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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 351 to 400 out of 425:

  1. Camburn @ 350... Can you really not see that you are doing exactly what you are claiming renewables proponents are doing? You are presenting nuclear as a "proven technology" that we should be "crowing from the rooftops" about. That says to me that you are completely ignoring the inherent negative aspects of nuclear.

    And again, you are also ignoring that nuclear can't switched off when people go to bed at night. That means you run spin reserve. So, ultimately nuclear is not very flexible. The larger a percentage of output that is dedicated to nuclear the less efficient it is. Renewables are exactly the opposite.

    Everyone here is saying both are needed to address the issue of AGW. Neither is a panacea. Both have strengths and weaknesses. But we need to do everything we can to limit our use of fossil fuels.

    The only thing I'm going to crow from the rooftop about is our political leaders accepting publicly that we need to address this important issue so that we can begin to get serious about it.
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  2. Rob@351:
    1. I do think the electric populsion of masses is going to happen. That is not very far away. Utilities are already planning how to sell more electricity.
    2. Most of the "power up" is going to happen in the late night, early morning.
    3. That in itself will require a more constant source of power.

    I agree, we need to do everything we can to limit the use of fossil fuels. They are a finite resource and should be used ONLY when necessary.

    It is obvious that solar is in its infancy. Nuclear is a mature energy source. Yes, in the US we have lots of NIMBY folks. We have fallen behind the rest of the world in thinking it seems as the rest of the world is building and planning to build 150 nuclear power stations. We are at one presently. Pretty dumb isn't it?
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  3. 351 Rob Honeycutt

    you are also ignoring that nuclear can't switched off when people go to bed at night. That means you run spin reserve. So, ultimately nuclear is not very flexible. The larger a percentage of output that is dedicated to nuclear the less efficient it is. Renewables are exactly the opposite.

    Your assertion that nuclear power plants do not and cannot load follow is prevalent myth that is not true. French NPPs do adjust output according to load. I understand that German NPPs can also, but there is probably no grid requirement to do so.

    Areva states that the EPR can adjust output from 60% to 100% of nameplate capacity at the rate of 5% of nominal capacity per minute at constant temperature. (as per Areva website).

    Nuclear can handle base and a large portion of intermediate load economically. Exactly at what point it may be uneconomic would be grid specific and could only be determined by detailed modeling.

    I must confess to be utterly bamboozled by this argument that renewables are less "wasteful" - without even defining what wasteful means. One of the characteristics of grand plans for renewables is the requirement to overbuild capacity precisely because of the intermittent and unreliable nature of the generators. I would be very cautious of claims that demand can be time shifted by smart grids and clever gadgets until we see in practice the magnitude of any such change. I'm not prepared to bet the future of the climate on this stuff.
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  4. The one great advantage of renewables from my perspective is that they circumvent one of the major unknowns of the next century or so. Just how much hotter and drier it will get, and how long will they stay that way, before things improve. Renewables need no cooling water for operation.

    If France and the USA have already had to take plants offline when rivers ran hot or low, we really don't want to put too many of our eggs in a basket that needs reliable flows of cooling water. And I'd be very reluctant to put a coal or nuclear plant that has to operate 80 years from now at the shoreline to use seawater.
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  5. Peter Lang - you were promoting nuclear on economics ground alone. I looked to see what expected nuclear pricing would be. Extremely confusing. I found this reference World nuclear which at least made sense with number that I know well. I gather you think the newer technologies like IFR and LFTR would be cheaper still?
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  6. Quokka,
    The pro nuclear reference that scaddenp cites in 355 says that while nuclear can adjust its output, nuclear is not economically competitive unless they run the plant at high power output. This is because of the very high capital costs that nuclear has. To recover the capital cost they run at 100% as much as possible. Since they are pro nuclear, I presume they are accurate. I find your strongly worded statements "Your assertion that nuclear power plants do not and cannot load follow is prevalent myth that is not true" and "I must confess to be utterly bamboozled by this argument" to be a very strong turn off for the nuclear argument. If nuclear is so good, why do the pronuclear people here have to exagerate their position so much? When I see some statements that I know are exagerations I discount the rest of your argument.

    We need to consider all our options to get out of the mess we are in. It is necessary to consider the pros and cons of all possibilities to find the best solution.

    I noticed in scaddenp's pronuclear reference that wind was the lowest cost source of electricity in the USA. The USA has much beter wind resources than Australia, there is a lot of wind in the Great Plains. Previous posts on this blog refer to wind farms in Australia that are only 400 km or less apart having similar wind patterns. In the USA, Texas and North Dakota are over 1200 km apart and have mostly separate wind patterns.
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  7. Camburn,
    Think it through. Charging electric cars is fungible. People will charge when the electricity is cheapest. The reason people do not charge up during the day is that it is more expensive (nuclear plants run cheaply at 100% all night:). If solar power was cheaper during the day people would just plug in at work. Then you car could go twice as far with the same battery! Load shifting can substantially change the baseload and reduce the need to store energy.
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  8. 356 michael sweet

    You can discount whatever you wish. That's your problem not mine.

    It is a fact that "nuclear does not do load following" myth crops up frequently. What I said was technically correct and setting the record straight.

    I also pointed out that grid specific modeling would be needed to determine at what proportion of total capacity nuclear would become uneconomic. It is clearly not minimum system demand. What is your problem with this?

    How come wind is less 'wasteful' than nuclear (whatever 'wasteful' means)? If wind has excess capacity that cannot be utilized because there is insufficient demand when the wind happens to be blowing, then without subsidy it is in exactly the same position as nuclear run at a low capacity factor - high capital investment being under utilized. Except that nuclear has the outstanding advantage of being dispatchable and reliable and able to perform the very important role of stabilizing the grid. As I said the 'wasteful' argument makes no sense to me and seems to be based on assumptions about how demand can be manipulated to match unreliable supply. You could make exactly the same arguments for reliable supply where demand is managed to a limited extent by off peak rates. I make no apology for the word 'bamboozled'. If I think an argument is nonsense, I will say so.
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  9. @quokka: "You can discount whatever you wish. That's your problem not mine."

    Actually, it's your problem, as you are the one engaged in advocacy. If people challenge your sales pitch, you have to take it into account, otherwise I and others who believe nuclear should be part of the solution are bound to re-evaluate their position.

    Your problem is the same as Peter Lang's (minus the insults, thanks for that): in your rush to dismiss renewables in favor of nuclear, you are actually doing a disservice to the latter.
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  10. 360 archiesteel

    I will repeat what I said above - If I think an argument is nonsense I will say so. If you think that is a "sales pitch" that's up to you.
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  11. @quokka: don't take the expression "sales pitch" negatively. You *are* engaged in pro-nuclear advocacy, so it fact you are selling nuclear energy to this audience.

    Also, you don't get to determine if you are right or not. That's not the nature of a debate - otherwise everyone would be right, as no one would claim to be incorrect.

    So you didn't "set the record straight," you argued for your position. Nothing less, nothing more.

    The "wasteful" arugment simply means you are using a finite resource (radioactive material) when not needed, while neither wind nor solar is finite (at least not for billions of years).

    Sure, some radioactive elements may be plentiful, but they still require a very complex (and thus expensive) process before they can be used (mining, refining, trasport, security, etc.). All of this adds up.

    Again, you fall in the same rhetorical trap as Peter Lang: by arguing that Nuclear is the *only* solution, you actually make it harder to sell. Think about it.
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  12. Michael sweet, I am aware that reference is pro-nuclear but it had the advantage of other comparisons in that it had numbers for other generation that match what I know to be correct. Do you have a source for nuclear costs that you think has better estimates from an independent authority? Getting subsidy-free, unbiased numbers is really difficult - far more difficult than it should be. As David MacKay has pointed out, you cant have a debate without it being informed by accurate numbers.
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  13. I need to research quokka's comments of nuclear load following. I think he's conflating two different things. The fundamental principle with nuclear is that it's either on or off (as I understand it). You can't just stop the reaction and have very limited capacity to alter the rate of the reaction in the chamber.

    That is not to say the plant itself can not adjust the rate they are generating electricity. But you are, none-the-less, burning nuclear fuel even if the turbines are off.
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  14. Rob@363:
    Yes, you can alter the rate of the reaction by the placement of the fuel rods.
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  15. Archiesteel: "Also, you don't get to determine if you are right or not. That's not the nature of a debate - otherwise everyone would be right, as no one would claim to be incorrect."

    I disagree with this. If someone can provide good information that is from a credible source and makes sense I would be HAPPY to say "I was WRONG!" And think I won because I now something I didn't know before.

    I come here to learn from the posts and the comments. The posts I learn by reading. The comments, more often then not, I learn by having to defend my statements or gently (ahem) pointing out (and proving out) the error of other posters' ways. That is the true value of someone like Peter Lang to me - I brush up on what they are saying enough to see their logical fallacies (or that they have a point).

    I also (post 349) learned enough to come up with my solution to climate change (as it involves electricity - only 40% of the CO2 problem). No small feat!

    But I would think all of us would be looking for the truth in the others words, and, if finding none, pointing that out, otherwise taking the truth and expanding it or at least claiming it as our own.
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  16. @actually thoughtfull: "I disagree with this. If someone can provide good information that is from a credible source and makes sense I would be HAPPY to say "I was WRONG!"

    That has nothing to do with what I said. Did you even read what I wrote? I said one cannot claim they are right in a debate - it is for others to judge if your argument has merit or not (assuming everyone is debating in good faith).

    That's twice you've appeared to misinterpret my posts. Please stop.
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  17. ??Arhiesteel
    Wow! I have no idea what your other supposed "misinterpret" is all about - but this one is right here in black and white.
    Now, I think in general we don't disagree - but reread your first post.

    Here is the where you are getting hung up: You say - "(assuming everyone is debating in good faith)" but your original quote was: "Also, you don't get to determine if you are right or not. That's not the nature of a debate - otherwise everyone would be right, as no one would claim to be incorrect."

    If everyone is arguing in good faith, you will get the results I describe above (post 365)- no misinterpretation here (I have no idea what your other "misinterpretation" was).

    Quite frankly I resent the implication that I am misinterpreting your post. If I didn't get what you were saying, please try again -I would like to understand. But your wording makes it appear I am not arguing in good faith - nothing is further from the truth.
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  18. Camburn @ 364... "Yes, you can alter the rate of the reaction by the placement of the fuel rods."

    Here is some data on that. It is technically possible and France in particular is building this into their plants due to their high reliance on nuclear. But load following is not the same as spinning reserve.

    Because the upfront capital costs of nuclear are so high, and they have relatively low operating costs, the best use of nuclear is to run it all the time. Load following raises costs and can only really effective during the first half of the fuel cycle life.

    Spinning reserve is what is required for the system to respond to any spikes or losses, or what you would be running off peak unused.

    The other aspect I hadn't understood about spinning reserve was that the system requires enough spinning reserve to make up for loss of the largest plant on the grid. If the largest unit goes down the rest of the grid has to be able to respond. That means, even during peak hours enough spinning reserve has to be maintained to back up for potential shut downs.
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  19. Providing spnning reserve for a nuclear plant of economic scale is common argument against nuclear in a small market like New Zealand.

    Nonetheless, my son's debating team owes this and the other solution thread, plus BNC, a big thank you for winning his high school inter-school debating competition taking the affirmative on "NZ should build nuclear power".
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  20. Scaddenp,
    I think your resource was useful, I read it to the end. I agree with you that it is very difficult to find unbiased data. My point to Quokka was that your source said that nuclear needed to run at high outputs to be ecomonic. Since your source is biased pronuclear I presume they are correct on this point. I think your reference helped the debate as you describe.
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  21. @actually thoughtfull: my apologies, I guess I wasn't clear enough in my original post. I was simply making the case that saying "I'm right" isn't in itself a rational argument - which is why I was suprised when you disagreed.

    I'm usually pretty clear in English, even though it's not my native tongue, but I still manage to be unintentionally ambiguous from time to time.

    Note that by "misinterpret" I do not mean "misrepresent". The latter implies malice, the former does not.

    Finally, I had you confused with someone else earlier, there was no prior minsinterpretation (as in misunderstanding). My bad, once more. Please accept my apologies, I'll try to be clearer in the future.
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  22. archiesteel
    all this and English as 2nd language! I am impressed. No harm, and as I said - we certainly agree that arguments should be made in good faith - and it isn't clear that everyone on this thread has done so. However - still informative.

    I end up being more optimistic that we can do it - get carbon out of the grid - 30% nuclear (a 50% increase for the United States) provides baseload- does what it does best - always on power) 5% hydro (because we already have it) and 65% renewables (with grid storage, which, as this post points out, is well on its way). We keep 20% of the total in gas plants that are ready to turn on.

    In the (near) future - electricity will be much more expensive at night, rather than in the day (hardest for renewables at night). The thing that is always missing from conversations of this type is - what will the market do? How will we react to the new reality? Probably pretty close to what we do now - by minimizing our costs. I imagine refrigerators will just turn off from 3am to 7am (by talking to the smart grid and seeing power is expensive).

    SOME of the necessary changes are as painless as that. Some are more intrusive - but there is nothing here that can't be done.
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  23. Last spring there were reports that Spain generated 40% of its electricity using wind for around 5 hours. Nameplate is about 11% and expanding at around 30% annualy. I have only seen newspaper reports (goggle "spain 40 percent electricity from wind" and lots of hits come up). Does anyone know how Spains' experience with this amount of energy from wind worked out? Problems? No problems? They are reported to still be increasing their wind capacity so it can't be all bad. Does Spains' energy relate to this thread?
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  24. >40% is amazing for any country, anywhere, anywhen. Here is a quote that ties directly to this article:

    "The surge in wind power last night triggered water pumping stations which transport water into reservoirs. This store of water will then be released over the day generating electricity via water turbines at times of peak demand."

    short forum entry regarding wind in Spain

    This article is from November 09, and it references Nov 08 (same thing) - so we know they did it at least 3 times.

    Sigh. And in the United States we have Republicans threatening to (again) "investigate" the science - this means delay and deny.
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  25. Michael Sweet
    Here is an MIT study of Spain's wind systems circa 2008. It is fairly lightweight - nothing in there that we haven't seen in this thread. But it does have that "someone else said it" cache.
    Study or brochure

    More lightweight research, here in the American Journal of Applied Science 2009

    The old standby isn't that bad:

    Slightly more on grid storage:

    It seems that at least 20% can come from renewables without any thought of additional storage (Texas).

    We will eventually figure out how to price in unreliability (you can play with my power and I pay $.15/kWh - you get uninterrupted power, but pay $.20/kWh) - things of that type). There is much talk about the reliability of the grid, but every electrical device can handle a surprise power loss, brownouts and blackouts. Those sites that cannot handle that ALREADY have on-site generators. Because 99.99% reliable means a non-zero amount unreliable. Another point that people don't think about. Too stuck in the 1950s nuclear dreamscape.

    As I have said - the markets will make it work - we just need to stop the artificial low price of fossil fuels, so the markets get accurate information.
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  26. @371 archiesteel

    I beg to differ. I was setting the record straight on the issue of if nuclear power plants can, and in fact do load follow. This is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact.

    It is perfectly clear to me that the alleged "inflexibility" of NPPs is cited without investigation and without any real thought by anti-nuclear activists. Terms such as "wasteful" and "inflexible" are used in a pejorative sense as part of a political argument. No science or engineering needed.

    The way electricity markets work is that baseload demand attracts the lowest price, intermediate the next lowest and peaking demand the highest. Prices in the Australian NEM can be seen charted nicely here

    Scroll across to build up a picture of what is going on.

    It seems perfectly obvious that it may be economic to run NPPs at something less than their maximum capacity factor, because the operators would be compensated by the higher prices. Market specific modeling would be needed to determine the economics. It should be noted that this may not necessarily be "wasteful" if from a system point of view it removed the need for other capacity to meet intermediate demand. Extra consumption of nuclear fuel would likely be insignificant.
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  27. For spinning reserve, my understanding is that new electrical storage will help (no matter what the technology for electricity production is). It was demonstrated for example in the BESS project in Alaska already 2003. Remaining work will of course have to address scalability. For example, company Younicos is currently working on related things.

    @quokka: My understanding from the discussions in Germany/France is that the ability for load follow operation for NPP is principally given but that the number of cycles it "should" be used in this way is rather limited (to about 1000 or so before material fatigue might compromise safety - I need to find references in English). In Germany, there is a acknowledged scientific dissent about this question. Hence, an official evaluation is currently performed, commissioned by the German Bundestag - results should be presented in April 2011. The "TAB" is the "German office for evaluation of technology effects". The underlying (German) discussion is: Do NPP "hinder" fast introduction of renewables or not? Is NPP and renewable a conflict or not? I am not sure myself how dogmatic that discussion is currently held.
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  28. @377 swieder

    I have no doubt that the underlying German discussion is "Do NPP "hinder" fast introduction of renewables or not?"

    But that is not the "right" question. The right question is "What are the lowest cost low emission technologies and how can they be combined system wide to generate the lowest cost, low emission electricity? ".

    As James Hansen recently remarked "I must start with a fundamental law: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, they will continue to be burned. This law is as certain as the law of gravity." Hansen made this remark in a review of his recent trip to China.

    I'm not sure I would be quite as emphatic, as I do think there is some willingness worldwide to pay something to mitigate climate change. However, vested interests militate against the acceptance of even a small increase in cost and there can be no doubt whatsoever that the lowest possible cost of clean energy is the surest route to achieving meaningful emissions reductions.
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  29. @quokka: as other posters have pointed, Nuclear isn't as cheap as you claim it to be, and it does not allow for largely distributed power generation by consumers-producers. It is not the perfect energy solution, as no single energy source is. What we need is a mix of energy production methods, and renewables have a place in this mix. Furthermore, as current technological developments in PVs show, prices are bound to come down through technical advances and production volume.

    After all, if Solar and Wind had had as much money poured into them as Nuclear has over the last 60 years, our energy problems would likely be non-existent today.

    You've stated your case quite well, but since in my view you have failed to challenge the argument put forth in this article, I guess we'll simply have to agree to disagree.

    Your advocacy skills are wasted here, and will continue to be as long as you appear so one-sided towards this single issue. I mean, I haven't read many of your other posts here, but do you ever get involved in any discussion that doesn't degenerate into an endless back-and-forth about whether nuclear power is the only solution or not?

    I appreciate the fact you believe climate change is real, and that CO2 is responsible. But really, this talk about how nuclear will save the day is tiresome, and frankly sounds more and more like a bunch of nuclear industry talking points...
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  30. @quokka # 378
    I had the impression you could technially elude a bit on the fact of the cycle limitation of NPP - is this something discussed seriously in pro-N circles? And if load follow operation is not something regular for NPP (e.g. limited to cycle number of 1000 or such), it is not valid to use it as an argument for nucelar.

    Regarding the cost: i fully agree with you tht the cheapest source is preferably, but i dont agree that this points to coal/nuclear or oil: considering all externalized cost for detremental effects of (coal, oil, nucler for) mining, transport, enrichment, storage, pollution during production etc. I strongly believe that todays energy is simply to cheap and that those "expensive" renewable can match them in case these cost are considered. Societies worldwide are paying for these external cost every single day.

    One important point in my mind regarding cost speaks for renewable in any case: the cost for electricity (power) will rise anyway, with or without one-time large investments for renewable now. But the cost for renewable will always only get less due to maturity, they will not increase. No cost decrease for coal, oil, nuclear are expected as far as i know, it will only get more costly with CCS or better environmental standards or safety standards.
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  31. 379 Archiesteel

    1. I posted both IEA and DOE/EIA estimates of LCOE for nuclear which are at least comparable to and probably lower than wind (the cheapest renewable). Nuclear is undoubtedly cheaper in east and south Asia. Impossible to overstate the importance of this. But it doesn't end there - nuclear displaces coal directly because it is baseload and dispatchable. This makes nuke generated electricity more valuable than wind generation both from an economic and emissions reduction standpoint.

    2. Distributed power generation by consumers-producers on a scale and time frame to make a serious impact on emissions is a fantasy. Not only do PV panels need to drop in price a lot, but storage needs to drop in price by a lot. Installation and maintenance costs are not likely to go down. There is a reason things are done on an industrial scale - it's cheaper. I had a glance at the German PV performance for December. It's shockingly poor. Germany has about 15GW of nominal PV capacity. The maximum output at any time of the day on the best day was 0.7GW. On the worst day just 0.2GW. The capacity factor must be somewhere between 1% and 2%. Now think about storage requirements. Most of the world are not loopy survivalists living in the Arizona desert and are not interested in paying for that sort of lifestyle.

    I challenge anybody who thinks micro generation will make a serious dent into emissions to present a decently constructed scenario where say 3% of the worlds electricity could be feasibly produced by this mean by 2020.

    3. It is quite wrong to assume that R&D funding will solve all engineering problems. Why is battery technology progress so painfully slow? Because you can only store so much energy in chemical bonds - the same reason so much fossil fuel is burned for energy. Progress will come but there are underlying hard physical limitations. Same is true for solar and wind - the energy density is low and this will ultimately place a bottom line under the cost for wind and solar CSP. Same is also true for mechanical energy storage such as compressed air, flywheels etc. Nuclear IS different because the binding energy of the nucleus is huge in comparison. No question that some serious engineering is required to realize the potential - but the potential is there, and there is a huge gulf between current implementation and physical limits.

    4.There are multiple reasons for the back and forth, but the main reason is ultimately the agitation for the banning of nuclear power and/or the efforts to be as obstructionist as possible where new nuclear is proposed or being built. In my book this is the height of irresponsibility towards climate. There is also a lot of nonsense willfully spread. In discussion of climate science, nonsense is jumped on rapidly from a great hight and rightly so. In discussion of energy, it seems that just about anything goes. Not good enough.

    5. My future projection. Sometime towards the end of this decade, when it becomes obvious that non-hydro renewables are not cutting it, there will be a rush to nuclear for reasons of low emissions and energy security. Asian nations will be the biggest suppliers together with Russia and France.

    And yes I do get involved in discussions other than nuclear. I've had far too many brawls with climate deniers - but not here. While confronting the deniers is important, clarity about energy is just as, or perhaps more important. There are of course ideologically motivated tea party type kooks who will never be persuaded, but there are a significant number of climate deniers that can be made to change their tune if they are convinced that there is road to a low emissions future that is not energy poor.
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  32. 380 swieder

    Load following or spinning reserve capabilities of nuclear do not seem to attract a lot of public attention. Most likely because it's not an issue in many grids where nuclear is 20%-30% or less. As I am not a nuclear engineer, I can only go on what I read from credible sources. It seems to me that if there is an issue with material fatigue or deformation, it's severity or lack of severity is likely to be dependent on specific reactor designs. There is continuous research into the materials science of the hostile environment of reactor cores so I would be a bit surprised if this problem, if it really exists, has not been solved or cannot be solved.

    I note that Areva state that their current reactor designs load follow at constant temperature which is important not only to the core, but piping, heat exchangers, turbines and such like.

    Can Nuclear Power Be Flexible? discusses some of the engineering and economic issues. I think this could be an important issue in the future in the context of grid integration with wind.

    You may be able to get a more substantive answer by posting a question on or a couple of the other nuclear blogs.

    I quite agree that external costs should be factored in, and also agree that CCS is probably a bit of a dud. Estimates of the external costs of various generation technologies including nuclear are provided here: EU External Costs for Electricity and Transport
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  33. Quokka,
    this source from Nebraska (the first hit on google) says 14% of electricity in houses is used for hot water. Solar hot water heaters are currently installed in many places. They are usable in all locations in Australia and most of the USA. That would greatly exceed the 3% you want in post 381. China is reported to be installing a lot of solar hot water. Where I live (Florida)solar pool heaters are the most cost effective method, and save even more energy. Your absolute arguments fall flat. A combination of methods will always outperform a single method.
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  34. @383 michael sweet

    I think solar hot water heaters are a great idea. I live in a house with solar heating for the pool. I've lived in a house with solar heating for domestic hot water and it worked very well - but the climate is quite good for solar heating. I agree with government subsidies for solar hot water.

    You have however not put any real figures on how much electricity would be saved world wide. You know - proper analysis such as influence of climate, cost effectiveness under different climatic conditions, plausible rate of deployment etc etc. I would be very interested in looking at a decently constructed scenario.

    You are choosing to substitute a narrative for analysis. It's really not much use.

    I would agree that "A combination of methods *can* outperform a single method". However the outcome is critically dependent on the weighting given in terms of investment and resources to the various methods.

    There is a very good reason Hansen returns again and again to the need to get rid of coal in baseload generation ASAP. This is, if you like, on the critical path of the project for a low emissions future. Desirable as it is, solar hot water heating is not.
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  35. @quokka

    #1: the article makes a good case against the fallacies about renewables and baseload power

    #2: Distributed power generation is not a fantasy, it is a inevitable long-term trend. Storage is not the impossible puzzle you describe it to be, as it doesn't need to be stored locally.

    #3: I'm not assuming that R&D will solve every problems, but it's disingenuous for you to suggest that prices will remain what they are. The fact remains: if Wind and Solar had been as subsidized as Nuclear, imagine how cheap (and distributed) the technology would be today.

    #4: you make the same fallacious association as Peter Lang, that if someone isn't for 100% Nuclear, one is against Nuclear. That oft-repeated lie alone is enough not to take you seriously. The solution is a mix of techniques and technologies: nuclear, hydro (including tidal power), wind, solar and a little bit of fossil fuels (mostly natural gas).

    #5: I don't see this happening. Rather, I think we'll continue to see huge gains made by renewables.

    As I said, we'll have to agree to disagree. You can repeat your sales pitch again, if you want, but until you decide to see renewables as allies instead of rivals, you will not help your overall agenda.
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  36. It appears that "warmists" would like the planet to be cooler, yet this scenario is only going to make renewable baseload energy sources less viable, since its only going to take more energy (not less) to overcome cold weather.

    The only way around this contradiction is to give up the idea of a cooler planet for a cleaner, warmer planet. For instance, using solar to warm water should not only warm homes, but the Earth in sum, as heat begets heat. Meanwhile, the warmer the planet, the less home heating needed, etc.
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  37. RSVP writes: "heat begets heat"

    And people wonder why we sometimes go off on 'skeptics'.
    0 0
  38. CBDunkerson
    What is positive feedback?
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  39. RSVP writes: "What is positive feedback?"

    Reality. As opposed to your law of conservation of energy violating claim of heating the planet with solar hot water.
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  40. CBDunkerson
    Sorry. I thought you understood the meaning of albedo. End of discussion.
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  41. Looks like deniers are getting desperate. Is it because of recent wikileaked cables showing the US and China collaborated to make sure Copenhagen would be a failure?

    One thing's for sure: Cablegate has completely eclipsed Climategate, even as far as climate is concerned. To deniers and politically-motivated skeptics, I say: welcome to 2011. You've got your work cut out for you. :-)

    As far as nuclear goes, I can understand why some in the US would support China building more NPP. After all, that almost certainly means more money for Westinghouse.
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  42. Re: RSVP's last bunch of tro...I mean, comments, I'd be curious to hear how quokka would respond to the "argument" put forth.
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  43. Just to be clear, even though Toshiba owns the majority of Westinghouse Electric Company, it is still based in the US.
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  44. @392 archiesteel

    Re: RSVP's last bunch of tro...I mean, comments, I'd be curious to hear how quokka would respond to the "argument" put forth.

    I'd say RSVP is numerically challenged. Some things don't pass the smell test.

    But if pressed, I would suggest that the effects of a rise of 2-3 degrees in global temperatures on renewables is most likely unknown. Changes in cloudiness could affect all types of solar but which way?, PV might be slightly less efficient due to temperature, CSP relying on a heat engine may be slightly less efficent, wind - who knows? Regional climate change might be the major factor. Overall effect likely to be small.

    As for solar hot water systems heating the planet - don't make me laugh.
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  45. I should point out however, that solar water heaters can heat your home. Most people think about heating hot water - we are able to get over 75% of annual space heating and hot water from the sun. Right now, today. With payback less than a decade (and less than 20 years without rebates - meaning it is financially viable/smart now).
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  46. 395 actually thoughtfull

    Who is this "we" and where does this "we" live? If you want this sort of thing to be taken seriously, provide some data and references.

    As always, the only thing that actually matters is planetary scale emissions reductions not feel good greenwash.
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  47. Quokka - I run a company that specializes in renewable based heating systems. So the we is me. Design temperature is -2F (-19C). Design temperature means the coldest temperature you reliably get every winter.

    I will publish my results in the next 6 months (in a trade journal - there is no new science here, just intelligently using current technology, with a few of my own innovations).

    According to the PEW Center - 51% of a buildings energy usage comes from HVAC and water heating. I found multiple sources for buildings using 39% of total US energy use was for buildings. So by cutting 1/2 of 40% by 75% we have as our total pie 15% of total US energy usage! So, following the basic rule of ethics - is it generalizable? Yes! If all buildings followed our recipe, we could cut emissions by 15% - that is basically the entire Obama commitment to climate change (obviously to weak).

    Now some caveats - our work reduces natural gas, electricity (for water heaters - site specific) and propane - natural gas is called the "cleanest" of fossil fuels, and propane is slightly worse, but not as bad as electricity. Not all buildings are ideal candidates for solar thermal (but there is always geothermal - more than one way to get to zero energy).

    However, reducing electrical loads is at least as easy. Obviously reducing the need for heating/cooling and electrical use is the easiest path to reducing building loads.

    But we can retrofit a building with solar space heating at a similar-if-not cheaper cost than replacing all the glass and upgrading all the insulation (both, with a smaller system from us is most preferred). And these improvements pay for themselves over time. A building's mortgage is fixed (does not go up with inflation) but fuel prices are variable (and in fact, for the last 43 years (as far back as the data goes) have increased at roughly double the average inflation rate (fuel rate of inflation is 6.5% per year).

    I am 100% against greenwash - and this is, indeed planetary scale. As in think globally, act locally.

    One greenwash myth is that we need utilities and governments to do this *for* us. Not true. Each of us can and should take action (as should utilities and governments). Our lives are improved by this act.

    There is a HUGE satisfaction to taking control of your own energy destiny in your own home or place of work. Try it before you talk it down.
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  48. Source for PEW data above:
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  49. Actually Thoughtful,
    I live in Florida. It is about 94F every day in summer and about 80F at night. Can solar be used to cool the home in these conditions?
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  50. Michael Sweet - I would like to know the insolation levels during the summer - does the heat come with notable cloud cover?

    Here is an overview of the idea:

    (also look at the desiccant bit higher on the Wikipedia page).

    One possibility I would examine is a ground source heat pump (GSHP) and PV to balance out the solar load (in other words, after the GSHP reduces the load by ~75%, use PV to supply the electricity to run that GSHP compressor). You can't put enough PV on a rooftop to natively provide AC or heating (too much load). But once you apply a renewable strategy to eviscerate the load, you can use PV or residential wind to mop it up.

    Note this strategy relies on "grid banking" - putting more in than you use for 6 months of the year, balance for 3, and withdraw for high summer. If your house is well insulated, you might over-cool the house during peak solar (9-5 (summer)) and let it slowly warm through the evening (this is only to match PV output to AC load - it doesn't serve any other function, and may not be desirable when you look at the whole picture - I am keeping us relevant to the original post...).

    The cheapest "solar cooling" is evaporative cooling - little application in FL, but huge in the southwest (although it ought go hand-in-hand with rainwater harvesting so as to not stress water supplies).
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