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Burden of proof

April 10th, 2017

Ted Trainer, with whom I’ve had a number of debates in the past, has sent me an interesting piece claiming that “no empirical or historical evidence that demonstrates that [100 per cent renewables” systems are in fact feasible”. The authors, at least those of whom I’m aware, are “pro-nuclear environmentalists” (Ben Heard, Barry Brook, Tom Wigley and CJ Bradshaw) The central premise is that, given that renewables won’t work, and reductions in energy demand are unrealistic, we need to get cracking on nuclear (and also carbon capture and sequestration).

It’s paywalled, but the abstract is sufficient to get the main point. In fact, the whole piece is summarized by its title “Burden of Proof”. To give the shorter version: Unless every possible detail of a 100 per cent renewable system can be proved to be workable decades in advance, we must go nuclear.

The longer version is in these paras from the abstract

Strong empirical evidence of feasibility must be demonstrated for any study that attempts to construct or model a low-carbon energy future based on any combination of low-carbon technology.

The criteria are: (1) consistency with mainstream energy-demand forecasts; (2) simulating supply to meet demand reliably at hourly, half-hourly, and five-minute timescales, with resilience to extreme climate events; (3) identifying necessary transmission and distribution requirements; and (4) maintaining the provision of essential ancillary services.

This list is mostly notable for what’s not in it: adequate year-round power supplies, at an economically feasible cost. That’s because it’s now obvious that solar PV and wind, combined with one of a number of storage technologies (solar thermal, batteries, pumped hydro) and a bit of smart pricing, can deliver these goals. So, instead we get demands for the precise details in the list above. To lift the burden of proof a bit more, it’s not good enough to address them separately, they all have to be done at once in a single study. Unsurprisingly, no one has yet produced a study that meets all of these demands at once.*

And this is where the burden of proof works so brilliantly. Renewable technologies are well established, with annual installations of 100 GW a year a more, and a record of steadily falling costs. But, according to our authors, they haven’t met the burden of proof, so we have to put tens of billions of dollars into technologies that are either purely conceptual (Gen IV nuclear) or hopelessly uneconomic on the basis of current experience (CCS and generation II/III nuclear).

To be fair, this use of the burden of proof, while more blatant than usual, is very common. One any policy issue, most of us would like to compare an idealised model of our preferred solution with the worst case scenario (or, at best, the messy and unsatisfactory reality) for the alternatives. But it’s important to avoid this temptation as much as possible. On any realistic assessment, renewables + storage (with the path to 100 per cent smoothed by gas) offer a far more plausible way of decarbonizing electricity generation than nuclear or CCS>

Clarification: In comments, Ben Heard points out that the authors counted two publications from closely related studies together.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    April 10th, 2017 at 16:49 | #1

    Where is their 100% iron-clad proof that nuclear will work and that it won’t lead to any of the many problems clearly inherent in nuclear power?

    (1) Finite reserves of fissile material. I assume they are not pushing fusion power yet.
    (2) Unrecoverable uranium in seawater. Very dilute. Energy out to energy in will be about 1:1 or at best 2:1 after a massive fleet build-out and more massive interference with the oceans (which are struggling now)
    (3) Nuclear not cost-effective without MASSIVE state subsidies.
    (4) Nuclear weapon proliferation issues not solved.
    (5) Nuclear waster disposal issues not solved.

    I really wonder at the “green” credentials of the “greens” pushing this. Honestly, I reckon they have been infiltrated by an alt-right 5th column pushing their spurious nonsense.

    Actually, renewables have been proven to work historically (albeit at lower population and technology levels and albeit at the cost of deforestation and certain species extinctions). It was mostly renewables before the significant use of coal, then oil and then gas.

    Most nuclear supporters have a kind of medieval, alchemical/magical obsession with nuclear power (notwithstanding the seeming paradox involved in this claim of mine). They have a belief that one kind of science and technology (nuclear fission) can do far more for us than the science is actually telling us that it can do. They really do NOT understand the full science(s) of nuclear and modern renewables. It seems to be a clear case of;

    “A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
    There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    And drinking largely sobers us again.” – Alexander Pope.

    And earlier;

    “Twas well observed by my Lord Bacon, That a little knowledge is apt to puff up, and make men giddy, but a greater share of it will set them right, and bring them to low and humble thoughts of themselves.”

    Anonymous author, signing himself ‘A B’, in the collection of letters published in 1698 as “The mystery of phanaticism”.

  2. Moz of Yarramulla
    April 10th, 2017 at 19:03 | #2

    The South Island of New Zealand gets about 98% of its electricity from hydro. I can only assume that that’s not enough for the nuke advocates, since it’s only been that way since 1974 and the exact percentage fluctuates. Most years NZ as a whole gets as much electricity from geothermal as from coal. The reason it’s not 100% renewable is political rather than technical. Same reason as even France didn’t go 100% nuclear.


    I’m with Ikonoclast – by their own expressed standards via the “burden of proof”, nuclear can never work and should be ignored.

  3. April 10th, 2017 at 19:11 | #3

    The one-sentence refutation of special nuclear pleading like this is now this. SolarReserve have won a contract for a 260 MW solar tower CSP plant in Chile, for 24/7 supply using hot salt storage, at 7c/kWh. The technology is replicable in any other very sunny region, there are no limiting resources, and very probably cheaper with a more typical storage of 6-8 hours for grid storage. What the company are delivering is functionally equivalent to a small nuclear reactor, supposing you want one, at half the price and a third the time, with no safety or waste worries. Give up, lads, nuclear is a dead parrot.

  4. David Allen
    April 10th, 2017 at 19:41 | #4

    I think it’s kind of sad. They really really really want a nuclear playset for xmas. Poor things.

  5. Anthony Park
    April 10th, 2017 at 19:41 | #5

    @James Wimberley

    Hi James, do you mind providing a link or a keyword to Google the story?

  6. John Goss
    April 10th, 2017 at 22:30 | #6

    What amazes me is that such a ridiculous article can get through peer review in order to be published in ‘Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews’.

  7. John Goss
    April 10th, 2017 at 22:32 | #7
  8. April 10th, 2017 at 22:59 | #8

    Full version of the paper available at researchgate for those who sign up (free) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315745952_Burden_of_proof_a_comprehensive_review_of_the_feasibility_of_100_renewable-electricity_systems

    While you are there why not read this interesting article on how the burden of proof can be used and abused in discussions – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/256111829_Burden_of_Proof
    “The paper seeks to provide answers for the following six questions.
    1 How does burden of proof get set initially in reasoned dialogue?
    2 Once burden of proof gets set in reasoned dialogue, how is it binding upon the subsequent moves of the participants in argument?
    3 Can burden of proof be set externally before dialogue begins? Or is it set internally, during the course of dialogue, by the participants?
    4 How does burden of proof relate to the argumentum ad ignorantiam, the traditional informal fallacy of arguing from ignorance?
    5 How is burden of proof related to plausibility? Does the burden of proof rest on the interlocutor who attacks an established point of view’?
    6 Does burden of proof work the same way in conversational argumentation as it does in legal argument? Or are the two contexts essentially different?”

    Full disclosure – I am a co-author of one of the studies assessed in this paper.

  9. April 10th, 2017 at 23:09 | #9

    @Anthony Park
    Googling my own sentence, I quickly found the confirmation, eg here. The plant’s name is Copiapo. The name is from Quechua, either “qupa-yapu”, which means literally “turquoise sowing fields”, or from … qupu-anqas, which means “light blue”.” In English, “the end of the road for nuclear”.

  10. Geoff Edwards
    April 10th, 2017 at 23:31 | #10

    A few years ago, some authors associated with The Oil Drum blog site speculated that it may not be possible to run an advanced industrial society entirely on renewable energy, because once the energy profit ratio falls below about 5 to 1, the Society spends an undue proportion of its time and resources generating enough energy to run itself. Solar, wind and tide energies are diffuse and it takes energy to aggregate their energy. Ted Trainer would be aware of the argument.

    This hypothesis is likely to be valid for biomass-based systems and possibly for battery-supported solar photovoltaic, given the embedded energy and the finite lifetime of the components. However, I think the latest developments in solar thermal and systems like the one described by James Wimberley probably render this rule of thumb invalid.

  11. April 11th, 2017 at 01:23 | #11

    PS. In case you were wondering, the salts used for heat storage in CSP plants are sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate. These are bog-standard bulk chemicals mined or synthesised by the million tonnes for the fertiliser industry. Chile has the best natural deposits, so the stuff will be cheap there. Googling, I found Chinese suppliers quoting $350 per tonne for sodium nitrate, twice that for potassium nitrate. Shipping costs become important for such low-value commodities, and actual prices will vary around the globe. Still, standard materials you can but anywhere in the world with a phone and a road to a port for $1,000 a tonne are not high on anybody’s list of worries.

    This technology is so ordinary that, like pumped hydro, it fails to rouse the animal spirits of venture capitalists, unlike batteries – which are essential for vehicles – and small modular reactors, a complete boondoggle.

  12. Ikonoclast
    April 11th, 2017 at 04:11 | #12

    @Geoff Edwards

    In addition, fossil fuel power has on average an efficiency rating of about 25%. Typical thermal efficiency for utility-scale electrical generators is around 33% for coal and oil-fired plants. Most gasoline combustion engines average around 20 percent thermal efficiency. Electrical motors have an efficiency rating of up to 80%. Using these base values as rough proxies and allowing for further energy losses and inefficiencies at the stages of transporting, transmitting and storing energy, we could probably say that a fossil fuel economy had an overall energy efficiency of about 12.5% and an electrical economy an efficiency of about 35.7% (halving for all other energy losses). That’s three times the efficiency. So if with an electrical economy we gather one third of the primary energy needed now for a fossil fuel economy we will have enough energy to run the the world at current production and efficiency rates.

  13. Svante
    April 11th, 2017 at 04:42 | #13

    @Geoff Edwards
    “…once the energy profit ratio falls below about 5 to 1, the Society spends an undue proportion of its time and resources generating enough energy to run itself.”

    One way or another there will be less to go around. Is it to be by planning or collapsing?

    Losing Our Energy Slaves

    Susan Krumdieck, Chapter 13 – Lecture 3 – Risks and Forward Operating Scenarios

    @James Wimberley
    Nitrate = gas.
    Mining, roads, ports, ships = oil.

  14. Svante
    April 11th, 2017 at 05:01 | #14

    “…we will have enough energy to run the the world at current production and efficiency rates.”

    I don’t quite follow how you arrived at the respective overall energy efficiencies, but which world is that? The North, the South, the Third, or the First? What is “enough”? Where’s the exponential growth factor?

  15. Salient Green
    April 11th, 2017 at 08:41 | #15

    Actually, I think you are understating the efficiency of electric motors. While small motors running well under maximum load are below 80% efficiency, larger motors over 15hp are up around the 90% and the latest standards for really big electric motors over 100hp are for 95%+ efficiency at full load.
    While there are probably billions of small electric motors in the world, when you think of all the large ones in industry, farming, and business, well matched to the load for maximum efficiency and running for long periods of time I reckon average efficiency is already well over 85% now. Then consider that electrification of transport will see a massive rise in high hp motors over 90% efficient.
    A Tesla Roadster uses the electrical equivalent of 2.5 litres petrol/100km

  16. Ikonoclast
    April 11th, 2017 at 09:23 | #16


    There is a chain of energy costs in any energy economy. For example, take the oil industry.

    (1) It takes energy to recover oil. Say 5 barrels of oil to recover a 100 barrels of oil from a well.
    (2) It takes energy to transport oil. Say 5 barrels of oil (refined into fuel) to transport 100 barrels of oil.

    (3) It takes energy to refine oil into fuel. Say 5 barrels of oil refine 100 barrels of oil.

    (4) It takes energy to transport refined product. Say 5 barrels of oil (refined into fuel) to transport 100 barrels of oil.

    We already see 10 barrels of oil from an earlier batch are needed to make this batch ready for use,. So, we are down to 80 barrels energy profit. Then the oil and fuels economy wastes about 75% of that energy in heat and gets 25% useful work. So we get 20 barrels worth of useful work profit from that 100 barrels of oil. This is so as the useful transport and refining work is not in the energy profit column so far as end use goes.

    That economy is running at about 20% energy profit efficiency. A electrical economy will do far better because even if other losses (use of solar and wind and the power transmission losses were higher (which seems unlikely) there is still the fact that electric engines are at least 75% efficient and I.C. engines are only about 25% efficient. Using these as general proxy values for the efficiency of each kind of economy, the electrical economy only has to collect a third as much energy to do the same amount of useful work. This is an enormous factor in favor of the electrical economy.

    Of course growth cannot continue indefinitely. We need to create a steady state, or gently oscillating state, renewable and socialist economy. Capitalism can’t manage the new set of problems now confronting us. Capitalism was a great tool for a certain stage of rapid and rather ruthless growth and development. It is no longer the right tool now we have filled the world to capacity with humans and their works. A new economic tool, socialism, is needed to deal with the new challenges of a non-growth, renewables economy with long term staying power and compatibility with, and proper protection of, the environment and natural values.

  17. Ronald Brakels
    April 11th, 2017 at 09:41 | #17

    Ikon, electric motors, large ones anyway, are usually over 90% efficient.

    Also, using a chemical process to extract uranium from seawater to generate electricity via a nuclear process can release much more energy than it requires.

    However, extracting water from stones and shooting it into the sun, despite the high delta-v requirements, may eventually result in an even higher energy output, so it may be more logical to work out the kinks in the stone water to space fusion supply chain first.

  18. Ikonoclast
    April 11th, 2017 at 12:36 | #18

    @Ronald Brakels

    I was on the conservative side allowing for variable use and sub-opitimal uses for electric motors.

    The energy physics and materials requirements for extracting uranium from seawater are not good. Reputable papers on the topic suggest an EROEI of 1:1 to 2:1 at best. It would take a fleet bigger than the world’s current fishing fleet to put out and drag in all the collection membranes needed. It’s a heck of a lot easier and cheaper to just harvest solar and wind power.

  19. Svante
    April 11th, 2017 at 13:57 | #19

    Thanks Iconoclast. Granted, your first 5 barrels of the oil economy inefficiency is inherent to that economy. I’m not so sure that the next 15 barrels, perhaps more, don’t also apply to the ‘electrical’ economy. Oil derived energy for the most part is consumed by shipping, land and air transport, mobile plant, portable plant, plant in remote areas. How is that consumption to be met in the electrical economy?

    A change to grid supplied electrical energy will do for some of it, isolated renewable electrical power generation will cover a bit, due to comparatively tiny energy densities batteries won’t cover much at all that can’t be covered by grid/isolated supply, so presumably there will still be a very large requirement for some type of synthesised oil substitute: a liquid fuel economy. To your “further energy losses and inefficiencies at the stages of transporting, transmitting and storing energy” in this liquid fuel category add the energy losses inherent in its synthesis, and in its final consumption when combusted as fuel. I believe it’s not quite back from the get go to your given 20 barrels per 100 of oil equivalent inefficiency, but with similar losses in final combustion powered applications its not much better than that “20 barrels worth of useful work profit from that 100 barrels of oil”.

    How much would this need for transportable energy dense liquid fuels reduce the efficiency of the overall ‘electrical’ economy given business as usual attempting to carry on? I’m particularly mindful that agriculture turns oil into food. Sure, graziers may jump back onto horse back relatively easily, but it’s a tremendous leap for farmers to jump back off tractors.

  20. derrida derider
    April 11th, 2017 at 14:36 | #20

    I’ve supported nuclear power in the past and don’t regret it. Ex ante, it looked at least as promising a technological fix for AGW as solar or wind. I’ve certainly always believed that most of the safety arguments against nuclear aren’t actually that strong.

    Who knows – if we’d got serious about AGW twenty or thirty years earlier and spent the required bucket loads of development money around the world on SMRs, thorium reactors or even just Gen IV we may already have a cheap nuclear power industry.

    But then we’ll never know because history is path dependent. Ex post the only game in town is solar, wind, storage and smart demand management. So these guys really are dreaming.

  21. Ikonoclast
    April 11th, 2017 at 15:18 | #21


    Farmers won’t have to jump off tractors. Think of circular fields. There are many now around the world for irrigation reasons. The irrigation system sweeps around like a clock hand. At the center of circular fields you have can have a utilities hub including plug-in electrical power for electric tractors. Too easy.

    Ships? Sailing ships will again be possible for some purposes or at least sail-assist. Modern “sails” are vertical aerofoils or wing sails not those old canvas or nylon flappy things.

    Hard to see even wingsails on container ships of course. Maybe they can run on diesel and natural gas for a while since cutting all other fossil fuels (except avaition) will save a huge percentage of carbon emissions. Dare I guess 90% plus saving of the fossil fuels component?

    Shipping needs will decline. For a start there will be little call for supertankers as oil use will be down to 10% or less.

    We can re-jig our entire economies world wide to reduce shipping needs. A proportion of shipping needs will decline. Manufacturing may well occur in country of use via robot factories and printing which can happen in metal now. Printed cars and so on. Shipping of luxury goods may need to decline. There is also the issue of reducing our expectations a little and living more frugally within the planet’s capacity to support us.

  22. derrida derider
    April 11th, 2017 at 15:37 | #22

    “Shipping needs will decline”
    Really? You are going to be using quite a lot of natural gas to fill in the blanks with renewables for quite a while yet. And gas tankers are scarier than oil tankers (google “BLEVE”).

    I think in the long run shipping of manufactured goods will decline anyway for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with AGW. As world incomes converge manufacturing the comparative advantage of individual countries will become less (or if you prefer, capitalists will run out of poor countries to exploit). And as you point out the world economy is “dematerialising” – becoming ever less dependent on bulky material goods.

    But it’s burning solid carbon rather than nicely hydrogenated very-short-chain hydrocarbons that does the great bulk of the AGW damage. I’ll settle for a world where we leave coal in the ground but exploit our reserves of gas until they run out.

  23. Ben Heard
    April 11th, 2017 at 16:47 | #23

    @Moz of Yarramulla
    The work for NZ, by Mason et al, is very good and received the highest score in our framework.

    Had John actually read the study, he would have noted we treated two of the papers by those authors together, as the work is clearly tied together and mutually applicable. The evidence does not all need to be originally developed in just one paper. However as John has criticised our work having only read an abstract, I guess that misunderstanding is to be expected.

  24. Ben Heard
    April 11th, 2017 at 16:49 | #24

    Given how easy it is to reach me, I am amazed that anyone would write a review of a paper without actually reading it.

    John, would you like a copy?

  25. Ben Heard
    April 11th, 2017 at 16:59 | #25

    For about 40 more days, anyone can download both the paper and the supplementary material from this link.


    Had you asked before writing, I would have gladly provided this.

  26. Svante
    April 11th, 2017 at 18:51 | #26

    “At the center of circular fields you have can have a utilities hub including plug-in electrical power for electric tractors. Too easy.”

    What’s the packing efficiency of all those circles? How does topography and cropping regime affect that scenario? How big do these circles grow in the dry land cropping regions, eg expansive grain belts? How are row crops affected? There are rail and gantry systems already used in some high value intensive horticultural production systems, but this is not suitable on a bigger scale – batteries, extension leads… muscles? – it always gets back to the practicalities of energy dense liquid fuels, or starvation.

    How is aviation not affected? Cutting edge sail assist on ships is in fact constructed of flappy textiles: kites. All the commercial shipping sail assist options I’ve seen are only for courses off the wind. The actual trade winds are not aligned favourably or are absent from many contemporary shipping routes…

    You may be dreaming Ikonoclast, but still you’re doing far better than those who should actually be taking stock, planning, and implementing now. People don’t change their expectations of, nor their way of doing things tomorrow until they find themselves in a new paradigm built for them. See Susan Krumdieck vid on transition engineering (eg. Chapter 13 – Lecture 3 – Risks and Forward Operating, linked earlier but still in moderation).

    “There is also the issue of reducing our expectations a little and living more frugally within the planet’s capacity to support us.” – The planet’s capacity is diminished, continues rapidly diminishing, whilst our numbers explode. – There is something seriously wrong with the leger ongoing here, and the auditor won’t be welcome.

  27. April 11th, 2017 at 20:14 | #27

    There is a terrific visualisation of the current levels of waste in the energy system in the Sannkey charts for the US produced by the Lawrence Livermore National laboratory. (Easy to Google). You need theirs, as other producers of similar charts leave out waste.

    You might quibble that the convention that renewable energy generators are 100% efficient is misleading. But since the unconverted energy of sun, wind, and water has no cost and no environmental impact, the convention is defensible. The incentives to increase conversion efficiency are unaffected.

  28. Ikonoclast
    April 11th, 2017 at 20:27 | #28

    Gee, somebody better tell these people that circular crop fields don’t work.


    Of course this sort of farming can and does work ONLY IF adequate water and energy can be provided but this holds true for all farming. To make foolish claims that packing efficiency, lack of suitable topography in countries with great plains and cropping regime issues will be crucial limiting factors in the case is just plain wrong.

    You reveal your prejudged conclusion “it always gets back to the practicalities of energy dense liquid fuels or starvation”. No it doesn’t. Solar power will supersede fossil fuel power. The physics prove it will work. The economics already prove it. Solar power is cheaper already.

    “2016 was the year solar panels finally became cheaper than fossil fuels. Just wait for 2017” – Quartz Media.

    There are many challenges facing us. The combined effects of these problems might well still bring us down. But to blindly harp on that oil is irreplaceable when the facts are already telling us something different is to be impervious to the evidence about solar and wind power.

  29. April 11th, 2017 at 21:18 | #29

    @James Wimberley
    Grr. Sankey not Sannkey. Site here.

    Mark Jacobson’s thorough scenarios for 100% renewable energy come out at an overall efficiency gain of about 50% from a complete transition. There are are a lot of uncertainties here, as the technology roadmap is very hazy on a string of important but still secondary issues: cement, long-distance trucks, shipping, and aviation. Still, it’s clear enough on the big-ticket items, electricity generation, light vehicles and space heating. He must be in the right ballpark.

  30. Joris van Dorp
    April 11th, 2017 at 21:30 | #30

    The “Burden of proof” study has only one intention: to question the wisdom of excluding nuclear power from consideration when it comes to tackling global co2 emissions.

    IMHO, the study does a good job of showing that it is very risky to exclude nuclear power. We need to use anything and everything that works, otherwise our climate will be toast.

  31. April 11th, 2017 at 21:54 | #31

    “Nitrate = gas.
    Mining, roads, ports, ships = oil.”
    As I pointed out, in Chile the nitrates are mined in situ. Elsewhere, you really have to show some numbers instead of reciting a talking point. The 110 MW Crescent Dunes CSP plant uses 32,000 tonnes of salt for 10 hours storage (Wikipedia). So we are talking about one big shipload and three trainloads, once. For comparison, world demand for nitrogen fertiliser alone is over 100 million tonnes a year (FAO); they expect world demand for all fertilisers to break 200 mt by 2018. The salt in a CSP tank will cycle every day for 30 years, and of course it’s not used up but is available for fertiliser or another CSP plant at the end. Is your proposal that we should not use oil at all even for capital goods that will get us off fossil fuels? That’s suicidal.

  32. April 11th, 2017 at 22:03 | #32

    @Joris van Dorp
    “We need to use anything and everything that works.”
    No, emphatically no. We need to use to use the cheapest method or combination of methods that works. If we pick high-cost or untried methods (especially high-cost and untried methods, like SMRs), the risk of failure goes up. We could go back to sailing ships for trade, but the cost of everything in the shops would more than double.

    You have not taken in the lesson of Gemasolar, Crescent Dunes – a working commercial-scale plant – and Copiapo. I used to think that CSP was just a long shot, but SolarReserve have proved me wrong.

  33. Simon Fowler
    April 11th, 2017 at 22:13 | #33

    Personally I’m pretty confident that some time in the next fifty years we’ll perfect fusion power, at which point we’ll stop having to worry about energy. The problem is that we need to get there from here without destroying our environment in the meantime . . .

  34. Svante
    April 11th, 2017 at 22:18 | #34

    A quick glance at the satellite image at your wiki link would have shown you how little of that area is actually covered by the centre pivot irrigation systems. It’s Kansas and probably close to ideal agricultural land (which there aint much of, it would be nice to see a wider angled view of adjacent areas there) but no more than half the area is covered. You will also note that areas not covered show signs of cultivation.

    Centre pivot irrigation has its applications, and limitations, but you’ll also note in that image the linear machinery tracks left across those areas covered under the irrigator. If you know of areas where farm machinery other than the irrigator also turns in circular tracks over those areas, perhaps is plugged into the central point somehow for power, and is able to get into and work those 50% of irregular angular shaped areas outside the circles let us know.

    “..ONLY IF adequate water and energy can be provided but this holds true for all farming”, but you fail to state what alternative systems will work to generally power industrial farming field operations other than for a limited circular case.

    I did not harp on about oil being irreplaceable, rather I stressed the wide utility of energy dense liquid fuels. I earlier suggested they’d be synthesised, and how that would lower the overall energy efficiency of your suggested ‘electrical’ economy. This brought that scenario somewhat down to earth.

    Re Quartz reference: Solar power cheaper than fossil fuels when used for what application?

  35. Svante
    April 11th, 2017 at 22:35 | #35

    @James Wimberley
    “Is your proposal that we should not use oil at all even for capital goods that will get us off fossil fuels?”

    No. We should be mindful of it. Mindful of how it is embedded. Mindful of how it thoroughly permeates everything we have and do at present and has done so for as long as we can remember. We are soaked in it because there is nothing like it – yet.

  36. John Goss
    April 11th, 2017 at 22:49 | #36

    Ben Heard
    I read your full paper and I agree with Quiggin’s comments. You have set up your criteria so as to get a predetermined result. Your paper is a poor quality opinion piece masquerading as science. I repeat that I am amazed it got through peer review.

  37. Svante
    April 11th, 2017 at 23:01 | #37

    @John Goss

    Yes they’ve spun it.

    A few blatant instances I noted:

    “In September 2016, the loss of transmission lines in South Australia during a major storm caused disturbances triggering the departure of 445 MW of wind generation. Without adequate synchronous generation, the rate of change of frequency exceeded prescribed limits, resulting in total power loss to all 1.7 million residents, all business and all industry in the state [92]. The estimated economic impact of this event was AU$367 million [93].”

    Left out: The price gouging operators not switching generators on.

    Finally, we gave another score of one to scenarios that specifically attempted to account for, and adequately addressed, the impact of extreme climate events.

    Left out: Extreme siesmic events. Not to mention human error, civil strife, and war. For thousands of years. (Nuclear desirability is mentioned elsewhere)

    “Record-low dam levels in Tasmania coincided with the failure of network interconnection and triggered an energy crisis for that state in 2015–2016 [131”

    Left out: An imprudent government first drained the dams to make what they though would be easy money.

  38. April 12th, 2017 at 04:33 | #38

    @Ben Heard
    Is it worth my while?
    – JQ says it’s rubbish. John Goss and Svante, who have read the full article, agree. Their reasons look good to me.
    – 100% renewable electricity or close has been achieved, by some small states (Costa Rica. Paraguay, Iceland, Bhutan) on a year-round basis, and by Denmark and Scotland for days at a time. Arguments that reality is impossible are not convincing. Grid operators, who actually bear operational responsibility for security of supply, are resolutely pragmatic and do not support a priori limits on renewable penetration.
    – The abstract does not mention the negative learning curve for nuclear (Arnulf Grübler) or, my hobby-horse, CSP.
    Pro-nuclear advocacy is sliding into the territory of Velikovsky and the anti-vaxxers. The one informed pro-nuclear regular on this blog, Will Boisvert, seems to have given up.

  39. Collin Street
    April 12th, 2017 at 07:09 | #39

    Given how easy it is to reach me, I am amazed that anyone would write a review of a paper without actually reading it.

    The purpose of an abstract is to represent the broad outlines of the paper so that people can do a baseline judgement of the likely worth of the paper without reading them. As a researcher you should know this: not only have you been writing abstracts for years, you’ve been reading them too, and using them in the exact same way that JQ here is, to decide whether a paper is worth reading.


    If you can’t judge the paper — in broad outline at least — by the abstract then you did a bad job writing the abstract, no? That’s the whole purpose and role of the abstract. If the abstract indicates conceptual or methodological errors then the only conclusion a person can come to is that the paper itself contains those errors and is not worth reading. Or that you can’t write an abstract… but since the abstract is itself part of the paper

    I mean, noone expects the abstract to represent every detail of the paper. That would be silly, and also impossible. But if it doesn’t represent the broad/general thrust of the paper then the abstract is just plainly badly written: since it’s possible for a paper to have errors not only in its detail but also in its broad/general thrust, some errors in papers [the ones in the broad/general thrust] can be revealed simply by reading the abstract and there’s no need to go to the paper to see the same mistakes reiterated in more detail.

    Why do you need this explained to you? How much money do you earn, and why do you not understand some of the basic elements of the job you’re paid to do?

  40. John Quiggin
    April 12th, 2017 at 07:53 | #40

    @Ben Heard

    OK, so you relaxed the “all in one paper” requirement to “all by one research team”

    I’ll correct the post to note this trivial amendment. I’ve now read the full paper and it seems to me that the abstract is a fair summary, and that nothing in my post (with the exception noted) needs to be changed.

  41. Ben
    April 12th, 2017 at 10:05 | #41

    The authors have neglected to survey published work from the UNSW research group since 2014 which has substantially advanced the modelling capability and analysis. Modellers understand that you cannot do everything and attempting to do so risks making the model incorrect or computationally intractable. It is a careful exercise in trade-offs and reasonable approximations to the physical world. Modelling can be slow and methodical work and one may often be accused of not working at sufficient detail. eg, “Your solar data with 5 minute resolution is too coarse. You could miss a cloud event.”

    Full disclosure – I am a co-author of one of the studies assessed in this paper.

  42. Jonathan Sutanto
    April 12th, 2017 at 11:40 | #42


    Cool. This research paper: “What cost for more renewables? …” (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960148116302646) (pre-print here: http://ceem.unsw.edu.au/sites/default/files/documents/WhatCostMoreRenewables-preprint_0.pdf) could have with minimal extra effort, kept track of what maximum electricity transfers between the states would be required in order for the model to reflect some degree of reality. And consequently provided us with an indication on how much larger the transmission line interconnectors between Queensland, NSW & Victoria in particular would need to be. I know you mention it (on page 20… it’s just that most informed readers start asking that question on page 3), and it is also one of the Burden of Proof criteria (because it is obvious). I recognise that modelling is not trivial work; it’s just that given this one omission potentially radically alters the conclusions your paper reaches, this work could have been significantly better.

  43. Ken Fabian
    April 12th, 2017 at 11:40 | #43

    If the nuclear for climate option is to succeed it is necessary that renewables must fail? The presumption that they must fail – because there are still elements that need significant improvements and uncertainties remain – looks predicated on outdated data and dismissal of the real potential for those improvements to be realised.

    Two and three decades ago “renewables can’t do the job” was a compelling argument. But nuclear’s political support base, that might have pushed that line hard, chose instead to doubt and deny any real need to displace fossil fuels and chose to frame the whole issue, problem and solutions, as “green” and “left” and “fringe”, a losing combination that dealt themselves out of a front and centre role in the climate policy development game. It was not done like that to constrain nuclear but to sustain fossil fuels and avoid all that fuss and bother about climate stability. It doesn’t matter that nuclear’s wounding appeared to be “friendly fire”; there is nothing “friendly” about climate science denial for anything but fossil fuels. It’s the gift that keeps on taking. If nuclear for climate advocates want to be taken seriously they need to clearly and unequivocally break with the climate science deniers of the Conservative Right.

    I think the energy game has changed too much already for nuclear to deal itself into the Australian energy market; even if the LNP nuke spruikers can bring themselves to abandon Doubt, Deny, Delay and their pretend advocacy it isn’t steady baseload power nuclear is going to be competing with and for, it’s going to be the intermittent gaps left by intermittent renewables, it’s (initially) the 4 hour evening period that batteries are already competing for, and even that window can disappear if the wind is blowing. If nuclear struggles to be economically viable with 24/7 demand, how can it do so when solar owns the daytime market and batteries and wind are eating away at the evenings and overnight? It would take extreme market interventions to establish nuclear and special treatment to keep it’s production and income quarantined from an evolving NEM that is unlikely to favour it.

    I think storage, for homes and small businesses at least, should be put in perspective; even now it’s not an investment greater than that of a small car – and most households can afford several of those, and the investment will be largely and perhaps entirely recouped from energy cost savings and improved energy security. There will be some need for backup capacity whilst the market in batteries develops but nuclear is not going to be in a position to provide any. That will be from repurposing of existing fossil fuel plant where possible.

    It isn’t going to be a case of dropping in a 100% renewables system, complete, to replace the existing system, it’s a transition. Even before the next big bend in that course prediction is getting foggy; the end of the road will be next to invisible and that applies to nuclear options as much as renewables. That isn’t to say that foresight and planning can’t improve visibility and allow us to be prepared for the upcoming impediments; it would be good to actually see some being applied.

  44. Ikonoclast
    April 12th, 2017 at 12:24 | #44

    @Ken Fabian

    “I think storage, for homes and small businesses at least, should be put in perspective; even now it’s not an investment greater than that of a small car – and most households can afford several of those, and the investment will be largely and perhaps entirely recouped from energy cost savings and improved energy security. There will be some need for backup capacity whilst the market in batteries develops but nuclear is not going to be in a position to provide any.”

    This is a point I made a while ago in relation to roof-top solar (no more investment than small car and sometimes a deal less). Prices are trending to the point where roof-top solar, evacuated tube solar hot water and back-up home storage battery packs combined will cost no more than a small car. And a small car is a bit of a semi-non-necessity sometimes, especially as a 2nd family car when compared to such a very useful and productive combined home energy system.

  45. Ikonoclast
    April 12th, 2017 at 12:43 | #45


    “If you know of areas where farm machinery other than the irrigator also turns in circular tracks over those areas, perhaps is plugged into the central point somehow for power, and is able to get into and work those 50% of irregular angular shaped areas outside the circles let us know.”

    Can’t I suggest a logical innovation or possible development? It is not the case that everything we do next has to have been already done. We can innovate after all.

    Also, the “irregular angular shaped areas” in between circular fields are not the show-stoppers you seem to imagine them to be.

    1. The final formula for the answer = r squared x (4 – pi). Disclosure, I looked it up rather than dust off my rusty Senior maths.

    2. This area is not “dead” or unusable. Uses could and likely would include foundation/base for wind generator, solar panel “field-let”, service sheds, chook yards, market gardens, fruit trees, access tracks (albeit the whole area of the access is track will be new non-broad-crop area).

  46. Ben Heard
    April 12th, 2017 at 14:32 | #46

    @John Quiggin
    No, it doesn’t need to all be by one research team. Previous work by other research teams in a specific area that is sufficiently detailed, applicable and cited in the studies is fine.

  47. Mark Duffett (@MarkDuffett)
    April 12th, 2017 at 14:34 | #47

    @James Wimberley

    “100% renewable electricity or close has been achieved, by some small states (Costa Rica. Paraguay, Iceland, Bhutan) on a year-round basis”

    First I don’t think that’s true, at least for Costa Rica. Second, in any case, none of these have been achieved without massive dispatchable hydro and/or natural geothermal resources. These are not available in most of the world, including Australia.

    The burden of proof is legitimately lighter for nuclear because it doesn’t rely on models, it can point to reality: https://twitter.com/jmkorhonen/status/844819198308069377 For all the spluttering about ‘hopelessly uneconomic’, France was still a going concern the last time I looked. On this score, JQ has previously said the secret of France’s efficient construction has somehow been ‘lost’. I just don’t buy that. Is this a climate emergency or isn’t it?

  48. Collin Street
    April 12th, 2017 at 14:39 | #48

    Also, the “irregular angular shaped areas” in between circular fields are not the show-stoppers you seem to imagine them to be.

    Centre-pivot irrigation. Modern farming soil is an engineered product; if we’re short of it, it’s because we haven’t made enough. Actual physical space or the dirt occupying it is in no short supply.

    A person who thinks their thoughts on agricultural economics are worth something shouldn’t need this sort of thing pointed out to them.

  49. Ben Heard
    April 12th, 2017 at 14:40 | #49



    I agree.

    Note, we covered two papers from that research team.

    Note also, we singled one of them out as an example of a paper that was providing a great methodology and important directions, while achieving a low score in our framework, to highlight one of the deficiencies we see in the framework: in some cases good research work can achieve a low score when high-quality in one area but lacking breadth.

    Of course research is incremental and sequential. I take no issue with that. The issue of concern is when valid research leapfrogs to invalid claims on policy demands and directions well ahead of the evidence.

  50. Svante
    April 12th, 2017 at 14:52 | #50

    Modern farming soil is an engineered product

    … increasing in scarcity.

  51. April 12th, 2017 at 15:24 | #51

    @James Wimberley
    IMO the key thing CSP (CST+storage) has to demonstrate for any proposed location — particularly if not wedded to sufficient pumped hydro — is that it has the capability to ride through all of June July August (southern winter), given the known worst case of protracted overcast weather in the historical meteo records. *AND* (during average winter conditions) be able to meet a guaranteed capacity factor, say 200MW continuous for 260MW of installed capacity. That might be 200*24*3 for three days winter energy export (14.4GWh), or a molten salt energy store of 36 GWh in the form of heat (40% efficient heat-to-electricity). ….that surely must be a very big tank of molten salt to supply 130 tera-Joules (1GWh=3.6TJ i think).

    The beauty of “wind farms fully integrated with pumped hydro” is a better ability to ride through a typical winter in SE Australia: the wind regime is typically low in autumn but picks up in winter, even moreso for offshore wind farms, with their much better night-time energy export capability. Offshore wind never suffers from a temperature inversion at night, so the surface winds never decouple from the weather systems in the mid-tropospheric levels. Steady nighttime winds mean Australia can decarbonise its power grid much faster with offshore wind than with the same installed capacity of onshore wind. With offshore wind giving better night-time capacity factor in all seasons, the TWh of NEM’s aggregate pumped hydro “virtual battery” can be considerably downsized.

  52. April 12th, 2017 at 15:37 | #52

    @derrida derider
    It has been known by experts for at least a decade that w/o any oil or coal combustion, the known reserves of PETROMETHANE (cutely spun as “natural gas”) were enough alone to push Earth over 2degC into runaway climate change, when they are all burned. Leggett (see YouTube clip below) may have allowed a small fugitive emissions scenario, but he may also be saying that w/o any factoring in of unburned CH4 escaping we’re all gonna fry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dM656m8TeyY

  53. Ben Heard
    April 12th, 2017 at 16:47 | #53

    @John Quiggin
    Not a matter of relaxing anything. Again, if you read the paper closely, you can see that where authors sought to respond to a criteria, or describe a matter as having been addressed and note to be covered in the paper, we reviewed those sources. In the example we discuss in the paper, this was entirely unsatisfactory as the reference in no way adequately supported the further work.

    The study is not directed principally as a criticism of the studies we reviewed. In some cases that criticism may be applicable, and in others (Elliston et al as we highlighted) is certainly isn’t even though the score was low. The paper is directed at the notion that literature affirms that 100% renewable electricity systems are feasible with the necessary confidence that policy makers should or could factor out other forms of low carbon energy.

  54. John Goss
    April 12th, 2017 at 16:54 | #54

    I think Michael Gunter’s point is excellent. It is not yet clear which will be the most cost-effective way to deal with the intermittency of solar and wind over the southern winter.
    And the other complication is electric transportation. We will need twice as much electricity generated as we generate now to electrify transport so that is a challenge, but the batteries in electric transport will give us a means to deal with intermittency as long as we develop the appropriate smart systems and economic incentives.
    So certainly there need to be some clever solutions worked out to ensure that a 100% renewable energy system will not be excessively expensive, but there is no question as to whether we can achieve a 100% renewable energy system.

  55. Svante
    April 12th, 2017 at 17:07 | #55


    Also, the “irregular angular shaped areas” in between circular fields are not the show-stoppers you seem to imagine them to be.

    1. The final formula for the answer = r squared x (4 – pi). Disclosure, I looked it up rather than dust off my rusty Senior maths.

    I’m unsure which circles packing problem that one is for. Some number bounded by a square? The following two formulas ought better suit you. The highest efficiency (also looked up) apparently is the hexagonal lattice arrangement on an _unbounded_ plane: ηh = π/2√3 ≈ 0.9069 (wiki); ηh = 1/6π√3 ≈ 0.9068996821 (wolfram)

    But that is on planet maths. On this planet ‘ought is not is’. Why is that so? Numerous factors… some relevant to farming were mentioned earlier. Look again at your satellite image.

    2. This area is not “dead” or unusable. Uses
    The uses mentioned are not aligned with industrial scale modern agricultural practice which turns oil into food and currently can feed the world – more or less.

    It is not the case that everything we do next has to have been already done. We can innovate after all.

    “Build it and they will come” – a common misquote from the movie Field of Dreams – a fundamental observation of the transition engineering needed NOW to avoid chaos and collapse – see Susan Krumdieck. People generally expect of tomorrow what they expected of today, their expectations change because of change built about them.

  56. April 12th, 2017 at 18:28 | #56

    @Michael Gunter
    OK, so if CSP is your main supply, you have 3 days a year when you have to turn on a backup gas generator. (I assume they get overcast days in Nevada, if not the rainless Atacama). 99% renewable is good enough for government work. It’s better anyway than the availability of nuclear, where shutdowns for maintenance are unavoidable. In practice, security of supply will be met from diversity, and the degree of security will as now be balanced with cost.

  57. Collin Street
    April 12th, 2017 at 19:04 | #57

    … increasing in scarcity.

    God christ did you read a single thing I wrote? Did you understand it, or are you just running some sort of bullshit spinal reflex in your responses here?


    Agricultural land is a manufactured commodity. It is made from:
    + dirt
    + water
    + nutrient chemicals of various sorts
    + chemicals to ameliorate negative elements of the soil [acidity regulators, etc]
    + things to improve the structure and physical properties of the soil so that the desired crop can grow better [mulch, tilling, etc]

    Of these things, growing things in circles with gaps between them is wasteful, but it’s only wasteful of the first thing, the physical space. About ten percent in the best case, more plausibly fifteen [but as has been pointed out the “wasted” land can be used for other purposes; the actual loss is less than that].

    But — and this was the reason I made my post — things other than land aren’t wasted that way. We only till and fertilise the land we’re actually using, not the gaps between; there’s no increase in costs other than costs-of-physical-dirt.

    And we aren’t short of dirt. We have a planet full of it. Much of it isn’t currently ready for intensive cropping… but land-ready-for-cropping is something we make, out of normal land, of which we have no shortage as mentioned.

    A fifteen percent increase in land-used-for-intensive-cropping… this isn’t actually an insurmountable problem, because physical dirt isn’t anywhere close to the limiting resource on agriculture.

    [thus: centre-pivot irrigation: the land between isn’t wasted; before centre-pivot irrigation it couldn’t be used for cropping at all. It’s all bonus.]

    Land suitable for farming is — at present and for the foreseable — not something that’s inescapably “increasing in scarcity”. We have as much of it as we’re willing to make, and a fifteen percent increase in physical space requirements for cropping is not a vast problem.

    [but all this is extra-special stupid because we can just use longer power cords; there’s no requirement that areas accessible by tractor be non-overlapping!! Fifteen percent increase in the length of the cord — copper cable is not very expensive — turns your waste land into doubly-accesssible land and makes your problem go away.]

    [I have spent twenty minutes telling you things you shouldn’t need to be told. At my boss’s charge-out rates for me that’s… about sixteen dollars of cost you’ve put the planet to. Show me you’re worth it.]

  58. Ikonoclast
    April 12th, 2017 at 19:45 | #58


    The solution I gave is simply for a circle in a square. Thus, I implicitly accepted squares would lined up in grid fashion. You note that a hexagonal “meta-field” layout is more efficient for the circles with less space wasted for the prime purpose. It makes sense and so much the better.


    I would not so rapidly assume as you do that there is no use for the “dead areas” (my term). There will almost certainly be uses consistent with industrial scale modern agricultural practice. I mean both now and as it could develop in the future.

    Have you ploughed and sown large, rectangular dryland farming wheat fields? I mean fields in the size vicinity of 600 to 1,200 acres at least. I have in the Shire of Mingenew, Western Australia, about 4 decades ago. I wonder, do you imagine this form of farming was/is all completely efficient? (Yes, I know I needed a very large diesel tractor with doubled-wheels on the back. I will come back to that.) For a host of reasons, this form of farming has its own inefficiencies. Among them is the issue of ploughing and cultivating the “headlands”. I will let you look up Plowing Headlands on Google or Youtube. Woe betide the rookie who turns the wrong way. I did… once.

    When one gets right down to it, a circular field (of ample size on a flat enough or leveled plain) would bring all kinds of efficiencies. With modern technology, a boomed, tethered or even free, self-driving rig (an Unmanned Agricultural Vehicle) could very efficiently plough or cultivate a circular field. No need for a driver. The operator would probably set up the run and then manage “pit-stops” for seed grain and/or fertilizer when cultivating… oh hang on, these could be delivered by a closed pipe (air-propelled) or closed conveyor on an extending boom system.

    You say “People generally expect of tomorrow what they expected of today.” I mean really m8, who does that describe… me or you?

  59. Collin Street
    April 12th, 2017 at 21:40 | #59

    Or you could make the power cords 15% longer, and let the circles overlap.

    [or you could realise that physical-space is only a part of the cost of agricultural land, and a drop in land uitilisation of 10% doesn’t thereby mean a drop of 10% production for the same inputs. Or column A / column B, or what-have-you.]

    I mean, the reasons the circles with centre-pivot irrigation don’t overlap isn’t because it’s technically impossible, or even particularly difficult, it’s because land is so cheap that it’s not worth the hassle: the ongoing maintenance costs for the synchronisation gear and water-flow controls, etc, are more than the value of the extra production you could get from the “wasted” land in between.

    Oddly, I’m reminded that the same thing applies to politics: some people cost so much to explain things to that you’re better off leaving them in ignorance.

  60. Svante
    April 13th, 2017 at 01:58 | #60

    Less oil, no till; no alt-oil, no way. Behold, crop circles, the way. Where flat earthers are wont to plough up cloddy shibboleths all over round and round again there’ll be no harrowing after.

    Same for nukes.

  61. Moz of Yarramulla
    April 13th, 2017 at 08:24 | #61

    @Mark Duffett (@MarkDuffett) The burden of proof is legitimately lighter for nuclear because it doesn’t rely on models, it can point to reality

    So Mark, which countries use 100% nuclear electricity? That’s the standard Ben requires and you seem to be supporting.

    And as I pointed out above, Te Waka o Maui regularly gets 90%+ (average 98%) renewable electricity, but since it’s connected to the rest of the country and it’s cheaper to export in the winter and import (partially) fossil electricity in the summer they do that. It’s not because they *can’t* run 100% renewable, but it’s more profitable not to. Tweak the subsidies the other way and they’d like be running 120% or more renewable (limited by transmission capacity).

    I think it’s worth noting that we don’t have to switch abruptly to 100% anything for the electricity supply, and it would be expensive to try. What we can and should do is move incrementally away from polluting power sources, keeping whatever requirements from the current system make sense. That’s how other countries have transitioned between power sources.

  62. April 13th, 2017 at 10:45 | #62

    @John Goss
    John Goss perceptively asks who reviewed Heard et al. (2017). At a recent international conference on ‘Energy for Society’, Michael Jefferson, an openly pro-nuclear climate sceptic and renewable energy sceptic who co-edits the international journal Energy Policy published by Elsevier, revealed in a Q&A that one of his energy experts (reviewers?) is Ted Trainer, a retired social work academic. Was Ted was one of the reviewers of the Heard et al. article, which was published in another Elsevier journal, Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews? BTW, I used to publish frequently in Energy Policy, but will no longer submit papers there while Jefferson is editor.

  63. April 13th, 2017 at 10:49 | #63

    Full disclosure: I was a coauthor of at least one of the papers discussed by Heard et al. (2017).

  64. Jonathan Sutanto
    April 13th, 2017 at 11:49 | #64

    @Moz of Yarramulla

    Who is asking for 100% nuclear? To be clear, the argument is over why people insist on there being 0% nuclear. And is not even the important question; which would be how do we best get low gCO₂/kWh? If you have access to excessive amounts of hydro (& geothermal) then you probably should be up around 100% renewables, and for transport too. People can argue till the cows come home over research papers & the methodology under which they are assessed (though I haven’t seen a lot of objection to the actual criteria used in the Heard el al paper)… and then retreat to their previously held convictions.

    Meanwhile, over in Ontario: 7gCO₂/kWh (https://twitter.com/ParetoEnergy/status/851669758382452736) Which would solve a whole bunch of problems if repeated around the world.

  65. John Goss
    April 13th, 2017 at 17:33 | #65

    I don’t participate in peer review enough to know for sure, but it seems to me from observing the outputs that the peer review system is broken. Because the university rankings depend mostly on papers published/ cited, academics are submitting as many papers as they can, so the load on peer reviewers is enormous, so that would be bringing down the quality of peer review. And if a paper is rejected by one journal then one keeps submitting it until it is eventually accepted, and this again adds to the workload for peer reviewers.
    And there is less incentive for academics to do peer review as you don’t get much credit for it in performance reviews, as number of peer reviews don’t get into the rankings.
    So its a vicious cycle, and again inappropriate performance incentives seem to be to blame.

  66. Ben
    April 13th, 2017 at 18:07 | #66

    @John Goss
    I was involved in a paper submitted to journal A, which was rejected outright by the editor. The paper was submitted to journal B, whose editor thought it was good work but not quite suited to the journal. The editor suggested journal A and sent journal A’s editor a note recommending that the paper be considered. On second submission to journal A, the paper was accepted with no changes.

  67. David Allen
    April 13th, 2017 at 18:42 | #67

    Have the nuculistas explained where the bottomless pit of money for their pet hobby is located because I’d like some too?

  68. Ben Tarantino
    April 13th, 2017 at 20:46 | #68

    Don’t nuclear facilities have major insurance problems? Doesn’t the State always end up having to pass legislation that shifts risk from the nuclear cowboys to Joe and Jane Public?

  69. Svante
    April 13th, 2017 at 23:10 | #69

    @John Goss
    Because the university rankings depend mostly on papers published/ cited, academics are submitting as many papers as they can,

    Publish or perish and pad it out. With their focus turned to expansion and volume “The Conversation” has become an easy mark…


  70. April 14th, 2017 at 05:03 | #70

    @Mark Duffett (@MarkDuffett)
    “The Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) said that around 98.1 per cent of the country’s electricity came [inn 2016] from green sources.” Source.

    I am using the commonsense definition of “renewable” as including hydroelectricity. The weather system replenishes the water in the rivers without human intervention. That does not mean that hydro does not have its environmental problems, see Belo Monte and Narmada. Sure, it’s not available everywhere. Nor is anything else.

  71. Charles Esson
    April 14th, 2017 at 08:53 | #71

    Nuclear as a source of energy is now just white noise; hardly even warrants a response.


  72. Ikonoclast
    April 14th, 2017 at 13:37 | #72

    @Charles Esson

    The good old nuclear industry, lobby and hangers on. They make the three stooges look like three highly skilled experts. ROFALMFHO!

  73. Ike Bottema
    April 15th, 2017 at 03:51 | #73

    @Jonathan Sutanto
    Thanks for pointing out that nuclear has fared quite well in the CO2 reduction strategy. I’ll also point out that subsequent Renewables Procurements Plans undertaken as a result of the Green Energy Act are now admitted to be a mistake by the same government that introduced the GEA and the resultant RPP waste of money, time, and resources to Ontario. The article mentions nary a word as to the reason Ontario hasn’t sunk further: clean reliable 60% nuclear.

  74. April 18th, 2017 at 01:38 | #74

    I’ve just thought of another point of framing bias. Why pick 100% renewable? It’s a political aspiration and policy goal, sure, so worth thinking about. But it’s not an operational problem for a long time. The decisions taken now are about moving the electricity supply system to much higher levels of renewable penetration than we have today. For the sake of argument, let’s say 90%, though no large country reaches this at present. (Brazil is at 82%, mostly hydro). It’s obvious that allowing this amount of slack greatly widens your options, as you can use gas peakers. On general grounds, the last 10%, 5% and 1% of decarbonisation will be much more difficult and increasingly expensive. It may well be more cost-effective in emissions terms to put the money into something else like electric trucks or forestry. In any case, it is quite reasonable to leave the last-mile problem till later, when the technical options will have moved on. Just picking 100% renewable and finding arguments suggesting it’s difficult is a straw man argument.

  75. Ikonoclast
    April 18th, 2017 at 07:56 | #75

    @James Wimberley

    You are being logical again! 🙂 You know how the nuclear shills and boosters dislike logic. How can you be so unfair as to be logical?

    Seriously, of course you are correct. 100% anything is pretty much impossible in human endeavours. Try making anything 100% pure (not one part per billion billion of any contaminant). Try making anything absolutely 100% safe and so on. It’s an absurd metric only set when the PTB (powers that be) wish to block something they don’t want to happen. Sometimes they block for reasons of vested financial interest and sometimes they block for ideological reasons (which really comes down to retaining power).

  76. Fran Barlow
    April 18th, 2017 at 10:57 | #76

    @James Wimberley

    While I take your broad point — that ‘the last mile’ can be deferred, I’m not sure it will generally prove to be the most expensive or technically challenging. My own perception is that the first 50% of decarbonisation has been far more difficult. All the technologies and their interfaces with the grid had to be reconciled with a system designed to maximise industrial, commercial and residential demand at timesof convenience to ‘baseload’ plants.

    All of the new technology is/was in a process of refinement as the whole energy market is/was changing. Yet both storage and energy harvesting measures are improving sharply each year. Recently, bids on offshore wind in the North Sea fell to around €4.4MW for wind. At least one offered to supply at €0 — taking their chances that the wholesale market would bail them out.

    Really, I’d sooner limit FHC use to settings where it really is unavoidable even if doing so came initially at a premium price. There are ways in which CO2e can be drawn down and sequestered long term — e.g. algae … But we are about 1500GT of atmospheric CO2 above what is in the longterm interests of humanity, and seemingly about to lose large chunks of our glacial mass and permafrost. We must not allow that to happen, or treat mitigation as an e istential project on the only place in the universe where we know life exists. Every cost that forecloses this probably unique ecosystem from collapse is warranted — and would be even were a consequence that our quality of life would decline in some measurable way.

    Since nuclear power has been raised, some will recall that, like Derrida above, I regard the objections on safety as exaggerated. The other objections – principally schedule and mission (and in Australia, technical and regulatory) feasibility — seem to me to be far greater problems than safety, or even cost.

    While I don’t favour forced decommission of existing nuclear plants that are fully compliant with all reasonable safety provisions (particularly in the light of Fukushima) and regard bulk container shipping as a plausible target for nuclear engines — these ships are a terrible source of both CO2 and other marine hazmat — it seems very clear that if nuclear had a window of opportunity to grow, it was missed — probably in the late 1970s. By 2012 other low emission technologies had clearly elbowed their way in front and now continue to put nuclear out of any contest for market share of the domestic stationary energy market that could conceivably arise.

  77. Ben
    April 18th, 2017 at 20:12 | #77

    @James Wimberley
    Detractors have previously said that if we cannot get to 100% renewables, we need to choose a different path right now as we are barking up the wrong tree. The point of 100% RE scenarios is to test and evaluate the limiting case. Call it a framing bias if you like, or call it pushing the envelope.

  78. Dennis Horne
    April 19th, 2017 at 07:52 | #78

    I don’t know if this paper is intended to invoke discussion, or simply advocate nuclear generation. Had the world stridden that path years ago we might still be needing solar/wind, but less urgently. That would have been nice but we can’t go back.

    Two thoughts spin in my head: necessity is the mother of invention; politicians don’t see the necessity.

    What I would find helpful is something like a sequel to the book by the late David MacKay FRS:

  79. Moz of Yarramulla
    April 19th, 2017 at 09:37 | #79

    James Wimberley :
    Why pick 100% renewable?

    Because it makes the task of the “opponents” much harder. In theory we’re on the same side, but in practice I think there’s a bit of “when all you have is a hammer” going on.

    As you saw above when I suggested that the obvious comparison was with countries that have gone 100% nuclear … the comment was laughed down. Which is a suitable response, IMO, to any of the 100% demands. 100% requires insanity at the margins, for example collecting and disposing of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from freshly felled biofuel plants, not to mention the need to completely automate everything in order to eliminate emissions from humans.

    The amusing thing is that it’s much easier to get to 100% renewable than any other broad field except “zero emissions” since that’s a superset.

  80. witters
    April 22nd, 2017 at 21:37 | #80

    Now 410.28ppm C02. (I though you said the age of increase – and increasing increasinbng – was over…)

  81. Fran Barlow
    April 23rd, 2017 at 08:48 | #81

    @Dennis Horne

    I read the Mackay text some years ago, and was on the whole, impressed with it. It does make some plausible claims for nuclear power.

    The problem with the text is that its focus is, on the whole, concerned with the engineering or technical feasibility questions — which is scarcely surprising, given Mackay’s background.

    What it fails to deal with, and which is now considerably more plain than it was when Mackay composed it — were the falling cost of renewables, the speed with which RE can be rolled out, relative to nuclear, and the associated risk premiums on bankrolling new nuclear power given the uncertainties if both the approval processes and the longterm markets for power over the likely working lives of plants.

    In effect, bankrolling plants entails taking the longest of long positions over a very slippery commodity — power supply. Only states can contemplate that, which is why to keep nuclear vaguely competitive in a market where energy production costs are sliding sharply, those places where nuclear development is taking place are either wholly owned by states or given feed in guarantees. Yet in theory, most states avow ‘free market principles’ and in the UK and the US much of the ruling class is against an explicit price on carbon emissions.

    More generally of course, solutions to a low carbon power supply are needed far earlier than in the period 2032 to 2092 — the earliest that most nuclear projects in western countries could begin supply, so Mackay’s argument is rendered entirely moot by the failure of the technology to meet schedule and political feasibility.

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