Ben Heard

In delivering its interim findings after almost a year of research, consultation and testimony, the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission has extolled the potential benefits of a facility for the storage and disposal of international used nuclear fuel. The commission, led by Kevin Scarce, says it has uncovered potential benefits that far exceed the expectations of previous investigations.

They point to a future wealth fund growing at around A$6 billion per year and a present value of more A$50 billion – potentially a significant economic boost to South Australia through ramping up its engagement with the nuclear fuel industry.

If conservatively invested, those revenues, totalling A$267 billion, could give rise to a state wealth fund estimated to reach A$467 billion after 70 years of operations. While other questions will remain, one has been decisively answered: in economic terms, the nuclear opportunity is there for the taking.

Taking the world’s waste

The Royal Commission has identified the potential to establish and operate a facility to accept 138,000 tonnes of heavy metal (MtHM) from spent fuel over a period of some 50 years. Such a facility would be a globally significant piece of infrastructure and a major step forward in the internationalisation of the nuclear fuel cycle.

With no directly comparable service in operation today, demand for service is high, although that means the prices to be paid for using it are also uncertain. The Royal Commission estimates a figure of A$1.75 million per MtHM as a conservative baseline price. For context, that figure is above the A$1.37 million per MtHM adopted in my own modelling as the mid-price. If the Royal Commission’s estimates are correct, the market for taking other nations’ spent nuclear fuel is more lucrative than previously anticipated.

The relatively rapid establishment of an above-ground interim storage facility would enable this process to begin relatively quickly. The Commission has estimated this could be funded by upfront contracts for receiving the first 15,500 MtHM based on the A$1.75 million per MtHM figure. That would be followed in future by underground disposal. However, with 11 years’ establishment and 17 years of above ground loading, there seems ample scope to revisit a range of pathways for the used fuel material before it is buried beneath the ground.

Holtec-schematic

That may occur via the commercialisation of advanced nuclear technologies such as fuel recycling and fast reactors. At this stage, no advanced technology pathway has been advocated for South Australia, however a scientific research group tied to the facility has been recommended.

Research by me and my colleagues suggests these technologies are ready for commercialisation now and this would be an opportune investment of revenues for South Australia. We believe there is a great opportunity here, although the commission has taken a more conservative view.

Nuclear power a trickier prospect

There also appears to be no prospect of domestic nuclear power for Australia, in the short term at least. The commission has highlighted a range of size, cost and technical challenges, including the need for greatly strengthened climate policy. This is a fair and accurate reflection of Australia’s current generating requirements, resources and policy settings and a reasonable, though conservative, reading of the current state of technology.

But importantly, the findings repeatedly stress that the nuclear generation option may be either beneficial or demanded in future to achieve the necessary deep decarbonisation of our economy. Nuclear electricity should not be ruled out, and it therefore follows that some planning options should be investigated. Should any of a range of conditions change and Australia decides nuclear power is a necessary inclusion, we would then be better positioned to do it.

The Commission has found likely benefits to expansion of uranium mining, although they are relatively small with royalties in the tens of millions of dollars per year. No case has been found for short-term engagement with value-adding processes of conversion, enrichment, and fabrication of nuclear fuel.

An exception to this is the concept of “fuel leasing”, which allows Australian uranium to be sold overseas with an accompanying agreement that the spent fuel will be sent back here for a fee. Having an international nuclear waste storage facility would obviously help this approach, in turn locking in more value from uranium mining.

Given the economic benefits identified by the commission in providing multinational services in used fuel storage and disposal, the domestic use of nuclear power should not be arbitrarily impeded. It may be vital in future, and expanded mining and fuel leasing might provide yet more economic benefits.

Politically, of course, the issue is in the hands of the South Australian public.

The Conversation

Ben Heard, Doctoral student

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

55 comments

  1. The RC examined the facts and their findings have dispelled many of the myths about nuclear. Safety, security and safeguards can be managed. Nuclear is confirmed as a whole life-cycle low emissions technology. We have a skilled workforce that could adapt to nuclear construction.
    With society and community consent, there is now an opportunity for us to progress.

  2. the tentative findings actually said that nuclear might suddenly become viable IF CO2 reductions becomes the government’s objective, rather than economic returns; but that under the current market rules where RE is assumed to be built to max it out & always dispatched as first priority, no other generating technology was financially viable without subsidy to match RE’s

    1. That is not the perspective of the Terrestrial Energy in its submittal to the Royal Commission. They are confident that their small modular Gen4 reactor (IMSR) due to be commercialized in mid-2020’s) would be able to compete directly (no subsidy) in the SA market against all other power producers and it would not require upgrades to the existing electrical grid. With some recycling efforts, it also would be able to consume the actinides within the slightly spent fuel that SA would be paid to store. The Royal Commission is being very conservative by not recommending moving forward any type of nuclear power but is also taking a huge risk that Australia can dramatically lower CO2 emissions without nuclear power.

      1. Lowering CO2 emissions was not in their terms of reference, as in proposing a path. Frankly I think the findings do us a huge favour by repeatedly making it clear that we might need it and should get ready for it.

        I agree, the level of conservatism regarding advanced technologies seems out of balance with the rest of the findings, Terrestrial IMSR being one good example.

  3. An excellent summary of the Tentative Findings Ben.There is lot of hesitancy about the concept of taking other countries nuclear waste in the ABC media (The Drum last night and RN Breakfast this morning, where Fran Kelly insisted on calling it a “dump”.) Obviously they are from journalists who have probably not even read the Tentative Findings. Most of the anxiety is around safety of course – or so they say. I suspect there is a strong group of anti-nuclear types in the ABC and perhaps in the media generally.

    Having the findings from the Commission obviously strengthens our case. Journalists that try to undermine the findings of the Commission are going to find that difficult to defend. There’s a long way to go yet. We will never persuade the Greens or the anti-nuclear brigade. I can see the picket lines blocking the nuclear waste at the wharf already.

    1. obviously it will be a good idea to build any such wharf where it has minimal support for soft & flabby protesters, to make sure they genuinely want to return to the unbelievably harsh, pre-industrial life style they seem to longingly worhip

  4. If MSRs achieve mass production by the mid 2020s with LCOE even 2X coal that changes everything. It could put the kibosh on light water reactors big and small, on metal cooled reactors and any future bulk waste management industry. One of these unnamed countries that will supposedly pay SA to take waste might wait until the right MSR comes along.

    BTW I now see the merit in less not more long distance transmission. They can’t fix the fault in an underwater HVDC cable and are using high priced diesels instead,.

    1. Sorry.
      The big Chinese MSR project schedule shows delayed commercialization now. I estimate not before 2035: https://public.ornl.gov/conferences/MSR2015/pdf/10-China's%20TMSR%20programm_HongjieXu.%20pptx.pdf
      They started in 2011 and have substantial delays already (e.g. their 2MWth trial should have started originally in 2015) due to a number of problems.

      Problems such as steel that is more wear resistant (than Hastelloy N) against the molten salt at high temperatures (650-700C), finding salt / fluoride composition that can operate at lower temperatures (they aim 650C).

      You can question whether at that time MSR still makes sense, as German Agora think-tank predicts that wind and solar will produce for 2-4cnt/KWh inside solar poor Germany in 2050. Similar for batteries.
      The costs for Power-to-Gas-to-Power are also going down fast in Germany.
      They have ~20 trials of 2-20MW each and provide that car refuel stations will get a P-t-G facilitiy each, to refuel cars with renewable gas (hydrogen)..

      1. I hope Germany Agora is right and I wish them the best as long as the wind farms, transmission lines, batteries, don’t industrialize our open spaces, and are completely recycled. I am, although, not willing to bet the climate and the well being of all those who don’t have any electrical power today on that hope. Thirty years (2020s – 2050s) is a long time to continue subsidy, emit billions of tons of CO2 with coal fire backup and to ask the couple of billion impoverished people to wait. Are you willing to wish the MSR developers the best as well?

        1. 1. Yes it’s a long period.
          The main reasons Germany chose such slow migration scenario in 2000 (from ~6% renewable then, towards >80% renewable in 2050 which is an increase of 1.5%/a):

          – The costs should stay insignificant for the population in order to keep and increase support of the population (~55% supported the Energiewende in 2001, last year ~85% supported the Energiewende).

          – Creating a mass market does not imply that prices go down immediately. Producers need years to automate production, etc.
          E.g. the big price decreases of PV-solar came ~5years after the mass-market for PV-solar.
          It doesn’t work always.
          Biomass costs didn’t go down despite increased market.
          So last years the targets for biomass went down from a few GW/a towards only 100MW/a (the market is manipulated effectively by adapting the decrease of the guaranteed Feed-in-Tariffs for renewable)

          2. Thirty years of subsidy?
          The expectation is that the subsidies for wind & solar will decrease further towards near zero in next decades. So experts predict that the Energiewende levy will decrease after 2022 (it’s now ~6cnt/KWh).
          Though slowly, as storage (batteries and P2G for seasonal) may need more subsidies before the costs are so low that those are no longer needed.

          3. impoverished people to wait??
          Opposite. The great price decreases of renewable allow the impoverished to install electricity themselves.
          Last year I cycled through Kashmir. In the past people in the lonely high valleys had diesel generators or nothing.
          Now they have a solar panel with an old car battery…

          4. MSR
          Of course. Despite my serious doubt that the Chinese will succeed (they have the best chance as they have by far the biggest development staff working since 2012 and the most detailed and realistic schedule).
          My doubt is based on the facts that they still don’t have steel (or ceramics) which is much better than Hastelloy-N, neither a salt (fluoride) mix which allows to decrease operating temperature significantly. Those are needed to prevent the expensive change of the reactor installation every few (7?) years (the hot salt wears the steel).

          1. I am glad to hear that you are also wishing the best for the molten salt reactor developers as well.
            I am surprised that you are concerned regarding Terrestrial’s conservative planned seven year replacement of the core. Every power source (hydro, coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, biomass, etc.) requires maintenance and replacement parts during its lifetime. Terrestrial’s pro-active conservative replacement approach should be commended. Also, the reason for core replacement is not due to steel corrosion from the molten salt but actually for reasons that improve the economics and efficiency of the plant. Hot salts are commonly used in many existing industrial processes (1400 or so) and with relatively minimal regulation can easily be safely managed. My study of using molten salt to safely transfer the heat, to bind the radioactive isotopes chemically, allow high efficiency temperatures, retain near atmospheric pressures and maintain inherent simple control of the fission reaction has impressed me on its superior performance over other coolants. I disagree that the Chinese have the best chance of success (although I believe that they will be successful) for they are pursuing a reactor design that is substantially more complicated and requires a lot more proof of concept then the Terrestrial design. I wish them the best as well. Good day.

            1. The Chinese have a lot more scientists (~700) working on the MSR project. Their project started already in 2011, while they got all confidential info from the ORNL scientists.
              Note that they have different MSR designs in (parallel) development.

              The main problem with the reactor vessel and pipes containing the hot molten salt is not so much corrosion, as shown at ORNL (corrosion needs oxygen, which the salt doesn’t contain if well prepared), but the wear due to the combination of:
              – high temperature. At 700C steel glows red and is easily forge-able. So it deforms.
              – the abrasive characteristics of the molten salt
              – the nuclear radiation bombardment (radio-active particles such as alpha, neutrons, gamma)

              Considering the experience with the MSR at ORNL, the 7 years is quite optimistic.
              So the replacement costs and depreciation of the reactor vessel, primary heat ex-changer and piping
              may result in a reactor producing for a cost price which is twice that of e.g. the AP1000!

              Not seen a solution for the wearied, highly radio-active material Terrestral takes back after 7 (or less) years.

              1. Gbsr // 1) Confidential info? – Disagree: All the ORNL info has been publicly available for a long time. Both of the MSR designs that China is pursuing require more proof of concept then what Terrestrial’s IMSR. I estimate that China with its additional resources will be successful in making their molten salt cooled design commercial during the 2020s. 2) Main problem – Disagree again: It is my understanding that the pro-active and conservative seven year replacement of the relatively inexpensive reactor vessel, moderator and heat exchanger has little to do with the molten salt temperature, abrasiveness & radiation and much more to do with gaining economic and neutron efficiencies. 3) Cost? – Disagree: My reading of the ORNL documents and hearing from the people that actually performed the work is that the seven years is pro-actively conservative. I also believe that the scientists, engineers and chemists from at least a dozen developers of MSRs know a lot more than you or I about this subject. 4) Fission products: It is my understanding that there are several options that the owner and/or governmental oversight regulator can choose to completely contain the radioactive fission products aside from expending the cost of separating the various fission product elements and isotopes into many medical, industrial, and agricultural valued products. First, the amount of waste per MWh generated is incredibly small and inexpensive to encapsulate. The fission products decay to natural uranium background radiation in about 300 years so the time of storage is minutia relative to the challenge as the minimally spent fuel from current water cooled reactors. Also, fluoride salts bind chemically with non-inert fission products (great majority) so migration of radioactive materials from remote possibility of encapsulation rupture is estimated to be essentially non-existent. The natural nuclear reactor fission wastes (un-contained in any fashion) found in Gabon Oslo area (16 sites) were found to have migrated less than a foot from there sources in the last two billion years. Compared to the millions of tons of toxic chemical waste with no half life that come from many other industrial processes annually – Molten salt reactor fission product waste in my opinion is a negligible challenge to society. I would have much less of a problem with my family living near a molten salt reactor or its fission waste storage than a few wind turbines or a solar plant. I will continue to wish the molten salt reactor developers success along with you. Good day.

                1. So you have no problem with the nuclear radiation that such MSR emits, which damage DNA to people living up to 40km away as shown by German scientists:
                  http://www.helmholtz-muenchen.de/fileadmin/ICB/biostatistics_pdfs/scherb/HELENA_Scheyern_2013.pdf
                  http://www.helmholtz-muenchen.de/fileadmin/ICB/biostatistics_pdfs/scherb/HELENA_2014_2.pdf

                  The showed DNA damage caused the preliminary closure of Germany’s prime nuclear waste dump, Gorleben!
                  While:
                  – the waste was stored in dry casks which were stored in a building with 50cm think walls;
                  — the huge building was for <30% filled!
                  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=The+human+sex+odds+at+birth+after+the+atmospheric+atomic+bomb+tests%2C+after+Chernobyl%2C+and+in+the+vicinity+of+nuclear+facilities

                  1. Thanks for your comments. It seems that you are trying to put me on the defensive and I would prefer to find where we have common ground. I spent about four hours learning about birth sex ratios (BSR) to properly respond to your comment. Again I disagree with your statement. I found that many things (various medicines, industrial chemicals, stress/fear, hunger, population migration, high dose radiation, diseases, strenuous exercise, etc.) can have measurable impacts on the BSR in localized areas. I did NOT how ever conclude that the sex ratio changes in the study could be conclusively attributed to the nuclear storage site and any possible low dose radiation referenced in your link. I didn’t see any actual radioactive isotope mix measurements (relatively easy to do) that correlate with the tiny changes in the municipal birth sex ratio. I didn’t see any wind pattern or hydrology showing proven transport of the hypothetical radioactive materials to the areas of highest ratio change. It seems to me that any number of other factors previously mentioned including proper record keeping could be the cause of the noted changes. I realize that I am not a professional that reviews these types of studies regularly but have to say that I believe they took way too many short cuts in reaching their seemingly pre-determined conclusions. It is hard for me not to conclude that Germany (like many other countries) has a vested interest to fund low-grade scientific studies to support their current energy strategy. It’s not unusual.
                    No change to my previous statement regarding living besides an MSR rather than the industrialized (ugly, noisy, damaged) large areas of wind turbines and/or solar power plants. In my opinion, fluoride MSR’s chemically bind non-inert radioactive fission products so well that migration from their suitable storage containers with relatively normal safety precautions is of low concern.
                    I sincerely believe that Germany should concentrate on getting rid of their coal fire plants which spew may tons of toxins directly into the air and may also effect climate change. I believe that risk is a part of life – radiation is a very tiny part relative to a thousand other things. Thanks again for your agreement to wish the MSR developers success with me. Good day.

                  2. Thank you for your elaborate reaction.

                    But Germany won’t concentrate to get rid of coal as nuclear is considered to be far more dangerous.
                    Though >1000miles away, Germany’s experience with the serious health consequences of Chernobyl may play a role. Health consequences such as many more Down syndrome, death babies, etc.
                    Confirmed by research such as: http://bit.ly/1Sg2RBn
                    and: http://bit.ly/1NCXTcZ
                    etc.

  5. Hooray for South Australia!

    As Ben Heard and Barry Brook wrote a year ago, “[The] international need for nuclear energy is unlikely to diminish, and will likely grow as concerns about tackling climate change rise. It is for us, as Australians, to now decide whether and how we benefit from this, and whether we do or do not take responsibility to make our region and the world safer, cleaner and more secure by trading on our competitive advantages.” (“Royal commission into nuclear will open a world of possibilities” Brave New Climate, Feb. 2015)

    With this report, SA has taken a key step forward.

    huon (in the USA)

  6. As pointed out by Brendan the commission assumed that market operators would be forced to buy renewable energy whenever it was available which of course hugely impacts the likely return on investment of any nuclear power project.

    However this assumption makes no sense at all. It would make sense if nuclear power emitted CO2 but of course it doesn’t.

    I do not understand how this assumption could have been made other than human error and misunderstanding in the E&Y firm that did the modelling.

    Is there any chance, considering these are interim findings, that this might be looked at and rectified?

    1. I don’t know about “forced” but with very low marginal cost and guaranteed revenue from certificates they can bid low and ensure they are always dispatched. Functionally the same outcome

      1. Agree.
        As the marginal costs of wind and solar are ~$1/MWh, those continue to produce until the wholesale prices is below that level!
        Hence, if a grid has a lot of wind & solar the whole sale price will often be around that level….

        Competing with base load power plants in that market deliver great losses, as shown in e.g. Germany where utilities are closing base load plants prematurely, incl. a 1.3GW NPP prematurely due to the losses it made (July 2015).

        1. The report states that the modellers assumed that “either CCGT or nuclear are dispatched after all renewables” so in the model, anyway, it was “forced”? If you like, it’s the assumption that we would build nuclear power plants and still allow predatory pricing behaviour by the wind and solar operators to make nuclear uncompetitive – to the detriment of the environment. It’s still an insane assumption.

          1. @Alex,
            Wind and solar don’t need priority in a free electricity market.
            They will nearly always get it anyway, as they deliver the moment they get some revenue (e.g. 0.1cnt/KWh), because their marginal costs are near zero.

            Other generators (CCGT or nuclear or …), except hydro, have much higher marginal costs. So they will only deliver if the price they get is substantial, e.g. 2cnt/KWh.

            1. Bas Gresnigt, I asked you before whether you would invest in a wind farm or a solar farm if you would get paid 0.1 ct/kWh for the power it produced?

              You never answered my question.

              Maybe you will answer it now? I think it would help everybody to understand what the purpose of your comments is. Please try to answer my question clearly and fully. Thanks!

  7. In most countries utilities who operate NPP’s have to contribute to a fund which is presumable big enough to pay all the costs for permanent storage of the waste that their NPP’s produce.

    If those funds contain less money than A$1.75 million per MtHM or (worse) less than e.g. A$ 1million per MtHM, than the nuclear waste storage market won’t start-up.
    As most utilities won’t have the extra money needed to pay SA because in ~10years time gradually more and more utilities will find themselves in the position of the German major utilities who gradually are marginalized by the decentralized generation and now make losses, etc.

    So does anyone know which amounts per MtHM are reserved by utilities to take care of the produced nuclear waste???

    1. There is quite some detail available in the findings as to how these figures are determined. There is certainly a very large buffer between these findings and a situation where this was not a profitable venture.

      1. If there is such large margin other countries will start to compete.

        E.g. Finland which has already a lot of nuclear experience.
        After decades of preparation and research, they are building a permanent underground storage which would be ready in 5 years or so.
        Seems to me that such competition will affect the projected high profits greatly.

        1. A common misunderstanding here, exemplified by The Australia Institute, is to think that this is all or even mostly about economics, margins and profits. It isn’t. There is a lot more to it than that.

          1. What is the lot more?

            I read a lot about excellent economics & profits in the report.
            Note that Finland only needs to expand it’s storage, it has the expert staff available anyway. That implies that their costs are lower.

            If the needed huge investments have a real chance to deliver losses, investors will only invest if government delivers guarantees.
            If the venture then makes losses, e.g. if Finland starts to compete, SA taxpayers have to pay increased taxes to compensate the investors.
            So how real are the huge profits in the report?

    2. @Negert/gbsr/Bas Gresnigt

      “the German major utilities who gradually are marginalized by the decentralized generation and now make losses, etc.”

      They are not being marginalised by decentralised generation. They are hurt by having to compete with subsidized intermittent generation. They are hurt because the market does not reward reliable power supply. They are hurt, because German wind and solar gets paid through subsidies even when the market price of electricity is zero or negative. The utilities don’t get paid. But eventually, the politicians *will* start paying the utilities for supplying reliable power, something which German wind and solar can never do. If the politicians won’t pay for reliable power, then Germany will cease to exist as a developed country. It will collapse into a medieval condition.

      Could you provide some evidence that you comprehend any of this?

      Thanks!

      1. Above all, they are hurt because their customers move towards one of the many new utilities that deliver 100% renewable electricity, despite that they have to pay then a little more: http://www.go100percent.org/cms/index.php?id=70&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=77

        I don’t understand that these huge utilities were so stupid to fight against their customers (e.g. when those want rooftop solar). The utility that wins the fight will loose all sympathy of the customer and his friends. So they will run off at first opportunity, even if that cost them some extra money…
        Negative customer emotions regarding a supplier are extremely expensive.

        In the end, now (last autumn) Germany’s biggest utilities, E.on and RWE, showed that they started to understand their situation:

        RWE announced that they will move away from the central power plant business (sell those) and transform itself into a customer focused service company.
        Note that this is similar to what IBM did in the IT industry; away from the mainframe business, etc…

        E.on announced that they will split into two separate companies:
        – one that will deliver customer services
        – one that operates central power plants, which company is for sale.

        Note that the third utility in Germany, Swedish Vattenfall, just started to sell some central power plants…

  8. The LGC subsidy for new large scale renewables is now around $80 per Mwh or 8c per kwh.
    That’s nearly double the average spot price of coal power. When is ‘subsidy fatigue’ going to set in? It also looks doubtful perhaps impossible that the 19 Twh generated in 2015 can be increased fast enough to the new target of 33 Twh by 2020.

    The landscape would be completely changed if subsidies and quotas were replaced by emissions targets. Wind and solar would have to earn their keep by cheaply reducing emissions not by being political favourites. Alas this doesn’t seem to be the thinking in Canberra. We’re already at least 60 Mt a year of emissions behind the eight ball if Paris pledges are to be kept.

    Some interesting observations here
    http://www.coolibahconsulting.com.au/TiP/2016/02/16/thinking-nuclear/

    1. John,
      Last year renewable production in Germany increased by 30TWh.
      While it was a rather average year for Germany: https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/en/downloads-englisch/pdf-files-englisch/power-generation-from-renewable-energy-in-germany-assessment-of-2015.pdf

      Australia has more space and far more sun. It’s population is 30% of that of Germany.
      With similar effort renewable production would rise ~10TWh/a.
      Especially since the costs of solar, wind and storage (batteries, P2G for seasonal storage) are widely predicted to continue their fast decline.

      So I don’t understand how you can think that it’s nearly impossible to increase renewable with ~3TWh/a in the coming 5 years?

      1. @gbsr/Negert/Bas Gresnigt

        “Especially since the costs of solar, wind and storage (batteries, P2G for seasonal storage) are widely predicted to continue their fast decline.”

        On the contrary, there is no prediction that storage will “continue its fast decline”.

        In fact, storage costs have not declined at all, for several decades.

        Lead-acid battery technology and pumped hydro storage are still the cheapest forms respectively of short-term and long-term electricity storage. Their cost has not declined and nobody is predicting that they will decline.

        I’ve read some of your comments here now, and I want to ask you to provide evidence for your wild claims in future. It is looking to me like you are trying to spread misinformation and confusion on this blog. Are you?

        1. For more up-to-date info, check e.g: https://handlemanpost.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/cost-projections-for-lithium-ion-batteries/
          Or this Bloomberg graph: https://handlemanpost.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/li-ion-compared-to-pvi.jpg

          Li-ion is cheapest for small batteries for PV-solar for now. Long term price decrease; 8% to 10%/a.
          For bigger batteries, flow batteries are much cheaper (also major price decreases, rather new technology).
          Note that many (potential cheaper) battery technologies are leaving the labs.

          You refer to old technology.
          The 35 German pumped storage facilities have probably no future since their costs do not decline substantially (they all make losses nowadays). The first flow-batteries operate already in the German grid.

          Lead-acid batteries are not used with solar panels (dirty, short life span => expensive).
          I only saw them when I cycled with my bicycle in 2014 through desolated Himalaya valleys in northern Kashmir (Leh – Manali). The landladies of several ‘hotels’ (a big tent only) used a small PV-panel with an old truck battery to have light in the evening (~10years ago they sometimes used a generator which made a lot of noise and smelled dirty).

          I just cycled 8 weeks through New-Zealand. Met a smart lady who lives near Auckland. She went off-grid using PV-panels and Li-ion batteries because the utility wanted to charge her a substantial one time fee to connect her new house to the grid. Not sure how many will follow her…

        2. This citation may help to understand what is going on nowadays:
          “Our goal is really to create a world where everyone is able to cover their own energy needs with a decentralized energy source,” said Boris von Bormann, CEO of Sonnen North America
          From: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/sonnen-ships-its-10000th-battery-putting-pressure-on-tesla-and-utilities

          Since guaranteed Feed-in-Tariffs end after 15/20 years, many of the small generators (rooftop solar, etc) in Germany now join in virtual power plants.

          They also join in communities:
          “… SonnenCommunity, a network of producers, consumers and storage operators that can trade self-generated renewable electricity with each other through a virtual grid, circumventing traditional utilities entirely. … Customers in the network currently pay 20 percent less for electricity.”
          “I can run a utility business without owning the assets…”
          “the secret sauce is Sonnen’s advanced software that’s able to manage peer-to-peer energy exchanges in real time.”
          (Citations from the link above)

          1. It would be an excellent development if solar PV owners in Germany would disconnect themselves from the grid and start paying for their energy technology investments with their own money instead of with public subsidies.

            1. I agree. It would also be reasonable to expect them to hide the ugly panels from the street and/or install them only in industrial zones. Also, a few of my fireman friends really hate having to deal with them.

            2. Your wish may gradually become partly reality.
              A German poll showed that ~20% of PV-solar owners estimated that they would be off-grid in 2020.
              When I was cycling through New-Zealand last month, we met a lady (physician) who went off-grid because the utility wanted to charge her ~$10,000 to connect her new house to the grid as they had to install a cable. She used the money to invest in additional PV-solar and batteries and went off-grid.

              Of course you find also micro-grid developments, such as good old Feldheim (since <2012):
              http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/a-power-grid-of-their-own-german-village-becomes-model-for-renewable-energy-a-820369.html

              It's better for the grid company (and other users) to keep them connected, then the grid still earns some money.
              Hence lower charges to the other users.
              So the upcoming virtual distributed power plant developments are a good thing for the grid and all other users as they use the grid the exchange (surplus) energy.

              After a delay of about a decade, the biggest German utilities now seem to understand the impact and inevitability of the paradigm change.
              Last year RWE announced to move away from the central power plant business, then E.on published that it will put it's central power plants in a separate entity which is for sale:
              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.ON

          2. In such a world, people wishing to enjoy the myriad convenience provided by electricity will move (or be forced to move) from it being supplied directly from an electricity factory (a power plant) to buying/maintaining/replacing a set of products made in factories.

            A middle man doing make-work?

            Efficiency, usually the golden calf of soft energy, is first to be unceremoniously sacrificed when the shiny distraction of utility-punishing off-grid “self sufficiency” appears within reach.

            And still nothing is presented to indicate that such a disruptive approach would accelerate climate action.

            1. Germany reached record CO2 reductions*), which reductions will increase substantially in the period towards 2025 as shown by a.o. this dena (the German energy agency) scenario study: http://www.dena.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Projekte/Erneuerbare/Dokumente/dena_Grid_Study_II_-_final_report.pdf

              ___
              *) German CO2 reduction is ~27% below the Kyoto 1990 level. That is far more than any other big developed country. France and UK won’t reach the Kyoto target of -20% in 2020 (Germany will then be at about -37%!).
              Note that France and UK have lower CO2 levels anyway as their climate is much friendlier, etc (also less industry).

              USA was and is the biggest CO2 polluter by far. Worse, it didn’t reach any substantial CO2 reduction at all since 1990.

  9. Suppose neither the NuScale or the IMSR are ready by 2025. Suppose also there is not enough money on the table to build a waste repository in SA. Going on Atucha 3 in Argentina with Chinese finance and tech help between 2017 and 2025 we could build an Enhanced Candu 6
    http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2015-11/06/content_22383951.htm
    Cost about $6 bn with enough output to replace the combined 640 MWe of Pt Augusta and Torrens Island A but interstate exports not essential. Among other fuels it could also fission broken up but otherwise unprocessed fuel pellets from light water reactors. That could be the alternative version of overseas fuel reprocessing.

    Ben please run this by some people on your Ontario trip.

    1. Unfortunately, conversations with ElectraNet, SA Power Networks and AEMO highlight that they wouldn’t be allowing a single plant that size. Northern is two sub 300MW units and Torrens is eight sub 200MW units. They have to plan for failures and a single 600MW+ point of failure is too much for them to handle.

      Now if there was a significant upgrade to Victorian interconnectors that may change it, but as it stands today anything larger than a single Northern unit to the 540MWe from Northern is the limit.

  10. I can’t find the link to the story on the four hottest days in SA in December 2015. If I recall peak demand was around 3000 MW of which solar met 5-6%, wind 19%, gas 42% and local + imported coal power about 33%. After Northern goes if the SA-Vic interconnector fails there will anxious times.

    Gas was supposed to have doubled in price by now but that hasn’t happened. Maybe it’s biding its time. Tas Hydro is leasing diesel generators at great expense after an interconnector failure from Victoria. A $20 carbon price on Vic electricity would hurt SA and a reconnected Tas even if justified on emissions grounds.

  11. In the next few months the 540 MW Northern power station will close and the Heywood Interconnector to Victoria will be upgraded from 490 MW to 650 MW capacity. As we speak SA is using 511 MW of brown coal power presumably from Northern. Additional windpower for SA may have little if any emissions reduction effect but SA power supply could be more expensive and less reliable
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-04/aemc-predicts-future-electricity-price-jump-in-sa/7003470

    That’s what I think will be in the public’s mind, not the big bucks supposedly to be made from taking in foreign nuclear waste. It’s going to be long long wait for SMRs if they are the only acceptable form of NP.

  12. Something seems to have been forgotten with all the $$$ signs in the eyes of those wanting to take foreign used radioactive material; SA’s own electricity supply is both expensive and vulnerable
    http://www.aemo.com.au/News-and-Events/News/News/Joint-report-further-investigates-stability-of-South-Australias-evolving-power-system
    Reliability might work out OK provided the umbilical cord to Victoria is maintained. That’s where brown coal fired electricity creates 1,250 grams of CO2 per kwh. But most of those brown coal plants are already past retirement age as Greens leader Di Natale points out.

    1. I’ve not forgotten, John.

      Reading AEMO’s latest, the EY modelling and a December report from ESAA, I suspect that a SA-NSW interconnection may be the next thing looked at, even as idealogs keep pushing the fantasy of non-PHS grid storage.

      1. The current Murraylink HVDC connector has 220 MW capacity if I recall. Either way the eastern seaboard is coal intensive with Latrobe Valley brown coal dirtier than Leigh Ck sub-bituminous. It would be a lousy trifecta if SA spent the next decade with electricity that was dirtier, more expensive and potentially less reliable.

        Also on the cards is an oil/gas price rebound and from July we get carbon-pricing-lite with the Safeguards Mechanism phase of Direct Action. I suspect battery storage will go the way of dry geothermal until the next miracle salvation.

  13. They say SA is too little for a big nuke. Recall on the way to the SANFCRC Westinghouse said they could do twin AP 1000s for $17.5 bn. The trouble is with 1-3 GW SA demand and 0.9 GW export capacity 2.2 GW local generation is too much. Upthread it says 0.8 GW for a Candu 6 is also too large though I note Bruce B in Ontario is optimised for load following.

    Now AEMO regulate the western grid SWIS as well as NEM, already the world’s largest
    http://wa.aemo.com.au/
    Hat tip Actinide Age. Surprising to see how coal dependent WA is. There is 1500 km of Nullarbor Plain between Pt Augusta and Norseman. A bidirectional pylon mounted HVDC cable and converter stations would cost several billion dollars. Also no redundancy via alternative routing, an issue now confronting Tasmania. A twin AP 1000 generating station near Adelaide or Perth could share load between SA, WA and the east coast if it was all linked.

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