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Monday Message Board (on Tuesday)

January 12th, 2010

It’s (past) time, once again for the Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language.

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  1. BilB
    January 17th, 2010 at 08:11 | #1

    The argument that “economic growth” is “the” global problem is false. The real problem is resources depletion. In principle it is entirely possible to have strong economic growth with a…contraction…of resource consumption. How is this possible? For starters it is happening steadily happening now. Efficiencies of performance driven by technology is the core. The most visible iconic form for this is the “iPod/iPhone”. Only a handful of years earlier to appreciate the creative performance of others required large floor standing significant energy consuming equipment . Now that capability and much more is available to all the people of the world in hardware that weighs just grams. And the service industry that feeds that capability is massive, while requiring very little in support resources to enable it. The main consumption of resources now is for the living support for those engaged in this form of industry, and that is a variable which can be influenced by persuasion and legislation. So if the “soft resource industry” doubles its output economic growth will increase without there being a significant increase in resource consumption.

  2. Fran Barlow
    January 17th, 2010 at 09:41 | #2

    @Alice

    and she (Fran – the prolific pro nuke post deluger) would prefer (nuclear) waste being stored here in Australia.

    Given that we have nuclear hazmat in the world, I’d prefer it to be stored in the least unsafe place, all things considered. Wouldn’t that be any rational person’s viewpoint, regardless of his or her attitude to nuclear power?

    One of those least unsafe places would be here, and since Australia is an exporter of uranium oxide and is a party to NNPT, and since there are those worried about re-use of hazmat to produce weapons — would this not make sense?

    And if we found a way to degrade this waste to less weaponizable form, to produce power from it without adding to the stockpile of hazmat and were paid to take it, would this not also make sense?

  3. Fran Barlow
    January 17th, 2010 at 10:26 | #3

    @nanks

    However as you know there is a diminishing return between increasing consumption and increasing quality of life once basic needs+ a bit are met [...] in fact we would increase quality of life if consumption of, say, cigarettes, heroin, Rush Limbaugh, leaf-blowers, etc decreased without any replacement

    I completely agree. Indeed one might consider the question of the share of production/consumption spent on the military (along with the knock-on effects). I read that if the fuel used by the military alone were handed off to the world’s largest airline they could have a zero fuel bill.

    It’s unlikely in practice though that the first world will agree to these kinds of cuts in consumption and even less likely that the military will be substantially dismantled. If we could have a verificable agreement amongst the states of the woprld to cut real per capita spending on the military by 1% per annum and to reduce the sizes of their arsenals and logistics by at least the same amount that in itself would be huge, but I don’t see that happening. (the adjective I’d like to attach here would upset PrQs filter).

    The broader question is that even if we did all these things, extra goods and services still need to be produced, however you count the total. You still need to produce the things near the Maslow’s hierarchy stuff at industrial scale. At some point, you stop being able to eliminate wasteful consumption. Cutting waste buys us time — good thing — but it doesn’t change the long run calculus. This side of cuts in population or at least stability, growth is necessary if poor people are to become not poor.

    If we first worlders are outrageously successful in persuading our fellow first worlders not to be reckless and to strive for “just what we need” and diverting those resources toward people who don’t, then we buy useful time to do the other things that are also necessary. We put off the day of disaster or lessen its depth. We don’t cancel it though.

  4. BilB
    January 17th, 2010 at 10:29 | #4

    Fran,

    Australia is a continent predominantly made from semi permiable sedimentary rock, with a massive and complex artesian basin. Just because there are barren suface areas where few desire to go does not make this a “suitable” dumping site for nuclear waste. Beyond that are the mangement times from hundreds to thousands of years, way longer than the life span of any previous civlisation, and certainly greater than any stable political environment in history. No present government can responsible force future governments and generations to bear that responsibility.

    What you are suggesting is that it is ok for someone to pay you to mind their child with you for a few minutes, then disappear for ever.

  5. Fran Barlow
    January 17th, 2010 at 10:52 | #5

    @BilB

    Nuclear hazmat is not a magical substance. Essentially all you need to do is to house it somewhere that is secure from human contact in circumstances where it won’t get access to water tables opr the atmosphere.

    The volumes in question are tiny compared with CO2 and other fossil combustion releases. They are also tiny compared with the bulk of the decommissioning burden of renewables such as wind turbines or solar panels or even CSP.

    It is a fact that there are large areas on Australias land mass that have been gologically stable for orders of magnitude longer than the time for completed decay of the waste to background levels. The jurisdictional questions are far more salient, and Australia has stable governance and is presently fairly remote from the major areas of civil conflict.

    For the record, why don’t you draw up a management plant for the storage of the various levels of waste? Where would you have these stored?

  6. Freelander
    January 17th, 2010 at 10:57 | #6

    Moreover, the risk from long lived nuclear waste becomes vanishingly small if you choose a high enough discount rate.

    Remember, why should we care about future generations; what have they ever done for us?

  7. Ernestine Gross
    January 17th, 2010 at 11:18 | #7

    There are a few properties at Hunters Hill which the nuclear advocate(s) could move to for the purpose of learning by doing and putting their money where their mouth is. This would save the NSW tax payers a bit of money spent on belated decommissioning work.

  8. BilB
    January 17th, 2010 at 11:47 | #8

    Fran,
    I would not create the materials in the first place. The only safe system that I can imagine is granular vitrification and deep burial in a very dilute form ie small grains mixed amoungst massive amounts of impermiable clay, preferably in the deep ocean on the edge of a rapidly subducting techtonic plate.

    The French have controvercially decided to bury theirs in low permiability clay beds. But what will bring that unstuck, depending on the amounts involved are that decaying nuclear waste emits heat and gasses while also having a variable neutron emission rate. What I can see going wrong with this plan is that the heat will change the properties of the clay allowing porosity which will provide the opportunity for progressively nuclear contaminated supporting material to become mobile thereby allowing the nuclear separation of the material to change offering the possibility of a critical mass event to occur. Of course the engineers have worked out all of the risks and have allowed for these things, just as engineers have before every disaster in history. The interesting one was the Marshal Islands test explosion which was planned to be a 4000 megatonne event but (woops) became a 15000 megatonne event (roughly) due to unforseen reactions.

    I know, Fran, that you prefer to think about Chernobyl as though it was a bad long weekend on the roads, but for everyone elses “entertainment” he is one account worth reading

    http://environmentalchemistry.com/yogi/hazmat/articles/chernobyl1.html

  9. Fran Barlow
    January 17th, 2010 at 12:07 | #9

    @Freelander

    Moreover, the risk from long lived nuclear waste becomes vanishingly small if you choose a high enough discount rate.

    It does, but your flippant tone ill-becomes you.

    Consider this. While it is unlikely that we will discover a permanent technological fix for secure hazmat storage in the next ten years, it may well be twice as likely 20 years from now if there is any substantial expansion in the volume of waste to be dealt with and the costs of doing so. The further out into the future you push the consideration (250 years?), the more likely it is that we will come up with a good answer.

    We don’t know what the discount rate is and clearly, a technological breakthrough could occur anywhere along the timeline, so the real challenge for us to to adopt a strategy that allows us to manage the problem at low cost in human resources and risk until that day comes, precisely so that any discount rate works for us and those who come later.

    Our relationship with future generations is more complex than you allow. Clearly, if we mess up, we mess them up, but the reverse is also true and has been true all thoughout human history. What we learn and build we pass on as legacy, and not the least way of messing up is to hand them a problem that exceeds their resources to handle and is very serious in scale. That’s why GHG-buildup cannot be ignored. Unlike nuclear hazmat, CO2 emitted today will perturb the biosphere for well beyond 50,000 years. It cannot yet be stored securely in the volumes required for the time needed.

    That’s something the renewables-largely advocates miss. Their plan calls for large-scale resort to NG which is not only finite but CO2-emitting. The net-CO2 reduction is not the reduction from a CSP or a wind turbine but from the total package including the redundant fossil capacity. And if that NG comes (as some of it must) in the form of open cycle gas, then the savings fall still further since this more CO2-intensive relative to coal than are the most efficient closed cycle plants. These must be used since the more efficient closed cycle plants get damaged by being rapidly and repeatedly asked to meet slews (variations in the supply/demand balance) caused by supply from intermittents.

  10. Fran Barlow
    January 17th, 2010 at 12:27 | #10

    @BilB

    Endlessly referring to Chernobyl, BilB, proves nothing. No amount of sadness about that disaster is pertinent to considering the marginal utility of fundamentally different systems operating in a significantly different regulatory context.

    What you don’t say is how much damage to the environment resort to coal rather than nuclear has led to during the same period and will author in the future. One could argue that the disaster at Chernobyl will not only come to prematurely end the lives of 4000 or so people and seriously damage the lives of many others, but it will have authored a context in which much more coal would be burned, killing and harming orders or magnitude more people for hundreds of years into the future.

    That of course is a failure of human politics because instead of knee-jerk reactions to nuclear — which we don’t often do with other industrial-scale systems — we might have responded by ensuring we simply didn’t repeat the Chernobyl system — a military grade reactor without a concrete housing operated outside of specs.

    Think of this — how many people were killed at Three Mile Island?

  11. BilB
    January 17th, 2010 at 12:54 | #11

    Actually, you wrong there, Fran. The use of natural gas (NG) in the CSP (Concentating Solar thermal Power) hybride system, used to cover the non solar periods (13% in total), can be comfortably replaced with the use of biomass. And there are 2 projects that I am privy too that serve that need extremely well. One is a down draft gasifier that burns a broad range of biomass inputs to produce an ideal burnable output gas of CO (Carbon monOxide) and H2, plus biochar (this system is now in production I believe). The other is a project to use a biomass source that is massively abundant in Australia (can’t talk precisely about it because of confidentiality constraints).

    The biofuel component potential makes CSP 100% CO2 free and fully baseload deliverable 24/365. Another project that I am periferally involved with offers the possibility of 10Kw of solar power for every new house for as little as $15,000 per house, and with a complete payback period of 3 to 7 seven years without subsidy or special feedin rates. This project is really exciting and uses today ready technology with the certainty of higher efficiencies again in the near future.

    So the way that I see the future unfolding now is that the 3 cent per Kwhr levy will fund the basic 28 gigawatt fossil fuel power generation infrastructure replacement with CSP/Wind/Wave and Geothermal, and privately funded PV (high efficiency Photo Voltaic) providing the supply of demand growth to cover the transition to electrically powered transportation over the next 30 years. All of that for less than the cost of a McHappy meal per family per week for the next 30 years. With the ongoing bonus that the progressive increase in the number of families with houses containing the 10Kw sytems will steadily improve the standard of living for Australian families as this offers an income improvement of $3000 per year after the payback period of the system has passed.

    The future is potentially far more secure. The solutions are all there.

  12. Fran Barlow
    January 17th, 2010 at 13:01 | #12

    @BilB

    1.What do you base the 13% figure for “non-solar” periods on?
    2. Where are the sources of the biomass feedstock and the putative biomass combustion plants?

  13. BilB
    January 17th, 2010 at 13:07 | #13

    Fran5/10, the reality that you have to cope with is that Nuclear is entirely unnecessary in the Australian context (refer BilB 5/11) and if it were employed on the east coast of Australia, any accident at all jeopardises the premium farming/residential land that Australia has to offer. And a Chernobyl scale accident, however unlikely, would be absolutlely devastating in this region, the region of highest population and electricity demand. These are risks that Australians are entirely averse to.

    You are pushing a barrow with a corpse in it. It is time to head for the cemetary, then get back to the living.

  14. BilB
    January 17th, 2010 at 13:27 | #14

    Fran,

    1. The 13% figure was provided by Dr Franz Trieb,
    http://www.kfas.com/information_pages/pdf-news/Dr-Franz-Trieb.pdf
    (his phone number can be found on this document), and is based on the accumulated experience of all of the operating CSP plants.

    2. I cannot divulge that at this stage (confidentiality, I was involved in preparing samples for testing during the holiday break), but it is my undestanding that this is highly abundant and in near proximity to the areas where CSP plants are likely to be placed. However, it should be appreciated that the non solar periods are infrequent and provide more than ample time for stockpiles to be formed. This is a fully manageable facility which offers solid permanent employment opportunities for many inland Australian communties.

    2b the “putative biomass combustion plants” would be a combination of the standard hybride gas powered boilers with the gas, instead of being natural gas (methane), being supplied by the downdraft gassifier above mentioned (CO + H2). This downdraft gassifier system (a mobile version) was demonstrated to the energy minister in the grounds of parliament house just recently, I am told.

  15. BilB
    January 17th, 2010 at 14:06 | #15

    freelander5/6,

    Well, my future generation, presently, provides me with delight and entertainment. What I am more concerned about, though, is that it will be they who managed my dotage, and they have been more than direct in reminding me that my future comfort will be managed by them.

  16. Alice
    January 17th, 2010 at 19:48 | #16

    @Ernestine Gross
    LOL Ernestine…there is a real agenda going on here isnt there?? It is so very obvious…and that is to try to shove nuclear down peoples throats when they clearly dont want it here in Australia. I posted a link above. It really is no accident that the majority of nuclear weapons in storage happen to be close to nuclear facilities across the US and Europe and these shortsighted fools want to see them extend into the Southern hemisphere as well which is relatively free of the hideous weapons storage.

    Then we get the propaganda that uses every semi pseudo technical term wrapped in jargon and triple wrapped in a snowstorm of posts to try to convince us all nuclear is normal and safe and we could eat it on our weetbix. I wish they would just disappear for my childrens sakes and their childrens sakes. They are a danger to us all.

    Good on you BilB. I couldnt agree more with your comment at 13 “Fran5/10, the reality that you have to cope with is that Nuclear is entirely unnecessary in the Australian context”

    But I agree with this comment even more “You are pushing a barrow with a corpse in it. It is time to head for the cemetary, then get back to the living.”

    Fran – do us all a favour and take BilBs advice.

  17. Fran Barlow
    January 17th, 2010 at 23:42 | #17

    @BilB

    I checked your linkt to Dr Trieb. There is neither a claim about 13% in it and still less any modelling to justify such an inference.

    Certainly, one can’t simply make such sweeping claims for every location, even if it turned out that there were at least one such location.

    What does 13% mean anyway? Plainly it can’t refer to the hours between dusk and dawn. It’s also not going to refer to the hours each day when there is some sun. CSPs can harvest at peak only when the sun is fairly high in the sky. Outisde those times you aren’t getting 87% of rated capacity.

    Now I would be willing to pay a significant premium to have CSPs here if they could replace coal within 5 years, but I’d need to see some solid modelling to suggest this was actually possible.

  18. BilB
    January 18th, 2010 at 05:12 | #18

    Fran,

    In a CSP baseload capable systems the collector array takes in solar energy in the form of heat and transfers the heat with oil at 400 deg C to the enrgy conversion facility (boiler and turbines). As demand fluctuates during the day surplus heat is stored in either concrete blocks or molten salt tanks for use at a later time. During non solar periods (night time and cloudy day), the stored heat is transfered to the boilers to maintain continuity of supply. Where there is a short fall in heat storage gas burners or biomass burners come on line automatically to maintain the continuity of electricity output. By this method CSP performs the combined roles of coal power and hydro power but in the one facility. The 13% is the industry experience figure for the percentage of gas or biomass required for a CSP plant to maintain baseload performance. The figure was obtained from a phone conversation with Dr Trieb several years ago.

    Dr Trieb is Europes foremost authority on CSP power. He was engaged by the former German government (pre Angela Merkil) to evaluate and implement government policy with regards CSP electricity in the Eurozone. Dr Trieb is less available for phone conversations these days, but his email address is readily available if you need verification on the figures.

    There are two approaches to building expensive energy infrastructure. One is for the government to be the “owner builder”, the other is for the market to provide an “off the shelf” or “supplier takes all risk” approach. The difference is seen in the delivered electricity price. If you need modelling then Dr Trieb is the only person that I am aware of who can provide such from a government “owner builder” viewpoint. For the “supplier bears all costs and takes all risk” point of view there are an increasing number of consultancies and corporations keen to obtain that opportunity. Australia’s Professor David Mills being one of them.

    All systems at the moment are compared to the “coal standard” with regard to electricity generation cost. The coal standard (in the Australian context) is a system where the infrastructure has been paid for by the public and the assets have been written off, and is fueled with coal that the state “owns” and makes available at cost through independent mining contractors. It is for this reason that the proposed 3 cents per retail unit levy infrastructure funding plan is the only system that can deliver truly comparible electricity generation pricing. This is the only method whereby the replacement alternative energy infrastructure is provided in a “paid up” manner thereby removing the “mortgage” component form the delivered electricity pricing.

    If contracts were let today for CSP infrastructure, it would be 3 years before the first facilities came on line. By this time the retail electrity levy system would have 20 billion dollars accumulated. New capacity would come on line every year after that. The completion rate would be controlled by the available funding.

  19. Ernestine Gross
    January 18th, 2010 at 08:15 | #19

    @BilB

    I looked at your link, http://www.kfas.com/information_pages/pdf-news/Dr-Franz-Trieb.pdf.

    It contains an abstract of a paper by Dr Franz Trieb.
    I assume you explicitly referred to the address and telephone number because the full paper, possibly presented at a conference, is not available in the public domain for commercial in confidence reasons.

    Dr Trieb’s paper, like most research papers I’ve come across, signals its content in the heading: In this case: Concentrating Solar Power for Seawater Desalination AQUA-CSP. Dr Trieb’s paper talks about the specific case of North Africa and the Middle East. Anybody who has elementary education in geography will therefore know that this region is arid, it includes the Sahara desert, and it has an shortage of water. Its relevance to Australia cannot be dismissed a priori.

    I also had a look at the web-site of Dr Trieb’s affiliation: http://www.sollab.eu/dlr.html
    I found that Dr Trieb’s affiliation (place of work) is part of a large EU-wide research net-work. The content of this web-site signals support for your statements as well as those if iain on this thread.

    I am writing in this manner because I wish to illustrate to the target audience of ‘communicators’ (previously ‘advocates’, previously ‘spin doctors’, previously public relations experts, previously propagandists) that it is possible for non-experts in a field to carry out elementary checks on the credibility of the ‘stuff’ published .

  20. BilB
    January 18th, 2010 at 08:55 | #20

    Exactly, Ernestine. The link was to the source of the information rather than the content. In this case the individual with whom I have had a number of lengthy conversations, with the intention of determining the suitability of the European CSP system for the Australian environment. In my opinion “a phone call saves a thousand emails”.

  21. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    January 20th, 2010 at 08:36 | #21

    BilB – if I read you correctly you are saying that a CSP plant can deliver electricity with the same reliability and flexibility as a gas only plant whilst using on average 87% less gas. If this is so then I’d regard it as a technically feasible alternative to our existing purely fossil fuel plants. It then becomes a much more simple economic question.

    The economic analysis I have seen still tends to put such alternatives in the very expensive category.

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