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Climate Hustle

Renewable Baseload Energy

Posted on 27 November 2010 by dana1981

A common argument against investing in renewable energy technology is that it cannot provide baseload power - that is, the ability to provide energy at all times on all days.  This raises two questions - (i) are there renewable energy sources that can provide baseload power, and (ii) do we even need renewable baseload energy?

Does Renewable Energy Need to Provide Baseload Power?

A common myth is that because some types of renewable energy do not provide baseload power, they require an equivalent amount of backup power provided by fossil fuel plants.  However, this is simply untrue.  As wind production fluctuates, it can be supplemented if necessary by a form of baseload power which can start up or whose output can be changed in a relatively short period of time.  Hydroelectric and natural gas plants are common choices for this type of reserve power (AWEA 2008). Although a fossil fuel, combustion of natural gas emits only 45% as much carbon dioxide as combustion of coal, and hydroelectric is of course a very low-carbon energy source.

The current energy production structure consists primarily of coal and nuclear energy providing baseload power, while natural gas and hydroelectric power generally provide the variable reserves to meet peak demand. Coal is cheap, dirty, and the plant output cannot be varied easily.  It also has high initial investment cost and a long return on investment time.  Hydroelectric power is also cheap, clean, and good for both baseload and meeting peak demand, but limited by available natural sources.  Natural gas is less dirty than coal, more expensive and used for peak demand.  Nuclear power is a low-carbon power source, but with an extremely high investment cost and long return on investment time.

Renewable energy can be used to replace some higher-carbon sources of energy in the power grid and achieve a reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, even if not used to provide baseload power.  Intermittent renewables can provide 10-20% of our electricity, with hydroelectric and other baseload renewable sources (see below) on top of that. Even if the rapid growth in wind and other intermittent renewable sources continues, it will be over a decade before storage of the intermittent sources becomes a necessity.

Renewable Baseload Energy Sources

Of course in an ideal world, renewable sources would meet all of our energy needs.  And there are several means by which renewable energy can indeed provide baseload power. 

Concentrated Solar Thermal

One of the more promising renewable energy technologies is concentrated solar thermal, which uses a system of mirrors or lenses to focus solar radiation on a collector.  This type of system can collect and store energy in pressurized steam, molten salt, phase change materials, or purified graphite.  

The first test of a large-scale thermal solar power tower plant was Solar One in the California Mojave Desert, constructed in 1981.  The project produced 10 megawatts (MW) of electricity using 1,818 mirrors, concentrating solar radiation onto a tower which used high-temperature heat transfer fluid to carry the energy to a boiler on the ground, where the steam was used to spin a series of turbines.  Water was used as an energy storage medium for Solar One.  The system was redesigned in 1995 and renamed Solar Two, which used molten salt as an energy storage medium.  In this type of system, molten salt at 290ºC is pumped from a cold storage tank through the receiver where it is heated to about 565ºC. The heated salt then moves on to the hot storage tank (Figure 1).  When power is needed from the plant, the hot salt is pumped to a generator that produces steam, which activates a turbine/generator system that creates electricity (NREL 2001).


Figure 1:  Solar Two Power Tower System Diagram (NREL 2001)

The Solar Two molten salt system was capable of storing enough energy to produce power three hours after the Sun had set.  By using thermal storage, power tower plants can potentially operate for 65 percent of the year without the need for a back-up fuel source. The first commercial concentrated solar thermal plant with molten salt storage - Andasol 1 - was completed in Spain in 2009.  Andasol 1 produces 50 MW of power and the molten salt storage can continue to power the plant for approximately 7.5 hours.

Abengoa Solar is building a 280 MW solar thermal plant in Arizona (the Solana Generating Station), scheduled to begin operation in 2013.  This plant will also have a molten salt system with up to 6 hours worth of storage.  The electrical utility Arizona Public Service has contracted to purchase the power from Solana station for approximately 14 cents per kilawatt-hour. 

Italian utility Enel recently unveiled "Archimede", the first concentrated solar thermal plant to use molten salts for both heat storage and heat transfer.  Molten salts can operate at higher temperatures than oils, which gives Archimede higher efficiency and power output.  With the higher temperature heat storage allowed by the direct use of salts, Archimede can extend its operating hours further than an oil-operated solar thermal plant with molten salt storage.  Archimede is a 5 MW plant with 8 hours of storage capacity.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory provides a long list of concentrated solar thermal plants in operation, under construction, and in development, many of which have energy storage systems.  In short, solar thermal molten salt power storage is already a reality, and a growing resource.


Geothermal systems extract energy from water exposed to hot rock deep beneath the earth's surface, and thus do not face the intermittency problems of other renewable energy sources like wind and solar.  An expert panel concluded that geothermal sources could produce approximately 100 gigawatts (GW) of baseload power to the USA by mid-century, which is approximately 10% of current US generating capacity (MIT 2006).  The panel also concluded that a research and development investment of less than $1 billion would make geothermal energy economically viable.

The MIT-led report focuses on a technology called enhanced or engineered geothermal systems (EGS), which doesn't require ideal subsurface conditions and could theoretically work anywhere.   installing an EGS plant typically involves drilling a 10- to 12-inch-wide, three- to four-kilometer-deep hole, expanding existing fractures in the rock at the bottom of the hole by pumping down water under high pressure, and drilling a second hole into those fractures.  Water pumped down one hole courses through the gaps in the rock, heats up, and flows back to the surface through the second hole. Finally, a plant harvests the heat and circulates the cooled water back down into the cracks (MIT 2007).

Currently there are 10.7 GW of geothermal power online globally, with a 20% increase in geothermal power online capacity since 2005.  The USA leads the world in geothermal production with 3.1 GW of installed capacity from 77 power plants (GEA 2010).

Wind Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES)

Various methods of storing wind energy have been explored, including pumped hydroelectric storage, batteries, superconducting magnets, flywheels, regenerative fuel cells, and CAES.  CAES has been identified as the most promising technology for utility-scale bulk wind energy storage due to relatively low costs, environmental impacts, and high reliability (Cavallo 2005).  CAES plants are currently operational in Huntorf, Germany (290 MW, since 1978) and Macintosh, Alabama (110 MW, since 1991).  Recently this type of system has been considered to solve the intermittency difficulties associated with wind turbines.  It is estimated that more than 80% of the U.S. territory has geology suitable for such underground storage (Gardner and Haynes 2007).

The Iowa Stored Energy Park has been proposed to store air in an underground geologic structure during time periods of low customer electric demand and high wind.  The project is hoping to store a 20 week supply of compressed air and have approximately 270 MW of generating capacity.  The project is anticipated to be operational in 2015. 

A similar system has been proposed to create a wind turbine-air compressor.  Instead of generating electricity, each wind turbine will pump air into CAES. This approach has the potential for saving money and improving overall efficiency by eliminating the intermediate and unnecessary electrical generation between the turbine and the air compressor  (Gardner and Haynes 2007).

Pumped Heat Energy Storage

Another promising energy storage technology involves pumping heat between tanks containing hot and cold insulated gravel.  Electrical power is input to the system, which compresses/expands air to approximately 500°C on the hot side and -150°C on the cold side. The air is passed through the two piles of gravel where it gives up its heat/cold to the gravel. In order to regenerate the electricity, the cycle is simply reversed.  The benefits of this type of system are that it would take up relatively little space, the round-trip efficiency is approximately 75%, and gravel is a very cheap and abundant material.

Spent Electric Vehicle (EV) Battery Storage

As plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles become more commonplace, the possibility exists to utilize the spent EV batteries for power grid storage after their automotive life, at which point they will still have significant storage capacity.  General Motors has been examining this possibility, for example.  If a sufficiently large number of former EV batteries could be hooked up to the power grid, they could provide storage capacity for intermittent renewable energy sources.


To sum up, there are several types of renewable energy which can provide baseload power.  Additionally, intermittent renewable energy can replace dirty energy sources like coal, although it currently requires a backup source such as natural gas which must be factored into the cost of intermittent sources.  It will be over a decade before we can produce sufficient intermittent renewable energy to require high levels of storage, and there are several promising energy storage technologies.  One study found that the UK power grid could accommodate approximately 10-20% of energy from intermittent renewable sources without a "significant issue" (Carbon Trust and DTI 2003).  By the time renewable energy sources begin to displace a significant part of hydrocarbon generation, there may even be new storage technologies coming into play.  The US Department of Energy has made large-scale energy storage one if its research priorities, recently awarding $24.7 million in research grants for Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage.

This post is the Intermediate version (written by Dana Nuccitelli [dana1981]) of the skeptic argument "Renewables can't provide baseload power". 

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Comments 251 to 300 out of 425:

  1. KR,

    No I haven’t read the Czich’s paper you refer to (promoted by the American Wind Energy Association).

    I have read many of these sorts of reports. They come out, make a big splash in the Greenwash media, and eventually the industry gets around to debunking them.

    One such report along similar lines was the paper by Mark Jacobson “A path to sustainable energy by 2020” published in ‘Scientific American’.
    Read the critique here This critique, and the the "Zero Carbon Australia - Stationary Energy Plan - critique" will answer your questions about the renewablke energy advocacy studies that are trying to demonstrate that non-hydro renewable energy could, theoretically, provide baseload power. They are promoted by advocacy groups. They claimns cannot be demonstrated to be correct anywhere - despite making the same claims for at least 20 years and being continually proven wrong.
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  2. Rob Honeycutt,

    Your post #250 is accepting that non-hydro renewables cannot provide significant baseload power now. That is progress that at least you have recognised that.

    So now the argument turns to what might be the case in the future. If only ...
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  3. @247 Rob Honeycutt,

    The latest target for n* in China is 112 GW by 2020. That's sort of equivalent to ~340 GW wind. Things are moving very quickly in China and it's very possible that the Chinese are not showing their full hand yet. We shall see. I've some hope that China will move much faster than most western countries in emissions reductions and supply a large part of the industrial base to get the job done. It seems James Hansen thinks so too.
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  4. "By the way 50MW peak power is about 30% of the power of an average car - but only available in the day time!!"

    I dont understand this. A 450hp engine (not a average car) is about 330kW?? That's a very long way from 50MW.

    Is it just me or is the report versus counter-report from competing industry advocates making this issue as clear as mud?

    Peter Lang's argument seems to me that he think nuclear and fossil are the only ones capable of providing base-load power NOW and that they do this much cheaper than any future renewable (non-hydro, non-geothermal) means. This is not exactly the same as "can renewables provide base-load energy" (for a given definition of "base-load").
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  5. Peter... No one here has suggested that wind/solar can currently provide significant baseload. Renewables are currently a tiny portion of the energy mix. What we are discussing here is what is possible and where things are going... where things are obviously going. (Also, please check the patronizing tone with the attendant at the door.)

    quokka... I've lost the link but I just read that China's projections in 2006 for where that they'd be in 2010 has been exceeded (19 GW projected to 25 GW installed wind today). I wouldn't be surprised if they also exceed their 2020 projection of 100 GW of wind power.
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  6. Another interesting article from the China Daily. China's wind-power boom to outpace nuclear by 2020.

    Again, I have to ask, if the economics are so crystal clear in favor of nuclear, why is China taking this path?
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  7. scaddenp,

    You are correct. My mistake. I am often critical of others for making such slips, so I humbly admit this error and eat humble pie on this mistake.

    I'd better take a break :)
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  8. quokka... Just found the 112 GW figure in another China Daily article.
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  9. scaddenp,

    "Peter Lang's argument seems to me that he think nuclear and fossil are the only ones capable of providing base-load power NOW and that they do this much cheaper than any future renewable (non-hydro, non-geothermal) means. This is not exactly the same as "can renewables provide base-load energy" (for a given definition of "base-load"). "

    That is a fair summary. But I need to clarify.

    I say "non-hydro renewables cannot provide significant quantities of baseload generation NOW, and probably will never be able to economically."

    If you leave out the "economically" the whole discussion becomes an irrelevant, theoretical exercise.
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  10. Rob Honeycutt,

    Why do you keep on talking about the capacity of wind in China. This discussion is about baseload renewables. Wind does not and cannot supply base power.
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  11. Peter... Once again, "does not" is not the issue at hand. Whether it can and whether it will is another matter. China IS at the crux of the issue you seem to want to avoid because they are on track to do exactly what you say can not be done. Is it your position that China is on track to do something that will ultimately fail?
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  12. Peter - thanks, I make mistakes too and much more likely to take an interest in the opinion of people who admit it.

    As to "economically" - well what people pay for energy is something of a choice. If you have a people that say no to nuclear for various reason and no to fossil for various reasons, and so are prepared to pay a massive hike for energy, then sure its economic. I wouldnt, but then I live in a place with base-load hydro and geothermal and no subsidies.

    If you wanted to build nuclear, then you would have to raise the financial interest and apply for resource consent (which i would imagine to be a very involved process). The arguments about safety would wash out in the consent hearing and the economics in the raising of the capital. What's stopping someone doing this in Australia?
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  13. Rob Honeycutt,

    @261, I don't understand why you don't understand that wind power cannot supply to meet basle load. Do you understand what baseload means? I am convoinced you don't. Until you do, there is no point in you posting here. Your comments are off topic because they are not about basload.

    Wind power could only generate to meet basload if it had enormous amounts of storage - like 50 days at full power. I've explained this previously. The costs of any storage to try to make wind power baseload are totaly uneconomic - too high by orders of magnitude.
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  14. scaddenp,

    Regarding "economically" people are already getting annoyed about the increasing costs of electricity and we are talking about 30% so far. If we went with renewables the cost of electricity would increase by a factor of 5 to 10 and we'd still have to maintain the fossil fuel plants because renewables cannot supply reliable power. There is no way people are going to accept their electricity prices (and all the other flow on costs) increase that much, especially when there is a much lower cost (and more environmentally benign) way odf supplying our electricity.

    Nuclear is banned in Australia. Even if the bans were removed it is likely that most of the impediments to nuclear would not be removed. The impediments would make N more costly than coal in Australia unless the impediments are removed. The impediments are a result of the western democracies' way of allowing public opinion and anti nuclear fears to override good policy. That is why the estimated cost of new nuclear nuclear power station in USA, Canada, UK etc is up to 4 times more costly than in China (cost of local labour is a small component of the cost).

    The sort of impediments and regulatory distortions to the market that are blocking nuclear in Australia are:

    1. ban on nuclear power
    2. high investor risk premium because of the politics
    3. Renewable Energy Targets
    4. Renewable Energy Certificates
    5. Feed in Tariffs for renewables
    6. Subsidies and tax advantages for renewable energy
    7. Subsidies and tax advantages for fossil fuel electricity generators
    8. subsidies for transmission and grid enhancements to support renewable energy
    9. massive funding for research into renewable energy
    10. massive subsidies for research into carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)
    11. Guarantees that the government will carry the risk for any leakage from CCS
    12. No equivalent guarantee for management of once used nuclear fuel
    13. Massive subsidies and government facilitation for the gas industry, coal seam gas and coal to gas industries (despite the latter putting toxic chemicals into the ground water and the Great Artesian Basin water)
    14. Fast tracking of the approvals process for wind power, solar power, gas industry, coal industry while nuclear industry remains band from even fair comparative studies by Treasury, Productivity Commission, ABARE, Department of Climate change and more. We can just imagine what the approvals process would be like for a nuclear power plant!!
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  15. KR,
    As you requested - here is DOE/EIA data showing the costs of various fuels:
    "The lifetime cost of new generating capacity in the United States was estimated in 2006 by the U.S. government: wind cost was estimated at $55.80 per MW·h, coal (cheap in the U.S.) at $53.10, natural gas at $52.50 and nuclear at $59.30. However, the "total overnight cost" for new nuclear was assumed to be $1,984 per kWe[38] — as seen above in Capital Costs, this figure is subject to debate, as much higher cost was found for recent projects."

    [Note that the N(unprintable) figure seems to be 1/3 of reality for the United States]

    So what about Solar PV?
    (I know the source looks biased - read the article and decide for yourself).
    OK, convert the .10-.40/kWh to per MW·h as above = kWhX1,000 = $100-$400 per MW h (note that these come from different sources - so it looks like apples-to-apples but it might be crab apples-to-granny smith apples.
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  16. actually thoughtfull,

    You are mixing so many different figures this is simply nonsense. You mix 2006 costs with current costs and mix the cost of baseload and non baseload power. The post is totally irrelevant. For heavens sake are you simply ignoring everything you've been told about making proper comparisons?
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  17. I checked the 2010 report - it shows wind cheaper than nuclear in 2020, and cheaper by a larger margin in 2035.
    (report page 67, PDF page 76)

    Why do I say DOE/EIA is biased against renewables:
    1) Because they are
    2) No mention of concentrating solar power in the 2010 report
    3) No mention of peak oil
    4) Doesn't distinguish between solar PV and concentrating solar power
    5) They underestimate cost reductions for renewables
    6) They are structured to support old energy, not new energy.
    7) Climate change is mentioned 2 (two) times in the "Annual Energy Outlook 2010"

    Proof - watch how renewables do in reality compared to the 2010 outlook.
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  18. Peter Lang,
    I personally would prefer you not post again until you provide your definition of baseload power. So far, reading your posts, I presume baseload power means "electricity generated from nuclear."

    Have I got that right?

    I didn't realize that two different sources would overwhelm you.
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  19. @Peter Lang, #263

    Your strategy here is twofold it looks to me:
    Firstly, you constantly ignore all the hints given in this thread where mutliple times it was explained to you that none of the renewable as individual source or as individual generator is intended or ment to provide baseload power (it is obvious that this is of course not the case, exception might be solar thermal plants if storage size is adequatly). But everybody else seem to understand that the fluctuations in time differ from geographic location to anther location and that thereby distributed sites across a country very well technically provide true baseload power if properly managed (as already demonstrated). And secondly, you constantly suggest that nobody other then you has a clue what baseload power is. I have not read any new statement/information from your side in your (at least) last 5 posts - and i said already: repeating the same thing over and over again does not add value to the information behind.

    I'd say this is fruitless and tedious.
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  20. 267 actually thoughtfull

    EIA distinguishes between PV and CSP on the summary page for 2016 cost projections. I have already posted this once before on this thread.

    2016 Levelized Cost of New Generation Resources

    PV is assessed as the most expensive of all technologies.
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  21. actually thoughtful,

    here it is again: “The case for baseload” . Pity you didn't read it any of the times Quokka and I posted it previously at least three times so far). Perhaps you (and others who still don’t understand what baseload means) will read it and try to understand it this time. Is it any wonder my tone is not to yours and other liking.

    “The case for baseload”
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  22. Swieder,

    I agree with you the discussion is fruitless and tedious. But the reason is that you are tied to a belief that renewables must be able to provide baseload power because you want them to, because ... well you just want them to.

    "Firstly, you constantly ignore all the hints given in this thread where mutliple times it was explained to you that none of the renewable as individual source or as individual generator is intended or ment to provide baseload power."

    Clearly you are not listening or not reading. I have addressed this - over and over again. I'll explain it simply for you.

    If you add wind power and solar power and biomass and geothermal and wave power and any more you want to add you raise the cost but still do not get the power reliability that society demands. The proof of this is that it has never been done despite the mantra you are repeating having been repeated over an over again for over 40 years. (except in unusual places like Iceland which sits on the Mid Atlantic Ridge and Norway with huge hydro potential).

    Work it out for yourself. If you assume $3,000/kW for each of these technologies (that is being generous because that is the cost of land-based wind power in Australia now and most of the others are far more expensive) then the cost of the five I mentioned is $15,000/kW. Add $1,000/kW for transmission for each and the total is $20,000/kW. But still you don't have a reliable power suppy, so you need to add the cost of fossil fuel back up (assume gas at $1,000/kW). So we are up to $21,000/kW to do what gas alone could do for $1,000/kW. However, in most places it is cheaper over all to do it with you know what rather than gas.

    Is any of this getting through to you?
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  23. actually thoughtful,

    Quokka posted the EIA's projected levelised costs of electricity generation for the USA. However, you also need to read the assumptions. You cannot (should not) compare the costs of solar and wind power with the cost of baseload power. They are not comparable. Solar and wind do not provide baseload power. The costs provided are for wind power that is supplied when the wind blows (whether wanted or not) and for solar power that is supplied when the sun shines (wanted or not.

    The wind and solar energy have low value - almost valueless to the electricity industry. They are intermittent and cannot be dispatched on demand (mostly). They are a nuisance. They would not be built if not for the subsidies and government regulations that mandate their power be purchased.
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  24. @Peter Lang

    "The proof of this [renewable baseload] is that it has never been done"

    I am not willing to accept this as an argument for this discussion, yet your insisting is entirely based on this. This attitude would have kept human mankind in stone-age or even in an earlier stage. And please apply it also to "your" solution of the 4th generation nuclear reactors and fusion.

    Much more important, though: this thread is not about "have renewable already demonstrated baseload capability?", would you please finally accept that? Maybe carefully read the intro article on top of this thread by dana1981.
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  25. archiesteel #183

    @RSVP: "As to what other posters have said, and no lack of sincerity, it is precisely the great energy associated with fossil fuels that led to the population explosion in the first place."

    I'm sure you can provide scientific evidence that the two are directly correlated?

    I'm intrigued by this idea, because the countries that have had the biggest population increases are far from being the ones with the most gas-powered vehicles per capita.

    I'll be waiting for that..."

    Sorry to keep you waiting. It's a long story, and can be told many ways.

    It should be pretty obvious that unless a household, farm, or small village is able to survive on local subsistence, there are very real dependencies on transport. Transport to export, and inport goods. For instance, you just might need some rebarb, cement, bricks etc. for building as your population expands. Some places dont do too well living in tents. While not impossible, modern conveniences such as having a roof over your head provide free time for other ways of being productive, and have in so doing sustained expansion. (And by the way, that heavy metal normally comes from some far off fossile fuel driven foundry).

    Fossil fuels have facilitated growth regardless of whether the majority of a population owned its own motor vehicle or not. Ironically, after laying down rail, and opening and paving roads to make places more accessible, in many cases those same roads have served to ultimately de-populate many rural areas, as less hands have been needed on farms due to mechanized farming, (run by fossil fuels).

    As far as providing correlative evidence, simply consider the world population before the Industrial Revolution. Modern science tells us we've been homo sapiens for a few million years now. Plot fossil fuel consumption and population vs time, and see how it doesnt resemble the kinds of hockey stick graphs touted on this website making a case for correlation between CO2 and temperature. This one goes back two million years, not just two thousand.

    And by the way, the problem is not in the excesses of those water skiing off their yachts, but the ever so tenuous link for those whose meal unfortunately depend on the arrival of a container vessel somewhere, which in turn depends on the price of a barrel of oil. Most unfortunately, this includes about 99 percent of the human race.
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  26. swieder,

    It is you that should read the lead article. The opening paragraph poses the questions to be answerd on this thread:

    "A common argument against investing in renewable energy technology is that it cannot provide baseload power - that is, the ability to provide energy at all times on all days. This raises two questions - (i) are there renewable energy sources that can provide baseload power, and (ii) do we even need renewable baseload energy?"

    The answer to the question posed in the first sentence is NO!. Renewables (non hydro) cannot provide baseload power. Geothermal can in volcanic areas and biomass can but only small quantities. Geothermal and biomass are insignificant in the scheme of what is required.

    "(i) are there renewable energy sources that can provide baseload power"

    The answer is NO! if we exclude hydro which firstly is not approved by Greenies and secondly there is little viable capacity left to be developed, especially in Australia which is the location I am talking about.

    "(ii) do we even need renewable baseload energy?"

    Clearly the answer is that we Do need baseload generation. Since it cannot be provided by non hydro renewables it needs to be provided by something else - either fossil fules or unprintable. This is clearly explainded in the article "the case for baseload" posted @ #271.

    You have your answers. I look forward to your acceptance of them (or further loss of credibility and further demonstration of lack of capacity for objective analysis)
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  27. RSVP @275,

    Excellent post and so obvious too!
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  28. A very informative article which is a breath of fresh air compared to some of the extreme pro-nuclear propaganda being posted here. As most of us agree, nuclear will take its place among a future supply which will eventually (sooner rather than later, hopefully) be dominated by renewables, because we need to ensure that renewables are the future - to get us away from dirty and dangerous carbon and nuclear.
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  29. Peter Lang - is this you (comment at 5.25pm 2nd Dec 2010) over at Brave New Climate?.

    The effect of cutting CO2 emissions to zero by 2050
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  30. Peter Lang #272: "If you add wind power and solar power and biomass and geothermal and wave power and any more you want to add you raise the cost but still do not get the power reliability that society demands. The proof of this is that it has never been done"

    Which is simply untrue.

    For example, please explain the existence of 'Solar Energy Generating Systems' (SEGS). The largest solar power facility in the world (currently, several larger are now being built). Online for more than 20 years now. Built and operated without 'massive' government subsidies. Has been producing reliable baseload power for about a quarter of a million homes in southern California at competitive prices and making a profit since day one.

    Granted, SEGS is 30 year old technology so it relies on natural gas backup... for just 10% of the total energy produced.

    Your claims are provably false.
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  31. BTW, if 'never having been done' is "proof" that something can't be done... well then we can only conclude that commercial Thorium/IFR reactors are not feasible. After all, unlike commercial renewable energy projects those really haven't ever been done.
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  32. #282 CBDunkerson at 23:37 PM on 2 December, 2010
    For example, please explain the existence of 'Solar Energy Generating Systems' (SEGS). The largest solar power facility in the world (currently, several larger are now being built). Online for more than 20 years now. Built and operated without 'massive' government subsidies. Has been producing reliable baseload power for about a quarter of a million homes in southern California at competitive prices and making a profit since day one.

    I see. You mean the one where 4300 m3 "mildly toxic" coolant (called Therminol) exploded on February 26, 1999 (it was dismantled last year). Very safe, very green, very environmentally friendly.

    As for profitability, Federal and state investment tax credits, solar property tax exclusion & accelerated depreciation surely helped a lot. It is public money of course, payed for by American taxpayers.

    There's nothing sweeter under the Sun than money collected by IRS and going directly to private pockets, especially if you are not required to pay for damages in case of industrial accidents.
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  33. BP, yes yes... moving the goalposts.

    First it is completely impossible.

    When pointed out that it already exists suddenly the story is that it is evil and dangerous. Which is nonsense too, but whatever. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
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  34. Peter lang,
    You have hijacked this thread with your unsupported claims just like you did with the what we should do about climate change thread.. I notice that you have still not answered my questions that I raised there. You claim 60 years experience of nuclear technology and thorium reactors. No experience exists with thorium. You cite Australian cost estimates to suggest it is uneconomic in Texas to generate wind power. It is obviously economic to generate wind in Texas, they are doing it without subsidies! You use nuclear industry publications as if they were peer reviewed papers. You are completely unconvincing!

    Moderator: I suggest Peter Lang be edited more closely to keep the thread on topic. He will continiue to make frequent, long, unsupported claims untill he drives away all the thoughtful posters. He has already done this on several other threads. He has added nothing new here to his posts on the other thread, but he has effectively ended discussion of baseload renewables. He continues to press the nuclear argument when that has been stated to be off topic.
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  35. Peter Lang - you have failed to provide a definition for baseload power. I asked you directly - no such luck. So, in the absence of the known-only-to-you-but-has-something-to-do-with-nuclear definition that you fail to provide - I (and apparently everyone else on this thread) will continue to work with the same definition that Dana1981 provides:

    "baseload power - that is, the ability to provide energy at all times on all days."

    And by that definition - many, many example of renewable power have been provided, and your arguments seem to be limited to all nuclear, all the time. Meanwhile, reality is taking us in a different direction.

    Let me give you a real world, renewable example that illustrates the concept that you are not getting here. This is in renewable energy for home heating (the 40% of energy usage that is verboten to talk about - we must ONLY speak of electrics...).

    We have known of our ability to build PassiveHaus style zero energy homes for quiet some time. But in the retrofit of stick built, vast-majority-of-home-in-existence - the industry KNEW that solar thermal could only provide 40% (here I mean heating enough hot water on your rooftop to provide heat for for your home in cold winter climates (design temp of -2F, -19C)). Just as you KNOW that renewables can only provide 0% of baseload power (despite the evidence to the contrary provided in over 200 posts + the main article).

    Well, enter an idealistic "greenie" who doesn't know any better, but is determined to achieve 75% solar fraction. Because I thought it was feasible. Now my first house I followed industry guidelines, with a few modifications - and didn't do so well - about 50%. (I have since brought that house up to snuff).

    As I discarded more and more industry rules of thumbs, went back and approached it analytically - and LEARNED from my mistakes, I now EXCEED 75% routinely.

    This is not a claim that baseload electricity will fall as easily as home heating - but certainly a lesson that the industry (especially the electric industry - which for the most part is protecting its outdated centralized, polluting business model) doesn't KNOW everything. They are stuck in the 1950s and slowly awakening to the possibilities that 60 years of material science affords them.

    And quite frankly, your posts to date indicate you are not on the cutting edge of what is possible with the electricity grid.
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  36. Hey Peter Lang and all in the "it can't be done" or "if it is so great why aren't we there yet" camp.

    Obviously my own posts are not worthy, as I am a true believer, a "greenie" and a liberal to boot!

    How about APS - the Arizona monopoly utility for electricity? The guys who live, breathe and die based on baseload power?

    They are headed for 15% renewable by 2025. Oh and they are AHEAD of schedule.

    from the horses mouth...
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  37. BP - Please tell NREL that SEGS I & II (where the fire was) were dismantled.

    They, stupidly, are still tracking its output.

    I am VERY disappointed in this post BP. Did you know that the plant that was taken down was not the one that had the accident and post it anyways? Or did you not know what you were posting - but the both said solar so it must be OK?
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  38. "They would not be built if not for the subsidies and government regulations that mandate their power be purchased."

    This must apply only in specific markets. Wind is going up big time here. Noone is forced to buy it - investors can only get money back if they can sell that power on the electricity market for a profit. No subsidy. Perhaps you are talking about Australia only?
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  39. re: BP @ 282... Therminol...

    Is this the same Therminol you are referring to?

    Low Odor and Excellent Toxicity Profile - Therminol D-12 is especially suited to applications where a low odor and low toxicity are desired. Therminol D-12 is an FDA recognized fluid and has excellent industrial hygiene properties. This product meets the requirements established by the FDA at 21 CFR 172.882, 172.884, 178.3530, and 178.3650.
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  40. Also BP @ 282... "As for profitability, Federal and state investment tax credits, solar property tax exclusion & accelerated depreciation surely helped a lot. It is public money of course, payed for by American taxpayers."

    Can you name one major industrial project that does NOT use exactly the same? Heck, malls and ballparks get the same. That's just how municipalities attract projects to their area!
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  41. If there are no stronger arguments against renewable-based energy systems than has come up in this thread, the future of green energy is surely bright. And I think it is.

    It will cost a lot more to get the systems in place than just continuing "business-as-usual" (for as long as that is possible, clearly not infinitely), and it may also cost somewhat more to run them, but the basic question is: How large will the damage to the economy from this be, and how does it compare to the damage and costs caused by the alternatives?

    Energy supply is not a basic problem in evolved economies, and, generally, the price of electric energy can be increased several-fold without long-term damage to the economy. In many cases, it is in fact counter-productive to have too low energy prices, as it will encourage bad practices and substandard equipment. For example, the largest part of the energy need for heating and domestic hot water can be covered by solar panels world-wide, and when this is combined with PV in the design, for instance in weakly focusing systems where heating is provided by the cooling of the solar cells, we have systems that are both very useful, quite easy to operate, and able to relieve the central systems of a lot of both baseload and peak requirements.

    One important feature, both for power grids and district heating systems, is that they should be two-way. Ideally, there should be power, district heating connections and, when appropriate, a third water pipe that could be used for both fetching and dumping energy as standard connections for all buildings of some size/population, and all should be two-way. In this way, when a number of houses have installed solar panels/PV cogeneration, and dimensioned them for the colder periods, the heating system will run with almost no input for much of the year because of the surplus heat dumped into the system. BUT - this is bad business for district heat providers, so usually, they will have to be forced into it by regulations.

    To avoid more stupid assertions about the uselessness of PV, just consider some simple calculations: If a 25 kW (average, not max output) electric car is used for ca 1 hour/day, it needs 25 kWh/d. 40 sqm solar cell panels will be more than enough to provide this under sunny conditions, and if they are installed on a house with a two-way grid connection, it does not matter if the charging happens when the car is parked at work, far away from home. Also, the power from the solar cells could be used for running an air-water or water-water heat pump during the day, storing the heat in the house, using it when needed - most often when the sun is weak or away.
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  42. CB Dunkerson @280,

    SEGS is a day time only plant. It cannot run 24 hours a day 7 days a week. It is near useless in winter.

    This thread is about baseload. SCEGS is not baseload. No solar plants anywhere in the world are baseload. It is unlikely solar can ever be viable as baseload.

    Why can't you and many others understand this?

    "Zero Carbon Australia - Stationary Energy Plan" (ZCA2020 for short) proposed a mix of solar thermal with molten salt storage, wind, existing hydro capacity and biomass could provide all Australia's electricity by 2020. The report is a total fantasy. See the critique (the link has been posted several times on this thread).

    ZCA2020 proposes 12 solar thermal power stations around the edge of the desert and near the wheat growing areas (they propose collecting wheat stalks to heat the salt when the sun isn't shining). We've had about a week or so of continuous rain over much of eastern Australia and forecasts are for another week. The weather map today shows all but one of the proposed solar sites is under cloud cover. So the solar thermal plants don't run. Even if they had 24 hours of storage they would only last a day or so. There is simply no way that solar thermal, even using wheat stalks to provide some back up heating when the sun isn't shining, can provide baseload power.

    Surely this must be obvious. Why can't any of you see it?
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  43. michael sweet,

    If you would care to read the links I provide you will find that all the claims are supported.
    0 0
  44. Peter... Constructive criticism: You might get a lot further with people if you carried on an actual nuanced conversation rather than just claiming that everyone is wrong and should simply understand that you know better than everyone else. It's just not a very effective rhetorical technique.
    0 0
  45. When needed most the UK wind farms stopped producing. Typical!

    The following is of interest for its comment on recent UK wind
    turbine performance

    The relevant paragraph is

    Britain has built 2,400 megawatts of wind-turbine generation
    capacity, but on an cold Monday the windmill fleet was generating
    less than 450 megawatts, about 0.8 per cent of total electricity
    demand. Notwithstanding their erratic performance, Britain is
    committed to increasing windmill capacity to 32 gigawatts by 2020,
    from the current 2.4 GW.
    0 0
  46. Rob Honeycutt @ #294,

    True. However, if you take a look at the unconstructive criticisms dished out by nearly all the contributors that I've seen posting on SkepticalScience, then you would understand why I respond as I do. From my perspective the type of contributions here demonstrate an inability to be objective. The contributions have convinced me I shouldn't take much notice of anything these people advocate. It is all ideologically based; not objective, not impartial. I suspect that applies to all they advocate. The contributer here have discredited all they stand for in my opinion.
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  47. scaddenp,

    I don't know where you are from. However, in USA, UK, Europe and Australia the electricity distributers are required by regulation to take the power generated by renewables before they take any other power. There are various types of regulations but it all amounts to the same thing. The consumer pays about twice to three times as much for wind and about 5 to 20 times as much for solar as they would pay for the same energy from a baseload generator.
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  48. Peter Lang,
    If you want to follow the STRICT definition "power all the time, every day" - then sure, solar or any renewable is always going to be challenged (some of the ideas will mitigate that).

    However, if you look at the big picture it doesn't follow that solar can therefore supply no baseload.

    1) Regional diversification
    2) Pricing structures and smart meters that save people money if they use electricity when it IS sunny (so you charge your car on a sunny day for X and on a cloudy day for 2X).
    3) Grid-scale storage
    4) Source diversification (wind/solar/geothermal/tidal) - the last two are directly dispatchable.

    As many posters has pointed out - this translates to needing less backup than it first appears. Rather than, as you claim, needing 100% backup - you need some decimal backup. Exactly how much depends on how well 1-4 are implemented. Note that the backup will more likely be natural gas rather than nuclear as you can quickly spin up NG.

    Right now we are in a sweet spot where EVERY bit of renewables is easily usable by grid operators (in the US - I can't speak for Australia). Thus the concept of "grid storage" - here meaning pump energy into the grid to meet peak load, and pull it back out during non-demand periods, when those poor nuke operators have all this electrical production and no where to use it.

    So for the first 20% (per the original article) - we don't have any real issues with renewables. At the current rate of growth we will hit 20% between 2020 and 2030. So we know we have at least 10 years to scale up grid-scale storage and maybe 20.

    If you could admit that much, it might be easier to have a real conversation, instead of just talking across one another.

    If you continue to insist renewables have exactly zero role in our energy future - sorry, but I invoke reality - real people have already proved this false by installing and selling renewable energy, that real, for-profit companies have purchased - resulting in fewer fossil or nuke plants being built (see Excel in Colorado for a plant-not-built - plus others).
    0 0
  49. SNRatio,
    I think your scenario is a little bit to rosy. But perhaps you are thinking of an urban setting, and I am thinking of stand-alone buildings.

    In particular - I have found that it takes 8 200 watt PV panels to recharge the Nissan Leaf if you drive the full 100 miles of it's range (this may not be disagreeing with you - but that is so cool it is worth saying, and then saying again - YOU and I can wink out of the carbon economy completely - all I can tell you, Yogi Berra style, is: the more people who check out of the carbon economy, the more people will check out of the carbon economy.

    Once YOU (and I) demonstrate how easy it is - others will follow. It is how humanity works. Government is in the middle of failing us on this most crucial of all issues - individual action is required at this time in history. That is just the truth. We cannot count on our institutions to solve this one - they were designed to handle a completely different threat, and our hamstrung by an invisible, slow and pervasive threat to our existence.

    OK - actual areas of disagreement - I haven't seen any of the combined PV and solar thermal panels that are as efficient as the two separated (well it is obviously good for PV - but I don't think the economics work out; you are better off to buy solar thermal as solar thermal, and buy an extra PV panel to overcome the losses-due-to-heat). But you are 100% correct that virtually all residential heat needs can be solved by solar hot water.

    Smart people (who can afford it) are investing now, in this period of incentives. Once fuel prices go up and it pencils without the incentives - they will dis-appear. Much better to buy it now than wait until it is obvious at face value.
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  50. Peter, that is interesting. I didnt know that. I'm from NZ. Clearly the wholesale market does not work in those places in the same way as it works here. So even in France, you have to buy wind before you buy nuclear?

    I'm for dump all subsidies, including any form on fossil fuel. Then you have something to work with. On the other hand, I'd be open to punitive pricing of fossil fuel going climate change adaption and let markets decide what is the best alternative.
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