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« Fuel Cell Energy's Hydrogen Separation Process | Main | Roadmap for Development of Cellulosic Ethanol Production »

July 10, 2006

Comments

Robert

Even if the hydrogen fuel cell powered auto is a pipe dream, if hydrogen and electricity have similar production costs, then hydrogen makes sense for industrial heat, as the price of natural gas climbs out of reach of many large-volume processes.

Redgrave

This only makes sense if the infrastructure is buried underground and securely protected from vandalism and terrorism. This type of infrastructure could cost in the hundreds of billions of dollars or more.

Michael Cain

I haven't kept up with the state-of-the-art in liquid-nitrogen temperature superconductors, but they used to have problems with current density: too much current and they quit being superconductors. Are we within reasonable engineering distance of superconductor cables that can handle 50,000 amps?

Thomas

I strongly endorse the idea of a nationwide (continent-wide in Europe) super-grid, super conducting or not! The whole hydrogen thing I am not too impressed with, although it is a nice synergy. Still, nitrogen cooling seems a lot less complicated to me.

But, Jim, could you please explain to me why renewable energy cannot possibly make a difference in a short time period, while nuclear can?

In EU, wind power has been installed at the rate of the equivalent of six nuclear power plants per year for the last couple of years. Still, there is a lot of hype about one nuclear power plant being installed in Finland, which will not be operational for another ten years...

Globally, 12,000 MW wind power was installed in 2005. I do not know how much coal power was installed in the same period, but I do know very little, if any, nuclear power was installed in that period. GWEC projects that 120,000 MW wind energy will be installed in the period 2003-2012, roughly the equivalent of 100 nuclear power plants.

All wind power manufacturers are producing flat out with no spare capacity driving up prices, yet demand continues to soar.

And that is just wind, solar is likely to take off too in the time between right now and the completion of new coal (with sequestration) or nuclear power plants.

You know this, I am sure, but you must also know something I do not, because I fail to see why "renewables cannot possibly meet our energy need in a timely manner."

Please, this is not meant as an attact, merely an enlightenment/discussion.

mwb

For the question about liquid nitrogen, transmission lines are pretty close to realization, possibly even already there. This project on Long Island claims to be the "World’s First Installation of a Transmission Voltage HTS Cable". It's supposed to come on line in Fall 2006.

The SuperGrid plan seems to conflate three components that ought to be treated separately: nuclear generation, super conducting transmission, and hydrogen. Coupling superconductors with hydrogen probably puts it into the “paralyzingly improbable” category. On the other hand, nitrogen cooled superconductors can probably contribute fairly soon to the grid enhancements that we need.

In the case of hydrogen, the comment that "no further fundamental scientific discoveries are needed" seems a little egregious. We're still missing some key steps, and even then the fundamentals are questionable.

For the nuclear "vision", I'm most curious about the fuel supply, especially in light of this paper, which claims that, if we generate the entire world's electricity from nuclear, we would run out of uranium pretty quickly (four years!!). It’s obviously very hypothetical and very debatable, but it’s certainly an interesting question to ask, especially in light of this grand SuperGrid plan.

Robert

@Thomas, concerning renewables, especially wind.

These numbers are from a recent talk I heard given by a DOE personage, of the "this is what DOE would like to see grant proposals for" variety.

Current global electricity consumption, averaged out, amounts to 13 TW power. Unless hard resource limitations prevent this from happening, DOE expects this number to double by 2050, and more speculatively to triple by 2100.

At present, IPCC projects that 2-4 TW of wind power are economically extractable. While the total wind resource is much greater, much of it is too intermittent or too far from demand to be exploitable at the present time. Obviously, this low-hanging fruit should be picked, but there is not enough of it to meet the coming demand.

At the same time, another 10 TW or so of nuclear power would exhaust known uranium reserves in ten years. Without politically acceptable breeder reactors and fuel recycling, nuclear cannot meet this demand, either. (I have no idea what reserves might exist beyond "known reserves".)

Therefore, DOE is very interested in solar power, since it is the one energy source we know is available in quantities much greater than conceivable demand.

Nukebuddy

Regarding uranium supplies, please see Garwin&Charpak's Megawatts and Megatons:

"If the population of the world doubles, and if everyone uses electrical energy at the same rate as to U.S. residents now, the primary energy needed for all electricity would be some 1300 quad per year as compared with the present 106 quad per year; half the total resource of seawater uranium, if used in pressurized-water reactors, would supply this greatly expanded energy need for 900 years....

"Therefore, because of the existence of uranium in seawater and in low-grade ores whose exploitation is not profitable at present (because of the low cost of richer ores), the future of nuclear energy will not be limited by the availability of uranium...."

Nukebuddy

Thomas writes: In EU, wind power has been installed at the rate of the equivalent of six nuclear power plants per year for the last couple of years.

Nuclear power plants typically have capacity factors of nearly 100%. Does that wind power statistic account for capacity factor?


Thomas writes: there is a lot of hype about one nuclear power plant being installed in Finland, which will not be operational for another ten years.

It is scheduled to go on line in 2009.


Thomas writes: Globally, 12,000 MW wind power was installed in 2005.

Does that wind power statistic account for capacity factor?


Thomas writes: very little, if any, nuclear power was installed in that period.

Japan installed 2.4 GWe of nuclear power in 2005.


Thomas writes: GWEC projects that 120,000 MW wind energy will be installed in the period 2003-2012, roughly the equivalent of 100 nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power plants typically have capacity factors of nearly 100%. Does that wind power statistic account for capacity factor?

Thomas

@Nukebuddy,
No, you are right, true average capacity is only around 30% of installed capacity. As for the installed capacity of nuclear, I stand corrected.

If I have to choose between renewable and nuclear, I would choose renewable. But really, I prefer to have both technologies in place. Anything to get rid of fossil fuels in a timely and economical fashion...

@Robert,
Glad to hear that DOE is positive regarding solar!

As for the economically extractable wind reserves, my guess is that this number will grow as wind becomes cheaper while conventional power becomes more expensive (not nuclear, maybe not coal, but most likely gas). EWEA states that *all* of EUs average electric energy consumption could be extracted from wind, by a combination of off-shore and on-shore. Of course, it would never be practical to rely on only wind! Personally, I think wind will be hard pressed to go above 50%, corresponding to minimum (base) load. That is assuming that some kind of supergrid, superconducting or not, is in place. Btw this minimum load includes PHEVs and EVs.

My point is simply, wind is already making a sizable contribution to new installation of power capacity, and that is just one kind of renewable energy. So why all the rethoric about how renewables cannot possible meet our needs?

I concede that the current energy system cannot cope with only wind energy being added to the total capacity. But the current energy system should not dictate where our energy should come from by e.g. 2030 because by then 60%-80% of our energy system will be new, built to the requirements of a future system, whether it be coal, nuclear, renewable or, most likely, a mix with substantial contribution from all those sources. What fraction of our current power plants will be in operation by 2030? I am guessing less that half! Add to that 50% more consumption, and you arrive at 60%-80% new capacity by then. We need to add new capacity according to our desired energy system by 2030, not what we have today, because the current system can (almost) always handle any incremental change.

A super-grid is an important step towards increased energy flexibility, security and quality.

amazingdrx

Well Thomas, let them talk nukes all they want. I just don't think they're cost effective.

Remote cluster reactors are a good compromise on nukes. I think we renewable fans could use this as a negotiating point to get subsidies shifted from fossil and nuclear corporations to tax incentives for homeowners and small businesses for wind, solar, and electric plugin hybrids and pure EVs. They get a second chance, we get a fair playing field.

Put the new nuclear reactors in remote areas where contamination already exists like Yucca mountain or Hanford, the power can be moved easily compared to the waste later on. Let the industry prove itself on cost, safety, and waste.

But as far as the real winners? Well I'm glad this article brings up superconduction. Because instead of thousands of miles of superconducting cables with liquid hydrogen pipes surrounding it, smaller rings of this material with safe liquid nitrogen supercooling could store all the wind, solar, and wave power needed in a regional grid. It's like a zero loss flywheel where the electricity does the spinning.

Even the negative assessment on the capacity of wind and capacity factor leaves the government admitting solar can and must fill the gap.

I think much larger wind machines on the planes and on floating platforms offshore that double as wave power stations could power everything alone. There is no reason to insist on that though.

The better strategy is to agree and admit we only expect maybe one third of our power from large wind and wave machines. Then propose distributed power generation and storage from home sized wind and solar roof panels on every roof that is suitable to provide the next third.

And going to efficiency gains for the remaining third. Much more mass transportation, ride sharing, bike trails, and telecommuting for work. Electric cars,super insulated homes, a new generation of enery efficient appliances, geothermal/solar heat pump heating, domestic water heating, and air conditioning.

Also industrial efficiency gains. Like using wind powered heat pumps and solar for refining ethanol. Electric plugin tractors and construction equipment.

I would say the admissions in this report give us the final negotiasting position we needed to prove renewables can carry the whole energy supply burden. Let them try nukes and "cleab" coal. But verify cost effectiveness.

Renewables will win in a fair fight. Real capitalism minus subsidies would provide that fair market competition. Let the games begin (well they already have).

This is engineering and political strategy now. Prove the voters will get lower costs with renewables and we win in the end. Hope it is in time to head off global climate disaster.

Thomas

Dr. X,
I think this must be your most down-to-business post so far ;-)

But we're coming closer to agreement. To all the people who say "Renewable can't possibly meet all our energy needs", let's simply reply: "You're right, but it can supply 50% without breaking a sweat, so let's get cracking!" As if any single energy source could supply 100%...

I am very much for wind turbines for all their merits (plus the fact that they make a fair contribution to the Danish economy ;-) ), but I see solar as the big winner in the long run. As a solar derivative, wind is a cumbersome detour to power compared to pure solar. It does have the advantage of being distributed more evenly over the 24 hours of a day, though.

Solar, on the other hand, is in nearly perfect sync with daytime peak demand. Not only that, but in large parts of the world, peak demand due to cooling also coincides with peak solar input. Plus cheap solar is the only realistic option for electricity in rural regions of developing countries, something we normally don't spend much time thinking about.

Well, Dr. X, if renewables win over fossil fuel for economical reasons (the pure cost of energy, not including the real cost of fossil fuel), I guess it will be true that: "The Stone Age did not end for lack of stones. Neither will the Oil Age end for lack of oil..." It's all a matter of definition, because if renewable energy wins because oil is at 200 $/barrel, can you really say that there is no lack of oil? Who cares, it is the end result that matters. :-)

Michael Cain

At the same time, another 10 TW or so of nuclear power would exhaust known uranium reserves in ten years. Without politically acceptable breeder reactors and fuel recycling, nuclear cannot meet this demand, either.

One of the reasons for running through the uranium reserves so quickly is that our current use of fissionable fuels is horribly inefficient: in a modern reactor, we extract maybe 15% of the available energy and toss the other 85% out with the "waste". There are obvious improvements that could be made. Our light-water reactors require uranium enriched from the natural 0.7% U235 to about 4% -- call it a factor of six. So we start with six tons of natural uranium and produce one ton of fuel and five tons of depleted uranium. CANDU heavy-water reactors have a lower burnup rate but use non-enriched uranium, giving at least a 30% improvement.

CANDU burnup rates can be increased significantly by using slightly enriched uranium -- in the range of 0.9% to 1.2% U235. Much of the waste from current light-water reactors has this level of U235 and can be converted to fuel for a CANDU reactor without seperating out the individual elements. Estimates are that using the waste from light-water reactors as fuel in a CANDU reactor gives a 50% improvement in overall uranium efficiency.

The newer CANDU reactors can also burn properly-seeded thorium, and potentially achieve very high burnup rates. Estimates for thorium reserves are about three times that of uranium reserves.

Bardo

Daddy, how high must the price of a barrel of oil go before we say there is no more oil? 200$? 500$? 10000$?

No, child. When you can't buy oil at any price, there is no more oil. A simple concept, but so hard to grasp.

Demesure

Thomas writes: In EU, wind power has been installed at the rate of the equivalent of six nuclear power plants per year for the last couple of years.

1 GW nuclear plant is equivalent to planting all the coast lines of France with Wind towers. Equivalent just in power, non in kwh, since a wind turbine works only 20% of time. I am not aware that an equivalent of 6 total coasts of France is equiped of wind power EACH year. Where do your information comes from ?

Demesure

Amazingdrx said But we're coming closer to agreement. To all the people who say "Renewable can't possibly meet all our energy needs", let's simply reply: "You're right, but it can supply 50% without breaking a sweat, so let's get cracking!" As if any single energy source could supply 100%...
Here in France, 80% of automobile gas is taxed (when you pay 10 euros of gasoline, the government takes 8 euros, the remaining 2 euros is for the supplier, refiner, delivery...) whereas renewable energy is subsidied by the State.
No wonder why the government isn't willing to increase renewable even if it talks alot about it.

Michael Cain

1 GW nuclear plant is equivalent to planting all the coast lines of France with Wind towers. Equivalent just in power, non in kwh, since a wind turbine works only 20% of time. I am not aware that an equivalent of 6 total coasts of France is equiped of wind power EACH year.

For 2005, the EU installed just over 6,000 MW of wind power. Assuming a nuclear plant operates at 90% of nameplate capacity (which I think is a bit high), and that wind power operates at 20% (which I think is somewhat low), that works out to 1.33 nuclear plants. A one GW nuclear plant at 90% is the equivalent of 1800 2.5 MW wind turbines at 20%. France has 7,330 km of coastline, so 1800 covers the entire coast only if the spacing is quite sparse.

A much more challenging target for either renewables or nuclear is the plans for China, India, and the US to bring online 847 coal-fired plants totaling 327 GW over the next several years.

Nukebuddy

Regarding subsidies:

=-=
Opponents say that wind power is too small today to matter and that companies only go into it because of generous state and federal subsidies. After these are subtracted from any revenue, a wind farm winds up costing taxpayers money, critics claim.

"Over the first 10 years, the company will recover two-thirds of their investment through tax breaks from the federal and state governments," Buhrman says. "In West Virginia homes are taxed at 60 percent of their assessed value but wind farms are only taxed at 5 percent."
=-=

panasianbiz

I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. I found this site extremely informative and thought provoking. I am quite intrigued by this technology and hope that it turns out to be as promising as it sounds.

Demesure

Michael Cain said: "A one GW nuclear plant at 90% is the equivalent of 1800 2.5 MW wind turbines at 20%. France has 7,330 km of coastline, so 1800 covers the entire coast only if the spacing is quite sparse."
2.5 MW windturbine are exceptional, 1 MW ones are more common, the most popular are sub 1 MW because they are more accessible to private owners and easier to be licensed over environmental concerns (view, bird, noise, whatever...).
In Europe, wind is attracting some investors thanks to subsidies, but when everybody wants his own wind turbine, no one can be sure the subsidies will continue.
I was a wind fan (have one turbine on my boat). I did the maths and I conclude that it's not sustainable, for the moment if ever, to relie one's investment on such lavish tax cuts.

I don't know about the functionning costs, if anyone can tell his hands on experience ? And what about connecting thousands of turbines to the grid without an hydrogen infrastructure to absorb the peaks and lows of capricious wind ?

Thomas

Demensure,
You are right that I forgot to multiply the 6000 MW installed capacity in EU in 2005 (EWEA) with a capacity factor of around 30% (according to my sources - I remember the number, not the sources), not 20%.

Or maybe the historic average capacity factor is around 20%, but new turbines have higher capacity factors because they employ a variety of tricks to extract more energy, such as variable blade pitch and variable rotational speed. According to EWEA, the average capacity factor was 23.4% in 2005 (83 TWh produced by 40.5 GW installed capacity). For 2030 they predict 36.7% average capacity factor (965 TWh by 300 GW installed capacity).

They also indicate that the western coast of France has somewhat greater potential...

You are absolutely right that wind power has survived on subsidies so far, as did nuclear in the beginning. Global spending on energy research is still dominated by nuclear. But as for nuclear, the necessary amount of subsidies continues to decline and will soon fall below zero. In Denmark, subsidy to new turbines has gone from more than 0.08 €/kWh to less than 0.02 €/kWh, and they still intend to make money of them.

1 MW turbines may be common now but the ones that are sold now are bigger. Pioneer markets often attract private investors, but the trend now, especially in Denmark, is towards professional owners, typically power companies acquiring larger turbines.

As for absorbing the peaks and lows of wind. Well, do not put all your turbines in the same place is a good start. Forecasting is another factor that continues to improve. EWEA has made a large report about grid integration of wind energy, available here. It is not trivial, but certainly do-able. Having a well-connected and far reaching grid is another important ingredient.

As for all other sources of energy, wind is not without its problems. However, most of them only occur at high penetration levels (>10%) and are not as bad as perceived, see quote on page 10 of the report.

Paul N. Oliver

“Grid Lock” Instead of making it BIGGER, why not look into the many ways of leaving it? A growing sector of smart, intelligent people are leaving it and it’s BILLS behind. Recently I was shown a gravity powered generator (20 kW) that supplied all the power needs for a small farm. Owner does not want any "snoopers" coming around, so I can’t tell who or where. But I can tell you it’s like a Giant coo-coo clock. Every day the weights must be lifted. Takes about 20 minutes and a couple of good horses. Built it in a empty feed silo (away from prying eyes), rain or shine, breezy or not, he gets his 20 kW day and night. Suggested selling the extra back to the Grid. The reply....oh...ah...I, can’t put language like that in print. What good will the Grid be as others continue finding ways to leave it too? Adding Hydrogen? Are we looking to invite a Terrorist attack by making it an even bigger target? Is Bigger really better?
Paul

amazingdrx

"I think this must be your most down-to-business post so far ;-)"

Thanks Thomas, pragmatic idealism rules, hehey.

It apprears that nuclear power will expand wether or not we want it to. Have you seen Putin's plan to accept all our nuclear waste (for a hefty price of course) and mass produce nuclear power plants on barges for export planet wide?

https://gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/7/10/165836/324

Will the NIMBYs who oppose offshore wind/wave power go for floating Chernobyl clones? Well naturally they will.

Nukebuddy

amazingdrx,

Russia is going to produce floating RBMK's?

amazingdrx

Yep buddy. Kinda makes one glow with a nuclear warmth don't it. Hehehey.

Think of it, nuclear barges off all the world's coastlines, controlled by the benevolent Russian government/KGB mob.

No more energy or climate worries, wheeew, that was a close call.

And the waste? Well just sink it in an ocean trench on the way back to Russia, no one but Greenpeace will know. And they are eco-terrorists so no one will believe them. Yow.

Even GE can't beat that business plan!

Nukebuddy

Amazingdrx,

This site says that two reactor types will be employed, ABV and VBER. It does not mention anything about RBMK's.

amazingdrx

Good article buddy, thanks. Not sure which type putin has in mind. Based on Russian sub reactors maybe?

I saw a documentary about a Russian nuclear sub disaster where sailors that operated them were interviewed. It seemed safety was a consideration far down the list of priorities.

But let them try it. After a few catastrophes maybe it will damage the reputation of nuclear power worse than Chernobyl did. Nuclear power advocates are evidently willing to take that chance to advance their cause.

The middle east blow out going on now may result in stray nuclear material being employed in terrorism or actual nuclear bombs employed by the various combatants. That can only remind the world of the danger of black market proliferation based on theft from nuclear stockpiles and Pakistan's proliferation for cash.

Nukes? As the prez says of terrorists, "Bring 'em on!" Evidently more Chernobyl, Hiroshima, and Three mile island type incidents are needed before the nuclear nightmare is finally over.

Unfortunately massed humanity only responds to disaster not reason.

heating


If you have looked into solar energy as a method for heating your home, panels are usually the first things that come up.

There are, however, other unique methods.

The Solar Heating Aspect You Have Never Heard of Before

The power of the sun is immense. The energy in one day of sunlight is more than the world needs. The problem, of course,

is how does one harness this power. Solar panels represent the obvious solution, but they have their downside. First,

they can be expensive depending upon your energy needs. Second, they do not exactly blend in with the rest of your home.

Passive solar heating represents a panel free method of harnessing the inherent energy found in the sun for heating

purposes. If you come out from a store and open the door of your car in the summer, you understand the concept of passive

solar heating. A wide variety of material absorbs sunlight and radiates the energy back into the air in the form of heat.

Passive solar heating for a home works the same way as the process which overheats your car in the parking lot.

Petrochemicals

That's great that you think in this way there's many times that people get boring reading a book.

The comments to this entry are closed.

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