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).