168 Comments

Thanks for addressing this. My main concern about nuclear energy (which is why I vote no) - is similar to my concern about SAI (stratospheric aerosol injection) which is likely to be considered necessary - our political economic systems are not collaborative enough and sufficiently public-good oriented to have systems in place on a global level or even national level that can manage safety of these technologies and handle crises. In the face of global warming we already see societal and political disruptions, civic breakdown, water shortages, rising sea levels, food shortages in much of the world and all kinds of supply chain disruptions. With increased climate catastrophes, wars and political disruption potentially leading to un-manned or even attacked nuclear power plants (as is happening in Ukraine now), I have no confidence that such plants could be kept safe . SAI requires global continuous operation and unified action over decades. Nuclear power plants require reliable stable governance and societal structures for safe operation. I have no confidence that we can expect that.

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Nope, we can't do it all with wind and solar, because of the enormous land requirements -- not just for the panels and wind turbines, but the power lines to connect to the grid. Already in the US opposition to new siting of wind/solar farms and power lines is greatly slowing deployment, and we are still far from even 50%. That leaves only nuclear plants, which can be located where retired power plants are already connected to the grid, and can be deployed economically at scale if any of the small ones under development work out. Plus, in any case, our climate situation is so desperate and urgent that we need to try all viable alternatives.

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May 23Liked by Andrew Dessler

As others have pointed out, the land requirements are NOT enormous. It's less than we're currently using for corn ethanol, which IMO was a bad idea in the first place and won't be needed in the future. Subsidies for the ethanol industry need to be phased out. And if we're not making ethanol, landowners will find the lease payments for solar arrays will be higher than the value of corn they could grow on the same acres. And of course the land under solar arrays can still be used for multiple purposes, including just planting prairie species and letting them start sequestering carbon.

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did anyone say we had to limit ourselves to just wind and solar ?

even just using solar and wind would require less than 2% of the land in the USA ......possibly as little as 1 %....

https://blog.ucsusa.org/steve-clemmer/how-much-land-would-it-require-to-get-most-of-our-electricity-from-wind-and-solar/

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The NREL agrees with you.

NREL found that the total amount of land needed by 2035 to achieve our clean power goals with wind, solar and long-distance transmission lines (19,700 sq. mi) would be:

equivalent to the land area currently occupied by railroads (18,500 sq. mi)

And 27% of current rail freight capacity in the U.S. is used for hauling Coal.

less than half the area of active oil and gas leases (40,500 sq. mi)

less than one-third of the area currently needed for ethanol production (59,500 sq. mi),

only slightly more than the historically disturbed land area for coal mining (13,100 sq. mi).

Plus, NREL’s main “All Options” scenario projects roughly 250,000 wind turbines in the United States, which is considerably less than the nation’s 1.5 million oil and gas wells."

https://climatecrocks.com/2023/03/01/nrel-how-much-land-for-renewables/

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I looked at the blog you cited.. Did you see this map? You are basically citing the diameter of the turbine itself...

https://blog.ucsusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/landarea-context-5-1378x900.jpg

Yes, wind farms can be placed on farmland, grazing land, even a suburb. With that said, they often are not. Please be very clear-- to invest in wind (and solar) energy means essentially all of the rural/suburban land outside of cities will be peppered with thousands of wind turbines. These locations would be optimal to minimize transmission costs. I'm not necessarily saying that is good or bad, just be aware that the "less than 2%" of land in the USA is counting the footprint of a wind turbine as the diameter of the pole which holds it up.

If you count the footprint of wind energy as the actual square area of land needed to support that amount of energy-- you are looking at an absolute massive area of land.

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Solar and wind require less land than now used by the fossil fuels industry.

SMRs, haven't shown much promise, with numerous failures

The 462 MW plant planned for Utah, made up of SMRs, was cancelled after the cost went up to $9.3 billion. - for half the output of a typical single reactor nuclear plant.

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Small modular nuclear reactors: a history of failure

https://reneweconomy.com.au/small-modular-nuclear-reactors-a-history-of-failure/?fbclid=IwAR12yYUHQvVdetybLdscLjDTEV3Y-NgrWPIDHQZYVsBdMrpc8BKWNYpJxJY

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Assessing a Small Reactor Failure

"A plan to build a novel nuclear power plant comprising six small modular reactors (SMRs) fell apart this week when prospective customers for its electricity backed out. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), a coalition of community-owned power systems in seven western states, withdrew from a deal to build the plant, designed by NuScale Power, because too few members agreed to buy into it. The project, subsidized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), sought to revive the moribund U.S. nuclear industry, but its cost had more than doubled to $9.3 billion."

https://climatecrocks.com/2023/11/21/assessing-a-small-reactor-failure/

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Wind turbines only occupy about 2.5% of the land in a wind farm.

Farmers grow crops and graze livestock all around the turbines, right up to the turbine bases. And the farmers are well compensated financially.

There is an increasing trend in agrivotaics also, combining both crop and animal agriculture with solar.

Here's one example.

Giant agrivoltaic project in China

“The ecosystem in this region has improved, the number of small wild animals has increased significantly, like sparrows, hares and pheasants,” Huawei representative added. The solar power plant is said to effectively reduce land moisture evaporation by between 30 and 40%. The vegetation coverage has purportedly increased by 85% while significantly improving the regional climate.“

The Baofeng Group is building a 1 GW solar park which is hosting a goji berry plantation in the Binhe New District on the eastern banks of the Yellow River

Around 640 MW have so far been grid-connected."

https://www.pv-magazine.com/2020/09/03/giant-agrivoltaic-project-in-china/

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This is exactly what solar and wind are great at! Starting to see it done slowly in the UK but I don’t think it gets encouraged/ subsidised enough. It would make much better use of marginal land than intensive animal herds. Mixture of renewable, wild cover, farmed animals and maybe smaller scale crops.

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Apr 8Liked by Andrew Dessler

Nice, clear write up of the issues, Andy. I am rather frequently asked about adding more nuclear generated power to the mix and your post will help me give an answer about the challenges nuclear faces.

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author

Thanks, Bill.

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Nuclear energy is hardly the answer. The article fails to mention long term radioactive waste and nuclear weapon proliferation issues. Regarding economic issues, you can take the huge capital investment required by nucs and invest in increasing energy efficiency of our building stock and reduce demand (kw) and usage (kwh) by magnitudes larger than created by any nuclear plant (a point made by work locally in introducing zero energy homes and buildings in the Sacramento area). Additionally you can use that nuc capital and invest in large scale Renewable production of hydrogen to be used as fuel substitute for fossil fuels. This is a no brainer Amory Lovins discussed and proved more than 30 years ago. Finally proping up the nuc industry just keeps a large, centralized industry alive that benefits a plutocratic class that would've die decades ago if exposed to true market conditions and not fed humongous public subsidies. As mention so many times by others more eloquently than me the best, safest nuclear reactor is the one 93 million miles away - the sun.

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Right so I’m going to disagree largely but I hope you find this useful.

I highly recommend listening to a recent planet critical episode on nuclear power, it totally blew my expectations of almost all the downsides of nuclear out of the water. Safety, efficiency, cost, speed of delivery, ease of construction, location limitations etc etc. I’ll touch a few points here but I can’t do it justice. It’s only an hour or so. Most of the conceptions we have about nuclear simply don’t match up with the real world stats and have more to do with associations made with nuclear weapons during the environmental movement in the 60s and 70s (largely unwarranted fears of weaponisation).

What is most striking to me however with regards to the comparison to wind and solar is the mining problem.

Any discussion of wind and solar should include a consideration of mining impact, escalating scarcity of resources, energy use (from limited remaining oil reserves!)

This is not so apparent right now, but scaled to the degree that we would need to replace the electricity grid AND somehow generate the energy for transport worldwide, even at reduced levels!would necessitate orders of magnitude more mining, and a repeat of that mining once the materials are exhausted/ cannot be recycled any more. Experts are arguing if we have enough material on the planet for an energy transition, let alone rebuilding / revamping in the future - that alone should be worrying and more widely considered.

This is when factoring in building sufficient overcapacity and storage to handle intermittency, the decreased quality of ores worldwide, and the very long time scale to develop new mines.

If we’re going to go solar / wind the only way it’s going to work (globally) is when coupled with massive degrowth of industrial nations. Which we need for sure, but I don’t see happening before disaster in our political environment. I think solar wind is the answer for growth in poorer nations with decentralised power, but nuclear is the way to get through the coming disaster without total system crash, after which recalibration and rethinking might be more possible.

Ok back to mines. Mining uranium on the other hand is apparently extremely small scale, incredibly clean and highly regulated. They don’t get much press, maybe because of tight regulations on visits. They are also small and boring! Compared to the mining damage, energy use and pollution caused by fossil fuels it is incredibly favourable, and I think it will be likely much better than solar/wind/ batteries too, if not already now, certainly once these scale up. The demanding regulations already have made a system of creating the cleanest mining operations on the planet. I learned to my surprise that regular mine tailings are always dangerously radioactive (isotopes present in ALL spoil, extracted in huge quantities) whereas water leaving uranium mines is basically drinkable. Also that uranium ore is extremely dense, so less spoil, and more abundant than is widely appreciated. When coupled with modern reactor designs that will reuse their own waste and in real world tests right now, there is definitely enough uranium to scale up even without sifting the sea for it. (Uranium is present everywhere in small quantities).

Similar comments can be made about nuclear waste, it’s remarkably clean and easy to store safely long term. The idea that it’s a ticking bomb awaiting one errant missile or terrorist just doesn’t work in practice.

Regarding accidents.

It’s like comparing an airline crash to motoring accidents. One gets all the press, the other kills millions more quietly in plain sight. Also new reactor designs just won’t go critical like old ones - mistakes have been learned from.

Compare the number of deaths, illnesses (and inconvenience/loss of business) caused by nuclear vs fossil fuels and other mining operations, and divide by amount of energy generation. Nuclear is much safer, and cleaner (see deaths and illness associated globally to particulates).

Wind and solar will be better than fossil fuels probably, but again- MINING! Massive amounts of material, recycling problems, space required and land use changes etc all rack up costs to human and environment that make these green techs much less green when scaled.

I think that’s enough to chew on - again, I’ll try to link to the episode, have a listen and look into the guest. Thanks for your work! 🙏

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For what it's worth:

"Which requires more mining — fossil fuels or clean energy?

The short answer to this question is that fossil fuels require much more mining and drilling than clean energy technologies. Today the world mines 8 billion tons of coal (and 4.3 billon tons of oil) EVERY YEAR;

whereas the clean energy transition is estimated to require around 3.5 billion tons of minerals IN TOTAL OVER THE NEXT THREE DECADES."

https://citizensclimatelobby.org/blog/blog/are-clean-technologies-and-renewable-energies-better-for-the-environment-than-fossil-fuels/

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So the question I see here is, what is the TOTAL ORE mined for both of the above minerals required. Considering that copper used to be mined from glacial rocks on the surface, then from rivers, now its getting towards 0.05% quality ore... I am NOT advocating for fossil fuels, they extract vast amounts in comparison and just burn it as you say. I suggest for a mix of nuclear and solar and wind and geothermal as per my previous comment, and implementing degrowth whilst nuclear picks up the energy burden for the next 100 years or so. However, the continued mining needed for the current renewable transition, repeated every 30 years (?! I still cannot believe its such short lived, I hope recycling proves better I really do..), is not sustainable. That's a whole lot of NEW mines destroying habitat and livelihood and indigenous sovereignty. It also ignores the fossil fuels needed to extract the minerals (no solar powered mining kit on the horizon yet, its just too big) which also - need to be mined! Oh and we are almost out of oil... so no more affordable diesel for mining GLOBALLY within a decade. Already north sea oil uses more energy to extract than it generates and is building wind farms to power themselves (oh god...). We will hit global oil negative ROI (in terms of energy) around 2032, and need to replace that liquid fuel source for transport and, yes, MINING, or see massive spikes in operating costs as we subsidise dragging out more and more oil from the bottoms of the wells. Alternatively we could massively reduce mining by switching from fossil to nuclear (hooray), and operate much cleaner and more careful mines for minerals needed to substitute oil for EV public transport, required infrastructure etc especially in developing countries currently getting addicted to fossil imports on purpose...

I REALLY wish wind were the answer, I just don't think it actually will work to scale without totally screwing us. We can only do this transition ONCE. Then we're out of easy fuel.

Thoughts?

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To be clear, I am not against some nuclear in the energy mix, but don't see it as the silver bullet it's advocates think it is.

I do think nuclear Fusion may be a silver bullet, but that's a long way off.

I do not see how wind energy will screw us. It's the cleanest energy on the planet,, and with CO2 emissions even less than with nuclear.

Let's assume we wanted 50% of electricity from nuclear. That would require building the equivalent of roughly 150 1 GW single reactor plants, or 3 per state in the U.S.

Plus, we would have to replace the 93 existing U.S. reactors, that currently generate 19% of electricity, and are aging.

I don't see that happening.

Also, the argument that nuclear proliferation is not an issue doesn't seem real to me.

Think Iran.

The recent drone attack on the largest nuke plant in Europe also shows the potential for terrorist or rogue nation attacks.

Global warming, if not reduced, could make geopolitics more unstable, increasing the chances of that.

What China has done with solar and wind in recent years shows what is possible.

Installed

2020 72 GW wind and 48 GW solar

2022 37 GW wind and 87 GW solar

2023 GW wind and 216 GW solar

The equivalency after adjusting for capacity factors, with adding that much nuclear is something like 100 single reactor 1 GW nuclear plants BUILT IN THREE YEARS

Nuclear is expensive and slow to build.

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I really think you should just listen to the episode I suggested rather than me risk misquoting it! The waste and nuclear proliferation question is addressed clearly. The mining issue is addressed in much more detail in the other one I sent.

I believe china(?) is also building new nuclear plants in under 5 years, which is mental. You can also reuse coal plants infrastructure for nuclear which saves a lot of novel effort and planning.

I also wonder what we could realistically manage if we took all the money and workers building fossil infrastructure and associated mining and moved them to solar/wind/nuclear.

I agree we need to build out wind and solar, but I don’t think they are going to take us to current needs, they will get cheaper for a while per kWh, then effectively gradually more expensive again as they hit larger capacity due to intermittency in the grid.

So we need to address the reality of the intermittency/storage problem. I’ve heard that depending on which model you use and how much you oversize production you need between 1-4months storage!

However I have heard good ideas around using green hydrogen production as a storage method, which is neat. Also interconnected grid sharing across countries, which is unrealistic!

I hope the issue of the energy crisis in general spurs more interest in degrowth, and a change in how the system works overall - not just always focusing on the next technological innovation to save us.

That’s a concern with nuclear too actually - given that much energy... we might never actually reverse the hyper consumptive trend and become more responsible stewards of a finite planet.

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The mining needed for clean energy and lithium batteries is dwarfed by the mining of coal and extraction of oil. I think there's been exaggeration about the mining for renewables.

Let's take EV batteries for example.

8 billion tons of coal mined and 4.3 billion tons of oil extracted every year.

Those mostly get burned up right away.

Li-ion batteries last about 10-15 years in an EV, when those batteries still have about 70% of capacity left. They can then be used for more years as stationary grid backup, and then be completely recycled.

"Most batteries will become available for second use at the end of the expected PEV service life of approximately 15 years. NREL studies show that these batteries—with as much as 70% of their initial capacity—potentially can continue to operate for another 10 years in second use as energy storage for utilities, translating into a total service life of up to 25 years."

https://www.nrel.gov/transportation/battery-second-use.html

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Yes I agree, fossil fuel mining is way worse than all renewable mining, when taken at current scales. I don’t have the numbers in my pocket - but I’ve heard convincing evidence on the declining quality, accessibility and availability of ores needed for renewables - rare Earth, copper, cobalt etc etc - not just lithium.

25 year lifespan?! I hope there can be recycling after that - otherwise my point stands that you need to do all that mining AGAIN very soon just to keep going. We don’t have that much ore left for sure. It also takes approx 5-15 years to get a mine operational!

I am not making any case for fossil fuels, (I was comparing to nuclear as alternative for a large portion of our needs) I am hearing stark and sensible arguments from many experts suggesting that solar and wind, whilst an essential part of future energy mix- simple cannot meet current demand in the optimistic, clean and lovely way that it is being advertised. All the mining needed for renewables will take OIL to undertake. I don’t see solar powered mining equipment any time soon.

The most realistic case i have heard is degrowth (a controversial name, look up the proper definition if you are unfamiliar- it includes redistribution and growth of poor economies), wind solar as local distributed power to undermine fossil fuel interests in developing nations, nuclear energy and semi-decentralised power at scale in industrialised nations at least as a stop gap until population reduces to more manageable levels.

Highly recommend the below episode also, did you listen to the link I sent before on nuclear?

https://www.planetcritical.com/p/the-unsustainable-green-transition

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BYD is coming out with their new Blade LFP battery

No cobalt, manganese or nickel.

BYD is launching its next-gen Blade EV battery soon with more range and even lower cost

"By using lithium-iron-phosphate as the cathode material, BYD can make the batteries much cheaper. Not only that, but they also offer competitive power density compared to NCM batteries.

The company’s latest Blade batteries have an energy density of up to 150Wh/kg. BYD’s next-gen EV battery is expected to reach upwards of 190Wh/kg.

This could enable fully electric models to exceed 621 miles (1,000 km) CLTC range"

https://electrek.co/2024/04/08/byd-launch-next-gen-ev-battery-more-range-lower-price/

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Lithium batteries can be recycled, recovering 95% of materials.

That 2nd use of EV batteries is already happening.

New Solar Power & Energy Storage System Uses Former Electric Vehicle Batteries

"California-based B2U Storage Solutions just announced it has made SEPV Cuyama, a solar power and energy storage installation using second-life EV batteries, operational in New Cuyama, Santa Barbara County, CA.

There is not yet an established market and clear market price for selling used EV batteries. Pricing varies considerably. Reusing EV batteries in large scale stationary storage generates substantial value, and therefore companies like B2U can pay a significant premium over the recycling value. After utilizing the residual value, B2U and other companies that reuse EV batteries work with recyclers and OEMs to ensure all batteries are recycled.

In addition to Honda batteries, B2U has successfully deployed Nissan Leaf, Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3, and Ford Focus batteries. This is over 80% of today’s EV market. We are working with Volvo and BYD and other OEMs to deploy additional battery types as we continue to expand the number of batteries that our EPS technology supports."

https://cleantechnica.com/2023/11/14/new-solar-power-energy-storage-system-uses-former-electric-vehicle-batteries/

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Voltfang unveils outdoor storage system with recycled EV batteries

"Germany’s Voltfang has developed outdoor stationary storage systems featuring recycled electric-vehicle batteries with capacities ranging from 33 kWh to 644 kWh."

https://www.pv-magazine.com/2023/08/25/voltfang-unveils-outdoor-storage-system-with-recycled-ev-batteries/

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The ReVolve battery energy storage product uses second-life Nissan Leaf electric vehicle (EV) battery packs coupled with patented cell-level control technology that combines an integrated battery management system (BMS) and inverter hardware solution." - (Australia)

https://www.pv-magazine.com/2024/02/01/pv-self-consumption-rising-as-batteries-cut-grid-imports-by-94-says-relectrify/

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As for lithium supplies, just the newly discovered deposits in Nevada plus the Salton Sea geothermal project, will supply more than America needs.

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Apr 8·edited Apr 8

I’m middle-of-the-road on this. I think we need nuclear for baseload. This is consistent with the role that energy systems modelers believe nuclear should play, https://www.cell.com/iscience/fulltext/S2589-0042(23)00029-9?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS2589004223000299%3Fshowall%3Dtrue .

Being realistic, new nuclear will not be able to contribute significantly to emissions reductions before 2040 to 2045. That does not mean that we should not continue to develop advanced nuclear. I think we should target having 10 to 20% nuclear generation by 2050. It generates about 19% of our electricity now.

I’m encouraged by recent news reporting cooperation on licensing between the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., https://www.powermag.com/u-s-uk-canada-ink-trilateral-memo-to-cooperate-on-advanced-reactor-licensing/ . The U.K. recently shortlisted six companies in their efforts to encourage the development and deployment of SMRs, https://www.powermag.com/uk-shortlists-six-nuclear-designs-in-smr-competition-intends-to-award-contract-by-summer-2024/ .

Canada will probably be the first to deploy an SMR, the GE-Hitachi BWRX-300, in North America. They hope to complete construction by late 2028. TVA is collaborating on a standard design for the BWRX-300, https://www.powermag.com/tva-opg-synthos-team-to-shape-standard-design-for-bwrx-300-nuclear-reactors/ .

I worked in fusion research for 34 years. I'm not buying the 17.8 years, try 30 or 50, maybe longer. We definitely should not be counting on it to help us get to net zero.

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17.8 years? No way - I'm sure we're only 10-15 years from practical fusion. Just like we've been for the last 45 years.

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I was assuming 17.8 was a joke…

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I am worried about people out there who might start to believe some of the promises being made by fusion startups.

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So far, most new generative capacity has not led to a decline in fossil fuels burned (nor plastic produced), keeping us on track for climate breakdown and a massive amount of pollution.

Nuclear, as naturally taxpayer funded, is likely another cash cow, and acts as a deterrent from a transition to a decentralised, clean energy system.

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Thanks for the article. No mention of waste disposal?

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and this is one of the reasons why continued consumption of fossil fuels is not sustainable.......

https://www.theguardian.com/global/2024/apr/09/tenth-consecutive-monthly-heat-record-alarms-confounds-climate-scientists

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we could be in uncharted territory ......

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-024-00816-z

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You should check out The Gordian Knot Substack. It debunks all your arguments against nuclear. And solar + storage on the scale of nuclear power (1+ GW delivered with 93% reliability, every day of the year) is wildly more expensive than those LCOE estimates suggest.

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It's hard to keep 'apples to apples' in this discussion, but 1 GW of solar in the Northeast US is 5 GW of panels, because solar is less than 20% capacity here. Maybe 4 GW if you have batteries. So the prices should reflect that. Winter, and wind lulls, are another issue.

The criticality of those issues are what's behind this interview from the late David MacKay.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/03/idea-of-renewables-powering-uk-is-an-appalling-delusion-david-mackay

An easily referenced comparison of plans and options would be great - an update of MacKay's book.

The UK is hard to solve, the Northeast US is a bit easier, and California should be easiest. But even California has challenges.

Zero carbon UK, at 1 kW per capita or less:

https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/low-carbon-energy-programme/large-scale-electricity-storage/

https://ukfires.org/impact/publications/reports/absolute-zero/

Zero carbon California - an update of this would be handy (maybe it's out there):

http://ccst.us/publications/2011/2011energy.pdf

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as shown in this study supply estimates from wind and solar power in the UK ,easily exceed estimates for demand....... it also shows that the cost of nuclear power has increased , globally, since 1980..... the study also refers to the outdated assumptions of David Mackay , some of which are obviously ideological.....

https://www.smithschool.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2023-09/Could-Britains-energy-demand-be-met-entirely-by-wind-and-solar-SSEE-working-paper.pdf

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and Northeast USA "potential for 2000 gigawatts from wind along the nations coasts......4 times current demand for the USA "........

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/05/why-the-northeast-could-be-americas-new-energy-capital.html

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Apr 9·edited Apr 9

These are very idealized representations. For instance, in the UK study - 5% of GB land for wind? 1500 TWh - more than half the total power produced for Great Britain - from floating turbines, on 8% of the ocean surrounding GB?

(This would be wild to see - not sure about the ecological impact of developing ocean this way, but I would like to see a rendering.)

I've gone through the numbers many times. MacKay's inclination wasn't ideological (he was a non-flyer, a vegan, and a bicycle rider, who turned the heat down when he visited people). He was a skeptic about what would be built.

His colleague at Cambridge, Julian Allwood, is also a skeptic, and his skepticism includes CCS and hydrogen. It's a huge bind.

There aren't a lot of hand-wavy solutions to this document:

https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/low-carbon-energy-programme/large-scale-electricity-storage/

There are ways and alternatives, but it's a huge lift with any method. Spencer Weart's comment earlier is pretty much where I land, though I think public discussion is the way. The reason fossil fuel companies are confident that nothing will be done is because they know what an immense political lift it is to face reality, and the hand waving part just prolongs the deception.

A good interview with Emily Grubert (also calling for more candor):

https://www.resources.org/resources-radio/overcoming-obstacles-in-the-mid-transition-to-clean-energy-with-emily-grubert/

A helpful read from Allwood:

https://ukfires.org/is-absolute-zero-pessimistic-about-uk-energy-supplies/

Some of the frustration coming from a New York perspective is that 25% of NYC's power was zero carbon until Indian Point was shut down, via campaigning. But the campaign forgot to *first* campaign to commission wind turbine installation ships. So: Indian Point was replaced with gas, and New York City is 95% fossil fuel.

Offshore wind is just getting started and is years behind. There's no infrastructure on hand yet (like ships, and there should be 6 or 7 already working on the east coast if the Paris Agreement meant anything).

It's been a decade or more of speeches, blunders and incoherent thinking, because there's no plan for people to debate and agree to -- which is really what MacKay was trying to establish.

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the FF industry has a plan ....delay and deny ....and lie

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There are groups and individuals connected with the fossil fuels industry going around the U.S. spreading disinformation about renewable energy.

They go into farming communities, causing division that results in the demonizing of farmers who host solar or wind farms on their land.

And such groups spread the egregious LIE that offshore wind projects were killing whales, which there is Zero evidence for. The result was 1 million people in New Jersey signing a petition to ban offshore wind.

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J6 Wackjob Gubernatorial Candidate Sentenced: Major Voice of Anti Clean Energy Movement

it's like a cult - video

https://climatecrocks.com/2023/10/17/j6-wackjob-gubernatorial-candidate-sentenced-major-voice-of-anti-clean-energy-movement/

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Meet the man fueling clean energy opposition in the Midwest

Kevon Martis and a group of fossil fuel-funded allies have led a decades-long campaign to sow fear and misinformation about renewable energy. It’s working.

Aided by a small group of allies—many of whom receive money from the fossil fuel industry—Martis has helped pass dozens of laws that ban or severely restrict clean energy development in towns and counties across the Midwest. In order to pass these laws, he’s used misinformation and fear-based tactics that wind up dividing entire communities. A clean energy executive told HEATED and Distilled that if Martis gets to a community before them, their projects are almost certain to be blocked by the local government. The executive asked for anonymity in fear of being targeted by Martis.

https://heated.world/p/meet-the-man-fueling-clean-energy?utm_source=post-email-title&publication_id=2473&post_id=101558985&isFreemail=true&utm_medium=email

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Wind opponents spread myth about dead whales

"They claim the offshore wind is responsible for a spike in whale deaths. Experts don’t buy it, but interest groups backed by fossil fuel money are spreading false information."

https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2023/09/wind-opponents-spread-myth-about-dead-whales/

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And they're doing the same thing in Australia.

How a false claim about wind turbines killing whales is spinning out of control in coastal Australia

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/nov/12/how-a-false-claim-about-wind-turbines-killing-whales-is-spinning-out-of-control-in-coastal-australia?utm_source=newsshowcase&utm_medium=discover&utm_campaign=CCwQuY7x76DIqp9tGMbS5Kj08c3vngEqKQgwEIOftc3YuqTvOxj7x7znw4fw56wBKhAIACoHCAow1OuiCzCX9roD&utm_content=bullets&fbclid=IwAR3v3FIv3gGhMjFPjkS8HaIkt6q5gcVhPjuoU8BcFSS9tbp5IkO7jMUlJZ4

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Just going to add that I like the idealism - I also think it's what to deliver to public discourse. If people pushed for this degree of infrastructure, even getting 70% of it would be a huge win. So the step to call for is national and regional citizens' assemblies. The UK has done them, but that is the campaign to build.

An initiative in Texas is still paying off:

https://www.texastribune.org/2013/09/17/book-excerpt-how-public-got-behind-tx-wind-power/

Of course where the wind is in Texas it's empty, which makes it easier.

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Not just Texas

Percentage of net electricity generated by wind power:

Texas 20%

Iowa 58%

Oklahoma 35%

Kansas 43%

North Dakota 31%

Colorado 23%

Nebraska 24%

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Interesting data. Can you share the source? Thx.

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This is states with the most installed wind capacity, not percent of total generated. Texas leads by that metric.

Wind Facilities' Installed Capacity

by State

https://neo.ne.gov/programs/stats/inf/205.htm#:~:text=Texas%20has%20the%20largest%20installed,have%20utility%E2%80%93scale%20wind%20facilities.

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I'm not sure where I got those numbers, but here's another source.

originally published on April 25, 2022, on Elements.

Wind's Share of Net Electricity Generation

Texas 92.9 TWh - 20%

Iowa 34.1 TWh - 58%

Oklahoma 29.6 TWh - 35%

Kansas 23.5 TWh - 43%

Illinois 17.1 TWh - 10%

California 13.6 TWh - 7%

North Dakota 13.2 TWh - 31%

Colorado 12.7 TWh - 23%

Minnesota 12.2 TWh - 22%

Nebraska 8.7 TWh - 24%

https://decarbonization.visualcapitalist.com/mapped-u-s-wind-electricity-generation-by-state/

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I would call anything from 2011 as being outdated. That was part of the problem with the awful movie that Michael Moore was involved with "Planet of the Humans".

Moore’s Boorish Planet of The Humans: An Annotated Collection

(dozens of debunkings here, by energy experts and climate scientists)

http://getenergysmartnow.com/2020/04/25/moores-boorish-planet-of-the-humans-an-annotated-collection/

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One of my biggest concerns on the problem is waste -- if memory serves (which is to say, I could be wrong here), we're creating ~10,000 year problems associated with waste storage. Am I overreacting on that front?

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New nuclear technologies run on nuclear waste and don't create new waste!

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I know that some nuclear waste can be repurposed and run through the process again. But I thought we couldn't completely use it all to the point of all waste being gone/inert. Said another way, I was under the impression we could *reduce* the amount of waste by re-running waste through the system, but that we couldn't *eliminate* the waste entirely. Again, I'm happy to be proved wrong here and am just looking for a better understanding of the issue.

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Yes. You are correct. But new style reactors when up and running will produce significantly less, and less radioactive, waste. Storage is also a lot safer that is popularly imagined. Long term safe storage is expensive but very manageable compared to comparative mining waste from alternative options.

recommended listening:

https://www.planetcritical.com/p/is-nuclear-the-answer#:~:text=Nuclear%3A%20The%20perfect%20energy%20or,middle%20of%20an%20energy%20crisis.

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Apr 8·edited Apr 8

On your topic: I have to agree that nuclear is probably not the answer. Partly because of economics, as spelled out in your column. Partly because of politics, which would prevent allowing nuclear plants nearly everywhere, and would also prevent spending a lot of government money to improve the economics.

But, the "solar and wind are cheap" argument is pretty incomplete. I haven't seen anyone in the industry claim that solar and wind can survive without government subsidies and mandates, particularly if interest rates return to something normal like 5-7%. However, this is also incomplete.

It's plainly clear that solar and wind are cost effective for some applications. Solar cells have been cost effective for satellites since the 1970s because any alternative is much more expensive for satellites. Solar cells have been cost effective for decades to power roadside emergency phones because they don't require miles and miles of power lines. At least, I assume they've been cost effective because I've seen them everywhere since before anyone worried much about green energy.

Solar cells are clearly worth something in some applications. Rooftop solar in southern California performs a useful peak-shaving function, where they provide maximum output in early afternoon, when demand for electricity is highest for air conditioning. It may even be cost effective for such applications.

The bigger question is: what would a reliable electric system look like, and how much of it could be powered by renewables? Cost per kW is only mildly interesting. Due to intermittency, solar and wind get about 12-15% of nominal output. Adjusting for this, taking Andrew's figures, the capital cost of solar is about $6-8,000 per kW, or about $10-14,000 per kW with storage, for effective 24-hour capacity. This would imply that an all-renewable system isn't much cheaper than an all-nuclear system. Likewise, German energy agency (dena) found that only about 5% of large-scale wind installation could be relied on for capacity planning, meaning that installing say 100,000 mW of wind capacity would need 95,000 mW of reliable generating capacity to maintain system reliability. (https://www.ewea.org/fileadmin/ewea_documents/documents/events/2006_grid/Martin_Hoppe.pdf) This study is now 18 years old - maybe things have changed since.

Andrew's expertise isn't in operating a power system. Neither is mine. I'll concede that solar power is likely cost-effective for some applications. I'd like to hear from someone who can talk about the bigger picture: How much of energy needs can realistically be met by renewables? What would the resulting energy system look like, and how much would it cost? How would emissions under such a system compare to our current system? What would this imply for affecting climate change?

If Germany is our model, it seems that the resulting system generates more carbon emissions than before the "Energiewende", at much higher cost. If California is our model, it seems that the resulting system relies on paying Arizona to use renewables that aren't needed at some hours, while still giving very high energy costs and rolling blackouts.

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Brian Smith, why are you assuming a capacity factor for wind and solar of 12-15%? Most wind installations have a capacity factor around 30-45%, solar is around 20-25%. Also, your example of Germany's Energiewende is puzzling, considering the point of the Energiewende was to shut down nuclear plants and had nothing to do with carbon emissions.

As for the cost effectiveness of solar and wind, you just need to look at their LCOE numbers compared to nuclear and coal to see they are much cheaper. LCOE by the way takes into account total lifecycle costs including CAPEX and OPEX.

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Yes. Offshore wind capacity factors are not much below that of coal plants, at about 42%. coal global average 55%

Onshore wind is 35%-40% now with newer and larger turbines.

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Hmm - the source I looked at for capacity factors gave 12-15%, but I can't seem to find it. I take your correction.

For the Energiewende, I think you have the history and objectives mixed up. As far as I know, the Energiewende policy was announced in September 2010, with an objective of greatly reducing carbon emissions through greatly expanded use of renewables. Denuclearization wasn't a primary objective, or even a secondary objective. In fact, part of the plan was to extend the current lives of existing nuclear plants as a "bridging technology". (https://web.archive.org/web/20161006040920/http://www.bmwi.de/English/Redaktion/Pdf/energy-concept%2Cproperty%3Dpdf%2Cbereich%3Dbmwi%2Csprache%3Den%2Crwb%3Dtrue.pdf) Or do you have other information?

LCOE is an interesting measure, but it doesn't tell how a source can fit into an energy system. This is why I raised my "bigger question" - what kind of system can we end up with, and what roles do different sources and technologies have in it?

To illustrate, let's make a simple thought experiment: Suppose we had a new energy source that could provide 5 billion mWh of electricity annually, for free - no construction cost, no maintenance cost, no operating cost, no emissions, no need to build new infrastructure - totally free. Its LCOE would be zero. This is more electricity than the US uses in a year, so all existing generating facilities could be closed down. This would be a very valuable source.

But, suppose that the source is not reliable - it can provide 5 billion mWh, but not spread evenly. In fact, it can only be used for 12 hours per day. It would still be valuable, but we'd need some very expensive storage or conventional sources, to get us through the "down" hours.

But, suppose the source can only operate for 10 days per year. We'd need a lot more storage to get through "down" weeks and months, or we'd need to keep our existing system, with only limited "off" time for the current facilities.

As a last iteration, suppose this wonderful new source can operate 120 hours per year, but the hours aren't consecutive, and they can't be scheduled - they occur randomly and without warning through the year. In this case, LCOE is still zero, but the source is worth very little. Some of those hours might come at times of peak demand, which would allow somewhat less use of peaking facilities. But we'd still need to maintain our entire generating infrastructure, and operate it exactly as we do for the vast majority of the time.

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Your thought experiment pushes all the relevant variables to such an extreme it ceases to be useful or illuminate anything other than preconceived biased. As I side note you are mixing up intermittency and reliability, renewables are very reliable, the tend to have low maintenance cost and produce when we predict they should. Also our forecasting of wind and solar resources are getting very good and so it's not like we don't know when they will and will not produce energy.

As for the Energiewende, it originally started back in the late 70's as a protest to nuclear energy, it's where the Germany Green party really got started. It was in 2010, as most nuclear reactors in Germany had either been shut down or were on their way out that the objectives began to switch to renewable energy proliferation.

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Well, the purpose of a thought experiment is to illustrate and explain relevant factors. In this case, I was illustrating that LCOE is not, contra your argument, the one number "you just need to look at."

Of course my example isn't realistic. But it does illustrate that LCOE isn't the only relevant factor; what matters is how you can build a system.

On the Energiewende, I was referring to the government policy, since it is pretty concrete, and can be taken as driving government actions. There isn't much point to addressing the specifics of a protest movement.

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"A typical modern turbine will start to generate electricity when wind speeds reach six to nine miles per hour (mph), known as the cut-in speed. Turbines will shut down if the wind is blowing too hard (roughly 55 miles an hour) to prevent equipment damage. Over the course of a year, modern turbines can generate usable amounts of electricity over 90% of the time. For example, if the wind at a turbine reaches the cut-in speed of six to nine mph, the turbine will start generating electricity. As wind speeds increase, so does electricity production."

Reliability

"Wind energy only marginally increases total power system variability, as most changes in wind energy output are cancelled out by opposite changes in electricity demand or other sources of supply. A large power plant can shut down abruptly at any time, forcing operators to keep large quantities of fast-acting, expensive reserves ready 24/7. Wind changes tend to be gradual and predictable, making them far less costly to accommodate using less expensive, slower-acting reserves. When wind turbines are spread over large areas, their output becomes far more constant and even easier to accommodate. Additionally, modern wind plants can provide the same grid reliability services as conventional power plants, in many cases better than conventional plants, by using their sophisticated controls and power electronics."

https://cleanpower.org/facts/wind-power/?fbclid=IwAR0fQRkiN91GoxDMeuO6bUQ9OJ0DPl-XVnEIARyXw8aMGqcixZOWGFyExgQ

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I'm not sure what this responds to. If your claim is that variability doesn't really matter, I suppose it depends on what you mean by "matter". The German Energy Agency looked at Germany's experience in 2006. One of their conclusions was that wind capacity doesn't reduce the need for conventional generation capacity by very much. Specifically, they projected that Germany would have 77,000 mW of installed wind capacity by 2015, but that only 6% of this could count as "capacity credit" toward generating requirements for a reliable system. In other words, 77,000 mW of wind generation can allow shutting down 4,600 mW of conventional generating plants. Put differently, the cost of maintaining these conventional facilitis should rightly be seen as part of the cost of the wind generation. I don't think this effect shows up in anyone's LCOE calculations.

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At a 42% capacity factor (i.e., the average among recently built wind turbines in the United States, per the 2021 edition of the U.S. Department of Energy's Land-Based Wind Market Report), that average turbine would generate over 843,000 kWh per month—enough for more than 940 average U.S. homes.

An average onshore wind turbine with a capacity of 2.5–3 MW can produce more than 6 million kWh in a year – enough to supply 1,500 average EU households with electricity.

What is the capacity factor of a 2mw wind turbine?

If it produces power at an average of two megawatts, then its capacity factor is 40%

https://energynumbers.info/capacity-factor-of-wind#:~:text=If%20it%20produces%20power%20at,by%20the%20number%20of%20hours.

-----------------------------------

Coal averages 55% capacity factor globally.

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Nuclear power wouldn’t survive one day without government subsidy. If the limit on liability weren’t capped by Congress nukes couldn’t get insurance to operate.

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If you are looking for a snapshot of what energy system experts believe about the makeup of net zero energy systems for the U.S. , I recommend this website, https://www.gti.energy/meta-nz/ . They compare five economy wide net zero studies.

If you are looking for names of experts, I would recommend following the likes of Jesse Jenkins from Princeton or John Bistline from EPRI.

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Apr 8·edited Apr 8

Thanks, but I don't think this is really on topic.

I've read the Princeton Net Zero America report in some detail. It may be unfair, but it doesn't convince me. It claims that a net-zero energy system can be achieved with spending not much more than current spending on energy. However, it says this depends on continuing and expanding current subsidies for renewables, on further investments to decrease demand for energy, and on continuing very low cost of capital. These seem like very questionable assumptions. It also assumes massive carbon sequestration, through technologies that are not currently demonstrated. And it assumes that biomass fuels are "paid for" by the value of negative emissions. They don't go into detail on their methodology, but it sounds like their conclusion is "biomass-sourced gasoline is cost competitive if we pay producers (through subsidies) enough to reflect the value of carbon removed from the atmosphere."

Also, it appears that all the authors are academics, with a few consultants. There is no indication that any of them have any experience operating a power system, or any background that would inform the practical implications of incorporating large scale renewable energy into an electric system. Although one of the consultants (Ryan Jones) claims to have "deep analytical expertise in electricity operations, reliability, and long term planning." I'd be more impressed if his entire employment history didn't consist of job titles like "Research Assistant", "Consultant", and "Lead Modeler".

With all the utilities lining up to take subsidies for renewable energy, I'd think at least a few of them would have some vision for what kind of energy system they plan to operate, and how much of it is powered by renewables. Unless the only vision is to harvest as many subsidies as they can without annoying the politicians who want to provide the subsidies.

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Apr 9·edited Apr 9

"I haven't seen anyone in the industry claim that solar and wind can survive without government subsidies"

The U.S. Oil & Gas industry has been subsidized Non-Stop since 1918.

The U.S. Coal industry has been subsidized Non-Stop since 1932.

The nuclear industry has been heavily subsidized also.

Now, the adding of carbon capture to coal and gas power plants is being subsidized heavily.

Growing corn to make ethanol has been heavily subsidized.

------------

The global energy crisis pushed fossil fuel consumption subsidies to an all-time high in 2022

"Fossil fuel consumption subsidies worldwide soared in 2022, rising above $1 TRILLION for the first time, according to new IEA estimates.

Last year’s record subsidies – amid the global energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – were double their 2021 levels, which were already almost five times those seen in 2020.

As noted in the World Energy Outlook, high fossil fuel prices were the main reason for upward pressure on global electricity prices, accounting for 90% of the rise in the average costs of electricity generation worldwide (natural gas alone for more than 50%)."

https://www.iea.org/commentaries/the-global-energy-crisis-pushed-fossil-fuel-consumption-subsidies-to-an-all-time-high-in-2022?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email

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This is like a cut-and-paste of your comment from Mar 12. I'll ask again - can you explain, in your own words, what these subsidies for oil, gas, and coal are? You previously claimed that "You and I" pay to clean up abandoned and unplugged oil and gas wells. Do you have any substantiation for this claim? Are there any abandoned wells that have been "cleaned up"? Is there any effort to re-open them to get more oil and gas using newer technologies?

I'll acknowledge that some countries (Iran, Venezuela, and Egypt come to mind) subsidize oil for their citizens. Is this relevant to any discussion of US policy?

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Those subsidy numbers don't include the massive hidden or externalized costs of fossil fuels. The IEA estimates they are costing the world $5 trillion per year.

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OK - as I said back in March, the IEA estimates are very creative. But what subsidies were you referring to when you claimed "The U.S. Oil & Gas industry has been subsidized Non-Stop since 1918. The U.S. Coal industry has been subsidized Non-Stop since 1932."? Anything specific?

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Apr 9·edited Apr 9

Off topic? You are the one that posed the problem,

“I'd like to hear from someone who can talk about the bigger picture: How much of energy needs can realistically be met by renewables? What would the resulting energy system look like, and how much would it cost? How would emissions under such a system compare to our current system? What would this imply for affecting climate change?”

I tried to help by giving you (everyone) the most complete and recent review of the major U.S. economy wide net zero studies out there, 4 of which are not the one that you dismiss out of hand because you don’t you like the answer. Then you go on to disparage his expertise and credentials which is your standard MO. Let me know when you have written dozens of energy-related peer-reviewed papers, testified before congress multiple times and influenced energy policy in this country.

Where exactly do you think, you are going to get answers to these questions besides the universities, EPRI, or the from the national labs, e.g. NREL? There is not a single utility out there that is going to look at the big picture for the whole country.

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Thanks for the help. I only addressed one of the studies in the meta-study because it was the only one I'd read. I also read one produced by Berkeley (https://www.2035report.com/electricity/) which has similar weaknesses. Neither one addresses the real cost of the new system they envisage. Both rely on technologies that have not been demonstrated at any scale. Neither explicitly addresses the challenge of running a reliable system mostly based on intermittent power sources.

It may be that these questions can't be answered by anyone but universities, EPRI, or the national labs. But these sources haven't tried to answer them either. Maybe they can't be answered. If so, it's rather pointless to act as if we have a plan to achieve Net Zero.

I wouldn't expect any utility to come up with a nationwide plan. But I would expect them to have a plan for their own operations. My local utility (Eversource) recently announced their plan to achieve Net Zero in their operations. I read the plan with great interest. It included buying hybrid trucks for line crews and installing rooftop solar on their offices. It did not include switching away from fossil fueled generation.

I don't think anyone actually has a plan to achieve Net Zero, or anything close to it. I don't think anyone has really tried to convince the public that we need such a plan. Until someone does, we're only arguing about small steps: How much will they cost? How much will they accomplish? How much are we willing to spend on subsidies? What actual impact come from those subsidies? If you add up all the actions that have been taken, and are likely to be taken in the next few years, how much impact does it have on warming in the next hundred years?

But most people on the "activist" side still seem to assume that we must achieve Net Zero by 2030 (or maybe 2035, or maybe 2050) or we're all DOOMED!

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"We are all doomed " if we exceed 1.5 degrees C av global warming .....but the consequences are worse the higher the temperature goes ....and particularly if the temperatures stay high for longer periods of time .....

https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2023/11/can-we-still-avoid-1-5-degrees-c-of-global-warming/

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sorry.... meant to say .....we are all doomed.... is probably an exaggeration ..... however .....if James Hansen and co are corect re climate sensitivity , then the situation may be worse than the current consensus is suggesting

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Thank you for the balanced comment, Brian. If you aren't already reading him, Julien Jomaux provides unique insights on when solar is cost effective. His latest on vertical solar is interesting: https://gemenergyanalytics.substack.com/p/the-rise-of-vertical-solar.

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we already have a high capacity renewable energy source in Geothermal as well as ocean power sources ......tidal and wave . Wave power systems are currently undergoing trials in Europe.......

https://www.oedigital.com/wave-energy

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I think Georgism is the best solution to these issues.

https://douglasrmclain.substack.com/p/georgism

Georgism would promote a Resource Fee and Dividend to promote efficient of resources, mitigate climate warming, promote nuclear power to provide abundant energy and reduce use of fossil fuels, poverty and economic inequality.

https://douglasrmclain.substack.com/p/limits-to-growth

https://douglasrmclain.substack.com/p/save-the-world-with-nuclear-power-aef

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As long as Doubt, Deny, Delay persists within major political parties as their primary response to global warming nuclear cannot even leverage existing support for nuclear effectively. Nothing was worse for nuclear than their principle supporters turning climate science denier.

Without genuine underlying commitment to zero emissions advocacy of nuclear devolves into "oh, too bad, we have to keep using fossil fuels" with blameshifting - and far too much nuclear advocacy is clearly dedicated to saving fossil fuels from renewable energy, not saving planet Earth from climate instability. To people genuinely concerned about climate the insincerity of anti-renewables nuclear advocacy can be palpable - it is a bar held too high to force everyone under, not over, making perfect (the nuclear of their imagination) as the enemy of good enough (renewables) or just better than nothing.

The end of climate science denial would do more for nuclear than green politics supporting nuclear ever could - except that without the doubt, deny, delay politics it will be market forces; when the wall of denial comes down they will invest in renewables over nuclear out of their free market ideology, on the basis of cost.

And nuclear is never going to be suitable for the "last 20%" problem within an RE rich system - they won't compete with wind and solar, but with batteries, pumped hydro and demand management that takes advantage of cheap power when there whilst avoiding the high cost power.

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