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New Renewable Energy Technologies: Status and Prospects - Part 5 - The Achilles Heel: Long Term Storage
- Jun 5, 2015 2:51 pm GMT
The technologies described in this series generate electricity when their resource is available not when it is needed. In any power system, the generation must match the demand on a second by second basis. So, to go large-scale, renewable energy needs to find a technology that will store energy efficiently and at a low cost.
For periods of a few hours the most effective form of energy storage is hydro pumped storage. It stores energy by pumping water into an upper basin when the power price is low and generates when the price is high or there is a need to manage frequency.
Is also claimed that batteries - even the batteries of electric cars - can be used to support intermittent energy technologies. But they can only do so for a few hours and the cost is high because a single charge/discharge cycle on an electric car battery could easily cost more than 50 cents/kWh.
All the technologies now being promoted provide backup for a few hours and at a very high price. But renewable energy generation is often seasonal and, even if it is not, calm or cloudy periods can last for many days. So the need is for a storage technology that can store electricity economically and efficiently for days, weeks, and maybe, months. No such technology is available and none is on the horizon. Until this problem is solved - and some doubt that it ever will be - new energy technologies can play no more than a bit part in the electricity generation scene.
If the objective is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, and if (against all the evidence) it is decided that massive subsidies are an effective way of doing it, then all the subsidies should be the same. If we lived in a rational world they would be the same for any technology that will reduce carbon dioxide. Obvious options are improving the efficiency of coal-fired power generation, converting from coal to gas and nuclear power.
All these technologies provide substantial reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and cost much less than renewables. At the moment, nuclear energy is quite expensive in most countries but, to a large extent, this is due to the fact that no modern nuclear power station has reached the stage of serial production. When this happens, substantial reductions in cost and construction time can be expected. Because it is widely - and wrongly - believed that nuclear power is dangerous, the very strict rules on safety and radiation also increase the cost. Radiation limits are based on an arbitrary rule that predicts a linear death rate from radiation exposure as radiation increases. Research into actual mortalities has demonstrated that this is far from the truth and that radiation levels more than 200 times the level allowed for nuclear power stations are quite harmless.
Is it an Exercise in Futility?
If the objective is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide because they are believed to cause dangerous global warming it follows that if man-made global warming is not happening then there is no point in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
We now know that the world has not warmed for the last 15 to 17 years and, according to the British Met office, it will not warm this side of 2018. This demonstrates that the climate models - that are the basis of the belief in dangerous global warming - are worthless. There is a vast amount of evidence based on sunspots, past climate cycles and the like that demonstrate that the current situation is simply natural climate change. This evidence is strongly opposed by those make money from renewable energy, carbon trading and research into various aspects of man-made global warming. It is also resisted by those who are committed to the concept for one reason or other and cannot afford to admit that they were wrong.
It can also be argued that renewable energy should be pursued because the world is running out of energy resources. The problem is that this is simply not true. For nuclear power, uranium reserves will last much more than 100 years - and much longer if breeder type reactors are used. Thorium can also be used as nuclear fuel and there is sufficient to supply all the energy the world needs for hundreds of years.
For fossil fuels, recent technological advances mean that enormous amounts of gas and oil that was previously locked up in shale deposits is now accessible. As a result, the fossil fuel energy resource can last for more than 100 years. But the largest fossil fuel resource is in clathrates - methane ice that has accumulated in deep water off many coastlines. The quantity available is mind-boggling. The Americans and the Japanese have run successful pilot plants that can recover this resource.
1. New renewable energy technologies provide electricity that is expensive and intermittent and imposes many additional costs on the power system. Because they are intermittent, they can never play more than a bit part in electricity generation.
2. Nuclear power and fossil fuels can provide a reliable and economic supply of all the electricity we need for the foreseeable future
3. There is increasing evidence that man-made carbon dioxide does not cause dangerous global warming. This being the case, there is no need to promote expensive renewable energy to reduce emissions of a harmless gas that promotes the growth of plants.
 If the battery costs $20,000 and lasts for 2,000 cycles, the cost is $10 per 10 kWh cycle.
 In fact, it is, by a long chalk, the safest of all major forms of power generation. For instance, Chernobyl (a reactor that could not have been built in the Western world) killed less than 100 people. A single dam failure in China killed more than 25,000 people.
 This has now been confirmed by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation www.unscear.org
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