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Radioactive sandpit

November 14th, 2010

Since I’ve been incautious enough to mention the N-word in the previous post, I’ll open another sandpit specifically devoted to discussions of the merits, and otherwise, of nuclear power. Any mention of this topic on other threads will be deleted and will risk bans or restrictions on the offender

Update Since it’s still going, I’ve moved it up, which should reopen comments

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  1. Rationalist
    November 1st, 2010 at 17:24 | #1

    I prefer coal.

  2. Chris Warren
    November 1st, 2010 at 17:27 | #2

    No point really :(

  3. Alice
    November 1st, 2010 at 18:51 | #3

    Aaarrrrrghhh – Im turning green – but I agree its one way to keep other threads from being hijacked. Sort of solitary confinement. Now the libertarians will complain they lost their freedoms next.

    Ratio – U seriously made me laugh! LOL

  4. November 1st, 2010 at 19:36 | #4

    The term sandpit is a bit insulting but I’ll resist the temptation to be offended.

    One issue about the nuclear industry is the lack of standardisation in plant design. They all look unique which creates low learning-by-doing and high costs, delays in construction etc. My guess (pure guess) is that the lack of standardisation reflects environmental concerns.

    I have heard that the Russians are building a more standardised nuclear station and that this will reduce costs. I assume Chinese can do the same. The extent to which replication reduces costs was discussed by Zimmerman in 1970s – I wonder if it raises safety issues?

  5. Ken Fabos
    November 1st, 2010 at 20:52 | #5

    I suspect nuclear will gain lots of acceptance when impacts of climate change are so obvious and severe that even columnists at The Australian will be vigorously condemning the manufacturers and distributors of climate change denial and are decrying the lack of investments in renewables. i.e. when the need to close down all the existing coal plants is urgent and new ‘low’ emissions gas isn’t low emissions enough.

    To date more effort has gone into developing policy that lets us do the least that we can get away with, rather than the most we are capable of – that goes for investment in renewables as well as clearing the impediments to nuclear.

    The Greens are wrong to have blanket opposition to nuclear but they do have an appreciation for broader issues of sustainability and the limits of our Earth’s environment. Cheap, abundant energy can as easily carry us further past those limits as much as it has the potential to shift them back a bit; as long as the pro-nukes arguments are primarily about growth, wealth and not having to limit anything – business as usual minus the catastrophic climate change – they will be at odds with lots of green thinking folk who might put climate fears ahead of proliferation and waste disposal fears but who won’t see nuclear as the Great Solution.

  6. Anthony
    November 2nd, 2010 at 00:23 | #6

    The Merits:
    It’s zero emission
    It uses a truly tiny quantity of fuel
    New fast breeder/pebble bed reactors seem pretty safe

    The Otherwise:
    It’s complicated, expensive and over-engineered
    It generates serious quantities of nuclear waste – Which kills people, lasts for 10′s of thousands of years, and can’t be safely stored.

    The otherwises seem to be a killer for me (quite literally). It seems like solar/solar thermal/geothermal/wind is approaching the same cost per KwH, is on a much more encouraging cost curve, and has the added side effect of not killing anyone (For a given value of anyone – I suppose the birds don’t think much of wind turbines, but one problem at a time) :)

  7. Rationalist
    November 2nd, 2010 at 06:39 | #7

    Coal:

    Merits:
    * Cheap.
    * Base load, great capacity factors.
    * Did I mention that it is cheap?
    * Locally produced.
    * Don’t forget that it is cheap.

    Otherwise:
    * None that I can think of.

  8. Hermit
    November 2nd, 2010 at 07:37 | #8

    I think we should spread crushed coal on the Gold Coast beaches for the enjoyment of the public. Here’s a problem with coal; it’s going to increase in dollar cost with or without carbon taxes. China’s domestic production is expected to peak circa 2015 and they plan to get more coal by rail from Russia. India will source more coal from Mozambique. Australia can’t make up the Chindia demand shortfall unless there is a global recession. We’ll end up paying world prices for coal even though we seem to have plenty for now.

    In my opinion we should cut the $43 bn NBN budget in half and buy two AP 1000 reactors. One on the eastern seabord and one on the southern coastline. If possible integrate the cooling systems with desalination. We are supposed to be 20% renewable in just 10 years time but that will require a fourfold increase if we exclude hydro. This is despite generous subsidies. Suppose we did achieve 20% renewables; what about the other 80%? Federal minister Ferguson has been waxing lyrical about gas fired electricity, just like the Brits in the Thatcher era. Now they get gas from Siberia under constant fear of the tap being turned off.

    I’m saying wind and solar are not going to deliver, coal won’t always be cheap and some say it has other problems, gas is finite. What does that leave?

  9. Chris Warren
    November 2nd, 2010 at 08:04 | #9

    @Rationalist

    So you obviously did not read all the previous discussion on this.

    Coal:
    Merits:
    * Cheap. In short-term only and with massive (possibly uncontrollable) costs in long-term
    * Base load, great capacity factors. Which can be developed with better renewable technology
    * Did I mention that it is cheap? – Just like a restless chicken.
    * Locally produced. But waste and yellowcake is shipped all around the world.
    * Don’t forget that it is cheap. Will someone silence this chook :!:
    Otherwise:
    * None that I can think of. But your grandchildren will be spitting on your grave.

  10. Chris Warren
    November 2nd, 2010 at 08:17 | #10

    @Hermit

    Another slow learner who has not read previous discussion.

    No-one is contesting that:

    I’m saying wind and solar are not going to deliver,

    Only a range of renewables and storage capacity, plus population policies, will protect our environment for future generations, keep risks of accidents and pollution at much lower levels, and enable the energy sector to be better distributed and competitive.

    Two AP1000 reactors providing energy will be like having two banks providing banking services. This leads to permanent profiteering rip-offs, plus claims of “two big to fail” gambits imposed onto mug politicians.

  11. BilB
    November 2nd, 2010 at 08:30 | #11

    So what does that leave? Nothing that is not finite other than Solar, Hermit.

    Your saying “solar won’t deliver” is a bit of an empty statement, particularly coming from someone whose personal energy sources are 95% solar (and very good for you by the way).

    Solar is the only thing that is truly “infinite” (we all die before the sun does so that is infinite in meaningful terms).

    So is big solar getting under way. It seems so. These people

    http://www.wizardpower.com.au/

    seem to be at the forefront of a wave of large solar installations.

  12. Rationalist
    November 2nd, 2010 at 09:03 | #12

    @Chris Warren
    You can’t get base load from windmills and black squares on your roof.

  13. Chris O’Neill
    November 2nd, 2010 at 09:09 | #13

    Only a range of renewables and storage capacity, plus population policies, will protect our environment for future generations

    Very little population policy seems to be happening at the moment, apart from continuing appalling methods such as the baby bonus that was set up by the ideologically-motivated pair, Howard and Costello. There was little hope of this changing under Rudd who had a similar ideological bent. At least Gillard doesn’t share this view but it hasn’t made any difference to baby bonus policy as yet. Demographic transition has gone into reverse in Australia as a consequence of having had a throwback government (Howard-Costello). The Chinese and Indians must be staggered by the baby bonus.

  14. BilB
    November 2nd, 2010 at 09:15 | #14

    Chris W,

    ‘“two big to fail” gambits imposed onto mug politicians’

    is a very real risk if any nuclear facilities were to be built in Australia. This is why the attempt to establish a nuclear waste dump in Australia followed closely by the receiving of toxic waste from Europe is a huge risk to Austalia. It is all bad.

  15. November 2nd, 2010 at 09:40 | #15

    The Gen IV S-PRISM reactor which will eat nuclear waste is now one step closer.

    Anti-nukes just keep repeating old fashioned, out dated critiques such as ‘we don’t know what to do with the waste’ or ‘we’ll hit peak uranium’ or my favourite, ‘They’ll never invent commercially viable Gen IV reactors!’ (As if they know the future).

    But we have 300 reactor years with breeders. And the SPRISM just keeps being developed, and slowly marches forward.

    http://tinyurl.com/2d4d22y

  16. November 2nd, 2010 at 09:42 | #16

    Oh, and Bilb, very soon we will not be calling it ‘nuclear waste’ but ‘once-through fuel’. GenIV is coming. Then we’ll power the world for 500 years on today’s nuclear ‘waste’ alone! By then we’ll have fusion. It’s all GOOD!

  17. BilB
    November 2nd, 2010 at 10:02 | #17

    EclipseNow,

    #15 ditto on BNC claims that solar energy will never eventuate.

    #16 the thing that you guys fail to realise is that once everyone is generating their own energy locally from the sun, the Nuclear reactors will have no customers other than in the extreme northern climes. Nuclear fission is a redundant technology.

    If you do some study on energy consumption over time you will see that as technology improves energy consumption per person reduces. I would be only too pleased if Nuclear fusion became a reality, but from what I can see even that is not as clean as was originally imagined. One of the big problems is neutron embrittlement of the containment vessel. There weren’t supposed to be any free neurtons as I recall. And they are talking of mining for fuel on the moon.

    Meanwhile the sun keeps on shining. That must be so annoying for your guys.

  18. quokka
    November 2nd, 2010 at 10:21 | #18

    Sometimes it is necessary to stand back and look at the big picture.

    1. To contain warming to anything resembling a safe level, CO2 emissions must be cut by 80% or more by 2050.

    2. Energy demand is rising and despite the best efforts at efficiency, will certainly continue to rise worldwide.

    3. Taking into account world economic growth, population growth and our desire to electrify most energy use – eg transport directly or via synthetic fuels, space heating, industrial processes etc, etc – to achieve the above mentioned emissions cuts, world demand for electricity could by 2050 be five times what it is today.

    Barry Brook has done some calculations for the build rates and material requirements to build the generators to achieve this capacity. All figures per day – every day between now and 2050.

    Wind

    1,160 GE 2.5xl wind turbines per day. Requiring 340 sq kms of land, 1,250,000 tonnes of concrete and 335,000 tonnes of steel.

    – OR –

    Solar CSPBased on Andasol 1/2. 45 sq kms of land, 2,215,000 tonnes of concrete and 690,000 tonnes of steel. All transported to remote desert locations – every day.

    – OR –

    Nuclear Based on Westinghouse AP1000 NPP. 0.04 sq kms of land, 160,000 tonnes of concrete and 10,000 tonnes of steel per day.

    The comparison is strikingly lopsided in favour of nuclear. But it becomes even more lopsided when one considers the requirements of overbuild and storage to deal with the variability issues of solar and wind which would add very significantly to the above figures.

    And worse still taking into account the service life of wind turbines which is around 20 years. The whole wind component would have to be rebuilt. Nuclear service life is 60 years.

    There is no disputing that whatever engineering is used the task is daunting, but to do it mainly wind solar and wind looks plain impossible.

    The derivation of the above figures is here: http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/10/18/tcase4/

  19. Chris Warren
    November 2nd, 2010 at 10:22 | #19

    @Rationalist

    With development of all renewables and storage capacity – you can get baseload power.

    Noone is claiming you can get baseload from windmills and black squares. This was a three-star fabrication :twisted: :twisted: :twisted:

  20. Chris O’Neill
    November 2nd, 2010 at 10:24 | #20

    You can’t get base load from windmills and black squares on your roof.

    More accurately, you can’t reliably get any load from windmills and solar. When Australia gets a big fat high over it at nighttime or when the Sun is low, wind and solar are dead. The proponents never say where the electricity is going to come from except for pie-in-the-sky storage schemes.

  21. Chris Warren
    November 2nd, 2010 at 10:36 | #21

    @quokka

    Why do we get this junk?

    No-one is suggesting that wind or solar will provide all future energy needs – this is a fabrication.

    If you want to play with statistics, try counting the numbers of Yucca’s needed just for current waste, then for the next 10 years, then for the next 10, and so on.

    Why don’t you produce the statistics on the isotopes in spent fuel rods and the necessary decay series?

    You are just spreading the same boring stuff previously floated.

  22. jquiggin
    November 2nd, 2010 at 10:38 | #22

    @Chris O’Neill
    Economists have this idea about matching variable demand and supply. It’s called a price.

    As I’ve pointed out more times than I care to, our current problem with night-time power is that we have too much of it. Fortunately, thanks to the magic of prices, we can persuade users to take the excess. As the share of solar and wind increases, we get to reduce the discount for night-time energy, and the waste associated with generating it. Conversely, we need to introduce seasonal pricing to flatten out the winter and summer peaks.

    Any analysis starting from the assumption that existing demand patterns need to be met (this includes all pro-nuclear analyses I’ve seen) is worthless.

  23. quokka
    November 2nd, 2010 at 10:38 | #23

    @BilB

    “the thing that you guys fail to realise is that once everyone is generating their own energy locally from the sun”

    You can believe fairy stories if you like and attempt to individualize what is a social problem, but don’t expect anybody that takes the issues of energy and climate seriously to take any notice.

  24. Chris Warren
    November 2nd, 2010 at 10:40 | #24

    @Chris O’Neill

    So how do you store energy in a “pie-in-the-sky”?

    Better a pie-in-the-sky than a nuclear sandcastle on a water table crossed by a fault-line.

  25. quokka
    November 2nd, 2010 at 11:02 | #25

    @Chris Warren

    “Why do we get this junk?”

    If you think it is junk, then articulate why. I gave you the reference and I can’t see a problem with the derivation. If you want to contest the projected electricity demand then do so, but also please explain how emissions from transport, space heating, industrial processes can be curtailed without a hugely increased electricity consumption. Also explain how the 25% or so of the worlds population should have to continue without access to electricity.

    “No-one is suggesting that wind or solar will provide all future energy needs – this is a fabrication.”

    Ok then, what is going to provide future energy needs? Are we to just feel good about wind and solar until something else comes along?

  26. Fran Barlow
    November 2nd, 2010 at 11:07 | #26

    PrQ

    our current problem with night-time power is that we have too much of it. Fortunately, thanks to the magic of prices, we can persuade users to take the excess.

    Is it your claim though that putting aside those whose night-time power use is discretionary, (e.g. those who leave their non-essential appliances plugged in overnight) there would be hardly any demand from dusk to dawn? If, for argument’s sake, the price of power in this time window were to double or triple, what sources of demand would disappear and how much of the total existing load would it represent? If these usages were shifted to the day, what impact would this have?

    Conversely, we need to introduce seasonal pricing to flatten out the winter and summer peaks.

    Here too I wonder about the claim. It’s possible that that if it cost more to run the A/C or the heater that some people would be more rational in their usage and simply demand lower levels of service. So if it works then per capita, each person gets less power and less comfort but pays about as much as they do now. Perhaps we will compensate them for their trouble and that will be fair enough. And yet if there are more people in a given load centre the total demand may still be the same or greater so all you would be doing would be doing would be to increase the average price of power. And there’s is still that demand rescheduled from off peak to daytime. Doesn’t that put a premium on the interrmittent generators actually being able to meet their assumed capacity?

    Doesn’t it make some sense to run industrial plant at night as well as in the day? If we have some people working off-peak doesn’t that take some traffic off roads?

    Just wondering.

  27. Chris Warren
    November 2nd, 2010 at 11:11 | #27

    @quokka

    But you repeated exactly the junk, you pretended to query. So you are just playing games….

    Where is there ANY evidence that anyone has ever argued:

    25% or so of the worlds population should have to continue without access to electricity.

    This was pure pro-nuke high-level rubbish :mrgreen:

  28. Chris Warren
    November 2nd, 2010 at 11:34 | #28

    @Fran Barlow

    What an embarrassingly bad argument…..

    :oops: “each person gets less power and less comfort but pays about as much as they do now” :oops:

    People can (and do) live comfortably “off the grid”. With the right government policy – they could even pay less than they do now.

  29. quokka
    November 2nd, 2010 at 11:44 | #29

    @jquiggin

    I just don’t get this at all. No matter how much electricity consumption can be time shifted by demand management, there must always be a base load demand defined as the minimum demand on the grid that must be met. Perhaps several baseload figures – day/night, winter/summer, all by time of day. What those minimum demands may be is obviously open to discussion but it is quite uncertain at this time what demand management can achieve. To be overly optimistic is yet another risk and the risks are piling up at an alarming rate.

  30. quokka
    November 2nd, 2010 at 11:55 | #30

    @Chris Warren

    In an aging population, air conditioning in heat waves that can only be expected to worsen is not a luxury. It can be, and is, literally a matter of life and death. I find it hard to be believe that peak electricity demand during heat waves can be “demand managed” away other than by rationing or impoverishment. Despite best efforts at building design, efficiency and so on, peak summer demand will in all probability go up.

  31. Chris Warren
    November 2nd, 2010 at 12:03 | #31

    In Canberra, when outside in the shade temperatures are over 40C, without airconditioning – old heavy buildings with few windows (old Institute of Anatomy, and old Canberra High School) are remarkably cool, due only to insulation and thermal mass.

    A proper building code, with subsidies, will eliminate the need for any air conditioning.

    But if we allow our capitalists to construct cheap and nasty housing (to maximise profits) the other costs damage our environment.

  32. Fran Barlow
    November 2nd, 2010 at 12:05 | #32

    @Chris Warren

    People can (and do) live comfortably “off the grid”.

    Doubtless that is so, but can people living at 30 persons per hectare “live comfortably off the grid”.? What if we went to 80 persons per hectare (which we probably should)?

    With the right government policy – they could even pay less than they do now.

    Yes indeed. No proof necessary. Say it loudly and say it often.

    With the right government policy a thousand angels could dance on the head of a pin, but sadly, the right policy is hard to define.

    You are preaching magic pudding Chris. While there is undoubtedly some demand that could be left unserved without seriously harming people this is peripheral to the main issue. Renewables will cost more per unit of power actually delivered. If people demand a lot less their bills may not increase very much but they will be paying more for what they get.

    Depending on how much more that is, and what they have to give up, most may not in practice be worse off. Some may be better off but whether this actually contributes to a more liveable world for most humans remains unclear.

    The problem I have is that demand management, which is essentially what PrQ proposes, can only take you so far. Society will continue to operate post dusk and pre-dawn. Petrol stations and refrigeration and domestic power will continue to be served. We will want to pump water and operate sewerage and water treatment plants and hospitals. We can make that more expensive but this won’t change demand.

  33. quokka
    November 2nd, 2010 at 12:18 | #33

    @Fran Barlow

    “Doesn’t it make some sense to run industrial plant at night as well as in the day?”

    No only does it make sense, but some industrial processes MUST be run 24/7. One that comes to mind is continuous process chemical engineering. Examples of continuous processes include manufacturing stuff like ammonia, urea, ammonium nitrate etc. The energy is generally supplied by nat gas now, but we would like to stop burning stuff.

  34. Tim Macknay
    November 2nd, 2010 at 12:26 | #34

    Proportion of new arguments put forward on this thread so far: 0%

    Proportion of repeated and re-hashed claims: 100%

    Number of changed minds: 0

    Glad to see the argument is progressing.

  35. Sam
    November 2nd, 2010 at 13:04 | #35

    Call me a nuclear skeptic, who is genuinely willing to be convinced. Here are my questions.
    ——————————————————————————————————————-
    1 Can you make a commercial nuclear plant so safe that the effort required for terrorists to blow it up would exceed the cost of making a similarly destructive dirty bomb?

    ——————————————————————————————————————-
    2 What about natural disasters?
    ——————————————————————————————————————–
    3 The whole world can’t convert it’s electricity to once-through U235 burners. There isn’t enough recoverable uranium to last a decade. Yes, there is plenty in seawater, but that can’t be used to make positive net energy unless in a breeder. The question then, is why are there no commercially successful breeders operating without special government subsidies?
    ——————————————————————————————————————–
    4 If commercial, gen IV breeder reactors really are just around the corner, and they can eat the radioactive waste from earlier reactor designs, then why all this fuss about Yucca mountain? Why were so many, pro-nuclear bush administration types expending huge political capital trying to bury all this useful fuel?

    ——————————————————————————————————————–
    6 Say you made a passively safe, underground, subcritical (neutron beam supplemented), transuranics-eating, electricity-producing breeder reactor. Surely such a plant would be far more expensive than current ones? Since the cost per mega-watt hour of a current nuke plant is roughly comparable to renewables, wouldn’t these super plants be more expensive?

  36. Sam
    November 2nd, 2010 at 13:08 | #36

    6 => 5

  37. quokka
    November 2nd, 2010 at 13:27 | #37

    I’m going to give a bit of advice to industry groups, standards bodies and anybody else compiling technical standards for demand management. And I’m going to yell it! MAKE THE DAMNED THINGS OPEN AND FREE. Where “free” is as in beer.

    I have a background in programming and data communications and tend to have a bottom up approach ie I like to see how things work, look at the use cases and in general build a mental picture of how it hangs together before buying into too many hand waving claims. In particular, for demand management I would like to know how they propose to do the signaling – over the grid? over the internet?, what is to be managed and how it is to be managed and so on, estimates of energy saving, estimates of how far the time window of demand can be shifted etc

    After I did a bit of trawling, I found an industry body compiling a lot of this stuff but they wanted an arm and a leg for the technical documents – something like 500 euro per set with multiple sets. This is STUPID. To promote this stuff you want the widest possible audience with the appropriate technical skills to gain some familiarity. This is not just true for what might be called capable amateurs but also professional engineers who in their current role cannot make a business case for their employer to fork over the money.

    Have they learned nothing from the internet experience where technical documents were always open and always free? That is one of the reasons why some of the IETF stuff came to dominate over perfectly viable alternates from ITU and ISO.

  38. quokka
    November 2nd, 2010 at 13:59 | #38

    @Sam

    1. Yes, easily. In any case the risk from dirty bombs is greatly over inflated.

    2. What about natural disasters? Such as? Earthquake? The critical structures in NPPs are designed to withstand earthquake as are tall buildings in Tokyo.

    3. There is enough uranium for any conceivable deployment of current PWRs well into the second half of this century at the least. A recent MIT study has reaffirmed this. That uranium is cheap is a major reason for the continuing once-through fuel cycle. The US obsession with reprocessing as a proliferation risk is another. Pyro-processing offers very little proliferation risk. The US will have to get over this, as the rest of the world is going to do it anyway. France, Japan, Sth Korea and India all have fast reactors in their long term game plan and research is ongoing. China is building two BN-800 commercial size fast reactors with Russian partnership. Not real soon, but it is coming.

    4. See 3.

    5. We don’t know until one is built. Designs with near atmospheric pressure cooling such as liquid metal cooled fast reactors or molten salt reactors offer potential savings in reactor vessels and containment structure. Increasingly modular design and small modular reactors should offer savings in factory as opposed to on site manufacture.

    These questions are all answered better over at BraveNewClimate, and it’s not really possible to do them justice here.

  39. Chris Warren
    November 2nd, 2010 at 14:03 | #39

    @Fran Barlow

    Where is this magic pudding?

    Governments can easily develop policy – such as feed in tariffs, insulation rebates, etc. Are these magic puddings? Off-grid policies are no different.

    Perhaps you are throwing magic pudding around because you have not considered all options properly. Anyway, capitalism is based on privatising (or ‘enclosing’) all supposed ‘magic puddings’, so you are probably thinking like a capitalist.

    Anyway, except for capitalism, why shouldn’t people have their magic pudding?

  40. Chris O’Neill
    November 2nd, 2010 at 14:27 | #40

    @jquiggin

    Fortunately, thanks to the magic of prices, we can persuade users to take the excess. As the share of solar and wind increases, we get to reduce the discount for night-time energy, and the waste associated with generating it.

    It’s news to me that wind produces more energy in the day than during the night. What would happen with large amounts of wind energy, of course, is that the price will vary inversely with the wind. In that case there will be a huge discount during high wind periods. You don’t get to reduce discounting of wind energy during such periods and the waste associated with generating it. Using wind fails as a strategy for avoiding this waste and it probably makes it worse.

    onversely, we need to introduce seasonal pricing to flatten out the winter and summer peaks.

    So there will be a discount for summer time energy generated outside of the heat-waves, and the waste associated with generating it. You have not treated both sides of the issue the same way.

  41. BilB
    November 2nd, 2010 at 16:03 | #41

    Quoka @ 23,

    You still do not have an understanding of what is possible from solar energy, and largely, as I have said before, you have blinkered your thinking to suit your passion for a nuclear future. That is ok from as far as personal choices go, but from a commercial position this is entirely inappropriate. I don’t think that you appreciate how far peoples thinking has changed. A brief glimpse came from the changes to the NSW FiT where Woolworths declared their disappointment as they are in the process of strengthening the rooves on all of their stores in preparation for the installation of solar panels. And Woolworths know all about rollout. A national Woolworths solar rollout will be truly impressive. You grossly underestimate the impact of individual performance, and you do this possibly because this sort of change has never happened.

    One of your most determined objections to solar renewables is the need for overcapacity to cover night time and seasonal fluctuations in solar energy conversion. This objection is the numbers game that you play for grid infrastructure. Such objections are hyper inflated for the grid system, but for the individual distributed system they are irrelevent as each person basses their affordability decisions on entirely different considerations. And overcapacity is no problem in the distributed system. Have you ever stopped to calculate the entire horsepower value of the national vehicle fleet? Now that is serious overcapacity, and you know what? it does not matter at all, as each person has made their own transport energy needs decisions based on personal convenience and affordability.

    As we head into climate change, carbon affordability and oil availability, people will be making the changes to best energy system fit for convenience and living standard. Another thing that you arrogantly overlook is that solar energy systems have never been available before in the manner that they are today and certainly not as they will be available in the near future. This is entirely unexplored territory and there will be many preconceptions that prove to entirely baseless as we forward.

  42. jquiggin
    November 2nd, 2010 at 16:32 | #42

    @Chris O’Neill
    Chris, you were the one who mentioned night-time demand. Obviously, this is relevant to solar and not particularly to wind. Given the difficulties of running a coherent discussion, lets stick to solar for the moment, then talk about wind later.

    So, to repeat, the current system generates more electricity at night than would be demanded at constant prices. Adding solar will allow a gradual move towards uniform pricing. When the share of solar becomes large, the current pattern of discounting will be reversed and daytime electricity will be cheaper.

    @quokka – to state the above in your terms, the notion of baseload demand is nonsense as I’ve explained repeatedly.
    http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2009/07/22/the-myth-of-baseload-power-demand/

  43. quokka
    November 2nd, 2010 at 17:29 | #43

    @BiiB

    I’m hardly surprised that Woolworths are disappointed that they are to miss out on a FIT of $0.60 per kWh or whatever it is (or was). It is completely unacceptable that ordinary people are taxed to boost Woolworth’s bottom line for no more than a gesture that may “impress” some, but makes not a blind bit of difference to climate change.

    Yes, overbuild of capacity does matter. It is the overall social cost that counts because resources devoted to overbuild are of necessity being diverted from other things. That’s the way it is. Furthermore many people do not have freedom to luxuriate in all this nonsense. People living in rented and high density housing for start. But most of all, people that simply cannot afford it which includes most of the population of the planet.

    Then more expensive you make electricity, the more difficult it is to get substantive change.

  44. Chris O’Neill
    November 2nd, 2010 at 17:47 | #44

    @Tim Macknay

    Number of changed minds: 0

    Not true. I used to think that pumped hydro was an economic solution to the storage problems associated with wind and solar. The arguments put up against it looked facile to me. e.g. the downstream dam caused additional environmental damage but these dams are only a tiny fraction of the size of upstream dams. It wasn’t until I started looking at the actual figures involved that are required to support variable sources (wind and solar) on a large scale that I realized that the scale and cost of the required pumped hydro is absolutely enormous. If a system was set up that acquired most of its energy from wind then the name-plate capacity of the wind generators would have to be at least comparable to the peak demand of the system, e.g. to supply 50% of the energy in a system like this, the wind generators would need name-plate capacity at least as high as the peak demand based on the very optimistic assumption that the average output of the generators was 50% of the average demand which is about 75% of peak demand, i.e. the wind generators would need to achieve an average to peak output ratio of 37.5%.

    Of course, this is only going to work if the pumped hydro is capable of taking 50% of wind generation during off-peak times. This is a massive capacity the pumped hydro must have which would cost a fortune. And this is on top of the fact that only a small fraction of wind name-plate capacity can be relied on during maximum demand. All that money put into capacity of wind generators and it still has to be more or less duplicated somewhere else. No-one is going to pay for all this.

    By the way, in this system, the ratio of peak to minimum demand is around 2 to 1 when the the peak to minimum price is 680 to 1 (28/1/2009). I wonder what the price ratio would be if 50% of energy had to come from wind? I wouldn’t be surprised by a million to one.

  45. jquiggin
    November 2nd, 2010 at 18:35 | #45

    @Chris O’Neill Umm, you do realise that consumers are totally insulated from prices in this system. No wonder it works so badly.

    But, as I said, I’d appreciate a response on solar and day-night pricing before we jump on to other topics.

  46. Salient Green
    November 2nd, 2010 at 18:37 | #46

    Widespread Nuclear power at this point in time is like putting fireworks in the hands of adolescents. No nation on earth has the foresight, the wisdom, the ethics, the security, the understanding of sustainability or even the technical expertise to manage nuclear power with the responsibility required.

    Nuclear power is the choice of the BAU side, the Subaru WRX choice of the 17 yr old.

    Solar thermal is very efficient at capturing the Sun’s energy which can and is driving air conditioning, refrigeration and industrial processes. Anyone who has been to a Sustainable House Day would be impressed by how little energy a house can be set up to use, or save.

    We can and will make huge changes to the amount of energy we use for transport. That’s AMOUNT, not TYPE of energy. We send goods all over the planet for no good reason and this has to cease. Claims that we will require more electricity generation for the electrification of transport can easily be proven wrong by choosing more intelligent trading and transport methods, mostly in the area of reduction.

  47. BilB
    November 2nd, 2010 at 19:48 | #47

    That’s pretty much the response I expected from you, Quokka. For starters no satisfaction that 600 very large national energy consuming stores decide to become zero CO2 emitters. True it smacks of opportunism for a highly profitable corporation to cash in on the 60 cent heavy handout. The test will be if they go ahead with the programme regardless. But again you choose to take every advancement in renewable energy as an isolated incident to can as being insignificant. News flash! these all add up to significant difference to climate change.

    Over capacity? This is going to surprise you, but our GenIIPV system uses less than half the consumed material resources of that for Nuclear Power for the equivalent delivered energy. Against that Nuclear Energy is wasteful of resources. Furthermore our system has a longer service life to nuclear power stations. Affordability? The most certain outcome is that solar energy installations will become significantly cheaper, and that nuclear energy installations will become significantly more expensive.

    Electricity prices are running away all on their own, the final running electricity price is an open question at this stage. Future prices are not determined by temporary implementation incentives.

  48. Chris O’Neill
    November 2nd, 2010 at 20:16 | #48

    @jquiggin

    Given the difficulties of running a coherent discussion, lets stick to solar for the moment, then talk about wind later.

    Solar probably has a correlation-with-demand better than wind, which I guess has negligible correlation with demand. So in that sense, solar is better than wind, but perhaps not a lot better.

    So, to repeat, the current system generates more electricity at night than would be demanded at constant prices. Adding solar will allow a gradual move towards uniform pricing.

    Assuming solar correlates well with demand which is simply not true. Even in summer, peak demand varies tremendously with the weather. Also, heat waves often have their maximums late in the day when the Sun is low. (Try living in Melbourne for a while. It’s not like Brisbane where the maximum in summer usually occurs by 2pm.) From April to October the peak time in this graph is around 6 pm for which solar is absolutely useless. That period also has a secondary peak at 9 am for which solar is not very useful.

    Also, solar output varies a lot with time of year while energy demand per day does not. This is another reason why solar does not correlate well with demand.

    When the share of solar becomes large, the current pattern of discounting will be reversed and daytime electricity will be cheaper.

    I’m sure it will be cheaper in summer daytime when a heat wave is not occurring. The problem is, it would become (much) more expensive during peak demand in winter which occurs when there is no Sun or, at 9am, when there is little Sun.

    You can move on to wind now, which has very little correlation, if any, with demand.

  49. jquiggin
    November 2nd, 2010 at 20:38 | #49

    Let’s not move on just yet. We’ve agreed that solar has a weak +ve correlation with demand. That’s an advantage relative to “baseload” (more accurately, “base supply” sources) which have zero correlation with demand, since their preferred mode of operation is always-on.

    So, the standard cost comparison between solar and existing sources, including the high capacity factors for baseload sources actually overstates the case.

    Obviously, as you say, pricing under a system with a lot of solar will have the same characteristics as pricing now. Electricity will be cheap/dear when it is abundant/scarce relative to demand at the average price, just as it is now.

    If you’re happy with that conclusion, we can move on to wind.

  50. Chris O’Neill
    November 2nd, 2010 at 20:45 | #50

    @jquiggin

    Umm, you do realise that consumers are totally insulated from prices in this system. No wonder it works so badly.

    It’ll be interesting to see the political effect of a maximum to minimum price ratio of 680 to 1 at a predictable time. Even more interesting will be the political effect of a maximum to minimum price ratio even higher than 680 to 1 at random times.

  51. jquiggin
    November 2nd, 2010 at 20:56 | #51

    @Fran “We can make that more expensive but this won’t change demand.” That’s an interesting view of demand. To take an obvious example, I’d suggest that the number of petrol stations open in the early hours of the morning is quite responsive to price signals. In fact, many people manage to survive living in places where petrol stations close at night because it’s not profitable for them to open. As I’ve already observed, the fact that lots of industrial processes run on a 24-hour basis is largely a response to existing off-peak prices that provide an incentive to do this. That’s socially costly relative to the more uniform price that would arise if we added a substantial amount of solar power into the mix.

    What frustrates me about all the anti-renewables advocates I’ve encountered, including here, is the apparent belief that if we can’t replicate existing consumption patterns we are doomed. I’m old enough to remember doctors who made house calls, and football tickets cheap enough to buy out of pocket money. Those things are gone, but that hasn’t stopped living standards improving.

    If someone can point me to a anti-renewables analysis that takes a serious look at the role of prices, I’d be very glad. Otherwise, I have to conclude that, despite the vast volumes of pixels spilled here and elsewhere, you literally don’t know what you are talking about.

  52. jquiggin
    November 2nd, 2010 at 21:04 | #52

    @Chris O’Neill
    I’m truly fascinated by people who assert that variable pricing will be politically impossible then advance nuclear power as the politically palatable solution.

    To take the point more seriously, suppose that you could opt in to a plan where you paid the market price, announced a day in advance (our current pool doesn’t do this, but lots do). On peak price days ($10000/MWh) you’d save $10 for every kWh not used. If you were willing to turn off the air-cond on perhaps 7 hot days a year you could halve your power bill. I suspect a lot of people would go for this. Certainly, no one seems to miss the days of predictable (always high) air fares.

  53. Chris O’Neill
    November 2nd, 2010 at 22:17 | #53

    @jquiggin

    We’ve agreed that solar has a weak +ve correlation with demand. That’s an advantage relative to “baseload” (more accurately, “base supply” sources) which have zero correlation with demand, since their preferred mode of operation is always-on.

    Not so fast. A constant source has a reasonable correlation with a load like this. The correlation could be defined as the average value of the product of supply and load divided by some suitable denominator so that it equals the ratio of average to peak load. The ratio of average to peak in that system is near 70% I guess so this is a long way from zero correlation.

    So, the standard cost comparison between solar and existing sources, including the high capacity factors for baseload sources actually overstates the case.

    No, even if you assumed that solar correlated perfectly with load for 12 hours a day (which of course it doesn’t, especially in winter) and that the load for the other 12 hours was half the average load during the daylight hours then my measure of correlation would be 67%. So with a ridiculously optimistic assumption, and ignoring seasonal variation of solar as well, solar still doesn’t match the correlation of a constant source.

    Obviously, as you say, pricing under a system with a lot of solar will have the same characteristics as pricing now. Electricity will be cheap/dear when it is abundant/scarce relative to demand at the average price, just as it is now.

    Except the only difference will be that it will be scarce much more often with a solar system, e.g. from April until October during peak hour and for an average of more than 12 twelve hours a day.

  54. Chris O’Neill
    November 3rd, 2010 at 00:28 | #54

    @jquiggin

    I’m truly fascinated by people who assert that variable pricing will be politically impossible then advance nuclear power as the politically palatable solution.

    OK, we could tell people the choice is either variable renewables with extremely variable (and high) electricity prices or nuclear with far less variable, and lower, electricity prices. I’ll start thinking variable sources are onto something when someone, anywhere in the world starts smelting Aluminium with a variable supply of electricity.

  55. BilB
    November 3rd, 2010 at 03:32 | #55

    Chis O’neill,

    Your under informed on the nature of baseload solar systems. If the system is rated as baseload then that is what it delivers. Aluminium production is a small load in a national system, there are only a handfull of them and they operate well inside the performance envelope of the delivered output. There are other industries that prefer constant delivery such as the plastics industry and chemical processing industries, again these are only a proportion of the full energy demand. There are many other very large energy consuming industrial processes that ramp their consumption according to electricity price. One of these is steel smelting for scrap metal recycling, another would be rock crushing. There are plenty examples of both kinds of users, more than enough to provide the variabiliy of demand to match fluctuations from a totally renewable system. And variable pricing is the natural market mechanism to enable people to decide how to operate their businesses.

  56. jquiggin
    November 3rd, 2010 at 04:49 | #56

    @Chris O’Neill

    To be slightly more correct, what matters is covariance. The covariance of constant supply with varying demand is zero. Any system with positive covariance will do better than that.

  57. Chris Warren
    November 3rd, 2010 at 07:23 | #57

    @Chris O’Neill

    If we controlled the population, then the amount of energy needed for industry would be relatively stable and particular demands for high capacity (eg aluminium smelting) would be much easier to meet.

    There is no doubt that a environmentally sustainable society will have higher costs because the damage to the environment occurs through cheap and nasty, short-term, economic choices. Pure economic rationalism contradicts the environment and human rights.

    In the case of aluminum smelting, surely if there is a huge environmental benefit, industry should be restructured so that smelters operate at full capacity only at night time. Capitalists will winge about this of course and less aluminum will be produced but that is a necessary trade-off, a cost that boosts wealth in the long run.

  58. Chris Warren
    November 3rd, 2010 at 08:31 | #58

    Chris O’Neill :
    @jquiggin
    I’ll start thinking variable sources are onto something when someone, anywhere in the world starts smelting Aluminium with a variable supply of electricity.

    What a incredibly bad logic presumably in an effort to throw dust into peoples eyes. Aluminum smelting only needs renewable electricity. It was developed in USA during the 1940′s based on hydro electricity.

    If switching to renewable energy imposes a 100% increase in electricity costs, as electricity is around 20% of aluminum costs, the price of aluminum only goes up around 30%.

    So, in this scenario, we get rid of fossil and nuclear, but have to pay 30% more for aluminum. When this is embedded in downstream products – the net cost increase will be less depending on the proportion of metal used.

    But this is the choice society needs to make.
    America

  59. Chris O’Neill
    November 3rd, 2010 at 11:03 | #59

    @jquiggin

    what matters is covariance. The covariance of constant supply with varying demand is zero. Any system with positive covariance will do better than that.

    Covariance and correlation themselves are the wrong measure. For example, if the demand and supply are constant and equal then the covariance is zero. Does this mean the supply is badly suited to the demand? Of course not. So covariance itself is completely inappropriate. A more appropriate measure is one based on the product of supply and demand with an appropriate normalization. For example, if supply and demand are equal then the integral of their product divided by the mean of the integrals of their squares would be 1 or 100%. This measure is related to correlation but of course is not the same. By this (appropriate) measure, wind and solar “correlate” poorly with present demand so a lot of demand “management” (with consequent impact on cost) would be required to match supply and demand.

  60. Ernestine Gross
    November 3rd, 2010 at 11:48 | #60

    @Chris O’Neill

    Are you trying to say that the managers of electricity supply corporations want to have a measure such that their work is minimised?

    Prof Quiggin’s point is concerned with economic management and not with corporate management.

  61. Tim Macknay
    November 3rd, 2010 at 12:11 | #61

    Chris O’Neill said:

    Number of changed minds: 0

    Not true. I used to think that pumped hydro was an economic solution to the storage problems associated with wind and solar…

    Chris O’Neill, you obviously didn’t change your mind as a result of any arguments put forward on this thread, or the previous nukes vs renewables threads.
    Your opinion was quite clearly set in its present position before the current bloviation began, so my statement is still true. I sincerely hope you changed your mind based on something more robust than a bunch of assertions on a blog thread!

  62. Chris O’Neill
    November 3rd, 2010 at 12:57 | #62

    @Tim Macknay

    Number of changed minds: 0

    Not true. I used to think that pumped hydro was an economic solution to the storage problems associated with wind and solar…

    Chris O’Neill, you obviously didn’t change your mind as a result of any arguments put forward on this thread, or the previous nukes vs renewables threads.

    How do you know?

    Your opinion was quite clearly set in its present position before the current bloviation began,

    What do you mean by “current”? You mentioned “this thread, or the previous nukes vs renewables threads” above. If this is what you mean by “current” then you are wrong.

    I sincerely hope you changed your mind based on something more robust than a bunch of assertions on a blog thread!

    I certainly wouldn’t change my mind based on any of your assertions which I know for a fact are false.

  63. Chris O’Neill
    November 3rd, 2010 at 13:00 | #63

    @Ernestine Gross

    Are you trying to say that the managers of electricity supply corporations want to have a measure such that their work is minimised?

    No.

  64. Hermit
    November 3rd, 2010 at 13:21 | #64

    If the term baseload offends perhaps we could call it the 40% of peak demand which is a steady minimum. Another percentage is 11% the amount of Australia’s electricity supply consumed by the aluminum industry. Demand shifting must have practical limits. I recall during the WA gas explosion saga business owners said they couldn’t call employees in without knowing there was a full days work for them. Back in the era of sailing ships the crew would hang around the tavern waiting for a favourable wind to set sail. I don’t see that coming back eg an aluminium smelter waiting for a wind farm to pick up enough watts.

    One of the claimed benefits of the NBN is increased telecommuting hence lower transport energy demand but we’ll see. I suspect for another 20 years or so traditionally minded bosses will regard it as bludging. Mention has been made of flexi-pricing by advanced smart meters that will supposedly charge electric cars when the wind is blowing hardest. To ‘prove’ this the Victorian govt will conduct a trial in which people are lent an electric car. Hell I’d flog an electric car if I only had to pay for the electricity and not the $30-$40k sticker price. The other major bias is that the in-reality coal dominated grid is unlikely to experience any major powerdowns during the trial. My guess is that time-of-use demand shifting will reduce peaks by a few percent, nothing like the 20% and more that some are claiming.

  65. wilful
    November 3rd, 2010 at 15:11 | #65

    Tim Macknay :
    Proportion of new arguments put forward on this thread so far: 0%
    Proportion of repeated and re-hashed claims: 100%
    Number of changed minds: 0
    Glad to see the argument is progressing.

    Yup. That’s where it stands.

  66. Tim Macknay
    November 3rd, 2010 at 15:31 | #66

    Chris O’Neill said:

    I certainly wouldn’t change my mind based on any of your assertions which I know for a fact are false.

    Oh, now I get it, you’re saying you changed your mind about some side issue, not the central issue of this interminable debate, which can be summarised as “renewables don’t work – nukes is teh answer” vs “nukes is teh evil – renewables is teh answer”.

    I don’t recall any comment of yours in this or the last few similar threads where you took a position other than the “nukes is teh answer” side – hence my confusion about your point.

    Fair enough, you changed your mind about a side issue based on a bunch of assertions in a blog thread.

    Not really sure why you are determined to engage in that degree of pedantry, though.

  67. wilful
    November 3rd, 2010 at 15:49 | #67

    (actually Tim, I think Chris is on the “Nukes is teh evil” side). Not that it matters, one little bit.

  68. Tim Macknay
    November 3rd, 2010 at 15:52 | #68

    I think that’s Chris Warren, wilful, not Chris O’Neill. But I agree that it doesn’t really matter. :)

  69. jquiggin
    November 3rd, 2010 at 18:11 | #69

    ” If the term baseload offends perhaps we could call it the 40% of peak demand which is a steady minimum.”

    So, lets wait until we’ve replaced 60 per cent of the always-on supply, and then start arguing about what to do about the rest.

  70. jquiggin
    November 3rd, 2010 at 18:11 | #70

    And supposing aluminium smelters really need an always-on supply, the price of aluminium will go up, and demand will go down. This kind of price change happens for all sorts of reasons (eg currency fluctuations and the economy does not collapse.

    Again, I read the comments of the anti-renewable people here and I think they must come from a planet where patterns of production and consumption have been unchanged since time immemorial.

  71. November 3rd, 2010 at 19:29 | #71

    I’m still wondering PrQ … how much demand do you think would vanish/be timeshifted in there were no off-peak or shoulder rate?

    Suppose the wholesalers were forced to maintain prices from midnight to midnight? How much would demand fall, in your opinion? What do you base this conclusion on?

    How would such a regulation affect seasonal peak prices?

  72. Chris O’Neill
    November 3rd, 2010 at 19:39 | #72

    @Tim Macknay

    I certainly wouldn’t change my mind based on any of your assertions which I know for a fact are false.

    Oh, now I get it, you’re saying you changed your mind about some side issue, not the central issue of this interminable debate, which can be summarised as “renewables don’t work – nukes is teh answer” vs “nukes is teh evil – renewables is teh answer”.

    No, you don’t get it.

    I don’t recall any comment of yours in this or the last few similar threads where you took a position other than the “nukes is teh answer” side

    You obviously weren’t paying attention here.

  73. Salient Green
    November 3rd, 2010 at 19:49 | #73

    Far too much aluminium is lost, not recycled. There is far too much produced for this reason as well as to supply the ‘growth’ which needs to become redundant in the developed world.

    No attempt is made to recover waste heat during either smelting or recovering alumina.

    The industry appears indolent. The best thing that could happen to it, and therefore the world, is for the price of electricity to rise steeply. This will force the manufacturers to get off their butts and implement some efficiency improvements. They couldn’t give a stuff about recycling of course but a rise in price will make the rest of us care.

    I found this promising new process which will reduce capital costs by up to 80%, power costs by 40%, eliminate fluoride emissions and reduce other emissions significantly.
    http://www.newsmaker.com.au/news/2467

  74. Chris O’Neill
    November 3rd, 2010 at 19:53 | #74

    @jquiggin

    Again, I read the comments of the anti-renewable people here and I think they must come from a planet where patterns of production and consumption have been unchanged since time immemorial.

    At least some of them understand that covariance is a completely inappropriate measure for how well electricity supply matches demand.

  75. Ernestine Gross
    November 3rd, 2010 at 19:56 | #75

    Chris O’Neill :@Ernestine Gross

    Are you trying to say that the managers of electricity supply corporations want to have a measure such that their work is minimised?

    No.

    O.k. I accept your answer. My next question is: Who, in your understanding, would ‘manage demand’?

  76. Tim Macknay
    November 3rd, 2010 at 20:02 | #76

    My mistake. You, and wilful at #17 above, are correct.

  77. Tim Macknay
    November 3rd, 2010 at 20:03 | #77

    Tim Macknay :My mistake. You, and wilful at #17 above, are correct.

    This comment was directed to Chris O’Neill, needless to say.

  78. Chris O’Neill
    November 3rd, 2010 at 20:20 | #78

    @Salient Green

    The best thing that could happen to it, and therefore the world, is for the price of electricity to rise steeply.

    At least we’re all in agreement that the price of electricity will rise steeply with a complete switch to renewables.

  79. Ernestine Gross
    November 3rd, 2010 at 20:26 | #79

    @Fran Barlow

    “Suppose the wholesalers were forced to maintain prices from midnight to midnight? How much would demand fall, in your opinion? What do you base this conclusion on? ”

    You are completely missing the point. I am trying to be helpful with the following questions.

    Suppose you have a solar hot water system that can be boosted either by peak or off-peak electricity. Given the current prices for peak and off-peak electricity, which booster connection would you choose?

    Suppose you have a solar hot water system that can be boosted be electricity. Suppose there is only 1 price for 24 hours. Would you care whether your booster is connected to peak or off-peak electricity?

    Suppose you not only have a solar hot water system, connected to an off-peak electric booster but also have a washing machine but only outdoor drying facilities.
    (a) In your estimate, how often per year would your washing time not coincide with sun shine?

    (b) In your estimte, how often per year would your off-peak electric booster waste electricity by heating at night while you do your washing during day-time hours?

    What would you do if night-time electricity prices were higher than day-time prices? Would the current common sense meaning of ‘off-peak’ remain unchanged?

    What technical options would you, as the owner of a solar hot water system, have to reduce reduce expenditure on electricity and under which conditions?

    Have you considered that all prices are interrelated even if one or several prices are administratively determined? When ProfQ says that currency values change every day, what does this mean for other prices?

    PS: I’d be most grateful if you were to correct my typing errors – fair trade?

  80. November 3rd, 2010 at 20:46 | #80

    @Ernestine Gross

    Suppose you have a solar hot water system that can be boosted be electricity. Suppose there is only 1 price for 24 hours. Would you care whether your booster is connected to peak or off-peak electricity?

    I might switch to gas I suppose,

    Suppose you not only have a solar hot water system, connected to an off-peak electric booster but also have a washing machine but only outdoor drying facilities.
    (a) In your estimate, how often per year would your washing time not coincide with sun shine?

    I tend to do some of the load overnight, not because of offpeak but so I can get the clothes out on the line before work and get the full benefit of line drying.

    What would you do if night-time electricity prices were higher than day-time prices? Would the current common sense meaning of ‘off-peak’ remain unchanged?

    Probably nothing much different. I’d leave my fridge and 2 freezers on. The PC would have to stay on as I use it at night. The TV would be on when we were watching it. So would the lights in the rooms we were in.

    I’d just pay the higher price.

    I don’t imagine others would be much different. How this would affect business and other users of power is unclear. I imagine hospitals and shopping centres and overnight industry would be unchanged.

    Typos: [estimate]

  81. Fran Barlow
    November 4th, 2010 at 10:53 | #81

    Prompted by my unanswered question on the actual elasticity of off-peak demand I thought I would begin some inquiries of my own. As links put posts into the s**m trap, I won’t post them but simply quote (allowing people to look them up)

    This article: An energy efficient Australia? Easy (Dyer, A Climate Spectator July 2010)

    Dyer defines at least one objective at 180 degrees to Quiggin:

    This should not be a complicated issue. There are two basic problems to solve: One, we need to reduce the average electricity consumption per capita; second, we need to move demand during peak times to off-peak times, to increase the average to peak load ratio. In places like South Australia, this ratio is below 50 per cent – one of the worst ratios in the world.

    Dyer wants to discourage peak usage and shift demand to off peak. He says off-peak isn’t long enough or cheap enough.

    Remarkably, in states like Victoria and NSW, many premises already have a variable tariff meter – known as a “time-of-use” tariff meter. These meters record the use of power in peak and off-peak times, so that the customer can be easily encouraged to put off heavy electricity consuming activities until off-peak times (ie. during evening and weekends).Our house in Melbourne has such a meter and we have certainly modified our behavior to minimise power costs and shift load to the off-peak times.

    But, the retailers do not seem to promote this tariff and, if anything, provide dis-incentives for customers to stay or switch to this tariff. Our electricity retailer charges a premium of around 8 cents/kwh, over and above the standard flat tariff, for electricity we consume during weekdays for the privilege of being on this time-of-use tariff. This discrepancy is quite a barrier to getting customers that already have a time-of-use meter installed to move from a flat tariff to one based on time of use.

    And the off-peak period doesn’t kick in until 11pm in the evenings (midnight during daylight savings), making it virtually impossible for most households to take advantage of lower tariffs when shifting load during the shoulder, evening period. 8pm or 9pm would make much better sense, and the meters are easily able to be changed to fit this model.

    Whether he is right or not, it’s still not clear in Dyer’s view how elastic demand is or how much is time-shiftable.

    Looking elsewhere I find this:

    Domestic Electricity, Demand Elasticities, Vicortiran Energy Market (2004)

    Yet growth in energy demand, particularly during summer has been attributed to increased ownership and utilisation of air conditioners. While other high energy consuming appliances such as clothes driers and dishwashers have remained stagnant or even dropped slightly, ownership and utilization of air conditioners has increased dramatically. In 2001 close to 60% of households owned air conditioners, up from 40% in 1996

    If a substantial part of demand is in A/C usage, it seems unlikely that price alone would discourage any but the really poor to cut usage. During the 2009 heatwave I visited the home of one of my son’s friends and they had both the plasma screen heating the room and the A/C cooling it, during the evening shoulder (about 8pm) It’s hard to imagine them deciding they couldn’t afford to do this and perhaps to cool themselves down during the day instead.

    So I’m still left with a basic question: how much power demand will be abated or shifted to peak time if a substantial impost on the cost of off-peak power relative to peak power were imposed?

    Self-evidently, if the amount of power shifted were trivial, then the need to generate power during the off-peak would persist. If substantial parts of the peak load were taken by renewables such as solar thermal and wind, then one would want the scope to charge a premium price (since they wouldn’t be cheap) but reducing the price during the peak load period would not help.

    What we might get was a more expensive system (per unit of power delivered) in which people used marginally less power per capita but in which most of our thermal fossil hydrocarbon capacity remained as it was. Clearly, this would not be an adequate solution if environmental feasibility was a serious predisposing factor.

  82. Chris Warren
    November 4th, 2010 at 11:02 | #82

    Maybe “Vicortiran” should be Vitorrican”

    But I could be wrong.

  83. BilB
    November 4th, 2010 at 11:56 | #83

    I don’t agree with Dyer at all. I’m happy to be efficient with my use of energy, but limit the scope of my useage, not at all. That is why with the GenIIPV system we have set the basic system output at a robust level. Better to overproduce where the source is free than under produce. In the so doing we have created the incentive to convert to electrically powered transportation. And demand for EV’s is going to come on like an iPod wave from what I am seeing. The batteries are there now, the motors are just phenomenal, the performance is raising eyebrows in all transport sectors other than the very heaviest carriers.

    With this transition now under way the notion of containing of electricity consumption is nonsense.

  84. Fran Barlow
    November 4th, 2010 at 12:00 | #84

    @Chris Warren

    Personally, I like the sound of Vitorrican rather more as well. ;-)

  85. jquiggin
    November 4th, 2010 at 13:26 | #85

    “It’s hard to imagine them deciding they couldn’t afford to do this and perhaps to cool themselves down during the day instead.”

    Maybe you need to try harder. At $25/hour for a 2.5kWh AC system during peak ($10 000 MW) and $4/hour for a plasma screen, I find it easy to imagine that genuinely cost reflective prices would lead to some pretty big changes.

  86. jquiggin
    November 4th, 2010 at 13:43 | #86

    “A more appropriate measure is one based on the product of supply and demand with an appropriate normalization.”

    Such as E[XY]-E[X]E[Y] perhaps?

    Re your comment #24, this kind of snarky topic-change leads me to the conclusion that you don’t i have an answer but aren’t willing to admit it.

  87. Fran Barlow
    November 4th, 2010 at 14:00 | #87

    @jquiggin

    PrQ quoted me on coextensive use of a plasma screen and AC unit:

    It’s hard to imagine them deciding they couldn’t afford to do this and perhaps to cool themselves down during the day instead.

    Then continued:

    Maybe you need to try harder. At $25/hour for a 2.5kWh AC system during peak ($10,000 MW) and $4/hour for a plasma screen, I find it easy to imagine that genuinely cost reflective prices would lead to some pretty big changes.

    At the time I thought they were nuts to be doing both whatever the cost, but at those prices a lot more than profligate use of power would shut down. Really, the easiest thing to get rid of in this scenario is the plasma TV, but what you really need to get rid of is the AC which costs 6 times as much.

    Of course, in heatwave conditions (which on that evening applied — it was 30+ outside) you are just going to pay to run the AC, unless you are of very limited means.

  88. Fran Barlow
    November 4th, 2010 at 14:27 | #88

    And I am still trying to work out how much off-peak demand you believe is capable of being shifted from off peak to peak, or else being simply discarded so as to permit the shut down of some fossil hydrocarbon outside the peak/shoulder.

  89. wilful
    November 4th, 2010 at 14:45 | #89

    Here’s something new for you pro-nukers: Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy – Australia.

  90. Fran Barlow
    November 4th, 2010 at 15:38 | #90

    @wilful

    Not that new I fear. And this comment there annoys me:

    We are part of the 9,000 strong EFN-International movement which includes Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore.

    He was not a Greenpeace co-founder. This is an old canard trotted out by the disinformationist scribblers of the anti-mitigationists. Moore has nothing whatever to do with Greenpeace these days and hasn’t for years. That they are running this on their front page is offensive to all of us who want robust mitigation.

    Thanks for drawing this to my attention. I will be letting them know my views. I would urge others to do likewise.

  91. Chris O’Neill
    November 4th, 2010 at 15:45 | #91

    @jquiggin

    “A more appropriate measure is one based on the product of supply and demand with an appropriate normalization.”
    Such as E[XY]-E[X]E[Y] perhaps?

    Still completely inappropriate since this will be zero with constant and equal demand and supply. I suggested E[XY]/sqrt(E[X*X]E[Y*Y]) but E[XY]/(E[X]E[Y]) might be OK.

    Re your comment #24, this kind of snarky topic-change

    It was a response to something that was pretty snarky.

    leads me to the conclusion that you don’t i have an answer but aren’t willing to admit it.

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to but the whole point of this is that 100% (mainly uncontrollable variable) renewables is not an answer that is going to make a lot of people happy.

  92. Fran Barlow
    November 4th, 2010 at 16:08 | #92

    @Fran Barlow

    Some more on Patrick Moore:

    Patrick Moore, was once associated with GreenPeace Canada, has for more than 20 years been in bed with the anti-environmental lobby. He actually comes from a fishing family.

    Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore says there is no proof global warming is caused by humans, but it is likely enough that the world should turn to nuclear power — a concept tied closely to the underground nuclear testing his former environmental group formed to oppose.

    He set up a salmon fishing company (Quatsino Seafarms Ltd) in the late 1980s, allying himself with the worlds ocean miners. In 1990 he offered his services to counter ‘ineffective PR’ by big polluters offering a ‘green audit’ program which would tick off companies as clean for PR purposes. This led to the founding of “greenspirit” to “incorporate the environmental agenda” into government.

    In 1991 he hooked up with a PR firm to become director of the British Columbia Forest Alliance to promote logging of forests in Western Canada. Unsurprisingly, the PR firm — Burston Marsteller — also had the Argentinian junta as a client working to improve [its] international image” and boost investment. At the time the junta was involved in the disappearance of about 35000 people by death squads. Defending himself Moore said “people get killed everywhere”.

    Here’s what this pro-logging advocate thinks of Brazilian rainforest:

    All these save-the-forests arguments are based on bad science. … They are quite simply wrong. We found that the Amazon rainforest is more than 90 percent intact.

    His buddy in this was climate change denier Marc Morano (communications director for the Republicans on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works; promoter of the Nixon-style Swiftboat liars campaign to stop John Kerry in 2004) who was doing a film about it.

    These days he is working to improve the image of the food and dairy industry.

    Telling it is that it is the Greenpeace connection he mentions and not his more recent work.

  93. jquiggin
    November 4th, 2010 at 16:46 | #93

    @Fran Barlow
    Given that off-peak currently costs about half the price of peak, I would guess that demand would decline 25-50 per cent under uniform pricing and more if there were a price premium for night-time power.

    As an illustrative example, with uniform pricing, no-one would use an off-peak hot water system, so (assuming 8 hours off-peak) demand from current users would decline by at least 66 per cent (more if you assume that the system works harder when hot water is being used).

  94. jquiggin
    November 4th, 2010 at 17:00 | #94

    As regards AC, bear in mind that it isn’t a zero-one choice. You can set the thermostat a bit higher, take off some clothes and cool down with beer (using the fridge as a storage technology!). I expect (haven’t checked) that the energy cost is a quadratic function of the difference between room temperature and ambient temperature, so a few degrees warmer (say 7 degrees of cooling instead of 10) could cut the cost by half.

  95. Salient Green
    November 4th, 2010 at 19:14 | #95

    Chris O’Neill @ 28 said “At least we’re all in agreement that the price of electricity will rise steeply with a complete switch to renewables.”

    It’s rising steeply already in response to large increases in the coal price in recent years and you aint seen nothin yet re the escalating price of coal.

    The same will happen with Uranium come large scale use of it for electricity generation.

    The price of the Sun’s energy however will not increase in price and the technology to harness it is rapidly decreasing in price.

  96. Chris O’Neill
    November 4th, 2010 at 19:44 | #96

    @Salient Green

    The price of the Sun’s energy however will not increase in price and the technology to harness it is rapidly decreasing in price.

    Only true (to some degree) in the case of photovoltaics. I’m sure it will be used when it’s cheap enough. Since price appears to matter to you, you will no doubt not suggest people buy it while it’s still expensive.

    The same will happen with Uranium come large scale use of it for electricity generation.

    The cost of Uranium is only a small fraction of the total cost of nuclear electricity, even when only 1% of the Uranium is actually consumed. If Uranium becomes used on a large scale, I don’t think they’ll keep wasting 99% of it. Thus Uranium appears to be the only energy source that won’t be causing a steep increase in prices except for photovoltaics some time in the future while the Sun shines.

  97. Salient Green
    November 4th, 2010 at 20:31 | #97

    Chris O’Niell @46, PV is being used and despite it’s high price. This is because it is elegant, simple, clean, quite sustainable, low maintenance and very long lasting. The self sufficient aspect is also very appealing.

    Contrast all that with nuclear power.

    The other forms of renewable energy such as wind, wave, tidal, solar thermal, biomass and geothermal all have far more likelihood of widespread uptake than nuclear power for many of the same reasons as PV.

    If coal subsidies were to end now, and a substantial price put on carbon now, and all technologies named in the previous para given equal assistance, what do you reckon Australia’s mix of electricity generation would be in 10 years time?

    My prediction is that Nuclear power wouldn’t stand an organism’s chance in a meltdown of being in the mix let alone producing large amounts of power.

  98. jquiggin
    November 5th, 2010 at 05:30 | #98

    In any case, what we need is to push hard an end to coal subsidies (including the current, coal-oriented pricing system) and a substantial carbon price . Then we can forget about hypotheticals and see which technology (or set of technologies, including conservation) emerges as the least-cost solution.

  99. BilB
    November 5th, 2010 at 06:43 | #99

    Absolutely, JQ. And so what is the state of the play from your perspective?

  100. Chris Warren
    November 5th, 2010 at 07:28 | #100

    Salient Green :
    The price of the Sun’s energy however will not increase in price and the technology to harness it is rapidly decreasing in price.

    This is true compared to all other technologies. However, under capitalism or market socialism, real estate sites with good solar orientation will sell for a premium, compared to sites with little solar access. As population or energy demand increases, this solar premium will rise. So in this sense the cost of the Sun’s energy could rise.

    So the real answer has to include controls on the population. Also it is not possible to consider biofuels if population and energy demand keep rising.

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