tip off

No carbon price? You’re being conned

Ross Garnaut called climate change a “diabolical policy problem” but of course it’s turned out to be a diabolical political problem as well.

It killed off two Opposition leaders and gave Kevin Rudd a healthy shove. And it certainly didn’t help John Howard’s desperate attempts to retain power.

If you can put aside the high and rising costs of failing to commence Australia’s transition from one of the world’s biggest carbon addicts to a low-carbon economy aside, our handling of climate policy has been the stuff of priceless comedy.

Particularly when you recall both sides of politics went to the 2007 election committed to introducing an emissions trading scheme, and both have wimped it.

Labor, having devoted considerable bureaucratic resources and political capital to fulfilling its promise to introduce an emissions trading scheme only to junk it on, apparently, little more than a whim, is now desperately trying to craft a jury-rigged agenda of climate-related initiatives. Depending on which newspaper you read, it will involve spending on renewables, regulation, or some hold out faint hope, even a carbon price.

And, by the way, there is support within the Government and within Cabinet for a carbon price, however much some unidentified senior ministers rule it out as impractical.

Meantime the Opposition is trying to add some bits and bobs to its own witless “climate action” policy which will mainly involve hoping farmers are innumerate enough to undertake “soil carbon” initiatives that cost far more than the $8-10 per tonne subsidy on which the entire policy is based.

Greg Hunt, who abandoned his decades-long support for an emissions trading scheme to keep his shadow ministry job following the right-wing putsch last year, is revealing more than  he perhaps thinks now that he’s spruiking nuclear power, at least to Coalition attack grub Glenn Milne in today’s Australian. The Coalition’s “direct action” guff is supposed to enable Australia to easily meet the bipartisan commitment to reduce emissions by 5% by 2020, notionally making nuclear power irrelevant.

The Coalition is dead keen on nuclear but won’t ever move without Labor giving them cover. But as Crikey showed in November last year, nuclear power is ludicrously expensive and needs massive taxpayer support, otherwise it costs a lot more to build and more to operate than renewables. And that’s before you figure out where to park the waste for a few hundreds of thousands of years or decommission reactors.

Maybe if you call it “Green Waste” it’d be easier to deal with.

More to the point, as Greg Hunt appears to have forgotten, along with everyone else in this place where the Perpetual Present reigns supreme, John Howard asked Ziggy Switkowski in 2006 to look at nuclear power, and Switkowski told him it couldn’t happen without a carbon price. So, no nuclear power without a “great big new tax”.

The debate over climate policy in Australia is equal parts hypocrisy from business (who now apparently want the “certainty” of a carbon price, having idly sat by while Malcolm Turnbull lost his leadership), rentseeking by polluters and arse-covering by our major party politicians. The last aren’t so much scared to show leadership — and what sort of leadership is needed when polls consistently demonstrate a majority of voters want action on climate change anyway? — as simply implement the policies they committed to at the previous election.

So here’s a handy rule-of-thumb for the debate. If someone doesn’t want a carbon price — an actual price that makes some things more expensive for consumers and businesses compared to others — then they’re not serious about starting the transition to a low carbon economy. Or if they are serious, they want you to think there’s no cost in using taxpayers’ largesse, or regulation, to do it.

Avoiding a carbon price does reduce one particular cost of addressing climate change — the political cost. It does it the usual way you address the political cost of reform, by shifting the economic cost from one group of voters onto the taxpayer, or by making the cost invisible by moving it into transactions and administrative efficiency.

But we still pay for those costs, whether we can see them or not. Those costs are higher than if they were directly and transparently priced onto goods and services. Worse, the longer we delay a carbon price, the greater those costs will be.

So any politician or commentator who tries to sell you measures other than a carbon price — by imposing standards on power stations, or spending more money on renewables, or handing out solar panels, or talking glibly about a “Green Army” — is in effect telling you they think you’re either too stupid to notice you’re being conned, or they don’t care if you do notice.

Australians tend to judge their politicians harshly, often without good reason. But when it comes to climate policy, our leaders are every bit as bad as voters suspect.

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  • 1
    Andos
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure that your characterisation of the Government ‘junking the CPRS on a whim’ is entirely accurate, Bernard. They tried very hard to make it law, and were only prevented by a last minute change in the Liberal Party leadership and the predictable cooperation of the Greens with the Coalition in the Senate.

    The Government only shelved the CPRS once it was clear that there was no way to physically pass any kind of emissions trading legislation through the Senate this year.

    Maybe you mean that Kevin Rudd should have called a double dissolution to pass the CPRS? I doubt very much whether the decision not to call a DD was made ‘on a whim’.

  • 2
    John Bennetts
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Bernard, you are hopelessly out of date. Nuclear is neither as dangerous and expensive as you state, neither are the alternatives free from major problems - especially pollution problems.

    As stated in the comments to your previous piece, November of last year, gas is mainly methane, Ch4. Now, this gas has about 25 times the greenhouse potential of CO2, so any leaks are pretty severe. Add to this the inconvenient fact that at the wellhead or processing plant, very large volumes of CO2 are recovered from the natural gas and simply dumped into our atmosphere, yet nowhere do I see this accounted for in the GHG analyses of gas turbines.

    Regarding wind, I have seen many videos of actual fires, including grass fires, due to fires burning in the nacelle and showering the surrounding fields with incendiary plastic, metal, fibreglass and rubber stuff. The nacelles have to be permitted to burn themselves out and fire brigades (including perhaps my own self) are unable to approach and are simply forced to chase the resulting grass fires. Imaging a farmer in an Australian summer standing by as his field, fences and those of his neighbours are demoloished due to a fault in a single 2MW appliance. Not nice.

    Barry Brook’s booklet “Why Vs Why”, which he shares with the anti-nuke Ian Lowe, is as good a place as any to get a feel for the true strengths of the arguments pro and agin nuclear. I side with Barry, but you are entitled to your own stance.

    CARBON PRICE - A WHOLE NEW GREAT BIG TAX or a TINY LITTLE WASTE DUMPING DISINCENTIVE?
    No, it is not. The real tax at foot here is the way that carbon based energy effectively taxes the air we breathe and on which the world’s ecosystems depend. To balance the scales, a carbon tax equal to the current commercial cost to remove permanently from the atmosphere each tonne of CO2 produced would be many, many times the recommended $10 (recently flagged) or the IPCC3 suggestion of circa $30 to $65US per tonne of CO2.

    Remember, each tonne of (say) 20% ash coal produces 3 tonnes of CO2. In other words, the coal producers have been devaluing our planet by somewhere between $30 and $200 for each tonne of coal burned, yet to try to address this imbalance is somehow called a Great Big New Tax. It should be thought of as a Tiny Little Waste Dumping Disincentive.

    And, in case the coal industry are not happy enough yet, consider that the CO2 and methane liberated from their mines, both open cut and underground, add substantially to the waste.

    I have taken enough space for a single comment. I suggest that interested people check out several web sites and keep an open mind. Perhaps start at Barry Brook’s site, bravenewclimate.com .

    like Barry, I have somewhat reluctantly come to the realisation that the only current technology with any hope of providing the necessary supply, security and reliability of electrical energy for tomorrow’s world is Type 3+ nuclear, transitioning to Type 4 during the next three or four decades.

    Oh, and if anybody thinks that Chernobil was the end of the world as we know it, it was not nice but it has had an insignificant effect on the biosphere, certainly less fatalities than, say, swimming in the ocean or fishing from the rocks.

  • 3
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    otherwise it (nuclear) costs a lot more to build and more to operate than renewables

    This is just wrong, you are completely under estimating the amount of electricity one nuclear reactor can generate. You only need to build 1 nuclear reactor for every ~1000 wind turbines operating at full capacity (which they never do), or 3000 wind turbines operating at average capacity, or 20 really big solar plants operating at their average capacity, which is about 30% at absolute best.

    Remember, we need something like 100 GW of electricity generation by 2050, which is a big less than double what we use now. If renewables are going to be our saviour, where will we put all these renewable plants. Do you really think people will accept building 150,000 wind turbines? Remember, you need to put them near where people live, else you will you will need to spend hundreds of millions on new transmission lines, and you will reduce the efficiency of the network.

    Plus, when you consider all the steel required to build wind turbines, it turns out that they are a more carbon polluting form of electricity generation than nuclear and photovoltaic.

    Also, you can’t count on wind power to produce its capacity because the wind may change. So that means you will need other forms of generation on stand by, such as gas, to pick up the slack. So massive wind farms would also mean requiring massive investment in gas power stations. If you are burning gas, you are putting carbon in the air so that isn’t a long term solution to climate change.

    The capacity factor of nuclear at best practice is 90 - 95% of rated capacity. Recently a reactor in the U.S. operated at full 1 GW capacity for nearly 2 years before needing to be shut down for refueling and maintenance.

    I am excluding consideration of clean coal, because that is pie in the sky, with the first full scale plant not expected to be operating until 2035 - 2040. And the cost will probably end up being the same as nuclear.We could have a tried and tested nuclear reactor working by 2020 if we wanted it. I mean, to put this in perspective. If we shut down the 2 most polluting coal power stations in Australia, and replaced them with 4 nuclear reactors, we would cut carbon emissions by about 12%:
    http://enochthered.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/

    The issue of nuclear waste is serious, but most waste is stored in cooling pools then in dry cask containers at the reactor sites. What we currently call “nuclear waste” can be reprocessed into mixed oxide fuel that can be put straight back into reactors to produce more electricity. Of course, Australia with its huge geography and stable geology could safely store nuclear waste, most likely up in the Pilbara when all the iron ore is gone (which is the time scale we really need to think about, we won’t produce a significant amount of nuclear waste for decades).

    I agree that a good rule of thumb is that if someone doesn’t think a carbon price is necessary then they aren’t taking climate change seriously. Another good rule of thumb is that if someone doesn’t think that nuclear energy is PART of the climate change solution, then they aren’t taking climate change seriously either.

  • 4
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    But as Crikey showed in November last year…

    Er, no, Crikey has done no such thing. When you fail to respond to a comprehensive rebuttal of your points such as appeared in the comments to those articles, the upshot is that you haven’t shown anything at all, except the poverty of your argument.

    As John Bennetts suggests, spend some time at bravenewclimate.com if you’re interested in why Bernard is wrong about nuclear (and, as implied, renewable) energy.

  • 5
    Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Whether or not nuclear should be part of the mix, nuclear is only a long term option.

    If we are serious about taking action on climate change then we first need to take lots of short and medium term actions. Things that will start to reduce emissions quickly. Until we have got the short and medium term right, discussing long term options is just a distraction or, in some cases, a deliberate ploy to enable business as usual for now.

    What is clear from the Labor supporters on the Poll Bludger blog is that Labor has failed to get across to even it’s own hard-core supporters the magnitude of the change needed to prevent climate change.

    Apart from The Greens, no party is proposing anywhere near what the science says is necessary to make a difference.

    In 50 or 100 years time there is only one type of action which will have made a difference - that is action which makes the huge reductions needed to prevent warming of over 2 degrees.

    But to Labor and Liberal “action” is just putting in place some policy that makes such insignificant changes to our emissions that it will only slightly delay and not prevent warming far in excess of 2 degrees.

    Even worse, actions such as the roof insulation scheme and the greens loan scheme are regarded as making a difference. Yet if an ETS is put in place (and the target is not adjusted to take into account all such schemes), neither scheme will result in any changes to our emissions. If the ETS is a 5% reduction, then our reduction is 5% with or without these schemes being put in place.

    You can’t play politics with nature. Either we quickly start to take real action, or it is all just political spin.

  • 6
    Liz45
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    @JOHN BENNETTS - “Oh, and if anybody thinks that Chernobil was the end of the world as we know it, it was not nice but it has had an insignificant effect on the biosphere, certainly less fatalities than, say, swimming in the ocean or fishing from the rocks.”

    How do you know? With certainty? You don’t! Nor does anyone! Why has the incidents of cancer grown by such huge numbers since the arrival of nuclear power? What is causing it? If cancers had a ‘little tag’ on them that told the story of their beginnings, we’d probably all be quite shocked, and in fact, there’d probably be a world wide revolt! Those who are pushing nuclear don’t tell the whole truth for many reasons, mostly money! Too much to be made from the whole dirty cycle. I’m in favour of renewable energy, particular solar and perhaps wind and thermal.

    The CFMEU has declared the whole nuclear fuel cycle as a no go for its members. It considers it as the new ‘asbestos’ of the future. I support them in this!

    Australia doesn’t ‘need’ nuclear power. It’s too costly in many avenues, but health and safety is a good place to start. Ziggy is like many who push nuclear power - self interest, and also he won’t be around after about 40 yrs - he has a damned cheek to foist this on my grandkids - and everyone else’s as well. I’ve lost too many people from cancer, and nobody seems to give a damn about cause - the push is for the cure, as it would have a financial component - make some people rich. Why don’t people show more concern about what causes it? Pollution, fertilizers etc?

  • 7
    Fran Barlow
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    With the exception of your comments on nuclear power, well said Bernard.

    It certainly is the case that any near zero CO2-emissions industrial-scale energy system will demand the internalisation of the costs to the commons of dumping industrial effluent freely into the biosphere.

    What would be interesting is if the ALP junked its policy of opposing nuclear power development and simply declared itself in favour of the immediate imposition of an initially low but escalating carbon price, removed all MRETs and RECs and other subsidies for FF or renewables or any other energy source and then said that it would leave it up to the market to decide how to respond.

    The Coalition would be wedged and The Greens would have no place to go. Most of them would give their effective preference to the ALP. We would also have opened the way to the lowest cost industrial-scale near zero emissions energy system ubiquitously available. If geothermal or any other system proved competitive with coal for base-load, it could be taken up and displace it. If nuclear really was uncompetitive, then the arguments about its merits would be moot. One suspects we would initially have a lot of gas replacing coal, but in the long run, that isn’t sustainable or even adequate in emissions terms. It’s like two-finger typing. You can clearly write a letter this way more quickly than if you learn to touch type first, but in the long run, if you want to type long passages quickly you must learn touch typing.

    Re your reference to your article about nuclear power last November at the link above.

    I note this here:

    Wind and solar power have the advantage of […] no decommissioning costs.

    Come again? You’re going to leave sites that are selected as viable for wind and solar occupied indefinitely with obsolete wind and solar dishes? That sounds sensible. Oddly, at least in terms of wind, that policy is not being followed. In fact, wind turbines with much higher ratings which require new and larger concrete footings are being built.

    The other point which ought to be made here is that, considering Australia, apart from geothermal — which might well compete here with the most expensive nuclear power, there is no renewable source capable of doing for Australia what coal does now at a comparable cost with nuclear. In order to provide power with the same load curves as the coal and gas we have now, one would need either massive overbuild of wind or solar or massive storage or a significant increase in redundant dispatchable fossil or nuclear energy. Any way you slice it, the cost per tonne of CO2 avoided goes way up using renewables and the amount you can afford to avoid declines. In practice, the best fit for renewables without nuclear entails using lots of gas to ensure that coal plants are replaced. But if you’re going to do that, why not straight swap for gas and forget wind and solar? You could replace a lot more coal that way for each dollar spent.

    The main reason that wind and solar can appear cheap is because the calculations take no account of the practical context in which these technologies would function. It really doesn’t matter how much a given windfarm or solar dish array might produce on any given day. What matters is is its capacity credit — what it can predictably produce on demand. A corner shop might well have your breakfast cereal in the volume you want it cheap, but most people prefer the supermarket because they can count on it being there in the volume they want cheap. Similarly, what an energy market needs is the ability to guarantee supply no matter whether the wind is blowing or the sun shining. Some people say that scattering wind farms over a wide area can compensate for capacity factors of 30%. Clearly this might work, but it can’t be guaranteed. Between 17-21 May this year in South Australia their 972MW of notional capacity was supplying less than 2% of its output, despite covering an area of 1100km. Nearly as bad, if you are going to reticulate energy over large distances, you have to install the transmission capacity to carry it and the equipment to ensure stable current and so forth. This adds to cost. These costs have to be factored in.

    In practice, in SA, the capacity credit for wind is about 8% — meaning that only about 70MW of that 972 is really relied upon. In Victoria, it is 3% and in both that is based on gas stepping up when and if wind cannot. Consider a single project aimed at retiring a single coal plant. Hazelwood in Victoria supplies about 27% of the state’s load. It is the world’s dirtiest coal plant — not merely on Co2 but in other pollutants as well. Meeting its notional 1600MW would imply building about 33 times that rated capacity in wind at the capacity credit used by Victoria (perhaps $120 billion for the wind and gas not counting transmission) — and then covering that with gas. Or you could just replace it with a Brayton cycle gas plant at a tiny fraction of the installed wind + gas cover cost. What to do?

    At the moment, in China, you can get nuclear for about $1.5 billion per GW — more than coal to be sure — but at least an order of magnitude less than wind or solar and cheaper than gas. Even if we accept the latest contract price for the UAE of about $3.6Billion per GW we are way ahead. Unlike renewables, nuclear can be built in the ideal place to serve load. If you replaced Hazelwood tomorrow with 1.6GW of nuclear, Victoria would be immediately producing the cleanest aluminium in the world and the air quality downwind would radically improve. Australia’s total emissions would fall by 5% — the very figure Rudd was targeting by … 2033.

    It bears considering.

    I’d recommend people interested in such matters take a look at the TCASE (thinking critically about sustainable energy) series at Professor Barry Brook’s Brave New Climate blog. It really is foundational for anyone wanting to get a handle on these matters.

  • 8
    Roger Clifton
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the link, but no, you didnt show that “nuclear power is ludicrously expensive”. Far from needing “massive taxpayer support”, nuclear needs a hefty carbon tax - as Ziggy showed (*).

    What d’you mean, “it costs a lot more to operate than renewables”? It doesnt take much imagination to see the army of workers needed to maintain 1 GW of wind turbines or solar PV - plus the necessary ~2 GW-days of energy storage to convert it to baseload. Fifty years later, which system is still providing cheap elctricity?

    Forgot to say, energy storage? So far, storage for renewables is underfunded, experimental engineering, thus inevitably heavily manpowered.

    Where we going to park a tonne of fission products? Underground. Now, where are you going to park the equivalent million tonnes of CO2? We know which question is more important.

    And those long-lived products? Burn them, that’s what reactors are for.

    Decommissioned reactor sites are earmarked for the next power stations, of course. An exception is the containment building for Calder Hall in UK, which now houses a museum for the public to visit.

    Really Bernard, do you think we are a stampeding mob, prefering slogans to facts ?

    (*) UMPNER.

  • 9
    Hazel Davidson
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I think Penny Wong did a good job of working through the practical problems of setting up a comprehensive version of ETS. What she demonstrated very clearly is that it is a lot more complex than a simple statement of how ETS works. She also found that CPRS is so complex that it becomes difficult to explain and difficult to sell when opposed by someone like Tony Abbot. Carbon taxes avoid the variation of the carbon price but they will still need most of the complexities of CPRS if unproductive price increases are to be avoided.
    We could reduce power generation related emissions by leaving the price of dirty power unchanged, setting up contracts for the supply of cleaner electricity and regulating to ensure that priority is given to the use of the cleaner electricity. Under this system the average price of electricity will ramp up slowly as the proportion of clean electricity increases. Under ETS or carbon taxes the price of electricity has to be artificially increased to the point where cleaner alternatives become competitive BEFORE NEW INVESTMENT IS JUSTIFIED.
    Cleaning up electricity on its own would reduce our total emissions by close to 50%. We certainly don’t have to put an artificial price on carbon to keep our emission reduction program on track for many years to come.

  • 10
    Tamo
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    … only to junk it on, apparently, little more than a whim”.

    Obviously a typo.

    Bernard surely ment to type “… only to junk it on, apparently, little more than a whim of the Opposition.”

  • 11
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Whether or not nuclear should be part of the mix, nuclear is only a long term option.

    Well, it depends on what you mean by long term. We should aim to build our first reactor by 2020.

    But mass renewable projects are long term too. The RET will only get renewables from the current dismal 4.5% to slightly less dismal 20% by 2020, in other words, Government policy ASSUMES that the vast majority of electricity generation will remain coal and gas.

    Also, these big solar projects aren’t exactly quickly sprouting up everywhere. The Victorian 154 MW plant (which will produce 45 MW at best) won’t start operating at full capacity until 2013!
    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/m-to-catch-some-sun-power/story-e6frf7l6-1111112412237

    Apart from The Greens, no party is proposing anywhere near what the science says is necessary to make a difference.

    The Greens are denying science, engineering, and economics by asserting that we can cost effectively transition the entire electricity generation of Australia from coal and gas to renewables without using nuclear.

  • 12
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    How do you know? With certainty? You don’t! Nor does anyone! Why has the incidents of cancer grown by such huge numbers since the arrival of nuclear power?

    Where is your evidence that cancer has increased? More likely what has happened is that as medical techniques have become more sophisticated, more cases of cancer are diagnosed and reported (and treated), whereas in the past people just got sick and died and never the reason was because of cancer. Also, people live longer, so they are more likely to get cancer. There is no credible evidence that nuclear power has increased the rates of cancer.

    The CFMEU has declared the whole nuclear fuel cycle as a no go for its members. It considers it as the new ‘asbestos’ of the future. I support them in this!

    So that explains why people who work in Olympic Dam - the world’s biggest uranium mine - are members of the AWU. Thanks for explaining the CFMEU’s stupidity.

  • 13
    Damo
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    transitioning to Type 4 during the next three or four decades.”
    Sounds like the promise of super batteries only years away. We have been hearing that one since the first electric car 100 years ago.

    It just sounds like a gamble I’m not prepared to take when there are solutions available now. If in 40-50 years Type 4 reactor technology is proven safe and reliable, that will be great, for my grand children.

    Its like saying I wont buy new clothes today, I’ll just walk around in the nude because there will be better and cheaper clothes next week.

    In the mean time can we stop building new coal power stations, embrace current renewable technology and put minimum energy efficiency standards on all new buildings.

    The pro-nuclear advocates seem to be just as blindly fanatical as the unwashed hippies.

  • 14
    Liz45
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    @FRAN - “We would also have opened the way to the lowest cost industrial-scale near zero emissions energy system ubiquitously available.”

    You still conveniently omit to mention the emissions caused by the mining, milling etc of uranium. You don’t address worker safety; transportation of waste or where to store it; why the cost per kwh includes the building and decomission of a reactor and the cost of the other aspects, nor do you address the danger of proliferation or weapons etc.

    How convenient! You also castigated people like Dr Helen Caldicott for her strong stance, again omitting to acknowledge, that she’s been involved in this subject for at least 35 yrs in her capacity as a specialist in childhood illnesses and disease, otherwise known as a Pediatrician! What are your qualifications, and why do you ‘cherry pick’ only the aspects that you wish to, and ignore the rest?

    there is no renewable source capable of doing for Australia what coal does now at a comparable cost with nuclear.”
    Maybe not yet, but if you’d gone to the 7.30Report site when I mentioned about a week ago, you’d find out that the people in California conducting the research believed, that they were about 5 yrs from having a solar plant for base load power, that would be cheaper than nuclear, and maybe even cheaper than coal. That was about 2 1/2 yrs ago at least! Dr David Mills is the Australian who’d been doing research for many years, and was forced overseas due to the Howard govt’s reduction in monies for research and development.

    Where do you propose that nuclear reactors would be built? They need to be near water? The whole nuclear industry requires masses of water - in a country that is the most arid and polulated? You don’t address positioning or the water issue either. How convenient? What about the pollution left behind during the mining/ milling process? Show me any of these major companies have successfully ‘tidied up’ their mess when they leave! Show me where govts have enforced strict environmental principles and investigations - before, during and after they’ve removed the resources?They haven’t! Ask the people on the south coast of NSW about what the big coal mining companies’ legacy has been!

    You also don’t address aboriginal land rights, either in relation to mining or as the Federal govt intends, the big nuclear waste dump in the NT that the aboriginal people do NOT want! The very fact that the govt is intent on having it there, is that no State govt wants it, and the Fed Govt can over-rule the wishes of the NT. Of course, it helps if you remove the Racial Discrimination Act first, and as most of us know, they’ve already done that! From their perspective - problem solved! Except, that opposition to the govt’s racist stance is growing, and now they also have the support of many Unions - the fight hasn’t even begun in earnest - yet!

    All you do is castigate those whose position you don’t share, but don’t address anything that is a bit ‘tricky’ or unpalatable - how convenient! You show no allegiance to human rights or at least, truth and discussion. The only opinion you have time for is the pro-stance - anyone else is just plain stupid in your view!

  • 15
    Fran Barlow
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Liz45 said:

    You still conveniently omit to mention the emissions caused by the mining, milling etc of uranium

    These are all acounted for in lifecycle emissions costs. They are utterly trivial, and so yes, it is convenient to pass lightly over them, especially since when fully utilised, the feedstock has a yield somewhere between 1.6m and 3 m times the yield per tonne of coal. If we use MOX fuel the marginal cost is zero.

    You don’t address worker safety;

    Because, as I have pointed out to you, it is radically superior to worker safety in the coal and gas fuel cycle.

    transportation of waste or where to store it;

    For the life of the plant, it is stored mostly on site, so there is no transport. Later on, it may be used again and utlitmately when it is totally depleted and of no use to anyone, it will be buried in a secure facility. Very cheap and simple.

    why the cost per kwh includes the building and decomission of a reactor and the cost of the other aspects, nor do you address the danger of proliferation or weapons etc.

    Asssuming you meant “excludes” — above it does include all these costs. We spoke about proliferation in our last exchange and as I pointed out to you, this is a furphy. Nuclear power plants appear after proliferation has taken place, not before. And here in Australia, there is no prospect of the Australian state handing over Pu239 to hostile agensies for reprocessing to weapons grade, in part because anyone wanting to do that could do it far more furtively without our help. You are doing your gish gallop again.

    Where do you propose that nuclear reactors would be built?

    Anywhere they are ideally placed. Luckily, that is not my call. Better qualified people than me will determine this. My guess would be near a major load centre and near the ocean and maybe near a sewage treatment plant, as the water there is plentiful and cheap and we could run desal and or water recycling when not producing power.

    They need to be near water?

    As I pointed out last time, they don’t. Molten salt reactors are possible.

    I’m not going to wander off into irrelevant discussion of other points, (land rights, medical isotope disposal centre in NT — which the local people want) so I am going to leave the rest of your rant. It’s not as if you listen to and consider what is said.

  • 16
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like the promise of super batteries only years away. We have been hearing that one since the first electric car 100 years ago.

    Not at all, Gen 4 reactors are being worked on. But how is this different from the promise that 1 GW solar power stations and clean coal will magically appear?

    In the mean time can we stop building new coal power stations, embrace current renewable technology and put minimum energy efficiency standards on all new buildings.

    When you say “embrace renewable technology” what you actually mean is “hand out billions of dollars to renewable projects that otherwise wouldn’t be built.

    Efficiency standards” are not a panacea either. Even assuming for an across the board efficiency increase of 15%, by 2050 Australia needs to generate almost double the electricity it generates now.

    You still conveniently omit to mention the emissions caused by the mining, milling etc of uranium.

    Even when that is taken into account, and adding in the CO2 cost of building a reactor, nuclear puts less carbon into the air than wind (creating steel is polluting), and is on par with photovoltaic, but unlike photovoltaic, it produces constant power 24/7, for about 95% of the year.

    You don’t address worker safety; transportation of waste or where to store it; why the cost per kwh includes the building and decomission of a reactor and the cost of the other aspects, nor do you address the danger of proliferation or weapons etc.

    Worker safety. Well, this year alone about 50 people have died in the U.S. either mining coal, oil, or working at a gas power station:
    http://www.smh.com.au/world/us-gas-plant-blast-five-dead-20100208-nl4k.html

    There have only ever been TWO deaths in the U.S. directly attributable to the nuclear power industry, and they were killed because of a STEAM explosion at a nuclear plant.

    In most countries, decommissioning costs are financed by adding a very small tariff (a fraction of a cent) to cost of all the power produced by the plant. So the life of the plant pays for decommissioning.

    nor do you address the danger of proliferation or weapons etc.

    There are far more countries in the world that use nuclear power than that possess nuclear weapons. One of the most strident non-proliferation advocates - Japan - makes about 30% of its electricity from nuclear, and has the world’s biggest plant. Saying that nuclear power must equal proliferation is just a lie.

    the people in California conducting the research believed, that they were about 5 yrs from having a solar plant for base load power, that would be cheaper than nuclear,

    This is rubbish. The state of the art solar plants have capacity factors of just 30% And have a capacity factor of exactly 0% at night. California has a bit over 4 GW of nuclear capacity installed. If Australia had that much, we could shut down our dirtiest coal power stations, and cut carbon emissions by 10 - 15%.

    Where do you propose that nuclear reactors would be built? They need to be near water? The whole nuclear industry requires masses of water - in a country that is the most arid and polulated?

    Guess what! Nuclear power can also be used to desalinate water. It’s sure better than doing it using electricity generated from coal or even gas, which is what the eastern states are going to do.

    You also don’t address aboriginal land rights, either in relation to mining or as the Federal govt intends, the big nuclear waste dump in the NT that the aboriginal people do NOT want!

    So what is your solution? We just leave nuclear waste in all the hospitals in the country, instead of storing it in ONE secure and safe location?

    All you do is castigate those whose position you don’t share, but don’t address anything that is a bit ‘tricky’ or unpalatable - how convenient!

    Wrong. You won’t face up to the fact that ALL energy sources have disadvantages, you pretend that nuclear is the only energy source with problems, which is just misleading.

  • 17
    oeoeaio
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Out come the nuclear proponents with their ‘renewables can’t provide baseload power’ punchline.

    Sorry all, it can. Simple fact.

    Solar thermal plants with overnight storage are being constructed in Spain as we type. Very simple concept, heat the salt, you store the molten salt in big tanks and heat water with it to turn a big turbine like you do in a coal fired power station.

    The cost of solar thermal is dropping constantly, which is more than can be said for coal or nuclear. With sufficient investment (approx. Victoria’s stationary energy requirements) the cost of producing electricity by this method could be comparable to new coal plants within a decade.

    The best part is that scientists estimate that we have around 10 billions years worth of fuel reserves for Solar Thermal (the sun), which is better that uranium/plutonium and coal which will probably run out at the end of the century if we are lucky.

    Also, just to dispel the myth about wind not being reliable. An idiot can see that if you build a bunch of wind turbines in one spot, you are going to get times when you cannot rely on those turbines to provide power (ie. when the wind is not blowing). The strength of wind power comes when you have an INTEGRATED NETWORK OF PLANTS, which can, as a whole be relied upon to provide a certain amount of energy. The secret is in geographic diversity.

    Best of all, wind and solar thermal are easy to produce quickly, meaning that we could actually produce a system that has a timely effect on our carbon emissions. As opposed to nuclear, which might start having an effect in 20 years time, just in time for uranium prices to soar and for our massive investments to be worthless.

    Just something for you all to think about before you decide to send us down yet another one-way street (have you not learned from coal?)

  • 18
    Fran Barlow
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    oeoeaio said:

    Solar thermal plants with overnight storage are being constructed in Spain as we type.

    Here’s where you get to outline the overnight costs of plants like Andasol. What were these again? How many coal or gas plants can these plants retire? It’s not the engineering feasibility of molten salt that is at issue. It is the cost to store industrial volmes of energy. How much would it cost to store the full rated capacity of the plant, or to be fair, 92% of it, for at least enough time for it to fully recharge?

    I can easily give you a calculation of how much water and head pressure you would need to store a week of Australia’s energy demand using seaboard pumped storage. But how much would this cost? Way more than you or anyone would want to pay. And of course, like any bank account, when you take energy out, it must be put back if it is to do its job, so the renewable energy unit has to produce moree than the grid demands until that is restored.

    An idiot can see that if you build a bunch of wind turbines in one spot, you are going to get times when you cannot rely on those turbines to provide power (ie. when the wind is not blowing). The strength of wind power comes when you have an INTEGRATED NETWORK OF PLANTS, which can, as a whole be relied upon to provide a certain amount of energy. The secret is in geographic diversity.

    Apparently though, not every idiot can figure out that building capacity over a wide area still can’t guarantee any particular output and willcertainly up the connection to grid costs, even when I pointed this out above. You cannot have an industrial energy system system that randomly under-produces.

    As opposed to nuclear, which might start having an effect in 20 years time, just in time for uranium prices to soar and for our massive investments to be worthless.

    This is planly the comment of someone unaware that the fuel cost of uranium is a piffling part of the cost of nuclear plants, and who also doesn’t know that throium is about three times as abundant and that uranium can be had from seawater or that reprocessing of existing hazmat forceloses the need for new uranium anyway or that plants can be built within about five years, given a minimum of legal bureaucratic farnarkling about.

    When the forst wind farm or solar array forces the first coal or gas plant to be retired, then these sources will begin to be plausible. Demonstration projects don’t count. Unless you can force coal and gas plants to close using this technology, it is just so much hot air.

  • 19
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Out come the nuclear proponents with their ‘renewables can’t provide baseload power’ punchline.

    Anything can provide baseload power if you spend enough money on a sophisticated storage system.

    The question is, can you do it COST EFFECTIVELY so the price of power for householders doesn’t have to double or triple every few years?

    Solar thermal plants with overnight storage are being constructed in Spain as we type.

    Spain’s solar industry recently went into recession when, for budgetary reasons, the Spainish government had to revoke a range of subsidies.

    Very simple concept, heat the salt, you store the molten salt in big tanks and heat water with it to turn a big turbine like you do in a coal fired power station.

    Fine, but as soon as you do that, the efficiency of your solar thermal plant goes through the floor. So you need to build EVEN MORE capacity.

    The cost of solar thermal is dropping constantly, which is more than can be said for coal or nuclear.

    Well I’d HOPE solar thermal plants are getting cheaper, considering the pissy little ~45 MW plant (that’s ACTUAL production) is going to cost over $420 million, of which Victorian tax payers are chipping $150 million, and tax payers from other states - via the federal government - are paying $75 million.

    The best part is that scientists estimate that we have around 10 billions years worth of fuel reserves for Solar Thermal (the sun)

    This is a ridiculous statement considering the efficiency of solar thermal plants (solar energy converted into electrical energy) isn’t even 20%.

    which is better that uranium/plutonium and coal which will probably run out at the end of the century if we are lucky.

    If you want to bring 2100 into the equation, we will probably be using Thorium based breeder reactors by then, or nuclear fusion - which is another reason for us to start a nuclear industry now.

    The strength of wind power comes when you have an INTEGRATED NETWORK OF PLANTS, which can, as a whole be relied upon to provide a certain amount of energy.

    Well you can’t actually rely on them to produce anything because it is impossible to predict the intensity of the wind at all locations at the same time. So you constantly need to have a safety margin. And if the wind drops, and you don’t get other power sources online, then you have black outs, which isn’t good for business.

    Best of all, wind and solar thermal are easy to produce quickly, meaning that we could actually produce a system that has a timely effect on our carbon emissions.

    If that’s the case, why is it taking 5 years to produce one pissy 45 MW solar thermal plant in Victoria?

    As opposed to nuclear, which might start having an effect in 20 years time, just in time for uranium prices to soar and for our massive investments to be worthless.

    If Uranium prices soar, then it will be cheaper to fuel existing reactors on MOX fuel (i.e. reprocessed nuclear waste). And I hope you do realise that about 40% of the world’s uranium reserves are sitting in Australia.

  • 20
    GocomSys
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Political Amnesia? We could have had a price on carbon! Tony Abbott and his mates killed it. Anybody asked him lately whether he still believes climate change is “crap” or has he changed his mind again?

  • 21
    Simon Butler
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Beyond Zero Emission’s stationary energy plan http://beyondzeroemissions.org explodes the myth that renewables can’t provide baseload and that nuclear is needed in Australia. The report shows how 100% renewables is doable in ten years. So Bernard’s point about nuclear being expensive, inadequate and dangerous is well made. And Barry Brook may be an excellent climate scientist, but he is in denial about the potential of renewable energy.

    But I’d strongly caution against reliance on a carbon price as the major instrument to spark the transition. At best, any carbon price could be a subsidiary measure to complement direct government investment. So I think the thrust of the article - that a carbon price is necessary part of the solution - has got things upside down.

    It’s a climate emergency and we shouldn’t be so willing to “privatise” the response effort - there are exactly zero good precedents for major, market-driven environmental changes. 100% renewables for Australia would cost about 3.5% of GDP over ten years (roughly equal to a third of the health budget). Government spending on the military in 2009 was about 1.8% of GDP. Were the government to spend twice current military spending on saving the planet for future generations instead, we’d be really moving forward.

    The technical and economic solutions on offer are actually are pretty straightforward - the only hard bit is the politics. And that includes the kind of politics that says: “Be realistic, if people can’t make money out of this crisis then the crisis can’t be solved.”

  • 22
    EngineeringReality
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    One thing that current forecasts of energy (electricity mostly) needed doesn’t factor in is the sheer amount of electricity we waste at the moment.

    Millions of computers left on overnight in empty offices, cold air-conditioned air rolling into the heat outside through massive open doors at shopping centres, massive amounts of solar energy pouring through glass ceilings and requiring more electricity to cool down.

    We could easily reduce the amount of electricity we use as a society with no change to our standard of living.

    We don’t because its so cheap at the moment (because polluting our atmosphere can be done without cost) that its easier to use it than turn it off - or to design things differently.

    Stupidly a lot of people are extrapolating the amount of cheap energy we use now into the future and saying it will bankrupt us to use such a large amount at a higher price.

    Of course thats where the economics comes into it - with higher prices we will use less (waste less as the wastage will be reduced first before any essential or amenity is lost).

  • 23
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    One thing that current forecasts of energy (electricity mostly) needed doesn’t factor in is the sheer amount of electricity we waste at the moment.

    Wrong:
    http://www.ret.gov.au/energy/facts/Pages/EnergyFacts.aspx

    We could easily reduce the amount of electricity we use as a society with no change to our standard of living.

    This seems to be the corollary of the “Renewables will save us!” delusion, the assertion that everything will be fixed if we are just more energy efficient.

    Again, even if there is a 15% across the board increase in energy efficiency, we still need to almost DOUBLE our electricity generation capacity by 2050.

    Moreover, energy efficiency beyond 15% is very expensive! So you start to get to a point of diminishing returns where, rather than investing billions for a few more percent of efficiency, the money would be better spent building new clean generation capacity.

    Of course thats where the economics comes into it - with higher prices we will use less (waste less as the wastage will be reduced first before any essential or amenity is lost).

    If you think people are going to give up their computers and TVs then you are just kidding yourself. People will change their behavior based on price incentives a bit, but if you think people will stop turning on their electric heaters in winter, then you just aren’t being serious.

  • 24
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Beyond Zero Emission’s stationary energy plan http://beyondzeroemissions.org explodes the myth that renewables can’t provide baseload and that nuclear is needed in Australia. The report shows how 100% renewables is doable in ten years.

    LOL! Anything is possible if you have $100 billion laying around! I hope this is going to be done on YOUR credit card.

    It’s a climate emergency and we shouldn’t be so willing to “privatise” the response effort - there are exactly zero good precedents for major, market-driven environmental changes.

    Absolute tosh. The reason power stations don’t create as much acid rain now as they previously did is because there is a price on sulfur dioxide emissions.

    The technical and economic solutions on offer are actually are pretty straightforward - the only hard bit is the politics.

    WHAT ABOUT THE MONEY!? You’re unbelievable.

  • 25
    GocomSys
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    The world faces two main problems. Overpopulation and pollution. We have to tackle these by any appropriate means possible! That’s the challenge and we are running out of time fast. When we choose our next leader we better make sure that there is the understanding and the will to tackle these and other unpopular and difficult issues. Admittedly T. A. is a jolly good fellow, amusing and entertaining but is there anybody out there who really believes he has the wherewithal? I don’t think so!

  • 26
    Fran Barlow
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    And Barry Brook may be an excellent climate scientist, but he is in denial about the potential of renewable energy.

    Actually Simon, it is BZE that is Pollyanna on renewables. The hard reality is that apart from, possibly, geothermal, renewables cannot produce power at the quality needed when it is needed at a price that the system could tolerate without backup fossil or nuclear capacity. BZE is a misnomer, because really, it has no viable plan to radically reduce emissions.

  • 27
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    The hard reality is that apart from, possibly, geothermal…

    It’s sad that the Resource Super Profits Tax wouldn’t been an excellent way to give tax breaks to drilling for geothermal energy which is horrendously expensive.

    But that vanished into thin air when Gillard had to cave in.

  • 28
    EngineeringReality
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a quick back of the envelope calculation for everyone to ponder.

    Taking a random 24 hour Monday (7th June 2010) the total amount of electricity used by the entire state of NSW was 230,492MWh (taken from AER half hourly demand for 24 hour period 0001h - 2359h 7/6/10).

    The amount of solar energy available at the surface in NSW is about 900W (0.9kW) per square metre.

    230,492MWh = 230,492,000kWh

    If we take 6 hours as the period with which you can reliably harness sunlight during one day then the same amount of energy that NSW consumed in the entire 24 hour period would fall into 42,683,700 square metres. (230,492,000 kWh / 6 hours = 38,415,333 kW per hour. Then 38,415,333kW divided by 0.9kw/m2).

    This area is a square 6.5km each side. Its an area equivalent to 17 times the CBD of Sydney. Its less than half the size of Wollongong.

    Now of course you don’t get 100% efficiency - but it shows the enormous amount of energy raining down on the planet from our star.

    With wind turbines picking up 20-40% of our state’s demand (easily achievable) then the area required for solar thermal is reduced. Once built the solar thermal stations require minimal maintenance - certainly far less than any coal fired plant.

  • 29
    Fran Barlow
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    It’s sad (because) the Resource Super Profits Tax would’ve been an excellent way to give tax breaks to drilling for geothermal energy which is horrendously expensive.But that vanished into thin air when Gillard had to cave in.

    I doubt that this was what the government had in mind and they could still fund it under one renewabla mandate or another. Personally, I’d prefer that all subsidies and tax deductibility to existing dirty energy be withdrawn, along with MRET and FiT, RECs etc and the money/benefit returned in one form or another to those on or below average income. The carbon price could be used to fund loans at something like the OCA or the 10-year bond rate, if due diligence could show a viable project.

    I’d actually like the governent to tender for companies to replace Hazelwood with maximum carbon intensity at no more than 5% of industry average coal and availability at rated capacity (min 25% of Hazelwood) of at least 8000 hours per year. I’d offer the project at $4.2 billion per GW and state that we’d go with the best bang for the buck in terms of $/CO2 reduction. Tenderers agree that if the project fails spec by more than 10% they have to pay back moneys advanced but get to keep the plant (liquidated damages at the margin). If it succeeds, the state pays out and takes the plant and then calls for tenders to operate it/them.

    That way, we can’t lose and we get to see if any renewablists can do roughly what they claim and we can stop this entirely silly barn dance.

    FTR I did hate the backdown on mining. There were better ways of taxing anomalous profits than RSPT though. Not on topic here though.

  • 30
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Now of course you don’t get 100% efficiency

    Of course you don’t, in fact, you don’t even get 20%, so your calculations are pointless.

    but it shows the enormous amount of energy raining down on the planet from our star.

    No one is disputing that the big nuclear reactor in the sky called the sun is a powerful source of energy. The question is, how to harness it COST EFFECTIVELY, and in a way so you don’t have to bulldoze half a state to install solar power stations.

  • 31
    EngineeringReality
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    @SHOWSON “This seems to be the corollary of the “Renewables will save us!” delusion, the assertion that everything will be fixed if we are just more energy efficient.”

    Well if the cry is “renewables will cost too much - we can’t afford them” then any forecast increase in demands which include the 15% wastage is a complete untruth.

    The analogy is you’re driving around with 2 tonnes of unneccessary lead weight (thats the current wasted energy for those who need the dots joined here) in the boot of your car and you project the cost of buying a more expensive car in the future to include carrying the 2 tonnes of extra and unneeded weight.

    Get rid of the 2 tonne weight and looking forward suddenly you don’t need an expensive truck - you might only need a people mover (to account for additional population growth).

    Of course you need to understand the electricity supply system too. The massive doubling of demand is only the top of the peak of demand on a few days. The baseload will be far less than double compared to what our current generation capacity is.

    It doesn’t make economic sense to build far more generation that you need for a few peak days - when you could easily reduce the rare spike days with a bit of price signalling - for instance “Gee Westfield - do you *really* need to be running all the air con to keep your massive shopping centres cooled to 20 degrees today when its 40 outside. If you do decide that you need to then you’ll have to pay a far larger amount today to justify stressing the network. If you decide to reduce your wastage of energy and let your centres get up to 28 or 30 degrees then surprise, surprise - the network isn’t stretched to breaking point”. Of course if the government had any balls then commercial properties such as shopping centres would be forced to put solar panels onto their football field sized rooves and then they could run their air con all they wanted for free.

    Also Showson - renewables aren’t subject to the restrictions of location to resources in the way that fossil fuel plants are. If demand is increasing in an area then you could whip up a few turbines and solar plant close to the area. Not so for a coal or gas fired station - where you need to be close to large and reliable supplies of cooling water and fuel sources.

  • 32
    Fran Barlow
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    No one is disputing that the big nuclear reactor in the sky called the sun is a powerful source of energy. The question is, how to harness it COST EFFECTIVELY, and in a way so you don’t have to bulldoze half a state to install solar power stations.

    This is what you always get. Purely notional conceptions of what might be done with absolutely no acknowledgement that CF (when they even acknowledge its relevance) is not the only consideration in choosing an energy system. Dispatchability is central. So is total cost of ownership. So is the distance one must move energy. So is volume. And from the POV of those of us who care about the footprint we humans leave on the biosphere, so is the footprint.

  • 33
    EngineeringReality
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    @Showson “Of course you don’t, in fact, you don’t even get 20%, so your calculations are pointless.”

    Actually the efficiency of concentrated solar thermal is already above a fossil fuel plant. So sorry old chap - but thats a fail for you!

  • 34
    oeoeaio
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Sorry folks, I fell behind, but I have got a few things to offer.

    Gosh, where to start…

    I’ll start with @FRAN…4:34 pm

    Also, I’m new to this, so I don’t know how to do your cool comments boxes, so you’ll just have to make do with quotation marks.

    How much would it cost to store the full rated capacity of the plant, or to be fair, 92% of it, for at least enough time for it to fully recharge?”

    Well, lots. Obviously the more storage you need/want, the more it will cost. I’m not saying that this is going to be cheap, but neither are you. The cost of transitioning our entire energy supply entirely from one source to another is always going to be expensive. The issue is finding a solution that will do what we want, within the required time frame, and is economically feasible. Which I would argue that CST certainly is. I would also argue that the nuclear, while fulfilling the first requirement, does so in a less satisfactory way than CST and lags significantly with respects to the second requirement.

    Apparently though, not every idiot can figure out that building capacity over a wide area still can’t guarantee any particular output and will certainly up the connection to grid costs, even when I pointed this out above. You cannot have an industrial energy system system that randomly under-produces.”

    Rude. But I’ll accept your myopic view as the product of a…..no I just can’t say it. Firstly, I did not suggest that wind would be a base load power source. Never. That’s a good thing for solar thermal or in the future, geothermal. What you do with wind is you use it when you have it, which takes the load off CST during the day (which frees up energy for storage for use over night), and can be used for pumping of water for hydropower or in the future, generation of hydrogen for use during peaks. It is better to have a reasonably predictable level of energy generation from wind, which is why it helps to have geographical diversity, but 100% reliability is not vital, or, I agree, possible.

    This is planly the comment of someone unaware that the fuel cost of uranium is a piffling part of the cost of nuclear plants, and who also doesn’t know that throium is about three times as abundant and that uranium can be had from seawater or that reprocessing of existing hazmat forceloses the need for new uranium anyway or that plants can be built within about five years, given a minimum of legal bureaucratic farnarkling about.”

    Are you trying to say that increased uranium prices won’t increase the price of electricity? Sure, commodity prices are low, coal is cheap too, so was oil once upon a time. You neglect to mention that the energy density of Thorium is less than half that of natural uranium, so, yes, while 3 times as abundant, you only have 1.5 times the actual energy that you have for uranium. So, yeah, you might get to 2150 before you run out uranium, plutonium and thorium. Even if current demand doesn’t increase, which it undoubtedly will.
    You talk about the economics of storing molten salt for CST. How economical is pulling uranium out of the ocean? Sure, there are billion/trillions of tonnes of it in there, but surely it would be easier to just build a big bunch of mirrors and tanks now and be done with energy - move on to more pressing matters?

    And now @ SHOWSON….4:35 pm

    Spain’s solar industry recently went into recession when, for budgetary reasons, the Spainish government had to revoke a range of subsidies.”

    I am aware, but we are not in recession, and the CST plants in no way contributed to the Spanish government’s dire economic situation.

    Fine, but as soon as you do that, the efficiency of your solar thermal plant goes through the floor. So you need to build EVEN MORE capacity.”

    I am as happy with installing as much capacity for solar thermal as you are for nuclear power, ie. sufficient to do the job it is intended to do.

    Well I’d HOPE solar thermal plants are getting cheaper, considering the pissy little ~45 MW plant (that’s ACTUAL production) is going to cost over $420 million, of which Victorian tax payers are chipping $150 million, and tax payers from other states - via the federal government - are paying $75 million.”

    Have you not heard of economies of scale? How is a demonstration plant ever going to compete economically with technologies that have been around for 50 years+?

    This is a ridiculous statement considering the efficiency of solar thermal plants (solar energy converted into electrical energy) isn’t even 20%.”

    Yes, it was intended to be ridiculous. In fact, state of the art solar thermal has exceeded 40% efficiency. The fact remains that the sun doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t run out. You place great weight on technological advances in the future, CST doesn’t need advances to be viable but can only improve.

    If you want to bring 2100 into the equation, we will probably be using Thorium based breeder reactors by then, or nuclear fusion - which is another reason for us to start a nuclear industry now.”

    So we can burn through the Thorium as fast as possible? What happens when we need it for something else? Don’t people think about the consequences of exhausting a resource? After that it’s gone! I made the point about Thorium above, so yes, you can go past 2100, well done. Thorium used.

    Well you can’t actually rely on them to produce anything because it is impossible to predict the intensity of the wind at all locations at the same time. So you constantly need to have a safety margin. And if the wind drops, and you don’t get other power sources online, then you have black outs, which isn’t good for business.”

    See above, I agree (as any idiot would) that you cannot hope to use wind as a baseload power. But today we are good at using energy pretty much around the clock, and with advances in smart grid etc. we will have much greater control over when energy is used. Making wind a very useful option.

    If that’s the case, why is it taking 5 years to produce one pissy 45 MW solar thermal plant in Victoria?”

    Yes, with full government support and years of technical experience, the project is obviously a prime case for the expediency with which solar thermal can be utilised if we really put our minds to it.

    If Uranium prices soar, then it will be cheaper to fuel existing reactors on MOX fuel (i.e. reprocessed nuclear waste). And I hope you do realise that about 40% of the world’s uranium reserves are sitting in Australia.”

    Yes, but it will be cheaper still to power Australia using solar thermal, wind and presumable geothermal (by then).
    Also, I believe Australia has closer to 25-30% of the world’s uranium but whatever, try keeping out the hoards of resource hungry neighbours when the price of iron ore, uranium, coal and practically-any-other-resource-you-can-name shoots through the roof and they realise that we have vast amounts of it all. That is going to be super easy. Better to promote a global culture of energy production and living in general that doesn’t rely on all the things we (Australia) have, so we aren’t such an attractive target.

  • 35
    Fran Barlow
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Actually the efficiency of concentrated solar thermal is already above a fossil fuel plant. So sorry old chap - but thats a fail for you!

    Nonsense. Conversion of incoming energy to electrical output is under 20% for solar thermal. Hazelwood, perhaps the least efficient large coal plant is about 24%. Bog standard coal plants are about 35% efficient in converting the chemical energy of coal to electricity. IGCCs are closer to 45% and some Brayton Cycle gas plants manage the right side of 50%.

    Engineering reality? What an odd name.

  • 36
    EngineeringReality
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    @Fran “And from the POV of those of us who care about the footprint we humans leave on the biosphere, so is the footprint.”

    Well the problem is that mining will always have the larger and more destructive footprint - out of almost any human endeavour (apart from spreading radioactive isotopes in widespread areas through nuclear weapons or other nuclear mishaps).

    I grew up near 2 powerstations and lots of coalmines - and seeing the environmental vandalism of coalmines with huge areas suffering subsidence and cracking, entire rivers disappearing underground and running dry. The local Coles carpark even cracks and disappears into sinkholes every few weeks.

    Renewables means that massive amounts of energy, pollutrion and waste in mining, crushing, washing, transporting and disposing of the fuels is no longer needed.

    The footprint of any solar powerstation isn’t very disruptive to the biosphere. There are support structures built on the ground - but 90% of the land taken up by solar collectors remains uncovered and in its natural state. Animals and plants can live and move underneath the collectors. Yes the amount of sunlight reaching the ground is reduced, but with not other form of pollution or degredation it has less impact on the land than farming or mining.

    Also the footprint needed is a tiny fraction of the land available in Australia. Its actually less than the total surface area taken up by roads in NSW. Funny how the arguement against renewables is turning to “oh they take up too much land” when the road network in NSW would actually be a far greater area - and a road completely destroys the biosphere underneath it - and around it to a large extent.

    Also moving electricity around isn’t a problem - we already have a statewide transmission grid to move electricity from the coal fired powerstations which are all remote from population centres to where the people live. The infrastructure is already in place - that certainly isn’t an obstacle.

  • 37
    EngineeringReality
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Engineering reality? What an odd name.”

    Its funny how many times I have a discussion with someone and the facts are laid onto the table it suddenly gets to a critical time when my on-screen name starts to get a mention.

    I like to think about it as the “I know you are but what am I” part of the argument when the logic runs out and the name calling begins.

    Sadly there is no hidden message there. I didn’t give it much thought when I was signing up for crikey - so you can’t read much into it. I am an electrical engineer though.

  • 38
    gregb
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Engreality, aren’t you forgetting about all the mining that would be necessary to supply the raw materials to build the CSP and wind plants that you say are the solution? Steel and concrete are both large emitters of CO2. Investigations into this, which can be accessed on the bravenewclimate website, showed that far more raw materials are required for wind and solar than would be required for a equivalent GW of nuclear power plant. Also, the footprint of uranium mining is quite small due to the energy density of uranium. To compare it with coal mining is patently ridiculous.

    Also, experience over the years have shown that the economies of scale effect for wind and solar are quite low, so we shouldn’t really expect the cost of these technologies to reduce greatly into the future.

    As wonderful as it would be for wind/solar/geothermal to be the answer, I’ve also reached the conclusion that nuclear is the only way.

  • 39
    EngineeringReality
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    @Fran “Nonsense. Conversion of incoming energy to electrical output is under 20% for solar thermal. Hazelwood, perhaps the least efficient large coal plant is about 24%. Bog standard coal plants are about 35% efficient in converting the chemical energy of coal to electricity. IGCCs are closer to 45% and some Brayton Cycle gas plants manage the right side of 50%. ”

    Well efficiency isn’t as much of an issue when the fuel doesn’t cost any energy to extract or harvest. When you’re digging up massive amounts of coal (and using heaps of diesel to do so) then you want to get bleeding edge efficiency to compensate for all the effort in extracting and transporting the coal or gas.

    With renewable its a case of “build it and they (the fuel) will come”. Yes there is energy involved in making the steel and glass and concrete of a solar power station or wind turbine. But thats the end of it. The free energy comes to you. Look at the economics of a solar power station after 50 years of operation - they are only mirrors after all - they can and will last that long. Our current mastery of material science means we can make mirrors that will never degrade. After paying off the initial capital cost and energy used in construction then its free energy baby.

    Meanwhile show me a coal mine that still going strong after 50 years!

    Concentrated solar thermal efficiency is up around 40% - but who cares when you’re not expending energy to extract the fuel? We know its not below the figure where you wouldn’t bother - so why would you choose mining and burning coal over it? There aren’t many moving parts (apart from the turbine) so all the collectors will last - and the physics of collecting solar thermal energy don’t require any wear and tear on the collectors/concentrators.

  • 40
    Fran Barlow
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    oeoeaio said:

    Also, I’m new to this, so I don’t know how to do your cool comments boxes,

    Use the following syntax:

    quoted text (for what you are quoting

    Remove spaces within the metatags (eg between < and blockquote. I left them in otherwise they’d have vanished and you’;d only have seen the string beginning quoted text

    Obviously the more storage you need/want, the more it will cost. I’m not saying that this is going to be cheap, but neither are you.

    But I’m not pitching storage and the numbers matter. If you are planning 6 days of storage, for example, you need 6*24 hours * energy demand for six days worth of storage. Let’s say your solar unit is 1GW. If you are going to cover that you need 144GWh of storage at or near the sea — where there’s lots of water you don’t have to pump from someplace else. Building a facility like that is going to run into tens of billions of dollars. The cost of the special reinforced concrete alone will ensure that. For that price you could have 5-10 1 GW nuclear plants which need perhaps 5% cover for unplanned outage. It doesn’t add up.

    And of course, if you have a solar facility that needs to be covered for six days, when is it building up the surplus needed to repay the draw down? If you need six days you can’t be happy sitting with just three in hand. You are going to use fossil thermal to repay the debt, but round trip efficiency is unlikely to be above 80% so you are paying a 20% cost just to keep your really expensive system topped up — but not too toped up because you want space to capture anything extra you collect on good days. Again, the whole thing doesn’t make sense. In practice you are still ultimately reliant on fossil fuels.

    Rude. But I’ll accept your myopic view as the product of a…..no I just can’t say it.

    Well you spoke first of idiots …

    Firstly, I did not suggest that wind would be a base load power source.

    But that is what we are discussing. We don’t need boutique power sources.

    What you do with wind is you use it when you have it, which takes the load off CST during the day (which frees up energy for storage for use over night), and can be used for pumping of water for hydropower or in the future, generation of hydrogen for use during peaks.

    What a mess. If CST is your baseload source wind can’t relieve it unless it is also a baseload source. Morover you can’t discharge and recharge at the same time and you can’t recharge with variable input. Try that and you will trash the pumps. This may come as a shock to you but you aren’t the first person to imagine this scenario. Why do you suppose this hasn’t been done, if it was so easy?

    And hydrogen again is not viable. Much too expensive and slippery to deal with.

    More later

  • 41
    EngineeringReality
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    @GregB “As wonderful as it would be for wind/solar/geothermal to be the answer, I’ve also reached the conclusion that nuclear is the only way.”

    I agree - nuclear fusion would be the best way - but that is years (decades) off and at the moment not technically feasible. Also confining the supply of energy to a select few who can operate fusion plants is less preferable to having our society powered by easily accessable renewable sources.

    However nuclear fission is definitely not the way to go. Fission is a crude, dangerous and stupid way to harness energy. Taking something deadly and poisonous and cracking its nuclei is a finely balanced reaction that could easily unbalance & run away to meltdown without the fine tuning of control rods and cooling medium and needing to be locked away behind expensive and massively overengineered pressure vessels and radiation shielding - and then to be left with highly radioactive waste products and highly radioactive reactor, containment vessel, fuel rods, machinery.

    There hasn’t even been a nuclear power station that has successfully been decommissioned and disassembled. They’ve started one in the UK - but now it has to sit there for 10 years to “cool down”.

    Most of the radioactive isotopes produced in the nuclear fuel cycle are heavy metals which are poisonous and impossible to remove from the food chain even in their non-radioactive isotopes - combine this with the fact that every atom of the radioactive waste materials will eject parcels of deadly radiation at random times - meaning slowly decreasing emission of radiation - with some having half lives of hundreds of years.

    They are measured in half-lives because we have no control over their radioactivity and can only statistically guess when they will finally be 50% less radioactive - not safe - but 50% radioactive from when we took them out of our nuclear furnace.

    Extrapolate 100 years into the future and “here you go kids - here’s the earth - its not in exactly the same condition we got it in - but its really within the bounds of reasonable wear and tear. Stuff all animals about - but we’ve got a few zoos and plenty of audio-visual of animals we used to have. By the way that pile of glowing slag - thats our nuclear waste. Still arguing what to do with it but never mind. When you change the fuel rods in the 500 nuclear powerstations just keep adding to the pile. You look pretty smart - I’m sure you’ll work out what to do with it - heaven knows we tried and couldn’t. Oh well - bye!”

    But somehow going down that deadly and risky path is better than free and safe sunlight and wind. Sometimes I just shake my head. Darwin was right - we certainly have evolved from monkeys!

  • 42
    oeoeaio
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    quoted text (But I’m not pitching storage and the numbers matter…..)

    Conceded, I already conceded that it costs lots, but the actual solution is a better one. The cost is not a crippling one, and the result is a more permanent, more sustainable, safer (yeah, I said it, we are still having issue with nuclear waste, which is a point I know you will vehemently deny but it’s true), cleaner source of energy.

    quoted text (Well you spoke first of idiots …)

    I didn’t call you one though and therein lies the difference.

    quoted text (But that is what we are discussing. We don’t need boutique power sources. )

    quoted text (What a mess. If CST is your baseload source wind….)

    You and I are thinking about this in different ways (obviously), here is where I am coming from:

    You can’t store wind power, but it is a ubiquitous and clean source of power. So you install a large capacity and use it when you can, if you don’t need it, use it to store energy that can be used later, ie. hydro. (I am of course aware that hydrogen is not ready for primetime, but it will be.) I can’t see what is wrong with that.

    I’m not sure what you think I am suggesting but I am not proposing any interaction between CST and wind (is that where the “variable input” comes from?), beyond using wind and not CST when wind is available. The storage component of CST means that you can choose when to use the energy you collect. Am I missing something here?

    The storage side of the CST plant is independent (sort of) of the energy production side. You can ramp up or down the amount of salt flowing through each side as and when you choose. No?

  • 43
    EngineeringReality
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Why do you suppose this hasn’t been done, if it was so easy?”

    Well unfortunately the argument of “it hasn’t been done before - so its not possible” isn’t really appropriate when dealing with our society.

    We don’t do rational things. We fight, we are corrupt, we keep having destructive booms and busts. We hardly ever do what is right. We pollute and kill off animals living alongside us. We give in to our greed and give power to people interested in their own self interests.

    So unfortunately using precedent of the human race doing something as a measure of why something won’t work or can’t be done isn’t really correct.

    Why did General Motors take back and scrap all their EV1 electric cars in the 90’s? Because they didn’t work? Or because the oil companies didn’t want them to be show to work? Retiring CEO of GM now admits that was the worst decision of his rein at the top of the then biggest car maker.

  • 44
    Bernard Keane
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Good to see the nukular spruikers out in force. I especially liked the one who declared “I have seen many videos of actual fires.” I bet you have! Who doesn’t enjoy a really good fire video?

    As long as you want to spend your money on nuclear power, be my guest. I have no objections. Just don’t spend mine.

  • 45
    EngineeringReality
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Nice article Bernard by the way!

    OEOEAIO “The storage side of the CST plant is independent (sort of) of the energy production side. You can ramp up or down the amount of salt flowing through each side as and when you choose. No?”

    Yes thats right. The storage can be scaled up as long as the available collector has sufficient capacity to get the “hot” side of the storage up to storage temperature within a day.

    Thermal storage is cheap - you just need an insulated tank or vessel. It doesn’t need to be pressurised. It doesn’t need to be super reinforced concrete - like a nuclear reactor housing. It just has to hold hot salt. Not at thousands of degrees - but at around 500 degrees. Have a look at the Sydney Gas Cavern for an example of storage space tunnelled into bedrock. In that case they store liquid lpg in the unlined rock tunnel with only the pressure of the watertable keeping the gas confined and pressurised.

    Of course building massive storage tanks for hydrocarbons is fine - no one has any argument that a collection of massive storage tanks filled with volatile, inflammable liquids and gas under pressure “won’t work” or “be prohibitively expensive” - but first time you suggest you store hot, inert salt in same sized tanks and you’re a crackpot spouting uneconomic and bankrupting the nation sized crippling costs.

    Laying a pipeline down the entire length of Western Australia is fine if it transports gas - but suggest a few solar power stations and a transmission line or two and suddenly “the costs don’t add up” and you’re “putting everyone in massive debt”.

    Spending billions anchoring deep sea oil platforms and drilling for oil 6kms down underneath 2km of water is nation building investment - but talk about the same kind of money for solar energy and you’re an insane tree hugging greenie without a connection to reality.

  • 46
    Roger Clifton
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    We are not going to run out of coal or uranium. Not now, not ever. Our species will be extinct before that happens. More generally, we are not going to run out of hydrocarbons or fissile elements.

    The reason we must turn our backs on hydrocarbons is because the atmosphere is full. There is nowhere to put our waste CO2.

    We are not going to run out of uranium. Sure, the design of reactors will evolve, but we can reassure each other that we have access to unlimited quantities of clean energy.

    People who use the terms “non-renewables” and “renewables” are just squealing. They know that time has run out for hydrocarbons. They are just chickenshit about going nuclear.

    Say “carbon-based” and “alternative” instead. Then we will be able to discuss real alternatives, instead of pipedreams and perpetual motion.

  • 47
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    It doesn’t make economic sense to build far more generation that you need for a few peak days - when you could easily reduce the rare spike days with a bit of price signalling

    But this is a human behaviour issue. When it is a 42 degree February day in Adelaide, people don’t think “oh crap, electricity is more expensive on the National Grid, I think I’ll turn my air conditioner off!”

    Also Showson - renewables aren’t subject to the restrictions of location to resources in the way that fossil fuel plants are.

    Well this isn’t true at all. You want to build wind turbines close to where it is really windy, e.g. the Roaring 40s. In the UK they have realised how pointless photovoltaic power is because it just isn’t consistently sunny enough.

    Actually the efficiency of concentrated solar thermal is already above a fossil fuel plant. So sorry old chap - but thats a fail for you!

    Absolute rubbish, the most efficient solar thermal plant currently planned will be just 18% efficient, and is predicted to have an a capacity factor of just 30%, i.e. it runs at under 1/3 of its rated capacity:
    http://techpulse360.com/2010/06/21/is-ivanpah-the-world%E2%80%99s-most-efficient-solar-plant-2/

  • 48
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Have you not heard of economies of scale? How is a demonstration plant ever going to compete economically with technologies that have been around for 50 years+?

    Sorry, but I don’t want to bet the health of the planet on “economies of scale”.

    Plus, if you use that argument for solar thermal, you should also use it for nuclear.

    Yes, it was intended to be ridiculous. In fact, state of the art solar thermal has exceeded 40% efficiency.

    Sorry, but the evidence is that the best planned solar thermal plant will be 18% efficient. And remember, any storage system automatically reduces efficiency due to wastage.

    So we can burn through the Thorium as fast as possible? What happens when we need it for something else?

    This is just silly. What happens when we need to use gold for electronics, should we stop making wedding rings?

    But today we are good at using energy pretty much around the clock, and with advances in smart grid etc. we will have much greater control over when energy is used. Making wind a very useful option.

    This doesn’t make up for the fact you never know precisely when it will be windy. Also, did you know that if it is TOO windy, most wind turbines must disengage from the generator to avoid overload?

    Yes, with full government support and years of technical experience, the project is obviously a prime case for the expediency with which solar thermal can be utilised if we really put our minds to it.

    It demonstrates how big a failure the renewables sector is without a carbon price. All I ask is that nuclear be treated the same as renewables! If renewables keep getting billions in subsidies, then nuclear should get exactly the same too.

    Yes, but it will be cheaper still to power Australia using solar thermal, wind and presumable geothermal (by then).

    Evidence?

    Better to promote a global culture of energy production and living in general that doesn’t rely on all the things we (Australia) have, so we aren’t such an attractive target.

    Well, there is a global culture of producing energy using nuclear reactors.

  • 49
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Well efficiency isn’t as much of an issue when the fuel doesn’t cost any energy to extract or harvest

    NONSENSE! The fact wind and solar energy are so diffuse and so hard to convert efficiently means you need a lot of ‘collectors’ to do the job. That means thousands of wind towers and hundreds of solar plants. That costs a lot of money, and will require a lot of land / space.

    With renewable its a case of “build it and they (the fuel) will come”.

    Correction, regarding wind, it is “build it and the wind MAY come, and its intensity will vary.”

    Look at the economics of a solar power station after 50 years of operation - they are only mirrors after all - they can and will last that long.

    Well, we would look at the economics if you were able to provide them! But the state of the art is around 18% efficiency, and a 30% capacity factor.

    Our current mastery of material science means we can make mirrors that will never degrade. After paying off the initial capital cost and energy used in construction then its free energy baby.

    Our mastery of materials science means we can make nuclear reactors that provide electricity 24/7 irrespective of the wind and sun.

    Concentrated solar thermal efficiency is up around 40% - but who cares when you’re not expending energy to extract the fuel?

    Where on earth are you getting this 40% figure from?

    I agree - nuclear fusion would be the best way - but that is years (decades) off and at the moment not technically feasible.

    If Australia wants to use nuclear fusion in the future we will need a nuclear industry with well trained nuclear scientists and technicians. A good way to attain that would be to start a nuclear industry now.

  • 50
    ShowsOn
    Posted Monday, 12 July 2010 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Good to see the nukular spruikers out in force.

    Wow, your big knock down argument against nuclear is to spell it “nukular”. That’s just weak.

    It’s annoying that you can’t even engage with Barry Brook’s arguments on the issue, and instead just cite the Lazard report that seems to be made from fictional figures, including figures for things like carbon capture and storage that are completely unproven.

    As long as you want to spend your money on nuclear power, be my guest. I have no objections. Just don’t spend mine.

    As long as you want to spend your money on renewable (generally unproven) energy, be my guest. I have no objections. Just don’t spend mine (including any of the taxes I pay).

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