlo Rovelli, 2011

More on carlo rovelli's views on philosophy of science:

Friday, 9 October 2015

Materials required for electricity generation

Copied from pages: Quadrennial Technology Review - An Assessment Of Energy Technologies And Research Opportunities, September 2015, Chapter 10, pages 389-391

All energy technologies require materials, but the types and amounts of materials consumed vary widely. Some technologies require only common, plentiful materials such as steel, glass, and concrete, but many require varying amounts of rare materials such as noble metals. Moreover, the degree of material recycling varies widely from technology to technology and material to material, and design, as well as consumer behavior and social attitudes can have a big impact on how easily recyclable certain materials will be. Identifying materials and understanding their flows including reuse, remanufacture, recycling, and disposal are key to the inventory step in LCA. Examples of material inventories for electric power plants are presented in the table below. Key materials by mass per energy lifetime include steel, concrete, cement, glass, and aluminum.[1]

Range of materials requirements (fuel excluded) for various electricity generation technologies[4]

Generator onlyUpstream energy collection plus generator
Materials (ton/TWh)CoalNGCCNuclear PWRBiomass HydroWindSolar PV (silicon)Geothermal HT binary

Key: NGCC = natural gas combined cycle; PWR = pressurized water reactor; PV = photovoltaic; HT = high temperature

An important recent concept in the area of materials use is “criticality,” which is classified in terms of importance to the clean energy economy, risk of supply disruption, and time horizon.[2] Critical materials have important magnetic, catalytic, and luminescent properties, with applications in solar PV, wind turbines, electric vehicles and efficient lighting. Five rare earth metals (dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium, and yttrium), as well as indium, were assessed as most critical between 2010 and 2015. Four other rare earth elements, as well as gallium, tellurium, cobalt, and lithium, were also considered. Important factors include high demand, limited substitutes, political or regulatory risks in countries where critical materials are produced, lack of diversity in producers, and competing technology demand (e.g., consumer electronics such as mobile phones, computers, and TVs all use materials that are also essential to clean energy technologies).[3] See Figure below for an illustration of a variety of these materials in terms of their importance to clean energy technologies versus risk to supply.

While many so-called rare earths are in fact more plentiful than gold and highly dispersed around the world, they are expensive to separate from ore owing in part to how similar their chemical properties are to each other. Recycling, reuse, and more efficient use of critical materials could significantly lower demand for new materials; currently, only 1% of critical materials are recycled at end of life. Other priorities include diversification of global supplies, environmentally sound extraction and processing, and development of substitutes[5], [6] (see Chapter 9, Section 9.2.2 for DOE RDD&D efforts in critical materials through the Critical Materials Institute).As some technologies could significantly increase or decrease the criticality of certain materials, it is important to include a criticality metric in assessments.

  1. Argonne National Laboratory. “GREET 1 2014.” 2014.
  2. U.S. Department of Energy. “US Department of Energy Critical Materials Strategy.” 2010.
  3. Matulka, R. “Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Critical Materials.” U.S. Department of Energy, January 18, 2013. Accessed February 21, 2015.
  4. Argonne National Laboratory. “GREET 2 2014.” 2014.
  5. U.S. Department of Energy, 2010. Critical Materials Strategy, December. (accessed 21 February 2015).
  6. National Petroleum Council. “Securing Oil and Natural Gas Infrastructures in the New Economy.” Washington, DC, 2001.
  7. U.S. Department of Energy, 2010. Critical Materials Strategy, December. (accessed 21 February 2015).

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

'Saint' George Monbiot

George Monbiot does not impress me and here's why.

Today I read that George Monbiot 'quit' the environment movement. No. He still considers himself part of it. For almost 20 years (upto 2006) Monbiot actively opposed nuclear power. He didn't need any evidence to oppose it. He took anti-nuclear power arguments at face value because he was part of a 'movement'. He only turned pro-nuke after spending much time studying it. I can't get my head around that:- why would he oppose nuclear power just because he was part of a 'movement'? It seems a bit mindless to me - if you're part of a movement you really ought to spend the time understanding it's goals, ideas and arguments. After all, it's what your life is about. You need to be certain about this stuff. Here's his transitional essay from 2006. He calls himself an anti-nuke here but his arguments against are pathetic (and wrong).

The most fundamental environmental principle - one that all children are taught as soon as they are old enough to understand it - is that you don't make a new mess until you have cleared up the old one. To start building a new generation of nuclear power stations before we know what to do with the waste produced by existing plants is grotesquely irresponsible. The government's advisers have determined only that it should be buried. No one yet knows where, how or at what cost.
This is just one of the factors that make a nonsense of the economic projections. How on earth can we say what nuclear power stations will cost if we don't even know what their decommissioning entails? The government will assure us today that there will be no subsidies and no guaranteed prices for the nuclear industry.
It has also become clear that we will never rid the world of nuclear weapons if we do not also rid it of nuclear power. Every state that has sought to develop a weapons programme over the past 30 years - Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq and Iran - has done so by manipulating its nuclear power programme. We cannot deny other states the opportunity to use atomic energy if we do not forswear it ourselves.

Let me spend a minute or two refuting 'Saint' Monbiot

  • Waste: So called high-level nuclear waste is mostly partly used fuel. After storing in wet pools for about 30 years this has 0.1% of the radioactivity is had on leaving the reactor. Comparatively
    • it's a tiny amount,
    • is really not as dangerous as made out,
    • can't be used to make bombs,
    • is stored under armed guard,
    • does not 'leak',
    • doesn't need 'burying' anywhere because it can be economically recycled as fuel for advanced reactors which are about 15/20 years away,
    • and is very difficult for Jill Bloggs to get her mitts on.
  • Decommissioning: The utilities running reactors put a proportion of revenue aside (about 5%) into a decommissioning fund. At the end of the reactor life, this fund will be more than enough to pay the plant decommissioning costs
  • Atomic bomb proliferation: Spent fuel can't be used to make A-bombs because the plutonium of of too low a quality.
  • No subsidies: Advanced nuclear power such as molten salt reactors will be price competitive with current fossil fuel electricity generation and will blow renewables out of the water (even solar [1]).
  • No guaranteed prices: Advanced nuclear power such as molten salt reactors will provide lower cost electricity than anything else.
  • we do not need it: Not unless we want to live primitive lives enslaved to the vagaries of nature. So who wants that?
  • Every state that has sought to develop a weapons programme over the past 30 years - Israel, ...: Not really. Israel has no nuclear power to speak of. Weapons grade plutonium is best made in single purpose military grade reactors with low plutonium burnups. Not in commercial power reactors. One doesn't even need reactors to make A-bombs; gas centrifuge uranium separation will suffice.

With respect to 'no subsidies and no guaranteed prices for the nuclear industry' - dare we say hypocrite? I'm sure Monbiot is a great believer in massive subsidies and guaranteed prices for renewables (even though Britain has no renewables industry!)

[1] Solar doesn't work at night, so even if the cost of solar panels fell to nothing, the costs of storage or supporting 'baseload' would still render it uneconomic compared to future molten salt reactors.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The origin of the term renewable energy and what it really means

The term "renewable energy" goes way back at least to the mid-1970s when Amory Lovins used it. I tried to trace its origin, using the OED. Although the word renewable dates back to 1727, it does not seem to have been used with energy, as in "renewable energy", prior to 1971 when it was first used in Scientific American. [OED, 2e, vol. XIII, 1989, pg. 613]
2. Of a source of energy: not depleted by its utilization.
1971 Sci. Amer. Sept. 43/2 (caption) Continuous, or renewable, energy supply can be divided into two categories: solar and non-solar.
I think it's no coincidence that the origin of this term dates back to the beginning of the organized anti-nuclear power movement. The first single issue anti-nuclear power organization was founded in 1969 when Friends of the Earth began. Nor a coincidence that it was Scientific American who first used the term. They's been pushing renewable energy at us for a long time, and continue to this day.

My argument against algal biofuels

There's a paradox here. Many nuclear power supporters have scant faith in biomass (too resource intensive). Anti-nuke climate campaigners (aka 100%-RE advocates) may not like biomass much but they're surely not against it with the same fervency seen in their anti-fracking and anti-FF campaigns. Biomass, is actually responsible for most EU renewable energy (biomass was 64% of European Union renewable energy in 2013). In my experience, support is reversed for algal biofuel. Greens (the CC, 100%-RE people) oppose it because they know it means supporting GMOs. Techno/nuke supporters are for it! Am I the only one who's very skeptical of biofuels?

  1. It's resource intensive; more so than most biomass. It will have a big environment footprint, in terms of land/sea area and pesticides.
  2. We don't need biofuel. We can make synthetic fuels from electricity or heat; made with nuclear power. E.g. Ammonia.
  3. It's, by no means, guaranteed to work. The feasibility and ease of growing hundreds of thousands of square miles of algal monoculture is greatly overestimated (mainly by people who've never done anything like that before). In terms of scale it rivals geo-engineering projects.

Wait a minute, no one has ever done anything like that before.


  • RE: renewable energy
  • FF: Fossil fuel
  • CC: climate campaigner
  • GMO: genetically modified organism

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Are Environmentalists Bad for the Planet?

TOWNSEND: I was making a speech to nearly 200 really hard core, deep environmentalists and I played a little thought game on them. I said imagine I am the carbon fairy and I wave a magic wand. We can get rid of all the carbon in the atmosphere, take it down to two hundred fifty parts per million and I will ensure with my little magic wand that we do not go above two degrees of global warming. However, by waving my magic wand I will be interfering with the laws of physics not with people – they will be as selfish, they will be as desiring of status. The cars will get bigger, the houses will get bigger, the planes will fly all over the place but there will be no climate change. And I asked them, would you ask the fairy to wave its magic wand? And about 2 people of the 200 raised their hands.
-- Solitaire Townsend Co-founder and Chief Executive of Futerra Sustainability Communications, Broadcast as 'Analysis', BBC Radio 4, 25 Jan 2010, 8:30pm: Podcast | Transcript

Monday, 20 July 2015

Renewable Energy in Europe - by technology.

In descending order of % share in 2013.

Biomass dominates

% share of RE in gross final energy consumption RE Primary production (kTOE) % share of total RE, 2013
Country 2013 % 2020 TARGET 2003 2013 Biomass & waste Hydro Wind Solar Geo-thermal
Czech Republic12.4131,6633,64087.
United Kingdom5.1152,6428,40461.74.829.14.30

Source: Eurostat (online data codes: nrg_107a, t2020_31, and ten00081)

Sunday, 19 July 2015

EU, share of energy from renewable sources, by sector, 2013, %

TransportElectricityHeating & coolingGross final energy consumption
European Union (28 countries)5.425.416.515.0
Czech Republic5.712.815.312.4
United Kingdom4.413.92.65.1

PS: Doesn't necessarily include all sectors (e.g. Industry)

Source: Share of energy from renewable sources; Eurostat: nrg_ind_335a, Last update: 09-03-2015

It's in descending order of RE consumption.
Eurostat included Norway, although its not an EU country! Why? Perhaps because its hydro is so high that it makes the European figures look better (with a lower biofuel %).
Population density matters. 4 countries at the top of the list all have low population densities. 2 countries at the bottom (Malta, Netherlands) have high population density. Because renewable energy is an intensive resource (taking up vast land areas), countries with high population density find it harder to do.
In most cases, biofuels contribute 60% to 95% of the renewable energy mix. Eurostat don't make it easy to find the biomass contributions.

Leaving aside other criticisms for a moment. I now attempted a 2nd chart to verify the data above using data from elsewhere on Eurostat. The chart below merges 2 sources. The 2nd column compares primary renewable consumption with all primary energy consumption. The percentages this time around are lower. Why? I can't explain because Eurostat don't explain the derivation of the figures above.

PS: I didn't harmonize the country list because I didn't want to be accused of 'curating' the data.

Gross inland consumption kTOE
RE %HydroWindSolar (PV + thermal)Other RE (biomass, geothermal)RE (all)All energy
Euro area (19 countries)12.1%23,391.414,789.39,784.594,585.8142,551.01,178,002.7
European Union (28 countries)11.8%31,860.520,207.410,626.3134,066.4196,760.61,666,318.4
Czech Republic8.5%235.141.4189.13,103.03,568.642,191.3
United Kingdom5.0%404.02,444.9364.56,886.410,099.8201,054.1

Simplified energy balances - annual data [nrg_100a]
Supply, transformation and consumption of renewable energies - annual data [nrg_107a]

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Green Fallacies

Endless exponential growth on a finite planet

Critic: Greens argue for zero-economic growth, which hits the poor hardest and limits all human development.
Green: We can't have endless exponential growth on a finite planet.

The critic didn't call for either endless or exponential growth. The green reply invokes a false dilemma.

Top 5 logical fallacies used in technical debates (Brett W. Green)