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On Nuclear Retirements Would Sabotage Clean Power Plan Carbon Reductions

Nathan, you hit the nail on the head. There is absolutely no reason not to grade compliance on a strict gCO2eq/MWh scale, and let the chips fall where they may. Any environmental law involving "credits" is prima facie suspect.

September 3, 2015    View Comment    

On Licensing Advanced Reactors in the United States

Rod, many in the pro-nuclear community have been at a loss to comprehend how federal funding for new nuclear tech has been so painfully deficient, at a time when it's never been more needed.

In 2012 I had an email exchange with a brilliant and affable chemist involved in the thorium/molten salt community. He described discussions he had had with an Assistant Secretary of Energy at the time, who felt alternative nuclear "was not going to happen" in the U.S. given the current environment in Washington. The chemist blamed "big uranium". Giving hearsay whatever credit is due, I found this confusing - even the multi-billion uranium market would be trivialized by the potential financial rewards of an affordablel, safe reactor technology in a global market.

Your article provides a critical piece of the puzzle: financing for development would be coming from companies without any opportunity to profit from it. Failure of this schema is self-evident.

We can examine all sorts of regulatory and legislative pathways which might lead to a more conducive business environment, but determined leadership - a President who gets behind nuclear in principle, and commits to funding it, not because it's profitable but because it's the right thing to do - will render these considerations trivial.

September 3, 2015    View Comment    

On A Key Element for the Forthcoming Paris Climate Agreement

Robert, you write, 

"This outcome will be embodied in a core agreement, which likely will be legally binding, as well as ancillary instruments such as annexes, national schedules, and COP decisions." 

Legally binding? What authority will be in charge of enforcing the core agreement, and what possible penalties could be imposed for non-compliance? Without the critical requirement of holding parties responsible - and with a virtually non-existent framework for doing so - the emissions generated by thousands of delegates flying to Paris will do incalculably more harm than good.

September 3, 2015    View Comment    

On Nuclear Retirements Would Sabotage Clean Power Plan Carbon Reductions

Joris, there's a thin line between a conspiracy and clever marketing. In the U.S., the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision made the line thinner by putting untraceable political influence up for sale. I have to smile when I read your catharsis - been there many times myself. But also because anger is positive when it results in activism, and activism has been critically deficient in nuclear energy since inception.

I recall a time when its development was even a foregone conclusion, when it offered too much to be ignored, when "pollution" was the overarching environmental concern. It was also a time when I, like many others, was ignorant of the National City Lines scandal of the 1940s - when American auto, tire, and oil interests bought up urban rail lines across the country, then destroyed them so they might profit by selling more buses, cars, tires, and gasoline. The problem with conspiracy theories is that some of them are accurate.

Now the environmental stakes have grown exponentially. It will require many, many people actively speaking out for nuclear energy if we want to have any chance of putting the brakes on climate change.

September 2, 2015    View Comment    

On Real Energy and Cost Savings. Right Now. Here, in Texas

Or, how about this: replace expensive renewables, and coal with its expensive externalities, with inexpensive nuclear energy?

Then the teachers can buy all the textbooks they want.

September 1, 2015    View Comment    

On Can California Ignore its Neighbors?

James, about 40% of California's imported power currently falls under the heading of Unspecified Sources:

Unspecified Sources of Power generally includes spot market purchases, wholesale power marketing, purchases from pools of electricity where the original source of fuel is not determined, and "null power". Null power is the generic electricity commodity that remains when the renewable attributes, renewable energy credits, are sold separately. Total system power does not account for REC-only specified claims due to the multiyear staggering of the renewable attribute (the credit) compared to the actual delivery of power across state lines.

Understand? Neither do I, but it sounds a lot like a shell game designed to improved California's emissions profile by importing Wyoming coal generation, then "forgetting" where the electricity came from. That borrows from the M.O. of renewables advocacy, which is always forgetting that the wind might stop blowing, and the sun occasionally dips below the horizon. Then making up the difference with the cheapest fossil fuel it can find.

Certainly the generators of that much energy were paid for it, weren't they? What about an interstate western ISO would make it less difficult to bury the source of California's electricity - and its carbon emissions - in nondescript "pools of electricity where the original source of fuel is not determined"?

September 1, 2015    View Comment    

On Nuclear Retirements Would Sabotage Clean Power Plan Carbon Reductions

Jesse, thank you for emphasizing and expanding upon this (un)intended consequence of the Clean Power Plan, which was originally identified by Steve Skutnik of the University of Tennessee last year.

It can't be emphasized enough. From someone on the front lines of the Nuclear vs. NatGas War, the closing of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in 2012 was shameful, and was a direct result of antinuclear activism and pro-natural gas campaigning by the Natural Resources Defense Council. All that California has accomplished with regard to electric vehicles, another movement with which I've been actively involved, was essentially thrown out the window, and 8 million tons of carbon added to my state's emissions.

Nuclear vs. NatGas War? Yes, and to the New York Times' credit (perhaps anticipating a similar move with local nuclear source Indian Point) they called it like it was last year, pointing out NRDC's outsized influence in drafting EPA's plan:

Taking Oil Industry Cue, Environmentalists Drew Emissions Blueprint

For anyone who doubts NRDC's pro-oil bias, that "natural resources" include fossil fuels - in The Role of Natural Gas in America's Energy Mix the organization is effusive: "Because power plants burning natural gas produce less air pollution than coal-burning plants, in the near term natural gas can actually serve to diminish a number of public health threats caused by generating electricity."

Here, a telling error by omission: those threats aren't caused by generating electricity, but by generating electricity with coal. No mention that natural gas plants increase public health and environmental threats when they're replacing zero-carbon nuclear. Without intervention that trend will continue.

There is no renewables scenario in the U.S. which would lower our exhorbitant carbon emissions faster and more completely than all-nuclear electricity powering electric vehicles. Generating electricity with natural gas essentially keeps us dependent on the oil industry for transportation - but maybe, that's the point.

September 1, 2015    View Comment    

On Interoperability and Distributed Intelligence: OMNETRIC Group's Project with U.S. Energy Department's NREL

Wade, as CEO of Omnetric Group, your article is quite a commercial for your company's product and for Siemens, your parent company and a sponsor of this website.

It makes very little sense at all. For example:

You claim "in a nutshell, the platform will allow the utility to still perform centralized management even though there is distributed control." This is marketing hooey, and a contradiction of terms. How is it possible to manage anything when it's beyond one's control?

"To more simply and cost effectively operate an increasingly complex and crowded grid, greater interoperability across disparate devices and systems is needed." An increasingly complex and crowded grid is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive - from an engineering standpoint, the ideal grid would be increasingly simple and reliable.

What specific evidence do you have that "edge-based analytics" would improve performance, or lower integration costs, or improve risk mitigation?

What specific evidence do you have that distributed energy sources make the grid more responsive and efficient?

Are you aware that using storage to "emulate traditional generation" at grid scale would cost billions of dollars, and is not remotely practical?

Like most of the vendors in the renewable, grid-edge, distributed generation free-for-all, your pitch thrives on OpenFMB, EMS/DMS, ESIF, MGMS, and ACA ("Abundant, Clever Acronyms") to sell a product at odds with systems management, with engineering, and with the environment.


August 31, 2015    View Comment    

On Reducing U.S. Primary Energy With Wind and Solar Energy and Energy Efficiency

Bruce, you exemplify the best - or worst - of renewables activism when you engage in parsing exercises in an attempt to reproportion not only criticism of renewable energy, but its value to society.

I will hold NREL to your standard of exactitude: why is the laboratory dedicated to the research, development, commercialization, and deployment of all renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, at all conceivable levels of deployment?

They aren't, of course. So let's take a proportional look (implied, but I'll make it painfully obvious) at where the lion's share of their funding is going. NREL's 2010 budget:

Solar energy - $79.7 million
Wind energy - $38.8 million
Biomass and Biorefinery Systems R&D - $38.3 million
Hydrogen Technology - $16.4 million
Geothermal Technology $4.8 million
Water Power - $4.2 million

If NREL doesn't sell the potential of solar and wind energy to Congress and the American public, 2/3 of their funding goes out the window. It's a conflict of interest you won't find at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, because nowhere does LBNL make promotion of anything part of their mission. They're administered by the University of California, and they publish in peer-reviewed academic journals instead of publishing their own papers - which also could be used to sell the importance of their work. That's bad science. As Nathan points out elsewhere here, LBNL publishes realism, or they're held accountable.

August 31, 2015    View Comment    

On Real Energy and Cost Savings. Right Now. Here, in Texas

Good catch, Keith. And while no one could blame the Houston Independent School District for putting that money to good use, and while Amory Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute generously try to erase that embodied energy with the disingenuous title "negawatts", nature still hasn't found a way to erase the emissions they create.

A more accurate term would be "hideawatts".

August 29, 2015    View Comment    

On Reducing U.S. Primary Energy With Wind and Solar Energy and Energy Efficiency

Clayton, here is a credible source which I know you won't contradict: NREL itself. The org describes its mission as being "dedicated to the research, development, commercialization, and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies".

If NREL happened to uncover evidence that renewable generation wasn't the panacea you believe it to be, they wouldn't have much of a mission, would they? Point being: not only their mission, but their existence is at cross-purposes with good science. I realize they tell you what you want to hear; they do the same for a lot of other renewables-industry entrepreneurs. If you want anyone to believe your cheerleading or theirs, it would help to provide some peer-reviewed academic research which supports it. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of that around.

August 29, 2015    View Comment    

On Trending Topics: How Utilities Can Deliver Value for Customers and Society

Sonia, Steve and Ron -  if it's true that

Creating an incentive to invest was appropriate when the primary social goal of the utility sector was to grow enough to provide universal service, and economies of scale were clear. 

what's the purpose of destroying those economies of scale with distributed generation? Have fundamental, physical economies of scale changed over the last one hundred years?

Of course not. Utility solar, even with transmission losses, is more efficient than hundreds or thousands of unnecessarily-duplicative mini-farms, requiring hundreds or thousands of times the wiring. There are efficiency losses in maintenance and installation, as well as resistance losses due to transmitting energy at a lower voltage.

You then urge regulators to accept your unsupported notion of "value to customers and society" as a benchmark to which they should hold utilities:

Regulators can use the value engine (r-k) to align utilities’ financial motivations with delivering value to customers and society. 

At best, it's demonstrable that distributed generation provides financial value to the solar manufacturing and installation industry, proportional to the value received by coal miners or well drillers from burning more fossil fuels. Needless to say, that value doesn't translate to environmental or health benefits for society as a whole.

August 28, 2015    View Comment