October 24, 2009
China Makes Big Renewables, Nuclear Energy Push
While China does not want to pay a heavy price to cut CO2 emissions the Chinese may have 18 nuclear power plants under construction by the end of 2010. That's impressive. To put it in perspective the United States has 104 nukes total and probably of average smaller size.
Nonetheless, the government has set ambitious targets for renewable energy, which is supposed to account for 15 percent of the country's fuel mix by 2020, and for tree planting, to boost forest cover to 20 percent of China's land mass by the end of next year. China plans to quadruple its nuclear power; by the end of next year, it may have 18 nuclear energy plants under construction, half of the world's total under construction.
I am skeptical of claims that CO2 emissions reduction would cost so much that it would cripple the economy. Cost estimates for new nuclear plants cover a pretty wide range. Even if we were to assume a very high figure of $10 billion per nuke the United States could double its nuclear power plant capacity for about $1 trillion dollars or 1/14th of a single year's GDP. That amount of nuclear power plant capacity could displace about 40% of total coal used to generate electricity (nukes currently generate 20% of US electricity and coal generates about 50%). Or spend $2.5 trillion and totally phase out coal for electric power. The real cost would likely be much lower due to efficiencies of construction from building hundreds of nukes.
Coal is responsible for 36% of US carbon dioxide emissions. Coal used for electric power generation is responsible for 32% of US CO2 emissions. So for $2.5 trillion the US could cut about a third of total US CO2 emissions. Though the initial nuke build would release a lot of CO2. That would be paid back and eventually our CO2 emissions would go down by a third.
Nukes would be a great investment for our future. Even better nukes would continue working even as we loose our edge in learning and tech. It's not going to happen.
To get nukes going you would need:
60 conservative senators.
1 Conservative (not GWB style) president.
Judges that would not delay nuke projects left and right.
The media on the side of Nukes (they are extremely anti nuke and will repeat the green lobby press release like they are holy gospel).
These things are simply not going to happen.
The amount of CO2 from concrete etc. needed to build 1 kW(avg) of nuclear power is much smaller than what's required to build 1 kW(avg) of wind, so that's not an issue. The bigger problem is the longer lead time.
The uranium supply may be an issue. If the Russians are right, the current build will see demand in the neighborhood of 100,000 tons/year by 2030 with possible supply squeezes after 2020. Lightbridge (formerly Thorium Power) has proposed a core design which substitutes thorium as a fertile material and breeds lots of U-233, which can reduce uranium consumption and possibly alleviate this shortage. If I understand correctly, the problem with that is that LWR design uses the resonance absorption characteristic of U-235 to achieve reactivity control via doppler broadening of the neutron spectrum with increasing temperature, and there is a limiting fraction of U-233 which is compatible with conventional control mechanisms.
If that's the case (I could be wrong), there's a limit to the burnup possible with LWRs even if they're breeding Th to U-233. The solution is molten salt reactors, because the core density decreases with increasing temperature and a properly designed system cannot overheat; they can run on pure Pu or pure U-233 because the negative temperature coefficient is guaranteed by other means. MSRs are potentially very cheap, very small and very modular, so they could be put into service much more quickly (perhaps even as fast as a wind farm). They also operate at higher temperatures, which increases thermal efficiency and allows the use of heat for e.g. CAES system reheat. CAES with nuclear reheat neatly solves a lot of the problems with nuclear reactors (which are most economical to run flat-out while demand is peaky); you can absorb excess electricity from any source, store it as air and switch the reactor from its regular heat engine to the air-expander peaking engine as necessary.
spend $2.5 trillion and totally phase out coal for electric power.
Yes, and save the operating costs of the coal plants, and eliminate all that coal pollution.
For nuclear..the bigger problem is the longer lead time.
Faster and cheaper to use wind: $7/watt-average, for a savings of $3/W, and $.015/KWH lower operating costs. Yes, there's intermittency, but I'd keep about 75% of the coal plants, and operate them 5% of the time as backup. coal plants have a little bit of trouble with load-following of large changes over a matter of minutes, but I'd estimate that Demand Side Management (especially with PHEV/EV's) will handle the minute-to-minute and hourly load-following problem with essentially no costs to utilities. If we insist on storage, 1 TWhour of storage might cost $100B-$300B (depending on whether we used lead-acid or li-ion) - that's not so much.
I like the idea of just taxing the heck out of coal and letting the market decide the rest.
Nukes do have costs related to decreased property values. People don't want to live near them, and putting up new ones hurts those in the area.
Might it be cheaper to revive all the currently decommissioned nuclear plants? Wikipedia says there are 18 of them in the US:
Besides CO2 coal produces all sorts of other pollutants.
Nick G, Dave,
My point wasn't to say that we should replace all coal with nuclear. Rather, I was trying to put an upper limit price on the cost of eliminating a third of our CO2 emissions. Well, $2.5 trillion is a high end price.
I'm skeptical that wind is cheaper than nuclear.
Limits to extent of thorium burn in existing nuclear designs: That's unfortunate. But molten salt reactors are many years away from production. I wish there was a bigger push to develop Gen IV nuclear reactors.
The amount of CO2 from concrete etc. needed to build 1 kW(avg) of nuclear power is much smaller than what's required to build 1 kW(avg) of wind, so that's not an issue.
Last I checked, they were actually fairly close. Your mileage may vary.
I'm skeptical that wind is cheaper than nuclear.
Well, I gave some numbers above. Wind nameplate is about $2/W, with a capacity factor of >30% for new land-based US wind. Long-distance transmission is about $.25/W. Operating costs are very roughly $.005/KWH, vs nuclear's $.02/KWH. Nuclear takes at least 5 years longer to build, which imposes a interest premium of at least %10.
I figure nuclear would have to cost less than about $4.50/W (nameplate) to beat wind.
And, wind is faster, less controversial (99% of farmers are dying to get it), and is something we'd be happy to export to any country in the world.
I agree - dramatically reducing our CO2 emissions would be relatively inexpensive. Wind (or nuclear) could replace coal very affordably. PHEVs like the Chevy Volt won't cost any more than the average new US light vehicle, with economies of scale.
Really, these changes are hard because of the many people whose careers and investments would become obsolete - they're fighting it tooth and nail, with disinformation (that even they will half believe, with enough repetition, and that will fool others completely), with votes, and with campaign contributions.
There was an article in Wired a few years back that talked about China's nuclear roadmap. At the time they were working on a way to essentially mass produce pebble bed reactors by creating smaller reactor "blocks". The plan was to use these smaller blocks to easily scale the reactors to fit an area's power demand.
I appear to have been wrong about thorium-only reactors. I forgot that the final run of Shippingport was fueled with Th/U-233, not U-235. This bodes well for companies such as Lightbridge.
This devolves the problem to the next level, which is handling of used fuel. Some U-233 is converted via the (n, 2n) reaction to U-232, which eventually decays to Th-208. Th-208 is a strong gamma emitter, and there is no way to eliminate it from recycled thorium-based fuels. The radiological problem with fabrication of conventional oxide fuel rods from recycled U-233† would probably make it uneconomic to re-use this material as LWR fuel.
This argues for the use of molten salt reactors. The uranium in spent Th fuel rods would be unsuitable for weapons, too radioactive to steal easily, and ideally suited for burnup rather than discarding it in some geological disposal site. It could be easily recovered from spent fuel by fluorination to UF6 followed by reduction to UF4.
† It is possible to chemically separate Pa-233 from a molten salt mixture and hold it until it decays to U-233. This would eliminate the problem with U-232 formation (and also improves the neutron economy, as Pa-233 is a strong neutron absorber and once converted to Pa-234 requires 2 more neutrons to form U-235 and fission). Obviously, this cannot be done with oxide fuels either.
That should be thallium 208 (Tl-208), not thorium 208. My bad.
Nukes do have costs related to decreased property values. People don't want to live near them, and putting up new ones hurts those in the area
Actually, in many instances, the opposite is true due to the large tax base provided by the non-governmental utility. The school districts surronding Shoreham received much tax revenue from Lilco prior to the dismantling.
I can't believe this talk.
First of all, it is far from clear we *need* to reduce CO2 emissions. The roof is falling in on global warming alarmists. CO2 is rising, and temperature isn't. There is simply no evidence for the AGW theory. And the debunking of the hockey stick after 10 years of stonewalling data release means we need to look at the data that Hadley/CRU won't release. That is the basis for all claims of global warming, and if the UK won't release it, the science behind AGW is completely suspect. It is a scandal.
Back to power generation. "Renewables" not only aren't currently economically viable, they chew land and water like it's going out of style. No one has demonstrated a path toward anything resembling replacing 40% of current electrical generation with "renewables". People are dreaming. The only proven technology we have to avoid coal-fired plants on a massive scale is nuclear.
When "renewables" technology is there, *if* it ever gets there, these things will take care of themselves by normal price signals. The great risk is this stupid insistence on "reducing carbon pollution" which isn't pollution at all, and fiddling away the capital needed to invest in real future technologies. If we don't build nuclear, some might see it as a disaster. I don't -- it just means we will have to build another generation of coal-fired plants until we get off our collective booties and build nuclear and work on "renewables". Those might actually become viable in about 50 years when we learn how to balance supply and demand on a large scale.
I take it nobody wants to talk about the fact that there's no legal way to dispose of nuclear waste - and whatsisname in Nevada wouldn't hold all the waste already created even if it were being used.
Amen. Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit has been all over this AGW data scandal.
Molten salt with thorium seems to hold a lot of promise:
Wind is simply a joke. Very high maintenance and low ROI. Nuclear does have the fuel issue, which is why they must find more efficient technologies based on more widely available materials. PV can only max out at @ 15% of the overall grid capacity because of storage and cyclical issues. We have to bridge the current gaps with a mix, but long term, it is clearly nuclear.
Or we could import hydrocarbons from the moons of Saturn according to recent research.
One of the best features of thorium reactors like I mentioned above is that they can consume the waste from conventional reactors. They also are quite safe.
When you say " "Renewables" not only aren't currently economically viable, they chew land and water like it's going out of style.", I think you're referring to biomass. OTOH, for electrical generation, renewable energy in China refers to wind power primarily, with some hydro and solar thrown in.
Wind...Very high maintenance and low ROI.
Do you have sources for that?
That's hilarious. China mandated that utilities build wind power, but not that they use it, so they don't spend the extra money for transmission!
Also, China mandated "Buy Chinese", and the domestic manufacturers can't build turbines that can keep running!
Just goes to show - if you're going to run things by central planning instead of by free markets (say, with a simple carbon tax), then the central managers have to stay on top of things, and adjust as they go, or things will fall apart.
About the bad joke that is wind energy, try this: http://www.northnet.org/brvmug/WindPower/articles.html
Since the "warming" effect of CO2 maxed out long ago, it would be best (were it humanly possible) to boost global levels back to geological norms of 2,000+ ppm. Agriculture would benefit immeasurably.
Fission power is grotesquely overpriced. My money and hopes are on this: http://tinyurl.com/FFPressRelease2009-Oct.
Comparing some of Nick's numbers above:
$10/W nuclear; wind $7/watt-average, for a savings of $3/W, and $.015/KWH lower operating costs.
Wind nameplate is about $2/W, with a capacity factor of >30% for new land-based US wind. Long-distance transmission is about $.25/W. Operating costs are very roughly $.005/KWH, vs nuclear's $.02/KWH. Nuclear takes at least 5 years longer to build, which imposes a interest premium of at least %10.
Focus Fusion: $0.05/Watt, and $0.0025/KWH
Yes, you read right. The decimals are all in the right places.
So it's not even close. The FF generators would be mass-produced as 5MW units and trucked to desired locations, and used either stand-alone or in clusters. Cost per/ea FOB factory door about $250,000. Maybe (considerably) less in very large mass production.
Waste is He4, and low-grade heat. Period.
We'll know before late 2014 or so if it's viable. At that point, the economics will sweep virtually all other alternatives from the table.
Please fix the second link in your post. It's incorrectly formed. I'd like to see what you're referencing.
Thanks. Mark G.
Quoth Mick Langan:
First of all, it is far from clear we *need* to reduce CO2 emissions. The roof is falling in on global warming alarmists. CO2 is rising, and temperature isn't. There is simply no evidence for the AGW theory.
If you are relying on propaganda sites like co2science.org, please be aware that they have been caught falsifying their temperature data
. The peer-reviewed community can't get away with this no matter what the commercial interests say about them.
Back to power generation. "Renewables" not only aren't currently economically viable, they chew land and water like it's going out of style.
As others have noted, you're confusing biofuels with renewables. Wind farms take a few quarter-acre pads per square mile. PV over rooftops or CSP over parking lots would take zero new space and even supply valuable shade.
I agree that biofuels are not "the solution". They can't be; the net primary productivity of the biosphere isn't sufficient to supply our energy demand. This doesn't mean that they can't supply non-fossil carbon for materials like plastics while most of our energy comes in other forms, like electricity.
When "renewables" technology is there, *if* it ever gets there, these things will take care of themselves by normal price signals.
What's the price signal for the damage done by coal? You deny the existence of damage from CO2, but have you asked the people whose power came at the cost of a bunch of homes flooded by toxic ash how much they should have paid to avoid that? How about the victmis?
Matt: I've seen payback times for energy invested in a wind farm measured in months. PV panels were a couple of years in the late 90's and should be well under 1 year now.
Nuclear is the biggie, of course. On the other hand, it has also got the longest lead time of any kind of electric powerplant and some of the worst political opposition (not excusing, just noting). When ERPI starts projecting blackouts during calms and no way to charge the electric cars that the anti-nuke camp expects to have, THEN you will have political cover to push nuclear.
I think we need both (especially molten-salt reactors), because the system as a whole is going to need energy storage and I can't think of anything which can do the job as flexibly as semi-adiabatic compressed air storage with nuclear reheat. Technically slick, carbon-free, offends extremists on both sides... what's not to like?
It is also far from there that we do not need to lower CO2 emissions. There are two reasons for this:
1) Simulation experiments have limits. The atmosphere and climate are too complex to create a model with high predictive accuracy.
2) We can't run real experiments with parallel planet Earths in parallel universes. Though I'd very much like to do that.
Faced with uncertainty I think it is irresponsible to ignore the possibility that such a substantial alteration of our atmosphere will cause us problems.
"Renewables" economic viability: Which one? Geothermal and wind are within a few cents per kwh of nuclear power according to a variety of studies coming from reputable sources. Solar's a lot more expensive obviously. Biomass grain crops and palm oil for energy cause too much ecological damage. So it depends.
To reiterate my main point: If it becomes necessary to switch from fossil fuels for electric power generation we could afford to do so. We wouldn't become poor.
The "precautionary" argument. Well, check out the cost-benefit balance: Dyson-Nordhaus . Even GRANTING the deeply implausible AGW hypothesis, the more vigorous the response, the worse the outcome.
Projected multi-trillion$$ efforts will, per the IPCC best hoped-for result, provide a 0.2°C mitigation. Far below the actual level of measurement accuracy and error bars.
There is also the historical fact that much warmer than projected climates have historically been boom times for humanity and species in general (and yes, the speed of the swings was quite comparable to the IPCC projections); cooling periods have caused population crashes, disease, hunger, and flight to warmer climes.
The Gorian trick of collapsing worst-case 1000-year swings in sea level etc. into decades to scare populations and governments into coughing up billion$$ and trillion$$ for him and his cohorts to tap into is beneath contempt. Don't participate if you value your self-respect.
Warmer climates and boom times: Depends on where on the planet you happen to be. If you are somewhere that the rains shift away from then not so fun.
Cost-benefit: It depends on the size of the costs and the size of the benefits. Both are speculative. Though I think costs of CO2 reduction are easier to calculate than the benefits of reduced CO2 emissions. However, if we cut back on coal we do not just reduce CO2 emissions. We also cut mercury, particulates, and other conventional pollutants.
I put an upper limit price above on cutting out about 90% of US coal burning in order to eliminate 1/3rd of US CO2 emissions: About $2.5 trillion or 18% of one year's GDP.
Actually, the real cost of a shift to nuclear would be much less than $2.5 trillion because of:
- lower cost per unit when nukes get built in large numbers.
- saved money that would have been spent on mining and transporting coal.
- big reduction in conventional pollutants. Improved health as a result. Less equipment damage too.
- avoidance of future costs for constructing coal electric plants.
Gorian tricks: If you focus too much on the politicians that just shifts your mind away from rational analysis.
I have more respect for myself when I do not approach the AGW debate solely as a political fight between rival political tribes. What passes for a debate about AGW in political circles is retarded. Absolute certainty in the face of such a complex system is a huge error in reasoning.
You obviously didn't read the Dyson review. It's a 100-yr extrapolation of all those wonderful benefits you list, minus the costs. The costs win. Big time.
Stripping coal smoke of pollutants costs X; alternatives cost Y. They are both measurable; neither is infinitely high. Replacing coal is, in other words, not an "absolute good". Its costs may well exceed its benefits.
But using coal has the signal benefit of increasing CO2 levels, which is a good thing.
Extreme weather and storms, by the way, are far worse in cooling periods, as the pole/tropic contrast increases, which is what drives violent and extremely variable weather.
The remaining issue with wind and solar is that expensive baseline power or storage is needed to cover cloudy/still periods. Doesn't that drastically change the economics?
I do think it's great that China is betting in part on nukes. Given the lack of political obstacles, we should get a good read on what it takes to bring a new plant online from a standing start. And the 18th plant should take a lot less time and money than the first.
NOAA and GISS have deliberately and willfully dropped every rural temperature station in the USA from GISTEMP.
Accusing CO2science of "falsifying data" is joke compared to what Hansen has been up to.
" all of the US temperatures – including those for Alaska and Hawaii – were collected from either an airport (the bulk of the data) or an urban location."
554 of 1079 stations int he world are airports. Only 128 are rural
What GISTEMP really measures is the growth in world air travel.
Do you happen to have a good idea of how Nordhaus estimates his costs? Randall (and I) are suggesting that his costs are probably too high.
Larry asked: The remaining issue with wind and solar is that expensive baseline power or storage is needed to cover cloudy/still periods. Doesn't that drastically change the economics?
No, not really. 1st, "baseline power" wouldn't be needed. It's possible that an occasional backup would be needed - V2G with EV could provide short-term backup; the retention of coal plants could provide backup for the extremely rare longer periods (as they'd be rarely used, the CO2 emissions would be minor, and coal supplies would last 100's of years), or cheap gas plants (either natural gas, or gasified biomass) could do the same thing.
Look carefully at the UK grid report you referenced. You'll see that it agreed with what I said:
""Traditionally people have thought you just need more back-up generation," a National Grid spokesman said. "But there are some really good ways we can bring demand down in the future.""
That's Demand Side Management: using smart meters to adjust demand (especially EV/PHEV charging) to production. It's very, very cheap, and extremely effective.
Regarding ice shards: yes, normal siting standards don't allow wind turbines that close to residences.
Regarding turbine failure: anecdotal reports aren't that helpful - they just tell us that occasionally large mechanical things don't work (especially early in their development), which we already knew. Have you seen statistics?
"But there are some really good ways we can bring demand down in the future"
Brownouts ... blackouts ... cutbacks ... rationing.
No, I obviously didn't take one economist's 100 year projection of costs and benefits as authoritative. I am old enough to remember the original 1970s political debates about the costs of car emissions reduction and factory emissions reduction. I remember the estimates for pollution reduction costs put forth by industry that we now know were ridiculously high.
I think it funny when people are skeptical of thousands of researchers on a large assortment of topics wrt AGW but glom onto a particular result because they think it bolsters their case.
I keep saying there are large unknowns with regards to costs and benefits. Zealots on both sides keep telling me I'm wrong. But I'm being rational. You can not accurately project the rate of technological progress across a very large range of disciplines (and these rates of technological advance for lowering costs are key to estimating how much CO2 emissions reduction will cost). You can't model the future of the planet's climate with high accuracy.
Very few wind turbines are near homes. Turbine blade failures: Sure, every time the industry steps up to a new blade size they have problems with cracking. They have to switch resins, materials, and fabrication techniques. Since I know a lot of engineers I've had someone tell me about this problem for one turbine company. They've made progress and their failure rates are down at their current blade size, enough that customers aren't bent out of shape.
No one is saying that wind can go to 100% of baseload or anywhere near that. Low wind periods are a problem. But we can still use wind power.
"Very few wind turbines are near homes"
Thats not what I've heard.
As for reliability ...
"Despite reasonable adherence to these accepted design practices, wind turbine gearboxes have yet to achieve their design life goals of twenty
years, with most systems requiring significant repair or overhaul well before the intended life is reached
[3,4,5]. Since gearboxes are one of the most expensive components of the wind turbine system, the higher
than-expected failure rates are adding to the cost of wind energy."
"Gearboxes have been failing in wind turbines since the early 1990s. Barely a turbine make has escaped. The problem reached epidemic proportions with a massive series failure of gearboxes in NEG Micon machines. At the time, the NEG Micon brand was the most sold wind turbine in the world. The disaster brought the company to its knees ; It was taken over by Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, which still is challenged by gearbox and rotor failures."
"Indeed, with thousands of mishaps, breakdowns and accidents having been reported in recent years, the difficulties seem to be mounting. Gearboxes hiding inside the casings perched on top of the towering masts have short shelf lives, often crapping out before even five years is up. In some cases, fractures form along the rotors, or even in the foundation, after only limited operation. Short circuits or overheated propellers have been known to cause fires. All this despite manufacturers’ promises that the turbines would last at least 20 years.
Wind turbines are exposed to weather, so naturally they break down more quickly. They require more land per MW, they kill wildlife routinely, they are an eyesore to many humans, the noise is a huge problem that can affect neighbor's health.
Capacity factor is quite low, under 30%. Particularly in China where huge wind farms remain disconnected from the grid years after construction.
Maintenance costs are high, which have to be included in operating costs, but Nick G. fails to do this.
Installation costs are also far higher than the $2 per kw that someone above threw out. Closer to $10 when all is figured in, compared to nuclear which is under $5.
It's a huge scam, lads, so do try not to be taken in.
Capacity factor is quite low, under 30%...Maintenance costs are high...Installation costs are also far higher than the $2 per kw that someone above threw out. Closer to $10 when all is figured in, compared to nuclear which is under $5.
Could you give sources for the above (the rest were trivial)? Please note that the $2/watt (not kw) was for nameplate, not average - with a 30% capacity factor and transmission of $.25/W, that comes to $7.50/average watt. That's probably the source of that difference.
I'd estimate a a capacity factor of 29.7% for 2008, based on 52TWHs (DOE EIA Electric Power Monthly) and an average installed capacity of about 20GW (note that the majority of new capacity in 2008 was installed in the 4th quarter - http://www.awea.org/publications/reports/3Q09.pdf page 2).
That's perfectly good. That would be bad for a coal plant, and terrible for a nuclear plant, but it's what wind farms are designed to achieve.
Regarding death from wind turbines: Coal kills a lot more people. It kills miners. It kills people who breathe the pollutants. I wish the people who complain about renewable energy put half as much energy into complaining about old dirty coal electric power plants spewing particulates, mercury, oxides of sulfur, oxides of nitrogen, and other stuff I do not want to breathe.
Wind turbines near homes: Near enough to hear them is not near enough to be killed by a falling blade. I'd rather live downwind of a wind farm than downwind of a coal electric power plant.
I would prefer more nuclear, no coal, and some wind. More solar once it becomes cheap enough.
Using dirty plants as backup to green plants sounds good, but our power shipping ability is nothing like good enough to handle it. Using vehicle batteries as backup, and variable pricing to trim demand are both appropriate, but it all smells like wishful thinking. We are many, many years away from having enough EV's to matter. And we have what 100M meters to upgrade?
Regards wind turbine gear box failures: I am suspicious of unquantified claims.
Vestas has plenty of competitors and there are plenty of ways to improve quality of mechanical devices.
We are many, many years away from having enough EV's to matter.
And, we're a long way from having enough wind power to need them. The kind of energy-politics environment in which we push wind over 20% market share is also one which will see a lot of PHEV/EVs. Also DSM works just as well for most other demand.
And we have what 100M meters to upgrade?
Not only do we have time, but that upgrade has already started. For instance, PG&E is doing it right now. All other utilities are offering it on a pilot basis, at minimum (by federal law). Look at your utility's web-site: you'll find it.
Larry: AC Propulsion found that EVs could have a major effect on the market for grid regulation with only a few thousands or tens of thousands in an area. IIRC they could even turn EVs into a profit center, being paid more for regulation services than they pay for juice. You'd still have battery depreciation (for lead-acid), but lead-acid is cheap; if the Volt were using Firefly Energy cells instead of advanced lithium-ion, I bet it would hit the market for under $30,000.