A bit of optimism in the air today

In the post on Professor Deffeyes latest statement I quoted his comment that ""solar cells are not the only shimmering dreams." Which, when taken with the following statement that "Methane hydrates, oil shale and the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste depository would be better better off forgotten" suggests that he holds little hope for any of these technologies.  This is, I believe a mistake.  Not too long ago the Engineer suggested that I write away for the free copy of "The Power of the Sun", a one-hour free DVD on recent developments in solar energy, hosted by Nobel Laureates Walter Kohn and Alan Heeger, and produced by Professor Kohn (who is at UC Santa Barbara, which is why I heard of it). It is the one with the camel carrying a solar panel that powers the refrigeration for vaccines being carried across the African desert.  I highly recommend it.

Not only does it show the considerable progress that solar power has made in the past decade, but also illustrates the commitment that both individuals and governments are making to this technology.  No it is not going to solve all the problems that we have with the coming of depletion, but this was a very easy video to watch and gave me some confidence that solar is likely to make a larger contribution, and faster, than I had anticipated.  (It also explains how they work, so that even I could understand it).

Today's BBC story shows the level that can now be reached, as a family in the outback of Australia now get virtually all their power from sun and wind.

The "something" they are in control of sits on the roof above our heads; a swathe of solar panels, book-ended by two small wind turbines on six- metre (yard) poles.

"All our power is run by solar and wind energy," says Lynn, "and we're learning how to manage that and how it works in our house."

 "You do learn to manage just how much power you're using in the house," adds Chris. "You probably can't turn on an electric jug and a toaster at the same time.

The IEA is not confident that solar will make that much of a contribution
Yet according to International Energy Agency forecasts, renewables (once again excluding large-scale hydro) will make up only 6% of the world's energy economy in 2030, with solar cells contributing a small fraction.

It is an improvement on today's 2%, but hardly a ringing endorsement of their potential.

I am somewhat more optimistic.

I am reading Mark Jaccard's new book "Sustainable Fossil Fuels", about which I will have more to say when I am finished, but for now one of his statements has relevance.

When I first visited China in 1990, I was told that almost 200 million people had no electricity. By the time of my visit in 2000, the estimate had dropped to below 100 million, and by 2004 the International Energy Agency dropped the estimate to 20 million.
And I come back to the image of the panels on the camel, and the new advances in thin film panels that, although now very expensive, will come down in price as demand and production increase. There are very many places in the world where a little electric power is going to make a lot of difference. And those changes, which may ease the burden a little from biofuels in the poorest countries, give me a little hope.

And having just watched the Chinese skaters recover from a punishing fall to take silver in the Olympics, I go to bed a little more optimistic tonight.

While advances in solar technology will certainly help ameliorate the decline, I don't think it is reasonable to assume they will be able to aid much in ameliorating nation-level collapse.

On one hand, no matter what the technology, it seems like it is all relatively technically complex, either in design, fabrication, construction, or all three. The argument that we have yet to build a silicon mine that is run on solar only is not totally relevant (as diesel will be around for a long enough while to be of use), but it points out the energetic difficulties that such a technology requires.

Coal or oil or NG are removed from the user by only a few steps (wood is even closer, but less energy dense). Solar, on the other hand, requires batteries, silicon or other high-technology receptors and then utilizes a low density source.

I think the IEA forecast, perhaps not percentage wise (because they don't account for the declining oil as we might) but certainly quantity wise, might be too optomistic. Who is going to want to invest in expensive solar panels if they don't have a job? Conversely what government will want to invest in expensive solar when it can just burn coal/wood? (Both the US and China fall into this later category.)

And then there's the problem of scalability. How fast can we scale this technology? Especially considering it will likely be in the absence of global, if not national, governmental support.

Until some eMergy analysis gets down, I think the jury's still out. But I'd still put solar on my roof now (if I owned my roof), just because it'll likely last me 20 years and that would be a bonus. Anything purchased in the cheap oil era that lasts even shortly into the post oil era will be a very very wise investment. It's like buying low and selling high.

I realize I also deflated the whole optomism thread. Seeing as we can't always be gloom and doom, I've included a link to an excerpt from "Home From Nowhere" by the (in)famous JH Kunstler. It's before he was really peak oil aware and is titled "What I Live For." I've reprinted it for the course I'm teaching at college, "Peak Oil: crisis and catalyst for a sustainable future." Perhaps a guest post on the nature of that course at some future date would be in order... editors?


DavidH says "On one hand, no matter what the technology, it seems like it is all relatively technically complex, either in design, fabrication, construction, or all three."

I can't speak knowledgably about solar or any of the alternatives to oil/ng. However, it seems to me that what they all have in common is a far greater dependence on high capital intensity and high tech. Therefore they depend on a complex and specialized infrastructure. But it seems to me that this is precisely what's going to be hard to maintain at a certain point down off peak.

Here I think there is a really big unknown: once the hydrocarbons are mostly used up, how much of our infrastructure that supports high tech and high capital intensity will be sustainable? I tend to believe, but can't come close to proving that we'll have to back some considerable way off the way we operate now. Shumacher's "small is beautiful" in some form may come into it's own.

The powers-that-be strongly prefer the capital-intensive solutions and are quite hostile to the opposite. Maybe the most flagrant example is where some western owned water companies in third world countries have forbid people to collect rain water.

Besides the capital intensity, what of the energy intensity?

There's going to be a certain amount of mining minerals for solar panels, semiconductors, etc., if we try to ramp it up to commercial scale. And last I checked, nobody had invented electric-powered bulldozers, trenchers, trucks, scoops, etc.

And consider the other end of the equation as well. Who can afford individualized solar collection equipment? Certainly there is a certain portion of the planet that could manage, but what about the rest? Do we become a planet where the top 5% create and manage their own electricity generation and the rest have no hope to do so? And can we expect that they will just sit by and watch those that continue to live the "powered lifestyle"?
Exactly. A world of electricity elitism like that would separate the rich-poor gap even more than today.
Very good point.
There are Gaussian distribution curves as to how many people have economic access to the better, more efficient technologies and who they are in the scheme of things.

Consider how many people own hybrids (i.e. Priuses) versus how many people own oil burning, broken down jalopies and where they fit in the income and population distribution curves.

My guess is that there way more poor people driving low mileage (low MPG) wrecks than there are movie stars strutting their Prestige Priuses around town.

And the low MPG drivers are usually also the low wage earners who have to drive that many more miles from outlying rural areas to get to work in the high-rent town centers.

Arguably, rather than tax deductions for Priuses, government-funded discounts for the poorest people to buy newer cars would do much more to reduce gasoline consumption in our country. Given that many of these cars are also burning major amounts of motor oil through bad valves and/or rings, it would make an even greater difference in air quality, especially in metropolitan areas.

Of course, and running the risk of sounding like I'm stereotyping, getting urban minorities to sell big boats isn't going to happen very easily.

Until some eMergy analysis gets down,

Odum liked tacking the 'how much knowledge is embedded in this product' and as such, PV to electrical power will always be expensive eMergy-wise.

If one applies a 'time value' to electric power, the conversion of a photon to electrical power via PV is the shortest.   Wind/Hydro is shorter photon->power conversion than plant->oil/alcohol->power and that is shorter than wood->power or coal/oil-> power.   eMergy has an ability to track time-value of a photon, but I've not seen a model of it.  

And last I checked, nobody had invented electric-powered bulldozers, trenchers, trucks, scoops, etc.

Check again.  In Milwaukee WI, the earthmoving machines made there are electric.

PV makes low voltage DC, usefull only for direct use (or battery storage).  A significant extra step is required to make this power generally useful, power electronics to convert it.

Wind makes medium voltage and hydro high voltage AC electricity, easily useful doing most everything electricity is used for (convert to medium voltage DC for aluminum smelting, Urban Rail (freight rail can use up to 50 kV AC) and limited other applications.

Strung together PV panels produce high DC voltage. On my system five panels in each string give 350V. The inverter cost only 5% of the system cost. On the other hand batteries sufficient to smooth out even a week's supply cost nearly as much as the rest of the supply and last only a few years.
As long as total PV power is only a few percent of grid power and you can get your supplier to allow you to fit inport and export meters and don't put too great a differential on the two prices grid connection is a far better idea.
PV makes low voltage DC, usefull only for direct use (or battery storage).

Do you have a point here?  

A significant extra step is required to make this power generally useful, power electronics to convert it.

Oh, well to apply your own logic, the power in the home should be 12VDC or even 1.5 VDC.   Because some of man's most usful creations is TTL and CMOS logic.   If you plug a IC into 120 VAC, it goes poof!   A significant extra step is needed to convert 120VAC down to 12VDC, 5VDC, 3.3 VDC and other very low  DC voltages.

A cheap and easy step because efficiency is not an issue.

I can feel the heat coming from the converter on my feet right now.  My guess is <$5 wholesale.

OTOH, when efficiency matters, it costs.  Such as PV > Medium voltage AC.

A cheap and easy step because efficiency is not an issue.  I can feel the heat coming from the converter on my feet right now.

What about the heat from the step down transformer on the pole/neighborhood substation?    What about the 20-50% line loss (depending on who you want to quote)?

If you are willing to accept cheap lossy transformers at your feet, why oppose solar PV that MIGHT need a conversion step?

20% line loss ?

WAY over the US average.  The most often quote is 10% transmission & transforming loss.

Since computers do not run on the EXACT DC voltage that PV modules produce and because DC voltage cannot be transformed (i.e changed) without going first to AC (i.e. 12 V DC > 120 V AC > 5 V DC), any PV energy calculation has to include the costs (energy & capital) to convert to useable AC power.

The only exception that I can think of is direct feeding of series wired PV to Urban Rail (600 V DC to 1000 V DC depending upon system).  PV could be used as supplemental power in that way.  Also, wire house for 12 V DC, use 12 V DC Sunfrost frig, 12 V DC light bulbs (including LEDS), 12 V DC small travel TV, car recharging for cell phone and 12 V DC lead acid batteries.  This would be in addition to regular 120 V AC power for other uses.

You have a point about line mounted transformers.  MUCH less efficient than larger units.  More efficient, more expensive, and somewhat larger residential transformers might reduce US electricity consumption by fairly close to 1%.

From Howard T. and Elisabeth Odum's book "Energy Basis for Man and Nature" 2nd edition 1981:
Capture of sunlight by solar collectors, solar voltaic cells, and concave mirrors that converge energy ... use so much embodied energy in their feedback compared to the light they capture that they are not net energy: most of their energy comes from the main economy and thus indirectly from fossil fuels.  As fuel prices rise the solar technological costs rise just as fast.  They will not become relatively more important as fuels run out.
Whether this was true on not in 1981 I don't know but it certainly is not true now as many studies have shown.
 is a study of one particular system that shows energy payback in 8 to 10 months.

Despite many very detailed studies that refuted this claim it  still circulates on the Internet. It would be good if another
trail does not originate from TOD  

Yeah, they try the same lies on nuclear power, too. Don't know why. It makes more sense to say that coal has negative energy payback when you consider global warming is going to flood the coastal plains and reduce agricultural, pastoral, and silvicultural production.
Then again, that much high fish productivity coastal waters will dramatically increase piscatorial production;)
And when Odum speaks of costs, this includes the brain-power that was used to make the PV panel.

Thusly under the Odum eMergy cost Model, the lowest cost tools are chipped rocks.

Feel free to show that your quote does NOT include 'brain costs'.

There are a few positives to solar; will they prevent a world collapse?  Who knows, but I subscribe to the "every little bit helps" worldview.... I can't find the link, but I recently saw that a new 64 MW solar facility had started construction out West.

Also, once a power source like solar is started up, it requires very little oil or other variable priced fuel to keep it going.  Granted - there have to be replacements, but compared to say a gas-fired generator, the input is much smaller.  Solar might be a great solution for home use during "the coming collapse."  Here in Atlanta, it is just about the only choice.  Timing may be everything - I am planning on buying a small system right before the oil price shocks makes the manufacturing costs start to increase.  I am also hoping for the blessed solar "technology" savior, maybe organic cells.  Lets see how well I am able to "time the market."

Also, comparing the costs and rewards of anything requires that everything be put in terms of its "Present Value."  To do otherwise would be comparing apples or oranges.  Many people avoid this and calculate energy production costs using only an "instantaneous" production cost.  However, volatility is very important because it relates to the "risk" that one has for a particular energy production method.  Leaving out this risk makes fossil fuel methods seem much more economical.  
The following is an example of a present value calculation that shows wind power as a much greater deal than fossil fuel methods when the risk is considered:
And, one of the results of "Queuing Theory" is that when the supply of a resource becomes less than the demand (Peak Oil), then the output (price) becomes highly volatile.
In other words, we should expect significant economic impacts from the upcoming price volatility of oil, in addition to the high average cost.  My little (future) home solar power system may help my family some.

You are not the only one in Georgia planning on trying to time the market on a home PV system! ^_^
I might note that not all solar power generation requires PV (and therefore silicon).

The Germans are using all PV because of the latitiude they are at but sunnier locales can use some relatively low tech solutions (basically focussing the sun's rays to generate steam using reflectors - whcih scales up surprisingly well).

See this article for example on concentrated solar power projects in Nevada (and there are even bigger Stirling engine based plants planned for southern California):


Plus a lot of work is being done on thin film polymers and semiconductor alloys that are much more efficient at generating power than current PV technology. See this South African article for an example of one of these:


In a decade's time every sun facing surface in the developed world will be covered in some sort of power generating device.

I suspect a country with plenty of sun, coastline and wind can run a reasonable economy using renewables, some fossil fuels (or nuclear). But you want to be driving a plug in hybrid rather than an SUV...

In a decade's time every sun facing surface in the developed world will be covered in some sort of power generating device.

Sorry, can't see it.  You're talking trillions of dollars in infrastructure, from component factories to construction companies to the actual power plants themselves, none of which exists now.  And all it will take is one recession for all the plans to be shitcanned.  

Of course, you can say the same thing about a nuclear solution.

As I pointed out in a previous post, the greatest advance in photovoltaic generation recently has been multi-junction cells in concentrator systems (see here, here and here  ) The record of 39% efficiency at a concentration factor of 236 suns means that although the cells are made from exotic materials (in this case a triple junction Gallium Indium Phosphide/Gallium (Indium) Arsenide/ Germanium system) they are used as tiny 2-3mm cells spaced out over a heat spreader, each under its own plastic concentrator optics and occupying only a fraction of a percent of the solar collecting area.

Even at a cost per unit area of cell several times that of silicon, this very sparse use of semiconductor means the cell cost of a system can be much lower. The system does require a tracker but the same is true of the Stirling engine system that has similar efficiencies and again, like the Sterling engine system, it needs a site with a lot of direct sunshine as it has almost no output in diffuse sunlight.

Concentrator systems of 100kW have been builtand   this year a 5MW system is due for installation in Australia and a 10MW system in Spain. Costs are estimated to be about 3$/W installed power and have better chances of falling than non-concentrator systems.

However it must be recognised that  these levels are tiny compared to the gap we are going to fill if oil peaks soon and falls fast. The overwhelming problem with solar and other alternatives like wind, wave and tide when considered for use as a major part of the electrical generating system is intermittency.

As long as the contribution is 10% or less of grid power little extra reserve needs to be added to allow for the intermittency. In places like here in the UK  that have good resources of wind, wave and tide and moderate solar input it has been calculated that a set of well diversified (in type and location) sources could provide up to 30% with little extra reserve. A similar study in Germany set a limit of 15%.

Past these levels we need to consider mass energy storage and the candidates are few. Pumped storage works but the number of suitable sites is few; better in the US than in the UK but still few. Compressed air storage as used in Huntdorf in Germany do not have a very high round trip efficiencies and requires suitable underground structures like salt domes that can be evacuated. Batteries on the scale of power station replacement are enormously expensive.

Most energy storage systems that have been built for grid use are for storage over the daily cycle and few have been built relative to the total energy generated largely for economic reasons. For solar use the storage would have to be over at least monthly periods and for places like the UK where only 20% of the annual solar energy is available in the winter 6 months but 55% of the electricity is consumed, that storage would need to be able to store a fair proportion of the annual generation.

Consider some rough figures for power station replacement:-

A 1GW rated fossil fuel plant with 60% availability will generate about 5300GWhr of energy a year
A tracking solar array on a good site will have about 15% availability averaged over the year and therefore will need to be rated at about 4GW to produce the same energy.
At 1kW/m² peak solar input and 30% system efficiency it will need 13.3 million m² of solar panel. Say one million 13.3m² tracking systems spread out at 5m spacings to avoid shadowing over a 5km x 5km south facing (in northern hemisphere) slope. There are such sites in the sparse areas of the US but few in crowded Europe and none in the UK.

If you do not have fossil fuelled reserve capacity and you are not going to rely on diversity between alternative sources you may well need to be able to store up to a third of your annual power production. If the round trip efficiency of your storage is about 75% you will have to add perhaps another 8% capacity to make up the loss. Throw in say another 80,000 trackers.

For pumped storage you will need store 1970GWhr of potential energy in the top pond to produce 1750GWhr on recovery allowing 12% loss on the down trip. That is 2.8 billion cubic metres of water (10km x 10km x 28m average depth) 250m up from the bottom pond. There are not many sites that you could built such a system.

Alternatively you could use 3.7 billion standard 40Ahr car batteries.

When you have considered the enormity of these figures consider that China is adding the equivalent of more than one new 1GW coal fired power station every week.

I am astounded at your "may well need to be able to store up to a third of your annual power production" figure.

If there is a major seasonal variation in wind, then size the system according to production & demand in the "off peak" periods, perhaps with some fossil fuel in reserve.

The modeling is complex and varies with locale, but storing 1/3 of a years production is "off the wall" large IMHO.  The basic generation matched with one day to two weeks in storage should be the range of options in most cases.

Does the UK have massive gales all winter long and then dead calm with an occasional gentle breeze for 8 months of the year ?

And pumped storage can be a mix of different sizes and capacities.  Large storage capacities with moderate generation MW can be created with long tunnels between two reserviors or a lake & a storage reservior 10 or more km apart.  Wales and Scotland should abound with some possibilities.

You mentioned tidal, which is an interesting source.  It produces power every 25 hours (forgot to the minute) and it's production peak slowly moves around the clock over 28 days.  A useful addition to a renewable grid where available.  And requiring only 24 or so hours of storage.

Having read the commentsin this thread to date on solar and agreeing with just about ALL of them (in context), some comments for all to puzzle on.

Yes, solar is unlimited in concept but very limited in reality for energy generation.

No, solar can not replace our existing energy usage or wants.

The big point however is that no energy solution will replace fossil fuels.  Not even nuclear IMO will give us all the energy, in all the forms, that we are used to now.

What we have to focus on first is How efficient can we use energy?  Conservation first, replacement of fossil fuels second.

Everybody wants to run conventional appliances and transportation using solar as a replacement.  This as many posters show mathematically is not going to work.  What we need to do ASAP is reduce energy consuption everywhere.  Then we will not need as much energy to do the same tasks and can use alternate energy sources (which are much less energy dense) instead of fossil fuel.

Search the internet for how to build or retro fit a house to solar and wind energy.  The first thing they recommend is installing the highest efficiency refrigerator, stoves, lights, water heaters, HVAC, etc.  Reduce consumption first.  At that point you need less storage on site, meaning fewer batteries, waterfalls, flywheels, etc.  With less daily consumption you also need less total generating capacity.  Lower Capital cost for solar cells and wind turbines.  When you need less generating capacity per hour or day there is a much better chance of having at least maintenance energy from solar and wind even when conditions are not optimal.

What I see as the number one problem today is that fossil fuel is still way too abundant and cheap.  We are not (yet) driving for the maximum energy efficiency in most peoples houses or daily lives.  

Only a coordinated program of energy reduction (conservation) dovetailed with solar energy (renewable production)makes any sense.  I see this as critical for transportation as well as creature comforts at home and work.  We currently waste as much energy as we use.  

It is a false premise to say we can't meet our energy needs using renewables, plus nuclear, plus very, very limited fossil fuels.  The reason it is a false premise is that we really don't have a good handle on what the minimum energy usage we need to maintain our society. (Not have all we want, but just meet ours needs and have some extra available from time to time).  We only know what the energy usage is required to maintain the existing system.  An energy replacement plan without an energy consumption plan will not work, as many posters have shown thermodynamically on TOD.  

The falacy of the Bush administration's energy plan (and most governments plans) is that it is only energy replacement.  It needs to be equally energy reduction, via a drive for efficiency and some total elimination.

Solar can replace all conventional fossil fuels. We know how to store power by electrolysing water for hydrogen and making methanol till we burn it in cars or trains or gas turbines. It's only the cost that is higher because oil is cheap. Well, it's cheap now.
If we have to make oil out of oil shale kerogen, then solar methanol starts looking better.
As to the complexity and tech-intensity of solar technologies, I think this discussion regularly gets lost in the assumption that 'Solar' is essentially only Photovoltaics.  One, or two really, of the most direct ways we can cut into our Oil consumption is with solar heating.  Solar air and water heaters.  Though not as magical and mystical as solar electric, they can be built from materials close to anyone's home, and they will cut into the gas or heating fuel consumed by that home more quickly than PV, and will achieve payback and EROEI (Energy Payback) faster, too.

I think when the direction of Oil and Gas gets more broadly accepted, and the prices concur, that these simplest ways of garnering some free heat will blossom with both commercial offerings AND do-it-yourself projects.  

Whether or not my Prophesying has any merit, I know that my house is pumping through about 7 gallons of No.2 Oil a day, for three dwellings, and that I have enough roof-area to curtail a great deal of it, if I can apply all the glass I've collected towards some 'technology' that's far simpler to understand than a basic car tune-up.

In acknowledgement of the Thanksgiving prediction, I bought my first, modest (40w) PV panel, charge controller and some batteries last December.  Appropriately, my purchase was delayed by about the same amount as the Prediction was recently adjusted.   It's enough to run a few lights here and there, maybe the Laptop.. but I really wanted to mainly have one decent panel in my possession in case a bigger hiccup in energy supplies triggered the predictable spike in PV prices and availability that I assume we'll see.  PV won't save us, and it won't replace what we use today for power, but we'll have the chance to really evaluate what needs to be done with electricity, and what can work with other energies.  I'm in Maine, why do I and ALL my neighbors in the Northern 60% of this Country have a Refrigerator running a compressor all winter?  If it's cold enough out, a better design would only be using a small sensor circuit and a heat exchanger to the outside.  Most of this stuff is NOT high tech. Just takes some thought.. and a bunch of motivation.  Aha! There's the energy shortage!  

Thanks, sir, for making the remarks I was about to. I just walked around my old farmhouse, looking at where I had the best shot at the sun, and how much area I had to play with.  I discovered ( an awful lot late for somebody who's supposed to be aware!) that I have PLENTY of sun hitting even in the winter gloom to replace the 10kW of wood I am burning these days ( with some added insulation to help the sun).  And, I have a great place to put my favorite toy of the moment- a dish stirling that pumps air over a turbine.  Sounds a bit nutty, but is very cheap relative to PV or the usual stirling since it  is just an oscillator and has no crank, bearings or lube oil to gum things up, and the turbine and alternator are off-the-shelf.

I'll let you know how it works out. Please note that this little sport is all my own money and time so I can be just as big a fool as I wish with no justified complaints from you over-taxed taxpayers or grim nordic scoffers.

PS Yes I know the solar concentrator won't work in the gloom, but the stove does and the same stirling worksjust  fine on it.

My biggest fear of all this.
When the U.S. finally decides something must be done, it will be D.C. running the show.  This in my mind will lead to failure.  There is no one energy source that can power every one of our diverse climates.  Funds must be used by the States themselves, to have any chance of coming out of this mess we face.  Everything must be localized, where the energy can be used without major transportation costs.
There is a 0% chance of this happening under the current leadership.  I hope TSHTF after 2008, for more reasons than one.
I can't watch the DVD, HO, but knowing that you are contemplating your retirement years, are you taking some kind of Aldous Huxley Soma holiday considering "the considerable progress that solar power has made in the past decade, but also illustrates the commitment that both individuals and governments are making to this technology"? Mellowing out, are you?

Right now on the world market, it's next to impossible for a solar energy company to acquire and deliver solar panels to customers who want them due to production shortages. I get this from talking to people in that business who I talked to at ASPO-USA back in November when you and I finally had a chance to meet. Not that this couldn't change but when will it? The market is not promoting it. Not yet. So, when?

Just asking. Like you, all this bad news makes me want to turn the other way.

Production shortages? A tight market? Demand exceeding supply? Prices rising? Sounds awfully familiar.

Maybe we're hitting Peak Solar.

Prices of both solar and wind equipment have gone up, but I've seen no hint that production is falling, or will do anything but increase.  Same for wood pellets.

Peak oil/gas means increased demand for all its substitutes, but no more than that.

Now we get to see if production is going to catch up with the (potentially dramatic rise in) demand, while there is still enough energy available to increase that production.  Not that there isn't still a bunch of oil out there, it's just that a lot of it has been double-booked, so to speak.  Does Evergreen get it, when the Army and Walmart wants it, too?
In view of the fact that most people do not
have spare cash and many are spending more than
they earn I see little prosect of anything much
happening to prevent a crash. It all may look
good on paper, but at $20,000 per household
I don't see many people getting enthsuiastic in

Even commercial or community systems are
unlikely to get off the ground without
considerable government support, and usually
that is not forthcoming  

'Some of the large systems Mr Hanton has
installed carry a capital cost of A$500,000
(US$375,000); but, he says, against the diesel
alternative, they can pay for themselves in
4-6 years'.

Bean counters don't like spending money, even
if there is a reasonable payback period.

You are going to be spending 20,000 dollars a house on power from coal, nuclear, hydro, wind, oil, gas, or solar. Deal with it.
It's cheaper to let the central power untility companies do it because they can borrow cheaper than you can and get huge construction scale efficiencies that you can't, but someone has to provide the power for your house, office, factory, and car.
I mean, what do you think your gas, electricity, and fuel oil bills are for? They are to pay someone else to generate the power and pipe the natural gas and haul the truckloads of diesel around. You pay every month either way, bills in the mail or mortgage payments to the bank.
My main concern with all forms of ambient energy at this point is that there is no economically viable form of storage. That means that the only cost-effective solution is to dump spare energy into the grid when you don't need it. And try to draw it out again when you do. This inevitably imposes a limit on how much energy we could derive from solar/wind. In the case of highly-variable wind power, it means maintaining a spinning reserve. It also means that there is a large hidden cost involving the need for additional large-scale transmission to try to achieve at least partial stability of supply through geographical diversification.

I am not at all impressed by people using storage batteries. These are boutique solutions, only suitable for wealthy individuals or special situations where mains power is very expensive (like remote areas).  We could never power large-scale industry this way. All forms of storage yet proposed e.g. hydrogen, seem to me to be very expensive and lossy.

It is for this reason that I believe that for the forseeable future, nuclear is the only fossil-free technology that can supply baseload power. Although it will cost a lot of fossil fuel to set up the first generation of reactors. If we implement 4th generation technology ASAP, we have enough uranium already mined and in spent fuel or in depleted uranium stockpiles that we can shut down the uranium mining industry for several centuries.  The Pyro waste reprocessing technology can run on electrolytic power from the reactors themselves.

This is not a perfect solution, but the alternative of delaying for half a century until all the problems with renewables and storage are solved, seems to me to be completely unacceptable because of the growing crisis caused by global warming from CO2.  I would like us to be fossil fuel free within 15 years, i.e. by 2020. Only by using both nuclear AND renewables at maximum build rate can we do this.

Solar and nuclear are actually quite compatible because solar can supply the daytime/summer airconditioning peak leaving nuclear to handle the baseload.

Conservation reduces the need for power but doesn't eliminate the need to generate the power we still need as cleanly as possible. Electrified railways for freight and plug-in hybrids for passengers can displace most oil, provided you have ample electric generating capability.
Geo heat pumps can displace natural gas from home/office heating, provided you have electricity.

Courtesy of Lou Grinzo's blog, The Cost of Energy (not mentioned too often here but it's a great resource), comes this pointer to an article on plans for more nuclear power in the U.S.:


The nation's nuclear power industry, buoyed by support from President Bush and the Republican-led Congress, says it is charging ahead with plans to build the largest number of new generating plants in 20 years.

Despite a streamlined licensing process and new federal financial incentives, the first new plant won't produce electricity until 2014 at the earliest.

A total of 14 new plants are planned in as many as 10 states. There are already 103 plants at 64 sites in 34 states.


Industry estimates suggest as many as 10 nuclear power plants could be under construction by 2012, thanks to streamlined regulations, tolerance for the environmental impact of new plants and financial support on Wall Street. The last time that many plants were under way was in the 1980s, according to Adrian Heymer, the Nuclear Energy Institute's senior director of new plant deployment.

2014 sounds far out but it is only 8 years in the future, and even if we hit an oil peak before then, current projections suggest that we would not be too far into any decline by that time. I was surprised to hear that there was this much activity; I had gotten the impression that nuclear power was pretty much dead in this country. Sounds like our current energy woes are lighting some fires and getting things moving.

Of course as has often been mentioned, this will only help with oil if we can convert substantial portions of our transportation infrastructure to somehow use electricity. Plug-in hybrids, electric cars, electrified rail, maybe electrolized hydrogen. To me that sounds like the bigger challenge, making big changes in this area in a ten year time frame.

Without such change, I see the nuclear option as mostly being useful to remedy natural gas shortages. The alternative of building lots of LNG terminals and shipping that stuff all over the globe is not terribly attractive either.

Industry estimates suggest as many as 10 nuclear power plants could be under construction by 2012, thanks to streamlined regulations, tolerance for the environmental impact of new plants and financial support on Wall Street.

Once Congress removes the laws which prevent the free market from operating in nuclear power and the real costs are paid, I'm all for nuke power.

You WANT a free market to operate, don't you?

I'm sure you are aware that a "free market" would zero out government regulation, including safety regulation and insurance ... and fall back to the liberatian ideal that property rights, lawsuits, and class actions would keep everything safe.
I think that is at least part of the point--if nuclear had to operate under a truly 'free' market, plants would have to be insured at 'market' rates.  

If there would be any market rate for nuclear power plants...

Oh I'm sure there would be rates ;-), the question is whether the insurer would pay out without itself bankrupting.
In the short term, I think natural gas replacement by nuclear makes the most sense. And replacement of other petroleum consumption can take a bit longer if it starts soon and phases in at some useful rate.

The most dangerous thing about this is the volatility of oil prices. Ideally, as we approach (and eventually pass) peak oil, we'd have steadily rising oil prices that drive us towards alternatives. However, if the price volatility increases radically and we get oil bouncing all over, we may not see the market respond to the overall trend until later, and that could be too large of a delay. Price volatility could influence too many buyers that any price rise is temporary. That's what needs to be avoided, so that investment and research focus remains fixed on alternatives and how to integrate those into our society as we phase out more and more oil usage. In an oil market with very spikey prices, we may see projects started, cancelled, restarted, cancelled, etc., thus consuming capital that may not ever be replaced.


I agree 100% that the storage problem (together with demand management via projects like Gridwise http://www.energybulletin.net/12201.html) is one of the critical problems we need to solve in the near term for wind and solar to be implementable large scale.

However I am a little more optimistic about possibilities with storage batteries. Technologies such as the vanadium flow cell  (http://www.vrb.unsw.edu.au/) can be built very large scale, limited only by the size of the storage tanks you want to build. AFAIK, vanadium is fairly common so I can't see us running short of it.

Used car batteries from wrecked cars can be picked up cheap and in large quantities. Because it costs so much to fix cars, more and more newer cars with relatively little damage are being totalled out, and because few people are crazy or poor enough (like me) to buy used car batteries, they are quite inexpensive. Also, many, perhaps most privately owned wind turbines people put up are broken and not working after a few years and very cheap to buy. About fifteen years ago I noticed most of the privately owned wind turbines in Minnesota were not turning, and so I'd stop and inquire. Sometimes the guy is so disgusted that he'll give you the whole shebang, just for hauling it away. They are, however, hard to fix sometimes, and it is tricky to rig them up so that they do not break again.
There is actually.  Electric cars and plug in hybrids can store energy and supply the grid if configured correctly and act as storage that the utilities don;t have to pay for.
There are other storage possibilities too, like the Ice Bear ice-storage A/C.

I think there are triple-threat solutions out there that we haven't put together yet, like this:

  1. Generate electricity with solar-Stirling concentrators.
  2. Use waste heat from Stirling engine to heat water and operate absorption A/C system, storing excess cooling as ice.
  3. Use electricity freed by conversion from compression to absorption A/C to operate (PH)EV's.
That gets rid of motor fuel use, daytime electric use and nighttime A/C electric demand.
Large scale storage of electricity solved !

1,714 MW for up to 22 hours !

About 78% storage efficiency (could be higher with larger capital investments (larger tunnel > less friction and dedicated pump units instead of dual use).


One of several in US.  Germany is building more to cope with increasing wind %.

Possible sites close to most of US (South Florida is a ways away from any potential site).

This technology has been around from the time we started building hydro electric power plants. Unfortunately it suffers the same enviromental and technical drawbacks as hydro. In addition most of the hydro potential worldwide has already been utilised (and with the advent of GW things will probably get worse).
Environmental effects - Drowning some dimple in a mountain top.  Power lines to plant site.  Some fish from lower water source get chewed up.  No big deal as far as I am concerned.

Technical drawbacks - Some power lost between in & out (~82% efficient best case), cannot be installed "everywhere" and ???

Highest quality power for grid.  Any hydro power (pumped or straight) is wonderful for a grid and power quality.  Best source for black start after widespread power outage.  Response time is a few seconds (better if it were milliseconds).

As I said, problem of large scale storage for electricity solved !

Any postCarbon vision needs to start on the foundation of hydro, large and small. The larger the foundation, the better !

Absent widespread use of fusion power, hydroelectric is our best long term soruce of power. We just do not have enough of it.  The more the better, and the cost/benefit of undeveloped sites weighs heavily towards development ASAP despite the environmental issues.

...and when you have a dry year you don't have electricity?

In general I agree this is a viable solution, but I don't see it as a panacea. If we imagine a complex of a huge wind farm and a pump storage, the storage would have to switch between battery and generation mode probably every 5 minutes to meet demand. In addition the losses are not insignificant and you will have to install 1 / 0.78 = 1.28 times more wind power to produce the same amount of electricity. Probably installing more of these will help push the allowable limit of renewable power generation to some 30% but not more, IMO.

push the allowable limit of renewable power generation to some 30% but not more

LevinK, why only to 30%? Why not to 100% if it works?

OK, but if you pay for it.
I'll try to make a WAG about the cost to replace the entire electricity generation system of US with wind power:

Current electric capacity installed: 700 GW (450GW average use, the rest is to meet peak demand). Needed wind power capacity with 20% average availability:
700 GW / 0.2 = 3500 GW
I will add (a low-end) 30% as a security factor. So the needed capacity would be:
3500 * 1.3 = 4550 GW (3 mln.Vesta-s!)
With capital cost of ~ 1 mln./MW this rounds up to
$4.550 trillion

The amount of enegy storage needed is harder to calculate; thoeretically there may be a whole month when wind availability is below 5% on average which would put enormous stress to the system. I'll make a WAG that I have to have a storage system capable to handle a week of 5% availability and 500GW average demand. This would mean that I have to have at least a storage for:
500*24*7 - 0.05*4550*24*7 = 45 780 GWh
I have to add 30% because of the storage losses:
45 780 * 1.3 = 59 514 GWh
The sample pump storage stores 1.714 GW for 22h or 37.7 GWh.
So we are going to need at least 1579 of them.
I don't know how much it costs, or weather we can physically build that many of them, but I'll WAG again. At a low $1000/MW a single unit would cost $1,7 billion. So for storage we will need:
1.7 x 1579 = $2.684 trillion

Wind power: $4.550 trillion
Storage cost: $2.684 trillion
Total: $7.234 trillion
And this is a low estimate IMO. Or we have to find someone to fund another government debt (and add some more money).

For comparison if we used nuclear reactors the cost would be   about 1.4-2.1 trillion (capital cost is $2000-3000/kW) and the system would not collapse if there is no wind for more than a week. If we use a mix of 70% nuclear and 30% wind the capital costs will drop dramtically because the storage capacity and the security factor needed would be minimal.

  1. I assume a continent wide HV DC grid (or at least loop) to even out the variations in power.  Just a few billion.

  2. Existing hydro, from James Bay to Pacific NW, have large quantities of power in storage.  And using the last of our fossil fuels (or storing land fill & other biomethane gas) for a once in several decades shortfall sould be acceptable.

  3. The one month of just 5% wind is unrealistic for the entire continent.  My WAG would be 25% North American total below historic averages for the month (i.e 75% of normal) once every few decades.  There will be

  4. The Great Lakes provide some interesting opportunites for pumped storage between the lakes and the UP Michigan is a great site for massive pumped storage from Lake Superior.

Good spots in Ozarks, Appalachian, Idaho & Pacific NW, Rockies, West Texas/New Mexico with recycled captive water, Smallish in New England, Labrador, limited in California, and more smaller possibiliites.

4) Raccoon Mountain was optimized to work with nuclear power (six reactors can be seen from the top).  Raise dam on top of the mountain and it could store close to a weeks worth of power at relatively little additional cost.  I asked during my tour and they said that they did not see the need for more storage, instead they were rebuilding the generators to increase peak MW.

If maximum storage is needed, connect several reserviors with relatively small reserviors along a mountain top ridge (canals, viaducts or tunnels) and feed a single power plant.  Drop the cost per MWh dramatically, just not much peak MW available.

5) Efficiencies of scale will kick in and prices will drop.  One "dream concept" is to have massive wind turbines (perhaps 110 m blades) requiring rail mounted cranes (too big for roads) strung out for hundreds of miles along a railroad ROW in the Dakotas.  Either a lightly used line or an extra track added.

Still, a trillion dollars will be needed at least.  A trillion is 2.5x Iraq to date.

5) Geothermal does the same thing as nuke, but with higher availability where sites exist.

> I assume a continent wide HV DC grid (or at least loop) to even out the variations in power.  Just a few billion.

That will be mandatory, but will add some cost in terms both of infrastructure and efficiency (3000 miles from East cost to West, hm, maybe)

> Existing hydro, from James Bay to Pacific NW, have large quantities of power in storage.

You need a different design (a lower pool and pumps or a reversible turbine) to use it this way. I don't know cases they retrofited existing HEPP. Wikipedia has a list of those operational in US.

> The one month of just 5% wind is unrealistic for the entire continent.

I estimated 5% wind turbines load factor and for a week not for a month. The average wind turbine load factor is 20-25%, so I calculated the storage based in the very rare worst case where we have 20-25% of the usual winds for a week throught the country. Not very likely but may happen once per several years.

> The Great Lakes provide some interesting opportunites for pumped storage between the lakes

Looking here I see it happening between Erie and Ontario only, but I think we already have some plants there :)
We could do some engineering between Superior and Michigan, but the area is quite flat and densely populated and flooding it may prove pretty costly (turning Chicago to Venice? hm, probably worth trying :). We'll also have problems with the water transport between the lakes.

> 4) Raccoon Mountain

> 5) Efficiencies of scale
Actually if we plan erecting 3 mln. Vesta-sized 1.5MWt turbines and build those storages for anything less than a century, I'd rather expect exactly the opposite thing to happen - bottlenecks in production, raw materials and infrastructure building to hamper it and drive costs to the sky.
On the contrary 700 nukes is a quite realistic target maybe for only 30 years. Material expenses and needed infrastracture will be uncomparatively less and the economies of scale will be huge.

5) Geothermal does the same thing as nuke, but with higher availability where sites exist.

Since geothermal is uncomparitavely cheaper, but currently provides miniscule amount of energy compared to nuclear the only logical conclusion is the suitable sites are through.

LevinK, AlanFromBigEasy, thank you! This is a great discussion. I still want to believe that somehow distributed renewables can get us to a carbon-neutral and nuclear-free future. Certainly the idea of building 700 nukes is easier to get your head round but to me it is an old, tired IBM mainframe approach. We need a distributed, energy internet! And I need to run some more numbers...
700 nukes gives a distributed energy "internet" where no node is critical for the whole system.

They depend on the grid but so do hundreds of thousands of MW size wind powerplants, solar powerplants, hydro powerplants, etc.

Small scale solutions that do not connect to a grid gives power you can not depend upon or we would need rediculous ammounts of accumulators. And you do again need the grid to add up to the power needed to run energy efficent cities, metal recycling plants, industries, and everything needed to maintain our civilization.

The overall point is that a renewable grid could be built for closer to one trillion dollars that $7 trillion.  And this is an affordable # if spread over a number of years/decades.

1) HV DC transmission - Longest in the Congo from Inga, 1700 km with "plans" for more than twice that length.  Inga can be larger than 3 Gorges and supply much of Africa's electricity. 39 GW have been quoted.  Politival issues, Corruption, etc.

Pacific Intertie is 1300 km and Sweden has some of 1000 km, etc.

DC Transmission losses are a function of design voltage, amperage and wire gauge.  Power would not be transmitted all the way between coasts.  Additional power would be generated and used along the way at each node.  Dakotas to St. Louis would be more common.  South Florida might be a problem.

2) If hydro does not have to "keep the lights on" 24/7 and can sometimes go to minimal flow when wind is at average and demand is low (late @ night, weekends, etc.) then the existing reserviors can be used as power storage.  The system will result in excess power and no place to store it with some frequency.

3)My WAG is that a drop of 25% below seasonal average would be the "worst case".  Take the lowest average week of 52, do statistical analysis of variability and size system to that.  IF there is a drop in another, much more productive week, no big deal.  In other words, seasonal variation will make all but a few weeks oversized and a problem would develop only when a low week gets hit with a statistically rare shortfall.

Certain industries could cut back once every few decades when that happens.

  1. Expand the Niagara Falls power plant and be willing to dry up Niagara Falls on occasion.  MASSIVE power stored by drawing down Lake Erie 1 meter "on rare occasions".

  2. A number of forces will push for scaled implementation (and conservation over time as well).  Towers can be made from steel and/or concrete.  Single pole has been chosen for aesthetics but open "radio tower" construction is a bit cheaper and uses less steel.

Aviation is making breakthroughs on composites.  In a few years the 787 will be flying with composite wings & fuselage.  Automated production of composite blades could drive costs down significantly (operating as well, longer life blades).

Most will be larger units offshore or along railroads IMHO.  115 m 8 MW units may be the norm, with road access only sites getting the smaller wind turbines.

Build the system in a way that ramps up enough, with enough security in future demand, that suppliers can build new factories.  A bit of diversity in designs would be good.

Since wind turbines have a 20 year expected life, ramping up and building 80% of the system over 25 to 30 years would be good project management (the last 20% would be "phased in" over another ~20 years).  Existing nukes would be going offline during the course of the project with some left at the end.

I have no objection to a strong nuke presence, but I do not think it is required.

6) "Hot Rock" (but no steam) geothermal has not been exploited to any degree.  Hot rocks are more prevalent.  Also low pressure steam has been largely ignored.

I'm sorry I think you dream too much.

As I showed only the wind farms will cost in the order of 4-5 trillion.

After I made some research I also think I severely underestimated the amount of storage needed. If you look here you can see that wind power availability in New England for example goes from 70-80% in winter to 12-15% in the summer when demand happens to be highest. This seasonal variation is a common pattern and will occur each year everywhere - throughout the whole US. So we are going to need storage for 5% of the rated capacity for periods in the order of 3 months and probably increase the security factor to 50%.

But even if we stick with my initial estimate there is no way we can find 1500 sites for building the needed energy storage. Niagara Falls is already pretty much developed including one pump-water hydro station. From Wikipedia:

The most powerful hydroelectric stations on the Niagara River are Sir Adam Beck 1 and 2 on the Canadian side, and the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant and the Lewiston Pump Generating Plant on the American side. All together, Niagara's generating stations can produce about 4.4 GW of power.

4.4 GW (this is inclusive the Canadian part) is 0.6% of the needed backup capacity and it is not realistic that we can tweak much more from the biggest hydro resource in the country.

I strongly advise you to study the huge problems wind power caused in Denmark for a reference of how "useful" it is. It seems that in the already distant 2001 when they stiill produced just 15% of their electricity with wind, the problems it caused far outweighted the gains.
And all of this costing billions annualy to subsidize it, without counting the transfered costs of maintaining backup capacity.

After I read the article I figured out why somebody said elsewhere "for all practical purposes wind power is useless". I'll not be that harsh, my opinion is that 10-20% of wind power is acceptable.

First Niagara:

The United States and Canada signed a treaty in 1950 that regulates the amount of water diverted for hydroelectricity production. On average, more than 200,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), or 1.5 million gallons of water a second, flow from Lake Erie into the Niagara River. The 1950 pact requires that at least 100,000 cfs of water spill over the Falls during the daylight hours in the tourist season, April through October. This flow may be cut in half at night during this period and at all times the rest of the year.
Thus a significant fraction of the hydroelectric potential of Niagara is lost for tourism.  The plant on the US side is undergoing a 15 year long refurb to increase efficiency.  Even so, during times of high water flow excess water ia sent over the falls due to a lack of turbine capacity.

I did some "back of envelope" calculations, and dropping Lake Erie by 1 m over a weeks time could generate a steady 25 GW for that week (I used 94 of 99 m fall between lakes).  Natural flow reductions out of the lake would cause it to soon rebound.

I would advocate a more serious cut in "tourist water" today and a return to todays' flows ~90% of the time when we are past peak oil and have a good supply of renewables.

We could "build" a nuclear reactor tomorrow by just changing the flows a bit.  In 1950, tourism was the higher value.

You misunderstand my position on weather related variations.

A very simplistic model for North America would be to look at all sources of wind and find when the minimum capacity factor would be relative to demand.  Let us suppose that would be weeks 26 & 28.  Per old memory, Texas coastal wind peaks in the summer.  New England has, say 16% then (not absolute minimum then but close).  One looks at weather variations at that time of year and my WAG is that there is a 99.x% probability that wind for the continent for that week will be at least 75% of normal for that week.

So, in planning, New England wind turbines would be assigned a 12% capacity factor (.75 x 16%) and coastal Texas perhaps 24% (.75 x 32%).  Early builds would include New England for the winter generation and some the rest of the year, but very little there in the last half of the build.  OTOH, coastal Texas and everywhere with high capacity factors in weeks 26 & 28 would be intensively built out.

We are not used to sporadic electricity cutbacks on rare occasions (once every 5 or 10 years), but planning for these would significantly reduce the capital requirements whilst preserving civilisation.

I read most of a 60 page report by the EU on maximum wind penetration during my summer evacuation, but left before completing it.

Changes to the grid will be required for a wind + hydro dominated grid, but with changes I see that road as viable and affordable.

If you look at the picture again:

You will see that 1 meter raise of lake Erie level would flood  the Detroit river up to lake St.Claire. The lake average depth is 19 m and 1 additional meter will flood more than 5% of its territory or 1200 km2 of densely populated land and fertile farmland.

What is more important though is that shallow lakes are not suitable for storage (especially long term) because the losses from water evaporation are huge. 27 GW for one week? Just forget it; 90% of that one meter will be lost by the end of the week.

I'm sorry it will simply not work. The way to do it is to build huge (and deep) reservoirs that are in the vicinity of other reservoirs with much lower altitude. Because of pumping losses the distance must not be long, otherwise we would have simply pumped water from the sea to some mountain 500 miles away and back.

Actually we are lucky in USA because we have a lot more sites that can do that jobs than other parts of the world... But to expect them to backup our whole electricity system is ridiculous; not even 10% IMO. 10% is 70 GW which is close to 4 times the currently installed pumped storage and we will be heroes if we can even build those.

I advise you again to read the article. It shows the real world experience with wind power; I know that in theory we can provide 10 times the energy the world consumes with it, but let us get back to reality.

Again, I am trying to show that an almost all renewable grid will cost closer to $1 trillion (say 80% over 20 years, last 20% phased in later) than your $7 trillion.  Could be $2 trillion.

I was not talking about pumping water into Lake Erie, but draining it when needed and letting natural recharge fill it back up.  1 meter is within historic fluctuations (I found a lake level prediction that expects Lake Erie to rise by 32 cm in the next six months, mainly snow melting from a very mild winter).

The meter drop will increase outflows from Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence with perhaps another 18 GW or so for a week.

I have proposed a fairly mild use of Lake Erie that preserves much of the tourist value of Niagara Falls.  A more aggressive management would inexpensively create a massive backup for the RARE times that wind, continent wide, is significantly below historic levels.

"Losing 90% of it in a week" ?   I cannot comphrehend where you are coming from !  Nonsense.  (BTW, the Dead Sea only evaporates ~1 m/year is a hot dry climate)

Water evaporates from Lake Erie all the time.  Dropping it a meter will reduce evaporation slightly, but within natural limits.

I just read the New Zealand analysis of wind penetration of their grid.  Without any changes, they can handle 35% maximum wind and 20% average.  Once they get close to those %, they will evaluate what else needs to be done.  Why can they easily adapt to fairly high wind penetration ?  Lots of hydro power and only 1/3 fossil.  Is 35%/20% the ultimate limit ?  No.

Put a pumped storage unit near an area of high wind production and match them.

I have also read the ERCOT analysis (Texas grid island) of wind penetration.  In their case, I would use DC lines to import wind power to Houston from West Texas (using a special generators only grid) for high wind % and another DC line to nearest pumped storage possibility (Ozarks ?).

In the US, the UP of Michigan is ideal for a massive pumped storage unit linked with wind from the Dakotas (Lake Superior & Lake Michigan as lower reserviors, I wonder about exhausted iron ore mines as upper reserviors).

Tunnel friction is an issue, reducing efficiency, but solved with larger diameters or lower flow rates.  I can see 10 and even 20 km tunnels working for some high MWh, low MW pumped storage schemes.  TBM drives are getting cheaper and cheaper.  Pump up a 20 km tunnel slowly over a long period and draw down slowly during normal peaks but in a terrible wind calm, pull down quickly and lose power to tunnel friction.

Conservation could play a major role during a once a decade or two "wind calm emergency".  Industrial cutbacks, less a/c in public institutions, triple residential rates, slow down electric trains (less air resistance), etc.

I was not impressed with your earlier article dissing Danish wind power.  Not persuasive or even an engineering look at the issues but more a political complaint.  I will read your other article when I can.

Actually I posted again the same Denmark article because you did not address it in the previous post. The article is pretty convincing with facts that can easily be checked and quotes from industry specialists.

I would very much want to take a look at the New Zealands analysis. You may call me preconvinced but it is simply unbelievable that a country without anybody to import electricity from or to export to can allow 35% penetration "without modifications to the grid". An article for England for example claims that 10% is the allowable penetration without modifications; New Zaeland being much smaller must

About lake Erie consider for example what releasing 1 m of water for a week would mean: a whopping 40 000 m^3 per second! It will take 2 Mississippi Rivers to fill that up... And 100 gigantic tunnels 40 m2 each, releasing water at 10 m/sec.! If a tunnel is 10 miles long this means 1000 miles! The 20$ bln. tunnel below La Manch is 31 miles
Maybe theoretically we can do it - but in practice your 1 trillion will go for this project only.

I think it is becoming obvious that you are determined to believe what you want to believe (yes, probably me too) so I suggest we stop this discussion, it will lead us to nowhere.

Sorry, that should read:

New Zaeland being much smaller must have either much more storage or a very consistant wind factor.


A detailed look (including a mention of West Denmark where wind penetration can now reach 60% per their report).

The limiting factor is the 1/3 of their generation that is fossil fired.  It does not play well with wind, unlike hydroelectricty.  Oddly, no mention of their small but growing  geothermal (typically running at 100%).

Also note the section on "Technology Trends".

"The result of the analysis was penetration of about 35% and market share of 20%, based only on technical and operational issues".

Wrong example, a rail tunnel with ALL sorts of extras.

Look to Karahnjukar in VERY remote East Iceland, 60 km mainly with 6.8 to 7.6 m diamater tunnels for well less than a half billion.  Fugure 30% premium for remote location (30 km from nearest sheep farm).

On this massive project I would pick largest self supporting tunnel diameter. And use small fleet of TBMs for two decades (getting economies of scale, and no unknowns since his area has already been tunneled).

OK, that drives the costs to only 15 billion for the tunnels. Add another 10 billion for turbines and infrastructure, obtain the public support of the 4 states around plus Canada, find and build 10-15 more sites like this and you are done.

(forgot to tell you that while you are draining that lake probably the Niagara plants will have to slow down... pity)

I am trying to replace 25% of US power for one week from stored hydro.

Octuple power plants on Columbia, James Bay, Kemano, build dam on Yukon (roughly 8 GW with today's design parameters if I remember correctly), Churchill Falls, Labrador, increase St. Lawrence significantly (to take Lake Erie flows.  Up St. Mary (Superior > Michigan/Huron) to lower Superior by 60 cm.  This will refill Lake Erie in short order and allow an even bigger plant there.  Add bypass canal from Huron to Erie.

One cannot dramatically increase flows on Colorado for one week, but triple power plants there (3 weeks flow in one week).

Build X GW of new pumped storage for normal daily cycle with "parallel reserviors" in most cases for this emergency. (I have to research how much more).

Save 25 GW of mothballed natural gas units and use last bits of NG during this once every two decades+ emergency (last resort).

Impose conservation measures to reduce demand by 22% during "wind emergency".

Probably. Don't know. Have to consult someone who is in the hydro industry. My overall impression was that is is pretty much utilised and causes lots of enviromental problems. Maybe I'm wrong.

Impose conservation measures to reduce demand by 22% during "wind emergency".

I need to seriously question that because it is unrealistic, IMO. The only conservation measures of such scale (with a response time in the range of minutes) are called blackouts. The bulk goes for lighting, heating or cooling buildings. Can not remote control it. Actually controlling the loads is unrealistic in all cases IMO. Much too expensive and unreliable.

Conservation is for a week or so during a wind lull every 20 or so years.  Not a shortfall in seconds or minutes (NOT going to happen in nationwide network).

  1. If summer (as seems likely) set legal minimum temp at 81 or 82 F in all office bldgs, schools, etc.  Perhaps have a "wind day" and a holiday IF that will save electricity.

  2. Triple residential rates.  Perhaps turn off all electric water heaters remotely (this is 2035 or later).  Close laundromats.

  3. Slow down electric trains.

  4. Shut down or slow down/idle high power use industry.  Close movie theaters, shopping malls, etc.  No escalators perhaps.

  5. Reduce irrigation power, but only what can be delayed w/o damaging crop.

Peak (highest hour) requirements are about 200 GW in replacmeent power and less for rest of day.  (Nationwide peak is just over 800 MW, but bot all regiosn peak at same time).

Installing 8 times the generators at Grand Coulee would allow 8 weeks of water to flow in one week.  But since Grand Coulee would be used less than today (surplus of wind most of the time).  No more GWh for year than today, but much higher peak possible.

What can I tell you... do your worst.

Spend trillions of taxpayer and consumer dollars, divert rivers, ruin river valleys and landscapes, shut down industries (once per 20 years? you must be kidding - you need just one calm and dry summer), require people to pay triple prices... this is certainly the way to go.

People in Denmark finally figured it out and that's why started stalling their wind program in recent years. Guess everybody else has to follow and break their heads by themselves.

It's funny how half of the lemmings go to one side of the cliff because they are greedy and the other half - because they are idealistic.

Denmark is significantly bigger than Cape Cod and significantly smaller than New England, and much smaller than America. So wind availability in Denmark is irrelevant to the US. We connect over a much larger area than Denmark, as does Denmark, by the way.
Further, we have lots of natural gas, as does Europe, so wind power doesn't replace natural gas, but just stretches it out so natural gas is only used the three weeks a year when the wind isn't blowing someplace.
Oh yeah, if we were still building old fashioned expensive and unreliable windmills, I'd worry about the cost. But complaining that new windmills are expensive is like complaining about how jet airliners will never compete against cruise ships using numbers from the 1930s and the Clipper flying boat intercontinental airlines. It's no more than fraud.
I'd rather have a windmill destroy my view than a coal plant destroy my lungs, thank you very much. The rich people with the coastal views might not be very happy about it, but screwing over the rich people by building windmills bothers me about as much as it bothered the rich people when they built the oil refineries upwind of the poor people and their children.
Wind mills are already pretty much a mature technology. Significant advances mey be made only if better materials are developed, but discovery of new materials that beat the composites they already use is very unlikely.

I'd rather compare it to waiting for invention of 40% efficient internal combustion engine. We can wait for it another century if you like.

If you want to understand why hydro isn't the panacea that cornucopians think it is, you should read Plan B by Lester Brown. (There are probably better books. Plan B doesn't really focus on this particular subject.) The fact that river-flow has been vastly reduced the world over, isn't really the problem, but it doesn't help. The problem is more that hydro contributes to river-flow reduction, and water shortages further down the line. And those water shortages are starting to become a real issue.

No, the problem hasn't been solved, although hydro storage definitely has its place. Infact, the problem is far larger, and goes far deeper, than you realize. The fact that this very old technology hasn't been widely deployed should tell you something.

Seriously, delve into the problem. Be warned, you might have to change your name to "AlanFromBigHard"... (Heh.)

I also disagree that hydro is the way to go. It is great when you have it, but when it fails it is a long-term, catastrophic failure. Failure means drought years, and these come every 10 - 30 years, can last several years, and there is no way to compensate for them. In the past, there has been enough spare generating capacity in the country for California or the Northwest to import from elsewhere(for a price). But now demand has reached a point that this won't be possible in the future. When dams draw low, they lose the head to produce full power, and during dry periods you can't open the gates for generation at will because you are saving what water you have for other needs. With our hydro dependence as it is now, if CA has a hot summer during a dry series of years (which often go together), we are sunk. Period. The billions to build a large dam (such as the Auburn dam proposal) will sit there worthless. I have stared at enough empty mud-puddle reservoirs during my 53 years in CA to know that we aren't talking in the abstract here.

One thing about PV is that is is most reliable during periods of highest need - it is producing if the sun is shining, no matter what else is going on. Storage is not really that big a deal, because it shaves off the peak. Demand for electricity is generally low at the times solar isn't producing.

Several points.

The marriage of the two large scale renewables that are economic, hydro & wind, are a "match made in heaven".  The two can switch easily between one and the other (see Danish wind & Norwegian hydro) and recent Bonneville wind energy buys of 1000 MW to go with their large hydro.

A grid supported 100% by wind & pumped storage or 100% wind & hydro is feasible. Some of the hydro would need to be kept in dry spinning reserve when wind supply = demand (just to keep the grid stable).  At other times hydro would be either pumping or generating.   But the switch in this 100% wind/pumped storage system would not be every 5 minutes but several times a day.  The design of the grid is MUCH easier if one can resort to fossil fuels for a few hours/month (or landfill gas is gathered and stored for occasional use instead of the current 24 hour/day steady base load).

Geothermal, also an economic renewable where available, is QUITE useful as part of the base load.  Iceland operates extremely nicely with 83% hydro (3/4 from a single river system) and 17% geothermal.  Some excess water is spilled in the summer (lowest demand, highest water flow) 9 years out of ten.  One year in 15 they have industrial cutbacks in the winter.

I did not say that hydroelectric should be our only renewable.  I also strongly support wind and geothermal (but not solar, PV too expensive, mirrors in very limited geographic areas and they are ALWAYS off peak).

It is a matter of reservoir management and local hydrology.  Dry reservoirs are usually the result of reservoir management decisions with plenty of fossil fuel reserves.  In California they try to use hydro to supply peak as much as possible, this avoiding firing up NG "peakers' for a few hours.  But some water is required to be released to help the fish downstream.

Run of the river hydro power plants are intermittent like wind turbines, just cheaper and with better EROEI.

Extra wind turbines are required in a wind/hydro match, but their economic advantage over solar is so great that they would still be cheaper than a solar component (except for low latitude deserts).

Solar is not economic and PV never will be on a large scale.  Mirror based solar MAY be for deserts near 30 degrees latitude.

It is false to say that solar peak production matches with peak demand.  Peaks vary depending upon local conditions, economics & weather.  The most common peak is between 5 & 6 PM (commercial is still going and residential gets home).  Even air conditioning typically peaks between 3 & 4 PM (when solar is definitely waning).  Winter peaks are almost always after dark.  I have never seen a peak ar solar noon.  So widespread use of solar mirror technology will require a matching with pumped storage.

In midsummer my solar is going strong at 3 - 4PM. Still moderate power at 6pm, but certianly reduced. I know it doesn't match exactly, but it is close and shave peak power needs however you cut it.

You are still ignoring the drought years, which is not just a reservoir mgmt decision. I think we need all kinds of power, but shouldn't be overly dependent on any one source. My motto is safety in diversity.

My PV system meets my annual electricity needs, but also because I am very conservative in electircal needs. I expect my system to last at least the next 30 years, producing far more power than it took to construct. Many of my neighbors can (and are) doing the same. The more the better.

You just don't get it!
We have to pay the money whether we build solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, wind, nuclear, coal, wave, OTEC, tidal, solar tower, solar pond, or any other system. Yes it will cost 4.5 trillion dollars. It will always cost 4.5 trillion dollars, because that's what the first power grid we built cost!
Did you think all those coal mines and power plants and gas pipelines and dams were free!
We will spend 4.5 trillion dollars over the next fifty years as our population doubles and demands more power.
Deal with it.
We may not have the money.  We're supporting our lifestyles on debt as it is.
Technology has it's advantages.  One of them can be lower costs for building a grid.

How much lower "depends" and varies significantly from one part of a grid to another.

Debt is assets. When we repay the debts, they will use the money to build photovoltaic and wind power and coal to oil plants. If we don't repay the debts, we will use the money to build photovoltaic and wind power and coal to oil plants. Debt is irrelevant to steel and cement and coal.
Debt is politics. Steel is real. I worry far more about our steel production than whatever those clowns at the Federal Reserver are doing.

A couple of points. 1) I agree that at minimum we need nuclear as an energy bridge to the future. This is from one who has fought nuclear energy most of his life (the Diablo Canyon plant is in my backyard). GHG are a bigger threat to humanity, as pointed out by ex-president Clinton at Davos two weeks ago.

  1. it is interesting to note that the EU seems to be backing renewables AND nuclear power for the future. France is starting to walk down the 4th generation power plant development as Chirac just recently announced.
  2. Hybrid switcher engines are all the rage right now in the railroad business.
  3. do not forget hydro. Sweden is basically on the road to give up fossil fuels basing her future on hydro and her ten nukes, including the ones she is refurbishing.

I would like to know what is being done to make heavy earth moving equipment more environmentally friendly? Bio-fuels for Cat D8's?
[...]although now very expensive, will come down in price as demand and production increase.

I do not pretend to be offensive, but you are talking like some cornucopian economist HO.

To me they teached that when demand rises, prices rise along with it.

Why are the film panels expensive today? Probably that has to do with the resources required to build them. Will these resources be cheaper after Peak Oil?

99% of the cost of a solar power plant is electricity related and only 1% of the cost is gasoline related, mostly for the construction workers getting there and only a little bit of diesel for the trains and trucks.
The panels are based on silicon, of which there is no shortage. The doping materials are also common. Energy payback time of the thin film cells is 2-3 years (I believe that is life cycle energy cost). High cost may be more related to capital intensive process equipment and market size (small market that is prepared to pay high prices).
Payback for thin-film was under 2 years in 1999, and probably closer to 1 year now.
>>To me they teached that when demand rises, prices rise along with it.

Not necessarily.  Think PC's.  My old boss was fond of saying "if you wait forever, you'll get the best one for free" when talking of computers.

No secret where I stand on this based on my blog name.

Solar has great potential and HAS made some real advances, albeit quietly.  Conservation MUST be a huge part of the equation.  There is NO reason we have to consume the energy we do.  Over the weekend snowstorm, we were without power for about 36 hours.  After Isabel two years ago, we purchased a small (1500W) generator, which we used for our power during the outage.  It allowed us to run the furnace, refrigerator, all the lights, TV, computers, water pump - although not all at once.  Well, everything at once but the water pump.  (Yes we still had to heat the house with oil, ugh! Thermal solar, radiant floors with propane backup next year).  But it really hit home to me how much less electricity we could consume without impacting our lifestyle but a little bit.  In a properly designed and constructed home using proper passive solar techniques, I'm sure we could easily reduce our total consumption by 50-75% (W.ild A.ssed G.uess).  It pains me to see new homes still going up poorly designed and constructed to minimize energy consumption.

It IS a fact that price comes down and demand and supply increase, it has to do with economies of scale. Here's a simple example:

Back in 2000 a computer DVD burner was almost unheard of; if you could find one they cost above $1000. By 2004, you could buy one on sale for about $20.

I even remember when DVD players were several hundered dollars. Laptop computers? I picked up mine for $500.

Here's my point: many people cite the technological issues involved with solar as being a problem, I cite it as an advantage. With most tech. intensive processes, economies of sacle produce great benifits. Furthermore, technologies like nanosolar (imagine printing a mile of solar panels, it's possible http://www.nanosolar.com/ ) are just developing. Once these enter REAL production, prices will plummet.

I don't think the prices will plummet on this one.

Solar Cells, which may seem similar to Laptops and DVD players as fun techy toys, might well behave more like Gasoline after Katrina this fall.  Demand for panels is already well ahead of supply, (Sorry, can't cite a source on this just now) and the price curve I saw, showed the steady decline in PV prices through the 80s and 90s end clearly in 2004, and start back uphill.

I'd get yourself a couple of them now.. as a hedge, if not a pure investment, since I doubt you'll see these prices again.  Companies are trying to scale up production, but it's a very dicey economy for them to take too great a plunge in, even with the 20%ish growth this industry is seeing annually.

I think you're right:


Solar panels have been using scrap from the computer industry - silicon that's too poor quality to make the grade for computer chips.  

There's not enough of that now to meet demand.  They could buy silicon at fair market price, but it would greatly increase the cost of the panels.  

They do, now. People are building plants to produce chip grade silicon and intending to use them solely for photovoltaic. Lead time is three years to build the plants and they are breaking ground now.
Oh, silicon price is only a problem for nonconcentrator systems. Line focus silicon is a small fraction of the cost of the system. Point focus silicon is not even a line item. That's because you get 100 or 1000 times as much power from the silicon when you concentrate the light.
I don't think solar panels will ever be more affordable than they are now, and they are already less affordable than they were. The price may fall, as the price of almost everything should fall during a period of deflation, but the ability to pay for them is likely to fall more quickly IMO. I think they will be out of reach of almost everyone in only a few years time.

I agree that scaling up production will be much more difficult than people currently think, as economic uncertainty will rapidly and substantially increase the discount rate. This is a critical point. IMO the psychological discount rate is derived from one's relative wealth combined with one's degree of confidence that the rules of the game are stable. If that confidence in the basic predictability of the future is shattered (by financial crisis, peak oil or some other eventuality), especially if relative wealth declines at the same time, the discount rate would skyrocket. The herd instinct tends to propagate such impulses very effectively, leading rapidly to a positve feedback loop. The present could become all-important and the future could drop off the radar screen almost entirely.

Under such circumstances, very few (if any) investors would commit what resources they still control for the long-term. We are likely to find ourselves in a period of short-term crisis management, compounded by the kind of government action which abruptly (and frequently) changes the rules of the game, thereby further increasing the discount rate. This is the antithesis of the the kind of rational, long-term view we need to take if a powerdown scenario is to have any chance of being implemented, which is one reason why I have little confidence in such a thing being achievable. More's the pity as the alternative is far worse for all concerned.

Here's an perspective on Bush and peak oil from a fairly surprising source. I am not sure if this is subscription only. If you can't get it, let me know and I'll paste the rest. Cheney must be ready to shoot himself!

Bush may be taking the idea of peak oil seriously
New Republic
by John B. Judis

Until recently, the Bush administration's DOE appeared to side more with Yergin than with Deffeyes and Goodstein, but a DOE report issued last February, along with recent comments from Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, suggests it might be rethinking its position. The report, "Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management," by Robert L. Hirsch, Roger Bezdek, and Robert Wendling, argues that the predictions of imminent peaking must be taken seriously. "The oil reserves discovered per exploratory well have been declining worldwide for more than a decade," they write in an article adapted from the report. "We are finding less and less oil in spite of vigorous efforts, suggesting that nature may not have much more to provide." At the same time, the authors note, the DOE predicts that world oil demand will grow by 50 percent by 2025.

Cheney must be ready to shoot himself!
So maybe Saturday was just lousy aim?
Oh No, You Didn't :-D
Off Topic:

Peter Tertzakian, author of A Thousand Barrels a Second: The Coming Oil Break and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependent World, is the guest on the Daily Show tonight (Tuesday).

The Daily Show is anchored by John Stewart, also known as a fake news anchor.  The show is meant for comedy...it is shown on the Comedy Channel.  But, the show has much "real" news at the same time.


As the nuclear option is so often mentioned on TOD, and appearently approved off by many, I say I'm very much against it. What is the lifetime of a nuclear power plant? 50 to 60 years I beleive. Then it needs to be dismantled, decomposed, or what do you call it. How is that being done? How much energy is available by that time? So apart from the more acute waste problem, a nuclear powerplant requires large fossilfuel inputs in construction, maintaining, and finally getting rid off. If we can't do the latter, going nuclear will cause more problems in the future then we are facing now.

I am no technician, but also have given storage of wind/solar power a thought or 2. Wouldn't be an easy solution (on a household scale) to let excess electricity wind up a large spring (like the ones in toy cars), which can then release its energy when needed by unwinding it, which in turn generates electricity back again? I understand this would lose some energy(just as batteries)
There are cetainly more ways to store this energy. How about to store it in water as heat, in a closed-off tank. Presure builds up. Then use this pressure to generate electricity back again. You could also use it to heat your home, but the point is how to store excess wind/solar energy for later use, without batteries or dumping it on the grid.
(if someone is going to make money on these idears that is fine; I can't imagine being the only one thinking of it, but if you want to give me a fair share that would be nice)

I'm quite optimistic about the solar/wind potential on a household scale. If we can get our individual power from small devices en masse, we have solved a lot of problems.

> Then it needs to be dismantled, decomposed, or what do you call it. How is that being done?

Piece by piece. ;-)

>  How much energy is available by that time?

Plenty if you continously build new nuclear powerplants. And most of the steel etc can be recycled.

You would need tons of springs.

But storing energy as heat for home heating and warm water is doable. You can store heat in heavy interior parts of you house like a concrete floor or concrete walls but then you have to let the temperature change with afew degress to get energy in and out of the heavy walls.

More common is to store heat in a 1-3 m3 tank with water heated to about 95 degrees C. An automatic shunt then portion out the heat with the temperature needed by the radiators or even better to tubes in the floor making the floor into a giant low temperature radiator and thus you can draw down the tank to about 28 degress C. These systems are used with wood fierd boilers since you get better efficiency, less soot in the chimney and less emissions if you burn the wood with a high effect. And with such a tank you only have to light a fire a day in the winter, perhaps twice ft it is -20 C and about one a week to get hot water during summertime.

You either make hot water with a tank inside the heat acummulator tank or with a heat exchanger inside the tank in the form a a long spiral of copper pipes.

To run the system if you get a power failure people sometimes buy an inverter and a car accumulator to power the circulation pumps.

You can also load the accumulator with heat from a solar panel but that do not make economical sense here in Sweden since firewood isent expensive.  Some people anyway do it since they like the idea and they then only have to manually light up the boiler for about 7 months instead of 12.

Very sound analysis.
France generates almost 80% of its electricity from nuclear power generating plants. The last time I looked, French people are not stupid.

Oh, Magnus, be proud: Was going through one of my sheds yesterday and noticed more fine things from Sweden. Item: Origo alcohol stove--superb quality, used on big sailboat but also for camping. Item: Swedish military surplus pick axe. Svea also used to make the best small kerosene stoves (like a Primus, but better). BTW, I do not like propane. It can explode.

I am an ethanol fan, maybe because of my sailing backround and knowing of too many gasoline powered boats that blow up from fumes accumulated in the bilge. Is propane heavier than air? I think so, and if so should be used on a boat only with the very greatest of care.

Ethanol fumes can be made to explode, but it is very hard to do so by accident.


There are ways of mechanically storing electric power and then retreiving it later.  In an earlier thread, someone showed that a lake at a higher elevation was being used in one instance.  That did get me thinking.  Communities have to start thinking outside the box--different solutions depending upon location.  Nothing is going to be cheap or without effort...and a little moxy...and the realization that we do this now or pay the consequences later.  Solutions must be sought at every level.  

As the cost of energy rises, I hope we do see local communities as well as states and countries seriously start to tackle this problem.  At each level, power can be generated.

You would benefit from studying physics and thermodynamics.
Thank you all for the feedback on my post.

Magnus, I still don't see how we can build nuclear power plants until the end of times without having major troubles getting these off-line without fossil fuels, or economically with the little fuel that remains.

You know this too: uranium is a finite resource, and is presently mined etc. using fossil fuels.

I think anyone will benefit from studying physics and thermodynamics; it seems I passed "peak time" because there is still a lot to be studied, a job to attend, bills to be paid and 2 small children demanding attention (not to mention my wife)

Anyway I plan for an integrated solar and wind system for my house and for the time being can sell the extra electricity generated to the grid for 2 eurocents/KWh

Will close off and go home now as the clock approaches 1700 hrs here in Holland.

A lot of the work needed to build and scrap a nuclear power plants is done with electrical tools and machines and a lot of the man hours are even  office work. Heat is needed to make the cement but can be provided with electricity. Carbon is needed for making iron from iron ore but the quantities are small compared with the energy output from the powerplant.

Recycling of the metals is mostly done with electricity and most of the metals can be resused. You only need to shave off a few mm of the surfaces that has been in contact with the "hot" circulation, the rest can be melted and reused. I am not sure about the reactor vessel since that has been penetrated by neutron radiation, its probably a write off.

The Finns have an intresting idea for using old reactor vessels as ready made containers for radioactive scrap. Weld all pipe penetrations shut with thick plates, toss all the medium level waste from the scrapping into the used reactor vessel. Drop it into a hole blasted in the bedrock next to the powerplant. Fill the hole with concrete.  Why build new containers when you already have one?

It is basically the same thing as recycling and replacing worn out wind powerplants or worn out hydro turbines. The difference is the handling of the "hot" parts. But it is only parts, piece by piece, and you dont have to be as carfull when scrapping as you were building.

The hydrocarbons needed for doing this work do not have to be oil, they can come from coal or biomass or if you are extreme be syntetisized from CO2 as long os you have electrical power available from a fleet of powerplants.  Its not a single powerplant in an the-end-of-the-world scenario, you have a fleet of powerplants.

I'm an agnostic where nuclear is concerned.  I have serious doubts about how useful it will be in the post-carbon age.  We've already suffered cement and steel shortages due to China's building boom.  What happens if everyone in the world suddenly wants to build new power plants (nuclear or otherwise)?  The EROEI numbers look fairly good for nuclear, at least compared to our other options, but I suspect nuclear power is subsidized by fossil fuels in ways we have not fully considered yet.

And I think you're right to be concerned about how nuclear power plants will be decommissioned.  I could foresee a future where we build hundreds, even thousands, of new nuclear power plants, then find them impossible to maintain or replace a few years into the post-carbon age.  Companies running them may just declare bankruptcy and abandon them, and the government may not have the resources to deal with them.  Worst-case scenario, we get an Iraq-type situation, where poor people loot the nuclear facility and end up taking radioactive vessels home to store water and milk in.

You don't sound very agnostic.
Consider that nuclear competed with what would now be considered very cheap - almost free - oil prices in the seventies. After Chernobyl and three mile island (the latter hurt no workers or had any significant release of radioactivity) the US decided oil was too cheap to continue building nuclear power plants. France and Japan have no fossil fuels and so pressed on, helping them to reduce their consumption of imported fossil fuels and emission of co2. (Germany followed the US path, then imported nuclear generated electricity from France.)
Not to worry that there is not enough fossil fuels to build the nukes - since oil etc. will never really run out, this is saying the price will be too high. Actually, remaining fossil fuels should best be used to produce new energy sources with the highest eroei - nukes clearly have the highest non-fossil fuel eroei.

The latest breeders use spent fuel from existing nukes as starter fuel, thus doing away with enrichment dangers and costs and also eliminating the very long term waste storage problem. Note too that plutonium and uranium are not separated from the other (very radioactive) actinides, further discouraging proliferation. There is enough potential fuel for breeders to replace all current coal fired plants for at least many hundreds of years.

Decommissioning plants is expensive, but the higher the price of fossil fuels, the easier it is to justify this and all costs from competing sources of energy.

BOth in the past and in the future, you are either pro-coal and anti-nuke or pro-nuke and anti-coal. Most anti-nukes avoid this choice by immediately changing the subject to renewables. (I am pro both - we will need to use coal to produce liquid fuels and nukes for electrical power generation. The sooner we make this switch, the sooner we begin to deal with peai oil and global warming.)

Back on topic, I'm much more optimistic than most posters here. We will gradually replace oil and other fossil fuels with a combiantion of many things, probably the biggest being conservation. Driving the conservation will be an increase, maybe to 20%, of our income on energy, bringing many hardships during a transition period but not the stone age.  

> Actually, remaining fossil fuels should best be used to produce new energy sources with the highest eroei - nukes clearly have the highest non-fossil fuel eroei.

Hydro in most sites beats nuclear, often by large margins.  Centuries long lives at most sites.

USGS says US had 30,000 MW left, Canada has more.

Existing large hydro plants could up production by renovation & maintenance (new turbines are several % more efficient than 1930s designs, and wear on blades has cut efficiency even more PLUS extra turbines to reduce amount of water spilled).

Small scale hydro sites (<10 MW) were rarely developed in the US.

Alan, I think your ideas on streetcars are wonderful, and I want you to leave New Orleans before the next hurricane and come to Minnesota (Just go upriver; you will find us.) to put in streetcars. As a kid I rode streetcars everywhere and loved them--nothing bad to say about them, nothing but good experiences.

However I must ask you to check your sources on hydro power. On rivers such as the Colorado, silting is a huge, huge problem. Hoover dam does not have a long life expectancy, because silt builds up rapidly behind it and is too expensive to dredge out. (Dredging is horribly horribly expensive and energy intensive. And you have to keep doing it year after year.) The Columbia river has less silt than the Colorado, but it does have some.

If you want to dodge the bullet on Ouldavi, go up to N.E. Washington state, where all power is hydro; it is cheap and abundant, and electricity is used for everything from heating to lawn mowers. Also, amazingly, land is still relatively cheap up there, because its economic base of things like timber and mining are going downhill.

As reserviors silt up (usually a century or three or eight process) their storage capacity decreases.  They can end up as run-of-river plants with minimal dredging (just a surface channel to the intake).  In some cases the intake may need to be reconfigured.

A few cases exit of dams silting up in a half century.  Hoover is pushing 70 years of power production, longer than any non-hydro power plant that I am aware of and several decades, if not centuries left before becoming a "run-of-river" installation.

I have helped DC with their streetcar installation and Austin with plans.  I knew George Isaacs, father of Minneapolis Hiawatha Light Rail Line before he recently passed away.

Pretty please, with sugar on top, please come to Minnesota. We need you.

I cannot express the joy of the freedom to go from Mahtomedi to Minneapolis for five cents in 19 minutes. Do you know how long it takes today to make the same commute?
About double.

Where I lived in St. Paul the streetcar ran right past. It was safe, and my sister and I used to go all over even at very young ages.


Rick Wargo, Tom Fairbairn an dotehr sare fighting the battle for the Central Line between Minneapolis & St. Paul.  They coudl always use more help.  If there is a specific need (as in DC & Austin) I have some speciality skills.
Please do get in touch with those you mentioned. Right now the politics are against rationality. (And, so what else is news?)

My dream is to turn the Twin Cities back to 1949. At least so far as streetcar tracks go; we had a great network then.

I believe the Hiawatha Line is actually making money, which (if true) is an astonishingly pleasant surprise.

This is the answer I got for my query.  Perhaps you know the  retired professor mentioned ?
Without a doubt, the best reference for the Twin Cities transit activist is Transit for Livable Communities;
www.tlcminnesota.org or 651/767-0298.

Generally speaking, economists from the U of M have been death on transit, favoring congestion pricing above all else. One of my neighbors is a retired Regent's professor of economics from the U. His attitude has been that light
rail isn't even worth the effort of disliking. I missed his presentation at the "Citizens Jury on Congestion Pricing" back in 1995. But a colleague explained that within 5 minutes the entire audience appeared to be totally confused and in five more minutes he, himself, appeared to be totally

John DeWitt

Another disadvantage of hydros is that they tend to stop coastal sediment replacement. Texas has experienced significant beach erosion, apparently due to the artificial reservoirs constructed in the (Texas) Colorado River Basin.
You don't sound very agnostic.

Well, I'm not too keen on the likely alternative, either.  As someone here put it, "abject poverty."

Consider that nuclear competed with what would now be considered very cheap - almost free - oil prices in the seventies.

And yet, some claim that nuclear plants never really made a profit.  Other countries have tried breeder reactors, and have given up.  Will the economics change in the post-carbon age?  No doubt, but I'm not sure it will be for the better.

Decommissioning plants is expensive, but the higher the price of fossil fuels, the easier it is to justify this and all costs from competing sources of energy.

But will we do it?  We built the interstate highway system with a 40-year life, never imagining that when it came time to replace it, we wouldn't have the money.  Yet that is the situation we're in.  

Yes, I have doubts about nuclear.  But I also have doubts about coal, solar, wind, etc.  I think without cheap oil, we will find ourselves unable to maintain our complex technology.  I think nuclear, solar, etc. are best used as a bridge to a lower-energy world, not as our future way of life.  (Yeah, I know that's not viable politically.  Which is why I think we're headed for a catabolic collapse.)

I recently calculated that currently identified uranium reserves will be enough to provide the whole current energy consumption (500  Quads) for 500 years (I'm assuming conservation and efficiency will stall energy consumption growth).

If you add thorium reserves and lower-grade uranium ores the number goes to several thousand years. If you add uranium in the seas it goes to millions of years.

In contrast the whole coal reserve base (including highly poluting, low-quality coal) would be enough for 200 years, natural gas for 27 years and oil for just 10 years.

I hope that 1 million years would be enough for us to cover Sahara with solar panels... Actually I believe we can do it for a century only.

I'm sorry, was this post meant as humor?
I'm an agnostic where nuclear is concerned.  I have serious doubts about how useful it will be in the post-carbon age.  We've already suffered cement and steel shortages due to China's building boom.  What happens if everyone in the world suddenly wants to build new power plants (nuclear or otherwise)?  The EROEI numbers look fairly good for nuclear, at least compared to our other options, but I suspect nuclear power is subsidized by fossil fuels in ways we have not fully considered yet.
And I think you're right to be concerned about how nuclear power plants will be decommissioned.  I could foresee a future where we build hundreds, even thousands, of new nuclear power plants, then find them impossible to maintain or replace a few years into the post-carbon age.  Companies running them may just declare bankruptcy and abandon them, and the government may not have the resources to deal with them.  Worst-case scenario, we get an Iraq-type situation, where poor people loot the nuclear facility and end up taking radioactive vessels home to store water and milk in.
In my post above I was referring to Leanans post that I have pasted in above. I'm not sure but perhaps she was serious. There have been incidents where people have killed themselves with discarded radioactive sources. A few people die every five or ten years doing this.
It's easy to abandon a reactor. You close the door, cement it shut, and walk away. It takes a long, long, time for the cement to be eroded by acid rain. The glaciers will come back before that, and long before then the low level waste will be harmless.
The high level waste takes up one warehouse per country and can be stored very cheaply, especially since it can produce thermal energy for electrical power from the radioisotope decay, and that pays for the guards to keep people from digging it up.
As I read this, I think that the short term goal is to get utilities into forced consumer by-back arraingements (they write a check, and don't just offset your bill when you meter runs backwards) ... and then let solutions sprout as they will (EP's striling engine in every parking lot).

That would allow a lot of human energy and capital to be deployed ... and it would be a long time before such generation flooded peak daylight demand.

(BTW, anybody got any links on backyard non-PV solar experiments?)

It is St. Valentine's Day, and I have discovered the unique solution which will save civilization and get us past Peak Oil to a better world. Are you ready for this?

Inspired by a rereading of "The Sexual Life of Savages in Northwestern Melanesia" by Bronislaw Malinowski, it occured to me that primitive peoples lack electric power for televisions and computers and freezers and hot water etc.; they lack SUVs to go to the mall and spend hundreds on fashion clothes using credit cards, etc., etc., etc. So what do they do? Well, they grow yams and go fishing, and go sailing for fun, and they dance and they tell stories, but for many hours a day they have fabulously great sex.

You cannot beat something with nothing. If people are going to give up materialism, you must provide them with something better. Nowadays people go to chat rooms or watch pornography. Not much fun. The Trobriand Islanders had way, way more fun than modern people do--but then came the Christian missionaries and ruined everything.

O.K., there is my solution, and I challenge anybody to find a flaw in it. BTW, the Trobrianders had found the perfect means of birth control: If a man has five or six ejaculations within twenty-four hours, the sperm count will not be great enough to cause pregnancy.

Read and learn.

And if your soul mate has not yet found you, why not shut down the computer and go out and dance? We should all dance more.

Its true. Check the birth statistics 9 months after the large NYC blackouts.
America's largest hydro potential is just a few miles off the east coast, The Gulf Stream. We have already created the ability to build large turbine blades and we know how to build submarines. Water being 780 times denser than air means that a current of only a few knots passing through a 100 meter turbine could generate 100s of megawatts. Placing them 1 km apart in a string from Key West to Cape Cod would provide several 100GW of nearly steady output to the coastal states.
Also, well less than 1% of US electricity is used for the logic circuits that you describe.  Useful, yes, but not a significant use of power.