Pretty Picture…

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Here’s a nice short piece from one of our readers:

By Bob Wallace

Recently someone was saying that renewables weren’t replacing fossil fuels. I decided how to see how one might clearly demonstrate that they are.

I took the electricity market share for fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewables from 2000 to 2013 in the US (EIA estimate) and calculated the percentage market share for each year.

Then I used the numbers from 2000 through 2004 (5 years) as a baseline, calculated annual change from the baseline, and plotted.

In 2009 the world began changing. At least in the US.

Fossil fuel average for 2000 through 2004 was 71.1%. By 2013 its share had dropped 3.7%. (Down to 67.5%.)

The renewable average was 8.8% and rose by 4.1%, covering both fossil fuel’s and nuclear’s losses. (Up to 12.9%.)

pretty picture

Pretty picture, eh?

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128 thoughts on “Pretty Picture…

  • Nice graph Bob!

    I feel like we should troll the EIA reports for more tidbits. 😀

  • Is that for electricity generation only? Or all energy use?

    • Electricity only.

      • Another 170 year at that pace and the electricity will be all renewable. Then it’s just heating and transportation left to change 🙂

        It’s good that the US is going in the right direction, but my goood you’re slow. I hope the pace increases with the momentum and when fossil free energy starts to go mainstream there.

        • You’re assuming a linear change over time. Technological change is not linear, it’s exponential. Based on the linear rate of adoption of cars in the year 1899, most of us should still be using horse and buggy.

          • It has very little to do with technological change (except the transport sector). There are a number of countries doing several percentages per year. And a number of countries who reduced their fossil fuels in big scale decades ago.
            The change will be much faster, but there is no economical or technological hinder for the US to not reduce their fossil fuels by 5-10 percentages per year, that is all education, determination and getting the right mentality to do it.

  • Nice work. I take it the data are global and not just US?
    Of course, to get to sustainability we need these lines to get steeper.

    Shares of primary energy consumption, which is I think what Bob is plotting here, understate the real shift. Lawrence Livermore (link) have coined the useful term “energy services” for the work energy performs for us to maintain our lifestyle: moving things around, turning pumps and motors, and making things and spaces warmer and cooler. Only 40% of US primary energy is turned into such useful work today. The rest becomes waste heat. Electricity, which is what renewables provide apart from a little biomass, is much less wasteful. You lose 10% or so in transmission; another 15% in an ev battery and motor, less in a/c. So every renewable kwh cuts waste heat in at least half. The same energy services require roughly half the primary energy production. (By convention, the heat losses in wind and water turbines and solar panels are not counted in primary energy).

    Illustration: all fossil energy: 100 energy services + 150 waste = 250 primary; all renewables: 100 energy services + 25 waste = 125 primary. You can fine-tune this – distributed solar self-consumption has no transmission losses, add storage and you have extra round-trip losses, etc. etc, but the general picture will still hold.

    • Only US. This was just a note I sent to Zach and he put it up as an article. In retrospect more info should have been included (electricity, US, and ?).

      We knew what we were discussing based on the context but the context didn’t get carried forward

      • I just updated the article a tiny bit two clarify these two things. Thanks for the notes.

  • Is this based on generating capacity or energy produced?

    • Early in the year the EIA releases estimated numbers for the previous year’s production and consumption. Then over the following months the numbers are firmed up and final numbers released usually around November.

      The early numbers are tagged “est.” and seem to undergo little change once finalized. So it’s the 2013 numbers that are not yet official.

      The EIA has been attempting to include end-user solar in their numbers the last few years. They don’t have methodology to directly measure but estimate from utility company data.

  • Also, you indicate this is based on a EIA estimate. Which one? For much of their work, EIA does not include small, residential installations. This could have an increasing share.
    Even so, compliments on the approach for presenting this message.

    • I thought of that but then forgot to put in a note. Am slightly altering the text now.

      • Nvm, looks like Bob is saying that the EIA is attempting to include rooftop solar. (I have no idea how accurate they are at that.)

    • Do you know the author of that? Know if it’s available for reposting?

    • The comment thread on that post is depressing. The glass is three-quarter empty, never a quarter full, for almost all commenters. Germany can’t possibly build that many wind turbines, solar will never be competitive in the UK, etc. etc. So nuuuuclear…..

      • I think it’s not that strange considering how worried many (justifiably) are regarding AGW. When under pressure, it’s kind of natural to go with the proven alternative instead of gambling on new stuff. I myself is one of those that are very glad China is having extreme plans for nuclear power.

      • Well, lets be honest with ourselves and really examine the numbers and data, as James Hansen and climate experts certainly have and

        Keep in mind USA has 99 nuke plants supplying 60+% of clean air electricity, have a look at the image here

        • There are plenty of issues with nuclear power you and Dr. Hansen et al. aren’t considering:

          First of all, we already tried nuclear power and we learned the hard way that it is a financial, environmental and geopolitical albatross. Ballooning reactor build costs and constantly lengthening schedules meant that reactors routinely came in at 2x – 3x anticipated costs or more. Many reactors were abandoned in mid-construction and utility customers were saddled with the debt, causing Forbes to call this “The greatest managerial disaster of the 20th Century”. People are still paying for the massive costs of nuclear power to this day as folks in the Pacific Northwest (WPPS) and Ontario (Ontario Hydro’s Stranded Debt) can surely attest. Even now, we see huge cost growth with reactors under construction from Finland, to Georgia and South Carolina. To top things off, utilities building these reactors even get to charge their customers for years before they’re even finished or even if they’re finished at all (cost recovery). On top of the massive loan guarantees, production tax credits, Price Anderson Act supports and other massive subsidies, nuclear power is a hugely expensive undertaking wrought with financial risk (that mostly gets socialized).

          Secondly, Hansen et al. continue the myth that renewable energy can’t scale up fast enough to solve the climate crisis. This doesn’t square with the facts and it is nuclear power that has shown an inability to scale up fast enough to be a dependable mitigation “wedge” currently and in future decades. Nuclear supporters hail China as the country most aggressively building new nuclear plants, but in fact, China’s wind energy production surpassed nuclear production in 2011 and hasn’t looked back:

          In reality, it is renewable energy like wind and solar that is much easier to scale up than nuclear plants, plain and simple.

          There is the possibility of throium fuel and fast breeder reactors, but we are still a few decades away from seeing this technology in a commercially-deployable form. As we work out the kinks (especially in the fuel fabrication cycle), we should install as much renewable energy capacity and improve efficiency as much as possible. If thorium works out, then we can cut emission even faster than people realize. If thorium doesn’t really pan out, at least we will just have to continue the decarbonization that has already occurred and we will have moved down the learning curve with renewables and efficiency a great deal already. The money we’re throwing at light water reactors is just good money after bad, so we need to redirect it to more productive measures. But our goal is always to cut as much emissions as possible as quickly as possible, and viable nuclear technology isn’t quite there yet.

          • I’d disagree. If we look at adoption curves in pioneer countries, it is clear that fast nuclear scaling is proven while renewable scaling isn’t

            The failure of the US to scale nuclear is largely a result of the undue regulatory burden. Ordinary light-water is viable for any industrialized country that wants it to be viable.

            In China, nuclear is easier to scale than renewables if we look at the relevant measure of difficulty (costs).

          • If it’s easier to scale, then why hasn’t it gone nuts with a 6 year head start?

          • Well, it is a bit harder to get moving, but has tremendeous momentum once it does. Also it seems the Chinese leadership takes a slow and measured approach, in part due to the need to look responsible in the face of Fukushima, in part to have time to do it with experience and more indigenous and optimized content.

            They have 33 GW under construction but only 17 GW in operation. There’s a risk of setbacks when scaling this fast with little experience, so I understand they’d want to watch their designs in operation before pulling out all stops.

          • “There’s a risk of setbacks when scaling this fast with little experience…”

            Sure, with nuclear power, of course. Their experience installing wind power has been a lot smoother and they now produce more wind energy than nuclear energy. Given current trends, there’s hardly any chance nuclear power will catch up.

          • There are risks for wind setbacks as well. I’d argue there has already been setbacks, as wind capacity factor is only 18% in China. OTOH, if they could get the current wind fleet up to 30% CF, I’d agree with you that nuclear cannot catch up in the near term.

            However, there was a lot of reactor starts in 2009 and 2010 that are coming online this year and the next, while the five-year-plan on wind isn’t that impressive. Thus I wouldn’t be surprised if nuclear went past wind again in 2015 or 2016. But whichever of them wins, the important thing is that coal starts losing.

          • Watch what happens when China finishes their HVDC transmission lines to Inner Mongolia and other northeastern areas where China’s best wind resources are found.

          • “I’d disagree. If we look at adoption curves in pioneer countries, it is clear that fast nuclear scaling is proven while renewable scaling isn’t.”

            Sorry, but the facts don’t bear this out. Did you see how wind power production in China increased exponentially and overtook nuclear power production over 2 years ago? Again, even in the country most favorable and amenable to nuclear expansion, the massive technical complexity and financial risk associated with nuclear power has kept its growth inadequately slow. Renewables in Germany did the same thing there, although nuclear power is a living fossil in that country. Renewables in the USA would have done the same thing long ago if Reagan hadn’t gutted their development 30 years ago.

            “The failure of the US to scale nuclear is largely a result of the undue regulatory burden.”

            This statement isn’t supported by the facts either. First of all, what is your definition of “undue burden”? Which regulations are unnecessary? Even with the NRC streamlining the building and operating permit process and dangling billion$$$ in loan guarantees / subsidies out there for the industry, hardly anybody is biting. And the NRC is so closely in bed with the industry to begin with that expecting even basic prudence in their enforcement might be asking too much:

            “Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards or simply failing to enforce them, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.

            Time after time, officials at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have decided that original regulations were too strict, arguing that safety margins could be eased without peril, according to records and interviews.

            The result? Rising fears that these accommodations by the NRC are significantly undermining safety — and inching the reactors closer to an accident that could harm the public and jeopardize the future of nuclear power in the United States.

            Examples abound. When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed — up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised, so plants could meet standards.

            Failed cables. Busted seals. Broken nozzles, clogged screens, cracked concrete, dented containers, corroded metals and rusty underground pipes — all of these and thousands of other problems linked to aging were uncovered in the AP’s year-long investigation. And all of them could escalate dangers in the event of an accident.”


            Again, wind power is literally blowing past nuclear in China, so it would seem your cost data is not accurate. You do know how opaque China is with their accounting practices anyway, right?

            And I don’t see how a chart showing the growth and stagnation of nuclear power in selected European countries backs up anything you are trying to say. Sure, the Socialist government of France at the time basically dictated that the country would go nuclear and they plowed vast sums of taxpayer money into the industry to make it happen. Now, they are backing away from nuclear and embracing renewables in a big way.

          • I think a point by point commentary to your post would be too voluminous and possibly frowned upon by TPTB. If you want more info on regulation, you could hang out on one of the “shill” sites. I’d recommend Rod Adam’s.

            Yes, wind absolutely surged past nuclear in China, but this does not say much at these low penetration rates. As I explained below, there are reasons China have decided to go a bit slow in nuclear for now, but they have recently reaffirmed their intention to accelerate.

            The chart I posted shows ramp-ups in nuclear that non-hydro renewable power has yet to match, both in terms of speed and eventual penetration. It was meant to illustrate what I meant by nuclear being “proven”.

          • What I’d really like to know is what NRC regulations you think are unnecessary, especially given the fact that they’ve been moving the goalposts CLOSER for the industry as shown by the AP study I provided.

          • Well, this is unfortunately a topic that is hard to cover, and it’s not as simple as giving a laundry lists of paragraphs.

            I could point to some paragraphs. For instance, we have the whole ALARA thing, i.e. As Low As Reasonably Possible, a rule applied to exposure limits. Instead of saying what levels are dangerous and go with that, exposures are pushed down to many, many orders of magnitude lower, just because it’s possible to do. This drives costs and makes for less competition among suppliers. And then when an insignificant leak or release happens, the ALARA limit is broken and you have to take costly measures to rectify what isn’t a problem, And if you negotiate with the NRC for a few weeks or months and get an exemption (because the R in ALARA stopped being just that), media and anti-nukers are all over it.

            To point to something concrete, what do you think of the limits given here, in section II A and B?

            These are details. But let me just try to convey the big picture instead. It will be too long and too short at the same time, unfortunately. Based on what you’ve said earlier, I suspect you don’t really want to listen, but you did ask, so here goes:

            Any energy tech, such as solar, wind and nuclear, is expensive to deploy in the beginning, even if it’s done cheaply in another country. On CleanTechnica, there have been articles on why German solar is half the cost of US solar and so on. Around the time of the TMI disaster, a flurry of regulation that were imposing costs and delays, and the fact that you could build a nuke and then not get it approved for operation, killed the nuclear industry in the US. At the same time, research was kind-of killed too by unfavorable government policies. One nail in that coffin was the non-proliferation measures including the decision to not recycle fuel. With the nuclear construction industry killed, obviously the first few nukes in a restart of a construction programme is fairly costly.

            Decades later, the mounting pressures of coal deaths and AGW prompted an overhaul of regulation so that a combined construction and operation license could be issued for a certified design. Thus nuclear construction once again became at least imaginable in the US, as you could be reasonably sure to be allowed to operate your multi-billion dollar investment.

            Unfortunately, anti-nuke legislators manage to strong-arm anti-nuke activists onto the NRC commission and famously Jazcko was made chairman. He then closed down Yucca without good reason and delayed AP-1000 certification and imposed a really expensive and not cost-effective requirement that it should be able to withstand airliner impact.

            Of course, much of the regulation is kind-of sound in and of itself, but application is a problem. The NRC scrutiny is sometimes unreasonable in terms of rigor and delays.

            The uncertainty this gives in terms of time plans makes financing difficult. Not only does the constructors have to pay interest for a longer time and pay wages for a longer time at times they wait for the NRC to decide if a minor deviation is ok, they may also have to pay higher interest rates. The government realises this and compensates with a bit of loan guarantees, which is a very minor and a reasonable investment to get the industry going again, and also just in the sense that the government fixes a problem it has created. But of course, anti-nukers scream bloody murder about these “subsidies”, seemingly oblivious to the enormous subsidies their own favorite tech gets in deployment.

            So, the regulatory burden does not only add direct costs, and costs directly applicable to unreasonable rules. They add costs indirectly and sometimes due to untimely or unreasonable application of a reasonable rule.

            Now, this is the big picture, and also the reason South Korea has so much lower nuclear costs. They have a construction industry that has been allowed to mature, and they have a more streamlined regulatory body that tries its best to help with development instead of partly being a political tool of opponents and vested interests in other energy industries to delay and add costs.

            (When I mention South Korea, some anti-nukers in the know immediately bring up a scandal regarding falsified certifications for certain nuke parts in South Korea. However, if you look at the facts, the parts in question were far too few and cheap to make a significant impact on costs.)

            Now the US nuke industry has been restarted, and if they keep at it, costs will drop, timelines will be shortened, predictability will ensue, financing costs will drop and so on. But I fully expect the US nuclear industry to keep faltering in the short-to-medium term and I expect fracked gas to carry the day, aided by wind and solar. However, due to the US nuclear abdication decades ago, and due to the last decade’s developments in coal consumption, the fate of our planet is now in the hand of the Chinese anyway, so it doesn’t matter that much what the US does.

          • “Any energy tech, such as solar, wind and nuclear, is expensive to deploy in the beginning, even if it’s done cheaply in another country. ”

            Don’t overlook the fact that those other countries have matured the technology and brought down prices. New countries don’t buy solar at $8/watt, they buy at world prices, < $1/watt.

            "the fact that you could build a nuke and then not get it approved for operation, killed the nuclear industry in the US. "

            Excuse me. I find that unbelievable. Perhaps you can back it up?

            "Now the US nuke industry has been restarted, and if they keep at it, costs will drop, … financing costs will drop"

            Costs may drop. But the distance between 11c/kWh and 4c/kWh is immense. Nuclear would have to drop 50% and that simply can not happen.

            And financing costs will not drop. They will rise. Vogtle
            has benefited from some of the lowest interest rates in US history.

          • “Don’t overlook the fact that those other countries have matured the technology and brought down prices.”

            Yes, but still early US installations were far pricier than German ones. See for instance:

            Have a look at the Zimmer station:

            Also see the reasons for the COL process:

            “But the distance between 11c/kWh and 4c/kWh is immense. Nuclear would have to drop 50% and that simply can not happen.”

            First, I guess we don’t agree on costs. Second, why couldn’t it happen? I think it easily could.

            “And financing costs will not drop. They will rise.”

            🙂 Yes, of course, but the market rates to be had without government help will drop.

          • First, I guess we don’t agree on costs. Second, why couldn’t it happen? I think it easily could.


            🙂 Yes, of course, but the market rates to be had without government help will drop.

            And you honestly wonder why nuclear keeps failing?

            Hint; it’s not hippies, fossil fuels or “anti-scientific radiophobia”…

            It’s this.

            It’s the fact that whenever your fantasies of eternal nuclear victory run into problems, you just hand-wave, deny and ignore them.

            The costs of nuclear and wind are too far apart?

            Well, you disagree with the measured costs.

            Nuclear has to drop 50% of its costs, which is basically impossible?

            Well, you think it can happen.

            Financing is only going to get more expensive when the government stops underwriting it?

            Well, you think it will get cheaper.

            If you can’t admit fault or change, you can’t grow; which means you’ll always fail, because you keep doubling down on your failures, and just tell yourself it’s somebody else’s fault.

          • “And you honestly wonder why nuclear keeps failing?”

            Eh, no? I explained to you why it has, in the US. And why it has succeeded in other places.

            “If you can’t admit fault or change, you can’t grow;”

            That we agree on.

          • 11 cents is the current LCOE for the Vogtle plants. It’s only that low due to unusually low financing rates, which will not hold.

            16 cents is the agreed price of new reactors in the UK.

            There is no route to getting nuclear down to the ~4 cent price of wind and the soon ~4 cent price of solar. It’s a new world in the energy business. You’re stuck in the previous century.

          • Ok, but I’ll keep being stuck there for a while more, until I see more facts on the ground. My take is that wind would scale faster if it were truly at 4 cents. Instead the industry collapsed in 2013.

            I don’t think 4 cents is currently feasible for nuclear in the US, so I agree about that. If 11 cents is the current LCOE for Vogtle, then that’s an average for the two, where the second one is significantly cheaper than the first. Subsequent reactors will go smoother still.

            Just a few days ago, Southern Co said it’s looking to build additional reactors after Vogtle:

          • The US wind industry slowed in 2013/4 because Congress didn’t extend the subsidy program. That’s disruptive.

            In 2013 the average PPA for wind was 2.1c/kWh. That is a non-confirmed number but from a good source. 2.1c + subsidy would be roughly 4c over a 20 year PPA.

            A long term, fixed price for electricity at 4c is very competitive. It’s cheaper than everything else except CCNG – when gas prices are low. Of course to probability of gas prices staying low over 20 years approaches zero.

            I have extreme doubt that Southern is discussing building more reactors in Georgia. There has been at least one meeting in which the discussion was whether to abandon the existing builds as Georgia simply does not need their capacity. Georgia is over supplied.


            In addition to being oversupplied, Georgia is starting to install solar which will mean further demand decay. Add in more demand drops as appliances, ACs, electronics and light bulbs become more efficient.

            And they have contracted to purchase wind-electricity from Oklahoma which will undercut the needed price for Vogtle power.

            If Southern is seriously discussing more nuclear in GA then one needs to question their attachment to reality.

          • Then we’ll see great build rates in wind going forward.

            Interesting regarding Georgia. We’ll see how it plays out.

          • Seems to me that were there regulations that the nuclear industry regarded as unnecessary and costly they would have published a list by now. After all, this “high cost due to over regulation” turns up in about every defense of the high cost of nuclear.

            What I see over and over, when the nuclear advocate is pushed, is some version of ” this is unfortunately a topic that is hard to cover, and it’s not as simple as giving a laundry lists of paragraphs”.

            It’s a “Trust me, I know what I’m talking about” argument. And it is not sufficient.

            If you or someone else puts that list together you might not wish to include – ” requirement that it should be able to withstand airliner impact.”

            Three words.

            World Trade Center.

          • Well, some things are difficult to explain. I tried to give the big picture, show impacts and also compare with cost progression for renewables and costs in other countries. I didn’t expect it would make any of you participate in a even-handed discussion and it didn’t.

            Regarding the airliner impact rule, it can’t help until the current fleet is decommissioned in 30 years or so, right, since it is a target until then. And even after that, it is overkill from a cost-benefit perspective. But I won’t convince you of that either.

          • No, you will not convince me that any new reactors should be built to protect against known dangers.

            The fact that we have already built reactors that are not airliner-crash resistant underlines how “totally safe” designs are later found to have potentially fatal flaws as our learning advances.

            What you propose is that we juggle nitroglycerin when we could reach the same end by juggling bean bags.

            If we are really good jugglers and keep our concentration levels high we’ll seldom drop any of that nitro….

          • Some risks are simply not worth the effort to eliminate. And your position on bean/nitro bags presupposes interchangeability, i.e. your other positions on intermittent renewables’ costs and scaleability in a high-penetration scenario. If I shared those positions, I would also favor forgetting about the nukes (except those we need for medical, industrial and spacefaring isotopes, of course).

          • What other science-based standard besides ALARA would you recommend, then? What concrete design standards and regulations are being needlessly impacted in your view by ALARA standards?

            “Around the time of the TMI disaster, a flurry of regulation that were imposing costs and delays, and the fact that you could build a nuke and then not get it approved for operation, killed the nuclear industry in the US.”

            Again, this statement is not supported by the facts. If you look at actual history, reactor orders per year peaked in 1973 at over 40GW and then swiftly crashed over the next few years down to ZERO by 1978. On top of this, cancellations started piling up in 1972, picking off around 5 reactors a year:


            The industry had basically collapsed by 1978, a full year before TMI. Lower electricity demand and ballooning reactor build costs were mostly to blame, so you can’t use TMI as a scapegoat and hope to be taken seriously anymore. The cancellations and debt piled up in the 1980’s was worse, btw:


            “One nail in that coffin was the non-proliferation measures including the decision to not recycle fuel.”

            Fuel recycling in no way led to the collapse of the nuclear industry. First of all, fueling costs are a small percentage of the nuclear industry’s costs. Secondly, nuclear fuel is actually cheaper now than it has been and dismantled Russian warheads kept the price down for a couple decades. Finally, the government of France threw billions of francs at their reprocessing infrastructure and they still managed only to produce fuel at 10x the cost of virgin fuel. I guess if you socialize the costs of an entire industry, maybe you can get away with this, but in a market economy, this won’t fly.

            “With the nuclear construction industry killed, obviously the first few nukes in a restart of a construction programme is fairly costly.”

            This doesn’t explain why AREVA is also having enormous difficulty building Olkiluoto 3 even though they have supposedly been gaining experience as a nuclear power plant builder for decades:


            “Now the US nuke industry has been restarted, and if they keep at it, costs will drop, timelines will be shortened, predictability will ensue, financing costs will drop and so on.”

            Actually, no. Vogtle and VC Summer have experienced numerous cost overruns and schedule delays. If anything, nuclear power has a negative learning curve:


            BTW, the learning curve for nuclear power is so negative, reactor costs look like an exponentially increasing function on a log-log plot!

            And how, does solar and wind aid fracked gas, anyway? I dare you to claim that renewables need a lot of backup because I can tear up any of those claims just as easily as I tared up your claims just now.

          • First of all, you can “sic” all you want, my English isn’t becoming better. 🙂 English is not my native tounge.

            I pointed to an ALARA regulation. What’s your comment to that? Reasonable numbers? I’d suggest limits that we know have measurable health consequences, with a reasonable safety margin.

            I agree I shouldn’t have mentioned TMI. Yes, cancellations started long before, also due to regulatory environment.

            “Fuel recycling in no way led to the collapse of the nuclear industry.”

            Didn’t say it did. I said it (the civilian reprocessing ban) helped put a nail in the coffin when it comes to research in novel reactor designs. I do agree that uranium is too cheap and abundant to do reprocessing for economic reasons.

            The Finnish reactor is a failure, and so is Flamanville, but was also a new design. The Chinese are building a couple of EPRs on time and on budget.

            AFAIK, the US AP-1000 projects are going fairly well as the minor cost overruns and delays are of a kind that need not be repeated, so what I’m hearing is that confidence is increasing.

            Solar and wind doesn’t help fracked gas as much as they save it. You need to use less, so it can be good for operators to use a gas+wind combo.

          • (When I mention South Korea, some anti-nukers in the know immediately bring up a scandal regarding falsified certifications for certain nuke parts in South Korea. However, if you look at the facts, the parts in question were far too few and cheap to make a significant impact on costs.)


            Nuclear power plants don’t fake safety testing because it’s cheaper.

            Nuclear power plants fake safety testing because they can?


            Does anybody else get the feeling that in 30 years Captain Planet is going to be considered a tasteful and accurate depiction of polluters motives?

          • Of course they did it because it’s cheaper. I’m just saying the scale of the cheating didn’t make it significantly cheaper, so that we would say “it’s only $X/W because they were cheating, otherwise it would be $X+1/W”.

          • I don’t look at the lack of significant savings by faking safety certificates.

            I wonder what other improprieties might have occurred in exchange for a large deposit in an offshore bank or a briefcase of cash.

          • Or just to keep their job as a “inspector”!

            The cozy relationship between SCE and Region IV of the NRC played a major part the $3+ Billion Debacle at San Onofre Nuclear Power Station in California and that is not the only time inspectors looked the other way for whatever reason…

          • I don’t look at the lack of significant savings by faking safety certificates.

            I do.

            I mean, if they’re willing to lose a city or three to save a little bit of money you’ve got to wonder if these people should be trusted with anything more dangerous and complicated then a lemonade stand.

          • Much is (attempted to be) made of the speed of scaling for wind and solar. I gathered what data I could find (five year intervals for 1960 to 1979) for nuclear and how quickly it scaled up to be a significant player on US grids.

            In 1960 nuclear had made an appearance at 0.07% of total US electricity supply. By 1965 nuclear had grown to 0.35%.
            During the next five years nuclear passed the 1% level, hitting 1.42% in 1970.

            After that nuclear took off for the next 15 years until cost awareness stalled it out in the 19% to 20% range.

            Given that we’ve just reached cheap wind and are just reaching cheap solar I suppose it’s a bit early to get concerned about their low market shares. Together wind and solar have gained ~3% in the last 6 years. Somewhat shorter than the time needed for nuclear to hit 3%.

          • So when is it reasonable to be concerned over the gamble on intermittent renewables, then? What criteria do you propose?

          • I suppose we should get worried about the future of wind and solar if someone manages to generate cheap electricity with fusion. Short of that I see no gamble.

            We know the current price of wind and solar. We know that the price of both is likely to decline more, drop at least by 50% for solar. We know that, worst case, we can fill in the gaps with affordable PuHS.

            And it’s looking like we will have possibly cheaper and definitely easier-to-site storage options.

            There are small details to be worked as we go along.

            How much additional hydro will we add? How affordable will tidal become? Will enhanced geothermal be a player? How much hot rocks geothermal will we install? Will it make sense to use geothermal as dispatchable supply? How much biogas/fuel can we reasonably make and store for deep backup? How much dispatchable load can we find? How large a role will EVs play in smoothing supply variability? How much variability can we even out by creating and strengthening inter-grid transmission?

          • This line of reasoning is something I often see. The problems with intermittent power are portrayed as “small details” that will be fixed with a long laundry list of other stuff, neither which is realistic nor economic by itself but somehow the mix is supposed to be.

            I note you didn’t come up with any criteria and that you argue that there is no gamble, that it cannot fail. Well, I really, really hope you’re right.

          • Perhaps if you took some time to learn how a renewable grid works then you wouldn’t be perplexed by the intermittent nature of wind and solar energy.
            It’s not difficult to understand. With just a bit of insight you should be able to see what a mountain of foolishness nuclear power is.

            Most of us learned that nuclear was too expensive to consider back in the 1970s and 80s. I suppose we now have a new generation that has a difficult time learning from history and needs to repeat the mistakes of the past.
            Well, keep a close eye on Vogtle and Summer. History is repeating itself once again for your edification.

          • Yes, I’m keeping a close eye on those. But I also know the US isn’t all there is.

          • Then also keep an eye on Olkiluoto Unit 3 or the shutdown of the entire industry in Germany. Look on as renewables scale up in China while nuclear power stagnates. I turn your question to Bob back on you: When is it reasonable to be concerned over the gamble on nuclear power, then? What criteria do you propose?

          • OL3 is already a failure, so there’s no point in keeping an eye on that. If it’s completed or abandoned tomorrow it’s still a failure. The shutdown of the nuclear industry in Germany is not really relevant for anything.

            Chinese nuclear is ramping up fast.

            When it’s reasonable to be concerned over the gamble on nuclear power? It’s no gamble as it has been done already, and rapidly, in pioneer countries, unlike renewables. That’s what I’ve been saying. Nuclear is proven, while renewables are not proven.

          • “The shutdown of the nuclear industry in Germany is not really relevant for anything.”

            No. The shutdown of the nuclear industry in Germany is extremely important. Pay massive attention to it. Here’s what you need to understand:

            1) The general public can decide that they no longer wish to live with nuclear reactors in their midst. And they can quickly shut them down.
            2) Grids can shut down their reactors and keep on functioning.

          • Japan is a better proof of this. Most of Germany’s nuke capacity is still on-line.

          • We have the technology we need.

      • Yes, the comments are depressing, containing long-debunked canards like renewables need 100% backup, solar needs months of storage and some nonsense about Al Gore for some weird reason. However, the data on renewable energy is encouraging. During the period from 2005 – 2013, it took renewables 3 years to double in output from 100TWhs (2005) to around 200TWhs (2008) about another 3 years to double again to 400 TWhs (2010) and about another 3 years to get close to another doubling (800TWhs in 2013). That’s about a 30% yearly growth rate for those keeping score at home.

        Looking at the other graphs, renewables + hydro supplied 9% of global energy production in 2013 at 5,000 TWhrs. This means that global energy consumption is 55,555TWhs. Starting in 2013, renewables supply about 800TWhrs, but in 2016 that should climb to 1,600 TWhs if there are no major disruptions to the industry or the global economy. At 30% annual growth, renewables supply more than 100% of global energy demand by 2030! Accounting for demand growth during that time might delay 100% renewables by a year or two at most.

        30% annual growth might not be sustainable. Reducing this to 10% annual growth only delays 100% renewables to 2034 and accounting for demand growth, 2036 or so. However, we would have to identify some major roadblocks that would cause this massive slowdown in renewable energy deployment. While technical constraints might cause some difficulty, it is at least theoretically possible to go 100% renewable given a robust grid, enough demand management and adequate storage. The only massive slowdown in recent history was the gutting of renewable energy policy in the USA under Reagan. But the USA isn’t the world driver of energy policy any more and the developing world is moving forward full-steam.

        • Looking at forecasts, I’d say 1200 TWh rather than 1600 TWh in 2016. (15% wind and 30% solar increase per year). Given that wind lost its exponentiality as early as at 2% penetration or so, I cannot share you optimism even though I’d like to.

          • Where and how did wind power lose its “exponentiality”? Your 2% figure is unsupported by the evidence:

            “Recent studies show that wind energy integration costs are almost always below $12/MWh—and often below $5/MWh—for wind power capacity penetrations of up to or even exceeding 40% of the peak load of the system in which the wind power is delivered.

            The increase in balancing reserves with increased wind penetration is projected, in most cases, to be below 15% of the nameplate capacity of wind power and typically considerably less than this figure, particularly in studies that use intra-hour scheduling. Moreover, a number of strategies that can help to ease the integration of increasing amounts of wind energy—including the use of larger balancing areas, the use of wind forecasts, and intra-hour scheduling—are being implemented by grid operators across the United States.”


            Now, stupid changes in government policy have repeatedly thrown a monkey wrench into the progress of renewable energy, but if the supports for nuclear power were ever threatened in the same manner, the industry would have collapsed decades ago. Imagine if the Price Anderson Act was allowed to expire, even for just a month! Bye, bye U.S. nuclear industry! Or what if regulators stopped letting utilities charge their customers for “cost recovery” on nuclear plants? Vogtle would probably be north of $20B or more by now!

          • And you didn’t provide any concrete data to show we aren’t in the exponential growth phase for renewables there either.

          • I was talking about wind only. I disagree, the data is there. However, if you don’t find it, I suggest we drop it. No need to repeat that discussion here.

        • There is much fossil fuel infrastructure to replace and based on the brevity of this climate change issue, all near-zero CO2 energy sources must remain on the table.

          Nuclear has its challenges, including financial, but at least it has long life span (up to sixty years, compared to 30 years max for wind and solar), capacity factor of 80+% (compared to 20 to 30% for wind and solar) and power density of at least 1000 watts per square metre (wind are solar are 1 to 5). Speaking of Forbes, an interesting article from June 2014.

          • But not all non-fossil energy sources are created equal. Lifespan doesn’t matter as much if cost growth and chronic financial headaches limit nuclear power’s lifecycle performance. And we’re seeing the ill effects of pushing nuclear plants beyond their original 40-year design life as evidenced by the AP study I linked to above and the billion-dollar-plus mistakes at San Onofre and Crystal River. Capacity factor and power density also aren’t a major concern. There’s way more wind blowing around and solar energy hitting the Earth than we can ever use.

            And finally, Chernobyl and Fukushima kind of sucked, didn’t they? As long as we operate nuclear power plants, there’s no guarantee meltdowns won’t happen again in the future.

          • Wow, that’s triple what I thought!

          • The high cost of nuclear is the deal killer. Even if new designs can achieve a 60 year lifespan without major refurbishing costs it would still be cheaper to build a wind farm and then replace all the turbines after 30 years.

            Solar, as far as we can tell, lasts much longer than 30 years. Our oldest array is now 40 years old. And was outputting over 95% of initial at age 35.

          • And with nuclear it is always possible that it will go BAD and cause a Fukushima, which makes using it far to risky.

          • What nuclear fans will never acknowledge it that a Chernobyl/Fukushima type disaster within the US could result in all US nuclear plants being closed in a matter of days.

            A disaster of that scale is low probability, but it is real. It’s been demonstrated. And, being real, it makes nuclear a terrible investment. Even with Gen IV (Can’t melt down) reactors. One of the older models could melt and the public would shut down the Gen IV along with the rest of the fleet.

          • Even with Gen IV (Can’t melt down) reactors.

            I’m skeptical of “Can’t melt down reactors”; Fukushima couldn’t meltdown either, but here we are.

          • Homer abides….

          • Fukushima 1 and 2 and 3 all have corium moving downward… :-0

          • They had in the first day, perhaps. Not since and not now. Its solid and stays put.

          • Please provide links, as even the Japanese/TEPCO have no idea where the corium(s) are, much less how to keep them from interacting with the groundwater and/or the ocean water which is why they are doing what I call the The Fuky Effect which is the on again, off again fissioning of one of more of the corium(s), as they interact with water below Fukushima.

            Also if the corium(s) were solid and stayed “put” then why is most of the ocean water used to cool them not even getting close enough to do the job?

          • I’m sorry, but I refuse to provide links to debunk fairy tales. There is no fissioning going on (this would be easily detected by fission products) and corium solidifies rapidly as it is diluted by what it melts, thereby improving heat dissipation and lowering the average heat generation per unit mass. Also, total heat generation goes down fairly rapidly due to fission product decays. This is all obvious physics and need no links.

          • Then I claim Nuclear Baloney* (NB), since if that were true, the Japanese would N☢T have to be polluting hundreds of thousands of gallons of seawater daily just to keep things cool enough (they hope) that something BAD does not happen at Fukushima!

            One other issue you fail to address is the spiking radioactivity, if what you claim were true, then radiation would be getting less every day and that is not the case!



          • I don’t know Japanese and I don’t have time for conspiracy theories. Fission is easily detectable by its short-lived fission products. If that were to happen, I would know about it.

          • jepper, you might find this news amusing –

            “Sweden’s top nuclear power generators have been forced to cut output because of exceptionally warm weather in Scandinavia, and their output could be reduced for over a week, their operators said on Wednesday.

            Oskarshamn, part of Germany’s E.ON and Forsmark, operated by Swedish utility Vattenfall have both cut output because warm sea water temperatures are limiting their ability to cool down.”


            OMG! The Sun doesn’t shine at night! We need super reliable nuclear to keep us from crashing back into the stone age.

          • So, curtailing to 93% in a country that has its lowest demand in summertime? Yes, kind of amusing.

          • I’m glad you’re amused. Now, if you don’t wish be banned, yet, again, one more time for trolling get back on topic and stay on topic.

            tack så mycket

          • What you are saying is that I’m disallowed to respond to nuclear comments? I can do that, but I would just like you to clarify what you consider on-topic for me. (I guess you, CaptD, RealLibertarian and others can keep on doing nuclear commentary, you just don’t want any opposition?) Or am I disallowed to follow the discussion where it is going in general, and need to stay within very narrow boundaries of the article being discussed?

          • Ha Ha Ha
            So you would know all about it how, by asking Japan/TEPCO to share their data with you?

            If you already do not know anything about this issue then you are even less informed than I expected…

          • Let me get this straight. Your position is that there is ongoing fission events at Fukushima, and that Japan and Tepco is engaged in a cover-up?

          • YES phoenix – Randomly occurring Fissioning that are uncontrolled self-sustaining chain reactions that result in spiking radiation levels at Fukushima.

          • And Japan/Tepco is engaged in a huge cover-up?

          • I think this is a straw man argument. It’s well known that ordinary light-water reactors can meltdown, there has always been contingency plans for it and so on.

            The can’t-meltdown reactors rely on passive cooling. Perhaps even by air, in which case power density and size must be kept down somewhat. Or, in case of molten fuel reactors, a melt plug would drain the fuel into passively safe configuration if the fuel would get too hot.

          • Lots of things work on paper but problems crop up when the idea is applied in the real world.

            Remember pebble bed reactors?

            The nuclear industry has a long list of near misses when someone did something stupid.

            Remember the engineer setting the Browns Ferry reactor on fire with a candle?

            Remember the unsinkable Titanic?

          • I don’t trust humans to always do the right things but I trust physics.

          • Yep, it’s hard to break the laws of physics. But sometimes we give it a good try with out quite realizing that we’re on the road to fail.

            Nuclear energy might be safe if we could get humans out of the equation. It’s not physics that doesn’t know how to deal with certain emergencies, that sites reactors in the wrong places, that crawls through a reactor with a lit candle….

          • You mean like the physics that stated the Titanic couldn’t sink because the sealed bulkheads would prevent the required flooding to capsize the ship?

            Because that didn’t work out due to the bow dipping enough for the water to pour over to the next section.

          • If you don’t know how it’s supposed to work, then I can recommend looking into a few designs.

          • Bob – We are both agreed so it must be so.

            A US Fukushima is the 8000 lb mutant gorilla in the discussion room that the nuclear industry knows would be an industry killer, since Solar (of all flavors) keeps getting less expensive and more efficient.

          • Closing everything is possible only if the nuclear penetration is low enough. I don’t think France could close down like Japan did. If France did it, its society would collapse due to lack of electricity. High penetration is a good insurance against overreactions, perhaps. 🙂

          • France might. They might run up some honkin’ big bills via power purchases from their neighbors.

            And don’t get too smug re: France’s nuclear penetration. They’re scaling down to less than 50%.

          • Bob – I’d add that France would happily scale back far more if they had the money to pay for decommissioning, which is why they will continue to use their aging reactors.

            I look to Germany and other “downwinders” to help France fund early decommissioning because that would be far less expensive that suffering even one Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster in Europe.

          • I don’t think neighbors would be able to supply and I doubt transmission lines would handle it.

            I’ll keep being smug about France’s current penetration even if they do scale back to less than 50% (which is very, very doubtful as it relies on continued socialist governments). Whatever they do now, they have proven these nuclear penetrations are possible, cheap and quickly achievable.

          • Possible and quickly achievable.

            Not in any way or fashion cheap.

            And turning out to be dumb….

          • Time is money. What is quick is cheap. The French did this in the late seventies and in the eighties without breaking a sweat.

          • The French government built their nuclear industry. We’ll probably never know how much taxpayer money was spent building and maintaining the French nuclear system.

            The decision on the part of the French government was reasonable, for the time. France was heavily dependent on OPEC oil and that had become unreliable – a political weapon. France has very little fossil fuel resources. Obviously wind and solar were not options at the time. Nuclear made sense.

            Now nuclear no longer makes sense. Not for the French or anyone. We aren’t living in the same world of 30, 40 years ago. We have cheaper, safer and faster to install options.

          • I agree that we probably won’t know how much money the French nukes cost them. However, we do know 80% penetration was achieved with normal taxation (for the French), at a significantly lower GDP per capita level, and very rapidly.

            Also, during this period, little Sweden with 7 million inhabitants has had seven nukes under construction simultaneously. It’s like the US having 300 nukes under construction. I mean, how expensive could it have been?

          • It could be foolishly expensive.

            Now, we’ve gone way off topic playing “yeah nuclear!” with you and whacking the gophers you stick up. Let’s take this back to the real world of renewable energy rather than waste space and time in nuclear fantasies. I’m sure you can find another place where you can talk the wonders of nuclear as you see it with your friends.

          • Closing everything is possible only if the nuclear penetration is low enough. I don’t think France could close down like Japan did. If France did it, its society would collapse due to lack of electricity. High penetration is a good insurance against overreactions, perhaps. 🙂

            “If I die, the hostage dies too!”

            And the blackmail involves nuclear devastation.

            Who else thinks if the nuclear power industry was a person, their death certificate would read

            Cause of Death: Shot in Face by James Bond”.

          • Only disregarding timescales and context. Fukushima is very mild compared to the everyday distributed deaths caused by US coal operations.

          • Oh, lovely.

            The old “nuclear ain’t as bad as coal” argument.

            As if we had no cheaper and safer options….

          • From a life cycle perspective, nuclear is among the best regarding safety. Only problem is that its damages are concentrated in time and space, whereas the other power sources spread theirs out. That plays tricks with the human psyche.

          • Nuclear is safer than coal. In some ways.

            But we have to work very, very, very hard to keep from hurting ourselves badly when we mess with nuclear energy. And sometimes we fail….

            Why would we ever consider leaving great big piles of danger for those who follow us when we have faster, cheaper and safer technologies? Doing the expensive, slow and dangerous thing is just stupid.

          • Yes, and I guess the Chinese are the most stupid of all, since they are building some 29 reactors and are doing focused research and demo builds of every nuclear tech there is. They are accelerating construction to rapidly pass the US in installed nuclear base in the coming decade. All the while the US will dismantle its nuclear fleet and flourish with inexpensive solar and storage, keep a competitive edge and be safe from the extreme dangers of ionizing radiation. Sounds great.

          • China’s nuclear program started well before the price of wind and solar plummeted. Solar has become cheap only in the last couple of years.

            China’s decision to build nuclear made sense for them a few years back. Coal, even aside from climate change, is killing China. That has been the case in China’s cities for a long time. China’s leaders needed to install massive amounts of energy so they went with non-polluting hydro and nuclear.
            Once a large industry gets underway one does not stop it overnight. Especially when the understanding of the replacement technology is still being firmed up.

            China is run by people who understand math. And, apparently, by people who intend to make China successful as opposed attempting to force China into a economic theory as had been the case previously. Watch what happens in China over the next five to ten years. Were I a betting person I’d put serious money on China phasing out their nuclear program and getting more energy for their ¥ by switching to renewables.

          • I agree about the seriousness of the Chinese. However the Chinese president recently talked about further accelerating nuclear construction, so no signs of this phaseout yet.

          • phoenix – Both are N☢ longer worth the risk to mankind and will continued to be used only because their respective BIG industries have the political clout to insist on their use, despite their harmful effects because of Profitganda* and/or Nuclear Payback**


            Profitganda is the use of phony “feel good” information to sell an idea, product or concept to the masses.


            Those that support nuclear power because nuclear power somehow supports them; no matter what the health implications or other “costs” are for others.

          • And you must realize that the wind was blowing offshore on the day of the hydrogen explosions and subsequent peak radiation release. Had the wind been blowing to Tokyo instead, Japan as a country probably couldn’t have come back from that one in even a remotely recognizable form.

          • Nah, this is anti-nuker mythology too. You need to seek better information on the topic.

  • This is true for the US. Globally though, non-fossil generation peaked in market share in 1993 above 37%. Since then, market share has dropped to 32%, much due to Chinese coal. If we look at TWh generated, the picture is pretty bleak and we see no break in the current trend.

    • Chinese coal growth is very unlikely to continue at previous rates. The Chinese government has started to rein in coal and has stated that they will hit peak annual coal consumption use soon and then start reducing the amount burned. At the same time they are ramping up wind and solar.

      • I hope you are right about them starting to reduce coal soon, but they added a Germany’s worth of coal consumption in 2013.

        I would say China is ramping up wind and nuclear, actually. Wind recently passed nuclear generation in China with a bang, but it seems they will follow each other fairly closely in the coming few years. Solar is increasing, but is 5-6 years behind.

    • That graph is bleak. Good news is that both China and India look committed to turning things around. Bad news is they aren’t doing so immediately. It’s going to be a tight race. It is certainly a bit sad that most of humanity can’t figure things out a bit more quickly…

      • Coal got a small bump up last year due to rising NG prices. But that’s following some years of market loss. In 2005 coal grabbed a 50% share. That fell to 37% in 2012 and bounced back up to 39% in 2013.

        Look for coal to continue its downward path going forward. We’ve got 200 coal plants closing over the next couple of years.

        And as wind and solar grow, fossil fuel shares will drop. Wind and solar have no marginal costs, as you know.

  • Good stuff. You should overlay or notate with public policy issues and other events of note. The fits and starts of renewables seem to have more to do with politics than economics and technology deployment.

    Here’s my guess at inflection points for fossil fuel to start with: 2007, the housing market starts crashing, 2009, recovery act stimulus gets going; and after that renewables really start to chip away at both coal and gas.

    Renewables fits and starts inflections could pretty much line up with every kneecapping event by congress over the past five years or so.

    Anyway truly a nice way to think about this. Another metric to look at is EPA’s planned carbon intensity, which is pounds CO2 per MWh. Or something to add a weighting factor (taking into account total electricity produced).

  • Bob, Please consider doing a Energy Cost Chart that illustrates all the subsidies that each of the three get, and the true cost of using them, it would be a masterpiece!

  • I am late on this discussion, with a record breaking 127 comments…nukes push buttons, don’t they? As I was contemplating my vast ignorance about nuclear power and how I felt unable to even have an opinion I suddenly realized that is how 99.999% of the voting adults feel. So here is the simple reason that nuclear will fade and happy little solar panels and whirly whirlies will succeed is “we” will never trust “you”(the nuclear engineers and science guys). Yes, we don’t understand and no you can’t do your pet science experiment on us when there are perfectly good alternatives…now back to your labs and let me admire my solar panels on my roof.

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