Tag Archives: Nuclear Power

Climate — The Good, the Bad and the Stupid

Wow.  What a week.

On Saturday the Wall Street Journal published a feature article on the current state of climate science that was probably the best detailed article I have ever seen on global climate change. (the good).

On Sunday my local paper reprinted a New York Times article that featured a night photo of the UN building featuring the 2 degree C goal on the face of the building (the bad) and …

On Monday climate protestors amassed on Wall Street (the stupid).

The Good

If you haven’t read the Wall Street Journal article, Climate Science is Not Settled, read it now.  It is simply the best article on the subject I have seen.   The first paragraph is an excellent introduction:

The idea that “Climate science is settled” runs through today’s popular and policy discussions. Unfortunately, that claim is misguided. It has not only distorted our public and policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions and the environment. But it also has inhibited the scientific and policy discussions that we need to have about our climate future.

The article begins by acknowledging that the world is warmer and that man is probably responsible for some amount of warming.  It then details all the shortcomings in the science.   Discussions items include our limited understanding of the Oceans, the wild variability of computer models and the societal desire to have a precise answer when science cannot give us one.

Precise answers are beyond our abilities at this time and yet the UN has been providing precise answers since 1997.

A quotation courtesy of Mark Twain and/or Will Rogers:

It’s not what we don’t know that gets us into trouble, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.

The Bad

The UN (when discussing global climate) has always been a political association trying to solve an extraordinarily difficult science problem.  Political solutions don’t work well in science.   The UN has been making specific predictions about future climate for some 20 years now.  Those predictions have been wrong because they have not been willing to admit to the scientific shortcomings listed in the WSJ article just referenced.

Natural climate variation and flawed computer modeling have made many predictions in the 2007 synopses report wrong.   The recently released 2014 Synopses Report modified those predictions to include climate variation.   Some changes in climate that were predicted for our immediate future now might not show up for centuries.  But the predictions persist.

The Wall Street Journal article referenced earlier had this to say about specific climatic predictions:

Even though human influences could have serious consequences for the climate, they are physically small in relation to the climate system as a whole. For example, human additions to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the middle of the 21st century are expected to directly shift the atmosphere’s natural greenhouse effect by only 1% to 2%. Since the climate system is highly variable on its own, that smallness sets a very high bar for confidently projecting the consequences of human influences.

The UN needs  a specific identifiable goal to motivate people to act.  So they give them one.  The following photo accompanied an article about the New York warming protests in my local Sunday paper:

http://www.ctvnews.ca/polopoly_fs/1.2017169!/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_620/image.jpg

Keep global temperature increases to_less_than 2 degree C is plastered across the UN building encouraging protestors.  This goal was a part of the 2007 Synopses report.   The UN is supporting the notion that society can control temperature and can keep the change to less than a 2 degree C change since the beginning of the Industrial revolution.   The world has already changed more than a degree C since 1750 so the goal is to keep  temperature in a very tight range.

Natural climate variation makes the goal virtually impossible.

A few less sunspots, a volcanic eruption, a change in short term weather patterns.  A Little Ice Age here, the Medieval Warming Period there, or perhaps the next ice age cold cycle.

One volcanic eruption on the scale of the Mt. Tambora eruption of 1815 would change the world by more than 2 degrees C.  1815 was known around the world as the year without a summer.

Europe in 1709 was a very cold place.  It is guesstimated that Europe was a full 7 degrees C below the 20th century average  that year.  And the Romans built gold mines high in the Alps during a very warm period around 1800 years ago.

Mt. Pinatubo in 1992 changed the world by 1 degree C in only 2 years.  Any notion that man can control climate as specifically as the UN stated on their building last Sunday is poppycock and BAD science.

THE STUPID

Assume the UN is right and all the problems mentioned in the WSJ article are wrong (bad assumptions both).  Gloom and doom is close at hand and immediate action is necessary.  So activists protest on Wall Street? Why?

What would that accomplish?  What do they expect Wall Street to do?  What are their goals?

Carbon production worldwide is growing despite efforts to slow it.  Why?  Four words…China, India and Nuclear Power.  We must find a way to slow the population growth rate and we must construct clean energy plants all over the world.  Plants that will operate on cloudy windless days.  There is only one choice that will work right now (if you believe the UN math), and that choice is Nuclear Power.

Does the world fear Nuclear Power or global warming more?   Right now the answer is Nuclear Power.  Western countries are phasing out of Nuclear because of the Fukashima disaster.   California and Vermont are closing old Nuclear plants and no new ones are scheduled to be built.   That carbon free power is being replaced by power that produces carbon.

China produces more carbon dioxide than the USA and Europe combined.  And in the next 50 years India will become the world’s most populous place, adding half a billion people to its already burdensome population. Each additional Indian that makes it to the middle class wants to use energy to improve their quality of life.  Cheap power is a necessity.

China’s per capita production of carbon now exceeds the average for Europe.  That production is rising at about 8% per year with zero population growth.  India’s use is rising faster than it’s population growth.    The USA, the world’s second largest producer of carbon, has been reducing production, but it gets lost in the mix as China overwhelms everything else.    If India and China don’t change, then it doesn’t matter what the rest of us do.

These are worldwide political problems.   And they involve hard choices and tradeoffs.  Wall Street has very little to do with either.    So why protest there?

Politics of course.  And headlines!

I’d be willing to bet that most of the protestors are absolutely sure they are correct….and I’d also be willing to bet they think all the science issues are settled.   That is a sad reality that has become global warming politics.

 

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Nuclear Power is Necessary if IPCC is right

Shortly after Al Gore’s film was released, I had a discussion with my brother.  We were talking global climate change.    It was not our typical agree to disagree discussion.   I was presumed to be wrong, horribly wrong.   Global disaster was coming and coming soon.   And then I asked him the difficult question.

Where do you stand on Nuclear Power?

He could not, or more accurately, would not answer the question.  Therein lies the problem.   Increased Nuclear Power is absolutely necessary if the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is correct in their recently leaked gloomy predictions of world climate.   There is no solution that will work right now that does not include increased use of Nuclear Power.

Germany has been leading the charge into a renewable world.   Let’s try to learn something from their experience.

Germany has embraced solar and wind with some interesting consequences.  Despite it’s northern location, Germany is the largest solar power market in the world.  And it has a significant amount of wind power too.  Today, Germany has 35 gigawatts of installed solar and 32 gigawatts of installed wind.   On any given day they need about 70 gigawatts of power.  Sounds promising.

Germany gets less power from wind and solar than you might expect.  I know I was surprised.  Solar produces about 5.3% of the total, wind a bit over 8%.  Wow.

Wind and Solar both  are becoming more affordable.   Unfortunately the stuff is notoriously and predictably unreliable.  Germany provides detailed data on their production.  It’s chock full of interesting graphs.  Some weeks like week 2 make wind and solar look really bad:

http://i0.wp.com/cleantechnica.com/files/2014/01/germany-electricity-prices-winter.png?fit=570%2C1200

Very little wind (green) or solar (gold) on the chart and lots of conventional fuel (grey).  But a week earlier there was lots of wind and the renewable picture looked more promising:

http://oneinabillionblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/german-electricity-data-for-week-1-2013.png

Germany has a system that takes the renewable energy when it’s available.  It’s base load plants (mostly coal and nuclear) cannot be easily started and stopped.  The result is surplus power that is exported (bright green) to other countries in Europe.  On December 31, 2012 something a bit odd happened.  Lots of wind on a day when not much power was needed.   German utilities had to pay people in other countries to take their excess power!  Notice how the price of energy in the wholesale market (blue)  fluctuates.

As the sun approaches equinox, the solar picture begins to improve and the energy picture looks a bit different:

http://i2.wp.com/cleantechnica.com/files/2014/01/electricity-prices-solar.png

March 17, 2013 had a few hours during the day where half the power being generated was from renewable energy.  Once again, as the wind came up, wholesale prices for power went down.  The utility pays a fixed rate for the power and must take it under Germany’s system. German utilities are going broke.

Lots of wind on Saturday, none on Wednesday.  Throw in a bit of cloudy weather and nearly no power is generated by renewable energy (Wednesday March 13).

The utility has to provide  power all day every day.   And the only way that can be done without carbon dioxide emissions is with Nuclear Energy.  Every northern climate in the world faces the same problem.  German utilities must provide service when neither wind nor solar is available which happens to be most of the time.  They in effect must build 100% redundant power systems.

Germany is walking away from Nuclear power.  They are closing old plants and not replacing them.   The 2011 disaster in Japan has them running scared.  They fear Nuclear Power more than they fear global climate change.   Germany talks tough on climate change, but do they really believe?

Do you?

Nuclear Power — One Fine Politial Mess

Nuclear Power politics has long fascinated me.   Whenever I meet a global warming gloom and doom  believer, I ask them if they support Nuclear Power.  Invariably they either oppose the issue or are confused by the question.  I have yet to meet one that interconnects the two issues.   This puzzles me.

Nowhere is this more puzzling than in Europe.  Britain has just decided to build two new Nuclear power plants.   The first new plant built since the Fukashima disaster of 2011.  It’s big news and the Chinese are big backers.   People all over the EU are up in arms.

Europeans are trying very hard to reduce man caused carbon dioxide in their lives.  And they are trying to avoid the political third rail that  is Nuclear Power.  Germany has walked away from Nuclear Power, France has pledged to cut production by 40% and Italy has delayed new Nuclear plants.

Japan has pledged to be Nuclear free.   China is building 20 new Nuclear plants.

Suppose, just suppose, that the global warming fear mongers are right.  If they are right, we must seriously change the way we make electricity.  Invariably the green community solution is renewable energy.   For most of the world that means wind or solar.   Hydro and geothermal can work when the environment is right, but most places where people live have neither.

The electrical utility business is an on demand business.   At any given time there must be enough power generation to meet that demand.   Demand varies throughout the day as this chart of New England demand prepared by the EIA demonstrates:

graph of electric load curve: New England, 10/22/2010, electric power demand (gigawatts), as described in the article text

Electrical energy demand peaks at about sunset in October.  Solar works best in the middle of the day.  Wind usually decreases as the Sun sets.   At 7 in the evening, the reality of the power utility business runs directly into the fantasy world of clean energy.   Clean energy become less available when it is needed most.   What are  we to do?

How do we, as a society, meet the evening peak?

No fair counting on technology that does not yet exist.   When a new way of storing electricity is developed, then we can plan on an electrical utility world that is not demand based.  Until then the power that is needed at 7:00 PM on a Monday night must be produced at 7:00 PM on that same Monday night.

Society has but three rational options.

  • Coal fired plants
  • Natural Gas fired plants
  • Nuclear energy fired plants

There are no other choices that will work ….right now.   Thus my confusion.  Only one of these options works well in a carbon doom and gloom society…Nuclear Energy.   So how is France going to reduce Nuclear Power use by 40% without impacting their carbon footprint?   And Japan?   And Germany?

The Chinese solution to the problem is Nuclear power plants….and the British have figured this one out too.  I wonder when the powers that be in the EU will decide.

So far, European politicians appear to be trying to have it both ways.  Clean energy and no Nuclear power.   What magical power source is widely available, carbon free and not Nuclear?  I don’t know of one.   If the IPCC is right, we have no choice.  We must produce less carbon dioxide.

Nuclear Power and carbon dioxide production are linked.  People all over the world appear to be pretending not to make a choice.  But that non choice is a choice.   Either people really don’t believe the IPCC rhetoric or they like living in a fantasy world.  And this puzzles me and has puzzled me for a really long time.

Each of us really does have to choose. Which is worse for the world, carbon dioxide or Nuclear power plants?

Environmental Dreamers on Pennsylvania Avenue

I’ve been struggling for a long time with the Obama Administration Energy and/or Environmental Policies.  I am particularly puzzled by their reluctance to embrace natural gas.  Today I think I finally figured out what is going on…and admittedly I’m a slow study….but I think I’ve got it.   The bureaucrats that advise the President are environmental dreamers.

Dreamers live in the world they would like to have, the rest of us are stuck in the real world.   In the dreamers world…we have lots of renewable energy… and we have a way to store the energy.   Storage that is both economical and efficient would be nice.  Too bad it doesn’t exist.

When it does exist, all sorts of wonderful things become possible.  But until then, there is one truth that cannot be denied, utilities cannot use renewable energy to meet their demand requirements because it is not reliable (except for hydro, which works because it has storage in the form of water behind the dam).  The average solar panel works about 5 hours a day, the average windmill 7 or 8.  What is a utility to do the rest of the time?

Power utilities must choose between three available choices, coal, natural gas and  nuclear.  There are no other currently available choices.   Of those, one is a clear loser… with current technology…coal.  And the Obama administration has figured that out.  There are two choices left….and the residents at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue refuse to make a choice.

I like both choices, but since I live in the real world I know that Nuclear is not a political reality.   This leaves natural gas.  This is not a difficult choice.   Support widespread use of natural gas.  Sure it’s a fossil fuel, but it’s the good one.  It burns relatively cleanly.  Sure natural gas produces some carbon dioxide, but it produces about half as much as oil or coal and is clean burning (no cancer causing air pollutants).  And it’s cheap.

Therein lies the problem….a cheap clean burning fuel reduces the need for renewable energy.   And according to the dreamers at the White House, that is not a good thing.   Renewable energy good…fossil fuels bad….in the fantasy world surrounding the White House.    When a cheap battery becomes available, the economics of solar power and wind turbines will dramatically improve…..but while we wait…..let’s produce lots of natural gas.

Nuclear Power — A Global Warming Test

Nuclear power presents an interesting group of problems for people trying to resolve their carbon dioxide/electrical power generation problem.   The world needs electricity.  Cheap electricity dramatically improves the quality of life for people living in poor countries.

Green Power is expensive. Environmental groups like carbon taxes, which don’t make green power cheap, it simply makes alternate forms of power more expensive.  Poor people all over the world are left without a choice.  And green power is unreliable too.

Nuclear power is economical and clean.   Many global warming worriers have been advocates of some form of nuclear power.   Unfortunately it can create serious environmental problems when mistakes are made and people will make mistakes.

There is no perfect solution.

Wind mills and solar panels provide clean power but only when Mother Nature feels like providing the resource.   Solar panels are both location and time specific, they only work in sunny places during daylight.  Wind is only successful in windy locations and much of the USA is not suitable for wind (the white and tan areas of the chart below).

I was not surprised that the best place in the USA to build wind is in the Aleutians in Alaska.  There’s an old saying about weather in the area that goes like this

It rains or snows and the wind blows 300+ days a year….and then there are 50 really bad days.

The best places to build wind ….are also the worst places to build wind.   Imagine wind farms in the Aleutians or the mountains in Montana or in the middle of Lake Michigan.   All have high installation costs, their own environmental problems and are a great distance from power centers.

Too many environmental groups like to make decisions based on the world they would like to have an not on the one we all share right now.   Their green solutions for power use ignore the real world.  Al Gore did this in his 2008  Op-Ed piece in the NY Times title The Climate for Change.

Mr. Gore’s goal was carbon free power in 10 years.   Today, 4 years later, we have not yet started down the path Mr. Gore advocated.   Why?   Because it was wildly impractical, and politically and financially unrealistic.  It ignored all the problems are a part of any carbon free solution…including Nuclear Power.

The electric power system we have right now needs reliable power.  What we call in the trade base load power.  Wind and Solar will not work as base load….and saying they will doesn’t make it so.

Suppose you live in Atlanta, what are your choices?

Solar is probably you best renewable choice….when the sun is shining.   The average solar panel works about 4 to 5 hours per day and are much more efficient in the summer than in the winter. It will help with the summer AC peak, but be of little use in winter.  It is the most expensive source of power widely available.

What are you going to do the other 20 hours of each day? I suppose one could build solar all over the country to increase the time covered.  Unfortunately, the USA is only 4 time zones wide, so there is going to be 16 hours a day, every day, when solar won’t work.

Wind, hydro and geothermal also have the same siting difficulty.   Good locations are far, far away.  That means transmission lines, lots of transmission lines and lots more wind turbines in many different locations to cover for the variability of wind production patterns.   And we still need a backup power plant for the dark, windless nights in winter.

Electricity is an on demand system, you turn on your light switch, the electric company provides the juice.   There is no storage (except for hydro).   The power must be available at all times.   The only electrical source….available in large quantities right now….that is carbon free…..is Nuclear Power.

NOW for the test, do you fear carbon emissions more or less than the risks Nuclear Power presents.  A single event on March 11, 2011 changed many minds.   A tsunami hit the Fukashima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan and nuclear power lost much of its luster.

Despite the wishes of the green community, power plants will need reliable base load of some kind.  So what’s it going to be?  The choices are 1) coal, 2) natural gas or 3) nuclear power.  These are the only choices available right now.  No fair choosing something that doesn’t exist.

Hmmm.  Natural gas….but that’s for another post.

Ivar Giaever Climate Religion Video

I was doing a bit of research on ice cores when I tripped over a video 0f Ivar Giaever speaking before the 2012 Lindau Mediatheque, the 62nd meeting of Nobel Prize winning physicists.  Dr. Giaever made news at a 2008 meeting of this society when he was on a panel discussing global warming.

Dr. Giaever  gave a speech critical of global warming science.  The lecture is both entertaining and informative.    It’s worth a look.

Video?id=1410

Nuclear Power in Japan No More

On March, 10, 2011, Japan got 30% of its power from Nuclear, today it is Nuclear free. The last operating Nuclear plant has been shut down for routine maintenance.  It will not be started until it has been certified safe by local officials who are in no hurry.  Power failures this summer are possible.  It could drive manufacturing offshore, looking for more reliable or perhaps cheaper power.

I understand the Japanese reaction to the Fukashima nuclear power plant disaster, particularly in light of their WWII experience, but is it wise?  I’m not sure.  I suppose it depends on which demon you fear more, Nuclear energy or carbon dioxide.

What would I do, if I were in the predicament they find themselves in?  I don’t know for sure.  Clearly the Japanese were not good Nuclear operators, but the alternatives all have consequences too.  Are there ways they could become a better operator?  Are there changes to the plants that could and should be made?

Let’s make the wild ass guess assumption that carbon dioxide does matter and that Japan still wants to meet their Kyoto obligations.   Japan has a problem. Japan is going to produce much more carbon dioxide and they are going to fail to meet their obligations under the Kyoto treaty.  Before the disaster of March 11, 2011, Japan was struggling to meet Kyoto.  They were buying credits from abroad and they were madly planting trees…but they were still coming up a bit short.

In 2010, Japan’s power operations produced about 65% of Japan’s man made carbon dioxide.  With no Nuclear, they must rely on coal and natural gas. If we assume the mix of coal and natural gas stays the same, the change in emissions will be linear.  A 30% increase in power emissions means a 20% increase in total emissions.  Japan is the third largest economy in the world, this is a significant event.

Japan, in 2008, was #38 on the per capita list of carbon producers .  This single change moves them up the list and into a tie with Russia at #23.  The USA was, in 2008 when the list was calculated, sitting at #12.  I suspect when the 2012 list gets made in a few years, the USA will be a bit better (low emissions being better) than Canada, currently 15th on the list.

I think we all know why Japan made the choices they made.  China is headed in the opposite direction, constructing many new Nuclear plants as they struggle to clean the air in their cities.  France is a relatively low carbon emitter because of Nuclear Power.  It will be interesting to see what they do next.

We all face similar choices as we try to decide what is and isn’t important to our society.  I don’t  know quite how I feel about Nuclear Power.  I suspect it is the best house in a bad neighborhood.  If carbon really matters, we need Nuclear power.  If its importance is overblown…how overblown is overblown….we still may need Nuclear power depending on how wrong the IPCC actually is.  If the actual impact carbon dioxide has is only 25% of what the UN says it is, we still may want more Nuclear power for a variety of reasons.

I’d like to see more and better global warming science before I make up my mind.  Science that doesn’t know what the answer is before they begin.  In other words a better IPCC.  In the mean time, I suspect we are stuck with Nuclear Power…and may even want to add a bit more.