Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Re-Running Old Anti-Nuke Arguments

Back in April, David Bradish posted an extensive debunking of a Council of Foreign Relations report on nuclear energy. Now, the author of that same report, Charles Ferguson, is back with another article in the pages of Foreign Policy magazine. But this time, our friend Rod Adams is stepping in to do the debunking:

As is often the case with anti-nuclear arguments, there are some elements of truth to the above litany, but my response as a problem solver is to think and act on ways to overcome as many of the obstacles as possible. Fortunately, many of them are imposed by humans, so they can be solved by humans. It seems to me that it is easier to solve a problem like excessive licensing delays or lack of a sufficient skilled work force than it is to solve the basic physics, chemistry, supply or weather related shortcomings of other energy sources.

Nothing I can imagine any humans doing is going to make the wind reliable, the sun shine at night or through clouds, crops grow in winter or reduce the fundamental challenges of finding enough oil fast enough in a world where about half of all available oil has been consumed. Though there is easy talk about carbon sequestration, the fundamental challenge of separating, transporting and storing tens of billions of tons of a gaseous waste product each year seem pretty mind boggling.
Read the rest right now.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

It never ceases to amaze me that the same kooks who hammer the nuclear industry about storage of a waste product that decays in a finite time and has relatively small volume just breezily talk about CO2 sequestration, something that doesn't decay, is produced in quantities millions of times more in volume than nuclear waste, is gaseous and mobile in the biosphere, as if it were a problem to be solved by the snap of one's fingers. I mean, looking at it objectively, which is the more difficult management problem? Nuclear materials stay where they are unless driven out by external forces. The natural state of CO2 is to be on the go, moving around and through the ecosystem as it pleases.

Ohadi Langis said...

As always Ron Adams brings his considerable industry expertise to the fore.

Readers may also be interested to read another review of CFR's "analysis" at Idaho Samizdat
http://djysrv.blogspot.com/2007/04/cfr-nuclear-is-not-solution-for-global.html

Anonymous said...

"Nothing I can imagine any humans doing is going to make the wind reliable"

We just need a bit more imagination. Wind is a result of a basic pressure, due to heat at the equator which wants to move to the poles. As a result, the wind is always blowing somewhere. The answer? Long distance transmission, which faces just about exactly the same NIMBY problems as nuclear.

The same thing applies to solar: the sun is always shining somewhere.

Of course, it's not quite as simple as that. Nothing, including nuclear, ever is. But the idea that there are basic physics problems with wind & solar is just wrong.

Rod Adams said...

The fact that the sun is always shining somewhere does not negate the fact that devices dependent on the sun are destined to be inoperable for at least 12-16 hours per day. (When the sun is at a low angle, the energy available is minimal - it is a function of the sine of the elevation angle.)

The fact that the wind is always blowing somewhere is subject to the same logic.

No matter what you do with regard to transmission lines, the overall capacity factor of the system is bound by these laws of physics. Sure, you can produce SOME power, but you cannot produce anything close to the nameplate capacity of your energy production system with "fuels" that depend on the weather or the planet's rotation.

Anonymous said...

There are issues of basic physics that come into play when considering the development potential of energy sources like wind and solar. The primary issues are intermittancy and intensity. You can't really do much about either. Going to "somewhere" where the wind is always blowing and the sun is always shining not only leads to NIMBY problems with transmission line siting, but also unavoidable losses in transmission. That means you need more capacity to deliver a given amount of energy at the point of use.

More fundamental than that is the reality that wind and solar are diffuse energy sources, sometimes called "low quality" by engineers. The energy is spread out over an areal extent for solar, dispersed in three dimensions for wind. A diffuse primary energy source means you have to work harder to gather it in sufficient quantities to make it economical. That drives up cost for installed capacity, as well as raising NIMBY issues like land use and visual clutter.

Brian said...

Ah, but read the Foreign Policy article. The solution that it pushes is not wind turbines or solar panels, but ... more efficient coal plants!

That's some real forward thinking.

Anonymous said...

"The primary issues are intermittancy and intensity. You can't really do much about either. "

You can do a great deal. Long distance transmission, demand management, storage, balancing with rarely used, cheap peaker plants would all work. This is the kind of defeatist thinking that drives nuclear advocates nuts, and I'm surprised to hear it here.

"Going to "somewhere" where the wind is always blowing and the sun is always shining not only leads to NIMBY problems with transmission line siting"

NIMBY? As I noted in my first comment, these are almost precisely the same NIMBY concerns as faced by nuclear.

"also unavoidable losses in transmission. That means you need more capacity to deliver a given amount of energy at the point of use."

Long distance transmission has losses of about 6% per 1,000 miles, which is perfectly workable. You don't really need to go 1,000's of miles to connect sufficiently different weather areas to reduce intermittency dramatically.

"More fundamental than that is the reality that wind and solar are diffuse energy sources, sometimes called "low quality" by engineers. The energy is spread out over an areal extent for solar, dispersed in three dimensions for wind. A diffuse primary energy source means you have to work harder to gather it in sufficient quantities to make it economical.

Wind & solar are distributed, but I'd call solar’s kilowatt per sq meter pretty dense. I think we should make apples to apples comparisons. If we're going to look at the energy density of wind and sun inputs, we should compare them to the same inputs for nuclear. The raw material for nuclear fuel isn’t the pure material that arrives at the plant, it’s uranium ore, at 1% to .2% concentrations. If you want to use the fuel as your comparison point, then the logical thing to compare it to on the wind side is the first refined step, which is the electricity that windmills & solar panels produce. Electricity is mighty energy dense.

I've always been puzzled by energy density concerns for wind and PV: both of them may be distributed over a large area, but neither of them typically "use up" the land they're on.

Wind may need 60 acres per MW, but the turbine itself only uses about 1/4 acre - the rest of the land is available for farming, or whatever.

Similarly, PV on roofs doesn't use up anything at all: the roof would be there anyway. In fact, Building Integrated PV typically provides structural and insulation value.

“That drives up cost for installed capacity”

Sure, cost is the primary metric, and on that basis wind is doing just fine. Solar is still too expensive, but costs are dropping fast.

“as well as raising NIMBY issues like land use and visual clutter.”

Visual clutter? Do you really feel this is a big problem, in the greater scheme of things?

Anonymous said...

Rod said: “The fact that the sun is always shining somewhere does not negate the fact that devices dependent on the sun are destined to be inoperable for at least 12-16 hours per day...wind...is subject to the same logic.”

That’s what the electricity grid is for, to move electricity around. We’re not talking about off-grid applications.

“cannot produce anything close to the nameplate capacity of your energy production system with "fuels"”

Sure, but so what? Nuclear definitely has a higher capacity factor, but what counts ultimately is the cost of your power, and on that count, as noted above, wind is fine and solar is getting there.

Consider: peaker gas generation is perfectly practical, despite very low capacity factor. There’s nothing magical about capacity factor. Wind is designed to have a lower capacity factor, and is perfectly economical even so.

Again, to appeal to basic physics is misleading - there are no basic physics problems with wind & solar. There are certainly practical problems that must be dealt with, like NIMBY, transmission, and load matching, just like with nuclear...

Anonymous said...

"Similarly, PV on roofs doesn't use up anything at all: the roof would be there anyway. In fact, Building Integrated PV typically provides structural and insulation value."

Rooftop solar PV would be a loser for me and most on my block as we have N-S roof alignments. The angle of incidence is not optimum for solar PV (or solar anything) when your panels face east and west.

It also wouldn't work very well for where my father-in-law lives. His "roof" is his neighbor's floor. I think they have maybe a couple of dozen units and one rooftop. Solar PV wouldn't do much for indoor roofs.

"Visual clutter? Do you really feel this is a big problem, in the greater scheme of things?"

I don't know, but the people screaming bloody murder about the Nantucket Sound proposal seem to think it matters. Maybe you'd better spend more time lobbying Teddy Kennedy and less time on the NEI site.

Anonymous said...

“The angle of incidence is not optimum for solar PV (or solar anything) when your panels face east and west.”

Sure. PV works best for new construction. Someone in your position will have to wait until PV gets really, really cheap. That may take a while, given how much demand is ahead of supply, which seems to be limited at the moment to only(!) about 40% growth per year. It is to be hoped that thin film CIGS, like Nanosolar, will change that with much cheaper, faster production methods.

“ Solar PV wouldn't do much for indoor roofs.”

No, but it would work well for the landlord.

“the people screaming bloody murder about the Nantucket Sound proposal seem to think it (visual clutter) matters.”

True. Fortunately they’re a minority even there. Elsewhere, wind is generally pretty welcome in local communities, just like nuclear.

"Maybe you'd better spend more time lobbying Teddy Kennedy and less time on the NEI site. "

I'm sad to hear you're not interested in new ideas. I would expect nuclear advocates, tech advocates that they are, to be interested in learning new things.

Anonymous said...

...which seems to be limited at the moment to only(!) about 40% growth per year.

Large percentage gains are easy when your comparison baseline is small. When the first nuclear plant came on line, the growth rate was an infinite percentage, since you were starting with nothing. Capacity tends to be added in fixed increments, not as a percentage of total installed capacity. So as the installed base grows the percentage gains become proportionately smaller. Elementary arithmetic.

True. Fortunately they’re a minority even there. Elsewhere, wind is generally pretty welcome in local communities, just like nuclear.

I can't resist relaying this anecdote. My Mom used to live on the Jersey shore and a few blocks away from her house a guy decided to put up a wind turbine and ground-level PV array. Not a bad bet, there's always a breeze "down the shore" and the sunlight percentage isn't bad. He ran his windmill for a couple of years until the (closer) neighbors got a court injunction to shut it down because of environmental impact, primarly noise and sunlight "flicker" (at some angles the shadows cast by the windmill blades would fall across his neighbor's homes and yards). So he had to feather that prop. His PV array ran a little longer until a hurricane came up the coast and washed it away. But I got the impression he wasn't too sad about that. He got an insurance settlement and was getting up in years, and was a bit tired of washing the sand, salt, and seagull poop off those panels. It worked out okay though because he was able to go back on the grid 100% and not pay too much, because up the road about 10 miles was a good old reliable nuclear plant, chugging away nicely, rain or shine, night or dark, windy or not, since about 1970.

I'm sad to hear you're not interested in new ideas. I would expect nuclear advocates, tech advocates that they are, to be interested in learning new things.

Actually, I am, as long as they are reaonable proposals as a matter of public policy. For the record, I've always though we could have a very clean environment if we used nuclear for baseload supply, and supplemented that with "renewables" to fill in the gaps in the demand curve, assuming the energy storage problem can be reasonably addressed. And I apologize if my postings seem recalcitrant or curmudgeonly. I've been in the bueinss going on 30 years, dealing with these kinds of issues and questions, and sometimes it wears you down a bit.

Anonymous said...

"as the installed base grows the percentage gains become proportionately smaller."

Sure, but that doesn't apply to solar. In fact, solar production growth rates are rising, not falling: it grew at a 30% rate from 92-98, and a 40% rate from 98 to 2007. Demand is growing even faster, of course. Silicon supplies will catch up in a year or two to allow faster growth, and the transition to CIGS thin-film is also likely to raise the speed limit on growth, as the roll-to-roll production techniques in plants like that of Nanosolar are much more productive.

The anecdote is cute, but not really useful. No one is suggesting that small wind turbines in residential neighborhoods are feasible, or that PV hasn't been pretty expensive in the past. Your neighbor was a hobbyist, doing impractical things.

I agree: nuclear and wind for baseload and solar for peak would be a nice match. Please note that storage 1) isn't needed for renewables at low % of market penetration (under 10% certainly, and probably under 20%), 2) by the time it gets to that point plug-in hybrids are likely to provide all the buffering one might want, and 3) utility-scale storage is very feasible, as shown by the Ludington, MI plant for nuclear load matching.

I can see how you'd get skeptical of renewables, with 30 years experience. FWIW, I too have 30 years experience with this. It's true that renewables weren't ready for a large role until recently, and enthusiasts often exaggerated their usefulness during that time. Unfortunately, there are too many uninformed boosters in every industry, hurting the credibility of their "cause". We all need to keep our minds open and our brains thinking...