Thursday, February 24, 2011

21st Century Nuclear Challenges: 1 Mass Deployment, C. Renewables

The 21st century nuclear challenges series looks at the challenges facing any plan to impliment any massive deployment of nuclear energy in 21st century America. In the first section of the series, Part A looked at the challenges posed by coal. A strong case can be made that any rational plan for energy in the 21st century United States will call for the elimination of coal as a major energy source. Part B of this first section looks at natural gas, and finds doubts that ambitious plans for expanding the natural gas supply can be realized. In addition the usefulness of natural gas as a carbon mitigation tool must be questioned. Thus the future value of natural gas as an energy/carbon mitigation tool cannot be determined at the present time. We now must turn to the potential of renewable energy sources, to replace carbon emitting fossil fuels.

In 2008, Google had a plan to solve our energy problems by 2030. The Google plan, to be charitable, was not very good. In fact had Google come up with a business plan of equivalent quality we would have been doing all of our searches on Yahoo and Bing. It would appear from googling "Google plan 2030" that the 2030 energy plan is not exactly a hot activity for google, and in terms of current Google 2030 activity, the plan is as dead as a doornail.

The Google plan relied on renewables and efficiency to replace fossil fuel energy sources, and indeed more efficiency than renewables. Now, like every true, red blooded American, I am a great believer in efficiency, but I do not believe that efficiency can replace coal fired electricity generating plants. It is just not going to happen. No doubt there were some very intelligent people at Google - Google reportedly has a lot of those - who realized that the 2030 plan would never work.

The 2030 plan claimed it could reduce
* Fossil fuel-based electricity generation by 88%
* Vehicle oil consumption by 44%
* Dependence on imported oil (currently 10 million barrels per day) by 37%
* Electricity-sector CO2 emissions by 95%
* Personal vehicle sector CO2 emissions by 44%
* US CO2 emissions overall by 49% (41% from today's CO2 emission level)
Fossil fuel generated electricity would be replaced by renewables including,
* 380 gigawatts (GW) wind: 300 GW onshore + 80 GW offshore
* 250 GW solar: 170 GW photovoltaic (PV) + 80 GW concentrating solar power (CSP)
* 80 GW geothermal: 15 GW conventional + 65 GW enhanced geothermal systems (EGS)
There are, to say the least, serious problems with this plan. First Solar and wind are not dispatchable, and thus you may not give you the electricity you want at the time you want it. The 380 GWs of wind seems to be quite a lot, but the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) says, we cannot rely on more than 10% of our wind resources being available when we need them, and Texas has what is considered to be excellent wind resources. 380 GWs of wind resources seems quite a lot, but the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that it would take 300 GWs of wind resources to supply 20% of American electricity. The 38 GWs of wind generated electricity that ERCOT says it can count on, would not provide Texas with enough electricity to keep all of its air conditioners running on some hot summer nights. 380 GWs of wind resources thus is not a lot. It would only in theory, however, experts that ERCOT
will tell you that the electrical output of all the wind generators in Texas can drop close to zero on some days. Solar PV and concentrated solar power just don't work at night.

Well what about Geothermal. There are two types of geothermal power. The first type relies on volcanic type underground heat resources. Pockets of molten magna, heat underground water in some areas. If you drill down far enough, say a mile, you can potentially tap into a source of super heated water. Pipe it to the surface, and it may flash to super heated steam, which can be used to drive turbines which can power electrical generators. Unfortunately most of the United States is volcano free, so the hot magna type geothermal source is not available in placed like East Tennessee where i live. There is a second type of geothermal power, called hot rocks geothermal. Hot rocks works by drilling down to where the rocks are really ho, say 20,000 feet under neath the surface. Pipe some water down and let the hot rocks heat it, then pipe it back up to the the surface, let it flash to steam, and run the steam though a turbo-generator. Unfortunately this type of geothermal power can cause earthquakes, and their development has largely stopped.

if you look at other renewable energy plans you see the same problems that we find in the Google plan. Al Gore proposed an energy plan in 2008. The Gore plan was similar to the Google plan only even more expensive ($5 trillion verses $4.4 trillion). The Greenpeace [r]evolution energy plan calls for 2030 goals of

* 355 GWs of wind generation capacity

* 200 GWs of PV capacity

* 55 GWs of Solar capacity

* 52 gWs of Geothermal capacity

* 79 GWs of biomass generating capacity.

But two other figures stand out in the Greenpease plans. First the Greenpeace plan calls for an increase in the dangerous, carbon emitting natural gas generating facilities of 95 gWs between 2010 and 2030. At the same time the Greenpeace plan calls for the shutting down of 88 GWs of carbon free generating capacity. Why would Greenpeace call for doing such a totally insane thing? Because the carbon free power plants are nuclear powered and Greenpeace hoes crazy when the word nuclear is uttered. Sp Greenpeace is prepared to replace a carbon free energy source with a carbon emitting source.

So how much will the Greenpeace plan cost? Greenpeace tells us,
The total investment required to achieve the Energy [R]evolution Scenario from 2005-2030 is just under $2.8 trillion,
This is almost half the Gore estimate, and about 2/3rds the Google cost estimate. One of the most outstanding qualities of Greenpeace is the capacity of its leadership to tell far fetched stories with straight faces.

it is clear that renewable energy solutions will be expensive, but how much can we rely on the estimates we get from renewable energy plans? The answer is very little.

A report from Israel, in the Jerusalem Post, gives us some insight. The story states,
Citing the fine print in a 2007 cabinet decision mandating 10 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, the Treasury has launched a campaign to reevaluate the costs of alternative energy. . . .

According to calculations it presented at the ministerial meeting, a cost-effective feed-in tariff for renewable energy should be no higher than 40 agorot per kilowatt hour. The figure is based on a price of 28 agorot per kilowatt hour from coal, plus 12 agorot allocated for the cost of pollution from coal. . . .

No form of renewable energy – whether solar, wind, biomass or any other – is currently economically viable at 40 agorot per kilowatt hour.

No company could afford to produce renewable energy at that price. The new tariff for large solar fields which was announced last month, for instance, stands at NIS 1 per kilowatt hour. Wind tariffs are lower, but are still higher than 40 agorot. A feed-in tariff is the amount the state will pay to buy the electricity with a contract for at least 20 years.
One New Israeli shackle is the equivalent of $0.27. 40 agorot equals $0.11, or about the equivalent of typical electrical costs in the United States, It should be noted that the cost of energy storage or new transmission lines was not included in the Israeli renewable electricity cost estimates. So the real costs would be higher if Israel wanted to go to 24 hour a day electricity from renewable sources.

About a year ago, Tom Wynn a climate change and energy policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute reported that Oregon ratepayers are getting socked by renewable drven electrical cost increases,
PGE is charging all of its customers a higher rate for the added renewable energy on the grid by charging 0.22 cents per kWh, or approximately $2.13 extra per month, for an average household. But this is not all; PGE has requested to raise rates an additional 7.4%, or approximately $6.70 more per month, for an average household. Part of this rate increase is due to the expansion of the Bigelow Canyon wind farm that will help meet legislative mandates.
A Center for Data Analysis report from the heritage Foundation found that a Renewable energy standard that
starts at 3 percent for 2012 and rises by 1.5 percent per year. This profile mandates a minimum of 15 percent renewable electricity by 2020, a minimum of 22.5 percent by 2025, and a minimum of 37.5 percent by 2035,
would quickly become very expensive. This EWS would,
* Raise electricity prices by 36 percent for households and 60 percent for industry;
* Cut national income (GDP) by $5.2 trillion between 2012 and 2035;
* Cut national income by $2,400 per year for a family of four;
* Reduce employment by more than 1,000,000 jobs; and
* Add more than $10,000 to a family of four’s share of the national debt by 2035.
CDA calculated that a RES would have a devistating economic impact on a typical middle class family of 4.

High Cost of Renewable Energy Systems

Clearly then renewable energy is going to carry a very high costs, and no plan yet advanced seems to offer a path to relief from the economic costs.


Dogmudgeon said...

There's a problem with Heritage data: they are biased against anything they identify as being politically liberal in much the same ways as 1980-vintage anti-nukes do when it comes to the political Right. Heritage also supports a number of global warming "skeptics" who are less than skeptical; and as we've seen, much of the "fair and balanced" writing on that topic is laden with broad humor made at Al Gore's expense.

It's a shame that scientific issues have to submit to political fashions, but it's always been that way. It's also a rhetorical minefield for nuclear advocates organizing on the Left, such as unions. The irony with Heritage's recent report is that it is actually more favorable than many other estimates of the cost of offshore wind and solar.

Charles Barton said...

Dogmudgeon There is a difference in accusing a source of bias, and actually demonstrating that the source has made errors. You make an accusation of bias but don't point out the mistakes.

Anonymous said...

According to AEO, 2011: Conventional coal costs $94.8 2009$/megawatt hour, whereas wind is $97 2009$/megawatt hour. Given that these are wholesale prices, not retail, the relative difference should be less.

I note that the graphic says '100% of electricity' so I'm guessing they multiplied the wind generation cost to include obvious integration issues that come into play at higher penetrations.

So while it MAY show difficulties in scaling wind to 100% of power generation, it almost certainly NOT show the difficulties in scaling it to 20%, which is possible now.

Charles Barton said...

Nuclear Green has offered posts on 20% wind penetration costs.

What i find is that the cost of carbon mitigation with wind at a 20% level is far higher than the cost of carbon mitigation with a 20% added nuclear penetration. i conclude, "Carbon mitigation with conventional nuclear would thus appear well over 3 times more cost effective compared to carbon mitigation with wind. The true cost effectiveness advantage of nuclear cannot be gaged until we know more about the hidden costs of wind, but the hidden costs appear to extract greater cost penalties at higher levels of wind grid penetration."

Cyril R said...

What bothers me is that people often have a 'houshold' perspective on energy. By that I mean they only look at their own use of energy while housholds typically use only 20-30 percent of a nation's total electricity demand.

Industry needs cheap electricity to be cost-effective. 60% increase in electricity costs isn't acceptable for many industries, such as aluminium production. Such industries often have a big chunk of their costs in energy costs, so a 60% increase will make them uncompetitive. They will leave. Lost jobs.

These renewable energy plans need to include the lost jobs in commercial and industrial sectors due to higher electricity costs. In stead what they do is say 'look we got more efficient, renewables helped promote efficiency' when what really happened is, industries relocated to other countries and the embedded energy in imported products is still used but no longer in our own country.

Charles Barton said...

Cyril R, I do not intend to ignore the industrial need for low cost energy in this series.

Cyril R said...

That's great Charles, because the whole solar jobs fantasy can be countered by simply looking at electricity rates for big industrial consumers. They need 5 cent per kWh electricity round the clock, and their energy bills are a big chunk, sometimes more than 50% of total costs.

Consider this information:

Tens of millions of US jobs depend on cheap, reliable industrial and manufacturing electricity. The solar enthusiasts never consider the millions that would be unemployed when expensive unreliable electricity sources are pushed down our throats and industries relocate to other countries. With nuclear, we get reliable and cheap electricity and can help keep these jobs in the US, while solving environmental and GHG problems as well as reducing dependence on foreign natural gas.

I'd love to see a post on the heavy industrial side of the equasion Charles. Maybe show people a picture of an aluminium smelter and ask whether that can be run on solar panels.

seth said...

Rather than made up costs from organizations usually bought and paid for by Big Oil, I prefer real costs of real projects. There is a considerable difference.
Offshore wind (Jacobsen says $.123 KWh)
Cape Wind $20B/Gw with feedin tariffs and other subsidy starting at $.23 kwh going to $.34 in 15 years. Ontario feedin $.19 Kwh
Onshore wind (Jacobsen says $0.056 Kwh)

Ontario feed in $.13 KWh

Here's PGE's latest wind farm build $15B/Gw ($.2 KWhr at PGE's discount rate) .

Solar PV (Jacobsen says $0.255 Kwh)

Ontario subsidy $.64 KWh

How about Duke in NCarolina last week.

$43 a watt average,$.50 KWh at Dukes discount rate.

To the wind/solar/gas scam add 8 cents a kwh for transmission and add $1.40 if you want green long term storage.
With Public Power 5% 30 year money O&M costs similar for all three

Longview Power state of the art 700 Mw coal $2B $4.1B/Gw or 2.8 cents a kwh + Coal at 3.2 cents a kwh. 6.0 cents a kwh
Enmax in Calgary $1.5B/Gw or 1 cent a kwh for a 1.2 Gw CCGT gas plant with todays fire sale gas costing 3.1 cents a kwh. 4.1 cents a kwh

Enhanced Candu built Qinshan China 1.6Gw $2.9B or 1.2 cents a kwh + fuel .5 cents a kwh. 1.7 cents a kwh.

Cyril R said...

Even the most expensive nuclear project in Europe, Olkiluoto, has an acceptable cost, under 4 euros/Watt for a first of a kind design, and massive litigation and crying eco-nut organisations chaining themselves to the fence, doing everything they can to delay the project, its levelised cost will still be under 8 cents/kWh. The storage cost alone, for just half a day of energy for solar/wind is bigger than that! I calculate that the underground pumped hydro scheme proposed in Maine, if it can be built for that budget, adds over 10 cents per kWh for solar and wind. For just 6 hours of storage!!! And that's one of the more cost-effective and environmentally friendly approaches mind you.

Seth is absolutely right. Anyone who knows a little about levelised cost accounting knows even the most expensive, criticized nuclear plant is a bargain compared to wind/solar on the system level.


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