Gore lays out his energy and climate plan, disses “clean coal”

The Nobel laureate has a big article in today’s New York Times, “The Climate for Change,” which opens:

THE inspiring and transformative choice by the American people to elect Barack Obama as our 44th president lays the foundation for another fateful choice that he — and we — must make this January to begin an emergency rescue of human civilization from the imminent and rapidly growing threat posed by the climate crisis.

Gore lays out his specific vision for this emergency rescue, and for dealing with peak oil, but not before dissing “clean coal” (Gore’s quotes), which he labels “too imaginary to make a difference in protecting either our national security or the global climate.” Here, here! (see “Is coal with carbon capture and storage a core climate solution?“). He explains:

… there is little investment and not a single large-scale demonstration project in the United States for capturing and safely burying all of this pollution. If the coal industry can make good on this promise, then I’m all for it. But until that day comes, we simply cannot any longer base the strategy for human survival on a cynical and self-interested illusion.

Gore then lays out his 5-part plan for transitioning to a renewable energy economy:

First, the new president and the new Congress should offer large-scale investment in incentives for the construction of concentrated solar thermal plants in the Southwestern deserts, wind farms in the corridor stretching from Texas to the Dakotas and advanced plants in geothermal hot spots that could produce large amounts of electricity.

Second, we should begin the planning and construction of a unified national smart grid for the transport of renewable electricity from the rural places where it is mostly generated to the cities where it is mostly used. New high-voltage, low-loss underground lines can be designed with “smart” features that provide consumers with sophisticated information and easy-to-use tools for conserving electricity, eliminating inefficiency and reducing their energy bills. The cost of this modern grid — $400 billion over 10 years — pales in comparison with the annual loss to American business of $120 billion due to the cascading failures that are endemic to our current balkanized and antiquated electricity lines.

Third, we should help America’s automobile industry (not only the Big Three but the innovative new startup companies as well) to convert quickly to plug-in hybrids that can run on the renewable electricity that will be available as the rest of this plan matures. In combination with the unified grid, a nationwide fleet of plug-in hybrids would also help to solve the problem of electricity storage. Think about it: with this sort of grid, cars could be charged during off-peak energy-use hours; during peak hours, when fewer cars are on the road, they could contribute their electricity back into the national grid.

Fourth, we should embark on a nationwide effort to retrofit buildings with better insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting. Approximately 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from buildings — and stopping that pollution saves money for homeowners and businesses. This initiative should be coupled with the proposal in Congress to help Americans who are burdened by mortgages that exceed the value of their homes.

Fifth, the United States should lead the way by putting a price on carbon here at home, and by leading the world’s efforts to replace the Kyoto treaty next year in Copenhagen with a more effective treaty that caps global carbon dioxide emissions and encourages nations to invest together in efficient ways to reduce global warming pollution quickly, including by sharply reducing deforestation.

Precisely. I’m glad the former VP has spelled things out so clearly, and I hope that Obama figures out a way to engage him in the challenge that lies ahead.

Gore ends with some factoids that should be inspirational to any of the young people who in turn were inspired by Obama:

In an earlier transformative era in American history, President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to land a man on the moon within 10 years. Eight years and two months later, Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. The average age of the systems engineers cheering on Apollo 11 from the Houston control room that day was 26, which means that their average age when President Kennedy announced the challenge was 18.

This year similarly saw the rise of young Americans, whose enthusiasm electrified Barack Obama’s campaign. There is little doubt that this same group of energized youth will play an essential role in this project to secure our national future, once again turning seemingly impossible goals into inspiring success.

36 Responses to Gore lays out his energy and climate plan, disses “clean coal”

  1. Pierre Gosselin says:

    People have been predicting the end of the world since the dawn of history.
    Gore needs a dose of valium.

    [JR: People maybe, but not the top scientists in the world. That’s what’s different now. Gore doesn’t need Valium. Conservatives need Ginkgo biloba.]

  2. I recently attempted to calculate how much 24 hour a day, 365 days a year renewable electricity would cost in texas. Dr. Ben Sovacool, a renewables advocate, recently offered the figure of $1700 per nameplate KW of wind generated electricity in discussions with me. That figure is probably low. I have reason to believe that the cost of a fully installed windmill in November 2008 is perhaps closer to $2500 per name plate KW, but the lower figure will serve to illustrate my point. If we assume that our project to replace Texas fossil fuel generating plants with renewables by 2030, as the Gore and Google plan would require, how much is it going to cost in Texas? Lets assume that we decide to go with a all renewables system, with wind base power. Assume that the same rate of inflation for electrical generating facilities that we have seen during the last 5 years. That would bring our wind facilities capital costs to $3400 per nameplate KW by the middle of the next decade, and lets assume the system is built then. A stanford study found that only 21% of wind nameplate capacity can be counted as base load electricity. In order to figure the cost of building base load electricity we have to divide the cost of a KW of of wind generating capacity by 21%. That gives a figure of something over $16,000 per KW. But hay, that is not the end of our cost, since the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas says that wind generated electricity cannot be relied on during summer days. So we are going to have to build some solar facilities in West Texas to provide day time solar back up to our wind facilities. Solar thermal facilities are now costing $4000 pre name plate KW in the Southwest. Assuming inflation the same inflation that will impact the cost of wind and nuclear facilities that cost will probably go up to $8000 per KW during the next decade. That gives us a cost of $24,000 per KW of semi-reliable wind and solar generated electricity. Semi-reliable because we know that there will be after dark hours of high electrical demand when our wind system will not be able to supply all the electrical Texas Air Conditioners demand on summer nights. So we have a system that is not 24 hours a day reliable. How much will it cost to give us some assurance that we can keep those Texas air conditioners running 24 hours a day? We could use sodium-sulfur batteries @ $350 per KWh capacity. 4 hours of battery back up brings out price to $25,400 for each 24 hour a day KW provided to Texas by a renewable system. Needless to say renewables advocates have not and will not perform this exercise.

    [JR: You are way out of date. Texas would use solar baseload — concentrated solar thermal power — which could easily provide all of its baseload demand from in-state power. The wind will match well with the solar baseload, plus Provide nighttime power for plug-in hybrids. Next problem!]

  3. JR: It is you who is wrong. Charles Barton is correct. Nuclear power is the greenest of all sources of electricity. And the safest. Nuclear fuel is recyclable.

    Wind power never works on calm days and solar never works at night. The real truth: Nuclear power is cheapest in spite of coal company propaganda. “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007 Finally a truthful book about nuclear power. Gwyneth Cravens is a former anti-nuclear activist.

    Page 13 has a chart of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production.
    Nuclear power produces less greenhouse gas [CO2] than any other source, including coal, natural gas, hydro, solar and wind. Building wind turbines and towers also involve industrial processes such as concrete and steel making.

    Nuclear power plants produce a total of 30 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour, the lowest. This is the full life cycle CO2 output. There are no hidden CO2 outputs.
    Wind turbines produce a total of 58 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.
    Solar power produces between 100 and 280 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.
    Hydro power produces 240 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.
    Natural gas produces between 439 and 688 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.
    Coal plants produce the most, between 966 and 1306 grams of CO2 per kilowatt
    hour, the highest.

    Remember the total is the sum of direct emissions from burning fuel and indirect emissions from the life cycle, which means the industrial processes required to
    build it. Again, nuclear comes in the lowest. Nuclear would produce even less CO2 per kilowatt hour if the safety were lowered to the same level as other
    sources of electricity. Switching from coal to nuclear is a 97% reduction in electricity’s 40% of our CO2 output. The refereed scenarios from the IPCC
    failed to hold the CO2 down to 450 parts per million. You can’t without building something like 10,000 new nuclear power plants world wide to replace every coal
    fired power plant on the planet. The 10,000 includes replacing all Generation 1 [Chernobyl style] power plants with safe American Generation 4 technology.
    Let’s get it done.

    Page 211: In 2005, the production cost of electricity from:

    nuclear power on average cost 1.72 cents per kilowatt-hour 1.00 times nuclear’s price. This is the full and total price. There are no hidden costs. There are no
    subsidies. There are no tricks. 1.72 cents per kilowatt-hour is all of it.
    [JR: Except you left out capital costs and financing!! Other than my mortgage, my house is damn cheap too!!]
    Supposed subsidies cover the cost caused by irrational protesters. That is a cost of civil order, not a cost of nuclear power. The price would be lower if the safety
    level were lowered to equal other sources of electricity.

    from coal-fired plants 2.21 cents per kilowatt-hour 1.28 times nuclear’s price
    from natural gas 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour 4.36 times nuclear’s price
    from oil 8.09 cents per kilowatt-hour 4.7 times nuclear’s price
    Wind fits in here.
    solar in a sunny place 22 to 40 cents per kilowatt-hour 12.79 to 23.26 times
    nuclear’s price

    American nuclear power reactors operated in 2005 around the clock at about 90 percent capacity
    geothermal plants operated at 75 percent capacity
    coal-fired plants operated at about 73 percent capacity
    hydroelectric plants at 29 percent capacity
    natural gas from 16 to 38 percent capacity
    [JR: Not sure where you get this natural gas figure. You are averaging in peakers with modern combined cycle gas turbines — a bizarre thing to do.]
    wind at 27 percent capacity
    solar at 19 percent capacity

    Batteries not included but required for wind and solar. Why did wind and solar operate so far below capacity? Simple: Wind power never works when the
    wind isn’t blowing. Solar only works at maximum during the noon hour.
    [JR: These statements about solar simply are not true. You need to read up on baseload solar. And efficiency. And geothermal. And plug ins.
    Also, it is absurd to quote the price of existing nuclear power, which is derived from plants that were built decades ago, plants whose original costs are fully paid off, and many of which were sold for below book value prices in the previous decade.

    New nuclear remains incredibly expensive, in the 12 cents to 18 cents per kwh range.]

  4. What the coal companies know that most people don’t:

    As long as you keep messing around with wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, the coal industry is safe. There is no way wind, solar, geothermal and wave power can replace coal, and they know it. If you quit being afraid of nuclear, the coal industry is doomed. Every time you argue in favor of wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, or against nuclear, King Coal is happy. ONLY nuclear power can put coal out of business. Nuclear power HAS put coal out of business in France. France uses 30 year old American technology. So here is the deal: Keep being afraid of all things nuclear and die either when [not if] civilization collapses or when H2S comes out of the ocean and Homo “Sapiens” goes extinct. OR: Get over your paranoia and kick the coal habit and live. Which do you choose? I put quotation marks around “Sapiens” because it is not clear that most of us have enough brains to avoid extinction when it is clearly predicted and the safe path has been pointed out. Nuclear is the safe path.

    PS: Nuclear is the cheapest and safest source of electricity. Nuclear life cycle CO2 output is the lowest per kilowatt hour because it takes a huge number of windmills or solar collectors or wave machines or whatever to produce the same power as a nuclear power plant. All of those windmills or whatever have manufacturing processes that make CO2. Hydro power requires an enormous amount of concrete. The first step in making concrete is heating limestone to drive off the CO2. That is one of the sources of CO2 from hydro power. The price for electricity for the various sources of power include the total life cycle costs. The cost to build the reactor is not much different from the cost to build a coal fired power plant and the money comes from the same source. Whoever would pay for the reactor is the same person who would pay for the coal burner. LOOK at the price for the electricity. It is the total life cycle cost. Nuclear is the cheapest and the only full time replacement for coal. Nuclear power would be much cheaper than it is if nuclear were allowed to be as unsafe as the other sources of power. Nuclear power plants are self-insured. Tax money is NOT involved and would not be mentioned if it were not for the civil disturbances caused by coal company shills, alias protesters. The nuclear industry needs and deserves protection from people who are obviously either mentally ill or very misinformed. When tax money is mentioned with respect to nuclear power, the money is the extra money that is wasted because of pointless protests.

    I DO NOT work for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I am a retired Department of the Army scientist and engineer. I have never worked for the nuclear power industry.

    There is NO SUCH THING as nuclear waste. There is fuel that is being wasted for political reasons and because the coal industry has driven you paranoid. The coal industry’s reason for doing so is the $100 Billion per year cash flow they receive as long as you remain in your present mental state. If you remain in your present paranoid state and prevent the conversion from coal to nuclear, we all die, as I said before. The cure for your present mental state is for you to go to college and get a 4 year degree in a hard science [physics or chemistry] or engineering, or for Americans to start acting like the French with respect to nuclear power.

  5. jtberman says:

    Two points:

    Loan guarantees and insurance costs need to be factored into the cost of nuclear.

    If intermittency of wind is a problem in the Dakotas for instance, can’t the wind be used to make hydrogen as a storage fuel to make electricity as the grid needs it?

  6. Brian M says:

    … I’m glad the former VP has spelled things out so clearly, and I hope that Obama figures out a way to engage him in the challenge that lies ahead.

    It seems to me that the best obvious use of Gore would be as the international environmental envoy of this whole process. His name, former office, Novel credentials, and mass-market name recognition provide substantial clout when meeting with overseas parties (for example, the Chinese and Indians). Especially with the Chinese, the use of Gore as a point man has appropriate “face”, given his political and international credentials. To me, this is the ideal person to represent the US on the international front. Assuming Obama is willing to share the stage with Gore’s considerable ego (what politician is without ego :), the problem then becomes finding a person of equal stature to drive the overall and domestic plan.

  7. Alex J says:

    Even if the risk of centralized nuclear fuel reprocessing has been adequately addressed, the question is whether a major expansion of nuclear can compete, on a level playing field, with other sources. Or whether other options (including maximizing efficiency) should be given priority. If memory serves, France is anexample of taxpayers bankrolling nuclear, as an at least partly state-run industry.

  8. Joe
    i will factor in the cost of solar base power as soon as they hook one up to the El Paso end of the ERCOT grid. That should happen shortly after the Star Ship Enterprise gets its Warp drive.

    [JR: Wanna bet? As everybody knows, warp drive was/will be invented in 2063 by Zefram Cochrane. Given your pessimism, I’m sure you’ll take a $1000 bet that concentrated solar thermal power will not be connected to ERCOT within ten years.]

  9. Jim Bullis says:

    If anyone is interested in a dose of realism, they can still see the kind of thinking that is in opposition to climate progress. It is not really disguised, though at a glance it sounds benign enough.

    The link below shows a plan that needs to be carefully read:

    After reading this, then think about how the 100 billion and change that we are about to hand to Detroit to “retool” to build “high efficiency” cars.

    When the plug-in Yukons, or whatever SUVs, are cruising on coal, we can all feel proud of our support for the auto industry. (See sarcasm dripping from this sentence.)

  10. Joe, I have no doubt that some concentrated solar power facilities will be in Texas. I just don’t expect then to provide 24 hour a day electricity. If they can completely overlap with the night time electrical output from windmills, we might actually get 24 hour renewables costs down to $24,000 per kWh,

    [JR: Glad to see you change your tune so quickly. There is, in fact, no sensible reason to design concentrated solar to provide 24 hour electricity, since there isn’t so much overcapacity at night, especially now that wind is coming on so strong. I rather think CSP with 4 to 6 hour thermal storage is what makes sense, and when you combine that with wind — without plug-ins now, but ultimately with — then you have all the carbon free power you need. I think you mean per kW, and you are high by a factor of 10. Just for the record, utilities are currently telling public utility commissions that nuclear is $6000 to $8000 per kW or more.]

  11. Joe the stanford researchers say that by linking 17 selected wind sites in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas, bases power equal to 20% of name plate power at those sites is possible 80% of the time. ThAt means that you will need 5 windmills in order to reliably produce the name plate capacity of one. My estimate is that in 2015 when the windmills are going up, they will cost with inflation at least $3400 per name plate kw and probably more. In addition concentrated solar with no storage costs $4000 per kW in the Southwest right now. With Inflation that goes up to $8000 in 2015. If you add 4 hours storage that will bring your price up to $12 billion in 2015. $6000 to $8000 per kW for nuclear is quite a bargain.

    [JR: You have one strange inflation adjustment. But the major fly in your ointment is that CSP will start steadily dropping down in price following the traditional experience curves of every other major renewable. By 2015, CSP without storage will be considerable cheaper than it is today, with storage, maybe the same as today. I also think you have seriously misread the work on linking wind sites. In any case, new wind turbines are poised to get 35% capacity factor and have much lower kw cost. Of course, wind power really likes plug ins, but that will take about 10 years to play out. The problem for nuclear is that nobody will build a nuclear plant without the federal government guaranteeing pretty much the whole project. Also, nuclear has a significant cost for fuel + O&M, while CSP and wind don’t.]

  12. paulm says:

    Charles Barton we all want to have our cake and eat it. The fact of the matter is we have gotten accustom to the easy life on fossil fuels and paid no heed to the dangers even though they were apparent at the beginning of the 20th century.

    Well are we going to rush in to nuclear use now even when we know there are just as big issues with waste, safety and security.

    I am confident that there will be a serious enough nuclear accident in the near future to bury pursuit of this technology. We’re due one and with the mad rush to find an alternative its going to happen sooner rather than later.

  13. Jim Bullis says:

    I am hoping that Obama will be able to apply serious skepticism to Al Gore’s third point, especially the part, “–convert quickly to plug-in hybrids that can run on the renewable electricity that will be available as the rest of this plan matures–.” There is a lack of realism here that I think is due for irrational optimism on the part of “green” promoters.

    I keep running into reality when I look at the unsubsidized costs of alternative systems. When concepts that require subsidy come about on a sufficient scale to really matter, it can not be based on subsidies. Of course, when I say can not, I mean it would be a politically unrealistic state of affairs.

    When windmills are “coming on strong” without being subsidized, I will believe that a wind solution is realistic. Is it not clear that there is not enough money in our system for us to put up the trillions of dollars that would be needed to actually displace coal fired capacity. First the less efficient natural gas capacity has to be displaced, then the more efficient combined cycle systems, and then coal will be impacted. It will have to happen in that order. The only natural gas plants that beat coal are the cogeneration plants. It would be ok for them to stay.

    Now you add the load of plug-ins and this reverses any progress toward displacing coal. While the “plan matures” the night time charging energy will almost certainly be mostly coal. And really, what will happen if the plan does not “mature?”

    The real problem is that the “plug-ins” will likely be the same crop of huge, inefficient “muscle cars and mommy wagons” that we are currently getting from Detroit, except they will be run partly from the grid. This is going to make the reversal of progress go faster than our worst nightmares.

    Please, actually read the plan at the following link:

  14. paulm You ought to learn a little about nuclear safety. Current reactor designs are extremely safe, the ESBWR will have a core melt down once every 29,000.000 years. But the core will be retained by the pressure vessel in most accidents. Once every 290,000,000 years, a pressure vessel will fail and the moltent core will flow into the core catcher. Once every 2.9 billion years the core catcher will fail and fission products will be released into the outer containment chamber, human life will have disappeared from earth well before 2.9 billion years in the future. Once every 29 billion years all containments on an ESBWR will fail, but the universe itself is only 13.5 to 14 Billion years old, and may not survive for another 29 billion years. Clearly the the people who have designed the ESBWR have taken its safety seriously.

  15. shopa says:

    I have two inventions to fight climate change.
    One is a safer small car. The other is a new way to move water which can be used to fight wildfires and also to bring water, electric power and communcations to remote towns or villages suffering from drought.

    I have two better mousetraps and nobody will even open their door.

    Knock, Knock!

    Please see my website

    and help me if you can.

  16. JR: You have one strange inflation adjustment. But the major fly in your ointment is that CSP will start steadily dropping down in price following the traditional experience curves of every other major renewable. By 2015, CSP without storage will be considerable cheaper than it is today, with storage, maybe the same as today. I also think you have seriously misread the work on linking wind sites. In any case, new wind turbines are poised to get 35% capacity factor and have much lower kw cost. Of course, wind power really likes plug ins, but that will take about 10 years to play out. The problem for nuclear is that nobody will build a nuclear plant without the federal government guaranteeing pretty much the whole project. Also, nuclear has a significant cost for fuel + O&M, while CSP and wind don’t.]

    Joe I calculated my inflation rate at the same as currently is projected for nuclear power. My rational for this is that it reflects the rate of inflation observed for all power generating facilities over the last five years. There is at present no reason to assume that the rate of inflation will drop, but if it does the rate of inflation for nuclear generating facilities will drop as well. Your belief that the proce of ST facilities will drop is based on highly speculative conjecture, Five years ago it was widely reported that the price of PV modules would rapidly decline. instead they fluxuated, but have settled at a slightly higher price than they were 5 years ago. A rapid buildup in demand will more that offset the pressure for lower price created by economies of scale and technological breakthrough. In addition serious material and labor bottlenecks are likely to appear, and the cost of adding new grid capacity may turn out to be far more expensive than anyone expected. (I did not calculate did costs in the $25,400. Grid expansion costs will be extra.

    [JR: You are quite wrong here. Nuclear costs have inflated far faster than wind or solar, in spite of infinitely lower demand growth. Indeed, we are only building a few nukes a year. You should just skip the inflation adjustment — it doesn’t work in your favor. BTW, PV always gets short-term bottlenecks. It will probably drop in cost by at least 50% by 2015 — and I will take a bet on that.]

  17. paulm says:

    Charles I wounder if the probabilities took in to account specific global warming threats like sea level rise and storm surge, which are now more and more being recognized. Many of the power plants are located on the coast at sea level!

  18. vakibs says:

    Solar baseload power : sounds like a great thing, but in practice it is not. Each of those solar dishes is like a cute puppy. How can anyone not like puppies ? But for this puppy-based power to work, we need millions and zillions of them, spread over several thousands of kilometres.

    Anyone who keeps more than ten puppies in his house would realize the ordeal that accompanies this love – we need to clean up their crap. In this case of solar puppies, we need people to clean up the solar mirrors. Especially in desert areas (where these power plants are intended to be set up), their demand on water is bound to be huge.

    Just the logistics of covering thousands of kilometres with concrete, iron and mirrors are mind-blowing. The environmental impact of this exercise will be insanely high. Environmentalists who support this kind of nonsense need to have their psyche examined.

    Just because of some imaginary monster of radiation (the logical maturity of thinking being on the lines of “some gamma-rays are out there to get me !!”), nuclear power is being opposed despite its record of being the safest and most benign power source to the environment.

    And please, don’t repeat the mumbo-jumbo about new nuclear plants being expensive. How can wind or solar baseload be cheaper than nuclear power ? In which world ? These are fresh numbers on the construction of generation-3 reactors in Japan. New nuclear power (generation 3 and generation 4) is bound to be cheaper and safer than existing nuclear plants, which themselves are cheaper than coal and natural gas.

    [JR: Simply asserting a technology like solar thermal can’t work is not an argument. Sorry. Dozens a plants are being built around the planet, and once solar thermal gets on the same learning curve that wind and PV and other clean technologies have been on, it will almost certainly be the second cheapest and biggest source of carbon free power, after efficiency. And it’s so funny to hear somebody who supports nuclear power saying keeping mirrors clean is a problem. Dealing with nuclear waste is a problem. Operating a nuclear plant safely is a problem. Keeping mirrors clean is not.

    The actual costs of nuclear plants in PUC hearings ain’t mumbo jumbo. It is reality. The numbers have been detailed at length by me and others. Also, your link doesn’t work.]

  19. Hi pal,
    Progress in our life Technologies develop very rapidly the life and the information are changing. Such phenomenon as progress with furious gallop drives a sheaf of civilizations and who operates this process.

  20. JR: You are quite wrong here. Nuclear costs have inflated far faster than wind or solar, in spite of infinitely lower demand growth. Indeed, we are only building a few nukes a year.

    Joe Do you have any evidence that the inflation of nuclear costs is higher than the inflation of renewables. So far what I find is not that inflation will have a greater impact on the price of nuclear power, but that studies projecting the future cost of renewables fail to take into account future inflationary trends. We know that between 2002 and 2007 the installation price of windmills rose 100%.. The same inflationary tendencies are still in play.

    [JR: I do have detailed, independent evidence right here.]

    The price of basic construction materials like steel and concrete is being driven higher by Chinese demand. Renewables actually require several more times the amount of steel and concrete required by reactors, so if anything the inflationary pressure on renewables construction costs is higher. The reason why the cost of nuclear appears to be inflating faster than the cost of renewables is simple, renewable advocates are in deniable about inflation. My review of future price estimates for renewables suggests planners are simply ignoring the problem of inflation. The word inflation has been censored from any discussion of future renewables costs. But sticking your head in the sand, won’t make renewables inflation go away.

  21. vakibs says:

    Hi Joe

    Here is a link that works : ABWR reactors in Japan have been constructed in a world-record time of 38 months and at a cost of just $1,600 USD per kWe. There is a newer design ESBWR which is awaiting licensing, which will be even cheaper. All generation3+ reactors employ passive safety features which will prevent a nuclear meltdown such as 3-mile island.

    Nuclear waste is not a waste, it is nuclear fuel for generation-4 reactors such as IFR or LFTR.

    Joe, you have a doctoral degree from MIT ( I am still studying to earn a PhD ). I cannot claim to lecture you on these basics of nuclear power. Surely, you should be aware of the Integral Fast Reactor ?

    If you are aware of all this and still choose to be anti-nuclear power, that is your choice. I would just like to remind you that the environmental impact of these solar-baseload and wind power are bound to be much higher than nuclear power.

    And in doing that, I am not dismissing CSP technology. I believe that we can indeed power our world by CSP or wind, but I think that the environmental impact of this exercise will be too worrisome and prohibitive. And ofcourse, any form of conserving energy should be welcomed with open arms. These measures are as compatible with nuclear power as they are with wind / solar.

    [JR: I’m not anti-nuclear. I just think it is among the most expensive low carbon solutions, especially when all the costs are thrown in. And I do not agree with you about the environmental impacts of renewables versus nuclear.]

  22. Joe, Inflation evidence:
    “The Carbon Trust warned last week that the price of offshore projects has risen 50 per cent in the past three years, and may increase more –”

    Off shore wind prices are already higher than the moon. New Energy Focus reports that “a 300MW wind farm off the coast of Margate, Kent, and should ultimately require investment of around £780 million”, That is $5300 per name plate kW.

    “In the U.S. in 2006/2007 the costs per kilowatt-hour for wind energy installations came in between $.045 and $.05 per kilowatt-hour; the 2008/2009 installations may come in about two cents higher than that, between $.065 and $.07 per kilowatt-hour.”

    I know that this does not prove inflation, but it certainly shows that renewables supporter ought to be honest and concerned about it, just as nuclear supporters ought to be honest and concerned about inflating nuclear costs.

    [JR: Offshore is a very different matter. But, in any case, the facts are the facts — nuclear costs of tripled since 2000, and that rise greatly exceeds any other form of power.]

  23. Jim Bullis says:

    Much of the publicity about global warming leaves reasonable people with less than complete confidence in the science of global warming. Some of the anecdotal evidence has not been fully persuasive and metaphors are imperfect. However, there is a core problem that is explained by hard physics which is that there is a mechanism by which carbon dioxide holds heat in the atmosphere. Not only is it explained, equations are written and it can be understood quantitatively with the use of computer analysis. The actual physics is a complicated and not easily explained, so metaphors like “greenhouse” were provided. The computer analysis is complicated, and for most of us, the equations that are programmed into the computer are quite difficult to understand. But we have come to believe that radio and radar work based on Maxwell’s Equations which very few understand and for the most part can only be solved by approximations and by enormously complicated computating. We also have to believe that Einstein’s analysis predicted the explosive power of atomic bombs. Like in those fields, understanding of heat trapping by carbon dioxide will have to be understood through some trust in our scientific community. Of course, there will always be those who insist that the world is flat because they haven’t yet fallen off it. One of the problems is that the scientific community relies on peer review to validate credibility of their papers. This is an imperfect process, but it is the only way that irresponsible and incompetent work can be weeded out. Those outside the scientific world tend to mistrust this process. In my judgment, the peer review process tends to moderate conclusions rather than inflate them. The more innovative thoughts tend to get suppressed, however, when there is general agreement it usually is quite reasonable.

    At the same time it can be measured that carbon dioxide has increased in the atmosphere. These measurements are not smoke and mirrors, they are widely understood chemical measurements.

    It is easy to understand the basic chemistry of combustion which provides heat to drive the heat engines that power the industrial world. This combustion produces carbon dioxide at a rate that can easily be calculated. There is no escaping that the industrial actvity and other burning of fuel of the last two hundred years has produced a lot of carbon dioxide. The fact that the rising amount of carbon dioxide came about from this fuel use can not be seriously disputed. Of course it is not the only source of carbon dioxide, but it is clear that that if the CO2 from human activity were subtracted, the overall concentration would go down.

    So I think we should take seriously the problem at hand.

    That being said, we should also recognize the limits of our understanding. The main point here is that the predictions of how fast things will deteriorate are not so clear. While it is inescapable that we have created a large imbalance in nature which has to be dealt with, the appropriate degree of panic is not so clear. Bear in mind, we did not understand the financial imbalances in our economy, and while many were uneasy about the things they could see, the fact that a crisis was inevitable was not acknowledged. Looking back, the crisis should have been seen to be coming, but just when or how bad would have been very hard to know. Climate scientist are working very intensively to make predictions of how things will play out, though I am not convinced that this is fully settled. This is my opinion, and there is certainly a range of such opinions.

    As to the best solutions, that is another matter. From an engineering point of view, my opinion is that the scientific community should provide the understanding of the problem and provide analytical support to the process of working out the solution. That solution should come from innovative engineering thinking. This is why we have both engineers and scientists. The line between the two is often unclear.

    I suggest that in working out the solution to global warming it is a mistake for scientists to prescribe the solution. I am particularly talking about where scientists insist that coal fired electric power plants must be shut down. This might seem like an obvious answer to the scientist, but the practical aspects of this are such that others of us think there should be a hard search for better ways. Of course, coal usage has to be curtailed, but the transition process is not to be taken lightly. Coal is simply too much a part of world civilization. We also have a rush to the obvious, new or sort of new, technologies like solar power and wind. These systems are not as ready for mass use as we would like. Huge subsidies have already been provided, but an evaluation of how these subsidies will carry through when these types of solutions are implemented on a large scale has not been addressed. Clearly very serious measures have to be implemented. Clearly the best use of our imaginations and our capability to adapt has to be a part of the solution.

    The foregoing is the thought process I have used to get to my present thinking. My approach has been to attack the problem from the efficiency point of view with the aim to drastically cut consumption of energy. My search is for ways to do this that will enable continuation of our life styles as far as possible, and to keep cost as a critical consideration. I read the economic signs differently than some, but we already know that there are severe penalties for unbridled spending.

    Studies have shown some results that seem promising and even attractive in some ways. Some are not costly at all, and can even have a significant net cost benefit to the overall population. While it all depends on the numbers which can change, at the present time it looks like wind and solar are not the right answers. I also have found that “plug-in” cars must be built such that they also operate with dramatically less energy usage, where electric systems do not necessarily bring the advantage we are sometimes led to believe.

    The fact that cars can be made that go fast and still use very little energy is a realization I have come to based on my own work with the Miastrada car. (I have a hopeful interest in Miastrada.) (Others such as the Aptera, the Loremo, are well on the way to production.) It must be said that these cars require rethinking our ideas of how cars should look. Widespread public acceptance will have to come about; that will determine if any of these are to be meaningful solutions.

    Other than cars, we also have significant potential progress to be made in the way we insulate and otherwise operate our houses. I am not thinking my list is complete; it is intended to be just some examples.

    The key choices that we seem to be facing are (1) to place heavy penalties on coal based systems and whether these will impact electricity cost earlier or later, (2) to provide massive subsidies to new technologies that are not now cost effective on their own merits, (3) to provide large subsidies to enable homeowners to better insulate their houses, (4) implement a phase in increase in motor vehicle fuel cost, where this implementation could come about,in part, through elimination of the oil depletion allowance.

    So while serious action is required, it seems appropriate to make sensible choices and to do these in such a way that the public will support and continue to support the outcomes.

    I am curious if anyone will read this. Comments?

  24. Craig says:

    One of the goals for people genuinely concerned about climate change should be to dispel the notion that climate scientists are predicting the end of the world. Despite our best unintended efforts, the world will continue to exist long after humanity’s passing. But the hyperbole of “the world coming to an end” diminishes the argument for taking concerted effort. It allows people who are only mildly skeptical to dismiss the problem as just another in a long line of doomsday scenarios. The difference however is that the brightest minds in the scientific community, backed by oceans of data, are the ones voicing the greatest concern this time. So I argue that it’s important to tell people, “No the world is not coming to an end. But be prepared to live in a very different one.”

  25. Mitch says:


    Quickly . . . I certainly see that oil consumption will be displaced by moving to electric cars. However; is it not true that most electricity is generated in the US by burning coal? I keep thinking this, but don’t see the rebuttal anywhere. Are we really gaining an advantage or is it just a swap to another oedious choice? Would it not be better to mandate smaller vehicles, lower speed limits (did I just hear 50 billion teeth gritting?) and – for all the trucks – diesel technology like the kind I read Europe is advancing? My fear is that electric cars and their heavy, dirty batteries will be a false remedy and we’ll all go, “Phew! Good thing we can just plug our cars in now – gimme that 10-door electric Hummer. Yee-hah!” OK, maybe some would not yee-hah. Certainly Detroit will only spend their hand-out money on clear winners and if we make electric cars the panacea, they will stop there and then go back to adding fins, ridiculous 0-60 MPH claims and cup-holders to the electric cars. Leaving us in a slightly quieter, but just as carboned-up a world as we have now?

  26. Rick C. says:

    The original topic here is COAL, not nuclear. But they share some *RISKS* in common that have not been mentioned.

    1. Proliferation and Procrastination:

    Coal-fired plants, like “peaceful” nuclear plants, are potential WMDs.
    A “peaceful” Coal-fired plant would deploy CCS — carbon capture & sequestration. But today, CCS is, quite literally, *_VAPORWARE_*.

    How long might it take, before CCS research can offer a verdict on CCS feasibility? Answer = many years. And what happens in the meantime? Answer = proliferation of Coal-fired plants worldwide, since the USA will have “given permission” to China, India, etc, to build coal plants, excused by the “green figleaf” that future CCS-retrofit will provide a technological fix.

    What are the dynamics of global procrastination — of “playing chicken” with extinction? The Japanese whaling industry’s “Research Exemption” from limits on depleting that finite environmental “source” is a perfect analogy to what’s likely to happen when China, India, and many other nations, have an even greater short-term motivation to deplete a finite environmental atmospheric “sink”.

    2. Opportunity Cost:

    Obviously, whatever *money* is spent on CCS R&D cannot be spent on R&D for other aspects of a new energy economy. But probably the more crucial measure of opportunity cost is *TIME*. It seems likely that CCS pilot projects started Jan. 20, 2009 won’t provide any realistic verdict for at least 10 years. … _TEN_YEARS_, before we know the outcome of rolling the dice on CCS! Ten years, during which worldwide Proliferation of Coal-based WMDs has occurred, means we would then have a far larger WMD “bomb” to disarm! (Even if CCS becomes feasible.)

    We already are deep in ENVIRONMENTAL DEBT. We cannot risk another 10 years of ENVIRO DEFICIT FINANCING, because the global climate system is not going to offer us a future “EZ-payment plan” for buying back our outstanding CO2 debt.

    3. Verification:

    As with “peaceful” development of nuclear power, to quote Ronald Reagan, our policy must be, “Trust, but *verify*”! Laboriously, we’ve kinda/sorta learned how to verify nuclear facilities. That’s largely because radioactive decay products have distinct “signatures” we can detect. OK, let’s assume USA research indicates that a *particular* type of CCS is feasible. But how do we detect whether a particular underground (or worse, _undersea_) storage site in China is geologically suitable for CCS, that no leakage is occurring, and that there is no significant risk of a cataclysmic CO2 “blowout”?

    Would nations have an incentive to cheat on their CCS “leakage quotas”? If you’re at all concerned about how players will “game the system” under Cap & Trade, then you should be horrified at the prospects for gaming CCS.

  27. David B. Benson says:

    Rick C. — At the rsik of repeating what I posted on another thread, don’t do CCS as currently planned. Instead use enhanced mineral weathering to permanently remove the carbon dioxide.

    Olivine weathering:

    “Rocks Could Be Harnessed To Sponge Vast Amounts Of Carbon Dioxide From Air”:

  28. IANVS says:


    This article from Power Engineering appears to support your nuclear plant cost thesis.

    Nuclear New Build Cost Visibility and Predictability

    “Early cost estimates are significant and increasing. For example, SCE&G’s EPC contract with Westinghouse and Shaw Group, which is one of the first contracts to be completed and publicly documented, puts its portion of the project at around $4,400/kW. Southern Co. is estimating the cost for two AP1000 1,100 MW reactors at its Vogtle site to be in the $2,500 to $3,500/kW range. More recently Constellation, a partner in UniStar’s venture, came out with $4,500 to $6,000/kW estimate reflecting “added security and safety features of the USEPR model,” as well as rising costs of concrete, steel and other key materials. Good reasons exist for the steep and rising costs of next generation nuclear power plants. Constructing multibillion dollar, highly complex, first-of-a-kind infrastructure projects with long construction cycles involves tremendous risks and uncertainties.”

    “According to PowerAdvocate’s Capital Cost Indices tool for tracking cost changes, the cost of construction for utility facilities, including combined and simple cycle, wind and coal plants, as well as transmission lines and environmental retrofit scrubber projects have shown increases between 70 percent and 106 percent since 2000. As indicated in Figure 1, nuclear power plants show an even higher run up in costs—125 percent since 2000. Most of the increase has taken place since 2005.”

    “As first of a kind, multi-billion dollar capital projects with long construction cycles, the next build of nuclear plants face significant risks and uncertainties.”

  29. IANVS says:


    And I’m sure some of your more verbose posters here are closely following EPRI’s projects to add solar energy to fossil-fueled electric power plants in Arizona & Nevada, reducing fuel costs and plant emissions.

  30. IANVS says:


    Suffice it to say new nukes stateside ain’t gonna be cheap noway nohow.

    “Duke Energy Carolinas has raised the expected construction costs of its proposed Lee Nuclear Station to $11 billion, excluding financing costs. That’s roughly twice the company’s original estimates. Based on the financing costs for Duke’s new coal-powered unit at Cliffside Steam Station, financing expenses would increase the nuclear plant’s price to more than $14 billion.”

    “The cost estimates for Duke’s proposed nuclear plant in Gaffney, S.C., have proved controversial. Three years ago, Duke gave an estimate of $4 billion to $6 billion for the two 1,117-megawatt reactors it proposed to build. Duke had not updated those figures until now. Opponents of the project have noted that nearly identical plants proposed in Florida will cost as much as $17.8 billion.”

  31. vakibs says:


    “I like nuclear power, but it is just too expensive”.. How disingenuous can you get ?

    Nuclear power is cheap, it is cheaper than coal, wind or CSP. All these recent hoopla about high construction costs for nuclear, is when they are compared against natural gas. (The very references given by the above blogger IANVS are from a natural gas promoter). Natural gas plants have low construction costs and thus are cheaper to start with (but this advantage disappears rapidly due to high fuel prices).

    As a scientist, you know the importance of not taking anything at face-value. We should always question “why” something is expensive or “why” it is cheap. Anti-nukes don’t take the trouble of explaining why nuclear costs are going high. It is because of the increase in steel and concrete prices.

    Nuclear power needs 40 metric tons of steel and 190 cubic metres of concrete to produce 1 MW of power. The corresponding requirements for coal are 98 metric tons of steel and 160 cubic meters of concrete. Wind power needs a lot more : 460 tons of steel and 870 cubic meters of concrete. All this recent increase in construction costs is due to raw material prices. Coal and wind power plants will be much more affected by increasing costs of steel and concrete; nuclear power maintains its cost advantage.

    In fact, much of the delay in the construction of nuclear plants is due to bureaucratic overhead. Japan doesn’t have such overhead, and was able to install the ABWR nuclear plants in record time of 4 years. The power industry in USA is in a dire need to eliminate the deregulation boondangles and private utilities. Electricity is a natural monopoly, and it is in public interest to have it run by public utilities. When these issues are streamlined, nuclear plants will be up and running in no time (and will be distinctly cheaper).. It has already been done in France. We have proof.

    Generation 3 or Generation 3+ reactors are not complicated. In fact, they are simpler than the earlier versions. They are passively safe, and thus have eliminated the need for several active safety monitoring systems. It is only logical that they will be cheaper.

  32. Jim Bullis says:

    Mitch, the current percentage of electricity made from coal is about 50%. However, I try to make much the same case that you do about how things seem likely to turn out.

    First, the key problem is that coal is so incredibly cheap, even with recent price increases. This has to mean that any increased load will be responded to by increasing the coal fired production. The installed capacity is there to do this, especially at night. This is when electricity is cheap and it is the time cars would naturally be available to charge. Big surprise: the rates for night time charging are very low.

    According to their plan, GM does not exactly say they are going to build an electric Hummer, but it looks like they will come close. This plan is still on their website at:

    This plan shows clearly that they intend to help out with the oil dependency problem by shifting to the grid. It also alludes to environmental benefits, but when read carefully, the only environmental benefit will be to reduce smog in cities. This is not a bad thing, but the deception is that they then fail to discuss the CO2 problem, which using the grid does very little to improve.

    At the same time they show complete understanding of electricity as a carrier of energy, so they know full well that there is a fuel usage consequence of electricity usage.

    There is an incredible opportunity to influence the outcome in connection with the bail out of the industry. Along with the money authorization, there can be an imposition of a phased in, but strict, fuel economy standard, where the use of electricity is accounted for in terms of the heat energy needed to produce that electricity.

  33. IANVS says:


    Florida Power & Light’s estimates for next generation nukes are substantially higher than you suppose.

    “FPL notified the NRC it plans to apply in 2009 for permission to build two of Toshiba Corp’s Westinghouse 1,100 MW AP1000 reactors at Turkey Point. FPL however is also considering General Electric Hitachi’s 1,550 MW Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) technology.”

    “In filings with state regulators, FPL has said two AP1000 reactors and possible needed transmission upgrades could cost $12 billion-$18 billion while two of the larger GE reactors could cost $16.5 billion-$24.3 billion.”

    And while their designs are inherently safer, the construction of new next generation reactor plants will be anything but simple and are sure to experience cost over-runs beyond the $24.3 billion limit of FPL’s estimates.

  34. Jim Bullis says:

    On the top of my list of the more egregious deceptions is the “Karma” car by Fisker. Mr. Fisker appears to be a fashion designer pretending to know about cars. It is a project funded by Kleiner Perkins which is a famous VC firm that would like us to think is interested in the global warming problem. The result is an enormously wasteful machine which is equipped with plug-in capability and a 260 hp engine to take over after 50 miles. You can be reasonably sure that there will be 260 hp in power sucked out of the batteries, which will probably be produced by burning coal for many years to come.

    Al Gore is a member of the Kleiner Perkins VC firm.

  35. teresa says:

    How does one know where and when to apply for employment?Please keep it simple. Iworked on the electrical crew for casey in