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.

37 comments

  1. in discussing the prospects for more poo buses the Brits say biogas can at best replace 10% of current natural gas consumption which is for heat and electricity generation, not transport. Australia gets 21% of its electricity (SA 52%) from burning gas. Poo buses aside I think that means we can get 2.1% of our current electricity needs from biogas, the dominant biofuel in the Diesendorf scenario.

    I spent several days with some well-to-do baby boomers from Adelaide visiting Hobart. They don’t want nuclear power for SA and have no thoughts on rising gas prices, the collapse of car making and defence contracting nor what jobs young people will do. As with Diesendorf they blithely throw out magical solutions for hard problems. It reminds me of Woody Allen in one of his movies saying ‘you should listen to yourself’. A task for 2015 should be to force lazy thinkers to get real.

  2. John Newlands’s link to poo buses is a good example of greenwashing.

    It’s greenwashing when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact.

    Manufacture of the biogas involves:
    – Collection of human and food waste,
    – Anaerobic digestion,
    – “Upgrading” by removal of CO2 from the biogas and addition of propane (!), then
    – Compression and storage.

    Besides which, propane is decidedly not a renewable or carbon-friendly fuel.

  3. US estimates for biogas potential are here
    http://theenergycollective.com/ed-dodge/2174901/how-much-renewable-natural-gas-can-be-produced
    but see some hard hitting comments. When Diesendorf says ‘biofuelled’ backup I think he mainly means biogas but also hay and wood burning like Denmark’s Avedore 2 plant. It conjures up getting back to nature with wagons laden with hay and contented cows making manure for our energy supplies. None of that horrible radioactivity.

  4. Wasn’t Diesendorf et al. stating that Baseload is a false concept because their modelling showed a Baseload of wind+solar+biomass.

  5. It’s a while since I read Diesendorf et al’s 2020 proposal, but the following is essentially correct.

    My recollection is that in addition to:
    Wind +
    Solar PV +
    Solar Thermal +
    Biomass +
    Storage +
    Hydro +
    Wave Power +
    Demand Reduction (rationing by another name) +
    Outlawing of all private non-electric vehicles +
    Only gas-powered heavy vehicles +
    Only electric locomotives,
    it relied on a very substantial HVDC grid spanning the nation, on the basis that the sun is shining somewhere and, if not, then the wind will be blowing somewhere. Subsequent reading convinced me that such a super-grid would have to span a hemisphere, rather than just the Australian continent.

    Even after all those assumptions, the nation’s energy systems were not going to meet demand or price. The Plan is, thus, politically unachievable, short of a tyrannical dictatorship taking control.

    Worst of all, removing many millions of tonnes of biomass annually for digestion will result in severely depleted soil fertility. What is the answer to this?

    Why debate heroic, unsaleable masterplans like ZCA2020? They are no more likely to be achieved than the concurrent arrival of the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy at my next birthday party.

  6. Oh, sugar! It seems I probably owe somebody a huge apology.

    Yes, I was imperfectly recalling features of BZE2020. I will also have to read up on some of Mark D’s recent work.

  7. Ben, Thanks so much for your patience and thoughtful response to the 100% renewable supporters. I think it is extremely disingenuous of them to rope in the AEMO study, which as you might know included so much dispatchable energy from bio waste combustion as to be considered totally tongue in cheek, but understandable given that AEMO was corralled into answering very specific questions by the Greens Party. I recently discovered that the nonsense, that aggregating variable renewable energy will produce any required demand profile, can be traced back to seminal work by Avery Lovins. It ranks with many circularly argued urban myths in that it just won’t go away. I’m currently examining many of the news breaks along the lines of a recent declaration that wind energy is the top contributor in Portugal. Open the lid on this claim and you find hydro, nuclear and fossil fuels running very close behind so that you have something like 22% wind backed up by about 60% dispatchable hydro, nuclear and fossils. You are taking on one of the most devious and successful propaganda campaigns in recent times. I salute you. James O’Brien

  8. For those of you who may have heard the Boyer Lectures on ABC recently, you will have heard Professor Suzanne Cory discussing “Science for a healthy environment” in Lecture 3. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/boyerlectures/boyer-lectures-2014-09/5730156

    In discussing future energy sources she references just two Australian professors, The first was Diesendorf and the second was Andrew Blakers. The first is now well know to readers of this blog and Blakers is a committed solar PV advocate. I suspect they were quoted because they told the story that Cory (a biologist BTW) wanted to hear.

    It is unfortunate that many listening to these lectures will not know much about either Diesendorf or Blakers so they will assume that their story is the right one as, of course, Suzanne Cory has done.

    Keep up the good fight Ben and Professor Barry Brook.

    1. Thanks Martin. Here was the expert response from Andrew Blakers. You will recognise all the issues raised as variously incorrect, irrelevant, out of context or not in touch with several realities. This type of deliberate ignorance and unsophisticated thinking from those wearing the mantle of “sustainability” (my discipline) makes me testy indeed.

      Dr Andrew Blakers is Director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at Australian National University, Canberra.

      “Nuclear energy is generally classed as a low emissions technology. However, it is associated with large scale mining, a depletable uranium fuel, expensive accidents, unresolved waste disposal issues, severe security constraints and nuclear weapons proliferation. In contrast, photovoltaics and wind utilise unlimited energy flows from the sun, and have insignificant mining, resource depletion, greenhouse, environmental, safety, security and military issues. In addition, PV and wind are now cheaper than nuclear. In South Australia, where Barry Brook and Corey Bradshaw are based, PV and wind provide 40% of annual electricity, up from nearly nothing a decade ago. Land alienated by PV and wind is far less than for the full nuclear cycle; in South Australia, no land is alienated by PV (it’s on building roofs) and land alienated by wind energy is nearly nothing (just the towers – farming proceeds as normal around the towers). Nuclear can compete neither on price nor speed of deployment with PV and wind. The time for nuclear energy has come and gone.”
      Dr Andrew Blakers is Director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at Australian National University, Canberra.

      “Nuclear energy is generally classed as a low emissions technology. However, it is associated with large scale mining, a depletable uranium fuel, expensive accidents, unresolved waste disposal issues, severe security constraints and nuclear weapons proliferation. In contrast, photovoltaics and wind utilise unlimited energy flows from the sun, and have insignificant mining, resource depletion, greenhouse, environmental, safety, security and military issues. In addition, PV and wind are now cheaper than nuclear. In South Australia, where Barry Brook and Corey Bradshaw are based, PV and wind provide 40% of annual electricity, up from nearly nothing a decade ago. Land alienated by PV and wind is far less than for the full nuclear cycle; in South Australia, no land is alienated by PV (it’s on building roofs) and land alienated by wind energy is nearly nothing (just the towers – farming proceeds as normal around the towers). Nuclear can compete neither on price nor speed of deployment with PV and wind. The time for nuclear energy has come and gone.”

      1. Well this must be a first, nuclear energy is at a disadvantage to renewable energy because it takes up too much room.
        “Land alienated by PV and wind is far less than for the full nuclear cycle.” – Dr Andrew Blakers expert response.
        It hints to being somewhat desperate when you start using crap such as this to bolster an argument. I guess the land area needed to produce biofuels must be part of another story.

        1. Agreed, Steve. Anybody who has stood in the centre of a solar thermal array will be aware that he or she is surrounded on all sides and for hundreds of metres by mirrors of one type or another. The ones I have worked with were babies, between 10 and 20 MW nameplate, but they certainly alienated a swag of land – land which had first to be expensively cleared, levelled, tested, drained and fenced. Then came kilometres of gravel roads and acres of storage areas and warehouses. Last, the arrays and the steam mains and the control rooms.

          Yes, certainly alienated.

          As for the suggestion that PV is only installed on roofs! That isn’t entirely true for domestic installations and is very wide of the mark with many commercial ones. If I was to have PV installed on my small farm it would most certainly not be on my roofs. Why? Safety, ease of maintenance of both the PV installations and the roof, avoiding damage to the roof, which is supposed to be watertight. Plus cost.

    1. Wow.

      The Peak Oil view of nuclear energy has not progressed one iota in at least 10 years. Heinberg dismisses it in one paragraph at the end and utterly fails to justify doing so. Of course, if he actually investigated the numbers in Weissbach and absorbed a bit more authoritative knowledge regarding nuclear, then presented this as part of what is otherwise essentially the same material as I was reading in 2005, he would be strung up in his comment section.

      EROI is a core factor of Peak Oil research, and at the same time as he was frowning at Weissbach (nuclear EROI = 75), he was citing another study which appears to stick nuclear with EROI ~ 20. Still plenty in excess of Weissbach’s threshold, but does he actually expect his readers aren’t capable of checking his references and saying “Ummm…”? What is his motivation for not reconciling this discrepancy for himself? Moreover, does he simply accept a “medium” carbon intensity for nuclear from one paper because it facilitates dismissal?

      1. One can be a peak oilist and a nuclear supporter. If synfuels like DME go primetime we’ll need the cheapest source of hydrogen as input or cheap overnight electricity for EV charging. If high-renewables enthusiasts (like Heinberg) could accept there are inherent limitations we could all work together on achieving low carbon.

        1. I’m with you there – Hubbert linearisation is a pretty clear and powerful predictor, assuming one’s reserve estimations are realistic. The general error for nuclear is a limited estimation of recoverable uranium, and when the economics of extraction and the availability in seawater, not to mention the far higher utilisation in breeder reactors, are put forward they are usually dismissed, rather than taken into account without bias. Ironically, Hubbert himself, while believing uranium to be scarce, predicted the plutonium cycle would sustain vast energy use for millenia http://www.hubbertpeak.com/hubbert/1956/1956.pdf cf. page 36′

          The origin of the EROI chart is this “paper” here http://www.esf.edu/efb/hall/2009-05Hall0327.pdf without any clear indication of where the figures come from. I’m happy to say I’ve moved on from such standards of citation, and consider myself better informed for it.

    2. “Richard Heinberg was firmly in the renewables-will-save-us camp”

      IIRC, Heinberg has been firmly in the NOTHING-will-save-us camp”. And he still is, AFAIK

    1. I believe you meant Table 6, John. Table 8 is our energy exports (which is a reiteration of the hypocrisy of our national approach, with a fat fraction of uranium in evidence).

      1. The copy pasted heading in that link is ‘Table 8: Australian electricity generation, by fuel type’. IMO we should not regard yellowcake as part of Australian energy production but in separate energy trade figures. That might show for example why we’re obliged to flog coal overseas to pay for oil imports.. which comes down to dollars not joules. Or how we could value add our own uranium to help power transport,

  9. Interesting link in the Twitter feed
    http://www.electranet.com.au/assets/Reports-and-Papers/RenewableEnergyIntegrationinSouthAustraliaAEMOElectranetReportOct2014.pdf
    It seems to be saying between the lines SA needs a decent amount of dispatchable power, fossil or otherwise. Note the acknowledgement of future high gas prices and lower industrial demand. If loss of the Vic connector is considered unlikely what about a slow moving humid front? That is overcast skies with little wind.

    1. Think I kicked off the Tweets!

      The focus of this paper is actually ancillary services provided by synchronous generation, not the larger management of variability we think about for dispatchability.

      It is saying that SA can run on 100 % wind and PV if, and only if, either synchronous generators in SA are left running for the ancillary services, or the interconnector holds up for the ancillary services.

      Big implication being, Victoria could not follow SA’s lead. If it (then NSW, then QLD) did so, the services SA depends upon would disappear.

      1. More importantly, there are big implications for the NEM and any other network around the world using AC power (most/all? of them). If they were to go to 100% RE (no coal, gas or nuclear) then they would need to cope with the need for synchronisation. Some could manage with sufficient hydro synchronous generation – but not all. Solar thermal using synchronous generators would help and It is possible to use synchronous condensers or PV with suitable inverters that can assist with synchronisation. Or they can cheat with interconnectors to countries that have sufficient synchronous generation to solve their “little” problem.

        These topics are rarely discussed in these “100% renewable energy” studies. In particular the additional costs are never discussed!

          1. The frequency in power systems needs to be kept within narrow bounds, usually within 1% either side of the norm. So for a nominal system frequency of 50 cycles per second the frequency should remain between 49.5 and 50.5 (at least that’s what my Power Makers’ Challenge book says 🙂 ). On that basis it is possible for 50.2 to be seen as a problem. Sounds like it’s going to make a lot of money for someone.

          2. Even 5 cents may be optimistic in a market where the wholesale price often sits around the 5 cent mark.

            The distributor and network owner both have increased costs when managing many small 1 to 10kW generators as against a small number of commercial scale 300 – 750 MW generators. Every additional generator introduces more complexity into the system, for example, maintenance work requires every rooftop PV generator to be disconnected from the workplace in order to avoid backfeeds. Individually, they are simple but they certainly do represent additional work and thus cost.

            Likewise, for the grid operator, frequency control comes at a price, as does also the additional transmission line capacity which is required to carry the power from where the sun is shining to where the load is located. Ramping commercial generators up and down to control frequency costs money.

            Both will, if the market is fair, result in lower returns for the domestic PV generator than the 5 cents John referred to.

            I’m tipping a larger connection charge, either one-off or annual or both, plus an argument as to whether the private producer’s surplus power is worth anything at all to the retailer.

            1. If PV becomes ‘use it or lose it’ you’d hope that batteries will come to the party. However it’s not clear they are worth the intrusiveness and recurring cost. I’m sure the grid players will get heftier connection fees and charge big for kwh when our (say) 10 kwh battery runs flat after a couple of rainy days. A few years later we have to replace it. Yet enthusiasts tell us batteries for PV are the Next Big Thing.

  10. During the ’90’s, my family lived in a place where blackouts averaged at least one per week. Apart from needing to acquire a new lead-acid driven UPS every second or third year to protect the computers and printer, my family and I got used to it.

    Apart, that is, for the occasional mid-winter bollicky run to the dam on a winter’s morn to complete a shower because the water pump had lost its power mid-event.

    If the whole population of South Australia experienced this regime for a while, it would soon demand that dispatchable baseload power, by whatever name, not be considered by the state’s energy planners as an optional extra.

  11. SAPN have said elsewhere that another reason for the 190 MW capacity upgrade to the Heywood interconnector was to export surplus wind power at times, the RET helping guarantee power sales to less windy Victoria. If SA had cheap NP some of that could be exported as well, maybe as part of the process of reducing Vic brown coal output, the latter I note is increasing per Figure 3 here. So much for low carbon. The present thinking is that Vic will have the spare capacity not SA.

    SA desperately needs a new industry; not only is Holden closing and ASC downsizing but both Arrium and BHP are laying off mine contractors.

  12. SA relatives mentioned there was little wind today 7/02/15 a hot day so I looked at the generation mix on
    http://empowerme.org.au/market.html# selecting South Australia as the state. No archives for that website so I saved a screenshot.

    Max demand was 2500 MW at 5 pm comprising 1900 MW gas and coal + 600 MW of wind and solar. It’s simply not true that renewables are ‘blowing away’ fossil fuels in SA as some claim.

  13. Today:
    NSW 0.9 t/MWh carbon intensity @ 6.7% renewables.
    SA for the same period: 0.5 @ 34.6% renewables.

    SA’s advantage due to much higher percentages of wind and natural gas is almost eliminated due to the impact of brown coal.

    Folks, we are nowhere close to an energy solution. Business-as-usual is not an option.

  14. If SA has 1450 MW of wind power and 540 MW of PV then a combined 600 MW on a hot still day is ~30% of capacity. AEMO says the year round penetration is 27 + 4 = 31%. Some studies have found there is no emissions savings beyond x% intermittents, with x ranging from 20 to 44%. A possible implication is that SA should not get more wind and solar if emissions reduction is the true goal, as opposed to being trendy. The looming RET reduction may also stymie more wind build.

    An odd thing is that ACT now reckons it takes all the output from Pt Augusta’s 100 MW Hornsdale wind farm. Perhaps it should be attributed to ACT renewable output not SA. There is one other thing different about the ACT, Victoria, Denmark, Ireland etc compared to SA … none of them has a third of the world’s easily mined uranium.

  15. Good news Ben. Your increasing stature in the Australian energy/climate scene is well-deserved and a very good thing.

    Best of luck to you and your partners-in-arms going forward.

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