Japan Nuclear Threat, Libya Oil Crisis, Highlight Need for Renewable Energy

Fears over possible nuclear reactor meltdowns have complicated Japan’s attempt to recover from the tsunami that hit northern prefectures on Friday.

Japan, which has no oil or gas of its own, gets about a third of its electricity from nuclear power as a result of a government push to build nuclear reactors after the energy price spike of the 1970s. The ratcheting up of petroleum prices because of the instability in Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East shows that the need for an alternative to hydrocarbons is still there. (And in addition to price considerations, we now know that the world faces a dire threat from carbon dioxide-caused climate change). But the answer in 2011 is different than it was in the 1980s. Now it is possible to replace hydrocarbons with renewable energy.

Aljazeera English reports on the nuclear crisis:

The meltdown fears in Japan gave a special impetus to a demonstration in Germany on Saturday against nuclear reactors, which drew 50,000 protesters. The conservative Merkel government had decided to keep operating the country’s nuclear reactors until 2035, well beyond their original planned closure dates. The decision provoked an outcry among Germany’s Green Party and its Social Democratic Party allies.

Euronews reports on the anti-nuclear demonstration in Germany:

Germany generates 17 percent of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar, in both of which it is a leading innovator. The achievement is largely owed to government policies giving incentives for use of alternative energy, policies implemented when the SPD/ Green Party coalition was in power.

In contrast, Japan’s government has done little to promote alternative sources of energy such as wind, an area in which the country has fallen behind leaders such as Germany and China. Projects at harnessing the power of ocean waves are planned off Scotland and Oregon, but apparently not Japan (surely a natural in this regard).

Portugal gets 45% of its electricity from renewables, mostly because of government policy and investments in a smart grid. Lisbon has demonstrated that renewables are practical sources of a majority of a country’s electricity even now.

The Japan crisis has renewed fears among environmentalists in India about that country’s plans for 21 nuclear power plants. Given that solar energy is now reaching grid parity in some markets, at $4 per watt, sun-rich India is daft to subsidize expensive and dangerous nuclear plants.

Nuclear power plants are inherently unsafe, can facilitate nuclear weapons proliferation, and produce nuclear waste that is impossible to dispose of safely. Advocates for this industry use propaganda and corrupted ‘science’ in an attempt to cover up these obvious conclusions, an activity called “greenwashing.” Government and industry investments in the dead end of nuclear plants divert precious resources away from solar and wind, which are far more viable.

Japan is in the midst of a very difficult set of challenges. But when they are met, its government should make an ambitious turn to promoting green energy on the Portuguese model. And India should rethink its ill-conceived turn to nuclear plants. It is a seismically active area, and infrastructural upkeep is difficult in a developing nation.

43 Responses

  1. .
    In pursuit of economies of scale, the design of nuclear plants outgrew the ability of communities to protect themselves.

    There are nuke plant designs that ARE safe. They tend to be far smaller than the 300 – 1500 MWe plants built over the last 4 decades, more in the range of 15-25 MWe (50-70 MWt.) They are more robust, less vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis or sabotage.

    Based on my incomplete understanding of the American political process, I offer that nuke power is here to stay. The most that you and I can do is to affect changes around the edges. Maybe we should try to affect the designs of plants that are GOING TO BE BUILT, rather than fight for a complete prohibition.

    Before the price of electricity is raised to include those costs that have so far been externalized, there will be great pain for the mass of humanity that pays rates. Such widespread pain is bad for reelection prospects. Our system has evolved to avoid pain, if not inconvenient truths.
    .
    .

  2. Jordan is one country that is promoting nuclear power when it can harness plenty of solar energy ! I don’t understand the logic of it.

  3. Hello Juan, thank you for your steadfast support in the Climate Change and renewable energy arena! As an ex Nuclear worker (Sr. health physics technician) It was sad to see the “Hale Marry” frisking being done to the people at the end of the AJ video (also seen more detailed videos elsewhere). As someone who has dealt with Personnel contaminations in Nuclear Power plants, the only thing those technicians will find are extremely high activity Radioactive particles. Having worked in a BWR similar (But much larger) to Fukushima I Unit 1, seeing the Reactor building explode like that is quite unnerving. Cannot imagine that the Drywell (primary containment vessel) has remained undamaged… This has been been a good wakeup call I hope for proponents of Nuclear Energy, and I have been on the fence myself…

    Regards,

    David

  4. Dear Professor Cole

    What an excellent, well written, balanced and comprehensive piece.

    The Japanese Nuclear Accident highlights the need for an alternative Energy source for Europe. There are 50,000 demonstrator who are thinking “We told you so” this morning as they listen to the Bundeskanzlerin.

    The project to bring High Voltage DC to Germany from the Sahara has been analysed extensively by Deutsche Aerospace for the Desertec project, which should be able to supply up to 25% of Europe’s power needs.

    link to desertec.org

    Now all we need is a bit of political stability in North Africa.

    One of your clear sighted analyses of the politcal and military risk associated with comitting to this course of action would be marvellously instuctive.

  5. Good points. But also fair to mention that Japan does have a substantial orientation and investment in solar energy. Sharp, Sanyo and Mitsubishi are innovators in Photovoltaics. And IRRC, there is a very large portion of residential hot water that is produced by solar power. Japan is also a highly energy efficient country, both for personal use, transport and industry.

  6. It’s not time to jump Japan’s case for peaceful use of nuclear power. It’s time for the world to unite in an effort to keep the Earth alive with systems intact and for nations to help each other in every way possible.. Right here in the US there were changes made in the way house finance can be carried forward to distribute the cost of installing solar array by denying that right to be passed on in property value that can be spread out in payments over time once the property is sold.. That was in my opinion a deliberate effort by big business that now essentially owns the US government and many brainwashed souls who have experienced corporate mismanagement of TV.

  7. I wonder if Russia doesn’t play a hand in Germany’s anti-nuclear stance, when Chancellor Schroeder lost office, he got a nice new job – at Gazprom, the Russian state owned oil and gas conglomerate !

    Interestingly hydro-electric power generation has killed more people than nuclear power generation. In 1975, the Banqiao hydroelectric dam in China collapsed during a typhoon, which caused several other dams downstream to collapse. The dam collapes killed 26,000 people. Another 145,000 deaths were caused indirectly due to disease and famine created by the disaster. The Banqiao dam collapse was one of the greatest man-made disasters in human history. This was the worst hydro accident, but not the only one.

    Portugal has ~11m people, it has a very small manufacturing segment, 1 VW plant. It is a near contiguous area on a continental mass, its a member of the worlds largest free trade area, in arguably the most peaceful region on the planet.

    Japan has ~130m people, it is the worlds third largest manufacturer, after the US & China. It is an island nation, with no regional institutions like the EU, and its situated in the second most dangerous region on the planet, from a long term perspective perhaps the most dangerous. When was the last time any of Germany’s or Portugal’s neighbours conducted a nuclear bomb test? Never. When was the last time one of their neighbours fired a long range missile over their territorial waters? Never.

    The per capita energy consumption figures in Tonnes of Oil Equivalent (TOE) are – Portugal 2.36, Japan 4.02, Germany 4.03 (World Bank 2007).

    It may be valid to compare Japan to Germany, but not to Portugal – the only thing they have in common is fishing. Japan must import, via the sea, most of its energy as raw fuel – nuclear, coal, gas, oil. It doesn’t have the benefit of being a member of a continental economic union. It doesn’t have the benefit of being plugged into direct pipelines from gas producers. It can’t import electricity from its neighbours; in 2006 Germany imported 49.1 kw/hr of electricity, mainly from France which generates 80% of its power from guess what – nuclear.

    Who put the first viable car with a hybrid engine on the road – Toyota, Who builds the most fuel efficient marine diesel engines – Hitachi & Mitsubishi …

    Let’s look at per capita CO2 emissions – in metric tonnes per capita – Portugal 4.4, Japan 9.4, Germany 9.6

    Japan needs a nuclear power industry so it can quickly become a nuclear armed state. It probably already has the components in a ready to assemble state.

    The item regarding solar grid parity is an opinion from one person who works for a company with a vested interest, I can’t find any modelling for his opinion.

    ’nuff said.

    • I wonder if Russia doesn’t play a hand in Germany’s anti-nuclear stance, when Chancellor Schroeder lost office, he got a nice new job – at Gazprom, the Russian state owned oil and gas conglomerate !

      This is ridiculous. The Anti-nuclear movement has absolutely nothing to do with Russia ! They are part of the Green movement, the ecologists, aka those who advocates for renewable energy (solar, hydrolics, winds etc..) and for drastic diminution of the use of energy. They are no friends for the gaz and oil producers either. Further, the Green movement sometimes made alliance with Social Democrates, but for the most part they are not fervent supporters of social democrat politician of the kind of Schroeder. For your own information, Oskar Fischer, the Green foreign minister who opposed the invasion of Iraq didn’t stay very long in power, he resigned, not the least due to disagreement with the Social Democrates.

      • Christiane – German political parties & groups have a record of receiving funds from dubious sources, such as the USSR funding of the Red Army Faction, the funding scandal of Chancellor Kohl. But, Germany’s not alone in that respect.

        This issue has nothing to do with Iraq, and nor did its invasion or Fischer’s opposition have anything to his resignation. Fischer was not alone in opposing it’s invasion, most (all) German political parties were opposed.

        My memory is that Fischer resigned after Bettina Rohl’s revelations of Fischer’s membership of extreme left wing groups in the 1960s & ’70s. This included his support for the Baader-Meinhoff gang who murdered 34 people.

  8. This reminds me so much of the Great Hanshin Earthquake on January 17, 1995 when I lived in Japan and wound up making a video as I was stunned at the way people reacted and finally learned the meaning of the oft repeated “gaman” meaning patience, endurance, to persevere.

    link to youtube.com

  9. link to nytimes.com

    The key here is they built up new wind and hydro together. If there’s no wind, hydro runs harder. If there is enough wind, hydro runs slower. If there’s a lot of wind, they actually pump water back uphill and into the dam again. Obviously, for this to work, you need a lot of hydro. America has already built up most of its really good hydro locations. How much of a backstop can the current stock of dams provide? That is the question.

    Take Washington State for example. It has the largest output of hydro power in the nation. Say, ten years from now, it’s like Portugal and is producing a lot of wind power, backed up by their dams. That would be great, but would it make any sense to then turn around and suggest that New Jersey do the same thing?

    The country you forget to include in your example is France. It gets 78% of its electricity from a carbon-free source. And this is a source that can be built anywhere, whether there are good dam sites or no. What’ this source?

    Nuclear.

    Heinlein was right: there are no free lunches, and, barring a major breakthrough in algae biodiesel, nuclear cannot be excluded from our planning for the future.

    • America needs to rethink the terrorist threat to nuclear power plants.

      We are told to be very afraid of the terrorists but to feel safe that they wont fly a 747 into a nuclear power plant.

      Either the terrorist threat is real or it isn’t.

  10. Green technology is obviously the way to supply energy. An additional approach is to reduce demand by shrinking our population.

    • .
      Yes, let’s “shrink” the population.
      Can we start with the homeless who live under bridges, especially Vets, then maybe expand to the elderly in nursing homes, and then let’s “shrink” all the gangbangers ?
      I’ve never like Texans.

      We could maybe start a couple of wars to “shrink” the military population. Mandate smaller, more fuel-efficient cars to increase deaths from traffic accidents. Cut taxes on chewing tobacco and legalize heroin. Promote “hooking up” through social media and TV.
      Leverage “Second Amendment solutions.”
      Give tax breaks to producers of high fructose corn syrup and biodiesel.

      See where I’m going with this ? Me neither. But I cannot comprehend the worship of death. It will come soon enough; have patience.
      .

      • I advocate shrinking the population by planning and policy, e.g., by providing financial incentives NOT to have children. The idea is to limit new births, not to kill people who are already alive, and certainly not to ‘worship’ their death.

  11. it is so sad to hear about the nuclear leak and the media down playing it. let’s not forget that the radiation is leaking, the area is being poisoned, and do we really have to have Chernobyl to be alarmed with the nuclear plant? it is silly how gradually and gradually we are fed the information so that our senses keep telling us that it is not so bad and it is ok. First there was one reactor then two and now we hear about a possible third. It is bad, bad, so bad. it is a disaster.
    hopefully … there is no hope here the area will be dead for years to come!

  12. I’m as big a supporter of renewable as anyone (I get over 70% of my electrical power from PV panels). It does seem likely that both wind/solar will soon become cheaper on a per KWhr than nuclear. But that isn’t the only consideration. Nuclear makes good baseline power (i.e. 24/7). I don’t think we will ever have cheap energy storage, so some non-carbon non variable source is worth paying a premium for. So I think a healthy system will contain a significant nuclear component, and a diminishing fossil fuel component. The risk from this sort of event is that some adavanced countries may now prematurely shutdown N plants, leading to increasing rather than decreasing carbon emissions.

  13. zirconium

    “Using tons of a material otherwise used as the speck that explodes in a flashbulb in nuclear power plants —yes, absolutely crazy.”

    Behind the Hydrogen Explosion at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant
    by Karl Grossman

    link to commondreams.org

  14. Juan, I’m a big fan of your blog, but I don’t dig this post. Full disclosure: I graduated from the University of Michigan in 2005 with a degree in Nuclear Engineering, and currently work for one of the major players.

    The media coverage of this event, particularly on Friday and Saturday, has been atrocious. Lots of hysteria and wild speculation from people who clearly know very little about the situation or the subject matter.

    People can be easily frightened by things that they don’t understand. The media has been throwing around the word “radiation” and showing scary pictures of men in full-face respirators frisking children with geiger counters without providing any perspective.

    Radiation is part of life. You’re being exposed to it right now. Please see this website for more information:

    link to hps.org

    This is still a fluid situation, but it appears to be nearing resolution. When the dust settles here, I suspect there will have been a few over-exposures to plant workers, one worker fatality from the hydrogen explosion, and a small, benign radiation release. The information that we have is that the radiation releases that have occurred have not posed any health risk to the public.

    This coming after a direct hit from one of the largest natural disasters in recorded history. I’m not going to take the time lo litigate your arguments against nuclear energy, but I think the safety record of Western-designed reactors speaks for itself. Any honest safety comparison of the last 40 year of nuclear power with coal, oil, natural gas, hydroelectric power, etc. will find nuclear energy winning. …And this is 40 year old technology.

    I also take particular offense to this statement:

    Advocates for this industry use propaganda and corrupted ‘science’ in an attempt to cover up these obvious conclusions, an activity called “greenwashing.”

    *I* am an advocate for the nuclear industry. I have spent many years in good faith studying and working with this stuff. Please exercise some humility and civility when venturing outside your area of expertise.

    Greg

    • Yes but I did not hype the meltdown, only said that it is a further complication in the recovery.

      You did not refute anything I said, and did not answer any of the objections I raised.

      It is natural that a column like this will upset people in the nuclear energy business, but, well, they’ll just have to get over it.

      Don’t worry, you have skills and I think a similar skill set will help with transitioning to the solar energy industry, which is the future.

      • You’re correct, I didn’t refute your assertions. As I said, I don’t have time to engage in debate on this.

        My main reasons for commenting were to try to put the event in perspective, and to object to the insinuation that everyone who supports nuclear power is unscrupulous or is being underhanded.

    • Greg, I’m with you on the level of reporting. Every story talks about the “radiation” release, and I’m assuming they must mean “radioactive material” – but, if so, what type? Gases that will rapidly dissipate? Elements that will enter the biosphere? What type of radioactive material? And how much? What kind of level of radioactivity?

      Of similar concern is the big wave of subsidized nuclear reactor construction that’s due to kick off here (pun intended) – the last I heard, rather than using more modern designs and small-scale reactors, the industry wants to revert back to the antiquated 60s style, since it’s already “been approved” and they can largely skip the approval process.

      What’s up on that? I realize that these days, reporters are mostly dumb as dirt as regards anything technical (NERDY!! GEEKY!!! WONKY!!!!!), but there are a significant number of Americans who would understand a well-explained story, and we definitely need to.

      On the other hand, removing the “noo-kyu-ler” subsidies from the latest budget bill could be a quick, no-brainer way to reduce the eeee-vil “deficit.” Call your congress critters!

    • But you see, the media coverage was bad because yet again the nuclear authorities kept changing their story and slowly admitting hour after terrifying hour that things were worse. Just like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Nuclear industries act the same all over the world. Why is that?

      So while I support the idea of new reactor designs, this behavior by the very industry and regulators who are supposed to operate those designs makes me just want to walk away from the whole thing and drown it in concrete. Imagine how much worse it is for low-information voters who can’t be bothered to learn how anything in modern society works.

      So you won’t get the money for new reactor types, because it all sounds like the same old story.

      • The authorities (politicians and senior public servants) change their story in line with the information they get from the people managing the situation on the ground.

        It’s similar in that respect to a wild-fires, flood, hurricanes or other industrial accidents. They are all very dynamic situations full of the unexpected.

        In 2009, 173 people were killed by a wild fire in Australia. An enquiry revealed that many (most) of those deaths could have been prevented if there had been better management of information between the people on the ground and the the people supposedly in control. The controllers seemed to be reluctant to disclose information that they might have to later retract or change.

        When authorities change the information they’re providing, even when it’s because the real situation has changed, then they are subject to media criticism. Consequently they tend to keep quiet. I think Japanese authorities are doing a pretty good job, this is a very complex, very dynamic issue, its the media that’s not doing a good job.

        This claims to be an explanation of what’s happening at Fukushima, it’s certainly detailed ==>> link to bravenewclimate.com

  15. And in the USA, much thanks to “lesser” evilism and it’s defenders:

    “It’s ironic, but Obama could end up being the biggest pro-nuclear power president since Dwight Eisenhower,” says Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a nuclear deterrence expert who served as deputy for nonproliferation policy in the Department of Defense from 1989-1993 under President George H.W. Bush.”

    link to csmonitor.com

    “President Obama’s fiscal year 2012 budget outlines a plan for reviving the country’s nuclear power industry, calling for $36 billion in government-backed loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors and setting aside more than $800 million for nuclear energy research.”

    link to thehill.com

    “Rahm Emanuel was a “key player” representing Unicom Corp., the parent of Commonwealth Edison, in forging its merger with Peco Energy Co. to create utility giant Exelon Corp. in 1999 when Goldman Sachs was also advising Unicom.[9]

    Exelon’s Political Action Committee (PAC) is EXELONPAC.[10] The company is positioned to profit from “expensive carbon” and has been lobbying for cap and trade of carbon dioxide emissions.[11] Executives at the company have close ties to the Obama administration as advisors and fundraisers, and Obama’s chief political strategist David Axelrod did consulting work for it.[11]”

    link to en.wikipedia.org

  16. Very good article Juan, and interesting on how you point out that Japan and India governments are not developing sustainable energy options. I am willing to bet “sun drenched” Australia is not as well. Looks like the United States is pushing it’s “pocket allies” not to head down the sustainable energy path. Unlike, Germany, China, Portugal, and Denmark which see the future without total reliance on the fossil fuel cartel.
    May become evident soon that the United States is not a force for a positive direction in the world.

    • As a citizen of “sun drenched” Australia”, I can assure you that out government spends a bilion dollars each year on incentives to promote renewable energy.
      Cynics point out that our government spends 12 billion dollars each year promoting the burning of fossil fuels, through tax rebates for diesel, company car fleets, and so on, but that’s entirely irrelevant to the issue, according our wise leaders.

    • Germany has a higher per capita carbon footprint than Japan.

      Germany imports about 40mkw/hr/annum of electricity from France. We all know how France generates most of its power, and it ain’t wind or solar. There are no realistic scenarios for Japan to import electricity from its neighbours.

      There is no evidence that the EU Cap & Trade system (the only one of note that actually exists) will reduce CO2 emissions, however there is evidence that polluting industries, bankers and lawyers are getting rich from the scheme. Nor is there evidence that direct Carbon Tax reduce carbon emissions.

      The only “benefit” of Australia reducing its emissions, even by 50%, will be to make some people feel good. It will make not one iota of difference to the overall emissions nor to the rate of change in the climate. The argument “that if we don’t set an example, then China & India wont act on Climate Change” is as fallacious as saying “climate change isn’t happening”. Countries act in their own best interests, they certainly don’t take any notice of what a small country like Australia might do or say. The notion “we always punch above our weight”, that’s often used by Australians (and Brit’s), is also specious, it too only serves to make some people feel good.

      Any money Australia collects from carbon taxes or cap & trade schemes will have to spent compensating people, aluminium smelters etc for higher prices. And Australia will still be shipping more and more untaxed coal to China, Japan, Korea, India, the EU etc. If Australia were to put a tax on it’s coal exports, then Indonesia, Russia, Columbia, South Africa, USA would be laughing all the way to the bank.

      Australia is a developed country, it emits a less than 1.5% of world CO2 emissions. It would contribute far more to reducing the impact of climate change if it focused its efforts, its attention and its available funds on the development of low cost CO2 emission free base load electricity generation. By low cost I mean lower than existing CO2 emitting based technologies. India & China etc would be queuing at Australia’s door to get their hands on such technologies, not because of climate change, but because its cheaper. Other countries such as Canada should do likewise.

  17. It’s funny how free-market Republicans support nuclear power, when it requires such significant government intervention to provide for the raw material, and effectively insure such an undertaking. No private insurance company would, or could, fully insure such a project from liability. Imagine a private insurer needing to evacuate 100,000 people from their homes, let alone a million or more. Talk about a severe market distortion. There would be no such thing as private/corporate nuclear power without massive government involvement. The only way nuclear power happens is through corporatism, where businesses get the government to con the public into supporting what is clearly not in their vested self-interest.

    • Amen, brother. In fact, you CANNOT BUY insurance if anything about your profession includes “nuclear”.

      At ANY price. (Been there, tried that…)

      • Double amen. Since 1957, the federal Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act has indemnified the nuclear industry against liability claims.

        Why should private owners have the benefit of the profits, if losses will be borne by the public?

        Why do supposedly plucky, rugged individualist entrepreneurs get a ‘nanny-state’ security blanket?

  18. I find the anti-nukes on the left be just as ideologically rigid as those on the right when it comes to the way they treat technology.

    You said that one of the previous posters did nothing to refute your points, but honestly, you made the claim that nuclear energy is “inherently” unsafe and did nothing to prove your claim. And by leaving the terms vague, you fail to establish what “safe” means. For example, how many people have died each year, or suffered health consequences, from traditional energy sources like coal, vs the entire history of nuclear power? Yet no one ever says “coal is inherently unsafe”, meanwhile, millions of kids in China of coughing up ash.

    If nuclear energy is inherently “unsafe”, then why don’t you refute the design of the Generator IV reactors?

    I’m all for alternative energy, but let’s get realistic, we do not have the ability to switch 100% to them given current demands (e.g. the energy storage/variability problem), and any < 100% solution means Oil, Coal, Natural Gas, or Nuclear (not everyone is fortunate enough to have Hydro or Geo resources). Coal means more global warming, more radioactive ash, more mountain top removal mining, overall, coal is far more destructive to human health and the earth.

    • You can’t dispose of the waste safely, and the damn things are liable to meltdowns. They’re expensive and dangerous. Put billions into solar and the cost will come down. In the meantime, natural gas is better than nuclear. And, enormous savings could be had from conservation. 1/4 of US buildings aren’t even insulated and parts of many homes, e.g. garages, are not insulated. If you aren’t actually in the nuclear power industry, it makes no sense to promote it.

      • Unfortunately, savings for some means less income for others which doesn’t go down well in the U.S., land of the almighty dollar. If more (influential) people were increasing their income through insulating building, homes and garages, it might fly … but saving money? Who benefits from that (as benefits are defined by an increase in income)?

    • Light water reactors are, by design, extremely UNSAFE. This is because the fuel in the rods is ALWAYS hot – hot enough to melt the rod without constant water cooling, even when the control rods are in place. This is why “depleted” rods must be stored in large concrete pools of water and spaced a wide distance from each other.

      BUT …

      There are reactor designs that can not overheat. They are typically much smaller than the big light water reactors, so when they are used as power stations there has to be a lot more of them, leading to higher construction cost per kilowatt of power.

      As for the waste, that can also be managed by designing better reactors.

      BUT …

      the result would be more material that can be used for weapons.

      BUT …

      The real problem with nuclear reactors is the same exact problem we have with using carbon-based energy, it is FINITE! That is, the amount of raw uranium on the earth, just like oil and coal, is very limited. As a result, if humans ignore the risks of nuclear energy and try to replace all the carbon-based energy with nuclear, within less than 50 years the earth will again face an energy shortage.

      The reality is there are ONLY three energy sources that are “permanent” from a human perspective (thousands of years):

      – The earth’s internal energy (we saw last week just how much energy is inherent in the earth). Although it is hard to harness the energy of earthquakes and plate movement, it is very possible to harness the heat coming from the earth.

      – Gravitational interaction with the earth’s neighbors. This is most visible as tides.

      – Broad spectrum energy from the fusion reaction in the sun. This noy only includes PV cells, but also wind and rain (hydroelectric) because the sun’s energy interacts with the atmosphere.

      For the long term, humans should be moving to using “permanent” sources of energy, instead of the short term energy sources like coal, oil and nuclear.

      For 7 BILLION humans to survive on earth, we must have sources of energy because without lots of inexpensive energy, we are doomed to a massive die-off of humans.

  19. Everyone please scroll up and re=read the post by “Thomas” above (a different Thomas than me). He is the only person here (probably including Prof. Cole) who appears to understand several critical issues with electrical generation/distribution. Note that he used the term “baseline”…

    Electricity must always have “supply” matched with “demand” continuously. Electricity can’t practically be stored on a large scale, so it isn’t like, say, natural gas, where big tanks can sit around and be tapped when demand goes up. With electricity, generation must match spikes and dips in demand pretty much instantaneously. Imagine a large metro area on a hot, late fall day: at night, demand is low (dipping to the “baseline” level), as the business day starts, demand rises. Then in the late afternoon, the sun is still up, as is the temperature and humidity, many businesses are still open, and hundreds of thousands of people start returning home from work, cranking up the AC, turning on lights, TVs and computers and start making dinner. All this demand adds up to a spike. If generation on the grid isn’t quickly cranked up to match those spikes, then you get brownouts and blackouts. In many areas, nuclear generation provides the bulk of the power, covering the baseline. Coal or hydro covers the predictable daily rise and fall, and expensive natural gas “peaker” plants cover the spikes, which means that they sit idle much of the time. One of the limitations of most renewable types of power (excluding hydro, which is fundamentally solar power) is that it can’t be “cranked up” on demand. That means that it CAN fit into the supply/demand matching, but it is very, very difficult to move beyond a certain portion of power generation without astounding amounts of redundancy and currently expensive/impractical storage capacity.

    Prof. Cole mentioned that Portugal is currently saying that 45% of it’s electricity comes from renewable. I don’t know if that includes hydro or not. But I would be very, very surprised if tiny Portugal’s electrical grid isn’t interconnected to that of Spain. (Spain, also, gets a large portion of it’s power from renewables, including a very large portion from wind.) But, that interconnect would allow Portugal the space to “wing it” it a bit, knowing that they could fall back on pulling power off the Spanish grid when demand outstrips the capacity of their renewables…

    Just as we all know that burning gasoline in our vehicles (cars, boats, planes) is a terrible idea and that we should be transitioning away where possible, we all know that nuclear power has serious risks and problems. But few to none of the readers here have all-electric vehicles yet – we continue to make do with petroleum powered cars, with an eye towards the future. (I just re-wired part of my home, and included the heavy duty wiring to the garage needed to rapidly charge two cars simultaneously) Eventually we will be able to get by without nuclear plants, but for the time being they are like gasoline-powered cars, a problematic compromise that meets our needs – we will continue to build new ones for the time being, but be looking to transition to better alternatives.

  20. All things come to those who wait! The flies in this ointment are, of course, the bimbos who just can’t wait; everything for them must simply be
    “NOW!”,
    “Today!”,
    “Immediately!”
    Beware of anyone demanding anything “NOW!”

    And, as we all know, if you sit on a beach long enough, everything and anything is libel to happen. Life’s a beach!

  21. There is a big difference between building a nuclear power plant on stable craton and building it in one of the most seismically active zones on the planet. Whether we ultimately decide nuclear is safe enough or not, as long as people are building nuclear plants, it would be best to site them somewhere OTHER than the Pacific Rim or the San Andreas fault.

    • One problem is the US electric grid can not decouple the generation point from the usage point enough so that nuclear power plants can be located on “safe” land.

      For example, right now large solar plants have the problem of the places where large solar plants make economic sense are also a long ways from where the power will be used and connecting those two points is politically unacceptable and costly economically. One man’s empty desert is another man’s scenic vista and putting more power lines across that vista is hard to do.

      As for the “safe” land idea, that is actually a myth because ALL of the US is riddled with earthquake faults because what we think of as “solid ground” is actually a think crust of cold lava floating on a sea of molten lava and is constantly moving.

  22. Top six wind generating countries are

    United States 36,300
    China 33,800
    Germany 26,400
    Spain 19,500
    India 12,100

    Fastest growth is happening in China, followed by India.

  23. Greg posted on the 13th: “media coverage atrocious… hysteria and speculation” he also wrote:”this is still a fluid situation, but it appears to be nearing resolution”…well, the former observation may have been true, but sadly, the latter was not.

Comments are closed.