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Advocacy vs. Science

Filed under: — gavin @ 1 April 2009

The advocate will pick up any piece of apparently useful data and without doing any analysis, decide that their pet theory perfectly explains any anomaly without consideration of any alternative explanations. Their conclusion is always that their original theory is correct.

The scientist will look at all possibilities and revise their thinking based on a thorough assessment of all issues – data quality, model quality and appropriateness of the the comparison. Their conclusion follows from the analysis whatever it points to.

Which one is which?


595 Responses to “Advocacy vs. Science”

  1. 501
    James says:

    David B. Benson Says (12 April 2009 at 3:04 PM):

    “Well, in an earlier post, I did provide cost figures and a link to the study commissioned by the State of California.”

    I did look at your link, but everything seems to be buried in PowerPoint presentations and such, which I can’t view without major hassles. (I use Linux, and in the rare instances where I have to do presentations, do them in Latex. Microsoft is another country, and I don’t speak the language.) Which is to say that I don’t actually know what assumptions are going into those numbers, but can only guess that they’re for “incremental” costs – adding watts to an operating grid that has dispatchable baseload generation.

    That is, you’ve got solar thermal generating during the daytime but not at night, so when it becomes a major fraction of generation on the grid, you have to essentially generate twice as much during the day, and store the excess for use at night. Thus you have to double the cost (and that assumes free, 100% efficient overnight storage) to put it on an equal footing with nuclear. Likewise with wind, you have to multiply by 3 or so, again with storage. That puts wind at about 26.7, solar thermal at 37.9, vs nuclear’s 15.3.

    Of course I could be wrong in my guesses, but even using their figures directly shows wind less than half the cost of nuclear, and solar thermal around 80% (and no numbers for PV solar). Those aren’t the order-of-magnitude differences that some posters have been implying (in opposite directions!), but are in roughly the same ballpark. Which is what I’d expect: if some technology really was an order of magnitude cheaper than the rest, people would be jumping at it.

  2. 502
    Mark says:

    “I did look at your link, but everything seems to be buried in PowerPoint presentations and such, which I can’t view without major hassles.”

    Which can be read appropriately by OpenOffice.org.

    It’s a free package and probably already installed.

  3. 503
    Nick Gotts says:

    James@500,
    My point wasn’t actually an anti-nuclear one, but I didn’t make it clear: it was that there is no way of making a straightforward economic comparison between different forms of electricity generation; and no such thing as the “free market” which is often called upon by commenters here to make the choice between different low-carbon alternatives. The choice between these (or rather, possible combinations of them) is, inevitably, going to be made primarily at policy level, as the alternatives require different types of physical and institutional infrastructure, and have different risks, which cannot be compared in any straightforward numerical fashion. In the case of nuclear power, one of its drawbacks (which it shares with large-scale hydro) is the potential for disasters from a single installation causing thousands of deaths, and devastation over a wide area.

  4. 504
    Nick Gotts says:

    “Todd can’t be requesting we break the free market, can he?” – Mark

    Well actually I agree with Todd that “free markets” in electricity supply are a myth. (In fact, I think the whole concept of a “free market” is an ideological mystification – all markets depend on the maintenance of a physical and institutional support system, the shape of which largely determines who sells what to whom) but this is most obvious in areas such as electricity supply,

  5. 505
    Joe Lassiter says:

    Re: Chris Colose (493)

    Chris and Gavin,

    Lindzen’s position on climate data and the public process for updating that data says volumes. It is so different than my own reading of the world.

    Thank you very much for starting this discussion with Lindzen. I have learned as much about the pace of science and the debate surrounding that science as I have from any single piece.

  6. 506
    PeteB says:

    The debate here started me reading round on energy policy

    The Royal Society’s response to Department of Trade and
    Industry Review of UK Energy Policy : http://royalsociety.org/displaypagedoc.asp?id=21185

    CCS http://royalsociety.org/displaypagedoc.asp?id=29510 and http://royalsociety.org/displaypagedoc.asp?id=29440

    and slightly tangentially, managing plutonium http://royalsociety.org/displaypagedoc.asp?id=32216

  7. 507

    In fact, according to:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AP1000

    Utilities have been applied for licensing to build 12 AP-1000 reactor in the USA as of Nov 2008. This means that this mini-bit of nuclear resurgence is already enough to provide the same power as half of all the presently contracted wind turbines in the USA. If you figure 12 reactors is roughly 12GW, that’s the same as 12,000 turbines, give or take, assuming full wind all the time.

  8. 508
    walter crain says:

    pardon me, perhaps a bit off-topic, but does realclimate have an article/thread addressing the myth that the “recent cooling” (since 98′s record highs) means global warming is over?

    [Response: See our previous posts here and here. -mike]

  9. 509
    HF says:

    James wrote:

    “Now I think actual generation from wind runs about 1/3 of nameplate (if anyone has a better figure, feel free to correct me), so to meet the same capacity factor as nuclear (and ignoring issues such as dispatchability) 1 GWatt of wind would cost somewhere between $3.28 billion and $7.11 billion.”

    1/3 of nameplate, or a 33% capacity factor, is a good approximation of current turbine production. The capacity factor varies widely per project, and is increasing.

    Average project cost per project in 2007 was $1.71 billion/nameplate GW. Projected costs for 2008 projects were up to $1.92, again in the range you indicated.

    So, for a GW of wind production three times the (nameplate) turbines and three times the capital project costs are necessary.

    But BPL is right. The project capital cost is just a portion of the input necessary to produce a kwh of electricity, and capital represents a higher percentage of the wind production. Relatively few additional inputs are necessary, and that difference is reflected in the busbar numbers provided by David Bensen.

    In California, the average cost of each kwh of electricity, generated by each of its underutilized turbines, was/is some nine cents. Three turbines are not required to produce a given kwh of electricity.

    This DOE presentation has cost information including O&M and regional break downs:

    http://www1.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/pdfs/wiser_data_report_summary_2007.pdf

    Check this for transmission issues:

    http://eetd.lbl.gov/EA/EMP/reports/lbnl-1471e.pdf

  10. 510
    Chris Colose says:

    walter crain (508),

    There is also a peer-reviewed piece coming in GRL addressing the issue of cooling on timescales of a decade or less. A quick introduction at http://chriscolose.wordpress.com/2009/04/07/decadal-scale-coolings-not-all-that-unusual/

  11. 511
    walter crain says:

    thanks guys – that’s perfect.

  12. 512
    James says:

    HF Says (13 April 2009 at 8:53 AM):

    “But BPL is right. The project capital cost is just a portion of the input necessary to produce a kwh of electricity…”

    Sure, but until someone gets the actual numbers, or reasonable estimates, it still (from this end, anyway) seems more like ideology than engineering :-)

    “In California, the average cost of each kwh of electricity, generated by each of its underutilized turbines, was/is some nine cents. Three turbines are not required to produce a given kwh of electricity.”

    True when wind is less than 1% of total generation. Not so true when it’s around 10%, and completely false when it’s 100%. That’s something a lot of people miss, the cost of providing reliability from intermittent sources is far from being linear.

  13. 513
    SecularAnimist says:

    Re: the pros and cons of various energy technologies, I commend to your attention a peer-reviewed study by Standford University researcher Mark Jacobson:

    Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security
    Mark Z. Jacobson
    Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
    Stanford University
    Stanford, California
    Energy Environ. Sci., 2009, 2, 148-173

    From the abstract:

    This paper reviews and ranks major proposed energy-related solutions to global warming, air pollution mortality, and energy security while considering other impacts of the proposed solutions, such as on water supply, land use, wildlife, resource availability, thermal pollution, water chemical pollution, nuclear proliferation, and undernutrition. Nine electric power sources and two liquid fuel options are considered. The electricity sources include solar-photovoltaics (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP), wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, wave, tidal, nuclear, and coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The liquid fuel options include corn-ethanol (E85) and cellulosic-E85. To place the electric and liquid fuel sources on an equal footing, we examine their comparative abilities to address the problems mentioned by powering new-technology vehicles, including battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs), and flex-fuel vehicles run on E85 …

    … In sum, use of wind, CSP, geothermal, tidal, PV, wave, and hydro to provide electricity for BEVs and HFCVs and, by extension, electricity for the residential, industrial, and commercial sectors, will result in the most benefit among the options considered. The combination of these technologies should be advanced as a solution to global warming, air pollution, and energy security. Coal-CCS and nuclear offer less benefit thus represent an opportunity cost loss, and the biofuel options provide no certain benefit and the greatest negative impacts.

  14. 514
    James says:

    SecularAnimist Says (13 April 2009 at 12:45 PM):

    “Re: the pros and cons of various energy technologies, I commend to your attention a peer-reviewed study by Standford University researcher Mark Jacobson:”

    On a quick read-through, I notice a few problematic assumptions. First, there’s the whole opportunity cost calculation, where nuclear’s assigned an arbitrary 6-year regulatory delay, while wind, solar &c are given a value of zero. That hardly seems reasonable. One ought to at least consider a contrary assumption that regulatory obstacles would be removed in the face of an urgent need to reduce CO2 emissions.

    The real problem, though, seems to be this: “Because the production of nuclear weapons material is occurring only in countries that have developed civilian nuclear energy programs…” That’s demonstrably false, both historically – the US & USSR both developed nuclear weapons well in advance of civilian power programs – and in the present, as North Korea and Iran only pretend to civilian programs as a smokescreen.

    So if you start from false assumptions, can you hope to come up with correct results? Or can a suspicious mind, like mine, reasonably suppose that the assumption was inserted in order to obtain the desired result?

  15. 515
    Mark says:

    “First, there’s the whole opportunity cost calculation, where nuclear’s assigned an arbitrary 6-year regulatory delay, while wind, solar &c are given a value of zero. That hardly seems reasonable.”

    Why?

    Wind farms have really one one method of denial of planning: It will spoil the view.

    Nuclear power stations have national security concerns.

    6 years sounds a little optimistic to me, in this day and age.

  16. 516
    Mark says:

    “Sure, but until someone gets the actual numbers, or reasonable estimates, it still (from this end, anyway) seems more like ideology than engineering”

    The actual numbers have been given before, James.

    Real systems with real running costs (including repairs, cleaning and running).

    Nukes 15.

    Wind 8.

    Not seeing the figures posted seems to be idealogical blindness to me.

  17. 517
    Chris Winter says:

    Barton Paul Levenson (#195): “I tried to list a comprehensive collection of nuclear accident reports involving fatalities here, but it got flagged as spam. Maybe I’ll put it up as a web page. People ought to know. The nuclear industry has been getting away with the Big Lie technique for too long.

    A few numbers from the World Nuclear Association:

    Coal……….. 6,400
    Natural gas…. 1,200
    Hydro………. 4,000
    Nuclear…….. 31

    The numbers are for “immediate fatalities 1970-1992″
    Source:
    http://world-nuclear.org/info/default.aspx?id=15612&terms=INES
    Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors
    —-
    I did some work on a database of nuclear accidents of all types (radiological as well as reactor):
    http://www.chris-winter.com/Digressions/Nuke-Goofs/NukIntro.html

  18. 518

    495… “By my count, there have been several dozen fatalities in the US from nuclear accidents and one from wind power, which involved a guy falling off a tower.”

    Um, how many years has wind been used as a form of power, in sails, windmills, all sorts of stuff, and you say that less than 35 people have died from it. If you wanted to get picky about it, you could technically move all Katrina deaths into the death from wind power column… all the tornados, etc. If we’re going to take the tack that any radiation is bad, then, we ought to way the safety of handling radioactive stuff against the safety of wind, and well, the wind is not safe.

  19. 519
    Nick Gotts says:

    SecularAnimist – thanks for the reference!
    I’d have to agree with James that a zero-regulatory delay for wind turbines is dubious – there’s certainly organised opposition to them in the UK (involving, among others, well-known nuclear industry boosters). On the other hand, James’s claim that
    “Because the production of nuclear weapons material is occurring only in countries that have developed civilian nuclear energy programs…-” is demonstrably false, is also very dubious. Since this statement is present tense, the fact that the US and USSR developed nuclear weapons before nuclear power decades ago does not contradict it. Iran is not (yet) producing nuclear weapons material, anda tleast according to wikipedia, North Korea’s nuclear programme was initially aimed at civil power production (it has no oil deposits and substantial uranium). In any case, whether a country’s civilian nuclear energy program is “pretend” or not is irrelevant: the fact that such pretence can be made as a cover for nuclear weapons production illustrates the undeniable fact that the technologies, skills and materials for the two are inextricable.

    Todd Bandrowsky: don’t. be. silly. We’re talking about electrical power generation, not sailing ships or natural hazards such as hurricanes.

  20. 520
    Mark says:

    On the time and effort of production facility build-out, I ask this question (rhetorically):

    What happens if there’s an earthquake underneath a windfarm?

    What happens if there’s an earthquake underneath a nuclear power station?

    +++++++++++++++++

    The concrete bunkers for a nuclear reactor have to be strong enough to withstand a terrorist attack from a fully-laden super-jumbo jet. And one success means 100% reduction. And a nuclear fallout of a huge “dirty bomb”.

    A wind farm covers a larger area than the reactor unit does and so an attack has to be a swarm. Much harder to coordinate, less effect when it happens.

    No waste reprocessing from wind.

    No security demands.

    No risk of nuclear proliferation.

    A 6 year lag over wind farms seems rather slim, doesn’t it.

  21. 521
    Hank Roberts says:

    Ocean pH change, three new studies:
    http://deepseanews.com/2009/04/ocean-acidification-not-good-for-living/

    That illustrates the use of the “Research Blogging” system and icon, Hat tip to Deltoid, which features it.

    Here’s the Research Blogging site search for climate change. Lots there, several pages of good reading relevant to the subject:

    http://www.researchblogging.org/post-search/list?search_text=climate

    Recommended reading; and as a blogger you can adopt the system too.

  22. 522
    David Horton says:

    Speaking of advocacy, I understand Ian Plimer’s book was launched today. The review I saw suggests that this will be 200,000 words which will become the denialist’s bible. And conversely appear to repeat every denialist argument (CO2 is good for us all etc). Stand by for big chunks to be repeated on global warming threads everywhere. I despair.

  23. 523

    Don’t despair, Dave. These folks are out of touch with reality, and this will become more and more obvious. (I know, it should be adequately obvious now. But the well of credulity is not infinitely full.)

  24. 524
    Jim Bouldin says:

    “If you wanted to get picky about it, you could technically move all Katrina deaths into the death from wind power column… all the tornados, etc…the wind is not safe.”

    No, if you wanted to get ridiculous about it, you could do that.

  25. 525
    SecularAnimist says:

    James wrote regarding the Jacobson study I cited: “On a quick read-through … nuclear’s assigned an arbitrary 6-year regulatory delay, while wind, solar &c are given a value of zero.”

    I think your read-through may have been too quick. The “regulatory delay” for nuclear is not “arbitrarily assigned”, it is based on actual recent history:

    In March, 2007, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the first request for a site permit in 30 yr. This process took 3.5 yr. The time to review and approve a construction permit is another 2 yr and the time between the construction permit approval and issue is about 0.5 yr. Thus, the minimum time for preconstruction approvals (and financing) is 6 yr.

    If you believe those times are incorrect, then find some other data that you think is more accurate than what Jacobson has obtained from the NRC. But Jacobson’s times were not “arbitrarily” assigned.

    Nor did he “assign” a “value of zero” to wind and solar:

    The development period [for a wind farm], which includes the time required to identify a site, purchase or lease the land, monitor winds, install transmission, negotiate a power-purchase agreement, and obtain permits, can take from 0.5–5 yr, with more typical times from 1–3 yr.

    The Jacobson study is worthy of a more careful reading than you seem to have given it — particularly the section on opportunity costs.

    As to your comment on the relationship between the nuclear power industry and proliferation of weapons technology, what the US and the USSR did almost 60 years ago, before the nuclear power industry existed, does not seem relevant to the situation today. And your characterization of North Korea and Iran as “only pretending to civilian programs as a smokescreen” for developing nuclear weapons is exactly why the proliferation of nuclear power technology is a problem: because the same basic technological capabilities, e.g. uranium enrichment, that a nation needs to develop for a civilian nuclear power industry, are the ones needed to develop nuclear weapons. There is no practical way for a civilian nuclear capability to NOT be a “smokescreen” for any nation that wishes to develop nuclear weapons.

    Having said that, the very real and serious problems and risks of nuclear power are not my primary concern, because there is no need to address them, because there is no need for nuclear power. We can obtain all the electricity we can possibly use from wind and solar, and we can phase out both coal and nuclear.

    In the short run, nuclear power will, unfortunately, probably divert precious resources from investments in efficiency and the rapid deployment of wind and solar generation that we urgently need. In the longer term, nuclear power is a dead end, and will eventually be phased out because it simply cannot compete economically with wind and solar generated electricity.

  26. 526
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hey, don’t forget all the harm done to, by, and for people using sailing ships…..

  27. 527
    James says:

    SecularAnimist Says (14 April 2009 at 9:50 AM):

    “The Jacobson study is worthy of a more careful reading than you seem to have given it — particularly the section on opportunity costs.”

    Possibly. Unfortunately the calendar intervenes, and Form 1040 and its many siblings are taking priority. However, I’ll spare a couple of minutes to address major points.

    First, I understood the “opportunity cost” figure to include everything from startup to actually delivering watts to grid, not just regulatory delays. Here you have one difference between nuclear & solar/wind that I don’t think was accurately represented. It may take 5 or 10 years to complete a 1 GWatt plant, while you can order a couple KW of solar panels and get them delivered by UPS. But when you start talking about installing enough solar/wind to make a dent in US fossil-fuel generation, you’ve got the lead time of building more plants to produce the panels/turbines, getting those plants approved, doing all the installation work. I could at best only make a rough guess as to how much time this would take, but I’m sure it’s not zero.

    Second, the 6-year regulatory delay for nuclear represents a policy deliberately intended to block nuclear construction. It’s not unreasonable to assume that in the face of an AGW emergency this policy would change, so both extremes should be examined.

    Finally, on the proliferation question, you seem to have the assumption of “nukes everywhere”, while I’m working on the assumption of nukes in the US. Any real discussion of the distinction gets us off into geopolitics, so I’ll just say that this seems to be a non-issue. There are examples of countries – Canada, Japan, etc – with civilian nuclear power but no weapons programs, and examples enough to show that any country which wants to develop nuclear weapons can do so without civilian nuclear power, and probably do it quicker & cheaper.

  28. 528
    James says:

    SecularAnimist Says (14 April 2009 at 9:50 AM):

    “… the very real and serious problems and risks of nuclear power are not my primary concern, because there is no need to address them, because there is no need for nuclear power.”

    Or in other words: “Don’t confuse me with data, my mind’s made up already.” :-)

  29. 529
    Hank Roberts says:

    You left a few words out:

    > a policy deliberately intended to block
    premature, slipshot, poorly planned, rushed
    > nuclear construction.

    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/contract/cr6933/cr6933-appendices.pdf

    There’s an example of doing it right.
    Slowly, carefully, and with thought to consequences.

  30. 530
    SecularAnimist says:

    James wrote: “Or in other words: ‘Don’t confuse me with data, my mind’s made up already.’”

    It’s not that at all.

    If nuclear power were an essential, necessary and supremely effective solution to reducing CO2 emissions — as some nuclear enthusiasts would have it, “THE SOLUTION” — then it would make sense to argue about whether and how we need to deal with the very real problems it presents, including toxic pollution from the nuclear fuel cycle, the sequestration of spent fuel, nuclear proliferation, the risks of terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities, reactor safety, etc.

    But if nuclear power is neither a necessary nor particularly effective way to reduce emissions, then there is no need to argue about those problems. In that case, we don’t need to deal with those problems at all, because we don’t need to have them, because we don’t need nuclear power.

    That’s why you will find me arguing that nuclear power is both unnecessary, and an ineffective way to reduce emissions, and not spending much time on the more common arguments over its dangers and risks.

  31. 531
    Mark says:

    “Finally, on the proliferation question, you seem to have the assumption of “nukes everywhere”, ”

    Why did the US threaten to invade Iran over its civilian nuclear power plans?

    Because they see it as “nukes everywhere”.

    The UN took a similar stance and for a similar reason.

    Since they’re the ones who will decide whether a nuke station will get built, this would indicate that most of the world won’t be ALLOWED to use nuclear power to replace fossil fuels.

    Since they also have to consider the same problems when creating new stations internally, this would also seem to be an impediment.

  32. 532
    MarkB says:

    It seems this site is always addressing dubious claims in the contrarian blogosphere. In order to separate the standard debunking of the political-oriented blogosphere from posts that address important scientific issues, might I suggest a spin-off of RealClimate – perhaps something called ClimateContrarianAudit? I suppose skepticalscience.com does this fairly well.

  33. 533
    James says:

    Mark Says (14 April 2009 at 3:42 PM):

    “Why did the US threaten to invade Iran over its civilian nuclear power plans?”

    As I said, we can’t really discuss this without getting into the sort of geopolitical discussions that won’t be allowed here, but the answer is that the US never threatened anything over Iran’s CIVILIAN nuclear power plans, because Iran doesn’t have any such plans, only a smokescreen. [ok guys, lets just leave it at that. -moderator]

  34. 534
    Hank Roberts says:

    > dubious claims … skepticalscience
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

    That’s good; so are others in the sidebar, notably:
    http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered

    (Both links under Other Opinions, right sidebar).

    Worth a look:
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/t64345806wmm57u1/

  35. 535
    Mark says:

    “t the answer is that the US never threatened anything over Iran’s CIVILIAN nuclear power plans,”

    That answer was only started by the existence of a CIVILIAN nuclear power plan.

    No evidence was ever made that there was a military option. The purification technology they had wasn’t good enough to make weapons-grade material.

    The US just assumed that nuclear processing == weapons grade nuclear processing.

  36. 536

    James writes:

    But when you start talking about installing enough solar/wind to make a dent in US fossil-fuel generation, you’ve got the lead time of building more plants to produce the panels/turbines, getting those plants approved, doing all the installation work.

    I have news for you, James — you’d also need to create that stuff to install enough nuclear to make a dent in US fossil-fuel generation. Enough plants to build the parts for 1,000 nuclear power plants don’t exist, either.

  37. 537
    Nick Gotts says:

    The UK government has just announced its proposed sites for a new generation of nuclear power plants. Despite the fact that it has passed legislation curbing local rights to object, the first plant is not due to begin producing electricity until 2018.

  38. 538
    Hank Roberts says:

    If you want facts about energy development costs, try
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/04/11/climbing-mount-improbable/
    ReCaptcha says:
    “posted margins”

  39. 539
    James says:

    Mark Says (15 April 2009 at 4:59 AM):

    “That answer was only started by the existence of a CIVILIAN nuclear power plan.

    No evidence was ever made that there was a military option.”

    (Sigh) I don’t really want to get into this sort of geopolitical discussion, even if the moderators tolerate it. However, here’s a link to a set of maps of countries that have nuclear power reactors: http://www.insc.anl.gov/pwrmaps/ Perhaps my memory is at fault, but I don’t think the US has had major problems with nuclear programs in Argentina, Brazil, Canada… Do you suppose that might have something to do with the fact that those countries aren’t controlled by religious fanatics who’ve openly stated their intention of committing genocide?

  40. 540
    SecularAnimist says:

    Hank Roberts wrote:

    If you want facts about energy development costs, try
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/04/11/climbing-mount-improbable/

    Barry Brook is certainly an enthusiastic advocate for nuclear power.

    But there aren’t really any “facts about energy development costs” in that article.

    Basically that article seems to offer two things:

    1. A chart from the International Energy Agency showing “fuel shares of total world energy supply” as of 2007, which Brook asserts shows the impossibility of what he calls “technosolar” energy (wind, solar thermal, solar PV, wave) making any significant contribution to world energy supply in any time frame that is relevant to mitigating global warming.

    2. A discussion of the results of Germany’s efforts to scale up wind and solar electricity generation, which Brook asserts shows the impossibility of any nation scaling up wind and solar to significant levels.

    There is no discussion of “energy development costs”. Brook does talk about Germany’s “massive public subsidization of wind power” but somehow avoids talking about the much more massive public subsidization of nuclear power over the past 50 years in the USA.

    And there are problems with both of what I take to be his main points in that article.

    His suggestion that Germany’s experience can be directly extrapolated to show what the USA might achieve with renewable energy is questionable. The USA has vastly more wind and solar energy resources than does Germany. For example, according to the NREL, the gross wind energy resources of the mid-Atlantic region alone exceed the total output of all US coal-fired power plants. The same is true of other regional offshore and onshore wind power resources, as well as the solar energy resources of the Southwest. Germany does not have such resources.

    With regard to the 2007 IEA chart that he presents, consider the following criticisms of the IEA’s positions on renewable energy:

    The international body that advises most major governments across the world on energy policy is obstructing a global switch to renewable power because of its ties to the oil, gas and nuclear sectors, a group of politicians and scientists claims today.

    The experts, from the Energy Watch group, say the International Energy Agency (IEA) publishes misleading data on renewables, and that it has consistently underestimated the amount of electricity generated by wind power in its advice to governments. They say the IEA shows “ignorance and contempt” towards wind energy, while promoting oil, coal and nuclear as “irreplaceable” technologies.

    [...]

    Today’s report compares past predictions about the growth of wind power, made by the IEA and others, with the capacity of wind turbines actually installed.

    It says: “By comparing historic forecasts on wind power with reality, we find that all official forecasts were much too low.”

    In 1998, the IEA predicted that global wind electricity generation would total 47.4GW by 2020. This figure was reached in December 2004, the report says. In 2002, the IEA revised its estimate to 104GW wind by 2020 – a capacity that had been exceeded by last summer.

    In 2007, net additions of wind power across the world were more than four-fold the average IEA estimate from its 1995-2004 predictions, the report says. “The IEA numbers were neither empirically nor theoretically based,” it says.

    [...]

    Today’s report says the number of wind turbines installed over the last decade has grown by 30% annually, and total windpower capacity is more than 90GW – the equivalent of 90 conventional coal or nuclear power stations. It adds that the boom in wind energy is “so far barely touched by any sign of recession or financial crisis”.

    If current trends continue, the report claims wind capacity could reach 7,500GW by 2025 – making half of all new power projects wind or solar. Conventional power stations could be phased out completely by 2037, it claims.

    Brook is also an enthusiastic proponent of “Integral Fast Reactor” nuclear breeder reactors, about which his site offers extravagant claims, but which — unlike wind turbines, concentrating solar thermal power plants, and photovoltaics, all of which are mainstream technologies being installed in large numbers today — don’t actually exist as a proven technology ready to be deployed now.

  41. 541
    Brian Dodge says:

    Todd Bandrowsky Says @ 11 April 2009 at 10:02 PM
    “I leave it as a challenge for readers to calculate the amount of lead and acid or lithium, you’d need to store 40 MW in batteries.”

    assuming he meant 40MW-hours
    567 w-h per battery (45A-h @ 12.6V) (my car battery)
    70547 batteries.

    3.82e+12 watt-hour annual US consumption (wikipedia)
    10465753425 w-h daily consumption
    18458119 batteries for 1 days US electrical consumption @ 100% discharge
    184581190 batteries for 1 days US electrical consumption @ 10% discharge
    250851833 registered passenger vehicles in the US. (US Bureau of Transit Statistics for 2006 via wikipedia)

    All we need to do is have a smart grid that we can connect our auto batteries into when we are not driving them (which is most of the time; and when we’re driving, we’re not drawing power from the grid).

  42. 542
    Hank Roberts says:

    Sec, read the whole blog, not just the one topic.
    He’s inviting exactly the kind of information you have, that you don’t have a place to put. Rather than dropping it kind of randomly into other subjects, why not pull it together, check the citations, and see if he’d like to put it in his collection? He’s focused on what you want to talk about and welcomes solid information. I can’t speak for him, I’m just giving you my opinion here of course (wry grin). But ask eh?

  43. 543
    James says:

    SecularAnimist Says (15 April 2009 at 2:34 PM):

    “…the much more massive public subsidization of nuclear power over the past 50 years in the USA.”

    Which is another point where I think we could use some actual figures. What exactly constitutes a subsidy in this context, and how much is it? Funding basic R&D? If that’s the case, then there are an awful lot of things that get subsidized. Disaster insurance? But don’t (just for a few examples) developers who build shoddy houses in hurricane-prone areas, people who decide to live in a city that’s below sea level and subject to storm surges, the millions who live along the San Andreas fault, and anyone downstream of a major hydroelectric dam all benefit from the same sort of “subsidy”? With the fundamental difference that, unlike nuclear plant owners, the developers &c don’t have to pay for their subsidy.

    Or for a similar case, why was it apparently OK for the government to fund & operate all those hydroelectric power projects?

    Brian Dodge Says (15 April 2009 at 4:14 PM):

    “All we need to do is have a smart grid that we can connect our auto batteries into…”

    If you want people to do this, I’d suggest spending some R&D money on developing batteries that don’t deteriorate over many charge/discharge cycles. Otherwise you run into an effective cost (to be borne by the car owners?) of replacing some fraction of the storage capacity every year.

    Not that I think the problem is insoluble: high-speed flywheels spinning in vacuum might do the trick, if every house had PV panels and a flywheel storage unit that’d store a couple of days of power. But of course such things still cost money, and you have to add those costs into the total for a fully solar/wind system. There’s more to such a system than just buying X watts worth of solar panels.

  44. 544
    Mark says:

    “Which is another point where I think we could use some actual figures. What exactly constitutes a subsidy in this context, and how much is it?”

    Odd that you now ask for figures.

    Whatever it was, the notion of its removal was enough for the Nuclear lobby to state that no new nuclear power stations would be built without it.

    If it wasn’t a significant amount, why the doom and gloom over its removal?

  45. 545

    While we are on the subject of renewable energy, the usual suspects are pushing back against the “green jobs” initiatives with what appears to be a smear campaign aimed at the Spanish experience in deployment of renewable energy, especially wind power. Most reports have viewed that experience as a success story, but the new report claims serious net job losses.

    Here is a link to a skeptical (in the true sense!) overview of what will surely be a new denialist talking point:

    http://mediamatters.org/items/200904150032?f=h_latest

    “. . .the study doesn’t actually identify those jobs allegedly destroyed by renewable-energy spending. What the study actually says is that government spending on renewable energy is less than half as efficient at job creation as private-sector spending.”

    I haven’t had a chance yet to look hard at the study, but it appears to me (based on this story) to be based on counterfactual assumptions.

  46. 546

    Further to my previous post, here is a graphic on the Spanish unemployment rate, which shows why the Spanish populace isn’t very restive about this supposed “employment disaster.”

  47. 547
    Mark says:

    “If you want people to do this, I’d suggest spending some R&D money on developing batteries that don’t deteriorate over many charge/discharge cycles.”

    Why? Lead acid batteries deteriorate, but recycling them is childs play.

  48. 548
    James says:

    Mark Says (16 April 2009 at 5:12 AM):

    “Odd that you now ask for figures.”

    Why odd, when the ongoing topic of the (drifted) thread has been figures? Seems like a natural enough question to me. Enough so that I’ve been asking it in various forms whenever the subject arises.

    So how about an answer? What exactly does this “massive subsidy” consist of? Is there a “nuclear power subsidy” line item in the federal budget? Or is it just one of those handy propaganda memes (like “Americans want big cars”) that examination shows to have little basis in fact?

    “Lead acid batteries deteriorate, but recycling them is childs play.”

    Yes, let’s let our kids play at lead recycling :-)

    Such issues aside, it’s simple economics. Say your electric car’s batteries would last 10 years under normal driving use. Put them to work in a “smart grid”, they might see twice as many charge/discharge cycles, and last 5 years. That imposes a cost on the car owner. If a car’s batteries, even manufactured from recycled materials, cost $10K: the owner would be paying an extra $1K per year, no? That battery storage isn’t free. There’s a cost that has to be paid by someone.

  49. 549
    Mark says:

    “Yes, let’s let our kids play at lead recycling”

    Child labour is illegal in the UK.

    What in a lead battery is “used up”?

  50. 550
    James says:

    Mark Says (16 April 2009 at 2:21 PM):

    “Child labour is illegal in the UK.”

    Sure, which is why a lot of batteries get shipped to places like Senegal for recycling: http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Tech%2Band%2BScience/Story/STIStory_321794.html

    “What in a lead battery is “used up”?”

    “Used up” is the wrong word. I am not a battery chemist, but IIRC the lead combines with the sulfate in the acid to produce a lead sulfate and electricity. Recharging reverses the reaction, but it’s not 100% successful, so over time you get a buildup of sulfate and a battery that doesn’t hold charge.

    Regardless of the exact reaction, lead-acid batteries (and all other chemistries, AFAIK) do wear out over time. Why else do you suppose every auto parts store would have a shelf of replacement ones?


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