The nuclear renaissance dies, forgotten and bankrupt

by John Quiggin on August 2, 2017

Unless you were paying very close attention, you probably haven’t seen the news that construction of two Westinghouse AP-1000 nuclear reactors at the Virgil C. Summer plant in South Carolina has been abandoned, following the bankruptcy of Westinghouse earlier this year. There are two more AP-1000 reactors under construction at the Vogtle site in Georgia, which are also likely to be scrapped. Either way, this seems the right moment to mark the end of the nuclear renaissance which offered high hopes in the early 2000s. The biggest remaining carbon capture and storage project, the Kemper plant in the US, was also abandoned a month ago.

So, at this point, there is no alternative to the combination of renewables, storage and energy efficiency. This would be a good moment for those environmentalists who accepted and promoted the nuclear story to recognise that any further efforts in this direction can only harm the prospects for a low-carbon future.

More soon on this, I hope

{ 149 comments }

1

Ian Maitland 08.02.17 at 2:58 am

I think it is premature to declare victory. The nuclear renaissance was not killed by a combination of renewables, storage and energy efficiency but primarily by fracking.

2

otpup 08.02.17 at 3:12 am

But there is still the argument that it might be really useful in the zombie apocalypse.

3

Colin Docherty 08.02.17 at 6:14 am

This is a regional effect: The rise of shale gas on the east coast has made nuclear power uneconomical, even with stronger emission laws.

4

Equalitus 08.02.17 at 6:20 am

Main factor is that nuclear can be made safe enough by re-burning radioactive waste and cheap enough so that it dies very slowly but while contributing decently to phasing out hydrocarbons without abrupt energy shortage.
We shouldn’t argue whether nuclear energy should be zero in the short time frame, but how close to 10% compared to all renewable energy is good cost-benefit & risk/reward equation number for nuclear energy in some countries, if not in many countries.

5

MFB 08.02.17 at 6:44 am

Nuclear energy could only really have promised an alternative to fossil fuels if a lot of plutonium or thorium reactors had been used to breed fuel. Otherwise, enriched uranium uses up too much energy to be a really worthwhile alternative to fossil fuels. I can see why plutonium was considered a no-no by those countries wishing to restrict access to nuclear weapons to themselves, but I don’t quite get why nobody went for thorium.

Of course nuclear is nasty, and renewable would be nice. Let’s wait and see how the next couple of decades turn out. I’m not optimistic, but it would be great if we could replace fossil with renewable.

Incidentally, Mr. Quiggin seems to think that environmentalists are the ones making the decisions over investment in energy. I fear he is mistaken.

6

derrida derider 08.02.17 at 7:19 am

Its mainly PV solar wot done it. Gas fracking certainly hurt nuclear (and coal, and renewables) in the US, but much less so in the rest of the world.

Absent the dramatic price falls in PV solar the nuclear renaissance would be proceeding worldwide – and (at the risk of incurring obloquy from old ban-the-bomb people here) I reckon absent those falls it would have been far the least bad option.

Contra John, I think we should still be putting a bit of money into research on it to diversify risk because there is every prospect of lowering nuclear’s cost with new designs and approaches (eg thorium). More speculatively, it is also worth throwing the odd few billion towards fusion research on the same grounds. But these are no longer the main game in town.

7

Bob Zannelli 08.02.17 at 8:19 am

The actual facts are that despite the claims made by some, greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels power generation ( including coal) is increasing at a far faster rate than solar and wind. We are on the fast track to an unprecedented environmental disaster. It’s often claimed , for example , that in the Netherlands wind energy is dominant. The facts are that currently , wind energy produces only about 4 % of the electrical energy needs of that country. Ideology is trumping reality.

The problem is, as I see it, is politics. Energy policy is the playground of the far right and the far left, each side pursuing a political agenda , neither side trying to formulate sensible energy policy.

This is no forum to engage in detailed technical evaluations , and it doesn’t matter, this issue seems too politically charged to formulate a reality based energy policy. But that’s exactly what must be done to deal with the looming environmental disaster. It’s not a question of solar, wind or nuclear so much as a question of what emphasis to give these energy sources, the only three hopes we have for getting off the fossil fuel habit and saving the environment.

The AP1000 is exactly how NOT to do nuclear power. New light water reactors offer no help with climate change. This is because light water reactor plants are far too expensive to construct and they produce large quantities of nuclear waste. There are now far better ways to do nuclear energy.( However, currently operating light water nuclear power plants do help, it’s insanity to be shutting these down, now.)

In generation four nuclear plants we can burn the nuclear waste as well as the massive quantities of depleted uranium from the nuclear weapon programs (this equals about 2400 years of total US energy production) Therefore we can eliminate Uranium mining altogether.

These new designs produce a fraction of waste of the LWR designs and have passive safety features, that is, they depend on the laws of physics for safety, not complex safety systems or emergency power sources.

But none of this matters unless we can get get energy policy divorced from political ideology and the outsized influence of the Fossil fuel industry. If I were a betting person , I would put my money on environmental disaster , not sane energy policy.

8

william u. 08.02.17 at 9:12 am

I did indeed see this story at breakfast yesterday — I’m going to pat myself on the back now, okay? — but my takeaway was: “Here’s another example of infrastructure spending being prohibitively costly in the USA. Why?” See also: NYC’s aging and failing subway system (while even London is preparing to open a new line); the apparent impossibility of building out high speed rail in the NE corridor; etc.

I am sure John and CT commenters know much more about this than I do. So is it correct to lump this nuclear boondoggle together with other examples of infrastructure costs running out of control? And any compelling arguments as to what’s behind it all? (Some anecdata: I met an American wind turbine engineer on a train in the UK recently. He was frustrated and pessimistic about a skills deficit affecting US construction crews.)

9

John Quiggin 08.02.17 at 11:39 am

@7 I’ve never seen this claim about the Netherlands, which is a well-known laggard (can you point to an instance). Even so, your numbers are out of date.

https://www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/netherlands-opens-massive-offshore-wind-farm.html

@8 It’s not specific to the US. Even in China, nuclear plants are over time and over budget.

https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/9341-China-s-nuclear-roll-out-facing-delay

10

Jeremy Beck 08.02.17 at 12:00 pm

This Westinghouse bankruptcy filing is just a minor hiccup. As of 1 August 2017, there are 58 reactors under construction worldwide with 20 in China alone. The good news for nuclear power advocates is that 162 reactors are on order or planned in 23 different nations. These reactors have approvals, funding or commitment in place, and are mostly expected in operation within 8-10 years. A further 349 reactors have been proposed with specific program or site proposals. China is leading the way and as the World Nuclear Association states: “China has become largely self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, as well as other aspects of the fuel cycle, but is making full use of western technology while adapting and improving it.”
AP1000s under construction in China are unaffected by the Westinghouse bankruptcy filing. Wang Binghua, chairman of China’s State Power Investment Corporation, recently said that his company will make sure its first two AP1000 stations at Sanmen and Haiyang will start producing electricity by end of 2017.
Besides, the AP1000 is not the only reactor design in the world. The Chinese are building ACPR1000, Hualong 1 and EPR reactors and have plans for numerous CAP1000 reactors. Future AP1000 units will now be CAP1000, which is a local standardisation of the design. Additionally construction will start this year on a CAP1400 reactor in Shandong Province.
Then we have other reactor types such as the Russian VVER range, of which several are under construction and many more are planned. India mostly uses the PHWR design and aims to supply 25 per cent of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.
Nuclear power is undergoing a Renaissance despite what any luddite may think. Nuclear power has enormous energy density and will provide cheap power 24 hours a day, every day. Not just when the wind blows or sun shines. This is what the world needs to lift everyone out of poverty.
I haven’t been paid by the nuclear lobby to say this. I just look at the facts.

11

AHubbard 08.02.17 at 12:22 pm

Why should I continue to favor nuclear?
a) Nuclear provides a proven, rapid way to a carbon-free grid, which is a sine qua non of preventing climate change. France proved this decades ago.
b) We do not have the technology in hand for renewables to provide a carbon-free grid, not is the technology on the horizon. This is a major problem. For example:
A US-month-50%-total-power-consumption (including things currently not powered by the grid like oil heating) battery would require approximately 62 million tons of lithium, or 2.9 billion tons of lead. The world lithium and lead resources (which includes known reserves and deposits not currently economical to exploit) are about 40 million tons, and 2 billion tons, respectively. While mineral “reserves” and “resources” estimates should be taken with many grains of salt, there is a clear problem. At current mining rates, assuming that the minerals exist at all, it would take about 19 and 6 centuries to supply our hypothetical lithium or lead battery, respectively; and that for a battery which would be inadequate to the USA’s share of the challenge of climate change. The environmental (and human brain) impact of 2 billion tons of lead in lead-acid batteries is left to the reader.

That brings us to c) we need to either chance the social/political climate, or the apparent physical and geochemical laws of the world we live in. I’d argue that changing the social/political climate is far, far easier, but it does require stopping claims about how renewables could solve the problem. People are (contrary to all the numbers) scared of nuclear, so if you dangle an illusory renewables carrot in front of them, they will follow it. Accordingly, if you want to boost renewables, you have a moral duty to have an idea about how the renewables numbers will work out. If you don’t, you are just playing the same role as people talking about uncertainty in the science of climate change.

12

Katsue 08.02.17 at 12:47 pm

@7

Are there any actual functional generation four nuclear reactors out there? (I have checked Wikipedia, which says no.)

13

Stephen Johnson 08.02.17 at 1:07 pm

I think there’s no question that fission power plants aren’t going anywhere soon for most of the world. So, photovoltaics, wind and power storage it is until someone can make reasonably priced, industrially usable 100K superconductors.

14

Paul O 08.02.17 at 1:22 pm

I am expecting the same fate for my local pair – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinkley_Point_C_nuclear_power_station

Though hopefully later on in the process after they have pumped a lot of money into the local community.

15

dsquared 08.02.17 at 1:44 pm

I don’t quite get why nobody went for thorium

Basically because the refining process for the ore is not commercially viable at scale. All these great characteristics of brand new super Tech nuclear plants are based on extrapolation from small scale (in many cases not much bigger than laboratory scale) prototypes and test models. Scaling up is the big engineering problem and it doesn’t appear that it got solved.

16

Jerry Vinokurov 08.02.17 at 2:28 pm

Nuclear plants are expensive, but… so what? We should look at plants as infrastructure projects, not moneymaking schemes. There’s no reason why a fabulously wealthy society like the United States shouldn’t subsidize projects like this if it’s going to reduce emissions. Nuclear plants should be constructed as public utilities owned by the state, not farmed out to contractors.

17

faustusnotes 08.02.17 at 2:33 pm

Nuclear is also massively over cost and over time in the UK, and everyone knows that for good or ill it is heavily subsidized in the countries where it is running. I think absolutely we should keep current plants operating as long as possible – Germany choosing to shutter its plants was a recklessly stupid move – but it’s obvious that new nuclear just isn’t going to be ready in time to avert catastrophe. The path to a carbon zero future is obvious, it doesn’t include nuclear, and it’s a matter of politics as to whether we get there.

I think therefore we won’t. But arguing about nuclear won’t change that.

18

biztheclown 08.02.17 at 4:17 pm

Any solar facility can be insured against business losses like any other business. Nuclear power can only be “insured” by implicit or explicit governmental assumption of risks and clean up costs. With the value of this “insurance” calculated in, nuclear power becomes even more expensive and should not be a part of our conversation going forward.

19

John Quiggin 08.02.17 at 8:10 pm

“Besides, the AP1000 is not the only reactor design in the world. “

That’s part of the problem. Scale economies are crucial, but no current reactor design is being constructed in numbers large enough to realise them.

20

Omega Centauri 08.02.17 at 8:25 pm

So many people are arguing about the expense of wind/solar using out of date cost data. For some it is a deliberate tactic, for others they simply take five or ten year old data/conclusions for granted.
If instead you try to make reasonable projections of future cost -we are still moving up the learning curves), then things get really interesting.

AHubbard uses heroic (or anti-heroic) assumptions about storage needs. Such as assume absolutely zero solar and wind for some period of time (usually a week or two). Then assume
everyone is consuming juice as the maximum load. Then assume every bit of energy must come from a battery. So they come up with huge numbers. But we all know those assumptions are wrong -particularly if the grid can move energy over long distances.

21

Helen 08.02.17 at 11:24 pm

Incidentally, Mr. Quiggin seems to think that environmentalists are the ones making the decisions over investment in energy. I fear he is mistaken.

Cute, but at the moment banks and insurance companies seem to be making decisions pointing towards an exit from coal towards renewables. Since these entities aren’t known for being environmentalists, this is a very encouraging sign.

22

engels 08.02.17 at 11:36 pm

Don’t forget Blighty

23

John Quiggin 08.03.17 at 1:27 am

24

hix 08.03.17 at 1:36 am

They should manage to build Hinkley Point with a reasonable profit at that insane subsidy rate. Just from memory, the not over budget return assumptions were pretty high. What is it 9 pound per kw/h or sth like that right? The big question remains why the hell would you pay a much higher subsidy rate for nuclear than for renewables. Almost as if the logic is “but windmills are ugly in my countryside, they got more externalities than nukes”.

25

Alex 08.03.17 at 3:30 am

Last time I checked, the US was just one country and it’s policies don’t speak for the rest of the world’s. I mean, they’re not even part of the Paris deal, so I don’t think the US offers the best lesson for dealing with climate change…

26

Alex 08.03.17 at 3:32 am

“it is heavily subsidized in the countries where it is running”

Er, so? The whole POINT of government action to tackle climate change is that you can’t just rely on free market prices to sort it out. It was free market prices that got us into this mess – a world heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

27

Kiwanda 08.03.17 at 4:17 am

Lazard now puts wind and utility-scale solar as cheap, in dollars/MWh, as any other source; for example, solar is half the cost of nuclear. As far as the “baseload” issue goes, an example is given of utility-scale PV with 10 hours or so of battery storage. This is more than enough storage to regard the combination as a “baseload” solution. The cost (in $/MWh) is cheaper than nuclear. It would be counter-productive to retire nuclear plants early, but for places with enough sun and/or wind (that is, everywhere), there’s no economic reason to consider building new plants.

28

bad Jim 08.03.17 at 5:41 am

California’s electricity demand is declining as its solar supply ramps up. Increasing efficiency is still the low-hanging fruit.

Imagine how much energy could be saved by banning coats and ties and allowing office buildings to make t-shirts and shorts the default attire in summer.

29

faustusnotes 08.03.17 at 5:47 am

Alex where did you get the idea that fossil fuels aren’t subsidized? And yes, the idea is to subsidize where necessary, but if nuclear is no longer cost competitive with subsidies, why would we waste those subsidies on nuclear when we could dump them into something else? Especially given, as John has pointed out, that these projects can’t be built on time or budget, whereas renewables generally can?

30

Pavel A 08.03.17 at 6:09 am

It feels like this thread needs a better understanding of the difference between the combined energy consumption of a modern society versus the amount of energy it is possible to produce through complete utilization of renewables (barring any serious technological leaps forward in energy efficiency or conversion).

The work that does that is here: http://www.withouthotair.com/, more specifically it is this chapter (http://www.withouthotair.com/c18/page_103.shtml), which compares the the total energy consumption in the UK (195kWh/day/person maximum) versus the total energy produced by utilizing all available renewables available to the UK (180kWh/day/person maximum), which wouldn’t ever be a very likely scenario. A more likely scenario in the the near future is the production of about 10-27kWh/day/person from renewables and a consumption of about 125kWh/day/person. This leaves a pretty serious gap for the UK that can only really be filled with nuclear energy and some mitigating factors.

Basically, from a purely practical perspective any serious attempt to deal with the coming catastrophe of global warming is going to have to consist of a combined arms approach that includes:
– Renewables
– Nuclear
– Reduced energy consumption
– Improved efficiency in industrial and agricultural systems

There are also other reasons not to write off the need for nuclear. As fresh water becomes more scarce (the US is depleting its fresh-water aquifers far faster than it is replenishing them: https://water.usgs.gov/edu/gwdepletion.html), we’ll probably end up needing nuclear-powered desalination plants to churn out enough fresh water just to stay alive (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desalination#Cogeneration).

At this point, the actual conversation about which alternative energy source to use to mitigate AGW is pretty much done: we’re going to need to use all of them and as quickly as possible.

31

John Quiggin 08.03.17 at 6:36 am

@30 Take a close look, and you’ll see that this site is based on a book published in 2008. At the time, its conclusions looked pretty plausible. Massive reductions in the cost of solar PV, wind and battery storage make it totally irrelevant today.

32

Haftime 08.03.17 at 8:26 am

John – the book doesn’t really talk about costs, just the physical limits.
For countries like Australia, Canada and the USA, where there is plenty of land, sure, the case for nuclear is much weaker.
For the UK, or most European and Asian countries, which have population densities a hundred times higher than Australia, the low power density of renewables mean that as Pavel said, absent very large efficiency improvements, renewables will take a large fraction of the area of a country. This hasn’t changed in the past decade, and is unlikely to get better by a factor of more than 2 ever, so either Wales is filled with solar panels and wind farms, nuclear and other less land intensive technologies make up a big fraction of the mix, or large amounts of energy is imported from outside Europe.

33

Faustusnotes 08.03.17 at 8:28 am

Pavel that dudes calculations are off. He finds 10m2 of sold pv produce 5kWh/day at 20% efficiency but it’s trivially easy to find current examples of people with lower efficiency panels getting 8kwh/day (empirically measured). Also his solar pv farm has 20 times the area of the personal solar but only 10 times the yield. New scientist estimates a solar pv farm produces 0.5 kWh/day per sqm at 10% efficiency, so the pv farm plus personal solar in that chart on that page of that book should actually be between 105 and 210 kWh/day at current tech levels (possibly without major subsidies). Other easily accessible websites note that half of all the U.K. ‘S power can be supplied by 0.14% of its land while your dude is saying only a quarter can be supplied with 5% of the land. I think that website is fishy.

34

bad Jim 08.03.17 at 8:46 am

Back in the 1980’s, the US Defense Department sponsored the Very High Speed Integrated Circuit program to accelerate the development of electronics to meet its anticipated demands. Many, most of the tech giants formed partnerships to investigate exotic technologies to achieve those daring goals. Intel, however, stood apart, claiming that it projected that it would achieve the desired performance with silicon.

The tech press breathlessly reported the first and second brassboard benchmarks, after which the project was abandoned. Moore’s law won.

35

Chris S 08.03.17 at 10:43 am

@31 While that applies to the realizable likely production – which on that site are very much cost focused, that’s less likely to apply to the figure for theoretical maximum presumably?

36

Will Boisvert 08.03.17 at 11:25 am

John, your picture of the nuclear industry is grossly distorted because you’ve left out the successful nuclear projects, which greatly outnumber the AP1000 and EPR failures. In recent years cheap reactors delivered on time and on budget are the rule.

“Scale economies are crucial, but no current reactor design is being constructed in numbers large enough to realise them.”

This claim is crazily wrong. China has brought 22 of its CPR1000 reactors on line during the last 8 years. The latest one grid-connected three days ago, after a construction period of 4 years 7 months, at a total cost of about $3200 per kilowatt. Feed-in tariffs for Chinese nuclear power are lower than the FITs for wind and solar. That’s a cheap, fast, large-scale deployment by any measure.

China blundered in shifting its focus to the AP1000 and EPR models; it should just keep cranking out CPR1000s while developing Gen IV reactors. But its Hualong 1 model, a Gen III extension of the CPR1000, may succeed—the first two builds are going well so far.

South Korea’s Gen III APR1400 reactor is another success story, with the first Korean builds coming in at about $3200 per kilowatt and 7-year construction periods (including two-year delays caused by installation of cables with fake quality certifications). They have also been a success at the Barakah plant in UAE, with the first of four reactors due on line next year after 6 years of construction. The Barakah reactors cost $4600 per kilowatt, a little more than half what the American AP1000s cost.

Unfortunately, further APR1400 builds have been put on hold because the new Korean president announced the phase-out of nuclear power (to be replaced by gas pipelines from Russia). This has nothing to do with the superb performance and economics of Korean nuclear power, which have decarbonized 30 percent of the electricity supply at a cost less than that of coal-fired power, and everything to do with hysterical anti-nuclear politics.

The nuclear renaissance has indeed built reactors quickly, cheaply and in large numbers (replicating earlier successful deployments in France, Japan, Germany, Sweden and elsewhere). What’s hurting the industry isn’t the inherent logistics and economics, it’s scare-mongering politics.

37

Will Boisvert 08.03.17 at 11:26 am

“So, at this point, there is no alternative to the combination of renewables, storage and energy efficiency. This would be a good moment for those environmentalists who accepted and promoted the nuclear story to recognise that any further efforts in this direction can only harm the prospects for a low-carbon future.”

John, the alternative isn’t “renewables, storage and energy efficiency,” it’s “renewables, storage and energy efficiency *plus fossil fuels*.” Weather-dependent renewables are always going to require fossil-fueled backup. It’s simply not feasible to build enough storage to balance seasonal fluctuations in wind-and-solar and years-long droughts of hydro-power.

In the real world outside of Mark Jacobson fantasies, the alternative to nuclear is gas, sometimes attenuated by some RE. The declared reason for abandoning the VC Summer project was that it will be cheaper to build gas plants, and even if part of the deficit were filled with wind and solar, the mix would still be drastically more carbon-intensive than nuclear output.

But your passage is incoherent at a deeper level. In what sense do nuclear power and “renewables, storage and energy efficiency” constitute mutually exclusive “alternatives,” such that supporting one logically requires us to abandon the other?

Why can’t we do energy efficiency and also build nuclear reactors? Why can’t we store nuclear power so it better matches daily load profiles? That’s a feasible goal, where using storage to balance renewables’ vast long-term surges and slumps is not. In fact, several existing nuclear plants operate pumped storage facilities to do exactly that.

And in what sense are “renewables,” which span everything from burning wood to damming rivers to harvesting photo-electrons, even a unified analytical category? Why not make invidious distinctions between renewable “alternatives?” You’re arguing (wrongly) that nuclear should be abandoned because it’s more expensive than RE. By that logic offshore wind should be abandoned because it’s more expensive than onshore, solar thermal should be abandoned because it’s more expensive than PV, and tidal power should be abandoned because it’s more expensive than anything.

I’ve never heard you or other greens pit renewable “alternatives” against each other in this way as exclusionary alternatives; rather, you support every kind of RE despite relative costs and no matter the subsidies. That makes sense, because we need clean energy. What doesn’t make sense is to then put clean energy from nuclear power in a class by itself and insist that it be abandoned because some reactor models, in some places, lose a market contest against fossil fuels.

This is all a far cry from rational energy policy. The “alternative” you’re trying to force on us amounts to drawing an arbitrary ideological line between demonic nuclear energy and sacred renewable energy—a clear case of green tribal dogmatism.

38

faustusnotes 08.03.17 at 12:02 pm

I think every almost single word in bad Jim’s comment at 34 is wrong, or at least misleading. VHSIC started in 1979, but Intel had already developed the 4004 chip in 1970, and all their subsequent chips up until the Pentium (?) were based on its design. They “stood apart” because they had developed a commercial chip in 1970. This appears to have been recognized by the department of defense, probably because the goal of VHSIC was not to “investigate exotic technologies to achieve these daring goals”, but to “establish processes to design and fabricate chips with characteristics necessary for department of defense needs.” They also “viewed the program as a mechanism to encourage the commercial electronics sector to develop production capabilities suitable for the military market.” The DoD also expected that “at the same time commercial R&D activities have been and will be developing ICs with similar feature sizes, but the VHSIC chips are designed for specific military applications.” (These quotes taken from here). Indeed, you can find reports on the VHSIC program online that make clear what it was doing.

Also, the core component of Intel’s most successful Intel chip (the 4004) was developed by Faggini in 1968, when he worked at Fairchild Semiconductor, who were involved in FHSIC (again, I learnt this from an old copy of New Scientist). Of course, that was 10 years before FHSIC started so …

Also, the FHSIC final report lists a variety of performance properties for chips developed there, including for example (page 129) a vector arithmetic/logic unit capable of 75 million instructions per second, which appears to be comparable to Intel chips of the time (disclaimer: there are a lot of different benchmarks that are hard to cross compare, and it’s difficult to identify from the final report what year specific chip developments came out).

And finally, the brassboards were first released in 1986 and the program finished in 1989, so the impression that the press breathlessly reported the first and second benchmarks and then the project was abandoned is slightly wrong. The project was intended to last 10 years, it lasted 10 years, and the brassboard benchmarks were near the end of the project.

It’s as if massive government funding of tech projects works …

39

Eli Rabett 08.03.17 at 1:23 pm

The takeaway is that “Free Market” nuclear is a guaranteed loser. The build times are too long the investment per plant too large. Policy driven nuclear such as France and Sweden with uniform plant design works.

Nuclear is not a viable strategy for the developing world, but for the EU, or US or Russia or China it could play an important role especially in combination with wind/solar/hydro/geothermal etc. Given that the emissions problem principally lies in the developed word this is very useful

40

Haftime 08.03.17 at 1:56 pm

Faustusnotes: The maths is all there in the book, it might be wrong, but you can work out where you disagree with the numbers if you’re inclined. I couldn’t work out where exactly you were getting your figures from, but http://wiki-solar.org/analysis/norms.html has some numbers:
For the UK:
950 MWh per year per MW(peak) and 2.4 ha per MW(peak)
2.6 MWh/day per MW(peak), so 2.4 ha gives 2.6 MWh/day
meaning the solar plant has an average power density of 110 Wh/day/m^-2
Which gives 1.1 kWh/day for a 10m^2 installation, so Without Hot Air is actually being generous.

41

AHubbard 08.03.17 at 3:47 pm

Omega Centauri thinks that ~15 days of storage is overkill, and Kiwanda suggests that PV+10 hours of storage is adequate to count as baseload. Omega has a bit of a point, although it comes with massive tradeoffs. How much storage do you need?

Well, near the winter solstice, night is longer than day, so 10 hours is clearly inadequate. Something more like 14-16 hours is needed to do the job. I don’t begrudge factors of 50% between friends. BUT. But, you then need enough PV to recharge those batteries over maybe 8 hours of worst-case ”daylight”. Think overcast or even blizzard conditions. The amount of PV overbuild required in that scenario is, um, appalling.

Can we do a ~16 hour, battery for the USA? Well… it would take about 5% the total global resources for lead or lithium, so it should be doable. At current production rates, you are looking at 80 years for lithium production, or 26 for lead. Obviously we couldn’t possibly extrapolate from current prices, and the feasibility is more on the technical than practical side. And the we come to the problem of the rest of the world. Who would eat up all the remaining lead/lithium, and take decades more mining, taking the project from ”we could write a plan, but that plan would never be carried out” to ”hahahahahaha”.

So please, do not just ”assume a utility-scale battery that lets renewables act at baseload power”. Such a battery cannot be assumed. It’s feasibility must be justified and, with current technology, it is not feasible.

There is a technology, in hand, well proven to be safe, and rapidly buildable, which would create a carbon-free grid. We are facing an existential crisis without a carbon-free grid. There are no other technologies in hand which would allow a carbon-free grid, nor any on the horizon either. And yet, people want to discard the one strategy we have that we know *will work*. And they pride themselves wanted to discard the functional strategy. I can’t even.

42

Cian 08.03.17 at 4:34 pm

Other than the way it was funded (which was scandalous), I’ve seen nothing local to suggest that the SCE&G contractors did anything wrong (other than communicate poorly). The problem is that building a nuclear power station is uneconomic.

Also, when people use ‘baseload’ as an argument for nuclear power, that’s always a tell that they don’t quite know what they’re talking about. While baseload is important (it’s the minimum amount of power that you need to generate), it’s significance for nuclear power is that this is the maximum that you can efficiently generate. Nuclear power stations produce the same amount of energy 24 hours a day – they’re very inflexible. Once you generate more than the baseload, you’re accepting that a certain proportion of your energy will be wasted (or you need batteries – in which case the same arguments that apply to renewables come into play).

One of the big economic arguments for gas powered stations compared to coal fired ones, is that they can be switched on and off very quickly, thus reducing wastage.

My big argument against nuclear power in the US is that I think political corruption is such that they won’t be regulated, or maintained, properly. Maybe nuclear power stations are different to chicken plants, or bridges, but I’m not confident.

43

ccc 08.03.17 at 5:17 pm

John Quiggin: “So, at this point, there is no alternative to the combination of renewables, storage and energy efficiency. This would be a good moment for those environmentalists who accepted and promoted the nuclear story to recognise that any further efforts in this direction can only harm the prospects for a low-carbon future.”

It is useful to distinguish two claims here
1 current nuclear power plants should be retained
2 new nuclear power plants should be constructed

Do you argue against both 1 and 2 or only against 2?

A more modest pro nuclear claim is that nuclear is overall less bad than other non-renewables and so should be the fallback until renewables can generate (almost) all energy. Our World In Data has some recent posts relevant to this
https://ourworldindata.org/energy-production-and-changing-energy-sources/
https://ourworldindata.org/what-is-the-safest-form-of-energy/
https://ourworldindata.org/what-was-the-death-toll-from-chernobyl-and-fukushima/

The second page concludes: “Whilst the share of energy production from renewable technologies is slowly growing, 96 percent of global energy production is produced from fossil fuels, nuclear and traditional biomass sources. Our global transition to renewable energy systems will be a process which takes time—an extensive period during which we must make important choices on bridging sources of energy production. The safety of our energy sources should be an important consideration in designing the transitional pathways we want to take.”

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Kate 08.03.17 at 5:33 pm

“the combination of renewables, storage and energy efficiency” and smarter, more flexible grids.

45

Omega Centauri 08.03.17 at 7:09 pm

Pavel @30.
Very much like my comment @20.
There are many things wrong with those per capita consumption figures.
Firstly he uses primary energy consumption -the entire energy value of the fuel that goes into the power station, not the output (which because of thermodynamics, is a third to a half of it). But,
solar/wind produce high value electrical or mechanical energy, so the comparison is a bit of
apples to oranges. [Note electricty can via a heat pump generate a multiple of it’s energy value of heat, the reverse of the Carnot loses seen in thermal generation].

But 180KWhours per day per capita. Thats huge.

For instance my residence averages mayve 25KWhours/ per day, and that supports an EV and two plugins divided by three people. So per capita is over an order of magnitude smaller. That
still doesn’t cover industry of course, but I would wager it is half or less of total consumption. So his fugure is quite high. Also of course the UK is already tapping offshore wind, which is harvesting renewables from beyond the UK land area. Any reasonable analysis says that amount of consumption is extreme and unlikely to be neccesary.

46

Matt 08.03.17 at 7:44 pm

Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air introduces a good way of looking at the problem: bottom-up, for both production and consumption, and quantitative all the way.

There are two major quantitative mistakes and one major conceptual mistake (IMO) in the book.

Quantitatively:

He assumes that solar modules cheap enough for large scale deployment will be only 10% efficient.</b< (Page 41, "Well, if we covered 5% of the UK with 10%-efficient panels, we’d have … 50 kWh/day/person. I assumed only 10%-efficient panels, by the way, because I imagine that solar panels would be mass-produced on such a scale only if they were very cheap, and it’s the lower-efficiency panels that will get cheap first."). Even really cheap Chinese panels now have an entry level efficiency starting around 14.4%. Assuming that MacKay did the rest of the calculations correctly, the large scale solar contribution goes up proportionally to 72 kWh/person/day. Ask me in another two years and the baseline module efficiency is likely to be higher yet. MacKay probably imagined cheap but inefficient thin film solar vs. more expensive, more efficient crystalline silicon solar. That seemed plausible 10 years ago. Now the cheapest panels, the most efficient panels, and the most common panels are all based on crystalline silicon cell technology. There’s never going to be a cheap 10% module that gets used on a large scale because low efficiency cells incur too much additional systemic costs.

The other big quantitative mistake was on the demand side. Instead of using the actual per-capita consumption of the UK, MacKay takes a “typical moderately affluent” person’s consumption and multiplies it by the entire population of the UK (page 22). This leads to large, systematic over-estimates of consumption; for example, on page 30, he acknowledges in a footnote that he’s estimating 50 km of car travel per person per day even though the reported number for the UK is 30 km/day. He’s estimating 166% of the true value! Most of the time he doesn’t compare his “typical moderately affluent” person’s consumption to actual per-capita values, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most of his demand numbers are similarly over-estimated compared to reality. It’s a bizarre choice to posit 100% of the population consuming like the 8th or 9th income decile, especially coming from someone who proclaims quantitative rigor over “hot air.”

Conceptually:

The biggest single energy consumption block is “stuff” (chapter 15) — embodied energy in goods, basically. “…the biggest item in the average British person’s
energy footprint is the energy cost of making imported stuff.” (Page 93). But why on Earth is he adding up the embodied energy of American soybeans, Chinese steel, and Taiwanese microchips and trying to source that same embodied energy within the geographical boundaries of the UK? He didn’t mention in the forward that this book was going to take a sharp and unexpected turn to “sustainable autarky” 15 chapters in. And if he’s not imagining autarky, then sustainability just means that goods produced outside the UK need to use sustainable energy too. Not that the energy for making imported goods in foreign factories needs to be sourced from the UK. If the largest single chunk of UK energy consumption comes from foreign goods, that actually makes sustainability easier, because most of those foreign imports are produced in countries with better sunlight resources than the UK itself possesses.

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Pavel A 08.03.17 at 8:11 pm

“Mr. Quiggan”@31 I was specifically referring to total energy consumption and production, not cost.

However, it looks like Faustusnotes@33 has accurately pointed out that significant advances in PV have made average output more efficient since 2008. MacKay sets the efficiency of mass-produced personal PV at 10% and expensive commercial PV at 20%, but we now know that the average has risen to 20% efficiency for mass-produced cells and goes as high as 40%+ for high-end commercial cells (with like 60% maximum efficiency). I’m actually perfectly fine with nuclear not having to fill any energy gaps.

Also, this well teach me to read out-of-date material.

48

Kiwanda 08.03.17 at 9:48 pm

AHubbard:

Omega Centauri thinks that ~15 days of storage is overkill, and Kiwanda suggests that PV+10 hours of storage is adequate to count as baseload. Omega has a bit of a point, although it comes with massive tradeoffs. How much storage do you need?

“Ten hours” is a vague unit of storage, and the Lazard discussion was, again, an “example”. But generally, the amount of storage needed to make solar immune to diurnal variation is obviously about a half-day’s worth, and given that consumption from 6pm to 6am is overall maybe 80% of consumption the rest of the time, “ten hours” is a reasonable idea of what’s needed. Moreover, given the lack of blizzards, or even much overcast, in large areas of, for example, the US; the fact that the wind is often blowing when the sun isn’t shining; the use of batteries to smooth production for *both* sun and wind; and the existence of transmission systems that reduce variability of power production relevant to a location, including extending the effective daylight hours, I think there is no need to estimate costs for “batteries sufficient to supply the US on their own for sixteen hours”, and the like.

49

Omega Centauri 08.03.17 at 9:58 pm

AHubbard @41.
I’m not a big fan of large scale batteries. The solar plants I know that have signed contracts with storage are solarthermal plants, where molten salt is used as heat transfer as storage medium. The only “baseload” plant is to be sited in the Atacoma desert, and it comes with 14hours storage.

Now I would note, that demand is less at night -particularly after midnight, and given price signals, and time for industry to optimize demand shifting can be considerable. Utility battery storage has its strengths, but they are mostly for shorter duration transients, and can be useful
in conjunction with relatively slow ramping generation sources -such as traditional (not modern)
thermal plants, and potentially biomass and biogas plants. It ought to be possible to have several percent of annual energy demand satisfied by bio-mass of some sort, and as a fuel store the hours of storage for such could be very large. We aren’t going to be using traditional batteries
to cover a week of poor generation waether -or for seasonal storage. That will be accomplished by other means. In addition to bio derived fuels, it is possible to use energy plus water and/or CO2 to generate fuels for later use as well. I expect a few percent of total annual consumption that was provided from such ‘renewable stores’ to be a part of the overall picture.

50

John Quiggin 08.03.17 at 10:04 pm

Responding to Will Boisvert and others: I’m not trying to argue a case against nuclear. The crucial point is, regardless of the arguments, it’s not going to happen anywhere in the developed world. So, to the extent that we (me and anyone who reads this* ) has any influence, we should stop arguing about nuclear and push as hard as we can for pro-renewable policies, including carbon prices.

Exceptions to this are
(a) there’s no good case for early shutdown of existing reactors.
(b) nuclear still has an outside chance in China

51

Omega Centauri 08.03.17 at 10:09 pm

Pavel, High efficiency PV comes with a high price. In fact I would argue that anything over 20-23%
will only be for specialized applications, where collection area is at a steep premium. The 40%ish cells, only work with highly concentrated sunlight (think hundreds to thousands of times), and aren’t
going to migrate to bulk power production applications. The sweet spot today is probably barely above 15%. Ground mounts have tilted panels that often track to sun. In order to avoid shading by other panels the spacing between panels leaves open ground, so that near noon, a significant
fraction of the sunlight won’t fall on panels. So panel efficiency can’t be used for areal efficiency of
a large power production farm.

52

Dan Ryan 08.03.17 at 10:15 pm

While the demise of the listed reactors appears to be a fact, I would not share your assertion, nor your enthusiasm for this outcome.
Nuclear power has a very important role to play in future generation of electricity and the main challenge it faces now is the continued move toward more efficiency on the part of many consumers (better motors, LED lights, etc.) as well as the depressed price of petroleum products across the globe.
Nuclear will have a voice in the future, just as it does now.

53

Faustusnotes 08.03.17 at 10:40 pm

Haftime, I wrote that on my phone so didn’t want to mes with links but basically I got all the info by googling terms like solar pv yield. I found a discussion board for owners of solar power where someone measure 8kwh in a day with their panels and wanted to know why it wasn’t 10, a New Scientist article on yield from solar pv farms, etc. Since the hot air dude wrote his book a whole bunch of institutions devoted to solar have started putting detailed material online. That alone is a sure sign that’s solar is well past the experimental stage – everyone now knows and agrees on its properties, and most practical discussion for investors is about exactly how they will deploy it.

54

Ebenezer Scrooge 08.03.17 at 11:07 pm

I would add a (c) to John@49. New reactors, even if they make no economic sense, might be the best method of plutonium (and maybe neptunium) disposal.

55

Pavel A 08.04.17 at 12:51 am

Omega Centauri@54
Cost is still an issue, but 20% efficiency panels were considered exorbitant back when MacKay was writing in 2008. Swanson’s Law indicates that 20% efficiency panels will also experience price drops of about 10% per year (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swanson's_law).

Also, it looks like most commercial solar panels are 15%-20%, so the cost differential can’t be that high (http://news.energysage.com/what-are-the-most-efficient-solar-panels-on-the-market/). But I generally agree that his the panels are utilized may become as important as their actual efficiency under ideal conditions.

56

derrida derider 08.04.17 at 2:09 am

I think nuclear power has a future in some parts of the world where solar PV really will not do the job, either because of lack of land or lack of sun (ultimately both problems might be resolvable by long-distance HVDC networks – but that’s some way off yet). That’s why, as I said, we should still be working on Gen IV and Gen V designs. But for most of the world other renewables have killed nuclear stone dead.

And yes, a lot of the commenters here are excessively Americocentric or Eurocentric. There’s more to the planet than the Britain or the US; the first has long lost hegemony while the second is visibly losing it.

57

TF79 08.04.17 at 2:18 am

It’s interesting that a post and set of comments on nuclear power discusses carbon storage and battery storage, but no discussion of the challenge/cost of long term nuclear waste storage. In the US at least, that’s been a 35 year old question that still doesn’t have an acceptable answer.

58

Helen 08.04.17 at 5:48 am

Yes, thanks, TF79, well said!

59

Will Boisvert 08.04.17 at 6:28 am

@ JQ 50

“I’m not trying to argue a case against nuclear. The crucial point is, regardless of the arguments, it’s not going to happen anywhere in the developed world. So, to the extent that we (me and anyone who reads this* ) has any influence, we should stop arguing about nuclear and push as hard as we can for pro-renewable policies, including carbon prices.”

Sorry, I’m not buying this pose of fatalism.

Outside of the anti-nuclear echo-chamber, tons of climate scientists and other environmentalists realize that nuclear power is an urgent priority and are lobbying to change policies that stymie it.

There are lots of practical ways to do that. An immediate one is to get the Senate to pass an extension of the in-service deadline for nuclear production tax credits (the House already passed it, and Trump promised to sign it) so that the Vogtle AP1000 project doesn’t lose them because of delays. If that’s done fast, it might save the Vogtle build.

Why bother saving one measly nuclear project? Because those two reactors alone would produce 17.6 terawatt-hours per year of emissions-free energy, which is 33 percent more than the entire Australian wind sector did last year. Failing to save the Vogtle project is equivalent to demolishing every wind turbine on the continent of Australia—and then smashing half the solar panels to boot.

So, yeah, let’s keep arguing about nuclear power.

60

Val 08.04.17 at 8:26 am

@ 57
Yes it’s interesting that waste doesn’t come up. I’d like to say that I oppose nuclear because of the danger to life and the problem of waste/storage disposal. I think that viewpoint somehow gets excluded from the discussion as being ’emotional’ or ‘irrational’ but it’s actually a legitimate and important one.

61

bad Jim 08.04.17 at 8:34 am

I should just let the comment by faustusnotes go by, but I find this snippet inordinately amusing: “Also, the core component of Intel’s most successful Intel chip (the 4004) was developed by Faggini”

I’ll always think of Federico Faggin as the designer of the Z80 microprocessor. There is a special place in my heart for my old Osborne, right next to my Karmann Ghia.

62

Val 08.04.17 at 8:40 am

The other thing that I think is not included in the discussion enough is demand reduction. There are some extraordinary figures being tossed around here about energy consumption – far higher than we ‘need’ in any sense.

It’s a viewpoint I always try to put, although there’s a surprising (to me) amount of resistance – our health problems are related to ‘over-consumption’ and sedentary lifestyles across the world. There is still a proportion of the population (less than a billion now) who have an ‘energy deficit’ but the great majority of us consume too much – it would actually be better for us to be more physically active and to rely less on machines (eg motorised transport, processed food) in many areas of our lives.

I’ve been accused on CT of ‘new puritanism’, ‘virtue signalling’ etc etc but I have to keep saying this – we would actually be better off if we reduced our energy demands in much of everyday life rather than assuming that we must have the same lifestyles only powered by renewables. I’m all in favour of renewables, but I’m also all in favour of people getting out of their bloody cars and walking, or riding a bike.

63

bad Jim 08.04.17 at 9:03 am

Puritanism is a huge sales problem. People don’t like to be scolded, and saying “We can only solve this by doing this or not doing that” is not at all helpful. It’s probably mostly harmful.

Sure, everyone wants to do as much as they can (for certain values of everyone) but the logic is the same as abstinence as an alternative to birth control. “If everyone were to do X” is useless as policy.

People always do the easiest, most comfortable thing; the challenge is to make the easy, comfortable thing the right thing, whether by banning, stigmatizing or taxing the most damaging acts or subsidizing their alternatives.

64

Zamfir 08.04.17 at 1:46 pm

@Val, while I am all in favour of cycling (etc.), I just don’t see how it can be more than a small sideshow in the CO2 issue.

I live in the Netherlands, probably the most bicycle-centred country in the world. Bicycle usage is something like 10 to 20 times higher than in Australia (I believe you were from Australia? ). This surely has an effect on car usage, but it’s minor. 17 billion bike kilometers a year, against 140 billion car kilometers. If we aim for a severe reduction in the CO2 impact from car use, then Netherlands-style bicycle usage is hardly a beginning.

I am honestly struggling to imagine how we could change this country (already the most bike friendly!), to make a bicycle a viable alternative to a car for most trips of most people. It’s not impossible, but so much more extreme than ‘only’ replacing the electric grid and all the cars. It would involve a replacement of the entire build-up stock, relocation of most of the people, most of the workplaces, changing so many social relations…

65

AHubbard 08.04.17 at 2:49 pm

@Kiwanda: Even if you assume enough overbuild and grid connection for the East Coast to be able to power the whole US on a bad winter morning, and the West Coast to be able to power the whole US on a bad winter evening… you still need over 12 hours of storage, and 12 hours of storage is NOT something you can just assume.

66

AHubbard 08.04.17 at 2:53 pm

@Omega: One of the issues with renewables is that there are so many options, none of which work. So, bio-fuels. I haven’t done a deep enough dive into the numbers for bio-fuels, but a few percent-yearly-use is a major investment into bio-fuel production, and one that I would MUCH rather earmark for transportation than grid: while EV are promising, unless self-driving cars drop the fleet size dramatically, we aren’t going to be able to build enough to replace the whole fleet, so net-zero-carbon fuels are going to be needed. Even then, you are talking about (a) a full bio-fuel industry (b) a full set of conventional power plants capable of powering the whole US (c) AND a full set of renewable production capable of powering the whole US. Even if the bio-fuel industry at the scale needed is possible, the end result is prohibitively expensive, and will be spewing extremely nasty pollution.

67

James Wimberley 08.04.17 at 2:58 pm

Nobidy has mentioned Copiapó. Thus is the mining site in remote northern Chile where the small American company SolarReserve has won a contract to build a solar tower CSP plant. Very atypically, the customer needs a steady 24/7 supply, and the plant offers this with 14 hours if hot salt storage. The price per kWh is 6.3 US cents. So effectively it will run like a nuclear power plant, at half the price and a quarter of the construction time. The Atacama desert is rainless and the salt can be dug up locally. These advantages do not compensate in cost for remoteness. The contract – for proven conservative technology – is proof positive that nuclear is dead in any sunny region eif the world. On a normal grid, 24/7 supply is a problem not an advantage, and the relative cost of nuclear is even higher.

68

AHubbard 08.04.17 at 3:01 pm

@TF79 and others: While I know that people are scared of nuclear waste, from a direct public health perspective, it is purely a manufactured issue. See, e.g https://newmatilda.com/2016/03/03/nuclear-waste/. I don’t blame people who haven’t examined the numbers for worrying, but we’ve gotten to the point that the only reason people worry about it is because, well, people worry about it. So you can stop worrying! Yay!

From a secondary, people are scared, so will be stressed and stress is unhealthly and fear can lead to bad decisions perspective it is an issue (see the Fukushima evacuation, where the Japanese government tormented and killed its citizens for no justifiable reason) but that can be dealt with through other means.

69

Omega Centauri 08.04.17 at 4:03 pm

Val @62
“I’ve been accused on CT of ‘new puritanism’, ‘virtue signalling’ etc etc but I have to keep saying this – we would actually be better off if we reduced our energy demands in much of everyday life rather than assuming that we must have the same lifestyles only powered by renewables. I’m all in favour of renewables, but I’m also all in favour of people getting out of their bloody cars and walking, or riding a bike.”

Personally I think thats great. I try to practice it myself. However, I think pushing too hard is a political and PR loser for the needed energy transition. As long as talking points like “freezing in the dark” have legs, I think we have to be very careful how we promote lifestyle changes, as it could be highly counterproductive. (In the same way that political correctness has been hugely counterproductive).

70

Jim Harrison 08.04.17 at 4:28 pm

In debates about nuclear power, as in many other political disputes, there are the arguments that hold water and the arguments that persuade people and they aren’t usually the same. Dealing with nuclear waste is supposed to be a terrific problem, for example, but what’s lacking on that front are not viable solutions but the political will to implement them. It’s just easier to scare people about waste than to raise other objections. The dubious economic viability of new nuclear plants is actually harder to get around than the hyped difficulties of waste storage. One genuine and seldom discussed obstacle is the long-term issue of nuclear fuel—if you go balls out for nuclear, you’re either going to have a uranium shortage or go in for plutonium recycling. Equally daunting is the question of the management of nuclear plants. Nuclear power is one area where there are huge advantages to scale in terms of safety, efficiency, and economics. The best run nuclear plants on the planet are French, but duplicating the performance of EdF is pretty hard to do in countries that lack France’s tradition of centralized public bureaucracy run by cadres of elite engineers and administrators. To put it mildly, I’m not very sanguine about the prospect of a flock of new plants operated by Southern California Edison.

One downside to making a big deal out of waste disposal is that we’ve got to deal with the waste that already exists even if we build no new nuclear plants. Proposing that any solution will have to meet impossibly high standards has so far meant that a lot of hot waste is sitting around in ponds all over the place because nobody knows how to engineer a facility that won’t have any problems for 10,000 years. For my money, getting this stuff to some godforsaken corner of Nevada is progress.

71

Kiwanda 08.04.17 at 4:37 pm

Will Boisvert:

Why bother saving one measly nuclear project? Because those two reactors alone would produce 17.6 terawatt-hours per year of emissions-free energy, which is 33 percent more than the entire Australian wind sector did last year. Failing to save the Vogtle project is equivalent to demolishing every wind turbine on the continent of Australia—and then smashing half the solar panels to boot.

The production of 17.6 terawatt-hours of energy per year (or as I like to put it, an astounding 17600 terawatt-hours! [1]) is about two gigawatts of power, on average. The future of this project, underway since 2009, is in doubt, as noted in the OP. Meanwhile, in the first quarter of 2017, two gigawatts of windpower were installed in the United States. Even accounting for capacity factors, the nine gigawatts of wind under construction in the US, with twelve in advanced development, makes irrelevant the current five gigawatts of nuclear that may, possibly, eventually, be installed.

(That rhetoric: “demolishing” the wind turbines, “smashing” the solar panels. How about “nuking” the dams?)

[1] per millenium

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engels 08.04.17 at 9:06 pm

I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone a puritan but from memory the point at which I parted company with green egalitarianism was someone on CT declaring that all communities needed to produce their own food so people like me would need to abandon London to live in a village. Also someone else deciding that we couldn’t have kids because they’d produce too much carbon…

73

Val 08.04.17 at 11:53 pm

OC @ 69

I’ve tried being reasonable and still got accused of blah blah blah – look, people are going to get defensive whatever you do, so worrying too much about their sensibilities is probably a waste of time. Let’s be straight about this – we are facing a global emergency and people need to wake up..

As for “In the same way that political correctness has been hugely counterproductive” – do you actually know yourself what you mean by this? Because nothing meaningful is being communicated to me. When I see stuff like this I usually hear ‘the world was so much nicer when when women and blacks knew their place and didn’t complain about it’. Is that what you meant?

74

John Quiggin 08.05.17 at 2:17 am

Will Boisvert @59 I don’t have a really strong view on this, but you need to take account of opportunity cost. The funds needed to finish the project could be allocated to additional wind power instead.

I was pointed to this piece by Michael Shellenberger (a current or former colleague of yours I think), which concludes (wrt VC Summer) “Finishing the reactors would be more expensive than building new gas-fired power plants, but averaged over the 60-year service life, the costs will be right in line with renewables, about $60 to $80 per MWh “
http://www.environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/8/2/wind-energy-still-more-expensive-than-nuclear-plant-halted-for-cost-overruns

Unsurprisingly, Shellenberger argues for “reliable” nuclear, as opposed to “chaotic” wind. But even to get to equal cost, he has to rely on the fact that ” South Carolina and its neighboring states have the worst onshore wind resource in the US “. Given an improved grid, both the cost advantage and the reliability advantage would be gone, since SC could import wind electricity from more favored locations.

Restating the point, I’m not advocating a stopwork on Vogtle, or opposing a resumption on VC Summer, if anyone can be found to invest in it.

I’m making the point that no one, in the US or anywhere else in the developed world, is going to start a new nuclear plant from scratch anytime in the next decade. So, I’m asking environmentalists who’ve backed nuclear in the past to stop attacking renewables and start working on the best way to promote them.

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Val 08.05.17 at 3:28 am

engels @ 72
This may be going a bit OT for JQ’s post, but I’d like to reply to your points. I advocate for urban agriculture but would never suggest someone should move out of the city so they could become self-sustaining in food. I just think there is a lot more we could be doing eg eating less meat, growing more food locally (including urban agriculture) reducing food waste, etc

I’m hoping you didn’t get that interpretation from one of my comments, but either way I think it important that all of us who would like to see more egalitarian greener societies don’t point score off each other in bad faith. Are you sure that’s what someone said to you or was it your uncharitable interpretation.

As for the ‘we can’t have kids’ well that’s definitely not me, as I do! But I’m always pointing out to people that birth rates in most middle to high income countries are either declining rapidly or below replacement rate. It’s consumption/emission levels we need to worry about and again I think that some of the focus on population is actually a deflection tactic. When I start seeing those ‘it’s all about population’ people start seriously advocating for the empowerment and education of women in poor and patriarchal societies – and the dismantling of patriarchy in general! – I might take them more seriously.

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Faustusnotes 08.05.17 at 1:01 pm

Ahubbard at 68, the Japanese government did not torment and kill its citizens. A small number were mandatorily evacuated from the immediate path of the plume when people were unsure what might happen, and an evacuation advisory (be ready to evacuate) was applied to a small region of low population. The zones set up by the Japanese govt were smaller than those demanded by foreign countries (eg the us demanding a 50km exclusion zone). The reason people died is that they were elderly people living in nursing homes who could not get access to food and medicine because private distribution networks broke down. They then evacuated over a two week period and some of the nursing homes experienced no increase in mortality. This idea that the Japanese govt killed its citizens by forcing an evacuation is a pernicious lie. There’s a difference between mismanagement and errors in a world first event and “tormenting and killing” your citizens.

Also contra AHubbard, let us remember that the risk from Fukushima arose from nuclear waste that was at risk of burning. It’s not exactly on a par with the modern health consequences of coal but nuclear waste is dangerous and nuclear power is extremely dangerous if not well managed. Sure well managed nuclear power is very clean and very safe but well managed nuclear power requires some strong conditions. Boosting nuclear requires recognizing those conditions.

Val, cycling for commuter reasons is not actually much of a calorie burner. Walking is better.

One way that Amsterdam could become more cycle friendly is by introducing Chinese mobile style schemes, which really seem to increase bike use. But the issue with bike use is in countries where it is dangerous and derided , like the U.K. You need a cultural change to get that. In Japan when a family have a baby they buy a bigger bicycle – in oz they buy a bigger car. There’s a lot of things need to change before Ozzie parents will buy a bike to take their kids to school.

77

Orange Watch 08.05.17 at 3:03 pm

Val@75:
Yes. It absolutely does not need to be all or nothing. The right half-measures could have a huge impact.

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/08/if-everyone-ate-beans-instead-of-beef/535536/

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Marc 08.05.17 at 3:25 pm

@74: If there are people arguing against renewables and for nuclear power, on green grounds, they are just silly. I just think that nuclear is a component of a response to climate change; people who advocate, say, shutting down nuclear reactors are not doing the fight against climate change a favor in my view.

I do agree with you that the market has spoken pretty decisively here, and thus that the future is renewables. However, that’s a different thing from wanting the entire sector to vanish.

Re consumption changes: a lot of this has already been done, in the form of energy efficiency. However, a lot of the related infrastructure is built in: people have purchased houses far from their work, in many cases largely because of exorbitant costs for urban dwellers. And large fixed costs, for things like electricity, hit poor people much harder than they do wealthy ones. There are also “sunk costs” in things like cars and trucks, but those have a shorter life cycle than houses, and are thus more amenable to changes in things like fuel efficiency rules. There are a lot of reasons why this approach (basically, ratcheting up efficiency requirements in design) is going to be more successful than mandating changes in behavior, especially since the latter run into the sort of problems indicated above.

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Omega Centauri 08.05.17 at 5:39 pm

Val, @73.
Many who have turned conservative cite political correctness as the reason. Trump’s campaign was virulently anti-PC, and now we are stuck with him. So I do think overreach has a political cost.

80

Omega Centauri 08.05.17 at 9:40 pm

“In Japan when a family have a baby they buy a bigger bicycle – in oz they buy a bigger car.”
And, in the US they buy a giant SUV. Not because they need the space for junior, but because they think having a few tones of metal will keep her safe.

81

J-D 08.06.17 at 12:35 am

Val writes

As for “In the same way that political correctness has been hugely counterproductive” – do you actually know yourself what you mean by this? Because nothing meaningful is being communicated to me. When I see stuff like this I usually hear ‘the world was so much nicer when when women and blacks knew their place and didn’t complain about it’. Is that what you meant?

Omega Centauri replies

Many who have turned conservative cite political correctness as the reason. Trump’s campaign was virulently anti-PC, and now we are stuck with him.

Does that mean ‘Many people have turned conservative and/or voted for Trump because they thought “the world was so much nicer when women and blacks knew their place and didn’t complain about it”.’? If not, how is it different from that?

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Faustusnotes 08.06.17 at 12:46 am

If we didn’t push our causes out of fear they might “turn” people conservative we wouldn’t be very good at politics would we? And why do we blame “political correctness ” for a persons decision to turn conservative? We asked this person not to say “nigger” so they voted for an economics wrecker like dubya, who killed a million people? That’s their fault, not ours. Why do so many people coddle these idiots with special exemptions from basic responsibilities because their precious feefees get hurt when they’re reminded to be nice about whole groups of people? Why the soft bigotry of low expectations for white proto racists? And don’t tell me they’re not racist – if you vote for economic wreckers, gangsters, criminals and traitors (i.e. Conservatives) because someone told you it’s not nice to call people sluts and niggers, you’re a racist. If how you talk about people you don’t know is more important to you than whether your president is a treasonous mass murdering orange shit gibbon, you’re a racist.

Not to mention that these people who turned conservative because of pc only exist in the conservative imagination…

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Val 08.06.17 at 1:20 am

Omega Centauri @ 79
But what do you mean by ‘political correctness’? You keep using that term, but what do you mean by it?

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Omega Centauri 08.06.17 at 2:47 am

Interesting how this has turned from Nuclear power, to PCness.

Today I think PC has become a derogatory term, representing an almost cartoon version of
character assassination based on someone speaking a social heresy. Arguably, this is more a case of perception, rather than reality. Nevertheless there has been a definite tactical change on the left, whereby deeply damaging social and/or legal sanctions are applied towards those whose speech and/or actions identify them as a regressive. So there is a certain amount of fear that one might misspeak once and find himself the object of a witch-hunt. I suspect that rarely actually happens, but it has great salience to the emotional mind.

So what I am advocating, is not giving up on these causes, which I heartily agree with btw. But, in realizing that those who have demonstrated that they are not fully reformed are humans, and humans make mistakes, need forgiveness and so on. Love the sinner hate the sin sort of stuff.

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Val 08.06.17 at 3:24 am

Marc @ 78
“There are a lot of reasons why this approach (basically, ratcheting up efficiency requirements in design) is going to be more successful than mandating changes in behavior, especially since the latter run into the sort of problems indicated above.”

I think this is misguided, especially because it can lull people into a false sense of complacency, which I’m arguing strongly against.

For example, thinking about transport, the latest Australian figures I can find (2011) show that the average length of commute in major cities is about 14 kms and the median is only about 10. That is a distance which can be travelled by bike. I don’t have detailed figures on the potential capacity for people to switch from car to public transport, but I think it’s probably considerable, if the right infrastructure and regulations were in place.

It’s not just a matter of “mandating” behaviour change, rather try to think of it as changing practice. So we need to think about all the elements of practice – material (infrastructure), regulatory, cultural (skills, knowledge, discourse) etc. In inner Melbourne suburbs, where I live, the proportion travelling by public or active transport (walking or cycling) is steadily increasing, so in my area less than half now travel by car.

Of course it’s easier with good infrastructure, but it shows change is possible and is happening. The thing to look for is how to increase the rate of change, rather than just assuming nothing can change, all we can do is make are etc more efficient. It’s such an unimaginative approach.

Did you know apparently young people (at least in Melbourne) are less keen to have cars than previous generations because they like using their phones on PT? Ok it’s a bit double edged, but it shows the limitations of linear thinking – thinking that what we are now is what we are always going to be. One thing I can say, as a bit of a historian, is that societies can and do change.

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Val 08.06.17 at 3:40 am

Sorry for repeated posts but just making the point that change can happen – between the 2001 and 2011 census:

-travel to work by car as driver in the suburb I am in dropped from 42.1 to 32.6%,
– travel by train increased from 7.8 to 11.3%
– travel by bike increased from 5.2 to 11.6%

(Travel by tram, which has always been quite popular, only increased by 1% from 15.9% to 16.9%, but I bet it could be more if the trams were more frequent eg every three minutes instead of six, and not so crowded at busy times!)

Trains only run about 18 mins apart here even at busy times so there’s a lot of capacity to increase that.

So yes – change is possible and is happening. We could – and should – stop spending money on roads altogether and start spending it on public and active transport, but we need to imagine the future instead of being stuck in the past.

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Val 08.06.17 at 4:13 am

Omega Centauri @ 84

So you are defining PC as a “tactical” approach by the Left through which “deeply damaging social and/or legal sanctions are applied towards those whose speech and/or actions identify them as a regressive”.

Ok that’s a start. So now can you say what you mean by “a regressive”?

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Val 08.06.17 at 4:18 am

@ 84

Also
“Interesting how this has turned from Nuclear power to PCness”

Can I remind you that you are the person who introduced political correctness to the discussion?!

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J-D 08.06.17 at 5:56 am

Omega Centauri

Today I think PC has become a derogatory term, representing an almost cartoon version of character assassination based on someone speaking a social heresy. Arguably, this is more a case of perception, rather than reality. Nevertheless there has been a definite tactical change on the left, whereby deeply damaging social and/or legal sanctions are applied towards those whose speech and/or actions identify them as a regressive. So there is a certain amount of fear that one might misspeak once and find himself the object of a witch-hunt. I suspect that rarely actually happens, but it has great salience to the emotional mind.

It’s entirely, or almost entirely, a case of perception rather than reality. There are no deeply damaging sanctions applied to people for regressive speech. There may be real fear, but if so the fear has no foundation in fact; more likely, a lot of it is people feigning fear. Either way, there are lies being spread, and the serious question is who’s spreading the lies, and why, and why they’re being believed, and what the effects are of the lies being spread and believed. Why, just for example, do you believe in the existence of the deeply damaging sanctions you mentioned?

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Will Boisvert 08.06.17 at 7:33 am

@James Wimberly 67, on the Copiapo solar plant,

Copiapo is a worthwhile project, but it’s definitely not a “steady 24/7 supply,” nor can it “run like a nuclear power plant.” And it’s not as cheap as advertised because, even though “unsubsidized” by theChilean government, it will get additional revenue beyond the 6.3 cent per kwh by selling SRECs on the international market. It’s substantially more expensive than the Barakah desert nuclear plant being built in UAE. Copiapo is an example of how overblown solar hype can get.

Copiapo has two 130 MW heliostat fields driving twin 130 MW turbines and also charging the molten salt storage tanks with heat. Projected generation will be 1,800 GWh/y, giving a 79 percent capacity factor on the 260 MW nameplate capacity. That’s a sensational CF for a solar plant, but it’s also an accounting trick, because it leaves out the capacity of the 150 MW PV field appended to the plant. Counting the PV, the plant’s actual capacity will be 410 MW, and the production of 1,800 GWh/y gives a CF of 50 percent. That’s still stellar for a solar plant, but it’s a far cry from the 90 percent CF of a nuclear plant.

The 79 percent turbine CF for Copiapo belies its claim of 260 MW, 24/7 power. There will be many hours each week when the plant is outputing less than its nameplate, and some cloudy days (they do happen in the Atacama), when it generates next to nothing. Even with 14 hours of storage, an overcast dawn will shut the plant down.

Even though a 79 percent CF is close to a nuke’s 90 percent, Copiapo’s chaotic weather-induced shortfalls are different in kind. Nukes routinely run for more than a year at a stretch at full capacity without any interruptions whatever. Downtime is usually for refuelling and maintenance scheduled long in advance. That’s true 24/7 reliability that solar can’t match, even with storage.

Copiapo’s unreliability spells fossil-fueled backup. The issue is clarified in SolarReserve’s “Baseload Solar Power” sales brochure: “For full 100 percent availability in off-grid scenarios, a relatively small amount of fossil fuel can be used on cloudy days.” So, no, Copiapo’s “baseload” does not mean steady 24/7 solar power. When clouds inevitably roll in, diesel will burn.

Copiapo won’t burn the diesel itself. It’s selling its power to mines that already have diesel generators that can take over when Copiapo conks out. Because the diesel backup is located at the mine rather than the power plant, the Copiapo plant technically does not use fossil-fueled backup; its customers definitely do.

Copiapo is still very useful. It will make lots of reasonably cheap, clean power that will greatly reduce mine emissions while offloading the reliability problem to the mines’ diesel sets.

But its not the “baseload” panacea that hypesters claim when they imagine Chile running its whole grid off of Atacama solar plants. If Chile did that, there would be many days each year when long cloud fronts would shut down the whole Atacama sector, Chile would need fossil-fueled backup sufficient to run the whole grid.

Even with storage, even in the Atacama, solar can’t do baseload.

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Will Boisvert 08.06.17 at 7:34 am

@James Wimberly 67, on the Copiapo solar plant’s cost.

Copiapo’s PPA price of 6.3 cents per kwh is not a true index of cost. The Chilean government doesn’t give public subsidies to RE (that’s why Copiapo’s PPA is technically unsubsidized), but Chile is a member of the International Renewable Energy Certificate verification and trading system. That means Chilean solar plants can print an I-REC for every MWh they generate and sell it on the international market. That’s a whole other revenue stream besides the PPA revenue. (They can alternatively sell carbon offset allowances.) And I-REC revenue can be substantial; prices vary wildly, but they can range into the hundreds of dollars per MWh.

Copiapo’s construction cost is actually quite high—$2 billion for the 260 MW plant, according to Reuters, so $7692 per kw. That’s a lot more than the Barakah nuclear plant under construction in UAE, which costs $4519 per kw. Adjusted for capacity factors, the disparity is greater: $9736 per avg kw for Copiapo, almost twice as much as the $5021 for Barakah.

I don’t know how much Copiapo’s power really costs, but my guesstimate is about 10 cents per kwh. (I get that from the NREL LCOE calculator, assuming a 7692 per kw construction cost, 30-year payback, 7 percent WACC, 79 percent CF, operating costs of 1 cent per kwh.)

As a check on that, SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes solar plant, also CSP plus storage, cost $975 million for a 110 MW nameplate ($8636 per kw); its PPA is about 13 cents per kwh, after a 30 percent Federal tax credit on construction costs. Given that Copiapo’s construction budget is 15 percent less per unit than Crescent Dunes and assuming lower operating costs, we expect Copiapo’s PPA to be lower than CD’s, but not less than half as much, especially since Copiapo is not getting the Federal tax credit that CD got. So 10 cents per kwh is a more reasonable number assuming that Copiapo is selling I-RECs for about $40 per MWh, which is a plausible price.

A reasonable estimate for the cost of Barakah’s power would be 7.6 cents per kwh. (Based on $4519 per kw capital costs, 30-year payback, 7 percent WACC, 90 percent CF, 3 cents per kwh O and M.)

The 10 cent per kwh range is a great price for solar power and Copiapo will reduce mine emissions a lot, so it’s good for the climate. But in no sense does Copiapo signify that nuclear is “dead;” desert nuclear plants are still substantially cheaper than a Copiapo CSP-plus-storage plant, while giving better, more reliable service.

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Will Boisvert 08.06.17 at 8:34 am

@JQ 74,

1. “I don’t have a really strong view on this, but you need to take account of opportunity cost. The funds needed to finish the project could be allocated to additional wind power instead.”

The implication of the Shellenberger piece you cited is that there is no opportunity cost advantage in cancelling VC Summer to build RE, because the VC Summer lifecycle LCOE is about the same as the cost of RE.

“Unsurprisingly, Shellenberger argues for “reliable” nuclear, as opposed to “chaotic” wind. But even to get to equal cost, he has to rely on the fact that ” South Carolina and its neighboring states have the worst onshore wind resource in the US “. Given an improved grid, both the cost advantage and the reliability advantage would be gone, since SC could import wind electricity from more favored locations.”

Plains wind is cheaper than SC wind, but transmitting it to SC costs a lot of money. We have good estimates for how much. Two independently proposed 700-mile wind transmission lines would each add 3 cents per kwh to the cost of the wind power shipped. One of these is a project to ship Panhandle wind to Tenesseee; transmitting it a further 400 miles to SC would add another penny or so, which would eliminate any price advantage of the Panhandle wind.

You’re positing an “improved grid” to integrate cheaper wind regions, but you’re not taking into account the system costs of improving the grid (or other system costs that wind and solar offload onto the grid, like the cost of storage).

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Will Boisvert 08.06.17 at 8:34 am

@JQ 74,

1. “I’m making the point that no one, in the US or anywhere else in the developed world, is going to start a new nuclear plant from scratch anytime in the next decade. So, I’m asking environmentalists who’ve backed nuclear in the past to stop attacking renewables and start working on the best way to promote them.”

You’re getting this backwards. Pro-nukes aren’t attacking RE or lobbying to demolish wind farms or eliminate RE subsidies. But pro-RE greens do lobby strongly and successfully to defund nuclear power, cancel new builds and shut down existing plants. When you accuse people who honestly discuss the limitations of RE of “attacking” it, you sound pretty tribal.

2. Your “nuclear is dead” fatalism has a further pernicious effect in that it could persuade environmentalists who feel misgivings about the green jihad against nuclear power not to worry about it; if it’s dead already, there’s no point defending it against those who want it dead.

3. You’re not engaging with a crucial argument, which is that the difficulties facing the industry are in large measure the result of contingent policy and regulatory decisions; change the policies and we change the prospects for nuclear.

And the needed changes aren’t dramatic. They are:

a) Include nuclear in clean-energy subsidies and mandates.

b) Reverse recent phase-out decisions in South Korea, France and elsewhere.

c) License the APR1400 in the US and Europe. (NRC is already vetting it, but this needs to be speeded up.) We should also license the CPR1000, which is a good Gen II+ reactor, somewhat more advanced than the existing American and European reactors. There’s lots of experience building these models fast and cheap, so let’s give them a try.

d) There is no d—that’s it.

This program is not revolutionary and certainly not an attack on RE. It’s a sensible agenda, and it’s appropriate for environmentalists to continue discussing and advocating it.

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Gareth Wilson 08.06.17 at 8:50 am

You’re being rather niggardly with your research on this topic.

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Collin Street 08.06.17 at 11:17 am

Will: most people don’t care as much about power “reliability” as you do. This is why they are adopting solutions that, to your eyes, involve unacceptably-high rates of power-network failure: it is because they put a lower value on avoiding that than you do.

I don’t know if you’ve paid much attention to how people actually cope with unreliable power systems. It’s not actually that uncommon, either historically or today. They cope pretty well! I mean, sure, it’s disruptive, but it’s not earth-shatteringly disruptive; it’s a cost, a large cost, but it’s a cost that can be absorbed, and — according to the preferences of the people making the decisions — it’s a lesser cost than the cost of “guaranteed” power. And that’s not a “wrong” decision, nor a decision based in ignorance: it’s not the decision you’d make, but it’s because of perfectly-normal differences in preference between people. Not that many people want what you want, not enough to pay for it.

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Faustusnotes 08.06.17 at 1:35 pm

Will, a few points:

The us international trade association puts the cost of nuclear power in The UAE at 11c per kWh, and fossil fuel at 7. Your estimate is wrong! And why is the cost 11c and not higher? Because the UAE plants are built by a govt owned organization, ENEC. The latest information on barakah is that its first plant is behind schedule, having missed its 2017 deadline, because it can’t meet the conditions of its operating license. Good low risk power! And this despite the fact that the UAE has decided to go ahead with nuclear power despite not having a full waste disposal plan in place, and having no doubt built the thing with its trademarked trafficked labour strategy.

I find it amusing that you argue chiles solar plant costs should be compared after accounting for its ability to sell carbon credits, while neglecting to consider that barakah is government subsidized while the chile plant is unsubsidized. Furthermore, you present no evidence that the plant will sell carbon credits (checking briefly I find that the first ever carbon credit project in Latin America is not for this project). So essentially we see an unsubsidized solar plant producing electricity for nearly half the price of a government owned nuclear plant, and you say we should neglect this sticker price because the plant could make money from carbon credits. You also want us to ignore the fact that the nuclear plant you focus on is 30% more expensive than a fossil fuel plant in the same country and is only running at all because the UAE government is willing to massively subsidize it to ensure energy diversity. And then you also quietly avoid mentioning that the thing is behind schedule, and thus probably over budget (KEPCO have to pay a lot of staff while they wait for it to start operating “sometime in 2018”).

So your real point could be repackaged as: a country that wants to diversify its energy supply is willing to subsidize a govt owned nuclear power plant that costs twice as much as a private plant in chile, but the nuclear plant is better because the chile plant might also make extra money beyond its sticker price from carbon credits (though it isn’t yet) and is cheaper than fossil fuel power in a country that has its own fossil fuel supply. And the solar plant is worse despite being half the cost of the nuclear plant which is delayed by a year already and doesn’t have a waste disposal plan.

And the nuclear plant has been built in a sun drenched desert.

Are you sure you don’t have a better comparison to offer?

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Faustusnotes 08.06.17 at 1:39 pm

And I would add, the UAE is also eligible to sell carbon credits under the same scheme as chile, so we really should be comparing the plants on their sticker prices:

http://dcce.ae/news-home/dubai-carbon-signs-agreements-with-i-rec-standard-for-recs/

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Kiwanda 08.06.17 at 3:29 pm

AHubbard: Looks like you missed this.

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RichardM 08.06.17 at 5:15 pm

> The takeaway is that “Free Market” nuclear is a guaranteed loser. The build times are too long the investment per plant too large. Policy driven nuclear such as France and Sweden with uniform plant design works.

Basically this. Nuclear’s always-on nature means they have no market leverage which means they would always be selling at the lowest price in a market that has suffered a price collapse due to the fact that, by hypothesis, nuclear power plants exist. Too cheap to meter means no money to be made.

Renewable energy is inherently hard to do, which means there will still be a scarcity of energy, which means big returns on capital, especially land.

The interesting effects will come from competition _between_ countries with low cost nuclear and high cost renewable/coal infrastructure. The US already has a health care sector that leverages scarcity of health care to drive up revenue/costs way above all competitors. If you put the energy sector in the same category, this will put predictable strain on their willingness to avoid using their similarly costly military against peer states.

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Kiwanda 08.06.17 at 7:51 pm

Will Boisvert:

The projected 1700 GWh/year at Copiapó translates to about 194 MW on average, which sounds about right for a nameplate solar capacity of 410 MW. This is less than “260MW, 24/7”, it’s true, although possibly “>=260MW, 75% of the time” is being counted as “baseload”. An overcast morning would imply production at about 20% of nameplate, or about 80MW: a reduction, but not a “shutdown”.

The notion that the use of PV at Copiapó amounts to an “accounting trick” regarding energy output is dubious: what’s described is a high reliability energy system, using an effective combination of solar technologies, that delivers power above a baseline that has no diurnal variation. The “gotcha” that the power is 50% of the nameplate capacity amounts to the observation that the sun shines only during the day: it doesn’t matter.

The UAE is known for its wonderfully cheap labor force; I imagine that helps with at least some of the Barakh nuclear plant costs.

An estimate of ten cents per KWh is at the low end of Lazard’s estimates for concentrated solar; again, as I noted above, Lazard estimates that already PV + batteries can be in range of the low end of CSP cost.

Meanwhile, Georgia rate payers are already kicking in a bit less than a penny per KWh on their bills, to pay for the new Vogtle plants that do not, and may never, produce any energy.

Regarding subsidies: nuclear has a long history of a variety of subsidies. In the U.S., over 1959 to 2010, they were possibly more than the resulting energy was worth. New York is subsidizing the operation of their nuclear plants, and Illinois is likely to: Exelon likes subsidies for itself, if not for renewables.

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Matt 08.06.17 at 8:44 pm

Include nuclear in clean-energy subsidies and mandates.

I don’t think that this is going to help much. If you’re thinking of e.g. the current US 30% solar investment tax credit applying to new nuclear projects, I don’t think that would have been enough to keep Westinghouse above water or make AP1000 project completion a good deal for Santee Cooper. If you’re thinking of the federal wind production tax credit, or various other per-MWh credits from states, the key there is you have to actually be supplying megawatt hours. You don’t earn credits from a project that’s on year 5 of its 4 year planned schedule, currently generating nothing.

You hit the same inability-to-schedule problem with including nuclear power in renewable portfolio standards (call them “new low-carbon” portfolio standards to include nuclear). If there’s a mandate to supply e.g. 33% of your customers’ electricity with new clean sources by 2020, 40% by 2025, and so on… then relying on nuclear projects with long and/or botched schedules really hurts. If the gigawatt or two of capacity that was supposed to be operating by 2018 is delayed to 2022, you have an enormous amount of capital tied up in the delayed, non-generating projects and you’re paying penalties through the nose for failing the portfolio standards as you wait for completion.

South Korea’s KEPCO appears able to deliver new reactors in just a few years and at reasonable cost, both domestically and abroad. If most nuclear projects had the predictable schedule and moderate costs of KEPCO projects, we’d probably see a lot more of them, despite opposition from Greenpeace and friends. (Greenpeace opposes a lot of things. Personal transportation by car, fracking, meat-heavy diets, etc. Most of the time Greenpeace doesn’t get what it wants. If Greenpeace can “win” the fight against nuclear but not shale gas, that’s because shale gas has actually delivered low costs for buyers while nuclear costs spiral.)

But most nuclear projects don’t go like KEPCO projects. China too can build domestic reactors on a regular and not-too-long cadence, though domestic costs are kind of opaque. When Chinese companies offer to build reactors abroad it’s not particularly fast or inexpensive.

Nor are Russian export projects particularly speedy or low-cost.

With nuclear projects, on-time, within-budget is the exception, not the rule. There are basically two large scale examples of safe, affordable, timely nuclear projects: South Korea, and France from the 1970s up until 20 years ago. That’s out of 30+ countries that have built at least one power reactor. And for “timeliness” France may have dropped the ball even earlier; I looked up their later reactors in the IAEA’s Power Reactor Information System. The 2 Civaux units took over a decade from construction start to commercial operation. It was over 15 years from construction start to commercial operation for the Chooz B1 and B2 units.

I live near a nuclear reactor. I much prefer it to a combustion plant. You don’t need to convince me that nuclear power is safe enough, far safer than burning fossils. But whether you’re a central planner or a key decision-maker at a large power utility (but I repeat myself…) it’s hard to make a case that in the next 5 year plan you’ll marginally abate more CO2 with another $10 billion toward nuclear than with $10 billion of other abatement measures. Nuclear plants suck as peakers so if your electricity is already 80% decarbonized and you’re targeting that hard last 20% I don’t see much nuclear advantage there either.

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faustusnotes 08.07.17 at 1:31 am

To add to Matt’s point … KEPCO did indeed build the UAE plant on time and budget, but the plant is still expected to be delayed by a year (at this stage) for reasons outside KEPCO’s control. Nuclear plants are about more than just big construction projects – they also have complex staffing requirements and safety rules that lead to big problems in meeting licensing demands. And nuclear power without those safety and licensing rules is a very dangerous proposition (I agree with Matt that nuclear plants done properly are safe and clean – but the “done properly” part is part of the reason they never end up getting done on time or budget).

It’s worth remembering too that every delay in a nuclear plant as a carbon-zero alternative means that a fossil fuel plant continues to belch out CO2, and a strategy that relied on delayed nuclear plants will mean a delay in our response to global warming. We don’t have a lot of time left for delays.

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john c. halasz 08.07.17 at 3:13 am

Thanks Matt.

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Will Boisvert 08.07.17 at 7:01 am

@ Faustusnotes 96-97, on the Barakah nuclear plant in UAE.

1. “The us international trade association puts the cost of nuclear power in The UAE at 11c per kWh, and fossil fuel at 7. Your estimate is wrong!”

Faustusnotes, no. My estimate of 7.6 cents per kwh is on the high side. A new estimate by the source for your 11 cents per kwh figure now puts the cost of Barakah power at 7.0 cents per kwh.

Your figure of 11 cents came from the export.gov website, with no reference. It does cite IRENA as a general source, and I found a 2016 IRENA report on energy in the Gulf region which does give the 11 cent figure. (They also reckon an 80 percent CF for nuclear; at a reasonable 90 percent, the cost would drop to 9.8 cents.) [“Renewable Energy Market Analysis: The GCC Region”]

IRENA gives two sources for the 11 cents figure. One is a 2015 blog post by Robert Scribbler about solar power in the UAE. In that article he gives a figure of 11 cents per kwh for nuclear power, but it’s for nuclear in Europe (probably based on the EPR). IRENA misread the 11 cents as applying to UAE nuclear.

IRENA’s second source for 11 cents was a 2012 slide by consultant R. Mills (Robin Mills) with Manaar Energy (“Middle East Energy Outlook”). But in a 2016 article in The National (“Robin Mills: Ovepriced Nuclear Mega-projects like Hinkley Point are not the way forward”) Mills revised his estimate and gave a likely cost for Barakah power of 26 fils (0.26 dirham per kwh). At current exchange rates, 26 fils is 7.02 cents per kwh.

This is in good agreement with my own estimate of 7.6 cents per kwh, if a bit lower.

2. “The latest information on barakah is that its first plant is behind schedule, having missed its 2017 deadline, because it can’t meet the conditions of its operating license.”

The plant was finished on time, but the Barakah operators need more time to train on the functioning APR1400 in Korea because that started up two years later than anticipated. Barakah 1’s commissioning is therefore delayed until 2018, but the subsequent reactors should not be affected.

Copiapo’s sister CSP plant at Crescent Dunes suffered a leak in the molten salt system shortly after starting up and had to shut down for 8 months. Teething pains.

4. “ So essentially we see an unsubsidized solar plant producing electricity for nearly half the price of a government owned nuclear plant, and you say we should neglect this sticker price because the plant could make money from carbon credits.”

FN, I wrote about I-RECs. Those are a different thing from carbon offset allowances. According to the I-REC standards board, the international group tasked with verifying the I-REC trading regime, in Chile “there are no restictions to issuance.” That means any renewable generator gets to sell an I-REC for each mwh produced, as long as they comply with I-REC verification standards. Copiapo will definitely do that—not to do so would leave money on the table.

5. “You also want us to ignore the fact that the nuclear plant you focus on is 30% more expensive than a fossil fuel plant in the same country and is only running at all because the UAE government is willing to massively subsidize it to ensure energy diversity.”

Huh? What’s the “massive subsidy” to Barakah? Robin Mills, the original source for your 11 cent number, now says that Barakah will cost 7 cents per kwh and be “cheaper than gas.” UAE PV is cheaper still, but that’s also with I-REC subsidies and without storage, which means it definitely is subsidized and of a grossly inferior quality to nuclear. UAE wants nuclear because it wants reliable low-carbon power, which solar can’t do.

6. “And I would add, the UAE is also eligible to sell carbon credits under the same scheme as chile, so we really should be comparing the plants on their sticker prices.”

FN, did you read the article you cited? It was about I-RECs—a completely different thing from carbon offset allowances. I-REC means International RENWABALE Energy Certificate. Nuclear is not eligible.

But yeah, let’s look at the sticker prices: Barakah, $24.4 billion for 5.4 GW, or $4,519 per kw; Copiapo, $2 billion for 260 MW, or $7692 per kw. Barakah is way cheaper per kw, and each kw generates 11 percent more electricity than Copiapos’. Copiapo has lower operating costs by 1-2 cents per kwh, but that’s not enough to compensate Barakah’s big advantage in lower capital costs and higher productivity. There’s just no way Copiapo’s power is cheaper than Barakah power, and the apparent low Copiapo price per kwh has to be due to the I-REC subsidies.

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Will Boisvert 08.07.17 at 7:02 am

@ Collin Street 95,

“Will: most people don’t care as much about power “reliability” as you do. This is why they are adopting solutions that, to your eyes, involve unacceptably-high rates of power-network failure: it is because they put a lower value on avoiding that than you do.”

Pure nonsense.

Westerners are so unused to power outages that they think of them as a romantic lark by candle-light. But they kill people in all sorts of ways, like loss of air conditioning and fans that causes the sick and old to overheat.

Grid managers in the developed world will never allow reliability to slip. They will always maintain enough reliable power to run the whole grid in the complete absence of intermittents; if not nuclear, it will be fossil.

For example, Germany has added 80 GW of wind and solar since 2000, more than its peak demand. You know how much baseload power they have been able to retire thanks to all that wind and solar? None at all. All the nuclear and fossil capacity they have retired has been replaced with new fossil capacity, despite the soaring wind and solar capacity. That’s because the combined output of the wind and solar sectors often collapses to 5 percent of nameplate, for many days on end. Even Germans are not stupid enough to try to run their grid off wind and solar without complete fossil backup. Were they to try, the result would be blackouts and public support for RE would evaporate.

Any green who supports RE should fight hard to make sure plenty of fossil plants remain on hand.

106

Will Boisvert 08.07.17 at 7:05 am

@ Kiwanda 100,

1. “An overcast morning would imply production at about 20% of nameplate, or about 80MW: a reduction, but not a “shutdown”.

Kiwanda no, under cloud cover Copiapo’s heliostats can’t generate at all—they can’t focus cloudlight on the tower enough to sufficiently heat the molten salt working fluid. So on an overcast morning, with the storage exhausted from generating all night, all 260 MW of heliostat generation is dead zero.

That leaves the 150 MW of PV, but under overcast that by itself will do possibly 20 percent of PV nameplate. So the plant will do, optimistically, 30 MW, or 12 percent of nameplate capacity, for just part of a cloudy day. Come sunset, the plant is dark.

This is not a problem for Copiapo because its customers have diesel generators to bridge the gap. But if the whole Chilean grid were to rely on an ensemble of Copiapo’s for its baseload power, the result would be frequent catastrophic power outages for days on end.

2. “The UAE is known for its wonderfully cheap labor force; I imagine that helps with at least some of the Barakh nuclear plant costs.”

Actually, the APR1400s in South Korea are cheaper than the Barakah plant, about $3500 per kw to $4518 per kw. So they can be built cheap even with high-wage labor in a developed country. The UAE build was unusually expensive because much infrastructure, transmission, roads, housing for workers, etc had to be built in the desert wastes.

3. Much of the US “subsidy” for nuclear power was for naval reactors, with civilian reactors a spin-off. That naval reactor technology underlies the whole world’s nuclear sector, so the subsidy should properly be spread over global output. The UCS study you cite was written by an antinuclear activist with uncertainty bars so wide as to be meaningless. I could go on for days on the nonsense in it, please don’t make me.

107

Will Boisvert 08.07.17 at 7:06 am

@ Matt 101,

1. Right, there’s no guarantee that nuclear will compete successfully, but if it gets equal subsidies and is allowed to build cheap, proven APR1400s and CPR1000s, it has a good chance. Utility planners are the ones to sort all this out; if nuclear still can’t deliver on a level playing field, RE will get the orders and that’s that.

2. “But most nuclear projects don’t go like KEPCO projects.”

Actually most do because most *are* KEPCO or Chinese projects.

3. Not sure your point about the Chinese builds in Pakistan; they are slated for 5-6 year builds at about $4500 per kw, same as Barakah. If China can do it, well done. China has had success in previous builds in Pakistan, recently for Chashma 3 and 4, which also came in on 5-6 year schedule and $3762 per kw cost.

4. The Hualong 1 project in Argentina and the Russian VVER-1200 projects are not so cheap and fast. These are Gen III models and display worrisome EPR-itis, with double containment buildings. (This is the fruit of the misguided aircraft impact regs that have really distorted nuclear design. The APR1400 has a conventional containment building.) That’s pushing up the cost a lot. On the other hand, the new Pakistani projects are also Hualong 1s, but much cheaper than in Argentina, so go figure.

These other reactor models should be scrapped and the industry should focus on APR1400s and CPR1000s.

5. “Nuclear plants suck as peakers so if your electricity is already 80% decarbonized and you’re targeting that hard last 20% I don’t see much nuclear advantage there either.”

Try targeting the last 20 percent with a wind farm. (Here’s a hint: you can’t.)

It’s not hard with nukes. Take Germany. Building 80 GW of new nuclear on top of existing nuclear and hydro would be enough to meet Germany’s peak demand with room to spare, and thus completely decarbonize the German power supply, last 20 percent and all. At Barakah prices it would cost $360 billion, much less than Germany will have spent by 2030 on the energiewende while decarbonizing perhaps half of electricity consumption. At Korean APR1400 prices of $3500 per kw, it would cost $280 billion—very cheap.

During night time hours the nuclear grid would have enormous spare capacity to charge evs, thus enabling the additional decarbonization of much of the transport sector at no extra cost. Electrification of transport and night time heating means diurnal load profiles will flatten and become a much better fit to baseload nuclear output.

There’s no way wind and solar can achieve such decisive progress at such a low cost, with so little disruption and land impact. Doing it the wind and solar way means costly storage, transmission expansion, gross overbuilds that dominate landscapes, maybe biomass burning which is horrible, the “smart grid” and “demand management” and “time-shifting” which mean coercive manipulation of how and when people consume energy. That’s the Rube Goldberg machine greens are promoting to make RE work—all to escape a radiation menace that doesn’t exist.

108

Collin Street 08.07.17 at 8:26 am

Pure nonsense.

Fact is, Will, network managers around the world are building “unreliable” solar plants instead of nuclear. Nuclear may well be vastly more reliable… but if people cared, if people thought that mattered… they’d be building nuclear plants rather than solar, wouldn’t they?

I mean, that’s the plain-and-straightforward reality: you might not like it, but it’s what’s happening. And it’s happening for Reasons. And, well. There are two possibilities and a fantasy that might explain this.
+ Possibility one: solar is more reliable than you think, sufficient to live up to modern-day standards of electrical-network reliability.
+ Possibility two: network managers are comfortable with levels of unreliability that make your skin crawl.
[possibilities one and two can work together: that solar is more reliable than you think, to a level sufficient to satisfy network administrators if not you]
+ and the fantasy: that you, Will Boisvert, have access to super-secret knowledge that mere life-long administrators of distribution networks or multiply-doctorated researchers have not the merest shadow of.

Like I said: people are building solar plants and they are not building nukes. How do you explain this, if not one of the three options above?

As you say yourself: “Grid managers in the developed world will never allow reliability to slip.” So… if that’s the case, why aren’t they building nukes?

109

Faustusnotes 08.07.17 at 9:59 am

Will, the mills article you cite still suggests solar is 30% cheaper than nuclear, so unless the economics are very different in the desert we should expect solar to be cheaper than nuclear. If the chile program were transplanted to the UAE desert do you see any reason to expect it to cost more than nuclear?

Your arguments about Germany also strike me as a little disingenuous. Everyone knows that the rush to renewables in Germany was intended to make up first for the sudden shuttering of nuclear power. Until renewables can make up that shortfall in power (which I think was a reckless and stupid move by the German govt) it is not reasonable to say they haven’t replaced coal and gas. In fact if there is no increase in use of gas and coal then it is possible renewables are successfully replacing baseload nuclear. (I fully expect you to dig up evidence that they aren’t shortly; I’m writing this on the train and can’t be bothered to find any details myself; and I would add that this train used to be run on nuclear, carbon zero electricity until the Japanese government panicked and closed all its nuclear plants).

I also think people should remember the potential role of tidal power in replacing baseload. Tidal power is reliable and regular, and coupled with batteries could provide a viable long term alternative to fossil fuels.

110

James Wimberley 08.07.17 at 1:27 pm

Thanks to Will Bousvert for confirming my point about CSP at Copiapó, with minor corrections.

The need for some fossil backup is so-what. Nuclear plants at a 90% CF and availability need backup too. The only way to get above 95% is SFIK geothermal; it’s possible to go higher, as there is so little to go wrong, but operators don’t find it worthwhile to invest in the ultra-reliable surface equipment.

CSP has reached its current low prices with trivial amounts of public support for R &D and a handful of smallish companies doing the work (SolarReserve, ACWA, Abengoa, Brightside). This infant industry has just started on the economies of scale and learning. Expect prices to keep dropping.

Will argues like a Gosplan executive doubting that a decentralised market with NOBODY IN CHARGE can possibly provide a big city reliably with food. Grid managers today in many places with high wind and solar penetration (Germany, UK, Denmark, Texas ..) are quite comfortable with the idea and practice of ensuring reliable supply to millions of customers second by second, coordinating a million generators. It’s funny that they so rarely join the dinosaur wake dirge that reliability needs gigawatt generators.

111

SusanC 08.07.17 at 1:38 pm

The UK must be nearly one of the worst places to try solar energy, given that we’re quite far north and it’s dark during the winter when the power demand for heating is at its greatest.

Despite that, several of my friend shave solar panels on the roof to reduce the amount of electricity they need to draw from the grid.

Personally, I don’t run the heating at night even in winter (there’s enough residual heat in the building to last through the night), and other night-time uses of power are low because I’m mostly asleep. The batteries I’d need to even out the 24-hour cycle would be quite modest. (The 6 month cycle where its sunny in summer but you need the power in winter is a much bigger problem. I think we used to use trees instead of batteries :-) … trees grow during the summer and can be burned for fuel in winter).

112

Pavel A 08.07.17 at 4:53 pm

@Val,

Puritanism discussions aside, I would like to note that focusing on personal choices is pretty useless from the perspective of a cost-benefit analysis. Capitalism has done a great job of convincing people that they need to fight AGW individually instead of through political mass action and that guilt for fucking up the planet should be placed at the feet of people who refuse to recycle instead of at the feet of corporations literally doing the majority of the damage. I too practice the three Rs, but given that people contribute a paltry 15% or so to CO2 emissions at the individual level, with the rest coming from mass-scale agriculture, industry and transportation, reducing your personal energy consumption will have a lower payoff for the time than working to pass laws that force major industries to switch to renewables, for example. Personal guilt over consumption is a great strategy to keep people from organizing and taking on the actual despoilers of the Earth. So… spend less time worrying about whether you turned off all the lights and more time making sure your political system isn’t caving in corporate pressure.

113

lurker 08.07.17 at 6:16 pm

“There are no deeply damaging sanctions applied to people for regressive speech.” (J-D, 89)
You want an example, here’s one: http://www.vulture.com/2017/08/the-toxic-drama-of-ya-twitter.html
tl;dr: a writer, who depicts characters with racist and sexist views in her book is held responsiible for the opinions of her characters and gets targeted by a sustained social media campaign that tries to destroy her career as a writer.
This wasn’t even regressive speech, it was a depiction of regressive speech. By the standards of these people, Schindler’s List makes Spielberg literally Amon Goeth.

114

AHubbard 08.07.17 at 7:07 pm

@Kiwanda: No, I didn’t miss it. Combining Wind and Solar doesn’t help much. Wind is unreliable on a multi-day time scale, and Solar is always terrible on a daily time-scale. As a result, you cannot rely on either one filling in for the other. Similarly, the USA isn’t actually all that big, weather-system-wise, and saying things like “oh look, the west coast will power the east coast when the east coast is cloudy” just emphasizes how much over-build you are assuming (and thus, massive increased expense).

A fun intellectual exercise: Do you pay the electric company to move the dial (total electricity consumption metric, i.e. hit a minimum number of kWh a year), or do you pay the electric company so that when you flip the switch, the light comes on (power availability metric)?

The way we pay for electricity, bizarrely, assumes the former! In a world without renewables, that turns out to be reasonable enough. However, if we are going to be honest, the way we pay for electricity should be altered towards the second. For example, power companies could bid on yearly guarantees. Company A would provide the first 100 MW for the year (always in demand), company B the second and so forth until you get to company Z providing the last 100 MW of peaking power only rarely called for. That simple switch would immediately force renewables to be *honest* about the fact that they aren’t reliable. They could, of course, pair up with other, more reliable, generators. But then, those other generators would get their cut for acting as insurance. Right now, they don’t: a tragedy of the commons situation.

115

Kiwanda 08.07.17 at 8:51 pm

Will Boisvert:

So on an overcast morning, with the storage exhausted from generating all night, all 260 MW of heliostat generation is dead zero.

Apparently there are two or three cloudy days per year at the site. So the annual reduction is less than one percent. (And it never will entirely “shut the plant down”, as noted.)

…It’s simply not feasible to build enough storage…

But if the whole Chilean grid were to rely on an ensemble of Copiapos for its baseload power…

…But its not the “baseload” panacea that hypesters claim when they imagine Chile running its whole grid off of Atacama solar plants….

Not critical, for a large contribution by renewables; strawman; strawman.

You’re arguing (wrongly) that nuclear should be abandoned because it’s more expensive than RE. By that logic offshore wind should be abandoned because it’s more expensive than onshore, solar thermal should be abandoned because it’s more expensive than PV, and tidal power should be abandoned because it’s more expensive than anything.

Offshore wind is very much on its learning curve; nuclear’s learning curve is if anything “negative”.

Yes, probably thermal solar and tidal should be abandoned as significant power sources. Just as with nuclear, those technologies have not advanced like wind and PV and batteries.

Electrification of transport and night time heating means diurnal load profiles will flatten and become a much better fit to baseload nuclear output.

… the “smart grid” and “demand management” and “time-shifting” …

In one paragraph, the significance of matching demand’s diurnal variation, and shifting the demand for EV charging to night-time. In the very next paragraph, dismissal of demand management of “coercive manipulation”, etc. etc.

You’ve hit, again and again, on the importance of that steady, constant, unshakeable *baseload* supply. But here, no, things will happen to make constant supply more useable.

Similarly, you’ve hit, again and again, on the subsidies received by renewables, but somehow the vast subsidies for nuclear you don’t find relevant.

116

Faustusnotes 08.07.17 at 11:58 pm

It’s really funny to see nuclear being sold on its reliability. I’m onto my sixth year of burning carbon because nuclear has been unable to provide any baseload power for six years. Reliable it is not.

Examples of crushing social costs of modern political correctness:

– Alex jones and hannity have millions of viewers
– ailes spent his career sexually harassing women and got a huge payout when he was sacked for it
– cops who murder black men routinely get off without charge
– trump is president
– a neo Nazi sympathizer is his adviser

Yes what this world needs is less hate for the sinner, more hate for the sin.

117

Matt 08.08.17 at 12:09 am

@Will, I would give more weight to your confident estimates of how fast-and-affordable nuclear decarbonization is if you hadn’t made very similar proclamations 4 years ago, that were (with hindsight) quite mistaken.

July 2013:

John Quiggin:The real problem with nuclear is that there is no actually existing technology, with a substantial track record, on offer.

Will Boisvert:I don’t understand your thinking. There are ten Gen III+ nuclear reactors under construction in 4 countries with many more planned; China will bring the first EPR on line next year and an AP1000 in 2015. Japan has built and commercially operated several Gen III boiling water reactors. More advanced Gen IV prototypes are already under construction. China is building two pebble bed high-temperature gas reactors, due on line in 2016. Russia has a an 880 MW fast reactor under construction, due on line in 2014. General Electric has offered to build its PRISM 300-MW commercial fast reactor in Britain as soon as Britain licenses it. There are plenty of complete designs for small modular reactors in the States. The Tennessee Valley Authority has signed a contract with Babcock and Wilcox for up to four SMRs; the only thing holding back construction is the extraordinary slowness of the NRC licensing process. Advanced nuclear isn’t “vaporware”—it’s here.

The only one of these projects actually operating now is the Russian fast reactor. Chinese schedules have been delayed for their EPR, AP1000, and completely indigenous high temperature gas reactor. Nuclear projects often take longer than initially planned, even in countries that are not famous for their excessive attention to industrial safety.

In September 2013 Will wrote:

France decarbonized 90 percent of its grid in 20 years using nuclear and some hydro, at some of Europe’s cheapest electricity prices. Germany could do the same. Even assuming today’s outrageously inflated nuclear construction costs, Germany could build a fleet of EPR reactors sufficient to completely decarbonize its grid—100 percent!—for about $370 billion, one third of the forecast cost of the Energiewende.

China is also building two Gen III French EPR reactors. They will open next year after five year builds, at about $3000 per kilowatt, one half the cost of the EPRs in Finland and France.

This 2013 post sounds remarkably similar to, and no less hedged than, your proclamation this morning that if Germany will just commit to KEPCO projects like Barakah then it can decarbonize its grid for $360 billion.

Since then, EPR-in-Europe costs have continued to climb and schedules to slip. Those Chinese EPRs that were supposed to start in 2014 are now projected for 2017 and 2018.

118

Matt 08.08.17 at 2:23 am

@Will, I can agree on allowing the same incentives for renewables and nuclear power. Preferably an investment tax credit-like mechanism, or if production-linked payments, then production-linked payments that can’t turn prices negative. (Something like: up to N dollars per MWh, where N is min(23, $currentWholesalePrice).) I don’t think that would be enough to make nuclear attractive again in the next decade or so in the US, but might as well try and see.

Since I hadn’t explicitly mentioned it yet this thread, I’ll note for the record that I also agree with you and others that retiring already-built, working nuclear reactors and adding fossil power is terrible.

119

J-D 08.08.17 at 3:25 am

lurker
Extensive harsh negative criticism of a book:
(a) doesn’t count as a deeply damaging sanction;
(b) isn’t a product of a recent social development, but is as old as publishing (or nearly);
(c) frequently comes from religious conservatives, rather than the left.

120

faustusnotes 08.08.17 at 8:36 am

lurker, the book that article discusses is ranked 9 in one Amazon category and 15 in another; it’s 6374 in all books on the Amazon site. It’s got a 4.5 rating from 89 reviews. It has a 3.1 rating on Goodreads. Atlas Shrugged is ranked 1596 in books, and lord of the rings 2160. Are you sure you have chosen the best example for the terrifying effects of crushing political correctness?

121

Raven 08.08.17 at 11:01 am

Val @ 62: “[I]t would actually be better for us to be more physically active and to rely less on machines (eg motorised transport, processed food) in many areas of our lives. … I’m all in favour of renewables, but I’m also all in favour of people getting out of their bloody cars and walking, or riding a bike.”

I’ve bitten my tongue through most of this thread, but on this one point I have to object: Val, there are some of us (like my wife and I) who cannot; who not only must rely on cars (or more likely paratransit vans to accommodate their wheelchairs/carts) for longer distances, but machines to transport them middling-to-short distances as well, and even machines called CPAPs to help them breathe at night — a nighttime power outage is a hardship. Some (like me) have little tiny battery-powered machines implanted in their torsos to help keep their bodies running — my pacemaker battery died without notice in December, in January I was hospitalized with bronchitis, developed pneumonia and congestive heart failure, hit 105°F (~40.5°C), was unconscious and intubated for days, spent a month there, another two months recovering at home before my pacemaker could be replaced. One complicating factor is that I have myasthenia gravis, treatable with medication but incurable, and that causes mobility problems, so I am never going to be able to walk any significant distance, let alone ride a bike.

Your brilliant solution works for young and healthy adults, and shoves everyone else onto ice floes.

122

Pavel A 08.08.17 at 1:19 pm

@lurker

Most examples of the fallout of political correctness fit into roughly three categories:
1. Why can’t I say the N-word anymore without people yelling at me?
2. People are criticizing this thing I like, but it’s still doing OK.
3. A company reduced the number of blatant panty shots by underage characters in a video game for the western market. Western Civilization™ is doomed.

I think your example fits in nicely with 2.

(Also, stop derailing the thread)

123

Takamaru Misako 08.08.17 at 2:05 pm

>Atlas Shrugged is ranked 1596 in books, and lord of the rings 2160. Are you sure you have chosen the best example for the terrifying effects of crushing political correctness?

Atlas Shrugged, which is literally Political Correctness run completely mad, is higher than the harmless bourgeouis fantasy of LOTR?

That is indeed a terrifying example of the effects of crushing political correctness.

124

Kiwanda 08.09.17 at 2:04 am

A few random examples of PC and “callout culture”, at Google, Evergreen State, Steven Universe fandom, the Writers Union of Canada, the Whitney Biennial, Northwestern U, Hypatia, KPFA:
James Damore fired.
Bret Weinstein’s classes and career at ESC disrupted, probably over.
Zamii attempts suicide.
Hal Niedzviecki resigns.
Dana Schutz hounded.
Laura Kipnis put through the Title IX mill, career threatened, sued.
Rebecca Tuvel harassed.
Richard Dawkins speech cancelled.

The classical SF fandom and atheism activism stories.

See also this general discussion, and this one.

125

Faustusnotes 08.09.17 at 4:01 am

How’s Colin Kaepernick’s job search going, Kiwanda? How about milo, sacked from his right wing job and losing his book deal with a right wing publisher for supporting paedophilia? Think he’ll ever work again? How about the comedian who lost her job, is she back? The one pushed off social media – has she got a voice now? What about the employees at the USDA who have been banned from talking about climate change? Sure, this is a unique problem for left wing people in America, right?

126

Helen 08.09.17 at 5:14 am

Raven 08.08.17 at 11:01 am

Val @ 62: “[I]t would actually be better for us to be more physically active and to rely less on machines (eg motorised transport, processed food) in many areas of our lives. … I’m all in favour of renewables, but I’m also all in favour of people getting out of their bloody cars and walking, or riding a bike.”

I’ve bitten my tongue through most of this thread, but on this one point I have to object: Val, there are some of us (like my wife and I) who cannot; who not only must rely on cars (or more likely paratransit vans to accommodate their wheelchairs/carts) for longer distances, but machines to transport them middling-to-short distances as well, and even machines called CPAPs to help them breathe at night — a nighttime power outage is a hardship. Some (like me) have little tiny battery-powered machines implanted in their torsos to help keep their bodies running — my pacemaker battery died without notice in December, in January I was hospitalized with bronchitis, developed pneumonia and congestive heart failure, hit 105°F (~40.5°C), was unconscious and intubated for days, spent a month there, another two months recovering at home before my pacemaker could be replaced. One complicating factor is that I have myasthenia gravis, treatable with medication but incurable, and that causes mobility problems, so I am never going to be able to walk any significant distance, let alone ride a bike.

Your brilliant solution works for young and healthy adults, and shoves everyone else onto ice floes.

I’m pretty sure Val meant the regular able-bodied. you’d be able to get around better by car, as a pwd, and get a parking spot more easily if the ablebods took up bikes more.
Whenever anyone advocates cycling, someone screams that you can’t replace EVERY TRIP. No you can’t. But you can replace quite a few unnecessary car journeys (as well as encouraging people not to drive around in huge SUVs like armoured tanks).

127

Pavel A 08.09.17 at 5:31 am

Kiwanda@124

Oh noes, some racists, sexists and other clueless idiots got their jimmies ruffled.

James Damore is a fucking “race realist” who wrote a manifesto describing why women and minorities are too inferior to make good engineers. He really laid some biotruths on us.

Poor Richard Dawkins can’t seem to understand that maybe responding to feminists by committing the fallacy of relative privation over and over again isn’t particularly rational. I don’t think we lost much by having his speech cancelled.

Michael Nugent and most of the modern atheists movement was full of misogynistic trash like thunderfoot and the rest of the Youtube Rationals™, and PZ Meyers was pretty dead on in calling all of them out on it.

Also, are you quoting that Jonathan Kay piece from the National Post? You know, the right-wing newspaper that was happy to host Mark Stein until he got a little too racist even for them. Kay is just bemoaning how man, people actually take him and his shitty writers to task for their terrible views, but sort of omits the part where left-wing and social justice bloggers get swamped, harassed and intimidated daily by troll mobs from /pol/, r/the_donald and the daily stormer.

128

J-D 08.09.17 at 7:24 am

Kiwanda

Sometimes when people get fired, it’s a form of persecution; but sometimes it’s legitimate and reasonable. Sometimes when people are induced to resign, it’s a form of persecution; but sometimes it’s legitimate and reasonable. Sometimes when people are sued, it’s a form of persecution; but sometimes it’s legitimate and reasonable. Sometimes when people’s invitations to speak are cancelled, it’s a form of persecution; but sometimes it’s legitimate and reasonable.

So when you cite the bare fact that people have been fired, or have resigned, or have been sued, or have had their invitations to speak cancelled, as evidence that something is wrong, it makes me doubt the merits of your analysis. So also does the fact that you admit that what you’re citing is a random list of incidents. How can a random selection of incidents support any general conclusion?

129

Will Boisvert 08.09.17 at 7:32 am

@ Collin Street 108, on whether people care if the grid is reliable.

“Fact is, Will, network managers around the world are building “unreliable” solar plants instead of nuclear. Nuclear may well be vastly more reliable… but if people cared, if people thought that mattered… they’d be building nuclear plants rather than solar, wouldn’t they?…. As you say yourself: “Grid managers in the developed world will never allow reliability to slip.” So… if that’s the case, why aren’t they building nukes?”

Collin, you’ve missed the point by not reading my response attentively (105).

Yes, utilities are building lots of solar plants, but they are also making sure to build lots of fossil-fueled plants to back them up and maintain grid reliability. That’s because they know the solar plants are unreliable. It would be great if they built low-carbon nukes instead of fossil, but that’s politically unpopular with greens, who prefer gas and even coal to nuclear. (Also, if you have the necessary complement of nuclear plants as “backup,” then they could completely decarbonize the grid on their own and would make wind and solar redundant; that outcome is intolerable to greens.)

Grid managers really prioritize reliability, and they secure it by building fossil plants even as they are also building wind and solar.

130

Will Boisvert 08.09.17 at 7:33 am

@ Faustusnotes 109, on solar and nuclear in UAE,

1. “Will, the mills article you cite still suggests solar is 30% cheaper than nuclear, so unless the economics are very different in the desert we should expect solar to be cheaper than nuclear. If the chile program were transplanted to the UAE desert do you see any reason to expect it to cost more than nuclear?”

FN, I addressed this point upthread in my response to you (104), where I wrote, “Barakah will cost 7 cents per kwh and be “cheaper than gas.” UAE PV is cheaper still, but that’s also with I-REC subsidies and without storage, which means it definitely is subsidized and of a grossly inferior quality to nuclear. UAE wants nuclear because it wants reliable low-carbon power, which solar can’t do.”

The price Mills cited doesn’t include the I-REC subsidies a solar plant will receive, so it is lower than the true unsubsidized cost by probably at least half.

Even if the solar price really were cheaper than Barakah’s price, that’s for PV without storage—not, repeat not, for CSP plus PV plus storage, as at Copiapo. So you can’t use Mills’s price estimate for UAE PV as an indicator of what a UAE version of Copiapo would cost—Copiapo is way more expensive. (With a capital cost of $7692 per kw versus perhaps $1200 per kw or less for PV without storage.)

And PV without storage is so unreliable (and constricted to generating only a few hours each day) that it is in no sense a substitute for a CSP-plus-storage plant, and certainly not for a true 24-7, super-reliable nuclear plant. So the cost comparison you’re drawing between UAE PV and Barakah is meaningless: Barakah and PV are apples and oranges in terms of the quality, reliability and time-value of the power, which means Barakah deserves a steep premium. (Although I’m skeptical that UAE PV really is cheaper than Barakah once I-REC subsidies are factored in.)

As I calculated above, the true cost of the Copiapo plant is about 10 cents per kwh once I-REC subsidies are accounted (maybe a bit more), against 7-8 cents per kwh for UAE nuclear power. There is no reason to believe that price differential would not hold for a Copiapo-style plant in UAE as well.

2. “Until renewables can make up that shortfall in power (which I think was a reckless and stupid move by the German govt) it is not reasonable to say they haven’t replaced coal and gas. In fact if there is no increase in use of gas and coal then it is possible renewables are successfully replacing baseload nuclear. “

What’s at issue here is whether wind and solar can ever count as “reliable” power that the grid can depend on without backup from other reliable technologies. (These could be geo or hydro (to an extent) but those are geographically constricted and can’t scale much; only nuclear and fossil can scale to backstop the whole grid in most areas.)

The answer is no, and Germany is a good example. It started with a full complement of reliable generators in (roughly) 2000. Since then it added 80 GW of wind and solar, almost doubling the country’s total capacity, but during that time it made no net reduction at all in other capacity (and replaced shuttered nukes with fossil). This means that grid planners understand that the “reliable” output from that 80 GW of wind and solar is approximately 0 GW. The stats bear this out, with the entire wind and solar sectors combined producing next to nothing for many days on end during winter, when demand is highest.

Wind and solar just aren’t reliable.

131

Will Boisvert 08.09.17 at 7:34 am

@ James Wimberley 110,

1. “Thanks to Will Bousvert for confirming my point about CSP at Copiapó, with minor corrections.”

You’re misrepresenting what I wrote, James (90-91).

I argued that your claims that Copiapo could provide a “steady 24/7 supply” and “run like a nuclear power plant” were wrong and that the plant’s performance would fall woefully short of that. I also argued that the 6.3 c per kwh PPA price you quoted was misleading and included hidden subsidies, and that the true cost would be about 10 c per kwh. And I argued that your conclusion that Copiapo constitutes “proof positive that nuclear is dead in any sunny region eif the world” is grossly wrong, since the Barakah plant’s likely cost of 7.6 c per kwh is substantially cheaper than Copiapo’s true cost, and for a superior reliability of power.

These aren’t just “minor corrections,” they are major challenges to your contention that solar is now better than nuclear at producing reliable power.

2. “The need for some fossil backup is so-what. Nuclear plants at a 90% CF and availability need backup too.”

Right, individual nuclear plants do need backup. The deeper point is about which technology can collectively provide grid reliability.

An ensemble of nuclear plants can back each other up with reliable low-carbon power, because their individual down-times are uncorrelated (and usually scheduled in advance). A nuclear fleet equal to peak demand plus 10 percent is proof against grid failure; when one goes down the rest will continue operating and the reserve can reliably fill the gap. Solar plant outages, by contrast, are highly correlated. They can all go dark at once under cloudy weather and night, and such weather systems can persist for many days on continental and even hemispheric scales, far beyond the ability of storage, dispersal or overbuilding to compensate.

So a grid running mainly on wind and solar will always require backup from reliable generators sufficient to run the whole grid on their own in the absence of any wind and solar. If not nuclear, the backup will be mainly fossil, with substantial emissions. If nuclear, then wind and solar will be redundant.

3. “Grid managers today in many places with high wind and solar penetration (Germany, UK, Denmark, Texas ..) are quite comfortable with the idea and practice of ensuring reliable supply to millions of customers second by second, coordinating a million generators.”

Right, but that’s because grid managers are also building (or keeping in service) gas plants to fire up when the million points of light go dark.

4. “Will argues like a Gosplan executive doubting that a decentralised market with NOBODY IN CHARGE can possibly provide a big city reliably with food.”

You’re red-baiting me James? Oy, I guess this blog isn’t as progressive as I thought!

132

Will Boisvert 08.09.17 at 7:35 am

@ Kiwanda 115,

1. “Apparently there are two or three cloudy days per year at the site. So the annual reduction is less than one percent. (And it never will entirely “shut the plant down”, as noted.)”

Two or three cloudy days? Are you sure that tossed-off line in The Guardian is a rock-solid number?

Because I looked up weather data for the town of Maria Elena, Chile, the site for the Atacama-1 plant you referenced. (https://www.worldweatheronline.com/maria-elena-weather-averages/antofagasta/cl.aspx). They give data on monthly “sun days,” which by subtracting gives you the number of predominately cloudy days. In 2016 it looks like Maria Elena had 12 cloudy days. in 2015 it was 18 days. In 2011 there were 36 cloudy days. In Copiapo in 2016 they had 10 cloudy days, in 2015 11 cloudy days, and in 2011 there were 28 cloudy days. (Copiapo is 8 hours south of Maria Elena, so the 2011 data shows that cloud fronts can extend over much of the Atacama.)

So the notion that the sun shines steadily enough in the Atacama to produce 24/7 power is definitely false. The production specs of the plant confirm this. Copiapo’s 79 percent capacity factor shows that clouds will reduce potential output not by your 1 percent, Kiwanda, but 21 percent on average and 100 percent on some nights. Atacama-1 is similar, with an 81 percent CF (despite having four more hours of storage than Copiapo.)

Even on nominally sunny days, clouds could still cripple solar output. The forecast for this Thursday, August 10, in Copiapo calls for “sunny”, but with 44 percent cloud cover. While the plant might be able to meet its nameplate capacity for some of the day, there likely wouldn’t be any excess power to charge the storage salt. So at sundown there would be no stored power and the plant would “entirely shut down” for the night. The weather data show there will be many such days, and worse, throughout the year. And still more days when the plant limps along with continuous but fluctuating production much reduced from nameplate capacity.

So the whole spiel that’s been spun here about the wonders of Atacama solar is nonsense. There will be many nights every year when it produces no power, and many days when it produces far less than its nameplate. It’s useful, but baseload it ain’t. No matter how many desert solar plants Chile builds, it will still need enough fossil backup to run the whole grid when the Atacama goes pitch black.

2. “Yes, probably thermal solar and tidal should be abandoned as significant power sources.”

Huh? You spent all that time defending Atacama CSP and now you say it should be “abandoned?” You’re losing me, Kiwanda.

3. “In one paragraph, the significance of matching demand’s diurnal variation, and shifting the demand for EV charging to night-time. In the very next paragraph, dismissal of demand management of “coercive manipulation”, etc. etc.”

There are two ways of matching electricity supply and demand. One is to have the grid reliably produce more power to meet customers’ autonomous wishes to consume electricity. The other is to restrict customers’ electricity consumption to meet the autonomous production by chaotic wind and solar generators. The first way is useful and humane, the second dysfunctional and coercive—and beloved of green ideologues.

4. “Similarly, you’ve hit, again and again, on the subsidies received by renewables, but somehow the vast subsidies for nuclear you don’t find relevant.”

Could you itemize and quantify the nuclear subsidies? It would help me to respond to your claims if you could do some of the legwork to make them more substantive.

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Will Boisvert 08.09.17 at 7:36 am

@ Faustusnotes 116,

“I’m onto my sixth year of burning carbon because nuclear has been unable to provide any baseload power for six years. Reliable it is not.”

FN, you just got done saying in 109 that “the Japanese government panicked and closed all its nuclear plants.” That’s not a reliability issue, it’s a political issue.

Actually nuclear is providing power in Japan. Five reactors have restarted. Last year nuclear produced 17.7 TWh in Japan, over twice as much as wind’s 7.1 TWh, but only a third as much as solar’s 49.5 TWh.

134

Will Boisvert 08.09.17 at 7:37 am

@ Matt 118,

Right, I was too optimistic in the past about the prospects for new reactor designs. But the APR1400 and CPR1000 aren’t new reactors: they have a track record of successful builds at known costs. So the burden’s on you to show why reactors can be built successfully in Korea but not in Germany (where they were built quite successfully in the 1970s and 1980s).

More deeply, you need to engage with the issue what’s causing unsuccessful builds. A bad design is part of it in the case of the EPR and AP1000, but the APR1400 is an eminently buildable design. You have to reckon seriously with the possibility that political opposition and regulatory sclerosis are the major impediments, not inherent logistics and economics.

And also, take seriously the issue you initally raised about closing the final 20 percent. How are you going to do it with chaotic weather-dependent RE that will mostly displace other RE rather than residual FF? If you have to bust out storage, multiple overbuilds, greatly expanded transmission and demand management (which will have serious indirect economic effects) to do it, how much will it cost, and how much will it disrupt landscapes and lives? There are 100 percent RE scenarios out there, but they rest on shaky and (particularly in the case of Jacobson) fraudulent assumptions.

Or not. If you’re satisfied with a 20 percent FF grid, make the case for it.

–“Will, I can agree on allowing the same incentives for renewables and nuclear power.”

Good—please write your congressman.

135

Raven 08.09.17 at 11:13 am

Helen @ 126: “I’m pretty sure Val meant the regular able-bodied.” — Oh? Because I’m pretty sure our own Governor Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) and his replacement as our County Executive don’t: having already killed off such public transport projects as high-speed rail through the state that would have helped jobs, and (while Walker was still County Executive) bus routes that got central urban [read: lots of black] employees without cars to jobs in surrounding areas, between them they are about to defund Paratransit services to non-urban areas such as I live in, leaving us well outside bus routes thus with no access to public transport for our mobility devices.

> “you’d be able to get around better by car, as a pwd” — Oh, you do have a sense of humor! I would roll around on the floor and laugh, if it wouldn’t take more strength than I have. I am medically forbidden to make the attempt to drive; for just one consideration, I might not be able to exert enough force on the steering wheel in a crisis. Myasthenia gravis, remember? Also, a transit van can get me and my battery-powered chair in with a lift; but I can’t hand-pack and unpack that clunky thing into a car. Once inside the city, luckily the buses are chair-accessible… it’s only getting to the city (or anywhere away from home) that takes Paratransit — and our state and county executives between them are about to leave all of us such non-urban disabled stranded in our homes, which people like you and Val seem to think is easily overcome… he suggests we just walk or bike (which we can’t), you suggest we just drive (which we can’t), heyyyy no problem!

136

Kiwanda 08.09.17 at 2:26 pm

Will Boisvert:

Because I looked up weather data for the town of Maria Elena, Chile, the site for the Atacama-1 plant you referenced. (https://www.worldweatheronline.com/maria-elena-weather-averages/antofagasta/cl.aspx).

Good on you, for finding some data (and, it seems for the first time here, providing a link to supporting information). According to their data, over the last eight years, there were 2754 sunny days: fewer than 6% of the days were cloudy. (Why did you pick 2011, in particular, I wonder?)

The production specs of the plant confirm this. Copiapo’s 79 percent….

Again, very useful data; supporting link?

Huh? You spent all that time defending Atacama CSP and now you say it should be “abandoned?” You’re losing me, Kiwanda.

A very strained interpretation. “Abandoned” meaning of course just, “not much new construction”. Which, as compared to PV, has been the case. (Although there’s some interesting new projects proposed.) As I’ve noted, PV+batteries is now in range of CSP w.r.t. cost, and of course both are now much cheaper than nuclear.

There are two ways of matching electricity supply and demand. One is to have the grid reliably produce more power to meet customers’ autonomous wishes to consume electricity. The other is to restrict customers’ electricity consumption to meet the autonomous production by chaotic wind and solar generators. The first way is useful and humane, the second dysfunctional and coercive—and beloved of green ideologues.

Discounting the heavy-handed rhetoric: sure, dispatchable is better than baseload, which is better than variable. (Although the variability of wind and solar are pretty predictable, which helps.) Since demand is variable, baseload and variable sources will always need to be augmented or curtailed.

Batteries, pumped hydro, and other storage will help considerably, but solar will always be cheaper during the day (conveniently, that’s currently when the demand is greater). So, demand that is dispatchable, and can take advantage of that cheaper source will do so. So what?

Could you itemize and quantify the nuclear subsidies?

Right, I’ve been the one not backing up things up with sources.

137

Kiwanda 08.09.17 at 2:46 pm

J-D:

Sometimes when people get fired, it’s a form of persecution; but sometimes it’s legitimate and reasonable. Sometimes when people are induced to resign, it’s a form of persecution; but sometimes it’s legitimate and reasonable. Sometimes when people are sued, it’s a form of persecution; but sometimes it’s legitimate and reasonable. Sometimes when people’s invitations to speak are cancelled, it’s a form of persecution; but sometimes it’s legitimate and reasonable.

The urge to either play your game, or even more, to ridicule it, is great, but better not to.

138

Kiwanda 08.09.17 at 5:05 pm

Pavel:

Oh noes, some racists, sexists and other clueless idiots got their jimmies ruffled.

James Damore is a fucking “race realist” who wrote a manifesto describing why women and minorities are too inferior to make good engineers. He really laid some biotruths on us.

(What is it with “Oh noes”, anyway? Like “dudebro”, or “bro”, it’s some kind of signal. Bonus points for “jimmies ruffled”, although I thought that was a different kind of signal.)

Various things in his note can be criticized, but no, that’s not what he said.

Poor Richard Dawkins can’t seem to understand that maybe responding to feminists by committing the fallacy of relative privation over and over again isn’t particularly rational. I don’t think we lost much by having his speech cancelled.

Sure, if somebody commits the fallacy of relative privation too darn often, they can’t possibly have anything interesting to say.

Michael Nugent and most of the modern atheists movement was full of misogynistic trash like thunderfoot and the rest of the Youtube Rationals™, and PZ Meyers was pretty dead on in calling all of them out on it.

Nugent’s careful and measured discussions rebuke PZ Myers pretty thoroughly.

Also, are you quoting that Jonathan Kay piece from the National Post? You know, the right-wing newspaper that was happy to host Mark Stein until he got a little too racist even for them. Kay is just bemoaning how man, people actually take him and his shitty writers to task for their terrible views, but sort of omits the part where left-wing and social justice bloggers get swamped, harassed and intimidated daily by troll mobs from /pol/, r/the_donald and the daily stormer.

I guess you’re saying that, relatively speaking, Kay is not suffering from much privation.

He just gets “taken to task”, but the just and righteous are in contrast “swamped, harassed, and intimidated”, and any disagreement with them, or criticism, can be lumped together with that. Sure.

I don’t care where an article appears, just what it says.

I await your dismissal of Asad Ahmad, Bret Weinsten, Zamii, Hal Niedzviecki, Dana Schutz, Laura Kipnis, and Rebecca Tuvel for their sins. As we know, there are two sides, and they’re on the wrong one.

139

Kiwanda 08.09.17 at 5:13 pm

Sorry, parenthetical remark in first blockquote is mine, not Pavel’s.

140

engels 08.09.17 at 5:42 pm

you’d be able to get around better by car, as a pwd, and get a parking spot more easily if the ablebods took up bikes more

Only if the infrastructure was kept unchanged. In practice, more people cycling means more cycle-friendly cities, which means more car-unfriendly (for the record, I’m in favour of that, disabled motorists notwithstanding)

141

Matt 08.09.17 at 7:13 pm

So the burden’s on you to show why reactors can be built successfully in Korea but not in Germany (where they were built quite successfully in the 1970s and 1980s).

I’m not try prove that anything can’t be done, but I notice that nuclear boosters both inside and outside the industry have repeatedly underestimated the time and expense of building new reactors in the richer countries of Europe and the USA. I’ll happily revise my low expectations after successful entry into commercial operation of American/European reactors completed at Barakah-like prices, on Barakah-like timelines. Renewed credibility requires renewed demonstrations of success, not just swapping one extrapolation for another.

More deeply, you need to engage with the issue what’s causing unsuccessful builds. A bad design is part of it in the case of the EPR and AP1000, but the APR1400 is an eminently buildable design. You have to reckon seriously with the possibility that political opposition and regulatory sclerosis are the major impediments, not inherent logistics and economics.

Here’s what Georgia Power’s web site still says about the AP1000:

Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 will be the first in the industry to use the Westinghouse AP1000 advanced pressurized water reactor technology. This advanced technology allows nuclear cores to be cooled even in the absence of operator interventions or mechanical assistance. The AP1000 is the safest and most economical nuclear power plant available in the worldwide commercial marketplace…

The AP1000’s simplified plant design results in a plant that is easier and less expensive to to build, operate and maintain. The plant’s design has:

– 50 percent fewer valves
– 35 percent fewer pumps
– 80 percent less piping
– 45 percent less building volume
– 70 percent less cable

than earlier-generation nuclear plants. The modular design also allows for faster construction.

This sort of bullish AP1000 assessment seemed common within the nuclear industry and pro-nuclear blogosphere just 4 years ago. Design changes from the NRC came in 2009-2011, before American AP1000 construction began in March 2013. If the design revisions that finished in 2011 mandated significantly higher complexity, higher costs, or longer schedules, then the cost/schedule estimates should have been updated before March 2013 and communicated to the utilities. Not modified reactively, repeatedly after the fact, as milestones kept getting missed. American AP1000 construction had local political support and the Vogtle site had Federal-level support in the form of loan guarantees. Both sites would additionally have been eligible for Federal production tax credits had their public schedules been accurate.

Missing documentation throws Santee Cooper, SCE&G nuclear project timeline, costs in doubt

The owners of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station believed a detailed construction schedule by their builder was the basis for the timing and cost of adding two reactors at the aging Midlands power plant.

They’ve since learned it doesn’t exist, calling into question repeated assurances made to state regulators that the new units can be built by 2020 and at a $14 billion price tag.

Santee Cooper and SCANA apparently didn’t realize the extent of the scheduling problem until after Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection.

During hearings in November and February, and in conference calls with financial analysts, SCANA executives promised that Westinghouse would turn over a copy of the schedule so it could be shared with regulators.

The missing documentation is one reason it’s taking V.C. Summer partners Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas parent SCANA Corp. so long to decide whether to finish one or both reactors or to scrap the project entirely after lead contractor Westinghouse Electric Co. filed for bankruptcy in March.

The two owners — SCANA has a 55 percent share while Santee Cooper owns the rest — are having to put together an integrated project schedule that they thought Westinghouse already had.

This wasn’t caused by legal challenges, local politicians, national politicians, or regulators. If you have time to kill, you might also want to peruse recent Glassdoor reviews for Westinghouse. Lots of complaints about management. Not complaints about work interruptions from environmentalist lawyers or activists chaining themselves to stuff on the work sites.

142

Matt 08.09.17 at 9:20 pm

And also, take seriously the issue you initally raised about closing the final 20 percent. How are you going to do it with chaotic weather-dependent RE that will mostly displace other RE rather than residual FF? If you have to bust out storage, multiple overbuilds, greatly expanded transmission and demand management (which will have serious indirect economic effects) to do it, how much will it cost, and how much will it disrupt landscapes and lives?

It’s still to be determined. I don’t know what will make the most sense once large grids that are currently majority-fossil reach 80% decarbonization and have to decide what’s best for the next marginal 1%. I think that Jacobson too relies on questionable and speculative extrapolations to push his 100% renewable plan.

I believe that short term storage (at least a few hours) plays some role in future deep decarbonization, whether the primary energy to charge it comes from reactors or renewables. Using hourly data from California’s CAISO grid, 50th percentile fossil electricity production in 2016 was 8116 MW. 80th percentile was 11110 MW. 99th percentile was 20169 MW. Highest hour of the year was 25628 MW (July 27, 5-6 PM). If you want enough nuclear capacity to entirely replace CAISO fossil-peaks without storage or demand-shifting, the overbuilds get pretty large.

(Raw data is available as sequential text files from the CAISO web site.

http://content.caiso.com/green/renewrpt/20170808_DailyRenewablesWatch.txt

Just replace the YYYYMMDD part for each day you want. Historical data goes back as far as 20 April 2010.)

143

TM 08.09.17 at 9:37 pm

Useful re PV efficiency:
https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2011/09/dont-be-a-pv-efficiency-snob/
I found this sitr always useful, though currently it’s dormant.

A few days ago I posted a brief comment regarding bicycles which seems to have fallen into a black hole. I would like to point out the huge progress that e-bikes have brought in just the last few years. I expect this to be a game changer. There is now no question whatsover that the bicycle is by far the most efficient, cheapest, fastest mode of transport for the majority of people who live in or close to cities and have commutes up to 20 km or so. And Raven, I don’t think anybody here advocates a one size fits all approach to mobility. But the e-bike clearly fits many people who currently rely on cars and has huge potential to green our cities.

144

Will Boisvert 08.10.17 at 12:58 am

@ Matt 141,

Right, as I said the AP1000 proved to be a bad design, very hard and expensive to build. It’s not even a complete design; the blueprints aren’t finished even now.

But that’s not the case with the APR1400 or the CPR1000 or the ABWR (in Japan). They have all been built successfully and are operating. The designs are buildable, mature, economical and proven in the real world–nothing like the AP1000.

So rehashing the failure of the AP1000 is not relevant to the prospects for the models that have proven successful. And given that many reactors were built successfully in France, Sweden, Germany and elsewhere in Europe in the 1970s and 19980s, I don’t understand why it’s impossible to do so today with one of the proven designs.

145

J-D 08.10.17 at 4:49 am

Kiwanda
Announcing that you are going to resist the temptation to respond to me means that you have in fact, contrary to your protestations, failed to resist the temptation to respond to me. Since your response contains, however, no substantive content, it is only fatuous posturing.

But let’s review. The subject of ‘political correctness’ was first mentioned in this discussion by Omega Centauri, who wrote ‘political correctness has been hugely counterproductive’. Val remarked that this statement conveyed no meaning to her and, in a subsequent comment, Omega Centauri offered this in amplification:
‘Many who have turned conservative cite political correctness as the reason. Trump’s campaign was virulently anti-PC, and now we are stuck with him. So I do think overreach has a political cost.’

Now, maybe you and Omega Centauri mean different things, and maybe you don’t even agree with each other on this issue. But if I take the liberty of combining what Omega Centauri has written with what you have written, the cumulative conclusion is that a significant contribution was made to many people turning conservative and Trump being elected President by the cumulative impact of the incidents you have cited (Google firing an employee; disruption at Evergreen State College; a fan artist attempting suicide after her art was attacked; the resignation of the editor of the Writers Union of Canada magazine; an angry open letter about a painter’s solo exhibition; protests against a professor for an essay she wrote and the filing of a formal complaint against her; harsh criticism of an academic for a journal article she wrote, and of the journal for publishing it; the cancellation of an invitation for an author to talk on radio about his book; an individual saying a lot of vicious things about lot of people on the Internet; Michael Nugent and PZ Myers quarrelling with each other) — and possibly of other similar incidents.

If you have any evidence that people have turned to conservatism and voted for Trump because of incidents of this kind, you haven’t provided it.

Therefore, I remain of my opinion, that no matter who is right in the quarrel between Michael Nugent and PZ Myers, it’s not the kind of event that turns the political tide; that when Google fires an employee, with or without justification, it’s not the kind of event that turns the political tide; that when the editor of the Writers Union of Canada magazine resigns, it’s not the kind of event that turns the political tide.

It would take a good deal of effort to go into every one of the cases you have listed in detail in order to form a clear view of the rights and wrongs of it. No doubt people of varying political and ideological positions have behaved badly in the cases you have mentioned, because all people, whatever their political or ideological positions, behave badly sometimes. But it doesn’t take much effort to understand that the kind of incidents you are mentioning, no matter who has behaved badly, or how badly, don’t add up to an explanation of the election of President Trump, or of any general political shift towards conservatism (even if there has been one).

Now, as I have already fully acknowledged, perhaps you weren’t intending to support Omega Centauri’s remark, and had no intention of suggesting that the incidents you listed were part of the explanation of Trump’s election. But then, what is the listing of them intended to demonstrate? that people you consider to be ‘politically correct’ (whatever you mean by that) have behaved very badly? Maybe; but surely you aren’t suggesting that only ‘politically correct’ people engage in that kind of behaviour? If you’re not making that kind of suggestion, it’s hard to tell what point there would be in investigating whether you are right about bad behaviour in the cases you have listed. It feels like dealing with a Gish gallop.

146

Kiwanda 08.10.17 at 2:12 pm

J-D:

But if I take the liberty of combining what Omega Centauri has written with what you have written,….
If you have any evidence that people have turned to conservatism and voted for Trump because of incidents of this kind, you haven’t provided it.

Indeed, I haven’t provided specific evidence for a claim I didn’t make.

147

Faustusnotes 08.10.17 at 2:37 pm

Will, you have to do better than this – you predicted great strides in nuclear power in 2013 and nothing happened and now you present a bunch of excuses at the same time as the project you are this time hyping is revealed to already be behind schedule – justnlike those you hyped in 2013. I point out that all of Japan’s nukes have been shuttered for 6 years and you pretend it’s a political decision (it’s not – they are not earthquake proof) as if political decisions are different to basic tech or risk decisions when the company making the decision is govt owned or govt dependent. You talk about how grid operators need to focus on reliability while hyping a technology that has been completely unreliable for 6 years.

Kiwanda, how is Colin kaepernicks job search coming along? How about milo’s publishing career?

148

Kiwanda 08.10.17 at 11:37 pm

faustusnotes:

Kiwanda, how is Colin kaepernicks job search coming along? How about milo’s publishing career?

I’m guessing that your point is that Colin Kaepernick is being punished for speaking out. I agree, that’s a bad thing. I don’t think ideological conformity enforcement is a good thing, regardless of setting. The claim here was that the left version of such enforcement was always bad people getting their just desserts. Colin Kaepernick is not a good counter-example for that claim, so I didn’t mention him. Nor do I think that George Ciccariello-Maher should be punished for his views and speech, or that Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor should have been threatened, or that Steve Salaita should’ve been fired, or, I think, Lisa Durden, Teresa Buchanan, Melissa Click, Katherine Dettwyler, Lars Maischak, Kevin Allred, or Ruthie Robertson. What of it?

I don’t know anything about milo’s publishing career. I’m guessing you think it’s relevant because, I’m guessing, he *has* a publishing career, and you’re suggesting that I think that every suppression of someone’s free speech does them some kind of permament damage. No, I don’t, and (though it’s utterly irrelevant to his right to speak, and I very much dislike needing to make such disclaimers), I don’t support milo’s obnoxious views.

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J-D 08.11.17 at 12:01 am

Kiwanda

Indeed, I haven’t provided specific evidence for a claim I didn’t make.

You have also not made clear what claim (if any) it is that you think is worth discussing; it is impossible to tell whether the information you have cited as value as evidence for (or against) any claim if you decline to make clear what the claim is.

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