Home > Economics - General, Environment > Energy storage getting real

Energy storage getting real

August 19th, 2014

Now that renewable energy sources like solar and PV are cheaper than new coal-fired power stations in most jurisdictions (anywhere with either favorable conditions or a reasonable carbon price), the big remaining question is that of supply variability/intermittency. As I’ve argued before, this problem is greatly overstated by critics of renewables who assume that the constant 24/7 supply characteristic of coal is the ideal. In fact, this constant supply produces a mismatch with variable demand and current pricing structures are set up to deal with this. A system dominated by renewables would have different kinds of mismatch and require different pricing structures.

That said, for a system dominated by solar PV, meeting demand in the late afternoon and evening will clearly depend on a capacity to store energy in some form or another. There are lots of options, but it makes sense to look first at relatively mature technologies like lithium and lead-acid batteries. Renewable News is reporting a project in Vermont, which integrates solar PV and storage.

The 2.5-MW Stafford Hill solar project is being developed in conjunction with Dynapower and GroSolar and includes 4 MW of battery storage, both lithium ion and lead acid, to integrate the solar generation into the local grid, and to provide resilient power in case of a grid outage.

The project cost is stated at $10 million, or $4m/Mw of generation capacity.

Assuming this number is correct, let’s make some simplifying assumptions to get a rough idea of the cost of electricity and the workability of storage. If we cost capital and depreciation at 10 per cent, assume 1600 hours of full output per year and, ignoring operating costs, the cost of electricity is 25c/KwH. There would presumably be some distribution costs, given the need to connect to the grid. Still, given that Vermont consumers are currently paying 18c/Kwh, this doesn’t look too bad. A carbon tax at $75/tonne would make up the difference.

How would the storage work? I’m starting from scratch here, so I’ll be interested in suggestions and corrections. I assume that the storage is ample to deal with short-term (minute to minute or hour to hour) fluctuations, which are more of a problem for wind.

How about on a daily basis? It seems to me that the critical thing to look at is the point in the afternoon/evening at which consumption exceeds generation (As I mentioned, prices matter a lot here). This is the point at which we would like the batteries to be fully charged. The output assumption suggests an average of about 12 MWh generated per day. If we simplify by assuming that the cutoff time is 6pm and that output drops to zero after that, the system requires that 8MWh be used during the day and 4MWh at night. That wouldn’t match current demand patterns, but if you added in some grid connected power (say, from wind, which tends to blow more at night) and shifted the pricing peak to match the demand peak, it would probably be feasible.

As regards seasonal variability, this would be a problem in Vermont, where (I assume) the seasonal demand peak is in winter. But in places like Queensland, with a strong summer peak, a system with lots of solar power should do a good job in this respect.

What remains is the possibility of a long run of cloudy days, during which solar panels produce 50 per cent or less of their rated output. Dealing with such periods will require a combination of pricing (such periods can be predicted in advance, so it’s just a matter of passing the price signals on to consumers), load-shedding for industrial customers and dispatchable reserve sources (hydro being the most appealing candidate, given that potential energy can be stored for long periods, and turned on and off as needed).

To sum up, we aren’t quite at the point where PV+storage is a complete solution, but we’re not far off.

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  1. Nick
    August 25th, 2014 at 00:36 | #1

    Yes, I’m not accounting for opportunity cost. But those figures still promising to me, especially considering battery prices are predicted to halve by 2020.

    And yes, we don’t even need “solar baseload”. But it’s possible.

  2. Will Boisvert
    August 25th, 2014 at 02:36 | #2

    @ Nick,

    Interesting calculation on the cost of “baseload” solar with battery storage, but you’re leaving out one crucial detail: the discount rate. That’s really important, because most of the capital cost of the system would be interest on the money used to build it, just like most of the cost of a house is the interest on the mortgage, not the mortgage principal.

    So if we apply John Quiggin’s assumed 10 percent discount rate to your estimated capital costs, the cost of the electricity balloons to about 70 cents per kwh, not counting O and M. Even at a 5 percent discount rate the cost would be over 40 cents per kwh.

    By comparison, if we applied your assumed 0 percent discount rate to the outrageously expensive Hinkley C nuclear project, the capital cost would be 1.7 cents per kwh and the total levelized cost of the nuclear electricity, including O and M, would be about 5 cents per kwh. That’s about one quarter your estimate of the cost of partially “baseload” solar-plus-storage, and for a much more reliable quality of power.

    If we need reliable low-carbon electricity, and we really do, there are much cheaper ways of getting it than solar power with battery storage.

  3. Hermit
    August 25th, 2014 at 07:00 | #3

    Other issues with batteries in the home or suburban substation are space requirement, possible mishaps and replacement cost. The now sidelined vanadium redox flow battery on King Island was in a shed the size of a light aircraft hangar. A 50 kwh Li-ion battery for the home might need a fridge sized housing on a concrete floor in a well ventilated area with child barriers around it. Not a lot of room if a quarter acre house block also has gardens and rainwater tanks.

    People freaked out about the accident rate (electrocutions and fires) with widespread roof insulation but home batteries may also provide regular dramas. Substations can and do have sodium-sulphur batteries at 300C so far no suburban ‘meltdowns’ to my knowledge but it could happen.

    Suppose a home battery costs $8k and lasts 7 years. Will the home owner have the cash when it needs replacing? They may no longer be working or have other financial constraints. Some say keep an electric car plugged in rather than a stationary battery. That idea has many problems discussed elsewhere. It all seems a lot simpler to get nighttime power from a large dispatchable power station 100 km away.

  4. Fran Barlow
    August 25th, 2014 at 09:24 | #4

    @Hermit

    A 50 kwh Li-ion battery for the home might need a fridge sized housing on a concrete floor in a well ventilated area with child barriers around it. Not a lot of room if a quarter acre house block also has gardens and rainwater tanks.

    It would make more sense for a community of, say 200 households to look after battery backup of about 5kwh each in one large facility with 1MWh. In practice, those 200 households are going to have about 300 vehicles and if half are electric and plugged in at night they can be supporting the network during hot evenings. Those vehicles could be recharged on those occasions when parked at commuter points, or at work during the day.

    In practice, you don’t need that much back up. If you were worried though, you could have a backup generator ready to go with old fashioned diesel fuel which would rarely if ever be used and thus make almost no impact on emissions. And of course, there is still the rest of the grid.

    People freaked out about the accident rate (electrocutions and fires) with widespread roof insulation but home batteries may also provide regular dramas. Substations can and do have sodium-sulphur batteries at 300C so far no suburban ‘meltdowns’ to my knowledge but it could happen.

    Yes, in theory, it could. Of course, whole power stations could catch fire, or — perish the thought– a coal mine supplying a coal plant could burn for weeks causing the evacuation of an entire district. You choose your risks.

    Suppose a home battery costs $8k and lasts 7 years. Will the home owner have the cash when it needs replacing?

    They should be putting aside $22 per week to cover replacement, which, with savings in network charges and power is feasible. The cost of the replacement in 7 years may be lower in money terms and a better battery. They can probably lease one though if they are ill-disciplined. As I said though, a community battery back up held by the body corporate in the name of a medium density housing development might be the way to go.

    In any event, these days, $8000 is something you buy on your credit card and if you’re canny, you can do zero interest transfers and avoid interest, and keep bouncing the debt. If you’re paying high network charges, then those same financial constraints you adduced are not your friend.

    Some say keep an electric car plugged in rather than a stationary battery. That idea has many problems discussed elsewhere.

    These are fairly trivial and can be worked around.

    It all seems a lot simpler to get nighttime power from a large dispatchable power station 100 km away.

    It may well be simpler, in much the way that sorting recycling is harder than tossing it into a single bin, and urinating in public is more convenient than finding a public toilet, but it’s simply not as good. That’s the problem. Once a system is in place we can have a much cleaner power delivery system, and one where people can avoid the extortionate network charges imposed by the distributors.

  5. Nick
    August 25th, 2014 at 10:45 | #5

    Will: “Interesting calculation on the cost of “baseload” solar with battery storage, but you’re leaving out one crucial detail: the discount rate”

    Yep, that’s what I meant by opportunity cost. You either don’t have the capital and have to borrow it and pay interest…or you do have the capital, but alternatively could have invested it and made money from the interest (minus your grid electricity costs).

    It works out to much the same thing. I appreciate why it’s important. I was just surprised the figures for “baseload solar” turned out to be at all reasonable, even without discount rate.

    Batteries are emerging technology. There’s no argument they’re still too expensive at this point for many applications. If they weren’t, we’d all be driving electric cars today.

    But – I was more interested in countering the myth that “renewables can’t deliver baseload power”.

    Actually they can. It’s just a more expensive way to go about things.

    Hermit: Yep, what Fran said. I wouldn’t be aiming this kind of system at the home user – you’d scale it up and take care of a whole community or town.

    Or perhaps a large city or regional hospital – which already pays a fortune for a similar sized setup to manage its UPS requirements. That’s an instance where the discount rate Will mentions above would be much less applicable…

    And Lithium Iron Phosphate doesn’t suffer the same safety and overheating concerns of Lithium Ion. You should read up on it. It’s much better suited to anything not intended to be portable (like a car or a phone).

  6. Hermit
    August 25th, 2014 at 11:39 | #6

    I believe the public has just spoken on electricity prices 6% higher than normal…they don’t like it. I have the space at home for nickel-iron batteries then again I have several other sources of fuel and electricity available. Battery backed PV needs to be demonstrated in a way that seems affordable and scalable. If we are talking about the long term future there should be no backup from fossil gas.

    A demonstration microgrid should include both heavy industry and battlers. To wit the King Island abattoir closed partly due to high power prices and there are some there who can’t afford household power. There has to be an abundance of cheap power to cover all players. It seems like the PV/battery concept is going to get a dream run in the public’s mind for a few years. Just like CCS, wave power and dry rock geothermal all of which faded. My prediction is coal fired electricity via the NEM grid will dominate for another 20 years.

  7. August 25th, 2014 at 12:04 | #7

    A few points on energy storage:

    1. We have home energy storage in Australia. It is currently used by people living off grid. Estimates of cost vary, and are quite frankly hard to make, but it seems that people can now get home energy storage for under 30 cents a kilowatt-hour. That’s not low enough yet to get grid connected Australians to invest in it, but with a currently small number of Australians paying about 30 cents for grid electricity and getting nothing for the solar electricity they export to the grid, it’s easy to see how we are getting close to having home and small business energy storage pay for itself.

    2. One reason contributing to off grid home energy storage is that Germany and Japan don’t have much of an off grid sector. But now both countries are producing systems for domestic on grid energy storage, prices are likely to drop, and very importantly system durability is likely to increase.

    3. The household energy storage system with the quickest payback time is is only going to be a few kilowatt-hours in size. This is enough to stop a house with solar drawing on expensive grid power in the day when household demand is high or a cloud goes over the sun and can provide power during the evening peak. Using lithium batteries a few kilowatt-hours of storage can fit in a solar inverter. (But it does not have to go there.)

  8. Will Boisvert
    August 25th, 2014 at 12:14 | #8

    @ Fran Barlow 4,

    “avoid the extortionate network charges imposed by the distributors.”

    Fran, the grid and its charges ye shall have ever with you.

    What you and Nick are talking about with your “community” solar systems is simply breaking the grid up into fragmented micro-grids. They will have all the distribution infrastructure costs they do now, and perhaps more because of the loss of economies of scale. And unless you can be absolutely certain that your local panels and batteries are overbuilt enough to cope with every weather anomaly, you’ll have to keep the long-distance transmission lines and the dispatchible power plants around too. It’s just not realistic to imagine distributed power without the grid to back it up.

    And as we’ve established above, once we allow for real-world cost of capital, solar plus storage is much more expensive than current grid power, even in Australia. Nick’s lowest-cost scenario would actually cost at least 40 cents per kwh, without even counting O and M costs and also without counting the micro-grid infrastructure costs that “community” solar would entail, which are likely to be as high as Australia’s current grid costs (about 15 c/kwh). Since Australian electricity averages about 33 c/kwh retail, there’s simply no question that solar-plus-storage micro-grid power would be much more expensive than today’s grid power.

    A much better and cheaper strategy for getting low-carbon electricity is to keep the grid intact and simply replace fossil-fueled plants with dispatchible low-carbon power plants: hydro, geo and nuclear.

  9. Fran Barlow
    August 25th, 2014 at 12:47 | #9

    @Will Boisvert

    What you and Nick are talking about with your “community” solar systems is simply breaking the grid up into fragmented micro-grids. They will have all the distribution infrastructure costs they do now, and perhaps more because of the loss of economies of scale

    .

    As you’re not from here, you are probably unaware of the major rort that has gone on in “the poles and wires” sector of the industry. Put simply, the state allowed the distributors to decide what they needed and charge it all to the public with a cost on capital well above the existing commercial bond rate. Unsurprisingly, the distributors interpreted this as a licence to print their own money and began furiously “gold-plating” their network — since all of their investment was guaranteed an absolutely ripping return without risk. We had sub-stations being built that were never used and then discarded. Now, network charges put all other increases in charges to consumers into the figurative shade.

    If these were simply factored into rates there would be a new surge in demand both for rooftop solar power and I assume, batteries.

    Local distribution networks in the major cities, if properly regulated are likely to cost far less than the the existing pole and wire networks because they would be answerable, presumably to user needs rather than a government boondoggle.

    A much better and cheaper strategy for getting low-carbon electricity is to keep the grid intact and simply replace fossil-fueled plants with dispatchible low-carbon power plants: hydro, geo and nuclear.

    At the moment, in Australia, we could probably decommission/mothball about 8GW of coal capacity and get by perfectly well. We have an oversupply. So we don’t need to replace them. The delay on nuclear power is likely to be much more than decade in practice so that’s more of a longterm option at best, at least in Australia, and that would imply shutting those coal plants now.

  10. Nick
    August 25th, 2014 at 12:54 | #10

    Hermit: “It seems like the PV/battery concept is going to get a dream run in the public’s mind for a few years. Just like CCS, wave power and dry rock geothermal all of which faded. My prediction is coal fired electricity via the NEM grid will dominate for another 20 years.”

    Perhaps. But then again CCS, wave power and dry rock geothermal don’t have the entire automotive, computer and portable electronics industries driving and subsidising their product evolutions…

    So no – not “just like” at all. Batteries will continue to evolve and become significantly cheaper 1) because we all rely on our iphones and tablets, 2) there’s already a sizeable and ever-increasing market for off-grid storage, and 3) we have an impending oil crisis to deal with (and I know you agree with me on that one)

    First we’ll solve the oil problem – because in the end, climate change aside, it’s much more pressing and we have to do it. ie. it will happen regardless of efforts to stymie action on climate change.

    As a result of solving the oil problem, the coal problem will then have largely taken care of itself…

    That’s a 20-25 year forecast at most, in my mind. I’m being a realistic optimist.

  11. August 25th, 2014 at 14:05 | #11

    I’d just like to congratulate Will Boisvert for his ability to extract the apparent low capacity of the batteries used in the Stanford energy storage project while ignoring relevant information on energy storage I provided in the same comment and in other comments I have made. That can’t have been easy and displays an impressive amount of skill. So good show there, good show.

  12. Hermit
    August 25th, 2014 at 16:11 | #12

    Nick I think peak oil is more insidious than climate change. Folks don’t seem to mind if a few get incinerated or drowned. However steep price rises for fuel, food, holidays or anything made from plastic are another matter. Some are tipping a panic as early as 2016 when US fracking wanes. See the article by Matt Mushalik in resilience d0t 0rg. The resulting economic contraction may drag coal down with it.

    I think electric cars will have to go for 300 km, cost no more than $20k and charge in 10 minutes. Now even Toyota are worrying that can be done hence their renewed zeal for hydrogen. Tesla are saying the batteries to be made in their new factory will suit both cars and stationary applications. We’ll see. Off the shelf mini and 4th generation nukes won’t be ready for another decade. I’m increasingly thinking none of the above can save us.

  13. August 25th, 2014 at 19:18 | #13

    @Hermit
    I have to admit that if my car only has a range of 250 km, costs $21,000 and takes 20 minutes to charge I will definitely become one of the vast hoard of barbarians that will have become completely disillusioned with modern technology and join them in tearing it down and watching it all burn. Then I’ll wonder why my tweets aren’t going through.

  14. Fran Barlow
    August 25th, 2014 at 19:59 | #14

    @Ronald Brak
    The main constraint on PEVs in the market place, it seems to me is the relatively high capital cost of the vehicles. At the beginning of this year, I inquired about the Nissan Leaf. It was about $41k plus on road costs. That prices it up with semi-luxury cars.

    Throw in the lack of charging stations and those tend to stifle demand. Had I been doing a lot of car commuting, I might have considered it, but as I rarely use the car now, there didn’t seem a lot of point. Hubby might have used it, but his car works fine and now basically costs recurrent maintenance.

    At about $25-30k though we’d have been tempted to replace his car. That would have been quite a good deal, especially if for example, some road-based tolling system as I’ve outlined here before were in place. That’s about where the price point is, IMO.

  15. August 25th, 2014 at 21:01 | #15

    Fran, we are being rotationally torqued like a spiral wedge fastener when it comes to the price of the Nissan Leaf. It is only about $31,000 Australian in the US and I think about one thousand more in Japan. The vehicle is not really being marketed in Australia and the high price here is just to extract money from early adoptors. And I’ll mention the car isn’t really designed for Australian or European conditions. It is made for Japanese/US current which limits the speed at which it can charge from a normal power point here. But these are early days, improvments are on the way. An electric car sans battery pack is cheaper to build than an internal combustion car. How much cheaper? I dunno, a couple thousand. At Tesla battery prices a Nissan Leaf sized battery pack may only cost about $5,000 currently to make. So an electric town car might only have a premium of $3,000 over a conventional car and could save over $1,000 a year in running costs. And that’s not a bad deal. Base sales tax on the expected emissions over its life and blammo! cost equivalence or close to it right out the gate.

  16. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2014 at 21:18 | #16

    @Fran Barlow

    There is no reason (other than lack of manufacturing volume) for the high price of electric cars. Oh well, there might be one or two other reasons. If they are too successful, the car companies will have to retool completely and quickly to make electric cars. They only want to do that as old plant wears out. Oh and of course the oil companies have been doing everything they can for 20 years to kill the electric car.

  17. August 25th, 2014 at 21:21 | #17

    @Hermit
    Hermit, the first graph in particular on this page may interest you:

    http://pv-map.apvi.org.au/analyses

    It shows the cumulative installed Australian PV. As you can see, once the states are summed together, the increase has been fairly constant since 2011. This has been the case despite the solar multiplier being gradually eliminated and the ending all but minimal feed-in tariffs for most Australians. And while it’s not shown on the page I linked to, what is interesting is that South Australia, the state with the most solar power, continues to be the largest installer per capita in Australia. It almost as if when people have friends and family that have solar they feel encouraged to install it themselves.

    Unless the Federal government wants to build carbon reeducation camps for the millions of Australians with solar power on their roofs, they only have one bullet left in their gun and that’s the one with the Renewable Energy Target’s name on it. (They call him Rhett.) And as their own analysis shows, killing him won’t kill rooftop solar.

  18. ZM
    August 25th, 2014 at 22:50 | #18

    Amartya Sen has an article in New statesman on energy, and states this on nuclear’s externalities:

    “There are at least five different kinds of externalities that add significantly to the social costs of nuclear power: the possibly huge effects of nuclear accidents (as in Chernobyl and Fukushima); the risks of terrorism and sabotage (a strong possibility in countries such as India); the consequences of possible nuclear theft (a potential everywhere, but particularly strong in less well-guarded plants); the difficulties in safely disposing of nuclear waste (which will grow over time cumulatively and possibly quite swiftly if the world comes to rely more and more on nuclear power); and nuclear reactions that may be set off if and when a nuclear power plant is bombed or blasted with conventional weapons in a conventional war, or even in a rather limited local skirmish. Each of these externalities carries possibilities of huge adversities both to human life and to the ecosystems around us. Even with the tiny probabilities of each of these dangers, the sum of the five, multiplied by the growing number of nuclear enterprises, tends to produce sizable overall probabilities. Estimates of probable harm (from terrible to catastrophic) could be gigantic. Nuclear power is, in any case, quite expensive even in conventional terms, and if, in addition, the expected disvalue (or “disutility”) of externalities is added to the costs of power production, the sum-total would begin to move up very substantially.
    It is unlikely that in the near future fossil-fuel use can be eliminated by nuclear power, though the picture could change in the long run. But the dangers of nuclear accident, sabotage, or theft can become very large even before nuclear power comes anywhere close to replacing coal, oil, and other fossil fuels across the world. Moreover, to the extent that more safeguards are put into the basic design of nuclear power production and supply, the costs of nuclear energy will also become significantly larger even in conventional terms.”

    http://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/2014/08/environmentalists-must-stop-ignoring-needs-poor-nations-when-combating-global

  19. August 26th, 2014 at 11:41 | #19

    Here’s an article form over a year ago on home energy storage leasing in New Zealand:

    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/culture-shock-network-offers-solar-storage-leases-to-customers-91569

    As can be seen, if the company is breaking even on this, the cost per kilowatt-hour doesn’t look too bad to Australians. And in the meantime batteries have done the opposite of getting more expensive.

  20. John Quiggin
    August 26th, 2014 at 12:57 | #20

    @Hermit

    Oil prices rose about 500 per cent from 1998 to 2008. The rioting wasn’t too bad.

  21. Hermit
    August 26th, 2014 at 14:29 | #21

    @ JQ the stability of the oil price since 2008 at ~$100 per barrel West Texas Intermediate has been remarkable. When it nudged $150 in July 2008 there was so much mayhem it seems oil traders no longer want to spook the market. While the volume of liquid fuels including tar sands, gas condensates, biofuels, sour heavy crude and so on has been steady at around 90 million barrels a day the net energy must be in steady decline. It’s much harder to frack hard rock or boil out the oil drops than to just drill a simple vertical hole. Something’s gotta give.

    @ZM suppose an asteroid made of arsenic obliterated Sydney then tiddleywinked the Harbour Bridge onto the Great Barrier Reef which then boiled dry. It could happen. Rewind to the March 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. Deaths from physical injury nearly 20,000. Radiation deaths 0.

  22. August 26th, 2014 at 14:57 | #22

    ZM all of Sen’s five risks boil down to the assumption that major radiation release from nuclear plants is worse than the alternatives. The stolen nuclear material scenario, for example, would lead to a “dirty bomb,” which is an almost completely harmless device (outside of the actual damage from the explosion). A dirty bomb in NY would maybe cast a small pall of radiocontaminative material on perhaps a whole city block. The panicked evacuation of NY would kill a noticable proportion of its elderly residents. Dirty bombs are only dangerous so long as we privilege radiation as a particularly harmful risk, when in fact it is not.

  23. ZM
    August 26th, 2014 at 15:11 | #23

    Too much radiation is harmful. The area around Fukushima was evacuated, there has been health problems caused by radiation, many health problems from radiation do not happen overnight they can take some time to become apparent. Nuclear is too risky. If people like risktaking they can do sporting activities that have risks that just affect themselves. They should not put lots of other people at risk for very long time periods over many generations. Mark Diesendorf’s book has a very thorough approach to why nuclear is not a good sustainable energy solution. Energy use can be cut down to the amount supported by safe and fairly sustainable energy (recycling of components and non-toxicity of components should be improved upon, but it is better than the other current alternatives).

    Are there any Japanese studies on moving to 100% renewable energy? They seem to have such a high technological knowledge base there I would think there must be some work on it?

  24. ZM
    August 26th, 2014 at 15:12 | #24

    Hermit,

    Humans do not control asteroids, we are not responsible for anything asteroids happen to do in the universe, so your example is pointless.

  25. Fran Barlow
    August 26th, 2014 at 15:35 | #25

    @ZM

    Too much radiation is harmful.

    True. Too much of anything is harmful, by definition, otherwise it couldn’t be too much.

    Faustusnotes’ point is what harms one should privilege. Most people are especially bothered by harms we find hard to process intellectually — radiation and pathogens are troubling because most of the harm is obscured from view, until it isn’t.

    By contrast, harms like floods, bushfires, tsunamis and earthquakes though dramatic, are finite in time and highly visible so although they are terrifying for those affected directly (and to some extent indirectly) radiation is scarier. We feel as if we can avoid being in the path of gross natural events or civil war or even road accidents and criminal conduct, but radiation seems more insidious.

    That’s not a particularly useful way to think about harm though. If a persistent given quantity of radiation would cause you illness if you lived until 90, that’s an argument for avoiding exposure, at least to the extent necessary to live beyond 90 without the harm. On the other hand, if you are doing things that will cause you harm by the time you’re 70 or 50, you probably have your priorities wrong, ceteris paribus. If you were forced to choose one of those risks then again, ceteris paribusyou’d choose being harmed later rather than earlier, because plainly, you would suffer less in practice and could hope that by the time yoiur were 90 some therapy could foreclose the harm. It is perverse to see people who are bothered at exposure to above background levels of radiation sunbaking. These people know about melanoma, presumably.

    People aren’t always rational of course. Not everyone is as bothered by some things that bother me and vice versa. Some of it can broadly be put under the heading of aesthetic preference. If you really do hate the idea of living within the footprint of a nuclear plant but are OK with sunbaking then your choice should be accepted, at least, if it is really a question of a personal choice rather than one you want to make for all others.

    Personally, my two big objections to nuclear power turn on the speed with which it can displace fossil HCs and the extent to which it implies national security state measures. This latter problem, it seems to me, is unavoidable. People rightly expect that plants will be kept secure, but that means, inevitably, entrusting the state with extraordinary authroity to take steps to prevent sabotage and defend the plant against attack. It very probably forecloses the kind of scrutiny and transparency one would hope for in government, and all sorts of commercial in confidence jiggery pokery that we ought not, IMO, tolerate. These can then be called overheads associated with having a highly centralised grid depending on nuclear power.

    I’d want some very impressive reasons for setting aside those concerns before doing so and could well understand others concluding that we’d be better off paying whatever it cost to meet our needs out of non-nuclear energy sources.

  26. ZM
    August 26th, 2014 at 16:04 | #26

    Fran Barlow,
    I sunburn easily so I wear hats on sunny days. People used to be quite sensible about the sun and wear long sleeved dresses and bonnets etc. The film and fashion industries caused young people in the early 20thc to feel unfashionable doing so and the fashions became less protective from sun damage. And oil companies encouraged people to lather oil on themselves and get tanned skin. Anyway, sunbathing only potentially causes harm to the sunbather not a great many other people as well for many generations into the future.

    For your other examples – I gave never heard of us intentionally causing pathogens, earthquakes, bushfires, floods or tsunamis – the latter will increase with climate change which we are causing so we should stop causing it. I do not support research into biological warfare. The dangers and potential harms caused by Radiation we create intentionally is our responsibility. No one here would like radiation to be stored in their garden or likely even their and their children’s neighbourhoods permanently . I’m not convinced nuclear proponents like Will Boisvert would be so brave as to enter Fukushima like the technicians have had to – and the poor homeless people who were sent in to clear up the area. privileged people get other less privileged people to incur the harms of the risks they propose as necessary, including future generations. People try to get more privileged so they won’t bear the environmental injustices themselves and can live in pleasant neighbourhoods away from environmental risks. This is a big problem and injustice.

  27. Fran Barlow
    August 26th, 2014 at 16:21 | #27

    Thinking about risk I began speculating as I began my journey home from work what would happen if we lived in societies that really did shape public policy according to risk. If Australia really were bothered by risks to human health one thing we would probably have done by about 1960 is phase out almost all private use of motor vehicles, at least in and between the major conurbations. The roads would be for the exclusive usage of people offering public transport, or who were using vehicles in the course of the provision of some service. These people would have to pass a character and competency test similar to that of pilots and they, or their employer, would have to pay very high fees for the use of the roads.

    It’s safe to say that in such a setting, road trauma and death would barely register in the stats. Our air would be damned near pristine, and respiratory disease would be a fraction of what it is today. Generations of kids would have grown up without lead poisoning and Australia’s CO2 emissions in transport would be utterly trivial.

    Our suburbs would not reach 50 km from our GPOs and public transport would be ubiquitous. Takeaway food would be an oddity and overweight and obesity would be unusual. Pretty much everyone would ride a bike to get around, and Australia would probably be a net exporter of petroleum. Australia would be winning awards in urban design and would probably be a leader in manufacturing public transport vehicles.

    Because the population would be living much more densely, we’d probably all have an NBN by now and without the burden of cars, all be a fair bit better off. Riding all those bikes, we’d probably have not found space to guzzle beer that much.

    And of course, if we’d simply prohibited smoking on the same grounds our health would have been better still.

    It’s an interesting counterfactual. ;-)

  28. Fran Barlow
    August 26th, 2014 at 16:35 | #28

    @ZM

    I sunburn easily so I wear hats on sunny days. People used to be quite sensible about the sun and wear long sleeved dresses and bonnets etc. The film and fashion industries caused young people in the early 20thc to feel unfashionable doing so and the fashions became less protective from sun damage.

    It’s not only sunbathers who are at risk. Spend time outdoors and your risk goes up. Stay indoors and you risk Vitamin D deficiency.

    For your other examples – I gave never heard of us intentionally causing pathogens, earthquakes, bushfires, floods or tsunamis – the latter will increase with climate change which we are causing so we should stop causing it.

    I didn’t suggest we were causing the natural disasters, but that they seem less frightening because they are easy to process mentally, and people can imagine dodging them.

    Consider though: Hospitals use powerful chemicals to prevent spread of pathogens, but these chemicals are also toxic to humans. People clean their homes with chlorine to kill pathogens which are unlikely in practice to harm them anywhere near as much as the chlorine.

    Antibiotics are given to humans and farm animals which nurture antibiotic resistant pathogens. That’s rather perverse, don’t you think?

  29. ZM
    August 26th, 2014 at 17:10 | #29

    I think natural seem quite frightening (except when I was young I always hoped it would flood – although we lived on a hilly area – so I could go boating in it – although we did not gave a boat). My community is not prone to earthquakes here, being inland and in the wrong part of the world also tsunamis are not a prospect. Occasional flooding is not too bad and mostly upsetting for reasons of property and infrastructure damage rather than danger to life because our creeks are not too big.

    But towns are surrounded by bush and people do worry quite a bit in summer, especially hot summers. There is quite a lot done to reduce brushfire danger, although the full recommendations from the royal commission are not being implemented by the government. Fires and flooding are to increase their frequency with climate change and I think a lot of people worry about this, since the fire season always is a concern. We also have a great many volunteer fire fighters and fire trucks and roads for fire truck access and water access for them. Brushfire preparedness certainly has room to improve, but people have definitely taken the risks seriously for a long while.

    I think doctors are meant to take care not to give out antibiotics unnecessarily. Hospitals have labour shortfalls, if they had more staff they could clean by sterilizing and scrubbing and so forth. They also waste more than they used to – a midwife friend told me maternity wards used to wash glass baby bottles, now they have plastic disposable ones. I do not really know much about how hospitals can be made more sustainable and keep safety and hygiene- someone would have to specialise in that area. Val might know more because she studies health promotion.

  30. Fran Barlow
    August 26th, 2014 at 18:19 | #30

    An interesting low cost approach to meeting renewable energy quotas:

    http://theenergycollective.com/jessejenkins/467616/are-reverse-auctions-key-reforming-solar-energy-subsidies

    The reverse auction process with pre-qualification due diligence delivered ACT RE targets at a discount of 40% to the expected cost.

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