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Clean Power thin film solar vs nuclear

Published on May 3rd, 2016 | by Tina Casey


Bill Gates Still Trying To Corral The “Wild” Nuclear Unicorn

May 3rd, 2016 by  

Legendary tech billionaire Bill Gates has been pitching the idea that nuclear energy is the only technology that can be deployed quickly enough to ward off catastrophic global warming. However, Gate’s favored nuclear technology is not nearly ready to come off the drawing board. Meanwhile, solar, wind, and other clean technologies are already sweeping into the real world.

Nevertheless, Gates continues to soldier on. In the latest development, he made the case for a nuclear energy “miracle” to the readers of MIT Technology Review.

thin film solar vs nuclear

The Bill Gates Nuclear Vision

One should expect an ultra-savvy marketer like Bill Gates to come up with a far-reaching strategy for his nuclear vision, and he has. In 2006 he formed a nuclear company called TerraPower with the aim of providing the world with “a more affordable, secure and environmentally friendly form of nuclear energy.”

Gates bumped his strategy up to the next level in December 2015. In a splashy media event coordinated with the COP21 Paris climate talks, he launched a new investment group called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

BEC was designed as private sector companion to Mission Innovation, which also launched at COP21. Mission Innovation is a coalition of energy-producing governments that have pledged to increase public sector investment in clean energy.

Given Gate’s interest in TerraPower’s success, we’re thinking that BEC is also designed to deflect investment toward nuclear. Although Gates has positioned BEC as source-neutral, in a blog post during COP21 he laid down a pretty big hint that nuclear was the way to go:

The renewable technologies we have today, like wind and solar, have made a lot of progress and could be one path to a zero-carbon energy future. But given the scale of the challenge, we need to be exploring many different paths—and that means we also need to invent new approaches.

What’s Wrong With A Little Nuclear Energy?

Joe Romm of Think Progress has picked apart Gates’s most recent pro-nuclear pitch, concluding that:

…Gates is just wrong about everything here. He is wrong that energy miracles are needed by the industrialized countries to achieve CO2 levels in 2050 consistent with beating the 2°C target. He is wrong that achieving that target requires focusing on R&D rather than deployment. He is wrong that there is some sort of consensus to that effect. He is wrong that a carbon price isn’t important in achieving the rapid reduction the rich countries need. He is wrong to make it seem like boosting energy efficiency is not as vital a strategy as reducing carbon intensity.


Romm’s basic point is that clean energy solutions are already here and now, just not in the form that Gates would prefer to invest in.

The solar industry, of course, is one place where you’ll find a lot of agreement with Romm. One example is the graphic above, which represents the winnowing-out process used by the company Siva Power to settle on its market-ready thin film solar technology.

Last December, Siva CTO Markus E. Beck, a recognized leader in thin film technology, shared some thoughts with CleanTechnica about Gates’s nuclear solution. He emphasized that solar insiders are not the only skeptics:

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition’s premise is flawed. The BEC argues that at present there are no workable solutions to tackle the world’s increasing need for energy while reducing carbon emissions at an affordable level. Studies by Goldman Sachs, MIT, McKinsey, the IEA, Shell and others provide data supporting a counter argument — i.e. the solutions exist: namely solar (PV) and wind.

Tough Row To Hoe For Nuclear Energy

We’ll give the last word on TerraPower to the Senior Editor of MIT Technology Review, Richard Martin.

In a brief but eyebrow-raising article last fall, Martin raised some questions about TerraPower’s choice of nuclear technology, the traveling wave reactor. Apparently, after spending a considerable amount of time and money on traveling wave R&D, the company has modified its course and is now experimenting with a molten chloride design:

Many nuclear industry observers have been skeptical about the concept from the outset. The traveling wave is a subspecies of a sodium-cooled fast reactor, and the track record of those reactors is not encouraging.

Martin also cites M.V. Ramana, a Princeton nuclear physicist:

“The problem with sodium is that it has been pretty much impossible to prevent leaks… Fast reactors in general have never been commercially viable, and I haven’t seen anything from TerraPower that suggests that their design will fare any better.

The Human Factor

They say that pride goeth before a fall, and if TerraPower turns out to be a bust, the seeds of the disaster can probably be found in Bill Gates’s success as a philanthropist, specifically in the field of public health.

In a 2010 interview with MIT Technology Review, Gates makes the case that a clean power solution for global warming could be modeled on the miracle-making field of vaccines.

There is absolutely no arguing with the effectiveness of vaccines, but in terms of general framing that approach represents a top down, one shot solution.

The clean energy field, in contrast, is a diverse, wide open field that accommodates an enormous amount of variety depending on regional resources and circumstances.

In other words, Gates’s framing is a classic 1950’s style business model. For that matter, in the 2010 interview Gates demonstrated some rather dated views about wind, solar, storage, and transmission:

But almost everything called renewable is intermittent. I also have another term for it: “energy farming.” The density is very low. We have no idea how to take those intermittent sources up to 50, 80, 90 percent.


It just points up that without a storage miracle, you cannot take intermittent sources up to large numbers. In fact, not only do you need a storage miracle, you need a transmission miracle, because the intermittent sources are not available in an efficient form in all locations.

The vaccine frame also falls short when it comes to the human factor. Nuclear can and will find willing hosts in countries like China, where central planners have more leverage over local concerns (China happens to be the location of TerraPower’s planned demo facility, by the way).

The situation is quite different in countries like the US. Regardless of safety claims, it is almost certain that the NIMBY factor will prevent or at least significantly delay the mass deployment of new nuclear power plants — or “energy factories” as Gates calls them.

Nuclear energy in the US has been in a holding pattern for a generation, though the Energy Department continues to fund R&D. Given public skepticism over nuclear safety, that situation is not likely to change no matter which party wins the 2016 presidential election.

There is probably a lot more to be said for the vaccine/public health framing, and if you have something to say, drop us a note in the comment thread.

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Image: via Siva Power.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • sjc_1

    “..burning depleted uranium in a traveling wave reactor, making use of the neutron excess concept.”

    We have more than 700,000 tons of DU from enriching uranium, fast reactors burn this for fuel as well as eliminating long term radioactive materials.

  • Richard Poore

    To be realistic, nuclear really does need to be in our power generation mix going forward, if we are being serious about generating our electricity from noncarbon sources.

    Wind and solar are growing strongly, its taken decades longer than I had hoped for solar but its finally happening. But, and its a big but, solar and wind growth is going to eventually slow as it fills the sweet part of the market.

    In order to fully displace coal and Natural gas (especially NG) with wind and solar we need an energy storage solution and a reworking of our power grid. Energy storage is certainly a growing field, but it has the potential to be a bottle neck in growing our capacity. Plus there is already going to be a booming growth in the need for EV batteries, a huge growth in the need for utility level storage would require much larger resources. Lithium costs have been rising just from our increase demand for EV.

    Natural gas is currently cheap and NG plants are being built to balance out our power demands. Unfortunately NG produces more than half of the CO2 of coal per BTU. We are currently building a good bit of wind generation, a good bit of solar generation, a LOT of NG generation, a bit of coal (yes, coal plants are still under construction) and a bit of nuclear.

    We need to stop building coal plants and we need to stop replacing coal plants with NG.

    While solar and wind can replace most of what we need, to deal with our problems in a reasonable time frame we do need to use some nuclear too.

    • Jenny Sommer

      Nobody is going to pay for that nuclear bit.
      Wind will move to capacity factors above 80% in the next 10-20 years…anywhere. There will be no need for more storage.
      It takes 10-20 years to built a nuclear reactor. The day it could go critical it would already be obsolete.

      • Richard Poore

        Wind will continue to grow, but wind is running into growth limiting factors already. We need new long distance transmission lines to move wind generated electricity to where its needed, but those lines are already proving difficult to get built.

        • Jenny Sommer

          Wind will simply be built where the power is needed.
          Transmission lines are also cheaper than any mix including nuclear.

          • Richard Poore

            Wind will simply be built where the power is needed????

            You apparently need to read a bit about the problems wind power is running into. The north east badly needs power yet locals are fighting tooth and nail because of the “scenic beauty” that is despoiled by windmills. Even getting a transmission line into the NE from canada is being stymied at the moment.

            Its not just the parts of the country that rely on the scenery for tourism either. The transmission line linking the wind farms of Iowa to the chicago area recently got put on hold. A decade in the planning and they are back to rethinking how to do it because the property owners put up enough of a fight to stop the building of the line.

            Illinois used to be third in the nation in wind production until stagnation set in. Some of the earliest wind farms are in central and western Illinois but now zoning and slowing acceptance from land owners has slowed construction to a trickle.

            Wind will keep growing and has tremendous potential. But the idea that in 10-20 years wind will eliminate the need for storage or for any other type of power production is just a pipe dream.

          • Jenny Sommer

            I am not talking about wind turbines. Windmills where used to grind grain.

          • Richard Poore

            Lovely idea. Do you have any links to what you are talking about?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Try building a new reactor the NE. You’ll get a snoot full of NIMBY.

            Transmission issues will be worked out. And the East Coast will also be using offshore wind.

          • Richard Poore

            But Bob, we are seeing the same NIMBY right now about transmission lines in the NE. They are trying to get a line built to bring power from Canada and its run into a buzzsaw.

            The NE is truly pathetic tho, since the closing of the nuclear plant they have actually increased C)2 output. Because they have had to increase NG usage for power. They have fought and slowed wind to replace that nuclear sadly.

            I do hope that they will manage to move forward with offshore wind, but previous plans along the coast have been spiked.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Nuclear is priced off the table, Richard. Accept, grieve, and let it go.

          • Richard Poore

            NG is dirt cheap right now, so yes its pretty much killing other forms of power generation in head to head matchup. If we are happy with NG then yes we should give up and let it rule.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Wind and solar are cheaper than NG. As more wind and solar come on line gas plants will be used less.

            Nuclear isn’t a player. Any new nuclear would be a decade from now and nuclear is too expensive to be considered.

          • Richard Poore

            Wind and solar are cheaper than NG, when one looks at wind and solar without considering location and storage. There is a reason we are still seeing many NG plants being built. Heh, they are still building coal plants for that matter unfortunately.

            The highest estimates I can find on solar (from strong solar advocates) run towards solar eventually growing to fill a quarter to a third of our electricity needs. It would be nice if wind filled the rest but …

          • Bob_Wallace

            We are not building coal plants in the US. And NG plant construction is slowing, we’re arriving at “enough capacity”.

            Solar, used directly from the panels, is like to hit 30% or more of our total supply. Solar produces during hours of higher demand and we’ll devise more ways to move loads to when cheap solar (and wind) are producing.

            Solar can easily go above 30% once we start installing storage. Right now there is no need for large scale storage and won’t be until we reach the point where there are no more NG plants to turn off.

            Wind will likely be a larger contributor to our grids simply because the wind blows more hours per year than the Sun shines. Wind and stored-wind could easily hit 50% of all grid input.

          • Richard Poore

            No coal in the US, but its not as if coal use effects stop at the borders. NG produces more than half of the CO2 of coal, Im really not happy that we are building any, are you?

            Even using solar at 30% and wind at 50% as you suggest might eventually happen…what are we going to do for the rest? And how long is it going to take?

            An interesting piece on solar: http://www.vox.com/2016/4/18/11415510/solar-power-costs-innovation

            I find it both hopeful, because it shows a strong possible path for solar, but also a bit disheartening. These are the people who are heavily promoting solar, and they are hoping that if things work out right solar will hit the 30% mark. So that means 30% isnt the expected easy benchmark, its the long term hoped for best case goal.

            Would hate to lock into a view where we agree that at least 20% of our power will come from NG long term.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Coal use is dropping globally.

            Solar and wind have only recently become inexpensive. It’s taking some countries a little time to figure out what that means.

            80% or so from wind and solar. The other 20% or so from geothermal, hydro, tidal and biofuels. The mix will vary from country to country. Some countries are already 100% hydro.

            How long? Coal largely gone within 15 years and fossil fuels below 10% of grid generation before 2040 is my guess.

            As storage costs drop NG plants will be turned on less and less. But right now NG is economically attractive for wind/solar fill-in.

          • Jenny Sommer

            In Europe NG is uncompetitive. A very small CO2 tax could do the same for the US.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’d rather see us burning NG than coal. (I’m assuming the EPA will deal with gas leaks.)

          • neroden

            Solar’s growing so fast we don’t even need to worry about it. About 0.5% of US electricity production is utility-scale solar and about 0.5% is rooftop solar…. as of 2015. Deployment doubles roughly every two years.

            So: 2017, we reach 2% of the total. 2019, we reach 4% of the total. 2022, we reach 8% of the total…. wind deployment will be increasing during the same period too, of course, though it looks like it might actually have gone sub-exponential.

            This is only six years. 2024: 16%. 2026: 32%. 2028: 64%, except we start needing storage because solar is supplying more than 100% of daytime demand. That’s 12 years.

            Yeah, coal will be gone in 15 years. So will natgas and so will nuclear.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Not 15 years. Not even coal. Installation rates can double early, but you know we hit a wall of practicality where continued doublings would start to disrupt the economy.

            US coal is now about 30%. At 2% wind and solar average per year we could (and likely will) install enough wind and solar to replace coal. But much of that installation will be in the places where coal plays a lessor role already. Our heavy using coal states aren’t likely to be hotbeds of wind and solar installation.

            If we increase wind and solar’s market share by 30% in 15 years I suspect it will replace more than half of the coal we now use, but not all.

            What could change that might be a significant growth in public pressure to limit climate change. We might see a federal campaign targeting coal.

          • Richard Poore

            Would be nice. But the EIA says you would be wrong, rather severely:


            They are still projecting coal use in the US and a large NG usage as well. by 2040.

            Not saying that the US energy admin is going to be right, but they certainly spend a lot of resources looking into exactly those projections.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Richard, the EIA couldn’t predict that their butt was about to get hot if someone poured gasoline on their pants and set them on fire.

            Give this a read….


            Your link – figure 31 – EIA predicts coal use will drop to only 34% for electricity by 2040. Take a look at where coal was in 2015. (first graph) The red horizontal line is 34%.

            Then look at electricity generation plants closing in 2016. (second graph) With coal already at 32%, more plants closing, and no new coal plants being built don’t you suspect something is a bit foul in the EIA prediction office?


          • Richard Poore

            Oh of course I dont think they are accurate on coal’s future, they base too much off of historical trends.

            But then thinking that all coal will be gone in 15 years doesnt seem too accurate either, at least not without some very serious restrictive legislation. As coal winds down, the price of coal is going to fall, which means that the newer more efficient coal plants will be very cheap to run for decades. Those plants are sunk costs, unless some penalty is added to the cost of coal they arent going to give up the newer plants.

            And that graph with the red line…from what I can pull up from various sources it seems wrong. Where is that graph from?


            or the wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_of_the_United_States#cite_note-13

            Seems like still around a third for 2014. The early 2015 numbers show coal having dropped more, but still over 30% it appears. Maybe some of the 2015 numbers arent solid yet?

            And while cheap NG makes nuclear a far less attractive source, its also putting a crimp in wind and solar.

            NG being a cheap source is not a good thing, replacing coal with NG is an improvement that just serves to delay real progress. NG still produces more than half of the CO2 of coal.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I made the graph. I used EIA data (their data seems highly trustworthy, unlike their predictions). Your first link states that coal produced 33% of US electricity in 2015. I graphed 33.2%. For the second half of 2015 coal dropped to 31.7%. For the fourth quarter of 2015 coal was down to 29.2%.

            Over the last ten years coal has dropped from 49.6% to 33.2%. A 16.4% drop, 1.6% per year. To get to 0% coal in 15 years would take a 2.2% average annual drop. It hardly seems a strain to me to increase our efforts that much now that wind and solar have become so much more affordable.

            Natural gas is almost certainly not putting a crimp in wind and solar. Natural gas is enabling wind and solar because NG, being very dispatchable, allows utilities to use wind and solar, when they are providing, for the lowest price sourcing and then fill in with NG in order to keep the power on 24/365.

            Here’s the current choice we have –

            100% coal.


            40% solar, 40% wind, 20% NG. (Ratios will vary from region to region.)

            Natural gas, as you realize, produces about 50% as much CO2 as coal. And that means we end up with about 10% as much CO2 with a wind/solar/NG mix as opposed to using coal.

          • Richard Poore

            Uhm Bob…coal has dropped significantly because the older plants were faced with a choice. They could either sink money into upgrades or they could replace them with NG.

            Its been an easy choice to close the marginal coal plants. It hasnt been a linear progression of coal heading down, its actually ticked back up a bit a few years. We have seen some strong years where a large amount of coal has been replaced, but some bad years too.

            The more modern coal plants are going to stay in operation until the cost of building and operating new sources is lower than merely operating the existing coal plants.

            The only way we are going to get to zero coal in 15 years is if we suddenly get some politicians with spine…and seeing the recent backflips being done over the comments about shutting down the coal industry that isnt happening soon.

            And yes, at least in the midwest here, the cheap price for NG has slowed our wind expansion.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Take a look at the graph below. This graph was put together in 2010, so add six years to the ages. And, remember, the average lifespan for a coal plant in the US is 40 years.

            How many “modern” coal plants to you see?


            Take the 21 to 30 bar. The ‘youngest’ that shows an appreciable number of coal plants. Add 6 years to update the graph and then add 15 since we are talking about coal going away over the next 15 years. 12 + 6 + 15 = 42.


          • Bob_Wallace

            “The only way we are going to get to zero coal in 15 years is if we suddenly get some politicians with spine”

            Excuse me. Why are you ignoring the president we now have whose EPA is closing a large number of our coal plants right now? Does that not qualify as “spine”?

          • Richard Poore

            Im not ignoring our president, I am however listening to what his people are saying.

            What the EPA has done is propose (starting in 2022) to see that our carbon emissions are reduced to 30% under what they were in 2005. By the year 2030.
            Read the above for a wonderful inspiring talk from our energy secretary about how its market forces that are shifting us from coal to natural gas.

            And I know its a political campaign, but this is a discouraging missed opportunity as well:

            2030 is right around your 15 year mark, a 30% reduction is nice but thats not even in the same ballpark as no coal.

            For a 15 year time frame we would need concerted driven political action. Not seeing any of that.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Political power is no longer driving the transition away from fossil fuels. The market has taken over.

          • Richard Poore

            But if its only the market, then the 15 year idea falters even harder. There are too many coal plants that still are being paid off to just close. As long as the already built plants can be run profitably then the market will dictate that they be kept open. Declining coal prices just make this worse.

            Its going to take time, especially with no political drive.

          • Bob_Wallace

            IIRC, the cost of fuel for a coal plant is not the cost of coal but the cost of shipping coal from mine to plant.

            Cheap wind and solar are starting to cut the legs out from under coal plants just as they’ve made a number of nuclear plants unable to cover their costs. We’re now seeing talk of 4c wind and 6c solar dropping to the 2c to 3c range. We’re almost certain to see prices of both wind and solar dropping below where they are today even if they don’t hit 2c/kWh.

            If wind and solar prices drop much more then is won’t make sense to keep a coal plant working if it costs more to run it than it can recoup in revenue. Coal plants will become stranded assets, leaving some companies with loans to service.

          • Richard Poore

            Right. But we still have the storage and transmission problems to deal with.

            If power is flowing free from pipes scattered across the Soutwest for 6 hours a day day-in day-out its still not going to help us replace all the coal that fast.

            If power is flowing free from pipes scattered across the Midwest for roughly 12 hours a day, its still not going to help us replace coal that fast.

            We have storage and transmission problems that are going to take us longer than 15 years to solve.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sure, we have problems to solve. We have work to do.

            If it’s cheaper to bring Midwest wind to the East Coast than to burn coal or run nuclear plants then we’ll build the transmission we need. Some people will object but transmission, like highways, gets pushed through by the eminent domain process if that’s what it takes.

            32% coal (now less than 32%) means we need to add wind, solar, other renewables and NG at 2.2% per year. That is not at all an impossible task.

            Look at where coal is being used in the US.

            Texas is now 10% wind and starting to install solar. Much of the yellow area is the Midwest where wind is abundant. The SE is just starting to install wind and solar, more will come.

            BTW, Florida Power and Light recently bought a coal plant just to close it down. It was cheaper for them to do that than to follow through with the PPA they had with the coal plant.


          • Richard Poore

            I agree with everything you said here. But its the timetable thats just not happening that quickly.

            And the cost of a project is not only measured in the cost of the steel in the transmission towers. What killed the transmission line from the Iowa wind fields to Chicago was the cost of dealing with the endless hearings and property owner protests. When the lawyer fees grow larger than the cost of the project itself, things die off.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Richard, I just don’t have any interest in arguing with you over whether a particular transmission line will or will not be built.

            You seem to have adopted a stance that if that one specific line is not built, exactly on the initial planned route, that coal will be used for decades to come.

          • Richard Poore

            Bob, Im merely using that line (plus the one from Canada to NYC Ive mentioned in some posts on here) to point out that current transmission line plans are running into trouble.

            You on the other hand, seem to have adopted the stance that transmission line construction is not a problem at all, and can quickly and easily be done.

            Im expecting that coal will still be used in the US for electricity generation for more than the next 15 years because…well… everything I can find online says so.

            Can you give me anything that shows a quicker estimate for the elimination of coal? Ive really tried to dig into this, and the most optimistic projections Ive been able to find are in the 50% range reduction in coal for the 10-20 year range.

            The government projections are worse, which is troubling because thats what government policy is going to use as a base.

            I wish coal would disappear more quickly, but nothing I can find anywhere suggests it actually will.

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, Richard, I do not have the ability to perfectly predict the future.
            And I have never claimed that it is easy or quick to build a transmission line.

            If you want to be pessimistic that is your choice. I am fairly optimistic about coal being basically gone from the US in 15 more years. We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.

          • Richard Poore

            Perhaps I should have phrased it “modernized”, as thats what has been done the last few years here. They have closed the marginal/ hopeless plants and then put new equipment into existing plants.

            I didnt want to seem to be doubting your data in that chart, but I was hoping to find where it was from to be able to read it a little better. The red line threw me a bit, wasnt able to tell what it represented or even quite what number it was associated with, and the year markings were hard to line up.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “Your link – figure 31 – EIA predicts coal use will drop to only 34% for electricity by 2040. Take a look at where coal was in 2015. (first graph) The red horizontal line is 34%.”

            There seems to be enough information in that paragraph to explain your questions about the graph.
            Consider the growing concern over climate change. As concern increases there will be more pressure to close fossil fuel plants. I don’t think there will be hardly any coal generation left in the US fifteen years from now.

          • Richard Poore

            Yes, once I dug into your paragraph I could figure out the graph, the graph caught my eye tho and I spent some time trying to analyze the graph first. I like the chart, it drew me in )

            Im certainly hoping that pressure will continue to grow to close fossil fuel plants. But 15 years to eliminate coal…nothing I can find from any source suggests thats likely. Nothing from the government, nothing from the clean energy sources, nothing from the green side, coalwatch etc etc, and of course nothing from the coal side. The most hopeful numbers Im seeing are a 50% cut overall, higher in some regions with luck. And a lot of estimates are much higher.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I expect government predictions to be “understated”. Get out too far above what is commonly held and you risk your agency’s funding.

            Our present Congress wants people to tell them what they want to hear, not any inconvenient facts.

          • Calamity_Jean

            “Richard, the EIA couldn’t predict that their butt was about to get hot if someone poured gasoline on their pants and set them on fire.”

            When I read that I laughed so hard I scared the cat.

          • eveee

            The rest? Ever heard of hydro. Geothermal. Biomass. CSP with storage. Demand management. We don’t even need 100% renewables. What if they are gone 2 weeks a year. 4%. We will have so much surplus coal and gas by then.
            Just a little more forest growth can cover that. It can’t while we are all carbon.
            See how it’s done here with 2010 tech. Solar and storage have impressed veld much faster than anticipat d in this study.


          • eveee

            You’re not looking in the right places.
            50% wind and solar. 2010 tech. That tech us way old now.


          • Richard Poore

            Actually, have looked at that. Then looked a little beyond that article. And found out that all three of the projected transmission lines for moving wind power from the Midwest to the East have been put on hold or worse.

            Its the assumed ease of building transmission lines that pervades so much of the literature vs the problems that we are seeing in the real world that worries me.

          • eveee

            Not this literature. They constrained several things including transmission. Same answer every time. 80% renewables by 2050. The thing you are missing is that you can do it with much less wind and solar than 80%.

          • Richard Poore

            I think the problem is that we are talking apples and oranges here.

            What you are linking to is a position paper, it is showing how in theory we could reach high levels of sustainable generation if we devoted the resources to doing so.

            What Im looking at are the estimates and optimistic hopes of people now in the industry. The people who are planning and building the systems.

          • eveee

            You call a scientific peer reviewed technical study a position paper?
            I get that you are frustrated with decisions being made. But the paper indicates more than you offer. It indicates that It’s not possible to continue status quo FF emissions because FF are too expensive compared to renewables. Market forces alone will drive that. But even more simplistically, places like China will be unable to breathe otherwise.

          • Richard Poore

            Uhm…thats pretty much the definition of an academic position paper, yes. They back it up with a very solid base of costs and analysis… but thats what a position paper is. An opinion of what is possible. It postulates a range of possibilities, depending on a wide variety of factors. Thats why both the study and the article about the study use the word “could” so clearly.

            The study itself goes into detail about the many options, its not predictive of what is actually going to happen. It is instead giving us a template of what we could accomplish. Its by no means a given thing here tho, there is a tremendous amount of time and effort that would have to be devoted to getting close to those goals.

          • eveee

            When scientists examine a subject, the results are supposed to be analytical and unbiased. They are not a position any more than adding two numbers to get a result is. A position is something taken by a body setting policy based on factors such as scientific papers, hopefully, rather than mere opinion. NREL shows what is technically possible. It doesn’t make arguments or take positions and its results are based on science not opinion.

          • Richard Poore

            A position paper in academia sets forth on a topic discussion without the limitations in an academic paper. An opinion paper will build on the ideas put forward with evidence supporting an objective discussion of the topic.

            NREL energy study was developed for the department of energy as a basis for future policy, its a future projection, thereby its loaded with assumptions and opinions. There is nothing “mere” about opinions when they are based on sound science. A study of this nature REQUIRES a tremendous number of assumptions, which the study lays out in great detail. Each of these assumptions , by their very nature, bias the results. They are extremely professional and open about this, as any good academic study should be.

            The study even mentions prominently that real world changes in the efficiency of solar cells and the changes in natural gas supply have moved outside of the parameters considered in the study.

            They outline a goal to strive for and it certainly does support that goal.

          • eveee

            You need to read that study before you make those statements. For example, did you realize that they did this study the same as if they were doing an analysis of a conventional system?
            What rather did is use industry standard programs to predicted generation and load matching. They also did transmission studies to understand congestion and limits. Then they looked at scenarios from 30% to 90% in 10% intervals. They varied transmission, generation, and other constraints.
            From the large number of simulations of years of load matching and with all those variables, it’s hardly a matter of assumptions. It’s more like putting as many parameters in as possible and then looking at all the results.
            The results were confirmed conservative in only a few years, simply because they limited the allowed renewables only to those that already existed and did not assume solar, wind, and storage would drop price so rapidly. In other words they assumed only that 2010 tech would evolve slowly. Things like floating offshore wind were not allowed. They assumed some EV development, too.

            That can hardly be described as a position, because it’s really a smorgasbord simulation varying every conceivable variable across a wide range of possible targets.

            That’s more like letting an experiment go and seeing what happens.

            So, sorry, I don’t see it as a position paper if you look at that many scenarios with that many variables and report the results.

            the fact that things have moved since the study has only served to bolster it. Renewables and storage have advanced much faster.p than anticipated.

            It boils down to this. There is little doubt anymore that a plethora of technical solutions exist and the list grows longer every day. Market forces edge further towards displacing conventional means.
            The only thing left is the foot dragging of non market forces.
            IMO, market forces will pressure irresistible change. The only questions are when and how.

          • Richard Poore

            I absolutely have read the study, the area on hydro caught my eye particularly since thats an area of interest to me. Geothermal also, but there Im afraid their optimism may have run too high. And yes, Im quite aware that the study was actually looking at ranges from 30-90%, with special emphasis on 80%. And yes, it was a matter of assumptions…thats why they devoted a significant portion of the study laying out what those assumptions were and how those assumptions affected the study.

            But while this has been an interesting side discussion, it really doesnt matter.

            If the word position bothers you, call it a rose.

            My point was that what I was seeking were estimates on where our power generation was actually going (apples), in the real world. A study, no matter how detailed, on theoretical possibilities doesnt do that(oranges).

            The high side estimates from solar power industry insiders are considerably lower, so I was hoping for information on real world projections.

          • eveee

            And yet you say that a study that varies every conceivable variable widely is a position paper . The wide variable variation shows the opposite of assumption making . To be sure , there are limits, but many do not favor new tech since they intentionally only use existing tech. Debate can be made with some of their ideas about hydro, geothermal, and biomass, but it is becoming moot as other means take their place and storage wind and solar prices drop more rapidly than expected. In any case, the study outcome does not depend on dispatch able renewables either. It was an attempt to see how robust futures study simulations using existing software used for conventional power planning are. It’s the results of a series of simulations with few assumptions as possible and attempting to determine if any results were sensitive to assumption.
            In that light, a simulation of that nature is anything but a position paper. It represents as little opinion as possible and resembles something more akin to a dry calculation.

          • eveee

            If you have something more real world than thousands of simulations using real world weather data for wind and solar and real world data from existing transmission lines and wind and solar farms and conventional power plants using the same software used to plan conventional power and in a collaboration of a couple dozen engineers and scientists in government research and from utilities please show it. Realistically, you cannot.
            What this study shows is correct then and now. It does not depend on much and was designed not to.
            Any futures study has uncertainty. The technical uncertainty of the results was shown to be independent of most relevant assumptions. History has validated the study further.
            To question it on the basis of its assumption it doesn’t make or rank it as less of a prediction than it really is , is unreasonable and makes an unreasonable standard that is not needed.
            That study is sufficient to prove the outcomes precisely because rather than assume much, it varied as much as possible, and reported all the outcomes.

          • Richard Poore

            Please actually reread the thread.

            What I am talking about is a real world prediction/ forecast of WHAT IS ACTUALLY LIKELY TO HAPPEN.

            The NREL study is a set of theoretical possibilities of what COULD happen, if both the government and the people of the US decided to focus on renewable energy sources. It provides a strong voice saying *Yes we could do this*

            In no shape or form are they predicting what our energy mix will actually be in 2050.

          • eveee

            there doesn’t seem to be any point in attempting to accurately predict future policy decisions. They are the realm of human behavior which is rather unpredictable. If one were to attempt take a hint from today’s trends, one would conclude that the tide is turning, attention has turned toward GHG, and the single largest contributors have altered course, with the biggest, China, making massive plans and investments to counter the problem.
            Fear can create a drive to determined or control those future events, but attempting to predict human behavior is a futile attempt to reduce fears.

          • eveee

            Based on your definition, NREL futures study is an academic paper not a position paper. No roses involved.
            Your characterization of it as loaded with assumptions is false. It is very clear that the study took effort to rid itself of assumptions and like any good academic paper, stated as many assumptions as possible in an attempt to rid it of further bias.

          • Richard Poore

            Im sorry, but the semantic twists are getting a bit murky.

            Could you please explain how “the study took effort to rid itself of assumptions” and at the same time ” stated as many assumptions as possible in an attempt to rid it of further bias.”?

            Its a good thing that they lay out their assumptions so clearly, it helps give us an idea of what outside factors could affect their projections.

          • eveee

            Yes. Those are standard academic methods. It’s diligence. No study or mathematical proof can be free of “all” assumptions. Nor can the scope be unlimited. it is possible to view it as a continuum.
            As you say, stating any assumptions makes assessing the papers results more manageable.

          • eveee

            Your problem is New Hampshire not transmission lines. You can’t even put up a flagpole there without nimby.

          • Richard Poore

            The whole NE area is kind of…special. They fight even local wind, offshore wind has been slowed to a crawl there. They had to add NG usage so their CO2 spiked up last year. Transmission lines to help out the cities? About the only thing they unite for is opposition, heh.

          • eveee

            Yes. The offshore thing is the opposite. Tea parties stopped it.

            ” The only thing they are united in is opposition. ”

            You are describing the US, not just NH.

          • Jenny Sommer

            High altitude wind. Mostly invisible to tourists.

          • Richard Poore

            The kite link is certainly interesting. Invisible certainly isnt one of its features tho…

          • eveee

            Wind doesn’t eliminate the need for storage, but you don’t need any. You need flexible sources. Any kind. And combinations of transmission, demand management, etc.
            NREL futures study found that 80% renewables by 2050 feasible and robust against constraints in any of those areas. And only needed 10% storage. Illinois is OK for wind but not great.
            I see lots of Nimby in New Hampshire. Give them candles and restrict firewood burning. Raise the price of propane. If they like that, they can keep it.
            Minnesota Alberta have done much better. There are new lines there. And Texas has done CREZ. The Feds have finally woke up and realized the states and ISOs do nothing but bicker. What else is new.
            Like it or not, if you want electric power, you need lines. If you don’t, buy a candle.

        • Bob_Wallace

          We’re building transmission. Figure the cost of shipping wind-generated electricity is about 2.5c/kWh. Add that to 4c/kWh (unsubsidized) wind and Midwest wind delivered to the East Coast will be 6.5c/kWh (and falling).

          New nuclear runs 15c/kWh to 20c/kWh. Subsidized.

          Get on top of current prices, Richard. You’re fooling yourself by not being up to date.

          • Richard Poore

            Im sorry but you are fooling yourself by ONLY looking at the prices. Ten years they spent trying to get a transmission line from the Iowa wind fields to the Chicago area. Only a few hundred miles! And the thing collapsed because of resistance from the property owners along the proposed route. Trying to get lines from the Midwest to the East coast?

            Im afraid you are the one fooling yourself about how difficult this is going to be.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Richard, do you not understand that is would be just about impossible to get communities in the NE to accept a new nuclear reactor?

          • Richard Poore

            Of course I realize it would be difficult, but not impossible.
            There is an ongoing discussion right now in the NE about a couple nuclear power plants. Politicians want to close one that is near NYC, they wanted to rack up some political points with their base. But the utility counters with the fact that plant is profitable, they want to close a different plant farther away.

            The politicians are now fighting to keep that other plant open, because of the serious harm it would do to the power supply. Rolling brownouts tend to lead to ex-politicians.

            Local power needs may simply have to be met in the region.

            That gives a good boost to offshore wind, but it also creates a selling point for nuclear. Building a nuclear plant adjacent to a current nuclear facility, or perhaps on the site of an old coal facility are possibilities.

            Or we can give up and build a fleet of CO2 pumping NG plants, since they are the cheapest solution.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “Politicians want to close one that is near NYC, they wanted to rack up some political points with their base.”

            I.e., voters do not want nuclear reactors in their neighborhoods.

            Natural gas is no longer the cheapest way to produce electricity.

            Nuclear is priced off the table.

          • eveee

            You think transmission lines get NiMBY but reactors are a piece of cake? LOL.

          • Richard Poore

            In no way are reactors a piece of cake, but they are certainly a different order of NIMBY.

            Reactors supply power to the region in which they are built, there is of course a core of reflexive anti nuke feeling but that varies from region to region. The resistance is offset to some extent because it supplies a useful benefit to the area in which its being built. Reactors have been and are being built because there is a perceived value to the area in which they are being built.

            The problem with transmission lines is that the resistance develops along the length of the line, but those who receive the benefits are those located at the two ends. None of the benefits of the power are felt by the people impacted by the building of the lines. None of their neighbors receive any benefit from the transmission of the power either, so there is no community seeing the lines as a positive to put pressure on the resisters.

            There have been three major transmission lines proposals to carry power from the windy Midwest (Iowa/ Kansas) to the power hungry East. The Rock Island, the Grain Belt express and the Plains & Eastern are long term expensive projects that have foundered on the problem of getting by the people who get no value from the lines. Years of work, gone. The Plains route had some hope swinging south until the Indian lands council came out against them and sunk the plan.

            In the Northeast attempts to get Canadian power south have run into fierce resistance, not only because of a lack of benefits but also a harm to the scenic views that the area depends on for the tourist industry.

            Part of the problem with transmission lines is that there quite simply is a tendency for many regions to have a bit of dislike for their neighbors. Its not uncommon for those in New Hampshire to feel some disdain for those in NYC or Boston, while Missouri has no particular warmth for either Kansas or the Easterners.

            My point is: yes there is a built in resistance to nuclear power, but dont make the blunder of thinking that building major transmission lines is going to be anything resembling easy.

          • eveee

            So free cable and cocaine to transmission corridor residents?

          • Richard Poore

            Something more it seems than what was being offered. Its pretty easy to understand, because the people along the lines receive none of the benefits, just the damages.

            One would presume enough money would work to solve (or at least lessen enough) the problem, but turning a two and a half billion dollar project into a potentially four or five billion dollar project doesnt seem viable. Especially since all three projects are stalled…so twelve to fifteen billion….

          • eveee

            That doesn’t sound so unsolvable. Wind turbine farmers get a take. A little cash would shut a lot if mouths and change a lot of stubborn minds about the view.

          • Richard Poore

            It comes down to economics tho. The proposed lines are already tremendously expensive for a private developer as written. Adding much more to the purchase of right of ways cost just makes the deal that much tougher.

            If they build one transmission line and the economics dont play out well, the company will face bankruptcy. While we would at least have the one line built, other projects would wither. The only hope then would be for some sort of national drive for a governmental entity to step in (or be created) to build transmission lines. Knowing the speed and energy of our government that should only take a few decades or so.

          • eveee

            May I suggest an expanded view? Transmission is happening in Minnesota Alberta and across Texas. What US has lacked until now is strong federal will and drive. The administration has finally done something about that.
            Meanwhile, China is the bigger problem. There, HVDC is expanding rapidly.

          • neroden

            Getting approval of new transmission lines is hard; getting approval of new nuclear reactors in the Northeast will be flat out impossible. I live here. Zero chance, zero.

            We’re getting transmission upgrades done. Little ones which don’t go across new rights-of-way. That’s the way it’ll happen… plus underwater cables.

          • eveee

            Who said it would be easy? We are talking about the technical difficulties.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “nuclear really does need to be in our power generation mix going forward,”

      It absolutely does not.

      “solar and wind growth is going to eventually slow as it fills the sweet part of the market”

      The sweet part is essentially a grid free of fossil fuels.

      We will need storage. Cheaper and faster to build storage, even pump-up hydro, than nuclear.

      All nuclear would give us is more expensive electricity and even more radioactive waste.

    • neroden

      Nuclear fusion located at the sun seems good to me.

  • NRG4All

    We have generated more power for the last five years than we consume and that includes charging our EV. Just the other day we received notice that our utility is crediting our account for 1,300 kWh for the past year’s generation. The costs for solar PV since have dropped significantly. It seems to me that the technology is here now. We still don’t have a long term solution for nuclear waste. We need to: push for renewables, redefine the role of electric utilities as a back up, rebuild the electric infrastructure so distributed generation can also be transmitted to areas of poor weather, and put that R&D into affordable battery or other means of storage.

  • What good are these talks if you do nothing but waste more time?! Why not go the source of threats?! Are you killing time while we perish here!?

    • Bob_Wallace

      What are you doing to slow climate change, Christina?

      • Everything in my power, Bob.

        • Bob_Wallace

          And how do you know that the rest of us are not doing what we can, Christina?

          • Jenny Sommer

            The most important thing is to eat nothing. A diet of natural light is OK though.
            No indoor weed…the lamps really kill climate. Just move into favorable climate to cultivate year round if need be.
            Not junk from China…not even solar cells.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Nothing from China?

            Come on, Jenny, don’t take your nationalism to the extreme.

          • Jenny Sommer

            Naaaaa. It’s about shipping. Never ever consume anything that’s sourced more than walking distance from your cave or hut!

          • Bob_Wallace

            OK. Guess the world needs to stop buying your beloved German cars.

          • Jenny Sommer

            Yes. Why not? I don’t care where cars come from btw.

            I’ll rather have unconditional basic income than forced industrial production for growth purpose only anyways.
            Maybe this way less cars would be needed. People could do what they enjoy, maybe had less money and would stop commuting, working for more and more money and consuming.

            Aren’t you living off grid? Probably retired and you value communication and a good time online more than things you can buy?
            Does Amazon deliver to you or do you have to pick up things at the pack station? Mountain or valley?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Local sourcing makes more sense, sometimes. But not always. Sometimes it makes more sense to ship and as we green up our shipping the remaining issue will be cost.

            Part of doing my part is to try to not buy stuff I don’t need. Buy quality so that I buy is once. All the reduce, reuse, recycle stuff.

            Amazon won’t bring stuff the last 3.5 miles to my house. They drop off at a neighbor’s house and I pick it up there. I let my cart fill up with the stuff I don’t need right away and pick it up on my twice a month trip to the grocery store.

            (Around here anyone who lives within ten miles is a neighbor. Under three miles is a close neighbor.)

          • I doubt many people are forced to devote the hours I have been forced to contribute- and without pay or even the dignity of acknowledgment- that’s all I’m saying. We are in grave discomfort! Look what these fumes did to my face!

          • Bob_Wallace

            Christina, we’re are not going to give you a venue for your “problems”.

            If you have something to contribute to the topic at hand feel free to comment, but stay on topic.

          • Jenny Sommer

            I had a look at Christinas blog…
            Help me Bob…English not being my native tongue I can’t quite decide if this is some kind of parodie/sarcasm or if she is a nutcase?

          • Bob_Wallace

            I read a little, as much as I could tolerate.

            Unfortunately it sounds like she’s serious….

  • TinaCasey

    Thank you all for a lively discussion. To be clear, this article does not “bash” nuclear energy. Like any other energy source, nuclear technology is on a progress path as long as there are R&D dollars to spend. The larger point is that right now, wind, solar, distributed energy and energy storage are upending the conventional marketplace, and costs in those areas are on a downwards trajectory. Throw in the human factor (namely, NIMBYism), and it’s difficult to see how Gates expects his top-down model to compete.

    • Brunel

      Solar power in Dubai is now 3c/kWh.

      In Tibet they could probably put up a lot of solar panels to supply China.

    • Jenny Sommer

      Tina, the second technology Bill Gates is mentioning over and over besides nuclear is high altitude wind. Is there any story to tell? How did he stumble over that?

      Renzi just made some odd statements in NY. He wants to invest more in wind energy but not conventional …he is talking about more efficient, Italian technology…
      Any idea what he is talking about?


  • Jenny Sommer
    • nakedChimp

      So he’ll come around at about 2018 to advocate PV then?

      • Jenny Sommer

        There’s plenty of funding for PV already.
        But he might be on to something with high altitude wind.
        It would fit him favoring huge centralised generation. The KiteGen Carousel would scale up to 64GW per unit, on the other hand the 3MW Stem plants would work everywhere. Would be good to repower bad wind sites.


      • John Moore

        I’m thinking 2022.

  • Quiet_Think

    I love this site. They bash nuclear power, but claim its out of scope in comments, and filter comments that are presenting facts that don’t shine brightly for renewables. So go ahead and have a nuclear hate fest with the like minded. Meanwhile, its still the power source that has produced by far the most clean air energy. We’d be in much worse shape today were it not for nuclear.

    • Ivor O’Connor

      Donald Trump may have taken the Republican’s by storm but even he can’t get away with pushing more nuclear crony capitalism. When new nuclear power costs 5x as much as solar and wind, takes longer to install, and pollutes worse than coal nobody but a few governments like Iran and North Korea can continue with nuclear power.

      • Calamity_Jean

        And even Iran is turning away from nukes to renewables.

    • Matt

      Read the link above. But here is a picture to show you are out of date.

    • Bob_Wallace

      We would have more CO2 in our atmosphere today were it not for nuclear.

      Too bad nuclear is so expensive, so dangerous, takes to long to build and leaves behind massive amounts of deadly waste. Otherwise it would be a great way to replace fossil fuels.

    • eveee

      It’s also produced the most disaster refugees and land contaminated for centuries. We would have a lot less if that without nuclear.

  • Brunel

    Efficiency does help if the stick is a big tax instead of a total ban.

    A fridge that contains an inverter is more efficient than one without.

    But Government entered our bathrooms and banned high flow showers – which makes most voters angry and some buy shower heads from the black market.

    A big tax on tap water would have cut water use while allowing luxury hotels to have high flow showers.

    A 50% renewable energy target also helps with reducing CO2 – more than the ban on high flow showers.

  • JamesWimberley

    Rich crank throws money at solved problem.

    • Joseph Dubeau

      Why doesn’t Bill just spend a couple of billion on a Wind Farm?

      • Ivor O’Connor

        Bill has gotten where he is via dirty crony capitalism. He has no desire for open solutions.

        • neroden

          Worth remembering that Microsoft was convicted of establishing and maintaining an illegal monopoly through illegal, anti-competitive business practices. Repeatedly.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Yes indeed.

      • Calamity_Jean

        “Why doesn’t Bill just spend a couple of billion on a Wind Farm?”


  • Ross

    I love the fact anyone can learn evidence based information that a billionaire doesn’t know despite them being able to afford the best expertise that money could buy.

  • Mike333

    Wow. Sounds like Gates is Heavily Invested in Coal with those statements.

  • ThermalEd

    Given 1) monopoly power, 2) slave labor, 3) a quiet and complacent set of neighbors wherever the technology is deployed, 4) a nearly infinite budget for cleaning up and decommissioning existing plants, 5) no consideration for the cost, and 6) no other choice, then Bill’s dark fantasy might be worth a go. However, out here in the real world, it isn’t worth a go. What’s the present value of an infinite future liability, Bill?
    Wind and solar are infinitely scalable. Silicon PV is virtually free as sand is virtually limitless. With lithium batteries now at $250 per kWh on the way to $100, there really is no way to stop, nor point in stopping, the transition to renewables. One more thing, when it comes to complacent neighbors, that means all of us. I heard somewhere that we all live downwind. Not in my backyard, Old Sport.

    • Bob_Wallace

      All good, except that lithium batteries are now well under $200/kWh.

      • jamesdawson

        Gates has missed the whole point by thinking in archaic terms about the future of power production and DISTRIBUTION.
        The future will be a much more efficient and survivable distributed generation of REs with local storage and there will be ties between these microgrids for sharing.
        Kind of like a mesh network or even the internet I suppose which is something else that Gates badly misjudged the future of with Microsoft.
        The future will NOT be a re-creation of the top-down big centralized generation and distribution model.
        I don’t have it know but I also understand that Gates has some pretty terrible advisors on his power schemes.

        • eveee

          That distribution has been noted where proponents have even described coal as necessary for the poor. In transmission poor India, central generation is useless to outlying villages. Nuclear can do nothing for them.

        • nakedChimp

          The central monopoly that is M$ worked well in the past (for him and his boys).. and a old dog does not learn new tricks it seems.

      • Frank

        Nuclear needs some kind of storage too. Sure it’s dispatchable, but the ones we have don’t follow load very well. They need water too. Let’s assume for a moment they find their miracle, and can get a plant up in say 10 years. What price would they have to hit for you to want to seriously consider it?

        • Bob_Wallace

          It’s not about a price for me, it’s about the price the grid would require for nuclear to get into the game.

          What we’re seeing right now is that nuclear reactors which produce electricity at $0.05/kWh are failing. Kewaunee was a operating reactor, needed no expensive repairs, and had years left on its license. Kewaunee was shut down because the five cent electricity it produced was too expensive to compete with NG and wind.

          Exelon has managed to get subsidies for two paid off reactors which had been losing money for years. Again, five cents is too much. Exelon will close other reactors that they have not been able to keep alive with subsidies.

          What would the price need to be if five cents is too high? I would guess lower than wind (currently at four cents, unsubsidized and falling). Nuclear would have to be able to force wind to curtail by selling for less than wind during low demand hours.

          • Frank

            The Unicorn: has to be much cheaper to build than a wind farm, or solar plant, and produce electricity for less than a half a cent/KWh(is that close to a wind farm/solar plant operating costs?) to make up for the additional security/disposal costs. Is that description pretty good?

    • eveee

      You nailed it. Present value of infinite future liability. Thats a good one. Doubt he thinks in economic terms.

      • sjc_1

        Fast reactors eliminate long term radioactive materials.

        • eveee

          What fast reactors? Not here and not doing that. Also, they convert long term materials to shorter term materials and slowly. There are also some severe problems with decommissioning.
          This technology does not exist today as aworking, practical, economic solution.
          It’s always 20 years away.

          • sjc_1

            GE is working with the Savannah River facility to build one. The Chinese don’t think it is 20 years away.

          • eveee

            There have been declarations about fast reactors being around the corner for may years. Hasnt happened. By experience over decades, the industry and experts have concluded its a tough thing to do. All present fast reactors use sodium. That is a tough substance to deal with.
            On paper it sounds like tranforming wastes to faster decaying substances like Cs137 is a good idea. But the reactivity of those faster decaying substances is very high. That is, substances like that are hotter for a shorter period of time.

          • sjc_1

            The Russians have had one running for more than 30 years.

          • eveee

            We always have the same conversation repeated. Sure it’s running. And while it’s burning and leaking LOL. The Russian solution to leaking sodium and fires is to have 2 systems operating, so one can continue to operate while the other leaks and burns. Hardly a solution likely to encounter widespread acceptance in the west.
            When nuke fans hear Chernobyl, they say Russian tech is no good.
            When they say breeder, all of a sudden, Russian tech is wonderful.

          • sjc_1

            A reaction, not rationale.

            “The Peoples Republic of China’s first commercial-scale, 800 MWe, fast neutron reactor, to be situated near Sanming city in Fujian province will be based upon the BN-800. In 2009, an agreement was signed that would entail the Russian BN-800 reactor design to be sold to the PRC once it is completed, this would be the first time commercial-scale fast neutron reactors have ever been exported.”


          • eveee

            And then what? A reactor that’s burning, leaking, and contaminating all the time? A success in China with no environmental standards that can’t be reproduced anywhere else? The Russians already did that with bn-600. The 800 is just a scaled up failure. And how many decades to burn up waste? It’s a slow process that requires many expensive reactors. And they have no intention of burning waste. They want to stabilize supply and realize that expansion is difficult with existing ore concentrations dropping. But breeding is difficult and expensive and messy. Cleanup and decommissioning are exorbitant. If and when the Chinese build the 800, the Chinese might look over their shoulder and notice the 600 still isn’t cleaned up and costing a fortune. If they are smart, they will stop before they start.

          • Calamity_Jean

            The Chinese could be wrong.

  • Harry Johnson

    We’ve run out of time for a “miracle” and the Bill Gates and Koch Brothers of the world must get out of the way.

    • Bob_Wallace

      At least Gates is a well-intentioned speed bump….

      • Karl the brewer

        Wheras the Kochs would make a lovely pair of matching speed bumps.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m thinking sinkholes.

          The kind one drives into and never gets out of….

          • Karl the brewer

            Technically a form of CCS i believe….

          • Frank


    • Ross

      Yes, at this point Gates is like the embarrassing relative that keeps showing up uninvited.

      • Brunel

        Apparently 3c/kWh in Dubai now for solar power.

        • Ross

          To quote Michael Liebreich of BNEF how much more miracly does he need his miracles to be.

  • neroden

    It’s true that every sodium-cooled reactor has had leaks — and lots of them. Dismantling them is staggeringly expensive because it’s very hard to dispose of the radioactive-cesium-contaminated sodium; an enormous plant has to be established to “clean” the sodium. Dounreay is a good example of the astronomically high cleanup costs for sodium-cooled reactors.

  • jburt56

    There may be a way to do centrifugally-confined plasma fusion reactors. . .

    • Bob_Wallace

      There may be and that’s an interesting science project we should pursue.

      But centrifugally-confined plasma fusion reactors do not now exist. We can’t use them on our grids if they do not exist. And even if we do invent them there’s not a lot of hope that they could compete economically.

      • Brunel

        Sam Altman and Elon Musk are in a YouTube video in which Sam says nuclear fusion could/should work for people close to the North Pole where solar panels do not work.

        Musk agreed with him.

        Maybe HVDC lines to the North Pole could supply solar power.

        • Bob_Wallace

          We’re going to put nuclear plant in a 30 house Inuit village.


          Wind is working very nicely in that sort of location.

          • Brunel
          • Bob_Wallace

            Please don’t drop naked links. People don’t want to go fishing in order to figure out the point you are trying to make.

          • Ross

            About 6 mins in they start talking about energy. Elon said he used to believe fusion would eventually become important but now thinks solar fusion collectors will be more important and fusion might play a role really far north or south. I guess he’ll revise that one when he’s had more time to think about it.

          • Joseph Dubeau

            During the summer, you get a lot sunlight.
            In IceLand the sun will set at mid night and rises at 3 am.

          • Brunel

            Iceland is a bad example. It gets most of its power from geothermal and hydro.

          • Joseph Dubeau

            Wouldn’t the Nuclear power plant melt through the ice and just simply fall off the edge of the earth?
            In California, it would fall through to China.

            I heard Elon wants use nukes on the Martian poles.
            That’s one man I wouldn’t want to piss off.

        • Paul

          Wouldn’t take much for a small solar collector in geostationary above the poles to beam down power. Elon has the technology to put it up with his Falcon 9.

          • Brunel

            Or you could build a HVDC link to cities that are close to the North Pole.

          • Paul

            There are no cities close to the North Pole, just towns/settlements within the arctic circle.

    • eveee

      Yeah. The sun. Its been done before. We just need to figure out how to make a star on earth and contain it without destroying the earth. Thats all. Should be here in 20 years.

      • just_jim

        Or we could learn to use the power of the fusion plant that we have right now (the sun). But that’s just crazy talk!

        • Calamity_Jean

          YES! Fusion reactors need to be placed a long way from population centers.

          93 million miles is about right.

          • Philip W

            Hmm how do we put a fusion reactor there, so far from the earth? Oh wait, it already exists and floods the earth with free, limitless energy…

      • just_jim

        “Should be here in 20 years.” As they said in the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s, the oughty’s, and probably the teens, the 20’s and the 30’s.

    • Armchair Hydrogeologist

      Will that work with fusing protons with Boron11? Because most other plausible fusion reactions generate fast neutrons which will transmute all nearby stuff into other elements that are radioactive and chemically behave different. Either that or they will require elements that are not commonly found on earth. At useful energy and power densities, neutrons will corrode a fusion machine into a useless radioactive pile of junk. Any fusion tech that can’t work with a low or no neutron reaction is not much better (if at all) than fission.

      • Hazel

        You’re right, ²D-³He and ²D-³T spew neutrons at ridiculous rates. Reactor life is going to be very short, and create lots of radioactive waste.

        In addition to ¹p-¹¹B, aneutronic alternatives also include p-⁶Li (though that makes ³He), or ²D-⁶Li. Unfortunately, the activation energy and energy released are unbalanced enough that they’re not likely to get going in any but two forms: inertial confinement (i.e. a bomb) or gravitational confinement (i.e. a star). It’s possible we can make some “clean bombs” (i.e. aneutronic) for construction purposes, but it’s hard to harvest the energy.

        • John Moore

          I was going to say that, but you beat me to it.

        • mikeswift

          Fifty years ago when I was 20 I took a tour of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. One of the engineers there said that in about 40 years they would have a working fusion power plant using the technology they were developing. They say the same thing today.

  • eveee

    Cost is the most important factor in nuclear market failure. Financiers won’t touch it. Its not NIMBY that has caused cost over runs and delays at Summer and Vogtle.
    The idea that hippies waving signs stopped nuclear is a myth.
    Its cold hard financial math.

    • Mike333

      Rightly so. Not if it comes with catastrophic risk. Catastrophic risk is expensive.

      • eveee

        Yes, the loss of hundreds of square miles of land for centuries does have a huge human, ecological, social, and economic impact.
        The Chernobyl and Fukushima sarcophagi must be rebuilt or repaired until the radiation levels reduce. Chernobyl is getting a new roof thats very costly. Fukushima is still leaking and attempts to stop it are creating huge vats of stored radioactive water. The cleanup and refugee displacement costs mount. It takes both energy and money to keep the ice walls and all that stuff in place to prevent even more radiation from escaping. That will be necessary for generations.

      • Nikola Tasev

        Is catastrophic risk more expensive than the thousands of deaths due to, say, coal mining? Or is it just more visible?

        • Mike333

          Coal is being shut down globally. 200 coal companies going bankrupt globally. You need to move into ETF SPYX and get out of carbon.

          • Nikola Tasev

            More than 4 Billion tons of coal were mined and used in 2015. Yes, it’s declining, but it’s here to stay for the next few decades. Partly because of people fighting its competitors
            “Nuclear power had two lethal accidents in 60 years of operation”
            “Wind kills birds”
            “solar panel production is poisonous”
            All are correct. But they are still far better than coal. I’d say people need to looks at things in perspective. Until coal starts producing less electricity than the others, it needs to be replaced as soon as possible.

          • Bob_Wallace

            All are better than coal. But nuclear brings a level of danger unlike any other power source we have ever tapped. We have huge amounts of radioactive waste that we are pushing off on those who follow us.

            Given that nuclear is our second most expensive way to generate new electricity (second only to coal) and creates problems unlike anything created by wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, tidal or biofuels it would be extremely foolish to continue building nuclear reactors.

            There’s a point at which we simply need to say “Enough! No more dumb moves, people!”.

          • eveee

            And what is nuclear doing to reduce carbon? Not much. Its declining.

        • Armchair Hydrogeologist

          Coal is soon going to be obsolete.

          Nuclear power (as done today) generates plutonium which can be chemically separated into a bomb. I’d rather that the raw fissile materials for a bomb be as difficult to get ahold of as possible.

          • Nikola Tasev

            “Coal is soon going to be obsolete.”
            Soon is very relative. There are billions of tons of coal used for generating electricity, and I’d rather it was replaced as soon as possible.
            “Nuclear power (as done today) generates plutonium which can be chemically separated into a bomb.”
            That’s why power plants are subject to inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Plus, the plutonium is not easy to extract at all. Modern plants are optimized for electricity generation, not plutonium breeding. The first plants were the other way around. And you need very expensive and rare equipment to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.
            If you are not a nuclear power yourself, it’s easier to enrich uranium for bombs than to breed plutonium.

          • Calamity_Jean

            “There are billions of tons of coal used for generating electricity, and I’d rather it was replaced as soon as possible.”

            I agree completely with this statement. However, the way to replace coal ASAP is with solar and wind, which can be built and pushing out electrons many times over while a nuclear plant is still under construction.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Say, Nikola, would your rather have your right hand or your left hand chopped off?

          I’ll help you out here. The answer is “neither”.

          We don’t need to accept the catastrophic risk of nuclear or the thousands of death due to coal mining. We have a ability to say “Neither!”.

          Lucky us….

          • Nikola Tasev

            There is no perfectly safe and perfectly clean energy source. I gave coal mining as an example, but hydro power can also lead to catastrophic failure and thousands of deaths.
            Coal and hydro power still make up a lot of humanity’s electricity. I’m saying that energy sources should not be looked at isolated from each other.
            Nuclear is safer per MWh produced than other sources. The newest plants are far safer than the old ones. My point is its failures are less frequent and more visible.
            If you look at things in perspective, you should be replacing the worst power provider with better ones, until it is gone. You can say “neither” all you wish, but there are billions of tons of coal used for electricity. Every ton of coal we replace with something else is for the benefit of humanity. When coal starts producing less electricity than nuclear you might have a point.

          • Frank

            I don’t understand why you skipped over two cheapest, cleanest, safest sources, wind and solar, to get to nuclear. Why wouldn’t you spend your money on the best options?

          • Bob_Wallace

            “Nuclear is safer per MWh produced than other sources.”

            Wrong. Please don’t post FUD.

          • Alvin(((((((((((((((

            Only if you ignore the entire fuel cycle, which nuclear power poison factory merchants love to do. Even then it takes a wild stretch of the imagination to arrive at your faulty conclusion.

        • eveee

          It’s a fallacy argument nuke fans love. Nukes or coal. No other choices.

          • Nikola Tasev

            Of course there are other choices.
            But there is still far too much coal, and every GWh of nuclear replaces mainly coal, which is always a good thing.

          • eveee

            Except for the odd triple meltdown here and there that actually consumes much more FF. Other than the headache, how’s the play Mr Lincoln.

          • Nikola Tasev

            What do you mean by FF?

          • eveee

            Sorry. Fossil fuels.

          • eveee

            Only a good thing when there are no accidents. Japan is now emitting much more carbon.

          • Nikola Tasev

            Only because people are being irrational and listening to scaremongering articles.
            Many thousands of people died due to the tsunami. Less than 10 people died from the Fukushima meltdown.
            Japan didn’t start building mass tsunami barriers, they stopped their nuclear power plants.

          • Bob_Wallace

            When someone attempts to gloss over the danger of nuclear energy by minimizing the number of deaths at Fukushima or Chernobyl we have a clear signal that they are an advocate of nuclear energy and not posting objective comments.

          • eveee

            Right. It’s no problem at all, we don’t need to check any other reactors for cracks after a massive earthquake or examine if safety plans are all wrong after a massive blunder like that. It’s all good.
            And the only thing that matters is deaths, those thousands of nuclear refugees and vast tracts of uninhabitable land are no big deal. Sure the cleanup will take billions and money will be spent for centuries, but so what?
            People make such a big deal about these things.

          • Nikola Tasev

            “we don’t need to check any other reactors for cracks after a massive earthquake or examine if safety plans are all wrong after a massive blunder like that”
            That’s not what I said at all. Of course they need to check for cracks, build anti-flood walls and waterproof generator buildings, passive safety designs and so on.
            What I am against is general statements like “nuclear is inherently unsafe” and “we need to stop using it”. Germany did not just check for faults, they gave in to scaremongers and decided to phase out nuclear entirely. Austria did not believe their risk assessment, they decided they did not want to use their already finished nuclear power plant. There are far too many people in Japan and elsewhere who don’t want to examine safety, they just want to close all nuclear plants. If they ever talk safety, it is just a means to an end, with the end being nuclear shutdown. They oppose the new safer plants, because they don’t care to distinguish 70-s nuclear and modern one.
            “those thousands of nuclear refugees”
            Which are blown out of proportion, compared to the millions of refugees due to hydropower, or polluion, or desertification.
            “Sure the cleanup will take billions and money will be spent for centuries, but so what?”
            Sure, nuclear cleanups are far cheaper than coal cleanups. You need to close nuclear, and if it means you will keep the far more harmful coal open longer, so what?
            “People make such a big deal about these things.”
            The problem is people make a big deal of smaller things, and forget the bigger things. They don’t keep things in perspective.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The average person has no ability to determine the safety of an individual reactor. The public doesn’t have a lot of faith in the nuclear industry. When one melts down people are naturally going to wonder if the one next to them will be the next to go sour.

            (It’s not just Chernobyl and Fukushima. People are aware of the ‘close calls’ and the troubled reactors.)

          • Nikola Tasev

            “The average person has no ability to determine the safety of an individual reactor.”
            The average person has no ability to determine the capability of an individual dam, dyke, coal mine, chemical plant or bridge. This is not a reason to stop using them entirely. This is a reason to assess risks and be cautious.
            “The public doesn’t have a lot of faith in the nuclear industry.”
            Mostly because of scaremongering from people unqualified to assess the risks.
            “When one melts down people are naturally going to wonder if the one next to them will be the next to go sour.
            (It’s not just Chernobyl and Fukushima. People are aware of the ‘close calls’ and the troubled reactors.)”
            How about the industrial accidents that kill tens of thousands? Banqiao Reservoir Dam killed an estimated 171 000 people. The Bhopal disaster in a chemical plant killed 2 259 people immediately and caused 558 125 injuries, many of them severe or permanent.
            The solution is not to lose faith in the industries and call to ban them entirely. The solution is to create international safety standards and keep them as safe as possible.
            I am all for safety standards for nuclear plants. But being against them entirely is unreasonable.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “The solution is not to lose faith in the industries and call to ban them entirely. The solution is to create international safety standards and keep them as safe as possible.

            I am all for safety standards for nuclear plants. But being against them entirely is unreasonable.”

            That sounds sensible. But what to do when the nuclear industry is not following the safety and reporting guidelines that exist.

            Just recently we discovered that a French reactor experienced a near disaster which was averted only by using extraordinary measures.

            “(News reports) are basing the claim on a document they say they have obtained, sent by ASN to the then-head of the facility on April 24, 2014.

            The letter and subsequent reply reveal that the reactor could not be shut down in an ordinary fashion due to control rods being jammed. The reactor had to be shut down by adding boron to the pressure vessel, an unprecedented procedure in Western Europe, according to an expert.

            “I don’t know of any reactor here in Western Europe that had to be shut down after an accident by adding boron,” Manfred Mertins, expert and government advisor on nuclear reactor safety, told WDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung.”

            Then the event was covered up and not disclosed to even the regulatory agencies. It was discovered by by the German press two years later.

            “The reports say the official report ASN released did not contain information on adding boron nor the jammed control rods. It was also not reported in that way to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”


            Then Belgium is restarting two reactors which have cracked containment domes which quite possibly could not withstand an internal explosion.


            I’ve lived downwind of Rancho Seco and now drive past the Humboldt Bay site every time I go to the grocery store. I’m very aware of the lies told by the people running those two reactors.

            At some point people just get fed up with the near misses and cover ups. If you can’t trust some of the plants to be safe and can’t determine which are safe and which are not then you reach a point where you decide that shutting them all down is the best idea.

            It’s not that we can’t replace their output with renewable sources that are safe and often less expensive.

          • eveee

            Or what to do when the regulating body is just a rubber stamp with a revolving door between government and industry? Japan. US.

          • eveee

            Germany and Japan are tired of being fed excuses for nuclear contamination.

            You are grasping at straws trying to fend off nuclears problems with straw men.

            You really have no idea how much clean up costs will be centuries hence and neither does anyone else, so you cannot say nuclear cleanups are cheaper than coal cleanups.

            Stop making the choice coal or nuclear. There are alternatives that are better, cheaper, cleaner, and healthier for all of us.

            That might go a long ways to you keeping things in perspective.

          • Nikola Tasev

            “Stop making the choice coal or nuclear. There are alternatives that are better, cheaper, cleaner, and healthier for all of us.”
            And none of them are currently capable of providing the required electricity 24/7 cost effectively.
            Look at Germany and Japan’s emissions after they decided to close their nuclear plants. Their coal use increased, along with their CO2 emissions. And these are countries with expensive electricity, where renewables are relatively competitive. Please tell me how you can remove coal and nuclear in the near future.

          • eveee

            A combination of wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, hydro, CSP with storage and so forth can provide 24/7 power by 2050 economically.

            Why don’t you read what the report says and find out how its done.

            Read NREL Futures Study proving 80% renewables by 2050.

            In 2014 update:

            “new 2014 cost numbers are much more in line with 2020 cost estimates of the updated ATI scenario (which now looks like it also has conservative cost estimates) and that scenario reaches 80 percent renewables in 2050 at almost no increased cost relative to business as usual.

            The conclusion: 80 percent renewable energy in 2050 is technically feasible and economically neutral compared to a business-as-usual case. This represents a significant difference from the original study’s conclusions, with important policy implications. Since solar and wind deployment are both accelerating and the grid study’s ATI scenario freezes cost reductions after 2020 while maintaining conservative assumptions about grid management improvements, an American grid powered by 80 percent renewables could feasibly be cheaper than business as usual by 2050.”


          • Bob_Wallace

            Sorry, you’re wrong. A combination of wind, solar and pump-up hydro storage would give us 24/365 electricity at an acceptable price. Cheaper than new nuclear and much cheaper than new coal if external costs were covered.

            Add San Diego to your list. All three grids were caught by surprise with the sudden loss of nuclear generation. None of the three had ample time to get clean generation replacement sources in place, ready to take over when nuclear disappeared in a flash.

            All three had to turn to more fossil fuel use because that was all that was available.

            How you remove coal and nuclear in the near future is easy. You ramp up renewable installation. At some point, likely at quite high renewable penetration, you start adding storage. But before you add storage you work on time-shifting demand to match time of supply as much as possible.

            Here’s how we’re doing it in the US. We’ve replaced about 5% of fossil fuel use with wind and solar. The pace is too slow, but it is accelerating and should continue to accelerate as costs fall.


          • just_jim

            Technically, he’s correct, renewables can’t replace coal now. There’s not enough renewables yet. However, renewables win and win big vs nuclear. If we made a strong effort, we could replace all coal with renewables, before a single nuclear plant started today could begin producing power.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Coal took a tumble in the 4th quarter, 2015. Fell below 30% of electricity generation. Replacing all coal in 10 years is possible, we could ramp up and install 2x to 3x as much wind and solar as we do now. But it would be politically difficult to actually close all coal plants in some coal-burning states.

            We may have to wait for the last plants to die of old age. The average lifespan of coal plants in the US is about 40 years. Take a look at the graph below. Add six years to the ages as this graph was made in 2010.

            Given that it’s really unlikely we’ll build any more coal plants what we do have will likely expire of old age within 20 years.


          • just_jim

            “And none of them are currently capable of providing the required electricity 24/7 cost effectively. ”

            Neither is new nuclear.

            If we started a new nuclear plant now, we might be producing power from it in 2030. Meanwhile there would be zero reduction of CO2 emission from that plant.

            Meanwhile, in the real world, in 2016 eia projects 16.6 GigW of renewables. http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=25172

            That replaces CO2 producing electricity now, and even if the next 15 years only added 16.6 GW a year of renewables, it would add 250 GW to replace coal, before nuclear started today could add 1 watt.

    • Guest

      And the proof of the pudding is in the eating, one might say:http://www.renewablesinternational.net/nuclear-and-renewables-up-to-2015/150/537/94910/

      • eveee

        Right oh. Nuclear is behind in China and will never catch up. Its so far behind that solar expansion is being accelerated to make up the shortfall.
        “China is being encouraged by three industry groups to double the nation’s solar-power goal for 2020 to fill a gap forecast to emerge because nuclear and hydropower are due to fall short of targets.”

      • Matt

        That is a great link! If you do nothing else look at page 8. Zak need to add that to you standard set of graphics.

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