New Age Nuclear Needed Now: Why Costly & Intermittent Renewables Can’t Save the Planet

Energy solutions aren’t blowin’ in the wind.

 

Anyone still banging on about CO2 emissions in the electricity generation sector, ought to be banging on about nothing other than nuclear power.

Nuclear power is the only, stand-alone generation source that can deliver reliable, affordable power without generating CO2 gas, in the process.

The fact that politicians in this Country talk about anything but nuclear power as a solution to Australia’s unfolding energy crisis, speaks volumes.

If CO2 gas really is the existential threat it’s made out to be, then nuclear power is the only solution.

For the record, STT isn’t alarmed by tales that man-made carbon dioxide gas (apparently it’s not the naturally occurring stuff?) is about to cause this Orb to incinerate in an eye blink. But that purported prospect is driving energy policy everywhere, wrecking once prosperous, energy-rich countries like Australia.

So, while coal-fired power plants will continue to energise the world for generations to come, STT is more than happy to promote nuclear power; not simply because it’s the perfect foil to hyped-up climate alarmists, but principally because it works.

On the other hand, characters like Michael Shellenberger are clearly concerned about carbon dioxide gas. In Shellenberger’s case, the difference with his peers is that he has the wit and temerity to advocate in favour of nuclear power; and is just as willing to hammer the nonsense that, one day soon, we’ll all be powered by sunshine and breezes.

Why Renewables Can’t Save the Planet
Quillette
Michael Shellenberger
27 February 2019

When I was a boy, my parents would sometimes take my sister and me camping in the desert. A lot of people think deserts are empty, but my parents taught us to see the wildlife all around us, including hawks, eagles, and tortoises.

After college, I moved to California to work on environmental campaigns. I helped save the state’s last ancient redwood forest and blocked a proposed radioactive waste repository set for the desert.

In 2002, shortly after I turned 30, I decided I wanted to dedicate myself to addressing climate change. I was worried that global warming would end up destroying many of the natural environments that people had worked so hard to protect.

I thought the solutions were pretty straightforward: solar panels on every roof, electric cars in every driveway, etc. The main obstacles, I believed, were political. And so I helped organize a coalition of America’s largest labor unions and environmental groups. Our proposal was for a $300 billion dollar investment in renewables. We would not only prevent climate change but also create millions of new jobs in a fast-growing high-tech sector.

Our efforts paid off in 2007 when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama embraced our vision. Between 2009–15, the U.S. invested $150 billion dollars in renewables and other forms of clean tech. But right away we ran into trouble.

The first was around land use. Electricity from solar roofs costs about twice as much as electricity from solar farms, but solar and wind farms require huge amounts of land. That, along with the fact that solar and wind farms require long new transmissions lines, and are opposed by local communities and conservationists trying to preserve wildlife, particularly birds.

Another challenge was the intermittent nature of solar and wind energies. When the sun stops shining and the wind stops blowing, you have to quickly be able to ramp up another source of energy.

Happily, there were a lot of people working on solutions. One solution was to convert California’s dams into big batteries. The idea was that, when the sun was shining and the wind was blowing, you could pump water uphill, store it for later, and then run it over the turbines to make electricity when you needed it.

Other problems didn’t seem like such a big deal, on closer examination. For example, after I learned that house cats kill billions of birds every year it put into perspective the nearly one million birds killed by wind turbines.

It seemed to me that most, if not all, of the problems from scaling up solar and wind energies could be solved through more technological innovation.

But, as the years went by, the problems persisted and in some cases grew worse. For example, California is a world leader when it comes to renewables but we haven’t converted our dams into batteries, partly for geographic reasons. You need the right kind of dam and reservoirs, and even then it’s an expensive retrofit.

A bigger problem is that there are many other uses for the water that accumulates behind dams, namely irrigation and cities. And because the water in our rivers and reservoirs is scarce and unreliable, the water from dams for those other purposes is becoming ever-more precious.

Without large-scale ways to back-up solar energy California has had to block electricity coming from solar farms when it’s extremely sunny, or pay neighboring states to take it from us so we can avoid blowing-out our grid.

Despite what you’ve heard, there is no “battery revolution” on the way, for well-understood technical and economic reasons.

As for house cats, they don’t kill big, rare, threatened birds. What house cats kill are small, common birds, like sparrows, robins and jays. What kills big, threatened, and endangered birds—birds that could go extinct—like hawks, eagles, owls, and condors, are wind turbines.

In fact, wind turbines are the most serious new threat to important bird species to emerge in decades. The rapidly spinning turbines act like an apex predator which big birds never evolved to deal with.

Solar farms have similarly large ecological impacts. Building a solar farm is a lot like building any other kind of farm. You have to clear the whole area of wildlife.

In order to build one of the biggest solar farms in California the developers hired biologists to pull threatened desert tortoises from their burrows, put them on the back of pickup trucks, transport them, and cage them in pens where many ended up dying.

As we were learning of these impacts, it gradually dawned on me that there was no amount of technological innovation that could solve the fundamental problem with renewables.

You can make solar panels cheaper and wind turbines bigger, but you can’t make the sun shine more regularly or the wind blow more reliably. I came to understand the environmental implications of the physics of energy. In order to produce significant amounts of electricity from weak energy flows, you just have to spread them over enormous areas. In other words, the trouble with renewables isn’t fundamentally technical—it’s natural.

Dealing with energy sources that are inherently unreliable, and require large amounts of land, comes at a high economic cost.

There’s been a lot of publicity about how solar panels and wind turbines have come down in cost. But those one-time cost savings from making them in big Chinese factories have been outweighed by the high cost of dealing with their unreliability.

Consider California. Between 2011–17 the cost of solar panels declined about 75 percent, and yet our electricity prices rose five times more than they did in the rest of the U.S. It’s the same story in Germany, the world leader in solar and wind energy. Its electricity prices increased 50 percent between 2006–17, as it scaled up renewables.

I used to think that dealing with climate change was going to be expensive. But I could no longer believe this after looking at Germany and France.

Germany’s carbon emissions have been flat since 2009, despite an investment of $580 billion by 2025 in a renewables-heavy electrical grid, a 50 percent rise in electricity cost.

Meanwhile, France produces one-tenth the carbon emissions per unit of electricity as Germany and pays little more than half for its electricity. How? Through nuclear power.

Then, under pressure from Germany, France spent $33 billion on renewables, over the last decade. What was the result? A rise in the carbon intensity of its electricity supply, and higher electricity prices, too.

What about all the headlines about expensive nuclear and cheap solar and wind? They are largely an illusion resulting from the fact that 70 to 80 percent of the costs of building nuclear plants are up-front, whereas the costs given for solar and wind don’t include the high cost of transmission lines, new dams, or other forms of battery.

It’s reasonable to ask whether nuclear power is safe, and what happens with its waste.

It turns out that scientists have studied the health and safety of different energy sources since the 1960s. Every major study, including a recent one by the British medical journal Lancet, finds the same thing: nuclear is the safest way to make reliable electricity.

Strange as it sounds, nuclear power plants are so safe for the same reason nuclear weapons are so dangerous. The uranium used as fuel in power plants and as material for bombs can create one million times more heat per its mass than its fossil fuel and gunpowder equivalents.

It’s not so much about the fuel as the process. We release more energy breaking atoms than breaking chemical bonds. What’s special about uranium atoms is that they are easy to split.

Because nuclear plants produce heat without fire, they emit no air pollution in the form of smoke. By contrast, the smoke from burning fossil fuels and biomass results in the premature deaths of seven million people per year, according to the World Health Organization.

Even during the worst accidents, nuclear plants release small amounts of radioactive particulate matter from the tiny quantities of uranium atoms split apart to make heat.

Over an 80-year lifespan, fewer than 200 people will die from the radiation from the worst nuclear accident, Chernobyl, and zero will die from the small amounts of radiant particulate matter that escaped from Fukushima.
Quillette

Shellenberger: pushes the only meaningful CO2 free power source.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Climate- Science.

  2. The University of Bristol (UK) is offering some interesting courses and vacancies through the South West Nuclear Hub.

    It would appear that momentum is gathering in base load nuclear power generation in the UK.

    https://southwestnuclearhub.ac.uk/

    https://southwestnuclearhub.ac.uk/about-us/vacancies/

  3. Reblogged this on ajmarciniak and commented:
    Anyone still banging on about CO2 emissions in the electricity generation sector, ought to be banging on about nothing other than nuclear power.

    Nuclear power is the only, stand-alone generation source that can deliver reliable, affordable power without generating CO2 gas, in the process.

    The fact that politicians in this Country talk about anything but nuclear power as a solution to Australia’s unfolding energy crisis, speaks volumes.

    If CO2 gas really is the existential threat it’s made out to be, then nuclear power is the only solution.

    For the record, STT isn’t alarmed by tales that man-made carbon dioxide gas (apparently it’s not the naturally occurring stuff?) is about to cause this Orb to incinerate in an eye blink. But that purported prospect is driving energy policy everywhere, wrecking once prosperous, energy-rich countries like Australia.

    So, while coal-fired power plants will continue to energise the world for generations to come, STT is more than happy to promote nuclear power; not simply because it’s the perfect foil to hyped-up climate alarmists, but principally because it works.

    On the other hand, characters like Michael Shellenberger are clearly concerned about carbon dioxide gas. In Shellenberger’s case, the difference with his peers is that he has the wit and temerity to advocate in favour of nuclear power; and is just as willing to hammer the nonsense that, one day soon, we’ll all be powered by sunshine and breezes.

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