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Wind and solar are cheaper than thought, admits UK government (carbonbrief.org)
350 points by open-source-ux 56 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 370 comments



That doesn’t change the fact that neither wind nor solar can produce electricity on demand.

Unlike many other products, customers buy electricity when they need it, not when it’s cheap. It doesn’t really matter whether a wind farm in the German North Sea can produce a lot of electricity cheaply during a windy day when that electricity is needed three days later in Munich.

This complete lack of matching supply and demand is what drives electricity prices with a large share of renewables in the market so high.

In Germany, lots of electricity is produced from renewables at times when it’s not needed. This causes market prices to be negative at times and Germany is paying neighboring countries money to buy that excess electricity.

At the same time, producers of renewables have guaranteed sales by German law, i.e. their electricity is always bought by the market whether it’s needed or not.

It’s this gap between supply and demand that customers are paying for which drives German electricity prices.

Currently, we’re paying 31 Euro cents in Germany per kWh while French customers whose grid has a large share of nuclear pay just 17 Euro cents per kWh on average.

At the same time, the average CO2 emissions in Germany per kWh are at 400 grams in Germany while they’re only at 50 grams in France. That’s because whenever solar and wind aren’t delivering any electricity we’re starting up coal and gas plants.

I wish proponents renewables were honest enough to not withhold these problems.

I mean, absolutely no one argues that it’s not that expensive to build a wind or solar farm. What makes wind ans solar expensive is keeping the necessary backup plants in standby for when they’re not delivering and paying for getting rid of excess electricity from renewables when they’re not needed.

The intermittency and low energy density are inherent physical properties of solar and wind farms which is why 100% renewables is newer feasible (unless for countries like Norway who have the possibility to build lots of hydro plants).


You know you can just restrict output when there’s too much renewable energy? As it’s so cheap, this isn’t an issue, the issue in Germany is a regulatory problem they have got themselves in which is understandable given this is a new technology. Having wider inter connectivity of grids will help reduce these occasions too. And the major wind developers are looking into things like pumped storage, and electrolysis of water into hydrogen etc. Having too much energy isn’t the issue we’re facing right now, it’s being too dependent on fossil fuels. Less than 10% of energy worldwide comes from wind and solar - why are you worrying about the world not being able to be 100% renewable? By the time we get even halfway close, technology will have developed to a point that’s hard to foresee now. It’ll be ok to use up some natural gas for energy for example, especially if the carbon is captured and stored. Plus we have so many great natural carbon capturers like trees as it is. I don’t think it’s the case that proponents are withholding these problems, I just don’t think they are as big of an issue as you suggest, and they are categorically not as big of an issue as climate change.


You are going down a well trodden path on HN where the problems of intermittent power generation are waved away and declared as not an issue because there are other technologies that will be available real soon now that can solve this problem. Here you mention several: more grid connectivity, pumped storage, electrolysis of water.

Future imagined technologies and/or infrastructure can't help you with balancing the power on the grid today.

The recent rolling power outages in California came from the fact that they are too dependent on renewables and basically ran out of power generating capability as the sun was setting in the evening but everyone wanted to keep running their air conditioning.


> they are too dependent on renewables and basically ran out of power generating capability as the sun was setting

Actually it's more complicated than that:

"Several gas plants that were supposed to provide power failed to operate or tripped off, the CAISO said in a press conference last Wednesday. ... The CAISO also confirmed that demand was no greater than on previous very hot days."[0]

You could equally make the case that the state was too dependent on unreliable gas plants.

[0] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/08/why-renew...


This is just another way of saying there the margin of error has been reduced to an unacceptable level. It is only going to get worse if California continues towards its renewable goals.

I found this article helpful: https://www.manhattancontrarian.com/blog/2020-8-16-h7249j4l4...

From that article:

    Take out all of the solar and wind capacity, and California has
    only about 43 GW of capacity to meet demand that could well
    exceed that on any hot summer day.  And to get to that 43 GW,
    you would need all other facilities up and running at absolutely
    full capacity with no scheduled or unscheduled outages, which
    is not realistic.  Yes, you could try to import some power from
    the neighboring states, but at times of peak usage they probably
    need all of their own power.  In short, you have put yourself
    in a position where regular intentional blackouts are inevitable.
    And, as more and more reliable fossil fuel and nuclear facilities
    get closed in favor of wind and solar, the problem looks set
    to worsen dramatically over the next several years


What a tendentious blog that is! Here's another one from April on how COVID is no big deal:

https://www.manhattancontrarian.com/blog/2020-4-15-what-is-t...

Doesn't it seem like the author is reasoning backward from a preferred conclusion, the way a lawyer might?


That article isn't about COVID in isolation it is about whether the drastic economic shutdown was an appropriate response. I think that is still a very debatable item, but data from Sweden, for example suggests that it wasn't a good tradeoff. There is also evidence that social distancing and masks would have been a reasonable approach vs full shutdown mode.

I'm not sure what to make of your "reasoning backward" statement. Just not sure what it means.


Pumped storage is not an imagined technology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pumped-storage_hydroel...

It’s actually a really great idea. Here’s a white paper that’s especially relevant for California (forgive the hokey graphic in the executive summary):

https://www.sdcwa.org/sites/default/files/White%20Paper%20-%...


Of course it isn't imagined, but it is also only feasible in very specific geographic locations. What is imagined is that it can be expanded at scale in order to offset the intermittent nature of renewables.


In your original comment, you literally said pumped hydro (along with others) was an imagined technology.

This is widely known to be false, and I wrote to correct that.

> What is imagined is that it can be expanded at scale...

No power generation method that we have is a universal solution, and as long as we have nation-states we shouldn't expect it to be.

But pumped hydro has indeed been expanded at scale, and it is in operations, as the wikipedia page I linked demonstrates.

It's not helpful to say things that are obviously false.


> In your original comment, you literally said pumped hydro (along with others) was an imagined technology.

I also said:

> Future imagined technologies and/or infrastructure

Sure I could have been clearer but the entire thrust of my message was to say that you can't solve todays grid problems due to intermittent renewables with future technologies (not yet invented) and/or future infrastructure (not yet built).

I certainly agree with you that pumped hydro is viable is some very specific locations. I would also insist that if you want to advocate for more renewables you better include the cost of a combined renewable + pumped hydro to save the intermittent supply problem. And if you are going to advocate for building the renewable generation in one location and the pumped hydro in another location, then you need to include the cost of the transmission lines to get the power to where it is needed and adjust your capacity calculations for the energy lost in transmission lines. Along the way you are going to have also plan for the litigation costs and delays the moment you suggest damming a valley to turn it into a reservoir.

Almost every glowing report about renewables, especially if it is about how "cheap" it now is, fails to account for the alternate generation capacity that must be maintained/built or for the effective generating capacity (i.e. not the peak capacity on the sunniest or windiest day).


I don't disagree with the thrust of your comment, but:

>customers buy electricity when they need it, not when it’s cheap. //

It doesn't have to be like this. You can let customers buy according to price, distributors don't seem to want to; presumably because that democratises the cost savings.

Octopus, a UK energy company, I think offers a customer direct grid pricing policy to some customers.

I'm happy to run dishwasher, washing machine at night. Do hoovering (vacuum cleaning) on sunny days, etc.. Wait half an hour to bake a cake if a storm is passing. But these things mean paying less to the electricity company.

I can see fridges that use a cold-storage scheme. And would definitely get a hot water tank if I could be paid to heat it.


I don't know. I don't have control over a lot of things. A fridge, for instance: I was limited by what could fit up the stairs and in the door of my apartment. (It is small, but not too tiny). Showers, and therefor hot water, is generally done around schedules. I hand dry all of my clothes, but the shared washer is in the basement - I can't leave clothes in all night. Folks with children often must do lots of laundry when they have time - and not to mention that leaving clothes in the washer at night in hot weather can sometimes create stink. Eating, again, depends on schedule. I need heat when I need heat, not when it is convenient for the electricity. I'm not in a minority with this stuff and so many people have fewer choices than I do - and usually, the poorer folks who need it the most are the ones without as much control. And can't stay home to work around these things.


Hot water storage is very cheap. Water has tremendous heat capacity.

So that's a great example about what can be scheduled in a flexible way.

If something is not standard practice doesn't mean it can't be done, or even that it's hard to do. There was no motivation to use any smarts for water heaters because the electricity price was flat, or the price was on a fixed schedule (timers and night heating of water, was done in the eighties here already).


It doesn't matter how much it costs to store water. It costs money to heat the water, and that's what you have to pay attention to. This is much harder to work around as you don't have much choice when you use a hot water. Hot waters don't just store cold water in the tank to be heated when electricity prices are low. Instead, it'll start heating after you shower, for example.

I am in an apartment: I have a small water heater - I easily run out of water taking a shower if I stick around too long. There are two people in the house, and if we both want to shower in one day, the hot water . That way, I have hot water to do dishes and someone can take a shower in evening. I'm happy the water heater for the washer is separate, but again, it heats when the temperature dips and doesn't keep the water cold until electricity is cheap.

Even if the hot water heater waited to heat until prices were low, you are going to have water that is not-as-hot if you are the second person taking a shower. This is simply because as the tank empties, cold water is added to the tank. All subsequent hot water will be cooler.

I'll add that some folks sweat at night and must take a shower in the morning (I do when hormones act up. Night sweats are no joke).

I'm in an apartment: I cannot update the hot water heater. It literally cannot be done for me and millions of others because we cannot replace such things. You'd have to mandate landlords do improvements, and even then, it'll be years before it is all upgraded.

I'd argue that the real answer is to go with tankless heaters in this case: It isn't that you'll be spending money when the electricity is cheap, but you'd use less overall for the actual heating of water.


Way back when we had immersion water heater with a big insulated tank in a cupboard in the house (a was common in UK then) we'd switch the heater on when we needed it. An hour before having a bath say.

Where has is available most people have Combi boilers in the UK, very little or no storage, instant hot water in demand.

The idea would be that you notice the electric price is negative (or a control system 'notices' for you) and turn your immersion heater on. The water retains enough heat you have plenty of time to use that water.

If we have excess solar this is an inefficient but easy way to slurp it up. Hydroelectric pumped storage would probably be better but grid capacity for that seems low.


These are technologically simple problems.


The solutions are simple, but the implementation is not. A lot of places don't have room for a water heater to store a larger amount of hotter water in order to load shift. furthermore, it's not guaranteed that electricity prices will cause any savings or provide a similar reliability of hot water.


And not every place has to do it. Most houses have plenty of room for bigger and more complex water heaters. Many of those apartment complexes that use centralized ones have room as well.

The whole thread was started on the premise that "hot water is an especially hard problem for load shifting, because people have to get hot water immediately" - while the case is the opposite - because hot water is very easy to store.


This has been/is implemented in various parts of the US, but deregulation can go bothways and consumers aren't always happy. When a winter cold snap hits the northeast and energy demand goes up, the market responds as expected. Of course a rational response would be to also consider the savings during other parts of the year, but large seasonal fluctuations in the utility bill does not agree with many consumer's psychology and budgeting habits.

https://www.virginiamercury.com/2020/03/17/va-to-try-limited...

https://www.opensecrets.org/news/issues/electricity/


I think the answer to that is capping consumer price to encourage suppliers to handle variation?

Although, in general if it encourages super-insulation of homes and things like ground-source heating ...?


The Tesla Powerwall enables the uncoupling of rates and usage, but I'm not sure how long it takes for a return of investment.


When I did the math for our house, despite a 13yen difference between night and day, the power wall never made recoup. The biggest issue is battery's limited life cycle and overall high cost.

The math worked out to 30 years before raw recoup. Once you add in a discount rate or life cycle would never justify itself. The per watt hour cost installed keeps to come down massively.


I imagine that in a world where a substantial proportion of energy came from solar, the night-day difference would be much more pronounced, and the economics would shift.


I am currently working on something that is trying to solve this by more accurately pricing DERs https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/opus-one-tests-...


Move to California, which has very high electric prices and time-of-use variations are extreme.

Solar and batteries are economical.


One house can be run on just 1 or 2 EV battery and 5KVA inverter for most houses.

Once EV batteries become cheap, I'll charge my batteries when grid price is low.


Fridges are a huge opportunity - they could easily monitor the frequency of the mains supply and turn the pump off whenever load drops under 50hz.

Users would never even know, if they were factory wired with this kit the lights and any gadgets could continue to work.

Perhaps this should be something manufacturers have to include in order to get their A+++ energy rating.


There are lots of interesting things like this right now. For instance, there is work on hot water heaters that can store excess energy by heating water hotter when electricity is cheap and then mixing with cold water to maintain a constant temp throughout the day / night.



Using the grid frequency as a price signal seems to make perfect sense. A mapping table can be published of frequency to market price, and updated periodically. The prices for outer extremes of allowable system frequency should be "+Infinity" and "-Infinity" so there is never a situation that someone let's the grid frequency go outside allowable bounds for business reasons.

Then home users can use devices with very basic built in electronics to save money or even earn money on electricity bills.


It makes sense as a concept. In practice, it may lead to very unfortunate feedback effects if deployed at scale.


Use low-precision frequency references, then. At scale it'll smear out the demand spike.


Except it's negative feedback... Which increases system stability.


You still need to centralize this though.


> That doesn’t change the fact that neither wind nor solar can produce electricity on demand.

Neither can nuclear power. Nuclear power has significant and often unpredictable down-times making the power source not as reliable as one might think. In Sweden the availability for nuclear power is on average something like 85%. Availability depends on the age of the nuclear power plant, what the staff situation is and how tight the regulations are. Can't run the plant if most of the staff is home sick and tighter regulations means more downtime for inspections.

The availability for wind power in the North Sea is about 50%. Admittedly, lower than 85% but you can make up for it by building many wind farms.

> Currently, we’re paying 31 Euro cents in Germany per kWh while French customers whose grid has a large share of nuclear pay just 17 Euro cents per kWh on average.

That is an argument for tighter integration of electricity grids between countries. But also 31 - 17 = 14 cents/kWh. The cost of electricity isn't a problem for most households (in my household the static fee is the biggest expense even during the winter months).


You can't just buy more wind farms -- the wind in an area is correlated. That means if one wind farm isn't producing power, the wind farms nearby aren't likely to be producing power either.

But nuclear power plants? Completely uncorrelated. If each one produces power 85% of the time, then you need two, and you'll almost always have power.


> But nuclear power plants? Completely uncorrelated. If each one produces power 85% of the time, then you need two, and you'll almost always have power.

Not really true. French nuclear output drops every time there's a European heatwave. It used to be the only time that the cross-channel link rank backwards (UK powering France).

I think France responded to this in the context of climate change by changing the protection standards for their rivers?

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/aug/12/france.nuclear


I don't think wind is a panacea, but I think you're over-simplifying things - you can't just buy more nuclear power plants either; at least in the Western world, cost overruns in multiples of the original price are inevitable, the total time from planning to operational is decades, and it's difficult to find places where their presence is accepted.


If only we hadn't stopped building nuclear in the 80s, we'd be at 100% instead of 20% market penetration. We would be free of CO2-heavy electricity today, not maybe 30 years from now optimistically. We knew how to build nuclear, but then Chernobyl and TMI happened and we decided we didn't want to. Which, in a vacuum, seems reasonable, until one remembers that the "cool-headed alternative" we settled on was to pump our atmosphere full of CO2 while we waited for solar and wind to eventually become viable and continue to wait to deploy them.

We made our bed and now we get to lie in it.


Your portrayal is so slanted. Here's an alternative take: if the many, many, many billions of dollars that were squandered on the nuclear fission industry around the world had instead been invested into wind, solar and storage then we could be at 100% renewable today. Nuclear had incredible top level support and still failed. Renewables are now succeeding and besting nuclear (fission) despite being neglected for so long.


In what way has nuclear failed anything? It’s working fine.

It’s not the technology’s fault we decided not to build any more power plants.


FWIW, I completely agree. Nuclear power in much of the west became a "toxic" issue after Chernobyl in particular. Here in the UK, I don't think we've had a new reactor built since the mid 90's - if we'd been more rational, we could potentially have saved the environment a lot of damage while solar and wind matured and became viable.


Oddly enough, buying more wind farms in the same area can solve the power supply issue some of the time. For example, say there is a low wind day when winds farms are not effective enough, but still generating power. If wind farms are cheap enough, one can over provision. This means on high wind days too much power is available, but on low wind days enough is available. This doesn't solve the no wind day, but it does make the not enough wind day less common. And making the not enough wind day less common means the energy storage and generation solutions need to be used less often.

However, having said this, I would like to see a model of this with all the generation potential and costs involved, because right now we are all speculating. One can think of a multi-generation options, with wind and solar being the first and default option, battery (and other storage options) being the next option if wind and solar aren't enough, and gas being the third option if required.

Someone must have created a model like this?


"Wind it up: Europe has the untapped onshore capacity to meet global energy demand" is "maximalist" but shows that there is potential: https://archive.sussex.ac.uk/news/press-releases/id/49312

In-depth studies petition that "the European energy system would strongly profit from exploiting the implications of these regimes for continent-scale wind generation patterns." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5540172/ and "Such a pan-European wind power system would provide a stable output across a wide range of large-scale weather conditions" "but also requires enhanced transmission". This enhanced european grid network benefits to other forms of power production and is already planed. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318476478_Balancing... https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S136403211...

There are ways to reduce loss induced by long powerlines, mainly HVDC ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-voltage_direct_current )

All this is also true for solar, and there is even at least one megaproject: https://www.suncable.sg/


Right. It is not disputed that one wind farm doesn't have the same availability as one (modern) nuclear power plant. My point is that you have to look at availability from a whole-system perspective point of view. Offshore wind farms spread out over large areas, coupled with tighter net integration and backup power sources can make renewable power just as reliable as nuclear.

Nuclear power is not magic either and can also suffer from disruptions. For example, if the delivery of uranium fuel is delayed, if there is a CODID-19 pandemic so workers are unavailable for maintenance work, if there are strikes, if there are Greenpeace activists who have breached the security lines sitting on the roof, etc...

In fact, I believe that the reliability of the German grid has gone up after Energiewende. Though it was a long time since I looked at it so I don't have a source handy. Reason being that the main source of power outages is disruptions in the electricity grid and not in the electricity production.


They need water source for cooling if the water is shared in a region and water temperature goes up, all the nuclear plants using that water lose their production.


Nuclear also does not produce electricity on demand the other way: once a nuclear power plant is running at full power, it is a very slow process to reduce the power output, so it is stuck with producing power which has to be used in the grid. Which is one of the reasons of power overproduction. Also, it is quite a challenge for countries like France who depend mostly on nuclear for their grid. They have to run the powerplants frequently not in the most efficient regime, but one, where they have the largest amount of control of the power output.


Most nuclear plants in Europe can do 5% per minute changes. That is not as quick as for gas turbines, but also not really slow. Load following is just not used very often, because you usually regulate down your most expensive power source (gas), not a cheaper one.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Load_following_power_plant


Nuclear power has significant and often unpredictable down-times

The availability for wind power in the North Sea is about 50%. Admittedly, lower than 85%

It's not only lower. It's 35% lower. That's a lot of lower.

Aside from hydro, which I very much like, but it has its own limitations, what else comes even close to nuclear?

https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/iaea-releases-2019-data...

I'd say nuclear is very much predictable.


In statistics, quantity beats quality. Suppose you have 3 nuclear power plants, each with 85% reliability and 10 wind power farms, each with 50% reliability. Assuming statistical independence (obviously a bad assumption, but that is not the point), do you think it is more likely that none of the 3 nuclear power plants generate electricity or none of the 10 wind power farms?


> (obviously a bad assumption, but that is not the point)

It's the point for solar/wind energy.


Even worse with fusion: huge plants (10 GW) that need to run constantly with high power output to remain hardly economical that can’t be buffered with anything else than other fusion plants nearby. My guess: fusion plants will be built for single applications with crazy power usage where downtime doesn’t hurt too much. Errrm, accelerating spaceships?


Space is pretty much the goto application for fusion. Without fusion interstellar travel is basically impossible.


One option I don't see brought up often, in addition to battery, is HVDC. Transmission loss for 1000km on HVDC is 4% according to wiki.

Continent wide grids could be created connected Europe, Asia and Africa. Storage requirements could be lowered with HVDC grid interconnect. India's One Sun One grid plan is to build a Asia Africa hvdc grid.


This is being studied in the US, there is some detail about it in this article: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/08/how-tru...

The Pacific DC Intertie supplies power to Los Angeles from hydro dams in the PNW over HVDC lines. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_DC_Intertie


That's really cool, I didn't know India was doing that. I found this article a few years ago about a so-called "supergrid" that would produce a similar network across the globe.

https://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/the-smarter-grid/lets-build...


Yep.

If the people who run wild wonderful off grid (great channel) have taught me anything, it's that battery backup is essential.


How viable would that be in terms of maintenance? I presume it'd have to have a lot of failsafes or personnel that's assigned to some of the distant or at-risk grid sections, to keep things running smoothly and do repairs fast if something gets damaged.


That gets at an interesting point that if one country depends on energy from a far distant country for part of the day, then the defense of those power lines has immense geopolitical significance; similar to oil and gas pipelines.

Maybe the solution is to keep a lot of dirty petroleum or coal-based generation capacity around to use in an emergency or war, but don't actually use it.

As usual, there's a trade-off between efficiency and resilience.


With HVDC, would you be able to take advantage of the occasional solar storm?


6 months ago I would have hot-headedly agreed with everything you say.

The discussions I found on: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21992958

changed my mind though. Nuclear power in France is heavily subsidized and it doesn’t make much economic sense. I mean, the radioactive emission from coal plants is higher than from nuclear powerplants - but the overall costs are too high.

Check out what Patagonia has to say on hydro plants and the ecological impact in case you are interested.

I do think that the way Germany is tackling electricity/energy is not great. Like so many things they are not solving...


Dams burst and kill lots of people. Not often in the scheme of things, but by comparison they make nuclear look like a saint.

    Incident    Location   Fatalities

    Banqiao     China      171000
    Machchu     India        5000
    South Fork  USA          2208
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dam_failure

The environmental impact of flooding entire basins is also pretty rough, and basins don't exist everywhere you might want one.


Neither Machchu nor South Fork Dam are good examples in this particular argument. They were never used for power generation.

Banqiao, however, is spot on.


Not so sure about Banquiao, at it "took place during the Chinese Cultural Revolution when most people were busy with the "revolution" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1975_Banqiao_Dam_failure

The "Cultural Revolution" began in 1966.

In such a context an otherwise avoidable catastrophe may happen.

This Revolution followed the "Great Leap Forward" ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Leap_Forward ), with famines. "In the subsequent famines of the early 1960s popularly attributed to the Great Leap Forward, Henan was one of the hardest hit and millions of lives were lost." Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henan#Modern_Era .

Moreover all this came after a civil war and violent Japanese invasion, during which dams were bombed, causing "massive flooding in Henan" (same source).

Predicting and adverting this catastrophe was possible, but given such a context nobody was able to do so.


Nuclear is very often (majority?) located on connected lakes with dams cooling and pumped storage.


> Check out what Patagonia has to say on hydro plants and the ecological impact in case you are interested.

This is Patagonia's brand strategy to sell products, rather than a political policy. So they have the luxury of pointing out problems and being light on the detail of solutions.

They get to focus on the negative ecological role of dams, and generally promoting reducing resource consumption. All energy production has a negative ecological impact to a greater or lesser degree, and it's rich for a company selling mainly things we don't need to talk about reducing consumption. The headlines are also different to the detail which calls for decommissioning the worst offenders rather than all dams. The difficult broader question of where energy comes from instead is ducked:

> ... solar, wind, tidal, wave, geothermal and biomass are helping us to transition to a clean energy future. [1]

The cynic in me feels like there is probably scope for future marketing campaigns about the ecological impact of these too. I had professional dealings with the company and advise taking it with a pinch of salt.

[1] https://www.patagonia.com/on/demandware.static/Sites-patagon...


I do not know what was their ultimate motive to go ballistic on hydro power. I guess if it was all about marketing I would have picked a different “enemy” than hydro power...

I learned about it through Blue Heart: https://blueheart.patagonia.com

And the story I heard about it was: their CEO went on a fly fishing trip there, really loved it, was told by the local guide that all will be gone in short time for hydro plants. He then decided to use all/most/a significant portion of the marketing budget in this campaign instead.

You can always criticize ulterior motives - and we will never know for sure. But I give them some kudos for the initiatives they take - like taking their biggest revenue driver (e.g., dry suits) and deciding to make it “as ecological as possible” and 3x as expensive along the way...

Every company is in the business of making money. And the fashion industry is known for making little money and having a big environmental impact. I don’t mind if somebody goes a more risky route that also makes them money along the way...


Sometimes you hold the people you respect to a higher standard than others, and that's certainly true of me in this case.

I think what they do is great, but I would take their campaigns, and especially all the Yvon stories, with a pinch of salt.

Tonuge in cheek, I'll share a story of my own - to launch a new Patagonia store in a Europe, they had bespoke furniture commissioned from recycled wood (probably using no solvents etc etc). Great! Except that it was made by in California, covered in bubble wrap and sent thousands of miles by land and sea.


Thanks for sharing.

Yes, No worries, I am not glorifying them.

But I guess they try harder than I do. That’s good enough for a start...


What do you count as subsidies to nuclear power?

Wind and solar have been heavily subsidized in France through buying it at an above market rate. [0]

0: http://www.bsi-economics.org/1016-evolution-prix-electricite...


For example, the UK's "Hinkley Point C" nuclear plant expansion has the following subsidies [1]

* Guaranteed minimum price for the electricity generated, well above current market rates. Taxpayer pays £92.50 per Megawatt Hour - when the wholesale price of electricity has been £35-£42 for the last year or so. The guaranteed price rises with inflation, and lasts 35 years.

* Loan guarantees, reducing their interest rates.

* Guaranteed maximum price for waste disposal, taxpayer pays anything above that.

* Capped liability / reduced insurance requirements for nuclear accidents. Taxpayer pays if an accident exceeds their insurance.

* Guaranteed maximum cost for decommissioning. Taxpayer pays if decommissioning costs more than predicted.

When the whole project was kicked off it was pre-brexit and our politicians were pro-chinese-investment. So a nuclear plant built with French expertise and Chinese money seemed like a great way to replace our ageing coal-fired power plants and keep the lights on.

[1] https://www.iisd.org/sites/default/files/publications/united...


I don't know enough about the UK nuclear program, so I might be wrong, but it seems wrong to compare a guaranteed price to an ongoing price.

Could you even get someone else to guarantee you an inflation pegged price of electricity for the next 35 years? And in that case, how much would it cost?


Yes, many offshore windfarms will do this. At about 40GBp, in somewhat current tendering (Contract for difference (CFD) auction round 3, UK). Although normally on a 15 year period (for arbitrary reasons Hinkley Point C was allowed a 35 year period and did not participate in the 2015 CFD auction).

I think anyone would love to offer a CFD over a 35 year timeline, only HinkleyPoint C (and Sizewell C in the same agreement) where offered these conditions. i.e it makes financing much easier.

HinkleyPoint C is in planning since 2008 or so, not exactly a quick process. Real construction since 2018 (but some prep work done in the decade leading up to this.) Expected generation is in 2025/2026. This sounds bad but is actually decent, 10 years from idea to generation is common and outliers exist in both directions.


Do you know where I could read more about this scheme?

How do they guarantee that they will actually provide the energy at a given time? Are they pairing wind with another power plant?


That is not what is guaranteed (nor at Hinkley Point C (HPC)), what is guaranteed that in the period a Mw produced for the grid is paid at least the strike price (but maybe more). Hinkley Point C will have have downtime for refuelling and other reasons. So needs to be paired with another power plant.

The CFD for hinkley point is available and is a few hundred pages.

Part of reason for the strike price with HPC is that they expected offshore to cost 85 GBP in 2025, while it costs 50 GBP in 2020.


I don't think that the downtime of a nuclear reactor is similar to wind and solar (less often and can be scheduled).

Thanks for the explanation on CFD. One of the advantages of nuclear is its predictability, it seems unfortunate if this isn't what was bought by the UK.


The parent comment was talking about nuclear being subsidized in France and your example is in the UK. My point was about France if it was not obvious.


That is an argument against nuclear power in France as an economical base load generation mechanism.

The remaining points about the intermittent nature of renewables and how difficult it is to incorporate them into a reliable grid economically are still valid.


>Nuclear power in France is heavily subsidized and it doesn’t make much economic sense ... the overall costs are too high.

How much would it cost per kilowatt hour without subsidies?


The book The Grid by Gretchen Bakke is a great primer on why this is such an important problem. Energy is strange, in the sense that everything produced needs to be consumed more or less immediately — it's not like other resources that can be easily stockpiled (even with batteries). Our infrastructure, at least the antiquated American power grid infrastructure, is built with the assumption that production and consumption is balanced.

Maintaining the energy grid is a careful balancing act between preventing surges and blackouts. There are a lot of grid-related engineering problems that come from increasing decentralization (e.g. wind, solar, hydro) because, as you mentioned, it increases unpredictability in supply.


> Our infrastructure, at least the antiquated American power grid infrastructure, is built with the assumption that production and consumption is balanced.

All power grids require that balancing. Old, new, American, non-American ...


Did the book explore every home getting a vanadium redox or lithium battery? It seems like something that will be needed in the future (further adding to the decentralization). This of course will be expensive and I'm not sure how well tall condo buildings will handle the costs.

It could potentially increase the cost of buying a home in the future. Or significant investment from the government so we don't regress our back to having blackouts (especially when it puts even more pressure on the poor in the name of the environment)... either to homes or some centralized system.


Interesting rabbit hole. I bought an Engel dual 120V/12V powered fridge. Runs off 120VAC and 12-24VDC. You can plug it into both and it switches automatically to 12VDC if the 120VAC drops out.

Things I've noticed. Even high efficiency residential fridges aren't that efficient. Some off grid ones use three times less power. And lot of the modern fridges have inverters to drive the compressor. Which means would not that big a stretch to add a 12/24V input like my portable fridge.

I mention this because not all household loads are the same. You really don't want your fridge to stop working. You probably can manage if you can't run you whole house air conditioner full tilt.

Having appliances that can run off back up and ones that can adjust their load probably would help.

Another random opinion is a lot of house wiring could be replaced with Power of Ethernet. There is a new automotive standard that provides up to 100W. A house where lights and light loads were run off POE could be trivially backed up by a battery.


POE is limited to 30w. That is enough for a few LED bulbs, and by few I mean like two or three.


The claim is really easy to look up. 802.3bt adds 60 and 100 watt modes.

And one ethernet cable per two bulbs would work fine for lots of lighting situations anyway.


You are wrong, IEEE 802.3bt type 4 is good for 100W.


Ok, old POE standard in my head, but 100W is still only a handful of fixtures on a circuit.


Not an issue with PoE since you're running a cable out to each device rather than linking them in a loop/circuit.

But then that highlights the problem with trying to PoE and entire house - You have to run a line out from a PoE source to each item you want to deliver power to, and provide a port for each which comes at some cost. I guess you could try and run some kind of PoE passthrough circuit arrangement like you see with some office voip phones...

Complicated.


Modern fluorescent and LED lamps are around 10-15 Watts. So you could run 4-6 of them on a circuit.

The other thing is price out Ethernet cable by the foot and compare with 14g Romex. The former is $0.05/ft vs $0.20/ft. And you don't need a licensed electrician to run it.

Also PEO is low voltage and power limited, so safer.


That's ten 10W LEDs which is enough for most moderately sized rooms, and you can just run another cable if need be.

I gotta imagine 100W PoE requires some bigger cables than plain-jane Cat5E or even Cat6, though...?


The main design goal is to use normal cables. It's half an amp per wire max, which works out fine.

The higher power levels require that you take into account how each cable is going to safely dissipate a couple watts, which is easy if you're not running big bundles.


> it's not like other resources that can be easily stockpiled (even with batteries)

HVAC usage can be stockpiled in the thermal mass of the house. The same with the electric water heater - the thermal mass of the water in the tank. This is where variable electric rates come in, and smart HVAC/heater systems that run mostly when electricity is cheap.


In a perfect world, surplus energy production gets consumed by optional workloads. If you run a big enough internet presence you have at least a few services that can engage in load shedding, or deferring tasks (eg, work queues with priorities). Maybe luxury goods go into this category as well.

Manufacturing and Cloud Providers both have to contend with the fact that idle equipment may cost them more than expensive power. Battery storage is predominantly about peak shaving of load variability, elective loads could help with trough filling. That doesn't get us to renewable power, but it does help get us away from the worst of the fossil fuel power plants.


Yeah, this is the "smart grid" concept that has been touted for years. If your washing machine knows the electricity price, it can run at optimal time, stuff like that. Unfortunately the dollar savings per person per year is way too low for people to bother, rather pay 30 cents extra to have the washing finished when you want it. So stuff like gamification has been seriously researched and tested as an option to make it fly. I think the jury is still out on it as a concept.


I would imagine EV charging could be a big consumer of this spare energy in the near future, especially with predictable commuting and same day weather forecasting.


Working in the energy space, I don't know why a driver would want this. It's the same problem with V2G schemes. It means that you could decide on a whim to go for a drive, walk out to your car, and find that it has no charge.


Well, first of all, keeping lithium batteries at 100% is hard on them, to the point where some devices lie to you about 100%. So staying at 75% and then topping up when it's cheap might not be the worst thing. The big deal would be is that you'd have to have a way to communicate with your car that you're going on a road trip Saturday 7:30 am/ in three hours and the battery better be all the way full by then or else.

I saw some pundit conversations about Battery Day recently. There's some speculation that a 'million mile battery' may be coming due to union of a few different complementary improvements to the battery design and manufacture.

If your battery can survive four times as many discharge cycles as the drive train, hooking back into the grid isn't so bad as long as your car doesn't conk out 10 miles shy of Grandma's house.


You don't think with all of today's technology there could be a solution where the driver sets charging thresholds and time windows reflecting their needs?


Yes, that could be done but it requires setting that up beforehand. In the scenario I outlined, deciding to go for a drive on a whim, i.e. not pre-planned, this is still a problem that technology cannot solve.


You have a car with a 200 mile battery. You have a minimum threshold that you'll pay any price for (say 80 miles), and if your a miser / want a deal / want a sale , you'll let your car be charged opportunistically when it's cheap for the rest of it.

If you know your going to be parked at the office for the most part for 8 hours a day, then you'd probably be ok putting your car in opportunistic mode as long as you have enough for your commute.

The car can also track your driving patterns and manage all of this seamlessly. Having worked at a gas station and seeing how people swarm my station when gas was $0.10/litre less than the surrounding stations because we didn't update fast enough, I think there will be plenty of price chasers for these modes.

The anxious / I drive for recreation types / road trippers can pay extra to stay topped up all the time.


I don't know about you but the number of times I had to drive my car until the tank is empty on a whim is pretty close to zero and even if I was stuck with an EV and I had to suddenly drive 300km I could always just go to a fast charging station to charge the car quickly.


In theory, automation should make a lot of this easier, which why something like a datacenter could be a productive place to start— it's not like a mine or some other industrial setting where turning down capacity in response to changes in the electrical grid suddenly means you have a bunch of people who showed up for their shift twiddling their thumbs instead of working.


Coal plants also can’t produce on demand because of inertia and long start times (though they can balance a bit). The only thing that can ‘produce’ on demand is battery. Combustion Turbines come in a close second.

The peaks in the grid utilization curve actually tends to match the solar production curve pretty well (there are local deviations, running an aluminum smelter at night). Look at the demand curve in CA, you will see that it is flat midday. Before solar there was a peak midday. This creates issues on the ends (duck curve) of course but the key point is that solar production very closely matches peak electricity use.


Gas turbines are on-demand enough. There's a bunch of stuff grids can do at shorter timescales to deal with variations in demand that don't involve actual batteries.

There used to be a great article on Wikipedia how about this is done in the UK, but it was deleted. Notionally, it was merged into the main article about the National Grid, but all the interesting content was discarded when that happened. I think the worry was that the article was unsourced - it was pretty clearly just a Grid engineer who sit down and bashed it out one day. Anyway, here it is:

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Control_of_the_Na...


Neat reference. I agree with you on CTs. The original poster suggested two things: solar is not responsive to demand and that coal plants are responsive. My response is intended to be narrow to those points: coal plants don’t really produce on an instantaneous demand signal any more than solar or wind. Coal produces at some amount and then ramp up or down based on a longer-horizon demand signal (e.g., a 5-min Grid solution). Wind and solar can’t ramp up but they can dispatch down on the same signals.

My other point is that solar generally matches peak demand pretty well so you don’t need a ton of demand responsiveness (given that electricity demand is already inelastic).


Wikipedia needs a section of their website where people like grid engineers can bash out original sources like that that dont want to maintain their own personal page. Call it wikisource and instead of deleting just move it to there.


The other half of that problem is finding a way for a grid engineer writing such a page to prove that they really are a grid engineer. Perhaps a tweet from their employer linking to and endorsing the wikisource page would suffice.


How long does it take for a coal plant to ramp up or down? I wonder how much battery buffer you'd need to have the plant work on a pure control theory basis instead of long term forecasting?


Different plants have different ramps depending on where they are in their output curve, how hot they (or various parts) are, and how their operators want to run them (max ramp is generally higher than economic ramp) but, while it isn’t my business to know this stuff anymore, IIRC it is 2-5 MW/min for coal. This is ignoring the control loop.



From the article:

This work is an attempt to capture the “whole system costs” of an individual power plant. This could include the costs of enhancing the electricity network to connect a new power station, balancing supply and demand in real time, and providing backup power during periods of low wind or sun.

From the comment I'm replying to:

I wish proponents renewables were honest enough to not withhold these problems

As the article makes clear, nobody is hiding from the fact that there are costs associated with providing backup power during periods of low wind or sun.

The other problems in the comment are not problems with renewables per se (aside from one problem with the straw man "100% renewables"), but problems with German government policy.


It is apparently cheaper because in France, as in many countries, the nuke was and remains heavily subsided, decommission costs under evaluated ( take a look at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18686703 ), mishaps hidden...

The French public financial auditing institution (la Cour des Comptes) published in 2012 that public nuke investments are opaque, and that it costed around 228 10e9 euros, plus nowadays 3.4 10e9 euros per year for the sole maintenance. Nuke risk is what it is, and even financially it is not sound. Read there, starting folio 269: https://www.ccomptes.fr/sites/default/files/EzPublish/Rappor...

It is so expensive it cannot be hidden anymore. Electricity in France is absolutely not cheap, its price there is average in Europe. Source: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php...

Germany now pays in order to solve the problem.

France isn't completely dumb and a state law (2015-992, from 2015, the "loi relative à la transition énergétique pour la croissance verte") states that the part of nuke-produced electricity must fall to less than 50% in 2025, from 72% then, and that renewables must replace it. However those are only words, until now.

Meanwhile... Germany solves its problem by switching to more adequate energy sources.


This helped to realize that our lens is a bit skewed.

Oil and gas - _when compared with solar, wind, etc._ - aren't energy per se, they are batteries. The energy is stored and all we do is release it.

On the other hand, wind and solar need to be created from scratch - and until we get better batteries - are released immediately.

We're not usually comparing apples to apples but batteries (tradional energy sources) to from-scratch energy (solar and wind).


This is also the difference between fuel cells and batteries in the road to electrification


The old ways of thinking no longer apply now that high density industrial lithium batteries exist. Solar+Storage is the way of the future.


Can you purchase grid scale storage batteries? I don't think so and so the old ways of thinking are pretty important right now if you don't want rolling blackouts.


Not sure about purchase but you can build them: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hornsdale_Power_Reserve

Not only was it quick and cheap to build but it turns a good profit.


The Tesla deployment in Australia is a good example of how lithium is possibly one of the best grid stabilization technologies out there. However, this particular market was apparently paying exorbitant rates for grid stabilization services before Tesla swooped in, so other grids wouldn't see cost savings that are as large.


Vanadium redox batteries are looking pretty good as an alternative to lithium for large-scale energy storage.


Solar and wind today doesn't deliver more than 1% of the world energy consumption. We are as close to fusion as we are to the kind of fuel cells that would be needed for that. Furthermore solar+storage doesn't do industrial grade energy needs. The heat thats needed ex.


> Solar and wind today doesn't deliver more than 1% of the world energy consumption.

That's an interesting statistic, but the topic of the article is electricity in the UK not energy use in the world. A more useful statistic would be this:

"The government’s official data has revealed that renewable energy made up 47% of the UK’s electricity generation in the first three months of the year, smashing the previous quarterly record of 39% set last year."[0]

It's true that doesn't include the energy used by gas heating systems or fuel used by vehicles, for example, but to bring those into consideration it would be helpful to know how quickly heating systems and vehicles are being replaced by electric equivalents (increasing the load on the grid, although per capita energy consumption in the UK has been decreasing for decades).

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/25/renewable-e...


In Europe the share of renewable energy consumption in gross final energy consumption is booming: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/tgm/refreshTableAction.do?tab=...


Electricity is only around 15-20% of a countrys energy usage.


Electric vehicles will change that.


no they wont as they will need their energy from coal, gas, oil and nuclear to be able to be charged


Renewables accounted for nearly 25% of all energy generated in the US in 2020.

https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2020/07/renewables-rea...

and here are the statistics to back that up https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.ph...


You are confusing energy with electricity. It's a common mistake and it's used by the "green" energy companies to paint a rosy but unrealistic picture of renewables. Why do you think california is having their issues.

Electricity is only a subset of our energy usage (around 20%) and out of that wind and solar is only a small part. Hydro is much bigger.


Primary energy includes waste heat so it's a pretty useless metric. If 50% of the energy in a coal plant turns into heat then a 1GW coal plant will generate 2GW of primary energy. Is that primary energy useful? It can be if you build district heating but even district heating won't need that much excess energy.

How about cars? Most ICE engines are less than 40% efficient. If you charge an EV with renewables it will consume 2.5 times less primary energy. Renewables look small in primary energy comparisons because they are less wasteful.


no they look small because they are small.


> In Germany, lots of electricity is produced from renewables at times when it’s not needed. This causes market prices to be negative at times and Germany is paying neighboring countries money to buy that excess electricity.

The problem is that people cannot access these wholesale spot markets, only wholesalers. The consumer prices are usually set at like 11c kWh. If companies were given a chance to purchase electricity in a spot market, there would probably be some interesting business use-cases built around it, such as opportunistic bitcoin mining or battery arbitraging.


We have companies in UK, like octopus energy, that allow you to purchase energy at hour-by-hour near-market-rates


Pumped-storage hydroelectricity is an excellent and renewable answer to this problem in tons of areas, has high efficiency (above 70%) and is already in use in a number of areas.


I loooove pumped hydro in theory, but it's so geographically finicky, you can't deploy it just anywhere. Particularly flat land, where the wind resource tends to be both plentiful and accessible...

But it's definitely one arrow in the quiver, and together there are solutions for just about any storage problem you can imagine.

Personally I think a big obvious shift is that EV chargers should be located in the places that the cars park during the day. The whole "charge at home overnight" thing is an unnecessary demand shift. Charge at work during the day, when the PV is producing like mad.

Even if the PV is on the roof at home and the power is getting shipped several miles over the grid to the office where the car is parked, it's still easier to move power over distance than to store it over time.

Of course PV on the roof at work would be even better, since commercial roofs tend to be broad and flat and boring. But it'll take quite a bit of forward thinking to unlock that cognitive step.


Wind peaks at night, and is cheaper.


Or just better demand response.

I’m completely happy if my dishwasher waits until the sun comes up to start. Or my dryer determines it’s a good idea to wait an hour before starting. Or if my XYZ charges super slow today because it’s not too windy. Or if my freezer goes into deep-freeze mode because...

I wish I got to pay the “real” price of electricity instead of lame time of day buckets.


That brings up a point. Current pricing models are based on old technology where you have coal fired plants that can't turn down. And meters that can't do time of use metering. Power is cheaper at night because you can't just up and shutdown a coal fired plant. Residential rates are flat

I really think a lot of night time load is just industrial customers chasing price. Change the price structure and they'll immediately adjust their time of use to match. Certainly smarter appliances could also chase low rates like industrial users.


Yeah but you wouldn't be happy that your incubator or AC didn't work when it needed to. You wouldn't be happy either if factories can't produce enough food because they would have to wait for wind or sun.


> Yeah but you wouldn't be happy that your incubator or AC didn't work when it needed to.

You can spend some of the money you'd otherwise save on electricity in those cases.

> You wouldn't be happy either if factories can't produce enough food because they would have to wait for wind or sun.

A factory shifting hours wouldn't be noticeable at all by the time the product reaches the consumer weeks later.

If the factory isn't running enough hours at all, that's not a problem caused by renewables being unpredictable. That's just bad management.


You would burn them money to create enough energy or what exactly is your point?


If you think supply and demand is going to completely stop working, then you can use your money to have a battery.

But more realistically you'll be able to pay more per watt for that short period and get as many amps as your house can handle.


I am not sure whether you are serious or not, but yo do know that only a fraction of humans can do what you are propsing rigt?


If your power gets cheaper because it's all renewables, then anyone could save up that money and use it for those situations.

But also, buying such a variable-price contract is only going to be an option. If you want a certain amount of guaranteed-price power, as an individual household, there will always be someone willing it to you.


>> if factories can't produce enough food

We could all probably do well eating a little less factory-produced food and a little more farm-produced food.


You going to tell the poor that they need to pay more for their organic grasfeed wagu beefs?


Pumped hydro is great for these circumstances and we absolutely should build it where it's feasible even though it's often considered anti-green due to ecosystem damage by the dam/reservoir.

However, as far as I understand, this is not a sufficient solution to the storage problem because you can't build them just anywhere; (a) the feasible locations are not enough to fill the enormous storage need required for a full transfer from fossils to wind/solar; and (b) in general, the type of locations that are good for pumped hydro (e.g. rivers on mountains) are not the type of locations where we have major cities (e.g. fertile plains) and mass production of renewables, so they are far from the major consumers and producers and we have a bit of a grid transit problem and international cooperation problem for that.

So while we build pumped hydro we still need to look forward to something else (e.g. mass battery storage) that can fill the gap between what we can store today and what we'll need to store to stop burning fossil fuels.


How applicable is this to large scale electricity storage? I don't have any numbers but I doubt you could power a large economy like the German one based on pumped-storage.

It's ok for some niche use cases but I doubt it's the future.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinorwig_Power_Station

...can supply a maximum power of 1,728-megawatt and has a storage capacity of around 9.1 GWh.


I've just checked and Germany produced 516TWh of electricity in 2019. So that would mean that you need how many? 50000+ of these?


Lazy troll is lazy. You don't need to store your entirely yearly production. You need to store the difference between your daily production peak and your daily demand peak, and you only need to store it for that fraction of the day.

Try harder, please.


“You need to store the difference between your daily production peak and your daily demand peak”

Firstly, I would think the difference between production and demand on a single day is a better indicator than the difference between your daily production peak and your daily demand peak, which could be months away from the day production peaks.

Even that isn’t correct, though. Such a reserve buffer would be depleted after that worst-case day, so if the day after that day also has demand outstrip production, you’re in trouble.


You know, we have these things called gas plants... They burn gas and you can turn them off if you don't need them... You can even generate the gas with excess renewables if you really want to...


If your goal is to store 100% of all power produced for an entire year for use a later date, then yeah... you would need 50,000+ of those.

If your goal is something not ridiculous, for example, storing storing the difference of production-consumption when production>consumption for use later when consumption>production, you would likely need very significantly less than 50,000+ of those.


My point is that these need very specific conditions to actually work and you need a lot of them.

For your average country even having 100 is difficult. Think of some flat place like Poland.

More than that, Germany isn't even the biggest producer/consumer of electricity... Imagine some place like China trying to ramp this up.


No.

Clearly you only need a small proportion of grid power in storage to cope with peaks.

There are also multiple ways to smooth load - overcapacity, battery storage, pumped storage, load shedding, pricing. These are solved problems which just need a bit more work and investment, and many countries already use pumped storage extensively.


The only example that I know of is Norway which is kind of the holy grail of hydro, in general:

1. Small population.

2. Pretty tall mountains and sparsely populated mountains (see 1.)

3. Quite high yearly rainfall levels.

4. Very rich country.

5. Country with a very low level of corruption and from what I know, pretty efficient at building new infrastructure.

Is there an example of an "average" country having decent levels of pumped hydro storage at a level that's above 0.5% of the country's needs?


Oh, just a few oddballs nobody's ever heard of: Switzerland, Austria, Portugal, Japan, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Belgium, Ukraine, South Korea, Poland, France, Australia, Thailand, Germany, UK, India, US, China, Russia.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricit...


That's power, not energy.


The UK has had pumped storage since 1963, there are more planned around the world - this is neither exotic nor particularly hard, the only constraint is land, and as I mentioned there are multiple other solutions.

Scotland has already entirely met its needs with renewables this year. This can and will be expanded to other nations in time.


It is very useful as a way of providing backup for large generators that can fail instantaneously. Like a nuclear plant or a HVDC link.

Although, at some point it could be easier to just build coastal lagoons and let the tide do the work.


A way to greatly mitigate the mismatch between supply&demand is with variable pricing. An awful lot of major electricity use, like HVAC, hot water, and electric car battery charging and be easily time-shifted.

A fixed 24/7 electricity rate is thoroughly obsolete and has got to go.


I can't remember his name but there was a researcher (I think he was German) back in the early 2010s who predicted that as renewables became cheaper and gained more market share the price of energy would go up. This is because renewables are intermittent i.e. unreliable energy sources which means you need to maintain multiple energy infrastructures, a fallback for whenever renewables can't meet demand i.e. its nighttime or the wind isn't blowing, in addition to the renewable energy grid and switching back and forth has inefficiences. This is all if I'm remembering the paper correctly - it has been years since reading it.


This is a lot more complicated than renewables/unrenewables. For example, hydroelectric power is almost the exact opposite of this. Geothermal, on the other hand, gives you a stable energy source, until it doesn't.

Also, the grid doesn't use power evenly, but nuclear power (like geothermal) produces very even output so the US & Canada have agreements where Canada supplies excess hydro power during the day and then buys back cheap nuclear power at night.

Of course, wind & solar are very intermittent, an many places don't have easy access to hydroelectric power, so this is certainly true in some places.


>Geothermal, on the other hand, gives you a stable energy source, until it doesn't.

Can you point me toward any studies about geothermal 'running out'? Is that a thing?


Not studies, but the geothermal active areas I've been to have stories of geysers/springs either coming out of nowhere, or disappearing. It's very rare, and mostly happens during earthquakes. I would imagine the same would apply to power generation.


So it's completely made up by you, then. Fantastic.


The problem in Germany is that coal displaces renewables but since renewables have the EEG they get paid anyway. Coal doesn't play nice, so to speak. There is an excess of coal in the German grid.


A lot of what you are talking about is market related, rather than instrinsic to renewables. And capital costs for solar and wind do help with these issues. It could mean that you can afford to generate less and turn off when demand is low. It means that more money is available for battery storage or grid reinforcement.

Interconnection could also make a big difference. You can export power from the North Sea to Germany or from Germany to Belgium for example. And ideally the market across Europe would help encourage cross border imports from less carbon intensive sources.

Obviously nothing is a 100% solution, but that is why we have a grid and a market.


Renewable energy production in Germany doesn't really ever exceed the demand. The big problem is, that nuclear and coal power plants are very slow to change their output, so there are often situations, where they are producing electricity that is not needed. As in the last year, both nuclear and coal production has been reduced (a nuclear powerplant was shut down for good, coal got more expensive due carbon certificates) the amount of overproduction was reduced.


You're mixing market prices and wholesale prices.

The price thet consumer pays includes the electricity price (i.e. market price, as seen on epex spot or eex), the taxes, and the network !

Networ costs can be half of the final cost !! And these can change depending on the country and the electricity provider.

So please, when comparing prices, only compare the market prices of the energy component.


I really, really recommend reading the Bundesnetzagentur‘s reasoning for its preferred market structure of the energy grids. They have long time goal (building resilient and performativ smart markets and grids) that explain a bit how some perceived inconsistencies (or pains) are necessary from their point of view. (I don’t dare to judge if they are right or not). For example: https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Sac...

But also some of their market and grid reports. It is really interesting, especially from a geeky perspective.


> Unlike many other products, customers buy electricity when they need it, not when it’s cheap

Not so. Home energy storage systems are getting there. Case in point, smart storage radiators: https://www.ovoenergy.com/smart-home-heat


This problem is well known. I think the big opportunity is now to figure out ways to solve it efficiently at scale - in times of excess power, how to store energy.

Until a few years ago, the cost of Solar/Wind didn't make it worthwhile studying this problem. Now it's probably viable.

Personally, i think the solution would be in converting energy into fuel in some way. Hydrogen is probably the easiest but very dangerous to handle in field conditions. Hydro Carbons would be ideal (extracting Carbon from air or maybe organic waste). There have been recent advances in catalysts - how to use electric/magnetic fields to mimic the action of physical catalysts etc.


Ive posted this before but it’s been a while, I like to add it to the conversation when talking about energy storage. https://energyvault.com/


I have heard quite a lot of skepticism about this. For example:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIhCuzxNvv0


Well, all I have to say is that this is the first practical gravity battery that isn't total garbage. In theory you can scale it up and eventually have something worthwhile...


>That doesn’t change the fact that neither wind nor solar can produce electricity on demand.

It doesn't really matter. Each kWh of renewable energy reduces the number of kWh that have to be generated via fossil fuels thereby reducing emissions. A grid with 80% renewables is possible with very little energy storage.

>It doesn’t really matter whether a wind farm in the German North Sea can produce a lot of electricity cheaply during a windy day when that electricity is needed three days later in Munich.

Renewable power generation follows a normal distribution. Yes there are extreme outliers in each direction but the more extreme the lower the likelyhood of it happening. There are at most 10 days per year where renewables are below 30% of generated power. Running some gas plants during those 10 days doesn't matter. Especially if you are using power to gas.

>That’s because whenever solar and wind aren’t delivering any electricity we’re starting up coal and gas plants.

It's usually the opposite. When coal starts up and there is renewable energy available the renewable energy has to be curtailed but it gets paid anyway. Coal is the issue here. Gas is not a problem because it is more flexible. [0] The irony is that energy intensive industry doesn't have to pay the EEG surcharge which means consumers end up paying a 2-3 times higher EEG surcharge than they should. It's practically a heavy industry subsidy at this point, not a renewable subsidy. Consumers pay the electricity bill of arcfurnaces now.

Germany has high emissions because Germany turned off nuclear before phasing out coal and the coal lobby in Germany is huge.

>The intermittency and low energy density are inherent physical properties of solar and wind farms which is why 100% renewables is newer feasible (unless for countries like Norway who have the possibility to build lots of hydro plants).

I actually couldn't care less about 100% renewables. Even 80% renewables sounds like a dream today. However what you're saying is not the whole truth. 100% renewables are possible with today's technology and it will only get easier in the future. https://cleantechnica.com/2020/02/09/correcting-anti-renewab...

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkA65vpeA5g (Video in German)


This is what all these smart fridges and smart everything in our houses should be doing. I don't need a fridge that can tell me that the milk is almost out, but it could be super cool with a dishwasher that can be set to run when the price for electricity is low.

Besides that, if ever electricity cost goes negative I think some electricity companies should invest in storing solutions. I know there are a few out there but most I've seen need more research and large investment. Maybe some can be distributed with making it easier for common folk to store and sell back.


> That doesn’t change the fact that neither wind nor solar can produce electricity on demand.

That’s true of baseload generators like coal and nuke. Power generation is complex and multifaceted (hence calculation is always done on LCOE). Gas peaked plants are a critical part of the legacy generation systems, and permit more intermittent zero input sources like wind and solar to reduce the amount of baseload capacity.

I don’t know about renewable “proponents” but actual providers (of renewable or not) understand these issues well. Source: I used to be in this business.


When the marginal cost of electricity is 0, you can also build overcapacity and dump electricity that you don’t know what to do about without any problems.

But anyway am the issue here is about storage. And storage is getting cheaper by the day. Utility scale storage is also a lot cheaper.

Finally, if Germany was to build nuclear today it would cost far more than what they are paying for any other electricity source.

There’s a huge difference between the cost of nuclear whose capex was already paid for by the government decades ago and new nuclear. New renewables are cheaper by far than new nuclear.


https://www.nonukesyall.org/pdfs/CarbonFreeNuclearFree.pdf

A carbon-free & nuclear-free grid definitely depends on either dramatic advances in storage or substantial infrastructure development in transporting electricity over long distances.


Germany has lots of energy related challenges but most of those are of a political rather than a technical nature.

Transporting the energy via cables is part of the solution for this and is exactly one of the things where Germany is struggling. A lot of wind capacity is in the north and east; a lot of the demand is further south and west. It's a combination of politics being a problem (this involves lots of federal states and local councils), poor planning, and old energy corporations dragging their heels.

The obvious solutions of putting some cables in place is basically completely blocked on this. Hence you have southern Germany burning expensive coal & gas at the same time the northern part is oversupplying wind power and exporting it to other countries at a discount. E.g. France is importing cheap German power and struggling to export more expensive nuclear power, which is one reason they seem to be shutting down older nuclear plants and gradually shifting to non nuclear renewables. France is of course still a net exporter but nuclear is too expensive for them to export.

The other part of the solution is of course investing in batteries and other forms of energy storage. This evens out peaks in supply and demand much more effectively, cheaper, and faster than any peaker plant can do. Also, vehicle to grid technology could be very interesting mid term as German car manufacturers are about to ramp up EV production to the order of a couple of million cars per year in the next few years. 1 million cars is about 0.5 twh of battery capacity (assuming about 50 kwh per car). A couple of million of EVs plugged into the grid could provide some very serious peak capability (to absorb over supply and provide peak demand). The hardest thing to figure out is proper incentives for this, which is not a technical problem. Long term, there should be zero need to keep legacy gas/coal plants around for this.

Of course, short term cables & batteries are lacking and there is a lot of legacy infrastructure there to be used. This actually keeps the prices higher than they should be. Overall, the picture is improving rapidly. Renewable market share is growing year on year at the cost of basically everything else.

The reason energy prices in Germany remain high is also because it continues to maintain a quite expensive and dirty brown coal infrastructure. The reasons for this situation are also entirely political. Politicians in the areas where this stuff is mined & burned are being pressured to keep that going even though everyone has known for decades that it is a stupendously dirty business that ultimately will have to go. It's been a point of contention between the two governing parties. Basically it's a combination of protecting jobs and big energy companies who are of course shifting investments to renewables but are putting the brakes on to protect their sinking legacy assets.

Basically, there are big German energy companies that are slowly going bankrupt because they are neck deep into stranded assets related to coal that need these high fees just to survive. So, expensive wind plays to their agenda because they get to keep on burning coal for a bit longer.

Yes Germany's early investments in wind were questionable but most of the new capacity is much better and quite competitive in other parts of the world (e.g. the US, the UK, etc.). E.g. Siemens is a big supplier in this space and of course a big German corporation.


MENA have too much sun (don't visit Oman or Qatar in July) and their countries run on air conditioning for survival. So large scale solar there actually matches that demand perfectly.


EU prices are ridiculous. I paid 2.9 eurocents per kWh last month in Kazakhstan. We just burn coal, AFAIK.


Keep in mind that the average income in Germany is about 5x higher than in Kazakhstan, the grid is much bigger and most of the price is taxes.

The actual price (before taxes) is less than 9ct/kWh (about 7.6ct/kWh to be precise - including profits, btw.) and that's what industrial customers pay.

edit: I tried to find some figures to seejust how much bigger the German grid is compared to Kazakhstan and it's mind boggling. 25000 km in Kazakhstan vs 135000 km of just high voltage- and supergrid in Germany. Germany's grid is 1.8 million km versus 25 thousand km in Kazakhstan [1] [2]. Different worlds.

[1] http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/energy/se/pp/eneff/9th__F... page 4

[2] https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=&sl=auto&tl=en&u=h...


The premium probably comes largely from labor costs. US electricity is similarly expensive, averaging 0.12USD/kwh.


Nope. The premium comes from taxes and surcharges.

Industrial customers pay <0.09€/kWh.


And one of the primary reasons is that the more wind and solar we install the more backup we will need and the more complex our grid becomes. This is not actually factored into the price of wind and solar which is completely misrepresenting the actual cost of wind and solar.


This is a bit like when they cancelled the Rotherhithe walking & cycling bridge because it was allegedly going to cost 400 million. Powerful establishment lobbying groups ensure that government estimates for green projects make them seem unaffordable.


Who the hell is lobbying against a pedestrian bridge?


Bicyclists who wanted a bike-friendly bridge? I've seen that. Old people who want a level crossing rather than an elevated bridge over a road? I've seen that too. Local landowners who don't want any change to their view. That's pretty common for all projects.

Then there are the fundamentalists who fight any outlay of taxpayer dollars.


We're talking about the Rotherhithe pedestrian and cycling bridge. I can assure you that cyclists were not lobbying against a cycling bridge, and that you cannot get a level crossing over a major river.

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Rotherhithe_crossing


People who don't want it connecting their area with a "bad" area. I have no idea if that applies in this situation. But some people who live on the "right" side of the tracks would prefer those on the "wrong" side to stay on their side. (I'd bet people oppose certain public transit routes for similar reasons.)

Also people who just don't want any foot traffic in their residential area. Some people are adamant about their neighborhood having as few outsiders as possible and by invite only.


I see you've never been to a City Council meeting. NIMBYs will screech about the most minor change.


Yeah, but they serve as a pretty good counter-balance to the over-zealous city council members who prefer to take on expensive pet projects rather than to competently manage existing infrastructure.

It happens at all levels of government. I have an HOA that I've participated in over the years. My HOA's job is to maintain a clubhouse, the pool, the tennis courts, a small kids' playground, and some other common areas. For some reason, every 4 or 5 years, some person decides he wants to leave the traditional HOA lane and "go big" on special projects. Email flamewars and special HOA sessions ensue and "some person" gets the message to stop trying to find ways to increase our HOA dues.


Without idiots it wouldn't be a representational body...


The City of London doesn't have a democratic council, the mayor and officers of the city are elected by a council of local CEOs.


This was nothing to do with the City of London, was it? The Greater London Authority (the one Khan is in charge of) would be more relevant, I would have thought.


I can imagine an evil cabal of auto manufacturers but more realistically it's inflated construction contracts. Then again what do I know.


Businesses whose foot traffic would be adversely affected by the new pedestrian route is my first guess.


(The following is not satire or a joke)

In the US there has been significant opposition to things like pedestrian bridges, bike paths, parks, and the like for the last decade or so, from people who think those things are part of a plot to take away our rights and freedoms.

How? By making cities more pedestrian and bike friendly, and more pleasant places in general for people to live, it will encourage more and more of the population to concentrate in cities. It will then be easier for the globalists backed by UN troops to confiscate our guns, and then take over the country.

A lot of this ties back to "Agenda 21". That was a document produced in 1992 by the United Nations Conference on Environment & Development, signed by George H.W. Bush and the leaders of 177 other countries. It's a nonbinding statement of intent to improve and promote sustainability.

The John Birch Society decided that it was actually a plan to form a socialist one-world government, a "New World Order", that would usher in a "new Dark Ages of pain and misery yet unknown to mankind", and make the US a vassal of the UN, result in the forced relocation of rural populations to cities, and so on.

And it is not just fringe groups like the John Birch Society. According to Senator Ted Cruz, "Agenda 21 attempts to abolish “unsustainable” environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads. It hopes to leave mother earth’s surface unscratched by mankind. . . . Agenda 21 subverts liberty, our property rights, and our sovereignty".

Here's a good article about it [1].

[1] https://www.splcenter.org/20140331/agenda-21-un-sustainabili...


The taxpayers who saw how the bridge in the next town over was basically an handout to a politically connected construction firm with a bridge as a side benefit.


The true energy solution to climate change will need to be a mix of wind, solar, nuclear, storage, and more. No one generation method will solve all of our issues. We need to start being more technology agnostic

(small plug for the https://collective.energy community)


The true energy solution to climate change is free markets. Fossil fuels are subsidized[1] and their externalities are untaxed.[2] Our society is structured to generate the suboptimal. This goes for pollution and price.

[1] https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-fossil-fuel-subs...

[2] https://cleantechnica.com/2018/01/16/carbon-fees-mystery-unt...


Two cents:

Subsidies for fossile fuels do not make them cheap. They might make some local form competitive to the international market, but their inherent value comes from simple physics. Fossile fuels are simply much more effective than renewables. This does not mean that we cannot change it, but we need a compelling alternative. Slavery, for instance, was the most efficient means of agriculture for thousands of years. We changed it, somewhat ironically, by replacing it with mechanisation, driven by fossile fuels.

Externalities are extremely hard to give a fair price. We could have a limited CO2 Budget, but that limit would be artificial. Think of a CO2 Credit currency: Who would not be tempted to increase the limit ever so slightly to generate the credits for a new school/hospital/anti-terror-drone?

So, no, I do not think markets offer a solution here. They could help, of course, but the real solution is the introduction of effectively free energy with massive-scale photovoltaics. One barrel Crude oil has an energy of around 1.8MWh and costs between $20 and $70 to produce. Thus, to overcome oil, one needs to get the price per kWh solar down between four and one dollar cent. We are about to reach that point rather soon. From there on it is game over for big oil.


> Slavery, for instance, was the most efficient means of agriculture for thousands of years. We changed it, somewhat ironically, by replacing it with mechanisation, driven by fossile fuels.

Eh? Almost nowhere transitioned directly from slavery to mechanisation. Not serfdom, even. Heavy mechanisation of agriculture was a 20th century thing.


Right. But before that mechanisation, slavery still would have been the most efficient means of production.


What makes you believe this? I don't think there's actually much evidence for it in the recent past (previous 300 years, say). Part of the reason that the British Empire was able to get rid of it with minimal fuss in the early 19th century was that it was no longer considered economically viable, and was already in a natural decline in many places.

Most of the resistance to the abolition of slavery in most places was social; it was an upheaval in the way things were done. "GDP will drop" was not, as far as I know, a major concern, nor did it generally happen.


Why do you think this? It adds additional, real costs ranging from the need to finance extensive population controls (with the ensuing social unrest) and an unreliable workforce prone to running away.


Mostly because of the seasonality of work. If I own farmland and want to harvest wheat, I need my workforce only in spring and Autumn. But then I need them 25/8, if you get what I am saying. Buying this kind of labor on a fair market is definitelyire expensive than just "owning" it.


If you count externalities then fossil fuels are not cheap. The reason why they are cheap is that you can sweep the dirt under the rug and pretend there is no problem.


"taxing externalities" and many common definitions of "free markets" are incompatible. It might be wise to use more precise terminology if you want to combine these two concepts.


I think the point GP is trying to make is that it already is not free, and it's not free in the wrong direction.


The common definitions of "free markets" typically mean a lack of regulation of what can be sold and the a lack of regulation of the prices that things are sold at. The desired outcome (supposedly) is that the price is determined by the participants, based on their knowledge of the full cost of ownership and the perception of the benefits of ownership.

But externalities have no inherent or obvious cost to market participants, either because they are so distributed that the cost per participant is ignorably small, or because the costs are distributed in time (and thus do not affect current market participants) (or both).

The cost of externalities has to be determined and that inevitably involves questions about values. As a trivial example: how much do you (or should you) value clean air? What ppm contamination is worth a dollar to you every time you purchase fuel?

This means that a "free market" with prices that include the cost of externalities must inevitably be regulated in some important sense, since the cost of externalities can only be established via the same processes used for regulation in general. And by most definitions of "free market", that is no longer a "free market".

That doesn't mean this isn't the right thing to do. It just needs better terminology to describe it.


OK, then require the externalities to be mitigated rather than priced. Then the market can find a price for mitigation.


1) who will the price/cost be billed to? 2) "free markets" operate on a 1-unit-of-currency/1-vote basis. If you want to go ahead and tell everyone that the rich will get their desired outcomes, just because, be my guest. Not sure that's the flavor of the month/year/decade/century.


Thank you for clarifying the point.

I agree. The externalities should be accounted for. Petroleum should be taxed and not subsidized.


I think the proper word for this is "market based" instead of free market. The parent wants a market based solution for climate change instead of a solution that involves the government handing out subsidies to a handful of technologies that are on a list.


> free markets

> externalities are untaxed.

??

Free markets are utterly and demonstrably unable to solve climate change.


I believe the point was that fossil fuels operate in a market where they are subsidized, which is not really free.


Politicians and legislation are purchased on the free market through lobbying. And then subsidies are merely a return on a smart investment.

I'm not actually sure if what I just wrote is parody or not. Arguments about "free markets" are always weird like that, since everybody seems to work with a different definition and they don't really seem to exist


Yea well "really" free markets don't actually exist so that distinction seems a little silly.

I mean obviously the subsidies are bad but removing them isn't going to solve much of anything by itself.


If you suddenly make using fossil fuels 10x more expensive people will switch off of them ASAP.


> If you suddenly make using fossil fuels 10x more expensive people will switch off of them ASAP.

Yea, this just isn't true. Rich people will just pay more for the same thing. Poor people will just have to pay more to even get to their jobs. It's pure laziness to put this on dogma rather than actually come up with decent policy to shape the market.


Rich people have money, but they aren't stupid: why would they throw their money away on nonrenewable energy when they can just switch to something cheaper?


> Rich people have money, but they aren't stupid: why would they throw their money away on nonrenewable energy when they can just switch to something cheaper?

What alternative is there to a private jet or a yacht? No, you have to get the fear of prison (or worse) in them to get them to act in a socially rational manner.


To begin with, private jets and yachts are a trivial proportion of carbon emissions, so they're not really what matters.

But to actually answer your question, battery-electric yachts or aviation powered by biofuels.


Sure, but it's rather indicative of larger use of carbon emitting technology. Neither of your suggested replacements actually exist in any meaningful way, and virtually every investment comes with significant CO2 emissions.


Battery-electric yachts and biofuels aren't popular because they're more expensive, not because there is any technological barrier to their existence. Make them the less expensive option and market demand for them increases.


Or, we could just make yachts illegal.


Free markets are good at minimizing cost. Currently, emitting CO₂ has no cost, so the market has no incentive to solve climate change.


Not true. If we neutralize externalities the free market will make progress in climate change. Especially because solar and wind are already cheaper than fossil fuels. Probably won't be fast enough, but I don't think that is the same as utterly and demonstrably unable to solve climate change.


You're conflating (dis)incentives with price discovery.


A lot of people seem to think free markets -> anarchy, which is a complete straw man. Prominent Libertarian economists such as Friedman[1] support governments dealing with externalities generally, and the carbon tax specifically.

If all you know about X is the totemic version reverberating through anti-X echo chambers, you probably don't understand X.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2014/10/12/what-wou...


> A lot of people seem to think free markets -> anarchy, which is a complete straw man.

In American political discourse, this is exactly how the "free market" is defined by the political establishment. Taxing externalities is very unpopular among Republican and Libertarian politicians (Gary Johnson flirted with the idea of a carbon tax, but quickly withdrew support) and is relatively popular among Democrats and the Green Party. Which parties are the ones people associate with free markets?

You can hem and haw about appropriate use of the term "free market" all you want, but calling colloquial usage a "straw man" is disingenuous.


You're confusing the terms with the politics.

There is a party which is anti-regulation because its constituents are business owners who incur the cost of it. But they incur the cost of both inefficient wasteful regulation and any legitimate pricing of externalities, so they oppose both. One is free markets and the other one isn't.

Just because politicians representing oil producers support both "free markets" and subsidies for oil companies doesn't mean subsidies for oil companies are a component of free markets. It just means that politicians are hypocrites.


I don't see how I'm confusing the terms. Republican and Libertarian politicians will tell you that the carbon tax (and other forms of taxing externalities) is antithetical to the "free market", and my point was you can't, in good faith, claim "straw man" when someone uses the term that most non-economists in America use.

I also never claimed that subsidies were a component of the free market nor did I claim any politicians think so. I believe that's an actual straw man :)


> my point was you can't, in good faith, claim "straw man" when someone uses the term that most non-economists in America use.

The term for what you're doing is called weak man. It's finding some idiot or hypocrite in the world who is actually advancing the weak position so you can claim it isn't a straw man, and then knocking that down instead of addressing the stronger version being advanced by someone else.

> I also never claimed that subsidies were a component of the free market nor did I claim any politicians think so. I believe that's an actual straw man :)

That's an argument. If "free market" means what anybody who says they're for free markets says they want, that would imply that "free market" means oil subsidies. Which is clearly absurd, ergo so was your claim.


> It's finding some idiot or hypocrite in the world who is actually advancing the weak position

That doesn't really work when my argument is that it's the colloquial usage--not just a handful of "idiots".

> If "free market" means what anybody who says they're for free markets says they want, that would imply that "free market" means oil subsidies.

That's an absurd reduction, but that is how language works. This clearly isn't a productive conversation. Have a good evening.


I think the exact point that was energy production is a massively skewed, un-free market.


I think GP is saying that if companies had to cover the cost of externalities (impractical, how do you measure and price this?) a free market model could work. This is the basis for the carbon tax as I understand it.


"fair market" might be a better phrase.


Spherical frictionless cows in a vacuum are unable to move.

There's always thumbs on the scale. Grandparent is proposing to remove some thumbs (fossil fuel subsidies).

Pigovian taxes are fairly popular among people who consider free markets to be valuable. This is because they retain $free = "can discover prices and conduct trade freely", a more valuable property than $free = "utterly free of any and all governance", which, like real communism, has never been tried.


Solar and wind are highly subsidized as well.

Just look at German electricity prices.


Keep in mind that the subsidy for oil might be "accounting for the entire world's economy collapsing in the future due to climate change".


Agree with this and I would argue that subsidies can be a good thing. In a perfect world (which does not exist) I think subsidies for old power generation would have left long ago and as soon as new tech came out they could be applied to it.


obviously this varies country by country, and strongly depends on local climate.It's very poor argumentation in that sense. One should actually present numbers, not point fingers circumstantially.


Debatable if Nuclear is even required. Nuclear is fantastic for baseload but the economics are currently terrible mostly due to uncertainty in regulation and spiraling decommissioning and cleanup costs. We need much more investment in reactor technology and there is currently zero appetite for it in the United States.

There is however tremendous investments in battery technology. It has yet to be seen whether that could get cost effective enough combined with wind and solar to completely get rid of the need for Nuclear.


Honestly it provides a huge amount of the base load in Ontario (~60%) and for most intents and purposes is clean. Debatable if we'd be able to get new reactors built today but I'm glad it exists


New reactors were considered for Ontario, but the plans were withdrawn because it didn’t make economic sense.

It would have been great if we had built enough nuclear plants in the 20th century, but at this point it’s pretty clear that most countries would better off going straight to cheaper renewables.

http://nuclearstreet.com/nuclear_power_industry_news/b/nucle...


> These are business decisions unique to Ontario and reflect the current realities of the market.

This doesn't seem to support your general argument.

Do you have any evidence that renewables are generally cheaper than nuclear when accounting for storage?


No, I’m not an analyst who crunches those numbers. But it’s worth highlighting that Ontario didn’t find it worth building more reactors, even with all of the necessary infrastructure in place and plenty of public support for the nuclear industry. And in the 10 years since then, renewables have only gotten cheaper.

How about asking what conditions would be needed in a different country to make new reactors much more feasible than in Ontario?


> Solar and wind became cheaper than competing new-build power plants years ago. What the latest report shows is that they have actually gotten so cheap that they are now competing with existing coal and nuclear power plants. In other words, new wind and solar farms can be cheaper than continuing to get power from existing coal and nuclear power plants. [1] [2]

> The storage report also shows a rapid drop in the costs of batteries, which leads to wind + storage or solar + storage getting increasingly competitive (and putting natural gas peaker plants out of business). [1] [2]

8 minute energy's blended solar and storage costs are roughly $40/MWh, just above existing nuclear generation per MWh costs (that doesn't fully internalize waste disposal costs and other ancillary costs of that power). “The vast majority of our development pipeline are solar-plus-storage projects, with more than 24GWh of energy storage under development,” 8minute Solar Energy’s Sean Kiernan said. [3] Portugal just signed a deal for a 700MW project at 1.3 cents/kwh, a historic low (mentioned to demonstrate the cost decline continues, and can be expected to continue into the future). [4]

If you're looking for storage that discharges for days, that is not necessary with robust transmission infrastructure (which needs to be built anyway due to aging infra in the US) and overbuilding of cheap (and rapidly cheaper) renewables [5].

[1] https://www.utilitydive.com/news/renewables-continue-to-get-...

[2] https://cleantechnica.com/2019/11/22/solar-costs-wind-costs-...

[3] https://www.energy-storage.news/news/developer-8minute-says-...

[4] https://www.pv-tech.org/news/52925

[5] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23580707 (Hacker News: The US can reach 90% clean electricity by 2035 without increasing consumer bills)


I've said this before but there is no evidence that battery storage can scale to anything like the required storage. Tesla's battery in Australia stores roughly what the UK receives from French nuclear over production in a few minutes.


"no evidence that battery storage can scale"

Obviously laws of physics do not bar it from scaling, the question is around cost.


Are we short some raw material or why do you mean it couldn't work?


"As of 2016, global lithium-ion battery production capacity was 28 gigawatt-hours, with 16.4 GWh in China."

UK current electricity demand is 30GW. So the demand for one hour is similar to the entire lithium battery production for a whole year.

How many hours worth of storage would we need to balance the energy grid using only battery storage? Off grid homes usually aim for around 3-7 days worth. Obviously that's excessive for a whole country where weather conditions vary across the country but I'd think several house would be required to account for peak in demand at times of low production.

Realistically distributed storage and load side control I think are more likely to be a bigger part of making it work.


That's a fairly old statistic to pick, not sure if it was intentional or not, but the reality is lithium battery production has grown significantly since 2016 and shows no signs of stopping. The largest manufacturer in China, CATL is estimated to grow its capacity beyond 307GWh by 2028 [2].

"In 2019, LG Chem had the most lithium battery production capacity at over 50 GWh. LG Chem [is] increasing EV battery production capacity to as much as 110GWh by the end of 2020."

The design of a modern grid with battery storage would change as well - no reason to have singular giant storage plants. A mixture of solar, wind, and hydroelectric with distributed storage doesn't need to self-sustain 30GWh of storage, it needs to be able to smooth distribution and handle peaks. It'd be far more honest to look at seasonal average loads versus peaks, plus a buffer.

[1] https://energycentral.com/c/ec/world-battery-production

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1103401/predicted-lithiu...


The UK has very little hydroelectric power and the undeveloped hydro resources are in remote areas of outstanding natural beauty (which is a shame because it's by far the best option for base load renewables).

The UKs current installed pumped hydro resources amount to some 28GWh. Clearly we need a multiple of that if that is currently required to balance a grid consisting of largely dispatchable power. Given that, I don't think my estimate of needing several hours worth storage is too far out.

That was the first statistic I found. Even if we say current production is 200GWh of lithium battery storage, that isn't going to go very far if the rest of the world also need to create similar storage infrastructure.


It would work just like running your house on a car battery, for about five minutes. My dad has 24 industrial lead acid 2V 450Ah cells which amount to 1m³ and 4.5kWh of usable storage since if you drain more than 20% you will kill the batteries too early. The 1140Wp PV array charges about 6kWh on a sunny summer day. We use about 5kWh daily in our apartment - that's no AC or electrical heating, just the basic appliances and a gas heater. He probably uses two to three times that amount, again no AC or electrical heating. Also lead acid batteries are rated for like 10y, PV retains 80% of its capacity for 25y, so you need to change 2.5 batteries during its lifetime. Batteries alone amount close to 50% of the TCO.

So good luck running the grid on batteries for more than 15 minutes. We'd probably need to cover Alaska with lithium batteries.

At least 40% base load is what is needed and one only gets that from nuclear and geothermal if we discard fossil fuels. Maybe solar thermal with molten salt storage too, dunno.


Lead Acid is pretty old tech. My car (Tesla Model 3) has a roughly 75kWh lithium-ion battery. Even with AC and/or a heat pump, that battery could run a rather large home for more than a day on it’s own. Their powerwall home battery is a roughly 17kWh battery that is stackable to build any size system you want.

Point of use energy generation and storage is a much bigger deal than I think people realize. I believe internally Tesla thinks this is many times it’s car business.


Nuclear is carbon clean yes, However it is by far dirtier than any other generation method, if we stop the coal plants today, in few hundred years CO2 levels will revert back and temperatures will normalize. The half life of the radioactive waste is in ten of thousands of years.

We are still struggling store industrial chemicals for mere half dozen years without it causing tragic accidents, while Canada might not be Lebanon today, there is no way to know how well off our future generations will be and whether they can safeguard the waste, both safely and securely from hostile actors without it being an big burden on them .

It will be costly problem at best or a major disaster at worst for all live forms. all this to have some power for 30-40 years.


Nuclear is carbon clean yes, However it is by far dirtier than any other generation method, if we stop the coal plants today, in few hundred years CO2 levels will revert back and temperatures will normalize. The half life of the radioactive waste is in ten of thousands of years.

If the world continues on a high-emissions trajectory, and people do not later pursue active remediation measures to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, it will take hundreds of thousands of years for natural silicate weathering to draw down atmospheric concentrations to preindustrial levels. More than half will be removed by faster processes, within 1000 years, but a significant minority of the excess will go away over the course of ~400,000 years:

https://www.nature.com/articles/climate.2008.122/figures/1

This is actually longer than the time it will take for the majority of fission products and actinides generated in nuclear fuel to decay. The waste CO2 problem is also distributed over the whole globe rather than easily confined to storage casks like spent nuclear fuel is.


Coal is bad, Co2 is bad, the idea is not the coal is better, we have more than two options, no point in jumping from frying pan into the fire.

Neptuimum-237 has half life of 2.144 Million years and is produced as nuclear fuel waste and one of most mobile nuclides at the Yucca repository. It will take 100's of millions of years for sizeable quantity to go through its decay chain and be safe.

There are safer better options than nuclear to coal. A 1000 year time line of natural restoration is not acceptable and needs to be addressed, but trading it for millions of years is not the right solution.


> "in few hundred years CO2 levels will revert back'

Where do you imagine billions of tons of CO2 will go? It does not have a half-life like nuclear waste, once you've taken that carbon out of the ground, it is here to stay for tens of millions of years. There will never be enough trees to sequester this carbon. We must expend trillions of dollars to reprocess it back into oil or rock-like formations.

Also in the entire history of nuclear industry there has been no credible case of 'hostile actors' coming close to stealing nuclear waste. That's because doing so doesn't make any sense - it is useless to nations, and if someone like Taliban tried to handle it, they'd probably die in the process.

Nuclear waste is not a liquid that might spill and run away if you aren't careful. When properly handled it is vitrified in solid glass, and it doesn't go anywhere. Sweden is placing it in underground storage in solid rock, in a region that's geologically stable for millions of years - it will never bother anyone again or cost a penny more.


>However it is by far dirtier than any other generation method,

Where do you think the fancy chemicals in the fiberglass turbines or the exotic metals in the solar panels comes from?

>We are still struggling store industrial chemicals for mere half dozen years without it causing tragic accident

Oh boy are you going to love the high tech chemical industry that underpins the manufacture of wind turbines and solar panels.

All these things are dirty if you don't clean up after them. Nuclear is pretty clean just by virtue of how little material you need to process per kilowatt. A kilo of uranium gets you a lot more energy than a kilo of turbine or a kilo of solar panel.

They're all better than fossil fuels because they don't crap byproducts into the atmosphere but you need to have so much less underlying industry per energy generated with nuclear that it's just inherently cleaner than anything else. This is assuming that you're cleaning up after whichever one you choose.


If you fully recycle the nuclear waste, the radioactivity drops to that of natural uranium ore in about 500 years: https://whatisnuclear.com/waste.html


Radioactive waste with half lives of tens of thousands of years is by definition not particularly radioactive. It is however reasonably well contained; roughly a truck load in a year. Where as CO2 is defused through the atmosphere in a way which makes it very difficult to recapture.


> Radioactive waste with half lives of tens of thousands of years is by definition not particularly radioactive

Sure plutonium-239 with half life of 24,000 is not particularly radioactive, neptunium-237 has half live of more than 2 million years, both are extremely dangerous to humans for multiples of that time.

Half live is not directly related to the level of damage gamma decay can do to you. Elements are perfectly capable of emitting hazardous amounts of radiation for thousands and millions of years time.

We cannot barely build a phone to last 3 years, The incentive to not create problems for future generations is simply not there. If it was, we would doing a lot more for pollution and plastics and the mass extinction event we are currently causing.

I don't believe our track record as a species warrants any trust on the ability to build containment to last thousands of years.


Plutonium-239 is an alpha emitter. Nuclear missiles on submarines actually have to spend more money to create highly pure Plutonium-239 specifically because it's long half life means it has a low rate of spontaneous emissions. This makes it safer for crew who have to live and work in close quarters with these missiles.


The double standard against nuclear always amuses me. If we truly want it to be similar to fossil fuels, we can just wait a couple hundred years for nuclear waste to cool down, take it out, grind it into a fine powder, and literally spew over the globe, and it will barely register on anything other than Geiger counters.

Meanwhile, fossil fuels generate so much waste per kWh that it's impossible to contain it, so we just spew it over the globe at day one, changing the Earth's climate and driving mass extinction (and killing a million per year), but it's OK, because if stop using fossil fuels today and wait a few hundred years then things will be back to normal. Maybe.


The double standard for nuclear worries me.

Of all the ideas on nuclear waste disposal including launching on rocket into the sun, this is the most dangerous[1].

Firstly If you are replacing Coal and other methods of energy generation with Uranium the amount of waste is not small anymore ( it already is not small in any sense).

Cooling down the temperature is not the only problem. Neptunium-237 has half life of 2Million years!, plutonium 239 of more than 24,000 years, these materials will be radioactive for a longer time than we as species have been on this planet. Grinding them fine and spreading them everywhere may very well kill all life on this planet for ten of millions of years, it may never come back.

Coal is bad, nobody is saying it is better than nuclear, but replacing coal with nuclear is opening a whole new can of worms, we are not equipped to handle, there are plenty of other safer alternatives .

[1] In in interest of a civil discussion, I will leave it at that.


Appreciate the civil discussion, so let me just say that I suspect you never typed in the numbers and tried to quantify the danger of nuclear waste. Let's try a quick and rough estimate.

The energy density of uranium is roughly 80,620,000 MJ/kg [1]. Existing nuclear power plants have thermal efficiency between 30-40%, roughly speaking [2], so let's be pessimistic and choose 30%. That means actual usable energy density of uranium is 24,186,000 MJ/kg, or 6,718,333 kWh/kg.

The world produced 27,644,800 GWh = 27,644,800,000,000 kWh of electricy on 2019 [3]. If we used nuclear to generate all of this, we'd need 4,114,830 kg of uranium, or 4,115 ton per year. Let's round up to 5,000 ton.

Spent nuclear fuel contains about 0.8% plutonium 239 [4], so our 5,000 ton of uranium will generate about 40 ton of plutonium 239, with half-life 24,000 years and radioactivity of 2.3 GBq/g [5]. So our hypothetical nuclear waste will have radioactivity of 2.3 GBq/g * 40 t = 92 PBq. Which is a lot.

...or is it?

Potassium, naturally occurring and essential for life, is naturally radioactive (31 Bq/g), because it contains 0.012% K40 [6]. Seawater is about 0.04% potassium [7], which contributes to a natural radioactivity of 12.4 Bq/kg, or 12.4 kBq/t from potassium alone.

Actually, let's forget the earth. Let's spread the nuclear waste evenly on the Mediterranean - volume 3,750,000 km^3 [8] - who needs Italy anyway?

It contains 3,750,000,000,000,000 ton of seawater, or 46,500,000,000,000,000 kBq of natural radioactivity, which is 46,500 PBq. So our hypothetical dump of plutonium 239 will increase the Mediterranean sea's natural radiation level by about 92/46500 = 0.2% per year [9].

A far cry from extinction of all known life, I have to say.

* By the way, you may want to re-consider before saying stuff like "Pu239 has half-life of 24,000 years - it's not safe!" Coal, for example, contains tons of mercury, which is not radiactive (i.e., it has a half-life of infinity). After 24,000 years, there will be 50% of Pu239, but 100% of mercury left from coal ashes. Which is worse?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density

[2] https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-an...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_electrici...

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutonium-239#In_nuclear_power...

[5] https://www.radioactivity.eu.com/site/pages/Plutonium_Proper...

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potassium

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seawater

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediterranean_Sea

[9] Of course the actual effect will be higher because there will be other isotopes, shorter-lived and more radioactive. That's why I proposed keeping the waste in a fridge for 200 years first. I'm not a monster.


It kills the fewest number of people pre joule and the negative externalities are centralized, i.e., the people that made the mess need to pay to keep it stored safely. I fail to see how an underground bunker of radiation is dirtier than people literally breathing in toxic fumes. Coal even releases a ton of radiation per joule, so even the framing of radioactive vs non-radioactive is a subject of discussion.

Also, I highly doubt that if humanity makes it even a thousand more years that we'll have trouble finding a productive use for depleted uranium or other spent fissile fuels. They have many interesting properties.


The people and the governments who took those decisions will be long gone in few hundred years, the waste will still be here , leaking into the soil and water table.

I was not arguing for coal in any way I am merely pointing saying Nuclear is not as clean as pro nuclear people argue.

Yes the NORM released by Coal and other human activities is substantial, However it is not remotely comparable to Fukishma, Chernobyl and bikini atoll . I don't trust any of the world governments to build a safe reactor and I don't share your optimism on that we will find ways to handle the waste. Instead of trusting luck that we will find clean ways to handle, we can start building plants when we do find them, .

It is recency bias to think we will be able to keep technologically innovating at the same pace we have in the last few decades or even few hundred years, most of our history innovation has happened rapidly only under certain conditions, it may be that those conditions will continue to favour, or maybe physical limits such as moore's law slowing down, resource limits stuck on single planet economically or socio political structural problems can slow down innovation substantially, Any of them could be a great filter in the Fermi Paradox sense.


> the people that made the mess need to pay to keep it stored safely.

We'd certainly like for those people to keep the mess stored safely, but there are incentives for them to not do so, even assuming they had the ability to.


Nuclear waste is so so so small, it's okay for it to last a long time.

And you'd better not ignore how much radiation is released by coal.


> [...] and for most intents and purposes is clean.

It is not:

https://www.sortirdunucleaire.org/Nuclear-power-a-false-solu...


Even the best batteries in the world have absolutely ridiculously small energy densities compared to Uranium (about a factor of 10^6).


Energy density almost doesn't matter for grid scale things. It's not like we don't have space where we could put batteries. Cost is really the only important measure and nuclear is very expensive, while batteries keep getting cheaper.


Energy density matters greatly because cost is a function of the material you have to handle and the amount of facilities you need to build to generate the power in the first place.


In that case energy density would be reflected in the cost. That is why cost is often used to compare energy technologies, and not cherry picking a random metric which favors one particular technology.


The cost of nuclear reflects the fact that toxic waste you can't see, smell or taste is scarier in the minds of the public so we insist upon far more government involvement and rigor in the construction of nuclear plants and insist they pay their decommissioning costs up front. Dare I say nuclear's costs are internalized whereas other modern manufacturing's costs are externalized.


They don't need a whole nuclear power station built around them though.


They also have orders of magnitude (10^3 - 10^4) more charge/discharge cycles than uranium.


This is a joke, right?


Its an observation that comparing vastly different technologies using just a single metric produces mostly misleading asinine statements that aren't sufficient to influence any meaningful policy or engineering decisions without additional supporting explanation and justification.


Right, so it is a joke :)


Current nuclear is so expensive and has so many drawbacks that new nuclear plants can't compete with solar / wind and storage combination.

However, that's not an innate property of nuclear, and there are relatively unproven designs that may be sufficiently cost effective and safe to be a desirable part of the mix.

I think the free market will solve this problem better than is speculating about it on HN. If its cost effective, it will happen, if it's not, it won't.


Seems like it's a function of the free market and politics—there is a spectrum of regulations we can have that ranges between "enough to keep nuclear energy safe" to "enough to make even the best nuclear technology non-viable", and where we fall along that line is primarily a political question.


Yes, that is true, and the regulatory environment is a big part of why current nuclear tech is non-viable.


> new nuclear plants can't compete with solar / wind and storage combination

There dose not exist to my knowledge (would be happy to be proven wrong) any storage solution that currently operated commercial from buying cheap renewable energy at peak production and regain investment and operational costs by selling it expensive during lows. Not a single one in the world.

At best any comparison between storage and nuclear plants is between two currently non-viable commercial alternatives, both requiring massive government funding to be built. The only commercial viable power source right now is renewable that can compete against fossil fuels when the weather make it viable, and fossil fuels as base load and as a dynamic source that can spin up based on weather conditions and demands.


You quoted a part of my comment and then ignored it in yours. Fossil fuels don't even enter into my comment, I'm merely pointing out the the multiple billions of dollars and multiple years required to create a new nuclear power plant make it non-viable when compared to the current cost of renewable power and grid scale energy storage. These are publicly available numbers, you are free to look it up and do your own calculations if you doubt me.

Also, you're simply unaware of commercially successful energy storage. The most high profile example being perhaps the battery pack Tesla installed in Australia for $90.6M AUD, and generated $13.1M AUD in revenue in just six months[1]. Clearly a very good ROI. Pumped Hydro is used all over the world and is even more cost effective.

[1] https://www.theverge.com/2019/6/25/18715585/tesla-australia-...


Im trying to find a source that the battery pack Tesla installed is used to buy cheap renewable when the price is low and sell when it is high, but the linked article does not state this and the article it link as source for the 13.1M AUD is behind a paywall.

Pumped Hydro like Bath County Pumped Storage Station does exist but do not seem to buy cheap renewable when the price is low and resell it when it is high, but rather operate as a balancer for PJM Interconnection which get almost all its power from fossil fuels.

So do you have a link for a profitable battery that buys energy from renewables when there is an overproduction from renewable sources and then later sold when the prices has risen? That would be a solar / wind and storage combination. Using energy from fossil fuels to pump water is just not the same, even if doing so creates a profit for the company.

Every time I have read about a new storage facility they usually start with first describing capacity, then go on to say that this can enable a future use with renewables, but that right now it operate to balance the grid of existing (mostly fossil fuel based) power plants. I would very much like to be proven wrong and that there exist a viable commercial operation where we can see X amount of green energy produced by wind and solar going into the storage, and X (minus a conversion cost) of that energy going out, with one table showing how much the green energy costed when going in and an other table showing how much they got in profit when it went out.


Why would you ever build a company around arbitraging power and all the risk involved, when instead you could just buy panels or wind turbines and skip directly to selling power?


I don't know, ask Elon:

"Tesla applies for UK power generation licence in [virtual power plant] play. ... The move suggests Tesla may be planning to build large-scale battery storage projects in the UK"[0]

[0] https://theenergyst.com/tesla-applies-for-uk-power-generatio...


Arguably nuclear is only expensive because we've lost the skills to build it at scale and quickly, I the 70's it did not take 15 years to build a power stations, and neither does it in China today - they are building reactors at unprecedented scale, cost effectively and on schedule.


In 2009 their intention was to "raise the percentage of China's electricity produced by nuclear power to 6% by 2020"

In 2019 nuclear produced 4.9% of the gridpower.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_China

This is hardly an "unprecedented scale", which AFAIK lies elsewhere: https://unfccc.int/news/china-and-india-lead-global-renewabl...


Yes, much like the US has forgotten how to build subways, tunnels, bridges, and infrastructure cost effectively in general. I don't know how that happened, and I think it's a pretty sad outcome.

Maybe in a different regulatory and economic environment, nuclear could be competitive. I don't know. Even coal is becoming uncompetitive in the US compared with renewables, and it's a lot cheaper and lower risk than nuclear.


I have been wondering why hydro-electric generation is often left out of discussions about renewable energy? Is it because we're currently maxing out the hydro-electric potential of the earth so there's no more gains to be had? If not, it seems like the perfect energy generation method -- it avoids the battery problem, has 0 pollution outside of initial dam construction, is perfectly safe. Three provinces in Canada are ~100% on hydro electric power.


> Is it because we're currently maxing out the hydro-electric potential of the earth so there's no more gains to be had

I'm sure this is not the case, but there are often environmental and political concerns around hydro. For example, Ethiopia's new dam on the Nile river has caused tension with their neighbours, who're worried about the control it gives Ethiopia over the water supply in the river [0]

[0] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/21/africa/ethiopia-nile-rive...


Hydroelectric has two issues: you have to have access to appropriate rivers, and those rivers tend to be major parts of the ecosystem in their own right.

For example, Seattle is largely hydroelectric powered. The city's public utility even owns the dams, so whatever energy that isn't used in Seattle they sell to California at market rates, which makes energy conservation a profit center for them. Washington also has major mountain ranges plus the Columbia river. Kansas, on the other hand, is short on anywhere to get falling water.

On the other hand, salmon are a crucial species to the ecosystem out here. They're the primary food source of the local orca population. They're a major commercial fishery. They're one of the major sources of nutrients along the rivers going into the interior. Isotope analysis of trees along the rivers out here shows that a large amount of their growth is driven by decaying salmon.

Ross Dam and its kin that Seattle's power comes from are high enough up where we don't think there was historically much salmon run. There's a study going on now rechecking that. We've removed the Elwa River dam on the Olympic Peninsula, though. It was egregious: the requirements for salmon access were already in place when it was built, and they just ignored it and then refused to pay the fines. The Snake River dams up the Columbia are similarly problematic, and need to be removed.

This is different from, say, Switzerland, where their high dams like Grande Dixence don't have a comparable environmental effect.


I live in an area with large hydro electric usage. Unfortunately the environmental costs are pretty high for migrating fish. There is now at least some call for dam removal.


Hydroelectric dams aren't all sunshine and roses.

> “The river was transformed from being a thriving producer of millions of fish such as shad, herring, striped bass, Atlantic salmon, sturgeon and alewives and supporting a wide cornucopia of other species ranging from otters to eagles — into a wastewater drainage system,” Jeff Crane, a dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Saint Martin’s University, wrote in a paper published in 2009.

https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/


Sounds like something else is going on. There shouldn't be much difference between the amount of water flowing into and out of a hydro dam.


It's not about the water flow, it's that there's a physical barrier that blocks migrating fish from going between the river and the bays/estuaries/ocean.


Most fish species don't migrate.


I mean, that's true, but also every fish species listed in the above quote does, and were severely negatively impacted by the dam. They in turn feed a large amount of other wildlife.


I see. My mistake, I thought only salmon (from your list) migrated.


>has 0 pollution outside of initial dam construction, is perfectly safe.

These are both demonstrably untrue.

1st, due to methane releases of decaying plant matter in the flood zones depending on what is flooded Hydro can actually produce over double the emissions of the worst coal plants, annually. For example the Curuá-Una dam in Pará, Brazil, has produced three-and-a-half times more emissions than an equivalent generating plant running on oil.

Based on what was flooded by the WAC Bennett dam in BC, BC likely has more GHG emmissions in their energy mix than Alberta.

And based on the size of the reservoirs(some of the largest in the world) in Quebec & that the flooded mostly boreal forest & peat land, that is also true for Quebec.

2nd, Dams breaking have caused a lot of deaths: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1975_Banqiao_Dam_failure


>1st, due to methane releases of decaying plant matter in the flood zones depending on what is flooded Hydro can actually produce over double the emissions of the worst coal plants, annually. For example the Curuá-Una dam in Pará, Brazil, has produced three-and-a-half times more emissions than an equivalent generating plant running on oil.

Thanks for the info, I had no idea. Is this a long term effect where reservoirs will continue to emit CO2 into the long term future, or is it just a one-off cost to transforming land into a lake? If it is just a temporary source of CO2, how long does it take for the emissions to peter out and at what point will the hydroelectric dam become even with coal in terms of emissions?


It's a long term effect. Trees can take over 100 years to break down in an aerobic environment. Decomposition time doubles in an anaerobic environment.


It works extremely well in some areas but it’s not widely available in all areas. One possible solution to that is ultra high voltage dc transmission lines. Hydro Quebec is currently in the process of building one to connect Canada to the New England grid to supply very cheap hydro power to New England.


Hydro has some great characteristics that contribute to carbon-free generation. MISO, which covers a huge portion of the US upper Midwest starts most of its morning ramp-up on hydro.

Aside from its environmental concerns, it will be of limited use in decarbonizing the economy because pretty much all of the useful locations have already been developed.


> Is it because we're currently maxing out the hydro-electric potential of the earth so there's no more gains to be had?

We are very far from the max. But the concentrated opportunities are mostly taken already. What remains is geographically dispersed, and consequently expensive.


It not only avoids the battery problem, but can be a solution to the battery problem.


Pumping water up is very inefficient


Pumped-storage hydro is the most efficient large-scale energy storage mechanism. 70-80% round-trip efficiency.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricit...


I stand corrected


Pumped hydro has an efficiency of around 80%, which is similar to lithium ion batteries. They also have massive capacity. The downside is that there aren't many places where they can be built.


What if we dammed the Mediterranean?


Funny enough that idea was proposed in the 1920s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantropa


Very.

However, nobody told the sun that, so it keeps heating up the seas, evaporating their water, and letting the resulting moisture drift until it gets pushed up into cold air by some land obstruction like a mountain range...

"Pumping" the water uphill in this manner is very inefficient, but like all legacy technologies, we're stuck with it until we can invent a replacement ;-)


While not quite as big as other pumped storage systems this is one system that is looking to avoid the exposed area and dependence on natural reservoirs: https://heindl-energy.com/


Basically yes, it is extremely geographically dependent


Yes the key thing to remember here is that without something to augment it, wind and solar get diminished returned as they become a higher percentage of your generation capacity.

You need either nuclear or some heretofore not invented storage technology (or both) to get a reliable grid where wind and solar are a majority of your capacity.


It seems like we have endless ways to store energy at grid scale but we don't employ them because coal/natural gas is "cheaper" than storage, and likely will be until an industry for grid-scale storage starts grinding down costs (as opposed to piggybacking off of something maximized for power/weight like li-ion).


The 'more' part is currently the most significant chunk and has the highest potential. I'm thinking of hydro primarily, which was 16% of global energy production in 2018:

https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/charts/world-gross-e...


It has almost no potential because most rivers that could be used for hydro generation are already tapped. There are some exceptions in developing nations or sparely populated countries, but there is nothing USA or Germany could do to meaningfully increase amount of Hydro electricity.


Hydro is 16% and geothermal is less than 1%. Other countries have been able to offset 100% of co2 by exploration of geo, we should do the same here.


Also small plug for the ACC -- American Conservation Coalition, a group of millennial conservatives. Whatever you may think of politics, you need support from both sides of the isle to get true change, and they genuinely believe in tackling the issue, but with market-based, evidence-based approaches.


>The true energy solution to climate change will need to be a mix of wind, solar, nuclear, storage, and more

Why? If you have nuclear, why bother with wind and solar - especially since wind and solar don't play well with nuclear.


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