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And the Moment We've All Been Waiting For...

The EU report Eric mentions below was released today. Reuters reports,
The European Commission has announced what it says are the world's most ambitious targets for fighting climate change, proposing the bloc cut greenhouse gases by at least 20 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.
And in a global game of "I'll jump if you jump,"
Brussels also challenged developed nations around the world to cut emissions by 30 percent by 2020, a move the EU would match if others joined in.
In addition to addressing climate change concerns the vision for the common energy policy
seek[s] to ease dependence on foreign suppliers and reduce the dominance of big utilities.
Predictably, France and Germany had something to say about that and there are a couple of options in the report.

Also predictable was criticism from the no-solutions gang. Jan Kowalzig, a spokesman from Friends of the Earth Europe, said
Scientific findings show that it simply won't be enough for the EU to only reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2020 if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change
These are the same people that oppose nuclear power. The EU is already going to miss its target of reducing carbon emissions 8% from 1990 levels by 2012. Yet the gang wants a bigger reduction in carbon emissions AND they want to phase out nuclear power. It just doesn't make sense.

While it doesn't give targets for nuclear generation, the Commission's report said
shutting nuclear reactors will make cutting greenhouse gas emissions harder
You betcha.

The report also proposed that, even though the current generation target of 12% renewables by 2012 will likely not be met, renewable sources make up 20% of the EU's energy mix by 2020. To do that with intermittent sources like solar or wind, they will surely have to spend a lot of money to improve the transmission and distribution system as last year's blackout demonstrated. In Alberta, Canada $1 billion is already being spent to upgrade the transmission system in order to handle just 900 MW of wind power.

In any case, I wonder if this opens the door for restarts of nuclear power plants that the EU recently forced to close?


Gerry Wolff said…
Regarding "And the Moment We've All Been Waiting For..." (2007-01-10), it is not only in Europe that nuclear power would be the wrong choice. In many parts of the world, including the US, there is a simple mature technology available that can deliver huge amounts of clean energy without any of the headaches of nuclear power.

I refer to 'concentrating solar power' (CSP), the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and half a million Californians currently get their electricity from this source. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

CSP works best in hot deserts and, of course, these are not always nearby! But it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km, solar electricity may be transmitted to anywhere in the Europe. In the US, a portion of the Mojave desert would meet all the country's needs for electricity.

In the recent 'TRANS-CSP' report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. A large-scale HVDC transmission grid has also been proposed by Airtricity as a means of optimising the use of wind power throughout Europe.

Further information about CSP may be found at and Copies of the TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from The many problems associated with nuclear power are summarised at
KenG said…
CSP is an interesting technology but it is questionable if it will ever be economical since there is no real "breakthrough" potential for efficiency. The SEGS plants in California may supply a half million people at peak power but the winter output is much less than the summer output. The facility has no storage because economics will not allow it, even with the large subsidies provided for solar plants. The solar power is supplemented by burning fossil fuel much of the time to get a reasonable availability factor.

In short, an interesting technology but it's hard to see it as economical in large scale without a major increase in electricity cost.
Dr. Peter Foreman, FIEE said…
Trust Shell to go for another wrong solution. Already they continue to waste money looking for oil that we cannot afford to burn and waste their resources by flaring in Nigeria.
Nuclear is another resource to cause wars and invasions as in Iraq.
A German study has shown that the Sahara Desert could supply many times over all the world's electricity with no emissions using technology developed in California in the 80s, namely 'Concentrating Solar Power'.
That's the safe way forward, then we could criticise Iran for developing nuclear power!
Brian Mays said…
Gerry Wolff,

I agree with KenG: your spiel on CSP is interesting stuff, but what does it have to do your claim that "it is not only in Europe that nuclear power would be the wrong choice"? You completely failed to follow up on that one.

I suggest that both technologies be allowed to follow up on their own merits without preemptively ruling one out (as you seem to suggest). There is plenty of energy from coal plants that needs to be replaced; more than enough to go around.

Of course, of the two (nuclear and solar), I have my own opinion of which technology will end up with the lion's share (guess which, or just look at current generation statistics), which I derive from technical and economic considerations. Furthermore, I would personally prefer not to have a significant portion of the Mojave desert, with it's fragile desert ecology, covered from end to end with mirrors, which will do untold ecological damage.

If we are still talking about Europe, I would also like to note that Europe receives far less sunlight than the Mojave desert (or the Sahara desert, Dr. Foreman). Take it from someone who lives there. So what does CSP have to do with Europe?
Anonymous said…
Piddle power fans are at again, pushing old technologies obviated by the burning of fossil fuels. Now that the end of the cheap fossil fuel era is in sight, they feel that anachronostic ideas like culling energy from the sun and wind - ideas which would be familiar to the medieval mind - will save the day somehow. We've been hearing this for decades, yet in that time nuclear power has gone from nothing to 20% of the nation's electricity. Piddle power is still trivial by comparison, and will remain so, as therea are no fundamental gains in efficiency or economy of scale to be had.

By the way, efficient transmission lines do nothing to improve the position of piddle power with respect to nuclear power. Assuming gerry wolf is right, you can also place nuclear plants in the desert, taking up only a few acres and fraction of the raw materials and human power needed for a CSP plant, and transmit the power to Europe.
Brian Mays said…
What I find ironic here is that we are presented with an argument that is (implicitly) critical of being dependent on resources that are located far from home and that result in wars in dessert countries, like Iraq, but in almost the same breath, advocates a plan that concentrates the resources (lots of sunshine) used to "supply many times over the world's electricity" far from home in dessert countries, like in North Africa.

Sorry, but I cannot let that pass without a little criticism. If you think it's difficult to protect the oil wells concentrated in specific key parts of the Middle East, how do you think that western powers will protect the many many fragile mirrors and towers that would be spread all over the dessert for CSP? Talk about an easy target!
Anonymous said…
i think you mean desert and not the treat you get after dinner
Brian Mays said…
No, I meant that they have really good sweets over there.

Okay ... sheesh ... the "s" key got stuck on my keyboard (the second time was from cut and paste). Sorry, I was in a hurry and the spellchecker doesn't catch that.
Anonymous said…
The idea that Europe would allow itself to become dependent on the geopolitically spooky Middle East for much of their electricity in addition to their natural gas and oil does not compute. Not to mention the HVDC lines would have to traverse several countries of varying friendliness, each of which would no doubt impose wheeling tariffs and which could stop the flow at a moment's notice similar to what has been seen recently with Russian oil and gas.
KenG said…
Maybe we should get Amory Lovin's take on this.

After all, his decentralized power generation concept says it's impractical and uneconomic to have large 1000 MW nuclear plants feeding population centers a few hundred miles apart.

I wonder how he would react to huge solar stations in North Africa somehow feeding northern Europe?
Jim Hopf said…
The potential contributions from solar thermal are not “piddly”. As renewables go, it has a lot of merit, as it costs significantly less than solar PV, and its intermittentcy is a lot more manageable than most renewables (e.g., wind). Its moderate ability to store thermal energy (e.g., for nighttime) makes it even more promising, although this may not be necessary since it generates power at times of peak demand, and would thus be an excellent compliment to existing baseload stations. Given all this, it really only comes down to cost.

All that said, solar thermal does have significant limitations. It requires a vast amount of land, and it requires a hot sunny (dry) climate in order for it to be economic (i.e., just a little bit more expensive than other sources such as nuclear, versus a lot more expensive). For this reason, it is practical only in certain regions, mainly sparsely populated desert areas. The costs (in both money and energy efficiency) of shipping vast amounts of power over very long distances remains prohibitive. Thus, whereas this source may be capable of providing a significant fraction of overall power in certain regions of the world, there are many (heavily industrialized) regions where it cannot.

As far as the idea of powering Europe with solar thermal stations in the Sahara desert is concerned, the cost of shipping the power will make the final power cost substantially greater than that of traditional sources like nuclear. Avoiding the minor drawbacks of nuclear is nowhere near worth this cost. Furthermore, I fail to see how importing all of one’s energy from developing, Islamic countries in the Sahara desert is so much better than getting one’s energy from Islamic (oil) countries in the Middle East.
Jim Hopf said…
I have no idea what Mr. Foreman could be thinking when he suggests that nuclear would lead to resource wars like Iraq. The geopolitical problems caused by dependency on fossil fuels imported from places like the Middle East and Russia is the very thing that nuclear would avoid!

The two main suppliers of uranium (with the largest reserves) are Canada and Australia. Horrors!! The US also has very substantial reserves, enough to supply our reactors entirely, if need be.

Also, the cost of uranium ore only represents ~2-3% of the overall final cost of nuclear power (versus being ~3/4 of the overall cost for gas or oil plants). Thus, nuclear is virtually immune to resource (ore) price increases. The tiny volume and low cost of nuclear fuel/ore also makes it very easy to store, as insurance against anu supply cutoff.

Simply put, the economic, geopolitical and energy security issues associated with imported oil and gas do not apply for nuclear. Like coal and renewables (or any non gas or oil source), nuclear can greatly enhance our energy security.
Anonymous said…
I question the feasibility of long-distance power transmission using HVDC. In my state alone, an energy company has just given up after seven years of trying to get approval for a HV transmission line from the southern part of the state to the northern, where it would tie into the Great Lakes regional grid. Too much opposition from local residents and environmentalist wackos who don't live here. Now that's just for the transmission infrastructure, mind you, not the generating plants themselves. One can imagine the oppostion to those (solar or otherwise) if simply siting a transmission lines caused such a hassle.
Anonymous said…
I really don't see how Europe gains much in the way of energy independence or security if they exchange imported oil from the Middle East for CSP-generated electricity from the Middle East or North Africa. Either way, they are still beholden to countries who may not have the best interests of Western countries at heart. Sticking with existing, locally sited nuclear-generated electricity and perhaps expanding it would avoid that problem. You still need uranium, but at least places like Canada and Australia are more favorably disposed towards Western nations than those of the Middle East, by and large.
Anonymous said…
Sorry Jim,

Diffuse power sources such as solar and wind will always be piddly compared to nuclear power. After decades of direct subsidies, solar power contributes 0.3% of California's electricity (NNadir's Journal). So you can imagine how little potential solar power has in, say, Michigan or Germany. The technology is ancient, with no breakthroughs on the horizon.

Piddle power (the term comes from fans like gerry wolf don't just say that diffuse power sources can help out a bit; they claim that wind and solar can completely eliminate nuclear power. This silly notion must be beaten down as often as possible.
Anonymous said…
"Moderate" storage capacity may be fine for overnight periods, but I am wondering how well CSP would do in a place like where I live, where I haven't seen the sun in going on about a week now. Solid cloud cover, day after day of drizzy rain. I'd imagine the CSP thermal reservoir would be cooling off pretty well about now. Then where do we go for electricity? I'd rather not be stuck in the middle of a cold, wet winter without a reliable electricity supply. Either way you slice it, locating CSP generators far from the point of end-use means higher costs from long-distance transmission (assuming you can even site the transmission lines, with difficulties as noted in an earlier post) and less security if the generating plant and/or transmission lines are in less than friendly foreign countries.

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