Further research on the limits of solar energy

There is yet another paper on this topic, called Buffering Volatility: A Study on the Limits of Germany’s Energy Revolution, by Hans-Werner Sinn.  Here is the abstract:

Based on German hourly feed-in and consumption data for electric power, this paper studies the storage and buffering needs resulting from the volatility of wind and solar energy. It shows that joint buffers for wind and solar energy require less storage capacity than would be necessary to buffer wind or solar energy alone. The storage requirement of over 6,000 pumped storage plants, which is 183 times Germany’s current capacity, would nevertheless be huge. Taking the volatility of demand into account would further increase storage needs, and managing demand by way of peak-load pricing would only marginally reduce the storage capacity required. Thus, only a buffering strategy based on dual structures, i.e. conventional energy filling the gaps left in windless and dark periods, seems feasible. Green and fossil plants would then be complements, rather than substitutes, contrary to widespread assumptions. Unfortunately, however, this buffering strategy loses its effectiveness when wind and solar production overshoots electricity demand, which happens beyond coverage of about a third of aggregate electricity production. Voluminous, costly and inefficient storage devices will then be unavoidable. This will make it difficult for Germany to pursue its energy revolution beyond merely replacing nuclear fuel towards a territory where it can also crowd out fossil fuel.

Here is yet another NBER paper on this topic.  You may recall the recent JPE paper estimating that the costs of solar intermittency are higher than the costs of carbon.

Overall the message seems to be that not going nuclear was an even bigger mistake than we had been thinking.


Because of the success of their anti-nuclear message, the long-term net impact of the environmentalist movement on the quality of the environment is already or will be negative.

Exactly this. Especially if you throw "global warming" into the mix.

>"not going nuclear was an even bigger mistake than we had been thinking."

Well, if by "we" you mean "those of us who allowed our worldview to be heavily influenced by 1970s Hollywood movies," then yes you are correct.

Gotta go now -- I'm the military and I have go smell some napalm before noon.

As an economist you know nuclear is a much bigger job creator when used to follow the load, which is what would be required with a high nuclear power based system like in France.

And with the much higher labor costs, you know government ownership is also required to hide the cost of the many more jobs created by nuclear power.

Nuclear in the US was killed by the conservatives who wanted government no longer subsidizing nuclear power. The anti-nuclear environmentalists could not kill nuclear without conservatives being opposed to nuclear as well.

If only environmentalists killed nuclear, then coal power would have long ago been eliminated.

Note many of the McKibben set consider Obama to be a huge problem for promoting natural gas in a massive way driving climate change faster than any Republican.

Yes, nuclear has many hidden costs, and more indirect subsidies than most people here realized.

Subsidies for nuclear in a KWH basis are very small compared to subsidies for solar.

Some creative accounting produces high subsidy rates for nuclear. They generally include unrealistically high insurance premiums, military costs of research and construcción of unrelated nuclear bombs and sumarines, or asume the destruction many big cities due to proliferation.

Ramon, you need to include long-term storage of waste material, which is not covered by the firms themselves.

It will work out like the housing bubble of 2008 and the eurozone, massive long-term costs and it will become "necessary" that taxpayers pay them. Energy firms would never have invested in that technology if they had had to pay the full realistic net present cost of the waste disposal.

It's kind of astonishing how few people are prepared to count the cost of waste disposal and decommissioning costs as a cost of nuclear energy. There's a whole class of national and international laws devoted just to capping nuclear energy's insurance liabilities. Take these away, and the whole industry is uneconomic.

Obama has fought fracking, the source of all this new natural gas. It has been the Republicans who have supported it.

Seems your grasp of history is similarly seen in the rest of your post.

Obama has fought fracking? You should take a look at the expansion of fracking production under Obama.

@Decimal does your car decelerates when you apply the brake? I think this proves that the engine wasn't on.

Obama has not really fought fracking in any meaningful way. He has made some sops here and there to the enviros, but the only threatening move his administration has made has been the thus-far desultory attempt to use methane leaks as an excuse for the EPA to take away primary regulatory control from the states. That is much more about wanting to use any pretext to maximize the power of the EPA rather than opposition to fracking per se. If Obama was actually anti-fracking then it would have been subject to much much more regulatory assault.

The reason Obama and the dem establishment is OK with fracking is because of the foreign policy implications. Once he and the foreign policy types figured out fracking would eventually turn the US into a hydrocarbon exporter, that made it untouchable. Obama's over-arching desire is to abandon the middle east to its fate, which the US simply could not do if it were still a massive net-importer of hydrocarbons. Fracking is the technology that allows him to fulfill his deepest foreign policy ambitions, and he's not going to sacrifice that because the religious nutjob part of the environmental movement are opposed to keeping the lights on.

The secondary reason he's OK with fracking is because natural gas is the only thing that could realistically displace coal in power generation for scale, and that a lot of natural gas generation is needed to support the intermitency of renewables. He may dream of an all-renewables future, but anyone who has been told anything remotely resmbling the truth about the electric grid knows that's not happening anytime soon.

Their concerns revolve around costs which are certain to arise but uncertain in level. Your dismissing these concerns is based on ... dismissing these concerns.

BC implemented a carbon tax, and the utilities are implementing two tier pricing, making heating your home very expensive. I've been seeing an increase in wood burning over the last two years. I'm certain that is what was intended.

Spending enormous amounts of money with no accountability and very often little results does environmental damage. Prostrating before the Gods of Environmentalism doesn't redeem your sins.

Ground source heat pumps would be embraced by capitalists to supplement their wood lot. Assuming the did not have a place on their land to build their home underground with the surface exposure capturing the sun for solar heating in winter, but with overhang to block the high sun in summer.

Burning capital is pretty stupid. Canada is part of the UK which goes back over 500 years, so what alternative to sustainable capitalism is there? Will Canada still be producing enough oil in year 2515 to keep the price below $50 a barrel?

Ground heat pumps have high capital costs. Simply not worth it with low gas prices or small homes. And good luck finding the space to build them in a European city!

Installing ground source heart pumps is a great example of burning capital. At current numbers in my jurisdiction you would see the first installation paid back about halfway through the third replacement.

Wood is a renewable resource, and in many management/harvest strategies should have essentially zero life cycle emissions. But there are some other pollutants and it doesn't burn 100% clean so there are concerns beyond C02.

Anyways, I was discussing costs of managing nuclear waste, not AGW.

If human civilization used wood as a fuel en masse, it would need large tracts of forest to be managed for optimum production of wood, and the forests would store less CO2 than otherwise. My understanding is there are resource problems with worldwide deployment of car batteries so maybe bio fuels would be best conserved for transportation. The nuclear waste issue is way overblown. Let it cool of in dry casks for a century or two, extract the actinides (which can be burned) and stable metals periodically, and the total accumulated mass of waste material will converge to a limit. Or just vitrify it and use oil drilling equipment to drill deep holes to put it a couple of miles down. Even if the glass breaks, it will just grind into sand and not be mobile. It will be further separated from the aquifers people use. I would have no problem living and drawing well water over such a facility.

Dan, I agree. But I'm talking about people who live in areas where there is literally more than enough wood for sustainable harvest for the entire population (rural areas or very small population centres in most of Canada), whereas the original point is "some people are using wood now".

Yeah, some people have used wood in Canada for a very long time. Because all you have to do is chop it up, whether it's from your own land or recent deadwood from public lands (like anyone would care unless it became an issue...).

As long as it falls within sustainable forestry management and is not encroaching on old growth forest (which necessarily implies fairly strict constraints on how much quantity could increase), then all concerns from the macro perspective are pretty insignificant so long as the wood burns relatively completely (so you should have a proper device for it).

making heating your home very expensive.

There are now heat pumps that work in BC. http://www.neep.org/sites/default/files/resources/Cold%20Climate%20Air%20Source%20Heat%20Pump%20Specification.pdf

'Voluminous, costly and inefficient storage devices will then be unavoidable.'

Or, in the real world, you just export the excess to customers, as Germany remains an exporter of electricity - 'For net electricity exports in 2015, Germany achieved a record foreign trade surplus of 2.07 billion euros, well exceeding Germany’s former record of 1.94 billion euros reached in 2013. A detailed data analysis showed that the average market price realized by Germany for electricity exports was on the same level as for its electricity imports in 2015. “The common argument that Germany is selling its surplus electricity to foreign countries at dumping prices cannot be confirmed according to these numbers,” sums up Prof. Bruno Burger at Fraunhofer ISE, who evaluates the data from the German Federal Statistical Office on a continual basis.' https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/en/news/news-2016/germanys-electricity-exports-surplus-brings-record-revenue-of-over-two-billion-euros

It is really quite fascinating to see how a functioning market in electricity works, even if the largest energy companies, having made losing bets both on being able to continue to use nuclear power and on building new coal plants, are hurt by it - 'The data show that Germany has generated over 13 billion euros in revenue from electricity exports over the last ten years. In 2015, Germany’s electricity export surplus amounted to 50 terawatt hours, also a new record. During 8074 of 8760 total hours in the year, or 92 percent of the time, electricity exports exceeded imports. On average, the amount of power exported was 5.7 GW, which corresponds to about four nuclear power plants. Germany exported the most electricity to the Netherlands, who sent some of it on to Belgium and Great Britain. Second in line was Switzerland, who sent nearly all of the electricity from Germany directly on to Italy. Most of Germany’s electricity imports came from France. Here Germany acted, for the most part, as a transit country, passing the electricity on to other countries.

Against the backdrop of Germany’s gradual withdrawal from nuclear power, the trend of increasing electricity exports persists since the amount of energy generated from renewables continues to increase at a fast pace. “As a result of increased power production from renewable energy sources, we were able to reduce our dependency on electricity from environmentally harmful lignite-fired plants faster. Even this year the first lignite-fired power plants are to be put out of service,” explains Burger. The largest increase in renewable energy production stems mostly from wind power. Production from onshore wind increased by ca. 20 TWh and offshore by ca. 7 TWh respectively.'

And one just has to love how the Dutch manage to get a likely nice cut exporting electricity to further customers.

This sort of reasoning is behind China's suggestion to spend $50 trillion over some decades making the global grid into a global grid.

Germany is exhibit A for energy policy failure.

"German energy policy is an expensive way to achieve almost nothing. For solar alone, Germany has committed to pay subsidies of more than €100bn over the next 20 years, even though it contributes only 0.7 per cent of primary energy consumption. These solar panels’ net effect for the climate will be to delay global warming by a mere 37 hours by the end of the century, according to a report cited in Der Spiegel.

A McKinsey study published earlier this year found that Germany energy prices for households are now 48 per cent above the European average. At the same time, European power prices have risen almost 40 per cent since 2005, while US electricity prices have declined.

Despite exemptions from renewable obligations for energy-intensive companies, German industrial power costs are 19 per cent higher than the EU average. German industrial costs have risen 60 per cent since 2007, compared to increases of about 10 per cent in the US and China. This makes Germany an ever less attractive place for industry. German chemical giant BASF has already said it will make most if its future investments outside of Europe."


Germany exports its extra electricity.

Great! Now imagine every country wanting to export its electricity.

Someone needs to be a buyer for all that excess.

Only foolish, imperialist nations made such a decision.

There is also wave energy

Wave energy is only slightly more regular than wind (i.e. not a lot) and about twice or three times the price per KWh.

I imagine wave energy is a lot easier to predict in advance than wind.

I've seen some interesting demos which seem to have high potential to be easily deployed, cost effective and not have too high maintenance costs. Of course, the cost of unit number one, or the average cost of units 1-100, are not likely to look that good. I could easily see remote coastal locations being a niche market for these sorts of things until costs come down and they can be deployed more cost effectively on a larger scale.

No. You're thinking TIDAL. Not wave. First one is predictable, second one is not. The despatchability problem kills you - because its not predictability that matters - it's the match of supply and demand.

There are lots of demos and plans and perfect designs and in the real world the damn thing costs £260/KWh. Basically, if the tech was as good as its proponents claim, they'd be billionaires already.

No, I'm thinking wave. Although waves are unpredictable from one to the next, I think you can have a pretty decent idea of the average over the next 10 minutes or hour, say.

'Overall the message seems to be that not going nuclear was an even bigger mistake than we had been thinking.'

Sinn is an interesting public figure in part because he seems to have the sort of integrity that allows him to change his mind as facts change, meaning that as Germans continue to gain experience with renewable energy in their grid, he is likely to change his position as new experience or data arise. For example, one could have some doubts about that pumped storage figure, as it likely obscures how easy it is to repurpose existing pumped storage. Germany's current pumped storage capacity was built to handle the characteristics of nuclear power plants (essentially, they can only be used for baseload power, as their power generation cannot be turned on or off quickly), but the storage itself its utterly agnostic about where the power comes from - that is, the pumped storage facility on the Murg cares nothing about whether the electricity to power its pumps comes from Philippsburg or large scale wind farms.

This ability to change in response to actual events actually occurs among German elites (of which Sinn is a prominent member) - 'Clearly, Angela Merkel has reacted to the Fukushima disaster completely differently from Barack Obama and other world leaders. In the past, Merkel too has been pro-nuclear. She was convinced that nuclear power was safe and clean, and that the Chernobyl accident was a result of Soviet inefficiency, not of the technology itself. Only last year, she fought to extend the operation time of Germany's reactors by 12 years on average, against fierce opposition from the left and environmental groups.

In my view, the key to the chancellor's radical turnaround lies deep in her past. In the 1980s, well before she became a politician, Merkel worked in the former East Germany as a researcher in quantum chemistry, examining the probability of events in the subatomic domain. Her years of research instilled in her the conviction that she has a very good sense of how likely events are, not only in physics but also in politics. Opponents of nuclear energy were "bad at assessing risks," she told me in the 1990s.

Then came the March disaster at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, which made the chancellor realize that she had been terribly wrong about the probability of a nuclear catastrophe in a highly advanced nation. Merkel's scientific sense of probability and rationality was shaken to the core. If this was possible, she reasoned, something similar might happen in Germany — not a tsunami, of course, but something equally unexpected. In her view, the field trial of nuclear energy had failed. As a self-described rationalist, she felt compelled to act.

"It's over," she told one of her advisers immediately after watching on TV as the roof of a Fukushima reactor blew off. "Fukushima has forever changed the way we define risk in Germany."

Merkel's conservative environment minister, Norbert Röttgen, recently echoed this line of thinking when he said that the Fukushima disaster "has swapped a mathematical definition of nuclear energy's residual risk with a terrible real-life experience." He added: "We can no longer put forward the argument of a tiny risk of ten to the power of minus seven, as we have seen that it can get real in a high-tech society like Japan."' https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/may/09/angela-merkel-green-energy

But as loyal readers of this blog know, the opinions of somebody with a background in the physical sciences is nowhere near as credible a source for policy decisions as a member of the GMU econ dept.

Yes, a "terrible real-life experience" that killed or harmed nobody, and only effects the quality of life of those effected to the extent that the Japanese authorities refuse to let the local inhabitants to move back. Face it, the German government made a craven, cowardly decision; they know that public opposition to nuclear power would become overwhelming immediately after Fukushima and they wanted to get out ahead of that wave, "backgrounds in the physical sciences" or whatever post-rationalisation that makes you feel vindicated had nothing to do with it.

'Face it, the German government made a craven, cowardly decision; they know that public opposition to nuclear power would become overwhelming immediately after Fukushima'

It was overwhelming before Fukushima - perhaps you are familiar with this minor 1986 incident? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster

However, as noted in that excerpt, an East German Ph.D. had a fairly typical German reaction to a massive failure of Soviet technology, and thus remained a proponent of nuclear energy using that as a rationalization. Until a generation later, another massive disaster struck a Japanese nuclear reactor block.

Noooo. It killed lots of people. Or rather, the subsequent Green Hysteria did.

Resettlement shock in those forcibly removed. Stress and worry and miscarriages. Diverting resources from other, more rational projects.

Just like Chernobyl. The primary radiation deaths end up being dwarfed by the epidemiology of public stress claims kills 10 times as many lives. Way to go, Green murderers,

You are so completely full of it! Merkel's decision was based on electoral losses to the Greens in Baden-Wuertemberg - nothing to do with an assessment of probability. I don't know what your specific problem is - but I would recommend professional help.

I agree with the sentiment that we should invest in and rebuild nuclear, but this article does not argue for it. And honestly, this is probably a good piece of work, but it covers well-trod and understood ground.

Nuclear is high CapEx, constant OpEx. For newer plants the OpEx is not bad per kWh. That's not complementary as backup to renewables. You'd run the nuclear perhaps a third of the time and have to charge very high rates to every pay back the overnight costs.

Renewables are complemented by low CapEx plants with variable OpEx. That describes a natural gas peaker plant.

It'd be interesting to know what timescales of storage they considered here. As one shifts from Daily to Weekly to Seasonal, the storage economics of renewables get more difficult. Particularly in high latitude regions. Chemical storage then becomes necessary. But, it's much cheaper to get stored chemical energy out of the ground than build it up from CO2, H2O and electricity.

Cheap, reliable storage in grid relevant amounts still seems an unsolved problem.

I also think there is value is system robustness, and perhaps as well in proximity between generation and consumption. For example, even if all of Europe's energy needs could be met by solar panels in the Sahara, or gas imports from Russia, it would be a bad, perhaps fatal, policy decision to allow this.

From a national energy policy point of view, I'd think there is a pretty strong argument to be made that you would like a mix of fuel sources - hydro, nuclear, fossil, wind, solar. Perhaps a broader mix that a purely economically driven local optimization would yield.

In California, storage is coming in cheaper or competitive with alternatives to the deficit caused by natural gas storage loss at Aliso Canyon.

And it looks like utility scale flow battery pilots will have prices to the utilities cheaper than the existing utility scale lithium ion solutions which are limited by mining and manufacturing capacity which is scaling up rapidly. The time to build lots more battery manufacturing in the US is less than the time to build new nuclear power plants in China.

Natural gas storage is not a despatchable energy source. Any more than a "reservoir" or pile of coal is. That would require batteries, or pumped hydro, or spinning or warm reserve conventional plants.

The fact that you can make such a breathtakingly basic mistake should pretty much disqualify you from writing anything about power generation. But in my experience the less someone knows about energy systems the more opinionated they get over it.

'As one shifts from Daily to Weekly to Seasonal, the storage economics of renewables get more difficult.'

Yep, which is why German coal power plants that are no longer economical to run were able to successfully receive subsidies, much like farmers. That is, both receive money for not producing something, as explained here - 'Germany forged an accord with three utilities to relegate some of their dirtiest power plants to the nation’s reserve generating capacity to help cut carbon pollution and avert blackouts.

Over seven years from the winter of 2016, eight lignite power plants owned by RWE AG, Vattenfall AB and Mitteldeutsche Braunkohlegesellschaft mbH will be placed in stages in the reserve to create a 2.7-gigawatt backstop, the Economy and Energy Ministry said Saturday. The utilities will be paid about 1.6 billion euros ($1.76 billion) in all to keep the plants offline except in an emergency when power demand exceeds supply, it said. The ministry didn’t name the plants.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has said it has a threefold aim in keeping some of German energy generation’s biggest polluters offline without shutting them down: cutting carbon emissions to meet its climate pledges, setting up a backstop against outages as clean energy expands and finally to assuage utilities that might otherwise shut down plants and fire workers.' http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-24/rwe-vattenfall-lignite-plants-to-enter-eu1-6-billion-reserve

Keeping brown coal plants open to meet the shortfalls in renewable generation is a win to you? Why don't you stop licking German boots and admit that you are placing your faith in illusions and you dismissal of nuclear energy is based on fear of a phantom.

(responds with 1 sentence of snark and a 10 paragraph copy & paste from wikipedia that no one will read because he ruined his moniker's reputation years ago)

Sorry, but this time, the long texts come from the Fraunhofer Institute, Australia's ABC, Bloomberg and the Guardian.

You are probably right about no one reading them though.

'Keeping brown coal plants open to meet the shortfalls in renewable generation is a win to you?'

Nope, it is a win for the energy companies that have resolutely opposed renewable energy plans in Germany for several decades. A company like RWE will get something like 50 million euros a year by promising that the lignite plants it has taken offline will run if it needs to be turned on. It is also a way to subsidize a company like RWE using tax payer funds for not having invested in generation capacity that uses something other than dirty brown coal.

'and you dismissal of nuclear energy is based on fear of a phantom.'

The phantom of Murphy? The phantom that for profit companies will cut corners in the pursuit of profit? If the commercial nuclear industry was run along lines that Rickover would find satisfactory (why yes, I do have acquaintances that faced Rickover before they were allowed into the Navy's nuclear program), my main objections about the first two points would be reasonably assuaged. (Here is an introduction from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyman_G._Rickover - 'Rickover's substantial legacy of technical achievements includes the United States Navy's continuing record of zero reactor accidents, as defined by the uncontrolled release of fission products to the environment subsequent to reactor core damage.')

Long term storage of waste products is still a reasonable concern. And one of the most likely reasons the German Atomausstieg is being so fiercely resisted by major utility companyies is that the true costs of handling what is left over from decommissioning a nuclear plant will no longer be possible to hand wave away. But no worries - RWE and friends already have their hands out for more taxpayer money to handle that problem too, since it is a burden shared by all of us, and not merely the companies that profited from selling the power.

If you believe that those brown coal plants are going to stay in reserve then you are truly fooling yourself, they will be turned back on when the renewables fleet cannot produce enough power to meet demand, which is inevitable with energy sources based on intermittent phenomena. And claiming that "if something can go wrong it will"; in addition to being the refrain of every failed doomsayer since the beginning of time, loses it's sting when the "worst possible thing" happens three times (you forgot to mention Three Mile Island) and only some 50 people are killed (that is, if you believe UNSCEAR, which you probably don't), leaving nuclear energy's total fatality rate below that of solar (a lot of rooftop installers fall to their death every year) and only slightly higher than that of wind.

'If you believe that those brown coal plants are going to stay in reserve then you are truly fooling yourself'

We will find out, but you are aware of the fact that at exactly the same time companies like RWE were saying they needed nuclear to keep from building new coal plants that they were submitting applications to build new coal plants? Ones that do not use lignite, by the way. And which still manage to lose money when generating power - as is the case in Karlsruhe and Mannheim for EnBW, for example.

Actually, I am pretty sure that the lignite plants are unlikely to be used again - they just are not competitive, especially against the modern coal plants that have been built in the last few years.

My take on geological storage has always been thus;

If future human are too stupid/incapable of recognising and staying away from historic fissile storage, then something horrible has happened and the problems for humanity are much, much bigger than a leaky repository.

Hey prior, even if the best case scenarios for CO2 reduction in Germany come to pass, wouldn't it have been better to eliminate ALL grid fossil fuel energy use and THEN eliminate nuclear?

What are the levels of subsidy that wind and solar receive?

None, actually, which is the point of the feed in tariff providing a reliable return on investment for those willing to invest in reducing Germany's external energy dependency on unreliable suppliers.

Wait, no one uses that argument anymore these days, do they? Except some cranks who think Putin is a problem, right?

Well, clearly Prior has some trouble with the word "subsidy"...if you mean guaranteed prices above market rates..... Oh look; data!


May I draw you attention to the section labelled "renewable energy surcharge".?

Let me add just a bit more on spare capacity to buffer intermittency in renewables.

In Europe, on one or two days of the year, typically on extremely cold winter days, the air is absolutely still, all the way across the continent. Outside daylight hours, this means that renewables production will approach zero--on the coldest days of the year.

Spare capacity really needs to be sized to this event, not some average shortfall.

Space heating is renewables biggest weakness and will probably be the area where fossil is replaced last. The ultimate solution is moving to extremely efficient homes that need very little heating. Germans are already leaders in this with passive houses that don't even have AC or heating outside of an almost candle like ethanol burner in a fire place.

It's a LOT worse than that. Yeah; you have the high pressure winter systems which will destroy wind across the continent for 4 or so days. But the real kicker is just the long seasonal shortfall. About 70% of wind falls in the winter, and 30% in summer. The amount of storage needed to buffer across seasonal periodicity is phenomenal.

You could approach the reasoning the way they do for capacity in municipal sewage. You plan for a certain size of storm, and then accept that in rare cases beyond that, or in cases or other errors or accidents, the capacity may be insufficient. In terms of energy continuity, I'm pretty sure that in wealthier countries angles will be covered to the extent that the remaining risk will continue to be primarily natural and/or human accidents which lead to losing access to electricity. How much wind and solar is optimally in such a mix by the point that energy is a fossil-fuel-free affair will probably depend more on other alternatives than the potential for additional grid management options and risks relating to wind and solar, imo.

" then accept that in rare cases beyond that, or in cases or other errors or accidents, the capacity may be insufficient"

You realise....as a small consideration....if we lose electricity for any substantial period over a substantial area we shut down as a civilisation?

Let's assume 1-in-100 year event, with no significant wind power for 9 days in a mid-winter high pressure event for a largish-country like the UK. Let's say it hits you after a couple of lulls, so your national batteries give out on day 3. What happens next for our renewables country?

Day 4. General disruption. No national transport, industry. Filling stations with electric pumps fail. Retail seriously hampered.
Day 6. Hospital emergency generators exhausted. Frozen food in stores and homes ruined.
Day 7. Shops emptied. Houses (unheated) have reverted to ambient temperature. Gas supplies fail due to lack of power to pumps.
Day 8. Most food at homes exhausted. Private transport pretty much stopped. Widespread deaths.
Day 9. ....

This is why renewables only is so hideously dangerous.

Usually it's stuff like some poles go down locally, or on a bigger scale maybe there's a localized accident that spreads across the system somehow and they have to shut down parts, lock them down in a sense, before an accident can spread. Then check stuff, most parts are back on soon, and then find where the problem is, then fix it.

We're not talking about power going out across the entire USA. We're talking about things like you hear in the news sometimes ... 100,000 people without power for 2 days or something. Not the end of civilization, but sometimes a couple people die in the cold. And those issues basically aren't going to go away (although we are extremely fast/good at it in Canada - outages last second to minutes most of the time, as compared to hours to days in some other locations I've visited), no matter how theoretically oversized the capacity is.

The scenario you mention sounds more like an alien invasion EMP attack than, say, the sort of routine issues that lead to power outages.

Oh, and when there simply isn't enough power, standard strategy is to a) keep 100% supply in most important places, and b) rotating periods throughout different areas where there is no power access, e.g., as a number of hours per day, more or less. The world has managed without 24/7 electricity before. Worst case scenario, it'd be like Indian energy supply for a few days, not the end of civilization.

I wonder what their assumptions for energy costs are. Battery prices are dropping pretty quickly, like somewhere between 8-20% year depending on the manufacturer. That would change the cost equation pretty quickly. Probably in the early 2020's they will start being competitive with CC nat gas plants that ramp up and down to meet demand. They are getting close to beating out simple cycle peakers in many places today.

Long term no other source of energy matches what we can get from solar, so that will be dominant. Nuclear will still be around and important if for no other reason we can't find anywhere to put the waste of today's PWR. There are reactor designs that can use that waste and turn it into waste that has half life's that are much smaller. But yes we should have listened to Asimov etc. in the 50s and seen fossil fuels as barbaric in comparison to nuclear.

What battery tech do you see providing grid relevant amount of storage?

I'm not an expert, but from from I've seen, all the commercial deployments are (in grid terms) pretty tiny, i.e. local grid-minutes of capacity at best. While this may be useful as a short peaker alternative, especially where you know there are alternative fossil fuel peakers as a fallback, it seems pretty limited.

Grid relevant here means enough to preclude the need for backup infrastructure under the once or twice a year conditions Steve Kopits notes above.

Again you have to optimize the system. Those super high demand days, what is driving them? Almost always weather. It is probably better to dampen the spikes and flatten demand year around by building super efficient buildings like RMI promotes. That being said lithium ion will probably be the winner, just because it's already a much bigger scale than competing chemistries and designs. It needs to be under $100/kW hr installed and at utility scale it's probably about $200-250 right now but falling 20% a year at the leading producers. So that's around 2020 to be competitive. They are mostly made of out nickel and aluminum by weight so there isn't much meterials issue. There is plenty of lithium in the crust and because the batteries are like 2% lithium by weight the industry can withstand the high spot prices we are seeing now required to induce more supply. The only sketchy material is cobalt but they can eliminate that in most designs and avian it's like less than 1% by weight.

The polite way to say this; "You have absolutely no numerical grasp on the scale of the problem".

Work out how much it costs to store 5 days of German electricity demand at $100/KWh. Go on....do it. The numbers are easy to find. Multiply the second number by the first REALLY BIG NUMBER. Now discount for NPV over battery life. What do you get in costs per annum?

I'd think of battery techs as being a basically different issue from grid-relevant storage.

Can you store a few days of national energy demand in hydrogen (for example)? We do it with natural gas, so would it really be that much more difficult? Or means of driving high-energy (to require less quantity of materials to be in stock) reversible reactions with low energy loss and storage costs?

Why not build that many batteries? If solar plus storage gets cheaper than natural gas, why not?

Using something like hydrogen is not very good physics. You pay a 50% penalty each way on the conversion from electricity to H2 and then H2 to electricity. Batteries only lose like 10% round trip. The only thing close is pumped storage. But of course that is limited in locations. You will see hydropower used as a battery and only used when you have high demand or solar/wind lows though.

Solar plus storage is NOT cheaper than natural gas.

You need about Solar + 10 days storage for system equivalence (being generous). This system works out at about 5 to 10 times the price of natural gas equivalent.

It will be in the mid to late 2020s. I'm a petroleum engineer and we can probably only drop another 20-30% on nat gas cost just because the majority is becoming transportation,G+A, and OPEX. Finding cost is getting super cheap, at least in the northeast. Compressor efficiency to move the gas is limited by physics and pipelines are getting more expensive and difficult to put in.

Solar and batteries both have learning curves that allow things to get unbelievably cheap.

Yes. Solar and batteries are definitely getting better. Yay. Maybe one day we can power the planet with a 30' North band of cells and batteries.

But it won't be 2030 at current rates of improvement. Try 2130 and you might be closer to the truth.

Alistair, I think you make some good points, but your framing is slightly off. It's probable that solar with batteries will become economically viable based upon local grid costs and solar irradiation.

So, one would logically expect that rural areas near the equator to be solar (with energy storage) economical much earlier than suburban areas at the 52.5 latitude. It won't be a specific point in time for the whole globe but rather a range. With the contour line moving as the price of solar + energy storage dropping.

Tiny is a good way to describe it. The UK, which is not a slouch in this area, has something like 12 GWh storage from all sources.

If we cut the power at peak demand, all our storage reserves would keep the lights on for about....12 minutes.

12 minutes. That's all. Of course, we could actually burn the batteries down so quick, but it puts the absolute scale of storage into perspective. To make the 100% renewable solutions work we need WEEKS of storage. Not 12 minutes.

The real price of nuclear is the facility cleanup when it's over and spent fuel storage. So far there's no solution for long term spent fuel storage.

Yes, there is.



So, PRISM will handle this?

'The weapons production reactors were decommissioned at the end of the Cold War, but the decades of manufacturing left behind 53 million US gallons (200,000 m3) of high-level radioactive waste, an additional 25 million cubic feet (710,000 m3) of solid radioactive waste, 200 square miles (520 km2) of contaminated groundwater beneath the site and occasional discoveries of undocumented contaminations that slow the pace and raise the cost of cleanup. The Hanford site represents two-thirds of the nation's high-level radioactive waste by volume. Today, Hanford is the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States and is the focus of the nation's largest environmental cleanup.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_safety_in_the_United_States#Hanford_Site

The Hanford reactors and PRISM have exactly zero in common with each other. One is designed to produce weapons-grade plutonium (which is not the same as rector-grade plutonium, by the way) by subjecting a lump of U-238 to bombardment by neutrons and then stopping once the breeding has taken place, the newly created plutonium then being removed and a lot of other intermediate transuranic materials coming out with it and creating the mess you pointed to. The other breeds plutonium (but not nearly to the same concentration) and then burns it and the other transuranic elements in the reactor to produce energy, the material is constantly recycled through the reactor until nothing but short-lived fission products remain. You either know nothing of this difference and were simply fishing for negative stories about a reactor that sounded somewhat similar, in which case you are too dense to have a legitimate opinion on nuclear energy, or you do know the difference and are lying to further you argument, in which case you can kindly stow your dubious arguments.

PRISM will handle Fukushima then? See the link below for details.

Obviously, you missed the point that there tends to be a bit more long term waste than merely spent fissile material. Maybe I should be more explicit in drawing the connections?

There is a solution. Using the fuel in molten salt reactors to make more electricity. Convincing the NRC and them permitting it for less than billions of dollars is the challenge.

Clean-up costs for nuclear are slight as a proportion of overall costs.


Most greens don't know anything about decom costs. You're probably thinking of all the old 1950's dual use research reactors. They were a mess and that's where all the cleanup money goes. But modern builds are much, much cheaper to clean up. And a deep repository is not expensive to build either.

Deep repository? Where? It is still a project.

Absolutely. It's a political hot potato.

But from an engineering and cost standpoint, it's quite easy. No nuclear engineer or physicist is worried about it. It's just the usual anti-science "what if the moon falls out of the sky and buries us under green cheese" brigade...

And that's precisely the issue, the repository problem is for geologists, rock mechanics and groundwater people.

You can just use it as an input for munitions and leave it strewn across the Middle East. I don't think anyone would mind much at all.

So, time to go looking for the latest news on Fukushima, which seems to have ever so conveniently dropped off the radar screens of those ever so environmentally minded nuclear power proponents. The following was the first google result for 'Fukushima latest news.' Can anyone guess how Naohiro Masuda fits the punchline of how an economist handles a real world problem?

'The operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant has revealed that 600 tonnes of reactor fuel melted during the disaster, and that the exact location of the highly radioactive blobs remains a mystery.

In an exclusive interview with Foreign Correspondent, the Tokyo Electric Power Company's chief of decommissioning at Fukushima, Naohiro Masuda, said the company hoped to pinpoint the position of the fuel and begin removing it from 2021.

But he admitted the technology needed to remove the fuel has to be invented.

"Once we can find out the condition of the melted fuel and identify its location, I believe we can develop the necessary tools to retrieve it," Mr Masuda said.

"So it's important to find it as soon as possible."' http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-24/fukushima-operator-reveals-600-tonnes-melted-during-the-disaster/7396362

The answer to the punchline is that like an economist positing a non-existent can opener, Naohiro Masuda just assumes the future will provide a solution.

And from the article, another person who disagrees with the mighty analytical and predictive skills of a GMU econ dept. professor - 'Another supporter turned opponent of nuclear power is Naoto Kan, who was the Japanese prime minister at the time of the Fukushima meltdowns.

He says those who argue that nuclear power is a safe, cheap source of energy are misguided.

"So far, the government is paying $70 billion to support TEPCO," Mr Kan said.

"But that is not enough. It will probably cost more than $240 billion. I think 40 years [to decommission the plant] is an optimistic view."'

Yep, 70 billion bucks going to a private company after the bangs at its facilities. So, what is the opportunity cost of such an amount, particularly in light of the reality that as of today, the melted fuel cannot be cleaned up at all? (Unless one accepts Soviet levels of concern for those involved, that is.) The Germans, apparently, prefer this question to be answered empirically, by turning off nuclear plants before one of those ever so exceedingly rare, only once in a generation melt downs occurs in Germany.

You take the word of politicians and the odious Greg Jaczko; a particle physicist who was made NRC director due to a blatantly political appointment and has made millions of dollars by leveraging his short tenure as NRC director into an anti-nuclear lobby group, over that of say... Stewart Brand, James Hansen, James Lovelock, Tom Wigley, George Monbiot (if you need an anti-capitalist to persuade you), Ken Caldiera, or Steven Pinker. And this is just naming prominent pro-nuclear voices who aren't nuclear scientists or engineers because something tells me you probably think that they are compromised by the fact that they know more about nuclear technology than anybody else (oh sorry, I meant they're "in the industry"). You're a pathetic fraud of a commenter, prior_test2, and you'll always be so.

Amost as if the words from Tokyo Electric Power Company’s chief of decommissioning at Fukushima, Naohiro Masuda, went right over your head. Along with the joke about how an economist just makes up what they need to solve a problem, which is pretty much Naohiro Masuda's long term plan too, in his own words at least.

His words might have a little more impact if he wasn't overseeing the most incompetent, inefficient, and misguided clean-up effort in the history of clean-up efforts. The technology to remove the remains of the reactors doesn't exist because there is no reason for it to exist, the cores have solidified and are cooling down apace, they do not pose a threat to anyone or anything and can be safely entombed in concrete where they asit just as Chernobyl No.4 was. The fact that they don't know the exact sub-millimetre location of every part of the cores (which is what they're talking about here) is only a problem if they continue with this absurd "we have to get all of the core material out of the containment buildings!" plan, which practicality and common sense says that they won't.

'His words might have a little more impact if he wasn’t overseeing the most incompetent, inefficient, and misguided clean-up effort in the history of clean-up efforts.'

And to think you are a supporter of nuclear power.

'The technology to remove the remains of the reactors doesn’t exist because there is no reason for it to exist, the cores have solidified and are cooling down apace, they do not pose a threat to anyone or anything and can be safely entombed in concrete where they asit just as Chernobyl No.4 was.'

You should volunteer to take a few pictures, just to help the engineers figure out where to pour the concrete - as it is right now, they literally do not know where the melted fuel is, or at what depth - 1 meter under the breached building? 5 meters? 10?

'The fact that they don’t know the exact sub-millimetre location of every part of the cores (which is what they’re talking about here) is only a problem if they continue with this absurd “we have to get all of the core material out of the containment buildings!” plan, which practicality and common sense says that they won’t.'

If it wasn't for that pesky being on the seashore aspect, including hundreds of tons of a nasty heavy metal possibly being below sea level. (I'm not all that impressed by radioactivity, to be honest, though as noted here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK158798/ - 'The health effects associated with oral or dermal exposure to natural and depleted uranium appear to be primarily chemical in nature and not radiological, while those from inhalation exposure may also include a slight radiological component, especially if the exposure involves prolonged exposure to insoluble uranium compounds. This profile is primarily concerned with the effects of exposure to natural and depleted uranium, but does include limited discussion regarding enriched uranium, which is considered to be more of a radiological than a chemical hazard,' enriched fuel is a bit different.) I'm sure that only incompetent engineers would worry about earth quake proofing such a straightforward building project on a sea coast.

"You’re a pathetic fraud of a commenter, prior_test2, and you’ll always be so."

I saw nothing fraudulent about prior_test2's comment, and the only pathetic behavior I could observe in this entire thread was your insult.

Infrastructure like nuclear power plants and floating oil production platforms are designed to some arbitrary risk factor which is generally passively accepted by the designing engineers. Thus, a floating platform may be designed to resist a 100 year storm, which an engineer will interpret as 'a thirty meter wave'.

There are problems with this approach. First, we often don't really have 100 years of clean data, so we don't actually know what a hundred year storm means. Sometimes, it seems we have three 'hundred year storms' in a row.

Second, much of our energy infrastructure--particularly nuclear power plants--was designed with an operating life significantly shorter than the actual observed life. We didn't think the plants would last as long as they have. Thus, the probability of encountering a rare event is higher. If a plant was designed for 25 years and operates for 75, then the risk is by definition three times higher than anticipated during construction. Fukushima was designed in the early 1960s.

Finally, individual project risk is different from aggregate sector risk. Thus, the risk of a tsunami at Fukushima specifically may be fairly low. This risk of a tsunami somewhere on the Japanese coast is pretty high over a longer period of time. So if you have nuclear plants dotting the coast, the odds for any individual plant is low, but the odds of a catastrophe collectively are much higher.

The real kicker, though, is incentives and culture. Power plants are expensive and operators are incentivized to cut corners. This is no different than with oil rigs, financial services, or nuclear power plants. Second, culture matters. The Japanese, curiously, were largely insensitive to tsunami risk, with the focus emphasizing earthquakes and typhoons. I would add that there are many stones on the hills above the Japanese coast from earlier times indicating the high water marks of previous tsunamis. It doesn't look like the Fukushima designers took these to heart. Indeed, it's not clear they considered the history of prior tsunamis at all.

I personally am a fan of nuclear power and deepwater oil production. But the associated risks are not lost on me, and bland assurances from operators and engineers that adequate safety precautions were taken cannot be passively accepted as true.

Sure. A Priori risk assessments are always a crapshoot.

But we have 50 years of empirical data on nuclear. The death rate per KWh is lowest of any generating source. Period. Better still, the trend is clearly down over time (as you'd expect - it is for everything). An ounce of observation is worth a ton of theory, and the observations are in.

The Fukushima decommission commissioner said two things that don't make sense:

“Once we can find out the condition of the melted fuel and identify its location, I believe we can develop the necessary tools to retrieve it,” Mr Masuda said.

This is the equivalent of looking for a couple of dead miners in a mining accident. "Once we find out the condition of the dead bodies and identify their locations, I believe we can develop the necessary tools to retrieve them," Mr Masuda said.

Then, “So it’s important to find it ["them"] as soon as possible.”

Why is it important to find two dead bodies deep in a mine shaft as soon as possible? Are they harming anyone way down their?"

Unfortunately, many of Naoto "We're going to lose half of Japan!" Kan's statements are as irrational as Mr. Masuda's.

'This is the equivalent of looking for a couple of dead miners in a mining accident. '

600 tons of uranium whose actual location and state is currently unknown is not the equivalent of a couple of dead miners.

'are as irrational as Mr. Masuda’s'

Well, one hopes not, considering that he is Tokyo Electric Power Company’s chief of decommissioning at Fukushima.

With respect to needing to know what the objects look like in order to find it, they are the same. What is he expecting the state of corium to be in and how is it relevant to figuring out how to remove it, just like the skeleton case. If skeletons could walk or corium could fly, then Mr. Masuda would have a point.

'What is he expecting the state of corium to be in and how is it relevant to figuring out how to remove it'

That is the problem - literally no one knows what state hundreds of tons of uranium is in. For example, is it just a single blob one meter underneath one breached building? That would be straightforward enough to deal with, but then, you still have two other melted and breached reactor cores to go - anyone willing to guess what happens when you melt 200 hundred tons of uranium that hit 'groundwater' 5 meters below sea level (calling such water groundwater feels inaccurate). No one has ever simulated such a scenario, after all - as for testing it, well, we will just have to wait and see, after we figure out how to take a few pictures of what thing look like.

I might add that the real problem in nuclear clean-up tends to be the byproducts that no one expected - this is one of the real problems at Savannah River, by the way (why yes, a family member with a degree in materials engineering worked there for several years, when DuPont was still running the place).

How can any system which stores excess unused energy of another be considered as "inefficient" except as compare to some more efficient way of doing the same? If it saves more energy than it uses and makes sense from an accounting perspective, then why not?

My main guess here is that whatever storage means ultimately proliferate will be something stupid simple and cheap that somehow no one happened to realize for a very long time, and probably not something supremely high tech (different from case of battery techs relating to cars, etc.). Like when someone realized that salts can prevent deaths from diarrhea, savings a huge number of lives at a very low cost.

I dunno ... maybe it's easier to boil off the water and let it float to a higher elevation (through a tube, say) where it will condense into the higher altitude stored energy behind a dam or in any sort of storage unit. Or a million other ways. I cannot believe that the sticking point is really that we can't find an efficient way to store energy at a decent cost. All those millions and quadrillions of reversible chemical reactions to be tried out, and someone we can't figure out how to pull any of them off without losing most of the energy in the process?

It doesn't make any sense from an accounting perspective.

Storage costs are huge. Over $100/KWh at very best. If you built the amount of buffering described in the article, you'd quadruple electricity retail prices to pay for it.

If storage was cheap, we'd have done it already.

'If storage was cheap, we’d have done it already.'

Let me introduce you to this facility, which is more than 30 years old - 'The Bath County Pumped Storage Station is a pumped storage hydroelectric power plant, which is described as the “largest battery in the world”, with a generation capacity of 3,003 MW The station is located in the northern corner of Bath County, Virginia, on the southeast side of the Eastern Continental Divide, which forms this section of the border between Virginia and West Virginia. The station consists of two reservoirs separated by about 1,260 feet (380 m) in elevation. It is the largest pumped-storage power station in the world.

Construction on the power station, with an original capacity of 2,100 megawatts (2,800,000 hp), began in March 1977 and was completed in December 1985 at a cost of $1.6 billion, Voith-Siemens upgraded the six turbines between 2004 and 2009, increasing power generation to 500.5 MW and pumping power to 480 megawatts (640,000 hp) for each turbine. Bath County Station is jointly owned by Dominion Generation (60%) and FirstEnergy (40%), and managed by Dominion. It stores energy for PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organization in 13 states and the District of Columbia.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath_County_Pumped_Storage_Station

This is just an example - there are a lot more spread over the world.

Silly American. Let me introduce you to Dinorwig.


Dinorwig disposes of slightly more than 9GWh. That's about 32 Trillion Joules. Your Bath pumping station stores about 43 Trillion Joules potential energy, of which about 30 will be retrievable on those turbines and reservoirs. Largest in the world....eh? An amusing but common American conceit.

Anyway, serious points. I note that you don't actually touch on cost-effectiveness or capacity, only generating capacity. That's a common confusion with greenies, and like most of your posts it combines a breathless "gee-whiz" impressionable naivety and a complete engineering innumeracy. That and the long quotation of references they don't fully understand.

So let me spell it out to you slowly, with the proper dimensions, so you can understand in future and make a meaningful contribution to the debate:

Generation capacity (MW) storage capacity (MWh) cost-effectiveness $/MWh

What matters is the cost-effectiveness of storage, in $/MWh, not how many turbines and MW capacity you have. Understand ? You can store the energy in pumped hydro, batteries, hydrogen, molten salt or cauliflowers. It doesn't matter. What matters is the hideous expense of doing so.

( Your pumped storage, depending on available and obliging Geography, costs about $3000 per KW installed capacity or about $200/KWh retrieved over lifetime use. Batteries are about the same cost. There's no magic bullet here, but if you knew anything about power systems you would know that already. As I said, you accidentally reveal your limitations with every post).

"Silly American. Let me introduce you to Dinorwig."

Calling prior_approval an American is, at best, half true.

The 'overall message' should be that energy policy needs to based on hard, analytical number-crunching, and not on ideology or wishful thinking.

Too bad this is the most wishful of thinking.

Abstract, theoretical, nuclear power works great, and thus appeals to economists.

Given my real experience with the real nuke, San Onofre, which once supplied half my household power, I am much less convinced.

In fact, I scoff, because theory is not practice. Economists should darn well know that in 2016.


This is like saying PCs only work theoretically, look at this crappy room sized punch card operated computer from the 1960s.

If you believe multi-billion dollar reactors should all be replaced periodically, please work that into your price.

So you like that the shut-down of that station has caused a marked increase in the carbon emissions of California's power sector, I take it? And why don't you point me to a safety problem with San Onofre which doesn't amount to "this might cause a problem someday if something terrible were to happen, but isn't actually harming anybody now".

What part of "built backwards" did you miss?

What part of "isn't causing any actual problems" did YOU miss?

You know what is amazing? People who are steadfast in their belief that practice of government always falls short of the dream, are at the same time confident that a quasi-govermental nuclear industry succeeds, all evidence to the contrary.

You are making the standard who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes, argument.

Just seen on slashdot


cost of energy storage drops. So, while storage still might be expensive - it could be still less expensive, than the cited text assumes

just to clarify - I'm all pronuclear. especially moving with known potentially much less costly and more safe designs of reactors. But they still are not operational anywhere, but will start popping in next decade, so a lot of discussion is still ahead

Nice cite, I was going to say the same thing, that storage costs for energy are dropping. I think TC is too pessimistic, since after all this storage problem only happens 33% of the time: "Unfortunately, however, this buffering strategy loses its effectiveness when wind and solar production overshoots electricity demand, which happens beyond coverage of about a third of aggregate electricity production"

They have to drop a long, long, way. Much further than most of their advocates realise. To completely buffer renewable generation you need weeks of storage. Weeks of storage at $100/KWh is still ruinously expensive.

Which isn't to say the won't have value at the margin. But running the whole grid off renewables? Madness.

Natural gas is fine with me. I don't care about carbon emissions. They're a benefit not a problem. Because of pressure from Greens, we have to solve all these problems related to intermittency.

natural gas does not need to emit carbon : https://sequestration.mit.edu/tools/projects/net_power.html http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187661021300221X ( due to higher efficiency additional expenses for providing oxyfuel will be not costly ) so in few years it would be possible to keep using natural gas and satisfy greens

So what, we have enough coal to go for centuries.

Reducing carbon emissions unilaterally is irrational anyway, and we don't expect the US and China - the world's biggest emitters - to reduce their emissions much and be honest about their numbers.

The AfD here in Germany shares Trump's global warming denialism, and while it's not scientifically accurate, I'm tempted to support them just because I know they won't accept any further unilateral reductions. We've paid a lot for other countries recently, and I'd say that's quite enough German altruism for a while.

You have bankrupted much of the eurozone through your insane monetary beliefs! And now Deutsche Bank is in trouble because of that - and you somehow think Germany is the good guy?

I don't have the competence to judge monetary policy or who is responsible for it, but when the Euro was created, we were assured there would be no debt union and we would not have to bail out other member states. Turns out that was a lie.

I'm also referring to the fact that we spent billions of tax dollars + even more intangible cost from social conflicts on Syrian refugees while many other countries didn't pay nearly as much.

But no matter how you judge this, it remains an unrealistic expectation that the US and China will both reduce their emissions significantly without cheating, and it remains a fact that unilateral emissions reductions are irrational from a German perspective in such world. This is why I want to support the political powers that don't spend money on climate change prevention.

The US did reduce emissions.

IIRC, Europe did not.

Nonsense. This kind of vague statement can always be justified if you cherrypick your data, e.g. carefully choose your time period and ignore the difference in base rate. Otherwise it's not defensible.

But not even that really matters because I expect everyone to be able to cheat and fudge numbers, which China certainly will. Who on earth controls that?

"But not even that really matters because I expect everyone to be able to cheat and fudge numbers, ..."

Yeah, Volkswagen comes to mind.

"Yeah, Volkswagen comes to mind."

Indeed! But if you think the principle only applies to them because they're singularly evil, you're being naive.

I don't want to intrude, but....could you just....you know....burn more refugees? They're biodegradable and come in an apparently limitless supply.

Two problems solved at once!

Yes, yes, Nazi guilt leverage. The ultimate rhetorical weapon against Germans, let's just ignore that most of us were born decades after the holocaust and there's almost no nation state that didn't slaughter or enslave innocent people during its history.

Alternatively, you could take our Syrian friends off our hands, enjoy your increase in sexual violence, and we close our borders and burn our centuries worth of coal reserves instead of damaging our own economy for the new eco religion.

Out of 1000 reported attacks in Cologne, in public places, in the era of ubiquitous camera phones, can you remind us the grand total number of snapshots or any related evidence across the vast sum of 1000 reported attacks?

Oh golly dear, please don't tell me it's zero.

Where are the reports of 1000 stolen camera phones?

As mentioned before, feel free to take our Syrian friends off our hands if you think they'll be such a great asset to your country.

Actually, we're considering to ask the Germans who came as refugees during some other war or another to GTFO because refugees aren't welcome.

And take your bloody sourkraut, pagan rituals and stupid chlidren's stories with you.

Yeah, because we're actually like that.

(P.S. - If you meet one of those folks who has invaded your country for the purpose of demographic and cultural domination by means of a one-off 1% transfer of population due to war in their home country ... well, why not ask them what they know of traditional storytelling narratives, practices, etc., or whatever along those lines. I bet you'd find that the devil incarnate does not burn brightly in their eyes when they do so.)

Clearly, there are still huge technical challenges with renewables and their integration. However, a big part of the solution may simply be to over provision.

Today, even without subsidies, solar PV is cost competitive with many generation sources. In many places (india china) it's one of the lowest cost generation sources. As the cost of solar PV continues to plummet, it may eventually become economical to install enough capacity to meet demand even when it's cloudy.

As an example, PV on north facing roofs produces as much as 50% of rated capacity. When the price of PV drops in half, many north facing roofs become economical to cover in solar.

When it's cloudy, PV typically puts out 10-20% of rated capacity. If PV costs drop by an order of magnitude, it could be economical to over provision so solar production is adequate even when it's cloudy.

Think of the 40" flat panel TV that cost $4000 in the early 2000s and now costs $200. We're on a similar trend line with PV. Also, ,max PV cell efficiency is currently only around 22% and that number could potentially increase substantially.

I'm an engineer and I understand that there's lots of engineering still to be done. However, the end state of this is starting to come into focus. It will take just a few more years on the current cost/efficiency improvement trend line, along with a little help from storage, to largely solve this problem.

Put your politics aside for a bit. Forget about greens, liberals, environmentalists, carbon, and global warming. While you weren't looking, capitalism has worked its magic yet again. We're in the midst of an energy revolution. I don't claim to know exactly how it will turn out, but I'm 100% certain that the world of energy will change more in the next 20 years than it has in the previous 200. In terms of economic impact, we could be talking industrial revolution magnitude.

I made a typo in that last reply, I meant to say
...more in the next 20 years than it has in the previous 100.

I guess we'll see. I think your're far too optimistic, but I'll gladly be proven wrong.

Perhaps I am too optimistic. Before I retired, I designed high speed networking gear. That industry was on a similar cost/efficiency trajectory and over provisioning solved a lot of tough problems. Bandwidth within the enterprise was so cheap that the easiest solution was to throw a gig port at each employee regardless of whether peak utilization was expected to be 1% or 90%.

I expect the same thing to happen with solar PV for all but the most intensive commercial energy consumers within about 20 years. Builders and roofers will just cover all roofs with PV as a matter of course. They may throw in a battery for stabilization, or maybe that'll be done by the utility, depending on how the politics and the economies of scale work out.

The funny thing is that utilities' push to end net metering means that a lot of the storage will end up behind the meter, even if that isn't the most economic place for it.

"When it’s cloudy, PV typically puts out 10-20% of rated capacity. If PV costs drop by an order of magnitude, it could be economical to over provision so solar production is adequate even when it’s cloudy."

I seriously doubt that. The PV cells could be "free" and the installation and conversion costs would still make it a negative economic value.

Time will tell. Unsubsidized residential solar currently costs about $3 per installed watt and in many areas has an unsubsidized payback of under 8 years.

About 30% of that quoted PV install cost is sales, marketing, and permitting. These are fixed per customer costs, not per watt costs. Marginal cost pricing says the per customer costs get assigned to the high production roof surfaces. Pricing to add extra modules to lower production roof surfaces wouldn't need to include these fixed costs.

So today, the cost of adding extra PV to east/west or even north roof surfaces works out to around $2 per watt. About half of that is modules and the other half is for other hardware and variable labor costs. If the modules cost $.10 per watt (10x cost reduction), the incremental cost for adding low production surfaces would be $1.10 per watt. Even at only 35% production, panels installed at $1.10 per watt would have an 8 year payback.

If solar installers can trim their install cost to $.50 per watt, even modules producing under 20% of max could cost out with an 8 year payback. Soft install costs in Germany are already less than half the of what they are in the US, so a 50% price reduction in install costs in the US doesn't seem unrealistic.

"...so a 50% price reduction in install costs in the US doesn’t seem unrealistic."

Yes, I could see a 50% price reduction, for a mature, large scale industry. But outside of a drastic operational change, I don't see a 90% reduction from current costs.

So 1/3rd is a pretty high number and it'll surely take some years before we are there. Isn't the massive growth of batteries the solution here? Both home-storage and grid-level battery storage is growing incredibly fast and the price is dropping even faster. A huge source of consumer-level batteries would also be the electric cars that everybody is buying, which combined with some smart charging and dynamic pricing could quite easily be used to flatten demand.

Can't it be imagined that a huge distributed network of batteries growing over the next years could simply offset this need for storage and grow in tandem?

Also, one more thing to be noted is that Norway and thus the nordic power market is currently being connected to Europe and the UK. Norway is over 90 % hydro. And hydro is essentially a huge battery, because you have reservoirs you can empty whenever you want.

Hydro storage, grid-level batteries and distributed consumer-level batteries. These trends seem to be happening in tandem, the assumptions of this paper seem to not take these developments into account.

Hydro storage, grid-level batteries and distributed consumer-level batteries. These trends seem to be happening in tandem, the assumptions of this paper seem to not take these developments into account.

What do you expect from a Cowen post?

"Norway is over 90 % hydro. And hydro is essentially a huge battery..."

I wouldn't go that far. Hydro is one of the cleanest and cheapest forms of electricity there are but it depends on having the right geography. Even hydro storage requires certain geographic features not to mention a ready supply of water to be viable. Could one use salt water from the ocean? If not, I don't think, say, California residents are going to be happy about devoting their already scarce freshwater supply to something like this.

Absolutely, but Norway has the right geography!

I was in fact being conservative, Norway already has 98,5 % of it's electricity from hydro

The reason it works "like" a battery, is because of the reservoirs. Essentially you can choose when to let the water flow from the reservoire. Therefore you can maximize production when the prices on mainland Europe are the highest.

I don't really see how that matters much. Can Norway increase it's amount of hydro in the future? If not, then the current amount is the cap. And it's no where near enough to act a battery for all of Europe. Or even for just north Europe.

To put it in perspective, Norway has 5 million people getting their power from Hydro. IE it can provide 10% storage capacity for 50 million people or 1% storage capacity for 500 million people.

Without public willingness to assume major costs and risks of nuclear power plants, financing them is impossible. I don't see the selling point that's going to turn that around.

If the US provided subsidies to Nuclear at the same level it provides for solar, new construction would be economical. However, the new construction would need to be less maintenance intensive than the reactors built in the 1960's.

Lower opEx costs are important, but even more important would be to actually build a plant for somewhere in the very rough ballpark of the projected capEx cost instead of having cost overruns of 2x or more.

I spent most of my adult life as a nuclear supporter, but my optimism for this industry has run very thin. It feels a bit like a relationship with an alcoholic. The industry offers us a shiny next gen technology that they swear will cost out. Then construction starts and the cost projections go out the window as does the time to completion. We've lived through this with 3 or 4 generations of nuclear tech and it's been the same with each one.

I'd love to be wrong this time, but frankly I'm glad this latest experiment is getting run on someone else's dime for a change. If they ever do get it right with the cost projections, I'll be the first to eat my words and jump back on board.

The Fukishima Daiichi had a 20km evacuation zone, with many arguing larger zone needed. I have a hard time fairly evaluating that risk vs. alternatives, but to me it seems that if we had a meltdown like that in the US that was similar near a populace (regardless of cause - natural disaster / terrorism / systems failure) we'd find many reasons to close as many of the plants as we could in the aftermath.

The Fukishima Daiichi had a 20km evacuation zone, with many arguing larger zone needed.

Based on what? Is there any hard scientific evidence that people could not go back to live in the Fukushima zone right now?
What I have heard is that the actual radiation levels, except for a very short (we're talking a couple hundred meters) radius around the plant, is effectively indistinguishable from normal background radiation.
The "many" arguing for a larger radius are largely a bunch of paranoid anti-nuke activists.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission suggested 50km at the time. Whether they're paranoid anti-nuke activists I don't know.

It's pretty obvious that you need a mix of different energy sources:

1. Nuclear - to provide constant baseload energy- tracks the typical around the clock minimum
2. Fossil fuel energy to track the daily demand curve
3. Wind/solar stored - to provide for instantaneous fluctuations in demand

2 and 3 can be combined to some extent, with wind/solar offsetting fossil fuel needs but you'll always need some storage.
I think the above mix would probably be the most realistic lowest carbon solution that still provides modern energy needs.
It's too bad so many people on the environmentalist side are irrationally commited to a zero-carbon pure wind/solar pipe dream.

According to the EIA's Aug 2016 report, the levelized cost for nuclear entering service in 2022 is estimated at $100 per MWh. The estimate for unsubsidized solar is $75, wind is $60, and CC nat gas is $56. So with nuclear industry cost estimates, new nuclear is almost double the cost of the alternatives.

If nuclear could actually come in at $100/MWh, I'd say sure, we should have some of that too for diversification. But the nuclear industry has reliably low-balled their cost estimates since the beginning of time. That $100 estimate will most likely turn into $120 or $130, if we're lucky.

The biggest problem with nuclear isn't safety. It's financial risk. It's more likely than not that in the next 20-30 years, energy from new nuclear plants will be very overpriced compared to the alternatives. No private entity will ever finance a free market nuclear project. The only way to get a nuclear project done in the US is for monopoly utilities to put the financial risk of the project onto ratepayers through their captured PUCs and legislators.

It's very surprising to me that so many free market types are pro-nuclear despite the overwhelming evidence that the free market has decidedly moved on.

Nuclear wouldn't cost nearly so much if every plant construction project didn't have to deal with multiple delays caused by litigation and the abuse of the regulatory process by anti-nuke activists.

South Australia generates electricity equal to around 40% of its consumption from wind and solar and has no storage. Large electricity users in Australia have long paid prices based on wholesale spot prices so some demand shifting occurs to take advantage of lower prices and electricity can be exported to the neighboring state. All else equal, if South Australia continued to expand its wind and solar capacity it would eventually reach a point where significant amounts of renewable generation would have to be curtailed, but energy storage would not be built unless it was economically worthwhile.

We are reaching a point where energy storage, in the form of batteries is becoming economically worthwhile in Australia. Not necessarily in South Australia, although that is one location some battery storage will be built, but in coal heavy states as well. For example, I am writing this in a town in mostly coal powered Queensland where battery storage is being considered as a lower cost option than expanding transmission capacity to the area. This storage could go on the grid, or it could be located in people's homes and businesses as that is likely to be the lower cost option.

The storage being considered in Australia is short-term (hours). This is related to peak-demand management and only needs to clip peaks to be cost effective. Demand management is a different issue to renewable integration although there is some overlap. Sinn's analysis includes seasonal storage which requires orders of magnitude more storage.

Battery storage that is cycled multiple times a day to provide ancillary services and assist in meeting peaks can definitely pay for itself in the right circumstances. And when it is also used to avoid transmission upgrades at the same time it can particularly pay for itself. Utility scale battery storage used solely for electricity arbitrage certainly can't pay for itself in Australia, but it may not be too long before home and business energy storage can pay for itself.

But seasonal storage is nuts, whether in batteries or vast new pumped storage facilities. It would be cheaper to burn natural gas in an efficient power station and capture and remove the CO2 released into the atmosphere. Also cheaper to over build renewable capacity and simply curtail a large portion of production.

Everyone should remember that removal of co2 is a possibility and may be cheaper that abatement. Enhanced weathering/deep ocean iron fertilization/biochar are 3 possible methods.

Also with proper time-discounting, it may be more economical even if it isn't cheaper. The future generations that will be affected by climate change may have abundant energy available from fusion.

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