Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Energy Collective debate is finally winding down

My debate with Stephen Gloor, an Australian pro-renewables engineer, seems finally to be winding down. I have been very ably assisted by Bill Hannahan, Rod Adams, and Nathan Wilson. This morning I wrote the following comment:
Stephen, you have in our discussion nicely illustrated the case against renewables, while offering your defense of renewable power systems. When confronted with the limitations of wind, you offered redundant dispersed wind installations as a solution. When it was pointed out that wind dispersion still left gaps in wind electrical generation, you offered solar-wind redundancy as a solution. Against the case that solar and wind both fail over wide areas, you offered another redundancy, the CO2 emitting use of natural gas as a backup to the not always reliable renewables system you call for.. Your solution also requires an enormous and expensive expansion of the electrical transmission system. I have called attention to a statement by a electrical transmission systems expert that an all renewables generation system would require 75 thousand miles of new transmission lines for California alone, in order to make the system reliable. Your solution to almost any renewable reliability problem is to build further, redundant renewable facilities, and connect them up with hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission lines.

You claim that nuclear construction it too slow, but nuclear power with its superior reliability, and its potential to be located near consumers, is far far more easily scaled to meet carbon free energy requirements, and to fulfill consumer demands than renewables are.

You never once stop to count the cost of the multiple redundancies and grid expansion you advocate. When confronted with the fact that even with the huge investments in wind, solar and natural gas facilities, there still would be uncovered problems like summer peak demand, in areas like Texas. Your response was to call for even more huge investments in energy efficiency. Thus you like other renewables advocates never stop to count the cost of your solutions, you simply recite the claim that nuclear is too expensive, while ignoring the fact that the renewables system you advocate would be far more expensive. You argue that reactors cannot perform load following, despite the fact that nuclear load following is performed as a matter of course in the French electrical system. You reject the possibility that nuclear research and a new generation of nuclear technology might lower nuclear costs.

Conclusions from our debate:
1. Renewable advocates have failed to make a convincing case that wind plus natural gas "backups" actually saves significantly more CO2, than wind alone. Money spent on wind generators is not justified unless a strong case exists that they actually save CO2.
2. Wind generators seldom operate at full capacity. Redundant wind generators are required to equal the capacity factor of reactors.
3. Even with multiple generators, natural factors such as day and night influence wind output. To achieve high renewable penetration, wind generators require daytime solar back up. The solar backup is a second form of renewables redundancy. In order to insure the availability of solar generated electricity during all daylight hours, heat storage is required, Heat storage requires redundant gathering fields, in order to insure that enough heat is collected during limited daylight hours.
3. All forms of energy storage, if used with renewables, require redundant generating capacity to service them. In addition the storage-generator unit is a further redundant electrical generator.
4. Even with significant redundancies, a high renewables penetrated grid requires significant natural gas backup. Natural gas backups thus form a further redundancy.
5. Renewables seldom can be located close to energy customers. Transmitting electricity from renewables generating facilities to customers usually requires new and expensive transmission lines. The cost of those transmission lines are a hidden cost of a renewable generation system, Using renewables output from other regions as a backup to local renewables requires still more new transmission lines. These interregional transmission lines that would not be required by an all nuclear grid, are transmission redundancies required to support a renewable power system.
6. Construction of nuclear power plants use significantly fewer materials than the construction the construction of solar and wind facilities require. The United States must compete with growing Asian economies for construction materials, and the current trade balance places the United States at a significant and growing disadvantage in this competition. Hence the cost of power generation facilities construction can be expected to rise during the next 15 years, with the cost of renewables rising more than the cost of nuclear power. The rise in materials cost, will also effect the cost of transmission lines, and this will effect the cost of an all renewables system far more than the cost of an all nuclear system.
7. Renewables advocates when confronted by the limitations of renewable energy and its high cost, fall back on a further redundancy, and that is efficiency. Efficiency advocates point to potential energy efficiencies, but seldom attempt to understand why these efficiencies are not already being adopted. Efficiency advocates often believe that naming an efficiency and describing it as a low hanging fruit is the same thing as demonstrating that it is a low cost alternative to building generation facilities. This is not in fact the case.
8. Renewables critics of nuclear power never reference renewables cost and compare the total cost of an all renewables electrical system, with the cost of an all nuclear electrical system. But judging from the current cost of renewables generation facilities, their capacity factors, and the added cost of new transmission lines needed to bring renewable generated electricity to distant customers, and the likely inflation of the cost of materials, the total cost of an all renewables system is likely to be several times higher the cos of an all nuclear system.

2 comments:

Frank Kandrnal said...

Extreme material usage in solar/ wind power systems will divert materials from housing construction and dramatically increase the cost of housing by inflated material cost.
As it stands today, the housing is already totally unaffordable to large population worldwide.
Therefore, the hyped up solar/ wind dream perpetrated by self proclaimed environmentalists will produce more misery to many people already deeply sunk in destitute.
As a result, the poor in the world will be denied of decent housing and of electricity as well because both will be too expensive and very much beyond their reach.

John said...

Discussing these issues with renewables advocates is like playing a never ending shell game. Under which shell (unstated redundancy) has the gap in their coverage or costs been hidden? Your response to Stephen Gloor flips most of those shells over at once. Nice.

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