A few interesting things have come across my desk this week which I would like to highlight in brief for their relevance to the DSA mission.
The B&W mPower Small Modular Reactor, which I have previously profiled in the Decarbonise SA Energy Plan, took a nifty step forward with a signed letter of intent with Tennessee Valley Authority to build six of these reactors. You can read more about it here.
Over coming years we should see more and more certain information about this design emerge; I’ll be watching out for it. I think this design does an excellent job of addressing the concerns of many about nuclear power, but as promised dear subscribers, it will be far from the only option I will be highlighting for SA.
On the subject of concerns about nuclear power, the scale of TEPCO and Japanese government incompetance and negligence was writ large this week with the revelation that the tsunami plan for the Fukushima plant was 1-page, estimated a maximum wave height of less than 6m (the tsunami was 15m) and grossly underestimated the size of the potential quake. No complex analysis required from me here, this is simply disgraceful. I hope more nuclear proponents as well as the industry itself will be quick to denounce this, and provide evidence that such as lax approach to natural hazard does not typify the industry.
I remain struck by the fact that in the face of both shocking mis-management and a gargantuan natural impact, the 40 -year old plants themselves held up very well, a point I made publicly in the week following the incident, and something that brought George Monbiot around on the nuclear issue. Had the back-up power supply been adequately protected as the reactors were, this situation would be very, very different. I realise that is pure nuclear Pollyanna for some, but it seems a reasonable conclusion to me that the actual nuclear technology was remarkably robust. I hope forward decision making takes this into account.
In some non-nuclear energy news, under much encouragement (to put it politely) from a contributor to the YouTube video thread, I checked out news of the development of an artifical leaf, that uses ambient light to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, for combustion in a fuel cell. Here is a short video about this.
What a remarkable piece of work and a harbinger, I hope, for a revolution in the potential of solar power. I am repeatedly getting the impression from those in the know that photo voltaic and concentrating solar thermal technologies are beginning to run up against some pretty hard efficiency and cost limits. This is not good, because even in sunny Australia, the financial and reliability case for large scale solar in 2011 remains pretty ordinary. So to see solar technolgical revolution, rather than evolution, is very good indeed. As a micro system, it will require serious volume to have an appreciable impact, so it is good to know that Tata Corporation have bought in. In my opinion, the system profiled in the video will have limited application for decarbonsing in 100% grid connected SA. Centralised solutions seem the more obvious route. But it is clearly going to have a focus in off-grid applications first, where it could do enormous good in remote areas of developing nations that might skip fossil fuels and avoid costly transmission infrastructure. It’s something to watch and, from a global perspective, great news that I am happy to share.