Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Second Annual Great Issues in Energy Symposium: The Nuclear Option

Comment by David Lewis on the Energy Collective:
When your colleague Joe Romm appeared onstage at Dartmouth with Ernie Moniz recently, he told the audience so many whoppers about solar power, whether baseload power was even required anymore, and about the cost of nuclear power, that Moniz, one of Romm's former teachers, felt he had to tell the crowd that what Romm was saying was "untrue". Romm kept on with the whoppers. Moniz used his last opportunity to speak to quote someone Romm respected to see if that would slow Romm down. The exchange between Joe Romm and Ernie Moniz:

Romm: "...you can do it by pushing that technology into the marketplace, and going down the experience of the learning curve, and learning how technologies work in the marketplace, and getting economies of scale, and that from my perspective is the best route and the most successful route - that was the point of the IEA report, that if you really want to bring down the cost of technologies, get them into the marketplace and do innovation...."

Moniz: "I will just "neutrally" quote my colleague John Deutch, who says, "learning curves are the refuge of scoundrels".

Looking at Romm, Moniz then says "you can argue with John".

Romm: "I would never argue with John".

Could you ask Joe Romm if this means he accepts that he is a scoundrel, and report back to us here at The Energy Collective?
A Hat Tip to David Lewis who has dared to say what many of us have thought about Joe Romm, and indeed the renewable energy crowd.


Rod Adams said...

Though I am not a Joe Romm fan, I actually do not understand this particular Deutch quote. Having been a manufacturer and responsible for cost analysis of a number of important programs in another job, I can verify from personal experience that learning curves are extremely important.

Anyone who has ever done any task more than once should recognize that there are time and materials efficiencies that can be gained on the second, fourth and subsequent repetitions. That is especially true in repetitive manufacturing where investment in proper tools can result in great cost savings as long as the volume is sufficient to amortize the cost of investing in the tools.

Of course, there is a limit to the cost reductions that can be achieved by learning and tools - no matter what you do, you will never reduce cost below the cost of the material inputs. With large scale renewable energy systems, there is an inevitable quantity of material that must be expended and much of that material will remain idle far too often to allow it to repay the loaned money used for construction without large subsidy payments or very expensive electricity sales.

Charles Barton said...

Rod, the issue is the use of the words "learning curve" to cover up costs issues in the energy field. In am earlier post on Chinese nuclear costs, I discussed the Chinese view of the learning curve in nuclear construction. If I recall correctly, the Chines anticipated a modest 20% reduction in large reactor construction cost due to the learning curve.

Cost reductions due to the learning curve may not outweigh other inflationary factors that push the cost of new energy construction higher. A report published by Sargent & Lundy in 2003, "Assessment of Parabolic Trough and Power Tower Solar Technology Cost and Performance Forecasts" argued that the cost of new Solar Thermal power construction would drop dramatically between 2003 and 2013. "The Learning Curve" explains the cost decline forecast. Projects being slated to begin construction this year, scheduled for completion by 2013, do not track well with the Sargent & Lundy cost forecast. Indeed, projected costs for 2012-2013 are dramatically higher than the Sargent & Lundy estimated 2003 costs. Despite this evidence against the Sargent & Lundy projected cost trends, reports written this year, calling drastic increases in ST generation capacity, still base cost estimates on the 2003 Sargent & Lundy cost trend estimates. A good explanation why ST advocates have ignored evidence that the Sargent & Lundy report was wrong about the effect of ST learning curves on ST costs, is that "learning curves are the refuge of scoundrels."

trkdirect said...

I recently heard this podcast with Romm about climate change and the failed climate legislation. In many ways he is spot on, so I am looking at him much more positively now. Nuclear was not mentioned in this podcast. http://commonwealthclub.org/archive/10/10-07romm.html

I just can't understand the hostility that many on the left have toward nuclear. Steward Brand calls this "legacy" resistance to nuclear. That's all it is. At any rate, I thought what Romm said about climate change was quite good. Brownie points to him for that.


Charles Barton said...

Rasmus, At onr point I admired Romm, for his climate stance, but his behavior toward people who support nuclear power is insufferable. He censors comments from nuclear power supporters, and when we have demonstrated to him, that some of his anti-nuclear statements contradict well attested facts, or violate the rules of logic, he refuses to budge in his position.

DocForesight said...

Charles, would you agree that Romm embodies what would be defined as an 'ideologue'? In view of the undeniable facts, he remains steadfast in his denial. Seems to fit.

Charles Barton said...

Doc, you have hit the nail on the head.


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