Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Economist Energy Debate

A British Journal The Economist is sponsoring an Internet debate on 21st century energy issues. This is a step towards public recognition that the transition to a post-carbon economy is the most important issue facing human society during the first half of the 21st century.

There are problems with the debate, and this is to be expected as the media tries to formulate an understanding of the problems we face. The proposition or question is: “This house believes that we can solve our energy problems with existing technologies today, without the need for breakthrough innovations.”

Now the question is ambiguous, because it does not define what exactly constitutes a new technology, or a breakthrough innovation. In nuclear technology is a LFTR or a PBR new or old technologies. But Romm would view them as new technologies. The case would depend on definition.

A second misfortune is the assignment of a major role in the debate, that of arguing for the affirmative, to Joe Romm, who has been bitten by Amory Lovins and is now among the living dead. The topic looks like something of a Joe Romm setup. Joe has been arguing this position against Generation 4 nuclear technology advocates for sometime. This debate appears to be a part of the RMI (Amory Lovins) - Joe Romm attempt to exclude the rapid deployment of mass produced small reactors as a major part of the energy crisis solution. Romm would describe this as break through technology. I do not agree with that. Rapid deployment of Generation 4 nuclear technology is possible if we stop doing business asa usual. Romm's argument against the Generation 4 nuclear case is that it cannot be accomplished given a business as usual approach. But given an energy crisis of World War II type proportions, why would we not take World War II type approaches and commitments to accomplish a successful resolution?


jimcrea said...

“Romm's argument against the Generation 4 nuclear case is that it cannot be accomplished given a business as usual approach.”

This argument is ridiculous on its face in that China and South Africa have developed and are deploying PBR now.

Deployment is the key. Without real life experience, the design of the Gen IV nuke is very constrained.

Good development is a process of refinement where the product is improved in small steps and were operational experience is the guiding factor. Failure is a good thing as long as it is not catastrophic and contained. It is a road map for future improvement.

As long as the design does not endanger life and limb or the surrounding country side deployment should be considered.

As and example, in the case of the Chinese PBR, they are using steam turbine electric generation to get this reactor out into the field. This is a compromise. For this reactor type, the Brayton cycle gas turbine is most efficient and most effective. But they will use the Brayton cycle in future generations of the PBR.

Small reactors are essential for this evolutionary development approach. Design evolution is difficult if it takes 20 years to deploy a reactor.

If a Gen IV reactor is developed in the same way that a new car model is perfected then the reactor development approach is correct.

As a compromise, to allay the fears of the US population, deployment of the first Gen IV reactors might be sited in the wilderness and its power transmitted to the Grid via HVCD transmission lines. But getting the Gen IV nukes in the field is top priority for their eventual perfection.

Charles Barton said...

Joe Romm was bitten by Amory Lovins 25 years ago, and is now one of the living dead. When it comes to energy issues, Romm does not let facts stand in the way of what he believes.

KLA said...

Charles, next time you debate with Joe, challenge him like I did with another anti-nuke. I proposed a simple experiment. Both of us spent 1 hr in a medium sized room (12x15x8 feet) where we release the waste of 1 days worth of electricity of a typical US household (24 kWh). The waste is to be exactly 1 year old. I will spent it with nuclear waste (55 milligrams) and he with the waste of all other sources (US energy mix without nuclear) of about 17 kg CO2.


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