As much as i don’t like them, sometimes the World Bank has it right. In the early days of fighting reactors we often quoted the WB analysis on why reactors (especially for small countries) don’t make sense.
“Nuclear plants are thus uneconomic because at present and projected costs they are unlikely to be the least-cost alternative. There is also evidence that the cost figures usually cited by suppliers are substantially underestimated and often fail to take adequately into account waste disposal, decommissioning and other environmental costs. Furthermore, the large size of many nuclear plants relative to developing country systems leads to risk of substantial excess capacity should demand fail to increase as predicted. A nuclear investment strategy lacks flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. The higher costs would require large increases in tariffs and could threaten the financial viability of the systems if nuclear power were a significant part of the total…”
“Operating costs must be added to capital costs to obtain final electricity costs. Even with low operating costs, the high capital costs of nuclear preclude their being selected as the least cost alternative under any reasonable assumptions concerning prices of coal and oil. “
“Catastrophic Failures: Both nuclear and hydro plants have only a small probability of catastrophic failure, but some experts point to experience of systems failure in nuclear plants, where the exposure is much greater than in hydro dams (where the safety issue is a structural one). The worst case catastrophe for a nuclear plant is much worse than for a hydro plant because of the long-run health impacts (as at Chernobyl). In both cases, the consequences are borne by involuntary population.”
“The environmental community is therefore strongly anti-nuclear. It emphasizes that the risk is one of involuntary exposure and that the environmental costs are high enough to rule out nuclear power even if it were otherwise economic.”
“Further complicating the issue is a perception of secrecy and lack of candor that characterizes the operation of nuclear power plans. In recent years, a number of accidents have raised doubts in the public mind about the competence of the industry and the safety of the process. Many doubt the credibility of the industry.” From World Bank Technical Paper #154: Environmental Assessment Sourcebook Volume III Guidelines for Environmental Assessment of Energy and Industry Projects by the World Bank Environment Department, April 94, p 83-89
Recently, the World Bank has again said it does not plan on lending for nuclear power plants. This time using the weaker argument that it is not familiar with the technology. Instead the WB is looking to fund real renewables in the developing world.
For decades being an anti-nuclear activist has meant the endless reading of bad news. Despite years of warning that accidents like Fukushima and Chernobyl were possible or even likely, the better funded and more experienced media making machines on the pro-nuclear side dominated the conversation and media coverage. This is finally starting to change (though we are still tremendously outspent by the likes of the NEI).
This months good news comes again from the Sustainable Energy News Summaries. These are my picks (from the 70 mostly encouraging stories) for the month. The format here is that i have quoted the story summary and then afterwards in italics i have added my commentary and in some cases graphics.
13.) Installed Base of Smart Meters Will Surpass 1 Billion by 2022:
Navigant Research, November 11, 2013
Although the direct operational and societal benefits of smart meters and the broader benefits of smart grids that are enabled by smart meters continue to be debated among policymakers, utilities, regulators, and consumers, penetration rates continue to climb, reaching nearly 39 percent in North America in 2012. According to a recent report, “Smart Meters,” the worldwide installed base of smart meters will grow from 313 million in 2013 to nearly 1.1 billion in 2022. In North America, the growth in installed base will come primarily from medium-sized and smaller utilities that will shift to smart meters as they build business cases for upgrading their metering infrastructure.
Smart meters matter because markets matter. With smart meters you can have variable rate electricity pricing (as they already do in the Czech Republic for example). This means you can reward people for doing their laundry in the middle of the night with low electricity rates. Huge efficiencies are available if we simply balance our demand over the day.
15.) Annual Worldwide Solar PV Installations Will Double by 2020:
Navigant Research, November 8, 2013
The solar photovoltaic market continues to grow as PV technology costs have steadily declined and pathways to further cost reduction are being pursued. By the end of this decade, solar PV is expected to be cost competitive – even without subsidies –with retail electricity prices in a significant portion of the world. According to a recent report, “Solar PV Market Forecasts,” annual installations of new solar PV capacity will more than double, in terms of capacity, by 2020, growing from 35.9 gigawatts in 2013 to 73.4 GW in 2020. Distributed systems will account for less than half of all installations in 2014, and non-distributed systems will represent more than half of the market through 2020.
Solar capacity factors run on average around 25%. This means that 73 GW would replace about 18 full size nuclear power plants. But what is really important here is “ever without subsidies” and the rate at which this is growing – doubling in 6 years. The reason this is important is that it will continue to drive down the unit cost of solar PV, shortening the payback time and inspiring people who have no interest in the environment at all, to buy solar solutions because they are the cheapest.
30.) After Longtime Opposition, Southern Co. Warms to Solar:
UtilityDive.com, by Rod Kuckro, November 12, 2013
Southern Power is considering bidding on solar energy projects in Georgia that regulators want to see built by utility Georgia Power as part of the state’s long-term energy plan, according to documents filed with the Public Service Commission. Southern Power is the wholesale energy unit of Southern Co., while Georgia Power is one if the Atlanta-based company’s regulated utilities. The Georgia PSC convinced Georgia Power to agree to add 525 megawatts of solar to its system. Historically, Southern Co. and its utilities have not supported renewable energy development, arguing that the South’s climate is unsuited for solar and that the technology was too expensive compared with power from its coal-fired generation fleet.
Southern Company by market value is the third largest utility in the world. It is of course pathetic that in the sunny southern and often sea side portion of the country they have fought against renewables for so long, but now they are changing their minds. This is an indication that 1) even the most Neanderthal of energy executives are coming around. 2) renewable energy economics are already irrefutably good. Southern Company is building one of the only nuclear power projects in the US at Vogtle 3. Vogtle 3 is already late and over budget.
40.) An Electric Vehicle Recharging Industry Rises:
New York Times, by Matthew L. Wald, November 12, 2013
Tens of thousands of new electric cars are zipping into traffic this year, and with them come a trunkful of strategies about how to recharge them. There are at least four ways to go: recharging slowly through a standard 120-volt wall socket, the type a consumer would use for a hair dryer; buying a faster 240-volt home charger, about the size of a garden gnome, for several thousand dollars; plugging into the same 240-volt charger in a public parking space but paying a price; or using a $30,000 superspeedy public charger that takes only minutes but is not widely available. The only consensus is that the more opportunities there are to recharge, the better the sales of vehicles that can generally go fewer than 100 miles between plug-ins.
i am not an especially large fan of electric cars, mostly because at the end of the day they are still cars. If we are going to have cars, which seems likely for the foreseeable future, then lower ecological impact ones would seem a prudent way to go. There is a standardization race currently underway for how these vehicles will be charged. What is missing from the above brief story is that Tesla motors, the US premium electric car company is setting up a network of proprietary charging stations for it’s luxury electric cars. For those who own Tesla’s highest end vehicles, refueling is free.
49.) Facebook’s New Data Center to Run Entirely on Wind:
Wired.com, by Klint Finley, November 13, 2013
Facebook passed another milestone in the green data center arms race with the announcement that its Altoona, Iowa data center will be 100 percent powered by wind power when it goes online in 2015. This will be Facebook’s second data center — after its Lulea, Sweden location — to run on all renewable power. The electricity for the new data center will come from a nearby wind project in Wellsburg, Iowa. Both the wind project, which will be owned and operated by MidAmerican Energy, and the data center are currently under construction. Facebook has a goal of powering its data centers on 25 percent renewable energy by 2015.
The important part of this story is not in the summary about but at the bottom of the article itself: “When Facebook said back in spring that they were going to Iowa, the utility company in Iowa, MidAmerican Energy, announced that they were shelving plans to build a new nuclear facility and then filed plans to build a wind plant instead,” Facebook is hugely problematic for me, but if their data centers are going to knock out reactors, i am willing to hype their efforts.
60.) As ALEC Shifts Its RPS Opposition Strategy, State Law Favors Renewables:
GreenTechMedia.com, by Justin Barnes & Chelsea Barnes, November 15, 2013
As of October, only eight states had enacted legislation to amend their RPS policies, and 2013 is now projected to go down as yet another year of overall RPS advancement. The most significant demand-side changes to RPS policies in 2013 involve new requirements and resource carve-outs in Colorado (S.B. 252), Maryland (H.B. 226) and Minnesota (H.B. 729). The collective new benchmarks likely will support more than 1,000 megawatts of additional renewables, including more than 500 megawatts of solar. Further, no supply-side RPS amendments enacted thus far in 2013 seem likely to have an immediate, significant or detrimental impact on renewables as a whole.
What is important here is that in 2013 the conservative inspired ALEC anti-renewables legislative agenda basically failed. AND that ALEC appears to be rethinking its assault on clean energy in favor of something “gentler”. With a bit of luck the grave stone for the nation will not have ALEC’s name etched in it as the cause of death.
72.) Washington Metro Will Install LEDs at Zero Cost:
GreenTechMedia.com, by Katherine Tweed, November 13, 2013
Philips has just offered its first turnkey lighting-as-a-service model to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. WMATA will upgrade more than 13,000 lighting fixtures at no upfront cost and pay for the project, plus a ten-year maintenance contract with Philips, through the $2 million savings the LEDs will provide annually. The switch to LEDs will reduce energy costs at Metro’s garages by 68 percent. The savings from the maintenance alone is expected to be about $600,000 annually. With this deal, Philips has won its first lighting-as-a-service performance contract. Although other industries operate on performance contracts, lighting manufacturers traditionally have not.
This story is about understanding how money decisions get made and figuring out how to tap the incredible economies of efficiency correctly. Here we see the company which makes LEDs helping the end user get over their resistance to switching by having a no entry cost option. The huge savings could only be accessed when the manufacturer basically pulled at the risk out.
“Looks for the place with the canoe in the front yard.” It is pretty safe to assume that another canoe was not going to make it into another yard in downtown Columbus OH on Halloween. And we were already warned that this was not going to be a “normal” visit.
By most measures the Midden is a fantastically successful community. And one key to their success is in their name.
A midden is an intriguing or marvelous rubbish heap. Pack rats and octopi make middens—so do ocean currents and human civilizations. We call our house The Midden because we make use of the artifacts (groceries, furniture, shoes) thrown away or overlooked by mainstream society. And all the while, we’re using this stuff to build more whole and meaningful systems to provide for ourselves. [All quotes from the Midden website]
We arrive in time for dinner. Much of the house is not here this evening. Some doing their political works, others touring, still others will be back later. The house is a lived in construction site, but most of the bed rooms look well lived in and are decorated with political posters and exotic art. We have arrived with the intention of working with them on our way back from NASCO, and we can already see that we will be working on blown cellulose insulation. I have a long love affair with insulation materials.
We also love to care for each other, share our skills and ideas, and do what we can to confront systems of oppression that bring us all down. We’re eco-activists, prison abolitionists, housing justice advocates, writers and theater artists, adventurous human beings and more.
They are also charming, dedicated, sarcastic, spunky, counter culture kids who are the newest member of the egalitarian community movement. They were great hosts, embracing us not just as guests but as valued co-conspirators in making things better. The refrigerator rivals a suburban fridge for high end fare, the only difference is much of it made a brief stop in a dumpster first. Amazingly they have only spent $340 on food for all 7 of them since the first of the year (excluding coffee). The kitchen sink is a perfectly positioned bathtub.
We believe in things like: doing it ourselves, anti-authoritarianism, using (and re-using) our resources responsibly, friends and hanging out, dumpstering, caring for each other and staying solid. You can read more at http://themidden.wordpress.com/.
While a couple housemates tell me that all the members like and respect each other, what really holds the place together is their shared commitment to political change. We try to kidnap Cole and get her to come to NASCO with us. She wisely resists, thought she was tempted by the idea of doing her own guerilla skill share.
We’re solid. We defend space that is safe, secure, and reliable for ourselves and our friends. We know where we stand in relation to the neighborhood, the city and the community and we own and shape that position. We practice security culture. We protect ourselves (to the best of our ability) from crisis both within and outside the house. We hold practices and policies that keep us stable, effective and creative as individuals and as a group. By pausing to think about what we think, want, and need, we make ourselves resilient and able to adapt to change.
We do end up spending a day helping install insulation. Billy from the Baltimore Free Farm scrambles thru the crawl spaces pumping fire resistant paper into the hollow spaces between ceiling and roof. We put in a long day of insulating and shlepping the heavy blower machine to the third floor. And we are satisfied that the house will be much warmer this winter for our efforts.
The Midnights (as I like to call them as a compression of Midden-ites) are game to guerilla workshop material to NASCO 2014. When I say we are going to run 24 new workshops, Alex instantly replies “We will do 6 of them.” We have met our partners in crime, and they live behind the canoe is Columbus Ohio.
Some offices have plants in them, a few have parakeets, yesterday we had an office goat.
So you want to help and you are far away, but you have a phone and a bit of time and are not afraid to talk with strangers? We discovered just the way you might plug in.
We are building a giant straw bale wall in the new seed office and we are late in the year. We have a couple lovely huge billboard tarps which are left over from the tree house project. At some point in the near future we need to cover the exterior wall and heat the inside of the building to get moisture out of the bales and dry the various mud layers which go on the outside of the walls. For this more billboard tarps would be perfect.
Years ago, we did the search for these by calling folks who sold billboard space and asked them where the billboards went when they died. Then we called the billboard graveyard and figure out a way to rescue them before they were melted down. This year our attempts to repeat this search approach have failed.
Why billboard tarps? They are made of a heavier gauge plastic than regular tarps, they are much larger than “purchase at the hardware store” regular tarps. And last time we got them, if we were willing to pick them up, we could get them for $25 each, which is a real bargain.
So if you felt like you wanted to help Acorn advance the new seed office and get ahead on our efforts to recover from the arson, you could make a bunch of phone calls and rediscover a cooperative billboard tarp graveyard – ideally somewhere in Virginia that we could go rescue these precious treasures before they are destroyed.
If you have questions you can call me at 541-505-0803 or email at paxus at twinoaks dot org. i would love to hear from you.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
Ken Bossong produces the best renewables weekly report called The Sustainable News Summaries. Here are my favorite stories from the most recent one:
Renewables will be 70% of new energy investment by 2025 according to CitiBank. This is the same CitiBank which did the new energy investment analysis and found investing in new reactor construction failed all 5 criteria. So let’s be clear here, this is not Greenpeace with some ecological agenda, This is a capitalist bank, which believes in externalizing internal costs where ever possible (meaning they want you the taxpayer to cover the cost of nuclear waste, accident insurance, investment risk and more). CitiBank is in the business of making money for their shareholders, this quarter. If the climate is destroyed or huge regions of the planet are left uninhabitable, this is not their concern. And what they are saying is that nukes are basically off the table. Nothing says you are winning like the vast majority of new investments going your way.
California leads the way on Renewables in the US. Germany is a renewables poor country. Yet long before Fukushima it decided that increasing it’s clean energy contribution was the path it wanted to follow. Unable to bring in more sunshine, or whip up great winds, Germany did what it could to encourage renewable energy development – it changed the tax law. This has been fantastically successful. In a similar fashion California has now decided to up the stake on renewables. What this new law does is:
- Requires state utilities to have at least 5.2 GW net metered generation – permitting customers to sell mostly solar and wind to the grid.
- It removes the cap on net metered electricity (previously 5%) which ill spur investment in household renewables
- Keeps California (which currently produces 20% of its electricity from renewables) on target to get to 33% by 2020.
- Separately, California is requiring utilities to have storage for almost a million households with of electricity. This enables more renewables at home.
On the down side persistent low natural gas prices in the US are impeding energy efficiency efforts.
If you want to see the full sustainable energy news Oct 19th, 2013 report it is available here.
You can subscribe by writing Ken at email@example.com
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
There is so much going on in the world, it is hard to keep up. Especially in the US where the media often focuses on domestic issues (like the government shutdown or the debt cap) rather than larger stories happening overseas. This one caught my eye.
France’s highest court just upheld a challenge to the government’s 2011 policy to ban hydraulic fracturing for the recovery of shale gas (AKA fracking). France joins Bulgaria in a full ban, and there are restrictions in many other places (including Germany and the UK).
The US is going in the opposite direction. Fracking is permitted almost everywhere. There are a few US cities and counties, mostly in areas which don’t have much shale gas, which have banned the practice. Vermont is the only state to ban fracking in the US. And nationwide the practice of fracking is expanding, rather than shrinking, with California leading the way.
And i am confident things will change in the US. It might take a decade or two, but as the watertable gets more contaminated and more people get sick and sue, after some governor’s daughter has a terrible personal experience, more and more states will prohibit this practice. The oil company lawyers and PACs will keep fracking going for as long as they can. Every Republican administration will set things backwards, and each Democratic one will do nothing to make it better, there is simply too much money involved to fix this problem quickly.
But we will get there, in the US, eventually, perhaps even a total ban. And then the oil majors and other even less responsible corporations will move fracking operations to countries where there are even fewer controls than here.
On this one, i fear i don’t have an optimistic conclusion.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
[The first part of this article is how these countries got out of nuclear power, the second half is about what they are replacing it with.]
In 1940, Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Hirohito’s Japan were the original 3 Axis Powers in World War 2.
Since WW 2 these three nations have built and operated 80 production nuclear reactors (54 in Japan, 22 in Germany 4 in Italy). Today across these 3 countries there are only 9 operating, all in Germany, all of which will be phased out in 2022. Here is what happened to them:
In 1987, after Chernobyl, Italy had a referendum and voted to close its four operating reactors in three years. In 2011, to re-affirm this decision 95% of Italians voting again repudiated nuclear power.
On May 4, 1986, less than two weeks after the Chernobyl meltdown, a thorium fuel pebble bed production reactor in Germany had an accident and released radiation into the environment. Plant management tried to hide the release behind the Chernobyl releases. This accident undermined German trust in pebble bed reactors. It did not seem to dampen the global endless fringe enthusiasm for thorium reactors.
In 1990, after the Berlin Wall came down, but before re-unification, it was decided it was too dangerous to continue running Soviet design reactors at Greifswald and 5 operating reactors were closed. [Interestingly, these reactors almost never show up on reactor maps of Germany, even ones including closed reactors, they have simply vanished from public view, despite their huge decommissioning costs (as of 2008 almost US$2 billion have been spent on decommissioning Greifswald, and the job is far from done)].
In 2011 shortly after Fukushima, Germany’s long pro-nuclear Prime Minister Angela Merkel said
“when, in Japan, the apparently impossible becomes possible and the absolutely unlikely reality, then the situation changes.”
With this sentiment she temporarily closed 8 reactors. These temporary closures became permanent and the 2022 phase out of all reactors was approved by the parliament and government of Germany.
On March 10th 2011 Japan was the 3rd largest nuclear power in the world (after the US and France) with 54 operating production reactors. Today all Japanese reactors are either offline, melted down, irreversibly damaged or decommissioned. Unlike Italy and Germany, the nuclear future of Japan is quite unclear.
The current government would like to re-start as many reactors as possible. Interestingly, to this end they have decommissioned the two mostly undamaged reactors at Fukushima (blocks 5 and 6). A largely symbolic move, since the prefecture had already voted to ban all nuclear power plants in the region. The government has also decided to take over the largely failed Fukushima accident control responsibility for the nuclear utility TEPCO, which owns Fukushima.
All of these countries are working on renewable power sources to increase energy independence, avoid massive increases in their carbon footprints and ultimately save money.
So what is the World War 3 mentioned in the title of this blog? There is an undeclared global war against climate change. Unlike the two previous World Wars it will not principally be fought militarily. Like the previous world wars it will impact almost every country in the world and to win it will require significant dedication of resources and political will. To date the US especially has been lacking this political will. The old Axis Powers are showing up in a different way.
Italy’s recent definitive referendum cleared the way for continued government support of renewables, though some solar feed in tariffs have been phased out. So far this year Italy has produced 36% of its electricity from renewable sources, with an impressive 15.7% reduction in conventional energy sources. Current renewables produce 6 times more power annually than the total of the 4 reactors closed by 1990.
Germany is the global model for transforming 20th century energy systems into contemporary ones. If you pay casual attention to the news, or read the oft misinformed NY Times, you might think:
- That the German transition model is running into problems
- That it is unpopular among the German people
- Germany is paying for this transition with higher household electricity bills
- By quickly closing reactors, Germany must open new coal plants
Turns out every one of these assumptions is wrong. There are definitely challenges to implementing the full program called Energiewende (or Energy Transitions). In my conversation with old friend Martin Rocholl he made it clear that the German grid is not ready for the shift which is happening and there are other serious problems as well. But overall the very engineering adept Germans are on the path they have designed for themselves. Revenue neutral Feed in Tariffs for renewables are decreasing each year having done what they were always supposed to do, which is help these technologies mature and reach market parity.
Ninety percent of Germans think implementing this energy transition is important or very important. Fifty-one percent felt is was progressing too slowly, 30% think it is going at a fine pace. Fewer than 8% attribute the price increases in energy to the additional cost of renewables.
Are Germans paying more? In some ways certainly, But if we look at what German households pay for electricity as a fraction of their total expenses, it works out to be about 2 to 2.5%. In the US it is higher on average, closer to 3.5%.
As for the myth that more coal plants have opened since 3/11, it is just that, a myth. Fossil plants (mostly coal) have dropped 3 GW (the capacity of three large reactors) since the meltdowns. But what is most interesting about this, is it was not government action, but market effects. Renewables on feed in tariffs are pushing coal and even some gas plants out of business at a more competitive footing each day. The worlds largest engineering firm, Siemens, closed it’s nuclear branch.
Japan is still a crap shot. The current PM and government want to restart as many reactors as possible. But the new emboldened regulatory agent, a respected former MP going anti-nuclear and the willingness of local leaders and populace to be part of the effort to push back. Japan historically used a “consensus” process to operate it’s reactors in which local governors must approve reactor restarts. Currently no reactors are operating, likely some will come back on line. But what is clear is Japan is following Germany’s lead towards:
- home based renewable systems
- generation solutions which don’t require centralized utilities
- high renewable feed in tariffs which encourages investment
While it is still a tiny fraction of total generation, it is actually the first of these which i hold the most hope for. Just making households aware of what they consume and incentivized to conserve and think differently. While i have never been, everything i hear and read about. the Japanese is that they are as wasteful about energy as the US is. It is changing this mindset which will win WW3.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
An increasingly small part of the Federal government is shut down. But you need not worry, the NSA will continue to listen to your phone calls and monitor all your emails unimpeded. The military continues a failed war in Afghanistan without fear that one soldier will miss a paycheck. The DEA will continue to mount paramilitary operations against farmers in California. And we will cleverly spend a billion dollars a week on nuclear weapons, without considering saving in this area.
I both dislike and respect Obama. He is a brilliant politician, having demonstrated this in two tricky elections which he won handily. He got the ACA passed, through tremendous lobbies and an obsticular congress in the first place (yes, i am aware of the many real problems with the law). And then he got the Republican majority appointed Supreme Court to uphold it. And finally, he got re-elected, in part, defending it. It is simply disingenuous of the Republicans to say this is somehow not the will of the people or the law of the land.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]