Dispelling the nuclear baseload myth: nothing renewables can’t do better

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Demonstration in Adelaide, Australia 2011 (photo serapheus)

Demonstration in Adelaide, Australia 2011 (photo serapheus)

The main claim used to justify nuclear is that it’s the only low carbon power source that can supply ‘reliable, base load electricity. But not only can renewables supply baseload power, they can do something far more valuable: supply power flexibly according to demand, writes Mark Diesendorf, Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at UNSW Australia. That, says Diesendorf, makes nuclear power really redundant. (This article was first published in Ecologist.)

We have all heard the claim. We need nuclear power because, along with big hydropower, it’s the only low carbon generation technology that can supply ‘reliable baseload power’ on a large scale.

For example, the UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, attempted to justify the decision to build the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station on the grounds that we have to secure baseload electricity.”

Similarly, former Australian Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane recently claimed at a uranium industry conference: Baseload, zero emission, the only way it can be produced is by hydro and nuclear.”

Underlying this claim are three key assumptions. First, that baseload power is actually a good and necessary thing. In fact, what it really means is too much power when you don’t want it, and not enough when you do. What we need is flexible power (and flexible demand too) so that supply and demand can be matched instant by instant.

“In the words of former Green Senator Christine Milne, ‘We are now in the midst of a fight between the past and the future.’ The refutation of the baseload fairy tale and other myths falsely denigrating renewable energy are a key part of that struggle.”

The second assumption is that nuclear power is a reliable baseload supplier. In fact it’s no such thing. All nuclear power stations are subject to tripping out for safety reasons or technical faults. That means that a 3.2GW nuclear power station has to be matched by 3.2GW of expensive ‘spinning reserve’ that can be called in at a moments notice.

The third is that the only way to supply baseload power is from baseload power stations, such as nuclear, coal and gas, designed to run flat-out all the time whether their power is actually needed or not. That’s wrong too.

Practical experience and computer simulations show it can be done

But first, take a look at Figure 1, which shows the daily variation of electricity demand in summer in a conventional large-scale electricity grid without much solar energy. Baseload demand is the pale blue region across the bottom of the graph.

Diesendorf figure 1 electriity demand with baseload

Figure 1: Daily electricity demand and supply in a conventional large-scale system with little renewable energy.

‘Baseload power stations’ are inflexible in operation, in the sense that they are unsuitable for following the variations in demand and supply on timescales of minutes and hours, so they have to be supplemented with flexible peak-load and slightly flexible intermediate-load power stations.

Peak-load power stations are hydro-electric systems with dams and open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs), essentially jet engines set up for power generation rather than aircraft propulsion. They can respond to variations in demand and supply on timescales of minutes.

The second assumption is that nuclear power is a reliable baseload supplier. In fact it’s no such thing. All nuclear power stations are subject to tripping out for safety reasons or technical faults

The assumption that baseload power stations are necessary to provide a reliable supply of grid electricity has been disproven by both practical experience in electricity grids with high contributions from renewable energy, and by hourly computer simulations.

In 2014 the state of South Australia had 39% of annual electricity consumption from renewable energy (33% wind + 6% solar) and, as a result, the state’s base-load coal-fired power stations are being shut down as redundant. For several periods the whole state system has operated reliably on a combination of renewables and gas with only small imports from the neighbouring state of Victoria.

The north German states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Holstein are already operating on 100% net renewable energy, mostly wind. The ‘net’ indicates trading with each other and their neighbours. They do not rely on baseload power stations.

A host of studies agree: baseload power stations are not needed

“That’s cheating”, nuclear proponents may reply. “They are relying on power imported by transmission lines from baseload power stations elsewhere.” Well, actually the imports from baseload power stations are small.

For countries that are completely isolated (e.g. Australia) or almost isolated (e.g. the USA) from their neighbours, hourly computer simulations of the operation of the electricity supply-demand system, based on commercially available renewable energy sources scaled up to 80-100% annual contributions, confirm the practical experience.

In the USA a major computer simulation by a large team of scientists and engineers found that 80-90% renewable electricity is technically feasible and reliable (They didn’t examine 100%.) The 2012 report, Renewable Electricity Futures Study. Vol.1. Technical report TP-6A20-A52409-1 was published by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The simulation balances supply and demand each hour.

The report finds that “renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the United States.”

Drawing on diverse renewable energy sources, with different statistical properties, provides reliability. This means relying on multiple technologies and spreading out wind and solar PV farms geographically

Similar results have been obtained from hourly simulation modeling of the Australian National Electricity Market with 100% renewable energy (published by Ben Elliston, Iain MacGill and I in 2013 and 2014) based on commercially available technologies and real data on electricity demand, wind and solar energy. There are no baseload power stations in the Australian model and only a relatively small amount of storage. Recent simulations, which have yet to be published, span eight years of hourly data.

These, together with studies from Europe, find that baseload power stations are unnecessary to meet standard reliability criteria for the whole supply-demand system, such as loss-of-load probability or annual energy shortfall.

Furthermore, they find that reliability can be maintained even when variable renewable energy sources, wind and solar PV, provide major contributions to annual electricity generation, up to 70% in Australia. How is this possible?

Fluctuations balanced by flexible power stations

First, the fluctuations in variable wind and solar PV are balanced by flexible renewable energy sources that are dispatchable, i.e. can supply power on demand. These are hydro with dams, Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCGTs) and concentrated solar thermal power (CST) with thermal storage, as illustrated in Figure 2. It ‘s not essential for every power station in the system to be dispatchable.

Diesendorf-updated_DemandDiagram-colour-figure 2

Figure 2: Electricity demand and supply in a large-scale system with a large contribution of variable renewable energy.

Incidentally the gas turbines can themselves be fuelled by ‘green gas’, for example from composting municipal and agricultural wastes, or produced from surpluses of renewable electricity. More on this below …

All energy use in the USA, including transport and heat, could be supplied by renewable electricity

Second, drawing on diverse renewable energy sources, with different statistical properties, provides reliability. This means relying on multiple technologies and spreading out wind and solar PV farms geographically to reduce fluctuations in their total output. This further reduces the already small contribution from gas turbines to just a few percent of annual electricity generation.

Third, new transmission lines may be needed to achieve wide geographic distribution of renewable energy sources, and to multiply the diversity of renewable energy sources feeding into the grid. For example, an important proposed link is between the high wind regions in north Germany and the low wind, limited solar regions in south Germany. Texas, with its huge wind resource, needs greater connectivity with its neighbouring US states.

Fourth, introducing ‘smart demand management’ to shave the peaks in electricity demand and to manage periods of low electricity supply, can further increase reliability. This can be assisted with smart meters and switches controlled by both electricity suppliers and consumers, and programmed by consumers to switch off certain circuits (e.g. air conditioning, water heating, aluminium smelting) for short periods when demand on the grid is high and/or supply is low.

As summarized by the NREL study: “RE (Renewable Energy) Futures finds that increased electricity system flexibility, needed to enable electricity supply-demand balance with high levels of renewable generation, can come from a portfolio of supply- and demand-side options, including flexible conventional generation, grid storage, new transmission, more responsive loads, and changes in power system operations.”

recent study by Mark Jacobson and colleagues went well beyond the above studies. It showed that all energy use in the USA, including transport and heat, could be supplied by renewable electricity. The computer simulation used synthetic data on electricity demand, wind and sunshine taken every 30 seconds over a period of six years.

Storage or ‘windgas’ could also manage fluctuations

The above ‘flexible’ approach may not be economically optimal for the UK and other countries with excellent wind resource but limited solar resource. Another solution to managing fluctuations in wind and solar is more storage, e.g. as batteries or pumped hydro or compressed air.

The whole system creates grid stability and cannot drop out all at once like a nuclear plant

A further alternative is the ‘windgas’ scenario recently advocated by Energy Brainpool as a greener and lower cost alternative to the UK’s Hinkley C nuclear project. The idea is to use excess wind energy to produce hydrogen gas by electrolysing water and then convert the hydrogen to methane that fuels combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power stations.

In fact, not all the hydrogen needs to be converted into methane, and it’s more efficient to keep some of it as hydrogen, a useful fuel in its own right. Another option is to use the hydrogen to make ammonia (NH3) which can both be used as a fuel, and as a feedstock for the fertiliser industry, displacing coal or natural gas.

In Brainpool’s scenario, the system is used to replicate the power output of the 3.2GW Hinkley C nuclear power station, and shows it can be done at a lower cost. But in fact, it gets much better than that:

  • as each wind turbine, CCGT, gas storage unit and ‘power to gas’ facility is completed, its contribution begins immediately, with no need for the whole system to be built out;
  • the system would in practice be used to provide, not baseload power, but flexible power to meet actual demand, and so would be much more valuable;
  • as solar power gets cheaper, it will integrate with the system and further increase resilience and reduce cost;
  • the whole system creates grid stability and cannot drop out all at once like a nuclear plant, producing negative ‘integration costs’.

But in all the flexible, renewables-based approaches set out above, conventional baseload power stations are unnecessary. In the words of former Australian Greens’ Senator Christine Milne: “We are now in the midst of a fight between the past and the future”.

The refutation of the baseload fairy tale and other myths falsely denigrating renewable energy are a key part of that struggle.

Editor’s Note

This article was first published in Ecologist. Reproduced with permission.

Dr Mark Diesendorf is Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at UNSW Australia. Previously, at various times, he was a Principal Research Scientist in CSIRO, Professor of Environmental Science and Founding Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology Sydney, and Director of Sustainability Centre Pty Ltd.

Books: Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change and Climate Action: A campaign manual for greenhouse solutions.


  1. says

    Dr. Diesendorf has an unreal, academic view of the world of electricity production, transmission and distribution.

    Weather dependent power sources like the wind and the sun are not “flexible.” They are unreliable and vary with the whim of nature. One absolutely sure prediction is that a solar energy collector will experience 365 outages lasting about 12 hours each every single year.

    It’s also disingenuous to the point of absurdity to classify ” Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCGTs)” as dispatchable renewable power sources. Hydro qualifies IF it happens to be available. Solar thermal with storage is quite rare because it is outrageously expensive.

    As a former nuclear submarine engineer officer, I can also personally testify that nuclear reactors can be incredibly responsive. I can also testify that numerous nuclear plant designs for commercial operation have varying degrees of output control that allow operators (not Nature) to decide how much power to produce at any given time. Some can only vary over a few hundred MW of range, others can be adjusted over a wider range.

    Diesendorf has the right to dislike nuclear energy. Australia has plenty of coal and natural gas to keep the lights on, as long as people don’t mind the atmospheric waste dumping required.

    However, he has no right to publish false information without a challenge.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights
    CDR USN (ret)

    • says

      That’s really interesting, Rod. I never thought of it that way, but clearly a nuclear submarine, which is pretty conventional technology for subs, has to have a high level of flexibility and responsiveness. We know how to build flexible nuclear capacity.

      So my question is, why can’t the nuclear industry deliver such a technology for grid applications? The received wisdom out there is nuclear is only suitable for baseload applications because of its inflexibility. If what you say is true and commercial designs already exist, the nuclear industry should be all over the opportunity to compliment renewables.

      Why is the dialogue between nuclear and renewables an “us vs them” one?

      • Keith Pickering says

        Existing nuclear power plants can and do operate in load-followiing mode, in France for example. That doesn’t happen in the US, but that is an economic decision, not a technological constraint. When demand drops, the most economical thing to do is to shut down first those plants with the most expensive marginal cost, which is fossil plants — because fuel is a huge component of fossil fuel electric costs. With nuclear, fuel is a trivial fraction of total cost, so nuclear is at the bottom of the shutdown list. Therefore nuclear plants in the US are run in “always on” mode.

        • says

          Some of your pro-nuclear correspondents claim that nuclear power reactors can also be operated flexibly to follow the ups and downs in daily demand or variable renewables when required, pointing to France’s experience. The limitations on doing this are both technical and economic. Because France has such a high nuclear capacity, supplying about 75% of annual electricity generation, it has no choice but to break the general rule and operate some nuclear stations in load-following mode. However, since the current generation of nuclear power stations is not designed for load-following, it can only do this with some of its reactors some of the time – at the beginning of their operating cycle, with fresh fuel and high reserve reactivity – but cannot continue to load-follow in the late part of their cycle. This is even acknowledged on the World Nuclear Organisation website.
          Load-following has two economic penalties for nuclear power stations:
          • Substantially increased maintenance costs due to loss of efficiency.
          • Reduced earnings during off-peak periods. Yet, to pay off of their high capital cost, they must be operated as much as possible at rated power.

          • says

            Dr. Diesendorf

            France is not the only place where reactors operate in a flexible manner.

            Bruce Power reactors in Ontario are also being used to load follow because the province has decided to install a large amount of variable wind energy, even though it already had one of the cleanest grids in the world with its hydro-nuclear combination.

            I used to work for B&W. Not only were our new reactor designs specifically aimed at being able to load follow, but the company’s earlier product line was well known as one of the most responsive nuclear plant designs available. Besides the economic factors that you mentioned, the plants were generally operated at a steady power due to some confusion at the regulatory agency about the nature of power changes in a reactor. Rather than fight city hall, most owners simply accepted the orders and instructed operators — via procedural limitations — not to change power very often.

            You point to the economic challenge associated with load following — lost sales and increased maintenance due to the generator equivalent of stop and start driving — but those same issues affect the variable sources you suggest as available for making up for the deficiencies of weather dependent sources. Open cycle gas turbines might be responsive, but their thermal efficiency is generally only 25-40% instead of the nearly 60% achievable when operating a combined cycle plant at its optimum power output.

            Natural gas pipelines might be able to supply a sufficient amount of gas to operate all of the open cycle gas turbines when the wind dies over a large area, but what do you think the pipeline operator would think about having his pipes idle during periods when the wind is blowing? What kind of prices will be required to ensure those gas turbines are both installed and ready to operate whenever the weather changes? Will there need to be special incentives in the form of subsidies or capacity markets?

            You’re publishing papers in a multi-disciplinary area where there are few experts who can or will challenge your assumptions. The honest academics believe your claims are outside of their area of expertise and most of the system operators don’t really care what’s published in dusty, infrequently read peer-reviewed journals.

            Your prescriptions, however, will not work without major revision. Please take the time to revise and recognize more of the real world and the real choices that responsible electricity suppliers would make in the absence of artificial inputs like subsidies and mandates.

            Rod Adams
            Publisher, Atomic Insights

    • says

      “that responsible electricity suppliers would make in the absence of artificial inputs like subsidies and mandates.”

      Your words are ironic in that they actually support the authors vision of a 21st century, market based system with monetized sources and loads rather than a 20th century Soviet style centrally planned utility.

      I would also point out that the renewables futures study has many assumptions that highly favor your position. Assumptions about future improvements in renewable energy are extremely conservative even in a mere 4 years of hindsight. The potential role of EV load shifting is also underplayed. The report was done prior to several major studies that projected (and they are already appearing conservative) the precipitous drop in battery costs. https://handlemanpost.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/cost-projections-for-lithium-ion-batteries/ And they project maximum wind CF at about 50% when new NREL information and the commercialization of 140m towers is pointing to greater than 60% CF wind. https://handlemanpost.wordpress.com/2015/07/26/new-nrel-numbers-game-changer-for-wind-power/ Not to mention the extraordinary cost reductions for solar since they froze their data (2010)

    • Bas Gresnigt says

      …he has no right to publish false information…
      Don’t see what is false in the information Diesendorf publishes here?

      I also don’t see how you can justify baseload power plants when renewable (wind, solar, etc) produce >100% of consumption?

      A situation expected in Germany before 2020.
      Denmark expects that situation during >100days before 2020.

      As the marginal costs of wind & solar are <$1/MWh whole sale prices will sink towards that level. That opens the gates for profitable P2G plants, who can sell their renewable gas/fuel also to car fuel stations. Or the gas can be used to fill the seasonal gaps in wind+solar production (during winter, etc).

      With a purchase price <1cnt/KWh the low efficiency (3cnt/KWh then.

      How can NPP’s with their high fixed operating costs survive?

      • mats nilsson says

        and of course all the subsidies paid for the renewable generation is to be disregarded?

  2. turnages says

    All nuclear power stations are subject to tripping out for safety reasons or technical faults. That means that a 3.2GW nuclear power station has to be matched by 3.2GW of expensive ‘spinning reserve’ that can be called in at a moments notice.

    Fallacious. *Any* power generator can trip out for safety reasons or technical faults. This is not a problem so long as there is sufficient headroom of generation reserve *somewhere* in the grid to cover the disappearance of the largest single generator. National grids typically run with a 5 – 15% spinning reserve for this reason. This is far superior to reserve for wind and solar PV, which, in the absence of large-scale storage for days and even weeks, need 80%-100% reserve.

    And, I know of no nuclear power units either present or planned, that are 3.2GW in size. The planned Hinkley C station will have two independent nuclear islands and 1.6GW generator units, each running into an independent set of transformers and switchgear and duplicate buses, and be connected to the grid by 6 high-capacity 400kV lines. It would be a rare and catastrophic event indeed that would cause an unplanned outage of both units simultaneously for any length of time.

    And, there are single points of failure for large-scale renewables too, especially on weaker grids. Suppose the offshore wind farm loses its onshore inter-connector or converter station? Suppose the synchronous condenser installed for voltage/frequency smoothing on the local wind farm trips out?

    Mark Diesendorf would do well to consult some experienced power system engineers before coming with the myths he does.

    • says

      Turnages is nitpicking. Changing 3.2 GW to 1.6 GW does not change the basic argument.
      Furthermore, the independent computer simulations by NREL and UNSW Australia of the operation of large-scale electricity supply systems with 80-100% renewable energy are performed predominantly by “experienced electric power engineers”, together with some physical scientists, as are many of the other studies from around the world. Attempting to denigrate the qualifications of the author of an article you dislike is an old tactic that demonstrates the inability to produce a convincing argument.

      • says

        Dr. Diesendorf

        The computer simulations you cite may be conducted by people with extensive academic knowledge of electricity, but the models include many simplifications that do not reflect real world constraints on transformers, transmission lines, and electrical generators. That is the nature of modeling.

        The models also start with some easy assumptions that are difficult or costly to implement. The economic models associated with the cost projections are even more simplified than the operational models themselves.

        For example, one of the first conditions on the high renewables scenario is “in combination with a more flexible electric system”. It goes on to describe, in general terms, the components that might help build that future (not existing) system. Flexibility “can come from a portfolio of supply- and demand-side options, including flexible conventional generation, grid storage, new transmission, more responsive loads, and changes in power system operations.”

        Without making some selections among those choices, even an “order of magnitude” cost projection is worthless. Some of the choices have yet to be invented or developed to the point of even modest penetration into the commercial market.

        Siting and building transmission lines can be as contentious as building a power plant, except that a lot more property owners are affected over the hundreds to thousands of miles where that line runs.

        I’m not attempting to denigrate anyone’s qualifications, but I am trying to point out that studies and models generally have to make a number of assumptions in order to be able to run, even with very high powered computers.

        Modelers may make suggestions based on their work, but we must pay attention to real world constraints while working to implement changes to the power system that reduce emissions while avoiding choices that slowly destabilize the grid and result in shrinking capability to serve the customers.

        The grid must be able to supply the power customers absolutely need to survive. It should also be able to supply the power that enables modern living to be much more comfortable than living in times where the sun, the wind, wood, domesticated animals and forced labor from other humans were the only sources of power available to humans.

        Since a large number of people, in both developed and undeveloped, countries do not have as much power as they need or want, why do you propose a system that eliminates a valuable, clean source of power and depends on a 40% reduction in power per person?

        Rod Adams
        Publisher, Atomic Insights

        • says

          The NREL study was a very detailed one indeed and vetted by industry professionals. It is highly credible and is just one more in an increasing number of studies pushing the boundaries of renewables penetration.

          • seth says

            Actually the NREL study had no engineering professionals with even the slightest knowledge of EE. In fact there are no studies in this area that are done by experienced power system engineers. THe author is a math professor clearly out of his depth. His compadre Jacobsen is a civil engineers with no knowledge or experience in EE.

      • turnages says

        Dr Diesendorf, you are correct that reducing 3.2GW to 1.6GW does not change the basic argument, and I didn’t mean to be offensive. But you mis-represent the argument itself. The point is that *any* generator needs operating margin elsewhere in the grid it is a part of to cover unexpected failures. The general rule of thumb is that no single generator should exceed 4 – 5% of installed *dispatchable* total grid capacity. 1.6GW is not an onerous requirement in the compact and well-connected UK grid. The typical operating margin of, say, 6% to 15%, can then cover one or two large outages elsewhere, without having to shed load. The grid has the effect of “pooling” the reserve, so instead of a single generator requiring 100% backup, there are many generators requiring only 10%-ish backup each.

      • Peter Lang says

        See Figure 14 in this report “Managing Flexibility Whilst Decarbonising the GB Electricity Systemhttp://erpuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/ERP-Flex-Man-Full-Report.pdf . Analysing it and other figures in the report reveals that nuclear is the least cost way to decarbonise the GB electricity system. GB could achieve 5 g/kWh emissions intensity of electricity with 31 GW new nuclear and achieve the same emissions intensity as France (44 g/kWh in 2014) with 32 GW new nuclear. The worst policy of all would be to close old nuclear plants.

      • says

        Turnages is nitpicking. Changing 3.2 GW to 1.6 GW does not change the basic argument.

        Back-pedalling on the issue of spinning reserve does not change your claims from false to true.

        Since you are so insistent that 100% “renewable” (presumably, wind and solar, since hydro is between scarce and unavailable in so much of the world and has been shrinking in the USA) can meet power demand 24/7, please show me where this has been done.  Just one place.  The only caveats I ask are (a) a grid of at least 5 GW average generation, (b) no more than 10% hydro or imported power, and (c) power priced low enough to support the industrial base required to produce more wind and solar generation.

        5 GW knocks out the trivial examples like Kodiak Electric.  No more than 10% hydro knocks out the special cases, like Iceland and Quebec.  Competitive rates supporting an industrial base knocks out everything else I kow of, if there even is anything else.  Germany is still running something like 40% lignite.  So if this is so easy, SHOW ME where it’s being done and HOW, so we all can do it.  SHOW ME.

    • says

      The one thing that wind and sunshine do worse than supplying steady power is responding to variable demands.
      I’ve seen this nonsense before, and marveled at the stupidity of it. An ordinary grid needs peaking reserve power units to respond to variations in consumer demand. A grid burdened with generators dependent upon the weather (that’s what sunshine, rain, and wind are) needs additional peaking reserve to handle their dropouts.

  3. Bryan Elliott says

    “In fact, what it really means is too much power when you don’t want it”

    This is Just Wrong. Baseload is the minimum time-specific demand the grid experiences annually. If the grid’s total demand never falls below 5 GW, your base load is 5 GW; it is literally _never_ too much power when you don’t want it, _by definition_.

    • says

      My statement is correct for the many large-scale electricity supply systems with ‘base load’ generating capacity (coal or nuclear) greater than base load demand (which includes France). In this case, one response is international trading of electricity, which France makes considerable use of. Another is to introduce an additional load, such as very cheap off-peak electricity water heating, to soak the excess base load supply (as in Australia).

  4. Bryan Elliott says

    On spinning reserve: all power is subject to faults, and for renewables, going offline is just daily operation. If you don’t like having to have 1:1 spinning reserve for nuclear, I’m sure you’ll hate needing 2:1 spinning reserve requirements for wind-as-baseload, or 3:1 for solar-as-baseload.

    Baseload accounts for 2/3 of demand power for most grids; what you’re suggesting is to bring spinning reserve’s nominal use case _into_ the domain of normal baseload operation, rather than the fault tolerance and peaking it’s presently used for.

    For reference, spinning reserve is usually underutilized gas plants – switching nuclear supplies to a renewables-backed base for the grid would _necessarily_ increase carbon emissions, as the carbon-emitting necessary reserve would get used more often than not.

    • says

      As my article points out, in the computer simulations of 100% renewable electricity in Australia, OCGTs contribute only a few percent of annual electricity generation — as little as 2% if the wind farms are geographically dispersed — and this small amount of gas can be provided by environmentally sound sources of biomass.

    • says

      It is actually happening in Ontario, where the mania for solar and wind in a province that has actually got rid of coal burning, does indeed replace some of their clean hydro and/or nuclear, with backup spinning reserve gas turbines.

      • Robert Budd says

        Ontario puts the lie to a couple of the authors assertions, in that Bruce Nuclear’s Candu’s do make almost daily maneuvers (up to 25%) to accommodate must take (or pay to curtail) wind. It’s doesn’t make sense to do it, but they can do it. And our large overbuild of spinning reserve of NG is very much due to an increasingly unwieldy wind/solar generation.
        Ontario did in fact replace coal generation (~12% in ’04) over 10 years. 85% of that replaced output came from new nuclear coming on line.
        I would wager that the wind/solar combination only spends 1/3 of its time actually replacing fossil generation with both hydro and nuclear being sacrificed to resource and money wasting RE ideology within the current gov’t.
        Suffice to say with an appropriate carbon tax and a market price based on the ‘real value” of the generation, Ontario’s FIT inspired wind and solar would be uneconomic and unbeneficial here.
        In the meantime our nuclear fleet sets performance records, provides ~60% of generation and gives us a system avg of ~29grams/kwh, making Germany (and Australia) look like the GHG production outliers they truly are.

    • says

      “2:1 spinning reserve requirements for wind-as-baseload”

      This is incorrect.

      Since 24 hour look ahead has gotten quite good for any sizable penetration of renewables, spinning reserve is only a fraction of the installed capacity.

      Recall that spinning reserve is fast response backup.

      • turnages says

        But the thing is, it’s not just spinning reserve we need, for short-term variations. We *also* need 1:1 installed despatchable backup capacity for when the wind isn’t blowing at all. To be sure, there is some diversity for sites far apart. But a large anticyclone can reduce wind output to just a few percent of nameplate over a radius of 1000km.

  5. Bryan Elliott says

    That’s not to say renewables don’t have a place; solar does a reasonably good job of matching diurnal demand over baseload, and wind can be built to mediate their output via flywheels – making them a useful method of creating g carbon-free spinning reserve. Coupled with nuclear, you can build a _completely_ carbon free grid – but I suspect that may not _actually_ be what you want: a common thread I’ve found among renewables-only advocates is financial ties to coal.

    • says

      Nuclear power is a poor partner for a large contribution of variable renewable energy in an electricity supply system for three reasons:
      (1) Despite the claims to the contrary, nuclear power reactors are inflexible in operation, compared with open cycle gas turbines (biofuelled or fossil fuelled), hydro with dams and concentrated solar thermal with thermal storage. Wind and solar PV can replace base load demand, balanced by flexible, dispatchable renewables, as discussed in my article (see especially Figure 2).
      (2) When nuclear breaks down, it is usually down for weeks or months. For comparison, gas turbines are usually down for hours or days. They are also much smaller in capacity and are usually installed in groups. When one gas turbine in a group breaks down, the others can continue to balance the fluctuations in variable RE.
      (3) Merit Order Effect: Wind and solar farms are cheaper to operate than nuclear. Therefore wind and solar can bid lower prices into electricity markets, thus displacing nuclear from base load operation, which it needs to pay off its huge capital costs.

      • says

        Item (3) The cost of fuel even for the scientifically obsolete water cooled reactors is trifling compared with construction and construction delays imposed by ‘green’ legal obstructionism. If the distribution companies demanded that the solar and wind should pay for the cost of gas turbines running with enough spare capacity to pick up dropped load, i.e. spinning reserve, at the price that was charged – and agreed to – in the great California scandal that got Governor Davis recalled, the much higher capital costs per MWh actually delivered by wind and solar would put them out of business.
        But as I indicated, generation 4 nuclear is not only immune even to meltdowns that have occurred world-wide a whole three times in a half century, they use and produce from a hundredth to a twentieth as much fuel and waste products as the presently deployed fleet. In the USA, the total stock of so-called “spent” fuel is about 70,000 tons. If there were enough wind turbines to supply the 90 GW-years per annum as the nuclear plants do, the nameplate capacity would be about 360,000 MW, and the helicopter servicing of those 72,000 WTs of 5 MW, or 144,000 of 2.5 MW, would require more engine fuel than all the fuel for the nuclear costs to be provided.

        • says

          Not one Generation 4 nuclear power reactor is commercially available. The closest was the French Superphenix, a technical and economic failure. It was launched in 1974, connected to the grid in 1986 and closed in 1998 after numerous technical problems. It only operated for the total of 10 months and cost 12 billion Euros (2010 currency) excluding decommissioning. On the other hand wind and solar farms (both PV and CST) are commercially available. On-shore wind is already much less expensive than nuclear and large-scale solar PV is becoming so.

    • says

      “a common thread I’ve found among renewables-only advocates is financial ties to coal”

      There’s an attempt to create a phony meme if I ever heard one. Amazing statement to make without references! I am disappointed that the moderators allowed it.

      • Robert Budd says

        If you look at Ontario you will certainly see that the big winners within the Green Energy Act have been fossil interests, albeit none of them coal.
        Many fossil corporations like Enbridge, EPCOR, Suncor, TransAlta etc. have been early entries into very lucrative FIT contracts for wind and solar here. And if you look at the big picture of both the Long Term Energy Plan and the currently underway shifting of consumers to now cheaper NG for heating (we’ve seen very large electricity price increases since the GEA) its pretty clear that fossil is getting more market share at only the expense of public owned nuclear.
        Look at political contributions to this provincial gov’t and the sacrifice of clean public generation. It’s pretty clear here that fossil really loves RE if it replaces the more effective nuclear generators. And if a bankrupt gov’t can sell off public owned capacity to “supportive” corporations, so much the better for them.

        • says

          In South Australia, as the result of the growth of wind, the two coal-fired power stations are being closed in 2017 and the only base-load gas-fired power station will be closed in 2017.

          • Peter Lang says

            South Australia now has near the highest cost electricity in OECD countries – right up there with Denmark and Germany (other countries that have a high proportion of wind energy).

  6. Jesse says

    Obviously, the wind doesn’t always blow. Sometimes, when the wind is blowing, wind turbines won’t spin or they will spin too fast and be destroyed. The sun doesn’t always shine thanks to night-time and even when the sun is shining, low angle sun can cut down on solar productivity. Overcast skies can also cut down on solar productivity. Hydropower is limited and low reservoir levels cut down on its productivity. Even the EIA says that nuclear power has the highest capacity factor whereas renewables have the lowest.

    • says

      My business partner was talking to a guy building a 2GW HVDC link in Texas to move Texan wind east. Capacity factors for Texan wind are around 60%. You don’t know what you are talking about.

      With respect to all the other comments on need for baseload or not:
      Steve Holliday, CEO of National Grid, believes the idea of large coal-fired or nuclear power stations to be used for baseload power is “outdated”. Or let’s try this from Nigel Williams, head of electricity systems operations at the National Grid (2013)

      ….the huge new nuclear power stations being planned would provide significant, stable power but were not essential: “You could do without nuclear as long as you get the volume [of electricity] from elsewhere.” He said the much larger size of the new reactors incurred more costs to the grid, as they have to increase the capacity to hand to ensure the network would cope if the reactors tripped offline.

      So consistent message from large TSO: base load not needed. Who to believe a TSO that has been operating networks since the year dot or the people (amateurs?) commenting on this site……oh it’s so difficult.

    • Bas Gresnigt says

      Costs per produced KWh is important. Capacity factor far less.

      Another big cost factor is that NPP’s can and do stop within a few second at unpredictable moments. That implies that full spinning reserve capacity is necessary. Spinning reserve which emits CO2 as nuclear is too expensive to serve as spinning reserve…

      Wind & solar don’t need those as their production is accurately predicted days & hours in advance. Thanks to the many thousands of distributed units, dispersed over the country!

  7. says

    As shown by the many comments, this article relies on simplistic logics and utter ignorance of electric network dynamics and economics… OR IS IT JUST IN BAD FAITH ? Of course nuclear reactors do provide both BASE LOAD and minute-wise load following. NO, hydropwer does not need to do minue-load follwoing, and in France it does both ultra-fast (response-time smaller than 10 seconds) power regulation and hurly power regulation when demand exceeds the enormous capacity of the 63 GW nuclear power plants to adapt to peak demand. And NO, 100% renewable is not feasible, not now, not ever, as has been shown for the past 30 years on the (small) island named El Hierro, where even reaching 50% renewable electricity is proving a challenge, more details on http://savetheclimate.org/en/news/6-el-hierro,-the-100-renewable-island
    So, it would be nice for The Ecologist to spare humanity the trouble of repating the same mistakes over and over, and understand that nuclear is both sustainable and clean, and might even become renewable (please use your favorite translator if you cannot read french): http://www.sauvonsleclimat.org/nucleaire-propre-durable/

    • says

      I was somewhat puzzled when I first learned of El Hierro’s adoption of wind turbines, that as a place with an extinct volcanic, and of significant environmental importance to birds etc., they had not instead opted or at least investigated geothermal energy.

  8. says

    Mark Diesendorf has been attempting to do away with the concept of baseload for many years.

    I published this response nearly 18-months ago to break down the absurdity of this process with direct reference to Diesendorf’s work.


    The reference to South Australia, my home, is partial and utterly disingenuous as the exact opposite situation is often also true: wind and solar providing close to zero and everything being provided by our remaining coal, gas and, more crucially than ever, two interconnectors to the MUCH larger Victorian region. The power draw is not “small”. At times the interconnectors are at full capacity, my state is a clear net-importer, and the growing reliance on those interconnectors is now raising serious reliability alarms from the market operator. South Australia is currently proving the opposite of Diesendorf’s point: if you cut the interconnectors, we would go dark.

    The reference to spinning reserve requirement of 1:1 for nuclear (or coal, or gas) is false and just rank ignorance. A total amount of reserve is maintained based on the cumulative loss of load probabilities of individual generators in a system. It is the probability of failure of several generators at the same time that guide the reserve requirements. All generators are supported by the same reserve. The exception is systems modelled with very high penetration renewables, like those by Diesendorf. Here, the reserve requirements will approach 1:1, as I discuss in the link relating to assumed biogas capacity, or even well above 1:1 taking they “use sun when wind not blowing” approach.

    Diesendorf’s simulation work for Australia assumes copperplate transmission networks, does not seek and addressed the most extreme climate conditions, and does not model supply-meeting demand in sub-hourly increments, though wind and solar fluctuate greatly in increments of 5 minutes or less. It’s interesting work but readers show see it for what it is: throwing every efforts at demonstrating that nuclear power is not needed.

    To cite the recent Jacobson study is laughable. That study assumed full electrification of all energy in the entire continental united states, assumed space heating requirements across the board would be supplied by underground thermal energy storage in based on a single, not-yet-commissioned project in suburban Alberta, assumed up to 95% of demand in most sectors was either flexible or able to be provided by hydrogen, assumed at least a 100-fold increase in decentralised thermal energy storage on current levels and, of course, a copperplate transmission network. Seriously, if you rig the model that hard, you can prove anything.

    Better to look at the recent work from NOAA. Their team did the continental US too, they did actual transmission power flow modelling and they found US could use a lot of cost-effective wind and solar PV to cut emissions. It was underpinned by 100 GW of nuclear power (baseload…) and 400+ GW of gas to follow the renewables. Contribution of supply was (in order) wind, gas, solar, nuclear, hydro. I am not surprised that Mark left this recent study out of his discussion.

    • says

      @Ben Heard

      One gentle addition – the NOAA study also relied on a non-existent nationwide HVDC transmission network with very low losses.

      It’s cost assumption for the construction of that network was too low by a factor of at least 3 because of a misreading of information about two relatively small projects built in the plains of Alberta.

      I haven’t gotten around to publishing my findings on that study, but I will within the next month or so. Unlike you, however, I am not a respected PhD student whose submissions to peer reviewed journals are received with serious interest.

      I’m just a blogger so I’ll publish my work on Atomic Insights and let volunteer reviewers have at it.

      Rod Adams
      Publisher, Atomic Insights

        • says

          I do appreciate a writer who knows the difference between its and it’s — and cares about it.
          I was once in a class that was told “If you use the construction ‘different … than’ instead of the correct ‘different … from:’ hardly anyone will notice.
          But when you die, you will go to Hell.”

          • Steve Hayes says

            The last conversation with my Mum, I had just been on Radio 4 as a sort of expert, and she, instead of being pleased at my “success”, was mortified gave me a serious ticking off for different to. Not that I would expect her to go to hell, except for the circumstance of a vengeful God who punishes people just for lack of belief.

    • says

      Almost everything in Mr Heard’s long comment is either incorrect or misleading. For example, before my colleagues and I at UNSW Australia commenced computer simulations (in 2011) of 100% renewable electricity in the National Electricity Market, I assumed naively that the base-load myth was correct. This can be seen in my pre-2011 writings on renewable energy. It was our simulations and those of NREL that transformed my understanding to the recognition that base-load power stations are unnecessary for achieving reliability of supply.
      Another incorrect claim by Heard is that the simulations don’t simulate “extreme climate (sic) conditions” and don’t examine sub-hourly time steps. Our latest simulations span 8 years of hourly data, while our colleagues at Melbourne University have examined very short time steps. As mentioned in my article, Jacobson et al. (2016) simulates 30 second time steps over 6 years. In addition to simulations of 6-8 years, several groups, including Jacobson’s and ours, have addressed extreme weather conditions by means of either Monte Carlo simulations or synthetic data containing big variations. It seems impertinent for someone with no qualifications in the physical sciences, engineering or mathematical modelling to describe the major body of work by Jacobson et al. as “laughable”. Heard even confuses climate with weather. He is out of his depth and floundering.
      Readers who are interested in the UNSW simulations can download a preprint of our latest paper (in press) from

  9. says

    Anyone wishing to understand the South Australian situation in full is invited to read this 2015 paper: “Beyond wind: furthering development of clean energy in South Australia”.

    The paper featured in a climate change special edition of this journal won the 2015 Publication Medal from the journal in which it was published.

    • Bas Gresnigt says

      Germany increases solar share in electricity production yearly with ~1% of total consumption.
      S-Australia has roughly 2 times better insolation.

      So why is the paper not titled: “Beyond wind and solar: furthering development of clean energy in South Australia”?

    • says

      Mr Heard’s article was published in an obscure journal with tiny circulation, namely Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia. The article has no original content. It contains many misleading statements and comparisons. For example, it compares the price of electricity (including taxes) in Denmark with those of other countries, neglecting to inform the reader that when tax-free prices are compared, Denmark’s is much lower than average. Furthermore, Denmark’s electricity taxes go into consolidated revenue — they do not subsidise wind energy. Mr Heard should know this, because this misleading comparison by nuclear campaigners has been exposed for many years now.

  10. says

    If my fellow-environmentalists and liberals would get an education in elementary chemistry (pun intended) , fairly basic nuclear physics, and the history of the Industrial Revolution, they’d abandon the idea that current or recent wind and solar energy resources can overcome the fossil solar resources – sun, wind, waves, rain, biomass and even last winter’s snowfall in the mountains.
    Consider for instance the sail power that was swept clear off the seas for all but leisure pursuits. Imagine powering the QE2 or the USS “United States” with any product of solar “renewables”. There are two or three FNR or MSR designs small enough and powerful enough to do it, with NO long lived waste.
    FNR: Fast-neutron Nuclear Reactor;
    MSR: Molten Salt Reactor.
    Both are breeders, and the designs are compact
    http://transatomicpower.com even has a 520 MWe design intended for factory line production. It needs half a ton a year of fuel, and the half ton of waste is short lived.

    • says

      1. Apparently Mr Rogers has not heard of renewable fuels, although they are mentioned in my article. They can power ships.
      2. The reactor designs he mentions are just designs — they are a long way from commercial products.
      3. Surely Mr Rogers is not taken in by the sales talk of Transatomic that their designs would only produce “short-lived” nuclear wastes? Fission products are unavoidable. With half-lives of around 30 years, they would have to be stored for at least 300 years. Furthermore, while some of the long-lived transuranics could in theory be “burned” up, in practice it’s unlikely that all of them could be.

  11. says

    About response to varying demand: The advantage that gas turbines have over coal, is that the source temperature of the heat engine is high, and at the outlet, it is still gaseous.
    Whereas the steam turbine that coal burning drives dare not drop its outlet temperature to the point where its gaseous H2O becomes a mist of hurtling droplets.
    Ceramic oxide fueled nuclear has a different problem. the xenon-iodine pit. Too rapid a change in power level introduces a potentially hazardous hysteresis effect, as xenon 135 is a neutron absorber.
    But molten salt reactors can rid the core of these gaseous fission products, and a closed cycle gas turbine driven by the heat carried from the reactor, is presumably as nimble as a fossil fuel gas turbine.
    The molten salt itself, by expanding with higher temperatures, provides automatic response to load. A lesser drain on the heat supplied to the generators lets the fuel get slightly hotter, and there are fewer fissile nuclei per unit volume. Conversely a heavier load cools the liquid fuel just enough to raise the reaction rate.

  12. Karel Beckman says

    I would like to point Diesendorf’s critics to an interview I did last year with Steve Holliday, who is no other-worldly academic but CEO of National Grid, the UK transmission system operator (which also runs networks in the US): http://www.energypost.eu/interview-steve-holliday-ceo-national-grid-idea-large-power-stations-baseload-power-outdated/
    Holliday said the idea of large coal-fired or nuclear power stations as baseload is “outdated”. We will only need such power stations for peak loads.
    I am not an expert on this, so I won’t take sides, but I assume that Holliday knows what he is talking about.

      • says

        Peter Lang’s weblink takes the reader to an unrefereed blog by himself, posted on a website by someone called Judith Curry. Lang’s blog is allegedly based on a report by the Energy Research Partnership (ERP). However, under Lang’s article is a comment by the Head of the ERP Analysis Team:

        “The point of the work was not to determine the cheapest option for decarbonising the UK but to look at what affects the value of technologies to the system, therefore no other cost scenarios were presented.”

        In other words, Lang’s blog misrepresents the ERP Report, which was never intended to identify the least cost way to decarbonise the GB electricity system. It would indeed be surprising if the EPR, whose costs at Olkiluoto and Flamanville are now three times the original budgeted costs, could compete with on-shore wind (or even off-shore by the early 2020s).

        • Peter Lang says

          Please explain how I misrepresented the ERP Report. I did not. The point you raised was discussed at length on the thread. The ERP report text does not say that nuclear is the cheapest way to decarbonise electricity, but the charts do show that. The ERP report author said I had faithfully represented the figures but we disagree over the interpretation. There is a lot behind that difference of opinion over the interpretation. You have misrepresented the debate – a common practice over the past 25 years.

          Based on the ERP figures drawn from Figure 14 and other figures, the CO2 abatement cost (£/t CO2) for the different technologies would be:
          nuclear 74
          Onshore wind 85
          Offshore wind 158
          Solar PV 133
          Coal-CCS 750
          Gas-CCS 556

          Perhaps you should read more carefully before commenting

          • says

            Lang’s reply to the politely worded point by the Head of the ERP Analysis Team, that Lang misrepresented the ERP report, confirms that Lang is redefining black as white. He has not answered the ERP Head’s point I quoted above. Lang’s illogical response is irrelevant, because both the figures and text of the ERP report refer to a single scenario that does not represent the least-cost scenario for the UK. Yet Lang is attempting to use the ERP scenario incorrectly to support his claim that nuclear gives the cheapest scenario. As I see it, this is either delusion or deliberate dishonesty.

    • Peter Lang says


      Nuclear fuel is effectively unlimited – there is sufficient nuclear fuel to provide all the world’s energy for 10 billion population all using the current average US per capita rate of energy consumption for thousands of years. Fusion is likely to be viable long before we run out of nuclear fuel for fission reactors

      • says

        Commercial electricity from nuclear fusion on Earth is at least 30 years in the future and may never become a reality. Commercial electricity from nuclear fusion in our star is with us now in the form of wind and solar power and is growing rapidly.

        • Peter Lang says

          Diesendorf says:

          Commercial electricity from nuclear fusion on Earth is at least 30 years in the future and may never become a reality.

          True. But it is more than likely that renewables can never supply more than a small proportion of global electricity. And there is thousands of years of fission fuels – i.e. effectively unlimited.

    • turnages says

      The reason Steve Holliday of National Grid says “baseload is outdated” is because he’s using a different definition of baseload to the rest of us. Quoting from the above interview:

      “The idea of baseload power is already outdated. I think you should look at this the other way around. From a consumer’s point of view, baseload is what I am producing myself. The solar on my rooftop, my heat pump – that’s the baseload.”

      In other words, baseload is being re-defined as “whatever power I, the customer, feel like generating from my solar panels when the sun chooses to shine, and from my wind turbine when the wind chooses to blow. I’d like to ram this fickle and wildly varying power down everybody else’s throats whether they need it or not, and it’d be really nice to be paid full retail price for it too.”

      I would agree that the sooner we do away with that sort of “baseload”, the better!

      • Tilleul says

        You do realize that the energy industry is supposed to be at the service of customers and not the other way around, don’ you ? Because it sure don’t look like this judging by your comment. Soviet style central planning is dead, deal with it.

        • turnages says

          Baseload is by definition *load* – the clue is in the name, revisionist marketeers notwithstanding.

          As soon as a “customer” with his load becomes a generator instead, they have to start playing by the rules that any other generator has to play by. If they’re on a grid, and there is an excess of generation, someone has to curtail.

          At the moment wind and solar are in a position of monstrous and unsustainable privilege. Not only does every other generation type have to curtail instead of them, but they are paid a handsome subsidy for every unit. This allows them to make a profit even when the grid is flooded and the pool price is actually negative.

          Neither do they pay for the wear and tear their rapid output changes inflict on the balancing thermal plant.

          And, when there’s a nice winter anticyclone squatting over western Europe, they are completely missing in action.

          Level the playing field. Require that wind and solar pay their fair share of the costs they are currently inflicting on others. Then re-examine the case for their unreliable contributions.

    • says

      @Karel Beckman

      I’m not terribly impressed by your choice of electrical power experts.

      Steve Holliday seems more like an “authority” or “boss” figure than a man with firm technical understanding of how power systems work. His company’s business strategy might benefit from a reduction in large, reliable power generators.

      However, he became the Chief Executive Officer of National Grid by way of a directorship and merger. He progressed to executive in the oil business, not the electrical power business. His formal education was in mining engineering, not electrical power.


      Some might question how a retired US Naval officer can lay claim to better than a layman’s level of knowledge in power generation, transmission and distribution. Ships have multi-generator grids and must interface with the power grid when in port. My ship even served as “King’s Bay Power and Light” for a while after a forklift driver ran over a power cable. My formal education includes an MS in Systems Technology and electrical power grids are one of the biggest, most important systems in every developed country.

      I also listened carefully at the dining room table while growing up in the household of a transmission substation engineer and have engaged in detailed study for a number of years.

      Models can provide almost any result desired. Company CEOs have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to pay attention to profit and the share prices. They do not necessarily tell the whole truth to journalists about WHY they make the future looking statements about technology that they do.

      Rod Adams
      Publisher, Atomic Insights
      CDR, USN (ret)

      • Karel Beckman says

        Rod, this is an ad hominem attack on Mr Holliday
        I am not impressed by it.
        If you want to make a point, address his arguments
        As to your or his qualifications, even Nobel Prize winners.disagree over all sorts of things. No one’s “qualifications” should be taken as a substitute for an argument.
        I invite anybody to exchange rational, verifiable arguments on this website.
        I will publish them no matter whether they are pro or anti nuclear or what anyone’s qualifications are

        • says

          @Karel Beckman:

          I did not attack Mr. Holliday. I simply pointed out that your chosen “authority” was not one on the topic that he was discussing. The answer to a fallacious argument from authority is often to point out why that source is not as credible as described.

          My commentary said nothing at all about the man himself, just that the fact that he is the CEO of a grid company does not prove your assumption that “he knows what he’s talking about.”

          If you wanted to interview Holliday about business or about oil exploration and extraction, I might find it worth my time to read his opinions.

          Words are cheap and relatively easy to string together. The only way we can tell whether or not they mean anything is by knowing something about the person who has chosen the words and arranged them into arguments.

          Please tell me how you “verify” an argument about the ability of weather dependent power sources to be cobbled together to produce reliable electricity.

          Is there any reasonably sized, modern economy that relies on the wind and sun? There are a couple of examples that have abundant hydroelectric resources and a rather tiny island nation that has uniquely accessible geothermal power.

          I’m eager to hear about the 100% (or even >50%) renewables economies that I am forgetting.

          Rod Adams
          Publisher, Atomic Insights

          • says

            Except that the CEO of National Grid, whoever he is and whatever his qualifications, is likely to have access to many people with the highest technical qualifications.

            It’s also worth pointing out that the idea of baseload is a business or economic concept to which technology has been applied. So the opinions of business leaders are highly relevant.

            The reality in the UK is the wind gets built. Nuclear struggles to get built.

        • Michael Hogan says

          The binary nature of this whole dialogue is symptomatic of the real problem we have, which is that it’s been taken over by advocates with an axe to grind rather than a balanced discussion among experts who are open to wherever the evidence leads. A string of postings over a stray comment from Steve Holliday in a lengthy interview about demand response – something that is relevant to this discussion but not in the way either side of that argument have wasted their times discussing – is just an example. The bottom line here, based on the whole body of evidence and analysis compiled to date, is that there is room in a decarbonized power system for some nuclear and there are clear benefits for having some nuclear in the mix, perhaps as much as 10-15% of annual average production, but there is not room for and no net benefit from pushing nuclear’s share beyond that level. Rod Adams is a passionate advocate for nuclear and he has some good points to make, but his understandable defensiveness in the face of a relentless onslaught by less knowledgeable advocates of an all-renewables future leads him, as in this case, to overstate his case – and no, the experience of nuclear drives on Navy submarines where there are virtually no commercial cost-of-service constraints (we don’t typically run a consumer protection yardstick over our nation’s nuclear deterrent) cannot be directly translated to power grid applications for all sorts of reasons that have been well know in the power industry since the time of Admiral Rickover, one of whose leading assistants was my first boss at GE’s power systems business nearly 40 years ago. I worked in the commercial nuclear industry and have been a close observer of commercial nuclear applications for all these years since. Nuclear stations can be ramped to some extent sometimes, but for both technical and economic reasons owners seek to avoid doing so more than a few times a year if they can possibly avoid it, and in a decarbonized power system with more than about 20% nuclear they would need to be ramped down and up, or even shut down and restarted, weekly or maybe even daily. There isn’t a commercial nuclear technology alive that would be built under those assumptions and none on the drawing boards. The solution to both problems – the benefits of having some relatively inflexible nuclear contributing to decarbonization of the power system, and the challenges posed to the inevitable presence of a lot of intermittent renewable capacity on the same system – is one that virtually no one (except Steve Holliday, indirectly) has spent any time discussing, which is the expansion of demand response (including the use of mature, cheap and efficient end-used energy storage technologies). That’s one other thing all of the serious studies agree on – that demand response is a readily available, very economic, highly flexible solution that would take us a very long way to the ultimate goal, including with some nuclear in the mix, without the need for highly expensive electric battery storage except for a few niche applications. That would be a useful direction for this discussion to take, instead of the competing and increasingly non-credible claims in the tit-for-tat spat that has occupied far too much of everyone’s time.

      • says

        Rod Adams, you are my hero. The irrationality of the solar-based “renewables” and “no nukes” philosophies are so very near to religious fanaticism that I would automatically doubt the technical authority of anybody chosen to be in charge of any aspect of their energy policy.

        • says

          Albert Rogers, in labelling those who support renewables as near to religious fanaticism, could be seen to be demonstrating the psychological behaviour of ‘projection’.

  13. Peter Lang says

    Mark Diesendorf has been repeating this anti-nuke nonsense and pro reneweables nonsense for at least 25 years. He’s been consistently wrong. This may be of interest to readers:

    If nuclear progress had not been disrupted in the late 1960s and since, the position now (if learning rates demonstrated up to about 1970 had continued) would be (approximately):

    • The overnight capital cost of new nuclear plants would be around 1/10th of what it is now

    • Nuclear power would have replaced just about all baseload fossil fuel electricity generation

    • This would have avoided around 5 million fatalities since 1980 and about 300,000 in 2015

    • Avoided an additional 85 Gt CO2 since 1980

    High learning rates were achieved in the past and could be achieved again with appropriate policies.

    more … ‘Nuclear power learning rates – policy implicationshttps://judithcurry.com/2016/03/13/nuclear-power-learning-rates-policy-implications/


    Nuclear is the safest way to generate electricity http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/06/deaths-by-energy-source-in-forbes.html

    Nuclear fuel is effectively infinite – sufficient to provide all the world’s energy for 10 billion populations all using the current average US per capita rate of energy consumption.

    Conversely, renewables supply much of the world’s energy their low ERoEI precludes it.

    Many more reasons – just have to take the blinkers off.

    • Peter Lang says

      [repost in correct place]

      Nuclear fuel is effectively unlimited – there is sufficient nuclear fuel to provide all the world’s energy for 10 billion population all using the current average US per capita rate of energy consumption for thousands of years. Fusion is likely to be viable long before we run out of nuclear fuel for fission reactors

      • says

        I am persuaded by the molten salt reactor folk that even the IFR, and its demonstration of meltdown immunity weeks before the Chernobyl meltdown, has a potential problem with the destructive capability of fast neutrons.
        Fusion-produced neutrons were enough to make the first “H-bomb” test a bigger explosion thann was expected. They knew that half the blast energy was designed to come from U-238 fission by these prodigiously energetic neutrons, but they hadn’t calculated in the Li-7 fission that those neutrons managed to produce. So the bomb, or “device”, had more tritium for the fusion stage than they expected
        The reactor design at http://transatomicpower.com has the brilliant modification of zirconium hydride as moderator, and is calculated to run as a breeder on the actinides of spent LWR fuel, 1.8% enrichment.
        By my own guess, if the moderator itself were enriched to a little less than 10% deuteride, the savings in captured neutrons would suffice to let the make-up fuel be depleted uranium, instead of merely “spent fuel” sanitized of its fission products.
        If civilization can survive even two centuries, I’m not going to worry about he next millennium. Hawking and Ryle predict only 50 years left. I have the temerity to think they are wrong.

    • Peter Lang says


      “Conversely, renewables cannot supply much of the world’s energy their low ERoEI precludes it.”

    • says

      Lang’s long post, “If nuclear progress had not been disrupted in the late 1960s and since…”, shows that he is in out of touch with reality. “Disrupted” by whom or what? It’s more appropriate to blame the technology and its proponents.
      The failure of nuclear power can be attributed to the fact that it is a dangerous technology that generates horrific wastes; it is very expensive even though it has received huge subsidies from its birth to the present; it assists the covert proliferation of nuclear weapons; and is a very slow technology to build in order to achieve deep rapid cuts in CO2 emissions.

      • Peter Lang says

        The failure of nuclear power can be attributed to the fact that it is a dangerous technology that generates horrific wastes;

        Oh yea, right. What compete and utter nonsense. Just scaremongering. It’s that sort of nonsense that has blocked progress.

  14. says

    Karel, by publishing Diesendorf’s article, has brought us back to the never-ending debate about the pros and cons of nuclear fission power. Several commenters have encouraged Diesendorf to get in touch with the real world which is always a good idea as long as the ‘real world’ includes all the relevant factors. While I’m a strong advocate for renewable energy but not anti-nuclear (I believe that renewables are a better choice for most energy needs now that it has been shown definitively that renewables can supply the bulk of these needs) I am always surprised by how nuclear supporters leave out a few “facts” in their arguments: nuclear supporters complain about the financial incentives provided for renewable energy deployment, but conveniently fail to mention that the Price-Anderson Act, which limits private sector responsibility for nuclear accidents, made the U.S. domestic nuclear power industry possible. Other real world considerations that need to enter the discussion are the relatively high costs of nuclear power plants, the low probability but high consequences of nuclear accidents, the need to isolate some fission wastes safely for many thousands of years, and the dangers inherent in a nuclear economy for proliferation of nuclear weapons capability. A fair ‘real world’ discussion would take these factors into account, along with the reality that electrical energy storage technologies are emerging rapidly at competitive costs that will allow base-load application of variable solar- and wind-generated electricity. I believe there are reasonable responses to the difficulties that nuclear power faces, but given a choice between renewables and nuclear my preference is clear.

    • says

      @Allann Hoffman:

      For a self-professed “not anti-nuclear” person, you sure have done a great job of committing the movement’s talking points to memory.

      1. The Price Anderson Act has never cost taxpayers a dime. In fact, it has been a net income generator.
      2. A fair portion of the “high costs of nuclear” can be attributed to the delaying tactics used by the professionals that oppose the use of nuclear energy. Another big chunk comes from having to reconstitute the manufacturing and construction supply chains, engineering and management expertise, and skilled labor forces that atrophied during the 35+ year hiatus in construction. First of a kind (FOAK) projects are challenging no matter what the technology is.
      3. The “high consequence” argument is proven BS by the near complete lack of real off-site consequences that were not caused by government orders to evacuate and remain evacuated for many years past the time when safe human occupation could be restored.
      4. Please tell me what new electrical energy storage technologies are emerging and against what standard do you think they are “competitive.”

      By the way, have you been following the Ivanpah solar thermal power plant story?

      Rod Adams
      Publisher, Atomic Insights

      • says

        “1. The Price Anderson Act has never cost taxpayers a dime. In fact, it has been a net income generator.”

        Rod, you make Allans point well by your talking points response about Price Anderson.

        “the low probability but high consequences of nuclear accidents”

        I pay for homeowners insurance. I pay for enough to cover the complete destruction of my home. The nuclear industry pays for a fraction of the potential catastrophic nuclear accident. If it happens then the taxpayer will pick up the tab for the coverage beyond what Price Anderson requires. Now the nuclear guys say, the likelihood is vanishingly small. But if that is the case then it should be fully insurable by a large organization like AIG. But they won’t do it. So maybe it is not so vanishingly small as the nuclear advocates say. How about we let the actuaries define the cost of insuring and use that to structure the coverage?

        • Peter Lang says

          <b<Price-Anderson Act, subsidy or impediment to nuclear?

          It is often stated that the US ‘Price Anderson Act’ is a subsidy to the nuclear power industry. For example:

          Nuclear power industry would not survive without the Price-Anderson Act which subsidizes their insurance. The nuclear power industry cannot afford to buy insurance on the open market — they require a government handout to even survive.

          This is disingenuous. Equally it could be argued only nuclear would survive if all technologies had to insure for the fatalities they cause. To understand this let’s estimate how much would society need to subsidise nuclear, or penalize other electricity generators, to equalize the compensation costs so all technologies pay for the fatalities they cause? Viewed another way, how much would we need to subsidise nuclear to reward the comparatively higher safety of nuclear power?

          A rough calculation suggests we should subsidise nuclear by $140/MWh to substitute for coal-fired generation and $37/MWh to substitute for gas fired generation in the USA (it’s different in each country). In that case, consumers should be paid around $50/MWh to consume nuclear generated electricity – “nuclear too cheap to meter” would be correct, except it would have to be metered to pay the subsidies to the consumers. :)

          Inputs used for the estimate:

          1. Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) in USA = $9.4 million (2015, https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/VSL2015_0.pdf )

          2. Fatalities per TWh (Source Forbes http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/06/deaths-by-energy-source-in-forbes.html )

          Coal electricity, world avg. = 60 (50% of electricity)
          Coal electricity, China = 90
          Coal, U.S. = 15 (44% U.S. electricity)
          Natural Gas = 4 (20% global electricity)
          Solar (rooftop) = 0.44 (0.2% global electricity)
          Wind = 0.15 (1.6% global electricity)
          Hydro, world avg. = 1.4 (15% global electricity)
          Nuclear, world avg. = 0.09 (12% global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)

          3. USA Electricity generation per technology in 2014 (source EIA), TWh https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_1_1

          Coal = 1,581,710
          Natural gas = 1,126,609
          Nuclear = 797,166
          Hydro = 259,367
          Solar = 17,691
          Other renewables = 261,522


          If each technology was required to pay insurance or compensation for the annual cost of fatalities caused by that technology, the amounts they would have to pay per MWh are:

          Technology $/MWh
          Coal 141
          Nat gas 38
          Hydro 13
          Solar 4
          Nuclear 1

          Or, if each technology is not penalized for the fatalities it causes, society should subsidise nuclear $140/MWh to substitute for coal and $37/MWh to substitute for natural gas generation.

          • says

            This calculation is simplistic, because ignores the concept of risk. Risk = probability multiplied by impact. Even if the probability of a major nuclear accident, or a nuclear war resulting from the use of nuclear power to proliferate nuclear weapons covertly, is small, the impacts, and hence the risk, could be huge. I take the ethical position that it’s socially responsible to avoid technologies with huge potential impacts.

          • Bas Gresnigt says

            Your figures regarding the lower fatalities per TWh of nuclear are fraudulent. In reality they are higher than modern coal plants, especially when it regards citizens and not the workers (who chose to take the risk and are compensated for that).

            This site shows part of the fraud:

          • Peter Lang says

            Mark Diesendorf,

            You are wrong on both points. It does not ignore “the concept of risk. Risk = probability multiplied by impact”. That is exactly what it does.

            Secondly, you are correct that frequency of accidents is low but wrong on the consequence (other then the consequence caused by tha anti-nuke scaremongering). The consequences is the number of fatalities. This is lower per TWh on an LCA basis than for any other electricity supply technology. It seems you don’t to know this. On an LCA basis wind is about 50% higher and solar PV (roof top) about 5 times higher. Coal about 600 times higher. Perhaps you should re-read the comment. Perhaps you wrote your dismissal without reading it or without understanding it.

            Here’s a figure from the ExternE project showing the frequency of fatalities per GWy from major accidents in the different energy chains. Clearly, nuclear is orders of magnitude safer than any of the other technology that make a significant contribution to our energy supply.

            This figure is for major accidents only. It does not include the fatalities caused by pollution and accidents in the rest of the life cycle.

            It is surprising you are so ill-informed after claiming for the past 25 years to be an authority on nuclear power.

  15. Jeff Miller says

    “That means that a 3.2GW nuclear power station has to be matched by 3.2GW of expensive ‘spinning reserve’ that can be called in at a moments notice.”

    As other commentators have noted, this claim is incorrect. Oddly, it is wrong in a way that is surprising for an author who (according to Wikipedia) did his PhD in theoretical physics.

    As Mr. Diesendorf knows, de Moivre showed around 300 years ago that when events (such as a nuclear power plant going off line) are statistically independent, fluctuations around the mean scale like 1/sqrt(number events). In the context of the current discussion, this means that adequate spinning reserve should scale like ~sqrt(n) where n is (very roughly) the number of power plants on the grid. Saying that spinning reserves scale like n rather than sqrt(n) for a grid with many baseload plants is an egregious statistical (and empirical) error.

    Note that for renewables, de Moivre’s result doesn’t apply at all, because the ‘going off line’ events are decidedly not independent. Diurnal fluctuations in solar power output at different solar plants are 100% correlated over continent sized areas (no power at night). While not as extreme as for solar, wind power fluctuations are also correlated in space and time. So, unlike for base power plants, de Moivre doesn’t save you in the case of renewables – both spinning reserve and backup capacity (for power at night and when the wind isn’t blowing) presumably do need to scale like n rather than sqrt(n).

    • Jeff Miller says

      Actually, scratch the last sentence in my comment. It should read
      ‘So, unlike for base power plants, de Moivre doesn’t save you in the case of renewables – backup capacity (for power at night and when the wind isn’t blowing) presumably does need to scale like n rather than sqrt(n).’ I’m not sure what the scaling should be for renewable spinning reserves. It probably depends on the details of the grid.

    • Bas Gresnigt says

      As a.o. the Fukushima accident shows, NPP’s go sometimes together off-line. So your calculation is insufficient.
      Especially when they are all the same (e.g. at France) and a serious/dangerous deficiency shows, it is an important issue.

      With Hinkley C even more as:
      – both reactors are near each other, so good chance that e.g. sabotage will hit both.
      – grid line outages may affect both;
      – both reactors are identical and have similar age, so chance is substantial both have to be taken off-line at same moment.

    • Bas Gresnigt says

      The great benefit of renewable is that their production is accurately predicted nowadays; many hours / days in advance.
      Also because it are many thousands of distributed production units dispersed over the country.

      That implies that hardly any spinning reserve is needed!
      Gas turbines (in future fed with stored gas produced by P2G), start fast enough.

    • says

      Lang has just confirmed that he doesn’t understand risk analysis. In the formula Risk = Probability x Impact, “Impact” means “potential impact”, for example, the impact if the wind had been blowing from Fukushima to Tokyo after the three Fukushima reactors exploded. If we only take account of the impacts to date, it will be too late to take precautions when a much more serious impact occurs. The point of risk analysis is to avoid future disasters. If your express train is heading at high speed towards a broken railway bridge over a torrent, it’s unhelpful to assert that everything is OK so far.

      Incidentally, most of the calculations of the past fatalities per GWh from energy technologies generally quoted by nuclear proponents are phoney because they omit all or most of the largest component of fatalities, namely the future cancer fatalities.

  16. Peter Lang says

    Mark Diesendorf’s title is: ‘Dispelling the nuclear baseload myth: nothing renewables can’t do better

    Let’s dispel this myth.

    Nuclear generates 75% of Frances electricity, the CO2 emissions intensity of the electricity generated by France was 44g/kWh (in 2014 according to RTE figures) and France has near the cheapest electricity in Europe. France has a “progressive” policy to reduce the nuclear proportion to 50%. The “progressive” policy would increase the CO2 emissions intensity by a factor of around five and increase the cost of electricity significantly. Rational people might ask: How is that rational? How it is progressive? It provides another example of how ridiculous the anti-nuke arguments are.

    • Peter Lang says


      Frances policy to reduce nuclear share of electricity generation to about 50% would increase the emissions intensity of electricity generated in France by about a factor of three (not five). Emissions intensity would increase from 44 g/kWh in 2015 http://www.rte-france.com/en/eco2mix/chiffres-cles-en to about 150 g/kWh. For comparison, emissions intensity of electricity generated in Germany is about 475 g/kWh in 2014, (IEA).

  17. Peter Lang says

    Weather dependent renewables cannot supply a large proportion of global electricity. Many lines of evidence show this. Some examples:

    1. Non-hydro renewables have not managed to do so to date in any large electricity grid, (hydro cannot help; its capacity growth is limited so its share of global electricity generation will decrease over future decades).

    2. Growth rates over 25 years have achieved just 3% (wind) and 1% (solar) of global electricity supply. Over 25 years, wind power has grown at just 1/6th and solar at 1/18th the rate nuclear grew at. The recent growth rates, which are off a near zero base and are driven by enormous incentives, are not an indication of future growth rates. Signs are the recent growth rates may have already peaked.

    3. The cost of electricity and CO2 abatement cost is much higher for wind and solar when all costs are properly included and a proper comparison is done. Adding more intermittent renewable technologies adds cost but does not remove the need for nearly full backup capacity or high cost energy storage.

    4. Industrial countries with a high proportion of non-hydro renewables have high cost electricity and high CO2 emissions intensity. For example, compare France (with a high proportion of nuclear) with Germany (with a high proportion of wind and solar). Germany’s electricity prices are twice France’s and its CO2 emissions intensity is 6x France’s.

    5. Wind and solar are not sustainable – their ERoEI is insufficient to enable them to power modern society and reproduce themselves.

    6. The cost of energy storage that would be needed to make intermittent renewables capable of providing reliable power make intermittent renewables prohibitively expensive – at least five times the cost of nuclear.

    7. CO2 abatement effectiveness decreases as penetration increases – e.g. to around 50% at 20% penetration.

    The weight of evidence shows a large proportion of nuclear power is the cheapest way to make large reductions to CO2 emissions intensity of electricity.

  18. Peter Lang says

    Mark Diesendorf’s title is: ‘Dispelling the nuclear baseload myth: nothing renewables can’t do better

    Let’s dispel this myth, Mark2.

    Here I outline in brief the relevant points and arguments explaining: 1) the main requirements an energy system has to meet, and 2) why nuclear power is superior to renewables at meeting all these main requirements.

    1 Energy supply requirements

    The most important requirements for energy supply are:

    1. Energy security – refers to the long term; it is especially relevant for extended periods of economic and trade disputes or military disruptions that could threaten energy supply, e.g. 1970’s oil crises [1], world wars, Russia cuts off gas supplies to Europe.

    2. Reliability of supply – over periods of minutes, hours, days, weeks – e.g. NE USA and Canada 1965 and 2003[2])

    3. Low cost energy – energy is a fundamental input to everything humans have; if we increase the cost of energy we retard the rate of improvement of human well-being.

    Policies must deliver the above three essential requirements. Lower priority requirements are:

    4. Health and safety

    5. Environmentally benign

    1.1 Why health and safety and environmental impacts are lower priority requirements than energy security, reliability and cost

    This ranking of the criteria is what consumers demonstrate in their choices. They’d prefer to have dirty energy than no energy. It’s that simple. Furthermore, electricity is orders of magnitude safer and healthier than burning dung for cooking and heating inside a hut. The choice is clear. The order of the criteria is demonstrated all over the world and has been for thousands of years – any energy is better than no energy.

    • Peter Lang says

      2 Nuclear better than renewables

      Nuclear power is better than renewable energy in all the important criteria. Renewable energy cannot be justified, on a rational basis, to be a major component of the electricity system. Here are some reasons why:

      1. Nuclear power has proven it can supply over 75% of the electricity in a large modern industrial economy – France has been doing so for over 30 years.

      2. Nuclear power is substantially cheaper than renewables (at medium to high penetration)

      3. Nuclear power is the safest way to generate electricity; it causes the least fatalities per unit of electricity supplied.

      4. Nuclear power has less environmental impact than renewables.

      5. Weather dependent renewables are not sustainnable. ERoEI of Gen 3 nuclear is ~75 whereas renewables are around 1 to 9. An ERoEI of around 7 to 14 is needed to support modern society. Only Nuclear, fossil fuels and hydro meet that requirement.

      6. Material requirements per unit of electricity supplied through life for nuclear power are about 1/10th those of renewables

      7. Land area required for nuclear power is very much less than renewables per unit of electricity supplied through life

      8. Nuclear power requires less expensive transmission (shorter distances and less transmission capacity in total because the transmission system capacity needs to be sized for maximum power output but intermittent renewables average around 10% to 40% capacity factor whereas nuclear averages around 80% to 90%).

      9. Nuclear fuel is effectively unlimited.

      10. Nuclear fuel requires a minimal amount of space for storage. Many years of nuclear fuel supply can be stored in a warehouse. This has two major benefits:

      • Energy security – it means that countries can store many years of fuel at little cost, so it gives independence from fuel imports. This gives energy security from economic disruptions or military conflicts.

      • Reduced transport – nuclear fuel requires 20,000 to 2 million times less ships, railways, trains, port facilities, pipelines etc. per unit of energy transported. This reduces, by 4 to 6 orders of magnitude, shipping costs, the quantities of oil used for the transport, and the environmental impacts of the shipping and the fuel used for transport.

      There is no rational justification for renewable energy to be mandated and favoured by legislation and regulations.

      • Bas Gresnigt says

        Your point 1 to 8 are wrong.

        Take e.g. point 7; land needed per KWh.
        1. Onshore wind turbines produce ~20times more KWh per m2 land occupied.
        Calculation based on:
        – the land occupied by the most power dense operating NPP in USA; Indian Point;
        – a 5MW wind turbine with CF 25%
        2. Rooftop solar takes no land at all and can supply 2 times more electricity than needed if all roofs are occupied;
        3. Offshore wind takes no land at all..

        -point 9: wind and solar get unlimited fuel for free
        -point 10: no storage space needed for wind and solar.

        • Peter Lang says

          Bas Gresnigt,

          No. They are not wrong they are correct. You simply do not understand. However, now that I realise this is a web site for the renewables lobby, there is no point in me going through and providing the sources and data to support each of those points. They are all well documents if you want to go and look. But you need to look beyond the nonsense written by the renewables lobby.

          • Bas Gresnigt says

            So, are your points only unfounded wild guesses?

            Take your point 1: “Nuclear power has proven it can supply over 75% of the electricity … France has been doing so for over 30 years.”

            In 1985, nuclear supplied 65%…
            More recent in 2013; nuclear supplied 73%, also less than your >75%, etc.
            In Febr. 2012 Germany, which closed 8 NPP’s in 2011 (pro-nuclear predicted major black-outs, none occurred), had to help France out:
            Anyway the reliability of electricity supply in France is inferior compared to that in Germany; SAIDI 4times worse!
            Note that German supply reliability increased significantly when renewable got steam!

            But may be you know all this, and know that your points are fake?

  19. Ronald Lindeman says

    I think the commentators are missing a few things. The electrical grid of 2050 is not only to provide electricity to consumers, it is to be a Global Warming mitigation electrical grid. The way to is 1) make everything energy efficient, 2) produce electricity from non carbon fuel sources, 3) exchange carbon fueled power and heat sources to non carbon fueled sources including the electrical grid.

    A This means that every place that energy can be consumed from the electrical grid will be converted to receiving energy from the electrical grid.

    B. That many of these places that consume energy from the electrical grid will be hybrid power and heat consumers. They will consume power and heat from the electrical grid when it is available, but produce their own power or heat when needed.

    C. All non carbon sources of electrical power will be ‘ON’ all the time to supply the electrical grid.

    D. The electrical grid will be made up of a large amount of Demand Management, that will shut on and off these hybrid consumption points. These points would include 1) charging batteries for motor vehicles, 2) heating hybrid water heaters in buidings, 3) hybrid space heating in buildings, 4) hybrid industrial processes, 5) all other sources that can be converted to using power from the non carbon electrical grid will use power from the electrical grid.

    The giant step that is to be made is the Demand Management of the Global Warming Mitigation 2050 Electrical Grid. The problem with the comments on this story is that the comments are arguing about the present day 2016 electrical grid requirements.

    • Ronald Lindeman says

      My reply is I left out that from what I have read, is the 2050 electrical grid will need to produce electricity at 150 percent of what the grid produces now. Thus, it is Demand Management that will have to carry the load of keeping the electrical grid running.

      • Peter Lang says

        I disagree. What is needed is cheap, unlimited energy for all people on the planet. We could have that with low cost nuclear power indefinitely, including production of unlimited transport fuels (petrol, diesel, jet fuel, etc.), if the anti-nukes could be persuaded to reverse their position and become enthusiastic advocates for nuclear energy.

    • says

      To Ronald Lindeman: You are of course correct. World energy in 2050 will need to be in the process of putting all fossil carbon burning out of business. Somewhat like yourself, I have a bête noirin the word “renewables”. The mantra “nuclear energy is not renewable” is a lie. Besides, the problem with fossil carbon is less its non-renewability, as its GHG production.
      “Reduction of CO2″ was a resource manufactured by catastrophes that plunged vegetation into anoxic conditions during the Carboniferous period. That is in fact the most painfully non-renewable resource.

  20. says

    The Waste Annihilating MSR design described at http://transaomicpower.com believably* claims that it can consume the actinides (calumniously a.k.a. deadly long lived nuclear waste ) by breeding fissile at the same rate as its consumption, at an enrichment 0f 1.8%. As of the present, there is in the USA enough “spent” fuel, about 70,000 tons, to provide startup loads and ten years fuel for 900 to 1000 reactors of 520 MWe capacity. The predicted production-line cost for that many is $1.8 billion each. That comes close to providing, at the 90% production factor common to nuclear in DoE/EIA statistics, the aggregate electrical energy demand, which is close to 500 MW.years, per year.
    With a fraction of the storage capacity necessary to manage the hypothetical “100% renewable” targets of solar and wind power, it could indeed respond to the 900 MW
    The estimated cost per reactor at that volume of production is $1.8 billion. But compare one of the comparatively successful solar PV projects, Agua Caliente in Arizona.
    Nameplate Capacity : 290 MW.
    Total cost: $1.8 billion
    Average production : 72 MW,year per year.
    Now, again ignoring the fact that it can serve neither base load nor fluctuating demand, compare what it would cost to produce as much as energy as 900 nukes of 520 MWe.
    Hint: This total farm costs the same as the (admittedly predicted) cost of one 520 MW reactor. So that comparison, as if the energy were equally dispatchable is 90% of 520MW, to 72 MW. At two-figure accuracy, 450:72, better than 6:1

    * Believable: nuclear physics is far better known, and nuclear engineering more predictable than anything dependent upon meteorology from day to day. Not that this does not apply to the long term consequences of fossil carbon burning, which depend upon the simple fact of the stability of carbon dioxide, and the fact that Gaia has to get rid of energy to outer space, as fast as she receives it from the Sun, or else her seas get hotter, and the ice melts.

  21. says

    Comments are, by definition, too limited to really get into an issue – and they normally prompt a rather over-simplified discourse. However, I feel bound to add that it comes as no surprise that Dr Diesendorfs thoughtful article has prompted a storm of criticism from the nuclear lobby. The reality is that a new energy paradigm is now swiftly emerging. The renewable evolution is, in fact, here – putting into sharp relief the the rather antiquated arguments of profoundly expensive (even uneconomic) nuclear base-load. Dr Paul Dorfman, The Energy Institute, UCL.

    • Peter Lang says


      That is a personal opinion, backed by nothing but unsuppoorted assertions. The bias is clearly demonstrated

      ” it comes as no surprise that Dr Diesendorfs thoughtful article ”
      No mention that Diesendorf has been part of the renewables “lobby” for 25 years, an making claims that have been continually proved false for all that time.

      “The reality is that a new energy paradigm is now swiftly emerging. The renewable evolution is, in fact, here – putting into sharp relief the the rather antiquated arguments of profoundly expensive (even uneconomic) nuclear base-load. Dr Paul Dorfman, The Energy Institute, UCL.”

      We;; now where we know where you come from. You have no rational arguments just statements of your belief.

      Weather dependent renewables supply just a few percent of global energy and are massively despite massive subsidies for near worthless unreliable electricity.

      You’ve tacked none of the important points made. I suspect you didn’t read or didn’t read or didn’t invest the time to understand these links I provided up thread:



      • Bas Gresnigt says

        Weather dependent renewables supply just a few percent of global energy…

        In 2003 wind+solar supplied 3% of German electricity. Last year they supplied 21%. While the share of nuclear declined from 27% towards 15% last year.
        Other countries are following. In Denmark wind alone generates >40% and is targeted 50% in 2020.

        Even worldwide the share of nuclear declined from 18% (1996) towards 11% now.

        Why do create a misleading picture regarding the position of renewable and nuclear?
        Taking into account the fraudulent statements regarding death/TWh (check at: http://goo.gl/VvKJbt ),
        how trustworthy are your statements and figures?

        • turnages says

          Well, Bas, I followed your link, expecting (well, not really) a ringing and convincing demonstration that Nuclear Is Very Dangerous.

          Instead, I found a highly unconvincing 2011 Greenpeace blog post, written by Jan Beránek, the international head of their (anti)nuclear campaign. Its thesis is that all of the quoted very low figures for nuclear fatalities derive ultimately from a theoretical probabilistic risk assessment (PRA) done at the Paul Scherer Institute , and conveniently ignore the Chernobyl fatalities, which are alleged to be from 9000 (WHO 2006) to 33 000 (TORCH 2006).

          No, the very low figures for nuclear do *not* use PRAs. They use actual dead-body fatalities.

          No, the WHO 2006 figure was not 9000 fatalities. It was was 4000 *estimated* *ultimate* fatalities. Beránek both gets the number wrong, and spins it as actual deaths. Unfortunately for the nuclear fear purveyors, the actual radiation deaths by 2006, 20 years after the accident, are less than 50. See http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/ .

  22. says

    I have seen quite a lot of places where the canard “N MW of nuclear can go to zero in seconds” or the like is quacking. It is at variance with the statistics, that the production factor for nuclear is higher than for anything else, being around 90%.
    When an actual earthquake or hurricane strikes, the prudent course is to shut down. Admittedly the xenon pit makes it advisable to wait a day or two before restarting a LWR. But the MSR models, which were stupidly abandoned in the days of Richard Nixon, and the IFR that by actual deliberate test a few weeks before the Chernobyl meltdown proved that as designed it was immune to that, do not have the xenon pit, because the fuel is not ceramic.

  23. Peter Lang says

    Having just gone through and read Diesendorf’s comments it is clear he has no objective arguments to support his beliefs – it’s all just advocacy for a cause. This sort of anti nuke scaremongering, disinformation and nonsense is responsible for block progress – the consequences of which were summarised in a previous comment.

    “If nuclear progress had not been disrupted in the late 1960s and since, the position now (if learning rates demonstrated up to about 1970 had continued) would be (approximately):

    • The overnight capital cost of new nuclear plants would be around 1/10th of what it is now

    • Nuclear power would have replaced just about all baseload fossil fuel electricity generation

    • This would have avoided around 5 million fatalities since 1980 and about 300,000 in 2015

    • Avoided an additional 85 Gt CO2 since 1980

    High learning rates were achieved in the past and could be achieved again with appropriate policies.”

    read it here … ‘Nuclear power learning rates – policy implications’ https://judithcurry.com/2016/03/13/nuclear-power-learning-rates-policy-implications/

    • Bas Gresnigt says

      ‘Nuclear progress was disrupted’ because accidents, such as TMI, showed the built NPP’s were dangerous unsafe.
      Yes, of course the capital costs to build a dangerous unsafe NPP are much lower.

      If building of those unsafe plants had continued, nuclear would have been stopped much stronger. Because there would have been far more accidents.

      As showed above your figures regarding fatalities are fraudulent. But here the link again: http://goo.gl/VvKJbt
      Why do you repeat figures, you know are fraudulent?

      • seth says

        Another post quoting Big oil propaganda.

        Canada has never had a nuke accident of any sort yet its plants average under 2.8 cents a kwh.

        The WHO quotes nuke fatalities per kwh. You as usual quote Big Oil paid junk science.

      • Peter Lang says

        Wrong again!.

        1. Nuclear is the safest way to generate electricity – get your facts right

        2. There were no fatalities at TMI.

        3. TMI occurred a decade after the reversal of learning rates began

        4. Nuclear causes near zero fatality per year; commercial commercial aviation causes around 1000 fatalities per year – yet people continue to fly because they accept the risks are low for the massive benefits cheap flights provide to business, the world economy and to individuals. The benefits of low cost energy are even greater, and nuclear could deliver that, but renewables cannot (see comments up thread). The comment is illogical.

        4. The cause of the reversal of learning rates was and still is the regulatory ratcheting resulting from public and politicians irrational and illogical fear of nuclear power and radiation, which was caused by the irrational, illogical anti-nukes, like: Mark Diesendorf, Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, WWF, Friends of the Earth, Concerned Scientists and many others.

        Bernard Cohen, 1990, “Costs of Nuclear Power – What Went Wrong?http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter9.html

    • RMG says

      Annnnnnd it’s false.
      In France, the last nuclear power plant have been connected to the grid at the early 2000′ (Civaux 2002). And just 10 years after, EDF and Areva are struggling to build the EPR in Flamanville as well as in Finland. By the way, Areva is bankrupting because of the Finland EPR scandal.

      In fact, in France, it’s the renewables that have suffered from disrupting research and development, especially because of the nuclear power industry. In the 70′, France was a leader in thermal water heaters and developing solar panels, etc. All of this have been let aside without funding for research, to redirect tens of billions of public money into nuclear power plants. And now, we are in trouble to diminish the share of nuclear in our electricity mix and with the costs of decommissioning…

      It would be better for you and for everyone to stop with your complaints of the big renewables conspiracy. There is no such things. Until now, it’s the “Big Industry” (fossil and fissil fuels) that have benefited from the banks favors as well as the public money. It’s changing for renewables and of course, it’s because it’s reliable.

      • seth says

        Actually, you Big Oil fans would do well to brush up on your reading skills.

        Any chart of French energy use will demonstrate the rapid growth of French nuclear in the 70’s and 80’s.

        The French are a nation of poets – few technical skills. Their earlier success was based on building out a basic well understood Westinghouse design. The current EPR is a failed design developed by notoriously inefficient French bureaucrats with Greenpeace assistance.

        Korea has had great success building out modern nukes at 3 cents a kwh a tiny fraction of the all in cost of wind/solar.

        There is no need to decommission reactors. The cores can be replaced with Gen 4 units when needs be.

        Since wind/solar must be backed up to to 100% nameplate with inefficient fossil fuel plant run inefficiently, they, despite the enormous investment, don’t reduce GHG or air pollution an iota over an efficient all fossil regime or zero carbon nuclear solution, and as a result murder vast numbers of folks annually. Germany hasn’t reduced its GHG’s an iota when biofuel use is scientifically accounted, after wasting 10 years and $trillions on wind/solar.

        Never found a Greenie that gave a rat’s behind for the dead other than as legitimate sacrifice to their religion.

      • says

        Using the term “renewables” for wind, solar, and even last year’s snowfall (hydro) and biomass harvests, is far less accurate than simply “unreliables”.
        At the same time, the problem with sun, wind, rain, and the ridiculous derivative “wave power” is that what we get from the disastrously rapid releasing (over 250 years, but mostly the last hundred) of the carbon sequestered in 60 million years of the Carboniferous period, seems vastly cheaper and more reliable.
        But there are very large hidden costs, both financial and environmental, of both classes.

    • says

      The rant in the first paragraph of Lang’s posting of 28/3/2016 at 14:42 has no place in a debate on a serious issue. Lang is behaving like a troll and such personal comments should be deleted by the editor of Energy Post. As for “advocacy for a cause”, Lang should examine his own behaviour. Presumably Lang’s purpose is to try to intimidate writers who point out unpleasant truths to nuclear proponents. Well, Peter, you don’t scare me. However, your rants do succeed partially in diverting attention from the real issues — in this case the lack of need for base load power stations — so editors should moderate your comments more rigorously..

  24. says

    I’m not against nuclear energy per se and I certainly advocate maintaining existing nuclear generation provided it continues to meet the latest safety and non-proliferation standards. Having said that, change is afoot.

    The idea of baseload is much more a business model than a technical imperative. In the incumbent energy paradigm, baseload emerged as the most economical way to run large centralised generation plants. As long as the cheapest electricity is produced by these large centralised generators then baseload is appropriately the bedrock of our electricity system as more expensive dispatchable generators make up peak demand.

    However, intermittent sources of electricity like wind and solar are rapidly becoming cost competitive. It seems perfectly reasonable and eminently feasible that intermittent generation should become the bedrock of a new energy system and have more expensive dispatchable technologies make up residual demand.

    Practical considerations look to be tipping the balance toward renewables. Coal is off the table which leaves nuclear under the old baseload paradigm. But, it is extremely difficult to build nuclear given the very high level of technical expertise that is required and the justifiably high safety standards that must be met.

    The new sustainable energy complex is an empowering one that allows homeowners, institutions and communities a measure of energy independence. At the same time, the distributed nature of this system, as well as the integration of energy storage and demand response, offer the potential of a more resilient and reliable grid.

    Perhaps this is just progress.

    • seth says

      Korea has had great success building out modern nukes at 3 cents a kwh a tiny fraction of the all in cost of wind/solar.

      Since wind/solar must be backed up to to 100% nameplate with inefficient fossil fuel plant run inefficiently, they, despite the enormous investment, don’t reduce GHG or air pollution an iota over an efficient all fossil regime or zero carbon nuclear solution, and as a result murder vast numbers of folks annually.

      The distributed grid is a myth because wind and solar can be knocked out by weather events for sometimes years (see Tambora)

  25. M. Montero says

    This has been done already.

    During 2015, Costa Rica generated 99% of its electricity from renewables. Yes 99%. This is no joke, not a typo, and no bs certainly. It was composed of:

    75% hydropower
    13% geothermal (baseload, with 90% plant factor)
    11% mostly wind, and some biomass and solar
    1% was generated with fossil fuels, obviously not for peaking but for system support on their dry season.

    I dont know how close this system can match Dr. Diesendorf’s model but I know one thing: it works well. Costa Rica has had no blackouts in 9 years, and though its interconneted to other Central America though the SIEPAC transmisson, this one is so congested (its linear) that support it can provide is neglegible. Might not be scale comparable to bigger systems (or maybe it is!), but it provides quite a decent, low carbon performance for a 3GW / 5 million people system.

    And this is not a one time situation. Costa Rica has generated with 90% renewables consistently the last 20 years. Keys are having a large hydropower base, fossil fuel used for support only when needed not as baseload, and diversification to geothermal and wind. And of course no nuclear power.

    Coverage of the population is also remarkable at 99,4%.

    That said, there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of what can be done with renewables.

    Need the data ? Help yourself. http://appcenter.grupoice.com/CenceWeb/CenceMain.jsf

  26. Peter Lang says

    However, intermittent sources of electricity like wind and solar are rapidly becoming cost competitive.

    That assertion is false. It is often claimed on the basis of a comparison of LCOE of different technologies. However, the fine print invariably states that it is not valid to compare the LCOE of dispatchable and non-dispatchable technologies. The comparison has to be done on the basis of total system cost, and/or cost of energy from the total system with different mixes of technologies that meet requirements. ERP have recently published an excellent report doing just this for the GB electricity system: http://erpuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/ERP-Flex-Man-Full-Report.pdf

    I have extracted data from the figures, especially Figure 14, and shown that all or mostly new nuclear and no new weather dependent renewables is likely to be the least cost way to decarbonise the GB electricity system: https://judithcurry.com/2016/01/19/is-nuclear-the-cheapest-way-to-decarbonize-electricity/

  27. Karel Beckman says

    I believe all sides have had a chance to put forward arguments. It is not useful to carry on any longer.
    Thank you for all your comments
    I regret it if any personal accusations were made, they have no place in a rational debate