Skip to main content

How Do You Define "Renewable"?

That's the question in Florida, and the topic of a new post from We Support Lee.

Comments

Josh said…
Renewable is any energy source liked by the wets. It's a buzz word, a fashion label, no longer an engineering description.
Doug said…
I don't think it's reasonable to call nuclear a renewable energy source, at least at the present time. It is reasonable to call it a low-carbon energy source.

Ultimately the argument about renewability boils down to timescale. Sources like fossil, nuclear, even geothermal, will deplete (with current technology) on human timescales (100s to perhaps 1000s of years). Sources like tidal, solar, wind, etc. will not deplete for millions/billions of years.

The big plus for nuclear verus a lot of other low-carbon sources is that it's practical for baseload today, without needing to pre-suppose breakthroughs that might not appear. IMO it's best not to speculate on breakthroughs (such as extraction of fuel from diffuse sources), otherwise you're just debating energy fantasies with people pushing impractical energy non-solutions. Breeder technology is probably as far as I'd go in terms of projection - it's been practical for decades, but hasn't been successfully commercialised. Breeding plutonium (and U233 from thorium) would take us out 1000s of years - while not renewable, I'd call it sustainable.
They should define any reactor that uses fuel already in inventory as renewable--they are, by definition, since they aren't depleting any natural resources--and mandate 30%-35% renewables by 2025. That would include breeders, CANDUs using DUPIC, LWRs using downblended weapons material and thorium...most of the promising fuel cycles that need development.

That should work well with the recent reprocessing plant proposal--it would be a lot easier if they didn't have to separate actinides at all.
Anonymous said…
The term is a brilliant piece of marketing, but it is meaningless to the engineer. Everything is renewable to some degree, or everything non-renewable to a degree, depending on which way you look at it. Diffuse power sources such as wind and solar have no fuel content, but they consume raw materials and human labor just the same. Periodically, these raw materials and human inputs must be replenished or renewed, just like any other industry.

Here is my definition of renewable: the EROEI (energy return on energy invested) is infinite. Now this is precisely what advocates of diffuse power would have you believe about their pet projects. It's not true of course, as it would violate the second law. I'd even settle for something with an EROEI >> 100 as renewable, seeing as infinity is not about to happen.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…