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Virginia Utilities Pull Out of Collaboration Working on a Method to Value Solar Energy

Virginia Utilities Collaboration

Utilities in Virginia which had been collaborating with local governments, solar stakeholders and academic researchers to agree on a methodology for valuing small solar energy systems have withdrawn their participation leaving the state-directed effort without their future or concluding inputs.  

The so-called “Solar Stakeholder Group” (SSG), short for the Distributed Generation and Net Metering Solar Stakeholder Group, coordinated by Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), has been meeting monthly since April. The meetings are led by Damian Pitt, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and a Steering Committee representing investor-owned, rural cooperative and municipal utilities, solar installers/developers, solar system owners, consultants, non-profits and clean energy advocates. 

Without the utilities, it’s an open question what weight, if any, the Working Group’s solar methodology will have with Senate Rules Committee.  It was Senate Rules Committee Chairman, Democrat John Edwards of Roanoke, who asked for a report with recommendations on how to value solar-generated electricity.  Since the Committee began its work, control of the Senate has switched to Republicans; the Rules Committee is now chaired by Republican Ryan McDougle of Ashland.

The value of a rooftop solar system is drawing increasing interest from advocates and a lot scrutiny from utilities since Minnesota became the first U.S. state in March to officially set a value on solar-generated electricity.  That value, in the form of a tariff, is a kilowatt hour payment that Minnesota utilities may opt to pay as an alternative to the state’s policy for crediting excess generation of electricity on a monthly or annual basis – known as net metering – at the retail rate paid by homeowners and most businesses.

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Rooftop solar systems such as this one would benefit from a formula that values solar energy many attributes, including its ability to produce power during peak demand days and for the harmful carbon emissions it would help reduce. CREDIT: SolarCity

Minnesota’s valuation was the result of a lengthy process based in part on the Federal government’s calculation of the social cost of fossil-fuel sources of power and their carbon emissions.  Tariff’s are unique to each utility. Analysts estimate tariffs in Minnesota are likely to range between 12 and 14 cents per kilowatt hour. The higher the value, the higher revenue drain that such a determination poses for utilities which make money simply by selling more electricity. There is long-running debate in regulatory circles about how to “decouple” utility profits from pure sales.  

As a member of the general Group — but not the Steering Committee which held the drafting process close to the vest — I tracked down the latest draft of the report examining various costs and benefits associated with solar energy. It recommends three methods for calculating the value of small solar systems: narrow, intermediate and broad. While the Group did consider the current policy context in conducting its research, no policy recommendations should be expected in the final report.

David Botkins, a spokesperson for Dominion Virginia Power, said after providing “feedback” to a draft report by the Group, it determined “the group has migrated into issues that are more appropriate for the SCC (State Corporation Commission) and General Assembly to consider.”

When asked why Dominion did not assume, from the beginning, that a report from the Group was destined for the Senate, Botkins added, with “the report nearly complete (it has been through several drafts) it seemed an appropriate time to discontinue our participation.”

Susan Rubin, Vice President-Legislative Affairs of the Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives informed DMME and DEQ of their withdrawal saying ”We began the process hoping, in the end, the work product would be the result of collaboration.  Following the last meeting (in August), it became clear that we must remove ourselves from the list of participating stakeholders as we cannot be associated with the final report this group will issue.”

Pitt of VCU, the Group’s meeting leader, said, “Basically the utilities all said that the report was heading in a direction that they wouldn’t be able to support.” He added, they “wouldn’t say anything specific about what parts of the report they disagreed with.”

The withdrawal is leading several solar advocates to conclude that the utilities opined the valuation methodology headed would set too high a value for solar, setting the stage for a debate, and perhaps legislation, they might have a difficult time controlling. Several long-time observers have long doubted this study would have much, if any, impact because Republicans control the House of Delegates, as well as, the Senate. Neither body has demonstrated interest in enabling markets for cleaner energy in Virginia, even as the economy needs to replace tens of thousands of jobs lost to cut backs in defense contracting.

Some of that control sought by utilities might have been provided by the Department of Environmental Quality’s coordinator of the working group, Carol Wampler. Wampler is a former lobbyist for the Virginia Manufacturers Association whom the utilities trusted to help steer the Group deliberations in a direction they could live with.

But Wampler retired at the end of August. On September 5, the utilities notified various offices of the state government of their withdrawal.  Some seasoned political observers familiar with the significant influence Dominion exerts on the General Assembly, agreed that the combination of a harmful report and Wampler’s retirement was too much for them to stomach. Wampler would not comment for this column.

“It looks like the utilities didn’t like what the study is finding, and they are hoping that walking out of the room will make it go away,” said Ivy Main, a prominent blogger about clean energy in Virginia and a participant in the Group. Main has been a vocal critic of in-state utilities’ intransigence about any policy enabling a significant market for solar energy in their service territories.

Utilities have complained that net metering amounts to an unfair subsidy for customers that own solar panels at the expense of those who don’t. Solar advocates counter that the retail rate underestimates the value of solar panels to the grid and society, taking into account the health and environmental impacts of harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Monique Hanis, of Falls Church, VA, a member of the Group’s Steering Committee representing solar system owners who formerly was senior manager of the national Solar Energy Industries Association, said she was “excited about the possibilities of working together with utilities, companies, municipal leaders and conservation groups, not just on this report, but on expanding options for customers to ‘go solar,’ creating more jobs and driving innovation across the state.”

Hanis continued:  “Given all the meetings and the work invested so far by so many representatives, I am disappointed that Dominion Power and the other utilities pulled out of our collaborative effort at the last-minute.

“This is a short-sighted move and makes the utilities look bad, frankly. However, I ex

pect that the group will move forward with our public stakeholder process to deliver the report on time to the General Assembly,” she added. 

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Republican Ryan McDougle, Chairman of the Virginia Senate Rules Committee. He may determine the fate of efforts to value home solar systems. CREDIT: @ryanmcdougle on Twitter

Ken Jurman at DMME e-mailed the Group’s participants this week outlining 3 options:

1) end the study with the latest draft reflecting the utilities’ views through the Sept. 5 meeting;

2) send the draft to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) followed by additional Group meetings before the Nov. 1 deadline  if time permits; or

3) submit the draft with NREL’s comments but no more inputs from the Group or Steering Committee.

The Group is scheduled to decide on how to proceed at a meeting in Glen Allen, VA on Friday, Oct. 3. What happens to its final recommendations due by November 1 could be influenced by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The draft or final Report could officially be sent to Sen. Edwards, the previous Rules Committee Chairman. Some observers expect Sen. McDougle, the current Senate Rules Committee Chairman, to dismiss or otherwise table the recommendations.

Neither McDougle, nor Hayes Framme, a McAuliffe aide who has coordinated the administration’s plans to update the state’s Energy Plan, responded to requests for comment.

Jim Pierobon's picture

Thank Jim for the Post!

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Discussions

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on September 26, 2014

Jim, I’m not sure how much solar is currently installed in Virginia, but in 2012 there was a total of 10 MW. If we assume it’s doubled since then, on an annual basis solar would be capable of generating one-fifth of one percent of Virginia’s electricity.

It’s likely that the money Dominion spent on participating on the valuation of solar energy cost more than the value of all the solar energy itself. The company probably concluded that the exercise was a waste of time.

Renewables advocacy has a problem: there is widespread denial about how absolutely trivial and useless solar energy is for mounting a challenge to coal, especially in the eastern and northern U.S. Why are we wasting time and money on this truly insignificant energy source when Virginia is able to generate 200x as much 100% clean energy, more cheaply, from its two nuclear power plants?

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on September 26, 2014

 

I am not anti-nuclear, but let’s face it, nuclear is 100% clean only if it doesn’t have a melt down and make vast areas are unihabitable. So everyone’s gut reaction, especially if they are not into the technical details, is to not want it anywhere near their back yard.

Never mind the waste, how can new nuclear plants be sited in densely inhabited areas?

 

 

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on September 26, 2014

Very sorry to see this pullout, as the utilities have a legitimate point about net metering, which will now get buried under the anti-solar meme. These guys are shooting themselves in the foot here.

 

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on September 26, 2014

Hops, maybe everyone should be a little more into the technical details – because nuclear is the safest form of electricity generation – period. Including wind, including solar, including hydro. If people have a gut reaction to that, they should move elsewhere instead of forcing others to deal with the ill effects of their superstition.

The alternative to the technical details is Greenpeace/Arnie Gunderson/Helen Caldicott Inc. fearmongering. A cottage industry which is killing more innocent people than nuclear ever did, or will.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on September 26, 2014

There are no vast uninhabitable areas…none, even where there have been meltdowns. Not at 3 Mile Island, Not even at Chernobyl where there is a 19 mile radius exclusion zone that is being reclaimed by thriving wild life, and certainly not at Fukushima.

The worst effects of Fukushima meltdown are the people who died from unneccessary evacuations of unaffected areas, and the fear and paranoia that have kept newer meltdown-proof generations of nuclear Power too expensive to build easily. This throws logic on top of its head since the people propagating the paranoia have by their own actions led to more CO2 in the atmosphere over the years. Where Coal and Natural gas plants have replaced newer nuclear power.  This damage has been and continues to be done.

Fortunately some countries are not being detered from building newer/safer 3rd and 4th Generation Nuclear plants.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on September 26, 2014

Monique Hanis, … a member of the Group’s Steering Committee representing solar system owners who formerly was senior manager of the national Solar Energy Industries Association, said she was “excited about the possibilities of working together with utilities, companies, municipal leaders and conservation groups, not just on this report, but on expanding options for customers to ‘go solar, …'”

Isn’t she supposed to at least pretend that we she wants a fair valuation for solar energy?  How can the committee process work if there is no accountability for fairness?  How on Earth can they reconcile blatant advocacy for residential solar, when it is clear that utility scale solar is half the cost, and nuclear beats the subsidized cost of rooftop solar?  (see this report for example).

If Virginia wants to subsidize residential solar, then they should do so, but they should call it a subsidy, and not tell the lie that it is a “fair valuation”.  In other words, their small solar working group should have consisted only of accountants, not advocates or stakeholders. 

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on September 27, 2014

 

I don’t think your average America is a victim of Greenpeace propaganga. They just hear about radiation in Japan and all their nukes being shut down. 

So if a utility wants to put a nuke near them, they will freak out, rightly or not, and they will not incur the expense of moving if they can help it.

Nor is it a liberal thing; conservatives are about equally afraid of it. Just think what even the slightest leak of radiation would do to property values. Just having it there probably lowers property values.

Maybe we could put nuclear off shore with the wind turbines. 

Jim Pierobon's picture
Jim Pierobon on September 27, 2014

Nathan,

I’m not clear on what you think is UNfair about this process. Utility scale solar may be less expensive than distributed / small solar. But that says nothing about homeowners and small businesses who deserve the option to go solar to better manage their energy costs. What’s not fair about generating one’s own electricity and reducing the risks of almost certain future price increases?

RE: Nuclear. I don’t see how it even compares — or competes — without massive subisidies. Look at the cost-overruns AND delays at the Vogtle complex in Georgia. Even Virginia Power is trying to pass through costs of its research into a third reactor at the now geologically-challenged North Anna plant.

What is upsetting many people in Virginia is the public face these utilities brought to the process and their abrupt withdrawal. Some of them are not feeling the first taste of real pressure from the customers they are charged, under a monopoly regime, with serving. Ratepayers deserve a LOT better. This valuation process is one small way of respecting that.

Iin case you don’t know: natural gas supply is competitive in Virginia. Dominion prevented that from happening with electricity.

 

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on September 27, 2014

Jim, I don’t know that it’s unfair to have a group which stands to profit have input on what their product is worth. We should give their opinion exactly what Dominion’s is worth – that of a biased third party which does not ultimately have the public’s interest at heart.

Utility service under a regulated monopoly system is not perfect, but from what I understand Virginia’s rates are average and its service is good.

The nuclear industry’s subsidies aren’t even close to the 30% federal tax break solar receives, and the EIA calculates that on a levelized basis solar will cost 33% more through 2017. All new power plants forward-finance new construction, and there is nothing geologically unsafe about North Anna (this “hidden danger” tactic is another attempt of the renewables movement to exploit the imaginations of a fearful public).

Jim Pierobon's picture
Jim Pierobon on September 27, 2014

Bob,

The U.S.  federal investment tax credit for solar expires at year-end 2016 and has served a demonstrably useful purpose in scaling up the U.S. solar industry. I seriously doubt it will be renewed. Compare that with the HUGE subsidies for new nukes. No utility CEO or CFO would pursue a new nuke without them.

Energy utilities today are where phone companies were in the 1980s. They no longer need to be monopoly providers. And if you’re focused on Dominion’s rates, you should start watching actual energy bills. Rates at some utilities might be higher, but there are tools there to help customers lower their monthly energy costs.

Bob Bingham's picture
Bob Bingham on September 27, 2014

The utilities are mostly using coal to make electricity and it is proving to be expensive and hugely polluting. If all the miners were re-employed erecting and installing wind and solar they would have a healthier lifestyle and we would have cheaper electricity.  http://www.climateoutcome.kiwi.nz/blog

Paul O's picture
Paul O on September 27, 2014

Hops,

The Average American that I know of is not afraid of Nuclear power per se, and they will happily live close to a nuclear power station until they are frightened by a Greenie campain. In fact they already do live close enough to nuclear plants in some areas. That is, unless fear is actively stoked by Greenies.

The problem is that the Average American is being sold (and buying into) a bill of goods, such as “Renewables will save us”, while becoming susceptible to a background of sustained Anti-Nuclear propaganda, as in the irrational shut down of the San Onofre (SONGS) nuclear power station.

What is happening then is that the Green Peace Gang are overselling renewables while simultaneously  mustering a crescendo of anti-nuclear sentiment. They are also influencing our decision makers, persuading them that more subsidies for renewables will solve the climate problem (without any need for baseload Nuclear Power).

I just can’t see renewables solving the climate problem, period.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on September 27, 2014

Jim, I hear the phone vs. utility deregulation argument pop up frequently, but there are several distinctions which make this comparison moot. Most important is that, unlike telecoms:

  • The product that any utility sells is identiical to that of any other utility, and
  • The fact that there is essentially only one product being sold permits significant economies of scale to be realized if that product is created by a single entity

The word “economies” has a dual meaning here – both financial and environmental economies deteriorate as more entities participate in electricity generation, and there is no analog in the telecom world corresponding to electricity generation’s environmental impact. Reliable, clean, affordable electricity is what the public needs, and in the U.S. that is, for the most part, what the public already has.

Can electricity in the U.S. be cleaner? Of course, but there is no evidence that microgrids, deregulation, or more solar will help, and considerable evidence to the contrary. Deregulation has in every region of the U.S. resulted in higher rates and poorer service, and whether energy utilities no longer need to be monopoly providers is not the issue – it’s whether they should be or not.

Regarding energy subsidies, on a per-kilowatthour basis the nuclear industry receives subsidies which amount to one-half of what the solar industry receives. The myth of proportionally excessive subsidies for nuclear is a direct result of solar activists’ lack of understanding about how little solar really has to offer.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on September 27, 2014

In general, wind and solar are not useful on a grid, unless that grid is dominated by fossil fuel or big hydro (which are required to balance supply and demand).  There are a few places (the Pacific Northwestern US, Norway, and Brazil) that have enough hydro to support high wind and solar penetration, but for everywhere else, grids which pursue high wind and solar penetration will lock-in 50-70% fossil fuel backup.  Trying to smooth out wind and solar by building batteries,  pumped-hydro storage, or power-to-fuel-to-power is simply too expensive, thus no one is doing this (beyong small scale demos).  

Even at medium (10-30%) penetration of wind and solar, power costs will go up, because essentially no fossil fuel power plants will be eliminated or decomissioned – they will all be needed for backup.  The fuel they burn is cheap once the plants are bought, hence there is little fuel savings to offset the wind and solar energy costs.  Plus the wind deployments will require expensive new transmission.

The notion that putting the solar on the customer side of the meter will improve the economics is also wrong.  This is just a shell game that tries to hide the true cost – it provides the same benefits to society as utility solar (plus 10% savings in line losses), for double the societal cost.

On the other hand nuclear power costs about the same as coal, is dispatchable like coal, and has all of the air pollution and energy security benefits of solar and wind.  Several nations (France, Sweden, Switzerland) have proven that when nuclear and modest amounts of big hydro are used together, essentially zero fossil fuel is needed for electricity.  No nation or major grid has achieved this with wind and solar (several wind exporting towns and regions are “net 100% wind” but they use their neighbor’s coal-fired grids for balancing – not storage or demand-response).

The reality today is that anti-nuclearism (not big company greed, lack of a level playing field, or lack of suitable replacements) is the largest factor in our continued addiction to fossil fuels.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on September 27, 2014

Hops, though that might intuitively seem true, check out what happened to home/condo values in San Clemente, CA – 3 miles from San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station – when it was announced the plant would close on June 7, 2013 (red line is median price):

 “For most residents, I think San Onofre was out of sight, out of mind,” Tim Brown, a San Clemente city councilman, said. “They took the power it generated for granted. Now that it’s gone, well, we’ll see how much it really does affect our lives.

“I anticipate it’s going to be tough for some folks,” he continued. “The plant was a large employer in town. It brought a lot of money and activity to our city. And the new normal is going to be ever-increasing power rates.”


Californians Consider a Future Without a Nuclear Plant for a Neighbor

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on September 27, 2014

Energy utilities …They no longer need to be monopoly providers.”

Interesting point.  Today’s market does a pretty good job of economically combining coal and natural gas fired electricity to meet electrical demand.  Many parts of the country have an over-capacity situation, but since natural gas plants are inexpensive compared to the fuel they burn, the cost penalty for this inefficiency is low.

On the other hand, as we transition to sustainable energy the situation will change dramatically.  Sustainable energy means long-lived nuclear, solar, and pumped hydro plants, and not so long lived wind farms.  Investor-owned wind farms work fine in a market system due to their short service life.  Any long-lived plant will produce low cost electricity once it is paid-for, and the only way for these plants to deliver low cost power to the consumer is via regulated utilities and public ownership; with investor ownership, only the investors benefit from the cheap power (ok, there is one other option, that is to have permanent government construction subsidies for all new plants).

For example, the EIA reports a total unsubsidized O&M and variable cost of 1-2¢/kWh for solar, geothermal, hydro, and nuclear.  There are no long term purchase contracts from investor owned plants at these prices, but these are the exact prices (plus a small profit) that monopoly utilities would be forced to pass on to customers for the power from older plants in their fleets.

It should also be noted that the cost of new sustainable energy is directly proportional to the interest rate paid by the plant builder.  Monopoly and publicly owned utilities can always borrow money for a lower interest rate than private developers, which further strengthens the case for the conventional model.

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 4, 2014

Nathan, still putting down Renewables so you can bang on about Nuclear when you know, I suspect, how expensive Nuclear is.

On a similiar forum the other day it was said that Nuclear is now $8;/watt to install, that compares unfavourably with wind at $2; so it might be worth downgrading the value of the Nuclear solution as it is seriously uncompetitive.

Coal is becoming more expensive and saying that a coal fired station is cheap to run is not quite true, high maintenance, increasing transport costs, lots of expensive filters to keep the population from being poisoned which need replacing frequently, – no the old technology is seriously flawed so it is a very good idea to correctly price Solar so as to integrate it’s low price into the whole grid. Nuclear becomes much less attractive when presented as the only solution, particularly when it is un-affordable. 

 

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 4, 2014

Nathan, still putting down Renewables so you can bang on about Nuclear when you know, I suspect, how expensive Nuclear is.

On a similiar forum the other day it was said that Nuclear is now $8;/watt to install, that compares unfavourably with wind at $2; so it might be worth downgrading the value of the Nuclear solution as it is seriously uncompetitive.

Coal is becoming more expensive and saying that a coal fired station is cheap to run is not quite true, high maintenance, increasing transport costs, lots of expensive filters to keep the population from being poisoned which need replacing frequently, – no the old technology is seriously flawed so it is a very good idea to correctly price Solar so as to integrate it’s low price into the whole grid. Nuclear becomes much less attractive when presented as the only solution, particularly when it is un-affordable. 

 

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on October 5, 2014

Geoff,

Nuclear has high entry costs (the $/Watt metric) but in the long run nuclear’s costs are low, equal or less than that of wind. 

And by the way, the costs you are quoting for nuclear are higher than reality. There are four AP-1000 reactors currently under construction in the US: two at Vogtle coming in at $15 billion for the pair, and two at V.C. Summer, coming in at $11 billion for the pair — and that’s including cost overruns. Since each reactor is 1117MW, that’s $5.82/W, a far cry from the $8 you posted. In South Korea and in China it’s less than $3/W. 

The “long run” computation is this: those reactors are designed and built for a 60 year lifetime, and US reactors average a 90% capacity factor. So in their lifetimes, those reactors will produce 2.11 billion MWh of electricity, for a capital expenditure of $12/MWh. 

Compare that to a wind farm: recently Warren Buffett invested in five Iowa wind farms of 1050 MW total, with a total project cost of $1.9 billion, or $1.81/W, pretty close to the $2/W you cited. But wind turbines are designed an engineered for (typically) at 20 year lifetime. The NREL uses 20 years in its computations, and Danish wind turbines last an average of 22 years. But recently some turbines have been manufactured to a 25 year standard, so let’s go with that. Wind capacity factor varies widely by location, but Iowa is pretty good so let’s assume 35%. So over the lifetime of the wind farms they will produce 80 million MWh, for a capital expenditure of $23.59/MWh, about twice the cost of nuclear.

This simplified comparison ignores operating cost (advantage: wind) and systems cost (advantage: nuclear), after which nuclear’s advantage is less than 2:1, but still roughly $10/MWh. 

Meanwhile, the costs of wind will increase substantially if gid penetration for wind increases beyond the “curtailment point” which is roughly 25% of generating capacity. At that point, some wind turbines must stand ilde on windy days to avoid over-energizing the grid. When that happens, capacity factors for wind drop and the price of wind increases. If you examine the problem critically, Geoff, you will find that you simply cannot design an all-renewable grid that is also anywhere near as low-cost as the grid we have now. 

But you can design a non-fossil grid that is as low-cost as the current grid, and it has been done already in France, Sweden, and Ontario. The strategy is simple: wind up to the curtailment point; hydro and geothermal where available; and nuclear for the rest. Solar is waaay to expensive, and it always will be.

So no, nuclear isn’t the only solution. It’s just the cheapest in the long run. But since markets don’t do “long run” very well, it’s up to government to step in and provide the necessary incentives to make that happen.

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 5, 2014

Hi Keith, that is a good reply, although the cost comparisons could go a bit further, wind has very little maintenance, usually comes at about 1%, maintenance on a Nuclear reactor is very expensive when it happens and so is security, and then there is the cost of buying the uranium, which would go up a fair bit if Nuclear was popular, and the disposal of the waste, still not resolved except on paper, so hard to quantify. Insurance for wind is not expensive, Even catastrophic failure usually only endangers the odd cow, but when one looks at Chernobyl or Fukushima, the refusal of insurance companies to insure Nuclear reactors is understandable, – I have heard but would stand corrected that none will, only Goverment will insure, but seemingly not actually costing it, more just hoping nothing will happen, so potentialy a huge tax on all tax payers.

Finally there is the question of interest, even using your figures the interest will be 3.22 times as much.

 With more and more Geothermal going in, it seems the cost for deep Geothermal (4 to 5 Ks deep) is very similiar to Nuclear, but without the danger and without the waste problem, yet able to ramp up and down very quickly. So enabling close to 100% penetration of wind and enabling a mix of renewables to carry the load most of the time. Lifespan depends on the amount of heat extracted so if it is used more as a back-up, much of it could last hundreds of years.

The technology is already developed (heat exchangers and fracking) and by adding a Solar thermal plant to supply the heat input during the day, sharing the same heat exchanger, that could well bring down the cost of both. The Technology has been proved by Geodynamics at Innamincka in Australia.

Had Warren Buffet or someone else spent 1.9 billion on a series of Geothermal plants, particularly targetting the Peak period, where is the best price, perhaps that might be a successful investment also. 

Seeing as Wind, Solar and Tidal are virtually free except for the installation, it would be more appropriate for the Nuclear to throttle back than the Wind as that would save fuel (as mentioned, likely to get quite expensive) and wear and tear on the Nuclear gear, also produce less high level waste.

 

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on October 5, 2014

Hi Geoff,

I was including maintenance in operating costs, and you are right, wind is cheaper there as I mentioned. This is offset by higher systems costs from wind, because wind is generally located at places remote from demand centers in cities (requiring greater transmission costs and associated infrastructure upgrades) and because the intermittancy of wind requires more load balancing and its associated costs.

The cost of uranium in nuclear fuel is insignificant to the cost of electricity. Yellowcake (uranium oxide) right now sells for about $35/lb. which works out to about 0.2 cents per kWh (and that’s assuming the current inefficient once-through fuel cycle; with full utilization, it would be more than 100 times cheaper). There is probably a long-term cap on the price of uranium oxide at about $100/lb, at which point extraction from seawater becomes economically viable.

Regarding waste, it’s not waste if we don’t waste it. And while it’s completely safe to bury the stuff, it makes no sense to do so, when the existing stockpile of “spent” nuclear fuel in the US contains enough remaining energy to power the entire US electric grid fossil-free for 150 years. Reactors that can do that already exist in Russia, China, and India.

You are indeed incorrect that “only government will insure” nuclear reactors. In fact, reactors must have private insurance to obtain an operating license. The entire cleanup cost of Three Mile Island was paid for by private insurance, and did not cost the taxpayers one dime.

Interest costs are part of capital expenditure, and like capex, if amortized over the lifetime of the plant, will be cheaper for nuclear than for wind on a per-MWh basis. Or if not amortized, interest costs for nuclear will be flat zero during the second half of the plant’s lifetime: a situation never seen for wind power.

Geothermal is great where it’s available, but even deep geothermal in non-volcanic, non-tectonic, non-radioactive regions will peter out in 20 to 30 years as the heat is extracted from rocks faster than it diffuses back in. Thus for geothermal to be viable long-term, not just any old geology will work. A recent UK study found that the economic case for deep geothermal there to be somewhat marginal, depending frequently on the ability to use (i.e., sell) excess heat for wintertime space heating — which is in turn dependent on the urban/rural characteristics of the region of the geothermal well. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on October 5, 2014

Geoff, the notion that nuclear power is not insured (or insureable) is another of the myths spread by virulent anti-nuclear groups like Greenpeace, which succeed at fundraising chiefly by preying on the fears of their members:

It is commonly asserted that nuclear power stations are not covered by insurance, and that insurance companies don’t want to know about them either for first-party insurance of the plant itself or third-party liability for accidents. This is incorrect, and the misconception was addressed as follows in 2006 by a broker who had been responsible for a nuclear insurance pool: “it is wrong [to believe] that insurers will not touch nuclear power stations. In fact, wherever they are available to private sector insurers, Western-designed nuclear installations are sought-after business because of their high engineering and risk management standards. This has been the case for 50 years.” He elaborated: “My comment refers very much to the world scene and is not contentious. Apart from Three Mile Island, the claim experience has been very good. Chernobyl was not insured. Significantly, because Chernobyl was of a design that would not have been an acceptable risk at the time, notably the lack of a containment structure, the accident had no impact on premium rates for Western plants.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Safety-and-Security/Safety-of-Plants/L...

Your claim that the issue of nuclear waste is not resolved is false as well. First of all, there’s not that much of it, and it’s not that dangerous. All of the existing high-level nuclear waste from power generated in the past would fit on a single football field stacked to a depth of 7 yards, and is being safely stored on site at the facilities where it was generated. 

Regarding cost, the DOE Energy Information Administration calculates that the levelized cost of wind energy is 17% less than nuclear.

http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/electricity_generation.cfm

However, there’s not enough of it, it can’t be affordably stored, and it’s only available in certain areas and times of the day. That means natural gas is called in to fill in the gaps, leading to a carbon emissions scenario which is marginally better than gas alone.

Most importantly, nuclear is dispatchable as needed and scalable enough to displace coal as a source of baseload power. Wind is neither.

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 6, 2014

Hi Bob, as i said i was not sure that commercial insurance, (Lloyds etc) was available for Nuclear power plants, although given Fukushima, it would be interesting to hear what their insurance covered for that truly dangerous situation, – I would bet it doesn’t cover all the people who had to move out of their homes, abandon their cities etc. ie any concomitant or Tort coverage, I bet Perry Mason would have had an absolute field day with Fukushima in an American Courtroom!

Whatever, I trust insurance companies as far as I can kick them, in Northern Quensland, (OZ) where I live, stories abound as to how insurance companies wriggle out of payments to 40 years long customers who have lost their house and all to Cyclones (you say Tornados) Bushfire, Floods, – the very thing they bought their insurance for, as usual the poorer lose, the richer may get a grudging deal.

Probably to advance that side of the discussion, – and it is supposed to be a discussion about correctly pricing Solar, therefore relevant only in that now we are arguing as to the glorious claims of Nuclear, the proponents of which would argue that Solar should not be even used, let alone priced, – sort of not helpful about Solar as Nuclear is probably not going to get up any time soon.

Checked out your link to that DOE report, given the incredible number of qualifying paradigms, mostly very conservative ones, and impossible to verify, I gather that if the Earth is made uninhabitable to man, (including my three grandchildren) – the which is not costed, it would have saved us 20% to use wind to slow it down.

Bureaucracy reports have their own reality.

In regards to waste, I gather you only need one or two atoms of plutonium in your lungs to kill you short or long term, so I think a football field of those atoms would give every man, woman, child and their dog, hundreds of those  lucky prizes each.

The only solution for Nuclear waste disposal I have ever heard of, (and I have been looking, but please surprise me) that sounds secure is putting in a 100% failsafe rocket ship and sending it into the Sun, – all others seem to make foolish assumptions, mainly based on “I will be dead then”.

I think the most telling fact is that virtually all the high level waste from virtually all Nuclear power stations all over the world is still stored on site, and whatever rationalisation you put forward, that is a fact and why? – many Nuclear power stations are not on secure geological zones, – not for the life time of the nasties, why leave them there? – cheaper? no where else to put them? not at all safe?

 One wonders and is only told BS.

Wind, there is not enough of it, both in America and Australia there are a number of coastlines that could provide enough power to provide all the nation’s needs, it is the same in most countries with Geothermal, but when you talk of Nuclear, you only talk of immediately dispatchable, – and a true concern for a utility, except if you start looking around for a mix, not a one solution fits all, which is an illusion, you have to be able to look at the downside of that “one solution”.

My information just on this forum is that Nuclear has to run at virtually full power to be economic, -although even then it is very expensive –  it is not “dispatchable” it is a rigid power supply, and should never be supplying more than the minimum average for 24 hour periods, and it’s dangers and costs acknowledged, and sited far away from intensive human settlements, – then perhaps it can be a friend, – all things in moderation.

 

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 6, 2014

Hi Keith, I think there is a lot more work to be done on the costs thing, although I suspect Warren Buffet would not have bought those wind farms unless the profit was totally his way, and also that most country’s grids all over the world are in serious need of upgrading, which incidentally, as it usually requires extremely high voltage DC to throw huge amounts of power all over the network as required, would make more isolated places such as wind farm sites, cheap to connect anyway.

I think there was a fair bit of that in the Texan stuff with Warren Buffet, the power and poles people wanted him to pay for their overdue upgrades.

Whatever, how many Nuclear power plants are in the middle of a city? – again i stand to be corrected, although the greed and stupidity of politicians will never surprise me, and commercial interests so often only consider the money.

Interest costs you have not explained away, capital costs are the costs charged by the eg winners of the Tender to build the Nuclear/Wind etc. plant, the interest is the responsibility of the borrower/owner so my figure of over three times still stands, even given the highly unlikely life time of a Nuclear power plant lasting 60 years before everything within half a mile is lethally radioactive, and of such a volume as to require extensive disposal costs, – all this undermines your figures of the cheapness of Nuclear, – which it isn’t, so needs to be seen as a last resort if nothing else will do, and deep Geothermal is available in most countries in the world, so let’s look at it as the next step after Nuclear, able to drop to zero output in minutes, and fully back to overcapacity, so totally suitable to Renewable support, so is the best of all batteries, yet after completely self discharging because of greedy overuse (as in your 20 years scenario) will gradually recharge anyway as the heat from further down percolates up.

There is no other power available from the Earth alone to equal Geothermal, not thousands but millions of years of power is there, even when the sun is dead we will still be able to survive on Geothermal, it is not appropriate for Idealistic engineers to disparage Geothermal so as to promote Nuclear, I would hope you can disentangle yourself from the technology that has proven problematical, Nuclear, amd embrace the better and truer solution, Geothermal, and help advance it.

Anyway, we need the uranium for space travel, foolish to squander it, and best to fully cost in the Wind, Tidal, Wave, Solar, etc. as at the moment the energy from the sun is cheaper than the energy from the center of our still molten planet and also than the pathetic uranium reserves.

Hopefully, no bad feelings, Geoff.

 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on October 6, 2014

Geoff, all of these pro/anti-nuclear discussions always revolve around which of the following beliefs one finds more convincing:

1) That the fossil fuel industry has taught us to have an irrational fear of radiation (in spite of the fact that naturally occuring radiation is all around us and even inside of us), and that fear has encouraged us to choose fossil fuel over nuclear power, even though the best science we have tells us that fossil fuel causes much greater harm to human health and the environment.

2) That radiation and nuclear power really are super dangerous, and an enormous conspiracy in the scientific community, the government, and the utility industry is working to conceal this fact.  

In determining which of these is true, I would caution everyone to avoid “confirmation bias”, the natural human tendency to place more faith in data that supports one’s pre-exising opinions.  But of course, choosing belief #2 makes it tempting to treat as “corrupt” any information from scientist, governments, or utilities, but I would encourage readers to investigate the detail and trace the data back to the source. 

Why do you believe what you believe?  Why do you (apparently) believe that plutonium is more dangerous than coal ash?  Which kills more people every year? Why do you (apparently) believe nuclear waste is more difficult to manage than waste from the solar PV industry?  

Here’s a book about nuclear power which I consider to be reputable: The Nuclear Energy Option, which is by Bernard Cohen, and is free on-line.    Cohen does a good job of backing up his statements with data, then providing the source for his data.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on October 7, 2014

There is no other power available from the Earth alone to equal Geothermal, not thousands but millions of years of power is there, even when the sun is dead we will still be able to survive on Geothermal, it is not appropriate for Idealistic engineers to disparage Geothermal so as to promote Nuclear, I would hope you can disentangle yourself from the technology that has proven problematical, Nuclear, amd embrace the better and truer solution, Geothermal, and help advance it.”

The irony here is that Geothermal power is nuclear power, only a diffuse kind. Geothermal energy is – for the most part – the result of the decay of radioactive atoms in the earth. These radioactive atoms are the decay product of hundreds of trillions of tons of uranium and thorium in the earth. Hence, the use of geothermal energy is in fact the use of nuclear energy.

Geothermal power is of course very diffuse and weak, so it can only be economically tapped in specific places on the earths surface where the geothermal temperature gradient is high. Iceland is perhaps the best example.

Nuclear power – which is in some ways merely an engineered form of ‘natural’ geothermal energy – has the advantage that the energy is released in a far more compact and controllable way. It can be used anywhere on earth, or even under the sea (nuclear submarines?).

How long can nuclear fission fuel last? It turns out that nuclear fission fuel is as renewable as solar or wind energy. Uranium is washed off the land by rivers and deposited in the worlds oceans at a rate of 35.000 tons per year. So we can sustianably extract this amount of uranium from the worlds oceans perpetually, without reducing the concentration of uranium in the seawater. This uranium is enough to power 35.000 1 GWe fast spectrum nuclear power stations, which is enough to power the entire global energy demand. This uranium can be extracted economically, when used in fast spectrum reactors. It can compete with fossil fuels without any further technological development. We will mine the oceanic uranium once the uranium which is still available from reserves on land are exhausted, which will probably not be for several hundred years, by the way, if fast spectrum nuclear power is enabled.

Conversely, geothermal energy is not quite as renewable as uranium from the oceans. A geothermal heat reservoir tapped by a geothermal plant is typically exhausted after a few decades, and it then takes a few decades for the heat in the rocks to be replenished from below. Certainly, the geothermal heat will be there again eventually to be used again, so it is renewable in that way, but it’s not as simple as just drilling a well and then harvesting the heat for ever more. You have to keep drilling. There is no free lunch.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on October 7, 2014

Maybe we could put nuclear off shore with the wind turbines.”

Maybe we should improve nuclear education at schools and colleges.

There is no reason to be afraid of manmade radiation, either nuclear power, nuclear medicine or nuclear industrial applications. We need to teach people about that.

 

Choosing instead to let our countrymen and women twist and turn in nightmarish ignorance about basic science and technology is bad citizenship and defeatism. It is a worse threat than home-grown terrorism. It will – due to the negative effect it is having on energy policy formulation – ultimately cause the death of millions of people and grand environmental destruction. It is evil. We need to get on top of this as soon as possible, and it’s as easy as making some minor adjustments to our education system curricula. Objective and reliable information instead of lies and misconceptions.

Freedom of speech is not freedom to deceive.

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on October 7, 2014

Hi Geoff,

No hard feelings at all, mate. Honest debate is always welcome.

While the US DOE computes levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), they are not the only group to do so; for more wide-ranging views, check out the Open EI Transparent Cost Database, which uses dozens of peer-reviewed sources to determine LCOE. http://en.openei.org/apps/TCDB/transparent%20cost%20database

This again shows nuclear and wind comparable on cost.

Regarding the lifetime of nuclear plants, in the US nuclear plants are initially licenced for 40 years by the NRC, and when that time is up a plant can request a 20-year license extension. That 40 year limit has now been hit by some of the oldest US reactors, and so far the NRC has granted extensions (after inspection and review) to every plant that has requested it. The Americal Physical Society has determined that a well-maintained reactor could operate for 80 years or longer with no showstopping technical issues.

http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201312/apsreport.cfm

And that feeds into the interest calculation. If we suppose that both a 1GW wind farm and a 1GW nuclear plant obtain 20 year loans, then the interest on the loans will be about 3 times higher for the NPP, because it’s initial cost per Watt is about 3 times higher. Twenty years later, the loans will be paid off for both, and the wind farm is ready to be replaced, while the NPP still has decades of useful life left, and will continue to produce energy with zero remaining interest payments. Even during that first 20 years, the 3x higher interest costs for the NPP are mostly offset by the much higher capacity factors (90% nuclear vs. 35% wind) so that on a cost per-MWh produced, the price differential isn’t really three times, it’s only  about 16% higher during the 20-year loan lifetime. And for that 16% premium, you get decades of zero-interest energy in the long run.

I don’t disparage geothermal at all, in fact I think it’s great, it’s cheap, it’s non-fossil, and we should do as much of it as we can. But I’m also a realist, not an idealist. Like any energy source, there are limits to geothermal, and for a geothermal plant to operate long-term, special geology is required, and that geology just isn’t available everywhere. Iceland gets nearly all of its electricity from geothermal, and one of Icleand’s geothermal experts is Valgardur Stefansson. His 1998 study puts the total available geothermal resource worldwide to be 2000 TWh/yr for electricity and another 7000 for direct heat. That’s a lot more than the 50 TWh/yr we’re currently exploiting, but global energy use is over 150,000 TWh/yr. So no, geothermal cannot power the world.

http://www.os.is/gogn/flytja/JHS-Skjol/Anniversary%201998/Valgardur%20St...

 

 

 

 

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 7, 2014

Hi Keith, an important item I mentioned regarding the Geeothermal was that i was talking about Enhanced Geothermal, even you called it deep geothermal in 6th Oct. post, so you understood then, but now you are talking about shallow Geothermal, – the low hanging fruit, – deep geothermal, as I mentioned earlier 5 ks deep, is available over most of the Earth, a proper understanding,

( see   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enhanced_geothermal_system ) will lead you to understand that your figures above are not true, therefore your concluding remark is false, – please read the following extract from the above link.

Note they are talking Zettajoule and the American resource with current technology is 200!!   The zettajoule (ZJ) is equal to one sextillion (1021) joules. Annual global energy consumption is approximately 0.5 ZJ.

A 2006 report by MIT,[38] and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, conducted the most comprehensive analysis to date on the potential and technical status of EGS. The 18-member panel, chaired by Professor Jefferson Tester of MIT, reached several significant conclusions:

  1. Resource size: The report calculated the United States total EGS resources from 3–10 km of depth to be over 13,000 zettajoules, of which over 200 ZJ would be extractable, with the potential to increase this to over 2,000 ZJ with technology improvements — sufficient to provide all the world’s current energy needs for several millennia.[38]The report found that total geothermal resources, including hydrothermal and geo-pressured resources, to equal 14,000 ZJ — or roughly 140,000 times the total U.S. annual primary energy use in 2005.
Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 7, 2014

Hi Nathan, you have forgotten the third option, the most important one, which is not surprising as the first two you have emotionally loaded.

The third one is, in that context, –  “Seeing as using Fossil fuels have already directly caused global warming and myriads of health problems as recorded, it is likely to continue doing so until human life and most other life on our planet is threatened irrevocably, so we DONT want fossil fuels, and seeing that there are many un-answered worries about Nuclear, we regard Nuclear as the choice you would have if you didn’t have a choice, ie Really not happy with Nuclear, so we have the third option of looking for non poisonous, non worrying energy solutions, hopefully completely avoiding the catastrophic possibilities of options 1 & 2.

Choice 3 is to look at how we can use Renewable energies/strategies to provide all or most of our electrical power, backed up by as seems widely possible, Enhanced Geothermal, Bio-gas in both fermented and gasified forms and if not possible gas powered electric generators.

This requires a flexibility of mind to consider such as the Virtual Power Network, a concept mooted some years back where the electricity network is not so centralised and all kinds of renewable energy are used as available and when appropriate.

Many say that Solar and Wind are un-reliable, in fact the weather conditions are usually well known, Windy conditions are predicted days ahead, many windfarms distributed all over the country will give a reasonable consistent input easily plannable by the virtual network, as with Solar, tides are known hundreds of years ahead, waves take a while to build up and also to calm down, Bio gas production can be known, and used for peak lopping or low Wind and Solar conditions, – it all just depends on the willingness to think outside the box and look for solutions, not excuses. 

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 7, 2014

Joris, the entire earth except for the 30 km thick crust is incredibly hot, this is not from radioactivity, at least in most versions of how the earth formed but from pressure of the compacting gases.

Whilst there are pockets of shallow depth heat that arguably could be caused by radioactivity, the whole of the crust is being heated by the high temperature magma beneath, allowing the earth to gradually cool over multi billions of years although there is apparently generation of heat caused by friction induced by the gravitational effects of mainly the sun and the moon but also other planets. 

Of course it is hard to get down under the crust and measure, although I have never heard of highly radio active Lava in out time at least.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on October 7, 2014

Please read:-  “

For all this, however, Marone says, the vast majority of the heat in Earth’s interior—up to 90 percent—is fueled by the decaying of radioactive isotopes like Potassium 40, Uranium 238, 235, and Thorium 232 contained within the mantle. These isotopes radiate heat as they shed excess energy and move toward stability. “The amount of heat caused by this radiation is almost the same as the total heat measured emanating from the Earth.”

Radioactivity is present not only in the mantle, but in the rocks of Earth’s crust. For example, Marone explains, a 1-kilogram block of granite on the surface emanates a tiny but measurable amount of heat (about as much as a .000000001 watt light bulb) through radioactive decay.

 

http://phys.org/news62952904.html

For all this, however, Marone says, the vast majority of the heat in Earth’s interior—up to 90 percent—is fueled by the decaying of radioactive isotopes like Potassium 40, Uranium 238, 235, and Thorium 232 contained within the mantle. These isotopes radiate heat as they shed excess energy and move toward stability. “The amount of heat caused by this radiation is almost the same as the total heat measured emanating from the Earth.”

Radioactivity is present not only in the mantle, but in the rocks of Earth’s crust. For example, Marone explains, a 1-kilogram block of granite on the surface emanates a tiny but measurable amount of heat (about as much as a .000000001 watt light bulb) through radioactive decay.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news62952904.html#jCp

For all this, however, Marone says, the vast majority of the heat in Earth’s interior—up to 90 percent—is fueled by the decaying of radioactive isotopes like Potassium 40, Uranium 238, 235, and Thorium 232 contained within the mantle. These isotopes radiate heat as they shed excess energy and move toward stability. “The amount of heat caused by this radiation is almost the same as the total heat measured emanating from the Earth.”

Radioactivity is present not only in the mantle, but in the rocks of Earth’s crust. For example, Marone explains, a 1-kilogram block of granite on the surface emanates a tiny but measurable amount of heat (about as much as a .000000001 watt light bulb) through radioactive decay.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news62952904.html#jCp

For all this, however, Marone says, the vast majority of the heat in Earth’s interior—up to 90 percent—is fueled by the decaying of radioactive isotopes like Potassium 40, Uranium 238, 235, and Thorium 232 contained within the mantle. These isotopes radiate heat as they shed excess energy and move toward stability. “The amount of heat caused by this radiation is almost the same as the total heat measured emanating from the Earth.”

Radioactivity is present not only in the mantle, but in the rocks of Earth’s crust. For example, Marone explains, a 1-kilogram block of granite on the surface emanates a tiny but measurable amount of heat (about as much as a .000000001 watt light bulb) through radioactive decay.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news62952904.html#jCp

For all this, however, Marone says, the vast majority of the heat in Earth’s interior—up to 90 percent—is fueled by the decaying of radioactive isotopes like Potassium 40, Uranium 238, 235, and Thorium 232 contained within the mantle. These isotopes radiate heat as they shed excess energy and move toward stability. “The amount of heat caused by this radiation is almost the same as the total heat measured emanating from the Earth.”

Radioactivity is present not only in the mantle, but in the rocks of Earth’s crust. For example, Marone explains, a 1-kilogram block of granite on the surface emanates a tiny but measurable amount of heat (about as much as a .000000001 watt light bulb) through radioactive decay.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news62952904.html#jCp

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 8, 2014

Hi Paul, I remember coming across a lot of these claims some years ago, which doesn’t say they are wrong, but does need proving, – ie if you can’t imagine that the Earth is still so hot then you may look for a reason, (other than 30 km of Crust) , and come up with such theories as you have propounded, or indeed what I have put forward regarding gravitational resistances, friction, magnetic field effects etc, all possibly bulsht, and wtf is Marone? does he know that Beach sand is sevaral more times radioactive than Granite?

I would suggest that this is old propaganda, and needs totally solid proving, – as do my assertions, although at least the research is more recent, so more findable.

Anything on this forum that is asserted should be challenged as to actual proof, sure, not so much fun, but at least then we could be going somewhere.

G

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 8, 2014

Hi Nathan, sorry I was in a bit of a hurry this morning and did not fully answer your email, as it has several scrambled together assertions, but I do have a confession, I am now 65 years old, when I was ? 12, 15? somewhere in there I stole food from my parents’ pantry and hid it on top of the wardrobe in my bedroom so that we would have some food in the event of a worldwide Nuclear war, – which was at that time what certain politicians used to get folk to vote for them, – and may have been real! – who knows, who cares, all that posturing, threats, emergency announcements, whatever? maybe it was all BS, newspaper hype,  maybe we were saved  by higher or friendly beings, – theories abound, but it is still very hard to trust any Nuclear pro propaganda because of all the cover-ups, data hiding, denials, etc. and never any real explanation of the waste etc, – if you look up and down this particular discussion you will notice nothing but facile explanations of Nuclear waste disposal, just vague empty pronouncements, nobody really addressing the problem, so one has to conclude, as I have, that that problem has not been solved, and possibly can not be solved, – not solving the waste problem with Nuclear, despite lots of glib asseverations of future proposals, is a real worry, and members of this discussion group who talk of radiation everyhere and nobody harmed are either cherry picking particular cases or ignorant of the damage radiation can do to the human body.

So i have a ‘confirmation bias’ in regards to Nuclear, – except for space travel, however i try to develop Intuitive thinking, within which confirmation bias is soo obvious, and therefore tend to think my deliberations on Nuclear are not too biased.

I suspect Nuclear, it seems unable to answer my suspicions, – and your book suggested is no doubt full of confirmation bias for you, why should i waste my time reading all that self stroking stuff, these internal discussions are just self re-affirming attitude confirmation BS, the world is changing, whatever Nuclear offered is now minimal, despite it’s very real dangers, it should be welcome insofar as it doesn’t slow down Renewable, which is it’s big legacy from the past, – in Australia almost all Govt spending on Renewables was on Nuclear, also some on Coal fired generator efficiency, – Streuth, what could we have achieved if all that money, all those idealistic young minds, could have been oriented to Renewable energy possibilities instead of the limp Nuclear.

I don’t ‘Believe’ anything, I look objectively at everything, – well, except my personal relationships, but that is feeling, and even there I feel Nuclear is not comfortable, we live in a world wherein Materialism is rampant and folk imbued with Materialism often do not give a damn about the environment, the future, or even themselves, but we should remember that Materialism came about due to among other things, the Scientific Method, but that Materialism is not the Scientific Method, so one should always examine knee jerk responses to anything propounded, by anybody, including me..

Cheers,

Geoff.

 

Paul O's picture
Paul O on October 8, 2014

Except that this page actually examines and discounts Gravitational heat, and a few other sources:-

 

“We don’t think this original heat is a major part of the Earth’s heat, though,” Marone says. It only contributes 5 to 10 percent of the total, “about the same amount as gravitational heat.”

 

To explain gravitational heat, Marone again evokes the image of the hot, freshly formed Earth, which was not of a consistent density. In a gravitational sorting process called differentiation, the denser, heavier parts were drawn to the center, and the less dense areas were displaced outwards. The friction created by this process generated considerable heat, which, like the original heat, still has not fully dissipated.

 

Then there’s latent heat, Marone says. This type arises from the core’s expanding as the Earth cools from the inside out. Just as freezing water turns to ice, that liquid metal is turning solid—and adding volume in the process. “The inner core is becoming larger by about a centimeter every thousand years,” Marone says. The heat released by this expansion is seeping into the mantle.

 

However, I do acknowledge the possibility that this is not the final word on the matter, pending newer scientific discoveries.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on October 8, 2014

Thanks for the accurate info on geothermal heat, Paul.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on October 8, 2014

Thanks for the accurate info on geothermal heat, Paul.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on October 8, 2014

Duplicate

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on October 8, 2014

Duplicate

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on October 10, 2014

Geoff, please rest assured that fission fuel is inexhaustible at extremely low cost.

For a good overview of fission fuel availability and cost please consider the following:

http://www.mcgill.ca/files/gec3/NuclearFissionFuelisInexhaustibleIEEE.pdf

Even if uranium cost as much as gold, it would contribute less than 1 cent/kWh to the cost of electricity generated with nuclear power. A lb of uranium can release energy equivalent to hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline.

There is no silver bullet to our climate and energy crisis. The bullit is made of uranium, plutonium, or thorium.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on October 8, 2014

Geoff, how do you propose we prove what’s at the center of the earth?

To know what “Marone” is, you’d have to actually click on the link that Paul provided (the reference is to Penn State Professor of Geosciences Chris Marone). If you think Dr. Marone’s theories are “possibly bullshit”, below are two papers which are in general agreement. Instead of offering specious comparisons of beach sand and granite, why don’t you address the methodology in the papers, and provide a few links of your own in support? If you did, your argument would sound a lot less like an antinuclear kneejerk reaction.

Warning: neither of these authors has been to the center of the earth, so if you’re demanding actual proof you will be disappointed.

Anuta, Joe (2006-03-30). “Probing Question: What heats the earth’s core?”. physorg.com.

Johnston, Hamish (19 July 2011). “Radioactive decay accounts for half of Earth’s heat”. PhysicsWorld.com. Institute of Physics.

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 8, 2014

Hi Bob, I have read or seen reference to a number of papers, as it is a constant claim of Pro Nuclear folk that Geothermal is Nuclear, and to be honest, I am open minded on the issue, as for our (the Human Race’s) purposes, it does not matter, if it was a Nuclear source, – which seems dubious to me as the Earth doesn’t seem large enough to handle huge Sun-like activity in it’s centre, it is not important, the major problems of Nuclear have been solved, no waste problems, no security problems, no catastrophic failure problems, no terrorists flying thousands of innocent people in 7*7s into Nuclear reactors to prove some vague interpretation of the old testament, – I don’t know exactly the source of the Earth’s incredible heat resource, nor do I care, but just for honesty’s sake I think the Nuclear explanation a bit suss.

It is only that I like the Scientific Method, Observe, – theorise, – observe/test, – tentatively conclude; a lot of that stuff doesn’t seem to cover all bases, but I am sure that if the human race does not destroy itself with it’s own greed, we will definitely understand more and more of what is happening in the Earth’s centre, possibly to our great surprise and leading to new understandings, good – good.

Whatever, Enhanced Geothermal should be pursued vigorously, and costed, as should Solar, although I think Solar on homes is a different paradigm as it is more like insulation or using LED lighting, or putting on warm clothing in Winter, or teaching your children o close the door in Winter, – ie not in the same ballpark really.

Cheers,

Geoff.

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 8, 2014

Hi Bob, I have read or seen reference to a number of papers, as it is a constant claim of Pro Nuclear folk that Geothermal is Nuclear, and to be honest, I am open minded on the issue, as for our (the Human Race’s) purposes, it does not matter, if it was a Nuclear source, – which seems dubious to me as the Earth doesn’t seem large enough to handle huge Sun-like activity in it’s centre, it is not important, the major problems of Nuclear have been solved, no waste problems, no security problems, no catastrophic failure problems, no terrorists flying thousands of innocent people in 7*7s into Nuclear reactors to prove some vague interpretation of the old testament, – I don’t know exactly the source of the Earth’s incredible heat resource, nor do I care, but just for honesty’s sake I think the Nuclear explanation a bit suss.

It is only that I like the Scientific Method, Observe, – theorise, – observe/test, – tentatively conclude; a lot of that stuff doesn’t seem to cover all bases, but I am sure that if the human race does not destroy itself with it’s own greed, we will definitely understand more and more of what is happening in the Earth’s centre, possibly to our great surprise and leading to new understandings, good – good.

Whatever, Enhanced Geothermal should be pursued vigorously, and costed, as should Solar, although I think Solar on homes is a different paradigm as it is more like insulation or using LED lighting, or putting on warm clothing in Winter, or teaching your children o close the door in Winter, – ie not in the same ballpark really.

Cheers,

Geoff.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on October 8, 2014

The options 1 and 2 I listed above are meant to be beliefs (briefly nuclear is safe or is not safe), not options.  Given that the scientific community claims nuclear is safe, the fact that much of the general public believes that it is not safe suggests that either 1 or 2 must be true.  To reiterate, your discomfort with nuclear safety implies that you do not share the same opinion as the scientific community.  (Did you know that the US has been safely and permanently disposing of military nuclear waste for over a decade at the WIPP in New Mexico?  Did you know that the US NRC has declared dry cask storage to be safe and effective for an indefinite timeframe?)

I notice that you have not cited any sources which you have studied to come to your conclusions.  Again, why do you believe this?  Anti-nuclear propaganda from fossil fuel companies is a powerful force, how can you find the truth if you avoid any scientific sources?

You may think that anti-nuclearism is just being safe, but in fact it costs millions of lives every year, since it serves to extend the fossil fuel era. (Fossil fuel is much more easily replaced with nuclear power than with variable renewables.  That is why France, Sweden, and Switzerland have all nearly eliminated fossil fuel for electricity using a combination of nuclear and hydro, but no nation has done this with solar and wind.)

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on October 10, 2014

A developing planetary civilization must master its fears and master the science to be predominately nuclear powered. I would prefer that global standardization be set towards the modular molten salt concept or other similar meltdown proof setup.

Google search of small mobile molten salt reactor

Such advanced civilizations can not merely rely on burning plants for renewable backup.

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 10, 2014

Hi Nathan, this either one or the other thing you are doing is in-appropriate, you are a human being, not a computer chip/circuit that has a 0 or 1 at all stages.

Calling on higher authority, ie some unnamed scientist or three somewhere is not an enlightened methodology, I looked up your WIPP reference, the 17 workers recently irradiated by just one exploding barrel, although I gather not dead yet, may not agree, ( – apparently the barrel was fed the wrong brand of kitty litter, – as with many other barrels,) plus the slackness in the plant requiring the director to be both relieved of his post and demoted, does not engender immediate confidence, nor does the excessive signage required to stop future generations daring to dig.

After the failure of the German salt mine storage I thought that that option had been cast under a dark shadow, to find WIPP continuing, despite unknown migrating Brine pools and also so open to human error, is not comforting, it almost suggests a “no choice so let’s pretend it’s OK’ mentality, – not good Nathan.

The NRC people seemed to want Geological storage so were using the word indefinite to mean as short as possible, not permanently.

Disposing is another worry, these temporary storages have not disposed of the waste, it is still there, and quite accessible to any terrorist or hostile group who want to access it, or spread all that radioactive material around, which they might quite possibly want to do.

That you call on higher authority, that you give only black and white choices, that you have read about confirmation bias without realising that confirmation bias is only effective on the Automatic part of the human being, (that automatic part is also RoadRage and is not strictly human actually) means to me that you are not letting your creative human self really look at Renewables, you just dismiss it without any reason except cliches, – cliches from the fossil fuel industry which as you correctly point out want no let or hindrance on their destructive behaviour and will say bloody anything to get their way.

If, as seems correct, you truly abhor the fossil fuel industry and the future that your and my grand children if not our immediate children it is likely to remove, you must look much more deeply into the Renewable Energy field rather than just arguing for Nuclear as if it is the only answer.

Nuclear is not the only answer, maybe it is hardly an answer at all, maybe it is an uneasy part answer, that is not the point, the point is to look over the entire field of possible answers, dismissing your confirmation bias, objectively, i.e. not dismissing an entire field because of some small problem, and taking into account that Renewables have not had a tenth of the time nor a hundredth of the money that Nuclear has had, but are growing and popular all over the world, thus justifying looking at properly pricing Solar, and I would suggest, in context. 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on October 10, 2014

I believe that solar and wind will need huge amounts of storage in order to prevent fossil fuel use. Instead of building the pumped hydro storage (which requires over 10x less energy to build per unit of energy stored than batteries) these renewables are actually locking in fossil fuels use, which is totally contrary to the intended purpose. It might save a tad on emissions but burning live and dead plants at any, even lessor margen, is not the future that most would want!

Until PHS (and HVDC) is built to accomodate ALL of the extra renewables required to provide for its storage, there is every reason to expect a resurgence in a molten salt type nuclear reactor deployment. I don’t want my kids to actually see what damage warming and acidification can do.

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on October 10, 2014

Hi Robert, you have obviously not read my earlier answer to that charge on this blog talking of a Virtual Power Station, drawing from whatever Renewables are available at the time, whether it be Wind, Solar, Bio gas either liquid or gasifying, Wave, much work there now although hardly any in USA and Tidal, likewise, and other emerging technologies, but also focussing on the potential of Geothermal, – Enhanced geothermal, also known as Deep geothermal also Hot Rocks geothermal, which uses similiar Technology as Nuclear, but without the danger, and also can be coupled with Solar Thermal and is quick to ramp up and down, – about as quick as pumped Hydro, probably quicker, but without the 60% loss, and available all over the world.

I don’t oppose pumped hydro, there is just not so many good locations.

Renewables don’t lock in fossil fuels, they replace them, it is really a question of designing your local grid or country grid so to do, so that even if you have to use some batteries, you use them rarely, so they last much longer, you use the right technology, efficiency of charge and discharge.

PS, I have no idea of the meaning of the alphabet soup PHS although I do use HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current) in my systems – it is normal courtesy to explain the alphabet soup early in your letter, also otherwise people stop reading.

G

PS you may have missed the earlier mention of the amount of Geothermal energy available, in America alone, 13,000; Zetajoules

Note they are talking Zettajoule and the American resource with current technology is 200!!   The zettajoule (ZJ) is equal to one sextillion (10to the21) joules. Annual global energy consumption is approximately 0.5 ZJ.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on October 11, 2014

PHS – pumped hydro storage (I thought I did that, sorry). Power lines make plenty of locations. Solar only has a capacity factor of about 20%, it can be backed only sometimes by wind and mostly by natural gas. Germany is even doing it with some kind of limited load following coal. Biogas is rather trivial but is good to use if from landfill. Solar is first order on the renewables scale, then wind, then wave. Wave is thus trivial. Tidal is just too much infrastructure or mass to deal with for such trivial amounts (not that much pressure difference in just a few feet from high to low tide, especially since just twice per day). Ocean current might be sufficient but I don’t think we want to alter that. And I don’t think its wise to pump warm water into the depths of the oceans (as I think is the case) with OTEC – ocean thermal energy conversion.

I have to agree that advanced geothermal would provide more than necessary but there are even issues with that, mainly that it hasn’t yet been accomplished.

Without advanced nuclear (which was proven, but just cut purely for political reasons), why not just build pumped hydro to back solar and wind? PV and wind should get cheaper (as the subsidy should now go into its machine automation). With that, we should be able to overbuild. I don’t like the idea of burning biofuels on the large scale necessary to make up for those low capacity factors. In fact, we should plant more just for making good soil for the excess CO2 sequestration (and for crops). If solar’s CF- (capacity factor) is 20% and wind’s, 35%, there is still not near enough for overlap, and they won’t do so on a very predictable manner. Therefore, without utilizing the ancient concept of burning things, we are severely limited unless we use our fossil store wisely and build the large hydro storage reservoirs for direct electricity sources like PV and wind, and build molten salt heat storage for heat sources like nuclear and concentrated solar power (or just build advanced nuclear with much lesser amounts of storage). The powerlines only loose about 5%. China is building HVDC over thousands of kilometers with such little line loss! The pumped hydro looses about 30%, a way better (environmental) bargain than having to burn hydrocarbons most of the time. Bty, China is building LOTS of them, too! Batteries require far more energy per unit of energy stored but still offer way better CO2 free potential for cars.

Earlier, I said I don’t want my kids subject to the environmental damage, I don’t want all the kids, subject to limitation, either. I drive around to work and (try to) efficiently plan the chores. However, enviros will say to cut energy usage but still use more than I do because each will travel (much, much further) all the time just to say that we need to limit our energy supplies with NO absolutely dependable option.

We must propose larger amounts of CO2 free power than that even of fossil fuels! The science of the twin effects of warming and acidification from excess CO2 is fact but most all political and environmental “solutions” are fantasy because they are, indeed, bound by the eventual harsh realities of the fossil fuels box. Thus the premise of conservation and efficiency only holds true once we actually develop those greater than fossil fuels options.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on October 11, 2014

 comment moved up-thread here.

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