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A Path To Sustainable Energy, Mark Jacobson, Mark Delucchi

I wrote a quick summary and critique of this plan of action:

A Path To Sustainable Energy

and created pages for its authors, Mark Jacobson, Mark Delucchi.

I used a method which is a bit harsh but actually speeds up the process wonderfully: first I summarized a harsh critique of this plan, then more about the plan itself. Since I have trouble recognizing what's feasible and what's not, it's good to start reading something after I've read someone trying to find holes in it.

For example: without reading the critique, would I have noticed that it's odd how they claim the carbon footprint of nuclear power is 25 times that of solar or wind? Maybe. Would I have ever noticed how they calculated this? I don't think so!

The nuclear advocates try to rip the solar-wind-hydro advocates to pieces, and vice versa. Playing them off against each other, we may learn something.

Comments

  • 1.

    The nuclear advocates try to rip the solar-wind-hydro advocates to pieces, and vice versa.

    The discussion below is an example:

    A US nuclear future?, Nature, Vol 467, No. 7314, 23 September, 2010

    I'm not sure I learned much except about US politics.

    Comment Source:> The nuclear advocates try to rip the solar-wind-hydro advocates to pieces, and vice versa. The discussion below is an example: [A US nuclear future?](http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v467/n7314/full/467391a.html), Nature, Vol 467, No. 7314, 23 September, 2010 I'm not sure I learned much except about US politics.
  • 2.

    Jacobson's figures for the lifecycle carbon cost of nuclear energy come from industry estimates at the lower end, of 9 g/kWh, and at the upper end 66 g/kWh, a "number slightly above the average" from lifetime reviews of old power stations, to which he apparently adds the 4 g/kWh which he estimates for a nuclear war with 50 15 kiloton explosions. This gives the range 9-70 that he shows in Table 3, p.154. (Section 4a.vii, p.155)

    Comment Source:Jacobson's figures for the lifecycle carbon cost of nuclear energy come from industry estimates at the lower end, of 9 g/kWh, and at the upper end 66 g/kWh, a "number slightly above the average" from lifetime reviews of old power stations, to which he apparently adds the 4 g/kWh which he estimates for a nuclear war with 50 15 kiloton explosions. This gives the range 9-70 that he shows in Table 3, p.154. (Section 4a.vii, p.155)
  • 3.
    edited October 2010

    So you're saying the nuclear war is just a little frosting on the cake, eh? Then I should rewrite what I wrote.

    Done.

    The question remains open, then, why these guys say nuclear power can result in "up to 25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, when reactor construction and uranium refining and transport are considered." You're making it sound like the use of "up to" conceals a huge variability. Why do those estimates vary so enormously? 9-70 is almost an order of magnitude!

    Comment Source:So you're saying the nuclear war is just a little frosting on the cake, eh? Then I should rewrite what I wrote. Done. The question remains open, then, why these guys say nuclear power can result in "up to 25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, when reactor construction and uranium refining and transport are considered." You're making it sound like the use of "up to" conceals a huge variability. Why do those estimates vary so enormously? 9-70 is almost an order of magnitude!
  • 4.

    Yes, I think so. It looks to me as though the 4 g/kWh contribution to carbon cost of nuclear from a war that he includes in his maximum of 70 g/kWh is just another way to get the total to be "slightly above" what it would be if it weren't included, besides being a way to introduce the fears and phobias of nuclear weapons.

    The first 66g/kWh comes from a rather mixed paper which is questionable in a number of areas by Sovacool, so at the upper end of Jacobson's estimate, 70 g/kWh, war within 30 years does indeed appear to be taken as certain. I remain puzzled as to why this will be a "limited nuclear exchange in megacities" which employs just "0.1% of the yields proposed for a full-scale nuclear war".

    Comment Source:Yes, I think so. It looks to me as though the 4 g/kWh contribution to carbon cost of nuclear from a war that he includes in his maximum of 70 g/kWh is just another way to get the total to be "slightly above" what it would be if it weren't included, besides being a way to introduce the fears and phobias of nuclear weapons. The first 66g/kWh comes from a rather mixed paper which is questionable in a number of areas by [Sovacool](http://www.nirs.org/climate/background/sovacool_nuclear_ghg.pdf), so at the upper end of Jacobson's estimate, 70 g/kWh, war within 30 years does indeed appear to be taken as certain. I remain puzzled as to why this will be a "limited nuclear exchange in megacities" which employs just "0.1% of the yields proposed for a full-scale nuclear war".
  • 5.

    This makes me want some good estimates on the carbon footprint of many forms of energy... preferably from authors without axes to grind.

    Comment Source:This makes me want some good estimates on the carbon footprint of many forms of energy... preferably from authors without axes to grind.
  • 6.

    To be fair to Sovacool, his paper does provide some explanation as to why the estimates on which the 66 g/kWh headline figure is based vary between 2.82-22 and 10-200. The main differences are in 'frontend' costs: mining, milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, and transportation which range from 0.58 to 118. Construction costs differ between reactor types and assumed lifetimes, ranging from 0.27 to 35. Overall the estimates of total emission go from 2 to 200.

    The name Roberto Dones seems to be associated with careful assessment. Here's one of his papers for the European Commission which will take a while to digest: Externalities of Energy containing detail of various different environmental costs for energy, heating and cars.

    Research from the Paul Scherrer Institute, Life Cycle Assessment looks useful.

    This also includes a Critical note on the estimation by Storm van Leeuwen J.W. and Smith P. ... which explains why some of the estimates of CO2 lifecycle emissions attributed to nuclear energy may be anomalously high.

    Comment Source:To be fair to Sovacool, his paper does provide some explanation as to why the estimates on which the 66 g/kWh headline figure is based vary between 2.82-22 and 10-200. The main differences are in 'frontend' costs: mining, milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, and transportation which range from 0.58 to 118. Construction costs differ between reactor types and assumed lifetimes, ranging from 0.27 to 35. Overall the estimates of total emission go from 2 to 200. The name Roberto Dones seems to be associated with careful assessment. Here's one of his papers for the European Commission which will take a while to digest: [Externalities of Energy](http://www.externe.info/expolwp6.pdf) containing detail of various different environmental costs for energy, heating and cars. Research from the Paul Scherrer Institute, [Life Cycle Assessment](http://gabe.web.psi.ch/research/lca/) looks useful. This also includes a [Critical note on the estimation by Storm van Leeuwen J.W. and Smith P. ...](http://gabe.web.psi.ch/pdfs/Critical%20note%20GHG%20PSI.pdf) which explains why some of the estimates of CO<sub>2</sub> lifecycle emissions attributed to nuclear energy may be anomalously high.
  • 7.
    edited October 2010

    Thanks! I'll dump these refs into an entry

    Carbon footprint

    and look at them later.

    There should be some buzzword more specific than "carbon footprint" - we've already got energy return on energy invested, do people talk about "carbon emitted per energy return" or something??

    Comment Source:Thanks! I'll dump these refs into an entry [[Carbon footprint]] and look at them later. There should be some buzzword more specific than "carbon footprint" - we've already got [[energy return on energy invested]], do people talk about "carbon emitted per energy return" or something??
  • 8.

    What's needed, I fear, is something more than a buzzword for carbon legacy. Used to mean different things by different people a new buzzword might just make the debate even more tangled and confusing than it is at present.

    Whatever terms are used, the costs are difficult to assess. Not only do we need to do two sets of sums in the projections, financial and environmental, but there are interactions between different components of each strategy. Different sets of costings result depending on how we choose to tackle the range of problems as well as on how we choose to view different aspects.

    In the comparison of wind vs nuclear, for example:

    Should nuclear carbon costs include the cost of remediation and eventual storage of waste? If so, should this be based on historic costs, when in the 'fifties weapons rush people had been a good deal more cavalier about how they handled radioactive stuff than they are now, or on a projected future in which Gen IV or similar technology can vastly reduce the generation and half-life of radioactive waste? In the latter case, appropriate allocation of development costs would depend greatly on whether the technology were to be employed just to dispose of waste or widely used to generate energy.

    Should the attributed carbon cost of mining and milling be on the assumption that uranium is to be enriched and used fractionally once-through or that in the longer term it is burned raw and almost fully in fast reactors? This changes the value of a major component of the carbon legacy cost by almost two orders of magnitude.

    Should wind energy's carbon costs include the necessary beefing-up of the distribution network to handle the increased variability of loading? Or can this aspect be simply written down to a system cost and largely ignored, as is done in some current projections?

    Should the cost of fill-in backup generation during calm spells be included as part of wind's carbon legacy? If so, should this be the cost of baseline generation, or that of the more carbon-costly standby generators that are likely to be used to a considerable extent?

    Should the depletion of stocks of natural gas, at present conveniently stored underground and which will be consumed to provide fill-in energy, be treated as using capital as income? If so, how can such capital assets be properly valued?

    What costs should be attributed to energy storage if this is assumed to become available for fill-in instead of gas? Should this take account of its unavailability for other purposes such as transport when it is used instead to smooth the grid? Currently some projections seem to have electric car batteries performing both roles at the same time.

    The most crucial question as I see it this. Should the storage of depleted uranium and radioactive waste, plus weaponry plutonium come to that, be treated as a large and continuing overhead or as capital in the shape of a stock of energy which will be available for the next generation of reactors?

    Obviously it's necessary to compare like with like, but much of the present debate seems to be conducted without any clearly defined basis. The need for appropriate and consistent methodology is largely ignored in favour of political rhetoric. But even on a good day, assuming these difficulties can be resolved, I don't myself find it easy to think in terms of net present worths or discounted flows; and slight changes in assumed rates of interest/growth/inflation and in lifetimes seem to lead to big variations in 'levelised' projections during a thirty or fourty year timeframe.

    There should indeed be something better than "carbon footprint". But it looks to me as though what's needed is a range of clearly defined terms together with an appropriate selection of methodologies and an appreciation of how to use them. Where can I learn more?

    Comment Source:What's needed, I fear, is something more than a buzzword for carbon legacy. Used to mean different things by different people a new buzzword might just make the debate even more tangled and confusing than it is at present. Whatever terms are used, the costs are difficult to assess. Not only do we need to do two sets of sums in the projections, financial and environmental, but there are interactions between different components of each strategy. Different sets of costings result depending on how we choose to tackle the range of problems as well as on how we choose to view different aspects. In the comparison of wind vs nuclear, for example: Should nuclear carbon costs include the cost of remediation and eventual storage of waste? If so, should this be based on historic costs, when in the 'fifties weapons rush people had been a good deal more cavalier about how they handled radioactive stuff than they are now, or on a projected future in which Gen IV or similar technology can vastly reduce the generation and half-life of radioactive waste? In the latter case, appropriate allocation of development costs would depend greatly on whether the technology were to be employed just to dispose of waste or widely used to generate energy. Should the attributed carbon cost of mining and milling be on the assumption that uranium is to be enriched and used fractionally once-through or that in the longer term it is burned raw and almost fully in fast reactors? This changes the value of a major component of the carbon legacy cost by almost two orders of magnitude. Should wind energy's carbon costs include the necessary beefing-up of the distribution network to handle the increased variability of loading? Or can this aspect be simply written down to a system cost and largely ignored, as is done in some current projections? Should the cost of fill-in backup generation during calm spells be included as part of wind's carbon legacy? If so, should this be the cost of baseline generation, or that of the more carbon-costly standby generators that are likely to be used to a considerable extent? Should the depletion of stocks of natural gas, at present conveniently stored underground and which will be consumed to provide fill-in energy, be treated as using capital as income? If so, how can such capital assets be properly valued? What costs should be attributed to energy storage if this is assumed to become available for fill-in instead of gas? Should this take account of its unavailability for other purposes such as transport when it is used instead to smooth the grid? Currently some projections seem to have electric car batteries performing both roles at the same time. The most crucial question as I see it this. Should the storage of depleted uranium and radioactive waste, plus weaponry plutonium come to that, be treated as a large and continuing overhead or as capital in the shape of a stock of energy which will be available for the next generation of reactors? Obviously it's necessary to compare like with like, but much of the present debate seems to be conducted without any clearly defined basis. The need for appropriate and consistent methodology is largely ignored in favour of political rhetoric. But even on a good day, assuming these difficulties can be resolved, I don't myself find it easy to think in terms of net present worths or discounted flows; and slight changes in assumed rates of interest/growth/inflation and in lifetimes seem to lead to big variations in 'levelised' projections during a thirty or fourty year timeframe. There should indeed be something better than "carbon footprint". But it looks to me as though what's needed is a range of clearly defined terms together with an appropriate selection of methodologies and an appreciation of how to use them. Where can I learn more?
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