Home > Economics - General, Environment > Flogging the dead horse of nuclear power

Flogging the dead horse of nuclear power

May 5th, 2015

As I anticipated, my post on Tesla’s new battery provoked some pretty hostile responses, most notably from pro-nuclear diehards. I’ve written plenty on this (use the search facility), so rather than repeat myself I’ll make an observation drawing on the previous post.

Ten years ago, solar PV was a faintly hopeful technologica prospect, making a minuscule contribution to electricity generation. Today, it’s a reality that is creating massive disruption for electricity utilities around the world. As I said in the previous post, the availability of even moderately cost-effective storage removes the last big obstacle (more on the economics soon)

By contrast, ten years ago, nuclear energy was a mature technology which seemed to be at the beginning of a renaissance. Today it’s further away, in almost every respect, than it was in 2005. Construction times have blown out, costs have turned out to be twice as high or more than expected, the operating record (thanks to Fukushima) is far worse, and the various new technologies (SMRs, Gen IV) have receded even further.

None of this means that the replacement of fossil fuels with renewables+storage is going to happen under current policy settings. But such a replacement is now clearly feasible, much faster, more reliably and at much lower cost, than attempting to reboot the failed nuclear renaissance.

Backing the nuclear horse was a reasonable choice in 2005. But it’s dead, and flogging it won’t revive it.

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  1. Fran Barlow
    May 5th, 2015 at 17:46 | #1

    I am genuinely disappointed that nuclear has performed so poorly over the past decade. Fukushima could and should have been prevented and illustrates the difference between what in theory is possible and what in practice takes place. If in practice, ruling regimes are not politically capable of making the technology fail safe, then they ought not to have it.

    It’s also perplexing that there seems to be no way today to produce nuclear power plants to a predictable and acceptable budget or on a predictable timeline outside of places like China or possibly Russia where politics is apparently done rather differently — and these are not regimes people are generally enamoured of.

    It scarcely matters then what nuclear could do in some fantasy parallel universe. If it’s of no use on the timelines we need, then it’s simply not feasible. And as I’ve noted in the past, if with nuclear comes a whole new rationale for secrecy and repression of the populace in the name of safety and national security, then personally, I’d sooner pay a very substantial premium for ‘renewables’, even if nuclear were cheaper, ceteris paribus.

    It might be that some time in the future, the circumstances obtaining might make nuclear power viable, but it seems hard to see at this point.

  2. Hermit
    May 5th, 2015 at 18:07 | #2

    This is a most odd conclusion since some 70 new reactors are under construction, not all in China. Our own SA is conducting a Royal Commission into going nuclear. A quick reminder where our electricity comes from; 64.5% from burning coal, 20.8% from burning gas, 1.5% from solar, 2.9% from wind power the rest biomass and maxed out hydro. I guess the the 87% from coal and gas is OK then. However almost all transport is currently oil powered and we know that will largely have to be replaced by mid century. Not quite sure where all this energy is going to come from.

  3. tony Lynch
    May 5th, 2015 at 18:15 | #3

    Hermit, is there a half life on this?

  4. Newtownian
    May 5th, 2015 at 18:20 | #4

    Thanks for this item John. Some comments:

    – A nice feature arising from PVs modular nature is that replacement and recycling of panels should hopefully be straightforward with minimal disruption – recycling of batteries should have been in the past. And recycling should be able to build up incrementally until its a nice sustainable business. Contrast this with nuclear power. Funnily it looks like while I have serious reservations about ‘market economics’ in this case we have not gone down this road because precisely of the economics as much as any protest movement.

    – The prospect of us being able on a house by house basis to thumb our noses at IPART and the big energy lobby/suppliers who decided our home grown peak electricity is only worth 7c per kWh but we have to buy peak electricity at 46 c per kWh from the suppliers is delicious. Such empowerment (apologies to Weaselwords) is an interesting fringe benefit. A PV colleague told me a few years back not to worry about the NSW government slashing the electricity tarrif buyback prices because of the likelihood that batteries would get much cheaper. The timing of his prediction now seems dead on. Its just a pity the supply companies have been short sighted in jacking up prices as economies of scale mean feeding power into the grid is still probably much efficient and sensible than having huge numbers of household battery banks.

    – A few months ago a petition by ‘scientists’ was organized to support nuclear power.

    https://theconversation.com/its-time-for-environmentalists-to-give-nuclear-a-fair-go-35488?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%2016%20December%202014%20-%202230&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%2016%20December%202014%20-%202230+CID_ce5431a3d31bc01cbee9c7e411ed81af&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Its%20time%20for%20environmentalists%20to%20give%20nuclear%20a%20fair%20go

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2014/12/15/an-open-letter-to-environmentalists-on-nuclear-energy/

    On one hand it was interesting to see the line up of so many people whose expertise/affiliation in conservation biology is as impeccable as their good intent (no irony intended). But on the other hand almost the entire list of worthies appeared to be from outside the relevant disciplines of energy science or environmental impact. Thus one has to ask on what basis did they form their opinions.

    Sadly in my opinion the ‘open letter’ relied on giving the mistaken impression that conservation ecologist = environmental expert in the general sense which is just not so from my exposure to such people. This equation almost seems to ape the old mistaken proposition the climate deniers tried floating – that climate science is not valid because some scientists from outside the relevant disciplines didnt agree despite their lack of expertise.

    Hopefully as we see the potential of PV most of the signatories will change their minds though I doubt the letter’s pair of faciliators will do so.

  5. David Allen
    May 5th, 2015 at 19:59 | #5

    Nuclear energy has always been a trust issue with me rather than a technological one. A bunch of know-it-all secretive liars & fools run the nuclear industry. It not whether a reactor will leak radioactivity or not but the fact that it will happen because profit is king and safety is for sissies.
    No matter how many fools are involved in the PV industry, vast areas of the countryside are not polluted forever because they didn’t check the welds or do effective maintenance or wonder what that button does. Even cleaning up the mess decommissioning a reactor that hasn’t exploded costs effectively infinite money which no on ever puts up.

  6. Ikonoclast
    May 5th, 2015 at 21:25 | #6

    @Fran Barlow

    The plain fact of the matter is that nuclear fission material on earth is a limited resource too. It’s finite and not renewable. The best science I have found on the topic indicates economic reserves of uranium will be substantially exhausted by the current reactor fleet (retire some old and add some new plants for about the same steady number) by about 2055.

    Uranium recovery from seawater might (only might) have an EROEI of 1:1 or 2:1 at best. It would be a massive exercise which would further wreck our oceans. It would take a fleet the size of the world’s current fishing fleet to run it (lay out and haul in the collectors at sea uranium “farms”. Nuclear fission power is a dead horse as J.QW. says. I expect fusion power about the same time that the Visitors arrive from outer space and “gift” us blue energy.

    Hang on a minute, solar power is fusion power! It’s that giant fusion reactor in the sky, called the sun.

  7. Ikonoclast
    May 5th, 2015 at 21:27 | #7

    Oops, dont know how that W got into J.Q. Yes I do, clumsy fingers.

  8. Robert Merkel
    May 5th, 2015 at 22:21 | #8

    Hermit, if anything comes out of the SA royal commission other than mining bans are pointless on antiproliferation and local environmental grounds, I will be extremely surprised.

    I wrote a piece on the topic a few months ago covering the issues in more detail.

  9. Ken Fabian
    May 5th, 2015 at 22:23 | #9

    Nuclear has always needed – absolutely depended upon – a depth of commitment to the climate problem from both Labor and Coalition transcending political tribalism – like they never doubted the problem was a real and serious threat to future generations of Australians, our Scientist are great heroes for giving us ample prior warning… or something equally unlikely and absurd. Something still lacking.

    Labor policy is anti-nuclear, Coalition policy is antithetical to nuclear.

    There was never the least prospect of nuclear from Labor or Coalition before Tesla’s announcement and there’ll be less after. For more than a decade the only function nuclear energy has in Australia is for political pointscoring – populist anti-nuke cheersquadding from Labor and from the Coalition it’s the reliable bar too high and red rag to the green extreme – that they would like us to think is who climate action is pandering to. It works to build the impression that it’s green vs sensible dichotomy, not a green vs batbug greedy one.

    I think nuclear may also serve as the Coalition’s implied suggestion of a fallback climate policy that actually looks serious but that, oh, too bad, is still much too unpopular, damn those greenies, to commit to. Not for all the coal in Queensland.

  10. Mark Pawelek
    May 5th, 2015 at 23:07 | #10

    @Fran: One can’t expect nuclear power to perform better based on designs derived from a 1947 patent. Britain reduced it’s R&D personnel from over 7000 in 1992 to about 500 in 2004 (coincidental with energy privatisation back in the early 1990s). Those remaining don’t research new reactor concepts or designs they research trivial matters such as decommissioning. Further to that: actual physical (aka real) R&D is expensive and restricted. The usual requirements of the private sector such as fast ROI provide minimal funds from there. There’s some limited private funding in North America, some of it from, believe it or not, tar sands companies!

    One of the reasons why nuclear power became 4 times more expensive than it was back in the 1960s is regulatory ratcheting. B. L. Cohen “The Nuclear Energy Option”, 1990, Chapter 9: http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter9.html Believe it or not, regulatory ratcheting is still happening in the West today for generically approved designs. You try building something then having the regulator rewrite your design half-way through its construction!

  11. Andrew Dodds
    May 6th, 2015 at 00:21 | #11

    These battery packs are great. If you live in Australia.

    Not quite sure how they are meant to fix the seasonality issues you get across Europe, the USA, China or, for that matter, Tasmania.

  12. May 6th, 2015 at 02:59 | #12

    One of the few good things you can say about the global finance industry is that it does not include nuclear fans. See Hinkley: the only bankable nuclear project is one where all, all the risks are borne by the taxpayers, in lifetime contracts written in their blood.

  13. Brett
    May 6th, 2015 at 06:19 | #13

    It’s why I stopped bothering supporting nuclear power programs, except research for small reactors for use in spacecraft (a small reactor with power in the tens of kilowatts would be invaluable for interplanetary robotic space exploration). Even if you believe, as I do, that it’s a safe, reliable, and very valuable source of low-carbon energy, it just requires a major political commitment for expansion that doesn’t exist outside of China.

    In the time it takes for us to finally put up new nuclear plants, we’re going to have way, way more expansion in solar capacity as well as storage. It’s the same problem that bedevils fusion power research – even if they somehow figure out how to make it work in a commercially viable fashion by 2050 (unlikely), there will already been some major path dependency present with society having gone down the massive solar-wind-tidal route of renewable energy.

  14. Geoff Edwards
    May 6th, 2015 at 06:51 | #14

    We won’t know whether nuclear reactors are a net source of or sink for energy until a few have been fully decommissioned. A vast amount of oil, cement, steel etc have to be spent to render the current fleet safe, if that is even possible. Average life is less than 25 years.

  15. TerjeP
    May 6th, 2015 at 07:54 | #15

    If in practice, ruling regimes are not politically capable of making the technology fail safe, then they ought not to have it.

    Given the big wave that wiped out large slabs of Japan I think the nuclear plants there did quite well. Nobody has been killed from radiation. Obviously a more modern design like an AP1000 would have done better and probably wouldn’t have had the failure at all.

  16. Moz of Yarramulla
    May 6th, 2015 at 08:01 | #16

    Andrew Dodds :
    Not quite sure how they are meant to fix the seasonality issues

    They’re not. No-one else has suggested that they’re supposed to. What battieries do is even out supply on a day-to-day basis. They make sense for homeowners with solar panels on the roof, and that’s what they’re designed and sold to do.

    That idea can scale up, and we’re seeing that on an experimental basis, either as a few MWh of suburb-scale storage, or larger storage units often on the site of power plants. At the extreme, thermal solar plants are being built around storage so they can produce dispatchable electricity.

    In Tasmania they increasingly use hydro in a very similar way. Rainfall is stored on a more or less annual basis, and used when there’s not enough power from other sources. Currently there’s so little PV and wind in Tassie that hydro is the baseload supply. But all it would take is a single decent wind farm to change that. And in Tassie wind probably makes more sense for local large-scale renewable generate than solar does.

    But right now in Australia utility scale storage is very hard to justify because the government continues to subsidise legacy coal plants that produce “baseload” power in the sense that they take days or weeks to start up and shut down, so they end up paying people to take their electricity at low-demand times. The overall effect is to push the price of off-peak power down, decreasing the value of a battery that stores energy to use during that overnight low demand period. But there will be a transition, after which it will be worth storing that low-cost power and using it during the peak times. Hopefully by then we will have stopped subsidising the coal plants and they will have become more valuable as scrap metal than power plants.

  17. Hermit
    May 6th, 2015 at 08:25 | #17

    I’m waiting for somebody to rebut the 87% coal and gas dependency for electricity and near 100% dependency on oil for transport. It seems a device not yet on the market that stores half a day’s electricity for a house will change everything.

    Here’s another argument for nuclear… it can make nontrivial emissions reductions. In Australia we have reduced net emissions by 3% for the period 2000-2014 at some cost to manufacturing jobs. Stationary sector emissions are now about 184 Mt out of 536 Mt. If we replaced all coal and combined cycle gas baseload leaving just gas peaker plants we could perhaps knock off 150 Mt. That’s a stunning 28% further reduction in emissions.

    You have to ask whether those who’d disallow nuclear are serious about big emissions cuts. I picture them a decade from now with their batteries wondering why the coal trains keep coming.

  18. Ikonoclast
    May 6th, 2015 at 08:29 | #18

    People just don’t get the simple fact that the uranium supply is limited. The current reactor fleet will substantially exhaust economic deposits by 2055. There is no point increasing the size of the reactor fleet. The fuel aint there.

  19. Moz of Yarramulla
    May 6th, 2015 at 08:33 | #19

    Hermit :
    I’m waiting for somebody to rebut the 87% coal and gas dependency for electricity and near 100% dependency on oil for transport.

    But those things are true. Why would anyone even bother to rebut them? Can you rebut similar facts about nuclear power? Like, high level nuclear waste can’t be made safe except by waiting at least a thousand years? Nuclear plants can’t be made to not discharge radioactive material? Nor, for that matter, can coal plants. The only fail-safe “nuclear” plants are the ones that use fusion and store the waste 8 light-minutes away.

    It seems a device not yet on the market that stores half a day’s electricity for a house will change everything.

    You’re so close. The difference is purely price. Right now in Australia I can buy a ready-made home battery system with a 10kWh capacity… for about $45000. Tesla is offering the same thing for about $5000. That’s a radical change.

  20. Moz of Yarramulla
    May 6th, 2015 at 08:37 | #20

    Ikonoclast :
    People just don’t get the simple fact that the uranium supply is limited. The current reactor fleet will substantially exhaust economic deposits by 2055. There is no point increasing the size of the reactor fleet. The fuel aint there.

    But the fantasy with fission is that we can use other fuels and turn some of the high-level waste into further fuel. If that turns out to be true we could get an enormous amount of power out of known reserves. I haven’t seen anyone run the numbers, but I suspect the best case is that we end up with an area the size of Australia covered in waste dumps, but we’d have generated an awful lot of electricity. And even the current transport minister would be impressed by the sheer amount of concrete available (one careful owner, only slightly radioactive… well, most of it would be only slightly radioactive. Do you feel lucky?)

  21. Hermit
    May 6th, 2015 at 09:52 | #21

    Here’s some images of a dry cask farm from an antinuclear group
    http://necnp.org/httpwww-3yankees-com-connecticut-yankee-maine-yankee-and-yankee-rowe/
    That’s yer basic nuclear wasteland. Maybe they didn’t have images of how silicon is made in China using coal.

    Uranium depletion is not a problem this century. Then we have thorium then we have breeder reactors with several prototypes running well. Worry about just getting to the end of the century.

  22. Ikonoclast
    May 6th, 2015 at 09:53 | #22

    @Moz of Yarramulla

    Yes, my statement is predicated on the basic fact that most current fission fuel cycles are once through; one use only. Indeed, the term “cycle” is not applicable. Plans for multiple cycles and using thorium fuel are still pipe dreams with at least 20 years to commercial application if ever. As J.Q. has pointed out, this is far too late to help reduce CO2 emissions in time. Meanwhile, solar power and wind power are technically “there”, or close to it, right now.

    IIRC a lot of the world’s uranium enrichment occurs in Russian plants built during the cold war and the nuclear arms race. That huge cold war arms race investment is still under-writing nuclear fuel enrichment to this day.

    Footnote: My memory is correct. The 2015 numbers on the World Nuclear Association site show that Russia enriches at 30,000 thousand SWU/yr out of a world capacity of 61,450 thousand SWU/yr per year.

    (Actually, the table is ambiguous about the unit type. Is it thousand SWU/yr or just SWU/yr.? Nevertheless, the ratio is clear, very close to 50% for Russia.)

  23. Moz of Yarramulla
    May 6th, 2015 at 10:04 | #23

    Hermit :
    Here’s some images of a dry cask farm from an antinuclear group..

    Why bother, you can see the Australian version (44 gallon drums) sitting outside Lucas Heights in Sydney. And some discussion of how best to deal with them… http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2012/05/03/3494030.htm

  24. Ivor
    May 6th, 2015 at 10:09 | #24

    @Brett

    Supporting nuclear reactors for use in space seems sensible. Waste is no problem if it can be directed into an orbit that deposits it either on the moon or towards the sun.

    I assume the costs are for moving a kg of waste from earth orbit to a lunar or solar trajectory are a fraction of the costs of originally reaching earths orbit.

  25. Ikonoclast
    May 6th, 2015 at 10:11 | #25

    Hermit,

    Uranium depletion is a problem this century if the fuel “cycles” remain predominantly once-through as they are now. Reputable scientific studies show uranium being substantially exhausted at current use rates by about 2055.

    Sudies which claim greater recoverable reserves are made by business management consultants with no scientific knowledge or standing. Their reports regularly include categories like “yet to be discovered reserves”. They book up big numbers under this and other spurious categories.

    Look at the uranium discovery rate on page 9 in this slide show.

    http://www.minexconsulting.com/publications/Declining%20Discovery%20Rates%20-%20the%20Real%20Story%20-%20AMIRA%20Conference%20March%202010.pdf

    It very clearly shows that the world is substantially “prospected out” with regard to uranium dicoveries. We can conclude with a high degree of certainty that few or no large finds are left to be found. The trend is clear.

    However, I don’t expect your beliefs to be affected by facts. Hopefully others who check the graph will see the facts for what they are.

    Footnote: It would be false to draw any conclusions about the condition and security of that facility you link to simply from the photos. However, one cannot simply assume that it is safe and innocuous because it looks like that on the outside. Radiation is invisible. Deterioration, cracks and leakage can be hidden, sometimes even from close inspection.

  26. Uncle Milton
    May 6th, 2015 at 10:47 | #26

    Slightly off topic, but did Christine Milne jump or was she pushed?

  27. Ken Fabian
    May 6th, 2015 at 11:19 | #27

    Hermit, I don’t think anyone expects this product to be the answer, just one step along the way. But it is more than a mere incremental step because the pricing of the first really mass marketed version of this technology looks very affordable – lower priced than the optimists expected, let alone the naysayers. It’s priced where it can be expected to be taken up enthusiastically. 10 years of warranty is good but if they are offering optional upgrades to 20 year warranties it suggests they expect them to be reliable for that long.

    It’s also not the only serious scale storage player – just one with a high public profile. Alevo got started with no fanfare but they have serious money backing their utility scale batteries, enough to finance their first big projects themselves – they are keeping mum on details and make no offers to put the technology into the public domain like Tesla, but more cycles and longer life is reputedly where they expect the greatest gains in affordability. And there are others.

    The parity price with grid delivered fossil fuel electricity may be difficult to pin down – varying according to location and government policies and interventions on pricing – but it does look like it is already being undercut. Definitely undercut given that we still don’t include the climate consequences in energy pricing and FF’s are heavily subsidised by the passing of these costs to future generations.

    Despite the ’empirical’ evidence of insufficient takeup of solar such a trend is made of the actual processes that underpin it, including half hearted policy efforts, greenwashing, outright hostility and I suspect some giving of enough rope in the certainty that the reputation of renewables would be blackened forever by their abysmal failures. And those failures would take the whole climate issue into oblivion with them.

    Expect ever more rooftop solar, and as the Tesla’s and Alevo’s make larger scale storage solutions available – and they really are going to be doing that at lower prices than anything so far – a resurgent interest in and willingness to finance large scale projects.

  28. iain
    May 6th, 2015 at 11:19 | #28

    Pretty much what hermit said about solar providing less than 0.5% of our total stationary and transport energy.

    I’d certainly agree that there’s a dead horse being flogged in there somewhere.

    However, this point has me on the edge of my seat “the availability of even moderately cost-effective storage removes the last big obstacle (more on the economics soon)”.

    Pretty straight forward -> solar water + demand efficiency + solar electricity + batteries + converters and grid ties/coupling + installation = no change from 30 grand, plus significant replacement costs every 5-12 years. Plus still need an electric car upgrade scenario. Plus much lower ability to incorporate any of this significantly in highrises etc.

    So you are still an order of magnitude++ away from going anywhere. Possibly better than nuclear, but possibly not.

    You can have variations on this, which is what we have now -> less than 0.5% penetration.

  29. Hermit
    May 6th, 2015 at 11:44 | #29

    Ikon this link says conventional uranium will last 90 years
    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Uranium-Resources/Supply-of-Uranium/
    but there are many options. Let’s just burn coal instead.

    Be wary of extrapolating trends. Around 1970 when the Snowy Mountains Scheme was completed renewable energy was said to supply a third of Australia’s electricity. By 2014 is was just 13%. Using those endpoints I make it an arithmetic decline of (33-13)/44 call it half a percent a year. In two centuries Australia will have no renewable electricity at all.

    I note trend extrapolators favour zigs not zags or maybe it’s the other way round. Residential PV installation peaked in 2010-2012 and has been in marked decline since then but you don’t hear that.

  30. John Quiggin
    May 6th, 2015 at 12:18 | #30

    Hermit: If we are to decarbonize the economy, then (among other things) 100 per cent of coal-fired electricity needs to be replaced by some combination of renewables, nuclear, energy efficiency and reduced use. Your argument seems to be

    1. 100 % of coal-fired electricity is a big number
    2. ???
    3. We have to go nuclear

    What is the missing step here?

  31. John Quiggin
    May 6th, 2015 at 12:25 | #31

    @iain

    Let’s assume your numbers are correct for a typical family household, and amortize the whole $30 000 over 10 years. That’s $3000 a year, against which we can offset current expenditures on electricity and gas, say $1500 a year. Median household income in Australia for a typical family is around $75 000. So the cost of completely decarbonizing household energy, on your numbers, is around 5 per cent of income. There are a bunch of reasons why your numbers are too high, but still this makes the point: with existing technology, we can decarbonize the economy at a cost which is small in relation to total income, and even smaller relative to the income growth projected over the period to 2050.

  32. Uncle Milton
    May 6th, 2015 at 12:54 | #32

    @John Quiggin

    5 per cent of income

    Spending another 5% of income to get the same thing is not nothing.

  33. Ken Fabian
    May 6th, 2015 at 13:42 | #33

    I’m not basing my optimism for renewables on extrapolation, but on them passing a crucial price parity threshold that is a profoundly important consideration.

    Hermit, again – before the passing of that parity threshold there were economic disincentives that subsidy and policy could only partly mitigate against. Greenwash and clayton’s policies were what we got – not a true commitment to anything except the expansion and ongoing financial viability of the fossil fuel industry. After that threshold we should see broader market incentives coming into play for the first time. With that crucial circumstance being different, prior assumptions about ‘trends’ need to be re-examined.

    And, yes PV installation rates have gone down in Australia but is that a “trend” or a short term consequence of governments hostile to climate action and renewable energy taking charge and changing policy? It set back a subsidy boosted industry right on the cusp of it’s ability to carry on without significant subsidy. Rather than transition smoothly, with staged and predictable removal of subsidy and surviving in working order to be in a good position to make the most of new storage technologies, the sector had it’s legs cut out from under. Deliberately, with hostility that is underpinned by rejection of mainstream science and bizarre beliefs about green conspiracies. No surprise that a chief business adviser is a source of such beliefs – climate science denial being, at it’s essential core, the excuse commerce and industry requires to justify their profit protecting opposition to emissions/climate/energy regulation – ie to maintain that great big loophole that allows them to pass major costs to future generations and pretend Fossil Fuels are cheap poverty eliminators.

    Hermit, I still have grave concerns about our ability to achieve real commitment to low emissions but I’m finding your arguments a bit disingenous.

  34. Peter T
    May 6th, 2015 at 13:52 | #34

    Uncle Milton

    Spending 5% of income to let your grandkids survive is not nothing either.

  35. May 6th, 2015 at 13:52 | #35

    John, I am also hopeful about the implications of this technology but please remember that only a declining proportion (a minority?) of Australians own their own home. Power wall is of no use to the rest of us.

    I think nuclear advocates should focus on a) preventing shutdown of existing plants (see Japan and Germany’s environmentally reckless decisions) and b) converting major shipping to nuclear. Shipping is a large source of carbon and there are no alternatives on the horizon. Focus on areas where nuclear can make a difference not where it is uncompetitive!

  36. John Quiggin
    May 6th, 2015 at 14:03 | #36

    @Uncle Milton

    That’s why I call it a cost, though a modest one. Of course, what we get isn’t “the same thing”, it’s “the same thing plus a planet”.

  37. John Quiggin
    May 6th, 2015 at 14:09 | #37

    @Faustusnotes

    I’ve been talking about technical feasibility, not about the institutions and policies required to achieve the goal. But there are people looking at the problem of solar PV for renters eg

    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/solar-for-renters-prepaid-meter-technology-targets-untapped-pv-market-62768

    On your second point, I agree with (a). If nuclear advocates would focus on this, rather than making obviously silly claims about new nuclear they might do more good.

    I doubt, though that nuclear shipping will ever be cost-effective. I’d rather start with easy efficiency improvements, then look at things like fuel cells and algal fuel oil.

  38. Uncle Milton
    May 6th, 2015 at 14:27 | #38

    @John Quiggin

    a cost, though a modest one

    $1500 is a lot of money for a household on $75000.

    it’s “the same thing plus a planet”.

    Yes, but not everybody cares about that. You can try and force your preferences – even your scientifically validated of course they are correct preferences – onto other people, but that doesn’t always work out.

  39. jungney
    May 6th, 2015 at 15:04 | #39

    The horse is indeed deceased but there’s money in the flogging of it so long as it lasts.

  40. derrida derider
    May 6th, 2015 at 17:06 | #40

    @Fran Barlow
    I’m quite startled to find myself agreeing with you and John on nukes. However attractive nuclear power would be in a well managed world without better renewable alternatives, we are not in that world.

    The best argument anti-nukes always had was that, humans being what they are, criminal stupidity in design and operation will eventually combine with incredible bad luck somewhere to get a Chernobyl or Fukushima (it really does take both to get a nuclear disaster). That a well designed and run nuclear power station is very safe and quite environmentally friendly is thus a little beside the point.

    The other riposte – that alternative technologies such as coal can expect to kill an awful lot more people even without that malignant combination – is quite true. But given that an economically realistic alternative to either nukes or coal seems to be emerging it has lost its force.

  41. Andrew Dodds
    May 6th, 2015 at 17:25 | #41

    @Moz.

    If seasonality is not fixed, then for those areas affected – which is where most people actually live – solar cannot be a large component of the energy mix even if the panels are free. Mainland Australia is to some extent a freak case – lots of sun compared to population, relatively low seasonality, existing grid infrastructure. On one hand, it should be the first country to go all-renewable (excepting countries with extreme hydro resources), on the other, if Australia can’t do it, no where can.

    (Note: I live in the UK. I have a 2.76kW array on a south-facing roof and I’m enough of a geek to have 3 year’s worth of weekly readings recorded.. )

    @Ikonoclast

    If you assume low efficiency once through fuel cycles, no alternative sources of uranium, that rising prices do not make more uranium available, that alternative prospecting plays don’t exist and that every estimate is wrong on the low side you may have a point. But that looks an awful lot like working back from your conclusion.

  42. May 6th, 2015 at 23:41 | #42

    @Andrew Dodds
    “If seasonality is not fixed, then for those areas affected – which is where most people actually live – solar cannot be a large component of the energy mix even if the panels are free.”
    Most of the world’s population lives at lowish latitudes, including all of the Indian subcontinent.

    Your thought experiment points to exactly the opposite conclusion. If panels are free, you install enough of them to cover daytime needs in midwinter on a cloudy day. (In Inverness you may run out of roofs first, but as noted above this is exceptional. ) You are incidentally installing on E and W orientations. So the storage needed is only overnight.

    We won’t of course see exactly this. But at super-low costs – Fraunhofer are predicting 1.5€c/kwh LCOE by 2050 – it will pay to massively overbuild solar, even at 50% mean curtailment. In turn, the large volume of seasonal free electricity can make P2G cheap. Apply the same logic to wind, which is seasonally complementary to solar (Fraunhofer here, pp 39-40), and the costs are even lower. The optimal mix depends on the exact numbers, but there will be a large portfolio of feasible solutions.

    My own suggestion is marginal cheating. For security of supply, you need around a 20% reserve. This capacity is rarely used, say 10% of the time. Suppose it’s natural gas: very cheap capacity because you already have it. So you can have a low-cost 98% decarbonised electricity supply. Use the very large savings from 100% purity for offset reafforestation, subsidised electric transport, direct reduction ironmaking or whatever.

  43. Ikonoclast
    May 7th, 2015 at 07:05 | #43

    @Andrew Dodds

    1. I assume once-through fuel cycles because that is the current reality for the most part. It is also is highly unlikely to change.

    2. The graph I linked to showed that rising expenditure on prospecting in the last decade produced no rise in uranium finds. Indeed, the finds continued to decline.

    3. Rising prices do not create extra resource availability if the resource availability does not exist. Availability of a resource is not only price sensitive it is reality sensitive.

  44. Ikonoclast
    May 7th, 2015 at 07:30 | #44

    What this whole debate shows once again is that nuclear power supporters believe in magic. I strongly suspect their beliefs belong in the long tradition of alchemy. It would be interesting, from a sociological point of view, to trace the parallels between alchemical beliefs and the modern naive belief in nuclear fission energy as an endless fount of power. These beliefs are held despite the real limits of fissile fuels on earth, the real limits of energy return on utilising diffuse deposits, and the real difficulties (safety and engineering) of nuclear power itself.

    In the naive mind, nuclear science and nuclear power are susceptible to being understood in alchemical terms. Transmution is involved. Matter can be transmuted into energy and base metals can indeed be transmuted into gold (though the latter process is not in any way economically viable). This fact of a seemingly miraculous transmutation of matter into energy seems to play heavily on the naive mind. The limits and difficulties of the process disappear in a blaze of credulity and fantasies about endless power.

    I would actually be interested to know if anyone has done a study of belief clusters. For example, do those who believe in the endless potential of nuclear fission power on earth also tend to believe in homeopathy, chiropractry, neocon economics and other crank belief systems? I would not be at all surprised to find it so.

  45. Hermit
    May 7th, 2015 at 07:38 | #45

    The cost of new nuclear will be higher than replacing old cold fired coal stations with new coal stations. If BREE’s assessments are correct
    http://www.industry.gov.au/industry/Office-of-the-Chief-Economist/Publications/Documents/aeta/AETA-Update-Dec-13.pdf
    then we see on Figure 9 for NSW in 2020 with no carbon price that a midrange busbar price for large nuclear is $150 per Mwh or 15c per kwh. Supercritical black coal has a midrange price of $75 but current (subcritical technology) prices are near $40. Since supercritical coal produces about 0.8 tCO2 per Mwh the required carbon price to favour nuclear is (150-75)/.8= $94.

    Now what Mr Hunt thinks are carbon reductions are currently priced around $13. By the year 2035 when the big baseload plants need to be replaced if Mr Hunt’s spiritual successor is in charge the coal plants won’t be replaced with nuclear. Against this however we have gentailers like Alinta saying they will exit coal by 2030 and AGL by 2050. The key statistic one more time; coal now generates 64.5% of our electricity which this year seems to be increasing at the expense of gas and hydro.

    The conceivable scenarios are that we will replace coal with coal or bite the bullet on much higher electricity prices. Given the repeal of carbon tax I doubt we’ll opt for higher prices.

  46. Ikonoclast
    May 7th, 2015 at 08:08 | #46

    @Hermit

    Alternatively, climate change could get so rapidly and obviously worse in the next few decades that it scares the **** out of people and they demand change. In about two decades politician and business climate change deniers will run the serious risk of being lynched.

  47. David Allen
    May 7th, 2015 at 13:08 | #47

    Ikonoclast :
    @Hermit
    Alternatively, climate change could get so rapidly and obviously worse in the next few decades that it scares the **** out of people and they demand change. In about two decades politician and business climate change deniers will run the serious risk of being lynched.

    Can we get them on a deck of playing cards please? In fact why don’t we start now. Tony Abbott, Greg Hunt, Maurice Newman,Andrew Bolt,Dick Warburton,… Nominations please. They should be Australians and have power/influence. Not merely internet trolls.

  48. Tim Macknay
    May 7th, 2015 at 13:26 | #48

    @Ikonoclast

    What this whole debate shows once again is that nuclear power supporters believe in magic.

    Nuclear energy is Promethean. It’s a sort of ultimate symbol of the capacity for human ingenuity to overcome the limitations of nature (at least, if you ignore its drawbacks).

    For me, that Promethean quality of nuclear energy largely explains the often irrational* enthusiasm of its ardent supporters – it ties in with the ideology of technological progress.

    Ironically, enthusiasts for renewable energy technologies are also frequently motivated by a similar belief in technological progress. However, green tech lacks the “big-and-powerful” qualities of nuclear – its early links with “small is beautiful” thinking and environmentalist ideas have cruelled renewable energy’s emotive appeal for many believers in a triumphalist vision of progress. That explains to me why so many “libertarians” are enthusiastic about nuclear but ambivalent towards renewable energy, even though nuclear is the ultimate big-government technology – “libertarians” tend to be believers in an uncomplicated idea of progress. The imagery of nuclear energy also appeals to a masculinist impulse which is also common among “libertarians” who, as I’ve said before, exhibit what is essentially a schoolboy’s picture of the world (e.g. Terje on the Powerwall thread referring to that product as a “sad little battery” – he might as well have said it was “girly”).

    Of course, none of this has anything to do with the actual merits or otherwise of nuclear and renewable energies as power technologies.

    *When I say nuclear enthusiasts are often irrational, I’m not talking about the reasonable claims (such as that nuclear is a relatively safe form of power, or that the dangers of radioactivity are often exaggerated), I’m talking about the glowing talk of breeders and thorium reactors being just around the corner, despite these technologies having been languishing for decades, and the bizarre insistence, in the face of all available evidence, that nuclear energy is about to get cheaper).

  49. Ikonoclast
    May 7th, 2015 at 14:25 | #49

    @Tim Macknay

    I agree. The fascination people have with nuclear power has alchemical, Promethean, Freudian and authoritarian overtones. The myth is one of great manly power, centralised and wielded by the Nietzschean Superman who triumphs over all nature and other men. Nuclear power is intense, brutal, dangerous and quintessentially a form of centralised power. On the other hand, renewables are gentler, more diffuse, more eclectic and more sharable. They promise a more democratic spread of power, meaning physical power, economic power and political power.

    Strangely enough, renewables promise more energy (a lot more) than nuclear power. However, this power is diffuse and not amenable to centralised hoarding, command and control. It is also not so amenable to translation into military power. Thus it is despised by those who want wealth and power to be only for the few and not diffused and shared among all the people.

    They make absurd statements that wind turbines and solar panels are “ugly” when coal and nuclear power stations are 1,000 times uglier in both the aesthetic and environmental senses.

  50. Fran Barlow
    May 7th, 2015 at 16:16 | #50

    @Tim Macknay

    Back more than a decade, when I used to post in usenet, nearly all the proponent of nuclear power there

    a) tended to present nuclear power in strongly masculine terms and ‘renewables’ as for weak and only for the latte-sipping chardonnay set who didn’t have ‘real’ jobs.
    b) made a huge fuss about their fascination with engineering
    c) were keen to avow their gun fetishism
    d) spent inordinate amounts of time in circle-jerking/one-upping each other on the virtues of the various fighter aircraft they’d like to have the country acquire in stupidly large numbers and whom they’d bomb first
    e) were seriously hostile to anyone raising issues of biodiversity, empathy with animals etc
    f) tended almost exclusively to be climate science deniers.
    g) almost always adopted modes of engagement that were vituperative if someone presented as other than affirming them.

    It was hard to escape the impression that each of these impulses was driven by a cultural/aesthetic preference for things that were avowals of a particular brand of testosterone enhanced masculinity in one form or another.

  51. Fran Barlow
    May 7th, 2015 at 16:23 | #51

    @Tim Macknay

    That all noted, one has to say that the idea of getting a free lunch is always enticing. If nuclear power really were that ‘free lunch’ in energy generation (at least in the sense that its footprint was trivial and as a source, it was in practical term, inexhaustible) then you wouldn’t have to be a macho anti-environmental militarist nut to like it.

    It’s a delusion of course, but a happy one.

  52. Hermit
    May 7th, 2015 at 16:41 | #52

    That’s a big call saying that people like James Hansen and James Lovelock are irrational. There’s a couple of ways of looking at the renewable energy nirvana that some here expect
    1) we got to where we are today on the back of very high yielding energy sources
    That is coal, gas, oil, nuclear, hydro. Now some want to revert to diffuse and intermittent sources. If you store that energy in an electrochemical device like the Powerwall the energy return is even lower. This is the EROEI cliff theory which is so far not contradicted by empirical evidence.
    2) we may have gotten too needy
    Had we kept world population low say 2bn and invested heavily in wind and solar for decades our situation wouldn’t be so parlous. That is over dependence on fossil fuels which are both changing the climate and destined to run out. Some have big screen plasma TVs and others cook over fires stoked with cattle dung. We want a reasonable standard for everybody. Nuclear fission exploits the energy-mass equivalence in E = Mc^2 since tiny amounts of mass are lost when uranium atoms break apart. We’ve outgrown burning stuff in chemical reactions.

    If for some reason renewable energy struggles to replace fossil fuel I think proponents must ask where their theories need some adjusting.

  53. David Irving (no relation)
    May 7th, 2015 at 16:54 | #53

    @Hermit
    I don’t think anyone’s saying Hansen and Lovelock are irrational – neither of them boost nuclear to the exclusion of all other sources of energy, after all.

  54. Tim Macknay
    May 7th, 2015 at 17:01 | #54

    @Hermit
    On the contrary, both Hansen and Lovelock are of the generation who were raised believing that nuclear energy was the fuel of the future. Hansen’s work on climate science has been extremely valuable, but that doesnl;t mean he know’s what he’s talking

    The EROEI stuff is a red herring, as far as I’m concerned (I’ve had that discussion with you before). Once you account for the obvious errors and biases in most of the EROEI analyses, there’s no good reason to suppose that the EROEI of the major renewable energy technologies is significantly worse than fossil fuels or nuclear, even if the EROEI cliff conjecture is valid.

    As for the “maybe it’s too late” theory, that’s not an argument for nuclear energy over renewables. Renewable energy installation is outpacing nuclear installation everywhere, even China.

  55. TerjeP
  56. Tim Macknay
    May 7th, 2015 at 17:24 | #56

    @David Irving (no relation)
    I don’t see why Hansen’s and Lovelock’s views about nuclear and renewable energy should be regarded as particularly authoritative. Hansen is a top notch climate scientist, but he is no particular expert on energy technology or economics. And Lovelock is a brilliant inventor with some notable contributions to science under his belt (although his ‘Gaia’ hypothesis is overrated) but again, he has no particular expertise in energy.

    FWIW, I agree with their views that opposing nuclear energy doesn’t achieve much – at this point in time, nuclear energy is clearly part of the solution to global warming – it’s a significant existing source of low-emissions power.

    However, their own opposition to renewable energy is equally, if not more, counterproductive, and doesn’t appear to be based on anything substantial. Neither of them have presented convincing arguments against the viability of renewable energy, they have simply dismissed it and insisted that only nuclear can save us.

  57. Tim Macknay
    May 7th, 2015 at 17:25 | #57

    My comment at #52 above somehow got posted before I’d finished typing it. Sorry ’bout that.

  58. Donald Oats
    May 7th, 2015 at 18:41 | #58

    CSIRO have installed a solar field in Cyprus, of all places, using technology that CSIRO scientists developed several years ago. While I’m very proud of their efforts, I hope the PM sits up and takes note, perhaps kicking $4 million bucks to them to set up a solar field or two in Australia, or even a manufacturing facility for exporting the technology. Field of dreams…

  59. Donald Oats
    May 7th, 2015 at 18:53 | #59

    The Gaia hypothesis always makes me cringe inwardly…it feels way too much like one of those ideas which explains everything—and nothing at all. Perhaps there is some level of detail to it which does have good explanatory power, but so far I feel pretty sceptical of that.

    Hansen’s opinions are perhaps more explicit and narrower in domain they apply to, and so should be given more analysis (in my opinion). With respect to his position on coal of stating we essentially have to leave virtually all of it in the ground, for the time being that statement is true; if technology shifts so far that we can use coal without emitting any GHGs, and do so at a price competitive with renewable energy systems, then presumably coal could come back into the fold as an energy source. On today’s technology, and with today’s constraints, it isn’t feasible to use coal in the way we do. I don’t agree with Hansen on some things, but on the broad brush strokes, I think he is pointing in the right direction.

    As for nuclear power, it is muscle-man fuel, and the lads love it. The market, on the other hand, is less than tepid on nuclear power. Beta got creamed by VHS video, and now both are musty relics of history; perhaps nuclear power is treading the path of beta.

  60. May 7th, 2015 at 20:17 | #60

    John, as you know I am not of the view that market tools alone will get us close to what we need, and I would suggest it will take some direct and savage regulation of the Australian rental market before Australia’s greedy landlords consent to fork out even a cent of their “hard”-earned to install something that is of no direct benefit to them. Similarly I can’t see major shipping companies doing anything near the work and investment required to become even carbon neutral, let alone invest in reconfiguring to renewable energy – if you look at the way the big shipping industry players work, they are little better than slavers in the way they treat their workers, and the flag of convenience system makes it possible for them to get away with terrible behavior on the high seas. Fuel efficiency is in their interests, but any other reconfiguration will only happen when they are forced to.

    Also, I think as much as possible we are going to need policy responses that avoid using any form of bio-sources to produce carbon neutral fuels. Biodiesel, algal fuel oil, etc., even if they are developed to industrially and econcomically viable scale, are a dangerous distraction. If we can plant a hectare of land purely for purposes related to AGW, then that hectare should be planted as a carbon sink, not as a source of carbon neutral fuel. Similarly with algae – if we are going to grow algae it should not be used to produce fuel but to absorb CO2. Burning that CO2 again is a disaster – we should be burying it or storing it in some way.

    Once all of the electricity generating, land transport and personal lifestyle parts of our economy have been rendered zero carbon, we will still have major emitters: agriculture (i.e. animals), cement, smelting and air travel. By 2050 we are going to need carbon sinks sufficient to cover all of that – which means a huge reversal in currrent land-clearing practices plus a significant reforestation of much of the globe. It is madness to be diverting any of that to e.g. produce biodiesel for big container ships that could be nuclear powered.

    So I think that nuclear advocates should be focusing on that – use of nuclear in transport, and as a legacy clean generator to tide us over to the new era.

  61. jt
    May 7th, 2015 at 21:27 | #61

    To clear up a common myth- the rate of reforestation has exceeded the rate of deforestation for some time although these things are happening in different locations.

    From 2003 onwards, forest in Russia and China expanded and tropical deforestation declined. Increased ABC associated with wetter conditions in the savannahs of northern Australia and southern Africa reversed global ABC loss, leading to an overall gain, consistent with trends in the global carbon sink reported in recent studies

    see Nature Climate Change – “Recent reversal in loss of global terrestrial biomass” published online 30 March 2015

    The desert ecologist Stefan Kröpelin has been saying this for the better part of a decade but was widely ignored until recently.

    For those who follow biotech science, the first GM trees with increased carbon storage capacity were appproved for planting in Brazil a couple of months ago. One wonders just how further advanced we’d be with biotech solutions if the left wasn’t being so successfully whiteanted by Luddites.

  62. Ikonoclast
    May 7th, 2015 at 22:08 | #62

    @jt

    The reported results are not so simplistic as you make out.

    “Global total forest area was similar for 2003 and 2012, but there was a reduction in tropical forests and an increase in boreal and temperate forests.”

    “The very different carbon structure of tropical and boreal forests plays a crucial role in increasing the global total forest carbon stock: tropical forests store 44% of total
    carbon in aboveground biomass but boreal forests only 15%, with the remainder contained in living roots, litter and soil organic crabon.”

    “We estimated trends in mean forest ABC and total forest carbon of + 0.10 and plus 1.19 PgCyr-1.” (Meaning it is acting as a carbon sink and possibly slightly increasing in that capacity).

    Note the word “estimate”. It’s a close thing. Deforrestation might have peaked (temporarily orpermanently). However, taking measurement and estimation errors into account we probably can’t be definitively certain, at least not yet. This is one study. How closely has it been checked? Is it peer reviewed? Is the journal reputable? Just asking, I don’t know the answers to these questions myself.

  63. jt
    May 7th, 2015 at 22:28 | #63

    Ikon,

    if you aren’t aware that the Nature suite of publications are “peer reviewed” and generally considered “reputable” or that the preponderance of recent studies point in the same direction, I can’t see any point engaging with you. Obviously you have no interest in following the science.

  64. Megan
    May 7th, 2015 at 23:45 | #64

    From the “Nature” article:

    Surprisingly, we find that the global carbon sink anomaly was driven by growth of semi-arid vegetation in the Southern Hemisphere, with almost 60 per cent of carbon uptake attributed to Australian ecosystems, where prevalent La Niña conditions caused up to six consecutive seasons of increased precipitation. In addition, since 1981, a six per cent expansion of vegetation cover over Australia was associated with a fourfold increase in the sensitivity of continental net carbon uptake to precipitation. Our findings suggest that the higher turnover rates of carbon pools in semi-arid biomes are an increasingly important driver of global carbon cycle inter-annual variability and that tropical rainforests may become less relevant drivers in the future. More research is needed to identify to what extent the carbon stocks accumulated during wet years are vulnerable to rapid decomposition or loss through fire in subsequent years.

    My emphasis, but still….

    Nobody can seriously argue that apples = oranges.

  65. May 8th, 2015 at 01:37 | #65

    jt my point doesn’t depend on the balance of reforestation and deforestation, although obviously there’s a lot more flexibility in our carbon response if deforestation stops. My point is that the balance of forest growth needs to be devoted to drawing carbon out of the atmosphere, not to carbon neutral technologies like biodiesel, ethanol or wood-based fuels of any kind. The same with algal growth or any seaweed-based technology. I read recently that someone has found a way to make diesel from CO2, water and sunlight – this is great, but if it requires land that could instead be used for drawing down CO2 it shouldn’t be used (I don’t say it does or doesn’t, I don’t know enough about it).

    It’s not enough for most parts of our economy to be carbon neutral if those parts are using land that could be used to offset carbon-intensive parts. Those parts need to be zero carbon, so that the land they might be using is instead set aside for reforestation to offset industries like smelting, cement and aviation.

    You said that you think the green movement has been white-anting the response to AGW. If we want to maintain our global industrial economy then we need to start thinking about how to offset essential industries that can’t be made carbon zero. In the short- to medium-term this is going to mean moving beyond carbon neutral ideas in transport.

  66. Fran Barlow
    May 8th, 2015 at 06:00 | #66

    @faustusnotes

    The base fuel is referred to as “blue crude,” and begins by taking electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar or hydropower and using it to produce hydrogen from water via reversible electrolysis. The hydrogen is then mixed with CO2 that has been converted into CO in two chemical processes and the resulting reactions produce a liquid made from long-chain hydrocarbons – this is blue crude, which is then refined to create the end product, the synthetic e-diesel.

    Audi says that the carbon dioxide used in the process is currently supplied by a biogas facility but, further adding to the green impacts of the process, some of the CO2 is captured directly from the ambient air, taking the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.

    Sunfire claims that analysis shows the properties of the synthetic diesel are superior to fossil fuel, and that its lack of sulphur and fossil-based oil makes it more environmentally friendly. The overall energy efficiency of the fuel creation process using renewable power is around 70 percent, according to Audi.

    “The engine runs quieter and fewer pollutants are being created,” says Sunfire CTO Christian von Olshausen.

    This is what I came across, in part, some weeks back.

    If it substitutes for fossil diesel, then it’s a step forward, especially if the CO2 input sources come from those either unavoidable or at any rate much lower than coal (like the biogas facility). It would also be a good way of storing surplus intermittent output.

  67. Ikonoclast
    May 8th, 2015 at 07:15 | #67

    @jt

    Thank you for your reply. I would still question, as Megan does too, the relative significance of these findings. It’s a curate’s egg at best. The news is only good in parts.

    (1) The continued decline in tropical forests is bad news re species extinctions and biodiversity.

    (2) How secure is the extra uptake of carbon in boreal forests and semi-arid biomes?

    (3) What proportion of the world’s carbon sink is ABC (Aboveground Biomass Carbon)?

    (4) What are the oceans doing? How are they performing as carbon sinks?

    Finally, measured CO2 levels in the atmosphere continue to rise. The apparent slight improvement in ABC is a slight glimmer of hope at best. It does not change what we have to do which is to de-carbonise the economy. I am not sure why you place such great emphasis on this, at present, marginal phenemenon. Perhaps your agenda is that everything is OK and there is no rush to decarbonise the economy. It certainly seems your agenda is to minimise the dangers of CO2 emissions and climate change.

  68. derrida derider
    May 8th, 2015 at 10:30 | #68

    @Fran Barlow
    Shorter Fran: Usenet was full of jerks, therefore nuclear power is the spawn of Satan.

  69. jt
    May 8th, 2015 at 11:41 | #69

    “It certainly seems your agenda is to minimise the dangers of CO2 emissions and climate change.”

    You have unusually poor comprehension skills. I’ve never said anything that minimises the dangers of climate change. If left unchecked, climate change will be very dangerous especially for the world’s poor who have limited capacities to adapt.

    My point are (1) that addressing climate change is easy and require only minimalist policy as Prof Quiggin states and (2) the anti-modernity Ludditism of the green sector of the Left is a deadweight that is holding us back. Why aren’t we developing more super-effiecient GM carbon sucking trees for example.

    Historically, the Left were champions of technology. Now I find myself surrounded by left wingers who vote Green, refuse to vaccinate their children; prefer naturopathy and homeopathy to conventional medicine; read astrological star charts instead of Karl Marx and John Quiggin; eat organic voodoo food and think conventional food is cursed by Gaia and the nauseating list just goes on and on ad infinitum.

  70. Ken Fabian
    May 8th, 2015 at 12:06 | #70

    Jt – don’t you think that institutionalised opposition to action on climate – the Luddite Right – has had a significant bearing? Myself, I think the only reason what ‘greenies’ think matters so much is because of the abysmal failures of mainstream politics to face up to the problem head on; they are appear to stand so tall because everyon else is too busy keeping heads down. Or, quietly, behind the scenes, working tirelessly to obstruct and compromise into ineffectualness the efforts of people who care, like ‘greenies’.

  71. Tim Macknay
    May 8th, 2015 at 13:28 | #71

    @derrida derider
    dd, if you’ve read many of Fran Barlow’s comments over the years, you ought to know she’s not anti-nuclear.

  72. Ikonoclast
    May 8th, 2015 at 13:30 | #72

    I call concern troll on jt. His agenda andessential mind-set is clearly right-wing necon. While pretending to be concerned about climate change he minimises it and minimises the measures needed to deal with it. He blames the left and green left for the problems they warned against and want to take concerted action against. He has nothing to say about the right-wing pro-coal, pro-oil luddites. He insinuates that taking due precaution before introducing new technology (GM) is “luddite” when we have many examples of unintended negative consquences from hastily introduced technology. In fact failing to take due precaution is luddite.

    This jt is probably Mel. The same old neocon sock puppet. I recognise the style.

  73. Tim Macknay
    May 8th, 2015 at 13:35 | #73

    @Ken Fabian
    jt, who is sounding an awful lot like Mel, appears to be determined to pursue an off-topic debate about GM on this thread, for reasons known only to him(?)self. GM as an issue is only peripheral to global warming at best. It may well be that GM trees and GM crops will play a role in mitigating and adapting to climate change to a some extent, but the bulk of the effort will be achieved through the reduction of industrial emissions. Trying to divert the topic by baiting people into a debate over GM seems like trolling.

  74. Tim Macknay
    May 8th, 2015 at 13:36 | #74
  75. Donald Oats
    May 8th, 2015 at 14:01 | #75

    Kentucky police officers have a new suite of electric motorcycles, capable of 500km to the charge, and charge up for under $1 USD. The bikes are around $21k USD. Silent, fast, and long enough range to last a day or more of policing on a single charge.

    CSIRO has installed a molten salt storage and heliostat as a solar field in Cyprus: it took only a few weeks to set it up.

    Tesla cars are demonstrably high performance, far in excess of what is necessary for regular transport.

    Origin Energy is looking at installing roof top solar and maintaining it, with their customers getting the electricity from it at reduced rates.

    Solar power and electric vehicles are part of the overall energy marketplace now, and despite the Liberal party’s best efforts, they can’t put the Jini back in the bottle.

    If nuclear power were to enter Australia as a serious effort at establishing itself as an energy supplier, how is it going to be economic without government subsidies? Even if coal is completely removed from electrical energy production, solar, wind, and gas are all becoming cheaper by the day, and more scalable too, in the case of solar and wind. If we end up with a nuclear power station, I reckon it would be purely symbolic gesturing from the political class, a statement for the international stage. Economics wouldn’t cut it.

  76. Ken Fabian
    May 8th, 2015 at 14:35 | #76

    @Donald Oats
    Without a long running, cross partisan commitment to climate and emissions reductions a vanity nuclear project is the most that could be expected in Australia. It would probably be well away from the coal rich regions, ie not actually intended to displace fossil fuels – only to displace renewables. In the current political reality it would not be so much symbolic of a commitment to climate as divisive and diversionary, probably pushed along with a strong ‘stick it to greenies’ motivation.

  77. Ikonoclast
    May 8th, 2015 at 14:43 | #77

    @Donald Oats

    Agreed, the political class would want nuclear power only for its potential role in making us a nuclear weapons state. Going down that path would provoke Indonesia into getting wepoans nukes. That would be a very bad idea. That said, Indonesia does already have an experimental reactor program with maybe some power generation reactors in the pipeline.

    But nuclear power is a dead horse. The facts demonstrate that. J.Q, has laid out the economic argument well and a number of times.

  78. Hermit
    May 8th, 2015 at 15:00 | #78

    Short memories seem to have forgotten two major developments; the fact that some big coal firms say they getting out in the next 20 years and the probable doubling of the east Australian gas price in the next 5 years. Neither development is contingent on the RET or carbon tax. Currently about half the opex of combined cycle gas plant is gas fuel cost. The probable increase will make nuclear competitive if you look at the predicted prices on BREE’s AETA report linked upthread.

    Energy storage at Powerwall prices is too expensive for commercial operators. Since published estimates range from 15c to 35c per kwh call it 25c or or $250 per Mwh. A wind farm that has generation costs of say $80 per Mwh must then store it for another $250. The combined cost is ten times more than Latrobe Valley brown coal electricity at $32 a Mwh.

    Non fossil interests would be helped with the re-introduction of a properly determined price on primary emissions, not the silliness in Direct Action. I fear all else is wishful thinking. It looks like our 2015 coal emissions will be higher than 2014 for whatever reasons. If it happens again for a few more years perhaps we should think harder about our assumptions.

  79. Tim Macknay
    May 8th, 2015 at 16:25 | #79

    @Hermit

    The probable increase will make nuclear competitive if you look at the predicted prices on BREE’s AETA report linked upthread.


    Strangely enough, the BREE report also shows that the “probable increase” will also make wind, solar PV and solar thermal competitive as well, particularly wind (even taking into account the fact that the report has taken a conservative view of the potential cost declines for renewable energy, and has not factored in the insurance cost disadvantage of nuclear). I wonder why you didn’t mention that.

    Non fossil interests would be helped with the re-introduction of a properly determined price on primary emissions, not the silliness in Direct Action. I fear all else is wishful thinking. It looks like our 2015 coal emissions will be higher than 2014 for whatever reasons.

    Yes, that is true. Without an effective emissions reduction policy framework, we are stuck with coal for some time, and will be unable to significantly reduce emissions. Of course, that is irrelevant to the question of the comparative prospects of renewables and nuclear, as I’m sure you’re aware.

    If it happens again for a few more years perhaps we should think harder about our assumptions.

    Indeed you should.

  80. plaasmatron
    May 8th, 2015 at 21:40 | #80

    “super-effiecient GM carbon sucking trees”??? That is hilarious! On so many levels!

  81. plaasmatron
    May 8th, 2015 at 21:45 | #81

    Reminds me of that old joke where engineers and scientists spent $100b inventing a new device that collects solar energy, captures CO2, is self generating, can be used for heating and construction, reduces drought, regulates temperature and humidity and looks great in an urban environment. They named it the Total Renewable Energy Enterprise, or TREE for short.

  82. May 9th, 2015 at 01:33 | #82

    Braziiam commercial foresters (in the south and planalto, not the Amazon) already plant hybrid (conventionally bred not GM) eucalyptus on an eight-year cycle. It goes into pulp for paper, so the carbon sequestration is quite short-term. Commercial forestry only becomes a net long-term sequestrator if the wood is harvested as timber and used in construction and furniture, with a 100-year lifespan. Laminated wood beams – they can even be prestressed – are a significant innovation here, as they allow wood-framed structures up to six storeys high, which covers most commercial and residential uses. The lamination allows for factory manufacture and standard sizes, like steel. Wood frames are lighter than steel or reinforced concrete, so you get a second carbon benefit from lighter foundations.

    My Brazilian wife and I are supporting a small 1000-tree planting project in her home town in up-country Rio de Janeiro state. Native Mata Atlantica species suitable for timber, on a 40-year horizon. Why complicate such straightforward initiatives with GM?

  83. Collin Street
    May 9th, 2015 at 08:49 | #83

    > Why complicate such straightforward initiatives with GM?

    “Because old technology doesn’t give scope for kickbacks” is a significant effect, at least.

  84. Hermit
    May 9th, 2015 at 09:12 | #84

    @TM while the AETA report does exclude insurance in the US it is expected that $10-15 bn liability cover can be had for 0.1-0.2c a kwh. Hardly a crippling impost. The AETA report also appears to exclude renewable subsidies such as the LGC of around 4c per kwh, feed-in tariffs or the large grants which reduce cost of capital.

    A glaring omission is tabled capacity factors for different technologies. Arid outback solar might produce 20% of its rated power on a year round basis and new wind sites with large turbines 30-40%. At night for solar and unpredictable times for wind they will produce no power which is why they need gas, hydro and now apparently coal for backup. Nukes should generate power at 90% of capacity on a year round basis and are a full replacement for coal, our highest emitting power source.

  85. Ken Fabian
    May 9th, 2015 at 09:55 | #85

    Hermit, it may be a fact that some coal companies say they will get out of coal in 20 years but that does not mean they won’t be spending the next 20 years lobbying tirelessly against policies intended to make that happen – and if their mines can be kept profitable beyond that they may be open to withdrawing a thought bubble intended to suggest they care. Those making that statement will have retired very rich before then and getting out of coal won’t happen on their watch.

    In the meantime, in the presence of strong political support for their continuing coal operations, the timeline may better reflect an intention to mine as much of the most profitable reserves within that 20 years as possible without any genuine commitment or even desire to limit climate change.

    I still think the greatest boost nuclear could get is the Conservative Right getting serious about climate – the withdrawal of their climate science denial justified ‘get out of having to deal with climate change free’ card to commerce and industry would spur that sector to stop saying they would prefer nuclear to renewables (but not over cheap coal), to saying they prefer nuclear to coal, and start to actually push for it. But I also think it’s too late – nuclear will struggle to gain the minimum threshold of support, even from a commerce and industry denied the Right’s climate denial inspired do nothing option.

  86. Tim Macknay
    May 9th, 2015 at 11:15 | #86

    @Hermit
    The capacity factor doesn’t affect the levelised cost, so there was no need to include it.
    You’re right that renewable subsidies were also left out. But the report still shows they are competitive with nuclear, so it hardly helps your argument. More Gish galloping.

  87. Hermit
    May 9th, 2015 at 12:50 | #87

    TM without storage solar is not competitive with anything at night so perhaps sunny daytime costs aren’t the full story.

    It’s odd the British Conservatives are not just pro-nuclear in lip service but also anti-coal in practice. They don’t seem to align that well with our LNP. The Brits will build 4-6 new reactors with the expensive Hinkley C to possibly be replaced with a cheaper Chinese design. If elections can be taken as a policy endorsement it seems Aussies don’t like carbon pricing but Brits support their version, the contract-for-difference. If the EU rules against c.f.d. I wonder if the Brits will continue with it anyway.

  88. Huggybunny
    May 9th, 2015 at 13:37 | #88

    @Fran Barlow
    Hi Fran,
    You seem to have changed from being a passionate advocate for nuclear power (even after Fukushima) to a very lukewarm fence sitter. Congratulations on your journey.
    I am totally convinced that the next step forward in the provision of electrical services will be storage at the point of consumption (APC).
    Properly configured it will provide a constant load to the energy source. If this source is located on site it will allow the energy needs to be supplied from this source. PV is a prime candidate, but we should all be aware that PV will not be able to supply significant energy for about 4 weeks per year at almost any latitude.
    A number of consumers connected together the energy storage at the point of consumption will flatten the demand and open up the possibility for export to other consumers.
    The consequences for the domestic and industrial consumers will be revolutionary and will require a re-think of the entire electricity supply system.

  89. jt
    May 9th, 2015 at 16:09 | #89

    Let me get this right, one throwaway line mention of biotech as part of the mix of climate change solutions and Tim and Tom decide I’m probably a banned sockpuppet. You people need to adjust your tinfoil hats. I think I’ve made it cleat that I am pro-tech futurist on a left where pro-tech and futurism is now considered dangerous and radical.

    BTW, battery innovator Elon Musk is behind SpaceX. SpaceX along with another futurist billionaire boy’s toy company, Planetary Resources, are paving the way for asteroid mining.

    Just like Marx would have expected if he were still alive today, it is the capitalist innovation machine that is paving the way for our socialist post-scarcity future.

    Climb on board comrades, we’re in for one helluva century ….

  90. Hermit
    May 11th, 2015 at 09:44 | #90

    Coal’s charmed run for over a century here and two centuries in the old world may be coming to end. Not the digging up and burning so much as the benign PR. We’ve had reef dredging and dairy farms demolished. Now a property which was the subject of a book on organic farming methods is to make way for coal mining
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-11/hopes-tarwyn-park-natural-sequence-farming-methods-to-continue/6459040
    Surely the day is fast approaching when enough is enough. However we need to be real about what can replace coal i.e. affordable all weathers around the clock power.

  91. John Quiggin
    May 11th, 2015 at 10:00 | #91

    Surely the day is fast approaching when enough is enough. However we need to be real about what can replace coal i.e. affordable all weathers around the clock power.

    As the previous post mentioned, the combination of new renewables and storage fits the bill, especially with hydro as backup.

  92. Hermit
    May 11th, 2015 at 10:37 | #92

    Pr Q your last statement seems hard to justify. Hydro while possibly the best backup for intermittent power is maxed out in Australia and facing an El Nino. I note the Burdekin hydro project which claims to be a victim of the RET is only 37 MW when eastern Australia needs a minimum 38,000 MW generation capacity according to AEMO.

    One of your own links (Forbes.. Powerwall a toy for rich greens) gives a levelised cost figure for battery storage which is commercially unviable. In 2013 wind and solar gave us 4.4% of Australian electricity and since then the new build rate has nosedived. This explains why coal is not going away in Australia.

  93. Ikonoclast
    May 12th, 2015 at 13:21 | #93

    @Hermit

    And I am guessing that in 1908 cars only transported 4% of the people and goods that horses transported. This proved why horses were never going away as our main form of tranport.

  94. Ikonoclast
    May 12th, 2015 at 13:49 | #94

    More in this vein. A baby is only 5% or less than the weight of an adult. This proves why a baby can never become an adult.

  95. BilB
    May 12th, 2015 at 17:19 | #95

    Hermit your figures are out.

    renewable energy 2013 to 2014 were

    Wind energy 3.93%
    solar 1.62
    Bio fuel 1.02
    solar hot water 1.12
    Hydro 8.2

    For a total 16% renewable electricity (electricity equivalent)

  96. Bob Aikenhead
    May 15th, 2015 at 16:51 | #96

    A realistic aim: total replacement of Australia’s current electricity generation by (very) low emission technology within two decades. Not wishful thinking, its been done and can be replicated here. See excellent recent paper in PLoS ONE.

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