Hello! I took a long, much needed break for Christmas and New Year and I’m back, refreshed and ready to go for 2015.
It’s going to be another huge year for nuclear. I think I have said that for the last two years in a row, and each time I have been right! We live in exciting times, and the efforts of a lot of hardworking and talented people worldwide are yielding much needed change in the nexus of energy, climate and nuclear technology. For what I think is an outstanding wrap-up of the state of eco-play, do take in this summary piece from The Breakthrough Institute.
The new thing for me this year is I can already see nearly the whole year in advance! I have so many exciting commitments and some big upcoming events that it seems 2015 is already full! Now, that’s not quite true of course but it’s full enough that it will be big stuff indeed that gets a seat at my table this year, and the word “no” will be my new friend. Dial back to my beginnings in around 2011 and I was hard at work drumming up opportunities to bring the nuclear message. That situation has inverted and I could not be happier. This change in fortunes speaks of both serious changes in the social and cultural environment around nuclear in Australia and also the in-roads my work has made over a period of years. For that latter number in particular I have you, my readers, to thank. You share my work and the regular feedback I get behind the scenes does wonders for morale and energy!!!
My first peer-reviewed publication should see press in a matter of weeks, and I intend to back that up with two further publications this year as part of my thesis under the watchful, expert and (let’s face it) occasionally smug guidance of my supervisory team of Conservation Bytes and Brave New Climate. I’m honoured to add to that team Professor Tom Wigley, with whom I co-authored a critique last year (along with James Brown) of the Australian chapter of the Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project. Tom and I will be picking up where we left off there with some original work to bring what we feel is some much-needed improvements to that concept. That’s a dream-team of supervisors and I am honoured to have them in my corner. I have great research in development, and I’m gagging to get my teeth back in and bring them to print.
I am pleased to have accepted a position on the Public Advisory Panel for the siting of Australia’s low and intermediate level radioactive waste repository. Run through the Department of Industry, the panel will be meeting approximately monthly for the next year or so. I am really heartened by what I have seen so far vis-à-vis the intent of the Department to take a different and very positive and pro-active approach to this process. That I have the opportunity to contribute ongoing is an honour.
I will likely be out of the country with exciting nuclear commitments twice in the first quarter of the year (more details on that as I am able), I look forward to assisting my friends at Energy for Humanity as they advance their own exciting agenda, and I will be assisting several other parties who are doing what they can to advance a sensible discussion of climate change and energy for Australia. Yep, a big year and I can’t wait.
If I had to forecast I would say you can expect fewer posts from me this year, but hopefully they will be high quality and impactful when they come. For a great nuclear fix, get stuck in to The Actinide Age and Nuclear Layperson: two of the better new nuclear blogs that are really hitting their stride. In the meantime, here’s a little something that got my goat…
Late last year, Barry Brook and Corey Bradshaw co-authored an outstanding paper that presents the broader eco-case for nuclear energy. The upshot of the findings is this: in an energy-hungry world of what will soon be ten billion people, energy planners need to start presenting a much expanded role for nuclear energy in scenarios of potential energy mix. That’s if we care about biodiversity, that is. To protect and preserve the most habitat, we need to both use more energy (to intensify activities like agriculture for example), and to use energy that takes up the least space. That’s nuclear, most especially advanced nuclear. The paper was so impressive that 75 leading conservation scientists from around a dozen nations signed an open letter in support of the general conclusions.
I was able to get my hands on some of the “expert response” provided to media. Here’s some of what Professor Mark Diesendorf, of the University of New South Wales, had to say:
“In promoting a ‘key role’ for nuclear energy, Brook and Bradshaw claim to have performed an ‘objective’ analysis of seven electricity generation technologies according to seven criteria. However, their choice of criteria, their values and weightings are all subjective and biased. For instance, they chose dispatchability [the ability to adjust power output on demand] as one criterion, thus disadvantaging wind and solar PV. But, that criterion is redundant…
Firstly, Brook and Bradshaw do, indeed, use dispatchability as a criterion. That will, indeed, work against the rating of technologies like wind and solar PV. But is this decision “subjective and biased”? This inference is quite the double-standard from Diesendorf. His mini-canon of papers on this subject are predicated on the up-front exclusion of nuclear power in the design and modelling of a low-carbon energy system, before any modelling, assessment or weighting is even undertaken. Brook and Bradshaw do no such thing: the low-carbon technologies or wind and solar PV are included for due consideration across the same criteria as all others.
Diesendorf says the inclusion of dispatchability is a mistake and that this criterion is “redundant”(meaning, to be quite clear, not or no longer needed; superfluous).
As the great Saganism goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So what is the evidence? Diesendorf cites two studies: his own, and work from the Australian Energy Market Operator. I happen to like the papers by Elliston, Diesendorf and MacGill, in that I think they are good, useful contributions and they are well-written. What I really dislike is that Diesendorf in particular leverages the results in ways that are completely out of proportion to the findings themselves. In this case, he says:
… because hourly computer simulations of the Australian National Electricity Market with 100% renewable energy, by separate teams at UNSW and the Australian Energy Market, show that combinations of several variable and dispatchable renewable energy technologies can be just as reliable as the existing polluting system.
Mark, I’m going to have to stop you right there because you seem to have contradicted yourself in the space of a single sentence. The evidence cited appears to suggest that a combination of both variable and dispatchable sources was required to deliver a satisfactory result in both studies. So… redundant? It would seem not.
Maybe if the dispatchable sources were bit-players in the modelled systems this would strengthen the case. Are they? Let’s check Diesendorf’s own study.
This passage is from page 609 of his 2011 paper Simulations of scenarios with 100% renewable electricity in the Australian National Electricity Market, published Energy Policy 45 , 606-613.:
4.6. Generation mix summary
The generators in the baseline scenario, including their location and capacity, are summarised in the list below. The generators are dispatched in this order:
(1) Wind: existing wind farm output scaled to 23.2GW
(2) PV (14.6GW total):
(3) CST (2.6GW per site, 15.6GW total):
(4) Pumped storage hydro (2.2 GW)
(5) Hydro without pumped storage (4.9 GW)
(6) Gas turbines, biofuelled (24.0 GW)
In the above generation mix, gas turbines, pumped storage hydro and hydro without pumped storage are dispatchable power sources. Concentrating solar thermal (CST) in this study has “15 full-load hours of thermal energy storage” making them also dispatchable for the most part.
Of the 84.5 GW total installed capacity to make the system work, 46.7 GW are dispatchable. Fifty-five percent of the available capacity. In a previous piece, I have outlined just how dependent the system is on these sources.
On the basis of Diesendorf’s own work, I would say dispatchability is about as redundant to reliable electricity supply as oxygen is to reliable cellular respiration. Which is to say, not redundant at all. Meaning this expert response falls utterly flat, having tripped over subjectivity and bias of the sort that leads to fatal over-reaching. The work of Brook and Bradshaw stands with no solid response.
Troublingly, some in the academic and environmental community pig-headedly stand in opposition to robust science that may point us in the direction of the most sustainable, most biodiverse planet we can achieve come 2050 as our 10 billion fellow humans seek to meet their needs and fulfill their aspirations.
We deserve better than that.