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Why Ecomodernists Should Embrace Wind Power

Full Spectrum: Energy Analysis and Commentary with Jesse JenkinsAnd why we can’t embrace the Ecomodernist Manifesto until they do

By Jesse Jenkins and Robert Wilson

An Ecomodernist ManifestoTo save nature, humanity must decouple from the natural world, not attempt to live in harmony with it. This is the provocative tenet at the core of a new “Ecomodernist Manifesto” released this week by a group of leading academics, scientists, and writers. 

Decoupling means severing the link between natural resources or ecosystems and human well-being. This will come not by returning to a pastoral agricultural lifestyle “in harmony” with natural material flows, the authors argue, but by harnessing modern technology and intensifying energy production, agriculture, and urbanization to “shrink [humanity’s] impacts on the environment to make more room for nature.”

The manifesto codifies a growing and important new brand of environmentalism, one that just might be equipped to tackle the real, global challenges facing the planet this century. The authors outline an aspirational vision that aims to secure a future where seven-going-on-ten billion humans can live secure, fulfilled, and prosperous lives on an ecologically vibrant planet. Everyone should read the Manifesto.

Yet for a group of authors who claim to embrace modern technology and brandish the mantle of “ecopragmatism,” there’s one surprising, disappointing, and decidedly un-pragmatic section of the document that prevents us from embracing the Ecomodernist Manifesto in full.

This vision of an ecomodern energy system excludes wind power

When it comes to how to harness the plentiful energy needed to fuel an ecomodern world, the authors embrace “energy technologies that are power dense and capable of scaling to many tens of terawatts.” Nuclear power is their model (and fusion “in the long run”), but:

“Most forms of renewable energy are, unfortunately, incapable of doing so. The scale of land use and other environmental impacts necessary to power the world on biofuels or many other renewables are such that we doubt they provide a sound pathway to a zero-carbon low-footprint future.”

The authors go on to make “an exception” for “[h]igh-efficiency solar cells produced from earth-abundant materials.” Hydroelectric power and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage are tentatively embraced as transitional bridge fuels.

With biofuels and biomass explicitly (and probably correctly) cast into the “doubtful” category, and solar the only “exception” mentioned, what are these “other renewables” that have such widespread land use or environmental impacts that we should cast them aside on our path to an ecomodern future?

While the authors don’t come out and say it, wind power is the only logical target of this unfortunate passage.

It is hard to envision geothermal, with its minimal surface impacts and reliable baseload power as the target of these ecomodernists’ ire. Wave and tidal power are so tiny as to barely warrant mention.

In contrast, wind power is the largest source of renewable energy behind biomass and hydropower worldwide—and it is growing fast—and it is hard to read this passage as anything but an omission of wind energy from this effort to codify an ecomodernist worldview.

Why wind energy should—and will—be part of a high-energy, low-carbon world

Let’s begin with where we agree with the authors of the manifesto. Wind energy cannot, and will not, provide all or even a majority of humanity’s energy needs. And large-scale wind farms do span wide areas (more on that later).

As Professor David Mackay of the University of Cambridge has shown, countries such as Britain, Germany, Japan and South Korea would probably need to wind farms spanning across at least half of available land if they were to move to 100% wind energy. More importantly, there are real economic and technical limits on the penetration of any variable energy source in the global energy mix.

It is simply not possible to power densely populated modern economies with wind energy alone. And the same will be true of a modernized India, the densely populated eastern provinces of China, and elsewhere, in a prosperous ecomodern world.

Yet no single source of energy today provides more than a third of global energy needs. If land use considerations eventually constrain the energy production from wind farms to levels seen by individual fossil fuels such as coal or oil today, that would clearly be no reason to reject wind energy. We do not stop drinking water because of the inadequacies of a water only diet.

More to the point, nuclear power provides only about 3.5 percent of global primary energy today, yet nuclear energy is (rightly) embraced whole-heartedly by the Ecomodernist Manifesto.

The world now consumes final energy at a rate of about 12 terawatts equivalent, and this may easily double or even triple in an energy-intensive, ecomodern world. Clearly only truly scalable energy sources are worth the embrace of ecomodernists.

Yet wind energy is imminently scalable to the multi-terawatt-scale.

One study in PNAS concluded that “a network of land-based 2.5-megawatt (MW) turbines restricted to non-forested, ice-free, non-urban areas operating at as little as 20% of their rated capacity could supply >40 times current worldwide consumption of electricity, >5 times total global use of energy in all forms.” That estimate excludes offshore wind potential entirely.

While we cannot vouch for that particular study’s methodology, it is worth noting that even if the authors are off by an order of magnitude, wind power can clearly scale to become a significant component of a modern energy mix.

Embracing wind energy is pragmatic

Indeed, wind energy must play a key role in fighting climate change. There is little choice.

In many parts of the world, wind farms are now cost-competitive with or cheaper than nuclear power plants. They are also increasingly competitive with fossil fuels.

Rejecting wind farms will almost certainly increase the costs of reducing carbon emissions. This is already happening in Britain and New England, where we each live, and where rejection of wind farms is resulting in the expansion of more expensive forms of low carbon energy.

Furthermore, unavoidable political realities must be recognized, especially by anyone who claims to be an ecopragmatist. All of Europe, most of the United States, as well as China, Brazil, and several other emerging powers have firmly embraced wind and other renewable energy sources.

At the same time, several nations have cooled to nuclear power, or outright banned it. Consider Germany. We fundamentally disagree with that nation’s decision to phase out nuclear power plants while building new coal power plants. This was an undeniable mistake. But this mistake will not be undone any time soon, and even if it is, there is no reason to expect Germany’s support for wind and solar energy to end with it.

Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, and it appears Sweden and France, have also effectively banned any future expansion of nuclear energy. New nuclear reactor construction in the United States has stalled and virtually the entirety of the existing American, Japanese, and European reactor fleets will have be retired over the next thirty years.

Nuclear power can and should play a central role in global decarbonization, but it is just as foolish to think nuclear alone (or nuclear and solar alone) will power the planet any time soon.

In short, the only credible way the world can decarbonize includes a large-scale expansion of wind energy.

Indeed, for a group of authors who have oft-decried “energy technology tribalism” and chastised those who omit nuclear energy from their vision of a low-carbon future, it is striking to see wind and “other renewables” cast aside in this otherwise expansive vision of the future.

Embracing wind energy is consistent with a vision of a high-tech future of intensified land use

All of this does not address the core reason the Ecomodernist Manifesto appears to reject wind energy.

The argument can be put simply: wind farms require much more land than solar or nuclear energy, and therefore wind energy has much greater environmental impacts. From a scientific point of view, this is a valid hypothesis to propose. It is also a hypothesis that has very little foundation in the evidence.

It is true that wind farms do span wider swaths of land than the “high efficiency” solar farms the study embraces. A wind farm located in the middle of America will take up approximately four times as much land area as a solar farm in the California desert. But there is no reason to assume this will inherently lead to greater impacts on ecosystems or wildlife.

Wind farms take up a lot of land, but only a small fraction of this land is actually occupied by the turbines themselves or covered by access roads. In contrast, solar farms are made up of tightly packed solar arrays, which effectively blanket whatever land they are built upon.

If we consider land actually covered or taken out of otherwise productive uses, wind farms actually require on the order of one-fifteenth as much land as a well-sited solar farm.

Simple land use metrics are also a poor proxy for true environmental impact. The truth is we simply do not know if wind farms have greater impacts on wildlife, nature or biodiversity than solar or nuclear energy. There has been very little scientific research (at least that we are aware of) systematically comparing the ecological impacts of different energy sources. More to the point, the authors of the Ecomodernist Manifesto provide no evidence themselves to justify the implication that large-scale wind energy development is inconsistent with an ecomodern energy future.

We fundamentally question the view that wind farms leave “less room for nature” and argue that smart use of wind energy is wholly consistent with the ecomodernist’s call to intensify land use. 

Anyone who has visited a wind farm will know that there is in fact a lot of room for nature within the area spanned by the wind farm.

The claim really seems to be that wind farms leave less room for nature without obvious signs of human interference. We can only agree that there are few more obvious symbols of human interference than a skyscraper sized mass of concrete, steel and fiberglass extracting energy from winds to power urban civilization.

Yet this is an aesthetic question. The animals that supposedly are being given less room by wind farms do not have aesthetic feelings. With the exception of the western Sage-Grouse, most species are perfectly happy to live alongside wind turbines, and that’s assuming we choose to develop otherwise undisturbed land.

Clearly, cattle or corn care even less about sharing space with some giant turbines, and that’s where building wind energy goes hand in hand with intensifying agriculture and other land uses.

Wind farm with cows
Image source: Shutterstock

A vast amount of land is now devoted to agricultural purposes worldwide. In America, China, India, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain, and many other countries, over 40 percent of land is agricultural. Much of this land can and should be shared between wind farms and farming. In fact, the dual use of agricultural land and wind farms is most likely wholly preferable to the conversion of agricultural land into exclusive use as solar farms.

The manifesto’s reasons for ommitting wind power from its energy vision therefore appear to be on remarkably shaky ground. There is little scientific justification for rejecting the large-scale expansion of wind farms on the grounds of biodiversity impact. The case may exist, but the authors of the manifesto have not made it.

Furthermore, no matter how intensive agriculture becomes in an ecomodern future, there will be vast areas of land already actively managed and disturbed for human purposes. Populating these landscapes with wind turbines would further intensify their productive activity with minimal direct land use impact.

Why we can’t yet embrace the Ecomodernist Manifesto

In the end, climate change is a war that must not be lost, and we have limited weapons. Yet, the Ecomodernist Manifesto appears to want to limit us to two: nuclear and solar energy.

We do not believe this is a wise strategy to be embraced by humanity or by a fledgling ecomodernism movement. Every available effective tool—and wind energy is certainly one of them—must be used to combat climate change. 

The omission of wind energy from this first attempt to create a modern environmental movement is thus an unfortunate and un-pragmatic decision. It makes it difficult for us to embrace what is otherwise a compelling document. We imagine we are not alone.

Anyone attempting to build an inclusive new brand of environmentalism would do well to embrace a wider, and more well-reasoned, set of modern energy technologies. Until they do, we cannot endorse the Ecomodernist Manifesto.


Jesse Jenkins is a researcher, consultant, and writer who helms the Full Spectrum column at The Energy Collective. You can follow him on Twitter @JesseJenkins. Robert Wilson is a researcher in ecology and writer on energy who runs the Carbon Counter blog. You can follow him on Twitter @CountCarbon.

Jesse Jenkins's picture

Thank Jesse for the Post!

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Discussions

Thomas Gerke's picture
Thomas Gerke on Apr 16, 2015 4:01 pm GMT

Nice article. 
Do not like the quote of David MacKays simplified analysis of land requirements, while I agree with his message that we need a clever mix of supply & demand(reduction) technologies. 

The Fraunhofer IWES has produced a 100% scenario in 2014 and a wind power pontential analysis for Germany in 2013 (based on the current generation of wind turbines). 

Basicly the 100% RES scenario requires significant improvements in energy efficiency and a conversion of all sectors. In this scenario 1000 TWh of renewable electricity is required supplied by a mix of technologies. The bulk of 486 TWh is generated by land based wind power. 

If you compare this to their wind potential analysis you end up with an area of 2-3% of the German land area (spacing). An area that can easily be utilized in Germany, even if unreasonable high minimum-distance requirements were enacted in all states. 

Link to the 100% RE scenario:
https://www.fraunhofer.de/content/dam/zv/de/forschungsthemen/energie/Stu...

Link to the wind power potential analysis:
www.umweltbundesamt.de/sites/default/files/medien/378/publikationen/pote...

Cheers
-Thomas

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 16, 2015 4:39 pm GMT

Thomas, an 11.8% capacity factor will not get wind energy anywhere near the ambitious Fraunhofer projections. Before Germany tears up any more of its legendary Black Forest, it would behoove the country to look at how much wind energy is available there.

http://www.eike-klima-energie.eu/news-cache/baden-wuertemberg-kann-alles...

This is typical. Maximal capacity factors are assumed to be achievable anywhere; transmission and integration difficulties are overlooked. Though Germany is quietly importing more French nuclear to avoid burning lignite, it would be far more useful, economical, and less destructive to abandon this charade now.

Adam Siegel's picture
Adam Siegel on Apr 16, 2015 4:16 pm GMT

Jesse

This is a nice piece — on multiple levels. Thank you.

I question your ‘dissing’ the potential for ocean (wave, tidal, current) energy systems.  They are already producing more power than fusion (which does make that “EcoManifesto”) and there are a very large number of technologies/systems developing.  Looking at the systems, we’re talking about terrawatts of potential generation that would be highly predictable & high capacity figure power generation.  

 

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on Apr 16, 2015 4:34 pm GMT

Thanks Adam. Where did I ‘diss’ wave, tidal or current energy? Sorry that was not my intent. I’ve not seen much evidence that they will really scale to a multi-TW level, so I consider them of secondary importance to wind and solar and nuclear personally. Perhaps I need to update my views on that question, but that was were my earlier research led me on wave and in particular tidal power.

Adam Siegel's picture
Adam Siegel on Apr 16, 2015 4:44 pm GMT

Jesse: The “diss”:  “It is hard to envision geothermal, with its minimal surface impacts and reliable baseload power as the target of these ecomodernists’ ire. Wave and tidal power are so tiny as to barely warrant mention.”

They are tiny now (although there are some decent size (old) tidal systems (Rance is almost 50 years old now: http://www.wyretidalenergy.com/tidal-barrage/la-rance-barrage)) but there is potential promise for meaningful contributions. EPRI’s US number is that the “total recoverable resource along the U.S. shelf edge is 1,170 TWh/yr, which is almost one third of the 4,000 TWh of electricity used in the United States each year.” (http://www.boem.gov/Renewable-Energy-Program/Renewable-Energy-Guide/Ocea...)  And, that is US only. Of course, that theoretical is rather absurd.  But, if you look to ARPA-E funded projects, things that are out in the open press, and other projects, there are 10s of technologies developing many with a promise of near baseload below 10 cents/kWh and some seem to have viable below 5 cents.  They ‘hold the promise’ — lots of steps between here and achieving that promise.  But, those challenges are far easier than what we are talking with (big) fusion and yet fusion is in the Eco-Modernist guide.

Wind is “mature” (yes, improvements always but already significantly far down learning curve with multiple generations of deployments) while wave / ocean is something like 10-15 years behind.  

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on Apr 16, 2015 5:15 pm GMT

Thanks Adam.

Spec Lawyer's picture
Spec Lawyer on Apr 16, 2015 10:24 pm GMT

I think creating any ‘Manifesto’ is just a bad idea considering the history of the word.  

Ramez Naam's picture
Ramez Naam on Apr 16, 2015 10:57 pm GMT

Excellent piece. I was considering writing something similar. The point on dual use of land as agriculture and wind is an important one that’s frequently missed in assessment of land use of wind. See Bjorn Lomborg’s most recent WSJ op-ed as an example.

Note that the Ecomodernist Manifesto also implicitly dismisses current efficiency solar. Current solar has many issues, but land use is not the primary barrier. I looked recently at the solar land requirements in the US, using data from current US solar installations, here:  http://rameznaam.com/2015/04/08/how-much-land-would-it-take-to-power-the...

In the energy section, the Ecomodernist Manifesto hyper-focused on land use, when it should have balanced those a bit more with cost, cost trajectory, project completion times, and the other metrics that are driving deployment.

Alas, it was a case of “so close”. I found the rest of the Manifesto quite good.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Apr 17, 2015 10:41 am GMT

I’m always quite wary of these heavily technology driven approaches to addressing the 21st century sustainability crisis. In my opinion, our best route is a gradual mindset shift (facilitated by the amazing global communication power granted by the internet) where people gradually realize that more happy life years can be gained from less consumption. When looking at energy, this mindset will make everything easier by requiring less energy and also increasing the willingness to pay for more expensive clean energy. 

Even though this mindset shift is happening slowly at present, it certainly is happening. More and more people are realizing that their lives can be healthier, happier, more productive and less cluttered as they intelligently reduce material consumption. The obvious competitive advantage that this philosophy of more production and less consumption brings is also very attractive in the marketplace. 

Naturally, this mindset shift is starting in the developed world. To some degree it is being forced upon people by the dynamics of the global economy (e.g. median US household income is back to levels last seen in 1995 and the gradual emergence of negative benchmark interest rates around the developed world is a clear indication that the future will actually be smaller than the present), but more and more people are starting to consciously and proactively make this transition. 

Meanwhile, developing nations should be allowed to industrialize in the fastest possible way (e.g. the China coal model) in order to limit population growth and rapidly increase the level of awareness of the population. By the time they reach sufficiently developed levels, the example pathway to happiness and longevity set by the developed world should be much more evolved than today’s consumerist paradigm.

Technology will undoubtedly play a major role, but I think the gradual evolution of global societal mindset (and the resulting reduction in per capita material consumption) will be more important. 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Apr 17, 2015 11:50 am GMT

A reply from reality-ville.

So this new theory advocates an increasingly disconnected, ecologically ignorant global population of 10 billion people living how?? Sorry to break your academic bubble, but we have food and water problems now!! So in this new theory the oceans magically are abundant with fish, farm-land is again rich and fertile, crops and livestock without pests and disease, water available at the press of a button?? And experts at brick-and-mortar U (off freeway exit ABC) twitter all is lovely from IvyEcomodernist.edu??

I saw part of a documentary about Norman Borlaug, and the profound effort beginning in the Depression 1930s through WWII to feed global catastrophe. They succeeded by intellectual integrity and tedious, hard work. Instead of this dubious new theory, you should try learn why you and 7 billion others now have it so good.

Play with your windmills as you wish. But until you learn about agriculture, play somewhere else.

Mark Pawelek's picture
Mark Pawelek on Apr 17, 2015 12:43 pm GMT

There’s a better way than wind: build gas-driven power plants until modular, Gen IV, advanced nuclear power is ready. Then transition to nuclear power. Building wind turbines saves nothing because

1. the same amount of fossil fuel plant needs to be built anyway, to back up wind’s intermittency
2. there’s very little carbon emissions saving with wind because modern gas plant is super efficient when running as baseload but very inefficient when it’s switched on and off all the time to back up intermittent wind.

Wind:
3. has a miserable power density of about 1.5 watts/sq. metre
4. (therefore) onshore has a high environment impact. Turbines in modern wind farms are all joined by access roads for easy maintenance
5. offshore wind is noticeably expensive (in UK, requiring price support of over USD $0.22/kWh)
6. it is parasitic upon other grid suppliers.
  6.1. it requires priority grid access
  6.2. Other plant becomes very inefficient when backing up wind. Fossil fuel plants (such as coal) must be kept hot just in case the wind drops. The most efficient gas plants can’t be run optimally. E.g. A recent UK ‘bribe’ to entice vendors to build UK baseload plant failed to generate any proposals.
7. the capacity of wind falls off very quickly unless its carefully maintained (due to mechanical faults, etc.), putting an end to the lie that it’s “free energy”. That makes it labour intensive, and so, very inefficient.
8. it’s not nearly as low-carbon as claimed. Levelized studies are fiction because wind can’t exist with dispatchable backup which must be fossil fuel in nearly every case.
9. EROEI studies show that it’s barely worth it and not at all if using energy storage.

Decarbonization via wind has already failed miserably in Germany. It’s such a disaster, in so many ways. Explicitly supporting wind will discredit ecomodernism.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 17, 2015 5:23 pm GMT

Not remotely feasible.

What’s the assumption for when the wind stops blowing? England shuts down?

And what’s the assumption behind “England will need less electricity when its residents drive electric cars”?

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Apr 17, 2015 10:09 pm GMT

The Fraunhofer IWES has produced a 100% scenario in 2014 and a wind power pontential analysis for Germany in 2013″

Note that no competent analysis achieves 100% from intermittent power sources alone, i.e. wind and solar.  When the the phrase 100% renewables is used, then it surely includes a great deal of biomass combustion or the development of hydro and geothermal resources that do not yet exist (for good ecomomic or land use reasons).

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Apr 17, 2015 11:04 pm GMT

 

A change in mindset is critical. And not just by means of less consumption, much of which actually leads to unhappiness in the developed world.

Where I work, a lot of activity is heads-down thinking. But people for some reason have to burn a gallon or more of gas every day to get to cubicle where they send e-mails to people who are either across the hall or in some other part of the world and don’t care where you are. When people do talk it, is usually something they could discuss over the phone.

In addition to the gallons of gas, they wear out automobilies that have to be replaced by burning vast amounts of fossil fuels.

And of course the huge office building has to be heated and cooled, even at the same time the homes of the workers are heated and cooled.

I’ve pushed the boundaries of telecommuting. Most people I work with don’t even know I’m not in the building because all they do is send e-mail.

And then there is the mayhem on the roads. 

It is all just nuts.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Apr 18, 2015 1:34 am GMT

Certainly wind-farming has low environmental impact when over-laid upon agriculture.  But we already have many wind-farms that were built on non-agricultural land, which otherwise need not have been developed; I’m skeptical that “most species are perfectly happy to live alongside wind turbines” (and associated roads and human activity) but have no proof.  The total sustainable energy need is about 50 times larger than our current wind-energy production, so careful siting of future wind farms will be very important.

 

  

 

But a more important reason to be warry of wind power is the difficulty (i.e. expense) involved in using wind power in a zero-fossil-fuel grid.  The chaotic variability seems to require blending with fossil fuel generation in order to be viable.  For a hypothetical grid with nuclear and solar power added until a given curtailment is reached (with fossil fuel for the remainder), if wind power is added in place of either part of the nuclear or part of the solar, then the total fossil fuel use will get higher (keeping the same curtailment) because wind power is usually anti-correlated with demand!  As discussed elsewhere, matching electricity supply and demand via load-shedding using dispatchable fuel synthesis does solve the problem, but power-to-fuel is not currently cost-effective compared to using fossil fuel with CC&S to make carbon-free fuels and running syn-fuel plants at low capacity factor makes them even less cost effective.

The US central plains has impressive wind resources, but most people do not live in areas in which wind is cheaper than nuclear, even at low penetration (using the fleet average cost, by averaging costs from old and new plants).  So the sole purpose of the wind industry appears to be pandering to the anti-nuclear faction, which strikes me as a bad idea, especially in a manefesto.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Apr 18, 2015 10:23 am GMT

I downloaded and read the “Ecomodernist Manifesto.” And I don’t know anybody on TEC, or from the Manifesto authors actually doing any agricultural innovation, or ecological preservation, or technology development, or urban enhancement.

Having cleaned decades of filth from abandoned downtown warehouse space to advocate dubious fiber optic computer networking, now having timber wolves howling nearby while advocating solar biofuel, I never got to wear the clean shirt these recent experts wear, talking at me like I’m an idiot. And that is where this initiative will fail; somebody with skills will have to do the dirty work.

Where are the Biophysical Chemists? The Food Scientists? Actual farmers? Actual innovation?

Thanks to Nathan for the top view pictures of windmills; very different from the flower level picture provided in the article.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 19, 2015 4:18 am GMT

The chaotic variability seems to require blending with fossil fuel generation in order to be viable.”

Sure, if we were looking at the scale of the individual wind turbine. Most of the chaotic variability is gone at the scale of the wind farm, and at the scale of the wind resource, the variability is far from chaotic.

The variability that does exist in even the highest quality wind resources, and even after blending with solar, offshore wind and run of river hydro does requires blending with a portfolio of firming energy resources, which is why begging the question on whether our abundant wind energy resource can meet a large share of our energy consumption involves making assumptions regarding the firming portfolio which are variations on a theme of “unless we already have it, lets assume we can’t get it” … ranging from increasing the amount of firming that is required by assuming a sub-optimal mix of variable renewable energy, through assuming that all firming has to be provided by storage, to assuming that the fact that unsustainable, non-renewable biomass generation has been allowed in the past implies that sustainable, renewable biomass generation is not feasible.

The US central plains has impressive wind resources, but most people do not live in areas in which wind is cheaper than nuclear, even at low penetration (using the fleet average cost, by averaging costs from old and new plants).  So the sole purpose of the wind industry appears to be pandering to the anti-nuclear faction, which strikes me as a bad idea, especially in a manefesto.”

The conclusion only follows from the premise if we wallow in “measurement by vague adjective” territory for transmission costs.

The facts that we do not have an institutional framework in place to meet regional and national transmission needs, and that over the past thirty years we have ripped up some of the institutional capacity that we once had to build transmission, does not make lack of transmission capacity some kind of natural law … and, indeed, effective roll-out of a high nuclear penetration scenario also requires the same institutional development (and rehabilitation), since grids interconnected by cross-haul capacity make for a less chaotically variable total load, which reduces the supplementary daily and seasonal peaking capacity that nuclear requires.


Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 19, 2015 5:44 am GMT

1. the same amount of fossil fuel plant needs to be built anyway, to back up wind’s intermittency”

When interconnected, the highest quality wind resources are not 100% intermittent, and when solar PV is added the share of wind+solar that is intermittent drops, and we already have capacity constrained renewable energy from hydropower which is as effective a firming resource as it is a peaking resource, so, no, “the same amount of fossil fuel plant needs to be built anyway” is not actually true.

“2. there’s very little carbon emissions saving with wind because modern gas plant is super efficient when running as baseload but very inefficient when it’s switched on and off all the time to back up intermittent wind.”

In the context of a well-designed system, your argument here needs two contradictory things to be true at the same time. Even granting the prior false assumption that all firming power must necessarily be provided by fossil fuels, the claim does not hold up, largely because you have not actually pencilled in your efficiency claims with reasonable numbers to see if it pans out.

Your vague “very inefficient” is a single cycle peaker gas turbine operating at something like 30%-42% efficiency for a new plant, and your “super efficient” is an NGCC operating somewhere around 50%-55%. With a roughly 33% efficiency penalty for dropping down from two-cycle generation to single-cycle generation with a gas turbine, that would mean that if wind power led to an equal amount of shift from NGCC to peaker plant generation, 33% of emissions reduction would be offset by the less efficient firming generation. But emissions reduction equivalent to 67% of the power generated by wind turbines would contradict your claim, which is that “there’s very little carbon emissions saving with wind”.

Now, this is clearly an overestimate, even under the false prior assumption that all firming must necessarily be fossil fuels, since much of variability of wind is predictable a day in advance, which is ample time to schedule following load for some component of reductions in harvest of wind energy. If 50% of a drop were covered in by NGCC operating efficiency and 50% by peakers, with the same fossil fuel inefficiency penalty of 33% for peakers instead of NGCC, the penalty from this argument drops to ~17%. If half of the less predictable and higher frequency variability is covered with hydropower, then the fossil fuel inefficiency penalty drops to ~8%. If some of the hours of renewable energy generation in the portfolio turns off peakers, that offsets some of this inefficiency penalty.

And, of course, if all of the firming power comes from some mix of dispatchable renewable energy, cross-haul transmission from other regions presently in surplus, and storage, then the carbon emissions penalty from this argument drops to 0%. 

“3. has a miserable power density of about 1.5 watts/sq. metre
4. (therefore) onshore has a high environment impact. Turbines in modern wind farms are all joined by access roads for easy maintenance.”

“miserable” is argument by emotive adjective, suggesting that the conclusion that “high power density is essential” is arrived at by virtue of the assumption, “let us assume that low power density is disqualifying”. If we were to constrain our farming on the same criteria, only farming where the power density of the crop production exceeded some unstated and arbitrary threshold, then given a high enough arbitrary threshold we would all starve.

And the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise. The premise leads to a high potential for environmental impact. The resulting environmental impact, however, depends upon the environment that the turbine is introduced into and whether there are any effective mitigations available. Since the available acreage of high quality wind resource in the US far exceeds the amount that we might require, the simple solution for us is to not allow wind turbines to be placed in locations which would result in substantial environmental impacts.

5. offshore wind is noticeably expensive (in UK, requiring price support of over USD $0.22/kWh)”

We happily give higher price support to fossil fuel power, given that we permit them to emit CO2 at little or not cost relative to the risk of destruction of our capacity to have an industrial economy. And counting the cost of offshore wind as a separate stand-alone point is double counting, since a country with abundant high quality onshore wind resources adding offshore wind to a portfolio of onshore wind and solar PV gains a reduction in variability and better correlation between variable renewable energy supply and daily variation in load.  

6. it is parasitic upon other grid suppliers.

6.1. it requires priority grid access”

However, much lower marginal cost producer than fossil fueled grid suppliers also justifies priority grid access.

6.2. Other plant becomes very inefficient when backing up wind. Fossil fuel plants (such as coal) must be kept hot just in case the wind drops.”

Some other plant becomes inefficient when backing wind. But this is referring to integrating wind into the grid generating resources that we must abandon in any event. Hydropower does not lose substantial efficiency when backing up wind. And variable renewable resources that are negatively correlated with wind become more efficient when wind is on the grid.

“The most efficient gas plants can’t be run optimally. E.g. A recent UK ‘bribe’ to entice vendors to build UK baseload plant failed to generate any proposals.”

The UK is a much more confined space than the US, and as an island, so there would be expected to be less complementarity between offshore and onshore wind in the UK than in the US, and very limited domestic opportunities to interconnect multiple distinct wind resource regions.

7. the capacity of wind falls off very quickly unless its carefully maintained (due to mechanical faults, etc.), putting an end to the lie that it’s “free energy”. That makes it labour intensive, and so, very inefficient.”

This is simply a straw horse fallacy. The total operating costs of wind are quite low, but not $0. So anybody who claims that it is “free energy” in the sense of zero operating cost energy is making a false claim. But that is not a serious point against wind power, it is a point against putting much weight in the claims of naive advocates of any given technology who translate their enthusiams into making overenthusiastic claims for that technology.

8. it’s not nearly as low-carbon as claimed. Levelized studies are fiction because wind can’t exist with dispatchable backup which must be fossil fuel in nearly every case.”

This is repeating a claim to make the list longer, and the assumption that dispatchable backup must be fossil fuel is just as much creating the conclusion via the assumptions as it was the first time the claim was made at the top of the list.

9. EROEI studies show that it’s barely worth it and not at all if using energy storage.”

EROI studies exist that show this, but most EROI studies show that its well worth it … whether or not using energy storage for some share of required firming.


Mark Pawelek's picture
Mark Pawelek on Apr 19, 2015 10:59 am GMT

1) The criticism’s made of wind and solar don’t say it’s impossible, they say it’s uneconomic and pointless.

Uneconomic: read the free sample chapter “Let’s Run the Numbers” from this forthcoming book by Mike Conley & Tim Maloney: http://energyrealityproject.com/lets-run-the-numbers-nuclear-energy-vs-w...

Pointless: Likewise, read the same free chapter. Nuclear power makes more sense.

If wind or solar
* could compete economically with nuclear power OR
* had a smaller environmental footprint OR
* were far safer technologies OR
* …
then there might just be a point to preferring them over nuclear power.

2) There’s no point. From the time Lovins first set pen to paper, the idea of wind and solar only make sense to legitimise the anti-nuclear power stance of environmentalists. Environmentalism is the grand delusion of our age. We can’t protect nature by intensifying our dependence upon it. That will only eat away at it more. If we don’t challenge the grand delusion, we just sink further into the morass.  That’s why it’s either/or – because the environmentalists made it that way.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Apr 19, 2015 11:27 am GMT

For what its worth, i agree with the manifesto and its omission of wind energy. The reasons why wind should be omitted have mostly already been mentioned in other comments here.

I suppose the crux of the matter is why wind is omitted while solar is embraced.

At first glance, wind and solar seem to have similar characteristics in terms of intermittency, LCOE and environmental footprint. But on closer inspection there are major differences.

Wind only achieves attractive LCOE when built on land, which is where it’s environmental footprint is far larger than solar’s. Bird and insect blood-stained wind turbine blades in Germany make this clear to even the most uninformed. Real-estate valuation reductions in the view range of wind turbines prove that humans DO NOT like to have wind turbines in their lives. Putting wind turbines only in areas where there will be no bloodstains and no real-estate value cuts implies greater total CAPEX and OPEX, killing LCOE.

As already noted, wind correlates poorly with energy demand as compared to solar, for the simple reason that energy demand is correlated to humans being awake, which is correlated to the sun shining but not to the wind blowing. Therefore, wind energy is causing far greater external costs of intermittency than solar.

Solar power does not cause significant intermittency costs as long as it’s installed capacity is less than the difference in capacity demand between day and night, which is typically about 30%-40% of maximum demand. Wind’s intermittency costs are negligeable only while wind capacity is less than time-independent demand, which is typically less than 10% of total capacity demand. (Time-independent demand is that part of total demand which can be cost-neutrally influenced through Demand Response Management.)

Finally, the credible size of future cost reductions due to technological improvement are still significant for solar, while they are already zero for wind. By itself this point should be enough to abandon wind energy today.

In any case, it is clear that nuclear must be a large part of the solution, whether or not solar or wind obtain significant market share.

I believe the key insight informing the ecomodernist vision is the fundamental theory that sufficient ecological protection on the global scale will be market-driven, or it will not occur at all. Technologies which contribute to market-driven ecological protection have a reason to exist, while technologies which cannot credibly contribute have nothing to offer but wastage of time and resources. In effect, such technologies actually increase ecological destruction, which is why environmentalists should ignore them, if not denounce them outright.

 

 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 19, 2015 3:28 pm GMT

“So this new theory advocates an increasingly disconnected, ecologically ignorant global population of 10 billion people living how??”

20 billion waving hands, perhaps? Techno-optimistic gadgetbahn solutions to the unsustainability of our current industrial system typically involves a lot of hand waving, so surely every body hand waving together will guarantee that it will all work, somehow?

“Play with your windmills as you wish. But until you learn about agriculture, play somewhere else.”

I was following your argument until this point. This remark seemed a bit of a non-sequitur, since this ‘provocative’ “decouple from nature to magically avoid having to learn to live in harmony with the world that the economy is embedded within” position is not originating with wind power advocacy, its originating with nuclear advocacy.

 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 19, 2015 3:38 pm GMT

“And what’s the assumption behind “England will need less electricity when its residents drive electric cars”?”

Surely its similar assumptions to the Fraunhofer IWES offshore wind study: “The present study focuses on the target year of 2050 with the following assumptions: renewable energy will provide 80 percent of final energy demand, while German energy consumption will be nearly 40 percent lower than it is today. Electricity will play a more important role as a result of new uses in heating and transportation sector (power-to-heat, power-to-gas, electromobility, etc.).”

… so if someone is addressing total energy and believes that electric cars are more energy efficient, then electric cars reduce total energy demand for the same vehicle miles, and at the same time a larger share of that total energy demand is electric.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Apr 19, 2015 4:27 pm GMT

“When interconnected, the highest quality wind resources are not 100% intermittent, “

Bruce – I’m unclear what “not 100% intermittent” means.  Could you clarify?  We know from just the short time that we’ve be attentive to wind speed that the entire Pacific coast wind resource drops to single digit percentages for many days at a time. 

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Apr 19, 2015 4:32 pm GMT

Detail: Bird and insect blood-stained wind turbine blades…”.  While I take your point, I don’t know that the environment footprint is any larger than a high rise building, transmission lines, or the windshields of trains/plains/automobiles.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Apr 19, 2015 4:44 pm GMT

 Fraunhofer IWES offshore wind “

Is there an english version of that study available?

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Apr 19, 2015 6:11 pm GMT

So to summarize:

  • The Ecomodernist Manifesto says we should prefer nuclear over most renewables due to the undesirability of their high environmental footprint, with the possible exception of solar.
  • Jesse’s article argues that Ecomodernists should also embrace wind, due to its small footprint under certain circumstances and its political popularity in certain countries.
  • I pointed out some problems with including wind power.
  • Bruce argues that including a wide mix of renewables (even biomass with its extremely large footprint) can help mitigate wind’s problems.

Now we’ve come full circle:  a mix of renewables generally means large environmental footprint, which the Ecomodernist urge us to avoid.

Again, is the purpose of renewables simply to appease the anti-nuclear faction?  If so, isn’t it better to treat them the same way that the anti-vaccine faction should be treated (patiently explain that their beliefs are demonstrably wrong and harmful)?  There are still zero deaths from Fukushima radiation, no one has ever been harmed by nuclear waste, and hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people still die every year from pollution from fossil fuel use.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Apr 19, 2015 8:01 pm GMT

Nuclear does not *always* have the smaller environmental footprint.  The creation of the North Anna plant in my state drown 13,000 acres for a cooling water lake.  Aesthetically, I’m personally fine with the lake, as are many others, but the environment there has nonetheless been significantly changed.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Apr 19, 2015 8:07 pm GMT

You have a point. My personal opinion is that the bird/bat/insect kills can be significant but not a showstopper per se.

The blades do tend to kill ecologically more valuable birds though. The ones smart enough to avoid cars, buildings and powerlines, but not smart enough to evade 200 mph blades slicing the air in the middle of nowhere. Carefully siting of the turbines out of the way of main valuable bird areas would appear to be possible.

But it remains the case that windturbines will have a higher killrate than solar. Solar pv doesn’t kill birds or insects. (Solar pv only kills workers falling off the roof while installing or cleaning them!)

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Apr 19, 2015 10:05 pm GMT

This is easy, almost a non-issue. The Nuclear facility could be dirrected to use a cooling tower(s)  while reusing the water in a closed loop, instead of ponds. Wind OTOH cannot change its diffuse nature, so we are stuck with the large footprint.

 http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Current-and-Future-Generation/Cooling-Power-Plants/

1. Steam cycle heat transfer

For the purpose of heat transfer from the core, the water is circulated continuously in a closed loop steam cycle and hardly any is lost. It is turned to steam by the primary heat source in order to drive the turbine to do work making electricity[2], and it is then condensed and retuned under pressure to the heat source in a closed system.[3] A very small amount of make-up water is required in any such system. The water needs to be clean and fairly pure.[4]

This function is much the same whether the power plant is nuclear, coal-fired, or conventionally gas-fired. Any steam cycle power plant functions in this way. At least 90% of the non-hydro electricity in every country is produced thus.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 20, 2015 1:17 am GMT

Mark, point well taken, but only 15% of nuclear plants are cooled by lakewater (including natural lakes). North Anna is 45 years old; I’m not aware of any man-made lakes built to cool nuclear plants in the last 30 years. There are too many cheaper and better ways to do it.

San Onofre, built shortly after North Anna, had a footprint of less than half a square mile, and generated the same energy as an offshore wind array 649 times its size.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Apr 20, 2015 1:54 am GMT

Thanks Bruce. Mostly I’m trying to say what I say to snowmobilers and off road recreational vehicle enthusiasts; that isn’t empty dead land as you perceive. Most of the big cities in the US began as hubs in the best farm lands, and have expanded with little regard for the loss. Wind seems just another example of highways and shopping malls. Basically, self proclaimed “outdoorsmen” and “environmentalists” are either too stupid to know what they are killing, or too greedy to care.

My wife and I have always enjoyed learning about the disappearing complex ecology. Wild strawberries are about to bloom, we saw fresh buds from a pink ladyslipper (Minnesota’s state flower), the birdsongs of spring. I have thought for many years the best place for wind energy is a barn roof aerfoil, where structure would serve multiple functions, and energy produced where it was needed.

As someone perhaps considered a local left wing tree hugger, yet a right wing zealot on blogs like this, my communication skills might more simply reflect an old grouch. I’m pretty fed up with both groups.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Apr 20, 2015 1:33 am GMT

Agreed, no argument from me that nuclear, on average, has a lower enviromental footprint than all other thermal, hydro, and wind power sources, maybe solar too when it is not on installed existing structures.  But sometimes in these comparisons there is suggestion that this has been the case in every historical instance.  Not so. 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 20, 2015 2:04 am GMT

As already noted, wind correlates poorly with energy demand as compared to solar, for the simple reason that energy demand is correlated to humans being awake, which is correlated to the sun shining but not to the wind blowing. Therefore, wind energy is causing far greater external costs of intermittency than solar.

Solar power does not cause significant intermittency costs as long as it’s installed capacity is less than the difference in capacity demand between day and night, which is typically about 30%-40% of maximum demand.”

This argument assumes that either solar PV is installed or else wind is installed, but both are not installed at the same time. Which contradicts:

I believe the key insight informing the ecomodernist vision is the fundamental theory that sufficient ecological protection on the global scale will be market-driven, or it will not occur at all. “

In a market driven system, an expansion of wind capacity increases the value of solar capacity and conversely, so if there is an effective market for either, the market for both together ought to be greater than the sum of the individual markets, if the market is constructed to reward economic value.

Of course, since markets are socially constructed, the premise that sufficient ecological protection on a global scale will be market driven does leave open the question of how to construct the markets … a presumption that markets will be constructed along the same lines that they are currently constructed, which has been in service of solutions to past problems which has led us to our current unsustainable status quo, would imply a strong bias in favor of the changes that are as close to the current status quo as possible.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 20, 2015 2:41 am GMT

The Ecomodernist Manifesto says we should prefer nuclear over most renewables due to the undesirability of their high environmental footprint, with the possible exception of solar.”

Yes, the Ecomodernist Manifesto does indeed seem to be an expression of one alternative nuclear advocacy strategy of attacking renewables first, and leaving fossil fuel energy for after ~ once enough people are brought on board the pro-nuclear, anti-renewable coalition. Then, having banked our future on nuclear alone, we will have to press forward no matter what, since if the nuclear roll-out fails to be sufficient to the task at hand for whatever reason, we fail.

But if you are banking your argument on environmental impacts, you need to be a lot stronger in your argument on environmental impacts. “Might have”, “can have”, “has had in these selected examples” is not the basis for a definitive argument. The same casual translation from “could have this impact if put in this particular site where it would have serious adverse environmental impacts” into “will necessarily have serious adverse impacts” would be attacked with vigor and determination if it appeared an argument by anti-nuclear advocates.

Now we’ve come full circle:  a mix of renewables generally means large environmental footprint, which the Ecomodernist urge us to avoid.”

If you presume that the smallest possible environmental footprint is the key to achieving sustainability, then you are building in a bias in favor of whatever you assess to have a small environmental footprint … but since that is only an assumption and not a warranted conclusion, the key insight there is that making that assumption is one approach to begging the question in favor of nuclear.


 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 20, 2015 3:54 am GMT

I think you rather should ask what I meant by the highest quality wind resource … the Pacific Northwest wind resource is as close to 100% intermittent as makes any difference. When Fertig (2012) examined windpower output of four system operators with compatible available information, BPA in the Pacific Northwest, MISA in the western Great Lakes, ERCOT in Texas and CAISO in California, adopting the 72%-92% definition of firm power, firm power as a percentage of installed capacity ranged from the BPA at 2%-0.2% up to MISO at 13%-6%, with the interconnection of the four regions at 17%-12%.

Which is why a share of some wind projects in MISO can qualify for capacity credits, while BPA wind is treated as a pure energy resource with no capacity credit.

If the BPA is an average CF of 30% and MISO and the four as a whole an average CF of 36%, then the BPA would only deliver 6%-0.6% of its average yield as firm power, while MISO would deliver 36%-16%, and the four regions interconnected would deliver 48%-34% of their energy as firm power.

So BPA is far from a representative example. And it is far from a representative sample in a different way, since the majority of BPA generation is hydro, and the reduction of hydro generation when the BPA is blowing does not substantially change the total amount of hydro power generated, so the displacement of fueled power is a smaller amount per hour spread out over a tail of hours following the strong wind period.  

At the 72%-92% part of the duration curve, the “doesn’t reduce emissions, because peakers are less efficient” argument does not apply, since even if all of the firming is from peaker gas plants – and the US has enough hydro to firm 20% of our electrical energy from wind – that the 28%-8% of the time the peakers are being used instead of NGCC is far less emissions cost than the displacement of fossil fueled power 72%-92% of the time.

Starting from 0% up to some threshold value, the “doesn’t reduce emissions, because peakers are less efficient” argument does not apply, because its not a high enough frequency of generation to replace NGCC with peakers … and for low frequency changes, those NGCC that are designed with independent generators per unit to operate as following load can shut down individual blocks rather than operate the entire unit with lower efficiency and surplus spinning reserve (that is, after all, part of the economics of how NGCC plants are killing off coal fired plants, which are less efficient as following load).

And, of course, this is without solar PV or offshore wind, both of which are complementary with onshore wind and the combination of which is even more complementary, increasing the share of firm power from average yield of the portfolio.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 20, 2015 4:34 am GMT

The difference between wind turbines and shopping malls and highways is that you don’t have to take out established farmland to put up a wind turbine.

Wind turbines disturb nesting grouse, which as a prairie prey species have an (understandable) aversion to swiftly passing shadows which could be a raptor overhead. The direct environmental mitigation is don’t put wind turbines in significant grouse nesting grounds.

Translating “environmental footprint” into assumed environmental impact threatens to be a lazy substitute for real study of environmental impacts … especially when the desired conclusion is known in advance of beginning to construct the argument.

At its crudest level, the environmental “footprint” of a coal ash pond measured by acres taken up can easily be less than the environmental “footprint” of a wind farm, and the environmental footprint of a wind farm on farm land in the Great Plains can be greater than the environmental impact of a wind farm along a woodland ridgeline, if the windfarm on the farm land expanded its spacing to accommodate field boundaries and to better use the existing road network, while the wind farm on the woodland ridgeline was more compacted due to the overhead cost of the access roads.

But, of course, the environmental impact of a windfarm on farmland is much lower on a per acre basis than the environmental impact of a windfarm in wilderness, and the environmental impact on the plains is lower than the environmental impact in woodlands, so the likelihood is that the environmental impact per acre of the woodland ridgeline site is a substantial multiple of the environmental impact of the farm land in the Great Plains.

Indeed, the larger “footprint” wind farm on farmland might not merely have much fewer negative environmental impacts, it could have net positive impacts, if the greater income stability of the wind farm lease payments allows alternatives to subsidized corporate factory farming to survive financially.

 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 20, 2015 5:25 am GMT

There’s an English language Executive summary ~ that’s what I took that quote from, as I don’t have a reading knowledge of German.

The framing of that study appears to exaggerate the benefits of offshore wind, by constraining the options to all solar-PV, all onshore wind, and all offshore wind, and “all or nothing” framings tend to be biased in favor of the highest CF source.

The obvious response would be, “but what would a cost-optimized mix look like”, which I assume the later Fraunhofer IWES study cited in the comments would be at least a partial response to … but I can only assume, since I cannot even read enough German to decipher many of the labels on their portfolio build-out chart, let alone dig through their modeling assumptions.

Given German biocapacity per capita, an all-RE grid on a German stand-alone basis without nuclear does not seem very plausible … it could well be that Fraunhofer IWES is using an aggressive energy efficiency assumption to, in effect, replace energy that would otherwise have to be provided by domestic nuclear, energy imports, and/or over capacity of variable RE harvest for domestic needs and regional cross-haul.

However, the more energy efficient a national economy already is, the fewer opportunities they have for energy efficiency gains, and Germany is already operating at a substantially lower ecological footprint than the US, so 40% assumed efficiency gains could well be pressing beyond the gains actually available … and the nature of efficiency gains is that if we pick the low hanging fruit first, the remaining fruit is hanging higher, so the last half of the gains thought to be available could well have a large share of hypothetical gains that turn out to be unavailable in practice.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 20, 2015 6:10 am GMT

The burden of proof for this argument goes far beyond the claim of “nuclear is preferable to a portfolio of renewable energy” … it requires “nuclear alone, with existing hydro and possibly some solar PV, will certainly be enough for a worldwide transition from fossil fuels”.

Here in China, they are rolling out new nuclear power plants about as fast as they can … and still, with nuclear alone, there will be more coal fired power in China in another ten years time than there is today. Similarly, although China has some of the fastest roll-out of harvest of renewable energy (including new hydro as well as wind and solar PV), if China attempted to rely on harvest of renewable energy resources alone, it could not bend the curve for expansion of coal fired power plants. Given the scope of the challenge, the only way to make serious progress is for China to pursue both.

In the US, getting the pace of nuclear roll-out that would be required for a nuclear-only solution to have reasonable confidence of getting there in time … never mind certainty … requires a broad and active movement in support of the push, and the Ecomodernist Manifesto advocacy strategy seems to be more calculated to expand the anti-nuclear movement, by pushing renewable energy advocates who do not have strong feelings on nuclear into alliance with anti-nuclear activists.

And any hypothetical advantages in the US are moot points if there is no political path to benefitting from those advantages in reality.

And as Sub-Saharan Africa rises from half a billion to a billion population ~ which a scale of population change that the Ecomodernist Manifesto is purportedly fine with ~ I don’t want to see the Congolese power utility in anything like its present shape trying to manage a nuclear power plant of established current designs. Its one thing to claim that the US power industry is competent for that task, its quite another to assume that the institutional ability to direct that competence to useful purpose is universally distributed around the world.

The argument that “we should aggressively roll out existing nuclear designs and research and developed advanced new reactor designs” has a lower burden of proof than “we should gamble our ability to transition to a non-fossil-fuel economy entirely on nuclear energy”. Yet the first argument does not seem to be one that nuclear advocates can win alone, without forming broader alliances. The second argument seems rather to be preaching to the choir … offering arguments that seem persuasive to those already convinced.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Apr 20, 2015 8:46 am GMT

Of course, since markets are socially constructed, the premise that sufficient ecological protection on a global scale will be market driven does leave open the question of how to construct the markets”

I am assuming a simple market where the price of energy is tightly linked to the internal(!) cost of energy, and where taxes/subsidies are equal across all products on the market. If there is a product available in such a market which is both the cheapest and the most environmentally benign – all else being equal – then this is what I call market-driven ecological protection.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Apr 20, 2015 10:21 pm GMT

Sorry for duplicate post

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Apr 20, 2015 1:14 pm GMT

Personal opinions aside, the data pretty clearly debunks the bird kill issue.  It is a widely used meme used by anti-wind trolls to disrupt online discussion threads. https://handlemanpost.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/wind-turbine-bird-kills/

 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Apr 20, 2015 2:59 pm GMT

As one who has practiced described “ecomodernism” for several decades, and is an experienced biophysical scientist, some suggestions.

First, with rapidly increasing biomass growth rates, appropriate conversion to value added energy enhanced biofuels can be done by copying infrared photochemical conversion in fire; instead using focused sunlight. Solar biofuels.

Second, with large roof agricultural structures (barns) providing a wing aerfoil, wind coupling efficiencies greatly improve energy production, combine structural footprints, with direct connection to the consumer farmer. Agricultural productivity gains. Livestock septic tanks will help for gas, fertilizer, water, health.

If others want to argue forever about the same 3 textbook options, please spare us the environmentalist, scientist, innovator, or economist claims. To some extent, that is the ecomodernist manifesto. Those of us in the field can only do so much while many do little.

Nuclear technology is vital, but is seriously beyond my physics skills to comment.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Apr 20, 2015 2:53 pm GMT

Paul –

Cooling towers are an alternative to once-through but not without consequence.  The efficiency hit per WNA is 2 to 5%, and the cost of the  cooling loop 40% higher.  Wind advocates can  argue similarly, that they can lower environmental footprint by moving turbines offshore far from raptors and homes, though for far greater cost.

Adam Siegel's picture
Adam Siegel on Apr 20, 2015 4:07 pm GMT

The footprint issue becomes an absurdity argument with sensible renewable energy laydowns.  Look at how little land is required if one plays the theoretical “100% of US energy with solar energy systems solely”.  

Yes, wind turbines do have a disruption footprint.  Compare the ridgetop photos of wind turbines, as a reasonable example, with mountaintop removal impacts.  

“Mis of renewables generally means large environment footprint” really falls by the wayside if one puts aside dedicated land for low-efficiency biofuels.  And, when it comes to that arena, we are a lot closer to viable very high-density algae fuels than we are to fusion energy.

And, just to be clear, I am not “anti-nuclear faction”.  At a very high level, back when coal was roughly 50% of US electricity, here is a thought-piece laydown of eliminating coal from US electricity w/in 20 years: http://getenergysmartnow.com/2008/02/28/eliminating-coal-from-the-electr... That 2008 thoughtpiece has 30% excess over what required to eliminate coal even with including electric vehicle penetration. And. looking at that projection today, I would suggest that — without massive heavy lifting — we will likely see far more solar/wind than what that thought piece included. When it comes to nuclear, the ‘nuclear renaissance’ certainly seems stalled in introducing numerous large-scale plants. The ‘hope’, it seems to me, is that SMRs get certification and providing a viable market alternative.

Adam Siegel's picture
Adam Siegel on Apr 20, 2015 4:08 pm GMT

The footprint issue becomes an absurdity argument with sensible renewable energy laydowns.  Look at how little land is required if one plays the theoretical “100% of US energy with solar energy systems solely”.  

Yes, wind turbines do have a disruption footprint.  Compare the ridgetop photos of wind turbines, as a reasonable example, with mountaintop removal impacts.  

“Mis of renewables generally means large environment footprint” really falls by the wayside if one puts aside dedicated land for low-efficiency biofuels.  And, when it comes to that arena, we are a lot closer to viable very high-density algae fuels than we are to fusion energy.

And, just to be clear, I am not “anti-nuclear faction”.  At a very high level, back when coal was roughly 50% of US electricity, here is a thought-piece laydown of eliminating coal from US electricity w/in 20 years: http://getenergysmartnow.com/2008/02/28/eliminating-coal-from-the-electr... That 2008 thoughtpiece has 30% excess over what required to eliminate coal even with including electric vehicle penetration. And. looking at that projection today, I would suggest that — without massive heavy lifting — we will likely see far more solar/wind than what that thought piece included. When it comes to nuclear, the ‘nuclear renaissance’ certainly seems stalled in introducing numerous large-scale plants. The ‘hope’, it seems to me, is that SMRs get certification and providing a viable market alternative.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Apr 20, 2015 4:24 pm GMT

‘”Look at how little land is required if one plays the theoretical “100% of US energy with solar energy systems solely …Yes, wind turbines do have a disruption footprint.  Compare the ridgetop photos of wind turbines, as a reasonable example, with mountaintop removal impacts.  “

Which implies a winner-takes-all choice is possible between the one (wind) and the other (coal).  The reality demonstrated by Danish and German wind is that wind demands the coal alongside (or gas or wood) for a greater total cost. 

Adam Siegel's picture
Adam Siegel on Apr 20, 2015 4:22 pm GMT

Mea culpa: forgot solar footprint analysis link:  http://rameznaam.com/2015/04/08/how-much-land-would-it-take-to-power-the...

Adam Siegel's picture
Adam Siegel on Apr 20, 2015 4:25 pm GMT

1.  Here is the solar link: http://rameznaam.com/2015/04/08/how-much-land-would-it-take-to-power-the...

2.  Sorry, Mark, ‘winner takes all” is quite viable for renewables mix.  The “greater total cost” is a nice line but not going to be how it plays out … especially if we look at true costs.

Adam Siegel's picture
Adam Siegel on Apr 20, 2015 4:25 pm GMT

1.  Here is the solar link: http://rameznaam.com/2015/04/08/how-much-land-would-it-take-to-power-the...

2.  Sorry, Mark, ‘winner takes all” is quite viable for renewables mix.  The “greater total cost” is a nice line but not going to be how it plays out … especially if we look at true costs.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Apr 20, 2015 4:48 pm GMT

A Siegel –

When renewables refers to hydro or geothermal or (unforntunately) biomass, then yes the world has long has long had many cases where these power sources carry most if not all a national electric load, and reliably so: the World Bank list 32 countries that receive more than 50% of their power from hydro, 12 over 75%.  There are no comparable cases for intermittent power sources.  In Germany, despite significant spending to build out wind and solar its current ~70 GW (pk),  Germany was still building new coal plants as of 2012, and still has roughly the same amount of conventional generation capacity on hand as it did a dozen years ago, an expensive proposition. 

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If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

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