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It can make more sense to build new renewable capacity than run old coal plants (bloomberg.com)
99 points by backtobecks 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 120 comments

"[Wind and solar are] even close to being competitive with the marginal costs of running the coal and nuclear plants we already have."

Is that still true without incentives, green grants, rebates, and tax credits? Because without all of that and with mountains of red tape nuclear still produces energy at the lowest cost, and without emitting any CO2.

Are you sure about that? You should look at the fortunes of the engineering groups McDermott, CB&I, and Shaw and how the cost overruns associated with the Westinghouse contributed to so much trouble for those EPC companies and Toshiba. Nuclear has two big problems: difficulty with costs of constructing new plants and currently completely externalized storage of spent fuel. The latter is poorly defined and understood, even though some people would like to give the appearance otherwise.

The cost for dealing with the spent fuel isn't externalized. The problem is that the government promised to deal with the waste, charged a fee for doing so, forbade utilities from dealing with the waste themselves (Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982), and then... did nothing.

That little bit of waste can be dealt with, and comparatively cheaply. Think about it, you can produce 8TWh of electricity, sell it for maybe $400M, and you only have to deal with one ton of waste. That's not a big deal, but doing it is illegal.

Don't blame the industry for a dysfunctional government.

> Don't blame the industry for a dysfunctional government.

The Utilizes got exactly what they wanted from the government in this case. Complete externalization of the problem for a nominal fee. The government also capped their liability so they could buy insurance. No insurance, no financing.

> Complete externalization of the problem for a nominal fee.

If you call $750MM/year a nominal fee, your definition of nominal is maybe a bit non-standard?


What's the total liability for the maximum area of land rendered unusable by a nuclear plant accident?

Less than a Dam

This is my favourite comment of the day

Someone has to deal with it, and everyone I've read who is a publicly recognized expert in the field says it is actually a hard problem. So blame government if you want, but ultimately someone is accountable for it and it's externalized cost until that is address by whomever.

So I guess Dr. Charles E. Till is not an expert or at least not publicly recognized?

And while "the waste problem" is arguably unsolved thanks to government incompetence, currently the waste is being managed by the utilities. So far, no cost has been externalized.

"Oh yeah, maybe now, but future generations!" Maybe future generations will elect a government that gets out of the way of engineers trying to solve the problem.

IFR isn't easy or solved. Seems like government is the only one funding Gen IV breeder reactor research, as well as Argonne National Lab and Dr. Till's work there, so I think government is doing their part. Until it's solved it isn't. When the facts change, I will change my mind.

Both Moltex Energy and Elysium Industries are developing fast waste burners, and both are privately funded. Neither operates in the USA, though, because that's where the government gets in the way. The US government defunded the IFR project completely back in 1994. (It was too close to building a demonstration plant.)

> I think government is doing their part

This incompetent government declared in 1987 that there is exactly one solution to "the waste problem", and that's Yucca Mountain, categorically ruling out any sane solution (i.e. recycling). Now even Mt. Yucca isn't funded anymore. What part is this government doing exactly?

> When the facts change, I will change my mind.

Bullshit. You will continue to claim that the cost of waste disposal, which is implied to be approximately infinite, was externalized, when in fact it's neither.

is there any reason why we can't conceivably jettison nuclear waste out of orbit?

Because there is no need to. The radioactive material wasn't a problem before it was dug out of the soil. It's not a problem if it returns to where it came from. The problem is that most government try to find an idiotic central storage location instead of simply distributing the spent fuel over many locations.

Oh yeah sounds easy until someone digs it out again and puts it in a bomb.

Or it leaks and reaches our water...

No risk there never has been.

Yes. Launch vehicles sometimes fail. They may explode, or they may not make it all the way to orbit and have to re-enter. Either way, this would scatter the radioactive material over a wide area.

Not according to the article.

Unsubsidized solar and wind are both listed as $40 while coal and nuclear are listed as $34 and $29 respectively. The article also mentions that increased solar and wind necessitates batteries but doesn't list a price for those.

> "In the case of both utility-scale solar and onshore wind power, this rate has dropped to about $40 per megawatt hour..."

> "With government subsidies, the average costs of onshore wind ($28 per megawatt hour) and utility-scale solar ($36/MWh) are roughly equivalent to those of coal and nuclear generation ($34/MWh and $29/MWh, respectively)"

> "Third, in order to be able to use more wind and solar power, we’ll need to improve our ability to store that power"

For nuclear and coal, the costs are for continuing to operate existing plants - not building new ones. Plants from the 70's and 80's will require extensive repairs and upgrades and if you factor in those costs, wind and solar becomes cheaper.

Almost all recent cost studies put the cost of wind and solar far below the cost of new nuclear power. See f.e:

"The cost of generating solar power ranges from $36 to $44 per megawatt hour (MWh), the WNISR said, while onshore wind power comes in at $29–$56 per MWh. Nuclear energy costs between $112 and $189."


"Onshore generation costs, at the upper bound installed cost of $2,000/kW, vary from $101/MWh at 6m/s, down to $55/MWh at 9m/s.

At the median cost of $1,600/kW, the corresponding figures are $80/MWh and $44/MWh.

At the lower-bound installed cost of $1,200/kW and a wind speed of 6m/s, the generation cost is $59/MWh, falling to $38/MWh at 8m/s.

... Apart from gas, wind now has no other competitor among fossil-fuel sources. There have been no new nuclear developments, leaving the UK price for its Hinkley Point C power station as a benchmark, at around $130/MWh in 2017 money."


"According to the US Energy Information Agency, the average nuclear power generating cost is about $100 per megawatt-hour. Compare this with $50 per megawatt-hour for solar and $30 to $40 per megawatt-hour for onshore wind."


See also: https://www.lazard.com/media/450784/lazards-levelized-cost-o... and https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/electricity_generation..... In the last report the cost for advanced nuclear is estimated to between $75.1 - $81.2/mWh and to $38.9 - $72.9/mwH for onshore wind.

It's typical HN that the top comment is both wildly incorrect and completely uncited. So thanks for providing some necessary context.

Worth adding that after this year's round of UK offshore auctions, wind power comes in cheaper than new gas and under a quarter of heavily subsidised nuclear. Despite subsidy and six proposed plants, the only certain remaining nuclear is Hinkley C. Five of the others have had participants withdraw, go bankrupt in one case (Moorside under Westinghouse-Toshiba), and the final remaining UK proposed nuclear - Sizewell C looks increasingly unlikely. Depends on the package and strike prices I suspect as it's an exact copy of Hinkley. EDF (behind Bradwell B, Hinkley and Sizewell using a Chinese reactor design) are busy accumulating a Shenzen style reputation for worker conditions and suicides at Hinkley. Even the majority right wing UK media has noticed enough to report conditions.

The next auction round of offshore wind licences should see it easily come in under existing gas.

Are your numbers factoring the cost of building energy storage, or a plant using a pilotable energy ?

Yes, the dream team would be a combination of renewable and nuclear.

No it wouldn't, because nuclear isn't reactive enough to produce energy to match the extreme afternoon demand curves when solar capacity drops and demand jumps.

To account for those rapid jumps in non-renewable demand, you need an energy source that can ramp up really fast on short notice, like hydrocarbon fire.

Apparently this is less true for newer reactors, or older reactors with upgrades. I'm not an expert, but https://www.powermag.com/flexible-operation-of-nuclear-power...

Even if reactors aren't as fast to react as a gas peaking plant is, perhaps batteries will soon be able to bridge that gap. The economics of batteries change greatly if you only need them to carry the load for tens of minutes for reactors to ramp up, vs needing to carry the load until the sun shines again.

The power supply and the energy supply will not have a single solution. It is analogous to the levels of caching in a Von Neumann cpu. L1 will capacitors, L2 batteries, bulk storage is pumped hydro and other GWh energy stores.

The duck curve is a smoke screen and should only exist for a region that doesn't have solar to the west of it. Those solar farms in CA should be feeding users a timezone over to the east.

Any source can then feed into those stores, wind, solar, hydro.

If your power solution is involves hydrocarbons, it should be a closed cycle.

> like hydrocarbon fire.

Or batteries and other storage methods. It looks like battery solutions could get cheap enough in the next 10-20 years to smooth things out and take care of storage for a few hours (see for instance http://news.mit.edu/2018/metal-mesh-membrane-rechargeable-ba... .. Donald Sadoway has some good talks on YouTube)

But yeah, for days that happen to have less wind/solar, I think the best thing is just keep gas power plants around. The CO2 impact for that will be minimal, the power plants are already built, and over time you could replace the fuel with synthetic gas made from renewables, which would basically be another energy storage mechanism. Cheaper renewable gas is something we need to make the world sustainable anyway.

The only unsolved problem is seasonal variations in colder climates. But those areas could import more trash and burn it (for both electricity and heat), like Sweden does. Norway has a ton of hydroelectric power, and is building more HVDC power lines to other areas of Northern Europe which will help with that area. Not sure what the solution for North America is though. But it's not nuclear. Having a nuclear power plant idle for half a year is the exact opposite of what you want. The plant is expensive and the fuel is cheap - if you build it you want it to run 24/7.

No, the battery solution is currently about 10000x too expensive. Even building a 1 day battery for each geographical region would be thousands of trillions of dollars.

Only some unexpected breakthrough could make it feasible.

AGL in Australia is looking to turn disused coal mines into pumped storage.


> the extreme afternoon demand curves when solar capacity drops and demand jumps

Does the hourly schedule variate day by day or can it be predicted?

If you can predict when and how much power you will need to produce then it can be ramped up slowly, I assume.

"ramping up slowly" isn't an option when the demand curve is changing quickly, because there's nowhere for that extra energy to go. Energy storage isn't really feasible, so all the electrical grids in the world need to match supply to demand 1:1 in real time.

There are electrical dispatchers who are monitoring grid supply 24/7 and instruct plants on how much they are responsible for generating on a minute-by-minute basis.

An alternative to storage is dispatchable demand. This would require high-load activities or uses which can be rapidly cycled.

Storage batteries, pumped storage, and CAES are examples of this, though simple raw thermal banking (hot water heating, typically) is an excellent way to suck up excess Joules or GWh.

1 GWh is roughly the energy required to heat a pool of water 1 hectare * 1 m by 86 degrees Celsius. This scales to multiple GWh by increasing area, depth, or both. Conversion to steam is also possible, though that requires more engineering (pressure is A Thing). Substrates such as molten salt have a lower heat capacity per unit mass, but can be heated to far greater temperatures.

Storage at the scale of entire US generating capacity for multiple weeks using molten salt thermal storage, even accounting for Carnot cycle efficiency losses (about 20-50% depending on specifics, 30% is a good ballpark) is actually a tractable-scale concept. Existing petroleum storage facilities are roughly comperable in size, though molten salt would require somewhat more robust facilities and insulation.

Whilst it doesn't have the net efficiencies of pumped hydro (exceeding 90% round-trip storage efficiency), pumped hydro lacks sufficient developable sites, and has significant environmental impacts.

> Energy storage isn't really feasible

You couldn't be more Dam wrong.

Doesn't scale. Not enough sites.

Mind, where it does work, it's phenomenally effective, efficient, and responsive.

There are a few sites at which seawater-based systems might be possible, in which the ocean forms the "lower reservoir". These are dependent on suitable terrain. Matching terrain to consumption patterns is difficult: the Netherlands and much of Britain are sorely lacking. Some of the best potential sites are along the Balkan coast in Serbia and Croatia. Chile's Atacama Desert, along the Pacific coastline, is nearly ideal geographically, but is far from most use (North America, Europe, Asia). Portions of the US West Coast might be suitable, though would all but certainly face major political resistance for environmental impacts.

And: working with seawater is complex from an engineering standpoint: it's corrosive and sea life has a pronounced tendency to foul large-scale water-handling systems, though this may be tractable. There've been several pilot projects, though those have since been decomissioned, excepting Rance in France, designed as a tidal power plant, though capable of working as a pumped-hydro facility.

> Doesn't scale. Not enough sites.

Terrible energy density, massive land use.

To store the energy contained in 1 gallon of gasoline requires over 55,000 gallons to be pumped up 726 feet (CCST 2012). [1]

Itaipu Dam has 14,000 MW installed power, 1,350 square kilometres (520 sq mi) were flooded. [2]

[1] http://energyskeptic.com/2015/hydropower-has-a-very-low-ener...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itaipu_Dam

Itaipu (or comparable impoundages such as Three Gorges) provide both capacity, indicated as installed GWe of generating capability, a measure of power, and storage, indicated as GWH of energy generation. These are equivalent to the capabilities of an automobile's engine (power) and fuel tank (storage).

Hydroelectric projects also virtually always provide additional services such as flood control, irrigation water, recreation, and waterways management (ensuring water flows, etc.), which also account for design elements including scale, etc.

Pumped hydro should provide a sufficient level of both capacity and storage, though in general the storage requirements are far smaller than traditional hydroelectric dams aimed at generation. There are quite small pumped hydro facilities, the compensation being that water levels can rise or fall considerably, often many metres in a single day's storage/generation cycle.

Gravity is in general a weak force, but water is relatively massive, largely non-toxic, and can be utilised through large-scale pump-generator units (~800 MW per generator IIRC), which is a scale few other options can match. Again, on balance, pumped hydro is a good solution, there's just not enough of it to go around.

Pumped hydro is 70-80% efficient at storing energy. [1]

Converting to sensible units gives

mass = 55e3 * 3.79kg/gallon ~ 208450kg

height = 221 meters

mass * height * 9.8m/s^2 ~ 452043210 joules (watt-seconds)

or 125KwH, 70% of that is 87KwH. What does gasoline have to do with energy storage on the grid? Furthermore, a gallon of gas has 33KwH [2].

What does the Itaipu Dam's installed power have to do with stored energy?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricit...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasoline_gallon_equivalent

> What does the Itaipu Dam's installed power have to do with stored energy?

Nothing. Was there something to suggest otherwise? I listed two weak points for hydro: Terrible energy density, massive land use.

My first reference supported the first point and my second reference addressed the second point. Land use: 1,350 square kilometres were flooded. The installed power was to give context of how big the plant is.

Again: the size is incidental to that specific dam. Pumped hydro facilities can be vastly smaller.

Ffestiniog Power Station in the UK is on the order of 1 hectare (1/100 km^2) in area (based on 170,000 m^3 storage and a 34m dam height). It's a modest and early pumped-hydro facility.


Bath County Pumped Storage in the US has an upper reservoir of 107 and a lower of 226 hectares respectively, or 1 km^2 and 2 km^2, roughly. It is the largest in the US.


There is no reason for a purely pumped-hydro facility to be anywhere remotely near the size of Itaipu. Which is not in fact a pumped hydroelectric storage facility, but a hydroelectric generating station with no pumped-hydro storage capabilities or functions.


A red herring.

You are reading words that aren't there. The top level comment this thread started with is:

>You couldn't be more Dam wrong.

I am talking about dams, not pumped storage.

And that comment responded to "Energy storage isn't really feasible".

And was followed up, by the same author, with another post specifically about pumped storage: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21479576

That we're still discussing this over 24 hours later may strike someone as amusing, but the jokes gone rather stale.


Does it have to scale? What does scaling mean? Could the existing 2400 dams in the United States be used for PSH? [1]

How many sites do we need? Why would the Netherlands need pumped hydro, isn't the European grid interconnected?

See my comment below.


I'm going to suggest you think through what I've written, the general problem of power grids, generation, and storage, energy uses, and consequences of power outages. The answer may reveal itself to you.

Likewise, you seem to have failed to grasp what I'd hoped would be a rather evident reason for mentioning the Netherlands in the context of pumped hydro and terrain.

The demand can be generally predicted for at least several days in advance based on weather. This affects both generating capacity (incident solar, wind) and loads (hours of daylight, heating or cooling load). The process isn't perefect, but converges on experience the closer to present you are. Factors such as predictable human activities (workday, workweek, and seasonal factors) also enter in.

The events you may have noted in news of "negative energy prices" are often failures of prediction -- unexpectedly high availability (more sun or wind), and unexpectedly low demand. Though "pay to take my power" sounds good, it's actually a sign of mismanaged resources.

There are occasional incidental factors -- sudden demand, or more often, equipment or transmission failures which require bringing additional capacity online, or shedding load to prevent under-voltage (and hence: over-amperage), or underfrequency. Grid power frequency is generally 60Hz in the US, 50Hz in the UK, and just for grins, both in Japan, on separate and noninterdependent grids, which made generation capacity loss following the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami and Fukushima incident all the more critical. Loss of synchronisation or deviation by more than a very small fraction from the nominal frequency is considered a Very Bad Thing. Viz the recent UK blackouts.

The Nordic system operators are in the early stages of transitioning from a reactive to a predictive process. The schedule does vary from day to day but there isn't anyone there that doesn't believe it can't be predicted with an accuracy that is more safe, and economical, than the current reactive process.

You can read more about it at http://nordicbalancingmodel.net.

So make a big enough nuclear plant for those peaks.

Too expensive. Bigger capacity means bigger costs up front and runtime.

How much more expensive? How much more capacity?

I’d rather have way too much nuclear power than rely on any fossil fuels. If anything, energy demand seems posed to always increase.

AFAIK it's about Xenon poisoning.


Or deploy storage to make the curve smoother

You mean I can “bank” A/C in the form of ice???

Well, ammonia coolers offer cheap storage in the form of liquid ammonia. This applies to both absorption and compressor coolers.

...or hydro.

Source for the latency of nuclear concerning spikes in electrical demand? > 70% of France electricity is made from nuclear and they don't seem to have the issue you claim.

Half of that 30% are natural gas peaker plants.

You're a victim of a common misconception. Nuclear reactors can ramp up and down as quickly as the control rods move. Check out the Borax experiments (from shutdown to full power in seconds) and the TRIGA reactor (from shutdown to gigawatts and back to shutdown in milliseconds).

What can't ramp quickly is the steam turbine connected to the reactor, but that's more of a design decision than a technical limitation. The German nuclear plants ("Konvoi" series) can in fact ramp faster than the German gas turbine plants, because that was a design requirement.

> Yes, the dream team would be a combination of renewable and nuclear

So long as you don't care how to dispose of the nuclear waste. But we'll be dead by then anyway, so who cares right.

If you’re factoring in subsidies for wind and solar, those for nuclear and coal need to be considered too. Also, nuclear might be low CO2, but getting the fuel and disposing of it is part of the equation too.

>Is that still true without incentives

Are you sure you are accounting for Nuclear's extreme incentives? Nuclear as an industry gets its liability capped to around $12.6 billion, whereas there are plausible trillion dollar accident scenarios. It is as if you got free insurance and only had to pay insurance on paying the deductible.

The law was passed in 1957 partly because we wanted to subsidize nuclear proliferation and used byproducts from plants for weapons.


We still have areas in Germany where you have to test your deer meat.

Who is paying for that? Guess who is not paying for

Is nuclear completely without subsidies?

Also some of the red tape, for nuclear, is there for a reason.

All of the externalities of nuclear power are subsidized.

Mountains of red tape don't exist in the communist dictatorship of China yet they haven't broken ground on a new plant since 2016 [1]. There are fundamental economic problems with nuclear that prevent it from being the power solution we all hoped it would be.

[1] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612564/chinas-losing-its-...

Then why does France have cheaper electricity than most of its neighbors?

Because they built a huge number of reactors with state subsidy and then stopped?

France is also having trouble with life extension due to cracked reactor vessels, and is unable to build new capacity cheaply - Flamanville is in project management trouble, like Hinkley Point C, and is projected to have higher energy costs than the existing reactors.

And nuclear power is ironically suffering its own climate change effects, it's dependent on cool water: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-electricity-heatwa...

I don't understand the hype around wind and solar. Or rather I don't see how these technologies can ever be anything more than a minor player in the energy market:

These technologies are extremely sensitive to weather conditions which means that other, more stable sources must exist and have "stand by" production cap to produce all the energy these tech won't under bad conditions. If so, what's the point? (I mean in the grand, climate crisis, scheme of things) what am I missing?

Even in "green" countries, most of the green energy comes from bio fuel which is just burning young "soon to be coal".

I know you used danger quotes, but it is worth noting that nothing is "soon to be coal". All coal deposits were formed in the limited (in geopolitical terms) time span after plants evolved the ability to produce lignin but before fungi evolved the ability to break it down. All of the coal that will ever exist on Earth has already been created.

Steve Mould posted a video just this last week about the small period of time when all the coal was made. Understanding how it happened and why it stopped helps to set your frame of mind when thinking about the viability of natural carbon capture at large scales like how coal was formed.


(You probably mean "geological" not " geopolitical".)

To a certain extent you're not wrong. There's a critical technology with quickly dropping costs that this future assumes and that's HVDC transmission lines. The larger the geographical span of the area that has all its solar and wind attached the more the variations all average out and the overall reliability and consistency improves a lot.

Among other things, when it gets really cheap you can start over-provisioning. Cloud cover sometimes cuts the solar irradiance in half? No problem, just build twice as much solar capacity (and maybe add a HVDC transmission line to the next state over for the high production times)

Wide deployment & interconnection will also erase some of the local variability of, e.g. a cloud passing over.

Land use of solar prevents it ever getting really cheap. According to the UK solar power portal [1]: "If solar covered one percent of the UK it would meet the country’s entire power demand".

> just build twice as much solar capacity

This would increase the land use from 1% to 2%. That's a huge amount of the country to give over to power production.

[1] https://www.solarpowerportal.co.uk/news/if_solar_covered_one...

It's a reasonable fraction of total roof area, I believe.

But the real problem with the UK and solar is not nighttime but seasonality. No, we need to keep going with the wind buildout and not drop the tidal energy programme.

We're getting there: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jun/21/zero-carbon...

The UK has a lot of unused land on a percentage basis.

Granted, half of that will be in Scotland and ideally your solar would be further south, but even then, you're probably talking about switching less than 5% of the arable land to solar.

Overprovisioning in the case of the UK really applies to wind rather than solar.

Does the UK not experience night time?

Perhaps the biggest reason that wind is mostly offshore these days is because it's much more reliable there than on land. It still varies, but not by as much as you'd expect.

There's also a saying "the wind is always blowing somewhere". A good grid reduces variability a lot.

Renewables are projected to get cheap enough that over provisioning can handle most, (but not all) of the stalls, drastically reducing the need for storage or peakers. For example, if you have enough solar to provide 3X as much power as you need on a sunny day, you get about 1X on a cloudy day.

Over-provisioning results in incredibly cheap power on sunny/windy days which can be a huge boon to industry.

This is pretty much what most people think. Though if smart grids are built and there are huge advancements in battery technology (like way beyond what the Elon hype stuff is), and if our energy demands don't continue to rise at a high rate, then wind and solar can completely solve the problem.

But what you're pointing out is why the IPCC and most climate scientists want nuclear as a stop gap. Because it's better than coal. But then the conversation becomes about nuclear vs renewables, which no one on the nuclear side wants to get rid or even slow the development of renewables.

Yea it's pretty obnoxious to be told "try not to use so much power during these hours: [when you get home from work - when you go to bed]. This is when we need electricity.

There's plenty of use you can move to other times, just ask anyone who has different peak/off-peak rates. A house with good insulation can be pre-heated/cooled in the afternoon. Washing machines can be programmed to run during the day. Even some cooking can be done that way, if you prepare in advance. Those alone cover quite a large chunk of home energy use.

Do you know about the law of large numbers? Basically it says that in the long run "things even out." Suppose you flip a coin 100 times. It can happen that you only get one heads in those 100 flips, but would you worry about it?

In my city the electric scooter companies have carpet bombed the city centre with their vehicles. When I'm downtown can I be certain that one is available to take me from place A to B? I can't and in the worst case I'll have to walk a block to find one to ride on. Big deal.

The electricity grid works the same. It doesn't matter if one wind farm isn't producing because there are so many of them. As long as the total output from them is big enough. Think of it like a RAID system.

So that rules out solar because... nighttime. So wind has to be the only reliable supply and you need to over build enough of it so a calm weather system in a region has no impact. The numbers stop looking good at that point.

So if we build enough solar panels, there'll be some running at night?

Even if solar can only run a third of the time, that's still a third of our electric carbon emissions taken out, which ain't nothing to shake a stick at.

> what am I missing

Battery storage is a thing and will become much more of a thing

Batteries are made from metals which have to be strip mined. It's really not any more environmentally friendly

Lithium is evaporated from brine in ponds, not strip mined.

Progress is a balance.

Externalizing environmental damage is not progress.

Energy storage will enable us to use only clean renewables. While the costs for energy storage aren't falling nearly as fast, they are still decreasing. I anticipate that rate to accelerate

Why does everyone turn from Nuclear though? It seems like the most viable option in my opinion. I'd rather have a network of nuke power where energy reliability is weather-independent than forests of wind and farms of solar. I feel like its a much greener approach overall. What's the manufacturing breakeven in carbon costs for a windmill or a solar panel?

In my case geopolitical reasons, mostly. I prefer nuclear plants not be in what the US president lovingly calls shithole countries. Those tend to not yet have nuclear, but a drastically increasing need for energy. Many of them are also a lot closer to the equator than western countries with existing nuclear, making solar much more viable than e.g. in the UK.

> What's the manufacturing breakeven in carbon costs for a windmill or a solar panel?

This questions feels like you mostly try to justify your otherwise preexisting preference. A proper system would have external costs factored into the price, by the way.

The genuine answer to your question is that their news sources haven't been demonising renewables and green government initiatives for the last 20 years (in order to prop up their fossil fuel sponsors) so they don't automatically think "communist, hoax, inefficient, boondoggle, political correctness gone mad, end of civilization as we know it, bloody hippies, etc." when renewables gets brought up. Instead they think "cheap, efficient, distributed tech that keeps getting cheaper and that I can use for energy independence on multiple scales" so it's not that they have any great distaste for nuclear, they've just not been trained to hate and fear renewables.

They don't for example, wonder if no one has thought to calculate the carbon impact of renewables, because they assume the scientists and other authority figures they trust who recommend it would have taken that into account. And if they did wonder, it's a short Google away, and their usual info sources would provide facts, not scaremongering propaganda.

That's why you'll rarely see a defence of nuclear that doesn't quickly degenerate into attacking Californian hippies, or government interference, or the collapse of Germany into a solar powered Islamic no-go-zone, or flat out denial that climate change is even a problem anyway" that they've read about in their highly reliable news sources. Generally they're more anti-renewable than pro-nuclear.

> I anticipate that rate to accelerate

Historical cost declines would agree with that thesis. Renewables will approach a price so close to 0 that the battery storage will be the dominate cost in supplying dispatchable energy (but still a lower cost than fossil fuels). Utility lithium battery storage is already cheaper than the most expensive peaking plants, and the cost model improves as costs continue to decline.


https://about.bnef.com/blog/behind-scenes-take-lithium-ion-b... (A Behind the Scenes Take on Lithium-ion Battery Prices)

https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/73222.pdf (PDF: NREL Cost Projections for Utility-Scale Battery Storage)

The amount of storage needed is massive. 1000s of hoover dams (including the lakes on both sides) for example. Batteries might work, but so far they haven't scaled that large.

It's about 6000 Tesla Megapacks [1] for the entire US, roughly 20 square miles of land use.

"Using Megapack, Tesla can deploy an emissions-free 250 MW, 1 GWh power plant in less than three months on a three-acre footprint – four times faster than a traditional fossil fuel power plant of that size. Megapack can also be DC-connected directly to solar, creating seamless renewable energy plants."

We need more Gigafactories (regardless of manufacturer/owner), which needs demand to be proven (contracts with utilities), which allows for more capital to be acquired from capital markets to build more battery factories. Batteries are a known quantity though, versus nuclear where you can spend billions and a decade and still not produce a kWh of power.

Tesla built Gigafactory 3 in Shanghai in 190 days, from breaking ground to manufacturing validation of a Model 3. These are tractable problems.

[1] https://www.tesla.com/blog/introducing-megapack-utility-scal...

You don't even need that many if you shift demand via distributed dispatchable loads, like electric hot water heaters and EVs.

Also does your figure of 6000 Megapacks derive from total electricity consumption in the US, or just base load?

You need something to cover the idea that every few years we get a few weeks of minimal generation from wind and solar. Shifting load is a good idea, but it isn't enough. Eventually I have to add more heat to my house.

Natural gas can always be a generator of absolute last resort, and is likely cheaper than keeping nuclear generators running for those rare occasions.

How much does 1 megapack cost?

Somewhere between $250 and $400 million.

Bio fuel isn’t soon-to-be coal, if it wouldn’t get burned it would decompose and release the co2 into the atmosphere just the same.

>what am I missing?

Unreasonable optimism about battery technology/cost.

Oh, can I not wait to ditch Ontario's Power for my own Renewables. The costs are reaching extremes now. We have some of the most expensive power in the world.

Ontario power is mostly from renewable sources already, but yes it is highly mismanaged.

You can see the hourly Ontario energy use by source here:


One of the worst inefficiencies of the Ontario grid is that we run an abundance of energy during parts of the day, during which we dump electricity to the US at extremely cheap rates. If that electricity were offered at the same rate to Ontario residents (who are paying for it!) you would see residents retrofit homes with dual-fire gas/electric heating and other utilities. Or if we had a means to store that electricity it would cover the highest-use parts of the day (approximately 3 hours later) where we still fire natural gas to cover demand.

Totally. Why am I burning natural gas when I could have an rPi connected space heater dial it up?

Or push my freezer into deep-freeze mode.

Or my water heater tank into super-heat mode? I already have a thermostatic valve anyway.

Or have my dishwasher start whenever it wants between midnight and 6AM? All I can do is start now or in 4 hours, meanwhile these might be terrible times.

Is there a minimum rate at which they produce hydro power? That seems like a great option to spin down hydro power during those parts of the day, store the water, and then spin the hydro plants back up at peak load.

About a quarter of it is from Niagara Falls, ie: run of the river.

The amount that they divert varies by time: they want to keep the falls nice during the day, but divert more at night.

And a lot of dams are dual use: controlling water levels while generating electricity, so it really depends on weather. When it’s dry they can maybe do this, but when it’s wet, they gotta be careful. Or vice versa depending on which side it’s raining more on.

Pretty sure in overage situations the water runs over the dam and nothing is stored in Niagara but I may be mistaken.

Looks like Ontario's electricity cost is because of government interference, primarily overbuilding of renewables with fixed revenue contracts:


I learned from Professor Vaclav Smil that while Wind and Solar are practical energy solutions in the United States population ~340mil. It is not practical in all regions in more populous countries such as China (population ~1.4 Billion).

There are large regions in the country where Solar is not a good solution due to fog. And Wind is not a good solution due to lack of wind.

We have a global climate system. As is such if the goal is to reduce carbon emissions in some areas Nuclear power is the most effective method to achieve this goal. Furthermore, moving China to non-carbon energy sources would have the largest impact globally. They use ~ 22 GigaWatts of electricity per year. Which is 3.6 times as much as the US which is the 2ed largest consumer of energy by country.



This is surprising to hear. Here's some back of the napkin math that seems to contradict the assertion that there's not enough sunlight to power humanity: https://ag.tennessee.edu/solar/Pages/What%20Is%20Solar%20Ene...

They claim texas recieves >300x the amount of power consumed in the form of sunlight.

Another source claims that the Sun delivers enough power in a single hour to power the earth for a year: https://www.businessinsider.com/this-is-the-potential-of-sol...

I can respect the fact that we cannot capture 100% of that power, but even a fraction should power the earth, no?

it's not even that surprising when you consider that basically all of earth's energy through its lifetime derives from the sun in some form.

the main exceptions--radiative exchange with the rest of the universe and energy from earth's core--are relatively insignificant sources compared to the solar influx of energy.

fossil fuels are just solar energy captured and (inefficiently) transformed over hundreds of millions of years through plant and animal intermediaries. wind and hydro (weather-based energy) are also intermediated forms of solar energy.

the sun is effectively unlimited energy for billions of years, mostly being radiated away right now, so the closer we get to transforming it directly into useful forms, the better off we are.

Yes, and anything that helps in reduction helps the overall system. It's not black and white universal solutions, but a combination of them.

You could cover the arabian peninsula and sahara with panels and use UHV lines to connect to china.

I am all for that.

I just think it is more realistic to first build nuclear power plants within 50km of every city with a population greater than 1mil people in China.

I am not sure a there has ever been a UHV line longer than 3,000km? Efficiency loss only increases the longer a UHV line is.

Love reading this kind of news. As an aside, this is the exact type of content that is super welcome on the platform we launched in a Show HN on the front page today (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21472817). The url is https://collective.energy if you're interested in growing your impact further!

I wish small scale solar was falling as fast, especially very small scale. It would be nice to be able to purchase a blanket-sized solar panel for twenty bucks.

My experience with utility solar is it’s getting competitive but not reliably so yet: https://twitter.com/ctdonath/status/1184138472988315648?s=20

Sounds great until you read the caveats, I think the general agreement is that choosing the best of the dirtiest sources is going to be the important decision facing my kids' generation.

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