Leaving No Small Stone Unturned

Cool Car in IRCalifornia’s AB32 cap on greenhouse gas emissions has its regulatory agencies working to find a set of measures that will add up to enough savings to cut 2020 emissions by about 30%. Since twelve years is too short to change California’s vehicle fleet or its power plants, a myriad of measures are being considered, each rather small, but cummulatively are hoped to make a difference.

One such effort is to find paints and coatings to reduce how hot cars get when parked, so the driver is less likely to turn on the air conditioner:

This strategy is based on measures to reduce the solar heat gain in a vehicle parked in the sun. A cooler interior would make drivers less likely to activate the air conditioner, which increases carbon dioxide emissions.

Potential approaches include reformulation of paint to reflect near-infrared sunlight, parked car ventilation, and solar reflective window glazing. It is expected that cool paints, together with reflective glazing, will reduce the soak temperature of the typical vehicle parked in the sun by 5 to10 degrees celsius.

Some of the work appears to be from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. With the Federal government largely AWOL on global warming, it is left to the states to move NREL’s research from laboratory to the market. NREL found that:

[T]he United States uses 7 billion gallons of fuel per year for light-duty vehicle A/C, which is equivalent to 5.5% of the total national light-duty vehicle fuel use. It takes 9.5% of the imported crude oil to produce this much gasoline….

A combination of these technologies reduced breath air temperature by 12°C (22°F), seat temperatures by 11°C (20°F), windshield temperature by 20.4°C (37°F), and the instrument panel surface temperature by 16.8°C (30°F).

… results show that the A/C load can be reduced by over 30%. Vehicle simulations show that the 30% reduction in thermal load results in a 26% reduction in fuel used for A/C.

Getting into a hot car after it has been parked in the sun is never pleasant, so this falls into the category of a good idea even if it weren’t necessary to stop global warming.

— Earl K.

60 Responses to Leaving No Small Stone Unturned

  1. Robert says:

    I just read this piece on carbon trading. It seems to be about the silliest financial market you could possibly imagine and absolutely in no way likely to reduce global warming.

    There has never been a better time to own a polluting factory, landfill, coal mine, or chicken or pig farm in the developing world. Best of all is to own a plant that emits industrial gases like nitrous oxide, PFCs, or HFCs that are the most potent – and therefore the most valuable – of the regulated greenhouse gases. Consider HFC23, a refrigerant gas that traps heat effectively, whether in a vending machine or the earth’s atmosphere. Because emitting one ton of HFC23 is the atmospheric equivalent of emitting 11,700 tons of carbon dioxide, trapping a single ton of HFC23 generates 11,700 CERs. The result is that factories in China that install equipment to destroy HFCs, which is standard in much of the West, generate millions of credits and windfall profits – as much as $6 billion of credits for making about $150 million in pollution-control investments,

    This is such an obvious invitation for people in developing countries to quietly set up some sort of ultra-polluting thing like a pig farm or refrigerant factory, then fix the problem they have created and make a small fortune selling the carbon credits. Completely mad.

    Personally I think we need something really, really simple, so people can see how it works and know that it is working. Like just agreeing to dig less coal out of the ground each year.

    (Joe – sorry this doesn’t follow your post. There is a general problem with the site – blog entries are so frequent that discussions get buried before they have a chance to develop. Would it be possible to have a separate discussion area instead of linking comments to blog posts?)

  2. “Strain at a gnat, swallow a camel…”

    California’s worried about what color your car is painted, yet they’ve banned the construction of nuclear power plants since the 1970s thanks to the pop environmentalism of washed-up Hollywood celebrities.

    California can reduce its CO2 emissions in a big way if they would expand San Onofre Nuclear Power plant to include a third reactor as State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore has proposed. DeVore seems to be one of the only people to point out to Sacramento that if you’ve banned nuclear and want to reduce CO2 emissions, you’re not going to make it.

  3. Earl Killian says:

    Kirk, California is already reducing its CO2 emissions in a big way with SB1368 (the coal ban) and SB107 (the Renewable Portfolio Standard). SB107 (20% renewables by 12/31/2010) is much bigger than adding a third reactor. Nuclear is one way to reduce CO2; it is not the only way. You may not agree with California’s dislike of nuclear, but please recognize that California is pursuing alternatives. SB411 (currently in the legislature) would raise the RPS requirement to 33% in 2020.

  4. Paul K says:

    Los Angeles county ranks as the second highest CO2 emitting county in the US. source

  5. Earl Killian says:

    Paul K, look at the per-capita version:
    Fortunately, California’s AB32 targets are not per-capita. Thus the 80% reduction target for 2050 translates into a 85-90% per capita reduction (California’s population is projected to reach 59.5M in 2050).

  6. steve says:

    Perhaps this will help make up for their doomed effort to increase alternative fuel usage by including corn ethanol and soy diesel as the main component of meeting the AB1007 goals for alternative fuel use. I’d give them hell, but they at least are trying, and didn’t make alternative fuels be exclusively biofuels.

    And regarding nuclear, good luck getting a new plant online in time to make a lick of difference for the 2020 AB32 goals. For all the money that could be spent on one new plant, many more distributed generators (PV, wind etc) could be put online and making much more of an impact much sooner.

    I’m not totally against nuclear; it has its place. But, its not in California.

  7. Steve, I used to live in the Antelope Valley where we were “blessed” by lots of the wind and solar distributed energy that is so popular in environmentalist circles. We were also “blessed” with electricity bills that were 2-3 times greater than anywhere else I lived and this was before deregulation.

    I seriously doubt any combination of wind or solar is going to bring 1000 MW of baseload power online by 2020. Take a drive up near Tehachapi and count how many windmills aren’t spinning. Head out to Barstow and see if Solar Two is still running.

  8. Earl Killian says:

    Kirk, you are free to doubt, but please know that the following CSP contracts have been signed in the last couple of years:
    500-850MW SCE with Stirling Energy Systems
    300-900MW SDG&E with Stirling Energy Systems
    177MW PG&E with Ausra
    533MW PG&E with Solel
    500MW PG&E with BrightSource
    That totals 2010-2960 MW for CSP. I am probably missing a few.

    There is also an initiative for an addition 4500 MW in Tehachapi.

  9. Earl, I’m no opponent of CSP, but it’s definitely not baseload. Assuming energy storage is inherent in the systems, you’re looking at ~8 hrs of full-power performance each day. That 2010-2960 MW number can be multiplied by 1/3rd.

  10. I bring up baseload because coal is baseload and that’s what you want to replace. I’m also assuming large new hydro is out of the question.

  11. Earl Killian says:

    Kirk, some CSP is baseload (others are not). Have you not heard of Thermal Energy Storage (TES)? Read the material at for example. In particular try

  12. Earl, I was assuming thermal energy storage. Yes, I have spent a GREAT deal of time studying the behavior of thermal energy storage media, and I am not aware of any of these facilities that carry sufficient TES for 24/7 operations. 24/7 is baseload. Baseload is what replaces coal, which is the worst of all the CO2 emitters. Everything else is nice, but it doesn’t shut down coal plants.

  13. Earl Killian says:

    Kirk, actually I misspoke when I said CSP+TES is baseload. It is actually better than baseload; Ausra calls it load following. Conventional baseload power plants are sufficiently costly that they need to be run at close to full power output 90% of the time (with 10% downtime due to scheduled and unscheduled maintenance). That means baseload can only address about 50-60% of the power needs of the US. Peaking power plants are *required* with conventional baseload, and peaking plants are relatively expensive. A load-following power plant would therefore have a lot of advantages, if it works. To be fair, Ausra has not to my knowledge provided details on their 16h TES plans (a trade secret I guess), and they could be misleading us. Also, I realize that great TES could make other heat-based baseload technologies into load following technologies, so it might benefit Th232 reactors someday.

    I for one would be unwilling to have a non-diverse power grid in the US. I see room for many technologies, including wind, CSP, residential/commercial PV, utility CPV, hydro, geothermal, ocean, and even your favorite (Th232). I admit a preference for power sources that are good for many millions of years with no waste (solar and wind), since that is true sustainability (good until our sun is too hot for life on Earth anyway), but I realize that different locations have different needs, and while we could build HVDC lines to power the eastern US from the desert southwest, it is not clear this is the right choice.

  14. Earl, I agree with you that there is a need for a number of different power sources. My period of greatest interest in CSP (no surprise) was when I lived in the Mojave. As the charts on Ausra’s site show, the Mojave has the best CSP potential in the US. The sky is always clear, and it’s hotter than h***. There are huge expanses of empty land with nothing but ugly Joshua trees.

    Now that I live in northern Alabama, I tend to see things somewhat differently. Cloud cover, frequent rain, and the value of land in the eastern US make CSP of far less value here. While HVDC power lines could conceivably “pipe” CSP-generated electricity throughout the US, it would be an extraordinarily expensive proposition. The current grid can’t be used because of line losses and the issues with power factor and line inductance over such long distances.

    I think that the reduction of CO2 emission is of surpassing importance in the near-term. It is clear that shutting down coal plants is the best way to do this. To shut down these plants we have to replace them with a source that to the grid “looks” like the coal plant. This is where liquid-fluoride thorium reactors could offer tremendous benefit.

  15. John Mashey says:


    How’s the AL potential for:
    a) Windpower
    b) BIomass: while Range Fuels is gearing up for Ethanol nearby in Georgia, maybe there are cogeneration possibilities.

    BUT, I’d suggest the biggest opportunity is efficiency. I heard Peter Darbee, CEO of PG&E talk last Fall. He was very straightforward:
    cheapest megawatts are negawatts,
    if local PUCs incent utilities for efficiency, people do that.
    f other state’s PCUs don’t, dont’ expect anything to happen.
    Utilities are conservative; in his case, replacing 28 of 35 senior executives helped.

  16. Paul K says:

    The cost of HVDC lines may not be extraordinary compared to the inevitable cost of replacing the current transmission infrastructure. Efficiently getting alternatives from the desert southwest and the windy high plains is indeed quite an engineering challenge.

  17. Of course the cheapest megawatts are negawatts–for the utility. But they’re the MOST difficult for the customer. You wouldn’t believe the fight my wife put up for me to install CFLs all around the house. I literally had to go sneaking around at night and hoping she wouldn’t notice the change in the light the next day. And I’m a dang engineer who’s obsessed by efficiency. Joe Blow isn’t much like that.

    Having CFLed the entire house, there wasn’t a lot more for me to do until I actually started cutting into the standard of living: less air-conditioning, not using the oven so much.

    Negawatts are the “easiest” to implement but they’re also the first to reverse. Amory Lovins and his crew need to realize this. They are NO replacement for baseload power.

    Here in Alabama we have two of the filthiest coal plants in the United States: Miller and Gaston. According to, these two plants produce 33 million tonnes of CO2 per year, over 1/3rd of all the CO2 released in the whole state. Replacing just these two plants with clean thorium energy from new LFTRs would make a huge difference in state CO2 emissions and point the way to replacing other coal plants on Southern waterways.

  18. Paul K says:

    OK. Let’s build a thorium energy plant. Does anyone have a detailed design and construction plan? Exactly how much money do we need to get started? Is there a permitting process?

  19. Yes, Oak Ridge National Lab did detailed design work in the early 1970s. One such design plan can be seen here. But we would want to take advantage of technological advancements in closed-cycle gas turbines that would make the plants MUCH smaller.

  20. Earl Killian says:

    Paul K, you might want to read
    I thought many of the comments on the article to be worth reading. An example were Capo’s comments about U233 unsuitability for bomb material and also MakeSense’s question about fuel rods and Capo’s response on fuel rods.

    Kirk, are you associated with Thorium Power, the company mentioned in the above article?

    Also, one of my textbooks lists worldwide Th232 reserves (not counting former USSR) as representing 11,000 EJ (exajoules) of energy. If correct, that represents about 14 years of the world’s energy demand around 2050. This illustrates the importance of a diverse set of energy sources. In comparison, the Earth’s land area receives approximately 1,100,000 EJ of sunlight energy every year. Of course we’ll only put out collectors on a tiny fraction of the land and leave the rest for nature’s purposes, but even 1% is more energy than the world is expected to use in 2050.

  21. No, I have no association with Thorium Power. They’re seeking to use solid thorium oxide in existing light-water reactors. In my opinion, that is an extremely wasteful way to use thorium that will do little to improve our energy situation. We need to use liquid-fluoride reactor technology to extract practically all the energy out of the thorium resource.

    Planetary thorium resources are, for all intents and purposes, unlimited. Textbook listings of thorium resources are compromised by the fact that no one has ever spent much time searching for thorium. In a LFTR, the energy-returned-on-energy-invested (EROEI) ratio of thorium is so favorable that even generic continental crust could be profitably mined for thorium.

    There 3200 metric tonnes of thorium nitrate buried in a hole in Nevada right now, already in drums. In LFTRs, this thorium would produce six times the energy as in the entire ANWR.

    It would only take about 5000 tonnes of thorium each year to power the entire planet. Contrast that with 65,000 tonnes of uranium mined each year now, and you begin to realize what a powerful resource thorium is.

  22. Conservation:
    First, according the CEC, only 17% of our energy (I live in Pacifica, thankyouverymuch) statewide is residential. So…replace all your light bulbs, we did (we did save a lot on our power bill and kept us under the PG&E 230KW/month 14 cents/kwh minutes). But it will only be incremental at best.

    My state is the leading conservation state and I expect it to stay that way for some time. But our load is going up *faster* than any legislature conceived regulation plan. They are building polluting gas turbines very quickly in L.A, San Diego, Kern and Contra Costa counties faster than they are building wind turbines. Gas pollutes.

    None, zero, zilc conservation plans will lower usage into ‘negawatts’ enough to close a single coal fired power plant, let alone stop any new ones from being built. Unless you want Pol Pot as President, those kind of drastic measures are simply not going to happen.

    Only nuclear has a clear-cut, KW per KW negative effect on coal plants. With proper legislation, and a serious national effort eliminate 500 MWs of coal for every 1,000 MWs of nuclear built. The 2 to 1 exists because of the several decades it will take and thus allow for an increase in load (demand). There are 1400 coal generators in the US ranging from 100 to 1300 MWs.

    CSP, etc.: I’m all for continued examination/investment etc into this. More for potential technologies that could come out of it that because I think it is economically feasible. The economics of *every* proposed CSP puts it above the high-side of nuclear and again, no proven reliability at a 24/7 load.

    I work as a power plant control room operator. Base load is basically the 24 hour, Summer and Winter minimum loads. So you all know, the California ISO (75% of the state load) base load is about 22,000 MWs. But that doesn’t mean all base load power plants run flat out. SImply isn’t true. Historically all of gas fired thermal steam plants in the state (including the one I work out) have impeccable load following capabilities. From, for example, 48 MWs upto 350 MWs, 120MW upto 800 MWs, etc.

    Secondly, all hydro can load follow.

    Thirdly, nuclear CAN be designed to low follow…the French in fact do this by engineering in longer control rods that can take into account things like xenon poisoning and the like that usually prevents load following. Maritime nuclear power plants ONLY load follow because of speed demand. But…if we actually want to solve the problems, in fact, nuclear can take care of most of this, but only we follow what Kirk has been advocating and fighting for: liquid fluoride thorium reactors with onsite reprocessing.

    If you break down the numbers Kirk provided above, you can fuel a 1000 MW LFTR by having four guys with shovels dig enough thorium and quit digging at lunch time. 4 hours in one day can provide enough thorium oxide to run the damn plant for a year. Exactly. Insane, isn’t it? These plants are *totally scalable* from 5 to 1800 MWs, use about 1/4 the material on the reactor and turbine side, produce almost NO WASTE and can crack water with it’s high temperature gas into potable water and hydrogen (at the same time as it’s producing power).

    We don’t have this because Kirk and the other of Thor’s children over there have been up against the uranium-military-industrial complex: to much investment and lethargy organized around 50 years of making WMD and uranium fuel. There is nothing particularly ‘good’ about a ‘diverse energy mix’ (which is also the nuclear industries mantra, it seems). If geothermal was actually renewable (it is not) and there was enough of it, we would not be having this discussion. Same with enough hydro. There isn’t.

    David Walters

  23. Earl, thorium reserves are totally unknown except for what has been found. As Kirk noted, the 3500 tons *already* mined would provide 100 1GW reactors (1,000 MWs) with enough fuel for 30 years.

    Recently, Thorium Power (which wants to make solid fuel thorium) announced claims in Idaho to 600,000 to 1.3 mllion TONS of extremely high-grade ore (25% to 65%). This is enough, in one state, to run the *entire world* for about 60 years. This would mean we could shut down EVERY stationary carbon source KW-per-KW.

    Because of the amazing design, running liquid fuel reactors on thorium, using chloride instead of fluoride, we can actually grind of the spent (“waste”) fuel from light water reactors and burn it all up. We could also burn up every single nuclear weapon in the world and not a trace of the plutonium would ever infect the world again.

    We don’t know how much thorium there is because there has been almost no prospecting since the 1970s and even then it was only a few dozen geologists looking. We know that there is 4 times as much thorium as uranium. Used in LFTRs we could use it to replace *every* power source within 80 years. It’s a proven technology. It works. We should do it.


  24. Hi Earl.

    Your article says “The DOE’s plan is to burn recovered plutonium by blending it with uranium. This produces a hotter and more toxic spent fuel that can only be burned in breeder reactors.”

    I don’t think that’s right. The Mixed-Oxide (MOX) fuel is intended for existing pressurized light water reactors (PWRs, most of what exists today). It would be surprising if the spent MOX fuel was substantially more radioactive than ordinary spent uranium fuel, since PWRs convert some of their U-238 to Pu-239 and fission that during ordinary operation.

    Kirk is a NASA researcher who is putting himself through graduate school, again, to learn nuclear reactor design.


    Confirmed deposits of Thorium at Lemhi pass are 600,000 tons, and probable reserves are over 3,000,000 tons. Each ton is about 1 GW-year. That’s 1300 to 6800 years of current U.S. domestic electrical production, from just that one deposit. That may actually be in rough agreement with your numbers.

    Your use numbers are quite sobering. The U.S. is at 14 EJ/year electrical right now, and roughly 60 EJ/year total, which puts the world at about 240 EJ/year total right now. You are expecting that to quadruple in the next four decades? Collecting 0.1% of the sunlight hitting the ground (or 1% given efficiency) sounds like a big problem.

  25. Iain and Earl, you’re both partly right. MOX fuel is intended for light-water reactors, but to truly “burn-up” plutonium-based fuel, you need a fast-spectrum reactor. And that’s the overwhelming advantage of thorium–you can consume it completely in a thermal-spectrum reactor without making plutonium.

    I do think we will need a handful of fast-spectrum reactors, built on secured sites, to ultimately destroy the plutonium we have generated in the last fifty years of running on the uranium fuel cycle, but the overwhelming majority of reactors built in the future to carry the world’s power supply should be liquid-fluoride thorium reactors.

  26. Earl Killian says:

    David Walters, please see page 12 of
    California has been roughly flat since the mid-70s in per capita electricity consumption. Yes, we’re building lots of power plants, but that is because the population is rising so quickly. (We’re projected to go from 37 million today to 59.5 million in 2050.) Energy efficiency (e.g. your CFLs) has been key to keeping per-capita energy efficiency flat. There are lots of new devices we all employ, so we need to get more efficient at the old ones to compensate. In other words, you have to run as fast as you can to stay in the same place.

    Because California has not been able to get its per-capita electricity use to decrease, the only way to decrease GHG emissions is by lowering the GHG per kWh of the state’s electricity production, which is what AB32 mandates. SB1368 helps us avoid the coal temptation. SB107 directly requires renewables.

  27. Earl Killian says:

    Dave Walters, now that you’ve looked at the PDF cited above, imagine that the same policies, incentives, and regulations that made such a difference in California were instituted at the Federal level. (Decoupling being one of the most important.) The US per-capita electricity would begin to fall to the CA/NY level, probably over a 30 year period (e.g. 2010-2040). If we multiply California’s 7000 kWh per capita by the expected 2040 population of 392 million, we get 2744 TWh per year. Since generation in 2005 was 3721 TWh, it appears there is the possibility for a 977 TWh reduction in electricity generation between 2005 and 2040 through efficiency. Coal produced 1956 TWh of the 3721 in 2005, so we could reduce our coal combustion by 50% through efficiency alone. I believe that rebuts your “None, zero, zilch” comment.

  28. Earl Killian says:

    Iain, my EJ/year numbers were taken from MIT’s The Future of Coal, Figure 2.4 on PDF page 27. It is a graph, so extracting numbers is a question of eyeballing it, but it looks like 400 EJ/year in 2000, and over 900 EJ/year in 2050 under BAU, but 650 EJ/year in 2050 if energy efficiency is more aggressive than BAU. I am sure there is a better reference than TFoC, but it was what I had handy. Of course the CO2 emissions from the TFoC projections are much much too high (see Figure 2.3). It appears to me their high-price scenario leads to over 500 ppm in 2050, which is likely disastrous.

    I believe that most of that energy will have to be electric in 2050. Do you believe nuclear can scale up from the tiny white slice to cover almost the entire 2050 bar? I don’t. I believe wind and CSP have a much better chance to get us there in time (and I stress “in time”). One of the major issues with nuclear is the time it takes to prototype and build it. Yes, I am aware of proposals to crank out pebble bed reactors on assembly lines, but I consider that less developed technology than CSP and wind. Legitimate safety issues have a way of slowing down nuclear.

    Perhaps one of the Th232 folks would like to propose a ramp-up timeline. How long would it take to produce a demonstration Th232 reactor? (I don’t think Shippingport qualifies.) People are going to see several years of data from a prototype. From then, how long would it take to build the next 10? From then, how long would it take to build the next 100? From then how long will it take to build the next 1000? From there how long would it take to build the next 10,000?

    NREL projects CSP to be reaching 5 cents per kWh in 2020. Wind is already 4 cents a kWh. The projections for nuclear cost are not that good, as I understand things.

  29. Earl, I think one of the reasons why the per capita kWh of California has fallen has been that much of their heavy industry has headed out-of-state. I can tell you from experience that many of the industries relocating to northern Alabama come from California, and are anxious to take advantage of 3000 MW of zero-emission nuclear power from the Browns Ferry power plant.

  30. Do you believe nuclear can scale up from the tiny white slice to cover almost the entire 2050 bar? I don’t.

    If the nuclear technology was light-water reactors running on the once-through uranium cycle, I would tend to agree. But if we are talking about liquid-fluoride thorium reactors, then I most certainly believe that they can assume the bulk of planetary energy requirements by 2050. I base that on the ability of LFTRs to be built small, compact, and with deep inherent safety that you don’t find in LWRs. Their capital costs are lower, they are simpler to operate, they don’t have down-time for refueling, and they use far less fuel and use it far more effectively. They don’t require enrichment plants, fuel fabrication plants, aqueous reprocessing plants, or waste repositories like Yucca Mountain. They can be either air- or water-cooled and achieve 50% thermal efficiencies. They are inherently safe and inherently proliferation resistant.

  31. mz says:

    I think energy conservation is important and helpful and there is a need for a long slow cultural and legislational change to achieve that in all nations. (Taxation of common resource use instead of just work etc etc.) Many nations have differing amounts of progress on it.

    But Thorium Salt reactors can replace coal. You could need very strict legislation so that when the Thorium reactors are built, the coal plants are torn down immediately with no possible caveats – otherwise there’s the problem that they will be kept operating anyway.

    Coal is the single biggest problem in fighting against global warming. If that can be solved, then it helps hugely. It’s a very important and big thing. I can not stress this enough. It is the biggest possible single change one can do.

    Thorium is a bit like fusion – fuel is plentyful and the waste produced is not very much – except for one difference – it was demonstrated in the sixties already. (Also, don’t use thorium in a light water reactor, it sucks, you have to have a molten salt reactor so you can control the substances precisely.)

  32. David B. Benson says:

    Earl Killian — From other sourcees, 400 exajoules for 2000 CE and 420 exajoules in 2006 CE is the best estimate of human energy consumption from all sources (other than food). About 280 exajoules was from fossil fuels, the remainder from the usual suspects, including burning biomass (principally woody plants and dung) for food preparation.

    By the way, I found a picture of Tibetan yak herders in front of their yurt. The men wear blue jeans and sport a western-style hat. There is a pole in the ground with a small SV panel hanging from the pole. This charges a small battery so that at night there is some light inside the yurt and they can listen to a radio.

    But the women still cook over a dried yak dung fire…

  33. Earl,

    I’m pretty enthusiastic about wind power. The EIA projects the U.S. needs 6 GW/year of new production, and wind is supplying about 1.3 GW/year of that right now, and growing fast. There has already been a nearly 10 year pause in the building of new coal plants (down to 300 MW/year new capacity). I think there is a good chance that new coal capacity, averaged over a decade, is going to stay below 300 MW/year for many decades. I project that new wind is going to pass new gas turbines, if it hasn’t already, in 2008.

    I have two concerns about this happy history. The first is that I don’t understand the subsidies for windpower. I am in favor of subsidies for domestically produced power, except coal, because I think it’s important in the next 10 years that industrial electricity cost less here than in China. But I’m concerned that for wind to continue to scale up, the subsidies will have to scale up, and we may not be able to afford that. I suspect that nuclear is cheaper than wind. The usual numbers tossed around for wind are around $1/watt, with capacity factors of 30%. The Palo Verde nuclear plant was less than $2/watt, and has a capacity factor of 90%.

    My second concern with wind is the intermittency. I don’t mean the crap about the wind not blowing most of the time. Geographic production diversity can cover some of that, and throttling gas turbines can cover the rest. If we ever get to the point where there is not enough gas turbine capacity to cover wind turbine outages, it will be a happy day.

    My concern with intermittency is that we’re going to need a lot of extra infrastructure to distribute wind power that would not be needed to distribute coal or nuclear. I suspect this infrastructure will cost a lot, requiring more subsidies and more time.

    Nuclear is not going to make a big splash before 2020. But it might make a real difference then. I think it’s really important to get some prototype Gen 4 plants built ASAP, so that we can avoid a repeat of the crash build of nuclear that happened in 1965-1980, which caused so many safety and budget problems. Once the design and regulatory problems are wrung out, I think the plants can be built at least as fast as new windpower.

    I think Kirk’s Thorium molten salt reactors are very interesting. There is the promise of enough spare neutrons to fission all the actinides and the worst fission products too. There is the low-pressure core which avoids the mechanical bomb at the heart of every PWR. And I really like the idea of a breeder which does it’s own reprocessing locally, so that all the waste from the thing stays onsite forever.

  34. Earl Killian says:

    Iain, on subsidies please check out earthtrack/ library/ SubsidyReformOptions.pdf
    I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the above, but it wouldn’t surprise me if true.

    It cites an estimate of $49 to $100 billion dollars of energy subsidies in 2006.
    Oil and gas got 52.4%
    Coal got 15%
    Total fossil was 66.2%
    Nuclear got 12.4%
    Ethanol got 7.6%
    Other renewables got 7.5%
    Conservation got 2.1%
    Other got 4.2%

    I believe that Conservation should be getting the 66% that fossil is getting today, and after that it would be nice to see wind, solar, and geothermal getting the next 20%.

  35. Earl Killian says:

    Iain, I tend to think of a new HVDC cross-country electric power grid as something as well worth the money.

    I think the wind production tax credit (PTC) is about 2 cents per kWh (there is also depreciation). If 25% of the U.S. grid in 2040 were wind, and using the 2744 TWh calculated above, and adding in 900 TWh to replace gasoline with EVs, that comes out to 3644 TWh with wind being 911 TWh/year and getting 18 billion / year. That’s a bargain compared to Iraq. More important, I don’t think the PTC needs to remain at two cents for the life of a wind turbine, so it is unclear that in 2040 what fraction of the turbines in operation would be receiving 2 cents per kWh (I did the worse case calculation).

    Also, if there is a Federal cap on power plant GHG emissions per kWh like California’s SB1368, then it is unclear that we need subsidies this large. A legal limit of 400 g CO2e per kWh, enforced first for new power plants, and phased in over time for old ones, would be as powerful as a subsidy, I suspect.

  36. Earl Killian says:

    Iain and Kirk, here is what I meant by a Th232 reactor timeline. Let’s say we started Kirk’s reactor today. I would guess it would be 2018 before it would begin operation (regulatory approvals, FOTK construction, etc.). In 2022, presuming the plant is successful, industry might commence 10 more. These would go faster, so they might come online in 2030. You might then get 100 reactors by 2038, 1000 by 2046, and 10,000 by 2054. This is very hand-wavy. I just want to illustrate the problem with an example. Unfortunately this ramp-up is too long, but something like it is inherent with anything that has safety issues (this is the true value of wind and solar over nuclear and coal).

  37. Ronald says:

    I read what you said that you were excited about wind power and I read some of your other comments and I thought I’d comment and give you my view on things.

    This is a war. The risks of global warming and climate change to our and future generations is a war for a planet that doesn’t overheat for the things that humans want to do here.

    Having written that, I’ll take a few quotes from some American Generals. One is Gen Powell, who came up with the Powell doctrine and the use of overwhelming force. He was in Vietnam and after considering why they lost, came up with the idea that against enemies, we should use overwhelming force to defeat them.

    The second is from Gen. Marshall who worked World War II as the top military advisor. Anyway, someone made the comment that at some fort, they had to many supplies and Marshall said good, we usually are short things, it’s good that someplace we got to much of something.

    My point would be that to really do anything about global warming we can’t worry about some every point of contention on whether one point is right or not, we have to do everything well.

    Maybe the analogy to wars and generals is convoluted and over the top, but let me explain the point I’m trying to make.

    Wind power is only somewhere around 1 percent of our electrical usage in the U.S.. Parts of Denmark and Germany are 30 to 40 percent wind powered. We’ve got a long way to go before that. At some point we have to consider the problems with wind very seriously, but that’s not until 20 to 25 percent of electrical power as some reports have said.

    The military trains troops and has bases around the world and many people in uniform who has never fired a shot at an enemy. Yet we still pay them and thank them for their service. Was all that wasted or not?

    We have to develop the same type of idea with reducing greenhouse gases. Not that we should waste effort, but that we have to do as much as we can as fast as we can.

    The waste in the military is huge. Flights from nowhere to nowhere just to keep schedules. Building advanced fighters trying to cram buildings worth of technology into light weight panels to fight enemies who don’t exist. At least with wind turbines even if it isn’t used in the best economic situation for an electrical power company, it does reduce the release of greenhouse gases and that’s the goal. We need to scale what we do so high that we shouldn’t worry about every chance at not the best use of resources; we need to spend resources at tens and hundreds of times of what we do now.

    There’s also some reports of ways to make wind power more valuable by making a smart electrical power grid by using plug-in vehicles as backup power for the grid. I’m looking for the links which I’m having a hard time of finding and if I come up with it, I’ll add to these comments.

  38. Ronald says:

    I found part of the link I was looking for.

    There is a better explaination on another link, but this gives you an idea of it.

  39. Earl, I don’t presume to have a detailed timeline of LFTR development. I’ve read enough technical history to know that when anyone thinks they have such a plan, it’s usually not worth the paper it’s printed on.

    What works, historically, is when men have a plan that is matched to the problem that faces them. I’m reading a book on the Panama Canal right now where tens of thousands of French, West Indian, and American lives were lost pursuing a failed attempt to build a sea-level canal. It was not until it was realized that a lock-and-dam canal was the right answer could the project go forward to success. (that and destroying mosquitoes)

    We are faced with the overwhelming challenge of stopping global warming by replacing about 80% of the world’s primary energy with a new form that doesn’t emit CO2. We can go after this problem with wind/solar/efficiency and the result will be that in 2050 we will be emitting more CO2 than we are now. Or we can learn from history and attack the problem with a tool crafted for it–thorium.

    Voices like yours and others can make a big difference in marshalling the resources and research required to make thorium energy a reality. I can tell you right now that the nuclear industry won’t do it. The Department of Energy won’t do it. The coal and oil companies won’t do it. The military won’t do it.

    But I’m not giving up. Because it’s the right answer for the problem.

    You think an HVDC national power grid is worth the money. I don’t necessarily disagree. But everything has opportunity cost, and dollar-for-dollar, we will stop more CO2 with thorium than wind/solar because of the nature of the resource.

  40. Earl Killian says:

    Iain, are you familiar with Kempton and Tomić’s work?

    Also, Denmark is already at 20% wind (3100 MW, 420 MW offshore) and plans to go to 50% by 2025:
    Much of the new deployment will be offshore. A UK wind farm analysis suggest that offshore costs 50 pounds / MWh (about 10 cents per kWh at today’s horrible exchange rate).

  41. Earl Killian says:

    Kirk, I believe in aggressively deploying technology that we have today to solve the problem, and then adding to the mix any new technology developed as it becomes deployable. What I do not want to do is to delay the deployment of technology we have today in the hope that a research or development project will come to fruition. Unlike the Panama Canal, failure or even just delay has horrible consequences for the planet, not just the project.

    For something like Thorium reactors, I suspect the US government is the only player that can get what you propose to the point at which is ready to decide what to do next, which is to say they are the only ones that will build a prototype. How one gets the US government to do that, I cannot say. Joe Romm would be a better person to ask.

    I have not read enough about your ideas to say more (e.g. I have no comment on the “a tool crafted for it” at this point). I may read more at some point.

  42. Klaus A says:

    It was once said: “those who don’t study history will be condemned to repeat it”.

    There once was a time in European history when those not in agreement to current “politically correct” thinking were burned at the stake (Giordano Bruno), condemned to house arrest (Galileo Galilei), or their relatives threatened with burning to death (Johannes Kepler). The politically correct thinking at the time was that the sun (and the rest of the universe) revolves around the earth. The catholic church at the time enforced this thinking. At the same time “sin” could be eliminated by buying “sin elimination certificates” from the church.
    All this changed with the Reformation and the subsequent beginning of the “time of reason”.

    Today we have a very similar situtation (and maybe the end of the time of reason). Nuclear power, despite its obviousness as the by far best solution, is politically incorrect. Reading through some blogs, some fervent “green” believers DO advocate the killing of nuclear proponents. The “sin” today is global warming and CO2 emissions. Those too are proposed by the green church to be able to be eliminated by “emission certificates”. Now as then this does not change the fact, but satisfies the church, and makes money.

  43. HVDC.

    HVDC makes more sense for LFTRs or LWR power plants than spread around solar and wind.

    We could, in theory, build ALL nuclear plants in clusters of eight near the ocean(s), in about 16 locations and the job would be done. Tying them together with a HVDC network overlayed, and integrated with the current transmission/distribution would probably be cheaper from grid costs than any “alternative energy” scheme. Just a thought…


  44. Ronald,

    I also feel the need for decisive action to halt the increase in CO2. But I’m worried about the economic consequences of how we do it.

    If you tax CO2 emissions in the U.S., the result will be the emigration of CO2 emitting industry to tax havens. Arranging for Kyoto-level agreements will rely on enforcement in other countries. The better strategy is to make CO2-free energy less expensive than coal. Not new coal in the U.S., but coal plants overseas. There is reason to hope it can be done. Coal suffers from the cost of transport (pit to plant). Nuclear does not have that problem. Wind does, unfortunately (turbine to consumer).

    We won’t get less expensive energy by doing another crash build. Crash builds end up being very expensive. We’ll get there by doing for nuclear what we (actually, mostly the Norwegians) did for wind: decades of research investment, many generations of prototype builds.

  45. Earl Killian says:

    Iain, the problem is that we don’t have decades. Build yourself a spreadsheet based upon what you just said and you’ll find we exceed 500 ppm, and probably more. We must also distinguish Renewable Energy cheaper than New Coal from Renewable Energy cheaper than Old Coal. The latter, with fully depreciated plants, is very difficult to beat. (New anything compared to fully depreciated anything is tough.) RE cheaper than NC would therefore affect only new plants, and that is not enough. James Hansen believes we need to close old coal plants by 2030. I doubt this will happen, but if we don’t try, we’ll be saying the same spot in 2030.

    You mention the cost of coal, but fuel costs for a coal plant are actually only 1-2 cents per kWh.

    I believe the US (and the EU) should levy taxes on imports from countries that are not “on board” with some sort of climate program. That will solve the emigration you are concerned about, and it is likely to get China, India, and others to get “on board”.

    The problem with waiting for technology to bring down the cost of renewable electricity is the level of CO2 reaches extremely dangerous levels. We are already starting to thaw the permafrost in Alaska and Siberia. If this ramps up a little more, the CO2/CH4 emissions will be on the order of US/CN combined, so even if the US/CN came to their senses and dropped to zero, global warming would be on the same track. (If the permafrost kicks in and US/CN don’t get on board, then global warming accelerates for a century).

  46. Earl Killian says:

    Klaus A, I don’t think nuclear is politically incorrect. It receives many times the subsidies compared to wind and solar. The fact that we are debating it in this forum is an indication of the difference from times that you suggest. As for forums where some people say outrageous things about nuclear proponents, I don’t doubt it; you can find anything on the Internet. I would say the problem is worse in the general: on radio and TV you can find idiots who suggest killing liberals. I don’t think this is however the forum to debate the state of public discourse in America. It deserves examination, but I don’t intend to respond further concerning it here.

  47. Earl Killian says:

    Iain wrote, “Confirmed deposits of Thorium at Lemhi…” That seems to be stretching what was at the link you cited quite a bit, which cited unpublished results. Kirk, comparing something to ANWR is guaranteed to make it look small, IMO.

  48. Klaus A says:

    Earl, you could look at the potential of thorium also another way. Forget the Lemhi pass deposits for now.

    According to wikkipedia:

    Thorium is contained in ordinary soil (or rock) on the earth at an average concentration of 12ppm. This means for a 500 MW thorium reactor, about 53,000 tons of ordinary rock have to be mined and the thorium extracted per year (assuming 80% of the thorium content can be extracted) .
    An equivalent coal plant requires mining 1,430,000 tons of coal and 146,000 tons of limestone per year. (source )
    This means even if there were no concentrated thorium deposits, or if in the far future all more concentrated deposits are mined, then STILL a thorium reactor requires about a factor 30 LESS mining than is currently being needed for coal. I don’t expect we would run out of crust soon.
    But it also means that EVERY country could supply its own energy base from its own resources, irrespective of the luck-of-the-draw of geology, as basically ALL countries sit on continental crust.

  49. Earl Killian says:

    Klaus A, thank you, that was a helpful calculation. The idea of mining for 12ppm minerals has always given me pause (in the sort of way), even though I do presume that if the average is 12ppm, there are locations that are much higher concentrations balanced with ones that are much lower. (It is rather amazing to remember that what we are looking for here is the remnants of the supernova that seeded our solar system.) Do you have similar calculations about the energy balance of mining for 12ppm material (or 120ppm if higher concentrations can be assumed)? Where is the energy to extract thorium from granite going to come from? What fraction of a LFTR does it take to produce the next years supply of fuel for the reactor? Is it feasible to do this mining with electricity? If not, how would you power the mining?

  50. Klaus A says:

    Actually, this calculation was only to demonstrate that a thorium based energy system is sustainable for the very far future, e.g. at least as long as the sun holds out.
    A 500 MWe LFTR needs only about 400kg of Thorium per year. This extreme energy density means that concentrations of 20-65%, like in Lenhi pass, will have probably the smallest environmental impact of any energy source for hundreds to thousands of years. Also, 400kg can be easily transported on a small pickup. This would not even be dangerous, because Thorium has such a low radioactivity (VERY long half-life).
    I assume, the deeper we would go into the planet, the higher the concentrations of Thorium and Uranium would be. After all, they are the heaviest natural elements, and at the time the planet was melted, they would have mostly sunk downward toward the planetary center by gravity. The already known much higher concentrated Thorium deposits worldwide would be enough to supply the entire world energy needs for many thousands of years.
    But to answer your question, yes, mining can be done (and is done today) with electrical energy. Remember, we already do today 30 times as much for coal, not including transport of coal (30 times that amount) over larger distances. And even then coal has a positive energy balance. The transport of course would be largely unneded for rock based thorium though. We also already “mine” much larger amounts of rocks on a daily basis for building materials. The “tailings” of thorium mining would be the building material source, because there’s no need to do it twice.

    But even if it turns out that we need to stay with hydrocarbons for transport fuels, there’s a way to do it carbon neutral to negative, IF you have plenty of clean energy available. This process: ,
    developed by the Los Alamos National Labs, would more effectively run with the high temperature heat source of an LFTR. This would be producing liquid hydrocarbon fuels, competitive to todays prices, from atmospheric CO2 and water. Other similar processes also exist, but all need large amounts of primary energy, which can only be supplied cleanly by nuclear processes. As methanol is also a byproduct, these processes are not only CO2 neutral, but negative. Methanol is an excellent feedstock for the production of plastic materials. We already bury large amounts of those in landfills. We can though re-use those as often as we like, and when no longer useful, bury them in geologic storage. The carbon in those plastics is thus geologically sequestered in solid form. MUCH safer than trying to bury gaseous CO2 under pressure.
    Essentially, with LFTRs, and to some extent with current 60’s technology nuclear reactors, we DO have the technology today (or are VERY close) to make our civilisation carbon neutral to carbon negative. No large scale land use and spoilage (wind and solar) or rare resource depletion and poisonous chemical byproducts (solar PV, fossil fuels) are needed. LFTRs can be build so compact that a large plant can be located underground on only a few acres. The chemical processing plant to produce liquid fuels would be about the size of an oil refinery today.

  51. I’d just like to point out that energy-return-for-energy-invested for coal is actually a problem. Not a killer, but it shows up. This can be seen economically. At the mine mouth, coal costs $6 to $13 a ton. At the powerplant, coal costs $15 to $30 a ton. The difference is transport costs.

    I may be wrong, but I suspect a large fraction of the transport costs are for diesel.

    Even though coal is cheap, it’s still more than half the cost of running a coal plant. So that means that a significant cost of coal plant is imported petroleum. It is not an entirely domestic energy source.

  52. Earl Killian says:

    Klaus A, GreenFreedom is an enormous waste of energy. You can drive five times farther on the energy input to a GreenFreedom than you can on the energy output.

  53. Klaus A says:

    Earl, yes, if you look at the primary energy input. What you are implying is an efficiency of 20%, which is actually on par for internal combustion engines today. Also green freedom assumes the thermal power output of current light-water reactors, which is an inefficient use of their technology, resulting in low conversion efficiency. With plug-in hybrid cars it is today possible to get about the same or better primary energy related efficiency as H2 fuel cells. If you count in the shortage of materials, especially platinum, and therefore the energy requried to produce and mine those, they look even better. I do not think it is possible to transfer our transportation infrastructure to purely electrical for the short and medium term. Battery technology depends on materials. The trend in that technology shows that the higher the energy density is pushed, the more exotic, rare and expensive (energy and monetary wise) the materials become. We are essentially trading shortage of one commodity (fossil fuel) for another (construction materials). With the green-freedom concept the cost of primary energy is rather irrelevant. The CO2 savings are not. Especially if run with a thorium fueled reactor. This is because of the high availability of those nuclear fuels combined with their orders of magnitude higher energy density. It is not neccessarily a solution for thousands of years, but at least for the next 100 or so.
    I suspect the cost in money, environmental destruction and CO2 release of replacing our entire liquid fossil fuel infrastructure in the short term would far outweigh by many orders of magnitude the loss of conversion efficiency when producing liquid fuels compared to a pure electrical powered society. The nuclear -> liquid fuel concept avoids replacing that existing infrastructure in the short to medium term.

  54. Klaus A says:

    Regarding Earls earlier question about the EROI of Thorium at 12ppm.

    If we make 2 assumptions:

    1. The price (and energy needed) of the extracted Thorium rises inversely proportional to the concentration
    2. The extraction of Thorium from low grade sources uses the same technology and cost relationship as that currently used for Uranium

    Then, using this example of Uranium at $25 / pound:
    This mine, according to the provided tables, is profitable with Uranium at 750ppm and the cutoff concentration (unprofitability limit) is 250ppm ore grade.
    This means that Thorium mined at $521 / pound from ordinary rock would be break-even profitable for the mine.
    For a 500 MW thorium reactor that requires 400kg of Thorium per year, this mean then the fuel costs are $463,000 per year. At an electricity price of 10 cents/kWh for the mine, and assuming ALL the costs of the extracted Thorium are energy costs, then the extraction of Thorium from 12ppm ore requires ~0.1% of the power output of the reactor to mine his own fuel. To get to 1% of the power output, the mine must be able to buy the electricity at 1 cent/kWh.
    Just these quick “back-of-the-envelope” calculations show, that EROEI on the fuel supply is not a problem for a LFTR even when using ordinary granite (at 12ppm) as source material. Even then it seems it has a far more favourable EROEI than any alternative energy source (gasoline, as a comparison, requires about 20% of the energy contained for extraction, transport and refining).

  55. Earl Killian says:

    Klaus A, it depends on what you mean by the primary energy input. GreenFreedom is something like 410kJ/mol of electricity and 100kJ/mol of heat energy input. Electricity and heat could come from anywhere (most electricity generation produces heat as a byproduct). Electricity is typically the second stage in energy transformation, so I’m not sure I would call it primary. GreenFreedom does not assume reactors as I read the report, it simply opined that this was the most appropriate energy source. It could be done with CSP, which generates both heat and electricity, for example.

    Plug-in cars are about 3-4x more efficient than H2 cars today. If various goals for electrolysis and fuel cell efficiency (e.g. an electrolysis goal of 50kWh/kgH2 and the FreedomCar goal of 20kWh/kgH2), then H2 cars would manage to get to half the efficiency of plug-in cars.

    Your analysis of why plug-in cars are not possible is clearly wrong. My family has been driving a plug-in car for six years made by Toyota using 1990s technology and it works great. It has 77,000 miles on it, and the batteries continue to perform great. Others have over 100,000 miles, and the fleet data suggests 150,000 miles is reasonable to expect. Moreover, the price of suitable batteries is declining, not increasing as your guesswork would suggest.

    Moreover, a GreenFreedom powered car would still create smog and otherwise foul our air.

    I disagree that GreenFreedom makes the cost of the primary energy irrelevant. The factor of five in either land area, plant investment, or supernova remnants will not disappear and powering a plug-in from electricity is equally benign in terms of electricity.

    I think you are being rather optimistic if you think we can build 700 reactors/GreenFreedom pairs in just the US “in the short term”.

  56. Klaus A says:

    You forget that a large part of the energy input of the green freedom concept is thermal. Electrical power plants are typically 33% effective. A Thorium high temperature reactor, can run at 50-55% efficient, because of the use of Brayton cycle turbines. But at those temperatures, also purely thermal production of H2 is possible. One thing I find really elegant on the green freedom concept is to use the wasted energy, concentrated in the cooling towers as updraft, for the CO2 extraction from air.
    And as I already outlined, the negative carbon effects from plastics production is not adressed by electric cars.
    I do not doubt that batteries in a car today can perform average commuter duty. But they cannot serve long distance duty. I do not know where you live, but here in the Western US the distances are just too large in many cases for current electrical vehicles, even for commuting. And that does not adress higher energy need (and density) requirements like trucking, ships and aircraft.
    BTW, I DO know that field very well. I work in advanced electrical stuff for automotive.
    I don’t propose to use green freedom to replace ALL our current liquid fuel supply. With advances in electrical vehicles and plug-in hybrids the need for that is over time reducing. But it is a wedge.
    Yes, CSP can be used as a power source. I don’t know if the EROEI makes sense there because of the low power density of solar and the many orders of magnitude larger land use. But even then in that role it makes more sense than CSP produced grid electricity. Because the issues of non-demand synchronous energy production and long distance electrical transport will become irrelevant.

  57. Earl Killian says:

    Klaus A, did you read what I wrote? Did I not give exact electrical and thermal inputs in kJ/mole of CO2? So how can you suggest “You forget…“. Geez. Did I not suggest that waste heat from CSP could likewise provide the 100 kJ/mole? Give me a break.

    Your claim of electrical power plant efficiency is simplistic. Coal plants are typically 30-44% efficient. Baseload NGCC plants are typically 50-60% efficient. CSP plants are 30% efficient, but the input is sunlight, not fossil fuel.

    You write “I do not doubt that batteries in a car today can perform average commuter duty. But they cannot serve long distance duty.” First of all, plug-in hybrids can trivially handle long-distance. (I use “plug-in” to mean a PHEV or BEV.) Since the long-distance operation might be only a few days a year, the liquid fuel consumption is probably minimal (and it could be a biofuel or even a GreenFreedom fuel). Second, a pure EV can handle long-distance with fast charging. In May 2007, recharging a 150-mile range EV in 10 minutes was demonstrated using Li4Ti5O12 batteries. These batteries have never been put into real production, so their price is very high (at least twice that of LiFePO4), and you’re not likely to see them in EVs in the next few years, but you might in the longer term. Also, if you watch battery research results, you’ll see that all sorts of advances are being made which may yield batteries even better in this regard than Li4Ti5O12 (see for example, Yi Cui’s work). PHEVs today, and BEVs likely in the future, will be able to do long-distance.

    I don’t propose to debate LFTR vs. CSP for powering GreenFreedom. I believe the question is what to do with the power output of the LFTR or CSP. Feeding it to GreenFreedom is wasting that power, and that power has a cost. Such waste might be worth doing for specific applications in a limited way. For example, as I alluded to above, to produce liquid backup fuel for PHEVs that 90% of their miles from electricity, or for producing aviation fuel. (It is possible though that both applications might be better served by diesel-like fuels instead of gasoline-like fuels.) I was concentrating on cars, not trucking, ships, and aircraft. My concern is that GreenFreedom produces the wrong fuel for these applications. Also, most freight transport needs to move to rail in the future, since that is so much more efficient, and rail should be moving to electricity as well.

    Finally, since the 50kWh/kgH2 I mentioned before already represents 78% efficiency relative to the HHV of H2, it is unclear what advantages pure thermal production of H2 has unless the efficiency is pretty high compared to 78% times the electrical efficiency. If this method becomes useful, there is no reason that it cannot be matched in a solar furnace (3000°C).

  58. Earl,

    I agree that the great thing about wind is that it is finally here. You can pay money and get it in a year or so. The $0.02/kWh production tax credit would cost $77 billion/year, for a few years, if the wind power folks took over the entire U.S. electric production. That doesn’t seem like an outrageous price for switching to a completely domestic and largely CO2 neutral energy source. For one thing, it really would drive electricity costs into the ground and help move some industry back over here.

    Another nice thing about wind is that it appears that a $0.02/kWh production tax credit is sufficient to drive a lot of private investment. The wind power industry is ramping up fast, it seems like the right thing to do is not change the rules on them for about a decade, at which point they’ll be closing in on 20% or 30% of domestic production… and the problems with distribution that happen at that level. They may also bump into other problems, like limits to the supply of fiberglass, or resin, or gear cutting equipment, or land on which people will tolerate turbines.

    I know less about concentrated solar power. In particular, I have not read that these plants have demonstrated long-term reliability or cost effectiveness. I have a feeling that CSP is not “here” yet.

    Frankly, the notion of using electric vehicles to balance the grid seems farfetched. My understanding was that batteries have a finite number of charge/discharge cycles that they can tolerate, and they definitely have a finite amount of charge able to be stored. If the grid storage costs are not simply added to the cost of the vehicle, there has to be some sort of anticorrelation between anticipated vehicle travel demand and grid demand. Beyond charge at night / drive during the day, I don’t see what they have.

    The limit to wind power will likely be geographic redistribution costs, and getting those costs down requires higher voltage HVDC lines. I did an analysis which showed that at +/- 500 kV, electricity transported over 4000 miles doubles in price. I don’t know over how much range we will need to transport wind power, but I do know that any price margin wind has over coal is pretty thin.

    If we double the voltage, we double the range associated with a cost multiplier. So a +/- 1000 kV HVDC line might move electricity 2000 miles while adding 20% to the cost. I’m guessing that 2000-3000 miles is the kind of range that will be necessary.

    (I have not done the spreadsheet you requested, as I know almost nothing about the inputs.)

  59. Klaus A says:

    Earl, I read what you wrote. But the reality is that we do not have today a fleet of electric vehicles. And it would take 20 years at least to turn over the current vehicle fleet, even if we produce and sell ONLY PHEVs today. Neither would we have the electrical distribution infrastructure nor the generating capability. I tested PHEVs on my own commute. I could not do that commute on electricity alone today because I do have to go through large elevation changes.
    Green Freedom is only one application. Look at the possible scale and the EROEI of a LFTR. Even if green freedom delivers only 20% of the energy in Thorium in form of liquid fuel, we would be still far better off than we are with gasoline today. Besides being CO2 neutral. If you have a fuel source with a 500x – 1000x EROEI, then a 20% return still leaves you with a return of 100x to 200x relative to the mining and processing energy expenditure. Remember, gasoline from oil today is 5x. That is not to say that gasoline is the right fuel to produce. Ethanol would be much better from a “well”-to-wheel standpoint. Even better than diesel-like fuels. Internal combustion engine experiments by the EPA have shown that the properties of ethanol allow engines to run with over 40% peak thermal efficiency:
    Small diesels are below that and produce more smog causing products like NOx and particulates.
    Methanol would be even better, but is less environmentally compatible.

    As I have shown in my analysis earlier, a LFTR is, for all intents and purposes, a power source that does NOT deplete over very large timescales. The same cannot be said for wind and solar. Wind depends on good wind locations. In Germany for example those are already becoming scarce on land and the capacity factor of new wind farms is falling there. The reason they are building coal plants there like crazy is because of the wind variability. They DO need 80% of their capacity running as spinning reserve.
    Solar also requires suitable locations. I do not like paving over our last unspoiled land, the deserts, with solar panels or mirror farms. Besides of which, solar PV does require some pretty rare elements today. And that also with a capacity factor of 20-25%. No large enough scale storage exists to make up for that capacity factor.
    Forget biofuels. Even at just a few % of just gasoline consumption today. the push to bio-fuels is already causing food riots in countries depending on US corn production. Even cellulosic ethanol does not scale enough. After all, the sunlight to bio-fuel efficiency is only a few % at most. Far less than solar PV.
    Natural gas, proposed to make up the thermodynamic loss in CAES for solar, is also a limited resource, and is far less benign than ordinarily believed. Although it produces only 40% of the CO2 of coal per energy unit without the additional nasties, the leakage rate in extraction, transport and use in the US is believed to be about 3.5% in the US according to a greenpeace analysis. As natural gas is mainly methane, and methane has 30-70 times the greenhouse gas potential of CO2, the leakages cause it to have as much or more greenhouse gas potential than burning coal.

  60. Earl Killian says:

    Iain, here are some additional things to consider. I am not a wind expert, but let me relay a few things I’ve seen in talks from wind experts at Stanford (do you know about the Wed 4:15 energy seminars? today’s is Nanosolar). The US midwest is sometimes called the “Saudi Arabia of wind”: there is quite a bit of power there, but it also turns out there is quite a bit both onshore and offshore on the two coasts, and the coasts are of course the biggest users. Thus my guess at maximum distance we might have to move it is more like 1000 miles. You might also want to check out
    since they talk about 800kV and 1000kV.

    FYI, an R&D sort of activity in wind is to put floating systems up high into the trade winds, which have less variability. But that’s just an FYI, since it is R&D stage at this point.

    There are many kinds of CSP with corresponding varying degrees of history. For example, SEGS goes back to the 1980s.
    Low energy prices put off further deployment after these were built, but that’s not a problem now, and we even have RPS and stuff. This has an overview of the types:

    Stirling dishes systems have a fairly long history. Most types of CSP (Stirling dish, parabolic trough, CLFR, and power tower) have seen recent commitments from utilities for 100s of MW (totaling in the 1000s). I suggest the utilities think CSP is “here”. They like it because it displaces expensive peaking power.

    On your V2G comments: remember that the most important grid balancing that EVs can do is to simply vary their charge times in response to power availability (since they are parked 95% of the time, and only 5% of the time to charge, they are extremely flexible). Actual reverse flows would likely be only dozens of times a year, and we are not talking about deep discharge, which is the most cycle count affecting. For batteries with cycle counts of 5000, we’re talking about 6% of cycles. Individual drivers would decide whether the money received from V2G was worth it or not.