Dear Giles,

Some friends brought to my attention that a recent article at Reneweconomy provided, shall we say, a rather creative review of my presentation to the Brisbane Global Cafe on November 12, 2014 at Brisbane City Hall (Memo Coalition: If you want to talk nuclear, talk about its costs)

What really delighted me about your piece is how familiar it is. I have experienced this kind of criticism before. It’s craven, lilly-livered, sniping, over-worked and under-cooked. I know exactly where it comes from. It comes from people who, despite every determined effort and expectation to the contrary, found themselves compelled by an argument in opposition to their own. No sooner have the clanging alarm bells of cognitive dissonance subsided than the pant-damaging realisation sets in that if you found it compelling… imagine what the audience thought.

Oh no…oh no…whatever will I do now? I know… I’ll attack the person. I’ll spin them and their message so hard and so fast that my audience will come to associate him and his name with everything they hate. I’ll contest his contentions with my own Ouroboros of references that are to peer-reviewed literature what cow dung is to caviar. That’ll do the trick.

Well Giles, perhaps it will but on this I’m sure we can agree: it’s a lot harder to pull off when the cameras are running and I am wearing personal voice recorders now, isn’t it?

So let’s revisit your article and compare the assertions with the footage. You said:

In a recent presentation to the Peabody Coal-sponsored energy seminar in the lead up to the G20 meeting in Brisbane, for instance, nuclear cheerleader Ben Heard blamed everyone from lefties to greenies for the current state of the nuclear industry.

Goodness me… did I? Perhaps I dozed-off during my own boring presentation but… I didn’t actually provide any commentary whatsoever on the fate, fortunes or current state of the nuclear industry. I had 15-20 minutes to speak to about 200 guests from around the world and… no, just reviewing my scripts, not a cracker on this topic.

Perhaps you mean question time? Just checking the voice file…no. Sorry, no questions on that topic, and no discussion. What are you talking about? Were you thinking of this article perhaps? You better believe I sheet home some serious responsibility to the environmental movement. But it wasn’t mentioned in this session.

On that topic of responsibility, I like the way you linked me to session sponsor Peabody Coal. I saw what you did there!

I was the guest of event organisers Brisbane Marketing. I didn’t know who was sponsoring this or any other session and nor did I care. The first I knew of Peabody Coal in this event was when I ferreted through my showbag in the hotel room the night before to find their malodorous marketing material.

The fact is I don’t give a monkey’s whether it’s Peabody Coal, Anglo Coal or Old King Cole sponsoring an event. I say what I want to say because I represent myself. So, what did I have to say about coal on this day? Check in at 2 m 20 s.

At 820 g per kWh, we will be spending this week enjoying our time with one of the dirtiest electricity supplies in the world…This brown coal power station is responsible for 19 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year… In the fight against climate change, places like Loy Yang are ground zero. If we aren’t succeeding in driving plants like that out of our economies, we aren’t succeeding at all… we can see the machines simply raking away strip after strip of land. Never to grow trees, never to grow food, never to host biodiverisity. Just sacrificed in our addiction to coal.

Did you see the Peabody execs fist-pumping at that bit? No? Me neither. Funny, I don’t know about you but I did not score an invite to to the Peabody-sponsored lunch after the session… do you think it was something I said?

But back to what you said:

Heard, meanwhile, did the usual pro-nuclear thing of attacking renewables – criticising their “intermittency” a disingenuous meme we hear often in the government and conservative commentariat.

Wha… the Government and conservative commentariat? The last public thing I had to say about the Government was this piece chastising Treasurer Joe Hockey for not understanding our greenhouse accounts. In an earlier piece I criticised the climate policies of the Coalition, Labor and Greens all at once.

As to attacking renewables… did I? That would be a little bit split-personality of me since in two recent and highly viewed pieces I have argued for policy that would all-but-ensure renewables meet 20-30 % of Australia’s electricity requirements.

No, what I did was point out accurate and relevant limitations to what renewable technologies can deliver us in the face of the epic scale of the challenges we face. “Intermittency” is not a conservative political value, it’s an operational reality.

Heard, for instance, argued that wind farms take up too much space – omitting to note that the land can and is used for grazing, crops and other farming activities.

Did I? Have a look from 9 m.

We can look at the size it takes to provide 1320 MW of wind power. It’s 13 kilometres squared of the best windy territory.

This is correct. I didn’t talk about other land use because I wasn’t talking about land use! I was illustrating an issue about energy density and the area required to provide 1320 MW peak wind power. Sure, use the land in the middle for grazing, crops and other farming activities. It still takes that much room in prime wind country to provide that much peak wind power and that’s a real concern when people argue for 100 % renewables. What else did I say, that you omitted to report? 9 m 40 s

I’m a supporter of renewable energy. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. Am I prepared to bet the climate on it? No. Am I prepared to bet the provision of reliable electricity for those who need it, on it? No. No I’m not.

That’s the divider. I’m behind renewables without being so myopic as to imagine they will do it all, with lives of the global poor as my chips on the casino table.

Meanwhile the “pot shot” I took at Ivanpah is a simple and troubling fact and one you acknowledge in your own circular referencing: they, the proponents of the project, do not control the weather. What did I actually say? 10 m 25 s

That is the risk in building a 100 % renewable energy system based on climatic systems.

If you have a few of these systems it doesn’t matter much. It’s a low level of penetration, so a crap year of output hurts the investors, primarily. The existing system reserves can deliver when the renewables fail. Like for South Australia’s successful integration into the NEM of wind. It has piggy-backed on the robustness of the existing system which, I might add, is quite ok by me. The issue here is the notion of 100 % renewables based on climatic variables. That’s an entirely different proposition that you seek to downplay or simply ignore. It’s a challenge that former US Energy Secretary Steven Chu was quite clear about this week in Canberra for the launch of the World Energy Outlook (see my Twitter feed from the day). Was he taking “pot shots” too?

You then seek to use the example of Hinkley to big-up the cost challenge of nuclear.

Mate, I beat you to it. No sooner were the costs announced than I criticised it as too expensive to get the job done on a global scale, a piece that was then republished and widely read. In it I concluded:

Nuclear power is clean. It’s safe. It’s efficient. It can make a big difference, fast. Waste can be managed until we use it as fuel, and fear of radiation can be defused. It is, as I have said, great value. What advocates cannot do is make it cheaper than fossil fuels when it isn’t, in a world with weak consensus on climate change action and lackluster energy planning.

We need to keep working for that climate consensus, for sensible long-term policy to support massive clean energy and to overcome the ill-conceived objections to nuclear. At the same time we urgently need a stronger and more visible vision and plan for better nuclear prices and faster roll out, and this needs to come from the industry.

Is that the conduct of a nuclear cheerleader? According to you “what they – and the pro-nuclear advocates – never mention is cost”. I mention cost all the time. Like in this article with Barry Brook. Cost is a real issue for nuclear. It’s not some fairy tale of the rusted-on anti-nuke. It’s real and it’s something I want to see people talk about more, not less, provided the discussion is well informed and in context of our options.

That the cost-problem is the same, but much worse, for dispatchable renewable technologies is why we called for a technology-neutral policy to reward firm capacity from zero-carbon sources in a competitive way. If nuclear loses that fight, fine, I really don’t care. What I care about is decarbonisation.

So Giles, please work harder. This type of writing is garbage. You deliberately and blatantly misrepresented me and the session and, in so doing, kept your loyal readership in the dark.

If nothing else mate, a tip: next time check for cameras?

Kind regards,

Ben Heard; Director: ThinkClimate Consulting; Doctoral candidate, University of Adelaide; blogger and commentator through DecarboniseSA


  1. “Heard, for instance, argued that wind farms take up too much space – omitting to note that the land can and is used for grazing, crops and other farming activities”

    …that point is obvious to anyone looking at the picture behind Ben’s head as he spoke.

    Land coverage is an essential point no matter what the dual-purpose is, because every square meter is a potential battle against NIMBY. This pertains to single purpose (wind-only) as much as it does dual-purpose.

    1. I think it depends on the scale and the backyard. Here in the States many farmers enjoy economic benefit from wind turbines co-located on their crop and grazing land. I write from Colorado where the wind is good, farms are large and population low in wind regions, and the skies vast and arid. Other places (Germany, Scotland) wind turbines located near villages may be a health hazard and considered an eyesore.

      But you and Ben are not arguing Wind should not be developed at all, only that one way or another there are costs involved, intermittent capacity factor is not the same as dispatchable capacity factor, and in any electric grid system what counts is overall system cost of reliable energy, and total emissions from everything that supplies the grid.

      Are you sure you want to be seen as taking such an holistic, wide-ranging view? Where will it end? 🙂

      1. A consortium is trying to build a 600MW wind farm on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, Ben’s home State. They are going so far as to build their own HVDC cable direct to Adelaide to mitigate the issues arising with integration more wind into the SA grid backbone. It’s a great opportunity for this region, the result? A once peaceful community bitterly divided between those who agreed to let their land be used and those on the periphery. It’s an unfortunate phenomenon that is becoming more popular in recent years.

        1. Divided communities? Can you link to that for me please.
          If my neighbour found a significant gold deposit on his land I might feel resentment/envy or pleasure for his good fortune. But division? I doubt it. Maybe willing owners were overlooked simply because the scope of the plan limited the number of sites required.
          Appreciate more info Irregular Commentator.

            1. The Yorke Peninsulans are equal opportunity NIMBYs as some also oppose the nearby Hillside mine
              Another 600 MW wind farm proposal King Island would also have needed an underwater HVDC cable but both Ceres and King Island are now nixed. Re Hillside, Olympic Dam and other go-ahead mines I note the outgoing head of SA Power Networks has wondered aloud where they will get the extra power. Not wind or solar I’d say.

  2. On the supposed diseconomics of Hinkley C it could be pointed out that Canberra’s new solar farm (with 83,000 panels) will produce power for about 25 years at 16% capacity factor at a contracted price of 18c per kwh. Hinkley should produce power at 90% c.f. for 60 years with the contract price 9.25 pence X 1.91 exchange rate = 18c also. I’d say Hinkley is the better deal.

    On other forums I see people have taken RenewEconomy to heart with talk of a ‘utility death spiral’ and imminent improvements in batteries. I don’t see it. The general vibe is that we’re on the cusp of a renewables revolution. However the official statistics say 1.5% solar electricity in 2013, 2.9% windpower and effectively nil for transport energy and industrial direct heat. The ‘revolution’ needs to get a move on.

    1. Ok, I’ll go out on a limb here. A nuclear plant built right now using state of the art fabrication techniques and materials knowledge should reliably work for a century.

      1. I think you’re probably right.

        A knowledgeable commenter at Atomic Insights elucidated the arbitrary nature of the initial 40 year operating license.

        Reactors built with 50 year old know-how are readily extended to 60 and potentially 80 years under one of the world’s toughest regulatory regimes

        Opponents would hate the idea of a century nuke, whereas we see the staggering amount of CO2 and PM2.5 saved.

  3. Don’t let them rattle you, Ben.

    As one of the very few available, lucid Australian commenters on low carbon energy options, we need you out there, clam, smiling and delivering.

    By writing as he did, Giles demonstrates the poverty of his arguments and his poor grasp of his favourite subject.

  4. Dear Ben.
    You say: “I didn’t actually provide any commentary whatsoever on the fate, fortunes or current state of the nuclear industry.”
    Really? Yes, I have a tape too, and I’m sure it has recorded exactly the same thing as it does on the four recordings you said were also done in the room. (I was sitting next to one of the cameras).
    In the Q&A, which you didn’t post, but which i also recorded, at 26mins20s, jus before the questions were open to the audience, and in response to a question from Alex Wonhas, you start a one minute lament about the state of the nuclear industry, starting off with: “There is a brigade of anti nuclear activities globally” that only want us to be afraid of nuclear etc etc.
    As for the other stuff, I notice you don’t address the two biggest issues i pulled you up on. At 10m10s in the video you say the only reason Ivanpah produced only one third of its target was variation in the weather. This is patently false and you know it. This is the issue i picked you up on. That figure you have on the presentation behind you is for 2018 production. This – 2014 – is the first year, when they were experimenting with set ups, systems etc. Their 20 year forecasts account for 20 per cent variations in sun.
    And you don’t address your claims about the LCOE of wind and solar, and why they – according to you – must have grid integration brought into their calculations, but not nuclear. Curious.
    What you do betray is your bias against renewables. You say you are a supporter but only up to 20-30%. I guess that’s more of a supporter than tony abbott, but not much more.
    You do admit that you do not believe that renewables can do any more than that, so you support for renewable is tokenism at best, considering some of the other things you said about PV. I do believe that renewables can do more, a heck of a lot more, and in Australia close as dammit to 100%, if not 100%. And I hope for the sake of government and company balance sheets that i am right. And my principal beef against nuclear is its costs, ditto with CCS.

    1. Thanks for reminding me about that bit of audio Giles.

      Believe it or not, it is not remotely what you have made it out to be. That’s why I missed it.

      I’ll try and trim it and post the clip here.

      Quite happy for others to address the remainder of you comments if they wish.

    2. that solar guy,

      It hasn’t escaped my attention that people such as yourself have a beef against nuclear costs. Equally I am very much aware that they seldom back their claims up by anything other than cherry picking.

      So lets have a look at the overall situation in Europe from a credible source. But first lets take a look at electricity generation in Europe by fuel, as absolute numbers must be seen in context of contribution to electricity supply. Nuclear supplies far more electricity than “new renewables” currently and historically there is simply no comparison.

      Here is the Oct, 2014 ECOFYS report on electricity subsidies and costs in Europe:

      Figure S – 7 shows LCOE by technology. Is nuclear out of the ball park? – decisively not! The only “new renewable” that has an LCOE advantage over nuclear is on-shore wind. And that advantage is not all that great and will certainly be eroded by the balancing costs of wind power. These costs grow proportionally faster as the penetration of wind increases. Furthermore, nuclear provides system level capabilities that wind cannot by virtue of being a synchronous thermal generator.

      So what about external costs in Figure S – 6? A small advantage to wind, but the other new renewables have external costs at least as great as nuclear. Note that the figure given for biomass is for waste only and not for custom grown feedstock which will surely have higher external costs.

      And current subsidies shown in Figure S – 2. Nuclear has less current subsidies than each of solar, wind and biomass but produces much more electricity. Note in particular the case of France in Figure S-3 where current subsidies for new renewables swamp any subsidies to nuclear.

      And last but not least, historical subsidies in Figure S-5 and here nuclear certainly leads but must be viewed in the context of the amount of low emission electricity produced. The principle direct support has been by the state providing access to low cost capital. To some extent this is “funny money” – a cost that is not met by the tax payer or the end user of electricity.

      The case that “nuclear is too expensive” looks extraordinarily weak.

      1. That are comparisons that refer to the situation >~2years behind, probably because of the time it takes to prepare such a report and because those analysts refer to their stored old numbers.

        For a real comparison refer to the German Feed-in-Tariffs (FiT) and the UK Hinkley FiT + subsidies. (the UK renewable FiT won’t be paid as renewable will be auctioned in UK. Those auctions will end at German price levels as costs in both countries ~same and German companies will take part of the auctions)

        Hinkley will start to produce in 2023. With 2% inflation it then gets a FiT of £115/MWh. The 10Billion loan guarantee subsidy add to that £30/MWh (let’s forget the decommission + liability + waste subsidies). This delivers £145/MWh in 2023; £162/MWh in 2030; and £191/MWh in 2040 half way the 35year guarantee period.

        Renewable based on German FiT with long term price decrease of 8%/a solar and 3%/a wind deliver:
        1MW PVsolar: 2023 £35/MWh; 2030 £20/MWh.
        Onshore wind: 2023 $50/MWh; 2030 $40/MWh.
        While the guarantee period is not 35years but only 20 (solar) and 15 (wind) years!
        After that period whole sale prices, now ~£30/MWh going down in coming years (as trade at the electricity market shows).

        So I agree with Ben Heard that new nuclear is too expensive now.
        The higher integration costs may add some costs to renewable (storage, etc), but renewable then still stays 2-4times cheaper than present new nuclear (Agora think tank in Germany showed those are ~£8/MWh in 100% renewable situation).

        1. I must point out that my comments related specifically to Hinkley and specifically to the ability to upscale that to a global solution. In terms of whether I think Hinkley is good value for the UK compared to options, I think it is. The guarantee period for nuclear is longer because the lifetime is much longer. The FiT is corrected for inflation for the other sources too and their prices are HIGHER in the UK than the nuclear price. Did you read my link about this?

          Australia, like many nations, is yet to deploy nuclear. When we do we will have the whole world from which to accept competitive tenders: USA, Canada, France, Korea, China, Argentina, Russia… none of them have any head-start on us. We have none of the historic or nationalistic ties of other nations. We will not pay Hinkley prices.

          1. As UK wants as much renewable as possible for their limited budget, they announced that they will auction.
            So Germans will bid too (EU rules). As the costs in UK and Germany are similar, the prices at these auctions will end at same level as the German FiT’s.

        2. No, it’s not from two years ago. The prices are given in 2012 EUR.

          The Hinkley C project developers will have to pay a “commercial rate” for the loan guarantee. It is not a free lunch and is already factored into the strike price. This was necessary for EC approval, which has been granted. The 30 quid/MWh appears to have been plucked out of thin air.

          There are no FiTs involved in Hinkley C but there is a contract for difference mechanism with a strike price – just as for new large scale renewables projects. If the market price for electricity is less than the strike price, the Hinkley C operator will be paid the difference. If it is greater, the Hinckley C operator pays the difference.

          Large scale renewables will also be subject to CfD arrangements:

          The strike prices on offer in the UK are according to DECC in £/MWh

          Hinkley C: 92.5
          Onshore Wind: 95-90
          Offshore Wind 155-140
          Large Solar Photo-Voltaic 120-100

          For renewables, the first figure is for 2014/2015 and the second 2018-2019. Just like the nuclear strike price, all other strike prices are inflation linked.

          These numbers are consistent with the ECOFYS report.

          Clearly, renewables are not 2-4 times cheaper in the UK. If anything they are more expensive unless the UK government are complete idiots doling out simply vast subsidies for no good reason.

          1. So stalking me again.
            Trying to persuade Ben to ban me from the forum?
            Why do you think that censorship helps?
            Because you don’t have any convincing answer?

            1. I don’t like fingerpuppets. Just use your real name, so people can search and see how you constantly copy/paste your anti-nuclear arguments on different websites, simply ignoring the detailed rebuttals which actual experts take time to prepare for you again, and again, and again.

              And you may remember the promise I made to you back in 2011. I made it my mission to keep track of you and your strategy of spreading the same known anti-nuclear misinformation over, and over, and over, and over again, around the internet. If you want to hide from me, you need to try harder, Bas Gresnigt.

    3. I appreciate it is your remit to defend renewables in general and what you wrote in particular. You’re probably doing a better job of the former than the latter. Your article was titled “Memo Coalition: If you want to talk nuclear, talk about its costs”; you end your response here implying that your biggest concern with nuclear, as well as CCS, is cost. Ben has clearly addressed your assertion that commentators like himself ignore costs. This central issue, which is a legitimate concern to every serious energy commentator I read, is obviously no longer a point of contention.

      It is telling that you rephrase 2 points you feel Ben didn’t address. Firstly, the weather issue is explicitly addressed in the link you cite, but not your article. I hope Ms Casey’s optimism is justified, and certainly sooner than 2018. I also hope this will allow Ivanpah to scale back its use of pre-morning natural gas, but there’s no indication that this will happen. The Cleantechnica article rightly laments this reliance but gives no numbers; based on the figures from and the IPCC’s 2014 minimum emissions intensity for natural gas combustion, the unexpected 4-fold increase of daily gas use results, on the back of my envelope, in 84,000 tons of CO2 emitted annually during normal operation. Not lifetime emissions including concrete, steel, etc – normal operation. This doesn’t include the dispatchable capacity emissions required for times of shortfall that he alludes to in general, which brings up LCOE.

      LCOE figures can be contentious and commentators like Ben, Barry and Geoff have analysed and written on them extensively. We all know that. In this case, Ben left the detailed discussion out, but importantly has recently pointed to SA wind as a very successful example of cost effective integration. I think this is because he treats all energy sources on their merits, the only biases (damn big but justifiable) being those he stated: capacity to decarbonise and alleviate energy poverty.

      I must point out that the emissions from Ivanpah would ideally require CCS to mitigate, which are grouped with nuclear as prohibitively expensive in the RenewEconomy article

      I’ll also point out here that Chrome found the term “emissions” in the article only in Julie Bishop’s quote, and did not find “carbon” at all outside CCS. Carbon emissions and decarbonisation were the indisputable central themes of Ben’s presentation.

      Terms like “cheerleader” and “Tony Abbott”, and rejecting support for wind and solar below ~100% – never mind the identified constraints ( – don’t contribute to serious discussion. Neither is refusing to take a guy at his word or his record. For that record, I wish that high wind/solar penetration did exactly what passionate proponents say they do, and while I’m at it I wish to witness Germany hit that elusive synergy in 2015 and for its national emissions to begin plummeting. If that happened, the way forward would be clear, and in the short time frame invariably touted by those proponents (generally in comparison to the worst nuclear construction times). Australia’s committed renewable energy sector could respond with certainty and decarbonise us with more wind and solar. Fantastic! But I’m afraid this wishful thinking is just as unproductive a contribution.

      Oscar Archer

    4. [quote]What you do betray is your bias against renewables. You say you are a supporter but only up to 20-30%. I guess that’s more of a supporter than tony abbott, but not much more.[/quote]

      And yet, you clearly are only happy with 0% nuclear. Rather hypocritical?

    5. To expand just a bit upon ActinideAge’s remark r.e. contentiousness of LCOE, is must all time be kept firmly in mind that LCOE is a marginal metric, the cost of selling a small (marginal) unit of electricity into an existing grid. Opposite this is value, what is that unit of electricity actually worth. From EIA page 1 paragraph 4:
      “A related factor is the capacity value, which depends on both the existing capacity mix and load characteristics in a region. Since load must be balanced on a continuous basis, units whose output can be varied to follow demand (dispatchable technologies) generally have more value to a system than less flexible units (non-dispatchable technologies), or those whose operation is tied to the availability of an intermittent resource. The LCOE values for dispatchable and nondispatchable technologies are listed separately in the tables, because caution should be used when comparing them to one another.”

      Emphasis added. Other authors refer to “System LCOE” in order to capture the difference between marginal cost (LCOE) and marginal utility (what it costs to make it reliable). And this is where grid integration comes in. Its not that Ben disregarded grid integration costs of nuclear and focused on the integration cost of wind and solar, because he most explicitly did not. Total system cost, which includes grid integration cost, applies to everything. Its what adds up and appears on your final bill (less taxes, fees, subsidies, etc.) What Ben said was that the climate enemy is coal, to save the climate we must replace coal plant as expeditiously as possible: drop out cola plant, drop in nuclear pretty much on a one-to-one basis. Site a nuclear plant on an existing coal site, and grid integration is essentially the same. Same real estate, same transmission, pretty much the same cooling requirement (which may or may not be an issue). Same reliability. Same dispatchability. Drop out coal, drop in nuclear.

      Lets look at a real-world example of what it would take to almost (but not quite) do the same thing with wind. A few months back Wall Street Journal reported a proposal to site a wind farm in Wyoming, transmit its power to a Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) in Utah, and from there tie into the existing grid for sale to California. The wind farm, Wyoming-Utah transmission line, and CAES would all be new construction. Here is the article: Lets run some numbers:

      The wind farm would be 2.1 GW at $4 billion, the transmission line $2.6 billion, and the 1.2 GW capacity, 60 GWh storage, CAES $1.5 billion — which has got to be a record low-ball price for electric energy storage, which is why I choose it. Call it $8.1 billion total, and assume a southern Wyoming wind CF of 42%. (Yes, that’s off-shore territory. Its why they choose southern Wyoming.) So 2.1GW*0.42=880MW average for capital cost of $9.2/(dispatchable watt).

      Well… mostly dispatchable. Most of the time. Assuming an ideal 70% adiabatic conversion efficiency, 60 GWh will store 880 MW for 60 GWh * 0.7 / .880GW = 48 hours. Two days.

      Now, by popular folklore two days should be plenty more than adequate storage because everyone know the wind never stops in southern Wyoming. But… everyone else knows “95% of what everyone knows is bunk.” So you have to ask yourself, “Do I feel lucky?”

      Back at LCOE. Oversimplified, marginal LCOE = [(r/(1-(1+r)^-N))*CapitalCost + O&M cost + Fuel cost]
      For wind we’ll assume a discount rate r=7% and zero fuel cost. The aforementioned EIA reference lists onshore wind fixed O&M cost at $13/MWh for onshore wind, but that doesn’t include the CAES. I don’t know the cost of running a CAES, but probably not as much as the wind farm. For simplicity call total O&M $20/MWh and sautee to taste. N=30 years amortization. Gives a ballpark System LCOE for this proposed system of $0.105/kWh. Neglecting grid integration cost, capital cost is just $4.55/watt and marginal LCOE is only $0.055/kWh. In this case System LCOE is almost exactly twice the nominal LCOE. That’s the cost of reliable clean energy.

      Lets look at new U.S. nuclear.

      Westinghouse AP1000 is nominally 1170 MW, call it 1GW after ~90% CF. Point Vogtle was originally costed at $5.5/watt but there have been (wait for it) delays, and they’re now looking at $6.7/watt for these first-of-a-kind plant. Call it $7/watt because the show ain’t over. From aforementioned EIA tables assume discount rate r=10%, fixed and variable operation costs each at $11.8/MWh, and N again the standard 30 years. That’s a System LCOE (and marginal LCOE) of $0.108/kWh, assuming no new transmission. If Westinghouse/CBI actually bring them in at $6.7/watt it will be LCOE of $0.105/kWh. At $5.5/watt capital, $0.090/kWh. That’s the first 30 years. AP1000 has a nominal initial licensed life of 60 years. Investment cost is fully recovered after the first 30, so LCOE is just 2*$11.8/MWh = $0.023/kWh for the next 30. Life doesn’t stop at sixty of course, but you do have to count on some expensive refurbishment.

      Either way, big-bottle nuclear is a pretty good deal if you can afford it.

      Back at Ben, and why his enthusiasm for wind and solar wanes as their market penetration exceeds their nominal capacity factors of 20% – 30%. Its the difference between System LCOE and the usual marginal LCOE. Without energy storage buffering and using only fossil generation for balancing and backup, the efficiency of an intermittent system must drop after its market penetration exceeds its capacity factor. This is by definition of capacity factor. And wide-spread wind-farm distribution doesn’t save you much because while it may be true that “the wind always blows somewhere”, it isn’t true that it always blows somewhere very hard. Therefore as wind penetration exceeds its capacity factor, there is more and more excess wind overbuild, and more and more of the time when some turbines somewhere must be feathered because there simply isn’t any place to soak up their juice. By definition. So your effective capacity factor decreases and your marginal LCOE goes up. And up. And up. The greater your intermittent overbuild, the greater your marginal LCOE. Beyond their nominal capacity factor, these things just do not scale.

      Until then of course, all is good. Roughly speaking, with market penetration beneath nominal capacity factor, there is always room for fossil plant (particularly OCCT and pulverized coal) to throttle back and make space for intermittent generators. In this case the marginal utility of your intermittent generation is just the unit cost of the fossil fuel saved. If this isn’t greater than the marginal LCOE of your intermittent generation, simply tax the fossil emissions until it is.

      Bottom line: beneath 20 – 30% penetration, wind and solar are fine. A grid powered 100% by these things requires expensive storage, transmission, and backup, at costs exceeding that of nuclear. Not so fine. We also have to consider how to bring *any* of these things in under the cost of emission-cost externalized coal. Not fine at all.

      1. The storage cost sounds too good to be true. Tesla say that after some years of operating their ‘gigafactory’ they will get the capital cost of lithium ion down to $150 per kwh or $150m per Gwh. That’s for n deep discharge cycles whatever n is. Anyways 60 Gwh X $150m = $9 bn not $1.5 bn. Is the CAES plant a closet gas user like Ivanpah?

        1. To be fair to Tesla, you aren’t going to slot one of these CAES into the boot of your car. From the WSJ article, the compressed air reservoirs are to be formed by dissolution of subterranean salt domes, is why the cost comes in so low. Hydro and pumped-hydro are the current $/GWh storage champs, their costs are largely determined by the cost of moving earth to build the dams. And the volume is huge: four reservoirs each about the size of a large skyscraper. (New York’s Empire State Building). With these volumes heat loss should be negligible. There may be some need for gas heat, but I suspect it will be minimal compared to the amount of energy stored.

          The article didn’t address such nuances as where the water would come from to dissolve the salt, or where it and the salt would go afterward. Somebody’s back yard, presumably. Just not California’s. It’s an exciting possibility if it works out.

          My above sketch postulated baseload use of the wind+caes, to compare with baseload nuclear. Consider an alternative use for 60 GWh compressed air. According to California ISO, on 29 September 2014 California was drawing 20 GW base load and 32 GW peak. The fluctuation isn’t sinusoidal as the afternoon-evening peak is broader than the wee-hours trough, but for simplicity assume a sinusoidal fluctuation of 6 GW with 24 hr period around a 26 GW average. Assume the 26 GW average is supplied by reliable base load generators.

          It isn’t, as California has a fair bit of hydro and gas. But as an approximation California would then need to store 6 GW distributed as half a sine wave over 12 nighttime hours in order to meet the late-day 32 GW demand from the 26 GW base. Which comes out to a bit less than 50 GWh storage delivering 6 GW peak.

          70% of 60GWh is only 42 GWh, and the 1.2 GW capacity of the proposed Utah facility a bit short of the 6 needed, and this during early autumn, not mid-summer peak. So make it 72 GWh, with five or six times the number of turbines. That and 26 or 28 GW-class nukes running at a constant 90% baseload could power the entire state of California, essentially emissions free.

          A fantasy to be sure. Never happen, not in my lifetime. But does illustrate the value of low-cost energy storage.

          1. Like pumped hydro the existence of mined out salt domes depends on geographical luck. Australia’s first underground salt mine may start next year. Fracking of tight oil shales is another US phenomenon that doesn’t work so well elsewhere.

            1. Heh. Sometimes you get lucky. On the other hand, I’d caution against underestimating the ingenuity of reservoir engineers. When hydraulic fracturing and dissolution dome excavation proposals do come to Australia, I hope you are prepared for them, and have a plan in place for how they might (and might not) contribute to your clean energy needs.

              1. In fact Australia is at the vanguard of some energy technologies they just haven’t worked out. For example dry rock geothermal based on uranium decay heat in sandstone capped granite. Some effort has been put into horizontal drilling and fracking, for example in the ageing Cooper Basin that supplies gas for about half of SA’s electricity. Again disappointment. Logic suggests using local uranium but opposition is fierce.

    6. OK Giles, we look forward to your equally searching examination of the full system costs of going ‘as near as dammit’ 100% renewable in Australia. Hint: uncritical citation of BZE ‘publications’ won’t cut it.

      And contra your ‘curious’, I don’t see any incongruity in negating grid integration costs for nuclear. This is because in every relevant characteristic including location, it can be straight swapped for coal, around which the existing grid has been built. The same cannot be said of wind and solar.

    7. “You say you are a supporter but only up to 20-30%. ”

      Giles, please read my posts properly. I am a supporter of whatever a well-designed, competitive policy for decarbonisation delivers by way of renewable penetration. It is my researched opinion that it would likely be in the range of 20-30%, mostly made up of on-shore wind and solar PV. If it’s more than that, or less, fine: provided net-benefit and national interest are guiding the policy, it doesn’t matter.

      I am sure renewables could do more than that. However that would be to stretch deployment beyond economic sense, simply in the name of saying no to the sensible solution that is nuclear. That would compromise decarbonisation as an outcome so I don’t support it. Because I am not wedded to a technology outcome. I just want a stable climate.

    1. Blogs are fluid and frequently morph away from the original theme.We often see pissing competitions and folks trying to claim the higher intellectual ground. Some use tactics of abuse, others of incredible detail that feigns understanding and command of a topic. That can lead to a loss of relevance and a selfish possession of the blog that obscures the original theme. But there is no substitute for informed rational debate.

      Having said that, may I note that many of the replies have tendered costing estimates for one style of solution or another. That’s fine of course but if the most expensive option is the best most complete solution and in the context of very serious climate reaction, why are we discussing dollars? Consider the cost of doing naught..

      1. Hey! I resemble that remark!! Your point is well-made though, but the reality is that twenty years of global climate talks have resulted in naught but exponential consumption of coal. It would indeed be very nice if we could all agree to internalize the cost of emissions and get on with it. But such assumes we homo sapiens sapiens are rational actors who act in our communally enlightened self interest, an hypothesis for which there is paucity of evidence. In the global marketplace of economic competition, he who consumes the most energy the most efficiently wins. Bringing sufficient supplies of low-carbon generation on-line within our limited time is an extremely daunting task, and cost is always an object. Civil discussion about what solutions are (or will be) cost-effective, when, and under what circumstance, are always in order.

  5. Not sure if the Clean Energy Target is the right approach but the RET could be changed by December 31st
    Note the mention of the nuclear option. Of the big gentailers at least Origin Energy seems to have thought about NP. Their CEO has mentioned it and they put money into Geodynamics so they are not afraid of FOAK technology. Alas I suspect the new year will see the same old battles rekindled.

  6. In my opinion co-locating NPP with desalination helps sell nuclear to the public, even if the method is all-electric reverse osmosis with no thermal input such as flash distillation. Maybe SA summers are more rainy than they used to be but Adelaide’s 100 GL/y (=274 ML/d) desal insurance option for water supply seems to be losing favour
    I recall beefed up electrical transmission was put in to run the plant in the corner of the former Exxon Mobil oil refinery site which has to be cleaned up by 2019. Suburbs have been growing nearby with the residents seemingly not too concerned about benzene in the soil.

    I think the 239 ha Pt Stanvac site would be good for an EC6. Start by building a heavy water separation unit next to the existing desal. Apparently the desal has a mini hydro energy recovery system for the brine discharge water with the elevated land also useful tsunami proofing. The point about co-locating desals and NPP also applies to Eyre Pensinsula since their 280 ML/d Whyalla desal was cancelled. It is expected EP will have water shortages by 2025 maybe earlier if some big mines go ahead. Good thing they didn’t put the SA state capital there as the main dam Todd Reservoir is getting saline as well as being too small, hence the river water pipeline from Morgan. What happens if there is a 1998 style El Nino and the river is dry?

  7. BBC story on Maralinga A-bomb tests
    That was a decade before large uranium deposits were found in that Woomera restricted area.
    They want to take tourists to visit ground zero. Kinda strange to burn fossil fuels to work up a hatred of everything nuclear. Or maybe people will think it works out OK in the long run.

  8. Interesting to dissect SA electricity supply around local noon on a hot day
    select South Australia. See the list of large generators at the bottom left. Most sources are running at high capacity including wind. I remember relatives emailing me a phone photo of a Yorke Pensinsula wind farm becalmed on a hot day; maybe this is part of climate change. Both wind and solar are currently less than 50% of their nameplate 540 MW and 1450 MW capacities. Still need something to replace the majority output from coal and gas.

  9. The 1000km Alice Springs to Moomba gas pipeline is getting traction
    I think the gas will originate off the WA coast within sight of East Timor (who get pocket money) then pumped down to AS reversing the current flow. This somewhat fulfills the 1970s vision of Rex Connor about an east west gas link before fracking and CSG went prime time.

    I note another politician Jay Weatherill wears a suit and tie in 44C heat so perhaps he’s not big on energy conservation via not needing aircon. Evidently SA has no other energy resources to replace gas. Uranium mines have to be dug with fossil fuel energy because those are the rules.

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