Which Would You Pick?

September 23, 2012

The commenter “ssat” on Bishop Hill summarises the power generation options, comparing 1 GW generators:

: 1 GW nuclear, 4 acres, 24/7/365, reliable, sustainable with re-processing, possible future thorium.
: 1 GW solar, 5,000 acres, 4/7/365, nothing at night.
: 1 GW wind, 60,000 acres, 6/7/365, nothing when calm/stormy.
: 1 GW coal, 15 acres, 0/7/365, reliable, sustainable but nothing with CCS mandated.
: 1 GW gas, 2 acres, 24/7/365, reliable, sustainable with local/friendly shale.

Which would you pick?

Inside Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown

March 6, 2012

Russ Finley has a terrific article describing the “unsensational” version of the events around the failure of the the Daiichi Power Plants during the 2010 tsunami.

He focuses on reason and logic and demonstrates how that not in in play in most coverages. I liked his analogy to the how the airline industry could be covered:

For decades, anti-nuclear groups have played on people’s fears, conflating nuclear weapons with nuclear energy and exaggerating the radiation risks associated with it. If there were an airline equivalent of today’s anti-nuclear activists, the public might be told (for decades on end) that airline travel involves moving at 500 miles an hour, thirty thousand feet above the ground, in air that is so cold and rarefied you would suffocate and/or freeze within minutes without protection, in a (literally) paper-thin tube of pressurized aluminum, managed by a large for-profit corporation with razor thin profit margins. Oh, and they can be also used by terrorists as flying bombs. We would see footage of mangled bodies, corroded structure, and interviews of grieving loved ones. Come to think of it, that does sound scary.

These hypothetical anti-airline activists might lobby politicians to foil attempts by airlines to properly deal with waste, forcing them to store it on site as much of the nuclear industry has to do with its waste. On the other side there would be engineers and scientists trying to use reason, statistics, and rational arguments to counter irrational fear. They would use numbers to prove that airline travel is the safest way to travel per unit length traveled …ah, we should all be glad there are not significant numbers of anti-airline activists.

Jimmy Carter and Fukushima

April 2, 2011

Here are a few things I did not know. I did not know there was an explosion incident at a plutonium enrichment plant in Canada in 1952. Related to that, I did not know that ex-President Jimmy Carter had a role, as a young Naval Officer, in dealing with the incident. The episode is covered nicely in a recent article in the Economist.

Jerry Pournelle Does Some Numbers on Released Radiation in Japan

March 16, 2011

See http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2011/Q1/view666.html#worstcase

His numbers show

the absolute worst case has no more global effect than did an event that many weren’t even aware of, and which didn’t have any great global effect.

His bottom line:

The important lesson from Japan is that we took obsolete reactors with old designs and safety features, and subjected them to a 9.0 quake and a very large tsunami, and the damage to the planet is an unfortunate but hardly decisive event. It is now time to stop worrying about this mess until things settle and we can see precisely what we have learned, and factor that into the next generation designs. Note that almost everywhere in the world we are building reactors with much better design and far better safety features than those being destroyed now. Concentration on how awful is the nuclear mess takes our attention off the economic and human disasters from the earthquake and tsunami.

IEA Energy Cost Forecasts

January 3, 2011

From Oil Drum “Renewable and fossil electricity generation costs compared”.

“Is Nuclear Waste Really Waste”?

December 21, 2010

Fascinating presentation by Kirk Sorensen, Chief Nuclear Technologist at Teldyne Brown Engineering and a PhD Student at University of Tennessee.  This is a YouTube video of the presentation me made on 1 Nov 2010 at Google.

“I Feel Good”

November 19, 2010

Rupert Soames, CEO of Aggreko — a world leader in temporary energy supply — delivers some straight talk at the Scottish Parliament.  Watch for the “I Feel Good” quote. Priceless.


Other Energy Fuels Used in UK Nov 2008 through Sep 2010

November 1, 2010

In follow-up to my posting yesterday on Wind energy production, we have generated similar histograms and (first-pass and to be improved) fitted probability distributions for the other fuel-types as published.  This is all part of a step-by-step plan to do some looking into the future of future changes in fuel type mixes.

Here is the overall summary of means, and the figures below show the histograms and fitted probability distributions.

The first is Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT), producing on average 17 GW, as shown below.

Coal is another “biggie” , producing on average 11.6 GW.  It has an intersting “double peak” centered around 3 GW and another  around 14 GW.

Nuclear energy produced on average 6.9 GW, and again there is an interesting double peak, one centred between 5-6 GT, and another between 7 and 8 GW.

Electricit from hydroelectric sources relatively small (about the same as current Wind production) at 0.3 GW:

The numbers for pumped storage are interesting as they show both positive and negative numbers.  I’m presuming that positive are output generation and negative is the power to pump the water into the reservoirs since this signage would be the same as other other data.  The mean is a negative -0.1 GW which presumably is an indicator of the next cost of pump storage and how it is not a power source as sometimes suggested:

The other fuel sources for which there is data are relatively insignificant and are included here for completeness

  • Oil 0.06 GW
  • Open Cycle Gas Turbine 0.004 GW

Another two interesting graphs show the pattern of power in/out of Ireland (-0.2 GT) and France (next):

Here is France (0.4 GW)

Finally, for completeness, here is the results for Wind as reported yesterday (0.4 GW):

Report on “Climate Change: The Solutions” by Dr. David Reay

October 13, 2010

Last evening I had the opportunity attend another session at the University of Edinburgh in their “Our Changing World” series where Dr. David Reay spoke on “Climate Change: The Solutions”.  See http://www.ed.ac.uk/about/video/lecture-series/changing-world/solutions for the event’s web page and eventually the video.  Dr. Reay is Programme Director of the MSc in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh.

Dr. Reay was very upbeat.  His presentation was exclusively about presenting the opportunities for tackling the crisis of climate change.  He’s very confident that “we can do it.”  He’s enthused about society’s attitude–especially students–to face up to the challenges and make the fundamental changes that are required.  He also sees great possibilities with mankind’s command on technology to do things like geo-engineering to fix the problem.  “We can do something.”

Dr. Reay accepts that the climate has always changed and that there has always been during mankind’s time on this planet a varying climate and extreme weather.  He reminded us that humans know how to adapt.  However, he believes that is no longer sufficient to adapt to the rapid onset of climate change (global warming) projected by the IPCC.

To justify the conclusion of the world in peril was to show the measurements of CO2 at Mauna Loa (Hawaii). His graph showed CO2 increase, as “downloaded yesterday”. His y-axis was from 378 to 390 ppm and the x-axis went from 2006 to 2001.  This made the increase in CO2 look to be “alarming” with a trend line of almost 45-degrees upward.  He said that since we know for more than a hundred years that CO2 is a green house gas, it obviously is a problem, he said.  He also showed IPPC temperature forecasts and mentioned numerous times IPPC reports as basis for all thinking of future climate change.

Dr. Reay, while accepting that adaption is part of the solution, said that mitigations are much more important and much more urgently required.  He offers as solutions:

  • Reduce how much CO2 gets into the atmosphere by changing land use practices.
  • Reducing CO2 from generation of electricity shows the biggest possibility of reducing CO2 emissions because there are so many more efficient ways to generate electricity, e.g. CHP (Combined Heat and Power) gas-powered turbines.
  • Renewable energy (hydroelectric, wind, wave, and current).  He pointed out  that Scotland is “blessed” with lots of coastline to produce this renewable energy. Dr. Reay mentioned how he has “plastered” his home with solar panels and because of the new feed-in tarrif he, like 6,000 other homeowners in the UK, can make money by selling electricity back to the power companies.  He acknowledged he isn’t making any money recently because the sun doesn’t shine so much.  Dr. Reay said nuclear power as not a viable solution since it is not carbon free due to the significant carbon cost of mining the uranium.
  • Land use changes, e.g. REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and degregation)
  • Getting more efficiency from the “built environment” (reduced energy consumption by better designs and insulation)

However, Dr. Reay’s position is that “if we don’t mitigate climate change, and if we don’t have the ability to adapt to rapid climate change, then we have implement geo-engineering solutions”. He discussed three approaches:

  1. Change the energy received from the sun [by putting big mirrors into space at the Lagrangian point to reflect sunlight, or put a lot of dust into space to stop sunlight’s energy reaching the earth.
  2. Change the amount of energy reflected (albedo) [by releasing billions of balloons into the stratosphers, increasing sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere, etc.  We know this would work as we have data from the Mt. Pinatubo 1991 volcanic eruption.  Other way would be to add sea salt spray to the atmosphere to make “whiter clouds”.]
  3. Change the amount of heat absorbed by the atmosphere [by using oceanic iron and macronutrient supply to grow algae blooms in the sea; artificial trees which draw the carbon out of the atmosphere to be put into carbon storage, add “biochar”, manufactured as part of energy production and thus drawing off carbon, to soils;  bio fuels and “super bugs” created from genetic engineering designed to draw out CO2 from the atmosphere].

He summarised his optimism by saying:

  • researchers are working on the feedbacks and uncertainties and the impacts of future climate change
  • we’re getting better at monitoring, e.g. deforestation
  • there are a myriad of technologies–old and new–that can work.
  • need political leadership (he showed a photograph of President Obama at this point), a global climate deal, and probably geo-engineering.
  • have to show the way forward to the third world so that they don’t repeat “our mistakes” [which means, I think, out putting CO2 into the atmosphere].

He closed the formal presentation with a demonstration of his optimism by showing a video from YouTube.  I tried to correctly capture the URL, but failed.  If I get it later, I will update this posting.  [The video was all “arty” and focused on how we must do something now for the benefit of our children. Nothing of any scientific or technical substance.]

While the presentation was clearly up-beat and optimistic, I was troubled by a number of issues:

  • The starting point on all this is: is it a “fact” or a “hypothesis” that the world on on the edge of runaway climate change (global warming)?  For Dr. Reay and others a this series of Our Changing World lecture series, it appears to be a fact.  [I’m not so sure.  Without this starting point being more “certain”, is the “precautionary principal” our only justification in support of this massive mankind disruption advocated and planned for?]
  • Lots of talk about “impacts” of climate change (extreme weather, higher/debilitating temperatures, great droughts and floods, sea level rise, etc.) but no mention of the “risk”.[ Risk discussion must include an added dimension of “probability”.  Given, as stated above it is a “fact”, then I guess the assumption is that the probability of all this is considered 100%.  However, the earth seems to be be cooling over the period since the IPPC became active, the Arctic ice is not melting, and we are seeing a reduction in extreme weather as evidenced by hurricanes].
  • Who has the right to “geo-engineer” the planet? Who pushes to switch to turn it on? And how will we detect when it is time to do so?  [We have so much trouble now agreeing the temperature of the earth and if current weather events are signs of climate change or not.]
  • Design of future geo-engineering solutions will require climate models which can reliably compute the impact/probablity (expressed as an “opportunity” not risk) of the solution’s effectiveness [yet after years of work we have climate models that do not validate against the actual temperature changes and and validate only against other model’s results]. Or will be just “guess” the forecast efficacy?
  • Dr. Reay said in the Q&A that the politicians just need to react. They just have to accept that the case for AGW, as does President Obama, is overwhelming and that we need to “do something”.  He said that it would be disastrous if Sara Palin was elected President. [Just what is the “overwhelming evidence” that AGW is such a big risk and how do we know that anything we do can actually make a difference?  Is the proposed cost commensurate with risk and what alternatives were considered?  I need more than a graph of CO2 at Mauna Loa].

Great Book: “Power to Save the World”

October 12, 2010

I’m reading a great book.  A great book. World class writing, factual, logical.  It’s by Gwyneth Cravens and as the strap line on the title says, it is about the “truth about nuclear energy”.  She “takes an informed and clarifying look at the myths, the fears, and the truth about nuclear energy” as stated on the book’s web site at http://www.cravenspowertosavetheworld.com/.

She was initially a skeptic, originating from her childhood growing up near Los Alamos in New Mexico.  She spent 10 y ears researching book. Ms. Cravens is a writer for the New Yorker Magazine and it shows.

I’m about 1/2 way through the book and I’m particularly impressed with her explanations of PRA (Probabilistic Risk Assessment) and how this addresses the understanding of risk in this important topic.