Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dr. Caldicott vs. Nuclear Power, Last Rounds

I’m sure by now many readers are getting tired of reading about Dr. Caldicott and her latest book “Nuclear Power is Not the Answer.” So if the readers can hang with me for one last post on the book I would really appreciate it.

Chapter 9 – Renewable Energy: The Answer

Caldicott, p. 161:

Many kinds of alternative solutions are currently on the drawing board because of the extreme urgency of countering global warming. For instance, the conversion of coal to a synthetic fuel, which can be used for transportation and which would contribute much less to global warming than petroleum, is actively being championed by Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana.
I don’t know about you but I’m a bit stunned to see that she would mention coal as a solution to climate change.

Caldicott, p. 161:
However, the world at large has already begun to shift over to alternative energy sources, as is documented in several recent studies…Globally, more electricity is now produced by decentralized, low-carbon or no-carbon competitors than from nuclear power plants-about one-third from renewables (wind, biomass, solar) and two-thirds through a very efficient form of energy production in which electricity is made from waste heat emanating from industry in a process called fossil-fuel combined-heat-and-power CHP, or cogeneration.
For those readers who have been around for sometime you can probably guess whose ideas are these. If you guessed Amory Lovins you are correct. And if you’ve been around quite a bit you already know of the many posts we have written on Mr. Lovins and his ideas. I like his ideas about energy efficiency; however, when it comes to comparing to nuclear I find them way off. My opinion of course.

Back to Caldicott. Maybe I’m misinformed but I thought that “alternative energy sources” did not include natural gas which is the primary source of fuel for cogeneration. If she’s concerned about climate change, and she believes that nuclear produces only about one-third of the lifecycle emissions as natural gas, then why go for natural gas anyways. I find this puzzling.

Caldicott, p. 170:
It is imperative that the federal and state governments subsidize these important and critical new energy sources (wind).
So she rails against subsidies for nuclear in Chapter 2 but states in Chapter 9 that “it is imperative” that wind receives subsidies. I have no problem with wind receiving subsidies but am a little confused by this logic. The way she made it sound for nuclear in Chapter 2 is that subsidies are bad. But in Chapter 9 subsidies are apparently appropriate for wind.

Chapter 10 – What Individuals Can Do: Energy Conservation and Efficiency

Caldicott, p. 175:
Europeans use approximately 50% less energy per capita than Americans, while maintaining the same standard of living…If Americans change the way they live and decide to take responsibility to clean up the polluted planet, millions will follow.
Energy does not really have much to do with standard of living. It’s the consumption of electricity (ppt) that does. Regardless. I think she has a good point about conserving electricity. Do we really need to have lights on in rooms that aren’t even being used? Do we really need to have the AC set to 65 so our offices are so cold that we need heaters under our desks to keep warm? I don’t know the numbers specifically but conservation could go a long way. And the same goes with efficiency. According to EIA data (PDF), we saved less than 2 percent in 2004 utilizing demand side programs compared to what we generate in the U.S. I am sure we could do a lot better.

Think of electricity like water. Do you leave the faucet running when you’re not using it? Do you run the faucet while brushing your teeth? Same applies to electricity.

However, you still need a source to supply electricity and with a 45%-50% increase in electrical demand by 2030 projected in the U.S. (pdf), we are going to need all the supply available. Just to give an idea of the magnitude of the increase, think of adding about 300-350 new nuclear plants to the grid by 2030. That’s almost the current capacity of the world’s existing nuclear fleet (pdf). Not one source can scale up that fast to meet all that demand. And that’s exactly what NERC’s latest assessment states on page 7:
Long-term electricity supply adequacy requires a broad and balanced portfolio of generation and fuel types, transmission, demand response, renewables, and distributed generation; all supply-side and demand-side options need to be available.
That is all from me. I hope the readers have enjoyed this debunking session over the past several weeks. For the previous posts on Dr. Caldicott’s book see below.

"Nuclear Power Is Not The Answer"
Dr. Caldicott vs. Nuclear Power, Round 1
Dr. Caldicott vs. Nuclear Power, Round 2
Dr. Caldicott vs. Nuclear Power, Round 3
Dr. Caldicott vs. Nuclear Power, Rounds Four and Five
Dr. Caldicott vs. Nuclear Power, Rounds Six, Seven and Eight

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4 comments:

Matthew66 said...

Of course there are lots of ways to make US residents more energy efficient. For example, build energy efficiency into building codes. As a newcomer to the NYC, I am stunned by the amount of energy that is wasted. Heat has been included in my rent, so I have no incentive to conserve energy in winter. In fact, the central heating system has no thermostat, so its either on or off, the only way to have the heat on and regulate it is to open a window. The consequence is that one walks around NYC and sees an astonishing number of apartments with windows open in the middle of winter. For approximately $80 per unit, a thermostat can be installed on a steam radiator. I am amazed landlords don't do this. I am sure most tenants don't want to be overheated and would have the thermostat turned to 72 degrees and have the window shut, they just can't. I suspect the only way to make landlords install thermostats is to link their installation to the next rent increase (at least for rent regulated apartments).

Rod Adams said...

David:

I have been reading anti-nuclear literature from people like Lovins, Caldicott, Gunter, and Makhijani for years. The material that I have read dates back as early as 1970.

Almost without fail, these activists place natural gas heated cogeneration into the "alternative" energy category.

I happen to disagree with that categorization, but apparently a favorable position about natural gas is part of what helps anti-nuclear activists gather the resources that enable them to be full time anti-nuclear activists.

Anonymous said...

Well she certainly misunderstnads CHP. The system works exactly oppositely to her version. Gas (usually) is used for electricity generation and the waste heat from generation is then used for industrial/commenrcial processes.
I'd argue that recognition of the efficiency gained here in terms of carbon emission should be as a higher efficiency use of materials. It doesn't produce less CO2 but it does make better use of it, so the CO2/kWhr measure should decrease, by increasing the effective kW rating. By how much is more difficult question, but certainly by no more than the electricity that could have be used to make the same heat.

It's worth mentioning again that the correct ratio of lifecycle carbon emission is more like 25 times less for nuclear compared to gas. The most favourable CHP case as adjusted above might change this to 8-12 times less for nuclear than gas.

robert merkel said...

One criticism that regularly gets made with respect to nuclear is that it won't be built fast enough to make the cuts in emissions that are claimed to be necessary to avoid the worst dangers of global warming.

What annoys me greatly about this is that, even assuming that the financial incentives are put in place to do so, it will take many, many years for energy efficiency measures to percolate through our society. Some, like Matthew's thermostat example, are no-brainers that can be done easily and cheaply. But there is only so much low-hanging fruit. After a while, we're going to haft to start replacing systems to make any further inroads. Individuals and businesses aren't going to junk capital expenditures lightly.

To take Matthew's example of buildings, say CHP systems became compulsory in NYC for all new buildings or major refits. If you passed that law - today - it would take at least a couple of years before it could be enacted, and it would be at least a decade or more probably two before a majority of buildings actually had it installed (boiler systems tend to be very long-lived, as I understand it).

And, meanwhile, the continued growth in the economy is going to mean that, even if we're more efficient in how we use energy, the amount of stuff we want to use energy for is likely to increase. For instance, air travel is perhaps the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions, and the demand for it is not likely to go away any time soon.

Furthermore, there seems to be an assumption that energy efficiency is alway s going to make financial sense over new generation capacity. This is utterly wrong-headed thinking. The Toyota Prius is a marvellously efficient automobile. It is an engineering marvel that such a complex system can be made to work in harmony and achieve such an improvement in efficiency. But, given the current financial premium over conventional vehicles, does it make financial sense - and would it make financial sense even under most conceivable carbon charging regimes? Not on your life.