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Is 450 ppm possible? Part 5: Old coal’s out, can’t wait for new nukes, so what do we do NOW?

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"Is 450 ppm possible? Part 5: Old coal’s out, can’t wait for new nukes, so what do we do NOW?"

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Suppose the leaders of this country were wise enough to put a moratorium on traditional coal (the most urgent climate policy needed, as discussed in Part 4)? How will we meet our steadily growing demand for carbon-free power over the next decade? And to get on the 450 ppm path, we don’t just need to stop U.S. emissions from rising — we should return to 1990 levels (or lower) by 2020.

NUCLEAR: Nuclear is an obvious possibility, beloved of conservative Francophiles like McCain and Gingrich, but energy realists understand that it is very unlikely new nuclear plants could deliver many kilowatt-hours of electricity by 2018, let alone affordable kWhs. Indeed, back in August, Tulsa World reported (here):

American Electric Power Co. isn’t planning to build any new nuclear power plants because delays will push operational starts to 2020, CEO Michael Morris said Tuesday….

Builders would also have to queue for certain parts and face “realistic” costs of about $4,000 a kilowatt, he said….

I’m not convinced we’ll see a new nuclear station before probably the 2020 timeline,” Morris said.

And that in spite of the amazing subsidies and huge loan guarantees for nuclear power in the 2005 energy bill (see here).

As for the $4,000 a kw capital cost — and the related electricity price of about 10 cents per kwh — mid-2007 has already turned into the “good old days” for nukes. Utilities are now telling regulators that nukes will cost 50% to 100% more than the AEP estimate, as I’ll report in a couple of weeks.

One very good source of apples-to-apples comparisons of different types of low- and zero-carbon electricity generation is the modeling work done for the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) on how to comply with the AB32 law (California’s Global Warming Solutions Act), online here. AB32 requires a reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The most valuable document is probably the “Generation Costs,” although the slides for the recent May 6th presentation are fascinating.

The research for the CPUC puts the cost of power from new nuclear plants at 15.2 cents per kWh. It also puts the cost of coal gasification with carbon capture and storage at 16.9 cents per kWh. In any case, given its immature state and the mismanaged federal effort (see “In seeming flipflop, Bush drops mismanaged ‘NeverGen’ clean coal project“), coal with CCS won’t be providing much power by 2020. At this point, it would even be pure speculation to say that coal with CCS will be one of the low-cost options in the 2020s.

So what do we do in the near term to meet the projected 1% annual increase in demand over the next decade while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions? There are only three plausible options, and we’ll need them all:

Energy efficiency (including cogeneration), wind power, and concentrated solar power (CSP). By “plausible” I mean, capable of delivering power affordably and quickly — and that means having no obvious production bottlenecks (unlike, again, say, another well-known power source, see “Look up nuclear bottleneck in the dictionary….“). The goal is to fund technologies and boost industries that are capable of scaling up to deliver hundreds if not thousands of GWs of carbon free power by mid-century. No surprise that these three sources account for a (slight) majority of the wedges I propose for 2050 (see “Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 2: The Solution“).

EFFICIENCY: Energy efficiency is the cheapest alternative. California has cut annual peak demand by 12 GW – and total demand by about 40,000 GWh — through a variety of energy efficiency programs over the past three decades. Over their lifetime, the cost of efficiency programs has averaged 2-3¢ per kW. If every American had the per capita electricity of California, we’d cut electricity use some 40%. If the next president aggressively pushes a nationwide effort to embrace efficiency and change regulations to encourage efficiency, then we could keep electricity demand close to flat through 2020. That is particularly true if we include an aggressive effort to push combined heat and power (see “Recycled Energy — A core climate solution).

A May presentation of the CPUC modeling results (here) shows that energy efficiency could deliver up to 36,000 Gigawatt-hours of “negawatts” by 2020 (that is the equivalent of more than 5 GW of baseload generation operating 80% of the time). At the same time, the state could build 1.6 GW of small CHP and 2.8 GW of large CHP. So that is nearly 10 GW of efficiency by 2020. If this were reproduced nationwide, efficiency would deliver more than 130 GW of efficiency by 2020.

WIND: Power purchase agreements for wind power are currently averaging 4.5 to 7.5 cents a kilowatt hour, including the federal wind tax credit, which is a fair comparison in the near term to new nuclear, which itself gets huge subsidies, loan guarantees, and liability protection. Even unsubsidized, and with the recent price rise that most power sources have seen, wind power is delivering power at 7.5 to 10 (this does not include transmission costs). The country has thousands of gigawatts that could be delivered for under ten cents unsubsidzed. Just 300 GW by 2030 would provide 20% of U.S. electricity. The world added 20 GW last year alone, with over 5 GW in this country.

Yes, wind power is intermittent, but the country has a great deal of baseload power, and many regions of European countries integrate up to 40% wind power successfully. An August 2007 review of actual windpower integration by utilities in this country, “Utility Wind Integration and Operating Impact State of the Art,” found that the integration cost in eight different major wind projects, ranged from 0.2 to 0.5 cents per kWh. Moreover, as we electrify transportation over the next two decades with plug-in hybrids, the grid will be able to make use of far larger amounts of intermittent, largely night-time zero-carbon electricity from wind. So post-2030, windpower should be able to grow even further.

[Note: On Monday, the wind industry is releasing a major report on achieving 20% of our power from wind by 2030, so I will be doing a longer discussion of this core climate solution then.]

CSP: Concentrated solar power I have previously written about at length (see “Concentrated solar thermal power — a core climate solution“). It has come roaring back after more than a decade of neglect with more than a dozen providers building projects in two dozen countires. Google is placing a large bet on CSP.

Utilities in the Southwest are already contracting for power at 14 to 15 cents/kWh. The modeling for the CPUC puts California solar thermal at 12.7 to 13.6 cents/kWh (including six hours of storage capacity) — and at similar or lower costs in the rest of the West. A number of players are adding low-cost storage that will make the power better than baseload (since it delivers peak power when demand actually peaks, rather than just delivering a constant amount of power 24/7). More importantly, CSP has barely begun dropping down the experience curve as costs are lower from economies of scale and the manufacturing learning curve (see experience curve discussion here). The CPUC analysis foresees the possibility that CSP could drop 20% in cost by 2020.

A 2006 report by the Western Governors Association “projects that, with a deployment of 4 GW, total nominal cost of CSP electricity would fall below 10¢/kWh.” And that deployment will likely occur before 2015. Indeed, the report noted the industry could “produce over 13 GW by 2015 if the market could absorb that much.” The report also notes that 300 GW of CSP capacity can be located near existing transmission lines. As an aside, wind power is a very good match with CSP in terms of their ability to share the same transmission lines, since a great deal of wind is at night, and since CSP, with storage, is dispatchable.

Finally, a brand new report from Environment America, Solar Thermal Power and and the Fight Against Global Warming, explains how the United States could achieve 80 GW of CSP by 2030, which is not even what I would consider to be a true stretch goal given how dire the climate situation is.

The bottom line is that even without a WWII-scale effort, we could start making significant reductions in grid GHG emissions by 2020 that would not raise the nation’s energy bill!

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42 Responses to Is 450 ppm possible? Part 5: Old coal’s out, can’t wait for new nukes, so what do we do NOW?

  1. The goal is to fund technologies and boost industries that are capable of scaling up to deliver hundreds if not thousands of GWs of carbon free power by mid-century.

    hmmm, what am I thinking of?

  2. Energy efficiency is the cheapest alternative. California has cut annual peak demand by 12 GW – and total demand by about 40,000 GWh — through a variety of energy efficiency programs over the past three decades.

    The biggest one probably being driving heavy industry from their state. Check out Rep. Chuck DeVore’s podcast–it’s fantastic on this subject.

    Driving industry out of your state is not the way to improve your economy.

  3. Earl Killian says:

    Kirk, I wouldn’t trust a highly partisan politician‘s comments on this. California has the ninth highest GDP per capita and the lowest kWh per capita. Efficiency does not seem incompatible with economic performance. Also, the industrial cost of electricity is higher in twelve other states.

  4. Paul K says:

    Kirk Sorensen,
    At the risk of being rude, what part of currently available for deployment technologies don’t you understand? For whatever reason, thorium reactors were abandoned long ago. When I asked you for more info you referred me to forty year old drawings. Do you have anything besides opinion to support your advocacy of what honestly seems no more realistic than the mysterious 200 mpg carburetor or microwaves from space?

  5. Paul K says:

    p.s. I believe state and local taxes and workman’s comp issues are the leading reasons businesses leave California.

  6. Kirk Sorensen,
    At the risk of being rude, what part of currently available for deployment technologies don’t you understand? For whatever reason, thorium reactors were abandoned long ago.

    Because I understand the reasons and they’re not valid now; indeed they weren’t valid before.

    At the risk of being rude, why are you guys wasting time with techniques for fighting global warming that are like shaking the branches of a tree rather than getting out the chain saw and cutting it down?

    I’ve got about two dozen nuclear engineers on my forum looking at thorium and the LFTR. The worst any of them can say about it is that it upsets the standard nuclear apple cart (something that you all will probably like). Would you like to come over and point out where we’ve all got it wrong?

    I wondered the same thing you did (whether or not this was a 200 mpg carburator). I’ve spent six years in graduate school in nuclear engineering (goes slow with a family) trying to figure it out and I’m almost certain this is a concept that can work.

  7. David B. Benson says:

    Kirk Sorensen — Why liquid florine? It seems the Indians are going to use boiling water, far easier to work with, IMHO.

  8. Paul K says:

    For the record, my reasons for seeing the necessity of replacing fossil fuel have little or nothing to do with global warming nor am I opposed to nuclear energy.

  9. Susan K says:

    For right now how about passing feed-in tariffs like Germany did. They now have huge numbers of people putting solar on their roofs to earn a few bucks!

    Some pigfarmer put up enough panels to earn $60,000 a year.

    That would be almost instant. People will move quickly to act to earn or save money.

  10. Kiashu says:

    I think the efficiency’s a good one.

    I mean, why must demand grow any faster than population? According to this study, the Human Development Index (longevity, per capita income, and education) maxes out at 4,000kWh per person – rises after that don’t affect it. The Swedes with 25,000kWh per person are not any better off materially or socially than the Germans with 8,000kWh/person. Though both are better off than the Indians with under 1,000kWh/person.

    The other stuff should be used as a replacement for current fossil fuel plants, not in addition to them. That’s the problem with both renewables and nuclear – people don’t turn the fossil fuels off when they get them. I mean, the US is the biggest nuclear generating country in the world and the biggest oil user; France has 80% of its electricity from nuclear but still uses as much oil per person as the Danes with 20% from wind, the Spanish are still happily burning zillion of gallons of oil, and so on.

    So what’s needed is to say, “no more fossil fuel-burning generation” and to replace it as it craps out with renewables. Otherwise you’ll just get these renewable plants built, and have the old coal-burning plants chugging away. It’s like how Sweden voted in the 1980s to get rid of their nuclear power, so they added in more renewables to replace it, but found they enjoyed having all this extra energy to waste, so… they’ve not shut down their nukes.

    You need a definite commitment to shut down X plant by Y date, preferably have sold the site and equipment to someone else for some other use so you can’t back out of it.

  11. Jay Alt says:

    Re: Solar thermal
    Joe writes – ‘better than baseload’. That’s a great phrase.

  12. Some pigfarmer put up enough panels to earn $60,000 a year.

    That would be almost instant. People will move quickly to act to earn or save money.

    And I get accused of the 200 mpg carburetor…

    Susan, somebody has to pay for all these things. That someone is the government who gets the money from you.

  13. Kirk Sorensen — Why liquid florine? It seems the Indians are going to use boiling water, far easier to work with, IMHO.

    If it was liquid fluorine, we would indeed be in trouble, because liquid fluorine is just about the most reactive stuff on the planet. But as you’ll recall from 8th grade physical science, elements bind into compounds so they can fill their outer electron shell (the valence shell). Fluorine just needs one more electron to fill its outer shell, that’s why it’s so reactive when it doesn’t have it. When it DOES have that electron, it becomes a negatively-charged ion and is called fluorIDE instead of fluorINE.

    So long as that negatively-charged fluoride ion hangs out with positively charged ions, it’s totally happy and doesn’t want to react with anything. That’s the secret to making a liquid-fluoride reactor–mix together two kinds of chemicals, one that has one electron it wants to get rid of, and one (fluorine) that’s dying to get that electron.

    No problem, you use the stuff on the left-hand side of the periodic table, the alkali metals and the alkaline earth metals, and you get a whole bunch of really stable SALTS like lithium fluoride, beryllium fluoride, sodium fluoride, calcium fluoride. Odds are you brushed your teeth with some sodium fluoride this morning. Flip over your toothpaste and find out.

    Salts are especially good in a nuclear reactor because the intense radiation coming off from fission and nuclear decay will blast apart any normally-bound matter (covalently-bonded). That’s why when we put covalently-bonded materials like uranium oxide (UO2) or uranium nitride (UN) they suffer lattice displacements from radiation damage and swelling. That limits how long they can be in the reactor, which in turn is one of the big reasons we can’t use nuclear fuel efficiently in this form, “burning” only a few percent of the energy that’s there.

    But with the ionically-bonded salts, radiation is no problem. They get batted about like the balls in the playpen at McDonald’s and they don’t care. Their physical properties are absolutely IMPERVIOUS to the radiation. And that’s why I think salts are the natural form of nuclear fuel…the one that makes the most sense.

    But what kind of salts? Fluoride salts, chloride salts? This is where the nuclear properties come into play. If the nucleus of fluorine was a big absorber of neutrons, none of this would work. But, as if it was a gift from nature, fluorine has very little tendency to absorb neutrons. The same can’t be said for many of the cations we want to bond to it (like sodium, potassium, etc.) Here we have to be more choosy. Fortunately, both lithium-7 (about 90% of natural lithium) and beryllium turn out to be exceptionally good cations, with extremely low tendencies to absorb neutrons and excellent physical properties (heat capacity, melting temp, etc.)

    Thus, in lithium fluoride/beryllium fluoride (LiF-BeF2) we have a substance that is extremely chemically stable (won’t react with air and water), impervious to radiation damage, and is nearly “transparent” to the neutrons in the reactor core. So we use LiF-BeF2 (sometimes called FLiBe) as the basic medium in which to dissolve the uranium fluoride (UF4) and thorium fluoride (ThF4) that will sustain the nuclear reaction in the LFTR.

  14. paulm says:

    …Yes, wind power is intermittent, but the country has a great deal of baseload power, and many regions of European countries integrate up to 40% wind power successfully….
    Give me intermittent over:
    – unsustainable
    – unsafe
    – expensive
    We can adapt!

  15. Jay Alt says:

    Kirk, you should focus your efforts on like-minded venture capitalists. What could be worse than working for the US government and being paid with dollars wrenched from hardworking taxpayers?

  16. Jay, I would if it wasn’t for the fact that the government makes all the rules when it comes to nuclear, so educating the politicians, decision makers, and the populace at large is a must. This isn’t going to be something you can build in the garage and unveil to an astonished world. It will take years of advocacy and, may I say, public demand for this to happen.

  17. Andy Bauer says:

    Kirk,

    I think we’d agree that governments subsidize various energy technologies to some degree. In my opinion, I’m happy to see some of those subsidies go to homeowners and businesses in the form of solar panel rebates.

    It returns money directly to ratepayers, is distributed, clean, boosts local jobs and all that good stuff. And, to Joe’s point, it’s just a few months from application to operation. Let’s say your right about Thorium: factor in political and public attitudes, what is a realistic timeframe?

    For subsidies, in CT, $13 out of every $100 of our electric bill goes to Federally Mandated Congestion Charges. From that kitty, almost a billion may be going to new natural gas plants (@800Mw) plus their transmission lines. So we pay for the plants, wait 6-7 years (this includes time to collect the charges) and then we’ll pay rising costs for the electricity. For the life of the plant.

    Our Clean Energy Fund gets about 50 cents of that $100. Our rebate program is for 50% of a grid interconnected PV system. Ratepayers chip in (almost nothing), homeowners who can front the costs see their bills (and emissions) plummet. For the life of the system.

    I’m learning about Thorium from your posts, I just don’t see it delivering comparable benefits in 2008 or anytime soon, and timely intervention is the benchmark here.

    BTW – On efficiency, we installed $25 worth of CFL’s and used a clothesline and indoor racks more. Our electricity usage dropped 20%.

  18. LS says:

    Thoughts on biomass?

  19. John Mashey says:

    1) CA economy: as of a few years ago, we also provided the largest total subsidy to the Federal government (and many other states), not quite highest percentage, but certainly largest (dollars sent to Washington – dollars received).

    2) I recommend a talk I heard by Nobel Physicist Burton Richter: Gambling With the Future about climate & energy.

    It actually has a reasoned discussion of nuclear energy and where it might fit, which (unlike “Nuclear energy is THE answer, NOTHING else is worth doing” mantra, endlessly repeated by some people (not just Kirk S), which is incredibly counterproductive to any rational consideration of nuclear’s role., even by those inclined to do so.

    I visited a reactor in high school, and for most of undergraduate years was planning a career in nuclear (or fusion) physics, and am perfectly open to reasoned arguments, but I get so turned off by the mantra I just don’t bother reading it any more.

    Burton says efficiency is #1.

    Admittedly, given CA state laws about disposal, I don’t expect to see any new nuclear plants here in my lifetime, and for various reasons, even if the laws change, no one is *ever* going to build a plant anywhere near where I live.

  20. Let’s say your right about Thorium: factor in political and public attitudes, what is a realistic timeframe?

    Development limited by technical issues only: I would estimate an operational reactor in five years and a gigawatt-class reactor within 10.

    More realistic: 10 years to disseminate knowledge of this capability and to build political desire and momentum. Another 10 years to get to gigawatt-class production.

    I’m 33, I’ve got a lot of years ahead of me and I know we’re going to need this. That’s why I’m here trying to tell you guys about it so hopefully we can shrink those 10 years to something shorter.

    Coal and global warming aren’t going away so each day we need to move closer to this capability. That’s why I started my blog and forum.

  21. john says:

    Kirk Sorenson:

    Somebody has to pay for these things? And your point is? Don’t we have to pay for all these things? And if your talking gov. subsidies, nukes and fossil fuels get more than RE or EE.

    Oh, and once you build “these things” the fuel is free, so you don’t have to worry about fuel prices skyrocketing.

    Seems like a good deal to me.

    As for your serious thorium fixation, I’m personally suspiscious of anything that purports to be a single shot silver bullet. We need everything, and we need efficiency now.

    Regardless of what no-carbon energy sources we go to, we need to do all the efficiency we can — otherwise we’re just building expensive excess capacity.

  22. Scatter says:

    “Susan, somebody has to pay for all these things. That someone is the government who gets the money from you.”

    Actually the money comes via your electricity supplier directly from the consumer in a FIT, paid for by very slightly higher energy bills for everyone. All the government does is legislate the rate at which you are paid and for how long.

    FITs are the single most effective and cost effective incentives out there and they have been demonstrated time and time again to massively boost uptake of microgen (which will be an absolutely critical source of electricity in the future) as well as large scale renewables.

    The poor old nuclear industry can’t get its grubby mitts on it though so it’s not surprising you’re so casually dismissive of it.

  23. The poor old nuclear industry can’t get its grubby mitts on it though so it’s not surprising you’re so casually dismissive of it.

    Yes, it’s clear from my writings that I’m nothing more than a shill for the standard nuclear industry, isn’t it?

    Sheesh…

  24. John McCormick says:

    Kirk, I visited your forum and found much history and information regarding thorium.

    Your input is valuable and I urge you not to abandon your effort to educate policy makers and us.

    You are putting out information to a community that has little knowledge and less interest in nuclear power. That community of anti-nuclear activists will not change their beliefs (in large part fixed by TMI) but international interest and investment in expanding safe nuclear, i.e. pebble bed reactors is where the action will be.

    It is clear from your writing you are a student of the physics of nuclear energy and your generation will benefit from your knowledge and persistence.

    A question: is thorium being tested as a pebble-bed fuel? If so, where and by whom?

    John McCormick

  25. Scatter says:

    Nope I don’t think you’re a shill at all because that implies some sort of underhand secrecy and deception. You’re a self declared nuclear engineer which would make you an industry insider, not a shill.

    All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t dismiss something as useful as the FIT out of hand as you did.

    The nuclear industry has had plenty of support over the decades and doesn’t deserve any more. If it can’t stand up on its own two feet now, its time has come to an end.

  26. All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t dismiss something as useful as the FIT out of hand as you did.

    You’d have to look long and hard to find where I dismissed the FIT “out-of-hand” because it didn’t happen.

  27. John McCormick says:

    Kirk, any thoughts on thorium for pebble-bed pebbles?

    John McCormick

  28. Scatter says:

    Hmmmm well you seemed pretty dismissive in your response to Susan. Hey ho. Maybe we’ll just chalk it up to you having a bad day or something.

  29. Hi John, yes thorium has been used in pebble-bed reactors. In fact, one of the first pebble-bed reactors was the THTR in Germany, which used thorium in the fuel.

    I’m a big fan of efficient utilization of thorium, and that’s something that’s pretty easy to do in a liquid-fluoride reactor, but a lot harder to do in a pebble-bed reactor. The pebble-bed reactor, like other solid-fueled reactors, has a fuel form that can only tolerate so much radiation damage before it has to be removed. For the pebbles, this radiation damage level is typically much higher than oxide fuel, for instance, but it’s not unlimited (like fluoride fuel).

    To use thorium in pebble-bed reactors, you need to manufacture the pebbles with both the thorium, the fissile material (enriched uranium, plutonium, or uranium-233), and the graphite moderator all bound together. To insure that this is going to work, you need to “qualify” the fuel, and the only way to do that accurately is to essentially build a test reactor and pound the snot out of the fuel for years. This is the “long lead item” in the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor the DOE wants to build in Idaho, and it will be the long-lead item for a pebble-bed thorium reactor as well.

    After your fuel has reached the burnup limit, there’s still going to be a lot of valuable thorium, bred uranium-233, and other stuff in the pebble. That’s where you need to think about reprocessing, and reprocessing normal solid oxide fuel is hard, reprocessing thorium oxide fuel is REALLY hard, and reprocessing the pebbles is nigh unto impossible. The reason is is because they’re SO chemically stable in their pebble form that it’s hard to chemically react them with something that would be even MORE stable. (this is actually the basic problem with any solid fuel reprocessing)

    Not to toot the fluoride reactor horn too much, but this is another advantage to fluoride fuel. It’s incredibly chemically stable, even more so than oxide fuel, but you don’t have to change its chemical composition to process the fuel–you can process it just as it is. That’s a trick you just can’t do with solid oxide or carbide fuel.

    So a pebble-bed thorium reactor is certainly possible, and indeed has been done in Germany, but it will require a rather extensive and lengthy fuel qualification process, and the utilization of thorium and fissile material in such a reactor will be somewhat better than today’s solid core reactors, but not the 300 to 1 fuel utilization improvement you would see with a LFTR.

  30. exusian says:

    OK, Kirk, this old anti-nuke activist is going to take a look at what you’ve got to say about thorium reactors and try to understand what you’re on about. Fair enough?
    No doubt I’ll be getting back to you with questions.

  31. David B. Benson says:

    Kirk Sorensen — Very thorough and clear. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question and those of others.

  32. Eric G. says:

    Joe,

    I’ve gotta take issue with your comment that CSP is “better than baseload”. How much energy will a CSP plant deliver at 4:00 AM? How about after a week of cloudy weather? CSP is better at covering peak demand than baseload. Baseload can deliver energy 24x7x52 stopping only for scheduled maintenance. Try that with CSP.

    It’s not a matter of better or worse. They’re different.

  33. Joe says:

    Eric — Since when do baseload power plants not have unscheduled outages? Seriously. IN any case, I’m not talking about going to 100% CSP!!!

    First off, we have lots and lots of sources of power that deliver at 4 am. whereas demand then is incredibly low — and that’s why the price is so damn cheap. In any case, if you are really worried about nighttime power, then you should want wind is spread around the country.

    Second, one doesn’t really see a week of cloudy weather in the desert. But again, the point is to spread the CSP over vastly different places in the Southwest, so you never have that problem — just as wind power facilities hundreds of miles away from each other do not have a high correlation in power output.

    Third, one needs the most 4 a.m. electricity in the summer (when air-conditioning is kept on overnight). A mere 8 hours of storage would allow even CSP to deliver power then — although I can’t really imagine why you would want to throw away valuable “peak and shoulder” power to save it for worthless nighttime energy.

    Fourth, the power that is most needed is from sunrise to a few hours after sunset. Your baseload plants don’t help you at all with that most precious of all power. Our overabundance of baseload is precisely why nighttime power is so damn cheap.

    So I say, keep nuclear at 20%. Keep our hydro. Bring on 20%+ wind and other renewables. Give CSP as much storage as is cost-effective. And then Start phasing out traditional coal, and, if it is feasible, bring in CCS.

    I can’t imagine that strategy would cause any 4 a.m. problems this century.

  34. David B. Benson says:

    Here is a reporter’s take on carbon sequestration. The cost projections seem rathr optimistic to me:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSL0573285820080508

  35. David B. Benson says:

    On the othr hand, you can always make your own ethanol, at home, for a mere $10,000 and then about $1 per gallon:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSN0850981420080509

  36. Susan K says:

    Re who pays for FITs, yeah, what scatter said.

    Ultimately we all pay one way or another for energy policy

  37. Sam says:

    Undoubtedly this is naive, but I have to ask it anyway….
    This guy–an oil company engineer in UK– says that Norway already is doing CCS:
    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/print/25727
    Brief excerpt:
    Carbon storage is not just wishful thinking: there is already a successful CCS scheme operating in Norway. The Sleipner gas field was discovered in 1974 and is one of the largest gas producers in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. However, the gas in the field contains 4–10% carbon dioxide, while typically less than 2.5% is required to ensure the gas will burn properly. In almost any other country, the oil company would have removed the excess carbon dioxide from the gas and vented it into the atmosphere. But under Norway’s environmental laws, Statoil – the state oil company – would have faced an annual carbon-tax bill of about $50m for this option. Instead, Statoil researchers investigated storing the carbon dioxide in a nearby geological formation: the saline aquifer called Utsira that lies above the Sleipner field. Utsira is a massive formation: at some 500 km long, 50 km wide and 200 m thick, it has the capacity to store 100 times the annual volume of carbon dioxide emitted from all Europe’s power stations.

    After several years of experimental study, a commercial plant was installed on the Sleipner platform in time for the start of production in 1996. Two MEA absorber columns were installed that reduce the CO2 content of the gas to 2.25%. Four compressors – standard items of equipment on most oil and gas platforms – are then used to pressurize the nearly pure excess carbon dioxide to 80 × 105 Pa, before it is injected into the base of the Utsira aquifer 1 km below. The high pressure is significant because carbon dioxide has a “critical point” at a temperature of 31 °C and a pressure of 74 × 105 Pa, beyond which it exists in a “supercritical fluid” state with a density of about 700 kg m–3. Since injecting CO2 will raise the pressure in the aquifer, the CO2 remains in this fluid state.

    So if Norway has been doing it, why can’t China, etc? Yes, fine, it will raise the price of energy, but surely we can deal with that more easily that we will have to deal with the effects of extreme weather, desertification, drought, etc., and surely we can–assuming govts are being at least somewhat farsighted and responsible– gradually squeeze the price of carbon upward to make it OK. In any case, we need CCs because all these coal plants aren’t going to be decommissioned any tme soon.

  38. drwoood says:

    The question is how much investment would be required to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions to levels something like 40% below 1990 levels by 2020? This is roughly what is required to stabilise greenhouse gas levels below 500ppm.

  39. David B. Benson says:

    Sam wrote “So if Norway has been doing it, why can’t China, etc?” Of course they could. The difference is that in Norway, it is being done to aid in increased crude oil recovery, so there is a direct, immediate economic incentive to do so. :-(

  40. Sam says:

    David wrote, Sam wrote “So if Norway has been doing it, why can’t China, etc?” Of course they could. The difference is that in Norway, it is being done to aid in increased crude oil recovery, so there is a direct, immediate economic incentive to do so.”
    David, thanks for your reply. But that isn’t how the article put it. The Norwegian CO2 is being stored in a saline aquifer, unlike projects in Alberta that are using the CO2 to increase recovery (according to a Nat’l Geographic documentary I recently saw). Furthermore, the article says that the motive was to avoid paying Norway’s carbon tax for venting the CO2 back into atmosphere, not to aid recovery of hard to get oil. That was my real point, and it goes to one of Joe’s recent rants. It highlights the fact that we desperately require goernments to set a price on carbon in the atmosphere that will tell people what energy is really costing us, and will cost us increasing amounts in the future, giving companies incentives to deal with emissions.

    After I posted my comment yesterday, I saw this update on the Sleipner field:
    http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSL2915061620080429
    They are now going to try to use the field to store CO2 from more sources, undoubtedly charging something for the service. But the real point is that the reason it is feasible to do in the first place was a law that was charging them for carbon emissions. Surely in light the destruction that we now know CO2 causes, making oil companies–and of course their customers, us–pay either for storage or a fine is as reasonable as it will be unpopular among the “free marketeer no-or-low-taxers” among us, who in reality want to be free riders on future generations (and that-far-in-the-future generations at that).

  41. David B. Benson says:

    Sam — Thanks for the correction and further information.

  42. Sam says:

    Whoops, I see a couple of typos in my last post. In particular, the last sentence should read “who in reality want to be free riders on future generations (and not that-far-in-the-future generations at that).” Forgot the “not,” though readers of this thread will probably fill it in, as with the other more minor typos.