July 03, 2015
Rapid Price Declines Driving Fast Solar PV Growth

First Solar CEO Jim Hughes says By 2017 solar photovoltaics will cost $1 per watt installed.

"We have a technology roadmap -- by 2017, we'll be under $1.00 per watt fully installed on a tracker in the western United States."

To put that in context, solar cost $4 per watt about a dozen years ago.

First Solar has been boosting the conversion efficiency of their CdTe thin film. They've recently found a way to add another 2.3% to conversion efficiency.

Ramez Naam points out that while the world now gets 1% of electricity from solar by 2020 we will get 3% of electric power from solar. These price drops are making solar more competitive in more places.

Solar's price decline has beat forecasts. At this point the industry is large enough its costs are dropping fast enough that it is quickly losing its dependence on government subsidies. I expect it will become the biggest non-fossil fuel energy source, at least in regions with a lot of sunlight.

What we still need: much cheaper batteries. Make the batteries cheap enough and then most transportation can switch to electric power and solar electric power at that.

I'm becoming more optimistic about the migration away from oil because fracking has delayed Peak Oil. This has given us time for development of more efficient vehicles and cheaper solar and batteries. The biggest problem now is battery cost. The rest of it is coming together very nicely.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2015 July 03 12:53 PM 


Comments
Wolf-Dog said at July 3, 2015 2:09 PM:

Tesla is expecting that by 2025 lower the cost of lithium ion batteries will decline to $100 per kWh. This would make the cost of a 300 mile battery (85 kWh) no more than $8,500, so that a bare bone 300 mile electric car without many bells and whistles can then be sold for less than $20,000. (Given that electric cars have a lot less moving parts, the cost of manufacturing will be lower,and for the same reason these cars will probably last a lot longer than gasoline cars, with less annual maintenance costs, making these even more economical.)

By 2035 the cost of batteries will almost certainly decline to levels way below $100/kWh, maybe $50/kWh, and at that time the cost of a 300 mile electric car will be less than $15,000.


The current estimation is that in order for electric cars to have a chance of competing with gasoline cars, the cost of the battery should be below $230/kWh. But this assumes that the efficiency of gasoline cars will remain the same, which is not true because by 2035 many new gasoline cars will probably have an efficiency well above 50 mpg, which would double the current efficiency level of gasoline engines. If gasoline cars had a mileage of 55 mpg, then biodiesel and other artificial fuels including coal to liquid fuels would suddenly make sense economically.

Bernard said at July 4, 2015 4:43 AM:

I just did a costing for work. A commercial place is open during the day when the sun he sun is up so a battery is not so important. I estimate that the costs including government subsidies make it now about 20% too high. The cost came in at $13,000 and to make it worthwhile would be a cost of about $11,000

Brett Bellmore said at July 4, 2015 7:52 AM:

There are a lot of "commercial places" called "factories", that produce actual physical objects, using expensive, power hungry machinery which it isn't cost effective to leave idle 67% of the time. I work in one of them, as an engineer. It would cripple us not to have massive amounts of electricity available at night.

And I live in a part of the country where, for a good deal of the year, you need air conditioning to work around the clock, too.

And if these synthetic meat factories and farm towers actually prove out, they'll be running 24/7, too.

I don't get this idea that we ought to give up the 24/7 availability of energy, and take a step back to the days when you didn't do much at night because it got dark when the Sun goes down. "Never mind the limitations of solar, we can go back to a 17th century lifestyle!"

Engineer-Poet said at July 4, 2015 8:19 AM:

All the rosy projections for PV penetration assume that energy from whatever source has the same value (so-called Levelized Cost of Energy, LCOE).  This is false.  The value of energy varies widely based on where and especially when it is produced (look at the regional and monthly price variations in natural gas).

These details are largely hidden from residential consumers paying flat per-kWh rates, but these billing arrangements will probably disappear over the next few years.

The only meaningful metric of the value of non-dispatchable generation invented to date is LACE, Levelized Avoided Cost of Energy.  If you're generating lots of power when everyone else is generating lots too, the value of your output is going to be very low; Schalk Cloete calculates that the value of intermittent RE falls to zero at a penetration of 28.3%.  If generators are not subsidized, they won't be able to pay for new installations well before 20% penetration even at $1/W(peak).

Electricity is a good that must be stored or consumed immediately.  Storage costs money.  Overnight storage may make sense at $100/kWh, but wind and solar can take "vacations" lasting weeks and have strong seasonal variations.  Weekly storage of electricity requires storage costs of no more than a handful of dollars per kWh, and seasonal (annual) cycling requires it to be even cheaper.  This requires entirely new chemistry, because the materials alone for current batteries are far more expensive than that.  Maybe Sadoway has something up his sleeve, but I wouldn't bet on it.

The trick is that cheaper storage makes base-load generation far more attractive, by providing additional load during the overnight hours.  If not priced out by hostile regulation, nuclear power is the natural complement to better batteries.

Brett Bellmore said at July 5, 2015 7:31 AM:

My understanding is that newer nuclear plant designs are probably capable of enough throttling to not need any kind of storage to handle day/night fluctuations in power use.

Engineer-Poet said at July 5, 2015 10:53 AM:

Given how cheap nuclear fuel is (and the fact that it's "free" if fuel is changed on a schedule rather than according to consumption), it makes more sense to find other loads than to throttle the plants.  Time-shifting loads is a major possibility; heat-battery water heaters and ice-storage A/C are two fairly cheap options.

Most of those measures would cost a fraction of the price of wind/solar + batteries.

Randall Parker said at July 5, 2015 4:40 PM:

Intermittent solar: Some of that can be dealt with using pricing. For example, given highly variable pricing we would have incentives to install air conditioners that produce ice (or something else really cold) at mid day and blow air over the cold material in the evening. Granted, such air conditioners cost more. So making it viable depends on big price changes throughout the day. Capital costs for storing coldness is probably lower for large buildings. For example, server farms could have their cooling needs served by large buried materials that get supercooled when the sun is shining or wind is blowing. Similar story for heating needs.

As for when the value of RE falls to 0: It depends on lots of factors. Solar only? Wind only? Collected over how wide an area? Dynamic pricing allowed? Also, what latitude and region? Atlantic Canada and northern Europe are winter peaking. I do not get how they can go as far into solar as the Germans think they can. But Arizona is a very different story and so is SoCal.

What I find more troubling: evening demand for cooking and wide screen TV watching in December and January. Dark days, especially in Michigan or Seattle or all of Canada and Europe.

Natural gas generators are still going to be available for when RE drops. Natural gas will last longer with widespread cheap solar.

Server farms (leaving aside air conditioning) strike me as pretty constant in their electric power demand. Even during off-peak for user queries there are still lots of data processing pipelines running. But server farms do not need much air conditioning during the winter since the outside air is so cold.

Brett,

You don't want a nuke to sit idle when its capital costs are so high and operating costs low and fairly fixed. That's a problem for nukes because PV is going to seriously lower peak electric power wholesale prices when nukes earn much of their profit.

Brett Bellmore said at July 5, 2015 5:43 PM:

I believe there's already a company attempting a model I proposed some time back: They're placing servers in buildings with good internet connections, to serve as space heating. Just very complicated resistance heaters, really.

You could move server farms towards the poles, to climes where heat is needed year round. There are some locations in Antarctica where the wind blows at gale force full time, be a great place to put a windmill powered server farm, if you had a good fiber bundle to it.

But that's really a small part of the power usage. Better than half of worldwide power use is industrial, and that can run 24/7.

I think the real answer is that the reason PV is threatening the viability of baseload power sources, is that the utilities are being compelled to buy it, and at uneconomic rates, too. Were they allowed to set the rates they wanted, they'd likely offer a good deal to 24/7 customers, and "erratic" pricing to people who used PV when the sun shined, and tried to use the utilities as a 'battery'.

It's the political clout of the "renewables" industry interacting with the public utility model, where politics dictates pricing, that is causing the problem. In a free market, anybody who hooked up to the grid, but only used it when the sun went behind a cloud, would find the PV panel wasn't cost effective because of the rate they'd have to pay for the availability of power they weren't using much of the time.

Engineer-Poet said at July 5, 2015 6:46 PM:
Natural gas generators are still going to be available for when RE drops. Natural gas will last longer with widespread cheap solar.

No it won't.  The same traders will export it as LNG instead.  The only way to keep it in the ground is to stop people from drilling for it.

PV is going to seriously lower peak electric power wholesale prices when nukes earn much of their profit.

I can see base-load generation like nuclear sold on a "take or pay" basis.  If you wanted reliable overnight power, you'd pay whether you used it or not.  You could trade with others, but the generator would get paid regardless.  That would make it pointless to "displace" nuclear just because the weather allowed; the only reason to do that is if you or someone actually needed electricity right then.

Current policies encouraging generation of power that nobody needs just because it's "renewable" are not merely insane, they're inherently unsustainable.  They will either be changed or the system will collapse.

Brett Bellmore said at July 5, 2015 7:03 PM:

A lot of greens are gloating over that: They WANT the system to collapse. They're trying to break the utility grid, and force everyone to generate their own power locally.

They probably won't succeed, because too many people don't want to have to do that, but I'm betting they'll screw it up royally before enough people get pissed off to stop them.

Randall Parker said at July 5, 2015 7:23 PM:

E-P,

Well, the subsidies for PV will be phased out and the electric utility regulators will step in to save the utilities by changing connection rules. This battle is already being fought in many states. I do not think the regulators are going to let conditions develop to the point where the grid goes unstable. I expect the public utility commissions at the state level to prevent utilities from having to buy too much solar.

People are going to have to install storage systems in their homes if they want to put up bigger solar panel installations on their homes. All their neighbors with panels will hit peak output the same time they do. Their excess power will be worthless unless they save it for later use.

So how fast and far will home storage battery systems fall? It is my understanding that Tesla's batteries do not make sense for the vast bulk of US homes. But take away net metering and maybe the batteries will make sense in areas with high electric utility rates - SoCal for example. Throw in the utilities charging more for electric power in the evening and a big price drop in Tesla batteries (say by half) and I can see a big market for Tesla batteries in SoCal.

Grumpy said at July 7, 2015 7:39 PM:

It will be interesting to see what happens with the cost of carbon capture from the atmosphere. Uneconomic now, but could a technology develop that would be cheaper on the large scale than solar+storage+the indirect costs resulting from the intermittent nature of RE? Pyrolysis of biomass and burying the carbon? Is that feasible or scalable?

Jerry Martinson said at July 8, 2015 8:14 PM:

Overall this is really great news for CO2 compared to where I thought we would be when thinking about this 5-10 years ago. Because of these advancements, in most of the world, about 20-30% of the overall electricity can be made from solar, and another 20% from wind. Fracking has made methane cheaper than coal and methane power plants can ramp up & down faster the coal plants so the operating and spinning reserve requirements of having very large amounts of renewables make the costs of getting to nearly 50% renewable energy only about 30-50% higher than they would be using pure fossil fuels. So a 50% reduction in CO2 due to going renewable and a further reduction from switching coal to natural gas means a BIG reduction in CO2. Since generation is a small portion of residential and commercial power bills, this very affordable for most people. How do get get beyond this to 100%?

A thought excersize for the US:
US uses about 5billion Gwh per year at a current cost of about $250billion/year in generation. In rough math using discount rates this is about $2.5trillion in present value. Solar and wind are close to "grid parity" now but aren't on all the time. So how much more do we have to pay for transmission and storage to kill the natural gas plants?

Power transmission capacity costs about $1million per GigaW mile (although perhaps I should say GigaVA instead of GigaW because going long is possible without HVDC if you can control VAr well) and looses about 0.5% per 100 miles. Having the ability to send 1GW from Groom Lake, NV to NYC would cost about $3Billion and be 70% efficient. Since the sun and wind is often shining somewhere else in the continent, more long distance transmission lines can smooth out the variability during the day cutting the operating and spinning reserve due to weather. Complicated and more expensive, yes, but perhaps affordable for the most part now. Interconnecting all of north america to eliminate the effect of weather might require 1,000,000 GigaWmiles of transmission capacity. This would cost about $1000Billion. I think we'd still need nighttime storage though - perhaps 2000GWh. Unfortunately, server farms, aluminum smelters, etc... that need huge amounts of cheap 24/7 power aren't going to be helped much by this at night.

Large penetration of EVs enabled by cheap batteries would also help eventually get rid of the natural gas plants at night. There has been a slow, quiet evolution of the cathodes of the deep-cycle batteries suitable for EVs that reduces the amount of Cobalt and Nickel required over the past couple years. There has also been some improvements in the anode materials that increase capacity. This, plus swanson-curve effects will make the automotive batteries under $150/kWh in a few years. Many people think that EV batteries will degrade their specific power density in 10 years but still be usable batteries for 10 years of deep cycle grid storage. This could cut the costs of storage needed at night. If used batteries are about $100/kWh in a few years then 2000GWh*$100/kWH is about $200Billion.

So in 2025 I'd guess about $1.2 trillion additional to eliminate the natural gas plants if solar & wind are at "grid parity" and batteries cost $100/kWh. This is about 50% more generation costs than what we pay today. For a residential consumer, generation is only 1/3 of your bill. So the average consumers bill would go up about 20% and we'd have no CO2 emissions. Seems possible. Hard but possible.


Brett Bellmore said at July 9, 2015 3:20 AM:

"Interconnecting all of north america to eliminate the effect of weather" isn't really possible. Weather systems are frequently too large for that to work. It's not enough to erase the day/night problem, either, as there's only about a 4-5 hour difference across the width of the continent. Really, you'd need a superconducting grid that circled the globe. And even that would run into occasional weather events that put most of the panels under clouds at the same time.

The big problem is that "interconnecting all of North America" carries a good chance of enabling blackouts that cover all of North America. And interconnecting the globe puts every area at the mercy of every nation between it and wherever the power is being generated at a given moment. The grid would have a good chance of failing for purely political reasons.

Or, you could generate power locally with nuclear plants that run 24/7 regardless of the weather, and have a grid that's highly resistant to blackouts, and doesn't require enormous expenditures to move power planetary distances.

I know what my preference is: Reliable power that geopolitical adversaries halfway around the world can't shut off.

Jerry Martinson said at July 10, 2015 2:36 PM:

@Brett,

I'm suggesting that the the interconnecting North America with a massive trillion dollar investment in HVDC and FACTs lines could reduce the effect of weather to almost nothing so as to reduce the need for expensive batteries to handle the variability. There would be large PV plants throughout the south, not just the southwest. There's a lot of unproductive land in the southeast that could be covered with PV. However if PV is a big chunk of the mix the day/night problem will always be remaining and will require storage in the form of either Li-Ion or flow batteries (there's not enough hydro capacity for this). As fare as reliability, transmission systems can be engineered to be reliable. Many of the problems that happened in the past were due to inadequate planning and investment which FERC 1000 addresses. I wouldn't advocate doing anything that has a loss-of-load-expectation above 1day in 10 years as is currently done today in many areas of the US.

A more comprehensive study than what I suggested would be here:
http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/52409-4.pdf

I have no problem with nuclear provided there's no chance of a loss of coolant accident and a fuel cycle that cooks the radioactivity down to a low level after 200 years without having a weaponization path.

Brett Bellmore said at July 11, 2015 4:26 AM:

Jerry, you can't reduce the effect of weather to almost nothing with PV on a continental scale, without tremendously over-building capacity. The upper limit on the size of weather systems is too large, most of a continent can be socked in under clouds at the same time. You'd need enough storage to cover days, weeks of under-production of energy.

But, if fairly allocating the expense of extra energy distribution and days of storage still finds PV cheaper than nuclear, it would be the reasonable option. I don't expect to see that soon, but I've been known to be wrong on occasion.

I have my doubts about that distribution system being that reliable, though. Not because it couldn't be, but because we've been under-investing in infrastructure for a long time, this is a systematic problem, and without fixing why we're doing that, we have to expect that future systems will be under-engineered, too.

The under-investment isn't a technical problem, it's a political problem. Short time horizons and political regulation of utilities. Not enough people are willing to see the rates rise enough to cover building a robust infrastructure.

Under these political conditions, I think we're better off relying on a grid that's locally self-sufficient, doesn't rely on continent scale interconnection for it's reliablity. Hence my preference for local use of nuclear.

That, of course, has other political problems. As an engineer, it really annoys me to face problems where the politics gets in the way of ANY technological solution.

Randall Parker said at July 11, 2015 9:25 PM:

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for those back-of-the-envelope numbers.

I think we'll get some demand time shifting because the price will be lower some of the time. There are a lot of ways to time shift demand and PV and wind will cause large diffs in the price of electric power by time of day.

I'm wondering what the cost increase would be on a refrigerator that can store up extra cold in the freezer during the day to use in the fridge section at night. Similarly, what's the cost of an air conditioner that can store up cold or a heater that can store up heat in an insulated compartment with salts?

Another thought strikes me: leaving aside politics electric power ought to be cheaper in Europe-Asia than America because they can (in theory) move electric power over more time zones. It is 5200 miles from Vladivostok to London. Though the simpler politics of America make it a much likelier place for long distance electric lines.

Another thought: If PV gets cheap enough we will get some multiple of overbuilding for the longest day of the year. How high will the multiple be? If we really do have 3 or 5 times more electric power than we can use at the moment will the electric power get used to drive chemical synthesis? I'm thinking hydrocarbon chemical synthesis in particular.

Nick G said at July 12, 2015 11:47 AM:

Some thoughts:

Wind is still cheaper than solar, in general. That's likely to continue. If solar gets cheaper than wind, that would be enormous, as wind is already cheaper than new coal in the US.

Wind is somewhat inversely correlated with solar: wind is a little stronger at night and in winter, and of course solar doesn't exist at night and is weak in winter. Further, when storms hit wind and solar are also inversely correlated: clouds reduce solar, and strengthen wind. An optimized grid is likely to have very roughly a 2:1 ratio of wind:solar.

EVs provide very high quality, low-cost buffering for the grid: they can plan when they charge based on forecasts of pricing and availability, and that's essentially free to the grid. They can also send power back to the grid - that is likely to cost the grid something, but it's likely to be much cheaper than the alternatives, like utility-based storage.

A grid that has a very high percentage of wind and solar implies a society that is carbon conscious and well run - such as society will also have a high market share of EVs. If the US fleet of light vehicles were entirely electric, they would raise power consumption by about 25%, and their demand would be about 20% of overall demand. That's a very big buffer.

The US grid is over-built by about 3:1. If we overbuild a renewable grid by only 2:1, that means an enormous supply of very, very low priced power. It provides a very large, cheap resource for electrolyzing water to store hydrogen underground to use as a backup during seasonal lulls in wind/solar generation, and a very large, cheap resource for synthesizing liquid fuels.

Engineer-Poet said at July 12, 2015 1:22 PM:

Nick, reality check:  200 million EVs with 25 kWh battery packs apiece can store a whole 5 TWh, or less than 1/2 day of US electric consumption.  In addition, they have to be charged much more often than ICEVs need to be fueled; they can buffer for minutes to an hour or so, but no more.

Further reality check:  Gigafactories cranking out 5 GWh/yr each would take 1000 factory-years to produce just that 5 TWh of battery capacity.

So-called "renewables" (meaning wind and solar, which have nothing in common besides the label) are simply not able to replace fossil fuels to the extent required in the time available.  It's impossible.  The Green nirvana is a fantasy.  It's time to recognize that and move on.

Brett Bellmore said at July 12, 2015 3:21 PM:

I've read that there's a basic problem with wind power, in that the amount of energy actually available from the natural systems driving the wind isn't actually all that great compared to the amount of energy we use. You can get away with supplying a few percent of civilization's energy, sure, but if you got anywhere near 100%, you'd actually be messing up weather patterns, by extracting a large part of the energy from atmospheric circulation.

Solar has a much higher upper limit than wind, as wind is just a byproduct of solar energy on Earth, and not a terribly efficient byproduct.

Nick G said at July 13, 2015 12:55 PM:

E-P,

200 million EVs with 25 kWh battery packs apiece can store a whole 5 TWh, or less than 1/2 day of US electric consumption.

That's enormous. Any realistic grid will include a diverse set of supply: wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, nuclear, etc., etc. None of those will go to zero, ever, and few will be as low as 25% of their average output for long. That means that if they are overbuilt by 100% that few will be as low as 50% of their designated "share" of the grid. If solar were 30% of the grid, and it's output was at 25% of it's average, then the grid would only be short by 15%. If other sources couldn't compensate (which would be rare), EVs could simply start limiting their charging to 50% of full capacity - that would compensate for very roughly 3.5 days. It would be more complex than that, of course, but that's the order of magnitude.

Further, the average battery pack would almost certainly be larger than that, or they'd be extended range plugins, like the Volt. EREVs could put their full capacity back into the grid, and then run on and recharge on liquid fuel temporarily.

Gigafactories cranking out 5 GWh/yr each would take 1000 factory-years to produce just that 5 TWh of battery capacity.

The Tesla Gigafactory is planned for 35GWh/year. We're not likely to replace the whole fleet in less than 20 years, so 7 Gigafactories would do it - there's no reason we couldn't build as many Gigafactories as needed.

wind and solar...are simply not able to replace fossil fuels to the extent required in the time available

You'll have to show me your math on that - I don't see any barriers to scaling them up in the time needed.

Brett,

I've read that there's a basic problem with wind power, in that the amount of energy actually available...isn't actually all that great...

Yes, there's a top-down analysis that suggests that only 1TW is available. That's still about 40% of total world electrical generation. More importantly, the analysis was very preliminary. I'd say a more realistic barrier is around 4TW, and even then you're likely simply to begin seeing a decline in production from additional capacity. IOW, a decline in marginal value. That's certainly not a showstopper.

if you got anywhere near 100%, you'd actually be messing up weather patterns

That I have not seen - I have seen such wild speculation on anti-wind sites, but never saw anything to support it.

Jerry Martinson said at July 13, 2015 6:53 PM:

An overbuilt supply would create some interesting things. In California, on sunny, windy spring days, we've already had LMPs (localized marginal price) go negative for a few hours in 2015. In Germany, this happens a lot more often. If there were some predictability to it, these times would possibly be great for smelting aluminum and magnesium. I don't know about the magnesium process but for Aluminum, electricity costs dwarf the raw material cost and the amortized capex and non-electricity opex. But I don't know how long of a time window is useful where cheap power is required.

Other applications would be for growing fresh food aeroponically indoors with blue & red LEDs. During a couple down days where LMP is high, the LED farms would be on at 20% intensity so the crops don't die but full 100% during low or negative LMP time.

Another application could be for powering desal plants. Currently water in parts of drought stricken CA can cost about $1k per acre foot and desal costs about $2k per acre foot. About 1/2 that cost is the electricity cost. We could turn on the desal plant when the LMP is low or negative and store the water.

Engineer-Poet said at July 14, 2015 6:49 AM:
That's enormous.

Yes.  It represents something like a thousand-fold expansion of the US EV fleet, which is an enormously costly and difficult task.  And even if that was done, it would not even remotely supply a solution to the unreliability of "renewables".

Any realistic grid will include a diverse set of supply: wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, nuclear, etc., etc. None of those will go to zero, ever

Oh for pete's sake.  Solar goes to zero EVERY NIGHT, and so much as trying to pipe solar power from the southern deserts to the north and east would require millions of GW-miles of HVDC lines at around $1 million/mile.  There's only about 10 GW of geothermal potential left in the USA, almost all of it in the west.  We can't expand dispatchable hydro because we have already done too much damage to rivers, and it's down to less than 7% of US electric generation.  You can't buffer ruinables with that either, it's just too small.  Nuclear is the ONLY carbon-free energy source capable of the necessary degree of expansion.

EVs could simply start limiting their charging to 50% of full capacity

Man, are you dreaming.  EVs charge until they're full.  If you limit them to half the charging pace, they have charge twice as long.  If you limit them to less than replacement of energy used, you quickly have vehicles dead on the side of the road.

Further, the average battery pack would almost certainly be larger than that

If all 200 million had Tesla-class 85 kWh packs, you are talking about 17 TWh (about 1.5 non-EV demand-days), requiring 3400 Gigafactory-years to make them.

Compare this to a full nuclearization of US electric power using e.g. NuScale reactors.  A NuScale reactor and containment unit is 15 feet diameter, 70 feet long and weighs 700 tons.  Producing 4 units per day 5 days a week would yield about 1 GW/week of new generating capacity.  The units themselves would total 2800 tons per day, considerably less than the mass of a single Liberty ship of which nearly 2 per day were built during WWII.

The core of the NuScale is almost the same size as the light-water breeder core run at Shippingport.  It is very likely that a slightly-modified NuScale could operate mostly or completely on thorium.  This obviates any issue of uranium scarcity.  NuScale intends to refurbish the reactors after 2 fuel cycles (4 years), which provides an excellent opportunity for doing upgrades.

You'll have to show me your math on that - I don't see any barriers to scaling them up in the time needed.

They can't do it in the time needed because they can't do it at all; losses imposed on other generators by more drastic swings in net load slash the savings to far less than the wind/solar fraction of net generation.  The promise is empty, and always was.

Nick G said at July 14, 2015 11:46 AM:

It represents something like a thousand-fold expansion of the US EV fleet

There are about 3.2M hybrid electrics, and about 345k plug-in electrics on US roads, for a total of about 3.6M. So, that's about a 64x expansion. Certainly hybrids don't plug in, but that's not really the question, is it? The question is, how hard would it be to manufacture 230M EVs?

which is an enormously costly and difficult task

No. The Nissan Leaf costs less to buy than the average new light vehicle, without the tax credit. It costs far less to operate: the overall cost of buying and owning the Leaf is the lowest of any vehicle on the road.

even if that was done, it would not even remotely supply a solution to the unreliability of "renewables".

A good engineer knows that a complex system like the grid needs a lot of partial solutions.

Solar goes to zero EVERY NIGHT

Oh, for pete's sake, we all know that. The point is that it comes up in the morning very predictably.

trying to pipe solar power from the southern deserts to the north and east would require millions of GW-miles of HVDC lines

You don't have to pipe the whole thing - just marginal balancing amounts.

Nuclear is the ONLY carbon-free energy source capable of the necessary degree of expansion.

Again, show us your numbers. This comment is framed in terms of scalability - if that's not what you mean (as suggested later), say so.

EVs charge until they're full.

Unless prices are high right now, and they're going to be much lower 3, 6 or 24 hours from now. Batteries will either be large enough for a number of days of average travel, or they'll be backed up by EREV ICEs.

Compare this to a full nuclearization of US electric power

The comparison makes no sense, because nuclear wouldn't be an alternative to EVs, it would be a complement to them. We're going to build EVs either way. They will provide very, very low cost buffering.

I took a quick look at that study on efficiency losses. The fact that it's published in an anti-wind web-site suggests that it deserves very close scrutiny. It appears to be a statistical study, so it's hard to identify the sources of the efficiency losses. That's the key - assuming the study is accurate, what are the sources of those efficiency losses, and what are the engineering solutions?? It's silly to suggest that there are no solutions. So, what are they and what their costs and benefits??

In any case, here are other opposing studies:

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Operating Reserves Used to Backup Large-Scale Wind Power, Environmental Science and Technology
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~mfripp/papers/Fripp_2011_Wind_Reserves.pdf

Impacts of Wind and Solar on Fossil-Fueled Generators
http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/53504.pdf

Engineer-Poet said at July 14, 2015 9:47 PM:

You refuse to take wind-watch.org at face value, but you accept nrel.gov papers as gospel even though NREL is chartered to promote "renewables" above all else regardless of their actual merits.  <sigh>

Argonne National Lab has reached similar conclusions to Wind Watch (though they hide the reality of their data behind anodyne verbiage), and so has Schalke Cloete.

The most important factor, however, is that nuclear and hydro have accomplished substantial or nearly-complete grid decarbonization in Sweden, France and Ontario even though that was not a goal of their efforts, while pushes to "renewables" maintain coal consumption in Denmark and have even increased carbon emissions in Germany.  This backsliding has not been condemned by so-called "environmental" organizations, proving that they are nothing of the sort.  They are purely anti-nuclear interests and objectively working for the fossil-fuel interests regardless of their putative claims.

Nick G said at July 15, 2015 9:22 AM:

E-P,

You refuse to take wind-watch.org at face value

Heck, I don't take my mother at face value.

On the other hand, I said: "it deserves very close scrutiny". And, of course it does. Web-sites like that publish a lot of silly stuff. Sometime one finds useful stuff in advocacy materials like this, but you really have to look hard, and fact-check thoroughly.

Argonne National Lab has reached similar conclusions to Wind Watch

Their "anodyne verbiage" seems to largely disagree. If you just want to rely on their authority, then you would consider wind an effective way to reduce emissions.

To disagree, one has to rely on an obviously flawed emissions reduction chart: the slope is too great at the left, so it's very likely that the slope is too small at the right.

so has Schalke Cloete.

He suggests that the pricing and regulatory environment in Germany are flawed. I would agree. It looks to me like Germany needs reimbursement for "firm capacity", as well as carbon taxes to improve market incentives. But that has little to do with the effectiveness of wind/solar in reducing carbon emissions.

pushes to "renewables" maintain coal consumption in Denmark and have even increased carbon emissions in Germany

I think that's somewhat misleading. But, more importantly, neither Denmark nor Germany had as a primary goal reducing carbon emissions. Denmark wanted to reduce imports, and Germany wanted to eliminate nuclear. We can argue about whether Germany has the right goals, but those are the goals that have increased coal consumption. They are not a clear-cut test-bed on the effectiveness of reducing carbon emissions.

I know you like nuclear, and I understand why. But, that's a bit of a distraction from the question at hand. Both wind/solar and nuclear will work to reduce carbon emissions.

-------------------------

So, where does that leave us? I think we can agree that there is some cost to integrating wind/solar into the grid, and that this cost increases as market share increases.

But, it's unrealistic to call this a showstopper. Utilities are on a learning curve. There are many ways to deal with wind/solar production variance. Many are cheaper and more effective than running very old coal plants at low capacity factors, in a manner they weren't really designed for.

Ronald Brak said at July 15, 2015 10:47 PM:

Residential rooftop solar is now being installed in Australia for about $1.58 US per watt before tax or subsidy. With a 5% discount rate that will produce electricity for about 10 cents a kilowatt-hour. So if I use half that electricity for my own consumption and get nothing for electricity I export to the grid, which is a situation some Australians are currently in, then I'm effectively paying 20 cents for per kilowatt-hour of solar electricity that I use and allows me to avoid paying for grid electricity which has a marginal price of 22 cents a kilowatt-hour. Now to get 50% consumption from my rooftop solar system, it is generally going to be producing at least half of my total electricity use with what I don't use exported to the grid. Commercial scale rooftop solar can also be cost effective without any payment for exported electricity and some larger installations are being done for as little as around $1.20 US a watt. And as the cost of solar continues to decline, we'll have an incentive to install larger systems that will export a larger portion of the electricity they producee to the grid. One estimate is that the cost of solar modules will fall by 25% over the next three years. Our electricity retailers could slow the spread of rooftop solar here by lowering the price of electricity during the day and/or lowering the marginal price and raising fixed charges, but their ability to do that has limits for political reasons and because it can encourage people to invest in energy storage and generators and go off-grid. So we already have an incentive to produce a considerable amount of our total electricity use from solar, and this incentive will grow as the cost of solar comes down. After all, if I'm already receiving nothing for the electricity I export, I can't be discouraged by further cuts in solar feed-in tariffs.

Nick G said at July 16, 2015 12:56 PM:

Ron,

If I assume a 30 year life, 5% interest, $1.58/Wp, and 4 hours of insolation per day (17% capacity factor), I get 7 cents per kWh. With 5 hours per day (which seems realistic in most of Australia) I get 5.6 cents.

With $1.20 per Wp, I get 4.3 cents per kWh. That's hard to beat, especially at the retail level!

Engineer-Poet said at July 16, 2015 1:31 PM:
Their "anodyne verbiage" seems to largely disagree.

Which is what I said, but if you look at the data they published you will see that what they stated in those conclusions is supported tenuously or not at all; the reality is that the net benefits of adding wind even in fuel savings alone disappear very quickly with increasing penetration.

to disagree, one has to rely on an obviously flawed emissions reduction chart

Which flaws I noted; however, it's more likely that it's just stretched vertically and the slope is too high at all points.

But that has little to do with the effectiveness of wind/solar in reducing carbon emissions.

Which the Ireland study and Argonne study both address squarely.

neither Denmark nor Germany had as a primary goal reducing carbon emissions. Denmark wanted to reduce imports, and Germany wanted to eliminate nuclear.

The Danish and German programs both have expressly environmental goals, but they do a very poor job of accomplishing them.  The iron rule is that firm capacity is required, and the 3 options are hydro, nuclear or combustion.  If you decrease one you must increase another.

Both wind/solar and nuclear will work to reduce carbon emissions.

France de-carbonized by roughly 90-95%, Sweden by about 98% vs. coal.  If anyone anywhere has decarbonized a non-hydro grid of significant size to the same degree using wind and solar, SHOW ME!  I want an existence proof, to see what they're doing.  Every example I know is costly and still dirty, which shows what NOT to do.  Both Germany and Denmark are examples NOT to follow.

Ronald Brak said at July 16, 2015 6:22 PM:

Nick G, it is certainly possible to get a rooftop solar capacity factor of 17% in Australia, my parents do better than that, but 15% is more usual. I also included 2% of the capital cost a year to cover eventual inverter replacement and any other costs. Lower cost commercial installations do provide electricity at a very good price but here large businesses pay a lot less for grid electricity than households, so larger scale commercial rooftop solar has really only taken off over the past year. Rooftop solar now provides about 2.4% of Australia's total electricity use and in South Australia it's over 6%. South Australia now generates electricity from wind and solar equal to about 40% of its total consumption and this has enabled one of two coal power stations to be shut down and the one operating coal plant will be closed for good in 7 months to 3 years. The operating coal plant has been used for seasonal load following in the past to avoid low wholesale electricity pricess over winter, and so the state has gone without any generating capacity operating in baseload mode before, so we know that meeting demand without it is not going to be a problem.

Epiphania said at July 17, 2015 8:29 AM:

Australia has very sensibly dropped government subsidies for wind farms. More governments should eliminate all subsidies for such unreliable forms of energy (not really "power" at all, it is so unreliable and of poor quality).

Off grid wind and solar are fine for families and individuals. Grid-scale intermittent low quality energy is a disaster. Nuclear and natural gas are reliable power of high quality. Large industrial concerns will move away from jurisdictions that choose low quality unreliable energy sources.

Nick G said at July 17, 2015 1:31 PM:

if you look at the data they published

Which data are you referring to? The chart's clearly not reliable: at the left, emissions will decline faster than kWhs no matter how you stretch the chart.

Which the Ireland study ...address squarely.

It's a statistical study. Can you identify what they found? Is it that they're running old coal plants at low capacity factors for which they weren't designed? Or that they're running old coal plants at full steam and only displacing natural gas, so the power that's replaced is lower-CO2 than the grid average?

Either of those have straighforward solutions: eliminate old coal plants.

The Danish and German programs both have expressly environmental goals

Not really. The Danish program was started to displace oil imports. The Germans, obviously, are placing a higher priority on eliminating nuclear power than on reducing CO2 emissions.

The iron rule is that firm capacity is required, and the 3 options are hydro, nuclear or combustion.

No. Wind and solar can provide firm capacity, with the proper grid design and forecasting. Look at Independent System Operator planning documents: they assign firm capacity ratios to both wind and solar.

This is a long discussion - there are many techniques for handling variance, which grids have been using to handle both supply and demand variance for many decades. this - geographical dispersion is only the first of many (and we're not talking thousands of miles, either: you can join wind farms that are only 40 miles apart and get something as reliable as a coal plant (which isn't that reliable, as it happens).

If anyone anywhere has decarbonized a non-hydro grid of significant size to the same degree using wind and solar, SHOW ME!

I don't have time to look right now, but I suspect there's pretty good examples out there. In any case, you're an engineer: you know that sometimes people actually do projects that some elements of novelty, and good engineering is able to identify whether they are feasible, and what design elements are necessary.

Seriously, with an attitude like that, we'd still be using rotary land-line phones.

Engineer-Poet said at July 17, 2015 3:32 PM:
No. Wind and solar can provide firm capacity...

Excuse me, but have you gone insane?  Firm capacity is "capacity that is available under virtually all operating conditions 365 days a year."  Progress Energy's capacity contract language requires not less than 74% availability to receive any capacity payment, and 94% to get full credit.  No wind or solar installation gets anywhere close to these figures.

Look at Independent System Operator planning documents

Look at the definition in the contract.

they assign firm capacity ratios to both wind and solar.

Capacity factor is not firm capacity.

you can join wind farms that are only 40 miles apart and get something as reliable as a coal plant

I withdraw my question to you at the beginning, I am no longer in doubt.

I don't have time to look right now, but I suspect there's pretty good examples out there.

You want to bet the future of the world on a suspicion.  Yeah, seems legit.  That erases any lingering doubt I might have had.

with an attitude like that, we'd still be using rotary land-line phones.

With an attitude like yours, a fad would have spread copies of the Smith-Putnam wind turbine across the USA starting about 1947 followed immediately by escalating electric rates, grid instabilities and recurrent blackouts.  People would ask "you said this was good, what went wrong?" and folks like you would say "we weren't pure enough, we need to do it again TWICE AS HARD!"

Ronald Brak said at July 17, 2015 9:16 PM:

Epiphania, Australia still has a Renewable Energy Target. But even without it, electricity from new wind power is considerably cheaper than electricity from new coal capacity. For example, my state's largest windfarm is 270 megawatts and cost about $413 million US when it was built. That is $1,530 per kilowatt. It has a capacity factor of about 42% and an expected lifespan of 25 years. Using an 8% discount rate, which is roughly appropriate for getting things built in Australia, it produces electricity for under 4.5 US cents a kilowatt-hour. This is considerably less than electricity from new coal capacity which may cost 8 cents or more and would be higher still with a carbon price. As wind and coal receive similar average prices for the electricity they sell, power companies will build new wind capacity in preference to new coal capacity. What really determines how much new wind capacity will be built in Australia is the cost of solar power which drops the average price for electricity received by wind during the day, and by allowing our exisisting hydro and pumped hydro capacity to save their water for use in the evening reduces prices then as well.

Engineer-Poet said at July 18, 2015 6:08 AM:

And when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining... are those coal plants still needed, or do you just do without things like sewage treatment, hospital operations and basics like electric lights?

Pricing wind energy at the busbar without adding what it takes (both in money and emissions) to turn it into firm capacity is a gross accounting error.  I'd say it borders on fraud, except it's well beyond the border.

Ronald Brak said at July 18, 2015 9:53 AM:

Are you asking me, EP? Because I did mention earlier that my state generates electricity from wind and rooftop solar equal to about 40% of total consumption, so clearly a lot of our electricity comes from generating capacity that isn't wind or solar. And an interesting thing about Australia is we have a market for wholesale electricity where generators are paid to meet grid demand and that's all. So I could open a power station that generates electricity from werewolves running on treadmills that only operates during a full moon and get paid the same amount for the electricity I provide as a brown coal power station with a capacity factor of 80%. And it's the same if I build a generator that only supplies electricity when the wind blows or the sun shines. It may sound weird, but it's just the way we do things here. And it might just be because I'm terribly provincial, but I really can't think of a better way of doing it. Perhaps some sort of central planning commitee could come up with more efficient method, but some of our previous attempts at that sort of thing haven't really turned out as well as they could have.

Engineer-Poet said at July 19, 2015 5:55 AM:

Unless your state has its own isolated grid, the 40% figure is meaningless.  The only thing that matters is the figure for the grid as a whole.  Do you have those numbers (and a source I can look at)?

Ronald Brak said at July 19, 2015 5:25 PM:

Why are the figures for my state meaningless unless it has its own isolated grid, EP? If we cut all transmission lines to other states, or state, as we're only connected to one, wind and rooftop solar would still provide electricity equal to almost 40% of total consumption. The figure would decrease slightly because at times more electricity is produced than the state consumes and if we can't export the surplus some production would be curtailed. Demand would still be met as we have enough existing generating capacity to do so. The price of electricity would go up which would make existing coal and natural gas generating capacity more profitable, but it would also encourage the building of more wind and solar capacity. The production of some of this new capacity would be curtailed at times, but that won't stop people building more provided the average price received per kilowatt-hour produced is high enough to make it profitable. So without state interconnectors, the brown coal Northern Power Station may stay open longer than it would otherwise, but it would still eventually be closed and it won't be replaced with a new coal power plant because other new generating capacity is cheaper. And the same applies in other Australian states whether they remain part of the National Electricity Market or not. No new coal power stations will be built because other alternatives cost less.

Engineer-Poet said at July 19, 2015 8:56 PM:
Why are the figures for my state meaningless unless it has its own isolated grid, EP?

Why do I have to spell this out?  Only the total figures matter.  If I supply 120% of my own electric consumption with solar panels (which I could probably do) and handle my instant surplus/deficit by dumping to or drawing from the grid, it does not imply that everyone could do this.  The grid is not a storage battery and most grids don't have any storage batteries to speak of.  Without any ability to store energy there can be no "net negative demand", and the realities of frequency stability require the fraction of fickle wind and electronically-inverted solar to be far less than 100% on an instantaneous basis.  If you don't respect those realities, you get frequency and voltage excursions resulting in blackouts.

If the other states on your grid went up to 40% wind+solar, would you still have grid stability?  THAT is the issue.  Your local segment cannot be counted absent the rest.

If we cut all transmission lines to other states, or state, as we're only connected to one, wind and rooftop solar would still provide electricity equal to almost 40% of total consumption.

I doubt it.  I bet you'd either be blacked out, or have to make enormous expenditures in storage and fast-response generation to avoid blackouts.

Demand would still be met as we have enough existing generating capacity to do so.

That generation also supplies your frequency regulation and reactive power.  It also burns fuel to do this, and has a minimum level of output it can sustain while performing those functions.  The problem is, 40% carbon-free generation is grossly inadequate.  We need something like 95% carbon-free vs current practice.  That corresponds to fossil-fueled plants having a capacity of something like 15% of average demand—not nearly enough to perform the essential services it now supplies.  You are waving state-wide generation figures around without accounting for any of the essential services which make it possible.  Deal with the system as a whole and try again.

So without state interconnectors, the brown coal Northern Power Station may stay open longer than it would otherwise, but it would still eventually be closed and it won't be replaced with a new coal power plant because other new generating capacity is cheaper.

This is an example of the blindness I refer to all the time.  If you're calling on that lignite station for power, but you won't pay it enough to stay open, what happens when it closes and there's nothing to supply demand when your "renewables" fall short?  You have blackouts.  How does that play in your neck of the woods?  Sooner or later there will be people at your door bearing torches and pitchforks, and your body hanging from a nearby lamppost will serve as an example to others.

Engineer-Poet said at July 19, 2015 8:57 PM:
Why are the figures for my state meaningless unless it has its own isolated grid, EP?

Why do I have to spell this out?  Only the total figures matter.  If I supply 120% of my own electric consumption with solar panels (which I could probably do) and handle my instant surplus/deficit by dumping to or drawing from the grid, it does not imply that everyone could do this.  The grid is not a storage battery and most grids don't have any storage batteries to speak of.  Without any ability to store energy there can be no "net negative demand", and the realities of frequency stability require the fraction of fickle wind and electronically-inverted solar to be far less than 100% on an instantaneous basis.  If you don't respect those realities, you get frequency and voltage excursions resulting in blackouts.

If the other states on your grid went up to 40% wind+solar, would you still have grid stability?  THAT is the issue.  Your local segment cannot be counted absent the rest.

If we cut all transmission lines to other states, or state, as we're only connected to one, wind and rooftop solar would still provide electricity equal to almost 40% of total consumption.

I doubt it.  I bet you'd either be blacked out, or have to make enormous expenditures in storage and fast-response generation to avoid blackouts.

Demand would still be met as we have enough existing generating capacity to do so.

That generation also supplies your frequency regulation and reactive power.  It also burns fuel to do this, and has a minimum level of output it can sustain while performing those functions.  The problem is, 40% carbon-free generation is grossly inadequate.  We need something like 95% carbon-free vs current practice.  That corresponds to fossil-fueled plants having a capacity of something like 15% of average demand—not nearly enough to perform the essential services it now supplies.  You are waving state-wide generation figures around without accounting for any of the essential services which make it possible.  Deal with the system as a whole and try again.

So without state interconnectors, the brown coal Northern Power Station may stay open longer than it would otherwise, but it would still eventually be closed and it won't be replaced with a new coal power plant because other new generating capacity is cheaper.

This is an example of the blindness I refer to all the time.  If you're calling on that lignite station for power, but you won't pay it enough to stay open, what happens when it closes and there's nothing to supply demand when your "renewables" fall short?  You have blackouts.  How does that play in your neck of the woods?  Sooner or later there will be people at your door bearing torches and pitchforks, and your body hanging from a nearby lamppost will serve as an example to others.

Ronald Brak said at July 20, 2015 3:20 AM:

EP, I have said that Australia will never build another new coal plant because other alternatives are cheaper. Are you saying that Australia will build new coal power plants because of grid stability issues? If so, that's interesting. If not, then I'm not clear on what you are getting at because the lower the penetration of wind and solar in other states, then if all else were equal, then surely the less likely it would be that those states would build new coal capacity as there would be less competing wind and solar capacity pushing down prices when it is windy and or sunny.

And you appear to have missed where I wrote above, "The operating coal plant has been used for seasonal load following in the past to avoid low wholesale electricity pricess over winter, and so the state has gone without any generating capacity operating in baseload mode before". As a result of past experience we can be very confident that demand will be met.

You also have appeared to have missed where I mentioned that we have a market for wholesale electricity where generators are paid to meet grid demand. If grid demand isn't being met generators can be paid up to around $18 US a kilowatt-hour to meet it. If shutting down the coal plant would cause the lights to go out then the Northern Power Station would currently be raking in the cash by bidding their electricity in $18 a kilowatt-hour during periods of low wind and solar output and certainly wouldn't have made the decision to close down due to a lack of profitability.

Engineer-Poet said at July 20, 2015 2:19 PM:
EP, I have said that Australia will never build another new coal plant because other alternatives are cheaper.

They're not "alternatives" if they can't supply all the services that the old plants do.  Putting energy onto the grid is just one service (putting energy that nobody needs onto the grid is a dis-service).

Are you saying that Australia will build new coal power plants because of grid stability issues?

If the plants currently providing those services shut down, the alternatives are to build something else to pick up the slack (whether fired by coal or whatever), or watch the grid fail regularly.  I'd count "having to shut down major loads in order to leave adequate generation margin" as a mode of failure.  I am still trying to get confirmation of this figure, but I've read that an accounting of the economic hit from the Eastern US/Canada blackout of 2003 found that the cost of needed-but-unavailable power came to a whopping $5/kWh.  If the cost of heavy-handed DSM comes to even 1/10 of that, people will build coal plants or even run diesel generators rather than do without.

You also have appeared to have missed where I mentioned that we have a market for wholesale electricity where generators are paid to meet grid demand.

But are they paid to provide capacity, as in dollars per kW per month to be there when needed?  If you can get paid $18/kWh, but you may only be called upon 10 hours a year and your fixed O&M is $100/kW/yr, you will not stay in business.  If you are not paying generators to keep the grid supplied come hell or high water and you encourage generation from sources that go off-line for substantial periods in sync, you will have times when those supplies will fall short.

If shutting down the coal plant would cause the lights to go out then the Northern Power Station would currently be raking in the cash

Non sequitur.  There are no doubt other plants on the grid able to supply the services the grid needs, for now.  But as policy puts the most reliable generators out of business, those services will become scarcer and troubles will increase.  The question is, will the PTB head off the problem before it strikes in earnest, or wait for it to bite?

Ronald Brak said at July 21, 2015 12:26 AM:

Ancillary services are generally provided by gas in South Australia, so shutting down the coal power station isn't likely to affect the provision of them. And closures of coal power stations in other states haven't affected ancillary services there either. The grid operator is required to contract for sufficient ancillary services and does.

And there are no capacity payments in the National Electricity Market. If the market price you can get for electricity produced isn't enough to cover expenses there are no other payments. But in your example 10 hours at $18 a kilowatt comes to $180. If the operating costs are $100 a kilowatt a year than you're still $80 ahead. Or $79 plus change after paying for gas. With gas turbines costing as little as $200 a kilowatt or less, they don't need to run for very many hours a year to pay for themselves. But of course it is still possible for demand to exceed supply and in that case there will be rolling blackouts in residential areas. The grid operator is supposed to balance the probability and cost of disruption vs. the extra cost consumers would have to pay to prevent it and find the sweet spot. It could certainly be argued they should be aiming higher or lower, but they are definitely not just making a wild stab in the dark. Fortunately, rolling blackouts haven't happened for quite some time, not even during a record breaking heatwave, thanks mainly to the spread of rooftop solar which provides electricity during our periods of peak demand which is weekday summer afternoons during heatwaves.

The Northern Power Station serves the purpose of making money for its owners. They have decided that it's not doing a good job of that and so they are shutting it down. This will not cause a lack of ancillary services because there is plenty of gas capacity which provides those services and if there weren't the grid operator would contract with someone to supply them. And the clousure of the "weakest link" will improve the profitability of the surviving generating capacity. It may seem cruel, but it's just the way we do things here. Like the country itself, we are a harsh and callous people.

Engineer-Poet said at July 21, 2015 7:59 AM:
Ancillary services are generally provided by gas in South Australia

So still fossil-fueled even if not by brown rocks.

closures of coal power stations in other states haven't affected ancillary services there either. The grid operator is required to contract for sufficient ancillary services and does.

How many of those contracts are with vendors using "renewables" (and not hydro)?  If you're basing it all on fossil-fired capacity you've set a ceiling on RE penetration.

there are no capacity payments in the National Electricity Market.

That's going to be a problem.  Chrysler used to have a saying in its corporate culture:  "What gets rewarded, gets done."  The corollary to this is "what is not rewarded gets neglected".  If you reward "renewability" and neglect reliability, you will eventually run out of reliability.  Just because you haven't run out yet doesn't mean you won't; as the man who jumped off the top of the Empire State Building said as he passed the tenth floor, "so far, so good!"

If the operating costs are $100 a kilowatt a year than you're still $80 ahead.

If your capital expenditure is something reasonable like $2000/kW, you've only got a 4% ROI before taxes.  Property taxes can eat that in one gulp, then you have business income taxes.  You may be able to milk a fully-depreciated asset like this for a while, but you'll certainly never be able to replace it or even do major renovations.

This will not cause a lack of ancillary services because there is plenty of gas capacity which provides those services and if there weren't the grid operator would contract with someone to supply them.

During the "polar vortex" cold snaps of the last two years, New England discovered that its "plenty of gas capacity" vanished because there was no gas.  There are no gas reservoirs in the area, pipeline capacity is limited and heating has top priority for deliveries.  Some generators bought jet fuel or heating oil to stay on-line.  The problem of insufficient fuel diversity and fuel stockpiles was known but brushed off by authorities.  Only extraordinary measures prevented blackouts.

the clousure of the "weakest link" will improve the profitability of the surviving generating capacity.

Meaning consumer rate hikes?  Did they sign up for that, especially higher rates for flakier service?  Sooner or later you will have a backlash, especially if having to shut down work results in businesses closing and unemployed people go looking for scapegoats.

Nick G said at July 21, 2015 10:42 AM:

E-P,

This discussion doesn't seem productive. You're looking for problems with wind and solar, and not looking at the solutions to those problems (e.g., "wind-gas" for seasonal lulls in wind/solar output).

Why not focus on what you seem to know best, which is nuclear? Tell us what you like about the company you mentioned before, NuScale. How are they solving the problems of cost, risk and weapons proliferation?

Engineer-Poet said at July 21, 2015 12:05 PM:

I don't have to go looking for problems with wind and solar, they're implicitly in my face all the time (why the hell are we running on polluting fuels if they can do everything?) and explicitly when their proponents slip and tell the truth by accident.  Here's one such truth:  power-to-liquids fuels are likely to cost between $12 and $21 PER GALLON.  Power-to-methane ("e-gas") won't be much cheaper, and the same is true of the "renewable" hydrogen from which both of the previous must be made.  These things are touted as the "green" replacements for fossil fuels, but at such prices the vast majority of people will be riding bicycles and wrapping themselves in parkas indoors in the winter because plastic foam insulation will be astronomically expensive just like motor fuel.

The 47% full-load fraction (FLF) used in the Helmholtz analysis is rather high for an RE system that's taking excess power over instant grid demand.  A lower FLF drives costs even higher.

Why am I harping on this?  Because the "renewable solutions" being touted, aren't.  They are pushed by the fake fire brigade.  (NB:  the articles in that series are found by Google, but are scrubbed out of results returned by DuckDuckGo.)  Talk about real medicine can't go on if quacks are allowed to make fraudulent claims.

Nick G said at July 22, 2015 1:29 PM:

E-P,

I think that if you really look at it fairly, you'll see that you're picking the most optimistic possibilities for nuclear, and the very most pessimistic for renewables. How tested is NuScale? Does it make sense to rely on it for our future? Have you really considered whether you want Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran to have nuclear power plants and the full fuel cycle that goes with it?

On the other hand, look at your response on "wind-gas". You replied with an article about something much more expensive (synthetic liquid fuels) and chose the most pessimistic of three scenarios mentioned in the article (there's one as cheap as $1 per litre, that's already in pilot production). The likely scenario for a renewable grid would involve wind and solar overbuilt by 1.5x to 2x (or more) which would mean that wind & solar power would exceed consumption about 90% of the time, and very, very cheap power would be available probably 75% of the time. That would make backup from "wind-gas" (in the form of hydrogen stored cheaply underground, and probably burned in cheap turbines, not fuel cells) very feasible.

Nick G said at July 22, 2015 1:40 PM:

Oh, one other thought. You asked why the hell are we running on polluting fuels if they can do everything?)

Well, that's easy. Ask yourself why we're not all driving with some form of electric vehicle, even though they're cheaper and better? The answer:

Change isn't easy. The legacy industries will lose out (both the employees and the investors), so they'll put out propaganda, like that the Volt is an Obamamobile, and that the Prius is for pansies. Even within companies that move towards EVs, there's tough resistance - have you looked at how bad the Volt commercials are? They practically apologize for the Volt being electric. Not to mention dealers, who hate losing all the ICE maintenance revenue - ask yourself, why did Tesla bypass dealers??

Finally, it just takes time. Time for vendors to provide a good lineup of choices; time for people to get used to new things; time for economies of scale to kick in. Time for people to admit that the old thing had lots of external costs that we just put up with, because we thought we had to (pollution, oil wars, etc.).

Change isn't easy. But, it will come.

Engineer-Poet said at July 23, 2015 8:12 PM:
You replied with an article about something much more expensive (synthetic liquid fuels) and chose the most pessimistic of three scenarios mentioned in the article (there's one as cheap as $1 per litre, that's already in pilot production)

You need to spend more time reading for comprehension:

With optimistic assumptions and assuming a constant power source, a production cost, as claimed by sunfire, of some 1/liter ($4.09/gallon) may also be possible

What "renewable" power sources, other than hydro and geothermal, are capable of constant output?  None of them; certainly neither wind nor solar.  But nuclear can, so this amounts to an endorsement of Green Freedom (which I think is silly) and a repudiation of the Energiewende (which I think is insane).

Ask yourself why we're not all driving with some form of electric vehicle

Change is expensive, at least for the early adopters.  The premium I paid for my Fusion Energi would have bought several years of fuel for it, and the Volt is no bargain either.  EVs like the Leaf lack the mobility of equivalents like the VW Beetle.  There are still barriers to entry, which I do not minimize merely because I've jumped them.

Have I accomplished one whit of that change with "renewables"?  I have not.  Wind and solar are utterly irrelevant to what I've done.

Nick G said at July 24, 2015 8:02 AM:

E-P,

You're focusing on details, and misleading ones at that. For instance, "What "renewable" power sources, other than hydro and geothermal, are capable of constant output?" Well, first, that scenario is for a liquid fuels program, not "wind-gas". 2nd, overbuilt wind and solar can easily provide surplus power 75-90% of the time, as I discussed. That's more than good enough to supply a "wind-gas" plant.

The discussion of EVs is an analogy. And, it's a good one: yes, EVs have more capital cost, but they have much less operating cost - a Leaf is still the cheapest thing on the road to own *and* operate. Yes, a Leaf doesn't have range, so it's still a niche vehicle, but that niche is large and expanding. And, the Volt is rather cheaper than the average new care to own *and* operate. Don't forget - operational savings can be brought forward with a lease. Finally, that doesn't even include external costs of pollution and supply security. And yet, EVs are stagnating. Why? Because change is hard for soft social reasons, not hard engineering ones.

The fact remains: your arguments above have focused on very worst cases for renewables, and very best cases for nuclear. Again: How tested is NuScale? Does it make sense to rely on it for our future? Have you really considered whether you want Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran to have nuclear power plants and the full fuel cycle that goes with it?

Nick G said at July 24, 2015 2:14 PM:

Not to mention that focusing on the viability of a 100% renewable grid is itself a red herring: for the next 30 years we'll be very lucky to get to 80%, and that would be easy to do with overbuilding renewables, supplemented by natural gas and existing nuclear.

Randall Parker said at July 25, 2015 10:43 AM:

Nick G,

PV has a basic problem: the sun does not shine at night. It really doesn't shine much on December 21 in the northern hemisphere. Cheap batteries (when/if they come) get you thru the night for some of the year. But you end up needing coal or natural gas during darker periods.

Overbuilding for peak sun time so that you can get enough power on the darker days requires overbuilding by some multiple of extra spending. That seems really expensive.

You can argue that the output of wind power is more decoupled between regions. But sometimes the low wind days line up together across a pretty wide area.

I expect we will see much bigger swings in the wholesale price of electric power as solar power continues to decline in cost. PV is going to compete against wind and therefore make wind less viable as pseudo-base load. We might end up with a situation in 20 or 30 years where PV creates a surplus of electric power all by itself mid-day. That will make the ROI from wind lower. That will also force up the price of electricity from those sources when the sun is not shining. A cloudy December day followed by a low wind cold evening might cause the biggest spike in wholesale electric power prices.

Nick G said at July 25, 2015 1:10 PM:

Hmmm. It seems like we're having trouble communicating about some of the fundamental questions. Well, we don't have to deal with everything all at once. So, first thing:

PV has a basic problem: the sun does not shine at night. It really doesn't shine much on December 21 in the northern hemisphere.

That's one reason why we don't want to rely on solar alone. Wind is around the clock, and all 12 months. Even better, it's a little stronger at night, and a little stronger during the winter, and a little stronger at mid and higher latitudes. So, a sensible grid will probably have twice as much wind power as solar.

Let me repeat what I said above: Wind is still cheaper than solar, in general. That's likely to continue. If solar gets cheaper than wind, that would be enormous, as wind is already cheaper than new coal in the US.

Wind is somewhat inversely correlated with solar: wind is a little stronger at night and in winter, and of course solar doesn't exist at night and is weak in winter. Further, when storms hit wind and solar are also inversely correlated: clouds reduce solar, and strengthen wind. An optimized grid is likely to have very roughly a 2:1 ratio of wind:solar.

So...does that make sense? I know there's a lot more than that to cover, but does that help clarify why we won't need nearly as many kWhs from backup as one might think at first blush?

Nick G said at July 25, 2015 1:14 PM:

Let me say that another way:

There are predictable patterns to both wind and solar power: through the hours of the day, through the months of the year, and during storms. But, wind and solar have the opposite patterns, so they tend to cancel each other out.

Make sense?

Engineer-Poet said at July 25, 2015 5:14 PM:
Well, first, that scenario is for a liquid fuels program, not "wind-gas".

They all start the same way:  electrolyzing water.  The conversion to liquid fuels is done using stored hydrogen at a more or less constant rate, so the costs associated with lower FLF (full-load fraction) are primarily in hydrogen generation and storage which they all have in common.

2nd, overbuilt wind and solar can easily provide surplus power 75-90% of the time

You persistently change the subject.  It does not matter that ruinables can supply some fraction of excess to go into storage much of the time (and how you get surpluses 75% of the time with PV capacity factors of ~20% and wind CFs of ~33% is something you should support with firm evidence).  What matters is what fraction of 100% of capacity your system is able to run, because the lower the FLF the higher your capital cost per average watt.  If you want to argue about the product cost for various FLFs, go to the authors of the paper and take it up with them.

The fact remains: your arguments above have focused on very worst cases for renewables, and very best cases for nuclear.

A 47% full-load fraction is much higher than anything we can expect from wind and solar, especially if grid loads have higher priority.

How tested is NuScale? Does it make sense to rely on it for our future?

NuScale is based on natural-circulation reactor technology used for decades in boomers.  No, I do not propose "relying" on it as in not developing anything else, but it uses only well-tested technology we can build today so that is what we should be doing.  When we get e.g. molten-salt reactors through their commercial shakedowns, it will be time to move on from light-water.  That may take 20 years.

No region, nation or even province has ever made so much as their electric grid run exclusively on wind and solar, let alone all their energy needs.  Nuclear power is capable of supplying everything from the needs of dozens of people in a steel tube under the water up to 78% of the electric demand of an entire nation.  Performance is the only thing that counts, and "green" methods are failures by any objective measure.  Admit it.

Engineer-Poet said at July 25, 2015 5:22 PM:
Wind is around the clock, and all 12 months.
All the wind farms in the BPA area have gone essentially off-line for multiple weeks at a time.

I already know your response:  "the wind was blowing somewhere else".  If you haven't calculated the capital cost of turbines, lines and rights-of-way to put farms in that "somewhere else" and get the power where people need it, you deserve to be dismissed.  If the cost of your scheme is greater than doing things with nuclear, then you've lost.

Wind is somewhat inversely correlated with solar

Wind in Texas is anti-correlated with demand, being strongest at night while A/C loads peak in the afternoon.  Wind is essentially useless for meeting capacity demands; ERCOT credits wind at less than 9% of its nameplate rating.  Do your homework, Nick.

Nick G said at July 27, 2015 12:43 PM:

E-P,

They all start the same way: electrolyzing water.

But, they don't end that way. Seriously? This is like walking into a competitive presentation for asphalt vs concrete for a highway project, and presenting a cost-benefit analyis of jet fuel. The highway planners won't be impressed that jet fuel comes from the same oil wells as asphalt.

Synthetic fuel requires a carbon source, and significant costs for extracting that carbon. Then there's the gas-to-liquid conversion, which is obviously expensive, or we'd be seeing gas-to-liquids projects in the current environment of high oil and low nat gas prices.

If you'd like to take the time to extract the relevant items for just electrolysis, that might be helpful.

You persistently change the subject. It does not matter that ruinables can supply some fraction of excess to go into storage

That is the subject. If renewables can provide surplus power to go into storage 75% of the time, that's more than good enough.

What matters is what fraction of 100% of capacity your system is able to run

Yes, indeed. Well, I think we need to clarify the concept of "overbuilding".

The US grid currently supplies an average of roughly 450GW. The total built capacity is very roughly 1,200GW. The 750GW difference is "overbuilding" - at a factor of about 167%! There is a capital cost associated with this excess capacity, which is part of overhead: part of what's often referred to as "transmission & distribution".

We don't ordinarily think of overbuilding as part of either nuclear, wind or solar. That's because they have high capital costs, and it's not necessary: fossil fuel plants with lower capex (and higher opex) cover the variance. But in a world of nuclear, wind and solar, that will change. We see that in France, where the capacity factors are much lower than in the US, and that's in a country where nuclear provides less than 70% of the power (the 78% you cite, IIRC, includes power that was sent to neighboring countries like Switzerland, and in effect stored in pumped hydro and returned the next day at peak demand - that doesn't really count in this discussion).

In a world of nuclear, wind and solar, we'll either heavily overbuild capacity, or we'll find ways to store power. We do that now for daily variation - for instance, the facility in Ludington, MI. For seasonal peak demand, the only sensible form of storage is "wind-gas", whether we're talking nuclear or wind & solar, as it's capital costs are far, far lower than for batteries or pumped storage.

So, let's say we want the wind portion of our grid to supply an arbitrary number of 3000GW, on average. If your capacity factor is 30%, you'll need 1,000GW of wind capacity, assuming that you're able to use 100% of it's output.

Now, you'll see variance in output, due to predictable factors like daily and seasonal variation, and you'll see unpredictable variance. On average, as a first approximation, output will be above 300GW about 50% of the time, and below 300GW 50% of the time. During the 50% of the time that output is below average, output will range from close to zero (actually, that would be very, very rare, but let's put that aside for the moment for our simple model) to 100% of average output - the average will be very roughly 50% of the overall average - about 150GW. 50% of output for 50% of the time means a deficit of roughly 25%. On the other hand, roughly 50% of the time there will be surplus power - on average an output about 50% greater than average, or about 450GW.

What's the easiest way to reduce the deficit? Overbuilding, just as we do today. We build, say 2,000GW of wind power - at a factor of only 100%. That will double output at all times and reduce the deficit to very roughly 12.5% of the time. As a more practical matter, some of that deficit will be non-seasonal, and it will be lower than this 1st approximation due to statistical effects - we're looking at a seasonal deficit of closer to 5-6%. As a first approximation, that will raise the cost of wind power from, say, 6 cents per kWh to 12 cents. It will, on the other hand, greatly reduce the backup needed, and produce a massive oversupply of very cheap power roughly 75% of the time - power that will be useful for many things, including synthesizing wind-gas, and, yes, liquid fuels. Those benefits will reduce that added cost of 6 cents to something relatively small, something very like our current costs of overbuilding.
------------------------------------
NuScale is based on natural-circulation reactor technology used for decades in boomers.

Which means that it hasn't been tested for commercial viability. Electrolysis, for instance, is very old and well tested. The only controversy is the commercial cost.

No region, nation or even province has ever made so much as their electric grid run exclusively on wind and solar

The same is true for nuclear.

Nuclear power is capable of supplying...up to 78% of the electric demand of an entire nation.

Well, no, as noted above it's less than 70%. What about the other 30%??

All the wind farms in the BPA area have gone essentially off-line for multiple weeks at a time.

Look closely at their map - most of their wind farms are within 30 miles of each other.

If you haven't calculated the capital cost of turbines, lines and rights-of-way to put farms in that "somewhere else" and get the power where people need it

That's obviously commercially viable - BPA sends quite a lot of power down to California, a pretty good distance.

If the cost of your scheme is greater than doing things with nuclear

Well, what's the cost of Iran with nuclear power and a full fuel cycle??

Wind in Texas is anti-correlated with demand, being strongest at night

For pete's sake, that's what I've been saying (nuclear has the same problem). That's why a sensible grid planner uses both wind and solar.

ERCOT credits wind at less than 9% of its nameplate rating.

Which is exactly what I was talking about above: ERCOT, a very conservative organization, credits wind as having firm capacity of about 30% of average output. Some ISO's use rather higher factors, up to 90% of average output (which is the only benchmark that really matters). The factors depend on many inputs, such as location. But, the important thing is that wind does provide some portion of firm capacity.

Nick G said at July 27, 2015 6:11 PM:

FWIW, I think nuclear would work. My primary concerns are weapons proliferation, and supply diversity. It would be crazy to rely on just nuclear. And, more importantly, I haven't seen a really serious attempt to design a nuclear power system that can't be used to create weapons. Half-hearted attempts, but AFAICT, not really serious.

I'd welcome something like that.

Engineer-Poet said at August 21, 2015 9:56 PM:
They all start the same way: electrolyzing water.
But, they don't end that way. Seriously?

Seriously.  The cost of the product scales rapidly as FLF decreases, which suggests that the electrolyzer and its associated storage is the biggest cost.  The chemical plant on the back end is a much smaller part of the cost.  If this were not so, the product cost would not change so much with such a small change in FLF.

This is like walking into a competitive presentation for asphalt vs concrete for a highway project, and presenting a cost-benefit analyis of jet fuel.

You're attempting to argue that washed and graded stone for a gravel road would be much cheaper than the same stone for aggregate.

Synthetic fuel requires a carbon source, and significant costs for extracting that carbon.

That cost scales as the average power, not the peak power.  The only thing that drives the cost from $4/gallon to $21/gallon as the load factor goes down is the first step, electrolysis.

If you'd like to take the time to extract the relevant items for just electrolysis

The full paper is behind a paywall.  Going from 47% to ~80% FLF, the calculated cost drops by more than half.

If renewables can provide surplus power to go into storage 75% of the time, that's more than good enough.

Since you've ignored this several times, I must emphasize it enough to get your attention:  AT WHAT FULL-LOAD FRACTION?  Supposedly the best wind-farm sites allow capacity factors of 50%.  If grid loads have priority, the FLF of any e-gas system running on the surplus will be far less than 50%.

The US grid currently supplies an average of roughly 450GW. The total built capacity is very roughly 1,200GW. The 750GW difference is "overbuilding" - at a factor of about 167%!

Most of that used to be peaking and reserves.  In recent years wind has built a great deal of nameplate capacity but essentially no firm capacity; as of 2011 there was about 47 GW of wind+solar on the US grids.  I'd guess that's up to about 200 GW today.  The wind+solar cannot be relied upon to meet demand; it only offsets fuel consumption.

There is a capital cost associated with this excess capacity
Reflected in that $21/gallon figure.
In a world of nuclear, wind and solar, we'll either heavily overbuild capacity, or we'll find ways to store power.

With wind and solar is is not "either/or", it is "both/and".  The wind farms of the BPA have gone to near-zero for multiple week-long periods just in 2014, and a glance at the surface conditions map for the continental USA often shows conditions where almost all of the midwestern "wind belt" has conditions of 12.5 knots or less... in which the typical GE turbine's output is between 20% of nameplate and zero.

Overbuild ten times if you want; ten times zero is zero.  You not only need storage with W/S, you need weeks of it (or weeks of backup).

In a world of nuclear, wind and solar, we'll either heavily overbuild capacity, or we'll find ways to store power. We do that now for daily variation - for instance, the facility in Ludington, MI.

Ludington is not all that far from me, and I have studied the pumped-storage plant several times.  Its pump-turbines are in the process of upgrades to the tune of 50 MW per unit (312 to 362 MW) and 5% greater efficiency.

The geography creating 363 feet of head between Lake Michigan and the reservoir is rare, and despite the 3-square-mile footprint the plant is only capable of producing its rated power for less than a day before running out of water.  Even after its upgrades, the 2172 MW rated output will be just a fraction of the 3400 MW rating of the Monroe plant on the other side of the state and less than the combined output of Fermi II and Fermi III (if the latter is ever built).  Pumped storage is to US electric demand what a gallon is to the fuel required to drive from New York to Los Angeles.

For seasonal peak demand, the only sensible form of storage is "wind-gas"
Which the Fraunhofer Institute pencils out at about €0.10/kWh(th) despite highly optimistic estimates of input electric cost.  USD0.10/kWh(th) is about $2.90/therm, roughly 6 times the current delivered price of NG in my area.  "Wind-gas" turns heating fuel into a luxury good, and you might not even be able to afford to cook with it.  Delivered, it would cost more than today's price of gasoline on the corner near me (and I live where the Whiting refinery outage is making itself felt).
Now, you'll see variance in output, due to predictable factors like daily and seasonal variation, and you'll see unpredictable variance.
At what point do you admit that you are spending too much money fixing problems that wouldn't exist if you used nuclear?
We build, say 2,000GW of wind power - at a factor of only 100%. That will double output at all times and reduce the deficit to very roughly 12.5% of the time.
No it doesn't.  If you have zero generation (which is certain to happen frequently) you still have a 100% deficit.
Which means that it hasn't been tested for commercial viability.
If you think the flow characteristics of water at various temperatures and pressures isn't very well known, you're too ignorant to have an opinion of your own.
The same is true for nuclear.
France did 78% with the balance mostly hydro.  That's good enough.  Ontario is doing about 2/3 and recently shut down its last coal-fired plant.  That's getting there.  Oh, Toronto's smog action days have essentially vanished since then.
as noted above it's less than 70%.
78.5% in 2005 and 39% of TOTAL energy consumption in 2004.  You could do considerably better if you also had nuclear supplying steam for district heating.
Look closely at their map
BPA's map layers other than transmission lines are not working for me.
most of their wind farms are within 30 miles of each other.
But it wasn't a case of "most" wind farms being at zero output for weeks; it was all of them.  Further, you are implying that wind had simply moved to places that aren't normally so windy, for which you give no evidence.  Even assuming it did, how much does it add to your cost to have to have wind farms in places where the capacity factor is perhaps 10%?
what's the cost of Iran with nuclear power and a full fuel cycle??
Non sequitur.  North Korea has bombs and doesn't even have a single nuclear generating station.  Bombs are EASIER than nuclear generation, but also a very different engineering problem.
that's what I've been saying (nuclear has the same problem).
What do you mean, "has the same problem"?  Are you claiming that nuclear plants drop their output during demand peaks?  Are you insane?
the important thing is that wind does provide some portion of firm capacity.
If it can go to zero it is not firm, period.
I think nuclear would work. My primary concerns are weapons proliferation
Oh, for pete's sake.  Nobody has ever used a PWR to make weapons materials.  You make HEU with centrifuges, weapons-grade Pu with reactors that can be continuously refueled.  LWRs require enriched fuel, but there are enough suppliers that countries don't need to have their own fuel cycles.  Most wouldn't want the expense.  If you want to get rid of the possibility, go with reactors that need no fuel enrichment and produce a Pu isotope mix unsuitable for weapons.  LWRs already do that quite well, but I suspect the mix coming out of fast-spectrum reactors like S-PRISM would be nearly impossible to weaponize as well (burnup is too high, too much Pu-240 and heavier).
and supply diversity. It would be crazy to rely on just nuclear.
The only reason to have "diversity" is to have something to fall back on if supplies are interrupted.  The USA now has well over 500,000 tons of uranium in inventory, as DU tailings from enrichment; the entire country could be powered by a bit over a thousand tons a year.  You cannot get more reliable and secure than stuff sitting in warehouses.

We don't have the FBR fleet to turn that material into energy, but we do have many LWRs which could substitute thorium for "burnable poison" in their fresh fuel rods.  Thorium is a "breedable poison" and has been proven to be able to run not less than 4 full-power years in a core without so much as re-arranging the fuel, breeding more fissiles than were consumed.  Due to the extreme refractory nature of ThO2, the "reprocessing" of thorium-based pellets could be as simple as heating to drive off low-melting fission products like cesium.  You could go several cycles that way before you had to use more serious measures.  This would slash demand for uranium.

Thorium is a byproduct of rare-earth refining.  Many rare-earth ores in the USA are uneconomic because of the cost of separating thorium, which currently has no value.  If it was worth as much as LEU we'd probably not be dependent on China for rare earths.

I haven't seen a really serious attempt to design a nuclear power system that can't be used to create weapons.
Yes you have, you just didn't believe it when you saw it.

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