Friday, November 16, 2012

Indifferent to Nuclear Energy, Against Wind Power

Former Vice President Al Gore has never been the biggest advocate of nuclear energy:

In 2009, he said he saw it playing "a somewhat larger role" in the energy mix because of climate change and efforts to cut carbon emissions. "I'm not a reflexive opponent of nuclear. I used to be enthusiastic about it, but I'm now skeptical about it," he told the Guardian at the time.

But at least three years ago, not it biggest detractor, either. I think it’s fair to say that he is currently indifferent to it.

"It will play a role, but probably a limited role. I think the waste issue can probably be solved, and Fukushima notwithstanding, the safety of operation issue can probably be solved. But the cost is absurdly high and still rising," he wrote during a question and answer session on Reddit to promote his 24-hour Climate Reality webcast on the links between fossil fuels and extreme weather.

That happened Wednesday into Thursday. If the webcast fit your interest, you probably knew that. For everyone else, you can view some highlights here.

And Gore? Well, a bunch of countries, including the U.S., are throwing up a fair number of nuclear facilities – the World Nuclear Association pins it at 60. So Gore’s intuition simply sounds to me an expression of indifference. His interests are really elsewhere.

And that’s fine. I genuinely admire public figures like Gore who leverage their celebrity into good works. There are plenty who don’t. So Gore is indifferent to nuclear energy – so Bill Gates is all in. Let them do what makes them content. It’s all good.

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The Guardian seems to be on a roll with antipathetic energy figures. First Gore and now Conservative energy minister, John Hayes. In Hayes’ case, he really dislikes wind power.

In a letter to the chief executive of South Holland district council, seen by the Guardian, the energy minister said: "Wind turbines … create barely a trickle of non-storable electricity and none at all when wind speed is unsuitable. They will always have to be backed up by conventional power stations because of their unreliability. Because the wind by nature is intermittent and cannot generate a steady output of energy to supply constant demand, even thousands of wind turbines won't replace gas or nuclear power generation."

Unlike Gore, who can influence policy only indirectly, Hayes is the power in this realm, so he can move markets as well as policy.

His views will do nothing to reassure investors who are nervous about the battle within the government over energy policy. Several large multinational companies are holding off their final decisions on investments totaling tens of billions of pounds into wind turbine manufacturing plants in the UK because of the perceived political turmoil over the renewables issue.

To be fair, there is pushback:

His complaints were rebuffed by Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of RenewableUK who said it was a myth that wind farms were "unreliable". "Modern wind turbines are highly efficient – they generate electricity for 85% of the time. Just last week, National Grid announced that another record amount was being generated by wind – 13.5% of the UK's entire electricity needs. As we install more turbines onshore and offshore this is set to increase to 30% by the end of the decade."

Let’s take Smith at his word – though his numbers seem awfully high – and add that if I were him, the letter from Hayes would make me very nervous.

I’ll stop here since wind really isn’t our brief, but it’s interesting to see anything resembling an anti-wind crusade – there’s another story at The Guardian about a prospective parliamentary candidate who conspired with a newspaper columnist to run as an anti-wind candidate. This caused a kerfluffle, but I don’t understand British politics well enough to untangle it. See what you think.

5 comments:

Eric said...

Is Gore indifferent to nuclear power? No, I think it's something more than that. Way back in "An Inconvenient Truth" I found it very significant that his proposed solutions for the future were taken directly from the IPCC, but with the pointed omission of nuclear. He went out of his way to not mention it at all. That is a significant passivity, and it also shows that he's a purist rather than a pragmatist, and nuclear is "dirty" to the greens.

For me, though, nuclear is a litmus test for being serious about the future of energy--if you don't consider it as a part of the solution to decarbonizing our energy mix, then I really don't have time to talk to you about wind/solar/etc.

jim said...

I suspect that more than a few politicians are "anti-wind" mostly for the same reason a notable political family knocked down a gaggle of windmills from despoiling their front view of a postcard Nantucket shoreline... Pristine scenic vistas and aesthetics aside, I'm surprised that the security angle of power sites hasn't been brought up in this age of terrorism and wanton vandalism. It's FAR easier to destroy or severely damage windmills and solar farms ruining the scenery in the boondocks than a single fortified site like a nuclear plant.

James Greenidge
Queens NY



John Wheeler said...

I disagree, Gore's position on nuclear energy is not "all good." In fact, he has done great harm.

His cherry picking of IPCC recommendations to match his politics, and his slick media productions that promote efficiency, wind, and solar as the primary tools for reducing CO2 emissions perpetuate myths and have contributed to public misunderstanding of the massive scale of the problem. He has influenced government policies that have led to wasteful taxpayer funded investments and subsidies to favored technologies & renewables. This approach has done little more than boost natural gas consumption at many times the cost of simply installing CCGTs. In our current economic state we can ill afford the luxury of squandering our limited resources on Gore's vision of our energy future.

Bill said...

"Just last week, National Grid announced that another record amount was being generated by wind – 13.5% of the UK's entire electricity needs."

I can't find data for last week, but for 16 Nov, wind generated 17905 MW-h (746 MW-days), which was 1.9% of total demand.
http://www.bmreports.com/bsp/bsp_home.htm

Looking further back to 30 Sept, wind supplied 3073 MW -- 14.1% of the 21778 MW total demand. But that was at 05:00 on a Sunday morning.
At 18:30 on 9 Oct, wind provided 142 MW -- 0.3% of the day's peak demand of 46296 MW.
http://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/~dcurtis/NETA.html

Edis said...

While a wind turbine produces power most of the time, how much power they produce vary significantly. On average they produce around 25% of their rated capacity (thats why wind lobbyist prefer to make claims about installed capacity, rather than actual production), but since actual production varies from time to time you always need backup power ready. When electricity demand is high you can only expect a few percent of the installed wind power capacity to be availible with some certainty. If you have a large nuclear fleet this number is much higher. That means a much lower demand for standby backup power, and significantly less strain on the electric grid.

So while wind turbines may produce power most of the time, that claim doesn't really tell the whole story.