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Fusion Power Breakthrough…Really?

image credit: © Cinnamon Energy Systems - The Energy Show
Barry Cinnamon's picture
CEO Cinnamon Energy Systems

Barry Cinnamon heads up Cinnamon Energy Systesms (a San Jose CA residential and commercial solar and energy storage contractor) and Spice Solar (suppliers of built-in solar racking technology)....

  • Member since 2016
  • 83 items added with 86,518 views
  • Dec 27, 2022

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have announced a fusion breakthrough using lasers. The future of clean, limitless energy according to Forbes! A game-changer for climate according to PBS!

Using a laser and power plant system about the size of a sports stadium, the experiment generated a net power output of about one megajoule. This fusion power plant can blast the laser about 10 times a week. Sounds impressive.

Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but one megajoule is equivalent to 0.278 kwh — about the same amount of energy a single solar panel will generate in an hour from that fusion power plant 92 million miles away.

Press coverage somehow missed the fact that the energy output of this test is de minimis. They also missed the facts that fusion releases vast quantities of dangerous neutron radiation, that this radiation will contaminate surrounding equipment (just like fission reactors), that that we have not yet engineered a way to capture the heat from laser or tokamak fusion, and that there is no good source for all the tritium fuel necessary for fusion (other than more fusion reactors).

It takes at least 20 years to get a new nuclear fission plant permitted and constructed. At this point we don’t even have a working prototype laser fusion plant — that could take another 30 years. Realistically, we’re 50+ years away from getting commercial laser or tokamak fusion power plants working at scale. In the mean time, deploying billions of lowly solar panels is the safest, most reliable and least expensive way to generate the energy we need.

Please join us on this week’s Energy Show Podcast

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 27, 2022

I'm very excited for the scientists and their success, it really is a landmark achievement. But as you note, the difference from that to anything close to commercialization will take a generation. In talking to friends and family outside of the energy industry, it's been a bit frustrating how much that aspect hasn't been communicated as this story gets reported by the non-wonky outlets. 

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Dec 29, 2022

Fusion developers are in a highly competitive race to develop unique, first-of-a-kind fusion power plants. The cost of their efforts have required, and will continue to require, hundreds or even billions of dollars from their investors as well as government financial support. No fusion developer wants either of these stakeholders to be put off by unanswered questions about the challenges they face.

Plus, there is growing confidence among commercial fusion developers who claim that their power plants are likely to be built in the 2030s. Yet, the director of the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) thinks this timeline isn’t realistic.

The scientists at LLNL are quick to clarify their recent accomplishment in the realm of fusion ignition has great scientific merit, but they also add a note of caution that the engineering work ahead to design and build commercial plants faces many uncertainties.

In response,  the current cadre of developers of commercial fusion plants say it is time to retire the old assessment that fusion is still 50 years in the future. Plus, MIT Technology Review, in its assessment of the LLNL accomplishment, noted, “While [laser driven] inertial confinement is the first fusion scheme to produce net energy gain, it’s not the most likely path forward for any possible commercial fusion efforts.”

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Dec 28, 2022

Thanks for the reality check! 

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Dec 28, 2022

Excellent points Barry. I love and use Solar everyday like Billions of people to see where I'm going each day and keep cool in the shade or warm up in the Sun. I also put solar on my home 22 years ago in 2001 before incentives. Sunny days in Arizona were a good enough reason to add solar. In the past 5 years I have bought Solar PPA systems and put them on churches and schools. I'm a solar IPA investor now and it pays well. 

Barry Cinnamon's picture
Thank Barry for the Post!
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