Schalk Cloete: “My thesis on the deployment of CCS…”

Schalk Cloete is brilliant. His five-part series on CCS is essential reading for anyone concerned about climate change. It’s essential because Cloete is “All Pragmatic All the Time”. He doesn’t do agenda activism. He just focuses upon assessing policy options – completely: scalability, life cycle cost, EROEI. Answering questions on his Part 1 of 5 post he explained why CCS:

My thesis on the deployment of CCS is a pretty simple one:

1) Fossil fuelled economic growth will be prioritized over climate change as long as climate change has a limited real-world impact, thus leading to an overshoot of climate targets.

2) When real-world climate impacts eventually start to have a large and clearly attributable effect, public opinion will shift rapidly.

3) This shift in public opinion will lead to a rapidly rising CO2 price.

4) A rapidly rising CO2 price will lead to a rapidly rising production (and storage/utilzation) of CO2 through CCS.

5) CCS is very well suited to such a reactive CO2 mitigation scenario due to the ability to access locked-in emissions, abate emissions from industry and because it will be less capital intensive than most alternatives. </

I’m unclear about the timeframes over which this will play out (mostly determined by real-world climate change impacts), but am fairly confident that the lack of proactive action will eventually necessitate such reactive emissions cuts through CCS in spite of the non-technical problems you mention.

My take on the political reality is quite parallel to Schalk’s. There will be no big public policy push for decarbonization – until people starting feeling real pain. By that time a lot of dangerous change will be “baked in” and people will be very motivated to look beyond Amory Lovins “soft power” for real solutions. To find out what the following graphic is all about, you’ll want to read Part 1.Dahowski cumulative annual co2 storage cost curve us china

Forget NIMBYs. We have moved into the era of the BANANA

Rendering of Transatomic nuclear plant

Robert Wilson ridicules the UK voters and status quo interest groups who collectively manage to prevent nearly every kind of substitute for fossil generation. Robert wrote:

And this is where we are going. Forget NIMBYs. We have moved into the era of the BANANA. Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything. Eventually, we will act like China and erect an island in the North Sea – near Dogger Bank perhaps – where everything will be done out of sight, out of mind. No one must now see how things are made in the country of the Industrial Revolution.

Robert got me wondering if there is a “third way”? We know that India, Africa, and Indonesia will be building coal plants about as fast as they can organize the financing. How could the UK convert natural NIMBY incentives into high impact investments – in the places where the most serious new emissions threats will be originating? 

Is it possible that rich-country voters would prefer to enable the low-carbon generation where it’s “Not In Their Back Yards”? At least until new tomato farms are sprouting in Scotland? Would a UK taxpayer spend 1 £ to prevent 5 £ of new Nigerian coal plants that will emit for 50 years?

One pathway is to create a UK fund or agency authorized to write loan guarantees for qualifying projects. My hypothesis is that local (or foreign) equity investments could be encouraged by access to low interest rate loans. 

Imagine the political advertisements promoting the new fund:

Support New Conservative Labour’s “Clean Power Africa Initiative”. Turbines for every ridge top! Nuclear plants for every Megacity! All paid for by OPM (Other People’s Money)!

Thanks to Transatomic Power for the very cool rendering. I wish I had an eye-catching image of coal CCS – because that would also surely be a priority for the fund. Not glamorous, just effective.

Rethinking Nuclear: Can We Change the World’s Cumulative Carbon Emissions Soon Enough?

Joe Lassiter and Ray Rothrock jointly presented a twenty minute talk to Harvard B-school alums on the critical need for large scale nuclear deployment to mitigate climate change. This is a high signal-to-noise update on the challenge and possible solutions. Joe Lassiter summed up the reality of Kyoto-style targeting: 

The political process to getting international agreement on emissions is painfully slow, with pretty much unsolvable problems.

When you look at EIA and IEA projections to 2040 and extrapolate IPCC scenarios past 2100 you see we are on a trajectory to “extremely high ranges of temperature” at levels where “economic and biological models are likely to be invalid”. Poor countries like India and China do what they have to – coal plants. Because as Bill Gates said recently in a Financial Times interview “Renewable energy can’t do the job.” And nuclear still hasn’t crossed the “Cheaper than coal” cost curve. Meanwhile “the rich countries can do what they want” which is mainly the soft path of variable renewables – the path Bill Gates expects to lead to “a beyond astronomical cost”.

I recommend this talk for a bit of insider perspective on nuclear innovation. In the “conflict of interest” declaration, Prof. Lassiter revealed that he is an investor in Terrapower. Later in the NRC-barrier discussion he says “they are rumored to be building a test reactor in China…but they have never issued a press release about that.” Why China? “Because they saw no way to move through licensing in the United States…because of their belief about the un-licensability of anything but a light water reactor in America”.

As you likely know, Ray Rothrock, Venrock partner emeritus, lead the seed investment in Transatomic Power. Ray (via Venrock) is also an investor in stealthy fusion startup Tri Alpha Energy.

Joe used the following tabulation to make a very broad taxonomy of nuclear generation technologies, and the associated build process (on-site v. factory manufacture). Probably none of the example companies are happy with their “box”. Neither Westinghouse nor TerraPower will like being labeled “Classic On-Site Construction”. And characterizing the three technology columns as analogous to Mainframe, Mini Computer, Micro Processor? OK, I’m sympathetic to the challenge of explaining today’s spectrum of nuclear generation to a group of Harvard MBA alumni. In 20 minutes? I score this a good job overall.

BTW, I think it’s cool that Joe picked GE-PRISM and UPower for his category “Gen IV Passive SFRs/Factory Manufacture”. Yay UPower! But the MiniComputer metaphor? No!

Nuclear entrants

The presentation slides are available here if you have Harvard alum login credentials. Fortunately the event video is available at YouTube without HBS login.

Mike Shellenberger: How one of world’s cleanest & greenest technologies became viewed as bad for environment

@MichaelBTI just posted a nineteen-point Tweetstorm on Storify explaining the history of how certain environmentalists discovered their true calling as anti-nuclear activists. Because I wasn’t following energy policy during this period, it has long been a puzzle to me how an “environmentalist” would turn against the cleanest, safest source of energy. To oversimplify a bit, what happened is that a few well-placed people with a strong “Small is Beautiful” and anti-corporate ideology invented issues that could be used very effectively for fear-mongering. Amory Lovins continues today to be an effective purveyor of these anti-nuclear myths. 

Here’s a plain-text recap of Mike’s history – please reply at the Storify page or directly to @MichaelBTI. Emphasis is mine.

1. As pro-nuclear ranks grew among people who care about climate & environment, we were treated as something of a novelty — but we weren’t.

2. Alvin Weinberg & other post-war scientists saw nuclear as huge breakthrough in pollution-free, low-impact source of electricity.

3. While California & others embraced nuclear, faction in Sierra Club saw cheap power as opening door to more people & more development.

4. Nuclear was so obviously superior environmentally to all other energy technologies that opponents had to invent new concerns.

5. Amory Lovins worked with David Brower @sierraclub (against Ansel Adams) to make up various reasons to be against nuclear energy.

6. They made up & publicized scary myths about proliferation & waste that notably had nothing whatsoever to do with the environment.

7. Anti-nuclear env. leaders of 1970s knew they couldn’t win on scientific or environmental grounds so they had to start fear-mongering.

8. But because it was “environmental leaders” who were doing fear-mongering, media misreported concerns as “environmental” — they weren’t.

9. Nuclear waste is deemed the environmental problem, but from environmental point of view it is exactly the kind of waste you should want.

10. From environmental point of view, production you want is highest output using fewest inputs & least amt. of waste: that’s nuclear.

11. Anti-nuclear leaders turned a huge strength of nuclear — its small amounts of highly manageable waste — into a weakness.

12. Grossly exaggerating nuclear waste risks was critically important to undermining its reputation as an orders-of-magnitude cleaner tech.

13. Much of “environmental” attack on nuclear had nothing to do with tech per se but paranoia of “large systems” e.g. the electrical grid.

14. Fear of big systems & utopian views of small communities underlay anti-nuclear movement rejection of both big government & companies.

15. Today anti-nuclear activists routinely talk of “nuclear industry!” but mostly are referring to public or heavily regulated utilities.

16. In truth, nuclear’s biggest advocates weren’t profit-motivated private companies but publicly-minded scientists & utilities…

17. … their motivation & excitement was around vision of powering California & world with pollution-free low-footprint energy.

18. In sum, it was the environmental benefits that were *the main motivation* of pro-nuclear advocates like Weinberg in the 1960s…

19. … while it was highly ideological *non-environmental* concerns that drove fear & opposition to nuclear energy starting in the 1970s.

How to be an Errorist: if anti-nuclear content was factually true it wouldn’t be anti-nuclear

Errorist

I see far too many anti-nuclear press reports. It truly looks like all the big media journos have their favorite UCS and Greenpeace contacts in their Rolodex. And it is a fact that “Fear Sells”, whether clicks or newsprint. So I had a chuckle today when I read this little essay How to be an Errorist from the Northwest Energy folks. They were motivated to write this June 17, 2015 by the satirical New Yorker piece “Scientists: Earth Endangered by New Strain of Fact-Resistant Humans.”

While the story is made-up, many of these fact-resistant folks seem to be radically opposed to nuclear energy. This normally wouldn’t be of great concern, anyone can believe what they want. But when that ignorance (deception?) is given legitimacy through public policy discussions, then it can create a problem for society as a whole (impeding the development of new nuclear energy resources to combat climate change comes to mind).

So, I have a challenge for you Dear Reader: please email or Tweet me if you have encountered an anti-nuclear article that is factually correct. I’ve been scratching my head trying to remember such an instance — but I can’t think of a single case. If the content was factually true it wouldn’t be anti-nuclear.

Why does China achieve most of its energy goals?

Chinese provinces map

Hypothesis: China tends to achieve in the energy and infrastructure sectors because it thinks carefully about how it will achieve a goal before committing to that goal. I know of only two strategies for reliably achieving goals:

1. “Sandbagging”: i.e., set really easy goals.

2. Bottom-up planning: consider in detail how you will go about achieving a goal before you commit. In particular, budget the resources needed to achieve the goal.

My thesis is that China does a lot more of #2 than typical Western democracies. Kyoto is an excellent example of setting goals with no plan. Those are meaningless goals – simply political gestures.

Please critique.

Headlines claiming that distributed solar will soon overthrow utilities everywhere should be patiently ignored until reality sinks in

Last week there was a typically innumerate article promoting the future of distributed energy “Personal Power Stations”. There is a remarkable amount of informed commentary attached to this article — I highly recommend you read through all of it. I would like to highlight one acute comment by Schalk Cloete:

For the other side of this story, I wrote two articles earlier on the potential for distributed generation and distributed storage & demand response. Here are the main conclusions:

“In comparison to the utility scale alternative, distributed generation (primarily solar PV) has a fairly low potential and, in the vast majority of cases, will be unnecessarily expensive and complex.

This does not mean that distributed generation will not be deployed. Niche markets exist and the ideological attractiveness of this energy option remains very high and extremely marketable. What it does mean, however, is that distributed generation will most probably not make more than a minor contribution to the clean energy revolution that will have to take place this century. Headlines claiming that distributed solar will soon overthrow utilities everywhere should be patiently ignored until reality sinks in. As an example, the highly optimistic hi-Ren scenario in the PV Technology Roadmap from the IEA which has received broad PV-positive press lately forecasts about 8% of electricity from distributed PV by 2050. The vast majority of the remaining 92% will remain utility scale. It should also be mentioned that electricity accounts for only about 40% of primary energy consumption.

The final conclusion from these two articles is twofold: 1) distributed generation is affordable, but far from economic and 2) distributed generation can contribute, but only to a minor degree. For these reasons, the ideological attractiveness of distributed generation presents a particularly difficult problem: we simply cannot afford to aggressively pursue uneconomic solutions with very limited potential when it comes to the energy and climate issues we face today. The time has come to leave ideology at the door and get pragmatic about the challenge before us.”

Carbon Caps & Demand Reductions vs. Better Technology:

Today there is another Twitter discussion featuring “We need carbon limits and demand reduction” vs. “Better technology to improve rate of decarbonization”. My thumbnail summary is the result of “Caps and Limits”, in particular Kyoto which Feels Good while fossil continues to dominate:

 

And this is the result of better technology (France decarbonizing electrical generation via nuclear in 20 years):

Why this is true is explored in depth by the Hartwell Paper and Kyoto Wrong Trousers.

David MacKay: what energy portfolio would he favour today?

NewImage

The UK is making more smart energy policy than most of the rich world (who do you think is #1 on the rankings of effective climate change policy?). One of the most remarkable smart things the UK government did was to appoint prof. David MacKay as Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for the period 2010 to 2014. I consider Dr. MacKay one of the top energy policy authorities on planet Earth. It’s unusual when a government selects someone so qualified to such an important position. Even more unusual when the selectee is respected for speaking his views regardless of political consequences.

One of the important deliverables that David MacKay initiated is the Global Calculator where you Dear Reader can experiment with your preferred energy policy options — to see what the consequences are likely to be, what “adds up”. And if you don’t like the model outputs, then you can download the complete code as an Excel spreadsheet. So you can produce your own more-perfect model of how the planet, and planetary economy will respond to your energy policy.

Back to the captioned question “David MacKay: what energy portfolio would he favour today?” I don’t know what Dr. MacKay would propose if he were invited to design the UK (or Earth) energy policy. But I’m completely confident that I would prefer his policy to anything likely to emerge from the UN process.

Today a few clues of the David MacKay preferred policy surfaced on Twitter. I’ll summarize what caught my attention – the conversation I captured is here. I’ll summarize:

Bishop Hill @aDissentient asks “Is there a rational explanation for why governments keep pursuing wind power? One assumes it’s *despite* your book and advice”

David MacKay (@davidjcmackay) replies [in 5 tweets] One rational explanation is “as an option”. I think a hedging strategy is wise given how difficult all the levers are. Another explanation is “because of the legally-binding EU renewable target that Tony Blair signed UK up to“. I concur that I think best vfm hedging strategy wd now steer the grid mix more strongly to non-intermittent low-carbon. [ie CCS/N/very-large-tidal] – though this would lead to legal infringement of EU RT (see pt 2). If there is a huge R+D breakthrough on storage, however, the optimal hedging grid-mix might change.

The most obvious flaws in the OECD policy generally are the special economic/regulatory incentives granted to the “soft path” options of solar/wind/biofuels. I read Dr. MacKay’s “best vfm hedging strategy wd now steer the grid mix more strongly to non-intermittent low-carbon” as an explicit recognition of the real system costs of intermittent generation. And the need to pay more attention to the realities of reliable power, and less attention to “feel good policies”.

PS: When you think about UK energy policy were you aware of “because of the legally-binding EU renewable target that Tony Blair signed UK up to”? I was not. Be careful what you sign!

I hope you will explore the Global Calculator. It is a remarkable resource. Thank you UK Taxpayer.

James Hansen calls out “Big Green” (Part 2)

James Hansen

More disconcerting is the pressure from environmental organizations and the liberal media.

A year ago James Hansen published a “draft opinion” on the Columbia University website: Renewable Energy, Nuclear Power and Galileo: Do Scientists Have a Duty to Expose Popular Misconceptions? The PDF received surprisingly little attention considering the importance of the issues covered. I found the piece when I was researching thinking on how we could dramatically increase China US Nuclear Cooperation.

Here I’ll just highlight some of Dr. Hansen’s remarks on the how he sees the workings of the anti-nuclear lobby. In his closing paragraphs What Can the Public and Scientists Do? he writes

(…snip…) I also recommend that the public stop providing funds to anti nuke environmental groups. Send a letter saying why you are withdrawing your support. Their position is based partly on fear of losing support from anti-nuke donors, and they are not likely to listen to anything other than financial pressure. If they are allowed to continue to spread misinformation about nuclear power, it is unlikely that we can stop expanded hydro-fracking, continued destructive coal mining, and irreversible climate change.

(…snip…) The public is unaware of pressure put on scientists to be silent about nuclear power. After I mention nuclear power I receive numerous messages, often heart-breaking in their sincerity as they repeat Caldicott-like unfounded assertions and beg me not to mention nuclear power. More disconcerting is the pressure from environmental organizations and the liberal media. Each large environmental organization has a nuclear “expert” (often a lawyer, not a physicist) with a well- developed script to respond to any positive statement about nuclear power. Liberal media follow precisely the “merchants of doubt” approach that the right-wing media use to block action on climate change; raising fears about nuclear power is enough to stymie support. The liberal media employ not only environmental organization “experts”, but former heads of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) appointed during Democratic Administrations.

These NRC talking heads are well-spoken professionals with a spiel that has been honed over years. And they have a track record. The NRC, despite its many dedicated capable employees, has been converted from the top into a lawyer-laden organization that can take many months or years to approve even simple adjustments to plans. It is almost impossible to build a nuclear power plant in the United States in less than 10 years, and this is not because an American worker cannot lay one brick on top of another as fast as a Chinese worker. Anti-nukes know that the best way to kill nuclear power is to make it more expensive.

Given this situation, my suggestion to other scientists, when they are queried, is to point the public toward valid scientific information, such as the “radiation 101” page written by Bob Hargraves. “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air” by David MacKay lets the public understand calculations as in the footnote above, thus helping the public to choose between renewables and nuclear power in any given situation – there is a role for both.