Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Carolyn Heising, a professor of industrial, mechanical and nuclear engineering at Iowa State University, wrote an editorial last week in The Des Moines Register calling for a truce between proponents of wind and nuclear power. She persuasively argues that if you can support one energy source, you can -- and should -- support both.

It's time for a truce. In reality, nuclear and wind are not competitive, but complementary. And beyond that, large amounts of both are essential, if we hope
to continue meeting our power needs while cutting back on the fossil-fuel emissions that are heating up the global environment.

For its part, nuclear power is the only emissions-free source of affordable, large-scale electricity that can be counted on to generate power 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This capability is crucial. Our high-tech economy, based heavily on
computers and other electronics, requires total reliability in its electric power. Even brief blips in service can cause havoc - with airline safety, financial services and thousands of other sectors of our economy that rely heavily on electronics. For cities, factories and major computer operations, it takes a major power source that works around the clock. That means nuclear power.

Wind power cannot meet this need. It's too diffuse and too dependent on the whims of the weather. But what it can do is provide electricity to meet demand at peak times of the day, reducing the need for electricity from high-priced natural gas.

Working together - with energy efficiency and other renewables as they develop - they can help us meet the great challenge of the century: to provide the energy that the world needs (both the industrialized world and rapidly developing countries) while limiting our release of global-warming gases. We know that we will be unable to completely forgo the use of fossil fuels. But to the extent possible, we need to replace them with emission-free sources. That means recognizing that with the population of the United States topping 300 million people, adding the equivalent of one California every 10 years, the renewal of nuclear power and the further expansion of renewables are essential.

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14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not buying it, and I don't think anyone at NEI, or any nuclear supporter, should buy it into it either.

First, windpower supporters generally have nothing good to say about nuclear power, or the people who support nuclear power. Fans of piddle power (renewable energy, whatever that means) will go out of their way to denigrate nuclear power. The appropriate response is not to coddle these people, but to reiterate to them that they are wrong, and the sooner they accept it, the better off we will all be.

But what's more important is that windpower is not complimentary to nuclear power; it is inferior to nuclear power. Nuclear power has no weakness where windpower has a strength. Windpower reliability and capacity factor are awful by way comparison with nuclear power; it's not as if you can resort to windpower when a reactor is shut down for refueling. Quite the contrary. For windpower to work at all, you need a rock-solid baseload of 90% coal-fired or nuclear plants.

Windpower is not cleaner or safer, per unit energy (e.g, externe study), so why would we even bother with the small contribution that windpower might provide?

Paul Primavera said...

Renewable energy sources may not be limited to just wind power. Other examples include tidal power, geothermal power, solar power, and the current biggest renewable contributor - hydro power. For the money we have wasted in Iraq, I think we could have built several hundred nuclear power plants and perhaps even be fairly on our way to a solar power satellite system (which is really the only right way to implement solar energy - satellites in geosynchronous orbit beaming in the form of microwaves the energy to rectenna farms on the surface for conversion into electricity).

Wind power should have its place in the energy mix. There are locations that are naturally windy during the majority of the year (e.g., cape Cod) and if a company can make an honest profit by building wind mills and selling the resultant electricity, then heck, let them. Let the free market decide.

And if people like Burt Rutan come along with ideas for passenger space craft and solar power satellites, and they can may an honest profit, then again, let them.

There's plenty of energy need all around the globe to keep electricity providers rich millennia to come.

And we don't need to burn fosil fuel to do it, either!

That's the real point - no more GHG emissions, and low cost, pollution-free electricity for everyone from nukes, wind, geothermal, tidal, solar, hydro, etc.

Anonymous said...

Wind power, like nuclear, doesn't emit greenhouse gases and according to some (although I'm personally not there yet) would help us wean ourselves from foreign oil - or at least foreign natural gas. As long as people understand that wind is the Hamburger Helper and nuclear is the beef, there's nothing wrong with a little diversity. Realistically, wind and nuclear will cut into coal and gas usage before they compete head to head. The two don't really compete against each other. Nuclear will always be the first dispatched and wind power will primarily displace electricity provided by peaking units. Besides, given its popularity with the public it wouldn't be smart for the nuclear industry to be on the "wrong" side of the wind issue, even if it didn't make any sense. To do so only gives the impression that the nuclear industry feels threatened by wind power, which would only play into the hands of the anti-nuke crowd.

Anonymous said...

I would never protest about wind power development, but I wouldn't do much to support it either. Too many slurs have been aimed at nuclear with "wind" as the silver-bullet alternative. I wouldn't be certain that those involved are real wind-power supporters, but the opposition has been foisted on the pro-nuclear population, not sought by us.

A few Machiavellian advantages to wind power for nuclear supporters:
1. (Roughly) same life-cycle energy inputs as nuclear, tied at lowest - "nuclear is as green as wind"
2. Great contrast for land-use footprint and visual intrusiveness - nuclear power stations are tiny compared to wind "farms" and - well - any other powergen really.
3. Good aircraft deflectors. Put 10 big windturbines round your nuclear power plant and all those terrorist aircraft (where? where?) will get nowhere near it.
4. Useful comparison on capacity factors. I've seend values from 25% to an optimistic 41% for wind power generation. I'm sure the nuclear industry will continue to regard 90% as normal operating target and expect to beat that regularly.

Anonymous said...

The trouble with wind as a peaker is the same old Achilles' Heel as for a baseload source - it may not be there when you need it. There is no assurance that wind-based capacity will be available when the demand curve is peaking. In fact, as the California experience indicates, the opposite may be true. A peaker doesn't do you much good if it is down when you need to bring it on line. Gas-based peakers are available on demand, but wind may not be, unless the energy storage problem is resolved in a satisfactory manner.

KM said...

One should ask at the same time for a truce between wind opponents and nuclear opponents. Other permutations are also possible and equally unlikely for most people in each group.

Speaking as a wind opponent, our activities embrace nuclear supporters and nuclear opponents, so we therefore separate the issues to avoid splintering our anti-wind efforts.

One issue at a time.

Randal Leavitt said...

Carolyn Heising states that wind power can provide electricity to meet demand at peak times. This is simply wrong. Wind fades when we need it in the evening. Wind reduces during the extremes of summer and winter. Just when we need it most it is not there. These facts have been corroborated by recent detailed studies in Ontario and Alberta. Getting along is great if we are ready to truthfully discuss the characteristics of these technologies.

Anonymous said...

There is no nead for a truce.

Wind is a farce and no real threat to nuclear.

Matthew B

Stewart Peterson said...

Yes, wind is a threat.

It's a mirage. Every state could do what California did--ban new nuclear power plants, make it practically impossible to build new coal plants, encourage wind and solar, and ignore gas. Theoretically, it should be possible to drastically expand offshore drilling, buy LNG from Iran, build a pipeline to Siberia, and begin generating load-following electricity from coal gas, allowing a 70% gas/30% wind balance. The resulting coke could be used as a motor fuel feedstock. That would be good enough to last a couple of generations (i.e., pushing off hard decisions on the grandkids). When the supply starts running low and the rolling blackouts begin, they can just blame all those big corporations. Practically nobody in the general public sees California as a failure of wind/gas. It's seen as corporate greed, even though that doesn't make any sense (it doesn't have to in PopulistWorld).

If I were a wind/gas supporter (and I'm not), I would work as hard as possible, starting immediately, to stack the boards of the Southeast utility regulators with no-nukes-kooks. Protests and obstructionist lawsuits would give them enough time. Once they do, the local government doesn't cooperate with the evacuation plan and the stacked regulator allows the cost of the plant to be passed on only if the plant is never operated. Sound familiar?

The end result: burning foreign gas. Wind doesn't solve the problem of dependence on gas; it requires gas backup. Wind with gas backup uses less gas than running the gas plants 100% of the time, but it still means 70% gas as opposed to 18.7% today. For some reason, the windmill people don't understand this. I think we pro-nuclear people can do a little better.

I don't expect a utility trade association to trash coal or wind, and I don't expect to have any effect on what anybody at NEI thinks or says. However, it might be possible to stay on message a little bit more, unless this is the NEI message. In any event, frankly, I don't agree with this policy of bringing the competition to the table.

Karen Street said...

I am struck by how negative these comments are.

It makes sense to me to argue that wind power costs should be evaluated more sensibly: compare the cost of wind plus natural gas to the cost of natural gas alone. But natural gas plants have been built in many sites, and it might be cheaper to build windmills to go with them. Especially considering the cost of natural gas pollution and climate change. Additionally, many people my age advocate research into and subsidies of possible/likely future technologies, because it lowers our future electricity bill. Technologies don't have to be cost competitive today in order to make economic sense over my lifetime.

We are seeing climate change today, and in my lifetime, and in the lifetime of my younger friends, we may see catastrophic climate change. To that end, I hope that we invest in all technologies that reduce the dangers.

I do not find convincing arguments against wind power because some (or many) wind or/and solar power proponents oppose nuclear power.

KM said...

As you doubt the intelligence of a wind opponent because he or she also opposes nuclear, perhaps the reasons for your own support of nuclear may be seen as dubious because you also support wind.

You see, this kind of dogmatism is ridiculous. Each needs to be assessed on its own.

Jim Hopf said...

Karen,

I agree that renewables like wind should be used to greatest practical extent, as long as the costs aren't dramatically higher. I also believe that it hurts nuclear's cause when its advocates cast dispersions on renewable energy. We definitely don't want to be lumped together with coal and oil in the "anti-environment" camp, something that anti-nukes are desparately trying to accomplish.

One thing all nuclear advocates do agree on, however, is that the notion that conservation and renewables are ready, right now, to meet all our future needs, and that therefore all traditional (fossil & nuclear) sources should be opposed, is extremely unhelpful. This mindset needs to be vigorously opposed and nuclear advocates (including ones that are sincerely supportive of renewables) find themselves having to do so all too often.

Also, whereas I support wind, it is fair to say that there are some doubts. On the surface, wind generally displaces gas generation (at any given time), so one would think it would reduce gas use. It certainly will do so over the short term, and as long as the fraction of power from wind is small.

On the other hand, it can be argued that over the long term, if we get a large fraction of generation from wind, we may be forced to some degree to use gas (or oil) instead of coal or nuclear for the remaining generation. This is because coal and nuclear plants are less practical and economic for use as back up generation that is only on a fraction of the time and has to ramp output up and down. Thus, wind could eventually result in more gas use, not less.

This is a complicated issue, and it's hard for me to say whether wind will cause the amount of gas generation (which is indeed a bad thing) to go up or down over the long term. So, I still support wind, but there are some lingering doubts.

I've come to suspect that the oil/gas industry has been antagonistic to nuclear over the years, and may actually be responsible for a lot of the anti-nuclear propagranda that we've been exposed to. Apparently nuclear is a threat to the continued use of their product. These same oil/gas companies have also been involved in media campaigns promoting renewables. This may just be PR and/or lip service.

On the other hand, based on the arguments above, a large shift to intermittant renewable sources may be the one thing that ensures that their product (gas and oil) is used for a significant fraction of generation for the foreseeable future. All the while burnishing their "green credentials". In other words, this is all a scheme to ensure that more gas and oil (and less nuclear and coal) is used in the future, as the presence of variable, intermittant sources will virtually require it. Some of us can't help but be at least a little bit cynical.

Karen Street said...

Jim and others,

I can understand being frustrated by distortions about nuclear power that are produced by other industries, as well as distortions about their own products. I personally was very tired of the assertion that solar prices had dropped 200% (we now pay you!) that was out and about a decade ago.

I can understand being skeptical that wind power will be as useful as the most fervent supporters hope. My optimism on wind power has declined over the last decade. Some for reasons cited on this blog, others never mentioned.

But there is industry (and my own experience with the nuclear industry has been that facts are more often facts--in part because of more experience, in part because the facts are not as rapidly changing as in newer industries, in part because the industry is more watched). There are policy specialists. And there are policy people synthesizing ideas coming from policy specialists, judging both the information and the size of the error bars.

Those policy generalists still advocate increases in wind power. It is from policy generalists that I get most of my information, depending on the others only when the information and interpretations overlap well.

Whatever grumbling you do in private, I don't want to see it. If you have facts, let me see them. If you have comparisons, let me see them. But not the grumbling.

I know that anti-nuclear feelings are strongest in countries with a large coal or/and hydro base. That's fair to mention.

Re wind -- CA has problems with wind because it blows more at night, and our windmills often lie on bird migration routes. But to the extent wind can replace daytime power, it can replace hydroelectric power -- also a backup for wind. Since hydro is problematic in the dry west, and there is a good chance that hydro will become even more problematic with the loss of snowpack, wind may turn out to be a small blessing locally. I don't know how good wind will turn out to be, or fusion power, but I hope that both are investigated energetically.

When deciding between energy sources, you may not be aware that people in policy are discussing 80% reductions in GHG emissions by 2050, more would be better. Even with these kinds of reductions, there is still a risk, maybe 10 - 20%, of triggering catastrophic climate change.

Those of you who fly and drive may want to consider finding ways to reduce GHG emissions, ditto for those with other large energy uses. We absolutely want to shift to more nuclear power. We absolutely want to investigate energy sources for today and the future, including those more expensive today, both as an investment in lower electricity and fuel prices tomorrow and because of environmental and health effects of fossil fuels. For these reasons, I support policy people in their support, for example, of large subsidies into research on, and use of, PV panels. Those of you who study energy security know that a mix of energy sources is more secure.

Occasionally I read on pro-nuclear blogs that energy sources should be compared on a level playing field. We can't do that when some industries are new and some are mature. Additionally, the cost to society from failing to address climate change will be substantially more than unfair subsidies to some industries. If you win the fairness battle, you will definitely lose your shirt. Or people my age and younger will.

It is my future, and the future of younger people, the majority, that gets mixed into legitimate grievances when you grumble.

Keep posting the facts. Trust people in policy to shift with the facts, and people like me who blog on policy to do likewise. If wind power is an expensive solution that won't work, that information will get out.

Sorry for the longish comments! I wouldn't have said anything if I didn't consider this blog and NEI excellent sources of information.

Anonymous said...

The facts are simply these. If you rely on a primary energy source that is both variable and diffuse, you are going to have challenges that you will not have it you rely on a source that uses a fuel that has an abundant and reliable source.

Both wind and solar fall into the former category. The primary energy source is diffuse. That means you have to work harder to collect the energy and concentrate it in amounts that are useful from an economic standpoint. That means large areas covered by solar collectors, or big windmills spread out over square miles of territory.

They are variable sources. They depend on natural phenomena that by nature have some time variability. That either limits the utility of the energy source (i.e., it may not be there when you need it), or you need to solve the energy storage issue.

Now, unlike nuclear opponents, I will not attribute any moral shortcomings to these energy sources. That is, they are not "bad", or "evil", or assert that the people who work with them are greedy and destructive and have only ill will towards their fellow man. It is simply the way they are. Those energy sources are by nature variable in output, intermittent in availability, and require somewhat large engineering effort to gather and supply in useful quantities.