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Total number of comments: 67 (since 2013-11-28 14:43:03)


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  • Dear Sweden: HR Dispute with Saudis makes this a good time to adopt Electric Cars
    • As a Swede, I would like to make a few corrections.
      * The argument was not over any specific arms sale, but over a decade-old agreement over military cooperation which included arms sales, training and more.
      * Wallström (foreign minister) and Löfven (prime minister) are both social democrats and as far as is known, there was no disagreement between Wallström and her prime minster, so she didn't win any argument nor put down her foot towards him. They likely both wanted to renew the agreement.
      * Probably both budged to the pressure from their Green coalition partner in abandoning the agreement. The Greens were very vocal about this and it could have broken the coalition.
      * Wallström has been fairly vocal in criticising Saudi and was about to make some tame criticisms as an invited speaker to the Arab Council, but was stopped from talking on short notice by the Saudis, and then criticised by the council, including the palestinians.
      * The cancelled talk made renewal of the agreement impossible. It couldn't fly with the Swedish people after that.
      * A lot of Swedish people are now, unfortunately, questioning why we acknowledged Palestine as a state and keep spending substantial money on aid, when they joined Saudi in defending barbarism and in humiliating our foreign minister.
      * Sweden absolutely does not have 31% fossil electricity. We have almost none, perhaps 3% or such. We have hydro, nuclear, wind and biomass, in that order. Almost no fossils.
      * Going non-fossil in our transport fleet, well, that's a bit tough. We do have the electricity. That's no problem. The problem is the cost and range of battery cars, as well as the time it takes to replace the current fleet. It will happen eventually, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

  • Green Energy Robin Hood: India Doubles Tax on Coal to Fund Solar and Wind
    • This doubled tax is still extremely, extremely low. One watt of solar for $2 will displace some 0.5 kg coal/year for, say, 30 years for a total of 15 kg coal displaced.

      This means $0.83/ton of coal doesn't go very far to finance solar. You burn a ton now and displace only (15/2)*0.83 = 6 kg or less than 1% in 30 years.

  • Unbalanced: 85 Super-Wealthy own as Much as Half the World's Population
    • Kent, thanks for your honest and hearthfelt reply. I, in turn, honestly did my best, so I'm sorry you didn't find my reasoning good enough. I'd like to repair whatever was bad, but I don't find anything specific in your reply to expand on. However, I'm always happy to discuss matters further and to provide specific references when asked.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply. However, I don't agree that Western consumption in general is unsustainable. Looking at the environmental footprint indices, we seem to be roughly within our boundaries excluding carbon emissions, and carbon emissions can be dealt with by renewables and/or nuclear power. Granted, there are other unsustainable practices, but they can generally be dealt with, and some have been dealt with historically. Along the same lines, the footprint history doesn't support the notion of exponential damage increase.

      Regulatory capture by corporate/media/political elites? Yes, I'd definitely agree with that. But to me, there is a certain amount of checks and balances in play between those three (and within each group), and all these have to adjust somewhat to consumer demands and grassroot sentiments. It isn't perfect, but then again, can it be? To me, the capitalism-democracy combo is the best we've seen so far.

    • Isn't the 85 persons vs the bottom half equivalent to saying that we have some big global corporations? I'd argue that the most important inequality is not in wealth and not even in income, but in consumption. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, for instance, don't consume Google, they simply founded it, own it and try to run it rationally.

      Regarding wealth inequality, the second poorest town in America is Athens, Ohio, which is full of middle class college students with low net worth. But should we really regard them as poor? Aren't they simply young? And there are a lot of young adults out there, considering the population pyramids in countries such as India.

      FWIW, I think the world inequality in consumption between the middle class and the rich might have widened a bit, but the inequality in consumption between the poor and the middle class has narrowed, and also lots and lots of people have moved from poverty into the global middle class. The latter, to me, is far more important.

      I agree with some of the suggestions Oxfam puts forward to address inequality, but I think there are drawbacks to a onesided view that does not acknowledge the great progress we continue to have globally.

  • Europe Abandoning Hydrocarbons: Closing 30% of Gas, Coal Plants in Favor of Green Energy
    • Germany has some 25% renewable electricity today and plans to have 35% in 2020. Please see:
      link to

      The increase, e.g 10%, is clearly not enough to replace its 17% nuclear power scheduled to be decommissioned in the 2020-2022 timeframe.

    • Germany will close almost all its remaining nuclear capacity in just two years, in 2021-2022. The current nuclear production is 3-4 times that of solar PV in Germany. This means any fossil reductions between now and 2022 should be viewed as temporary.

  • Video of the Day: Turkish Economy Flourishing but needs to go Green
    • Turkey is also buying nuclear reactors in batches of four. The first four will be built by Russia at Akkuyu, while the second batch will be built by the Japanese at Sinop, with a third batch to be decided. These three plants together have the potential to provide almost 50% of current electricity production in Turkey.

  • Solar would be Cheaper: US Pentagon has spent $8 Trillion to Guard Gulf Oil
    • @RepubAnon: Pumped hydro is great cost-wise and efficiency-wise where available. However, it is very limited in scale due to the limitations in suitable sites. Please remember that Three Gorges in China has 22 GW only, which is less than one percent of world average production. And of course, Three Gorges evacuated a million people and its capacity is largely not suitable for pumped hydro.

      Conservation is a no-brainer in the US, but are you suggesting Chindia, Africa and the three billion additional people that will come into the world in the next 40 years, should not be allowed to expand their energy use? The US and Europe is only a tenth of world population together. Our action does not dominate CO2 emissions anymore. Half of world coal is consumed in China.

    • JTMcPhee, thanks for your reply. However, I suspect I don't fully get what you're saying. It might be partly due to English not being my native language, or it is something else. So please forgive me if my answer is off.

      Costs of nuclear power are completely arbitrary in the old world (US and Europe). Here, costs are determined by the amount of unnecessary red tape, regulations, licenses, political uncertainty and emission limits. In the new world, however, nuclear power is being built for $2-3/W. This is comparable to solar, but with five times the capacity factor, three times the life and no need for storage, for a cost advantage of a factor 10-15 at low penetrations and even more at high.

      Tens of millions have died due to air pollution that nuclear power could have prevented. The oceans are acidifying and we've lost three decades (and counting) combating AGW. We are dependent on oil with all its geostrategic implications. So the costs of giving up nuclear progress has been staggering and keeps accumulating - way beyond these 8 trillion dollars.

    • The post has good numbers, and I feel it would be even better with some maths. First, given an average GDP of about $10 trillion for 38 years, $8 trillion for Gulf security alone puts the US expenditures for that at more than 2% of GDP. That seems a bit too high to be plausible as total defense expenditures has oscillated between 7.5% and 4%.

      Then $8 trillion would, at today's cost of $2/W, suffice to install 4 trillion watts of solar capacity, or 4 TW. Since the sun doesn't shine all the time, this would average at best 0.8 TW. The average electricity production of the world stands at 2.5 TW. $8 trillion to solar wouldn't even cover a third of current electricity production, much less our transportation needs. So that money is very far from a world saving resource, unfortunately. The challenge is much bigger (if you don't go for nuclear, then it's pretty easy).

      I'd also like to point out that the 8 trillion cost is over a longer period than the life of solar cells. Also, no amount of research in the 70-ies and 80-ies would have produced the solar cells we have today. Physics cannot really be forced much, and results are never guaranteed. Our current low PV costs is a result of sustained improvements in material physics, manufacturing processes, computer simulation capacity, an industrial base in China, its acceptance for chemical pollution and much more, little of which was readily available a few decades ago.

  • Top Ten Signs Solar Energy is rapidly Winning
    • @João Carlos: Thanks for your reply. I have no problem with big farms and centralized production. In fact, I think it is probably the way to go!

      However, household PV rids the owner of both electricity taxes and grid fees for the electricity produced, so it has a significant (and arguably unfair) advantage over centralized electricity. When that advantage alone is not sufficient to get the grassroots uptake going, we can surmise that the PV costs are high.

      Alas, there is no parallel in PV manufacturing to the shrinking of features in integrated circuits, so there is nothing like Moore's law going on. Current commercial PV efficiency stands at 20%, and those cells (single-junction) cannot go past 34% (the Shockley-Queisser-limit). For more exotic cells that may or may not be commercialized, there is the Carnot limit at 86% that cannot be overcome.

      I don't have time to wait for exotic solar cells and storage solutions. Or rather, I don't think the world has time to wait. Even disregarding AGW, about a quarter of a million dies every year, world-wide, due to pollution from coal. This is entirely preventable, but PV won't do it.

  • Top Five Wind Energy Successes Today
    • The cost figures couldn't be more fresh - the construction started in 2010 and was finished this summer. Wind turbine sizes has been lingering at a sweet spot for many years now, with 2.3-3 MW for onshore and 3-5 MW for offshore. (One reason is that the mass of a turbine is proportional to the cube of the blade length, whereas the wind power intercepted is proportional to the square of the blade length.)

      Wind turbines' efficiencies are clearly close to optimum and there are diminishing returns on R&D. Admittedly, big costs savings might still be had in offshore, for example if technology were developed to allow floating turbines to be deployed with ease.

      Yes, I wanted to put your numbers in context, and the reason is that I'm very worried that there is no real urgency in our action to prevent climate change. I feel that overly positive reports of what actually amounts to "too little, too late" serve to promote complacency and to prevent effective action.

      Germany's plan is to rid themselves of coal until 2050. That plan is universally hailed for being ambitious, courageous and fast. However, the projected costs and planned reductions in electricity generation make it doubtful that they will have the stamina to push through. Also, according to the plan, they will make virtually no progress until some time after 2022, since they will use the new renewables to close the remaining nine reactors until then. Where is the urgency?

    • Some more info on the German wind farm: It is called Bard Offshore, and consists of 80 big turbines of 5 MW for a total of 400 MW. The capex for the farm is 2.9 billion euro. The application to build the farm was entered in 2004 and the offshore construction started in March 2010.

      link to

      The remaining German nuclear power (nine reactors) now stands at 12,000 MW with twice the capacity factor of wind, which means Germany only needs some 60 new offshore farms of a similar size to replace its nuclear power. The capex for this would amount to close to 180 billion euro, or €20 billion ($27 billion) per reactor replaced.

      But the really big challenge comes later, when Germany is to replace its 50,000 MW coal and lignite generation.

  • Top Ten Solar Power good news Stories Today
    • The speed of uptake of different low-carbon generating technologies is a very interesting topic. As is the limits that intermittence and other factors put on ultimate penetration of each technology. This graph shows the speed of uptake so far:

      link to

      Japan has reached 10 GW of solar after putting in some 4 GW this year. Unfortunately, if they keep that rate forever, the Japanese PV penetration will stay below 10%, assuming a 25 year life time of installations. They need to ramp up a lot.

  • Solar Car of the Future: Sunswift Solar Two-Seater looks like an ordinary Coupe
    • Actually, the yearly output of 5 KW solar should match the needs of a reasonable car. You should easily be able to get more than 5,000 kWh, or 25,000 km or 15,000 miles. But I wouldn't go off-grid, of course.

      Also, wind makes far more sense. PV is a luxury item still. And even if you match grid parity with solar due to transmission fees, net metering, subsidies and taxes, PV is many times more expensive than wind. So from the perspective of society, PV grid parity is a sub-optimization.

    • I'm sorry, but solar panels on a Chevy Volt won't do much. The reason is that it draws 35 kWh per 100 miles, which in 50 miles per hour translates to some 18 kW continuous draw. Since you can't hope to get more than 1 kW of PV onto a car, your range extension is perhaps 1/18 = 6% under perfect conditions.

      A car needs to be much lighter to get appreciable range extension from solar panels. And it's a bit hard to make it lighter if it is supposed to be a real car.

  • Not Markets but the People are making the Green Energy Revolution
    • From where do you get your numbers? Italy is number two, the US is number three while Japan and China shares the number four spot. Spain is number five. All according to wikipedia:
      link to

      As a Swede, I'm actually a bit proud that Sweden doesn't participate in this race. We're at 3 W solar PV/capita, while Germany is at 400 W/capita.

  • Has Military Suppression of Political Islam ever Worked?
    • Isn't it the case that as long as a religion in itself exists, it will take political forms whenever it is allowed to? Given that politics (especially in democracies) is a lot about trying to prevent others to do immoral things, and given that, almost by definition, religious people believe they know what is moral, it is no surprise that religion is a major force in politics.

      However, to balance your examples of the long-term failures of repression, countries and regions have been successfully forced to switch religions or even abandon religiosity. For instance, Spain has been islamic. It does take considerable brutality, though, and taqiyya will remain for generations.

      Also, it seems to me that the Soviet Empire's repression of religiosity actually was fairly successful. Have a look at this map of religiosity's importance in different countries:
      link to

      My take is that a dictator would need to repress the religion itself, not just the political branches, to make a dent in its long-term political capabilities. (Of course, I am by no means advocating any of this.)

  • Fukushima's Strontium Leaks a Neverending Crisis? (Germanos)
    • When the release was at its highest, between March and June 2011, the nuclear accident led to a release into the sea of between 90 and 900 Tbq of Sr-90. This increased the inventory of the oceans of this radionucleide by a mere percent. (Nuclear weapons testing has been calculated to have added some 116,000 Tbq of Sr-90 to the sea.)
      link to

      Continuing releases from Fukushima groundwater and leaks adds a fraction of the initial release, and this means that (unsustainable) fishing practices will go on, as the fish will be insufficiently contaminated to cross any limits. The fish would have been better off with some significant contamination.

      So, the cost to us all will be almost non-existent. And the release isn't "essentially forever". The half-life of strontium is like that of cesium, some 30 years. Three hundred years will see 10 halvings, and since 2^10 = 1024, this will cut the inventory to a thousandth. Of course, sedimentation will take a lot out of the environment too.

      We should go back to worrying about coal. Even a triple reactor meltdown, some 26 years after Chernobyl, didn't cause as much harm as a week of global coal combustion does.

  • First, Close all the Coal Plants: MIT Study Shows they Shorten Lives
    • Ah, you talked only about the US. Then I agree that there is a technical possibility to do it, with an "all of the above" approach, including stopping the regulatory strangulation of nuclear power.

      Btw, Germany has closed only its older nuclear plants. The rest will be closed successively until 2022. It has thus virtually guaranteed no progress with coal will be made until at least then.

    • I fully share your worries and insights about the destructiveness of coal. However, getting rid of it in ten years is not even remotely possible.

      Please consider the developments in Germany. They increased their coal consumption from 76 million tonnes of oil equivalents in 2011 to 79 MTOE in 2012, an increase of 4%. In 2013, Germany opts to put some 5000 MW new "modern" coal plants online, while decommissioning only 1000 MW of old coal.

      The only large-scale non-hydro success story when it comes to getting rid of fossil-fueled electricity is the French one, and it took them some 19 years. To do it with expensive and intermittent renewable sources obviously takes much longer, if it can be done at all.

      Also, please consider the shift in consumption. China is at 50% of global coal consumption, USA at 12%, India at 8%, Japan at 3%, and the rest is smaller. Historically, the US and Europe were the big polluters. But from now on, the fate of our climate lies in the hands of China and India.

  • Top Ten Green Energy Good News Stories, 6/1/13
    • I agree solar might be a good option in remote places where grid connection is unlikely or very unreliable, or where the maturity necessary for nuclear power isn't available. So it is definitely an option to rapidly alleviate some energy poverty. But the big fossil polluters do have the maturity to implement nuclear power.

      The US and Germany could easily have been rid of all coal and most NG at the turn of the millenium if they had kept scaling nuclear power. It would have saved tens of thousands of lives each year in air quality improvements alone. Today, the promises of renewables keeps losing us time - every day that goes by is still a lost day in the battle against AGW.

    • Every single one of the 7 nuclear reactors currently under construction in India is more important than 9 of those 10 developments combined. Only the number two in your list is significant.

  • Carbon Dioxide Passes 400 parts per million, Threatens Climate Catastrophe
    • Juan, I've explained grid parity before. The principle of charity compels me to assume that you didn't read it. Please read this:

      Grid parity is when coal costs, for example, 3 cents to produce, 2 cents to transmit, 1 cent in profits and 2 cents in taxes, while solar PV on your roof cost you 3+2+1+3 = 9 cents to produce (if you get some tax breaks, are optimistic regarding the longevity and performance of the installation and don't consider interest).

      Since you don't go off-grid, you keep the grid connection but avoid some costs that will have to be borne by neighbors. You also contribute less to corporate profits that will end up in pension funds and investments, and you contribute less to taxes that are used for public good.

      In short, grid parity means you substitute a lot of "movement of money" inherent in the large-scale production, with actual resource consumption in your own installation. Because only the production costs are real consumption. And in my example, the society as a whole devotes three times as much resources to solar than to coal, even at grid parity.

      Also, grid parity doesn't apply to typical wind, since most installations are large scale businesses, not single-family installations.

      And finally, even if costs were equal at low penetrations, wind and solar, if scaled, lose much of their value since the production then doesn't match demand. This means you get increasingly stranded resources that goes to waste. Of course, there is ideas to combat this, such as pumped hydro, enormous long-distance grids, smart grids, battery backup and such. But all this increase the cost of wind and solar.

    • We may not avoid flooding a third of the Earth's land mass and jeopardizing the very existence of our species and countless others. And already today, more than a million world-wide die every year of bad air quality from combustion of carbon based fuels, including biomass.

      We can't really do anything about it, since the only proven fix seems to force humanity to make a wildlife reserve out of a town every 25 years or so. Obviously we can't have that.

  • The Incredible Shrinking Cost of Solar Energy Drives Mega-Projects around the World
    • @Super390: Empires, violent overthrows and a single-minded investor class? Do you really think our economies works like that?

      Competition in the marketplace is fierce. The "investor class" doesn't collude to keep any specific modes of production. If there are better ways, then obviously lots of investors are going to dive right into it and outcompete the rest. It has happened thousands of times before in all kinds of industries, and it will keep happening.

    • Very interesting post. However, "grid parity" does not mean it is as cheap to build solar as it is to build gas or coal. Grid parity is when the cost of solar power on your own roof can match the price of power from the grid including transmission, taxes and profits.

      There is a big difference. The raw production cost of large-scale "classic" power sources can easily be as low as a third of a country's typical grid price including transmission. Any person who acts on grid parity thus, in essence, beggars his neighbors by contributing less to taxes and grid infrastructure. Even more so if it the installation is subsidised, of course.

      Also, unfortunately, neither Japan nor anyone else can improve their sluggish economies by increasing the cost of their electricity production. Having said that, coal is nasty business and should be taxed out of existence.

  • Class Hatred and Bad Memories of Thatcher
    • @JTMcPhee: You wave my comment away and then start attacking libertarianism. That's fine, and off-topic. Again, class hatred is your burden to bear, not mine.

      @Super390: Some people are definitely evil enough to deliberately make life worse for others and I'm not saying that politicians are much better than the common man. BUT, the usual discourse among leftists that their political opponents in modern democracies are out to get them is still mostly wrong.

      These opponents are not motivated by class hatred. They want to increase freedom or preserve civilisation as they see it. Their policies may lead to bad outcomes, they may "disenfranchise" people, but that's not the goal.

      You may accuse them of some kind of crime of neglect, since they don't care that much about your oppressor-oppressed axis, or the plight of the "oppressed". But they still don't hate you. If you believe they do, you are kind of dehumanising your enemy and you make democracy less viable. It is all built on trust, and both you and society will get farther on trust and cohesion than on hate and despair. And that's EVEN if you (like me) want a radically different society.

      Also, please note that if you understand your opponents, you can more easily create alliances and form public opinions. For instance, in my country, socialists have allied themselves with conservatives on prostitution, since prostitutes can be seen as oppressed and civilization threatening at the same time. When conservatives and socialists understood each other and started to play on each others' arenas, my own libertarian camp had no chance.

    • @JtMcPhee: On the contrary, I have a fairly good grasp of major foreign nations' politics, as it interests me. You might be right regarding Israel, but that's not the typical democracy. In the mature Western democracies, though, my statement holds true.

      As a grass root middle-class economic literate guy thinking mainly on the freedom-coercion axis, I know where these policies come from, and I know that my agreement with many of them is motivated not by hatred, nor by the wish to disadvantage any groups, but by what I see as the major problems or obstacles for the progress of all humans.

      From your point of view, handouts to disadvantaged groups (oppressed) are or should be the norm, as those then only "take back" what is rightfully theirs, right? If those handouts are scaled back a little. i.e. if there's there's less coercion from my perspective, then that's an attack on the oppressed, stealing what is rightfully theirs and a hand-out to the rich.

      As many socialists, you are blind to the world-view of others. You assume that everyone thinks on the same oppressor-oppressed axis of conflict as you do, and thus that everyone has to be on one of these sides. However, that is not true. Neither we in the libertarian camp, nor those in the conservative camp, generally have any class hatred. That's your thing.

    • I'm sorry I can't accept those assurances. That a set of policies seems to disadvantage some people according to some statistics doesn't mean any hatred is involved.

      Socialists' main focus is on the axis of oppressor vs oppressed, and that make them especially prone to polarize and work up hatred. The millionaires you are talking about likely focus on coercion vs freedom or on the axis of barbarism vs civilisation.

      It is not very constructive to demonize your political opponents in a democratic society. Extremely few are evil enough to deliberately try to make it worse for others. Instead, they are trying to improve what they see as the major problems. (And, of course, they try to get reelected.)

    • Here in Sweden, there has been lots of reporting on how Thatcher's death is celebrated. Some point out that Chavez' death wasn't. I kind of agree; it seems class hatred mostly goes one way.

  • Amazing Green Energy News: World's Largest Wind Farm opens in UK, as Libya prepares to go Solar
    • Minor correction: China increased to 62.7 GW in 2011, not in 2012.
      link to

      In 2012, China increased to 75.6 GW, a slowdown from 40% to 20% growth. Alas, 100 GW to 2015 is a further slowdown to an average 10% growth.

      2012: 75.6 GW
      2013: 83 GW
      2014: 91 GW
      2015: 100 GW

      Let's hope they exceed these targets.

  • Denmark 25% Wind-Powered, Going for 50% in 8 Years
    • Even today, Denmark has enormous gross imports and exports of electricity, above 30% of their consumption. The kind of wind penetration they are aiming for is not achievable by those who doesn't have much larger neighbors who can soak up the intermittent power.

  • The Real Reason for Climate Change Denial: Oil Cos. Would lose 60% of their Value
    • @evil is evil: Please look up the life cycle analyses for different power sources. The fossil fuel use for uranium extraction is negligible and the material use is lower than for wind and solar. You can start here:
      link to

    • @Juan: In the very short term, of course it is faster to slap some solar cells onto your roof than to build a nuclear power plant. But longer term, the speed is determined by the cost, as a country is likely to have limited funds to devote each year. So it all, in the end, comes down to the controversy of the cost of new nuclear power.

      History proves that nuclear power is very fast to scale, once you get the ball rolling. Belgium got from 0 to 65% of electricity production in 12 years. Sweden to 50% in the same time frame. France from below 10% to 70% in 10 years. So far, wind and solar has not been close to such expansion rates. And you can't say it's been for lack of trying.

      Germany, for instance, has devoted enormous resources but has little to show for it, and its roadmap is much, much slower, relies on self-imposed energy poverty, hard-to-do management of intermittent power and is in general not very likely to succeed.

    • Norway is led by a socialist party, actually (Arbeiderpartiet), and Norway's sovereign wealth fund holds $684 billion, which is larger than their GDP and worth about 12 years of oil revenue. So they are in a fairly good position.

      In any economic transaction, both sides gain something. So the sellers would lose their oil revenues, but the buyers would lose the usefulness of the oil (the difference between the maximum price they would accept and the price they actually pay). I think the buyers' loss is the big thing.

      The world should rush to replace coal with nuclear power as coal is now the largest emitter of CO2. Oil can wait a few years more - its production has been largely flat since 2005 and the pressure of relative scarcity is giving alternatives a real chance. The amount of electric bikes in China is staggering, as an example, and battery technology is improving. A really good battery would actually remove most of transportation fossil use, as long as the electricity is not from fossil sources.

  • Vaccinations are not Harming our Children, but Coal sure is!
    • I agree. Coal is really bad, and so is, actually, biomass burning including cow dung (common in India) and such. Bad air quality from this new and old carbon based combustion kills millions each year.

      If you are ok with keeping the natural gas, then solar and wind could indeed replace most coal, albeit at a huge cost including both generation and more transmission and smarter grids. The gas would still be needed to balance the solar and wind.

      Nuclear is currently the only solution if you want to get rid of both coal and most natural gas in a reasonably cost-efficient manner. The US has recently started to build two modern reactors and China is currently building four of the same model (and some 25 of other models). Let's see how it goes.

  • Japan on the Anniversary of Fukushima: Anger, Protests and Hope
    • @Juan: I can understand that you are saying that wind is cheaper - it may very well be in the US, when you compare mass produced wind turbines to the first nuclear reactor in the US for decades. Considering cost escalations by the regulatory environment and political risk in the US, that may very well be the case. In China, however, nuclear wins hands down.

      What I cannot understand is that you say that solar is cheaper. That statement is simply outrageous and does not stand up to any kind of calculation of levelized energy cost. Solar has become much cheaper over the last few years, but is still 3-4 times as expensive as nuclear. Yes, it might be competitive with grid prices in a few locations, but never with production costs.

      And I'm sorry, but that grids can be expanded to cope is unproven, and is really, really expensive even now in the beginning of the curve. France has proven the feasibility of 80% nuclear, but has less problems with that than other countries have with 20% wind. Also, please remember that Japan is an island nation. Is it really feasible for it to rely on neighbors to balance its intermittent power?

    • I fully agree that Japan could get 20% from solar and wind in fairly short order. Even 30%, perhaps. But it would be extremely expensive and after that, it would be almost impossible to integrate more intermittent power into the Japanese grid. Also, Japan already has that amount of nuclear, so why replace that and let the fossils remain? AGW-wise, you wouldn't have gained a thing.

      If you look in, for instance, the WNA database, you will see that almost all reactors built since 2009 (about a dozen) has been built in 4-5 years from construction start to first criticality. Far from being extremely expensive, they are quite cheap in comparison to coal damage, AGW, and compared to wind and solar. This is especially true in China, India and Korea, since their regulatory environments doesn't drive costs as much as is done in the Western countries.

      My own Sweden started more than one reactor per year in the period of 1975-1985 with a population of only 7 million. With a world population of 7 billion, that would scale to 1000 reactors per year, which is some 3 reactors per day. So one reactor per day is very doable after a period of ramping. Importantly, it is much more doable than the equivalent amount of solar and wind, since that would be more expensive - money is time. The waste is compact and is easily and safely disposed of in geological repositories.

    • Professor Cole, isn't this the ultimate irony:
      link to

      Russian nuclear-powered ice-breakers go straight through the AGW-thinned North Pole ice to deliver Russian natural gas to a Japan that dares not restart its nuclear plants.

      Japans CO2 emissions have risen sharply since Fukushima, and so will its coal particulate cancers. All the while, Beijings air quality is literally a killer due to coal pollution, and hundreds of thousands of Indian children die every year from renewable biomass burning for cooking. More than a million was permanently evacuated from renewable Three Gorges dam and Germany's has already committed more money to it's experiment with solar power than what is estimated for Fukushima's cleanup and damage. Many coastal areas, and some island nations, will be eradicated due to rising seas in the coming decades, far more than Fukushima temporarily put off-limits for humans.

      I fear that the fear of nuclear power might be our undoing. I frequently marvel at how fellow environmentalists can reject nuclear power's proven speed and efficiency in replacing fossil fuels in the hope that more expensive, intermittent renewable sources will one day be able to do the same job. I feel there is a lack of urgency when it comes to AGW and a lack of proportion in how nuclear power is portrayed.

  • Why there will be Masses in the Streets Protesting Climate Change (Engelhardt)
    • I also feel we who are concerned with AGW fail to organize well enough. We spread our efforts thin, and we do not share a common perception of what needs to be done.

      Today, the energy ratio of oil/coal/gas is 4/4/3. In the year 2000, the ratio was 3/2/2. This means oil has lost its dominion, and China and its coal is the major GHG emitter. Of course, per capita, North America is far worse, but that doesn't help. Without a global effort, you can't make much of a dent in the rising CO2 levels.

      Trying to strangle the infrastructure of oil cannot be the solution - the oil will always find ways to flow. Individual cut-backs cannot do much difference either - one person saves and this just enables somebody else to use more. The idea of subsidizing alternatives to oil, gas and coal is equally uneffective - subsidies lower the price of energy and thus maintain an artificially inflated consumption and we get both fossils AND wind/solar/ethanol.

      What we need is globally agreed upon carbon taxes, and an end to subsidies of energy consumption! Everything else is fighting a losing battle with the market economy's laws of supply and demand.

  • After Benedict: Religions have to Democratize if they are to Survive
    • Sorry, but "human experience" of exactly what? Reminds me of a good Swedish show, translated here:
      link to

      And "a priori"? So people voting for same-sex marriages has no experience of gay friends' woes and the repression and prejudice directed towards them? We have not seen and recognized their true love for their partners? And we haven't seen the very real positive contribution they make in work, in culture and in friendship? Does these experiences not count?

      What is it that we haven't seen, that will come back and bite us, when our friends' love for each other are included in our social fabric and in our ceremonies?

    • The question is, then, if you think Muslims abandoning a Muslim branch due to some scandal in its clergy would be "bad Muslims".

      It seems religious people often see other religions fairly clearly, as arbitrary social movements, but can't reason when it comes to their own. I guess at most one religious branch is correct, and why would yours be that one?

    • Brian, your wikipedia entry continues: "A global 2012 poll reports that 59% of the world's population is religious, 23% are not religious, and 13% are atheists."

      So it seems your interpretation is too broad, and Sweden really is very non-religious.
      link to
      Sweden is at the top and the US is further down, just above Kyrgyzstan.

      Yes, marriage is a social and legal construct, and as such not scientifically testable. I tend to prefer for such constructs to be inclusive and not unnecessarily restrictive. I'm sorry you don't agree.

      Of course you're allowed to push back. I do have reasons for postulating that religiosity is a net minus, but I guess it would be an unnecessary flame bait to list them here. But in the abstract, I think moral philosophy is evolving with society and our improved intellects and broader knowledge bases, and that whatever we can come up with today will guide us better than our interpretation of old scriptures.

    • The celebration of the spirit is abandoned? Ok, that was better than other common American views of atheists I've met on the Internet, where we are presumed to be amoral and thus at the level of rapists and other criminals. But still, not quite right either, depending on your definition of "spirit".

      As a Swede living in a mostly irreligious country with low crime rates and very progressive values, I guess I simply don't get it. To me, it seems obvious that the weakening of religiosity and religious institutions is a net improvement. It is also an ongoing process that is likely to accelerate over time, regardless of the efforts of the institutions. Science and modern urbanity is putting a constant pressure on religions, and as religions are social movements, momentum weakens them further.

  • Minimum Wage: Beggaring Workers does not Help Employment (Infographics)
    • @Charley, @Juan: If the law of supply and demand does not apply to the job market, then is there some other theory that can establish an optimum minimum wage? Why $9 and not $8, $10 or $20?

  • Top Five Things we should be doing to avoid the end of the Earth instead of defaming the Mayans
    • Just a few thoughts: NASA has relied on a special isotope of plutonium to power spacecraft for five decades. Unfortunately, the supply is running out, since the production is not in vogue. Also, the supply of some medical radioactive isotopes necessary for important aspects of modern medicine is in danger. But most of all, global warming is to a significant degree a result of a large-scale rejection of new civilian nuclear power among Western nations.

      Germany is certainly devoting enormous amounts of money to combat its CO2 emissions, but it is using that money extremely inefficiently to very little effect. Had they used the money for nuclear power, they would have already gotten rid of their coal combustion. As one of the worst per-capita emitters of CO2 in Europe, Germany is certainly not a role model. My own Sweden has an economy at least as strong and we have half the CO2 emissions.

  • Michigan Workers now have Right to "Work for Less" (Granholm Video)
    • @Super390: The short answer is no. Our media, arguably perhaps, generally portrays corporations as evil and greedy. We hardly go to churches at all - we are one of the most non-religious countries in the world. We aren't a federation and we also don't really have a division between legislative and executive power. This means our government can generally create quite coherent, simple and flexible policy frameworks, whereas US policies seems patchy, stale and contradictory (and sometimes outright repulsive with all the pork barrels and other very specific stuff that don't belong in legislation).

      I would argue that the US and Sweden are both very free-market, but in different areas. Sweden actually "beats" the US in this respect in several areas, altough we certainly have higher taxes, socialized medicine and a last-in-first-out rule for firing people, among other things.

      A word of caution - due to reasons mentioned above, and a lot of evolution and adjustment, Swedish policies that restrict the freedom of the market are very well thought out and balanced against each other, adjusted and refined trough quite technocratic governments with relatively free hands (along with good institutions and responsible unions). So just as deregulation can go horribly wrong if you do it partially with the wrong parts first, copying certain Swedish regulations may hurt a lot if you choose the wrong parts and ignore others.

    • As I Swede, I would like to point out that Sweden is a right-to-work nation. We would never stand for closed-shop rules.

      Also, while Sweden lately has had great nominal GDP per capita since we've run a very tight ship budget-wise and now have a strong currency, the US still has some 10% higher GDP per capita than we do in PPP terms.

  • Climate Negotiations falter at Doha as CO2 Emissions Push Earth toward 1400-year Storms
    • I've always felt that the climate summits take the wrong approach. Country-based emission caps will always have winners and losers. There will be elements of foreign aid bundled with any such scheme, and of course it is hard to agree then.

      The same reductions, however, could be had by CO2 taxes. If the approach were national CO2 taxes with a globally agreed floor, then every country would just shift some of their taxes internally from labor to CO2 emissions (and strengthen their labor market in the process). Nothing would go to other countries. Of course, for this to be effective, subsidies of fossils, especially price regulation of gasoline, need to be abolished in the countries that have it.

      Btw, China's rise in CO2 levels are astounding. They have now passed my own Sweden in CO2 emission per capita, as Sweden wisely employs nuclear and hydro to have essentially zero carbon emissions from electricity. Coal-based Germany, however, has almost twice the CO2 emission per capita and are still far "ahead" of China.

  • Half of All Solar Panels are in Germany (Video)
    • The video doesn't say much about costs or alternatives, unfortunately. Germany has managed to get solar PV prices down enormously. However, the usefulness of this is debatable, as solar PV energy is still very far from being competitive with traditional power or even wind.

      Also, the progress has come at a staggering cost for the German consumers as well as for the climate. Germany has around 3% solar PV now. For the amount of money they have given out for this and promised to give out over the next decades in FiT, they could have replaced all their lignite generation (some 23% of total generation) with wind power.

      For anyone concerned by global warming, Germany may be perceived as kind of a self-sacrificing good samaritan, lowering the costs of others, but Germany's own record and their near-term plans are very discouraging. They started to effectively replace coal with nuclear power in the early eighties, but shut it down due to TMI and Chernobyl, and now they have decided to focus their renewable efforts in the coming decade on replacing nuclear power. Thus they will, in 2022, have lost some 40 years in terms of combating global warming.

      Furthermore, when Germany is done replacing nuclear power with sun and wind, it is unknown if they will be able to integrate more intermittent power in their grid.

  • Romney shills for dirty Big Coal as Obama touts Iowa Wind Power
    • We live in very interesting times. Before 2010, world yearly wind power growth had been hovering around 30% for at least a decade. In 2010, however, growth slowed to 25% and in 2011 to 21%. Within just a few years, we should be able to see if this slowdown will continue or not.

      Sure, it might just reflect bad economic times, but it might also reflect that leading wind power nations such as Germany, Spain, Denmark, Portugal and Ireland are all getting close to 20% wind penetration, and from there it gets increasingly difficult and costly to integrate more. These countries all had just 3-10% wind power growth in 2011.

      Even if I believe more in nuclear power as a solution, I hope for wind to keep momentum and reach its potential as fast as possible, to save what can be saved of our climate and to let us refocus quicker if wind penetrations indeed won't go higher than some 25%. The US, I believe, should keep wind subsidies in place, or, even better, tax carbon sources for their external costs.

  • Top Ten Reasons Fracking won't Last Long
    • Solar PV is at least five times more expensive on a levelized energy cost basis than nuclear, even before intermittency mitigation.

      In the end, the size of the task comes down to costs. Also, time is money. Costs dictates that nuclear is a much easier and faster way, by a factor of at least five.

    • Germany's overall emissions did not rise, but its emissions from the electricity sector did rise.

      I agree Germany is far from done. Its decision to prioritize dismantling most of its carbon-free electricity generation over the next decade guarantee that it won't make meaningful progress in emissions in that time frame. France was done 20 years ago.

    • @Joe 8:12: Nuclear reactors, at least the current designs, are very much unsuited to act as "peaker" plants. Nuclear is exclusively base load.

      And no, renewables, except hydro, can't take up a big chunk of the base load. They reason is that they are intermittent, and thus by definition not base load. Very little can be relied upon even with strengthened grids.

      You can combine intermittent sources with dispatchable hydro and gas to create a base load combination, though. But then you can't rely on being able to balance demand shifts with the hydro and gas capacity you've tied up with balancing wind. Solar,of course, can be useful to match air conditioning and thus shave off some peak load in warm countries. But that's a niche role.

    • I did foresee, roughly, what has happened in Germany and Portugal. Wind and solar had real good growth rates, and I assumed that that would slowly grind to a halt due to intermittency and costs, just like in Denmark, between 10 and 20% penetration. That is what is happening, if you look at year-to-year growth rates in wind.

      Yes, 20% for each of wind and solar would be great. Of course Fukushima can be replaced by wind and solar, especially in a rich country such as Japan. But Germany's and Japan's CO2 emissions from the electricity sector rose sharply in 2011, even though Germany had a mild winter. And despite Germany spending some $30 billion on subsidizing renewables in 2011 and having double the electricity prices of France.

      I'm not committed to nuclear - I work in the telecom industry. I would love for wind and solar to be cheap, solve intermittency and push everything else out of the market. But as it is now, wind and solar pushes out nuclear by government subsidies and nuclear regulation, with intermittency unsolved. And fossil use for electricity generation keeps going up. This overall policy lose us ground in fighting climate change. The politics responsible for this state of affairs is partly bedazzlement with numbers and promises of a rosy green future, which your post contributes to. And here lies the problem with confusing power and energy - it makes wind and solar look 3-5 times as good as they really are. Furthermore, wind turbine costs leveled out in 2005 already (although small improvements in different areas of wind certainly continue), while solar PV may never become as cheap as wind.

      Actually, fracking is a perfect partner to wind and solar, as a lot of dispatchable power is necessary to balance intermittent sources. This is what I think we will see in OECD in the next two decades - replacing coal with fracked natural gas and a smaller amount of wind. That is good, but doesn't go nearly as far toward rescuing our climate as a nuclear rush would. But nuclear is more or less dead in the US and large parts of Europe, so I'll pin my hopes on the BRICS nations to show the way and create momentum in nuclear. Meanwhile we'll just have to hope humanity can endure the changing climate.

    • Prof Cole, I worry that a naive stance on energy may detract from the credibility you have in your areas of expertise.

      50 cents/W solar won't help much - solar PV would still be far too expensive to produce and won't generate much revenue, since it creates negative spot prices when there is good sun. The odd report here and there that a lot of intermittent integration is "practical" is not really mainstream science, and storage is very much an unsolved problem. Sure, pumped hydro is great, but is limited by geography and does not scale.

      Also, you seem to consistently confuse average energy production and peak power. One gigawatt of wind is NOT equal to a nuclear reactor. Germany having comparable wind and solar capacity does NOT mean solar energy is comparable (wind averages almost twice the energy output per installed watt). 50 GW of Chinese solar is NOT mind-boggling, and produce only as much as 10 or so big nuclear reactors (they have 26 of them under construction right now).

      Rosy wind and solar outlooks serves as alibis for continued expansion of fossil fuels, especially in Germany. These also hinders the deployment (and even promotes the dismantling) of the only AGW solution known to us (the one that the French has been demonstrating full-scale since the early 90-ies).

  • In Race against Carbon Catastrophe, Solar Power is Making Strides
    • Parties in parliamentary democracies have influence on some policies even when not in power.

      Again, France was done in 1992 and Germany could have been too. They could do it now in very short order if they used the same amount of money for nuclear as they use for renewables. The 2012 feed-in-tariff for solar PV is some €0.2443, which would buy five times as much nuclear:
      link to

      The current German policy is typically green in that it has no real concern for actual environmental consequences, but is very much into making sacrifices, and compelling others to sacrifice. Granted, there are a number of heavyweight Greens that acknowledge that the climate needs urgent, rational action - not symbolic sacrifice. But too few, too little, too late, I'm afraid.

    • Actually, if the Greens had not opposed nuclear all along, Germany would have had virtually carbon free electricity for a long time now, just as France does.

      Already 20 years behind France in that respect, Germany has just said it will concentrate on decommissioning nuclear instead of fossils for the next ten years. If they do that, they have at least 20 years more to get rid of coal and NG, if at all possible with intermittent energy. That makes them fully 50 years behind France, optimistically. Thus, a number of ppms of elevated atmospheric CO2 should be attributed directly to Germany's Green movement.

  • Top Five Green Energy Stories Today
    • So, no counting beans, just let the rich pay for developing cleaner energy? That's very convenient, I guess, but doesn't really address the urgent problem of choosing among all the crazy energy options.

      I don't like the idea of portraying environmental action as something that someone else should pay for, btw. Smart environmental action often cost nothing at all. Higher gas taxes in the US, for example, would save US consumers' money. Double the price at the pump and you get twice the mileage from smaller, cheaper cars. That's a net win. And half of what you pay then, you'll pay to yourselves. Even more win. It's the same with electricity.

      But I do agree that Germany have been footing a huge, huge bill for getting solar PV panel costs down, but it's very questionable whether this has been worthwhile. If you look at the German feed-in tariffs of 2012, you'll see that PV still requires at least €0.18/kWh to get built, on top of Europe's highest electricity rates. On-shore wind needs just a fraction of this FiT. The numbers are here:
      link to

      France has higher per-capita energy consumption than Germany, but much lower carbon emissions per capita. Policy decisions indicate that it will stay that way for the forseeable future.

    • @super390: Nuclear is crazy, fossils are crazy, damming rivers is crazy, burning lots of biomass is crazy. But this craziness adds up to some 95% of our energy supply, and it would be crazy to try to make do with just 5%.

      So why don't we just expand solar and wind to 100%? That isn't crazy, is it? Unfortunately, costs and intermittency makes that crazy too!

      Since every option is crazy, we need to start counting beans to minimize craziness. You can only call this rational approach "barbaric" if you have the luxury of not having to make the tough decisions yourself. As a parameter in my bean counting, global warming is THE existential threat to mankind. Germans obviously don't agree since they close down nuclear before lignite, coal and gas.

    • 5. Unfortunately, since France has more baseload than it really needs, the rest needs to be dispatchable power. Wind, as intermittent power, is particularly unsuited to be combined with nuclear power.

      4. The UK, however, is planning to increase its reliance on nuclear power to combat global warming. Germany has great plans for green energy, but in reality, due to their nuclear shutdown, they have paused any carbon reduction ambitions for the forseeable future.

      3. 7 gigawatts of solar energy is equivalent to roughly 2 reactors, since the sun doesn't shine most of the time.

  • A Hot Wet Thousand Years and 10 Green Energy Stories to Avert it
    • Also, the 15/30 TW is average power. A wind nameplate capacity of 2 TW provides intermittent power that averages only some 0.6 TW. So we need much more.

      I'm glad you brought up the Thorium reactors. China is looking into an even more innovative <a href="link to solution. This might be THE coal/ng replacement. Fuel availability is certainly no problem, ever, even though it is a non-renewable resource.

  • If American Land were Distributed the way American Wealth Is
    • Yes, a few people own the companies and manage capital, while most does not. But isn't it more interesting to look at consumption disparity?

  • Wholesale Solar Energy Costs Rivalling Coal
    • Denmark stopped at 20% wind, and it seems Spain and Portugal, who are closing in on 20% are slowing down considerably. The next few years will be very interesting, as more and more countries are approaching 20% and we'll see whether they'll be able to push past that level.

      Unfortunately, high average wind penetrations of 15% and above, means the spot price of electricity takes a big hit on windy days, when the amount of electricity from wind may exceed 50%. This makes wind producers' average revenues per kWhr much less than that of other producers.

      I fear that the very idea that wind and solar, together with biomass and hydro, can replace coal, nuclear and natural gas, may constitute the largest single risk that we won't be able to handle climate change in time. Like George Monbiot and Patrick Moore, I believe nuclear may be our only hope. If I'm right, I fear we may not realize this in time, and instead, for too long, keep burning coal and gas with wind and solar as alibis.

    • Germany is in the process of lowering their solar PV feed-in tariffs. However, as they are still more than €0.2/kWhr, I don't expect PV to come close to coal anytime soon.

      Comparisons that shows cost parity does not make apples to apples comparisons, unfortunately. The feed-in tariffs necessary to get stuff built shows the real deal. (However, it would be much better to tax carbon than to subsidize alternatives. Subsidies make for exaggerated total use.)

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