Costs and Consequences of Transforming Global Energy Sources

Judith Curry and I were discussing the  ‘wicked’nature of addressing climate change. I said I don’t think it’s a ‘wicked’ problem, in that if we decide to reduce our emissions we have all the tools available to us–nuclear power plants, hydroelectric facilities, renewables, etc. I posted about it at my other blog here.

During the discussion I rashly said I would try to quantify the costs of transforming our energy portfolio and that I thought converting to cleaner fuels would cost an order of magnitude less than continuing to burn fossil fuels.

So I’ll try to do so here, but you’ll have to overcome a couple of heroic assumptions on my part if what follows is to make sense.

  • The title of this blog is 3000 Quads for a reason. I believe that the world will consume 3000 quads of primary energy in 2075. So the total costs and consequences I will be working towards understanding are of that total, not current usage.
  • I will not be considering any climate adaptation or mitigation costs. If I’m right, this monumental conversion will be a ‘no regrets’ policy that is a logical course of action no matter what happens to the climate.
  • The global economic picture will show most people living (or trying to live) at a standard of living at or beyond today’s levels.

If we in fact consume 3000 quads in 2075, most of it will be generated by coal. The reason is simple–international agencies are underestimating future consumption. Even when they update consumption figures and increase the totals, they are silent about it, not telling planners and investors that the developing world really wants to consume energy at the same level as the developed countries.

A very conservative estimate of the coal that will be burned in 2075 is enough to generate 1,000 quadrillion BTUs of energy. One quad is the energy liberated by burning 38,000 train cars full of anthracite coal. about 30% of global energy consumption is coal today.

Some of the costs of coal have been computed. Let’s look at real costs, the ones climate skeptics and Republicans would grudgingly admit. There are costs that are disputed–the value of human lives lost during mining or due to pollution–that I won’t include because of disagreements on how to value those lives or even measure their loss. Similarly, things like reduction of IQ due to exposure to mercury are speculative about their impact.

From Wikipedia: “In 2009 the National Research Council released a report on the “external costs of coal” caused by various energy sources over their entire life cycle, from extraction to production to use and emissions, effects not factored into the market cost of the fuels. The report Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use was released in October 2009. Requested by Congress, the report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. Putting together a diverse committee of experts including scientists, economists, and geologists, the committee estimated the use of fossil fuels had a hidden cost to the U.S. public of $120 billion in 2005, a number that reflects primarily health damages from air pollution associated with electricity generation and motor vehicle transportation. The estimate was derived from monetizing the damage of major air pollutants — sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, and particulate matter – on human health, grain crops and timber yields, buildings, and recreation.

The figure does not include damages from climate change, harm to ecosystems, effects of some air pollutants such as mercury, and risks to national security, which the report examines but does not monetize.”

The OECD estimated in 2012 that global GDP in 2075 will be about $675 trillion USD.

The $120 billion in U.S. costs was associated with 20% of our consumption being powered by coal, close to 20 quads.

Again, if you accept my heroic assumptions above, the (non climate, non-fuzzy) pollution costs from 1,000 quads at $6 billion per quad shows a cost of $120 trillion USD in constant 2005 dollars.

In the U.S. in 2011, nuclear provide about 17 quads of primary energy from 124 nuclear power plants, about .13 quad per plant. For 1,000 quads from the same average output, we would need 7,692 plants, about as many as normal power plants exist today.

In China, Areva just built a nuclear power plant for 3 billion Euros. Assuming that each power plant we built cost that amount, the total cost would be 23.07 trillion USD.

So it’s not an order of magnitude cheaper. Just a lot, lot, lot cheaper.





46 responses to “Costs and Consequences of Transforming Global Energy Sources

  1. Pingback: Wicked | The Lukewarmer's Way

  2. Thomas,

    Your numbers are nonsense. Any policy that raises the cost of energy will almost certainly will not succeed. So, you have to find a way to reduce the cost of low GHG energy to below that of fossil fuel energy. It can be done, but you’ll have to rely to a very large extent on nuclear energy. Renewables can contribute next to nothing.. There is little more hydro capacity to be developed. Nuclear will have to be it. And the cost of electricity from nuclear could be halved by around mid century.

    These explain why policies that increase the cost of energy are unlikely to succeed:
    Why carbon pricing will not succeed Part I:

    Why The World Will Not Agree to Pricing Carbon II:

    The red line here is the punchline (i.e. the costs greatly exceed the benefits for all this century):

    • Hi Peter, my numbers may be wrong but they are not nonsense. I disagree with your opinion about carbon tax–I think a revenue neutral carbon tax can help, although I don’t think it’s a panacea.

      Regarding cost-effectiveness of solutions, you seem determined to ignore the fact that people are buying solar panels to put on their rooftops and buying hybrid and electric cars, despite the additional cost.

      I have this conversation with many people taking a pure economic, ‘rational actor’ point of view. I tell them and I’ll tell you that price is not the only signal in the marketplace, people continually act against their own ‘best’ economic interests and that a social goal can spur individual and group economic actions.

      You also seem determined to ignore the continuously decreasing costs of solar. I don’t know why.

      • Sorry Thomas, but you keep stating what you believe and can’t say why. That’s OK, It’s your site. But it suggests you are just a Cultist. Not willing to challenge your beliefs.

        You really haven;t much idea of what you are talking about, but stuck with beliefs.

      • Thomas,

        I said: “Your numbers are nonsense. Any policy that raises the cost of energy will almost certainly will not succeed.”

        I stand by that statement. Your numbers are nonsense because they are cherry picked, disingenuous (i’e only one side of the balance sheet, and without providing complete and proper context). They are totally misleading.

        You say: “For 1,000 quads from the same average output, we would need 7,692 plants, about as many as normal power plants exist today.”

        Well, so what? What’s the relevance. How can you get cheaper emissions reductions of the amount you want? You certainly cannot do it with wind and solar, nor energy efficiency, nor biofuels. So, what’;s your plan?

        “In China, Areva just built a nuclear power plant for 3 billion Euros. Assuming that each power plant we built cost that amount, the total cost would be 23.07 trillion USD.”

        So what? Its a new design, enormously over designed in typical European stuff up, not suitable for the market. And you’ve made no allowance for learning rates and the potential for nuclear power to reduce costs (e.g. from a factor of 100 improvement in fuel efficiency).

      • “Regarding cost-effectiveness of solutions, you seem determined to ignore the fact that people are buying solar panels to put on their rooftops and buying hybrid and electric cars, despite the additional cost.”

        That’s comment demonstrates your lack of ability to understand relative magnitudes. You say people buy solar panels. I’m not ignoring that. I’m asking you “so what”. I then explain that its a trivial amount of electricity generated and irrelevant to significantly reducing the global GHG emissions. Furthermore, wind and solar are not sustainable and for technical reasons cannot supply a large proportion of global electricity demand. You haven’t addressed that, and you haven’t responded to the important points. You keep raising trivial, silly, irrelevant poits to divert from addressing what’s important.

        That demonstrates you are incapable or unwilling to debate rationally. I’ve concluded your a light weight, ideologue journalist type.

    • Thomas,

      Did you read these two links? Do you think you understood them? Do you have any serious questions to ask?

  3. Putting together a diverse committee of experts including scientists, economists, and geologists, the committee estimated the use of fossil fuels had a hidden cost to the U.S. public of $120 billion in 2005, a number that reflects primarily health damages from air pollution associated with electricity generation and motor vehicle transportation.

    That’s just one side of the equation. You also need to show what are the economic costs (or the damage costs to human-wellbeing) if you raise the cost of energy. Every time you do this analysis it shows that raising the ocst of energy is hugely damaging and overwhelms any projected benefits.

    people know this instinctively. Their first priportiy is cheap reliable energy. costs,

    If you want to make progress, you need to focus on allowing log GHG emissions energy to be cheaper than fossil fuel energy. Hint: the only way you are likely to achieve this is by removing the impediments to nuclear power. You can forget renewables. They can make next to no contribution to significantly reducing global GHG emissions. Continually raising them and advocating for them is a distraction.

    See Slide 10 and 14 here:

  4. Slide 10:

  5. Tom,

    I think making projections about the global economy is even more speculative than predicting global average temperatures. Apart from the complexity of the current system, there is no way to predict what vast swaths of the global economy will even look like in the next ten years. Technological innovation, wars and revolutions, to name just a few known unknowns. The number of unknown unknowns is…well…unknown.

    You don’t need an economic analysis to convince conservatives of the wisdom of increasing nuclear power generation anyway. Conservatives have supported it for decades, regardless of the validity of the CAGW predictions of thermageddon.

    Your target audience has to be your fellow progressives. And there I wish you luck.

  6. Thomas,

    You are keen on hydro. I’ve mentioned there is limited suitable sites available in the world. It may help to to understand why I am saying this if I give some figures I calculated some time ago. The scenario is as follows:

    – requirement is to power the Australian National Electricity Market (NEM) in 2010 with all generation from a fixed solar PV array from a single point in NSW (South Eastern Australia) [this is not claimed to be a realistic option, just a way to simplify the analysis and its presentation]

    – sufficient pumped hydro storage (NAS battery storage also cited) to store the energy from the PV during the day and meet the NEM’s 2010 demand every half hour throughout the year

    – Total energy demand in 2010 was ~200 TWh; peak power demand 33 GW.


    Least cost option is with 30 days of energy storage

    With 30 days of energy storage the reservoirs would inundate 11,000 km2
    The pumps would need to pump 2.3 Sydney harbour volumes of water up 150 m in 6 hours, and release it to generate power to meet demand during 18 hours each day.

    The alternative: 26 x 1 GW nuclear power stations could do the same job.

    The greenhouse gas emissions from the solar + pumped-hydro option with 30 days of storage would be some 20 times greater than from the nuclear option (life cycle analysis).

    [ process what these numbers mean for a bit]
    Read more and see the cost comparisons here:

    Although this analysis is for Australia, the constraint on available hydro capacity for the world is strictly limited, hydro is expensive, the capacity of nuclear is effectively unlimited, and the costs are already cheaper in most places and can be greatly reduced.

  7. Hi Tom…

    Have you considered the potentials for solar PV combined with pumped hydro? The latter isn’t nearly as constrained by location, or impact to existing water usage. In fact, it could be done with sea water and a good height differential; valleys wouldn’t be needed:

    And I briefly mentioned some other technologies that might work, along with at least one innovative way to subsidize them:

    And, of course, solar PV (cells at the factory gate) is decreasing exponentially in cost, as I’m sure you’re aware.

    • AK,

      That idea is totally ridiculous. Do the cost analyses. This will give you guidance as to how to go about it. it’s not intended to suggest a single source solar plant is a realistic scenario; it’s just to make the explanation of how to cost it simple). Insert your own (authoritative and properly justified) unit costs and quantities.

      • Peter, as I’ve told you before, the blog post you linked, and the paper it references, are nothing but straw-man arguments against solar power.

        This paper provides a simple analysis of the capital cost of solar power and energy storage sufficient to meet the demand of Australia’s National Electricity Market.

        This paper, from 2009, based on 2009 technology and with no accounting for the rapid pace of technological development since then, and in the future even from today, is a simplistic analysis of a simplistic straw-man design. If you had used it to encourage proponents of solar power to think through their ideas, it would have been a valuable contribution:

        Strawman Models are bare-boned models where the goal isn’t to present all the correct information, but to get your SMEs to engage in a discussion to provide you the correct information.

        I’ve used them that way often in business analysis, and used your paper also despite your destructive intentions:

        Conclusions: solar power is uneconomic. Government mandates and subsidies hide the true cost of renewable energy but these additional costs must be carried by others.

        So how would I correct your “straw-man proposal” to bring it closer to the requirements of cheap energy with low fossil carbon emissions using the solar PV which is exponentially dropping in cost?

        First, we need to recognize that the technology landscape will be almost unrecognizable 2-3 decades from now, and focus on how to:

        •     Keep our options open to take advantage of future developments in energy storage, power→gas/liquid fuel, and support structures,

        •     Support the developing world’s immediate energy needs in a way that’s:

            •     Much cleaner than coal,

            •     Lays the groundwork for ultimate fossil-free energy,

            •     Sets the stage for longmedium-term (3-7decades) removal of CO2 from the ambient ecosystem(s);

        •     Leverages existing technology for short-term developments.

        With that set of “straw-man requirements”, I’ll suggest a possible refinement of your reference design, which involved a simple combination of solar using 2009 mature technology with pumped hydro using 2009 mature technology and nothing else.

        •     First, we look at the next 10-20 years, in terms of shooting for an order of magnitude reduction in emission of fossil CO2 for total annual energy generation. What we don’t do is insist on locking things into a path that, in light of future technology development, will almost certainly turn out to have been sub-optimal.

        •     We assume (for most conditions) an effectively exponential increase in net annual demand, with appropriate variations by day and season.

        •     As many have pointed out, surface-based solar requires some level of backup generation capacity to meet multi-day shortfalls due to weather. This can be met with open-cycle gas turbines, which can be rolled out with lead times of 18-30 months, at costs of ~60¢/watt.

        This also meets the need for immediate energy, since it can be rolled out ahead of the solar/storage option(s) it will eventually provide backup for, at a cost very competitive with coal.

        •     Next, we build out pumped hydro for storage, using available bodies of water for the lower reservoir, and turkey-nest dams on flat, elevated land for the upper. This can start by providing load-leveling for the gas generators, but as the solar build-out (below) progresses the expanding pumped hydro can provide daily balancing for solar. Later on, in a hugely expanded system, it might return to a load-balancing function.

        •     As the cost of solar reaches parity with open-cycle gas by peak capacity, we begin a major build-out of solar, along with pumps optimized for low cost in an on-energy-supply configuration. The need for routine (Research and) Development of cheap pumps using intermittent DC electricity can be met during the early roll-out of pumped hydro and gas.

        •     Solar generating capacity continues to be rolled out, as costs decline expanding to supply the seasonal maximum of daily average, with pumped hydro to provide daily balancing until superior technologies come on-line, and open-cycle gas turbines shifting to a purely back-up function, with consequent substantial reductions in overall fossil CO2 emissions.

        •     Strong R&D focus on inexpensive ways to convert energy and ambient CO2 to fuel, so that when the cost becomes feasible it can be rolled out to use extra solar capacity to generate the gas or liquid fuel needed by the backup turbines.

        •     As R&D into the CO2 removal technology makes it appropriate, excess solar can be used for this as well, on a seasonal basis. Based on John Morgan’s post, this may well be feasible well before conversion to fuel, and might well be cost-effective running on a 50% basis to balance the intermittent emissions from the backup gas turbines.

        The above, of course, remains a “straw-man proposal”, albeit somewhat less simplistic than yours. If you wish, you could do some calculations around it, using 2015 costs and appropriate assumptions WRT exponential decreases in same going forward. It’s a pretty large project, and while I’d like to, my time is a little constrained these days.

        At some point, I’ll probably do it, if somebody better qualified doesn’t do it first.

      • AK,

        Others here may not be aware that you and I have had many discussions on CE. I understand your background is in IT and you have a fanatical interest in renewable energy but no real-world experience with it, no appreciation of costs, orders of magnitudes, options analysis or policy analysis and advice. So, I’ve given up believing there is any possibility of a rational discussion with you. I’ll point out for other readers the post you’ve quoted selectively from, without understanding or explaining any context, has received 500 comments and discussion from highly knowledgeable professionals and academics involved in RE and the electricity industry. I’d suggest you post your comment there. But given your lack of knowledge, you’d do better to ask questions rather than stating your beliefs.

        Others interested in the futile discussion with AK may like to see the comments on this thread, where AK ended up simply posting silly pictures, like this: to which I responded by explaining the relevance to the electricity industry – i.e. a factor of many orders of magnitude difference in power, mass, capital and operating costs, rate of turnover, rate of development, financial risk, [implied] consequence of failure.

        AK doesn’t understand costings, isn’t interested in it, and invariably avoids some way to avoid answering the questions: “what is the cost of your proposal”. When confronted with costs he doesn’t what to hear he dismisses them with a variety of his own strawman arguments.

      • AK says:

        This paper, from 2009, based on 2009 technology and with no accounting for the rapid pace of technological development since then, and in the future even from today, is a simplistic analysis of a simplistic straw-man design.

        The rapid pace is irrelevant. The rate of reduction of solar in the electricity system, with all the costs properly attributed, may be 10%-20% per capacity doubling. It’s trivial when the cost of a solar with pumped hydro energy storage would be orders of magnitude more expensive that conventional electricity system.

        AK simply doesn’t seem to be able to comprehend orders of magnitude as it relates to the size, timelines and costs of physical systems (as his photo of the changes in mobile phone models and sizes through time demonstrates so clearly). Unfortunately many IT and RE researchers and true believers share this failing. It’s frustrating trying to discuss anything with such people.

      • Peter, if I can jump in, solar has progressed rapidly since 1978 and continues. I think there’s a major role for solar in everybody’s future. I don’t know why you assume AK doesn’t comprehend orders of magnitude. Rather it seems that you refuse to acknowledge the logarhythmic trend of growth in solar. If solar keeps growing by between 20% and 30% annually, it will amount to something pretty quickly.

        I firmly believe that a portfolio approach to our future energy needs is the only way we’re going to get away from coal. That includes a renewed emphasis on nuclear, but we cannot ignore the contributions that hydropower, solar and to a lesser extent wind, geothermal and biofuels can play.

      • Thomaswfuller2,

        I am not sure if you’v followed the discussions or not. Can I urge you to read them. I’ve explained why solar (currently about 0.2% of world electricity generation) cannot be a major player.

        Growth rates at 0.2% are irrelevant.
        Solar is not sustainable
        It cannot increase to a large proporion of electricity supply (not even when mixed with other intermittent renewables).
        The cost of solar in an electricity system is huge and the cost per tonne avoided is huge.

        Are you willing to read any links that don ‘t support your beliefs about renewable energy?

      • The rapid pace is irrelevant.

        La La La! I can’t hear you!

  8. Thomas:

    You cite a report on the hidden cost externalities of coal. Do these analysis net out the hidden benefits of coal (there are a lot of positives to having electricity)?

    I am troubled by taking into consideration expenses which I do not see on my electric bill, but especially when they do not net them with the positives I don’t see on my electric bill either.

    • Hi Rick

      I’m not talking about cessation of primary energy provision. I’m talking about substitution. Coal is cheap. That’s a big advantage. It is almost everywhere. That’s another positive.

      In my honest opinion, the negatives (pollution, mining deaths, mercury, fly ash and yes, CO2), outweigh the positives.

  9. The report on externalities nicely glosses over the nuclear externality that our policy makers want to ignore – waste storage. Nobody even wants the waste moved across their borders. With such a significant increase in the amount of nuclear power, how do you justify ignoring this potential externality?

  10. Tamara,

    Nuclear waste storage is a beat up. The cost is trivial. Around 1% of the cost of electricity from nuclear plants.
    OECD, 2013, ‘The Economics of the Back End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle’, Figure ES.1

    There’s so much to learn and so much misinformation to be corrected.

  11. Thomas, you stated in a comment on Climate Etc.:

    If the problem is human emissions of CO2 then the answer is well within our grasp–nuclear and hydro buildout, with natural gas as a bridge until it is complete.

    I agree. That is what needs to be done.

    The question is how? – because it won’t happen unless nuclear and hydro are cheaper than fossil fuel. That is the key point, but I haven’t seen you state it clearly yet.
    Once you acknowledge that, then it’s time to get to addressing how this can be achieved.

    Here’s my suggested way to achieve it and to reduce emissions from electricity by nearly 50% by around 2050.

    1. Next US Administration takes the lead to persuade the US citizens nuclear is about as safe as or safer than any other electricity source. US can gain enormously by leading the world on developing new, small modular nuclear power plants. Allowing and encouraging innovation and competition. Unleashing the US’s ability to innovate and compete to produce and supply the products the various world markets need.

    2. Next US President uses his influence with the leaders of the other countries that are most influential in the IAEA to get their IAEA representatives to support a process to re-examine the justification for the allowable radiation limits – as the US has just announced (last week) it is to do over the next 18 months.

    US study on low-dose ionising radiation

    The US Department of Energy (DOE) and National Academy of Sciences have been directed to work together to assess the current status of US and international research on low-dose radiation and to formulate a long-term research agenda under a bill approved by the US House of Representatives. The Low Dose Radiation Research Act of 2015 directs the two organisations to carry out a research program “to enhance the scientific understanding of and reduce uncertainties associated with the effects of exposure to low dose radiation in order to inform improved risk management methods.” The study is to be completed within 18 months.

    The Act arises from a letter from a group of health physicists who pointed out that the limited understanding of low-dose health risks impairs the nation’s decision-making capabilities, whether in responding to radiological events involving large populations such as the 2011 Fukushima accident or in areas such as the rapid increase in radiation-based medical procedures, the cleanup of radioactive contamination from legacy sites and the expansion of civilian nuclear energy. The aftermath of the Fukushima accident has boosted concern that unduly conservative standards may have large adverse health and welfare costs.

    WNN 20/1/15. Radiation health effects

    3. Once the radiation limits begin to be increased this should have a catalytic effect on reducing emissions: 1) it will mean radiation leaks are understood to be less dangerous that currently thought > less people evacuated from effected zones > reduced cost accident of accidents – reduced accident insurance cost; 2) population takes another look at the effects of radiation > gains an understanding it is much less harmful than they thought > fear subsides > less opposition> easier and less expensive to find sites supported by the people nearby > planning and sight approval costs come down over time

    3) risk of projects being delayed during construction or one in operation is reduced > all this leads to a lowering of the investors’ risk premium . thus reducing the financing costs for all of the plants life 4) Increasing support allows the NRC licensing process to be completely revamped and the culture of the organisation changed from “safety first” to a balance of all costs and risks, > including the costs and risks of nuclear being delayed and too expensive to compete as well as it could if the costs were lower.

    4. NRC is revamped. Its Terms of Reference and its culture are changed. Licensing period for new designs is reduced to the equivalent of the design and licensing period for new aircraft designs (for example)

    5. Small modular reactors are licensed. Much more quickly developed and new versions rolled out more quickly. More competition. More innovation. Learning rate continually improves so that costs come down.

    6. The efficiency of using the fuel can be improved by nearly a factor of 100. That gives some idea of how much room there is to cut costs.

    7. Eventually, fusion will be viable and then the cycles starts again – but hopefully the anti-nuke dinosaurs will have been extinct for a long time by then.

    • Hi Peter, I’m glad we agree on something, even if it’s the broad strokes.

      Sadly, I do not believe nuclear power will ever be cheaper than coal. We will have to find other justifications for its use.

      • “Sadly, I do not believe nuclear power will ever be cheaper than coal. We will have to find other justifications for its use.”

        Why do you believe that. Unsupported beliefs are no better than religious beliefs and cultist’s beliefs.

        In a rational discussion you should say why you don’t believe nuclear will ever be cheaper than coal. Is it because to believe the world will continue to oppose it indefinitely. Or do you believe it won’t be cheaper because of technological constraints?

        ‘Costs of nuclear power plants – what went wrong’

        I am wondering whether you prepared to learn? or simply have a closed mind.

      • Peter, millions of people in China and the rest of the developing world take a wheelbarrow to a hill and pick up the coal they will burn in their iron stoves. For free. It’s tough to get cheaper (or dirtier) than that.

      • Thomas,

        Your comments are getting progressively more silly. They demonstrate you have no understanding of policy analysis, policy advice, policy decision making.

        Cheaper sources of energy displace more expensive sources. So, if you want to displace fossil fuel’s you have to offer cheaper alternatives. Surely this isn’t too hard to understand, is it?

        You also need to be able to understand proportions. RE cannot make a significant contribution to replacing fossil fuels.

        Your silly comment about picking up coal is so naive it’s hard to believe you’d write it. Why do you think UK, Europe, Canada and even US moved from collecting coal to using electricity? Just try to think it through yourself.

        It’s clear you wont’ read any links that don’t tell you what you want to hear, so no point me posting any more, is there?

      • Denser sources displace lighter sources of energy. Over time. Usually 50 years. The first year America burned more oil than coal was 1964. I’ve already mentioned that price is not the only market signal being used. People didn’t like kerosene because of the smell. The same was true of whale oil–and they didn’t like the smoke either. People buy solar panels partly because they think they will save money on electricity bills (rightly or wrongly). But they also buy it because they support environmental causes and want to ‘feel green.’

        Maybe I don’t understand policy analysis, advice or decision making. I think I do. But if you’re right, please don’t tell my clients. Especially the repeat one. (Oops! They have links to this blog! Curses, foiled again!)

      • Gees,

        You are really being silly now.

        Well I guess there are always clients who’ll pay them to tell them what they want to hear,

      • I mean, c’mon Peter. I’ve been doing this for a while now. Here’s what I wrote in 2012:

      • It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been “doing it”. You’ve clearly demonstrated you have little understanding of anything that is relevant and don’t know how to do comparative analyses. You comments show you are like and ideologically bound journalist, pushing your beliefs and unable to argue your case – you just believe, and that’s your answer!

        Furthermore, I expect I’ve been “doing it” a hell of a lot longer. And I expect my “it” is a hell of a lot more relevant than your “it”.

  12. Thanks, everyone for your comments. I’ll try and respond individually, but basically,

    1. Of course forecasts of future economy are not going to be perfectly accurate for the longer term. But macroeconomic trend of 3% growth is pretty much what everyone–and I do mean everyone–is saying.

    2. Haven’t looked at solar plus pumped hydro, only wind. If the same logic is applied, I’m for it, assuming adequate solar insolation in the area.

    3. The U.S., and indeed the rest of the developed world, could definitely use education about nuclear power.

    4. There are indeed benefits associated with electricity. Teasing out what benefits accrue to coal that are not provided by other fuel sources is not as simple. Coal costs less. Much of the saved money is spent on remediation. The total is…?

    • Teasing out what benefits accrue to coal that are not provided by other fuel sources is not as simple. Coal costs less. Much of the saved money is spent on remediation. The total is…?

      Arguably the most authoritative study of the externalities of electricity generation is the EU ExternE study:
      See page 13 here:
      Note that they couldn’t estimate the externalities of CO2 emissions so the resorted to estimating a shadow price: the cost to implement the EU’s policies.

      • Thomas, Did you look at this? Or aren’t you interested in anything that might not support your beliefs?

  13. Thomaswfuller2,

    Regarding the projected proportion of hydro in total world electriicty generation I calculate the following using the EIA table browser:

    Projected proportion of electricity generated by hydro / total world electricity generation, every 5 years to 2040 is as follows:
    2010 16.8%
    2015 16.3%
    2020 16.7%
    2025 16.0%
    2030 15.7%
    2035 15.7%
    2040 16.0%

    A slightly declining trend.

    • Hi Peter, yes, but… Energy consumption has grown dramatically since 2010. It’s pretty much the same percentage of a higher total. And that may be the destiny of hydropower. I have predicted exactly that in previous writings. But I’m not ready to diss a 16% solution when at the end of the day we’re going to have to take seriously and take on board a number of 2% solutions.

      • “Energy consumption has grown dramatically since 2010.”
        Yes it has. And will continue to grow as your 3000 quads analysis shows. But hydro cannot continue to grow like that. It is strictly limited by suitable topographic relief and hydrology. There simply is not the available undeveloped capacity to grow hydro a great deal more, and certainly not to maintain it’s proportion of total electricity generation.

        Furthermore, advocacy cannot do anything to help it to be rolled out faster. It’s a mature technology. It’s not limited by lack of understanding and rules to the extent that nuclear is.

        If we want to make a difference we need to work on advocating for the one technology that can largely replace fossil fuels. That is nuclear.

        Open your mind to it. Challenge your beliefs.

        Did you look at this:

      • Like I keep saying, Peter–16% is a significant portion of our current consumption. If we can get 16% of future consumption, hydro will deserve our thanks and praise.

      • Like I keep saying, Thomas:

        a) hydro’s share wont stay at 16%, its share will decline over time

        b) so, it can do nothing to displace fossil fuel use – i.e. nothing to reduce global GHG emissions. Why can’t you understand that?

        c) It doesn’t matter how much you praise hydro you can do nothing to change what proportion it can and will achieve. That is controlled entirely by economics and suitable sites. It’s not controlled by public opinion or ideology. So you are totally wasting your time harping on about it.

        d) You could have a positive effect on reducing global GHG emissions if you put your effort into advocating for solutions that are currently too expensive because of ideology, fear-mongering, misinformation, etc – i.e. nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is effectively unlimited and the potential to reduce real costs over time is enormous. It’s not prevented by physics or technology, just by ideology. So, you can do something to help.

  14. Cross post to a comment I just posted in CE

    Interested bystander,

    Thank you. It’s really satisfying when someone is sufficiently interested to read the links, consider them and reply.


    As I recall it (perhaps wrongly) the back stop technology price is the marginal price for the replacement of the last tonne of CO2 emissions.

    I don’t think the 0.5% rate of reduction of backstop technology is purely arbitrary. I think there is an enormous amount on that. I can dig some of it out if you are interested.

    But I don’t think this is among the highest priorities to be concerned about. From my perspective, we can reduce the emissions intensity of electricity by around 90% by rolling out nuclear power using the types of plants that are best fit for purpose at the time. Nuclear is already competitive or nearly competitive in many countries and, for many reasons, will be much cheaper than building shipping, railways and pipeline capacity in developing countries to move large quantities of fossil fuels. Nuclear fuel is 20,000 times more energy dense than fossil fuels (up to 2 million times more energy dense when we start using the Gen IV breeder reactors like the IFR); so it requires 1/20,000 (to a 2 millionth) the amount of ports, shipping, railway and gas pipeline infrastructure.

    The rate of improvement of the technology will accelerate as the rate of rollout increases. What we need to do to make all this happen is to remove the impediments that are preventing the world from having low cost nuclear power. This will provide 80%-90% of the solution to reducing the GHG emissions intensity of electricity; this will reduce global GHG emissions by 50% as electricity’s share of total global energy increases. Explaining all this is where I believe our efforts can be most productively used,

    I explained my suggestions as to how this can be achieved in a post yesterday: As you can see, what is needed to make this happen is education and a change in the public’s’ perceptions of nuclear power. So learning and advocacy can be enormously effective. This is where I think people’s efforts should be placed if they want to be effective.

  15. Thomas, since you are fan of hydro (so am I having spent a good part of my career on feasibility investigations, site investigations and construction of them), you might be interested in this (if you can’t be bothered reading the post, you might find the two reviewers comments informative):

  16. Nuclear power is the least cost and fastest way to substantially cut GHG emissions from electricity

    1 Energy supply requirements

    The most important requirements for energy supply are:

    1. Energy security (refers to the long term; it is especially relevant for extended periods of economic and trade disputes or military disruptions that could threaten energy supply, e.g. 1970’s oil crises [1], world wars, Russia cuts’ off gas supplies to Europe).

    2. Reliability of supply (over periods of minutes, hours, days, weeks – e.g. NE USA and Canada 1965 and 2003[2])

    3. Low cost energy – energy is a fundamental input to everything humans have; if we increase the cost of energy we retard the rate of improvement of human well-being.

    Policies must deliver the above three essential requirements. Second order requirements are:

    4. Health and safety

    5. Environmentally benign

    1.1 Why health and safety and environmental impacts are lower priority requirements than energy security, reliability and cost:

    This ranking of the criteria is what consumers demonstrate in their choices. They’d prefer to have dirty energy than no energy. It’s that simple. Furthermore, electricity is orders of magnitude safer and healthier than burning dung for cooking and heating inside a hut. The choice is clear. The order of the criteria is clearly demonstrated all over the world and over thousands of years – any energy is better than no energy.

    2 Nuclear better than renewables

    Nuclear power is better than renewable energy in all the important criteria. Renewable energy cannot be justified, on a rational basis, to be a major component of the electricity system. Here are some reasons why:

    1. Nuclear power has proven it can supply over 75% of the electricity in a large modern industrial economy, i.e. France, and has been doing so for over 30 years.

    2. Nuclear power is substantially cheaper than renewables

    3. Nuclear power is the safest way to generate electricity; it causes the least fatalities per unit of electricity supplied.

    4. Nuclear power is more environmentally benign than renewables.

    5. ERoEI of nuclear is ~75 whereas renewables are around 1 to 9. An ERoEI of around 14 is needed to support modern society. Only nuclear, fossil fuels and hydro meet that requirement.

    6. Material requirements per unit of electricity supplied through life for nuclear power are about 1/10th those of renewables

    7. Land area required for nuclear power is very much smaller than renewables per unit of electricity supplied through life

    8. Nuclear power requires less expensive transmission (shorter distances and smaller transmission capacity in total because the capacity needs to be sufficient for maximum output but intermittent renewables average around 10% to 40% capacity factor whereas nuclear averages around 80% to 90%).

    9. Nuclear fuel is effectively unlimited.

    10. Nuclear fuel requires a minimal amount of space for storage. Many years of nuclear fuel supply can be stored in a warehouse. This has two major benefits:

    • Energy security – it means that countries can store many years or decades of fuel at little cost, so it gives independence from fuel imports. This gives energy security from economic disruptions or military conflicts.

    • Reduced transport – nuclear fuel requires 20,000 to 2 million times less ships, trains etc. per unit of energy transported. This reduces shipping costs, the quantities of oil used for the transport, and the environmental impacts of the shipping and the fuel used for transport by 4 to 6 orders of magnitude.

    There is no rational justification for renewable energy to be mandated and favoured by legislation and regulations.

    2.1 Nuclear cheaper and lower emissions than renewables
    Renewables v Nuclear: Electricity Bills and Emissions reductions by technology proportions to 2050

    The CSIRO ‘MyPower’ calculator shows that, even in Australia where we have cheap, high quality coal close to the main population centres and where nuclear power is strongly opposed, nuclear power would be the cheapest way to reduce emissions:

    MyPower is an online tool created by CSIRO that allows you to see the effect of changing the national ‘electricity mix’ (technologies that generate Australia’s electricity) on future electricity costs and Australia’s carbon emissions.

    Below is a comparison of options with different proportions of electricity generation technologies (move the sliders to change the proportions of each technology). The results below show the change in real electricity prices and CO2 emissions in 2050 compared with now.

    Change to 2050 in electricity price and emissions by technology mix:

    1. 80% coal, 10% gas, 10% renewables, 0% nuclear:
    electricity bills increase = 15% and emissions increase = 21%

    2. 0% coal, 50% gas, 50% renewables, 0% nuclear:
    electricity bills increase = 19% and emissions decrease = 62%.

    3. 0% coal, 30% gas, 10% renewables, 60% nuclear:
    electricity bills increase = 15% and emissions decrease = 77%.

    4. 0% coal, 20% gas, 10% renewables, 70% nuclear:
    electricity bills increase = 17% and emissions decrease = 84%.

    5. 0% coal, 10% gas, 10% renewables, 80% nuclear:
    electricity bills increase = 20% and emissions decrease = 91%.

    Source: CSIRO ‘MyPower’ calculator

    Points to note:

    • For the same real cost increase to 2050 (i.e. 15%), BAU gives a 21% increase in emissions c.f. the nuclear option a 77% decrease in emissions (compare scenarios 1 and 3)

    • For a ~20% real cost increase, the renewables option gives 62% decrease c.f. nuclear 91% decrease in emissions (compare scenarios 2 and 5).

    • These costs do not include the additional transmission and grid costs. If they did, the cost of renewables would be substantially higher.

    3 Conclusion:

    Nuclear is the least cost way to significantly reduce the emissions intensity of electricity.

    The difference is stark. Nuclear power is far better.

    But progress to reduce emissions at least cost is being thwarted by the anti-nuclear activists.

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