Climate Shock

Uncertainties attend the predictions of climate science, as the scientists themselves are careful to acknowledge. Reluctant policy makers use this uncertainty to support a “wait and see” response to climate change. Prominent American economists Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman in their recent book Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet are scathing in their condemnation of such a response. They translate “wait and see” as “give up and fold” and call it wilful blindness.

Their own response to the uncertainty surrounding climate predictions is to ask what the worst case scenario looks like.

Here’s what you get: about a 10 percent chance of eventual temperatures exceeding 6 ° C, unless the world acts much more decisively than it has.

This isn’t a figure they’ve made up for themselves. It’s based on IPCC prediction ranges and on the International Energy Agency’s interpretation of current government commitments.

It’s clearly a catastrophic scenario, but with a 10 percent chance of happening it must play a prominent part in our thinking and planning. We take out fire insurance on our homes with a much lower than 10 percent chance of their burning down. It’s called prudence, and most of us don’t think twice about the precaution of insurance.

The book urges a level of response appropriate to an existential planetary risk of catastrophic proportions. There’s no blueprint in the lively discussion about what might be done and why it is proving so difficult to do it, but a price on carbon is one of the essentials, a point repeated many times over in the course of the book. What price? The authors see an appropriate price is one which prevents us getting anywhere close to 6 degrees warming, and offer $40 per ton as a start, the figure the US government estimates for the social cost of carbon. But it’s only a starting point.

What we know of the science points to a higher figure than that. An adequate price on carbon will help channel the human drive and ingenuity which is our best hope of getting out of the threatening situation we are in. The authors quote with approval the words of Richard Branson: “I think a global carbon tax is screaming— blindingly obvious and should have been introduced fifteen years ago…And if that happened, we would get on top of the problem.”

There are many obstacles to effective action on climate change. The temptation to free riding is ever present and often succumbed to. It’s at the heart of the global problem of global warming. Incurring costs which result in common benefit doesn’t come easy to most of us. I reflected at this point in my reading of the book that one only has to listen to the evasive words of ministers in the New Zealand government to be aware of how strong the impulse to free riding is. Apparently we are excused from putting a strong brake on emissions because we would lose competitive advantage if we did so; we can continue to explore for more oil and gas because there could be money in it for us; we can overlook agricultural emissions because we are producing food for the world; in the last resort we are too small to make any difference to the overall picture and in any case we’re only doing what everyone else is. So yes, we’d like to see global emissions come down, but we’ll certainly not offer anything that might be construed as a lead.

But if free riding allows atmospheric carbon to rise to the point where the consequences are causing major damage the authors point to the dangers of a different phenomenon – what they call free driving. Geoengineering by countries desperate to ameliorate warming is the scenario the authors fear. It would be comparatively cheap and straightforward to inject large quantities of sulphur-based particles into the stratosphere and produce a cooling effect. Their book includes an extensive discussion of this type of geoengineering, not advocating it, but finding it difficult to see it being rejected under extreme circumstances. What the authors do advocate is international discussion and an attempt to establish international consensus in advance which would prevent rogue action. The seriousness with which they consider geoengineering is a measure of the seriousness with which they estimate the future risk of warming.

More immediately and positively the authors argue for careful and limited subsidies for low-carbon technologies particularly at the early innovation stages of learning-by-doing. They envisage short term subsidies to enable new technology to get over the initial hump between expensive early production and much cheaper later mass production.  They warn of the trap of long-term subsidies, nowhere better illustrated than in the $500 billion global fossil fuel subsidies.

The book is hardly optimistic. But the authors reject any accusation of alarmism:

We see it as our obligation to paint the full picture of what we know, and to show how what we don’t know might play out. We take no satisfaction in doing so. We can only hope that we are wrong.

Wrong on three counts: because the most drastic outcomes the science points to don’t come to pass; because society really does do what is necessary to rein in emissions; because the seemingly unstoppable drive to geo-engineering can be put under some governing mechanism.

No doubt readers will share the hope that the authors are wrong. But for the present they do a valuable service in underlining to a strangely heedless society that we really are facing terrible human danger and need to take drastic action if we’re to avert it.

90 thoughts on “Climate Shock”

  1. The article notes the potentially destructive effects of a 6 degrees rise in temperature. There is an interesting article currently on proposing a theory that the dinosaurs and other life forms were not wiped out by an asteroid impact, but by global warming caused by an unusual and rare volcanic event in India. This event also happened to raise global temperatures by 6 degrees for an extended period, due to massive CO2 emissions. Food for thought.

    1. Regarding the arguments about whether the Deccan traps vulcanism or the Chicxulub asteroid impact caused the Cretacious extinction, some have proposed that the impact caused the vulcanism. Shock waves from an impact spread out like ripples on a pond, but on a spherical body like the Earth they might reconverge and reinforce each other at the antipodean point. There has been debate on whether southern India was directly opposite Mexico at the time ( apparently not ), which came first ( too close to call at the moment ), and whether such a belt would be enough to rattle our home planet’s teeth loose like that. This paper
      models the forces involved, and the fact that the Earth is not a perfect sphere but an oblate spheroid with geography on it. The conclusion is that the stresses and shocks, in the mantle and on the surface, could plausibly have been enough to trigger severe earthquakes, especially at an existing weak point. Such a weak point is possibly the Réunion mantle plume hot spot, which India was passing over at the time. A similar plume is believed to be causing the Hawaiian chain to erupt as the Pacific plate passes over it.

      1. John my own thoughts run on similar lines. The evidence of the asteroid and associated firestorm is world wide, even in NZ, but the Deccan traps
        went on spilling their lava and gasses for a very long time.

        As a yachtie I became interested in the way large waves traveling either side of an island could meet in addition and subtraction in the lee with potentially calamitous consequences for the unwary.

  2. The original ‘Future Shock’ that everyone talked about was small stuff in comparison and non-threatening except possibly to the older generation faced with having to get to grips with technological changes, the greatest being the internet. This time fossil fuels addiction grips every generation but it is the youngest, the poorest and the unborn who take the big hits.

  3. As far as I can see all the politicians who are blocking changes are supporting the fossil fuel industries in the mistaken belief that the economic consequences of reducing their business activities will have a disastrous effect on the economy. Thats the polite version. The other version has the word corruption in it)
    The economic consequences of sea level rise and disruption to food production are going to be disastrous and as far as I can see we are already committed to a lot of it.

  4. Why is the world not moving harder to reduce CO2 emissions, given the possibility of severe problems like a 6 degree rise?

    We have a combination of factors really making it hard.

    1.We are all addicted to oil, and this maybe has distorting psychological effects on how we weigh up the climate change issue in our own minds, and our ability to conceive an alternative future.

    2.The ideology of deregulated capitalism drives climate scepticism.

    3.Temperature trends are uneven with so called “pauses” and uneducated people fall prey to superficial scepticism.

    4.The fossil fuel lobby is powerful.

    1. It is fundamentally the product of a rapidly growing population and the understandable wish of all humans to aspire towards the energy hog life-styles of the Western world. Population growth X lifestyle entitlement thinking = CO2 emissions growth predicament.

      1. You are probably right Thomas. Is there anything that can be done? I suspect that if there is another jump in temperatures like 1998, the world will wake up and demand action, even developing countries. Even politicians will wake up.

  5. On another hopeful note: The German PV installed power has now a max capacity of about 39,000 MW or the equivalent of 39 mid sized nuclear power stations!
    This has its challenges if, as on Friday this week, a partial solar eclipse changes PV output within a short time frame for the country by up to 15,000 MV or 15 nuclear power plants….
    But hey, this is a very “short lived” challenge, about 1 hour, compared to the mess we live behind for the next umpteen generations, due to our persistent fossil fuel habit and the long lasting disruptions of the Earth’s climate system and ocean and land ecology this is causing.

    1. German PV has been running at a capacity factor of only 9.5%, whereas in 2014 the nuclear reactors in the US managed 91.8% for the whole fleet. German reactors used to achieve comparable levels, and still could if the government hadn’t put in rules limiting them to a fixed number of megawatt/hours before compulsory retirement. Now the companies that run them are throttling them back for when they really need them – in winter especially, when solar is practically nonexistent, due to cloud, short days, and snow on the panels.
      9,000 MW of the new solar has been fitted with automatic disconnects to take it off the grid if the frequency starts to be affected by too much voltage, on sunny weekends, or if export to other countries is blocked. In contrast, most reactor downtime is for refuelling, about every eighteen months, and is scheduled for periods of low demand, and staggered between plants.
      If you make no allowance for the fickleness of solar and the dependability of nuclear, but only look at yearly production totals, the 39 GW of installed solar would equal about 4 GW of nuclear. But 12 GW of nuclear is scheduled to be permanently closed by 2022, and installation rates for PV have been falling.
      Germany’s emissions of CO2 did drop by 5% in 2014, after going up for the previous three years in a row, but according to the Agora Energiewende ( a pro-solar think tank ), four fifths of that was due to a mild winter.

      1. Quick recap of some well worn ground,
        1 – Capacity factor is not a measure of any generators merit or efficiency.
        2 – German shut down of nuclear is not caused or prompted by expansion of renewables.
        As for “Now the companies that run them are throttling them back for when they really need them – in winter especially” please could you help me out here as this looks like tripe, particularly as it costs more to vary output from nuclear plant than leave it running steady, AND you only get less income from cutting output as you do not save on fuel or hydro resource. ???

        1. ‘ Capacity factor is not a measure of any generators merit or efficiency’
          So a generator that works 9.5% of the time, and not at all when it’s dark or cold, is just as valuable as one that works ninety percent of the time, reboots when scheduled, and gains a few percent power in cold weather ( from having a better heat sink )? Really?

          ‘ German shut down of nuclear is not caused or prompted by expansion of renewables.’
          Other way round. German expansion of renewables is explicitly motivated by the primary purpose of getting rid of nuclear. Reduction of CO2 emissions came about fourth on the list of goals for the Energiewende, the nuclear exit was number one. Of course in a sane system the utilities would run their reactors full on all the time, for cheap baseload: the fuel cost is trivial, you still have to pay staff during downtime, and the plant lasts better if kept at a constant temperature. But since the reactors were limited to a fixed lifetime under the 2000 agreement between the power companies and the government ( equivalent to about 35 years output, while similar plants in the US have been licensed for 60 years ), and since by law the subsidised wind and solar had first access to the grid, even when much costlier than nuclear in the supposedly market based auctions, the operators started hoarding their output for high demand, high price winter conditions. Then in 2011 the government arbitrarily rescinded this agreement ( without removing the high fuel taxes and renewables levies which had supposedly been the quid pro quo for permission to keep operating ). By now peak solar and wind production is high enough to make gas peaking plants uneconomic – only cheap,dirty lignite can still operate at a profit – and solar is also occasionally forcing the curtailment of wind. Still, keep digging eh? I think there might be a chink of light at the bottom of the hole.

          1. By now peak solar and wind production is high enough to make gas peaking plants uneconomic – only cheap,dirty lignite can still operate at a profit – and solar is also occasionally forcing the curtailment of wind. Still, keep digging eh?

            Indeed. Peak non-fossil electricity generation via solar and wind is making fossil fuel generators uneconomic. And that is good so! You argue as if “cheap energy” was the goal. Who told you that “cheap energy” is an entitlement of yours to have??
            The economy of energy generation must be measured against its long term effects on our planet. We must convert our energy procurement processes away from fossil fuels. This is simply an imperative if the goal is to conserve the planets climate and ocean chemistry at a state that allows the survival of a civilized society for generations to come. Winging about energy cost today is simply entirely inappropriate.
            And society must learn to cope with variable energy availability. As Solar, Wind and other non-fossil fuel energy providers take a larger and larger share of the mix (as they must!) fossil fuel stations will become less and less attractive to invest in. That is good so.

            Oh and your continued lament about Nuces being shut down: Just put yourself for a moment into the shoes of the people responsible for the mess at Fukushima…. There is no end in sight and the “time bomb” of the reactor 4 is entirely unsolved.

            1. Why is it “good” that fossil fuel generation is made uneconomic by wind and solar?

              If I employed a set of workers to produce widgets, and the government forced upon me another set of workers who turn up randomly to do the work, make my workers uneconomic and so I have to shut the factory down, then there are no winners

              This is very similar to the situation in countries (like Germany) where FF generation has to be subsidised by the government for this very reason

            2. ‘ Peak non-fossil electricity generation via solar and wind is making fossil fuel generators uneconomic. ‘
              I didn’t say it was making fossil fuels uneconomic, I said it was making gas uneconomic. Coal is still cheap ( apart from by measures such as deaths per terawatt hour, mining vandalism, and climatic mayhem.) I get all my electricity from hydro, and my transport from Shank’s bicycle, but the world has many billions of people who don’t have access to hydro, and who certainly can’t afford expensive power for basics such as providing clean water, lighting, refrigeration, and cooking. If solar is cheap, they’ll use it; if it needs coal for backup, as Germany does, they’ll use that too. If the Germans build enough unreliables to make coal unfinancial as well, you can bet they’ll subsidise it rather than face blackouts.
              ‘ the “time bomb” of the reactor 4 is entirely unsolved.’ Actually reactor number 4’s containment was unaffected by the tsunami, though hydrogen from reactor 3 blew off the light metal cover over the top of the building. The warnings that 4’s spent fuel pool might render Japan, or the Northern hemisphere, uninhabitable, got a lot of currency but were, to put it mildly, alarmist. The fuel in the pool was always covered in water, and would have taken weeks with no action to emerge above the surface. Had it done so, after two years cooling off it would have less than 0.01 percent of the heat production it had fresh from the reactor – not enough for a zirconium-water reaction. That’s probably only possible inside a pressure vessel. If the water’s still boiling off, the zirconium won’t get hot enough, and if there’s no water, there can’t be a Zr-H2O reaction. Without water, recriticality is also not possible – the low percentage of fissile atoms can’t form a chain reaction without water to slow the neutrons. Nuclear Cassandras dramatised the removal of fuel from Pool 4 as humanity’s tensest moment since the Cuban missile crisis, but it has now all been removed with no significant problem.
              I’m only concerned about closure of functioning reactors because in nearly every case it’s a guarantee that another trainload of coal will be burnt, every day.

            3. Good news that the fuel rods from #4 building have finally been removed. The last time I checked this was still a nightmare that was not resolved.
              Your Hiroshimasyndrome website has some good technical information. But his overall analysis lacks perspective on the risks involved from nuclear disasters.

              If Chernobyl could have been put onto slack Russian design, Fukushima is another case entirely. We had five major malfunctions of nuclear reactors (Chernobyl plus the four reactors in Fukushima) in three decades when safety analysts of the industry would have made us believe that these are exceptionally rare events. Needless to say that the economics of nuclear power are simply not stacking up either, especially in the light of these failures and their associated cost. The loss of livable territory such as at Chernobyl in say densely populated Western Europe would simply be too high a price to pay. The total system cost from mining the ore to reprocessing and eventually disposing spent fuel and waste long term (unsolved) to decommissioning old plants is huge. And unless 4th generation reactors such as Thorium come on line I do not believe it is worth embarking on a nuclear renaissance. And even then the proof is in the pudding as they say….

            4. Here’s a readout for Germany’s power production last week, with a cute little dip for the solar eclipse.
              Note the area covered by ‘ conventional ‘ generation. Most of that ‘ conventional ‘ generation is putting out 800 grams CO2 per kilowatt/hour – except for a solid bar across at 12 GW , not publicised much by the Fraunhofer people, which, according to IPCC figures, is as clean as wind and cleaner than solar. Over the border in France, that nuclear tranche covers pretty much everything below the nocturnal minima, with the daily spikes accounted for by hydro. Cheaper than Germany, and one sixth the emissions per kw/hr. It’s true some recent reactor prices have been eye-wateringly steep, but the Chinese and the South Koreans seem to be managing better – same as solar, volume pushes the price down. Smaller, shippable units would help there.
              Yucca Mountain waste repository was recently declared safe by the Congressional investigation, it’s just been held up for years by Harry Reid ( Ne,D), till recently leader of the Senate. Cask storage above ground was also determined to be safe – which it is.
              Since the spent fuel could be run through a Canadian heavy water reactor pretty much as is, and produce about 60 percent as much energy again as it did first time round, it seems a bit wasteful to bury it forever.
              The wolves and bison round Chernobyl, and the babushkas who sneaked back to their homes, seem to be doing well. ( The Danish author of a study claiming radiation stress on birds there has been determined to have fabricated data by the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty.)
              Radiocesium round Fukushima is much lower than Chernobyl – practically the whole area could be repopulated now, barring fearmongering ( and the $34,000 dollars a month paid by Tepco to the average refugee family of four, which stops a year after they return. Tsunami victims, by comparison, have been shamefully neglected.)

            5. John, when you look at the reality you will see that PV electric generation is taking the world by storm:

              Compared to this the issues of Nuclear energy are not limited to its accident record, issues of decommissioning, safe keeping of waste and clean up but also to the availability of its fuel going forward:

              “This amount will not be sufficient to fuel the existing and planned nuclear power plants during the next 10–20 years. In fact, we find that it will be difficult to avoid supply shortages even under a slow 1%/ year worldwide nuclear energy phase-out scenario up to 2025. We thus suggest that a worldwide nuclear energy phase-out is in order.”


              You are barking up a rather short tree. The future is with clean energy technologies and an intelligent way to use the same. The future is not one were we can transpose our energy entitlement thinking of the last century forward without significant changes.

            6. John, I’m not totally against nuclear power. I can understand countries like France having a long record of using nuclear power. I believe they don’t have many other energy sources, so one can appreciate them using nuclear power, at least back then when solar didn’t exist.

              However part of me is also sceptical of nuclear power. It’s worth considering the safety record. The problems in the Ukraine and Japan may seem like only two problems, but then there are only a limited number of reactors globally.

              If nuclear proliferates into other developing countries the chances of a major accident will rise. I appreciate the technology would be modern, however I hate to think what safety standards would be like in some of those developing countries. Plus the technology in western countries is now old. I’m sure they update it but old technology will always have it’s problems. A world with many thousands of nuclear reactors could be a bit of a ticking time bomb.

          2. “So a generator that works 9.5% of the time…” This statement strongly suggests that you do not have an adequate grasp of the topic.
            Last year on these pages you were banging on about how some Hydro plants were better than others based on their capacity factors. I disagreed and pointed out the problems with your argument. Could you please revisit that page before obliging anyone to repeat the lessons.

            1. ‘Last year on these pages you were banging on about how some Hydro plants were better than others based on their capacity factors. ‘
              Well, I’d hazard a guess that a hydro plant near Bergen, Norway ( average rainfall 2,250 mm per annum ) would be better than one near Benghazi, Libya ( average rainfall 270 mm, average number of rain days May, June, July, August, September, zero.) Conversely a solar plant at Benghazi ( mean annual sunshine hours 3,169 ) might be of more utility than one at Bergen ( mean annual sunshine hours 1,187; average hours per day for November, December, January – 0.6 )
              In your line of work, a wind farm near Port Stanley, the Falklands ( average wind speed 16 knots ) might acquit itself better than one near Singapore, the Doldrums ( average wind speed 6 knots ) – though as you say my grasp of the topic might be defective.
              More seriously, drought in California has halved the capacity factor of the hydro there, and in Brazil, which used to get over 70% of it’s power from hydro, dams in the Sao Paulo area have been shut down altogether. Needless to say, reactors in any of these areas could operate anytime – as could coal or diesel.

            2. The Enercon wind turbines on the Falklands (same as the ones on the NZ Antarctic base) are designed to be shipped in standard containers and do not need a big construction crane. Handy for the Falkklands and Antarctica as they are not frequented by Roll On Roll Off ships (not having any RORO dock) and dont have large construction cranes. Yes these wind turbines have high capacity factors, and these high capacity factors serve to illustrate that the developers were not able to put up a larger wind turbine that could generate more MWh from the available wind resource.
              Re comparing hydro and Solar PV in Norway and Libya, only relevant if you think the best is the enemy of the good. Here in the UK our last Education Secretary wanted the attainment of all school children to be “above average”. Your comparison is similarly flawed, though not quite so gobsmackingly risible and terrifying given the source.

            3. ‘…these wind turbines have high capacity factors, and these high capacity factors serve to illustrate that the developers were not able to put up a larger wind turbine that could generate more MWh from the available wind resource.’
              So…Singapore has an excellent harbour and plenty of cranes, you should be able to sell them some giant wind turbines that will achieve an acceptably low capacity factor! From my experience though, there might be more electrons coming down the tower from lightning strikes than from wind. Be careful up there!

            4. “So…Singapore has an excellent harbour and plenty of cranes, you should be able to sell them some giant wind turbines that will achieve an acceptably low capacity factor!” Thanks for the tip. However, a quick peek at Google Earth suggests that Singapore is a little island that is almost entirely urban (I know! Who knew?), with a massive busy airport and military airbase to boot. Their territorial waters look a bit crowded too, what with one of the busiest ports in the world on one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. So with possibly the worst situation in the world in terms of available land/off shore sites, aviation and telecoms constraints, I do not think it is the wind resource that is stalling the development of a Singapore wind power sector.
              As for ‘acceptably low capacity factor’ a wind power developer no more looks for a low capacity factor than looks for a high capacity factor. What they actually work to achieve (hold on to you hat!) is optimising power generation for a developable site. The capacity factor fixation exists outside of the wind industry, with people like yourself with more motivation than understanding.
              Well done for trying but sorry to say that your grasp of wind power as demonstrated here, still falls short of what I would call adequate.

            5. Having lived in Singapore for 2 years, I can assure you that there is very little potential for wind power on an Island the size of Lake Taupo and a population the size of NZ. And what Beaker says. Furthermore as Singapore is virtually on the Equator there is very little wind. The Sumatras that blow in from time to time during a thunderstorm are strong – but infrequent. Generally the air is very still – and humid. I can say one of the pleasures on returning to NZ was to feel the wind again.
              Singapore imports the majority of its water across the causeway from Malaysia. The area for the development of alternative energy supply for this small and crowded Nation lies there as well.

  6. The trick is to use a variety of different types of renewable energy to supply the country’s needs. Solar is reliable, wind is cheap, geothermal is a good base load and hydro can meet peaks and surges. Next step for NZ is to reduce oil for transport.


    1. “….Next step for NZ is to reduce oil for transport….” Indeed:
      1) Rebuild our rail backbone to a modern two-rail fast electrified national line from Kaitaia to Invercargil with high quality branches to Tauranga, Gisborne, Napier, Hastings and New Plymouth.
      This should be a national priority infrastructure investment.
      In Europe you can get from just about any center to any other center on electric public rail transport.
      2) Electric and PHEV vehicle initiatives coupled with de-incentivising fossil fuels for private transport (read taxation)
      3) Electric and PHEV buses
      4) High tech sailing (hybrid drive) freight ships.

  7. On one hopeful note, according to the International Energy Agency last year saw no global increase in CO2 emissions, despite an expanding global economy. This has been put down to increasing use of renewable energy.

    There have been a couple of previous years where CO2 emissions froze, but that was due to falling energy demand in recessionary conditions of near zero growth.

  8. Thomas, your article from Dr Nafeez Ahmed was based on the work of Dr Michael Dittmar, who was predicting about 2009 that within five years reactors would have to curtail output as they would not be able to obtain uranium at any price. Before then the uranium oxide spot price had shot up to about US$140 per pound, and production was about 40,000 tons per year. Dittmar predicted that production would remain at 45,000 tons p.a. till 2018. Now production is about 60,000 tons per year and the spot price is about $40 per pound. ( The spot price is actually a very minor part of the market. Unlike gas, most of which must be used soon after it’s drilled for lack of storage, uranium is both incredibly dense, and is only a minor component of total power costs, so users stockpile as much as they will need for years.)
    Dittmar made a number of wagers on future world uranium production against Brian Wang, who runs the Next Big Future blog. Wang has won ( or tied ) all of those wagers; Dittmar won a couple of bets on power production from nuclear, largely because Japan has been slower than Wang expected in bringing power plants back on line.
    From your article on the growth of solar –
    ‘By 2020, China plans to install 100 GW of solar power—along with 200 GW of wind, 350 GW of hydro and 58 GW of nuclear power.’ With solar getting about 14% CF and nuclear about 87% in China, that would imply that nuclear outproduces solar there by about three and a half to one.
    No country has yet made more than about 7% of its electricity from solar, and those at that level – Germany and Italy – have seen new installation rates falling over the last year. About a dozen countries get thirty percent or more of their power from nuclear, and in others – including the USA, Germany, and the UK – nuclear is the largest single source of low carbon energy, by far. Japan too, when they let it.

  9. According to this graph mapping CO2 emissions per capita versus income, Singapore is away down on its own in the bottom (clean ) right (rich) -hand corner – the same GHG output as Egypt with seven times the income. I’m guessing they managed that by blaming all their power emissions on Malaysia. Next up,below the richer =dirtier trendline, are France, Sweden,Switzerland and Hong Kong, all with a good proportion of nuclear in their power mix. (Hong Kong probably pulled Singapore’s stunt too.)$majorMode=chart$is;shi=t;ly=2003;lb=f;il=t;fs=11;al=21;stl=t;st=t;nsl=t;se=t$wst;tts=C$ts;sp=6;ti=2011$zpv;v=0$inc_x;mmid=XCOORDS;iid=phAwcNAVuyj1jiMAkmq1iMg;by=ind$inc_y;mmid=YCOORDS;iid=phAwcNAVuyj1gkNuUEXOGag;by=ind$inc_s;uniValue=8.21;iid=phAwcNAVuyj1NHPC9MyZ9SQ;by=ind$inc_c;uniValue=255;gid=CATID0;iid=pyj6tScZqmEfbZyl0qjbiRQ;by=grp$map_x;scale=log;dataMin=294;dataMax=76977$map_y;scale=lin;dataMin=-1.2196;dataMax=26$map_s;sma=58;smi=1$cd;bd=0$inds=;modified=6
    Becker – they say it’s hard to make a man understand something when his income depends on him not understanding it, so when you say I’m making the perfect the enemy of the good, I don’t hold much hope of persuading you that intermittent energy sources have a minor role, at best, in cutting emissions. We all have our own emotional investments and preconceptions, me as much as anyone else – it’s difficult for anyone, in a fossil fueled world, to accept just what a problem that is. When I first read ‘ Six Degrees’, by Mark Lynas, I was probably helping burn about half a HiAce tank of diesel per day taking people hang gliding, and a fair amount more on my days off. A wind- and solar- powered airline, and therefore, unfortunately, both unreliable, and totally dependent on hydrocarbons. Fun though.
    People listen to stuff like that and think – what about my road trip/overseas holiday? Or more likely, don’t listen. I happened to have a lot of time to read for the last few years, and did so. Conclusion? Here’s James Hansen –
    ‘ Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires. While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.’

    1. “Becker – they say it’s hard to make a man understand something when his income depends on him not understanding it, so when you say I’m making the perfect the enemy of the good, I don’t hold much hope of persuading you that intermittent energy sources have a minor role, at best, in cutting emissions.” Yeah, who needs evidence and understanding when you have truisms. Every industry in the world is populated by people sticking their fingers in their ears shouting ‘Lalala not listening!’ – its true because of what you say ‘they say’. Thanks for clearing that up.
      On the subject of not understanding, you have many times written here that wind and solar can not make anything other than a minor contribution because of A) capacity factor and B) intermittency. I jump in to correct but you continue to trot this nonsense out – and not it appears because your income depends on it. Quite why you insist on regurgitating false claims I do not know, or frankly care. My interest is in spiking this cobblers.
      Yes nuclear can make a valuable contribution to decabonising power generation, but leaving aside the immature fallacy of advocating some single marvellous panacea to get out of this mess, nuclear is vulnerable to severe risks on cost and time-scale. Just look for instance on the delay and cost wrought by catlitter on the north american nuclear waste solution. All the while wind and solar are being developed and generating.
      I have encountered several nuclear fanboys who appear to be threatened by wind and solar, and try to claim that wind and solar are a barrier to the realisation of their nuclear fantasy.
      The real world is the world we live in, with wind and solar being developed displacing conventional generation by coal and gas, and conserving hydro resources for peak demand. This is a good thing, what is your problem?

  10. ‘ I have encountered several nuclear fanboys who appear to be threatened by wind and solar, and try to claim that wind and solar are a barrier to the realisation of their nuclear fantasy.’
    Perhaps us fanboys have been listening to the frequent assertions that nuclear isn’t flexible enough to fit into the new smart grids – unlike coal.
    ‘The real world is the world we live in, with wind and solar being developed displacing conventional generation by coal and gas…’ which would be fine if that’s all they did. Grafenrheinfeld ( 1,300 MW, Bavaria ) will be turned off this spring, six months before its government-mandated closure and thirty years short of its viable lifespan – on ‘ economic grounds ‘. The thing was fully paid off, and used to earn a million Euros a day, saving twenty five thousand tons of CO2, but unreliables have priority on the grid, with lignite there to take up the slack at night. Likewise Vermont Yankee in New England ( 620 MW ) closed late last year, despite being licenced for another sixteen years, and being largely responsible for Vermont being the only state whose emissions did not need to be reduced under the new Environmental Protection Agency rules. State Governor Shumlin, who has strong links to Green Mountain Power wind company, had declared that all measures to reduce emissions will be taken, apart that is from halting the numerous failed lawsuits against VY. No Renewable Energy Certificates, so no power purchase agreement.
    As for conserving hydro for peak demand periods, that’s a plausible argument in New Zealand, with 50% of power from hydro, but in the UK, hydro makes less than two percent of your power, far less than the daily swings. If wind and solar take a significant slice of the grid, only coal, gas and burnt trees can back them – electric car batteries have enough of a technological stretch to take over much of the petrol market, without powering homes and industry as well. If you want to stop roasting the planet, you could press on with solar ( 8.5 % CF last year ) and wind ( 27% ), but it’s a bit like the Aussie Olympic rowing team relying on Lay Down Sally. In a crisis, you really want something that works.
    It’s no skin off my nose, but according to kin selection theory, I should be ready to lay down my life to save two of my siblings or four of my nieces. By my reckoning the biggest threat to the latter is you northern hemisphere mongrels toxing up the atmosphere, so if I have to cop a bit of abuse from you, so be it.

    1. Are the German Nuclear plants being pushed out by renewables? No, as has been pointed out to you before.
      “As for conserving hydro for peak demand periods yadda yadda yadda” True the UK hydro resource and installed capacity is risible compared to NZ, but we have something important you don’t have, neighbours, lots of them with interconnectors between our grids, and more going in. Adding wind and solar to the UK grid cuts UK fossil fuel generation and helps conserve some of our piddling hydro resource, with additional head room to displace fossil fuel generation and conserve hydro resource on our neighbour’s grid. Some of them have far more interesting hydro resources and capacity than the UK.
      No abuse from me, just pointing and laughing each time you try to hide behind capacity factors. Oh Magoo, you did it again!

      1. You want to export all your surplus wind to your neighbours? All the countries around UK have similar renewables targets for 2020, and all being in the gloomier quadrant of Europe, most of that is likely to be wind. All also have positively correlated patterns of wind output, especially for strong wind periods, so more often than not, there will be either a glut or a dearth of wind at both ends of the multi-million euro interconnectors. Going a bit further away can give a negative correlation – between Spain and Germany, slightly – but doubtfully enough to justify the increased cost. For that you’d need a strongly negative correlation. Not as bad as the situation with solar, where the whole continent experiences noon and nightfall within an hour or two, and winter demand peaks and generation minima simultaneously. (Cloudiness would be smoothed, but is still positively correlated.) But ‘ less bad ‘ doesn’t mean good.
        That’s still at renewables levels well short of those called for by ‘renewables fan boys’, and decarbonisation levels far below what the climate scientists say we need. For a snapshot of a national grid that is 90% decarbonised , and where coal, gas, wind and solar are all just bit players, I’m sure this will cheer you up –
        The ultimate plan for an interconnection panacea to renewable lumpiness was, of course, Desertec – solar thermal, PV and wind from North Africa would supply a whole ten percent of Europe’s needs, evenings included. The Arab Spring and its violent aftermath torpedoed that below the waterline, and the abysmal performance of Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar thermal plant ( half of forecast ouput, birds set on fire, double the planned quantity of natural gas ‘ to preheat the boilers ‘ ) should finish it off.

        1. I seem to remember this euanmearns site being slapped up by someone here previously. Was it you? Have you read it? Not very good is it. For instance their list at the end has clumsy double counting, and in putting gas price rises last, downplays the most significant factor in the UK’s eyewatering electricity price rises of the time (2013). Big hint, our power prices are coming down now not from any disappearance of wind and solar development, but because the gas price dropped.
          Your Gridwatch France site shows me that the metered wind capacity (not all of it just the metered remember) is currently satisfying over 6% of their demand. As that is demand that they would otherwise have to meet with imports, fossil fuel and/or depleting hydro reserves, the French are probably rather pleased that they added that wind power. Do remember however that cherry picking of instances from such data sources is a mugs game, andyS even got praise for it at Bishops Hill which should tell you all you need to know.
          “You want to export all your surplus wind to your neighbours” If it is surplus, yes. As you can see from your French Gridwatch link the French grid can be simultaneously importing from some neighbours and exporting to others. Just cos you don’t have any near neighbours does not mean that we should not have mutually beneficial cooperation with ours.
          “The ultimate plan for an interconnection panacea to renewable lumpiness was, of course, Desertec” No it was not, it was a private venture seeking to make money by undercutting other generation sources. Anyone who thought it was a panacea was just as gullible as a nuclear fanboy. Also, funny panacea that includes space for European on and off shore wind, solar, nuclear, CCS efforts, tidal flow and lagoons etc.
          I appreciate that you do not like me pointing out to you, again, that capacity factors are not a measure of any generators efficiency or merit, or that wind power and nuclear are not in any way antagonistic on the same grid, but this desperate flailing you resort to rather than admit your mistakes, is just silly.

          1. ‘…..capacity factors are not a measure of any generators efficiency or merit,’
            You have repeated this several times, without ever giving a reason to believe you. Capacity factor of intermittent power sources, like wind, solar, or tidal, actually overstates their value, since it only has a random (or semi-random, for solar ) correlation with when you actually need the power. Availability factor is more important. If the wind blew hard every night from midnight to 6 am and then stopped, it’s capacity factor would be 25% but its value on the grid ( without EVs to charge ) would be very low. If it blew fairly steadily from 8am to 8pm, it might have the same CF but be worth a lot more. In New Zealand, with hydro running short of demand in winter, wind would be worth more than its current 35 – 40 % CF if it peaked in winter. ( It doesn’t, so it’s worth less.)
            Since the wind bloweth as it listeth, it can’t be relied on for capacity credit, but only for fuel reduction, and even then, if you allow for spinning reserve, its fuel savings are lower than the power equivalent. Add in the costs of warming up and shutting down standby plant – as Mearns says, a car on highway cruise uses less fuel, and wears out less, than one in stop and go traffic. So yes, whatever wind’s CF might be, it’s value will always be lower. If the wind farms came with associated storage, with enough volume to cover calmer periods, the CF would about equal the AF – minus the storage losses. It would be very expensive power.

            1. John, you are stuck in your entitlement fantasy of inexpensive power… “…It would be very expensive power…..”

              You act like the typical child that has known life only from the perspective of living down papa’s millions and never worked a day – from an energy perspective.
              The discovery of fossil fuels was like that child inheriting millions. Now the time has come that we realize that this inheritance is finite and that we can not even spend the majority because it will wreck the planet if we did.
              So stop harping on about prices, the value of our planet, a living ocean and climate system that is suitable for our survival is priceless. Get with the future.

            2. ‘ John, you are stuck in your entitlement fantasy of inexpensive power…’
              Thomas, you’re lecturing someone who has made a personal attempt at doing the Macgillicuddy Serious Party’s Great Leap Backward into the twelfth century – I haven’t driven my van in well over a year. But I’m pretty sure that the ninety percent of my food that I don’t grow, I couldn’t afford if it was all courtesy of muscle power, not diesel. You do your washing by hand? Just the metal in a washing machine would be far more than was available to the average Englishman at the end of the thirteenth century, when population reached about what New Zealand has now, yet by then most of the country’s forests had been felled to make iron. Chuck in a couple of bicycle frames, a few tools and a fridge, and you can forget about firewood, or nature reserves. Same story in New England and New York state – Ben Franklin developed a metal woodstove to reduce wood use, but even so, till coal mining got underway there was hardly a tree to be found, and that was with a much lower population than now, using far less energy per head. Now, the trees are back, and have taken over much of what was farmland, because the people have moved to town. Leave them there, shut the coal mines and build a nuke. Ten times less concrete and steel than the equivalent in windmills, lasts twice as long, and you even get power in between weather systems.

            3. John and all other Nuclear Fan Boys out there, please read a bit more.
              This might be enlightening: Derek Abbott, Is Nuclear Power Scalable? – Proceedings of the IEEE

              And I am not a Luddite and well aware of the technological leap that the fossil fuel revolution of the last century permitted.
              However, it is obvious to me that humanities time as an “energy mining” civilization is rather limited and that a return to an “energy harvesting” form of existence is unavoidable. We have huge streams of harvestable energy available: Solar and its related forms such as Wind are going to be the most obvious.

            4. “You have repeated this several times, without ever giving a reason to believe you.” Actually I have, several times, I have even redirected you to a previous explanation given to you by me on this site when you ranked hydro dams in order of merit based on their capacity factors. See this page and my comment of March 25. The problem is your obstinate clinging to your own false claims not my failure to correct.
              ” but only for fuel reduction …” Fuel reduction is the point.
              “Add in the costs of warming up and shutting down standby plant” Well worn ground. The UKERC intermittancy report is freely available on the web. Before making this long discredited claim, did you think that it also applies to nuclear, and to demand following. Demand changes are constant and abrupt, so dispatchable generation is constantly varying output regardless of the presence of nuclear and or intermittent renewables.

  11. Coal as an energy source is finished and the sooner people get used to it the better. China put in more solar last year than the USA has in its entire history and that is not going to stop.Most countries have more than enough hydro, geothermal, wind and solar to power themselves more cheaply and cleaner than today and then they can start on eliminating oil.

  12. Thomas , I’ve been reading with interest your link to Derek Abbott’s paper on the (non) scaleability of nuclear power. I note that he’s at Adelaide University, which is where Prof Barry Brook was till recently ( he’s the one whose paper I linked to on the non-scaleability of wind and solar. ) Brook wrote, a propos Abbott’s, that he was more concerned with getting through the next hundred years than the next 5,000, but no matter. There are a lot of flaws among the fourteen-odd objections given, but I’ll start with the mindset taken while developing them.
    ( The nuclear fan-boys )…’ propose a
    rapid upscaled nuclear power program
    to avert a global warming crisis. This is
    as deeply suspicious as an undertaker
    who sponsors a keep-fit program to
    promote longevity.’
    As a fully fledged NFB, I can assure you that I didn’t give a moment’s thought to nuclear power between going to an anti-nuke rally at Flamanville thirty years ago, and reading ‘ Six Degrees – our Future on a Hotter Planet ‘ about six years ago. ( I got a ride to the rally from a kid in a Deux Chevaux while I was hitchhiking, but figured what the French did for power was their business, not mine.)
    Since then I’ve read and thought obsessively on climate change, and the people I’ve found to have the most joined-up thinking – including Lynas, Barry Brook, George Monbiot, and Stewart Brand – have all concluded that without nuclear, we will not get off fossils. Seeing the Greenies straining to avoid this conclusion is nearly as irritating as watching the Suits and the Rednecks determine that climate change is not a problem, but I’m more hopeful of getting through to the former ( reality is going to impose itself on the latter.)
    Anyway, reasons 1 and 2 against NP were, where to put the reactors, and the area they’d take up.
    Bruce Generating Station in Ontario occupies a 932 hectare site, and puts out 45,000 Gigawatt/hours per year ( this is rather more than New Zealand’s total generation.) For comparison, the Ivanpah thermal solar power plant, in the Mojave desert, occupies 1,600 hectares. It was supposed to generate about 1,000 GWhrs a year, but, according to Wikipedia,- ‘ In November 2014, Associated Press reported that the plant was producing only “about half of its expected annual output”. The California Energy Commission issued a statement blaming this on “clouds, jet contrails and weather”.’ It’s true that mines and enrichment plants also take some area, but that can be anywhere – a few tons of fuel are a lot easier to transport than electricity.
    Instead of claiming that reactors are too dangerous to put on the same continent, it’s much easier to make them safe, and put them close to the demand. That saves on transmission costs, and also allows the use of reject heat for district heating – this is already done in Switzerland, Hungary, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Russia. Current reactor designs are much safer than thirty years ago, so co-locating reactors is common practice, but even at Chernobyl, reactors 1 and 3 ran for years after No 4 blew up. At Fukushima, which had far less contamination, units 5 and 6 could be supplying carbon free power now. A few more waterproof diesel generators, and Japan could have spared us a lot of panic and several hundred million tons of CO2.
    Planned floating and underwater reactors would take up no land at all. I’ll get back to you on the other dozen objections later.

    1. John, we agree that some nuclear in the lines of what we use to day and even some more perhaps, will provide a deserving contribution to our power problem for the next few hundred years. (ignoring the many thorny issues at present such as waste management and decommissioning etc…)
      But the limitations Abbott lists are not at all about that. They are about scalability of the nuclear option towards making a very significant contribution to ALL of humanities energy requirements. We would need to roll out nuclear power stations at the rate of one per day globally…. If you actually engage with the scalability issue you will find it difficult to argue with his points I believe.

      As far as sighting goes, you are aware that any thermal conversion process is limited by the efficiency of the Carnot cycle. About 60% of the prime heat generated is effectively waste heat at a temperature that is not useful for many processes other than perhaps distributed heating. In most cases the heat is discharged into rivers.
      Even Huntley power station in NZ is running in the limitations of what the Waikato river can take. We could not simply build a second station near it. Massive nuclear stations need very significant heat sinks. This is just one of the limitations that Abbott makes clear when he talks about where to site these thousands of stations.

      1. If you require “thousands” of nuclear power stations, how do you intend to deploy the “millions” of wind turbines in its place, or do you have another plan?

  13. I was going to tackle Abbott’s scaleability problems in sequence, but no matter – heat sinks. Currently the biggest part of CO2 emissions are from coal. The most modern coal plants have a thermal efficiency of about fifty percent, so if you replace them all with current-generation reactors, at about 35%, you would increase heat loss to the ocean. You would also reduce CO2 emissions by over 40%. Nearly all the reactors being built now use the ocean for cooling, and the oceans are also absorbing about ninety percent of the GHG warming. Which effect would predominate?David Mackay estimates that greenhouse gas warming is adding about 4 watts per square metre to the earth’s energy balance, whereas if, by the end of the century, ten billion people were using energy at current European rates, the direct heat emissions would be 0.1 watts per square metre – forty times less, and about half of the variation in solar output.
    Incidentally, most of the generation 4 reactors on the drawing boards ( plus the handful already working in Russia, China and India ) get better thermal efficiencies, in the mid forties. Waste heat, besides being useful for district heating, will probably become increasingly important for desalination, especially in the middle east.
    If you scan around a bit in Mackay ( ‘ Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air’ – Sewtha ) he covers many of the points raised by Abbott, though he’s only looking at the next thousand years.

    1. John, the thermal injection is not an issue in terms of AGW of cause and this is not the argument that Abbott makes. It is the restriction in suitable sites for these reactors. Siting them at rivers as thermal restrictions due to river heat limitations – I think we agree there. Siting them at the coast is what is left. Going back to Abbotts central argument, scalabillity towards becoming our “solution” to AGW, you will have an awful lot of of plants at coast lines and Fukushima demonstrated the risks of doing that.

      I look forward to hearing from you how you solve the uranium resource problem. Quoting Abbott:

      ….if we scaled this (Nuclear) up to 15 TW, the figure of 80 years (of Uranium reserves for the currently installed capacity) for uranium supply would drop below 5 years.

      And yes, hot molten salt reactors will make a difference there. I am awaiting eagerly what becomes of all the talk of these 4th gen reactors. So far the news is just not coming in that significant progress has been made in order for that to make any difference to our CO2 emissions over the critical times of the next decades.

      1. I’ve been working on the uranium resource problem. In fact, it’s such a non-problem that little effort has been made to develop fast reactors, which would use the resource about 60 times more frugally, or thorium, which is a whole other resource about 400 times as abundant as U235. ( The Generation 4 programme was spending about six billion dollars over 15 years; prospecting for hydrocarbons is projected to spend well over 500 billion dollars just in 2015, and that’s a reduction on previous years.)
        Firstly, known reserves are dependent on how much exploration has been happening, and mining companies tend to spend on prospecting when they have to – much of Australia, for example, has only been superficially scanned. Prospecting techniques include testing plants that incorporate trace quantities of a mineral, computer modelling of underground formations, and, unique to fissile and fertile ores, the detection of gamma radiation and radon.
        Once found, Abbot’s formula for the energy cost of extracting the oxide has fallen victim to new mining techniques. These days, most new mines use in situ leach mining, which is more like drilling for geothermal heat than open cast or tunnel mining. Two rows of bores are drilled into the ore body, and water is pumped down one row and sucked up the other. Either sodium bicarbonate or acid is added to the water, to dissolve the Uranium, which is then extracted using ion-exchange resins. Only the solvent and the uranium ( plus sometimes some quite valuable by-products ) need to be pumped up; the great bulk of the rock stays in place.Dust and tailings are minimal. Unlike with geothermal, you can take the uranium away and access the energy on another continent. The energy from fission is about four times greater than that released as heat by natural decay, and it is also used much more efficiently than the low-grade geothermal heat – about 35% compared to not much over 10%.( This means that the heat rejection of geothermal plants is also much greater than from reactors. Solar thermal plants also increase heat – the albedo of deserts is quite high, with much of that energy going back to space, whereas the CSP’s mirrors are engineered for maximum reflectivity, but put most of that energy into a boiler designed for maximum heat absorption.)
        For the above reasons, I think it’s highly unlikely that uranium prices will ever rise enough to justify extraction from seawater, but the Japanese experiments put a ceiling on mining prices, and also mean any country with a coastline should have access. Abbott determines that to run 15,000 one-Gigwatt reactors would require an implausible water flow, and that the resource would then start to deplete as the concentration declined. The Kuro Shiyo current, running up past Japan, is the most likely deployment venue. It has a flow of over fifty million tons per second ( cumecs ), about five thousand times that of all the world’s rivers. It’s about a hundred km wide and one deep. I estimate that using all the uranium in that flow would fuel about 3,000 current reactors. Mackay estimates an area of absorbent material of about 5 square metres per person would be needed for the population dependent on that for power – on a par with that proposed for solar panels. The Gulf Stream off Florida, and the Agulhas current running past Namibia are on a par with the Kuro Shiyo; the Antarctic circumpolar current, running between Antarctica and South America, is about four times as big. The Kuro Shiyo takes about 250 years to run through the waters of the North Pacific. Abbott reckons that after this the resource will start to deplete, since flow of uranium dissolved in rivers is much smaller, but it is more likely that the amount in the oceans is in equilibrium with that on the sea bed. Uranium has been soluble since the earth’s atmosphere became oxygenated about two billion years ago, and rivers have been pouring it into the sea ever since: I doubt it all stayed there.
        In any case, if our remote descendants are panicking over the declining concentration in seawater, they deserve what they get for not using the millions of tons of depleted uranium and spent fuel they will have amassed by then, or the even greater quantities of thorium lying on beaches all over the place.
        As for fusion, somebody said the trouble with putting the sun in a box is, we don’t know how to make the box. Actually, we do – you just have to make a really big one.Somehow, I don’t think people who dislike fission power will warm to that kind of fusion though.

        1. You are probably right that PACER would only find a limited appeal….
          As to the resource issue: I am sure Abbott has thought about this a lot as well. You may check with his references.

          Mackay is a great author and I like his clear approach. He is a realist and as you can see, his energy plans are never “one source fits all”. He proposes a bunch of bundled solutions to achieve a low carbon society. And this “basket of solutions” is the only realistic option. We will make progress only if we embrace this attitude. Solar and Wind will be part of this solution and Nuclear as well. His 5m2 per person for ocean extraction…
          Anybody who has placed anything into the ocean for a while knows what the challenges are to keep this operational.

          With regards to solar PV and its economics, Mackay (2008) is now already an old hat. His statement that “.., today, flat photo-voltaic panels are very expensive,..” (P182) is simply wrong. Solar technology and especially the economic equation for it has fundamentally changed since with the price of solar PV falling to less than 1/3rd of what it was in 2008.

          One major point that makes solar so attractive is the ability of every consumer to become part of the solution and to contribute commensurate to their consumption to the national production. There is no shortage of materials (silicon, aluminum) and the installation is a handymans job + an electrician to sign it all off. Production of solar PV is now possible at a massive scale. And mentally it brings the consumer in touch with what it takes to satisfy his domestic needs. And this is one key element in bringing needs and waste down – which is an immediate, largely cost free and very efficient contribution to our issues.

          While central planners huff about the ifs and buts of up-scaling nuclear generation, millions of people have put more solar PV on roofs than added nuclear capacity by a big factor. And the trend is continuing.

          Perhaps we can agree that indeed Nuclear will play a part in our energy future. If 4th gen technologies become available then this part may well grow. Meanwhile people will keep on building solar and wind generation capacity at a great rate.

          1. Mackay does not ‘.. propose.. a bunch of bundled solutions..’ He presents the physical possibilities of different energy sources and lets you make up your own recipe.
            He uses a very simple measure of watts per year per person, with no attention to how that energy is delivered, when, or what it would cost. His figure of 5 square metres uranium absorbent cloth per person was compared to 10 m3 of solar panels, in a far future world where no other source of fissile remained, but they were still using 1990s era reactors. If fast reactors obtained, the collection needed would go down 60 fold. Japan is already working on ‘ reduced moderation ‘ water reactors which would fit a different core into the Mitsubishi and Hitachi designed Advanced Boiling Water Reactor, but run, after startup, at a 1:1 breeding ratio – ie, on U238. I’ve also seen estimates that Canadian Candu heavy water reactors, which need about 30-40% less uranium than current LWRs, and avoid the ( considerable ) energy requirements of enrichment, could run off the 10-20 ppm of uranium in common granite, at a positive EROEI, practically speaking forever. Candus can certainly run on spent fuel from LWRs.
            ‘..millions of people have put more solar PV on roofs than added nuclear capacity by a big factor..’ In actual fact, Germany and Italy, the only countries with 7% of their electricity from PV, both get most of it from larger installations, not rooftop, and in both the rate of installation has dropped considerably in the last two years. There are twenty countries getting 15% or more from nuclear, and every country actually running nuclear power, gets more from nuclear than from solar. You can add Japan as soon as they turn any of their reactors back on. Even Italy, with the world’s highest solar penetration, and which voted against nuclear in a referendum largely seen as a rejection of Berlusconi, actually gets more power from nuclear, courtesy of imports from France.
            Coal did not bring about the industrial revolution as part of a ‘ basket of technologies ‘ – it powered the whole show. Prior attempts at water power in Britain, and wind in the Netherlands, were soon relegated to museum status. Prototype solar thermal in British Egypt, and wavepower in Dunedin (!), sank without trace. Coal ran the trains, ships and factories, the pumps and hoists that made the coal mines possible, smelted the steel, fueled the chemical plants, bred the town gas. Sail, horses, and slavery were pushed to the margins; oil, gas and hydro were latecomers.
            So far, nuclear has been used for electricity, district heat, and scaring people, but it could do everything coal did, and more, with far less collateral damage.

          2. Further to Derek Abbott’s contention that nuclear can’t scale up to power the world, while solar thermal can. As I’ve already shown, Bruce, the world’s largest nuclear power station, puts out about ninety times as much electricity as Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar plant, from a bit over half the area. ( Area for mining is ignored, but the building material requirements for solar plants are larger, per watt/hour, by a factor of ten.) The 60-odd solar thermal plants listed in Wikipedia have a power output, allowing for their capacity factors, about equal to one large nuclear reactor. Abbott favours CSP over PV on the grounds of material constraints, claiming that the glass and steel for mirrors and solar boilers are from common elements. However, copper is required in fairly large quantities for heat transfer and electrical gear – aluminium is cheaper, but loses efficiency. Copper is lower on the table of abundance of crustal elements than is zirconium for fuel cladding.
            Likewise, molten salt thermal storage is proposed so that CSP can reach high enough temperatures to avoid water cooling, but this would require the same expensive alloys as some of the generation 4 reactor designs – which don’t need to be in a desert, so can use more efficient ocean cooling. (Photovoltaics, as Abbott notes, also need some relatively rare elements. To match the output of one 1-GW reactor would take enough large solar panels, at median latitude insolation, to go right around the world.)
            Abbot claims that radiation embrittlement and neutron activation limit the life of reactors to ~50 years, and would prevent the re-use of their metals for generations. In fact, eighty years looks readily achievable, and probably 100. ( This would halve his required steady-state build rate.) The most problematic neutron activation element is cobalt. Reactor equipment manufacturers have been concentrating on making very low-cobalt steels, just to reduce waiting time and exposure for the refueling and maintenance crews. Cobalt can also be produced by activation of iron, but the longest lived radioisotope has about a five year half-life, so would be down to less than a thousandth of end-of-life levels after a standard fifty-year cooling off period. Another activation daughter product of iron is technetium 99, which is also a common fission product. However this brings up the converse of the rare-elements argument – some of the elements produced in reactors could be very valuable in their own right. Rhodium, for example, used in cell phones and much else, is so rare and expensive that it has funded bloody wars in the Congo, yet there is probably more of it in spent fuel than in the world’s yearly mined production. Ruthenium and palladium are also very rare and useful; a mass nuclear rollout would make enough of these elements for economical extraction, and the development of remote handling techniques would free up other resources. Zirconium, for example, is used extensively for fuel cladding because of its very low neutron cross-section. In nature it is always found with hafnium, which is chemically almost indistinguishable, but hafnium will absorb about a thousand times as many neutrons, so for nuclear purposes the two have to be expensively purified. Silicon carbide would be a much better fuel cladding, and stainless steel would be fine for fast reactors, while molten salt reactors dispense with cladding altogether, but there may be a future for recycled zirconium.
            Technetium is an element that does not exist in nature: it’s half life is 211,000 years, versus the billions for primordial radioisotopes like potassium 40. The long half life means that it is not very active, and it only gives off weak beta radiation, easily blocked. Technetium is chemically very similar to rhenium, directly below it on the periodic table – one of the rarest metals, invaluable in alloys for high temperature applications such as turbine blades. With more production of it, technetium could do the same job, with the advantage of being considerably lighter; inside an engine, its radiation would go nowhere. The only problem is that at the moment, rather than the ‘ mountains of deadly waste ‘ decried by naysayers, the quantities are too small to do much with.
            Embrittlement – you may have heard that a couple of reactors in Belgium were shut down after the discovery of cracks in the pressure vessels. Later checks showed these were not from aging, but had been present since the PVs were forged; they’d only been found because of much more microscopic inspections.( In the same way, there was a lot of media attention when tiny nodules were found in the thyroids of children from Fukushima, using new ultrasound techniques; only later did it emerge that children from the far end of Japan had more of the nodules, now classed as benign.)
            Current generation reactors should be able to reach their century, but newer designs are likely to exceed that. Pressurised water reactors get most of their neutron damage in a belt around the pressure vessel level with the fuel. New designs are incorporating a neutron shield at this level. Boiling water reactors only have about a tenth as much effect, and Candu reactors get most of it in their pressure tubes, which are changed at mid-life. For current PWRs, there are methods of heat annealing that can be performed in place, while Areva is developing a method of water-peening which can restore stress-fatigued metals.
            Abbott doubts the ability of nuclear to scale up 40-fold, but is confident that solar thermal can scale up over a thousand-fold, and solar-generated hydrogen far more than that again.

            1. John, regarding your April 18th post. I don’t dispute what you say, but to me you are missing the point a little.

              People are worried about safety of nuclear power, and wont be swayed by efficiency arguments.

              I also recall reading articles in science magazines that nuclear electricity costs about the same as coal or gas when you factor everything in. They would not say this if it was patently false.

            2. The point is that people’s perceptions are askew from reality. They think of nuclear power as dangerous, radiation as alien and unnatural, climate change as something for talking heads to argue about, and oil, gas and electric power as basic human rights. In fact, nuclear energy is the safest and lowest impact form available, radiation is ubiquitous and ‘ mostly harmless ‘ ( to quote Douglas Adams ), climate change is a waking monster, and fossil fuels kill tens of thousands every year, without even counting climate effects.
              As an analogy, air transport used to be perceived as dangerous – any airliner accident, anywhere in the world, caused airline tickets to plummet for a while. In the seventies, a threshhold was crossed, and accidents, while still getting a lot of media time, and incidentally becoming rarer all the time, didn’t generally affect peoples’ decisions. Yet reactors are orders of magnitude safer than aircraft – how could a skinny tube full of volatile fuel and people, zooming around in a near vacuum ten thousand metres up, be safer than a hulking fortress of steel and metre thick concrete, with a barbed wire fence around it? In aviation they say the paperwork is complete when it equals the weight of the aircraft. Airlines are carrying about half a million people at any one time, and they kill roughly a thousand people a year, trending down. Nuclear reactors, at least in the West, need about enough paperwork to outweigh the reactor. They provide the equivalent of the full time electrical requirements of about 220 million people just in Europe and North America, with another ~100GW on the other continents, yet have killed the equivalent of one plane crash, once, thirty years ago.

            3. There are many people, myself included, who agree that nuclear has a valuable role to play in the progressive de-carbonising of power generation. But a role to play as a component in a diverse mix with progressive change. The risk of betting too much on nuclear is that all grand projects are vulnerable to huge delay and eye-watering cost overruns, Nuclear power (for civil programmes) being head and shoulders above the rest.
              So if we follow the NFB approach – (attempting to emulate the French nuclear dash despite the reservations of the French), we get no progressive additions while waiting for the first tranche of big stations to come on line, then the inevitable delay of many of those stations, and the postponement of the subsequent build programme thanks to cost overruns. Result – failure.
              FYI I am currently doing some work on behalf of one of the leading UK new nuclear power station developments, my particular expertise comes in at an early stage, a very early stage, and their need for my input is constantly being postponed. HINT!

              “The point is that people’s perceptions are askew from reality.” Take this statement of yours and revisit your claims against intermittent renewables and capacity factors. Go on, I dare you.

            4. Well what do you know…
              If the French or anyone else with Ariva EPR’s in their build programme were betting on nuclear for the majority of the heavy lifting, they would be rather anxious now wouldn’t they.
              Fortunately they leave that degree of irresponsible optimism to NFBs putting the world to rights on the internet rather than real life.

  14. NZ Shellfish industry hit by warming oceans:

    Sanford closing down its Christchurch plant with a loss of 200 jobs due to mussel farming problems as the oceans warm. Climate change to blame.

    Also the Mussel farming in the Hauraki Gulf is said to be affected with workers off work in the Coromandel area due to slow growth of shellfish in unusually warm waters.

    1. Indeed. While life on land might have a chance to migrate to better suited temperatures (at least in theory perhaps) nothing can be done to safe the oceans from the changes due to our rapid pH ‘adjustment’. Needless to say really how fundamentally important plankton is as the base of the oceans food chain and: as an ocean based CO2 sink! The later is of further concern as of cause the CO2 flux out of the system into sedimentation via an abundant plankton population is one of the drivers that keeps CO2 in check long term. Not much longer as it seems.
      Also, besides acidification, the oceanic temperature changes are blamed also for the decline in Plankton:
      It seems we are getting to know about several pathways of interlinking “positive” feedback that is driving further change, all into the wrong direction. All not good at all.

  15. Beaker, I followed your advice and ran an eye over screeds of UK wind and power statistics last night- near as I could figure, with coal and gas swapping around a bit, demand steady, and wind gaining about 4% of generation, fuel use went down about 2.5 %, which sounds plausible. Also the load factor of wind is positively correlated with demand both diurnally and seasonally, so a lot better than solar. And at least offshore wind sites should act as de facto marine reserves, albeit expensive ones. And as you say, these nuclear schemes seem ponderously slow to get moving.
    But then, today was gray with hardly a leaf rustling. Sure enough, much the same over the whole country. If we were relying on intermittent renewables here, we’d have had just about nothing from either wind or solar all day.If you’re still running round trying to wangle site permits when the AGRs retire in a few years, there’ll be a lot of days when coal and gas are still doing the heavy lifting, same as ever, and your ‘ basket of technologies ‘ will be about as much use as the cheaper tools in my junk box. I think one estimate had wind going to about twenty percent of UK generation, with about 1% of curtailment at that level – plus a bit of subsidy required for the fossil burners on low-use standby. EdF can manage 75% of generation, from 50% of capacity, over La Manche, and has only two coal plants in the whole country. The UK has 122.

    1. “If we were relying on intermittent renewables here, we’d have had just about nothing from either wind or solar all day.” Well thank goodness no one sensible suggests relying on intermittent renewables.
      Add intermittent renewables to your fossil fuel dominated grid and you cut fossil fuel use, a good thing.
      Add intermittent renewables to a hydro dominated grid and you conserve hydro resources for peak load and further displace fossil fuel use for meeting peak demand and/or covering periods of low rainfall, a good thing.
      Add intermittent renewables to a nuclear dominated grid (France) and you export more clean power to your neighbours (cutting fuel use), import less from your neighbours (cutting fuel use), conserve hydro resources for peak demand for yourself and/or neighbours (cutting fuel use), a good thing.
      Are you coming round to the reality that your previous comments against the application of wind and solar were misguided?

  16. ‘ ..fossil fuel dominated grid’.. ‘ hydro dominated grid’.. ‘nuclear dominated grid’. No ‘ intermittent renewables ‘ dominated grid? Of course not, as you say, that wouldn’t make sense. Since we can’t all live in Paraguay or Norway, for most of humanity that means fossil or nuclear – wind and solar are a side show.
    My last post had an error – France only has one coal plant left, and that probably because the Bretons dug their heels in against hosting a reactor.

    1. Add more intermittent renewables to a fossil fuel dominated grid and you are making progressive steps in the transition from a fossil fuel dominated grid to a intermittent renewables dominated grid. In the same way the French had their headlong rush (never repeated) to their current nuclear dominated grid from the previous FF dominated grid, one station at a time.
      Of course you can not just add wind and solar (just like you can not just add nuclear) beyond a certain penetration. The need access dispatchable hydro and storage increases. Thats why, remember, grids have had pumped storage well before windfarms.
      I will ask again, are you coming round to the reality that your previous comments against the application of wind and solar were misguided?

  17. ‘… are you coming round to the reality that your previous comments against the application of wind and solar were misguided? ‘
    ‘The slow global growth of renewable energy would be irrelevant if there were just a single sizable success story. But compared to the nuclear decarbonisation of French electricity in the 15 years between about 1975 and 1990, there’s nothing in the renewable camp but failure. There’s no doubt that there’s a boom in renewable electricity investment, but it’s clearly not being matched by performance and looks more like snouts sucking at the trough of public money than a serious attempt to tackle climate destabilisation.’

    1. Yes, yes, another hymn to the French nuclear dash that no other country has ever attempted to replicate, even with the benefits of the lessons learned by the French and their bleeding edge trailblazing. Funny that.
      You have claimed that wind and solar are less good because of their capacity factors – Wrong.
      Adding wind and solar to an existing grid cuts fossil fuel use. This is also the case in France (where they are continuing to put up wind turbines) as the French grid depends on its neighbouring grids a lot.
      I will ask again, are you coming round to the reality that your previous comments against the application of wind and solar were misguided?

    2. John, no matter how you slice it and no matter how many people you cite to rubbish “alternative energy” the reality is: Long term humanity has only one sustainable stream of energy to exploit, that is Solar and its related forms such as Wind (a consequence of solar radiation).

      All other forms of energy (with exception perhaps of Geo-Thermal) are a mere temporal stop gap measure to our long term prospects.
      With fossil fuels, we agree (I hope), that the end of their use must be neigh due to the significant consequences of their use plus the obvious short term nature of the resource itself.

      With nuclear it must be clear to you that we are also talking about a relatively short time horizon. We can argue about the number of decades or even perhaps a century or more – at a very limited % of our human requirements. What we are building now, the infrastructure that we put in place over the next 50 years on the momentum that was generated by fossil fuels must bridge us towards a sustainable future or bust. We will have only one shot at transforming our society towards a low carbon and sustainable enterprise. Putting that money onto nuclear as the “big solution” would be a catastrophic mistake.

      If all countries would want to have the same % of their electricity production as France from Nuclear, we would not be able to do provide this. Resource constraints are in the way as well as technological constraints. The fast breeder or molten salt technology on which the nuclear enthusiasts pin their hopes has for many decades now not made progress. The technological issues with using corrosive hot salts in a radiation rich environment have simply not been solved so far to be commercially viable.

      However especially solar with its incremental and comparatively simple technological paradigm has few limitations. And your “oh its intermittent therefore its totally useless” whine is a testimony to your lack of imagination – and that of the nuclear fan club – more than anything else. Our entire eco-system on which we depend, has evolved on nothing else than this “intermittent” source of Sunlight. Surely our technology will be able to do the same. We have not taken the solar challenge serious until the last decades and still the R&D spending on solving our energy problem is pitifully tiny compared to what is spend otherwise:

      Your capacity factor paranoia is nonsense too. If the solar system on my roof is generating all the electricity I need then it does not matter what it could do if the sun shone 24 hours straight from above with never cloud in the sky. The “Ferrari” in some people garage can produce 400hp yet 50 is plenty to make it participate in the daily commute…

      As has been pointed out to you before, the future will be won by a basket of contributing technologies. Among those will be a continued but diminishing use of fossil fuels, a continuing and perhaps even rising use of nuclear in some way, and a rapidly growing use of Solar and Wind technology plus Geo Thermal. The intermittency of Solar will be overcome by evolving storage technologies including chemical storage (NH3 for replacement of transport fuels) and new generations of electrical storage. Storage will probably evolve as a de-centralized solution also with homes for example being equipped with small scale storage. If you look at the typical daily home energy use patterns we are only talking about hours to shift the mid day solar peak to the evening use peak.

      How much better will we be off if we solve these challenges than betting on a nuclear line?

      1. ‘ If you look at the typical daily home energy use patterns we are only talking about hours to shift the mid day solar peak to the evening use peak.’
        No, you’re talking about months to shift the summer peak solar to the winter peak use – at least where most people live. In the tropics and subtropics, maybe, if you can solve the low density problems as well as the intermittency. Remember, most people now live in cities. It’s hard to power your life on rooftop solar if your apartment block is eight stories high, and land near cities has a lot of other uses. Besides, home use is only a fraction of energy demand.
        Talk of resource constraints on nuclear is as misleading as the Peak Oilers’ idea that we should, or would, burn all the oil and then go green – there’s enough fossils to cook our goose about five times over, and they’re still looking for more. I’ve seen estimates that there’s enough fissile and fertile actinides to power humanity till the sun swallows us. The next thousand years are probably enough to worry about for now.
        The only countries that have been doing much work on fast reactors or thorium are Russia and India. India doesn’t have much uranium ( though it has huge quantities of thorium ), and was hampered for decades by the nuclear boycott imposed after they joined the Big Boys’ Club. France got its Superphénix fast reactor working at about 80% capacity factor, and paying for itself, for about its last year of operation, before Jospin’s Socialists got elected and scuttled the plant, as about their first act, to keep the Greens on side. Most of the delays in its development were political, not technical. Germany built a fast reactor and didn’t even switch it on. The US ran a 20MW fast reactor for 30 years. Russia has two, with more in development.
        It’s true that the metallurgy for molten salt and lead-cooled reactors is more demanding than for sodium, but it is certainly not a show stopper. Hardly any real work has been done on them because water-cooled reactors work, and there’s enough anti-nuclear flak already.
        As for your reference to Bill Gates calling for more energy research, didn’t you know that Gates is funding a company developing a fast reactor design? I think they’re planning to build it in China, since getting anything okayed in America takes eternity, and a fortune.
        Decarbonising the world’s electricity supply will not be nearly enough, by itself, to head off climate change, but it will be a damned good start. Seventy percent of electricity use worldwide is baseload, so nuclear can plug straight in to replace coal. Build a bit more, and with the phenomenal load factors – 7 of the ten highest-output generating plants in the States are nuclear – you can use the night-time drop in demand to power electric transport. No extra storage required, no ‘basket of technologies’ taking up vast acreage and needing continent-spanning HVDC connections, yet still needing more acreages of forest to burn for backup.The requirement for steel and concrete is about ten times less for nuclear than for wind, for the same output – I’ve seen similar figures for solar thermal, though I’m not sure about thin film PV. If small reactors are used, it’s a natural step to power shipping the same way, knocking a few more percent off total emissions. ( Those parasails you see towing freighters on Renewables Fan Boy websites were only supposed to cut fuel use by twenty percent or so, and the solar powered boat that circled the world a few years ago was about as practical as the solar powered aircraft that’s doing it now – it was grossly underpowered, and couldn’t make it down to Auckland because we’re not sunny enough.)
        The last major tranche of emissions will be the hardest – high temperatures, for industry and to make synfuels. It’s not nearly as big a stretch, though, as it would be to do the same thing in the desert, with concentrating solar.
        ‘How much better will we be off if we solve these challenges than betting on a nuclear line?’
        In a word, nuclear is dense. Coal and oil were a much more concentrated source of energy than grasses and wood, but uranium is a million times denser yet. By going nuclear we can radically reduce the human footprint on the planet. An open pit coal mine is an unsightly gash on the land, but it can produce as much energy as cutting down a whole country’s forests. Germany is getting about 45% of her power from coal, and only about 5% from ‘biomass’, yet to maintain that level will take the output of half her forests. The UK is shipping wood in across the Atlantic – they burnt most of their forests already, before the Industrial Revolution even started.
        By comparison, PV is quite compact – Mackay claims ‘only ‘ 5% of UK land area for solar farms – but not nearly compact enough for rooftop only. And Beaker assures me that you can build a wind farm in a forest, but wouldn’t it be better to just leave the forest alone?
        A few years ago there was a proposal for a major wind farm in the Lammerlaws. Graham Sydney, the painter, campaigned against it as ecological vandalism, and suggested putting a nuclear reactor near Auckland instead. At the time, I thought this was just nimbyism – I love those landscapes too, but we need clean power. In retrospect, if you can put a much more reliable power source in one building, near where you want the power, why should you tear up the mountains? Leave them for the kahu and the karearea.

        1. Sorry John but you don’t get it as it seems:

          Solar PV is now cheap enough that you can plaster enough on your roof to give your home plenty of energy through the day, even through an average winter day in NZ.
          Look at my “Ferrari” analogy: People buy cars that can drive 250Km/h and go from zero to 100 in a few seconds…. but they do not need it in daily life, if ever.

          In the solar analogy: Solar is now affordable enough that you can install way more than you need in the middle of Summer. You can now scale your system for winter and still only spend a fraction of the cost of the house on that PV system. Get it? Your “Capacity Factor” thinking is so old-hat. It is no longer relevant when you can afford that 400Hp Ferrari on the roof…

          And for grid trading solar roof owners: each $10K investment (incl GST) on your roof will bring a power demand reduction from the grid of about $600 annually in the AKL region. That is a 6% tax free (avoided expense) return on your investment using a technology with 25 year warranty (where else do you get that??).
          Leaving your $10K in the bank gets you about 3.5% pre-tax interest or less than 1/2 of that!

          And with a modest time shift storage you can then put the daily peak into the evening hours and avoid most of the grid trading. And you have “harvested” all the low hanging fruit on the energy tree for most occasions for your home. You don’t need big central government regulated nuclear technology, no, you can install this in DIY fashion if you really wanted to. And millions of people world wide are realizing this. A friend of mine has enough solar on the roof that he uses his PV to heat the HW cylinder during mid day hours!

          And yes, there are the proverbial two weeks of dreaded no blue sky winter blues weeks…. so what? Get real? Who promised you a life without challenges?? Who says that John O is entitled to 24/7 xxKW of electricity guaranteed at his doorstep? Who gave you that idea? Think back 100 years (a mere second on the scale of our human endeavor) and what was life like??

          Take another look at the daily demand curve, this is from the UK I believe but is very similar elsewhere:

          What do you see? The Commercial demand curve is surprisingly well fited to the daily insolation curve! And the private curve is shifted by about 6 hours! Needless to say, some utilities in NZ are now selling solar installations with that kind of Lithium battery shift storage attached.

          The time will come John, where it will be completely normal that people live in homes that provide their shelter + their energy for the vast majority of their needs. The rest will be traded on the grid.

          The beauty with solar is: It won’t hurt anybody, it is cheap and getting cheaper, it is doable in DIY fashion, it is low-tech in comparison, does not need state protection, can’t be turned into threats of any sort and can be exponentially quickly rolled out world wide. We are witnessing the beginning of this revolution as we speak.

          The more the better and we are well happy “worrying” about an energy over supply during peak summer days. Surely some industry will evolve to use just that as all evolution on Earth has evolved around energy availability.

          I am totally convinced that Solar is the way to go and that all the “problems” you cite are simply challenges that are much easier to deal with than the huge issues around nuclear centralized technology. Nuclear will continue to play its role as I said earlier but your antagonism against “alternative” power is simply very short sighted.
          BTW in a fact Fossil and Nuclear power should perhaps be called “alternative” as Solar energy is only sustainable prime energy flow we really have. It is the energy that has supported all of the evolution of live before the last 150 years.

          1. ‘ Think back 100 years (a mere second on the scale of our human endeavor) and what was life like? ‘
            A century back, a lot of people got a fair proportion of their food the same way you suppose they’ll get their energy in future, by growing it themselves. But they didn’t just pluck what they needed out of the garden – a lot of planning and effort were required to preserve, dry, and cellar produce, saving it for the lean times. I’m a lazy gardener, I mostly just grow for summer, and I’ve cut back since I can’t give away all of it when it’s all coming ripe at once. Besides, when my stuff”s ready, it’s dirt cheap in the shops. But I wouldn’t expect the local supermarket to take my all my surplus tomatoes at their own shelf price in season, and then have to sell theirs to me at the same price in the middle of winter.
            Solar power is a fruit that has to be eaten this minute, forget about next season. ( Hot water is different, but there are limits – my brother’s tries to boil the cistern in summer and doesn’t do much in winter.) Wind is the same. The more you put on the grid, the lower the value will be. That would be self correcting, if not for subsidies and mandatory renewable targets. These can make it attractive to keep building capacity even when some of the power has to be sold at zero or negative prices. Who cares, you say, if every watt-hour is displacing dirty energy? Well, consumers might – somebody’s paying those subsidies, and for all the grid upgrades. If you bring in time-of-use pricing, or domestic storage, they’ll pay for that too, in inconvenience if not in coin. But dirty energy isn’t the only one getting squeezed.
            Climate activists are generally dismissive of claims that ‘ clean natural gas ‘ is displacing coal. Even if methane leaks are controlled, it’s still only about halving coal’s CO2 footprint, which is nowhere near enough, long term. So why doesn’t the same argument apply to renewables + gas displacing nuclear? Sure, wind has a similar figure for gCO2/kwhr to nuclear
            but wind and solar have gaps. And the gaps are pretty well coordinated across large areas – you can’t sell your excess to your neighbour, or buy his, if everyone’s tooled up with RE. With wind, if you’re lucky, someone on the other side of the continent might need yours, or have spare for you, but with solar, forget it. So, absent fossil fuels, you’ll need a lot of storage, a lot of biomass, or, as you recommend, blackouts. I can guarantee you that the latter is not a vote winner. Biomass as practiced is mainly a way of keeping coal plants open – the CO2 produced from cutting down forests in Georgia and shipping the wood pellets to the UK exceeds what comes out of the smokestacks. Storage? Beaker tells me pumped hydro can do it, without any figures. Mackay has some
            Here are the real-time grid figures for the world’s seventh largest economy. The six ahead of it are all getting well over half their electricity from fossils. France is getting 77% of its power from nuclear, and only about eight percent from fossils, mostly gas. It has a much lower footprint per kw/hr than the other six, and a lower figure for CO2 per capita than all bar India.
            As you can see, it is not unduly reliant on fossil electricity imports. There’s not much room for Beaker’s added wind to save fuel. ( Éolien is wind, charbon is coal, pompage is hydro storage.) The current government does plan to make room, though, by keeping nuclear capacity at current levels, but restricting its share of generation to 50%, by 2025. This would have zero effect on emissions but a considerable impact on costs.
            Ferrari on the roof? No thanks. At least those bloody things work when you turn the key. This is the land of the long grey cloud.

            1. Viva la France then John! I guess I conclude that I won’t be able to convince you that our future will be solar. So be it.
              On to other subjects.

            2. “Solar power is a fruit that has to be eaten this minute, forget about next season yadda yadda yadda”
              Power generated by solar is power that is not generated by anything else, burning less fuel, keeping that fossil fuel in the ground. Your analogy does not go very far before it falls flat does it. In fact, I think your analogy is as much use as a chocolate teapot!
              “Beaker tells me pumped hydro can do it” Yeah yeah, make things up why don’t you.
              Your link is interesting. Thanks for posting it up. Have you read it (there is a version in English – my French is not up to it). The 2014 report trumpets that years expansion of wind and solar, and their contribution to the cut in fossil fuel use.
              Next to the tab you were looking at is ‘Echanges commerciaux aux frontières’ You can marvel at their plethora of international grid connections that enable the extraordinarily high French nuclear penetration. You can also note that while exporting (constantly varying) power to the Swiss, Belgians, Spanish, Dutch and Brits, the French are often importing a lot from the Germans. Add more wind and solar power to France, less power will come in, more will go out, cutting fossil fuel consumption to everyone’s benefit.

            3. Fair enough, you Aussies get higher sunshine hours (Perth, Townsville and Darwin about double Dunedin’s ), you have a lot of fossils to displace ( 85% coal and gas vs 25% in NZ ), and, most important, peak demand is on hot, sunny days, not cold, dark ones.
              That said, household use is a minor component of demand, and the report you cite has a few rather dubious statements about CSP dropping in price and giving 24-hour power. The trend in the States is for planned thermal plants to switch to PV, as it’s way cheaper, while Ivanpah is producing about half as much power as planned, and doubling the gas it burns to ‘ pre-warm ‘ the boilers.(The Australian ‘ hybrid solar-coal ‘ plants mentioned in the report, using the sun to pre-warm coal boilers, are just a fig-leaf – fuel reduction is minimal. )
              Geoff Russell’s comments on the AEMO’s all-renewables plan –
              And from WNA
              ‘ The Australian Energy Technology Assessment was undertaken by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE) in 2012. It evaluated 40 utility-scale generation technologies, projecting out to 2050, and focusing on estimating the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE), using AEMO’s NTNDP parameters and those from Treasury. The capital costs of various options excluded financing and system costs. AETA assessed two nuclear technologies: large light water reactors and small modular light-water reactors (SMR). Capital costs used were $4210/kW and $7908/kW respectively for first of a kind units, and $3470/kW and $4778/kW for Nth of a kind (while noting that overnight costs in Asia are much lower). These gave almost the lowest cost ranges of any of the 40 technologies over 2020 to 2050, with GW-scale nuclear about $100-110/MWh and $115-125/MWh for SMR over 2020-2050.

              This study complemented a CSIRO eFuture model, which shows that incorporating nuclear into the generation mix from 2025 so that it contributed about 55% of supply from 2040 would save $130 billion in greenhouse gas abatement and $18 billion in health cost savings to 2050 compared with the Government’s 2012 Energy White Paper projections, and reduce LCOE from $158 to $125/MWh over 2040-50. The retail price saving is $86/MWh. Looking at capital costs to 2050, the White Paper projects $195-225 billion, the eFuture with nuclear $175-235 billion, including $85-100 billion for nuclear build. ‘
              I know, leaving out the finance costs is leaving out the largest component of nuclear costs, somebody will dredge up a slew of higher cost estimates, and a PM who thinks coal’s wonderful is unlikely to use government financing for a power source that will eliminate coal. But solar-wind backup without fossils, and with little hydro, is far more problematic than just replacing each coal gigaplant with a nuke. You can use the same cooling water, same transmission links, and the neighbours will be spared a few thousand tons of particle pollution. The biggest problem there is the die-in-a-ditch anti-nukes – which is why I bother writing this stuff.

  18. ‘ .. the French nuclear dash that no other country has ever attempted to replicate..’
    France tried the gas-cooled reactor route that Britain followed, then gave up on ‘ not invented here ‘, bought Westinghouse light water technology off the US, and methodically built reactors for twenty years. Exactly what China is doing, except their plans are way more extensive. They are starting five new reactors this year, which is already higher than the best French rate, and even more so rated by capacity. Why is a ‘ headlong dash ‘ to decarbonise so bad? Every year’s delay is another couple of million tons CO2 into the air. Every coal plant that has it’s fossil fuel use cut by renewables is still emitting. Of the big EU economies, France has the lowest emissions per capita, both from electricity ( by far ), and overall. Denmark and Italy, which have banned nuclear, and which have the world’s highest penetration, respectively, of wind and solar, both burn far more gas and coal than France, per head.
    ‘ You have claimed that wind and solar are less good because of their capacity factors – Wrong.’
    Well that’s me sorted out then. Solar, in Britain , is less good than wind because 1/ It’s capacity factor is much lower 2/ It’s least productive when it’s needed most, in winter. By that measure, wind should be on a par with hydro, which has a load factor of about 33% ( better than onshore but worse than offshore ), and is also stronger in winter – but of course, in reality, hydro is far more user friendly. You can turn it on in seconds when it’s needed, or hoard it for emergencies in dry periods. If you want to hoard wind, you have to build a whole new infrastructure. You say pumped hydro is there – sure it is, but it was built to tide the grid over for half an hour when demand spikes, and the reactors need time to warm up, not to power the whole country for a week or two when there’s a cold, foggy, windless winter high over the whole country. The pumped hydro already installed could match currently operating wind power for about two hours, assuming you excuse it from all its other grid-balancing functions. If you want wind to cover more than a few percent of the country’s power needs, and not just be a parasite on fossil plants, you’ll have to start building a hell of a lot more. Remember, a wise parasite never kills its host. Here’s a map of what does kill coal

    1. “Exactly what China is doing, except their plans are way more extensive.” No, China is not proposing to match the current nuclear penetration of France. I seem to also remember the residents of Hong Kong being more than a little perturbed about the corruption and falsification undermining the safety standards of the nuclear reactor built just over from the New Territories. Of course that must have been a one off and could never happen again in China … On with the headlong dash!
      “Every coal plant that has it’s fossil fuel use cut by renewables is still emitting.” Exactly the same applies to nuclear.
      “If you want to hoard wind, you have to build a whole new infrastructure.” If you want to decarbonise electricity generation you need a whole new infrastructure, and that includes French levels of nuclear penetration. If the French did not have their plethora of interconectors (you know, like NZ does not and will not ever) they would have to have invested in lots more storage, keep more fossil fuel generators on standby and/or transition more existing hydro to reserves where more of the water resource is ‘spilled’ without generating.
      “By that measure, wind should be on a par with hydro, which has a load factor of about 33% ( better than onshore but worse than offshore )” Gosh you are clinging tenaciously to this straw. I suppose that when you have put so much store by this particular cobblers you find it hard to let go. If you have two identical catchments and put a hydro dam in both, one with a gen set just large enough to take the water resource at a constant rate year round (excluding maintenance) and the other with a larger gen set. The first would have a capacity factor as close as you could get to 100%, the second would have a lower capacity factor but would be by far the more useful. It could raise generation in response to peak demand and then cut generation at lower demand restocking the dam. This variation in output would raise the value of the power generated to boot. I have run through this with you previously and reminded you on this very thread.
      If you wanted to raise the capacity factor of a wind turbine you would just cut the size of the generator. Blade size dictates energy capture, and the smaller generator will max out at a lower wind speed. Higher capacity factor at the cost of actual MWh generation.
      Developers match wind turbine specs to the wind resource and grid connection of the site. Grid connection fees (and permission to connect) are dictated by peak output. Costs for kit such as the power electronics is also a factor. If you see a wind farm with very high capacity factors, they may not have been able to obtain or connect turbines with larger generators. Offshore wind higher capacity factors are due largely to lower variation in windspeed offshore.
      “power the whole country for a week or two when there’s a cold, foggy, windless winter high over the whole country.” NIMBYs say this a lot. Meteorologists and grid operators, not so much.
      “The pumped hydro already installed could match currently operating wind power for about two hours.” we built the current pumped hydro to benefit the nuclear generation on the grid. Increasing nuclear penetration in the UK would push up the demand for such storage capacity. Storage is not unique to wind and solar. It will also be of benefit to new proposals such as the tidal lagoons with their limited load following.
      From the conclusions of the report you link to, under overarching objectives ” To secure these targets they must be accompanied by coherent policies and measures, such as strengthening the EU renewables and EU energy saving related policies.”
      Perhaps next you will excitedly inform us of an article about ‘Google says renewables dont work!’
      Cricky, this was long winded. Thats always the problem when you explain something again because your interlocutor did not or would not listen.
      In short, Thomas is right and you are wrong again.

      1. Beaker, you can explain CF as often as you like. This computer always works, because a turbine somewhere is being spun by water. I’ve sat on windless takeoffs long enough to know that you could build your turbines a mile high, you’d still get times with no power, and your output would be up and down like a whore’s drawers. If you can’t rely on wind, why not build something you can rely on?

        1. “Beaker, you can explain CF as often as you like.” But John ONeill will not take any notice!
          “you’d still get times with no power, and your output would be up and down like a whore’s drawers.” Classy. Add wind or solar to the grid and it will displace dispachable generation on the basis of marginal cost. Unless you are in the grip of a drought, that will be coal and gas. If you are in the grip of a drought, it will conserve limited hydro resources. Whats not to like? Also, as I have pointed out before (lets be charitable and say you forgot) your nuclear power is poor at following demand. It costs more to cut production for less revenue and it reacts slowly. So when consumer demand for power goes up and down like … consumer demand for power, nuclear is relying on something else to cover this. You would not be relying on nuclear power, you are just fantasising that you would be.
          Add wind power (like what the French are doing) and less fossil fuel is burnt.

          1. Renewables Denial is an interesting phenomenon.

            I’ve said repeatedly that it’s clearly in the best interests of all of us – except for a handful of FF dinosaurs and their acolytes – to create the maximum feasible renewable generation of electricity. We are steadily working towards determining what ‘maximum feasible’ really is. Whatever this may turn out to be, it’s clear that it’s waaaaaay more than the wind-baggers keep telling us!

            Why some on the pro-science side of the AGW debate are so insistent on the issue being a trojan horse for a massive deployment of nukes – so much so that they are willing to devote hours to deriding renewables in the exact manner (in fact, often using the exact arguments) of outright AGW deniers – is beyond me.

            Fortunately they’re both being defeated by facts-on-the-ground. Even outrightly reactionary, partisan governments like Australia’s probably can’t really stop the trend, though God help us if we get a GOP government in 2016. (However, even there this may just result in it becoming even more clear that the rest of the world is in the process of abandoning the US plutocratic super-state as an ideological basket-case!)

            Wind-bagging. Give it up.

  19. I have been greatly interested in this debate on all sides but solar is where I’m at – my tiny side 🙂 On the matter of storage of intermittent generation I’ve already commented that a 10 kWhr battery would see me off the grid for all but 5 days in a year without being particularly disciplined about it. Of the developments in this area I note two of interest at the moment.

    Tesla will be unveiling their house battery on the 30th April. On prelim info I find it rather expensive at US$13,000 though Solar City will discount it 50%. One use is trading night time grid rates against day use even without solar panels!. Presumably that makes sense given US residents excessiive energy consumption. Is Solar City NZ the same outfit?

    Another is the trial BMW is shaping up to in California which includes incentives toward displacement of charge-up periods for EVs from peak hour times to smooth out the grid and further to use clapped out EV batteries to power another grid smoothing operation – the batteries being solar charged during daylight – this also increasing thereby the return on EV batteries by giving them extended use.

    1. Hagen in Waitati has a bunch of semi-clapped-out former EV batteries to shuttle power between his house, PV panels, windmill, and 2 (!) electric cars, but he was given the batteries from a university programme. I know one other guy who runs an off-grid windmill-battery house, there may be a few others. To translate this tiny minority over to a meaningful slab of society, without their own tech skills, would be a huge investment. Since the grid is already in place, and already mostly carbon free, it seems to me much more sensible to just replace the centralised sources of pollution. We’re not hunter-gatherers any more; if you want something done or made, you mostly just pay someone who’s good at it. It doesn’t have to happen inside your front fence, and it’s much simpler if it works anytime.
      If you want to make a difference on your own, be a tightwad – bike don’t drive, eat veg not meat, put on some more clothes, not the heater. It’s how the third world, and our grandparents, managed with a way lower carbon footprint than us.

      1. “it seems to me much more sensible to just replace the centralised sources of pollution” It is not the presence of the source of pollution that is the problem, it is how much pollution it emits. Add solar and wind (amongst other renewables) to the grid and the existing fossil fuel plant will emit less.
        “To translate this tiny minority over to a meaningful slab of society, without their own tech skills, would be a huge investment.” No doubt the early adopters of household solar PV were tech savy, researching and sourcing the components for their own system. Now there are plenty of turn key providers marketing their services for a competitive price thanks to stimulus.

      2. “To translate this tiny minority over to a meaningful slab of society, without their own tech skills, would be a huge investment.”…
        You should keep up with the world of solar as much as you dig in the world of nuclear…
        Just check out turn key installed systems from places such as Whatpowercrisis and others. Interestingly: It is now very easy to automatically divert your daily excess PV production into your HW cylinder, no plumbing required….using the Immersun add on to the Enasolar inverters. Really John, getting a house up and running with a 3KW PV system is now at about $10K including GST.
        And for the least complicated install, there are now micro-inverter systems available with really minimal connection work needed.
        The solar PV technology these days is great and as Noel points out, an almost 100% solar home is very achievable in NZ.

        Even Wall Street sees the signs….

  20. I try to ignore Wall Street. What’s good for M&M Enterprises is not necessarily good for America.
    ‘For many months now, solar PV deployment has been on the slide. In 2014 Germany installed only about 1.9 GWp of PV power capacity, after 3.3 GW in 2013 and 7.6 GW in 2012.

    By April 15 the Bundesnetzagetur is accepting bids for 150 MW of solar capacity as part of Germany’s pilot green energy tender. The winners will be the ones that offer the lowest power sale rate.

    In 2015 Germany will be tendering 500 MW of solar PV capacity in total, followed by 400 MW in 2016 and a further 300 MW in 2017.’
    According to the article, solar subsidies will not drop as much as had been anticipated because installation rates were below the expected band.
    Italy – ‘In 2010, solar subsidies stood at just €750 million ($843 million), but soared to €3.8 billion in 2011 and €6.7 billion in 2013…those days of growth appear a thing of the past following today’s announcement and the retroactive FIT cuts enacted last year. Further, there have been rumors that the Italian government is considering levying fees and charges to PV systems this year, intended to cover the costs incurred by GSE – the country’s energy agency – for running the net-metering program and the Conto Energia renewable remuneration scheme.’
    Spain was the other frontrunner in solar, and has also had a sharp drop in installation rates and a brutal retroactive retrenchment on solar ( and wind ) subsidies. These could be market hiccups, but I don’t think so. Solar is about 7.5% of generation in Italy, less in Germany and Spain. Meanwhile the stock market value of the big EU gentailers has halved over the last decade – not necessarily a good thing, if you want them to keep supplying the 92.5% and more non solar ( plus I think pension funds are some of the major stockholders.) Here’s a prediction for you, so you can call me an idiot in five years – PV installation rates in those three, highest penetration countries, will keep falling, not rising. And before there’s any big move to home storage, those governments will be forced to subsidise fossil plants to stay on line. ( I know Beaker can’t wait that long, so I think I’ll sign off for a while. Regards to all, and thanks Gareth for the forum – and the wine at the coal camp 🙂 )

    1. “Spain was the other frontrunner in solar, and has also had a sharp drop in installation rates” They also had a big helping of what we called the ‘Global Economic Meltdown’ thanks to an outrageously overheated housing market, all the fault of wind and solar power of course. German Solar PV deployment rates may be slowing down, but they are still deploying and what is deployed they appear to be quite happy with. Did you think a very high deployment rate would stay very high indefinitely?
      “And before there’s any big move to home storage, those governments will be forced to subsidise fossil plants to stay on line. ( I know Beaker can’t wait that long, so I think I’ll sign off for a while.” I don’t have to wait thanks, the UK government has already got that process under-way. We get to keep the fossil fuel capacity for the time being, and its generation is cut (along with the CO2) thanks to renewables. We have to pay a fee to keep it there but, and please pay attention to this bit, the renewable energy that displaced it has a lower marginal cost, no cost associated with market volatility of fuel and no cost of externalities. Cheap at the price.

    2. Hey John ONeill, in case you are still lurking, this is perhaps worth while watching in light of our discussion: (Tesla Power Wall announcement)

      Now what would you rater humanity invest in, a transition to inexhaustible solar energy or a run at nuclear power with all its known risks?

      For people who cannot imagine a future based on intermittent but inexhaustible energy sources, the Tesla announcement is testimony to the fact that we are at the beginning of a revolution of the energy industry driven by visionaries who have the ability to think beyond the limitations of the old paradigms.

      Perhaps John knew what was coming and signed off in time…. 😉

      1. I was surprised at the use of fancy lightweight batteries for a stationary application but I suppose it facilitates an off the shelf product that is easy to install in just about any residence. Interesting for the future but just as with solar PV on homes pre the price crash and incentives that fostered that, it is mostly for the enthusiasts and early adopters at present.
        The domestic scale strikes me as being a bit silly, we should be looking at a facility that serves the solar PV excess of a neighbourhood. A GRP shed of cheaper batteries on the local distribution grid is not as exciting but strikes me as a better way forward (not that they are incompatible in any way).
        Regardless, this is something that is not needed yet, only once (or if) intermittent renewable (and/or Nuclear John!) penetration climbs much higher.

        1. I think it is useful already to maximize home use of generated PV in order to maximize the payback of the solar system. With utilities paying little for feed in power there is a strong incentive to use most of the generated KWh in house and thus avoid the purchase of the same. Also the investment in community size devices could be sped up by many individual investors upgrading their home system. It would speed up the implementation of storage technology I suppose and also spear had further future cost reductions due to mass production.

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