Home > Environment > Derp, a 20 year history

Derp, a 20 year history

April 10th, 2014

Noah Smith’s classic definition of “derp” as “the constant repetition of strong priors” was developed with particular reference to solar energy, to refer to people who’ve taken the view, at some point in the past, that solar energy can’t work, and who are neither willing to change their minds, whatever the evidence, nor to state their views once and for all and remain silent thereafter.

The classic illustration of this would have to be Ted Trainer of the University of New South Wales. For the past 20 years, he’s been writing and rewriting the same paper, showing that renewables can’t possibly sustain a consumer society. Here’s a version from 1995, and from 2003, and here’s the latest.

What’s striking is that, while the numbers change dramatically, the conclusions don’t. The 1995 report says, in essence, that solar PV is totally unaffordable for all practical purposes. [1] So, our only hope is to embrace a massively simpler lifestyle,

The most recent version, written at a time when cheap solar power is a reality, has much less scary numbers. He estimates that the capital investment required for decarbonization of the economy would amount to 11 per cent of GDP. That’s still an over-estimate but it’s in the right ballpark. Trainer rightly observes that this number far exceeds current investment levels and is unlikely to be attained. But, unlikely as it may be, it would certainly be chosen if people accepted Turner’s conclusion that the only alternative was to live in huts with peat roofs.

And, over time, the insistence on negativity about renewables has led Trainer to promote views that are the opposite of his original concerns about simplicity For quite a few years, his work was published primarily at pro-nuclear site, Brave New Climate[2].

If Ted Trainer actually wants to help save the planet it’s time for him to abandon the campaign against renewables and urge society to accept the relative modest reduction in the rate of growth of income needed to decarbonize energy supply. Once the prospect of massive extinction has been staved off, we will have plenty of tiem to think about a simpler lifestyle.

fn1. As an illustration, the cost of a system to charge an electric car is estimated at $350 000, an estimate that is supposed to take account of optimistic projections of efficiency gains. These systems haven’t quite arrived yet (as usual, there are a bunch of technical difficulties to be overcome) but it appears they will soon be on the market for less than $10000. These systems have an obvious potential to resolve the problem of mismatch between peak PV availability at midday and peak demand in the evening, and may therefore reduce the conflict associated with the idea of a “utility death spiral”/

fn2. BNC ran into the same problem. In his eagerness to push the idea that nuclear power is the only way to save the planet from global warming, Barry Brook ran slabs of anti-renewable nonsense from climate delusionists such as Peter Lang.

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  1. April 10th, 2014 at 20:16 | #1

    Having a DC plug on the inverter of one’s rootop solar system would be a more efficient way to charge an electric car than using AC power. However, depending on how much these systems cost at first the cheapest option, particularly in places like Australia that have plenty of sunshine and plenty of roofspace, might be to just use a standard inverter but install a slightly larger system than one would otherwise to make up for the small efficiency loss. Of course, once solar inverters with DC plugs for charging cars are produced in volume their price will come down.

    How much solar would be required to produce electricity equal to what an electric car would consume? Well, the average car in Australia is only driven about 40 kilometers a day and electric cars generally get over 5 km range to a kilowatt-hour, so that means 2 kilowatts of solar PV should be plenty anywhere in Australia and that includes Hobart. Bought as part of a larger home system, the average installed cost of 2 killowatts right now is about $3,500. And that will take car of your car fuel costs for decades. No need to go searching the wastelands for petrol so you’ll be able to throw your leather Mad Max costume in the bin.

  2. Will Boisvert
    April 11th, 2014 at 06:00 | #2

    I don’t know about this solar electric car-charging proposal, John.

    Your reference gives a tentative price of “less than $10,000” for 2.5 kilowatts of garage-top solar power. Let’s say it’s $9000; that’s $3600 per kw. With the cited capacity factor of 13.7 percent, that works out to an average capital cost of $26,277 per kilowatt. That’s three times more expensive than the per-kw average capital cost of the Hinkley C nuclear plant, five times more than V. C. Summer and 10 times more than South Korean nuclear plants. So it seems like nuclear would be a much cheaper source of low-carbon power for electric cars than the proposal you spotlighted.

    The article doesn’t say whether that price includes stationary batteries so you can charge the car at night, when it’s actually in the garage. Without that storage, the garage charging station can’t be used very often because cars usually go abroad in daytime. But charging via stationary batteries entails conversion losses, so the effective capacity factor would be even lower and the costs higher than I calculated above.

    The Honda Smart Home demonstration project the article mentions has a much larger 9.5 kw solar array with a 10 kwh lithium-ion battery. I can’t find any price data on it, but this site estimates the solar rig at about $40,000 installed without the battery, so even pricier than above. (httpcolon//www.torquenews.com/1574/honda-smart-house-will-charge-your-2015-fit-ev-solar-power) Note that a 10 kwh battery could charge a Chevy Volt to run all of 30 miles, so on Day 2 of cloud cover it’s back to gasoline.

    Which last means that all-electric transport powered by intrinsically unreliable solar charging would impose large backup costs on the grid as a whole. During periods of extended cloud cover, especially in the winter, the grid must have lots of dispatchable reserve capacity on hand to charge transport because solar charging stations are moribund. The costs of those dispatchable generators are large: a good rule of thumb is that there must be enough dispatchable capacity to run the grid in the absence of any intermittent power—so an entire second grid of dispatchable generators for times when wind and solar output collapses almost entirely for days on end, as often happens in Germany. That adds a lot to the grid’s capital and overhead costs. And it means that there will be no “utility death spiral”: the utilities’ dispatchable generators will always be needed—and subsidized—even at very high penetrations of intermittent power.

    Given all this, are you sure solar electricity is a good choice for powering transportation?

    You’re right that a retreat to energy starvation is impossible (thank God). But we have to be realistic about the limitations of intermittent energy, and understand that it can’t shoulder much of the burden of powering a modern society.

  3. Fran Barlow
    April 11th, 2014 at 07:56 | #3


    The average across all six city capitals for 10kw solar was $8478 in March. The high was Hobart, our southern-most state, the state of which, Tasmania, exports hydro and has no coal fired at all.

    There is also ample room on the rooves and covered walkways of our stations to use carparks to recharge vehicles throughout the day and also to use these to load balance the grid and maintain LOLP standards, obviating much if the need for system redundancy sometimes asserted against penetration of intermittents. Similarly, it would be possible for other existing commercial carparks — say in shopping centres or workplaces to offer charging at a cost in a context where a user could elect to participate in load balancing for a commission on power traded. Naturally this would mostly be done while vehicles were idle during typical working hours. Some vehicles, in addition, (e.g. Some of the iMievs) carry solar panels on their rooves. I imagine some flat rooved trucks could use these — especially if the weight of the panels continues to fall per nameplate capacity.

    I see great scope for V2G

  4. John Quiggin
    April 11th, 2014 at 07:58 | #4

    Will, I’ll start with the two most obvious points, and leave the rest to others.

    1. Your calculations compare capital costs, but ignore fuel, operation cost, transmission, distribution and retail (ie the great majority of the final cost of electricity).

    2. Most cars are in garages, or open air car parks in the middle of the day. For people who take public transport to work and leave the car at home (or who don’t go to work), a home system makes sense. For those who drive to work, it would make sense to charge the car there. Quibbling about the location makes you look silly.

  5. John Quiggin
    April 11th, 2014 at 08:00 | #5

    And to avoid making the point over and over again, let’s stipulate that South Korea is doing OK with nuclear.

  6. Hermit
    April 11th, 2014 at 08:22 | #6

    All this talk of the cheapness and convenience of PV charged electric cars may be lost on some. That includes renters, apartment dwellers, people working less than 20 hours a week, people concerned about their job security, people with long commutes from the urban fringe and people whose employer won’t supply power cables to the car park. Thus it would help to have a detached house and garage or car port, to have a well paid secure job and to live within 40 km or so from work and services. Maybe this explains the lack of EVs on the road. People need to get rich quickly and mover closer in.

  7. Ikonoclast
    April 11th, 2014 at 08:54 | #7

    I tend to argue reductio ad absurdum in such matters. By definition, all non-renewable energy sources (typically fossil fuels and fuels for fission) will run out. By extension, if global or local civilization is to survive (at some level) then it must survive using renewable energy sources. Therefore we have no alternative but to attempt the renewable energy route. The argument that we can put off indefinitely the attempt at a renewable energy transition is refuted by the existence of near limits.

    These near limits include but are not limited to the following issues. AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) is already underway and the IPCC scenarios indicate that reduction in fossil fuel use needs to commence now (if not sooner!). Peak conventional oil production has already occurred (2005) thus validating peak resource theory for all non-renewable energy sources. The addition of non-conventional hydrocarbons, while moving forward the peak of all hydrocarbons, does not invalidate peak theory. This is just as switching to a reserve fuel tank does invalidate the fact that all fuel tanks run out. There is ample evidence that the gas and unconventional oil “renaissance” will be relatively short-lived. It will very soon become unsustainably expensive in terms of recovery costs and environmental damage including climate damage.

    Nuclear fission also suffers from the problem of peak resources. The uranium production peak has already occurred, in about 1980. There is evidence that this production peak was the result of a combination of impending physical limits, geopolitics and economics. A second production peak seems achievable and likely at about 2020 though there is great doubt that it can rise to equal or exceed the 1980 peak. In the intervening years the supply deficit was met by decommisioning and fissioning fissile weapons material. One should concede that is a good service the nuclear power industry has helped to provide.

    We must get back to the main point. Eventually, all non-renewable resources run out and we must convert to renewable sources. This “eventually” is shown by climate data, peak oil, peak uranium and so on to be “now”. The eventual is NOW. Insofar as we continue to use fossil fuels and fission fuels we must begin to regard them as transition fuels. Transition fuels should not be squandered on profligate consumption (excess motoring or consumerism for example) but utilised to fund the transition financially and energetically.

    Ted Trainer’s question is “Can renewable energy sustain consumer society?” If the question is “Can renewable energy (and the biosphere) sustain a consumer society as wasteful and environmentally damaging as our current society?” then I am certain the answer is a resounding NO! If we are asking whether renewable energy can sustain some reasonable level of global, regional and local civilization with retention of our essential scientific, technical and knowledge gains then we must hope and act on the assumption that it can.

    Ultimately it is physical reality, not ideology, that presents us with these genuine TINA moments in human history. When it comes to utilising renewable energy There Is No Alternative.

    Footnote On the Electric Car Issue.

    I illustrated in another post that a 10 kW solar PV system with associated evacuated tube solar hot water system would provide all the power needed by a home of 4 to 6 persons and all the power needed to re-charge a Nissan Leaf. This would hold certianly true in a good sunshine state like Queensland or California.

    This is very easily demonstrated. The Nissan Leaf has a 24 kW·h lithium ion battery with a range (2011/12 models of 117 km (73 mi) EPA. A round 5 kW of the 10 kW nameplate system could be applied to charging the Nissan Leaf and would charge in it 5 hours. This obviously is on a sunny day with the car home in the garage.

    To support this, one would want the capacity (and deal) to feed a grid and get power back at about parity to charge the car at night. Or one could have a house battery pack too of maybe 50 kW-h capacity or one could purchase solar power at one’s parking station while at work. There is no reason train station car parks etc. cannot have entirely roofed parking with solar panels and charging points for each parking spot.

  8. Ikonoclast
    April 11th, 2014 at 09:26 | #8


    Cripes Hermit, just about every bogan in our society can afford a petrol car. Why won’t every bogan be able to afford an electric car? Costs are to do with volume (among other things). The Nissan Leaf now costs about $50,000. Looking at its size and what’s in it, I would be surprised if it should cost more than $20,000 brand new (in today’s dollars) when made in volume.

    Of course, the above assumes costs won’t rise due to material and energy shortages. However, if costs do rise due to material and energy shortages then bogan-mobiles (petrol cars) will rise just as much. Society will face the same private transport crisis either way in that case. Bogan-mobiles (petrol cars) are dirty, inefficient, complicated and require more servicing and maintenance. Electric cars are clean, elegant, cheap and simple by comparison.

    The price of a 10kW solar PV system is around $21,000 – about a quarter of what it was in 2008. As I wrote in a post above, such a system will run your home and recharge your Nissan Leaf. You could also recharge at the parking station, shopping centre etc. You might not be aware but in Canada some car parks are wired with a plug outlet for each vehicle. This is currently to run engine block warmers in their -20C to -40C winters. So wiring carparks is no big deal.

    Intermittency issues can be dealt with, with energy storage and even with power generation methods (solar convection towers) which produce power 24/7. The bottom line is we either make renewables work or we collapse. Or do you deny that fission fuel reserves are finite on earth?

  9. Fran Barlow
    April 11th, 2014 at 09:38 | #9


    The Nissan Leaf now costs about $50,000. Looking at its size and what’s in it, I would be surprised if it should cost more than $20,000 brand new (in today’s dollars) when made in volume.

    About 10 weeks ago I went to my local Nissan dealer and was advised $43k on road (and that was inclusive of the now dropped tariff).

    Doubtless if charging stations were made nearly ubiquitous (i.e. most commercial carparks, stations, shopping centres, high density housing) the demand for PEVs would be huge. As turnover of the fleet is about 80% in seven years, if these stations were rolled out in 2 years in the major urban centres, we could have an 80% EV car fleet in the major cities by 2023.

  10. chrisl
    April 11th, 2014 at 09:44 | #10

    Icon : $50,000 Plus $21,000 equals $71,000 for a range of 170kms and recharge of 6-8 hrs
    People these days want big stinking SUV’s . Even in trendy places like Fitzroy.
    The solar powered leaf would have stayed forlornly in the garage these last four days in Melbourne!

  11. chrisl
    April 11th, 2014 at 09:49 | #11

    The future of Australia’s first large-scale electric car experiment is hanging by a thread following the departure of global Better Place CEO and former Australian chief Evan Thornley.

    Thornley, the former Labor upper house MP who famously turned down the offer of a ministry in the Brumby government to pursue his electric dreams, departed the firm in mid-January after strategic differences emerged with the board of the Israel-based charging and battery swapping operation.

    Your dream has turned into Evan Thorley’s worst nightmare

  12. Ikonoclast
    April 11th, 2014 at 10:41 | #12


    Within a few years, the combined price – of a Nissan Leaf size electric car and a solar PV system sufficient to power house and car – will likely come down to about $40,000. That will be feasible for most families if our overall economy continues to work in much the same way as presently.

    People might want big stinking SUVs but there is often a difference between what people want and what they can have. People may will indeed have to moderate their wants and accept more modest but still liveable, enjoyable, safe and healthy lifestyles.

    The Leaf would not have stood forlornly in the garage these last four days in Melbourne. It could have been re-charged with wind-generated electricity from South Australia.

    I notice that anti-renewables people particularly focus on and obsess about intermittancy as if it is an insuperable problem. I guess it is their final fall-back position. As other issues like basic feasibility and cost have been addressed it becomes necessary to fall back and hold on to this last objection like grim death. This necessitates ignoring all further evidence of progress. Intermittancy is a difficulty for sure but it is not insuperable. Now, I could enumerate again the various measures that can be and are being used to address to the intemittancy issue but I wonder if anti-renewables people even listen to evidence. State a willingness to listen to evidence and I will go through this again.

    I also have had concerns about the long term viability of renewable energy. However my concerns have tended to revolve around issues of EROEI (energy return on energy invested) and the feasibility of obtaining all the materials for a renewable energy build-out (scalability). My lay investigations have shown to me that both problems appear feasibly solvable but there are ultimate limits to the solution. These limits will eventually determine sustainable world population, technology levels and living standards but there is a considerable degree of uncertainty about where these limits are.

    But if you reject renewables what is your alternative plan? Non-renewables (fossils and fissiles) will run out. What then? Show me the plan. Or is this just about negative gainsaying without having an alternative plan? I’ve been there myself (negative gainsaying) and it does have some devil’s advocate value. It forces the opposition to think harder and overtly develop all their arguments and solutions. But it becomes a mental ditch ( a “derp trap”) if you adopt an ossified position where you ignore or reject all new empirical evidence which might required a personal reassessment.

    Older non-professionals (like me) or older professionals commenting in fields outside their own expertise often lag in knowledge in these times of fast developments. They keep repeating what was true 20 years ago, 10 years ago or even 5 years ago, oblivious of rapid new developments. Challenge your assumptions or at least put them aside and re-research the field. You might find your knowledge and assumptions are out of date.

  13. April 11th, 2014 at 10:47 | #13

    I’m sure Trainer means well, but people who subscribe to meta-narratives such as “in the richest countries we are experiencing accelerating social breakdown and a falling quality of life. This is the result of the triumph of neo-liberalism which has made the maximisation of monetary wealth and business turnover within the market the supreme social goal” are promoting faith-based narratives. One might just as easily argue, and to just as little constructive purpose, that “in the richest countries we are experiencing accelerating social breakdown and a falling quality of life. This is the result of people turning away from Jesus and making personal self-gratification the supreme social goal.” Indeed of course lots of people do argue that.

    In other words reduce complex problems to simplistic terms and preach Utopian solutions without any realistic plan for achieving them. It’s fine in the pulpit, or on blogs, if it makes them happy; but it has no place in serious scholarship. Still, it is the School of Arts I guess …

  14. Hermit
    April 11th, 2014 at 11:00 | #14

    GM is taking a punt on natural gas cars with the 2015 Chevrolet Impala gasoline/CNG bifuel car. For large bottomed people it has all the room you want with 800 km driving range after (quickly) filling both tanks. Should this approach take off it will turn the tables on LNG exporters since at petrol equivalent prices domestic demand will outbid export. Petrol at say $1.55 for 35 MJ thermal is equivalent to about $44 per GJ. Admittedly a big chunk of the petrol price is excise. We are worried about the Japanese paying $19 for LNG when our big gas users don’t want to pay much more than $5 for piped gas. Gas powered cars will suck back that export market.

    I take the point that conventional, fracked and coal seam gas will effectively run out in a couple of decades and using it as a transport fuel will accelerate that process. If people think the transport energy problem is easy to solve we should all have some of what they’re having.

  15. Tim Macknay
    April 11th, 2014 at 11:13 | #15

    I’m not sure what you expected from Better Place, but to me it was always obvious that it was a high-risk venture with a small chance of success. It was trying to expand everywhere before it had proven that the core concept worked.

    I think the introduction of EVs into Australia, like elsewhere, will be incremental. The market here is particularly difficult compared with places like Europe because we have low density settlements, relatively low fuel prices, and no government incentives for EVs. EVs will need to become a lot cheaper before they get a foothold in this country. However, the subsidies driving sales in Europe and Japan may help them do that.

  16. April 11th, 2014 at 11:37 | #16

    One thing about Australia is that once we get electric cars designed for European/Australian current we will easily be able to charge any electric car with a Leaf sized battery overnight from a normal power point. There’s no need to go through the expense of installing special charging points. If you charge your car for eight hours at work it would give the typical electric car over 80 kilometers of range, which is a lot more than most people’s one way commute. Fast chargers would still exist but most people would almost never use them. And if you had 500 watts of solar cells on your car you could get maybe 10 kilometers of range if you parked it in the sun on a fine day while at work. Actually it’s possible to make a town car that gets all or most of its electricity from solar cells on the car itself. It would be small and light with a lot of PV. The onboard battery storage would be small to keep both weight and cost down. It certainly wouldn’t meet everyone’s needs but it would do for the vast bulk of my driving and I would rarely need to plug it in. Vehicles like this may not catch on in a rich country like Australia, but they might be a hit in places like India and Africa where it’s looking like the grid may never reach a lot of people.

  17. April 11th, 2014 at 11:55 | #17

    With regards to Better Place it seemed clear to me that to succeed they had to offer a price that would make it attractive for taxis to use it. They failed to do this, and so goodbye Better Place. But there are plenty of electric taxis being trialed around the world including in China and Europe and once it’s clear that electric taxis are the most competitive option in Australia we will see a fairly quick change over to them, which will cause a reasonably rapid and significant reduction in Australia’s LPG and petrol use. Electric buses are already clearly superior to diesel and with natural gas prices increasing electric buses are probably the best option. Of course bus companies are likely to want to trial them first to see how well they operate under Australian conditions and Australia’s current high electricity prices don’t help, but it may not be long before almost every new bus is electric. Adelaide’s only electric bus, the Tindo, built in the industrial powerhouse of New Zealand, is still going strong.

  18. Tony Lynch
    April 11th, 2014 at 12:12 | #18

    Feel better now, Ken?

  19. MikeH
    April 11th, 2014 at 13:14 | #19

    “Barry Brook ran slabs of anti-renewable nonsense from climate delusionists such as Peter Lang.”

    Barry Brook joined the Breakthrough Institute who also run slabs of anti-renewable nonsense.

  20. Ikonoclast
    April 11th, 2014 at 13:22 | #20


    “If people think the transport energy problem is easy to solve we should all have some of what they’re having.” – Hermit.

    I don’t think it is easy to solve. Nor do I think it is impossible to solve. Your approach seems to be that if something isn’t easy to solve at one stroke with one approach then it is unsolvable. Such logic is fallacious. There will not be one silver bullet to the transport issue. There will have to be a multi-pronged approach as follows (from small to large journeys).

    (1) People will return in significant numbers to walking and cycling for short journeys.
    (2) Mass transit solutions being far more energy efficient will have to become more common.
    (3) Urban sprawl, which entails long journeys to shops and work, will need to be progressively reversed.
    (4) More interstate goods movement will need to proceed by rail and ship again rather than by much less efficient road transport.
    (5) Cars will need to become smaller again and quite possibly less numerous as journeys will be completed by other methods.
    (6) Internet functionality, 3D printing etc. will reduce the need for some proportion of personal and freight journeys.
    (7) Internet, SatNav and advanced shortest feasible delivery route computation (algorithms) for multiple deliveries will increase delivery efficiency.

    All of these advances and adaptations and more will play a role in solving the transport problem at a practical, functional level. To sum up your standard of argument, it always goes as follows with one spurious “point” that is meant to constitute an insurmountable objection to all possible solutions:

    “People with big fat asses will always want big fat SUVs therefore no alternative or set of alternatives for transport will ever work.”

    I actually wonder if you are serious in advancing such arguments or if you are just trolling.

  21. Will Boisvert
    April 11th, 2014 at 14:11 | #21

    @ Fran Barlow,

    “The average across all six city capitals for 10kw solar was $8478 in March. The high was Hobart, our southern-most state, the state of which, Tasmania, exports hydro and has no coal fired at all.”

    Fran, I assume you got that number from solarchoice.net.au, but I’m afraid you misread the March solar price table; $8478 is the average cost of a 5 kw rig, not a 10 kw rig. The 10 kw price is AU$16,514, but that’s after the federal STC incentive to the vendor, which lowers the price by 65 cents per watt, so the unsubsidized price of a 10 kw system would be $23,014.

    Assuming a capacity factor of 20 percent for Australian rooftop, that would be an average capital cost of AU$11,507 per kw, or US$10,816 per average kw, so still about 22 percent more than Hinkley C’s average kw capital cost. But with solar’s somewhat lower O and M costs it might be neck and neck with Hinkley C (not counting the latter’s greater longevity). But it looks like Australian solar is still substantially more expensive than North Carolina’s VC Summer nukes and drastically more expensive than South Korean nuclear.

  22. Will Boisvert
    April 11th, 2014 at 14:12 | #22

    @ John Quiggin,

    “1. Your calculations compare capital costs, but ignore fuel, operation cost, transmission, distribution and retail (ie the great majority of the final cost of electricity).”

    Good point, so let’s go through those.

    LCOE—total of capital costs, fuel, O and M, grid hookup: LCOE is 77 percent capital cost for nuclear and 90 percent capital cost for solar, according to the US EIA, which reckons non-capital costs as 2.5 cents per kwh for nuclear and 1.3 cents per kwh for solar. So solar has a 1.2 cent / kwh advantage on non-capital costs, but that hardly makes up for its 3 to 10-fold higher capital costs. Britain’s DECC reckons solar’s non-capital costs to be about the same as nuclear’s, GBP 24/MWh to 26/MWh. So throwing in generator operating costs hardly changes the comparison based on capital costs alone.

    Then there’s transmission, distribution and retail costs—the “grid overhead”. In the US those costs are about 7-8 cents per kilowatt hour, out of a total of about 11-12 cents per kwh on average. If one were completely off the grid on solar panels, then yes one could justifiably subtract those costs on the solar side of the ledger. But virtually no one goes completely off the grid, because there are enormous extra expenses—huge battery stacks, inefficient and expensive small generators and fuel for the inevitable cloudy stretches when the batteries run out—that far outweigh the grid overhead. In the real world, even houses with extensive solar systems remain dependent on the grid, so the grid overhead cannot be subtracted from the costs of solar power. And since higher penetrations of intermittent wind and solar actually require an expanded grid, as we see now in Germany, solar should be assessed higher grid overhead costs than dispatchable generation like nuclear.

    –“ For people who take public transport to work and leave the car at home (or who don’t go to work), a home system makes sense. For those who drive to work, it would make sense to charge the car there. Quibbling about the location makes you look silly.”

    Really we should not think in terms of linking point of generation to point of use—that is, to imagine charging cars where the solar panels are (which is also untenable in the case of multi-story public parking garages). The genius of the grid is to separate those points. So, we put the panels wherever solar exposure and useless surface make them propitious, and string wires and outlets wherever people like to park. To link solar panel to charging station by proximity is to economize on cheap transmission infrastructure while proliferating expensive generation infrastructure. The whole notion of owning solar panels for the specific charging of ones own car is, as you say, a red herring.

  23. Will Boisvert
    April 11th, 2014 at 14:20 | #23

    –Should be South Carolina’s VC Summer nukes!

  24. April 11th, 2014 at 14:23 | #24

    Despite having small behinds by developed country standards, Japan has built and sold electric SUVs. They were not made for export to America, but rather for Japanese people who have to deal with large amounts of snow out in the sticks. Smaller lighter four wheel drive cars can also deal with lots of snow, but some Japanese people like big SUVs. Because of the heavy amounts of snow in some parts of the country it may be Japan that leads the way in installing an electric motor in each wheel for superior traction and control instead of one central electric motor as in current models. And while other countries also have plenty of snow, Japan is leading in electric car manufacture.

  25. Hermit
    April 11th, 2014 at 14:30 | #25

    @ Ronald B I have a couple of problems with Adelaide’s Tindo bus. If it was T-boned in an accident the Zebra batteries could have meltdown and fire. Almost as if it was nukular except it’s in the middle of the city. Secondly the batteries have to be kept over 200C either in a state of charge or discharge. The bus depot has PV panels but in a rainy week can we be sure no fossil electricity went into the charging?

    @ Ikon in my case I live on a gravel road 37 km from a supermarket. None of your transport options appeal.

    Fair comment about looking for exceptions to any rule but I accept that certain ideas may work on a significant scale even if if they can’t achieve 100%. That’s a lot different from extrapolating tiny niches like off-grid solar to major solutions. In the case of a bus meltdown I think we can accept some risk.

  26. April 11th, 2014 at 14:53 | #26

    Hermit, I think the fact that all our other buses are powered by either explosive liquid or explosive gas just might result in them being an even greater safety hazard than the Tindo electric bus in the event of a serious accident.

  27. April 11th, 2014 at 15:24 | #27

    And Hermit, who cares if some coal power was used to charge the Tindo electric bus? I mean really, can you name one person who gives a hen’s tooth if the electric bus was charged with some electricity generated from coal? Can you give me the name of one person, apart from perhaps yourself? I think you’ll find that most people who are concerned about the environment want to reduce the amount of electricity we generate from coal but are not particularly interested in whether or not a particular joule of work in a particular location can or cannot be ascribed to the actions of electrons being wiggled back and forth in a wire by energy released from the coal that we do burn to generate electricity. Let me explain how it works: Reducing the amount of electricity generated from coal reduces the amount of electricity generated by coal. Reducing the amount of electricity generated from coal by 1% reduces the amount of electricity generated from coal by 1%. Reducing the amount of electricity generated from coal by 99% reduces the amount of electricity generated from coal by 99%. If 1% of electricity is generated from coal, it means that the other 99% of electricity is being generated by methods other than coal. Each time we increase the percentage of electricity that is being generated by means other than coal, we reduce the percentage of electricity that is generated from coal. Electricity generated from coal has no zombie characteristics. It does not convert electricity from other sources into coal electricity if it comes in contact with it. Now I realise that the mathematics behind this explanation are rather complex, but if you have trouble following, don’t worry, just let me know and I’ll explain it more simply using puppets.

  28. Fran Barlow
    April 11th, 2014 at 16:19 | #28

    @Will Boisvert

    Apologies for misreading the table. Haste makes waste … 🙁

    Nevertheless, even allowing your calculation, the build times for enough “solar “Hinckley Cs” in Australia would be far shorter, so the capacity would be far earlier to market. Moreover, if the state were ramping up solar capacity along the lines I suggested, those prices would come down. One of the interesting features of solar deployment in Australia is that whereas many assumed (not unreasonably) that solar panels would be very much an upmarket fad, in our capital cities and their satellites, they sit squarely in the middle of the income demographic, which reflects the practice of giving discounts on installation when several homeowners are able to agree to install at the same time within a small area. Whole swathes of streets took advantage of the state subsidies and relatively high FiT and elected to put them in and got them even cheaper.

    I daresay if the local railway station were installing them, a half a dozen commercial locations within a 200 metres of each other would also instal them, presumably at a substantial discount, and and the promoters would have an incentive to bulk buy and tout within the area, even allowing that now, the subsidies are far less generous.

  29. Fran Barlow
    April 11th, 2014 at 16:22 | #29

    @Ronald Brak

    Indeed, and one might add that unless it is proposed that the coal-fired station would be off-line at the time and in black start up, the coal would be being burned anyway. Ok, less coal would be burned than if there were no demands, but still quite a bit, so the marginal usage is key here.

  30. Hermit
    April 11th, 2014 at 16:24 | #30

    How about a new metric .. cost of CO2 avoided. The current official CO2 price is $24.15 per tonne. If coal displacing generation has a greater cost of CO2 avoided than this then it would seem not to be efficient, or perhaps $24.15 isn’t enough. Roughly using BREE’s levelised electricity cost estimates supposed wind power cost $100 per Mwh. The backup and alternative full time power source is gas, mainly combined cycle but some open cycle. Suppose it has variable cost (mainly gas fuel) of say $60 per Mwh and fixed costs of another $60.

    You’ve got that fixed cost of the gas fired generator whether it’s operating or not. Suppose the wind blows strongly and the gas plant can be switched off (neither assumption may be valid) so you save nearly half a tonne of CO2 due to exclusive wind power, make it 0.4 tonnes. The running cost is $100 for wind plus $60 in back up fixed costs. The alternative was all gas but with more CO2. The additional cost is ($100 + $60) – $120 = $40 but the CO2 saving is 0.4 tonnes. Cost of CO2 avoided $40/0.4 = $100 per tonne a lot more than $24.15.

    Surely there has to be a better way of reducing CO2 while supplying reliable electricity.

  31. MikeH
    April 11th, 2014 at 16:32 | #31

    @Will Boisvert
    That 10Kw solar system in Hobart would generate 12,775 Kwh a year which according to the AEMO about covers the current high end of household consumption in Tasmania (High (13,763 kWh), av rate 27.64, annual cost $3,804).

    Assuming a FIT about equal to the wholesale price that is annual $3,804 cost avoided for an outlay of AU$16,514 (or ~$23,000 without the RET).

    Householders are not doing sophisticated modelling using wholesale prices. They are anticipating higher prices and looking at the **retail** cost that they avoid. They are still however paying the fixed supply charge. It is hard to see why the trend to solar is going to stop unless the government introduces some big disincentives.

    With the new lower FIT of 8c/Kwh the incentive will be to consume all of that generation in house via storage systems or via electric cars once one or either drop in price.

    Germany is encouraging the development of home battery storage via grants and loans to give the technology a kick along.

  32. MikeH
    April 11th, 2014 at 16:34 | #32

    Correction “Assuming a FIT about equal to the retail price …” which is around what I get in Victoria

  33. John Quiggin
    April 11th, 2014 at 16:35 | #33

    @Hermit “Surely there has to be a better way of reducing CO2 while supplying reliable electricity.”

    “Surely” is usually a giveaway that something is wrong. No serious analyst has ever suggested that the kinds of reductions in CO2 we need can be achieved for $24/tonne. Certainly the Labor government didn’t claim this. The number was a pure political compromise.

    Most serious estimates of the necessary carbon price are in the range of $50-$100/tonne*. To get a feel for what this means, Australia’s total emissions are around 500 million tonnes, so applying a price in this range would give a total of $25-$50 billion, or 1.5-3 per cent of national income. Of course, the costs would start to rise as we approached zero, but it’s clear that we could make big reductions at costs that are trivial in relation to our total income

    * The RET amounts to a pseudo-price of about $40/tonne for coal-fired electricity, more for gas since it applies to ‘renewability’ rather than CO2 content.

  34. Ikonoclast
    April 11th, 2014 at 17:16 | #34

    @Will Boisvert

    Fissile materials are a non-renewable resource. What do you propose to do when they run out? BTW, peak uranium production was in 1980. We’ve never matched that production since.

    Let us examine one claim critically, even as we accept it for the purposes of argument.

    “If the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) has accurately estimated the planet’s economically accessible uranium resources, reactors could run more than 200 years at current rates of consumption.” – Steve Fetter, dean of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy.

    But since current nuclear reactors provide about 5.8% of all power use globally, we see that if they provided 100% of our global power use, then all uranium reserves would last just 11.6 years. This puts into perspective just how non-renewable nuclear power is.

  35. April 11th, 2014 at 18:00 | #35

    Fran, just so you don’t get led astray, I’ll point out that a 5% discount rate is not unreasonable for many Australian home owners. And at that rate the average 10 kw rooftop solar system will produce electricity at around 8 cents or less. This is less than half the cost of the minimum price of electricity from Hinkley C before distribution charges are added. If average Australian distribution charges are added then electricity from Hinkley C would cost 5 times as much as that produced by an average 10 kilowatt Australian rooftop solar system. If you are an Australian with a 10% discount rate then electricity from Hinkley C drops down to only being about three and a half times as much.

    And I’ll point out that by the time Hinkley C provides any electricity to the grid solar power will certainly be much cheaper by then. Hinkley C’s power could be 10 times more expensive than Australian solar at that point. And since Hinkley C is supposed to operate for decades we should actually be considering the price of solar after it’s constructed, but I don’t think there is really any need to go on.

  36. April 11th, 2014 at 18:10 | #36

    Ikonoclast, unfortunately for all practical purposes, the supply of uranium is unlimited. With declining costs of renewable energy there is no real hope for Australia that demand for yellowcake will increase and it appears likely that we will be stuck with dismal uranium prices from now right up until the final fission reactors are retired. But I suppose we could always try to boost prices by getting a new nuclear arms race going. “Psst! Upper Galicia! I hear Lower Galicia is building a nuke! You should build one too! I know a couple of guys called Pigdog and Spider who can get you some uranium.”

  37. Ikonoclast
    April 11th, 2014 at 20:26 | #37

    @Ronald Brak

    Sorry, I don’t understand you. The supply of uranium is not unlimited. Like all elements on earth, or more precisely in the upper crust and seas, only a finite quantity exists. The supply is very limited once you only count deposits which are both economically and energetically viable for extraction and energy production. Commercially, energy production must give an energy profit of at least about 2:1 or 3:1 of energy production on energy input or the whole process does not pay.

    The “uranium from seawater” myth is the worst myths of all. The uranium concentration in seawater is only about 3 parts per billion. The energy costs, environmental costs and opportunity costs in extracting this will be prohibitive of any program to run reactors on sea-water extracted uranium.


    “The four most concentrated metal ions, Na+, Mg2+, Ca2+, and K+, are the only ones commercially extractable today, with the the least concentrated of the four being potassium (K) at 400 parts per million (ppm). Below potassium, we go down to lithium, which has never been extracted in commercial amounts from seawater, with a concentration of 0.17 ppm. Other dissolved metal ions exist at lower concentrations, sometimes several orders of magnitude lower. None has ever been commercially extracted.” – The Oil Drum.

    Chlorine is also industrially produced from concentrated seawater brine. That is about the extent of chemical extraction from sea water I think. Though iodine is sourced from seaweed. So we are using the seaweed as a natural extractor and concentrator for iodine.

  38. Megan
    April 11th, 2014 at 21:24 | #38

    H/T InformationClearingHouse:

    “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.” – Leo Tolstoy

    The job of boosters is to act like they are “firmly persuaded” so as to firmly persuade others.

  39. April 11th, 2014 at 21:37 | #39

    Ikonoclast, I mean uranium consumption is going to decline as kilowatt-hours produced by nuclear power declines, which has already begun, and given the current and likely future cost of renewables there is no realistic chance that new reactor construction can turn this decline around. This year we may see solar installed for $1 a watt in India and/or China and nuclear power can’t compete in a grid with the low daytime electricity prices that result from meeting even a small percentage of demand with solar power. Sure, some new reactors may be built for political reasons, either to satisfy nuclear industry lobbying or because big projects can mean big kickbacks. And some may be built to build or maintain nuclear expertise that could be turned to making things go bang in the future. And maybe some reactors will even be started simply because important actors can’t get their heads around the fact that they are now completely uncompetitive. But with wind and solar at their current prices there is really no way that nuclear can compete on price. And this is the case even if some countries do a good job of lowering reactor costs because the cost of renewables are certain to come down. So demand for uranium will basically decrease to zero long before current reserves are exhausted and unless some other use is found for uranium our reserves will effectively become infinite. Because no one will be using them.

  40. derrida derider
    April 11th, 2014 at 23:39 | #40

    This is OT, but Ikonoclast is hiding a lot in that term “commercially”. “Commercially” here just means “at present prices”. But the viability or non-viability of nuclear power is remarkably insensitive to the price of yellowcake, simply because the cost of yellowcake is only a very small part of the cost of nuclear power. According to Wikipedia the current estimated cost of extraction from seawater is $240-300/kg (about triple current prices), plus some good prospects of tech advances lowering that dramatically. As for the energy costs of extraction these must be only a small fraction of the energy costs of running those thousands of centrifuges to enrich, which has not proved prohibitive. BTW this is the ultimate reason why trying to prevent nuclear proliferation by refusing to sell yellowcake is futile – better to concentrate on stopping those centrifuges.

    On topic, count me as still sceptical (though persuadable) that PV solar is a really large scale solution. The reason is the dramatic cost reductions in the past decade have NOT come from new, much cheaper, technology but mainly from China massively gearing up production and getting scale economies. The price drops are very welcome but scale economies can only be realised once; I don’t think prices of panels will drop much more unless and until we get that tech breakthrough. And at present prices PV cannot be more than a handy supplement to our present system, rather than a viable replacement.

  41. April 11th, 2014 at 23:57 | #41

    Someone said, “But if you reject renewables what is your alternative plan? Non-renewables (fossils and fissiles) will run out. What then? Show me the plan.”

    By the way, I don’t reject renewables, but they cannot replace the quantity of fossil fuels which is the basis of rail, car and plane civilisation. Even to substitute to the degree they could, requires massive new infrastructure, which would be hard to mine and construct without recourse to fossil fuels.

    However, the alternative plan is as obvious and unnoticed as fresh air:

    Propaganda about a ‘dematerialised economy’ makes it hard to establish the reality that material industrial productivity is not actually less reliant on burning fossil fuels than it was in the 1970s, [1] and that drawdown on fossil fuels has in fact been multiplied by the needs of much greater populations. Similarly the obvious still needs to be pointed out that increasing productivity means burning more fuel and outputting more pollution, accelerating petroleum depletion and adding more greenhouse gases. Not only do we not need all the goods we produce for consumption at home or abroad, we do not need the income they bring, and their acquisition is a poor compensation for lives given to industry. Wonderful jobs are few and far between. No-one wants to give those up. Some people also derive much of their social life from work but they would derive similar benefits, and perhaps more status and satisfaction, from other community activities. And plenty of people reach a stage of maturity where childlike obedience to workplace regimes in the cause of producing more and more widgets in different colours, or processing more and more customers a day, with unflinching subservience, challenges every natural instinct.

    Instead of those complicated international agreements about percentile reductions in emissions over the years to come, which are hardly enforceable or even measurable, remaining mostly in the control of the corporate emitters, the solution lies much closer at hand, and could ultimately be controlled at grass-roots levels by the masses themselves. Relocalisation is obviously the best way to develop the solidarity and self-sufficiency to reorganize work.

    Political commentator and climate activist, Clive Hamilton, writes in Growth Fetish,

    “Reduction in working hours is the core demand for the transition to post-growth society. Overwork not only propels overconsumption but is the cause of severe social dysfunction, with ramifications for physical and psychological health as well as family and community life. The natural solution to this is the redistribution of work, a process that could benefit both the unemployed and the overworked.”

    He remarks that “Moves to limit overwork … directly confront the obsession with growth at all costs,” and talks about the liberation of workers “from the compulsion to earn more than they need.”

    Because growth is sustained by a constant ‘barrage of marketing and advertising’ Hamilton wants advertising taxed and removed from the public domain, and television broadcast hours limited so as to “allow people to cultivate their relationships, especially with children.”

    It should be obvious that the slower we work, the more fuel will remain, the less greenhouse gas will be emitted. If the populations which have ballooned to unimaginable proportions since the 1950s were allowed to return (through natural attrition) to more natural sizes by 2050, and the economy permitted to slow, it would take the heat off the planet and us as well. With so much less effort we could make such a positive difference to the planet and to our personal effectiveness.

    [1] Cleveland, C.J., Kaufmann, R. K. and Stern, D.I. “Aggregation and the role of energy in the economy”, Ecological Economics, 2000, vol. 32, issue 2, pages 301-317, also at http://www.bu.edu/cees/people/faculty/cutler/articles/Aggregation_role_of_energy.pdf

  42. April 12th, 2014 at 00:08 | #42

    @derrida derider
    Those ‘scale economies’ depend a lot on underpaid and overworked wage slaves. And I fear that this kind of ‘scale economy’ is being globalised. As increased demand, plus rarity in many cases, drives up the cost of materials, fossil fuels and any substitutes, industry will substitute cheap or slave labour wherever it can. Until recently decency dictated that the slaves and near-slaves had to be accessed off-shore. Now the laws are changing to make it possible to have people working for little or nothing in Australia. Last year I ran into so many ‘interns’ working for free, it was amazing. And they were displacing skilled occupations. With high immigration driving up the cost of land for housing and small business, raising mortgages and rents, much of Australia’s population, home-grown and immigrated, will never know freedom from servitude. They are already debt-bonded.


  43. rog
    April 12th, 2014 at 06:29 | #43

    @Sheila Newman The problem with cutting wages/increasing productivity is that you end up losing customers, they lack the surplus cash to buy things. Customers are either working real hard just to keep up with the bills or they are unemployed and eventually unemployable due to business cycles and shifts to the political right. This is the problem with capital, it has been so successful in wealth creation it now lacks opportunities for investment eg global % rates remain suppressed while US stockmarkets at record highs despite lack of commensurate earnings.

  44. BilB
    April 12th, 2014 at 07:14 | #44

    From what I can see reading Trainer’s “latest” offering he makes some horrendous maths mistakes after missing some very important realities. For starters where Australia’s 2008 total electricity consumption was 225 billion kwhrs and has fallen off significantly since then Trainer has decided that by 2050 Australians will consume 32,000 billion kwhrs (115 Exajoules), or 140 times the current highest. He then claims that to deliver that amount of energy it would require an installed capacity of 5400 gigawatts of panels at $12.61 per watt ($2300 per panel installed).

    Is there any need to examine further. This looks like an exercise of think of a number and square it. Does Trainer have a Degree in anything? How can anybody be that far out and still keep their position?

    The rationalities that Trainer misses are that by 2050 more than 70% of household energy production will be user installed and invested. That installed capacity will be Solar PV/Thermal where water heating and space heating will be from the thermal collectors reducing the electrity required production component by more than a third. Electric lighting will be predominately LED lighting further significantly reducing the required electricity production requirement.

    So where all of the realities are indicating a downwards trend, Trainer indicates a steeply upwards trend. Not credible.

  45. BilB
    April 12th, 2014 at 07:57 | #45

    Will Boisvert @ 2,

    You mistake is that you have double applied the solar derating.

    The practicle worked example can be based on the coming VW GTE hybrid which has an 8kwhr battery offering 50 klms range battery only at speeds up to 130 kph. The faster the speed the shorter the range. Using Ronald Bracks 2kw garage top example we use the approximation that for Sydney we get 275 days of 7.5 hours average solar exposure before further derating gives a daily 11 hours for chaging the car. If you derate the amount by a third this still gives 7.5 hours. And, even using your 13% figure this still gives 6.3 kwhrs available daily.

    What you have done is take the Sun Power figure from JQ’s link which already includes the availability derating, the derated the output again to come to your $26,000 per kilawatt figure.

    This is a common mistake made by fossil fuel and Nuclear enthusiasts.

  46. BilB
    April 12th, 2014 at 08:51 | #46

    I have just realised while testing assumptions that Trainer was calculating for the whole world, not just Australia (my mistake is in reading PDF’s on my phone).

    Even so to demonstrate how Trainer is wrong I simply have to refer to the activities and achievements of “The Barefoot College”. Here you will see how people can with minimal support work up from nothing to an acceptable living standard in the human sense.

    Secondly Trainer has failed to compound systems.

    Thirdly he has failed to allow for ongoing technological development in basing his work on 15% pv rather than Sun Power’s 22.5%, Panasonic’s 24.5%, Semprius’s 35% or Spectralab’s 40.5% efficiencies.

    Fourthly his cost estimates are highly suspect. My recent example that every Australian requires the annual extraction of 15 cubic metres of fossil fuel to mainrain our lifestyle properly puts into perspective the failure of the notion that the production of solar hybrid systems cannot be afforded or justified.

  47. Hermit
    April 12th, 2014 at 09:44 | #47

    I suggest you write a detailed critique of Trainer and get it published so we can check it line by line to see who has the dodgy arithmetic.

    Suppose for example on top of ~22 kwh per day appliance demand the average home wants another 8 kwh for electric assist transport. That’s a 36% increase in residential electricity demand right there. If rooftop PV is to be the source of that energy there’s the slight problem that installations have nosedived dramatically since 2012; see the CER website for figures. Thus it would seem people are now less willing or financially able to install PV let alone buy an electric car.

    On future energy demand note also Australia’s population increased by about 0.4m last year. There will also be greater need for air conditioning and desalination that offsets the manufacturing slump.

  48. John Quiggin
    April 12th, 2014 at 11:25 | #48


    Trainer’s 1995 and 2003 versions are linked above, and I point out in the OP that the numbers are totally wrong. Given that you formed your own opinions around the same time, and presumably on the basis of similar estimates, would you care to defend those versions? Or, in true derp fashion, do you want to rely on the 2013 numbers, but still derive the 1995 conclusions?

  49. Ikonoclast
    April 12th, 2014 at 11:30 | #49


    I am not sure what my household’s average electricity use is per day. I would have to check the numbers. However, I do know that with a 5.5 kW (nominal) solar PV system and evacuated tube solar hot water system, we produce about 175% of our electricity needs and have seemingly endless hot water. That is for a family of four who make no real effort to conserve power, have 2 flatscreens, 4 PCs and a biocycle system with electric pump plus all the other standard mod-cons and “vampire” devices. We also have electric dishwasher, washing machine and electric cooktop and oven. We use no gas. We use minimal heating, maybe a few nights a year, and run air-con in one large, well-insulated downstairs room for maybe 12 hrs a day, 60 days a year.

    We get the feed-in tariff bonus and of course you can argue about whether people should get that or not. On the basis of the above I could own a Nissan Leaf and charge it every night for almost no real cost, maybe at about 8 c/kWh for most of the charge. When you look at all the household economics, even without the feed-in tariff this would be worthwhile.

    People don’t seem to be making very wise financial decisions yet re energy. I know quite a few people who would think it normal to spend $55,000 or more on a new car, every 5 to 10 years, almost exclusively used for urban commutes. A car for commutes is a dead loss cost, it earns you nothing. Alternatively, they could spend about $40,000 on a Nissan Leaf and about $15,000 on a system like mine even without solar PV feed-in subsidies. They would be far better off financially. So there is no genuine financial reason Australian middle-class families could not afford this set-up. The obstacle is their inability to be reasonably rational agents. Instead of being more financially rational, they choose rather to pay a huge premium to own a middle class status symbol, a $55,000 plus internal combustion engine car, 4WD or SUV.

    If anything is cramping young middle class families, apart from petrol car status symbol purchase, it is the exessively high cost of housing, which has risen from costing about 3 times the average annual wage to costing about 6 times the average annual wage. This has occurred due to excess bank lending and federal government subsidy grants to buy new houses. Misconceived policies in other words. Imagine if you only got the housing grant if you installed an approved solar PV system. That would increase uptake and see new houses built where the grid can take more solar PV. Also, imagine if all fossil fuel subsidies were removed. This would alter matters too.

    Rather than not being able to afford solar PV, households are advertised, incentivised and manipulated away from it by economically distorting policies i.e. perverse incentives and perverse subsidies.

  50. April 12th, 2014 at 11:37 | #50

    Derrida, you wrote, “And at present prices PV cannot be more than a handy supplement to our present system, rather than a viable replacement.” I don’t think that’s correct, given enough time. At present prices rooftop solar can provide electricity to households and businesses at a lower cost than any form of utility scale generation. And utility scale solar has been installed in the UK for about a pound a watt, in Europe for about a euro a watt, and in India for about $1.42 a watt. Let’s take the developed country example of a euro a watt, which is currently just a bit less than $1.50. Near Melbourne, the cloudiest mainland capital, utility scale solar at a 9% discount rate will produce electricity at around 9.5 cents a kilowatt-hour. That is competitive with both new coal and new gas capacity. Around Sydney electricity from utility scale solar would cost about 8.5 cents. Brisbane 8 cents. Cairns 7.5 cents. Darwin 7 cents. Port Hedland 6.6 cents. So at costs of installation that are currently being done in Europe, utility scale solar is capable of eliminating a huge amount of fossil fuel use from daytime electricity production if given enough time for existing fossil fuel capacity to wear out, even if there is no carbon price and no subsidy for solar. So solar could end up as a pretty huge supplement. Given how we use more electricity in the day and how demand will shift to take advantage of cheaper daytime electricity at current costs perhaps fossil fuels could end up as a supplement to solar and other renewables. Unfortunately people are dying right now from the effects of climate change so we don’t really have the decades to wait for a large amount of our existing fossil fuel capacity to wear out and be replaced by utility scale solar. But fortunately point of use solar is much more competitive than utiltity scale solar.

    Rooftop solar is being installed in Germany for about $2 a watt without subsidy so we can be certain we can get it down to that level in Australia as Germany isn’t doing anything special that we can’t do. This means that without subsidy and with a 9% discount rate Australian households can produce electricity for about 13 cents a kilowatt-hour which is less than half the actual price most Australians pay for electricity. And note that many Australians have discount rates of less than 9% when it comes to rooftop solar as they may have access to home equity or have money sitting in term deposits. A home owner with a 5% discount rate will produce electricity from rooftop solar at about 9 cents a kilowatt-hour. So even if Australians were only paying 15 cents a kilowatt-hour for grid electricity they would still have an incentive to install solar. And for some reason no electricity distributers have announced plans to lower electricity prices to 15 cents a kilowatt-hour. It’s a bit slack of them, but then what can you do? It’s a free country. And the interesting thing about rooftop solar is that at current retail electricity prices and a 9% discount rate and $2 a watt installation and assuming that people receive nothing for the electricity they contribute to the grid and just have it stolen from them, most Australians still have an incentive to install systems large enough to export more than half the electricity produced to the grid as they try to minimise the amount of expensive grid electricity they have to pay for. This means that as long as retail electricity prices remain high, people can have an incentive to install rooftop solar regardless of what the actual wholesale price of grid electricity is during the day. Which means we could end up with an awful lot of it, even if its price never goes below $2 a watt.

    So to sum up, at current PV costs and just the expectation that installation costs in Australia will decline to what they already are in other parts of the world, solar power could end up as a massive supplement to the “present system” and given that in Australia wind power is also cheaper than new coal or gas capacity and is complementary with solar in that it produces electricity at night and tends to produce more electricity when it is cloudy, and given that Australia has existing hydroelectric capacity and pumped storage, fossil fuels should end up as a supplement to renewables even without a carbon price or a subsidy for renewables. Of course if we sit around waiting for that to happen by itself our inaction will result in people dying. But I am optimistic for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we’re not completely silly in Australia, we just go through patches where we get a bit mental and I’m sure will get around to moving forward on pricing in externalities involved in fossil fuel use instead of going backwards. And secondly, I am certain that the cost of renewables will continue to fall.

  51. BilB
    April 12th, 2014 at 11:56 | #51


    Trainer came to a total bill of 2.5 times global GDP to replace fossil fuels with renewables, with the grand conclusion that this could not de afforded.

    There are several things wrong with the conclusion recognising that he correctly identifies resources depletion as being a guiding restraint.

    One is that if that were un fact a realistic figure, then the amount would be afforded, simply because to not attempt the change would mean glibal ecinomic failure.

    Secondly by any reasonable evaluation the figure is grossly over inflated. Putting it into the Australian context by Trainers ratio this would be 3.8 trillion dollars.

    In simple terms 800 million square metres of 20% efficient panels with an exposure 275 by 6.5 Will give 267 billion kw hours and double tgat to electrify transportation and an installed price of $400 per square metre you have 640 billion dollars. Double that for good measure and it comes to 1.2 trillion dollars or one third of Trainers conclusion. You would have to be coping with massive complications to require triple the fundamental requirement.

    It does not take much technological or innovative improvement to achieve huge changes. For instance where solar panels are fitted to buildings and recognising that 30% of domestic electricity is used for water heating then hybrid pv/thermal panels reduce the number of panels required by that amount. Rooftop solar thermal has a huge number of applications for industry as well. Intelligently spec’d hybrid cars also reduce the number of solar panels required to service them. Further more they reduce the liquid fuel required for extended range travel to an amount that can be supplued drom a midest oalm oil industry.

    I am sure that a study performed by with a full field of understanding would demonstrate a stabard of living and gdp raising renewable energy future with negligible disruption.

  52. Will Boisvert
    April 12th, 2014 at 14:40 | #52

    @ BilB,
    “Will Boisvert @ 2,
    You mistake is that you have double applied the solar derating.”

    I don’t understand what you wrote, BilB, but I sure didn’t make a mistake.

    JQ’s link said the 2.5 kw solar charging system costs “less than $10,000” which I glossed as $9,000, or $3600 per kw, a very typical price for US rooftop rigs. It produces 3000 kwh of electricity per year. That’s a 13.7 percent capacity factor, which is also quite typical for US rooftop solar. That means the system’s average power output is 3000 kilowatt-hours divided by 8760 hours=0.3425 kw. $9,000 divided by 0.3425 kw is $26,277 per “average” kw of capacity.

  53. Will Boisvert
    April 12th, 2014 at 14:42 | #53

    @ Fran Barlow, on nuclear vs. solar build times.

    “the build times for enough “solar “Hinckley Cs” in Australia would be far shorter, so the capacity would be far earlier to market. Moreover, if the state were ramping up solar capacity along the lines I suggested, those prices would come down.”

    –Over the long term it’s faster to build nuclear than to build solar. According to Wiki, Australia added 0.9 GW of solar PV in 2011 and 2012 and 0.8 GW in 2013. (Let me know if there’s more I missed.) At 20 percent capacity factor, that’s a growth rate of about 180 MW average capacity per year, or 1.8 GW per ten years. A ten-year Hinkley C build would bring 3.2 GW on line with capacity factor of 90 percent, so 2.9 GW average capacity over ten years, a rate that’s 61 percent faster than the current installation rate for Australian PV. So Australian PV has to speed up considerably just to match the build rate of the Hinkley C fiasco.

    In the short term, of course, we get the incremental solar power while nuclear is still building. But other nuclear builds are going much faster than Hinkley C. The Chinese EPRs are due on line next year after 7 year builds. VC Summer is due on line in 2018 after a 7-year build (knock wood!). Chinese nukes, South Korean Gen III nukes and Japanese Gen III nukes all have established records of 5-year builds—dramatically faster than PV installation rates.

    (The above is based on a PV capacity factor of 20 percent, but that may be too optimistic; AEMO pegs the rooftop PV capacity factor at 15 percent. So the solar pace may be much slower given that most Australian PV is rooftop.)

    –Solar is already being mass produced (in China) and deployed en masse in Australia, so possibly there is not much more economy of scale to harvest. Mass deployment of nuclear in China and South Korea has lowered costs to a level I don’t think solar can possibly match, as I argued above, and for dispatchable power that’s of much better quality than solar power. No reason Australia can’t do the same.

  54. Will Boisvert
    April 12th, 2014 at 14:48 | #54

    @ Mike H,

    “That 10Kw solar system in Hobart would generate 12,775 Kwh a year which according to the AEMO about covers the current high end of household consumption in Tasmania (High (13,763 kWh), av rate 27.64, annual cost $3,804).
    Assuming a FIT about equal to the wholesale price that is annual $3,804 cost avoided for an outlay of AU$16,514 (or ~$23,000 without the RET).”

    Thanks for those numbers, Mike. Your stats for solar generation imply a capacity factor of 14.6 percent, which would make the capital cost per “average” kilowatt for rooftop solar correspondingly higher than I calculated upthread, so $15,753 compared to $9000 per avg kw for Hinkley C. AEMO pegs the rooftop solar PV capacity factor at 15 percent. At that capacity factor there’s little question that rooftop solar has higher costs than Hinkley C power (which is not the same as higher prices).

    It may make economic sense to buy a solar system given Australia’s extraordinarily high grid electricity prices. In the US retail electricity prices average 11-12 cents per kwh, so Americans can’t make money by switching to rooftop generation without large subsidies. (Can someone explain why Australian electricity is so expensive, and why Australians accept that?)

  55. Will Boisvert
    April 12th, 2014 at 14:53 | #55

    @ Ronald Brak, on costs of solar,

    “Rooftop solar…for about $2 a watt without subsidy…with a 9 percent discount rate Australians can produce electricity for about 13 cents a kilowatt-hour…a 5 percent discount rate will produce electricity from rooftop solar at about 9 cents a kilowatt-hour.”

    Ronald, what assumptions of capacity factor, payback period and O and M costs are you making in those LCOE calculations?

    If I use your number of $2 per watt capital costs, take AEMO’s figure of 15 percent capacity factor for Australian rooftop solar, use a 20-year payback period, and 1 cent per kwh for O and M costs, at 9 percent discount I get an LCOE of 17.7 cents per kwh, not 13 c/kwh. At 5 percent discount I get 13.2 c/kwh. (I’m using the NREL LCOE calculator at httpcolon//www.nrel.gov/analysis/tech_lcoe.html)

  56. Ikonoclast
    April 12th, 2014 at 15:00 | #56

    People also tend to underestimate the huge opportunity cost in manufacturing globally (as of 2012) 60 million automobiles. This number excludes vans and trucks. Internal combustion engine automobiles are hugely inefficient for personal transporters. Their engines are very inefficient and they often carry only one person, the driver.

    Were we to cut global automobile manufacture to 30 million automobiles and invest the saved capital, materials and energies into a mix of mass transit, plus solar and wind power, we would be much better off.

    Making the claim that we can’t afford solar power or wind power whilst not condemning the huge amout of resources we waste on automobiles (which enable journeys at an exhorbitant cost, many of which could have been made in more cost-effective ways) is simply the height of hypocrisy and absurdity.

    The problem is one of habituation and normalisation. We become habituated to an absurd and maladaptive state of affairs, accepting it is as normal. It is extraordinary at this late stage, facing post peak oil and climate change, that there is still no significant debate about doing away with personal ICE automobiles. On the contrary, TV and other media still bombard people with ads and messages to buy, buy, buy the petrol powered automobile. Bob Dylan’s 2014 Super Bowl car ad is a case in point. It is ironic that the ad ends with the chorus strapline “Things will change.” Indeed they will.

  57. Ikonoclast
    April 12th, 2014 at 15:22 | #57

    @Will Boisvert

    What percentage of the world’s total power (not just stationary electrical power) comes from nuclear fission plants? Answer: 5.8%.

    How long could all known recoverable reserves of uranium power these plants? Answer: about 200 years.

    That means nuclear fission with enough generating plants could provide all the world’s current energy needs, without further growth, for just 11.6 years. That’s hardly a long term solution.

    The bottom line is the nuclear argument is already lost. Recent nuclear plant builds are thin on the ground. The global average age of plants is 28 years. The nuclear share in the world’s stationary power generation has declined steadily from a historic peak of 17 percent in 1993 to about 10 percent in 2012.

    Nuclear power is a mature industry. If it worked overall, being cost effective, safe and acceptable to the public in democratic, mixed economy nations then it would still be succeeding. That fact that it is failing (despite massive subsidies and the assumption of most risk by the state) is the clear empirical evidence of its unfitness on competitive and safety grounds.

    Nuclear power is heading for extinction except for specialist military applications like reactors for nuclear subs and carriers. You are flogging a dead horse. Save yourself the trouble.

  58. Fran Barlow
    April 12th, 2014 at 15:28 | #58

    @Will Boisvert

    Yes, but in Australia there would have to be a bipartisan consensus on doing nuclear power in circumstances where every community where a plant might go would fight it tooth and nail. Those generic figures about support for nuclear power don’t take into account how many communities would slug it out with the state to stop one being built within 100 kms of their place.
    No state or federal regime is going to an election with that in their policy whatever some of them think privately, especially post-fukushima. At least one of the parties would be destroyed if they tried this in isolation.

    So those build times are moot, until a consensus can be established around their desirability.

    I might add that the build times for solar reflect the fact that almost all of this new capacity arose in small scale ad hoc private development. If the state — which owns railways — were to adopt a policy of covering their rooves and walkways with solar panels, and require new warehouses, shopping centres, big housing developments and shopping centres to include solar capacity to a certain capacity based on their roof space, then build times would utterly dwarf the build times for nuclear.

    Keep in mind also that even allowing that a single modular mass production nuclear plant design were adopted, the total engineering capacity of the planet to simultaneously build and check these as they were fitted would not go close to what was needed. It’s all very well quoting build times in authoritarian states like China and Korea, operating without significant competition from other plant developers, but can you imagine the build times if, say, 50 jurisdictions decided to simultaneously replace 80% of their coal or gas fired capacity with nukes?

    Here in Australia, our regime along with some others, stupidly signed on to buy a joint strike fighter from the US … That is way behind schedule and way over budget despite the embarrassment of the US.

    I dare not imagine what would happen if Australia put in an order to Westinghouse for 25 nuclear plants in five years. I’d be surprised if we saw the first kWh of sent out power before 2030 if ever.

  59. BilB
    April 12th, 2014 at 16:02 | #59

    Will Boisvert,

    You seem to have a problem with Self Investment. From the end user’s point of view the solar garage represents an annual offset cost saving of $2250 per year against the petrol that would otherwise be bought. In terms of electricity this is a $750 per year saving at the electricity retail price. The solar roof however has a much longer service life than the car it shelters. It will last at least as long as 2 cars with a 20 year useful life, perhaps 3 with a little maintenance. So the Solar Roof has a value to the end user of a minimum $30,000.

    Your argument is that the car company would be better taking a share holding in the Nuclear power station and giving the electricity to the customer,…or something. But this makes no sense either. Maybe you think that the car company should just pay the end users electricity bill up to $9000.

    The reality is though that the car charge roof is not going to cost the car company any where near the $9000. That is only its retail list price for such an item and is an inducement to get the customers engaged, as no doubt you know.

    Therefore the savings to the customer/car owner are all real. The cost of the hardware is entirely speculative. And your application of a capacity factor is a fantasy as it is in no way a factor in the calculation.

    Knowledge that Nuclear energy is “cheap” to produce is in no way and inducement to buy an electric car when the electricity is to be provided free via solar. Paying a customers “fuel” bill for the life of their product is not an inducement to the car company to manufacture such products as they must pay the retail price, cars are all over the country and not necessarily in range of a nuclear power station, and even if they held shares in one they would still have to pay the retail price with the uncertainty of what future pricing could be.

    There is no way that the capacity factor features in this calculation as the charging roof was sized to service the charging needs of the vehicle. The solar de-rating calculation has already been performed.

    Your back calculation to make the cost of the investment seem expensive against the cost of a nuclear power station is irrelevant because the car owner does not want to pay for his fuel. That is part of the appeal of Solar Electric Transportation. With this combination a person is SET for the future, and one solar garage is likely to last them for their entire driving life, capacity factor or no capacity factor.

  60. Fran Barlow
    April 12th, 2014 at 16:31 | #60

    @Will Boisvert

    I’d also like more information on this claim

    According to Wiki, Australia added 0.9 GW of solar PV in 2011 and 2012 and 0.8 GW in 2013. (Let me know if there’s more I missed.) At 20 percent capacity factor, that’s a growth rate of about 180 MW average capacity per year, or 1.8 GW per ten years.

    A properly situated solar panel will collect useful energy for about 30% of the year, though on cloudy days, the amounts will be less. Maybe that’s what you meant. Of course, it will be supplying all of that power when it’s most in demand. That it supplies zero between 11 in the evening and six in the morning is moot because demand is very low. Building new nuclear so that the solar capacity drop off can be covered would be silly, and non-commercial. The more important time when solar produces less than demand is between about 4pm and 9 pm and between 6am and about 10am. So a more generous CF discount (allowing that some power will be returned early and late in the summer for solar is closer to about 45%. That would put it closer to 400mW p.a.

    As I said though, if the state were to engage in an active program of building renewables, or including them in building licensing the capacity growth would be far larger.

  61. April 12th, 2014 at 16:31 | #61

    Will Boisvert, you wrote that you found a figure of 15% capacity for Australian rooftop solar. While it’s good that you went out and found that figure I think there may be some context you’re missing. Germany can get over 13% of capacity for solar and even the sunniest parts of Germany don’t come within 15% of the insolation populated areas of Australia receive. Let me show you how to think it through so you won’t be caught out by this sort of thing in the future. So to start with, I presume that you agree with me that one kilowatt of solar PV in direct sunlight and angled towards the sun will have an output of about one kilowatt?

  62. quokka
    April 12th, 2014 at 19:03 | #62

    I doubt if calling people derps and lecturing on priors (ie not agreeing with you) is going to change too many minds. I wonder if it applies to James Hansen.

    Of course all the argy bargy could be avoided if all low emissions technologies are embraced. But the dominant tendency in the generic greens won’t have that preferring to cling to ideology that might have been valuable in the frightening era of the Cold War but has more more than outlived it’s usefulness. In fact anti-nuclear ideology has become a hot bed of anti-science conspiracy theorists.

    It is exactly the “my way or the highway” attitude on renewables that has lead to informed critiques of renewables. When non-hydro renewables provide such a tiny portion of the worlds energy, the certitude displayed on this subject is truly astonishing.

    But never mind a bit of name calling will deal with all of this.

  63. BilB
    April 12th, 2014 at 19:19 | #63

    What you are saying, Quokka, is that there is a significant amount of Derpishness in the Greens liturgy. That would have to be true.

    No doubt we all have some, but it should not be a problem if the exchanges flow in a way that exposes new concepts and ideas to explore thereby creating fresh idea-scapes from which to reflect back and review entrenched thinking with altered perspectives.

  64. John Quiggin
    April 12th, 2014 at 19:19 | #64

    Quokka, the point of the lecture is that I’ve concluded that nothing will change your mind, or Ted Trainer’s, or that of nuclear fans in general.

    Despite your fantasies about green activists, the Bush and Obama administrations backed nuclear enthusiastically, and faced barely any resistance. France tried hard to restart nuclear, as did Finland. The result has been a damp squib. But you are still fighting with imaginary enemies from last century.

    So, the name calling isn’t to persuade you, it’s to point out to others that discussion with you is pointless.

  65. BilB
    April 12th, 2014 at 20:31 | #65


    I’ve taken the liberty to represent my ghastly phone pad typing effort above, typos removed.

    Trainer in his “latest” came to a total decarbonising bill of 2.5 times global GDP to replace fossil fuels with renewables, with the grand conclusion that this could not be afforded. Certainly politically true.

    There are several things wrong with the conclusion, recognising that he correctly identifies resources depletion as being a limiting restraint.

    One is tha,t if that were in fact a realistic figure (2.5 time GP), then the amount would have to be afforded albeit over extended time, simply because to not attempt the change would mean global economic failure. But…

    Secondly by any reasonable evaluation the figure is grossly over inflated. Putting it into the Australian context by Trainers ratio this would require 3.8 trillion dollars (uncannily close to Peter Lang’s total figure).

    Evaluating Trainer’s claim in simple terms:

    800 million square metres of 20% efficient panels with a solar exposure 275 days by 6.5 hours will deliver 267 billion kw hours.
    Let’s double that to electrify transportation and apply an installed price of $400 per square metre.
    Now you have 640 billion dollars.
    Double that again for good measure and it comes to 1.2 trillion dollars,…. or one third of Trainers conclusion.
    You would have to be coping with massive complications to require triple the fundamental requirement.

    I conclude that Trainers figure is so far from reality as to be obviously discounted.

    It does not take much technological or innovative improvement to achieve huge changes.

    For instance where solar panels are fitted to buildings and recognising that 30% of domestic electricity is used for water heating then hybrid PV/Thermal panels reduce the number of panels required by that 30% amount. Rooftop solar thermal has a huge number of applications for industry as well.

    Intelligently spec’d hybrid cars also reduce the number of solar panels required to service them. Furthermore they reduce the liquid fuel required for extended range travel to an amount that can be supplied from a modest palm oil industry.

    I am sure that a study performed by with a full field of understanding would demonstrate a standard of living and GDP raising renewable energy future with negligible disruption.

  66. April 12th, 2014 at 21:11 | #66

    Quokka, let me quote you, “As a reality check, to generate the same amount of electricity as did the damaged Fukushima Daiichii plant from PV farms would require the entire evacuation area around the damaged plant.”

    To back this up you write: “Time you looked at the numbers. We will take as an example, the Antelope Valley PV project in Califoria. The important numbers

    Nameplate Capacity: 100 MW
    Area 8.5 km^2”

    This is astoundingly Derpy. You couldn’t give the output of a typical Australian rooftop system because that would show your claim was not connected to reality, so instead you had to go out of your way to find information on some place called Antelope Valley in America and try to use that to support your lie. According to you, Antelope valley solar has a capacity of 11.8 watts per square meter but the figure for Australian solar is roughly 10 times that amount. And in Japan their higher average panel efficiency should roughly compensate for their higher average lattitude and give a similar result.

    And for extra derpiness, if you had bothered to enter ‘Antelope Valley solar’ into a search engine like I just did, you could have found out that the capacity of their PV system is actually about 100 watts per square meter, so you really had to bend over backwards to get this one wrong, didn’t you?

  67. April 12th, 2014 at 21:24 | #67

    @Ronald Brak

    Not only that, but even if those figures were true, I’d be quite OK with a situation that replaced 10,000 years of toxic land (and whatever other consequences from the lost core and continuing radiation of the Pacific) with:

    to generate the same amount of electricity as did the damaged Fukushima Daiichii plant from PV farms would require the entire evacuation area around the damaged plant

    That would be far more preferable than the ongoing meltdown and radioactive contamination we currently have, I would think?

  68. April 12th, 2014 at 22:13 | #68

    Megan, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t trade a 250-500 billion dollar nuclear accident for massively disappointing solar farm.

  69. Will Boisvert
    April 13th, 2014 at 04:34 | #69

    @ Fran Barlow,

    “Those generic figures about support for nuclear power don’t take into account how many communities would slug it out with the state to stop one being built within 100 kms of their place.”

    I think the politics of nuclear are actually pretty good at a local level. They sure are in the United States; most nuclear plants are popular in their local rural communities, where they provide hundreds of well-paying jobs and pump billions of dollars into the local economy and tax coffers. It’s people from farther away, who have no interest in the plants except as fodder for apocalyptic fantasies, who tend to get hysterical about them.

    And from what I understand Australia is an underpopulated place. Are there no barren seaside locales with few people around to complain (or get in the way of a spew?)

    “the total engineering capacity of the planet to simultaneously build and check these as they were fitted would not go close to what was needed. It’s all very well quoting build times in authoritarian states like China and Korea, operating without significant competition from other plant developers, but can you imagine the build times if, say, 50 jurisdictions decided to simultaneously replace 80% of their coal or gas fired capacity with nukes?”

    South Korea is not an authoritarian state; it has been a liberal democracy for 20 years.

    You’re right that we can’t build all the nukes overnight; it would take a couple of decades. But we know that nuclear capacity is cheaper than intermittent capacity and uses less raw material inputs of concrete and steel per gigawatt-hour, and goes faster than solar new build; so the economic and logistic burden of a mass nuclear buildout is surely lighter than a mass intermittent buildout. We’ve seen this in real life; France built its nuclear fleet from a standing start in 20 years; its nuclear decarbonization program went twice as fast as Germany’s Energiewende, achieved more and cost less. Sweden achieved comparable results with a half-nuclear, half-hydro program.

  70. Will Boisvert
    April 13th, 2014 at 04:35 | #70

    @ BilB,

    I still don’t understand what you wrote.

    Look, the economic problem of charging EVs is extremely simple: What’s the cheapest way to supply low-carbon electricity to the outlets where we plug in the car? JQ’s reference proves beyond doubt that supplying that electricity with nuclear is about 3 to 10 times cheaper than supplying it with rooftop solar PV, at least in the US.

  71. Will Boisvert
    April 13th, 2014 at 04:35 | #71

    @ Fran Barlow and Ronald Brak, on capacity factors.

    THe capacity factor is defined as the amount of energy in kilowatt-hours that a generator produces in a year divided by the amount it would produce if it ran at full nameplate for all 8760 hours in a year. It’s a measure of how much the actual production of a generator falls short of the theoretical maximum production. It’s an empirical measurement, not something you calculate from insolation data, though you could estimate it that way in the absence of real-world data.

    I have two AEMO studies in front of me, one of them working from empirical data on rooftop PV, which put Australia’s rooftop PV capacity factor at 15 percent or below. Fran and Ronald, do you have any references that show Australian rooftop PV on average getting higher capacity factors? (You can get it from raw generation figures in kwh compared to kw of installed capacity, as Mike H provided upthread, or sometimes its phrased in terms of hours of nameplate equivalent per year, so 1500 hour per year is a CF of 17.1 percent).

    The capacity factor is crucial for calculating productivity, costs and build times. You have to multiply the nameplate capacity by the capacity factor to get a true measure of the amount of energy the generator will actually produce. Because of the different capacity factors, every gigawatt of nuclear that comes on line with a typical 90 percent CF is 6 times more productive (0.90/0.15) than a GW of rooftop PV; to generate the same amount of electricity as a 1 GW nuclear plant, you have to build 6 GW of rooftop solar. So if you build 9 GW of rooftop solar over a ten-year period, as Australia is doing, vs. 3.2 GW of nuclear as at Hinkley C, at the end of ten years you will be producing twice as much nuclear electricity as solar electricity. That’s why nuclear can add “true” generating capacity much faster than solar over the long term.

    I guess you guys know all this, but the way you write about it just seems utterly confused. Ronald, the amount of power a solar panel produces at cloudless noon gives you the nameplate power, but it has nothing to do with the capacity factor, which will determine the kilowatt-hours of energy produced; the kilowatt-hours, not the peak nameplate power, is what we need to know to calculate the LCOE. You must have used capacity factors in the LCOE calculations you gave upthread—if you did not, you figured wrong—and I’m just asking what numbers you used, and where you got them. (Note that Germany’s total solar CF is 11 percent, rooftop CF specifically rather less. An Australian rooftop CF of 15 percent would be about 50 percent higher than Germany’s, as we would expect in a sunnier clime.)

    Fran, you seem to be arguing that the peak electricity production of solar should weigh more heavily in CF estimates, since it roughly matches daytime peak demand and since late-night electricity production is “moot” because everyone is asleep and not using electricity. Fran, no; nighttime demand troughs are usually at least half the daytime peak; the economy uses a lot of electricity in the dead of night! (You do too, unless you unplug the fridge and keep night-vision goggles on the bedstand.) And if we start charging EVs at night—which is the right and sensible way to do it—there will be a huge new off-peak load for night-time generators to service, which solar obviously can’t. And solar produces next to nothing for peak demand on cloudy days; since we have to have dispatchable generators anyway, building solar capacity is therefore redundant.

  72. Ikonoclast
    April 13th, 2014 at 07:34 | #72

    @Will Boisvert

    And now from our reporter, Will Boisvert, in Fukushima Japan:

    “I think the politics of nuclear are actually pretty good at a local level. They sure are here in Fukushima province where the nuclear plant is popular in the local rural communities. It provides hundreds of well-paying jobs in nuclear clean-ups, evacuations and resettlements, and pumps billions of yen into corporate coffers… er, I mean into the local economy and tax coffers. It’s people from farther away, like Tokyo, who have no interest in the nuclear plants except as sources of electricity for their flatscreen TVs so they can watch apocalyptic godzilla fantasies. They are so hysterical those Tokyo residents.

    Here in Fukushima, people are getting on with life, getting ahead, sometimes getting two heads. They love radioactive isotopes here. They sprinkle them on their cornflakes… well, they would if they ate cornfalkes… sprinkle them on the sashimi they catch down at the local cooling outlets for the Fukushima plant. Yes, that’s right, they catch sashimi! Headless, de-finned, filleted and ready skinned, all the work’s done by the isotopes! Straight from grate to plate!

    Wonderful place! Will Boisvert live from Fukushima! (Background flickers and turns to green-screen.) Am I off air? Where am I for the next segment? Chernobyl? Haha, lucky it’s green screen, or I might need a contamination suit and a side arm for the radioactive wolves. What? Is the mic still live? You idiot, what was your last job? Nuclear plant operator? That’s a joke, right? (Mic goes dead.)

  73. BilB
    April 13th, 2014 at 07:39 | #73

    Will Boisvert @ 20

    Simple question, Cheaper for who?

  74. Ikonoclast
    April 13th, 2014 at 07:49 | #74

    More seriously, do nuclear proponents get that many people are prepared to pay for safety? If I was presented point blank with two options, nuclear power at 10c /kWh with a nuclear power station anywhere within 50 k of my home or green power (solar /wind) at 30c /kWh then I would take the latter deal. I suspect most people would.

  75. Fran Barlow
    April 13th, 2014 at 08:14 | #75

    @Will Boisvert

    And from what I understand Australia is an underpopulated place. Are there no barren seaside locales with few people around to complain (or get in the way of a spew?)

    Correct but misleading. The vast majority of the country lives a couple of hours drive from the coast and most of us on the east coast. Unsurprisingly, that’s also where the load is. Past polls here that simply ask for/against nukes showed a rough 50-50 split, substantially along major party lines, with those voting Liberal much more supportive than those voting Labor. In both cases though, given that virtually all election results since Federation could be reversed utterly on a 5% swing, either party going unilaterally pro-nuke would be immediately wedged by the other side. The appeal of the government benches exceeds the appeal of nukes, and of course, the side with the least objections — the Liberals — are joined to the fossil fuel lobby as firmly

  76. Fran Barlow
    April 13th, 2014 at 08:30 | #76

    Oops … Damned ipad …

    as firmly as any pair of conjoined twins, so they aren’t going first. There’s nothing in it for them. When Howard last raised this here, the first question was “where would you put those 25 nuclear plants?” and almost immediately, actual or prospective Liberal MPs stood up to declare, “not in my backyard”. In the electorate of Bennelong, that of PM Howard himself, and where I lived at the time too, Howard declined to say whether he’d support one.

    Polls show that those who are OK with nukes are most OK with them on the other side of the country. The other side of the country is WA which tends to vote Liberal, but they’d rather the nukes were on the East coast, where most of the demand is. You see the problem. In practice, most people who like them want them some place else. There is no place far enough away from where enough people live to place a nuclear plant without destroying the party responsible for doing it. Even the folk at Lucas Heights aren’t all that keen on the research reactor there.

    Moreover, the Liberals are rightwing populists. Jumping onto little towns in the countryside to plant nukes there would provoke an orgy of Tea Party-style outrage — and I note in this respect that in the US even the Tea Party is coming around to the idea of renewables — on the basis of localism.

    And all this was pre-Fukushima.

    As I said, realistically, for political reasons, nuclear power in this country is not on the 20-year horizon, and it’s hard to imagine how that horizon can even begin drawing closer. We would be better off supporting it in places where it’s politically viable and where our support would make a difference.

  77. Ken Fabian
    April 13th, 2014 at 08:49 | #77

    quokka :
    I doubt if calling people derps and lecturing on priors (ie not agreeing with you) is going to change too many minds. I wonder if it applies to James Hansen.
    Of course all the argy bargy could be avoided if all low emissions technologies are embraced. But the dominant tendency in the generic greens won’t have that preferring to cling to ideology that might have been valuable in the frightening era of the Cold War but has more more than outlived it’s usefulness. In fact anti-nuclear ideology has become a hot bed of anti-science conspiracy theorists.
    It is exactly the “my way or the highway” attitude on renewables that has lead to informed critiques of renewables. When non-hydro renewables provide such a tiny portion of the worlds energy, the certitude displayed on this subject is truly astonishing.
    But never mind a bit of name calling will deal with all of this.

    That the solutions on offer are predominately from ‘greenies’ is no more than indicative of the lack of solutions on offer from mainstream politics. Why are we continually told by Conservatives that ‘greenies’ are the problem? It sure isn’t in order to build support for action on climate by nuclear. Or by any means.

    The best things that could happen for climate action and nuclear as a solution in Australia are – Conservatives ditching climate science denial and obstructionism: Conservatives pushing for stronger action on climate instead of undermining it: Conservatives supporting and promoting strong carbon pricing instead of staunchly opposing it.

    If you think it’s a small (but vocal) minority where the power to make or break effective climate policy resides then I think you are buying into one element of the ongoing, multi-pronged Conservative campaign to diminish ‘green’ political influence – that in the absence of ‘green’ opposition to nuclear, they would use it aggressively to tackle emisssion. The reality is the most significant aim of anti-green campaigning by conservatives is to undermine community calls for action on emissions.

    It isn’t anti-nuclear activism that gets commerce and industry to shut up about nuclear, it’s Conservatives offering them a budget, do as little as possible option. Part of the ‘price’ of this ‘get out of climate action free’ card is to not rock the climate science denial boat, or even better, embrace it’s lies and misinformation on climate as a self interested ‘free’ choice.

    It ain’t strength of opposition that kept nuclear down at the moment in history that looked made for it, it’s weakness of support. That support will remain weak to the point of nonexistent as long as fossil fuel interests have a stranglehold on Conservative politics.

  78. Salient Green
    April 13th, 2014 at 09:04 | #78

    @Will Boisvert
    My 1.5kw system produced 2380kwh last year for a cf of 18%. Page 4 of this link shows the average cf of Australian rooftop solar systems to be around 17%.
    Part of the capacity factor is in the ratings of solar panels which are the output at 25degC. Even on a cold day with the sun shining will see panels up around 40degC where they lose 1% efficiency with every degree above 25C. Amorphous silicon panels lose about half a % efficiency per degree above 25C. All types of solar cells are steadily becoming more efficient and prices are steadily dropping. How does that compare with nuclear?

  79. Fran Barlow
    April 13th, 2014 at 09:45 | #79

    And one other thing you might consider Will Boisvert: if PV and wind bite hard into the most profitable portions of the energy market, what effect will this have on the ability of FHC generators to offer concessional pricing during the off peak? Won’t they be obliged to mothball capacity until one or more generators can reach break-even price? Won’t this force up the retail price of off-peak? Won’t this in turn force a shift in demand away from off-peak usage and make home/commercial energy storage more viable? Wouldn’t more non-shifted demand be supplied by hydro (existing or pumped) and/or wind? Won’t this all happen faster than any conceivable roll out of nuclear power here? Indeed, doesn’t the mere prospect of that prejudice the commercial case for nuclear power here? If so, isn’t the case for nuclear here premised on explicit state commercial guarantees and likewise indemnity against planning constraints? Given that this is politically improbable, isn’t it better to accept that the heavy lifting on decarbonisation, at least in this country, is likely to be done by renewables rather than nuclear power? If that occurs but we still fall short of where we need to be, wouldn’t that be a more propitious moment to advance the case for nuclear power as a bridge to total decarbonisation, especially given that the effluxion of time might have ushered in new and better nuclear capacity and softened the memory of Fukushima?

    Just wondering.

  80. April 13th, 2014 at 11:08 | #80

    Will, would you like to guess why I think 15% is not the appropriate figure to use in the example I gave, or would you like me to continue my explanation?

  81. Ikonoclast
    April 13th, 2014 at 11:48 | #81

    Commercial world nuclear power is withering away or so it would appear. The nuclear share of the world’s stationary power generation declined steadily from a historic peak of 17% in 1993 to about 10% in 2012.

    The 2012 renewable share in the world’s electricity mix was 20.8%. The only data I can find for the 1993 renewable share (with a quick search) is “not significant” though this probably excludes large hydro.

  82. Will Boisvert
    April 13th, 2014 at 11:55 | #82

    I dunno Fran. We’ve got new reactors going up in the US at three sites, and the locals are happy to have them–good jobs, good money. They’re building at already existing plants, so people are familiar with nuclear power already. And they are in the right-wing South which, sad to say, is simply not as phobic about these things as the left.

    It seems like in Australia, with the public split in their attitudes, there might be an opening for genuine greens to embrace nuclear power and try to bring their slice of the electorate into a consensus.

  83. Will Boisvert
    April 13th, 2014 at 11:57 | #83

    “Will, would you like to guess why I think 15% is not the appropriate figure to use in the example I gave, or would you like me to continue my explanation?”

    Enough with the guessing games, Ronald. State your case and defend your numbers, if you can.

  84. April 13th, 2014 at 12:45 | #84

    You seem impatient Will, so rather than explain, I’ll just give you a link:


    And tell you that its figures for Australia match up well with other figures I have and that the database is not set up for the Southern Hemisphere and thinks north here is south. My example was for a new system that will in general have smaller system losses than the average system and was for a system installed to maximize production, not maximise self consumption.

  85. Ikonoclast
    April 13th, 2014 at 13:17 | #85

    “The number of reactors peaked in 2002 at 444, compared with 427 today. The share of electricity they produce is down 12% from its 2006 peak, largely because of post-Fukushima shutdowns in Japan. As a proportion of all electricity generated, nuclear peaked in 1993 at 17% and has now fallen to 10%. The average age of operating plants is increasing, with the number over 40 years old (currently 31 plants) set to grow quite rapidly.” – The Economist.

    Nuclear power is declining and being phased out notwithstanding the rare new build. I wonder which will fade out first? Nuclear power or the cranks that still support it?

  86. John Quiggin
    April 13th, 2014 at 13:38 | #86

    @Will Boisvert

    This is the kind of thing I mentioned above, as a reason I don’t take you very seriously. The three sites are all brownfield and all in states with cost-plus pricing, and one of them is completing a reactor that was started (IIRC) in 1973. The other two (accounting for 4 new reactors) will probably be finished towards the end of this decade, but there is nothing else on the horizon. The rest of the proposals put forward in the early 2000s have been abandoned or put on hold. It’s highly unlikely we will see any more plants in the US before 2025 at the earliest. And, that’s with brownfield sites and an existing regulatory setup. Australia has none of the requirements for a nuclear power industry – no legal framework, no sites (even under consideration), no economic basis, no usable regulatory model, no construction firms with industry experience, no nuclear engineers or technicians etc etc. Even if the government decided tomorrow on a crash program, we wouldn’t be breaking ground before 2025. So, there’s really no point in putting forward nuclear power as a way to decarbonize the economy in the US, Australia or most other developed countries.

  87. Will Boisvert
    April 13th, 2014 at 14:29 | #87

    Will fossil plants shut down because of oversupply from subsidized and prioritized solar and wind? Maybe a little, but not much. Those dispatchable generators have to remain in service to power the grid when solar and wind collapse together for long periods (which they assuredly do). At high intermittent penetrations fossil plants will be dealt into the subsidy regime to keep them in business; that’s in the works now in Germany, where regulators are denying utilities’ requests to shutter unprofitable plants because they are needed for grid stability. It’s possible that hydro and geo could displace some fossil, which is great, but I understand that Australia doesn’t have many good hydro and geo sites. An oversupply of wind will lower, not raise, off-peak prices, so that would counteract a shift toward peak usage. So there will likely be no withering of fossil capacity, and certainly no rate rise during off-peak hours.

    The economics of subsidized intermittents put the grid into a state of persistent oversupply: you build a lot of redundant intermittent capacity but you can’t shut down much dispatchable capacity, which is needed for grid stability. That over-capacity bids down electricity prices on the wholesale market but, paradoxically, raises electricity costs because intermittent electricity is more expensive than fossil and nuclear built en masse. Those extra costs are paid through overt and hidden subsidies from tax- or rate-payers. We see that paradox unfolding now in Germany, where wholesale electricity prices are declining while retail rates soar.

    An analogy would be a government program to build Mercedes-Benzes with tax money and them give them away free to everyone. The price of transportation would go down because of over-supply: everyone has a free car. (And if you’re a Ford dealer, you’re out of business.) But the costs of transportation would go up, because Mercedes-Benzes are pricey rides.

    And remember that you can’t get to high solar penetrations by market mechanisms alone without large subsidies. (Or perhaps the negative incentive of Australia’s absurdly high retail grid prices.) Solar oversupply may bite the profits of fossil plants, but it will devour itself first. That’s because solar generators can only sell their overcapacity during the few sunny hours when other solar generators are also selling their overcapacity. Unlike dispatchable plants, they can’t sell during sunless off-peak hours when oversupply eases and prices rebound. No rational entrepreneur will build solar generation knowing that it can only sell into a market where prices are constantly being driven lower by ever more solar generation. The common-mode, surge-and-slump character of intermittent generation guarantees it can never be profitable at high penetration without subsidies.

    So that scenario you suggest probably won’t happen at all, and certainly not quickly. I understand that Australian PV has had incredibly high FIT’s—of, what, 40 cents per kwh?—for the last few years. But in all that time they’ve managed to build 3 GW nameplate; with a 15 percent capacity factor, that’s the equivalent of a single 500 MW coal plant over four years. That’s not “heavy lifting”, that’s outright malingering.

    You are right that nuclear may require subsidies to compete with fossil, and will certainly require a smooth regulatory and planning regime. That may be difficult without supportive politics. The problem with intermittents is that even when they have lots of political support, and subsidy, they still go slow.

  88. Will Boisvert
    April 13th, 2014 at 15:06 | #88

    I think you’re too pessimistic, John. There’s no law of nature that says a nuclear build has to take very long to prepare. The United Arab Emirates announced an interest in a nuclear plant in 2008, had a plant under construction by the Koreans in 2012 and will have it running in 2017-8.

    Australia could do it faster. It already has considerable nuclear expertise and an extant nuclear regulator. If it doesn’t insist on reinventing the regulatory wheel it could simply accept the AP1000 or the ABWR, both of which are already licensed by the gold-standard US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as safe, and launch a tender. (Skip the EPR, that thing is an albatross.) I just don’t buy that in all of that vast and sparsely settled continent there are no plots that aren’t obviously suitable for a nuclear power plant. You can even build them in the desert with air cooling, with only a five percent hit on output.

    Granted, nuclear may require some subsidy to compete with fossil. And politically it’s a hard sell. Maybe committed advocacy could change things. Isn’t that the raison d’etre of the left?

    Because it’s not like renewables are getting the job done. At the current build rate, Australia’s solar capacity in 2025 will be 14 GW nameplate; at 15 percent capacity factor that’s the equivalent of 2 large coal boilers. And with the recent subsidy cuts, that pace may slow even further.

    The all-renewables approach to decarbonization is failing everywhere. (Except Norway and Iceland.)

  89. Fran Barlow
    April 13th, 2014 at 15:15 | #89

    @Will Boisvert

    An oversupply of wind will lower, not raise, off-peak prices, so that would counteract a shift toward peak usage.

    Actually, it will lower all prices, peak, offpeak and shoulder, preventing coalfired from getting the prices it needs to stay viable, unless a subsidy is paid, but politically, nobody is comfortable with that. At the moment, most coalfired capacity is owned by the states (Victoria has privatised) so the losses will be carried by the states — an effective indirect subsidy, but that is clearly not maintainable. Inevitably, capacity will have to be mothballed and older plants will go first. Storage will begin to look to be an attractive alternative instead of new plant. Gas fired will carry more of the redundancy but even this will become marginalised and given that gas can be shipped for better returns O/S the temptation to do that will be great.

    We do have some good potential geothermal in South Australia and I daresay that may be online by 2030 when even our newest coal plants will be at their end of life.

  90. Ikonoclast
    April 13th, 2014 at 15:48 | #90

    Let’s talk about subsidies. The IEA’s latest estimates indicate that fossil-fuel consumption subsidies worldwide amounted to $522 billion in 2011. Aid for renewables was about $88 billion. Nuclear energy subsidies are difficult to calculate on a per year basis being so numerous, so various and in many cases of such long standing (and written off long ago ie. paid by the taxpayer).

    The following excerpts are from the report, “Nulclear Power: Still not viable without subsidies” – Union of Concerned Scientists.


    This report catalogues in one place and for the first time the full range of subsidies that benefit
    the nuclear power sector. The findings are striking: since its inception more than 50 years ago, the nuclear power industry has benefited—and continues to benefit—from a vast array of preferential government subsidies. Indeed, as Figure ES-1 (p. 2) shows, subsidies to the nuclear fuel cycle have often exceeded the value of the power produced. This means that buying power on the open market and giving it away for free would have been less
    costly than subsidizing the construction and operation of nuclear power plants. Subsidies to new
    reactors are on a similar path…

    The most important subsidies to the industry do not involve cash payments. Rather, they shift
    construction-cost and operating risks from investors to taxpayers and ratepayers, burdening taxpayers with an array of risks ranging from cost overruns and defaults to accidents and nuclear waste management. This approach, which has remained emarkably consistent throughout the industry’s history, distorts market choices that would otherwise favor less risky investments.”


  91. April 13th, 2014 at 20:22 | #91

    Will Boisvert, have you had enough time to look at the database I gave a link to and see that a capacity factor of 15% for my example isn’t high enough?

    And more to the point, do you understand that even if your figure of 17.7 cents a kilowatt-hour was correct, point of use solar is still more competitive than fossil fuels in Australia and is most definitely cheaper than nuclear power?

  92. Will Boisvert
    April 14th, 2014 at 01:37 | #92

    @ Ikonoclast, on nuclear subsidies,

    –The Koplow report for the anti-nuclear Union of Concerned Scientists that you referenced estimates the subsidies at anywhere from $80 to $110 per megawatt-hour. That’s grossly out of line with other sources. This 2008 US Energy Information Agency briefing, for example, put nuclear subsidies at $1.59 per MWh (httpcolon//www.eia.gov/energy_in_brief/energy_subsidies.cfm)
    It lists subsidies to wind and solar at $23.37 and $24.34 per Mwh, about 15 times higher than nuclear’s subsidies per unit of energy produced. A 2010 update of that report put nuclear subsidies at $3.14 per mwh vs. $56 per mwh for wind. (httpcolon//www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/2011/08/03/eia-releases-new-subsidy-report-subsidies-for-renewables-increase-186-percent/)

    Your UCS study is not a very credible source. We shouldn’t rely on it for estimates of nuclear costs or subsidies.

  93. Will Boisvert
    April 14th, 2014 at 01:42 | #93

    @ Ronald Brak
    “You seem impatient Will, so rather than explain, I’ll just give you a link:

    Ronald, your link took me to a website with solar irradiance data. That’ not a suitable proxy for capacity factors, especially for rooftop PV; actual production will be influenced by many other factors, including site shading, shape of the roof, quality of maintenance, etc. Empirical data on kilowatt-hours produced per kilowatt installed take precedence over guesstimates derived from insolation figures per square meter. As I’ve said before, the AEMO estimates for Australian rooftop PV, derived from actual production data, indicate capacity factors of 15 percent or less. If you have data indicating otherwise—production data, not insolation guesstimates—please provide them. If you don’t, then your cost estimates are suspect.

    To see the kind of error this leads you into, upthread you told Quokka that the Antelope Valley solar farm in California has a power capacity of 100 watts per meter (derived, I’m guessing, from insolation data). That’s incorrect. Antelope Valley when finished will have a peak capacity of 579 MW from a panel field of 3200 acres, or about 13 million square meters. That’s peak power of 45 watts per square meter, not the 100 watts per square meter that you estimated upthread. So your calculations from solar irradiance data are introducing two-fold errors into your estimates, compared to actual production figures.

    The reason for the discrepancy is simple: solar irradiance data is the theoretical limit of power production that actually existing solar energy systems can harvest only incompletely. To substitute solar irradiance for production data thus introduces systematic errors into your estimates.

  94. Will Boisvert
    April 14th, 2014 at 01:44 | #94

    @ Ronald Brak,

    “And more to the point, do you understand that even if your figure of 17.7 cents a kilowatt-hour was correct, point of use solar is still more competitive than fossil fuels in Australia and is most definitely cheaper than nuclear power?”

    No, I don’t understand. Can you explain it, please?

  95. April 14th, 2014 at 02:34 | #95

    Will, rooftop solar competes with the retail price of electricity which is now close to around 30 Australian cents a kilowatt-hour, although it’s hard to know just what the actual figure is. We had some market reforms in the electricity sector a while back and apparently a vital part of them was to prevent Australians from ever knowing exactly how much they pay for electricty. Apparently this is vital for the market forces to work. The only way I know how to work it out is to take the total of my electricity bill and then divide it by how many kilowatt-hours I used. When I did that to my last bill it came to just under 48 cents a kilowatt-hour. But I should point out that’s not representative. I’m not normal.

    Anyway, electricity from rooftop solar outcompetes grid electricity which means it outcompetes any form of utility scale generation that supplies electricity to the grid. Even if it cost nothing to generate grid electricity, distribution costs would still make it more expensive than rooftop solar. If a new coal plant was constructed for free by slave labour from juvenile delinquents and powered entirely by coal brought to them by Santa Claus because they were bad, it still would not be able to compete with rooftop solar. And magical free nuclear plants operated by Dobby the house elf and his friends are pretty thin on the ground, so nuclear definitely can’t compete with rooftop solar.

    And Will, if you’re only just getting this, you really need to pay a bit more attention.

  96. Val
    April 14th, 2014 at 03:39 | #96

    There are always people in discussions like this going renewables will never work blah blah blah it hasn’t worked in Germany blah blah blah

    So because I am in Germany at present I thought I’d let everyone know that today at noon renewables accounted for almost 60% if Germany’s energy use

    More info here https://twitter.com/energiewendeger/status/455357439274389504

    And yes I know some people will say but it’s not the middle of the night is it, so ha ha you’re still wrong – so yes, storage is the big issue, but as the many technically well informed people on this blog have pointed out, there’s a lot of work being done on that.

    And just in case anyone still doesn’t understand this, the reason fossil fuel generation has increased slightly in Germany recently is because they are committed to phasing out nuclear. The target I believe is by 2020. It’s ambitious, and they may not meet it by then, but I believe they will get there. So pro-nuclear ppl and denialists both, please don’t keep trying to use Germany for your arguments.

  97. evcricket
    April 14th, 2014 at 06:02 | #97

    Sorry nuclear advocates, you had your chance; solar is too cheap now for anyone to bother with nuclear. If you miraculously achieve an 8-year build time, imagine how much cheaper solar will be by then? No one would commit the capital to build a plant with a 35 year payback period. So keep supporting nuclear if it makes you feel good, but know that no nuclear power plant will be built in Australia in the next 25 years.

    Also on capacity factors, there seems to be this idea that we need as high as possible. What an odd idea. What do you reckon the capacity factor of demand is? IE, demand on the NEM peaks around 40GW, but how often does it achieve that? I reckon average demand is closer to half that [could work it out, NEM annual demand/[NEM capacity*8760]]. So why is a plant with very high capacity factors desirable? It isn’t.

    The problem with electricity supply is matching supply with demand. Traditionally electricity use peaks during the day (very hot days peak later, around 6pm). Solar peaks during the day and reduces the peak significantly. So nuclear could supply the overnight load and the same during the day, running as baseload. But what if we end up with more solar than we need some days, so the value of electricity drops to virtually zero? Then nuclear has to compete with energy storage with free fuel. Good luck with that.

  98. Hermit
    April 14th, 2014 at 08:13 | #98

    So it’s not helpful to mention greener-than-thou Germany’s new coal fired power stations.
    Germany’s green dreams meet harsh reality. Nor that battery storage at 40c per kwh levelised cost is 10X what the Californian authorities say is reasonable. Nor that Australian PV installations went from 343,000 in 2012 to 14,000 so far in 2014. I get it…ignore hard facts and imagine what it’s supposed to be.

  99. evcricket
    April 14th, 2014 at 08:23 | #99

    I don’t know whether or not it’s helpful. Short sighted and badly informed, yes, but helpful?

  100. Ikonoclast
    April 14th, 2014 at 08:45 | #100

    @Will Boisvert

    Those links don’t work for me. Warning literal is Directory Listing Denied – This Virtual Directory does not allow contents to be listed.

    Clearly nuclear advocates are motivated to minimise the apparent subsidy. Clearly, the UCS are motivated to maximise the apparent subsidy. The EIA are very conservative (by which I mean right-wing and all for capitalism and established big business) but they do seem to be against energy subsidies in principle. It is not the case, I think, that any of the bodies outright lie in compiling subsidy statistics. However, the field is fraught with difficulty. How do you count government R&D stretching back over 50 years, government involvement in fuel processing and storage solutions, government liability guarantees, cheap government loans, unfunded liabilities (which will fall back on the taxpayer) for clean-ups and decommissioning and many other forms of assistance for nuclear power? To some extent, the results of each study will depend on judgement calls, amortisation rates and a whole host of other factors: in other words the method of costing adopted by each study. A full methodological study would need to be made to assess the costing method of each report.

    Having said the above, I think UCS are most motivated to be most thorough and to find every subsidy past and present in the system. Therefore, the UCS study will retain credibility if it cannot be shown to contain mathematical and accounting errors (in its ancillary workings) and if each subsidy it claims to exist can be shown to be real, valid and properly accounted. I am not sure if the UCS study has been peer reviewed. On balance, I find scientists and economic/accounting academics to be far more credible people that business lobbyists. We can point to any amount of evidence (TEPCO, ENRON, Madhoff for instance and more generally the S&L crisis and the 2008 Banking crisis) of the outright dishonesty of capitalist corporations and their hired lobbyists. So, I can tell you who I believe, Will, and it is not you and your sources.

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