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Can Nuclear Make a Substantial Near-Term Contribution?

Schalk Cloete's picture
Research Scientist Independent

My work on the Energy Collective is focused on the great 21st century sustainability challenge: quadrupling the size of the global economy, while reducing CO2 emissions to zero. I seek to...

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  • Aug 1, 2014


This article is the result of some very interesting discussions below a recent TEC article on the potential of coal, nuclear and wind/solar to supply the rapidly growing energy needs of the developing world. In that article, I estimated that nuclear is roughly an order of magnitude less scalable than coal, but more than double as scalable as wind/solar. These estimations were challenged by both nuclear and wind advocates and, as such critical discussions often do, have prompted much closer investigations into this issue. In particular, data pertaining to the near-term prospects of nuclear energy in China, the nation accounting for fully 43% of nuclear plants currently under construction, has been analysed in more detail.

The results of this analysis confirmed my estimations above fairly well, but only under two very important assumptions: 1) that all the nuclear plants currently under construction in China are successfully completed roughly 6 years after construction commenced and 2) that it will be a very long time before we experience another black swan event like Fukushima.

Recent nuclear developments in China

China has invested heavily in nuclear energy over the past few years, leading to a rapid increase in construction activities. Data from the World Nuclear Association has allowed for the creation of the following plot of started and completed nuclear reactor capacity in China. Note that the plot shows the cumulative started and completed nuclear capacity from the start of 2007.

The graph shows a rapid increase in new nuclear construction projects from 2008 onwards when alternative energy investment really started to take off. In addition, a clear 18-month pause in new construction projects is visible starting from 2011, indicating the substantial impact of the Fukushima disaster on Chinese nuclear growth. However, the graph shows that new nuclear construction starts resumed an upwards trend from middle 2012, albeit significantly less aggressively than before Fukushima.

As can be expected, nuclear plant completions show a long time-lag relative to nuclear plant starts. Nuclear plant construction generally takes 4-6 years in China, but the trends in the graph suggest that the reality might lie towards the upper end of this range. In the event that a 6 year construction time is generally representative, it would seem that we are currently on the cusp of a rapid nuclear growth phase in China. Thus, if the next 2-3 years reveal that the blue curve above is essentially a 6-year time-shift of the red curve, it will bode well for the future of nuclear energy. If not, however, nuclear prospects would appear substantially dimmer, at least in the medium term. It will therefore be very interesting to extend this graph with real-world data over the next couple of years.

Nuclear vs. wind

Wind power has also been growing rapidly in China since 2008.  The relative simplicity and modular nature of wind causes much shorter construction times than nuclear, and has therefore led to a much more immediate impact. However, the true scalability of a technology must be tested over substantially longer time periods than the 6 year nuclear construction period, implying that this time-lag is not highly relevant when considering the longer-term energy future of China.

Under the assumption that wind construction times are essentially negligible, we can therefore compare the rate at which new investments are committed to wind and nuclear energy. To make this comparison, one also has to take into account the difference in capacity factors between wind and nuclear energy. This is a rather sensitive area, but I will use data from the BP Statistical Review and the World Nuclear Association to make a reasonable estimate. At the end of 2013, China had 15 GW of operational nuclear and 91 GW of operational wind. In terms of generation, nuclear delivered 110.6 TWh and wind 131.9 TWh. This implies that one unit of nuclear capacity delivers about 5 times as much electricity as one unit of wind capacity. This might be an over-estimate, however, since China is working hard to solve significant wind curtailment problems at present. I will therefore use a ratio of 4 in this analysis.

Using these assumptions, the Chinese wind capacity buildout is compared against the Chinese nuclear construction starts in the graph below (note that wind capacity is divided by 4 in order to reflect actual electricity generation relative to nuclear). Similar to the graph above, numbers are presented from a base of 0 at the start of 2007.

It is shown that new nuclear projects were started at a tempo more than double the rate at which wind projects were competed before Fukushima and roughly at an equal rate when nuclear starts eventually recovered thereafter. This is a clear indication of the impact of a black swan event on the prospects of nuclear power, even in China. Thus, it can be theorized that nuclear scales roughly triple as fast as wind under normal circumstances, but at an equal rate when a recent black swan event burdens the industry with additional regulations. Hopefully, we will go some decades without another black swan event so that nuclear growth rates can return to pre-Fukushima levels and maintain (or even exceed) these rates for an extended period of time.  

It should also be mentioned that the Chinese tariff system favours wind over nuclear by paying a fixed feed-in tariff of $83-100/MWh to wind and $70/MWh to nuclear. Another important factor to consider is the reduced value of wind relative to nuclear due to the variability of wind power (see my previous articles on this subject here and here). Wind power also requires expensive high voltage transmission networks to transport power from good wind locations to population centres, something which is creating substantial challenges.  Thus, if the playing field were to be leveled, the difference between nuclear and wind scaling rates should increase substantially.

Another important factor to consider is the CO2 avoidance potential of nuclear vs. wind. Here, there are two important distinctions to be made. Firstly, nuclear plants have a very long lifetime relative to wind, implying that more CO2 will be avoided over the lifetime of the plant. Secondly, nuclear displaces baseload generation (essentially 100% coal) while wind displaces load-following generation (includes some gas). Even though I cannot find any good data, it should be safe to say that a large amount of load-following is still done with coal in China. However, natural gas consumption is rising rapidly and the gas share of load-following generation should increase substantially over the lifetime of current wind plants.

When accounting for these two main factors, the CO2 avoidance potential over the lifetime of the nuclear and wind investments depicted in the figure above can be estimated. For the plant lifetime, 50 years is assumed for nuclear and 20 years for wind. In terms of CO2 intensity of displaced generation, nuclear is assumed to displace 0.9 tonCO2/MWh (coal) and wind 0.6 tonCO2/MWh (coal + gas). 

It is clear from the graph above that, under these assumptions, investments in new nuclear plants will translate into much greater CO2 abatement than investments in new wind farms. This is due to the long lifetimes and baseload coal displacement capability of nuclear. 

Nuclear vs. coal

If all nuclear plants currently under construction are successfully completed, China may well lead a much-needed revival in nuclear energy. However, it is important to keep things in perspective by comparing to the rate at which fossil fuels like coal have scaled to fuel the economic miracle that took place in China over the past decade or two.

In order to compare the scaling rates of nuclear and coal, projected nuclear power (under the assumption that all plants under construction are successfully completed) has been converted to primary energy using a capacity factor of 90% and a typical thermal plant efficiency of 40%.  The graph below compares the potential scaling rates by comparing the projected increase in primary energy from nuclear over the next 6 years to the increase in primary energy from coal one decade ago (coal data from the BP Statistical Review). The graph is plotted from a base of 0 in 2013 for nuclear and 2003 for coal. 

The graph shows that nuclear is projected to scale a little over an order of magnitude slower than coal did one decade ago before the impact of Fukushima and still slower thereafter. This result is especially significant given the fact that the Chinese economy more than doubles in size every decade. This implies that the Chinese economy is about double as capable of adding energy capacity today as it was in 2003.


This analysis has shown that the scaling rate estimations provided in the previous article are fairly accurate under two important assumptions: 1) that all nuclear reactors currently under construction are completed 6 years after construction started and 2) that it will be a long time before we experience another nuclear black swan event like Fukushima. Only time will tell whether these assumptions are accurate though…

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Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jul 31, 2014

Nice story!

But I miss: 
– The policy shift (of CP) of China towards renewable.
That shift is reflected in the very high FiT for Wind and the much lower FiT for nuclear.
In the EU it is opposite. New nuclear (Hinkley) get an inflation corrected FiT more than twice that of wind & solar, and during a much longer period (35 vs.15/20years).

Compare China’s present nuclear target for 2020 (58GW) with the target in 2009/2010 for year 2020 (72GW). While the wind target for year 2020 doubled (now 200GW).

– any reference regarding solar, while indications are that Chinese solar will follow wind with similar fast expansion. They install 10GW this year, which implies that China will surpass the solar target of 50GW in 2020 greatly.

– the fast increasing generation gap between Chinese wind and nuclear as shown in this article.

– The suggestion that wind turbines are concentrated in areas far from consumers hence long power lines, doesn’t fit with this overview.

– You cannot compare with the sudden increase of the solar installation rate in Germany (~7GW/a in 2010-2012). That happened in violation with the Energiewende scenario due to unexpected price decreases together with a slow reaction of the responsible minister, which did cost him the job.
The great wind & solar increase in China is in line with official policy.

– Other than Germany, China has enough hydro to meet the variability of wind + solar. So little chance that big solar & wind share will deliver a stop due to variability problems.
In addition, costs get another meaning in China if those costs concern the official policy. After all, China is a communist country.

– Construction time and costs for nuclear power plants in US and EU increased greatly when security demands were increased. Similar will/is happen in China. This contributes to further dimishing prospects for nuclear.

Considering that:
– China is the only development country with significant nuclear increase though much less than renewable (=mainly wind+hydro+solar);
– the share of nuclear in the world’s electricity as well as nuclear’s electricity production in MWh (now 11% less than in 2006), is in decline;
– the costs of nuclear increase while those of renewable (solar, wind, storage) decrease;
– the expansion rate of wind+solar capacity is ~20 times bigger than that of nuclear;

I can only conclude that IPPC did a lousy job with its advice for nuclear. It suggests that those advices are driven by other interests than those of the population and puts question marks behind the other IPPC advices.

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on Aug 1, 2014

Excellent analysis Schalk. This is really import stuff. In many ways you have captured THE challenge: nuclear scales an order of magnitude slower than coal. So does wind (and solar I would imagine when adjusted for capacity factor is the same). Unless that changes and one or two technologies become as scalable as coal, we clearly will need all available low carbon options–and then some!!–to displace coal in China and elsewhere. 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 1, 2014

The nature of a wind farm requires more transmission than nuclear unless that nuclear is also “far away”. I imagine that millions of 5MW turbines placed approximately one per sq km (for avoidance of turbulence) would entail A LOT of wire. And all that for rather low capacity…

However, isn’t there any developments on converting electricity (or heat via electrode) into ammonia or methanol, etc. It seems that a steady supply of clean fuels from a slight overbuild of ocean wind would be the best match for dealing with lots of solar roofs. Even though more expensive, I say ocean wind because the CF is better and there would be no roads (and nimbys) to deal with. Once started, a mass production effort could populate the oceans with giant wind to clean fuels floating installations… without all the massive transmission structure. It would seem to be easier to ship than to deal with foreign oil.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Aug 1, 2014

Thanks Jesse. Yes, I really do think this is the core of the matter. Even in 2013, a year of worryingly low developing world economic growth (thus low energy growth), non-hydro renewables contributed only 7.5% of the increase in energy consumption. Nuclear provided 3.6% of the increase. In more normal growth years (such as 2011 and 2012), these percentages are halved. (Observations based on BP data.) 

Yes, deployment rates will increase, but it will most probably be decades (if ever) before deployment rates increase by an order of magnitude and, until that time, fossil fuel combustion, coal in particular, will have to keep on increasing. This is clearly in conflict with the 450 ppm scenario. It is important that we openly discuss this objective reality, regardless of how inconvenient it might be. 

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Aug 1, 2014

The problem is that Schalke’s analysis makes no attempt to compare Nuclear Power’s CO2 displacement to “renewables” displacement of CO2.

Schalke, to do a greater service to the Climate Change debate, you should have factored in as a negative, the Power generated by CO2 producing sources in the “Enablement” of wind. If CO2 is considered, then Coal would have to be nearly factored out to almost Zero, while Wind would be far less comptetitive versus Nuclear Power.

I thought the whole point of these debates and analyses was to find which none CO2 producing sources the world (China Inclusive) should build for future power. We can’t simply an merrily and blithly look at how much power we can get out of wind without subtracting the power from CO2 producing sources that are neccessary if that wind power is to be brought to service.

Deploying power from Coal is no Meritorious act and deploying power from Wind if it helps propagate  coal and Natural Gas is not a virtue either.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Aug 1, 2014

Yes, as shown in the graph, Fukushima had a very large negative impact on the near-term prospects (up to 2020) of Chinese nuclear. However, such black swan events generally happen only once every few decades, implying that nuclear starts may well accelerate in the next decade similarly to the pre-Fukushima years. As you said, regulation will play a major role, but I think the Chinese will be sufficiently desparate for reliable, emissions-free power to provide a good nuclear growth environment. 

About the increasing generation gap between wind and nuclear, this gap should close over the next 2-3 years as the large number of nuclear plants started in the 2008-2011 period are completed. Let’s wait and see…

China is going for a lot of rooftop solar this year, implying that they will trade low capacity factors and high installation costs for easier integration. Unfortutely, solar irradiation in the south-eastern population centres of China is pretty lousy, implying that a similar capacity expansion to wind (albeit substantially more expensive) will generate much less electricity. 

About hydro, it is important to keep in mind that, on a per-capita basis, China is a very dry country. Hydro has been expanding impressively over the past couple of years and also into 2014, but may well fall behind total energy growth in the future. The very large energy demand pressures and enormous scale of Chinese hydro facilities will also make it difficult to operate as wind/solar backup. 

Thanks for the interesting link to Chinese wind power locations. However, the map gives a bit of a distorted impression due to the very large number of planned offshore wind farms included. I have my doubts about how much of this will be realized simply because offshore wind is so expensive and has actually been getting more expensive over time. More detailed information on the challenges faced by Chinese wind expansion can be found in Michael Davidson’s excellent East Winds column on TEC. 

About the recurring argument that wind/solar costs will continue declining, I’m still of the opinion that integration challenges (profile, balancing and grid-related costs) and other factors will overwhelm even large cost declines at moderate penetrations (~10-50% of electricity or 4-20% of total energy depending on location). We will probably not agree on this, but, similarly our different views on climate change, we will just have to accept each other’s different perspectives. 

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Aug 1, 2014

Thanks Paul. This is a very good point. I will include it in the article sometime later today with an additional graph to show the potential CO2 abatement between wind and nuclear. Do you think it will be a reasonable assumption to say that nuclear abates about twice as much CO2 per kWh generated because it primarily displaces baseload coal while wind primarily displaces load-following gas/hydro?

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Aug 1, 2014

Schalke, it is much easier to see where dangers and faults lie, than to know how to avoid them. I am afraid that I am not as familiar with the intricacies of abatement, nor am I trained in these forms of analyss.

However I innately trust your objective sense and I’ll go along with your assessment . Hopefully you and the other smart and informed contributors will figure it out for us.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Aug 1, 2014

Thanks Schalk for writing down your reasoning about the subject of nuclear in China and your references, as you have seen from my previous rather strong reactions to your comments, the subject  of the nuclear option has my focussed personal attention because I believe that only nuclear has the power to meet the needs and aspirations of humanity at the least environmental, social and financial cost.

I would have liked it even better though if you would have spent a few words describing the Chinese Central Government long-term plan for nuclear in China, which provides the background for understanding it’s nuclear build program. This long-term plan (up to the year 2100) includes an ultimate goal of 1400 GW from (fast) nuclear power plants in China.

Source: (emphasis mine)

Nuclear power has an important role [in China], especially in the coastal areas remote from the coalfields and where the economy is developing rapidly. Generally, nuclear plants can be built close to centres of demand, whereas suitable wind and hydro sites are remote from demand. Moves to build nuclear power commenced in 1970 and about 2005 the industry moved into a rapid development phase. Technology has been drawn from FranceCanada and Russia, with local development based largely on the French element. The latest technology acquisition has been from the USA (via Westinghouse, owned by Japan’s Toshiba) and France. The State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) has made the Westinghouse AP1000 the main basis of technology development in the immediate future, particularly evident in the local development of CAP1400 based on it.

This has led to a determined policy of exporting nuclear technology, based on China’s development of the CAP1400 reactor with Chinese intellectual property rights and backed by full fuel cycle capability. The policy is being pursued at a high level politically, utilising China’s economic and diplomatic influence, and led by the initiative of CGN commercially, with SNPTC and most recently CNNC in support.

By around 2040, PWRs are expected to level off at 200 GWe and fast reactors progressively increase from 2020 to at least 200 GWe by 2050 and 1400 GWe by 2100.–Nuclear-Power/


Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Aug 1, 2014

FWIW, co2 abatement of a windsourced kWh is non-linear because wind is not an energy supply technology. It is an energy saving technology. It saves energy supplied by an energy supply technology like coal, gas, hydro biomass or nuclear. When peak wind energy power exceed peak electricity demand, its energy is wasted and its co2 abatement potential drops off.

The ultimate co2 abatement of a wind kWh is perhaps most readily calculated by multiplying wind capacity factor with the co2 emission of the reference energy supply technology, which – in the case of China – is coal. (hydro power in China is a minor energy source with little or no scalability) As such, using a capacity factor of 1/3, wind in China has a co2 abatement of about 300 grams of co2 per kWh of wind supplied. Nuclear power has an abatement of about 1000 grams of co2 per kWh supplied, or three times as much.

When including chemical or CAES electricity storage (which – as opposed to hydro – is scalable), the co2 abatement potential of a wind kWh rises to the full 1000 grams per kWh. However, pairing wind with non-hydro electricity storage easily quadruples the cost of a wind energy kWh. Hence, it is not credible that this particular pairing option will grow to supply any significant part of electricity supply before all economically extractible fossil fuels are burned.

On the other hand, besides characterising an energy option in terms of it’s co2 abatement potential, it may be more usefull to characterise an energy option in terms of its co2 emissions potential. In that case, the reference situation for China is not coal and 1000 grams per kWh, but nuclear and 20 grams per kWh. Using that frame of reference, the co2 emissions of each additional paired fossil/wind kWh is about 600 grams per kWh compared to zero grams per kWh for each additional nuclear kWh. When viewed in this way, it can be concluded that wind energy is a powerfull cause of co2 emissions, and therefore that good climate policy should be based on trying to prevent the addition of wind energy as much as possible.


Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Aug 1, 2014

You are an outstanding analyst, Schalk. But your method consistently limits your conclusion to an either/or choice from inside the box you define.

Back in the day the same options limiting assumptions approach existed with computers and communications. Super and micro computers computing this or that. Electrons and copper and silicon communicating here or there. Then optics and glass wires turned much of the computer industry into a fancy telephone maker. And electro-optic slime enabled pocket sized eye candy that seems to have hypnotized the children of the lava-lamp generation.

Nature can still teach us if we ignore the self serving experts. Learn why water creates life, from the absorbtion of solar photons to the creation of electricity and chemicals. Otherwise you might go crazy looking at the walls of your box.

I don’t know if there is still science out there. But back in the day when we raced to put men on the moon, there were no boxes. Given that CO2 is (among other things) plant growth rate limiting, you might find (as Ed Dodge insists) there can be markets developed based on emulating the photochemical synthesis of high value liquid fuel carbohydrates from low value solid fuels and water. Biochemistry needs to be added to the discussion box.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Aug 1, 2014

Half-way this page you find a table with hydro + pumped storage capacities in China.
It shows they have a lot already (250GW + 20) and are targeting more for 2020 (420GW + 70).

Seems to me enough.
Even when you include the expected ~100% target overshoot for solar (100GW in 2020) in addition to Wind (200GW).

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Aug 1, 2014

400 GW is a lot of hydro power. That will indeed allow a lot of wind and solar to be firmed-up in China without the need for fossil fuel backup. 

But China’s power demand is expected to keep rising and will probably double in 2026, reaching some 2500 GW. It will likely double again after that since China’s economy needs to grow far in order to reach developed nations per capita prosperity levels.

Hydro might plausibly reach up to 600 GW ultimately in China, thus yielding between 10% and 20% of China’s medium term peak demand.

Of course, only a fraction of this hydro will be pumped storage, which is what solar and wind power need. If solar or wind cut into baseload hydro supply then there is no climate benefit.

I stay with my conclusion that China’s long term plan of having 1400 GW of baseload nuclear is a good start. Chinese hydro will help integrate a lot of wind and solar power cleanly, but it won’t be enough to eliminate coal burning. People who claim that solar and wind power in China means that it should give up it’s nuclear power expansion plans are promoting a dangerous strategy. It would be better to stimulate nuclear power expansion so that it rises to 3000 GW (i.e. 60% of medium term peak demand) before 2050.

That is a lot of nuclear power but China can do this. They would have to complete one 7 GW nuclear power plant base each month on average between now and 2050. Since they have been building coal power plant bases at slightly less than this rate, it is not far-fetched to say that they could switch to building such amounts of nuclear without too much trouble.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Aug 3, 2014

” If solar or wind cut into baseload hydro supply then there is no climate benefit.”
Most of China’s hydro, such as the three gorges dam, is based on a reservoir. 
They regulate the number of the dam gates/generators used/closed, depending on other production.
The not used water in the reservoir can be used later on when there is no wind, with the same yield.

The same as what Norway does when it trades electricity with us; buying when the whole sale price is low, and selling when the price is high. They don’t have pumped storage, they only regulate their hydro production up-/down.

This implies nearly full climate benefit, as little energy is lost (only some for transport).

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 1, 2014

 I know this is off the topic of “near” term but I have an idea and questions.

We need a different kind of wind power. It needs to be mass produced in giant factories in such a way to operate on floating platforms. We also need facilities that convert heat into clean fuels to be mass produced. This would make it non-intermittant as the fuel can be stored until solar ramps down or when nuclear baseload isn’t enough. We really need to make ALL the clean sources work together. Millions of such platforms across the oceans would compliment solar and nuclear to provide a growing (almost) non fossil fueled world.

I wonder, though, what would be the efficiency of wind to electode to ammonia?

I also wonder (against my nuclear ambitions) how long does fission products (from a molten salt reactor) need to be sitting around until cool enough to properly isolate in geologic storage, as this should be the molten salt reactor’s only safety concern? Also, shouldn’t this type of nuclear be fast tracked ASAP?

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 1, 2014

Good article, I agree that nuclear seems far faster, and also history supports this. France, Belgium, Hungary and Sweden have has had years where nuclear penetration increased by 6 percentage points or more. Intermittent renewables haven’t done this.

Regarding abatement, I’d like to point out a difference between hydro and gas. Gas can be saved and left in the ground for later, but all water that flows into the dams will generally be utilized to create electricity – anything else would be quite irrational. This means that whenever wind and solar displace hydro, it simply shifts hydro consumption in time. Eventually fuel generation will be displaced (or consumption will be increased) as a result.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Aug 1, 2014

Good comment about hydro. What is your opinion on the potential of using hydro for balacing intermittent renewables? At first glance, it appears very good because, as you said, potential energy can simply be deferred for later use (solar/wind troughs). But using hydro for balancing large amounts of intermittent renewables will also have some economic ramifications. 

The scaling of the turbine relative to the reservoir size is presumably done to ensure adequate utilization of water resources in the rainy season. The stongly seasonal nature of hydropower then causes relatively low capacity factors due to lower flows in the off-peak season. For example, the average monthly US hydro generation varies almost by a factor of two over the year and it can be assumed that generation profiles for individual dams over shorter timescales vary substantially more. 

When large amounts of wind/solar require balancing, it will necessitate spillage during rainy months as hydro is deferred during a time when the turbines would otherwise be running at full capacity. More wind/solar balancing will therefore either require costly oversizing of turbines or costly spillage of potential energy. I wonder whether modern hydro dams are built with wind/solar in mind or still only to maximize yearly production at minimum capital costs. 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Aug 1, 2014

This seems to be taking windpower out of the context of a renewable energy portfolio, and therefore sacrificing complementarities between various negatively-correlated renewable energy supplies. For instance, the generating profile of a portfolio combining a mix of wind and solar tends to be a better fit to load than the generating profile of a nuclear plant.

It also appears to ignore the parallel benefits to China of the displacement of natural gas, given that on the margin China must import natural gas … it would seem that some of the investment cost of the windpower that displaces natural gas consumption ought to be allocated to that benefit, rather than allocating all of the investment cost to CO2 reduction.

Finally, the recent analysis of the failure to plan for full shutdown at Fukushima suggests that the premise that Fukushima was a black swan event is based on false assumptions.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Aug 2, 2014

I wonder whether anyone here has had experience in the actual utilization of Hydro for ballancing Wind Power intermittency, if they do I’d certainly appreciate them sharing their real world experience with us.

The way I see it, Wind Power can fluctuate very quickly, and as we know, the Energy in Wind is proportional to the Cube of the velocity of wind:

P= 1/2 { Rho * a x V^3 x C(p) } =>  this means that the power output varies (dramatically) with the Cube of the Wind’s velocity.

The question then is:

can a dam’s water release valves operate fast enough minute by minute,  to compensate for the rapid fluctuation of power output possible in a wind powered grid? Should damns eeven be operated this way, and how would the longevity of hydo valves and turbines be affected?

It would be better to me that Wind Power should be used in conjunction with pumped storage only, while damns then take on the actual grid electricity production.


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Aug 2, 2014

The fast up/down issue can and is solved by other means, such as short term batteries, etc.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Aug 2, 2014

Then We are using battery storage, not hydro.

The Question at hand is whether hydro can be directly used to back up wind aside from pumped storage..

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Aug 2, 2014

Combination is more optimal.
Battery for first adaptation to sudden big changes in load and/or generation (e.g. if a 1GW plant suddenly tripps-off).
So the slower turbines get the time to adapt.
Hence less variation in frequency and more stable grid.

This NREL study shows more low cost options. Note the table at p.20.

Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Aug 2, 2014

Schalk, a few points come to mind.

If we limit the discussion to near term, no technology will have a big impact on today’s trends.

We have been frozen in the  pre Model T era of nuclear power out of fear and ignorance for several decades. Most people have grown up in this era and assume there is no other way to do nuclear power.

When the Model T (simplest possible Molten Salt Reactor) goes into mass production the game will be completely changed. Energy will become safe, abundant, reliable, dispatchable, cheap and clean.

The full meltdown accident should be a design basis accident for conventional reactors. Core catchers, passive hydrogen recombiners and containment vent filters are not very expensive. And overall plant costs could stay the same if other safety systems are simplified in a common sense way. Even in the rare full meltdown accident, these plants would be less harmful than a coal plant during normal operation.

With these changes the only Black Swan possibility I worry about is a high energy criticality accident in a solid fuel fast neutron reactor.

Russia continues sustained fast breeder reactor effort – Atomic Insights

They should be shutdown and defueled until proven incapable of such an accident by fundamental principles of physics, something I doubt is possible.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Aug 3, 2014

“…pre Model T era of nuclear power … no other way to do nuclear power.”
Nice analogy!
Indeed half a century old reactor models cannot compete against new solar, wind and storage. Especially since price/performance of those improve fast.

Regarding MSR.
The great Chinese team got all MSR info from ORNL, but;
– found it necessary to seek assistance at old enemy India;
– had to postpone the first test. So a real test reactor may start ~2025.

Not strange as MSR has issues:
– produces radio-active tritium (half-life ~12years) which escapes by migrating through (even thick) steel. Not nice for people;
– the needed special steel (hastelloy-n) is prone to embritlement under high neutron flux, and may also corrode in the long run, as the French experienced in Superphénix.
– with upscaling stability problems may occur. ORNL had some, the French Phénix experienced serious ones.

Consider further:
– that other countries (even Russia) didn’t continue MSR development;
– the capacity factor (~10%) of the French reactors, despite decade long trials;
– the corrosion problems they had, despite using the less corrosion aggressive sodium;
– the complexity (cost) of the chemical factory involved;
– that the costs of the longer dangerous and higher volumes of PWR/LWR nuclear waste are for ~98% shifted towards the (future) tax payer, so that main benefit of MSR is not expressed in a cost price difference.
Same regarding accidents. Damage can be a trillion$ yet nuclear is liable for only ~25Billion$ or less.

So clear indications that MSR produced electricity will be significant more expensive than LWR/PWR.

Never asked yourself why no country produces competitive genIV reactors (genIV cannot melt-down), despite having genIV designs around for more than half a century?

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Aug 3, 2014

Bas, By the time the slower turbine get up to speed, the wind could/might also be back, making the Turbines once again un-needed. This is the dilema of variable wind outside of certain sweet-spot regions of the planet.

However, I do think that Solar is a much better match for Hydro storage being much more predictable, and where excess solar energy could power the pumps. This might turn an overbuild of solar into a plus,however  I know nothing about the economics.

An Overbuild of Wind that is made dedicated to pumping water into a dam will also work, although again I confess that I have no idea of the economics. In any case, there are probably parts of the world where Wind that is dedicated to pumping water into a Dam might be a very very good idea.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Aug 3, 2014

However, integration challenges when wind and solar are being added is lower than if either were to be added separately. And the lower the cost per kWh, the easier integration becomes, because it reduces the effective cost of overbuilding and spilling to increase the effective capacity factor and reduce the amount of renewable firming power required.

And many of the integration challenges noted in the East Winds column are the sort that decline with increasing penetration rather than escalating, as the political power of the wind generating sector increases with increasing penetration. Integration challenges along the lines of both inappropriate institutional arrangements as well as a refusal to engage in an effort to integrate are not going to get worse in proportion to the market share, but will rather begin to decline, not just proportionally but with respect to the level of the challenge, as penetration continues to increase.

Another area where ignoring portfolio effects can lead to biased conclusions is offshore power ~ the more onshore wind and solar in the grid, the greater the incremental value of complementary offshore wind power.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Aug 3, 2014

“Of course, only a fraction of this hydro will be pumped storage, which is what solar and wind power need. If solar or wind cut into baseload hydro supply then there is no climate benefit.”

There’s not foundation for this claim. So long as the total energy budget of the hydro power resource is delivered, changing the timing of the delivery in order to it to firm a portfolior of solar PV, solar CSP, onshore wind and offshore wind does not modify the total climate benefit from the hydro power resource.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 3, 2014

Read pg 237 from “Thorium – Energy cheaper than coal” where the dangers of tritium (the hydrogen atom with two extra neutrons) are listed. It is not a gamma emitter and some of it can be removed by the same process that removes zenon. Canada’s legal limit far exceeds that which would come from a 100 MW LFTR using flibe. (The United State’s legal limit is far below that. Now, why is it that the same amount of radioactivity is “more dangerous” in one state than in another).

The chemical processes required would be well worth the trouble, until machine produced renewables to clean fuels or batteries on the same scale as nuclear can be made for cheaper than nuclear and coal (and when/if RE’s far larger amount of waste chemical products can be confined/neutralized in a safe manner). Compared to the chemical wastes from FF’s, a few curies of the beta decayer, tritium (and even the other problems of “complexity” and fission products isolation), does not justify the fear which is seriously delaying action to stop emitting excess CO2 into the biosphere which is proven to actually lower the pH of the entire oceans in addition to being a GHG (and which comes from a finite source).

I invision the advent of ocean wind to clean fuels (via machine automation), however, even that could have the same issues of explosion, as listed in pg 307.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Aug 3, 2014

Read chapter 4 of the NREL study I linked.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Aug 3, 2014

The most dangerous fall-out of Chernobyl are also Beta emitters. You assimilate a little…
Wikipedia give a short overview of the health dangers and standards to reduce those (half-way the page).

“…why is it that the same amount of radioactivity is “more dangerous” in one state than in another …”
Frequently due to lobbying by industry in that state. E.g:

– NL and others (even US, I believe) have a total ban on asbestos, as it showed that even small amounts of asbestos cause a specific (hence detection) cancer after a latency of decades (same as smoking, radiation, etc).
Canada has asbestos mines, so Canada has no such ban.
Stronger the mine industry lobbied that Canadese government should use its influence (=~retract money) at WHO to achieve that the ~100,000 asbestos death / year in the WHO report should be lowered at least a factor 10. Production of these mines goes mainly to under-developed countries,
Luckily Canada is not a big nation.

– The UN related Codex dosage committee produced new recommendations ~5years ago. Those lowered the max. allowed Ceasium radiation in food ~factor 5. But countries with a nuclear lobby don’t follow-up… Japan followed up only after Fukushima shattered its nuclear industry. 

– Radiation of food extend consumption period, however it may also cause minimal damage to the food itself. So such radiation should be shown to consumers. Read here how industry (try to) avoids that by influencing government rules.

“…until machine produced renewables to clean fuels or batteries on the same scale as nuclear can be made for cheaper than nuclear…”
Unsubsidized new renewable is now already at least two times cheaper than unsubsidized new nuclear. And the difference is growing, as especially the costs of storage and solar are going down fast (wind only ~3%/a, solar ~8%/a, storage >10%/a).

Germany has already several pilot plant (incl. an 8MW one) that convert electricity to fuel/gas.

We agree that FF is not a good option. So may be you can join my battle to increase car fuel tax towards >€5/liter (~$25/gallon). Which would stop the massive transfer of money from less car users to high car users.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 3, 2014

The graph on pg 46 definitely suggests that we need pumped hydro in order to integrate VG. The report also states that storage will prevent curtailment. Being that it stores the greatest amount of energy, I don’t understand why PHS has to be expensive. Then, only a very limited amout of (more expensive) batteries or supercapacitors would be needed for the “instant” requirements, inbetween.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Aug 3, 2014

Roughly half of wind volatility is predictable a day or more in advance, so the hypothesis that all firming power must be dispatchable in a very short period does not stand up to the observable empirics. That makes thermal biomas such as genuine biocol an option for firming capacity in regions, such as North America, that have the biocapacity per capita to have a substantial sustainabe thermal biomass energy budget.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 3, 2014

Great analysis!

The question of how fast alternatives to coal can be scaled is indeed important, but I would suggest that the reason for the scaling limitations simply come down to economics.  Given a decade or so to ramp up the supply chain, any sufficiently low cost technology can be scaled to any desired level, limited only by the grid mix, the demand pattern, and of course the priority placed on pollution control (hydro, biomass, and hydrothermal also have their own limits due to resource availability).

As long as a large price gap remains between coal and it’s alternatives, it can reasonably be expected that alternative technologies will take less than 20% of the market from coal (i.e. enough to demonstrate technology maturity, but not enough to dominate total production cost).

So the big question is will the large cost gap between coal and nuclear remain?  Base on the US experience, the answer appears to be no (see EIA data).  The average coal-fired plant in the US has much more pollution control than the average Chinese coal-fired plant, and the Chinese pollution growth rate is clearly unsustainable.  Hence it is reasonable to conclude that Chinese coal plants will become more like their US counterparts, which according to the EIA, have a capital cost of 84% of the equivalent nuclear plant.

As Scalk’s previous articles have pointed out, Chinese nuclear plants have historically been built for a cost which is much higher than the equivalent coal-fired plant.  But these plants have been built with western technology, and at small volumes.  As the Chinese nuclear supply chain develops, imported content and total cost will drop, with growing volumes pushing down costs even more.  The WNA reports that the first CAP1400 (a Chinese designed upsized derivative of the Westinghouse AP1000) is on order, site work has begun, and it is expected to begin operating at Shidaowan in 2018, with 80% of the components made in China.

So what about “Black Swan” accidents?  The graphs in the article portray the impact of the Fukushima accident as a temporary freeze, then a prolonged slow-down in new Chinese nuclear plant starts.  This is rather misleading.   A closer look at the WNA report shows that China permanently stopped building their CPR-1000 reactor, which is a derivative of the French Gen II Framatome reactors.  Post Fukushima, China is now building only Gen III (and newer) reactors.  These Gen III reactors are predicted to have severe accidents at a rate which is 2 orders of magnitude lower than Gen II reactors.  

So the Chinese reaction to future nuclear accidents (which are likely to only occur at Gen II plants) will likely be a pause in paper-work approval (but not construction), only long enough to write a report re-iterating the safety of Gen III designs, followed by a resumption in new build approvals at an even higher rate (to catch up to the previous build schedule).

Furthermore, with each passing year, the claim that nuclear accidents are catastrophic is loosing credibility, based on lack of observed health impacts from Fukushima and Chernobyl.  For example, the thyroid cancer outbreak following Chernobyl (the cause of which was fully understood to be unrestricted sale and consumption of contaminated food) has been completely avoided in Japan, due to very modest regulatory intervention. The health impacts of the most severe nuclear accident are less than normal operation of our fleet of fossil fuel power plants – as this secret becomes more widely known, public opposition to nuclear power will be limited to powerless fringe groups.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Aug 3, 2014

No: then we are using a portfolio of energy storage or energy supply-shifting options matching the range of required freuency responses. If 1% of volatility by energy supplies is in the very high frequency range requiring batteries, super-capaciters, flywheels or spinning reserve, 19% is in the high frequency range that requires battery or hydro (either time-shifting of dammed hydro supply or reverse pumped hydro), or solar CSP time-shifting, 30% in the intra-diurnal range that requires those or some form of thermal peak demand, and 50% a day or more which can be met by any disptachable energy supply (including thermal biocoal) …

… using batteries for that 1% very high frequency component does not meet “then we are using battery storage, not hydro”. It means we are going to be using the optimal portfolio to meet the supply / time shift requirements.

We know that the roll-out of windpower itself helps with the problem, since multiple wind turbine ins a single wind farm shifts the frequency distribution out in the time  dimension, multiple wind farms spread across a given wind resource shifts the distribution out further, and drawing from multiple multiple wind resources shifts it out still further. That is why it is preferable to provide a substantial portion of the required firming capacity as a consuming resource rather than imposing it upon the individual wind farm, since imposing it at the individual wind farm results in requiring an over-supply of relatively more expensive very high frequency firming capacity.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 3, 2014

Regarding the safety of solid fuel fast neutron reactors (in particular high energy criticality accidents), this is discussed at length in the book Plentiful Energy, the Story of the Integral Fast Reactor (see description here).  

This has been well studied since the pioneering EBR-1 (Experimental Breeder Reactor 1) suffered a rather benign melted-down of its metal fuel during a deliberate power-spike test in 1955.  Fast reactors using cermic fuel such as the (never completed) Clinch River Breeder are expected to produce larger energy releases during such accidents, but nothing that would be expected to breech the containment structure.  Effectively, during rare severe accidents, metal fuel can melt, and be force out of the active core area to the top of the cladding by fission gas pressure, or even dispersing within the coolant to shutdown the fission reaction, to produce much of the safety benefits of a fluid fuel.  

There is less industry experience with metal fuel than ceramic in today’s prototype fast reactors, but metal fuel is in the future plans of both China and India, due to lower cost of recycling used fuel, and higher breeding performance.  The higher breeding rate of metal fuel allows a shorter doubling time of the fast reactors fleet, but also as in the India nuclear plan, each GWatt of fast reactor with sophisticated fuel reprocessing can supply fuel for several GWatts of heavy water reactors using a simple once-thru cycle.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 3, 2014

I definitely don’t like the idea of irradiated food (some nuclear for energy is enough nuclear for me!). Definitely agree with the ban on lead and asbestos (which the U.S does enforce).

As for cars, it is challenging to prevent the majority of car miles driven, as many people regardless of their income have to drive further distances to work (at least in California, 25$/gal would destroy the economy). Our towns, unfortunately are literally based on suburban sprawl. I live about 6km from town which isn’t very “centrally organized”, either. I know people who have to drive a hundred km every day (I don’t think their job positions are available nearby)!

I still favor carbon tax but we need to “know and agree upon” which energy/storage options are the best to use the proceeds to invest in. I like solar and wind but also realize that there will be fierce competition from others to do the advanced nuclear route. I believe pumped hydro (for PV, wind and for the prevention of such curtailment) is the best form of storage, since it is the most developed and provides the largest capacity (the far less capacity of batteries could be used just for quick response time). I’m sure there are enough empty spaces for all that. I agree that solar is getting cheap enough to be used to “charge” pumped hydro and I don’t really care how much land these will take, if we are to ditch nuclear. In fact, we must allow for the extra land required and prevent nimby laws that would obstruct that great renewable purpose!

Bty, which storage is going down 10%/a ?

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 3, 2014

“… the generating profile of a portfolio combining a mix of wind and solar tends to be a better fit to load than the generating profile of a nuclear plant.”

Can you point to any data to support this?  The answer will be region-specific, but even in the Texas, which has some of the best wind and solar resources in the world, the wind-solar fit is not great.  See figure 4.8 of this NREL report which is referenced up-thread, which matches a hypothetical wind/solar mix against real Texas ERCOT grid data, and finds a 20% curtailment of the marginal renewable generation occuring as renewable grid penetration reaches between 12 and 40%, depending on the assumed flexibility and minimum load capability of the fossil fuel generation.

In contrast, France achieves a 75% nuclear penetration with modest nuclear curtailment (the French nuclear fleet is equipped with load following capability, which is duplicated in modern American designs such as the AP1000, which reduces the need to curtail nuclear output so that load-following fossil fuel plants can meet their minimum outputs). 

Looking at figure 2.1, from the same report, the Texas grid has a large summer demand peak, so I would expect a nuclear+solar mix to provide a better match than nuclear alone, and much better than wind+solar (wind peaks in the spring, when demand is lowest; in contrast, nuclear operates at 98% capacity factor in summer and winter, with scheduled outages in spring and fall to correspond to minimum demand periods).

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 3, 2014

I’m not sure China will double up, even. They are at 450 watts per capita, while the European Union is below 700, so doubling would take them above EU levels. Of course, USA is at 1400, so it’s possible. But I’d guess they’ll level off at European levels rather than American.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 3, 2014

Robert, dispatchable fuel synthesis is indeed the key to making the Earth’s three large and inexhaustible energy sources (solar, wind, and nuclear) work together to supply all of humanity’s energy needs (not just electricity). 

Realistic conversion efficiency from electricity to fuel is about 60-70%, making either hydrogen using electrolysis cells or ammonia using reverse fuel cells (ammonia production also requires nitrogen, but this is captured from the air for negligible energy cost).  Reverse ammonia fuel cells have been demonstrated at lab-scale, but are not yet commercial.  Starting from hydrogen, ammonia synthesis is likely to incure an additional 20% efficiency loss (i.e. better than liquifying the hydrogen or transporting it over 1000 miles of pipeline).

So a mature fuel synthesis industry which could buy electricity at high capacity factor for 5¢/kWh (i.e. nuclear power in China or India), could be expected to make fuel for 10¢/kWh, which corresponds to $3.40 per gge or gallon of gasoline energy equivalent (at 34kWh per gge).  A fuel at this price can compete with imported gasoline, and possibly syn-fuel from domestic coal.  This is because optimized ammonia fuel vehicles (like diesel and methanol vehicles) can be 20% more energy efficient than gasoline vehicles, due to tolerance of higher & more efficient compression ratios.

A fuel at this price cannot compete with domestic fossil fuel for electricity production (even for renewable backup).  However, an electrical grid which is adquate to supply electricity and fuel will be highly over-sized compared to electrical demand.  So as long as the electric grid has a strong nuclear component, no fossil fuel backup will be required (solar+wind grids always need thermal backup), hence fossil fuel consuption can be driven all the way to zero, with no toe-hold for re-emergence.

The urgent burial of nuclear waste is simply not scientifically justified.  Interim above-ground storage (in pools followed by dry casks) for many, many decades not only reduces cost with no degradation in safety, but it also provides our children the option to recycle the fuel to recover potentially valuable components, and it reduces the amount of land which will ultimately be dedicated to waste storage (older wastes can be packed more closely in the repository).  See the Blue Ribbon Commission report here.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 3, 2014

Well, I think (non-pumped) hydro is seldomly specifically built with wind/solar in mind, but usually there is excess capacity anyway as you want it to be able to balance load and take care of seasonal variations too. At least that’s the case in my own Sweden, where we have had about 50/50 hydro and nuclear. Now, however, wind is making inroads due to subsidies and will soon be up to 10%. It seems the academics think wind can supply 30 TWh without major issues (hydro is at 70 TWh). So perhaps wind at 50% of dispatchable generation is fairly ok. I’m not happy about it, though.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Aug 3, 2014

“These Gen III reactors are predicted to have severe accidents at a rate which is 2 orders of magnitude lower than Gen II reactors.”

Considering that:
– These Gen III reactors cannot withstand an attack by a 200ton airliner, etc…
– The black swan’s until now had “impossible” causes, which turned out to be possible;
these reactors are 2 – 4 times safer only.

If such accident happens in China at a place where the major winds do deliver 97% of all radio-activity to the ocean (as with Fukushima), the result may be a worse freeze than we now see in Japan.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Aug 4, 2014

Thanks Nathan. However, I still think that the capital costs of a given technology offers a better indication of the maximum scaling rate, rather than the overall economics (LCOE). The analysis in this article offers some support to this notion. It should be added, however, that a technology will never reach its maximum scaling rate if overall economics are not competitive.

About coal in China, there is now lots of activity to shift coal consumption away from population centres in order to reduce air pollution. I’m sure you are aware of China’s enormous SNG plans, but there are also plans to build enormous coal plants at large, remote mines and transmit the power to population centres through HVDC cables. This article gives an example of a truly monstrous 9.34 GW plant being built next to a coal mine in the Gobi desert. Coal is currently constrained by air pollution in China, but if these plans remove this constraint, things could become very bad for the climate…

Thanks for the deeper insight into the Chinese nuclear expansion. Do you have some figures about costs and build times of Gen III reactors relative to Gen II? Do you expect the trend in post Fukushima reactor starts to accelerate soon?

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Aug 3, 2014

“…25$/gal would destroy the economy..”
Not if: 
– government decrease other taxes accordingly so government income as % of GDP stays the same; and
– that tax is introduced by regular and predictable annual increases during e.g. 10years. So people will plan on future prices.

Those commuters will then buy more economic cars, or buy an E-bike or E-car.
A friend of me commutes daily ~60km E-bike avoiding traffic jam, if the weather is fine which is most of the time (he has a car). He describe it as a relax experience.

“..we need to “know and agree upon” which energy/storage options are the best to use …”
The market will find out.
The precise needs for storage show at the whole sale market, where prices then go up- and down.
Based on that investors decide what storage technology is best, to make a good profit with their investment in the storage facility.

“…pumped hydro … is the best form of storage…”
Not sure. The 35 pumped storage installations in Germany make already years major losses.
While consumers install batteries, so they can use their own PV-solar generated electricity in the evening too. That becomes profitable as the FiT is only 13cnt/KWh and electricity from the grid is 28cnt/KWh.

“… which storage is going down 10%/a ?”
Batteries. Pumped storage costs do not go down.
So the question is when batteries become cheaper than pumped storage.
My wild estimation ~2025.  But Clayton may have better prediction.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Aug 3, 2014

Never asked yourself why no country produces competitive genIV reactors (genIV cannot melt-down), despite having genIV designs around for more than half a century?”

The stupidity of this comment is astounding. From the steel ssector we have known for long time how we could avoid using the blast furnace. But I guess my industry are idiots as well?

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Aug 3, 2014

A highly pessimistic analysis of a worst-case FBR meltdown found that the energy yield would be equivalent to about 160 kg of TNT.  This is way short of anything that could breach a reinforced concrete containment.

The analysis was done by none other than Hans Bethe.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 3, 2014

Thanks for the response. Our government would probably not decrease other taxes accordingly…

Pumped storage will be absolutely mandatory if it wasn’t for fossil fuels required to back up the renewables (granted, we don’t need storage yet, as the share of renewables in the overall picture is still minimal).

It would be cheaper for the consumers to have pumped storage than individual batteries (especially if they don’t live in a good solar resource area) because of the benefits of scale of economy of centralized, very large structures (just as a large fossil burner is more efficient than a small one) and because pumped hydro will last much longer than any set of homeowner batteries. Still, I agree that home battery systems are also a good idea, especially if they can be mass produced via machine automation for much cheaper (but then, the utility would probably get them for cheaper yet, buying in bulk)!

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Aug 3, 2014

Wow an attack by a 20 ton airliner!

I rather think that Terrorists would kill far more people by crashing into a Superbowl stadium, and even if they were to crash into an above ground Nuclear power plant, then the correct strategy might be to build Generation 4 Nuclear Plants underground.

LOL, You really had to go to extremes in your attempt to discredit nuclear power, didn’t you? What about a Meteor Shower and strike, that’s a far better one, and far more destructive too.

Let’s stop wasting time on Fantasy and Fear. (F&F).

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 4, 2014

Reactors such as the MSR can be placed underground, along with their nasty fission products at same undergound site – I’m sure that extra molten salt storage would help to smooth load variables.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 4, 2014

I think this refers to how low-carbon grids will be built in the real world.  The only large low-carbon grids which exist today are in France, Sweden, and Switzerland, which use a combination of nuclear and hydro to eliminate nearly all fossil fuel use.  

Unless dispatchable fuel synthesis is used, a country with a moderate climate such as France needs to get about 20% of its electricity from fully dispatchable sources (such as hydro or biomass) in order to allow the rest to be supplied by mostly-baseload nuclear.  If part of the nuclear capacity in such a portfolio is replaced by wind or solar, then less energy is generated due to the lower capacity factor; unless the hydro/biomass contribution is also raised, then the remaining energy must be provided by fossil fuel.  Obviously, either the wind or nuclear could be over-built to compensate for the lower capacity factor, but much curtailment (discarding of the clean energy) will occur, which degrades the economics and makes this unlikely in a cost constrained real-world situation.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Aug 4, 2014

Nathan, thanks.

60 to 70% sounds good. Pumped hydro is another option we should pursue for electricity because it is as or more efficient, right?


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