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On Advanced Energy Technology of the Week: Modular Nuclear Energy

Nathan, it looks like S-PRISM offers more access. Add pool tables & a wet bar, and it might become the plant lounge.

That said: assume we've experienced a partial core melt. We can keep pumping water into the reactor vessel for time immemorial, but we now have a mass of radioactive sludge at the bottom of a pit which is going nowhere, while bubbling steam mixed with fission products (at TMI 2, it took 11 years to get the fuel out, and that was above ground).

How does this help? By the way, I don't believe an ideal solution for solid fuel reactors exists.

January 25, 2015    View Comment    

On America Installed 22 Times More Solar in 2014 Than in 2008

Spec Lawyer, that might work for:

  • a very large solar array, and
  • a very small electric car, and
  • a very sunny part of the country, and
  • someone who has no commute

Otherwise the idea that home solar arrays can "power your EV" is nonsense.

A 3kWh array at 15% capacity factor will generate 3,942 kWh of electricity each year.  A Nissan Leaf owner who charges their vehicle daily will need 7,300 kWh each year - almost twice that. And nearly all EV charging happens at night, because nearly all work - and driving - happens during the day.

Meanwhile, the local gas utility is chugging away all night long, and the local gas provider is thanking Providence for all the solar array owners with their "clean" electric cars who help pay his bills.

January 25, 2015    View Comment    

On A New Theory of Energy and the Economy, Part 1: Generating Economic Growth

Gail, you've touched briefly in other posts on the possibility of global economic collapse, which conjures up images of a patchwork of feral tribes competing for survival, with nary a James Cameron, Ridley Scott, nor decent budget to document it.

It's a frightening, if unrealistic, scenario. Fortunately, over time spans of only a few years macro-economics tends to be a zero-sum game, where one economy's loss is another's gain.

How do you envision such a situation unfolding?

January 25, 2015    View Comment    

On Back to the Future: Advanced Nuclear Energy and the Battle Against Climate Change

Daniele, point well taken. Mine is that efficiency improvements are a drop in the bucket compared to new energy requirements.

I have a Leaf too, and my efficiency averages 4mi/kWh. If your driving habits aren't too different from mine and your ICE car got a comparable 30 mpg, you would have gone from driving 1,710 miles/month to 1000 miles/month in the switchover. So possibly a change in driving habits makes up for the difference.

In my experience, energy consumption from my car is almost equivalent to energy conumption in my home. Obviously this is going to vary widely from person to person. But it underscores that if we really want to go electric with personal transportation, we may have to come up with twice as much generation -  in addition to empowering the people who currently have no access at all.

January 25, 2015    View Comment    

On Back to the Future: Advanced Nuclear Energy and the Battle Against Climate Change

Ned, energy stored by CAES (or any other technology) must be generated by another technology first. Because no system of storage is 100% efficient, there are energy losses which reduce the value of the original generation. In the case of CAES between 30% to 73% of the energy is wasted.

Because of this waste, energy generated using CCGT then stored is ~50% more polluting than energy generated by CCGT and routed directly to the grid.

January 25, 2015    View Comment    

On Back to the Future: Advanced Nuclear Energy and the Battle Against Climate Change

Daniele, your statistics (and conclusions derived therefrom) are more than a bit far off.

650 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to electricity at all. To provide each with one-tenth of the electricity the typical American currently consumes (13,246 kWh/yr) we would have to increase global electricity generation (20 PWh/yr) by 43%. We haven't even touched big screen TVs - that would provide energy to power a washing machine, a refrigerator, and lighting. Expensive, impractical electricity derived from the sun and wind have yet to break 5% of generation in one of the most affluent societies in the world.

From an environmental standpoint, a more important consideration is how to power transportation electrically. I'm not sure what assumptions are behind your claim that "an EV uses an eighth the energy of an ICE", but a comparative calculation of similar vehicles shows it to be five times too low.

http://rtec-rtp.org/2011/07/06/electric-vehicles-use-less-energy/

January 25, 2015    View Comment    

On Advanced Energy Technology of the Week: Modular Nuclear Energy

Maria, I'm not sure why the concept burying nuclear reactors in the ground has become fashionable again. While in theory it might offer protection from terrorist attacks, it would make inspection and maintenance considerably more problematic.

There seems to be an assumption that burying them will offer some kind of protection for the public in the case of a critical accident. This assumption is misplaced. Most SMRs are based on traditional solid-fuel reactor architectures and are vulnerable to core melts. Limiting access to the reactor core drastically increases the possibility of a minor accident spiraling out of control. This risk is in no way offset by any minor containment advantage which might be gained over above-ground structures.

January 25, 2015    View Comment    

On Here's How the US Solar-Storage Market Reaches $1B in 3 Years

Jeffrey, regarding:

GTM Research projects a $1 billion U.S. market for battery-backed solar PV systems by 2018. But that growth won’t come evenly -- and which of the 40-plus contenders in solar storage will succeed remains an open question.

The prediction itself remains an open question. But the conceit of assuming it's not, and substituting the present tense where the future is called for, are not only hallmarks of the solar movement but every other one doomed to irrelevance.

January 24, 2015    View Comment    

On Was 2014 Really the Warmest Year?

Geoffrey, we can define the "warmest year" in two very distinct ways: as "the best possible choice for warmest year" vs. "the warmest year to the exclusion of all other years".

Unless we're facing the possiblity of a catastrophic outcome with our choice, the binary classification of the second interpretation (and your financial example) is unwarranted. There is only one best possible choice for warmest year, and that's 2014.

January 24, 2015    View Comment    

On Back to the Future: Advanced Nuclear Energy and the Battle Against Climate Change

Bas, I'll take that as a "no", and an admission that Scherb is an anti-nuclear activist posing as a scientist.

January 23, 2015    View Comment    

On Desert Sunlight, Another 550MW Solar Farm From First Solar, Now Fully Operational

Joe, although batteries are rated by the power they put out, much more important is the quantity of energy they can store (expressed in gigawatthours). "10GW of storage" doesn't tell me anything about how useful that battery will be to supply energy to the grid.

Today on CAISO at noon we had 3800MW coming from utility solar, with 6.3GW of capacity installed (5.2GW as of 3/19/2014 - I'm adding 550MW each for Topaz and Desert Sunlight now online), so at noon today the efficiency of California utility solar was 60.3%.

To get 15GW of actual solar generation at noon you'll need 25GW more solar capacity (multiplied by .6 = 15). That's equivalent to 45.5 more farms like Topaz or Desert Sunlight at a cost of $90 billion at today's prices, and occupying a land area of 440 square miles (equivalent to covering every square inch of San Mateo County with solar panels). The price might come down somewhat, but that doesn't matter - with the storage you're adding in, it's by any measure a ridiculous amount of money to pay, and a ridiculous price in land use, for energy that comes and goes. And it all has to be backed up with fossil fuels.

January 23, 2015    View Comment