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More Wind and Solar Power Perversely Locks In Fossil Fuel Generation

Skip renewables for zero-carbon electricity and go directly to nuclear

NuclearPowerLightBulbVaclavVolrabDreamstimeVaclav/DreamstimeEmissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is contributing to the rise of average global temperatures. Assuming that man-made climate change could become a significant problem for humanity during this century, switching to zero-carbon energy technologies to generate electricity would help prevent some of the harms stemming from addtional warming.

Based on this chain of argument, many folks concerned about climate change are seeking to mandate the deployment of solar and wind power as replacements for the coal and natural gas currently used to generate most of the world's electricity. Will this work? No, argues Michael Shellenberger, President of Environmental Progress, over at Forbes. Contrariwise, he explains that the inherent variability of solar and wind will perversely "lock-in" fossil fuels making it harder and more expensive to "save the climate."

Why? Basically because power generators will have to build and maintain a parallel set of fossil fuel plants to supply energy to make up for shortfalls in renewable energy when the wind falters and the sun goes down. It's not quite the same thing as having to pay for and build two separate power generation systems, but it's closer than most advocates for renewable energy would like to acknowledge.

There is one exception to this necessary fossil fuel lock-in: carbon-free nuclear power. Like conventional fossil fuel generators, nuclear power plants could step in when renewables go dark, but without emitting the carbon dioxide that is contributing to man-made climate change. Shellenberger then makes what should be the next exquisitely obvious point: Since nuclear power is zero-carbon and can supply all the electricity as needed, why build any wind and solar electric power generation at all?

The case of Germany illustrates the point. While pursuing its famous Energiewende (energy transformation) the country has spent $222 billion deploying wind and solar power while simultaneously closing its nuclear power plants. The result is that its carbon dioxide emissions in recent years have been rising instead of falling.

But aren't nuclear power plants much more expensive than renewable sources of electricity? While it is true that the costs for wind and solar generation have been falling, it bears noting that even as renewable generation vastly expanded in Germany, consumers in that country are now paying twice what they did for electricity in 2000.

In contrast, China is building a number of new nuclear power plants at about one-third the cost of what can be done in over-regulated Europe or the U.S. Had ideological environmentalism not turned against nuclear energy in the 1970s, Australian economist Peter Lang calculates that nuclear power would likely have outcompeted most fossil fuel generation at one-tenth nuclear's current cost.

Given the technological and fiscal realities pointed out by Shellenberger, one can hope that the folks concerned about climate change will eventually give up their reactionary insistence on wind and solar power generation and instead support the deployment of new safer nuclear power generation technologies, such as molten salt thorium reactors, small modular reactors, and traveling wave reactors.

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  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Australian economist Peter Lang calculates that nuclear power would likely have outcompeted most fossil fuel generation at one-tenth nuclear's current cost.

    I guess Ron Bailey didn't read Nora Ephron's Silkwood.

  • CE||

    What could possibly go wrong?

    Governments are noted for their ability to plan ahead. Surely they will take appropriate precautions to safeguard nuclear waste that stays radioactive for 10,000 years.

  • IceTrey||

    Waste from MSRs only lasts 300 years.

  • khm001||

    Idiots like you are exactly why nuclear power isn't as prevalent as it should be.

  • Merl3noir||

    He makes one error, in overlooking other technology developments. Tesla and other are working on Battery systems to smooth out differences between peak power generation, and peak power demand.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    While this is true, this definitely falls into the "we'll believe it when we see it" category. I'm not saying I don't believe that something can be done to create a large scale storage system for power... but what it's going to look like, how it will work, what it will be made of, and how much energy is going to go into the front end is yet to be seen.

  • ||

    Even then storage and production are separate issues. There's nothing that says the batteries can't be charged faster, cheaper, and more on-demand using oil (or nuclear) rather than solar or wind. Imagine if you didn't have to build the Keystone XL pipeline and could just charge the batteries at or near the "pump head" and ship them. Shitty production systems aren't going to be saved by a more ubiquitous and streamlined storage and transportation system (see coal).

  • Ron Bailey||

    All: In regard to batteries, Shellenberger points out in the article to which I linked:
    It would take 696 storage centers the size of Tesla's in Australia to provide just four hours of backup power for the Australian grid — and cost $50 billion;
    It would require 15,280 storage centers the size of Escondido to provide just four hours of backup power for the U.S. grid — at an estimated cost of $764 billion.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Battery tech will just get better and better if the market wants solar with battery backups enough.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Yes, it's possible, but with our current technology that improvement looks fairly incremental.

    When we look at nature's battery technology: oil and coal, there's a reason it took millions of years to pack that much energy into the molecules. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it looks like it's a long way off. And in the meantime, nuclear can fulfill that energy need now.

  • ||

    I've posted this before but:

    Imagine a battery that you could recharge in ~10 min. on every other street corner. A single charge could propel you and a couple tons of cargo 300 miles. The battery can be easily transported by a single adult several miles on foot. As long as you aren't careless around open flame, the battery is completely safe to handle. If you spill its contents or get them on you, it's not a big deal and while you shouldn't drink the contents if you imbibe them or get them in your eyes or mouth, it can usually be remedied with water and/or vomiting. If you employ your battery around open flame with sufficient care, it can be used to cook food, dry clothing, and warm shelter for weeks or even months, depending on conditions.

    Now imagine replacing the "battery" with any current alternative.

  • ||

    Do you know of anyone who markets a "water can" wink-wink, that works like the old gas cans?

    Yes and no. I have a few vented jerry cans for potable water sitting around that seem to be material-consistent, but I use them for camping. Unfortunately, I bought my can before realizing the whole clusterfuck taking place at the dispensing end and have since modified it with some coaxial coupling and terminator caps I had on hand.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The tech for fossil fuels was incremental too.

    The special interests and government have just been fighting alternatives to nuclear and fossil fuels for decades, they are just set in their ways at this point.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||



    Battery tech will just get better and better if the market wants solar with battery backups enough.

    Aye, there's the rub. Government has distorted the energy market (among others!) so badly that this will never happen.

  • Greg F||

    Battery tech will just get better and better if the market wants solar with battery backups enough.


    [sarc] Until it reaches infinite energy! [/sarc]

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Naw. Just better batteries.

    [sarc] people take your comments seriously[/sarc]

  • Greg F||

    Naw. Just better batteries.

    [sarc] people take your comments seriously[/sarc]


    Just people like you who have no science background and base your beliefs on a hope and a prayer.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Greg, just like people like you who have no science background and base your beliefs on a hope and prayer... that science and tech will fail.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    No, people like him know that there are real physical limits on batteries. Wishful thinking doesn't change that.

  • Mesoman||

    Your faith in miracles is misleading you. Battery chemistry and electrodes has been a subject of constant work and research for over 100 years. Some significant improvements were made in the last 30 years or so, but the rate of increase is unlikely to be sustained.

    Semiconductors have gotten better at the "Moore's Law" rate, but that doesn't mean every technology will increase as well. Physics creates real limits, or airplanes today would go 10,000 mph and use little fuel. Are you aware the processor gate speeds have hardly changed in over a decade, because it hit a hard scaling limit?

    Also, you need weeks of battery storage before you can get rid of the traditional power plants. Otherwise, an extended weather problem can cause the grid to go dark, and that would cost enormous amounts of money and also kill a whole lot of people if it lasted very long.

  • BYODB||

    A huge battery might help, but not enough to make secondary generation (That's really the primary generation, of course) unnecessary. Variability isn't the only problem with wind and solar, just the most obvious.

  • Sevo||

    "Tesla and other are working on Battery systems to smooth out differences between peak power generation, and peak power demand."

    They'll be delivered after Model 3 production hits its stride, and they'll come with an auto-function feature which crashes.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

  • Sevo||

    From the link:
    "As usual, it's important to remind everyone that even though electric vehicle fires are heavily represented in the media, EVs don't catch on fire more often than gasoline cars. According to the National Fire Protection Association, more than 150,000 gasoline car fires occur in the U.S. every year."
    I note they didn't bother to point out any ratio between the power sources; we're to take it on their word.
    And, hardly any gas-powered car 'reignites' three days later.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Exactly. Also, different EVs use different types of batteries. I believe the Tesla in particular uses a few thousand laptop batteries in their vehicles. There's a reason why the FAA was touchy about using LiOn batteries on planes.

    Also, cars with gasoline fires don't tend to burn for six days straight.

    Unlike gasoline, which needs a spark before it ignites, lithium cells contain their own ignition systems: large stores of energy that are transformed into heat and sparks when they short circuit. They also contain solvents that are powerful fuel for fires as well as oxidized metals that can feed oxygen to a blaze, complicating efforts to extinguish it.

    "This is a perennial problem with lithium-ion batteries," said Prashant Kumta, a University of Pittsburgh engineering professor who has studied battery chemistry.

    While the battery industry has made huge strides in ensuring cells can perform safely during normal operation and recharging, there is little that can be done once cells are torn apart in a violent collision, Kumta said.
  • NoVaNick||

    They'll be delivered after Model 3 production hits its stride,

    But before or after the planned community on Mars is built?

  • MichaeI Hihn||

    After the Mars mall opening, but before the roadster comes back from the asteroid belt loaded down with interstellar hotties.

  • Sevo||

    Musk jokes almost write themselves...

  • CE||

    If he weren't already digging a deep hole for himself under LA.

  • Rhywun||

    After the Mars mall opening

    "Spluh!"

  • DamnDirtyApe||

    Rube Goldberg comes to mind...

  • Rossami||

    They are "working on it". They've been working on it ever since the original Tesla (Nikola). When measured by commercially-viable solutions, they are not materially closer now than they were back then.

    Here's an exercise for the home reader. US electricity consumption is well over 4,000 terawatt-hours per year. While it's not exactly even across the year, even is a decent first approximation. Round down for convenience and let's call it 10 terawatt-hours a day. Not only do you have to save enough energy for nighttime but you have to save enough for a multi-day adverse weather pattern. Statistical evidence to date says that a wind and/or solar farm needs to be able to store 3-5 days of energy to smooth out those differences. But let's be really generous and assume you can get by with only 2.

    How many batteries does it take to store 20 terawatt-hours of energy? How much would that many batteries cost? How many tons of rare earths are required for that volume of storage? How does that number compare to the total known global reserves of those heavy metals?

  • Rossami||

    Answer key:
    - Assuming the Tesla Powerwall 2, you will need about 1.5 billion batteries.
    - The cost of the batteries alone (no wiring, no management software or infrastructure, no land to build them on or buildings to house them, etc) at current prices is $8.7 trillion.
    - Even at the current, relatively low levels of battery use, we are annually using up approximately 4.5% of the world's known reserves of lithium and about 3.5% of the world's known reserves of cobalt. The US vehicle industry alone would require 1500% of the world's lithium and 1000% of the world's cobalt (and about 30% of all other rare earths). Note that you'll be strip-mining critical habitats all over the world before you're even one-tenth of the way to your goal.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You guys are advocating massive power generation facilities and massive battery storage facilities which is not necessary.

    Groups of homes can micro-grid their solar generation so the only power lines need will be locally or maybe small areas within states. No more need for national grid systems.

    Plus, it makes strategic sense to protect more people and businesses having power rather than a few hundred power generating plants that can be attacked and shut down.

  • Rossami||

    Have you ever studied the early days of electricity generation? Edison was an advocate of the decentralized model. Every home and business had their own generator. There's a reason we don't do that any more.

    But, no, my analysis does not assume consolidated power generation facilities or storage. To a first approximation, the total number of terawatt-hours is the same whether generated at one plant or 1 million and whether stored in one battery or one million. If you want to get past the first approximation, economies of scale ensure that you will need MORE storage capacity and MORE materials in the decentralized approach. The only question is how much more.

  • John||

    You are advocating spending 8.7 trillion on batteries when we can generate all the power we need right now without them.

    Maybe you are being sarcastic here. But you do realize that is insane right?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    John. People pay for power every month. If people want to spend their money on batteries and solar panels instead of paying some power company then that is not insane.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The reason that every home does not have a generator is because early generators were huge and expensive.

    Solar provides free energy with a cost for the equipment.

    Fossil fuels are a cost for the fuel and a cost for the equipment. Fossil fuels have had decades to pad costs for power grids, power companies, fuel, and cabling otherwise its upfront cost would be huge too. You forever pay for electricity that you use.

    Solar systems typically cost $25,000+ and really have no maintenance costs for small systems. If your typical power costs with fossil fuels per month cover the cost of your solar system, you are ahead of the game.

  • ChuckNorrisBeardFist||

    And the solar cells last how long? 10 years? Than have to be replaced. You also still need storage than again has to b replaced. Also, they are only viable in certain areas like my hotter than hell Texas.

  • Bob Straub||

    There are other benefits of large power systems with lots of interconnection; among them is reliability. I like my pretty-much-perpetual electric power. If there's a problem, switching systems divert power from another network while the problem gets fixed. You could do that with a million local generators, too, but then they need to be interconnected, which defeats one of the purposes of localization. Even on a small scale, if you want a few neighboring local systems each to provide some extra power for a failed neighbor, it would be nice if their 60 Hz currents were all in phase with each other, another wiring problem.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    That system is only reliable because of the billions pumped into it via higher electricity rates and government over-regulation.

    If you do a micro-grid then these small micro-grids could be connected for reliability. The individual home power systems never need to be connected.

    As with a garage door spring breaking, it does not affect your neighbor. It affects you and you adjust until your garage door is repaired.

    You adjust until you home solar (whatever energy source) system is repaired.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    It makes no difference whether that 4TW is distributed or centralized; it's still 4TW. The batteries required remain the same. The raw resources remain the same.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Batteries are only required as backup during low sunlight periods. A distributed solar system spread over long distances can theoretically provide power 24 hours a day. A centralized system only needs to provide power to the users in that closed system.

  • Mesoman||

    Yes, but then you have to transport that power very long distances - as in half way around the world. That transport is not free, and the infrastructure would create big vulnerabilities to disruption from natural disasters, warfare or terrorism, not to mention just mistakes.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    We call low sunlight periods "night." It happens 12 hours every day on average.

  • Mesoman||

    Which actually makes the number of batteries needed much higher.

    This is your second remarkably ignorant post. I suggest you study a little bit about electricity and energy, to avoid more embarrassment. I'm an electrical engineer, but you don't need to get anywhere close to that amount of knowledge to avoid these silly posts.

    The problem: the smaller the grid, the more likely are long term failures of generation, because you are not piping in power from places that are likely to still be generating.

  • CE||

    Can't they just use the Pacific Ocean as a battery?

  • khm001||

    How? Oh, right. By being the giant welfare queen he is. Pro-tip: if the only way you can get investments for your ideas is by forcing people to pay at the barrel of a gun, your idea sucks

  • CE||

    Little known fact -- those who refused to evacuate around Chernobyl have lived longer than those who did.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    CE, you would need to provide a citation to that claim because radiation poisoning really does a number on human cells.

  • DajjaI||

    Oh, ok. Makes sense.

  • BYODB||

    Of course, if you're going to use nuclear as backup for variable solar and wind you could also just forget about the solar and wind and...just use the nuclear power.


    A bridge too far?

  • BYODB||

    And while Ron makes this point, it's such an obvious point that it really begs the question of why on Earth would we use wind and solar if Nuclear is the backup? It really doesn't make any sense at all. I can only assume the reason is because watermelons are so intent on solar and wind being in the mix for absolutely no reason that you have to throw them a bone (at a huge pointless cost) just to be heard at all.

    However, since these people are rabidly against Nuclear I don't really see a reason to throw them a bone. They truly believe in Unicorns, and there isn't a way to reason with that kind of crazy.

  • John||

    It would be nice if people would stop pretending that solar and wind come without any negative effects on the environment.

  • BYODB||

    Exactly. Watermelons and actual Greenies are both retarded and pretend that solar panels spring into existence without extensive mining and production of chemicals and rare materials that are finite. The same is true of nuclear energy, of course, but it never seems to be noticed regarding solar panels.

    Wind generators are probably the most neutral, but it's also the most variable and isn't at all viable over most of the surface of planet Earth. If you live on the Coast, great, but most places don't have constant strong winds.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Solar panels don't use as much rare earth materials as you think but as with oil, we have no idea how much rare material there is.

    Better tech in solar can move solar to be better efficiency, be more recyclable, and be easier to manufacture.

    With wind generators, you would be surprised how a little wind at night will provide enough power for your nighttime power needs.

  • Rossami||

    Actually, we do know how much rare earth materials they use and, as with oil, we have a pretty good idea how much of that material there is. Based on the latest reliable report I could find (which used 2015 data), there are 14 million metric tons of proven reserves for lithium globally, 7 million metric tons of cobalt and 120 million metric tons of all other rare earths. Yes, there are surely additional unproven reserves somewhere. But note that even just to reach the reserves we know about, you'll be strip-mining ocean floors and tearing up habitat around the world at levels that not even the most rapacious coal miner ever considered.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    How are we supposed to know how much rare earth material is underground?

    Once again, if there is money in finding more rare material and its there people will find it.

    Plus, maybe tech will get better so less rare material will be needed. Aren't cell phones requiring less and less rare material these days?

  • ||

    Wind generators are probably the most neutral, but it's also the most variable and isn't at all viable over most of the surface of planet Earth. If you live on the Coast, great, but most places don't have constant strong winds.

    It's actually still a big question how neutral they are. Original forecasts of wind farms and farm density contained a lot of 'spherical cow' issues. It turns out that you can't just stack fences of mills endlessly down a given farm and expect no changes further downwind. More mixing can and does keep warmer air nearer the surface of the Earth and the combination of factors (a.k.a. climate change) means that any given windfarm isn't guaranteed to provide ROI.

  • BYODB||

    When I say 'neutral' I mean in terms of what they are actually physical constructed of. I don't mean their many side effects are 'neutral', just that making them is probably not as bad as most of the alternatives. Unfortunately, that consideration doesn't matter a whole lot since they also are pretty shitty at generating electricity.

  • NoVaNick||

    Wind turbines kill lots of birds

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The big ones do but not small wind turbines on homes.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    And they are less efficient and require even more rare earths, not to mention most people would not be happy living in a neighborhood where every house has its own wind turbine. The noise alone would drive people batty.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    They have small wind turbines that are not what you see at the industrial scale.

    Mine is the size of an old roof ornament but looks like high tech.

  • John||

    The belief in solar and wind as anything except a wasteful party trick is a religious conviction with people like Bailey. You might as well try convincing a Catholic that God hears their prayers without the Rosary.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I have excess electricity from my solar panel array during the day and my small wind turbine power nighttime power needs. Batteries are the technology weak point. The only real maintenance I need to do is keep panel glass clean and clear of debris.

    If subsidies to fossil fuels were ended a long time ago, who knows where alternate energy tech would be today.

    Writing off solar is not fair since fossil fuel electricity generation had decades of government support to make it fairly efficient. No solar subsidies but let the market decide.

  • ||

    If subsidies to fossil fuels were ended a long time ago, who knows where alternate energy tech would be today.

    You sound like Tony. What subsidies? The majority are land rights grants (meaning you assume the oil belongs to the government and the government's job is to keep it in the ground) and even then, fuel taxes on the backed are far in excess.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Are you fucking serious? What subsidies to fossil fuels is what you are asking?

    Depletion Allowance – allows a deduction from gross income of up to ~27% for the depletion of exhaustible resources (oil, gas, minerals).

    Energy-related services provided by government at less than full cost – direct investment in energy infrastructure; public research and development.

    Trade restrictions.

    Preferential tax treatment of fossil fuel companies.

    Government backed loans for nuclear power plants.

    Taxpayer monies used to finance security at nuclear power plants and storage facilities (Yucca Mountain is one big subsidy).

    The Keystone Pipeline is owned by TransCanada and the USA gov used eminent domain to subsidize its construction.

  • ||

    I see, you've gone with parroting Tony.

    When the petroleum industry puts in a pipeline using eminent domain and fair market compensation, it's evil and needs to be ended, but when wind farms continuously and repeatedly use eminent domain and an IOU from Mother Gaia to acquire land, we need to end subsidies to petroleum.

    You either want to end all subsidies and hope that the market will choose inferior technologies that you like or you just want to end "subsidies" (and ignore disparate taxation) to the corporations and technologies you don't like.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yea. I am nothing like Tony.

    I would be happy to discuss this with you but you have to read what I write or its like I am talking to a wall.

    I said end ALL subsidies.

    The Constitution does not allow government to seize land for anything but public use and TransCanada is not a US government organization.

  • ||

    Yea. I am nothing like Tony.

    The only difference is a hypothetical unknowable and the factual similarity is that you present taxation as the just and right state of affairs and legal abrogation of the tax code as some manner of ill-gotten gains to be done away with in order to attempt to generate (more) market equality where none exists nor necessarily should. There's no substantial difference between "Preferential tax treatment of fossil fuel companies." and "Close the oil loophole!"

    Just like when Tony does it, you don't actually point to any part of the tax code or deals or sums of money and say "This is a subsidy!" you just list off some vague, potentially factual ideas as proof of... I dunno... your feelings or something.

  • Sevo||

    "Are you fucking serious? What subsidies to fossil fuels is what you are asking?"
    I'm serious. I read this bullshit constantly and you just proved it again.

    "Depletion Allowance – allows a deduction from gross income of up to ~27% for the depletion of exhaustible resources (oil, gas, minerals)."
    The same as any business depreciates its plant.

    "Energy-related services provided by government at less than full cost – direct investment in energy infrastructure; public research and development."
    Cite missing

    "Trade restrictions."
    What?

    "Preferential tax treatment of fossil fuel companies."
    Cite missing.

    "Government backed loans for nuclear power plants."
    Yep, fossil fuels right there.

    "Taxpayer monies used to finance security at nuclear power plants and storage facilities (Yucca Mountain is one big subsidy)."
    See above.
    .
    "The Keystone Pipeline is owned by TransCanada and the USA gov used eminent domain to subsidize its construction."
    Big whoop!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I listed subsidies and you said "Big Whoop!" or you said fossil fuels have them too.

    They are either subsidies or they aren't. I listed subsidies.

    I am advocating cutting ALL subsidies, including to solar and nuclear. Let the market decide.

  • Rossami||

    None of the things you listed are subsidies which would have affected your hypothetical about whether or not alternative energy tech would be any different than currently.

    For example, depreciation is a universally applicable tax rule. It benefits everyone the same and is a wash in your requested comparison. Use (and abuse) of eminent domain to support energy transportation is another universally-applicable rule. The Keystone Pipeline benefited from it but eminent domain was used (and abused) to a vastly greater degree for conventional electricity transmission lines and hydropower. Generously, that can be called a wash.

    Government back loans for nuclear power plants would be a differential subsidy but it is one that negatively affects fossil fuel companies. There is no plausible scenario where eliminating that would have created a higher level of alternative energy.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Fossil fuels have had decades to become the established energy choices for governments to push.

    Companies get to write off depreciation but no companies gets to write off depreciation of something they don't own. Fossil fuel companies don't own the fossil fuels in the ground. Companies have rights to mine or extract oil/gas/coal. Nuclear power plants don't own the atoms they are using to create heat to power generators.

    We on Reason spent days bitching about Kelo v. City of New London yet when it comes to the Keystone pipeline, this is okay? TransCanada is not a US government agency and eminent domain should not apply. With that being said, I am fine with a pipeline across land with rights purchased via free market.

    While it is theoretical on whether solar would be more popular but for massive government interference in the energy market, I chose solar and wind over conventional public power usage.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Funny how you're not bitching about all of the eminent domain required for the massive transmission infrastructure needed to bring your uneconomical "renewables" to the point of consumption. In addition to that we have preferential "must-take" provisions in many states with the RFP requirements which mandate that the utilities MUST buy wind/solar above dispatchable sources which are much, much more valuable.

    Wind & solar are subsidized ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE more than conventional (read real, economical) energy sources. And further to your whine about Yucca Mountain above, the nuclear industry has PREPAID for all of its disposal.

    DOE has been collecting the fees since 1983 under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, which requires operators of nuclear plants to pay a tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour to the government in return for DOE taking responsibility for spent nuclear fuel.

    Over the years, utilities have paid the fees, but the government never took the waste.

    The program ran aground in 2010 after the Obama administration backed away from the planned nuclear fuel repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

    Now what were you saying about "subsidies?"

  • Ron Bailey||

    J: Did you actually read what I wrote?

  • DamnDirtyApe||

    Of course he didn't.

  • John||

    Yes. And you act like these things are viable sources of energy. They are not.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I have solar and a small wind turbine on my home with batteries to provide backup. It provides a viable source of energy.

    In fact, when the neighborhood power goes out from storms I am one of the few homes that is still lit up.

  • BYODB||

    So, you cut the power lines to your house huh?

    Or...are you doing exactly what everyone has already said: using solar / wind as backup generation that wouldn't last more than a handful of hours?

    There's nothing wrong with supplementing your power usage through solar / wind, but I note that if solar was as viable as people claim there wouldn't be mandates and subsidy to build these things on newly built houses.

    Sure, every form of energy seems to be subsidized at the moment but we're already pretty sure that if subsidy for all sources of power suddenly disappeared solar and wind would be economic non-starters as soon as you do it. At least every study I've seen indicates as much, but I guess your personal anecdote about a single housing unit that still relies on fossil fuel generation could be compelling to someone.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I could cut the lines. I choose to sell my extra power back to make power cheaper for other electricity users. I produce electricity far cheaper than my power company does.

    Clearly you don't know what you are talking about. I never need incoming power. My power usage via the power company is zero. Every month of every year. My sale of electricity goes toward my new solar panels when my current ones reach end-of-life.

    I know its scary for some people to completely change their routine. I also cut the cord with tv completely and that scares people too. I have not seen a commercial at home in 8 years. I still watch my few favorite programs when I buy the season off Appletv.

  • ChuckNorrisBeardFist||

    First congrats, I'm glad it works for you. It might also work for me in my devil's armpit area with constant sun. A lot of areas it won't. A lot of areas won't let you put up a small wind turbine either.

    Do you recycle your solar panels? Rare earth's are poisonous to the environment. You stated panels, what about your inverter? Finally, you say you have to clean the panels - I have a two story house where I can' even get a freaking plumber to go on to - how many homeowners would clean their own roof?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Most of the USA would be able to generate plenty of power from solar on their homes and businesses.

    As long as you have visible light hitting the solar panels, you have electricity.

    My panels are 15 years into their life and running just fine. They have paid for themselves after 7 years or so. I use a squeegee on a long pole to clean the panel glass from my ladder.

    Some good tech would be a windshield wiper on each panel that remotely goes down and up to clean the glass.

  • CE||

    You mean the article?

  • mtrueman||

    "and the sun goes down. "

    And this is from our esteamed science editor.

  • Juice||

    You can't explain that.

  • mtrueman||

    The sun actually doesn't go down according to scientific consensus. It stays up in the sky radiating energy.

  • khm001||

    Much clever. Very brain.

  • SoCal Deathmarch||

    "Assuming that man-made climate change could become a significant problem for humanity during this century..."

    Nope. I'm not "assuming" that at all. There is ample evidence that warmer temperatures would actually be a net positive for humanity. Not to mention that man-made climate change "science" has been perverted and manipulated to such a degree that anyone without an agenda, or with half a brain, should dismiss this hokum with extreme prejudice.

  • sarcasmic||

    Look. Capitalists are getting rich from selling fossil fuels. That alone is proof that climate change is real and bad.

  • John||

    And the people getting rich from government subsidies of solar and wind are pure as the driven snow doing God's work. Tony assured me of this.

  • sarcasmic||

    Subsidies come from taxes, which is how we all pool our resources towards a common goal.

    Whereas capitalists exploit workers and customers alike.

    So money obtained by threat of force is actually voluntary, while money obtained by voluntary transactions is actually force.

    See? Up is really down if you think about it.

  • Necron 99||

    Damn that's good, I stealing for my proggie sister-in-law.

  • John||

    Solar does not strictly speaking use the sun for electricity. It takes advantage of the photo electric effect to create electricity from materials exposed to the sun. Eventually the materials run out of spare electrons and no longer produce electricity. So they are no more renewable than coal. Solar panels burn up materials producing electricity just as surely as coal plants burn up coal. Saying solar panels produce electricity from the sun is about as acuurate as saying coal plants produce electricity from fire.

  • SoCal Deathmarch||

    Not to mention that the raw materials and manufacturing required to produce the solar panels and associated battery storage devices (the utility I work for just completed a $60 million 30 MW lithium ion battery storage facility) are far more destructive to the environment than the coal industry.

  • John||

    No. Batteries and solar panels are produced by magic elves and sink back into the earth from which the cane when they wear out. Only racists who hate Mother Earth think they require all kinds of resources to produce and become toxic waste once they wear out.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Batteries and solar panels are very recyclable. Technology will only make that better.

  • Juice||

    Eventually the materials run out of spare electrons and no longer produce electricity.

    OMG *facepalm*

    No.

    Think of the conducting electrons in a circuit like a chain that circles around the whole circuit. They're normally just kind of sitting there unless something pushes the chain. In the case of photovoltaics, it's light that's pushing the chain. In a traditional generator, it's magnets.

  • John||

    Solar panels wear out. Eventually the material will no longer produce electricity. If they didn't, panels would last forever. They don't

  • John||

    Solar panels degrade by 1% a year. You are consuming the panel not the sun light

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Almost 95% of solar panels are recyclable at end-of-life. Technology will just make this better.

    Coal is not recyclable unless a new technology comes along to capture CO2 and turn it into cheap usable energy.

  • DamnDirtyApe||

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Huge fire risk but its an alternative to explore.

  • ||

    Almost 95% of solar panels are recyclable at end-of-life. Technology will just make this better.

    So, 95% yield at what multiple of cost? Unless the panels recycle themselves this is a meaningless statistic. Plastic is 100% recyclable, but it's production is so cheap, effective, ubiquitous, and benign that you can't recycle it at profit and is a big reason why it's employed for waste-to-energy incinerators.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Solar panels are mostly glass, aluminum/steel, copper, silicon material, and a bit of rare earth metals.

  • ||

    Solar panels are mostly glass, aluminum/steel, copper, silicon material, and a bit of rare earth metals.

    God, you're becoming worse than Tony on this issue. You say this like it addresses, in any way, what I said.

    Computers are made of similar parts and are, similarly, almost 100% recyclable, when was the last time you bought a computer made of 100% recycled material? They don't exactly exist as the logistics of transferring them all back to raw materials and running them into the production chain isn't justified by any cost/energy/material savings. It's easy to build a $10,000 fully-recycled computer, but the market for $10K fully-recycled computers is likely vanishingly small. Moreover, the more pressure you exert to rectify the problem only optimizes the supply and production chain for raw material production, which does nothing to fix the problem of unusable heaps of matter.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Clearly you don't know what you are talking about and you hate solar. Good luck with that.

    Good luck paying for power while my costs are far cheaper than yours. Even better for me is that I charge my Tesla on my solar system, so I have zero fossil fuels costs and this adds to my savings for powering my home and transportation. Sweet deal for me!

    That and good choices with Bitcoin, allow me to roll in the $$$.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Bragging about being a subsidy queen really helps on an ostensibly libertarian site.

  • colorblindkid||

    Everything about this. Yes. Nuclear has always been the only feasible solution, yet stupid anti-science Luddite environmentalists ruined the planet in their inane brainless crusade against it.

  • John||

    The greens banned the recycling of fuel rods and in doing so created a high level nuclear waste stream where before none existed. They care so much about the environment they are willing to destroy it to save it.

  • sarcasmic||

    Environmentalists are like watermelons. Green on the outside, red in the middle. In their hearts they're commies.

  • John||

    Come Sarcasmic it is just a coincidence that every solution ever offered by the Greens involved government control of the economy.

  • sarcasmic||

    They have always had the same solution. Only the problem changes.

  • John||

    Yeah I noticed that too.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Recycle nuclear waste? Into what?

    You can only put so much used nuclear material back into reactors until the fission reaction becomes unpredictable. Its why the US Navy changes out reactors every 5-25 years depending on vessel.

    I am actually mentioning less control by government where nuclear has massive government regulation.

    Some people can discuss energy without being an "environmentalist".

  • DamnDirtyApe||

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Interesting tech.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    He said reprocessing of fuel rods, the lack of which turns them into waste. No different than banning recycling of your subsidized solar panels turns them into waste.

    Reprocessed fuel is functionally no different than prime fuel.

    Some people can discuss energy without being an "environmentalist".

    Not you.

  • Rhywun||

    it bears noting that even as renewable generation vastly expanded in Germany, consumers in that country are now paying twice what they did for electricity in 2000.

    Feature, not bug.

    The Dems wants this bad. I seem to recall their last leader promising exactly this.

  • John||

    What kind of a retard thinks solar is a good idea in Germany?

  • khm001||

    Democrats.

  • SoCal Deathmarch||

    "Electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket"

    The fuck face is on tape saying this. But who are we to argue? It's "necessary".

  • Sevo||

    "it bears noting that even as renewable generation vastly expanded in Germany, consumers in that country are now paying twice what they did for electricity in 2000."

    I would also like to see how much of Germany's power is not imported from places who are willing to make it by burning stuff. IOW's how much 'pollution' Germany is 'exporting'.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Here's why I think nuclear will never be the sole generation method: once you light up a reactor, it's always on producing a steady MW output. You get enough of them together, you've got a constant power output that is going to be way too high at certain points in the day and could be too low at others. This is going to cause all kinds of pricing problems. The market would have to drastically change to accommodate widespread nuke power.

  • SoCal Deathmarch||

    I work at a gas turbine power production utility, by no means am I an expert on nuclear power. However, correct me if I'm wrong, I do believe modern nuclear plants have the ability to increase and decrease load by raising and lowering the rods. So yes, these are steady base load units, but they can ramp up and down based load requirements.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    That could very well be the case, I'm no expert either. I live in New England and the nuke output for this area is a flat line compared to the ups and downs of every other generation type.

  • khm001||

    "I'm no expert either"

    Didn't stop you from commenting, though, did it? It's amazing how non-experts know so much that just isn't so.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yes. More power is created by raising the rods to allow for more fission reactions thereby creating more heat to produce hotter steam. That energy is transferred to turbines to produce electricity.

    Dropping the control rods slows the number of fission reactions.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Depending on how long it takes for that to happen, that may not be such a drastic market change.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    It does not take long but depends on the reactor model.

  • ||

    More power is created by raising the rods to allow for more fission reactions thereby creating more heat to produce hotter steam.

    Are you guys morons? Did the reason forum get hit with some kind of stupid ray? Once you've got the steam, power production is fully separated from fission. We've driven by powerplants where steam is billowing out of the cooling towers and I've had to correct my kids that it's steam and not smoke. Not only can you vent the steam entirely, you can bias the rotors of the steam turbines to spin faster or slower in real time. Jesus fucking Christ I'm a biochemist and I know this.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Oh good, an expert appeared. Given that electricity markets price power on five-minute intervals, how much of a change, if any, will need to be made to accommodate the amount of time it takes for one of these reactors to raise or lower its power output?

  • ||

    Oh good, an expert appeared.

    I'm pretty sure I said I was a biochemist, not an expert. If it took hours to get steam turbines up to speed, nobody would use them. Considering it could be done, hot start, in less than 20 min. back when it was steam powered locomotives and guys shoveling coal, I can't imagine things have gone downhill dramatically since then. Here's an oriental guy doing it, fully narrated, in less than 6:43. Technically, he does it twice (once to check the overspeed cutoff).

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    I'm pretty sure I said I was a biochemist, not an expert

    Well you stopped in and called everyone else morons like the experts do, you'll have to forgive me for assuming you were one.

    Here's an oriental guy doing it, fully narrated, in less than 6:43

    So the market may not need to change or at worst go back to 10 minute intervals.

    Then I guess the only question left is whether or not the government will really let generators off the hook on maintaining reserves.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Nuke is not the answer. Any problems cause thousands of years of radiation contamination. Its not worth the risk. Especially since terrorists would love to get their hands on used nuke material to set off a dirty bomb.

    Nuke on subs is awesome until something better is found.

    We should be looking for new better energy sources and collection methods. We're not going to do that if government subsidies nuke power and pushes that as the main energy source.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    End all subsidies to fossil fuels and "alternate" energy and let the market make batteries better, solar better, and some other unknown energy tech.

  • Tony||

    Nuclear power, because limited liability is a natural right.

  • Ron Bailey||

    T: Insurers will likely have no problem issuing affordable policies for the newer techs. Get activists and regulators out of the way and let's see.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    But without activism, we wouldn't be spewing gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere to recycle your sunday paper.

  • Tony||

    Get we maybe not get regulators *too* out of the way when it comes to things that can explode and cause millennia-long eco-disasters?

  • Ron Bailey||

    T: New techs designed not ever to "explode." Some in fact would burn up the nuclear wastes produced by the old-fashioned reactors, yielding low level radioactive wastes that decay to harmless in a relatively short time.

  • khm001||

    The worst environmental disasters have ALL been caused by the people you place an idiot amount of trust in: politicians.

  • NoVaNick||

    ITs true that the ecotards want us to be paying a lot more for electricity, not have any transportation choices other than public transit, walking, or biking, and live in ultra dense cities. For them, humans are a cancer on mother earth, and we must pay for our sin.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Just as a side note, does anybody else remember the knicker-twisting, pearl-clutching, and hand-wringing that scuttled low-level radiation for food sanitation?
    It springs to my mind with every E. coli outbreak we hear about. And we're hearing about more and more of them as time goes on.

  • John||

    I remember that. It is still amazing how stupid people can be

  • loveconstitution1789||

    If you have ever taken a radiation course, you would see what radiation can do to cells. Look up Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    I am simply due regard to food safety is not a bad thing. Radiation changing DNA and cells can be devastating to organisms. It seems like a safe way to kill dangerous bacteria and viruses.

    With some technology, reactionaries don't want to discuss the tech but freak out about it instead.

  • NoVaNick||

    They have been irradiating food in other countries for years to prevent bacterial infections. I remember milk cartons used to say "irradiated" on it back when I was a kid, which they still do to convert vitamin D to its active form. Probably stopped labeling it after Three Mile Island.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yeah, radiation scares people because you cannot see it. You only see the effects.

    Technically, microwave ovens irradiate food using electromagnetic radiation and most Americans are used to that tech.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    But, but, but nuclear power is bad! It's dangerous! And all those technological strides that have been made since the 70s? You must ignore them!! Nuclear power is just bad, mmkay?

    This is what all those people who "believe in science, not superstition" constantly say. LMAO

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Nuclear is very safe but when a huge problem happens the radiation exposure can devastate a region for thousands of years.

    The US Navy has never had a nuclear accident as an example of high standards.

    Chernoble, 3 Mile Island, Fukishima are examples of nuclear being unsafe.

    We don't need nuclear anymore, except maybe on submarines and carriers.

  • Sevo||

    "We don't need nuclear anymore, except maybe on submarines and carriers."
    Cite missing.

  • NoVaNick||

    There's still no evidence that anyone died from TMI. The workers at Chernobyl were killed by the radiation, but the evidence that people living near it got cancer is inconclusive. Modern molten salt reactors don't have this problem anyway, so it shouldn't be a factor anymore.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Its not even about deaths. Chernobyl is a wasteland. Nobody lives there to test your inconclusive claim.

    The Fukishima area has just now down to "acceptable radiation levels".

    Modern molten salt reactors don't even have the time tested tech that water reactors do.

    No nuclear is 100% safe and its not worth the risk. Solar is probably the safest. Fossil fuels are fairly safe except for pollution.

  • ||

    Chernobyl is a wasteland.

    "Nobody lives there" because they are not allowed, not because it is uninhabitable.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    No Geiger counter readings?

    The area is irradiated. The power plant still leaks radiation.
    Chernobyl radiation

    You are a fool if you even visit that place for more than an hour. There are very deadly isotopes in the soil and surrounding trees, animals, and structures emitting alphas, betas, and gammas.

  • Greg F||

    You are a fool if you even visit that place for more than an hour. There are very deadly isotopes in the soil and surrounding trees, animals, and structures emitting alphas, betas, and gammas.

    The article says:

    In Europe, average natural background exposure by country ranges from under 2mSv annually in the United Kingdom to more than 7mSv annually in Finland.


    How many of the items in the "Levels of radiation in Pripyat and Chernobyl now" chart would result in lower dosage than living in Finland?

    Hint: It is a number greater than 0

  • loveconstitution1789||

    7mSv annually in Finland has the key word...."annual"

    All the exposure rates listed are "per hour". Plus, some radiation absorption is cumulative.

    In other words, NO you don't get more radiation living in Finland than the Chernobyl area.

  • Atlas Slugged||

    Your skin will block alpha emissions and beta is easy enough to block too (provided you do not allow either to be ingested). Its only gamma rays that would concern me.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Betas can be accidentally ingested by breathing in tiny specs of vegetation or dust you kick up, that are contaminated with Betas.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Ingesting Alphas are a problem. But you took a "radiation course" so of course you know that. Hint: it isn't radiation that's a problem, it's IONIZING radiation that's a problem.

  • khm001||

    "Chernobyl is a wasteland."

    False. It's teaming with life.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    We don't need nuclear anymore, except maybe on submarines and carriers.

    If we stick with fossil fuels we don't need nuclear anymore.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Let the market decide.

    Cut subsidies to nuclear, fossil fuels, and alternative sources and let the market decide.

    Nuke powered subs have huge advantages for staying submerged. Carriers needing to refuel marine fuel oil constantly makes them sitting ducks.

  • IceTrey||

    Carriers are nuke powered too.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yes Ice, US carriers are nuclear powered too.

    I was giving one example of why America chose to make carriers nuclear powered rather than fuel oil powered.

  • IceTrey||

    TMI was caused by human intervention in the failsafe mechanism. The failsafe was working perfectly until some idiot turned off the pumps.

  • khm001||

    "Chernoble, 3 Mile Island, Fukishima are examples of nuclear being unsafe."

    Chernobyl is one of the prime examples politicians cannot be trusted with serious technology. Through the typical callous disregard for human life politicians have, they destroyed an area and killed dozens of people. The Three Mile Island and Fukushima incidents, contrary to your assertions, show just how safe nuclear power is. These "disasters" resulted in exactly ... ZERO deaths.

  • mtrueman||

    "and instead support the deployment of new safer nuclear power generation technologies, such as molten salt thorium reactors, small modular reactors, and traveling wave reactors"

    I thought the standard models that have been in use for more than 50 years are perfectly adequate. It's going to be hard work convincing people to invest billions in these experimental designs.

  • IceTrey||

    No, pressurized water reactors are terrible. MSRs for instance are walk away safe.

  • IceTrey||

    I just read that in 2019 Bitcoin mining will consume more power than all the solar panels produce.

  • renewableguy||

    https://goo.gl/vSWQJK

    Germany 777,905 2015

    Germany 775,752 2016

    Ron Bailey has been sloppy in his conclusions. Germany has been holding pretty steady and has not increased co2 emissions.

  • BreakthroughEnergyGuy||

    New technology is being born that will produce 24/7 solar energy. It taps ambient heat, a huge untapped reservoir of solar energy larger than earth's fossil fuel reserves. See CHEAP GREEN 24/7 at aesopinstitute.org

    Engines can run on ambient heat and scale to replace power plants. See NO FUEL PISTON ENGINES and FUEL FREE TURBINES on the same site.

  • Zman||

    First, repeal the Price Anderson Act and have all nuclear power plants get their own free market insurance.

    Second, require nuclear power plants to permanently deal with their own nuclear waste on their own property, rather than shifting this responsibility onto the government at taxpayer subsidized expense.

    Third, don't provide any government or ratepayer guaranteed loans for nuclear power.

    Then get back to me and show me how nuclear power still isn't prohibitively expensive, and show me how many private investors are willing to invest their own money in building nuclear power plants.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Fourth, refund the 31BB extorted from nuclear operators for waste disposal.

    Fifth, abolish the NRC and allow permitting of new nuclear sites in 5 years or less.

    Sixth, charge renewables the full cost of their intermittency including negative pricing when they are producing undesired power.

    Then get back to me on how nuclear is prohibitively expensive.

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