This entire piece is based on the assumption that the only sources of energy are solar panels and fossil fuels. This is false. According to the US Department of Energy, 19.6% of the energy produced in 2019 is nuclear. In that same year, 7.1% was from wind, 7.0% was hydroelectric, 1.4% from biomass, 0.4% geothermal. Only 1.7% was photovoltaics! https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427
If we look into the relatively near future, fusion energy is going to account for a rapidly increasing share of energy production by the end of this decade. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkpqA8yG9T4
I really don't think by the end of this decade there will be any commercial fusion production. I'm sure we will be closer but it is still some decades away.
ITER proposes to follow up their current research reactor with a successor (DEMO) which they plan to start building around 2040 and begin operating in the 2050s. Then they expect DEMO to be followed by their first commercial power station, PROTO. They probably won't even start building PROTO until the 2050s or 2060s, so we could easily be looking at 2070-2080 before it comes online.
Now, there are other teams working on fusion, there is always the possibility some other team could leapfrog ITER. It is also possible that with increased investment timelines might come forward. But I'm very confident that come 2030, the amount of fusion power in the commercial energy markets is going to still be zero.
But compare it to "First commercial perpetum mobile power station will start construction between 2050 and 2060" or "First FTL spaceship will be launched in 2050s".
My impression is that if humanity had focused on the question and not the politics we would already have fusion capacity.
But do not forget, we still do not know if it is financial benefit to use fusion in the future.
One can turn this around and say that fusion not getting the funding in that chart is evidence it was not seen as a promising place to invest. One cannot simply presume it's a good investment and ignore any evidence to the contrary.
That's a completely inaccurate comparison - perpetual motion and faster-than-light violate fundamental physical laws as we understand them. Net-positive power from fusion is fully within the laws of physics – we've got an example in the daytime sky, and trillions in the nighttime sky. The difficulties with fusion come with shrinking it to a scale that humans can build.
I understand the GP comment as saying "First commercial fusion power station construction will start 2050-2060" is different from "Perpetual motion machine construction will start in 2050-2060" or "FTL spaceship construction will start in 2050-2060" for the very reasons you gave (among others).
You read the GP as saying something different from what you are saying, but I think you are actually both saying the same thing.
Specifically, for fundamental reasons DT fusion will have much lower power density than a fission reactor, and so have to be much larger, and therefore have to be much more expensive.
But you're suggesting what I already alluded to as a reason for doubting that economic fusion power will ever happen - he's the type of person who would be pursuing fusion if it seemed feasible. It's not that he's the only one, or that he knows about nuclear physics, but it's the sort of risk he would plausibly take if he didn't know of a good reason why it can't be done. Also, of course, you need power for Mars bases.
Tesla's continual hitting of projected targets is much more impressive to me.
You're generally right though: the maturity, risk, and timelines of fusion are much greater than either of these. Better suited to long-term gov't/military spending.
But the general principle applies. Everything is measurable and can be modeled with a predictive distribution. The more unknowns, the more variable the distribution is.
We will have energy needs orders of magnitudes more than we do right now within the next 20 years. I'm all for solar, but fusion will be necessary just in terms of dealing with climate change and the energy needs that alone will bring with it. Carbon sequestration, water desalination, etc... are all going to need serious energy behind them and will be knocking on humanity's door before the 2050s.
From the article: "the U.S. has produced roughly 83,000 metrics tons of used fuel since the 1950s—and all of it could fit on a single football field at a depth of less than 10 yards."
I'd be more comfortable with a nuclear waste storage facility in my area than I would be with a coal power plant polluting the same given area.
And we already know (roughly) how to build that, it's just that the version we know how to build is so ridiculously, impractically huge that you could fit a small city in its blast chamber... because it runs on actual, non-miniature, thermonuclear bombs. The difficulty is scaling that down to something that doesn't have a upfront cost measured in multiples of the world GDP before it starts generating power (in quantities measured in multiples of current global electrical consumption, and likely multiples of global energy consumption period).
Also, just to add to your point there are (basically) continuously fueled fission reactors, see e.g. CANDU as well as some more exotic actually continuously fueled designs that use liquid fuels. Continuously fueled designs would probably be more desirable if they weren't such a proliferation concern but that's a different story.
And I'm only half joking. The energy yield of fusion is there and the basic physics are pretty well understood. Progress has been agonizingly slow but steady. We generally understand what needs to be done to get there, but it's a slow and complicated process that will take a long time and several more expensive, large-scale tests like ITER to push it along. The payoff is still a ways away and the up front costs are high, so barring investment on the scale of the Manhattan project it is something we will have to continue slowly grinding away at. The upside is fusion research is truly pushing the bounds of engineering, which will continue to yield benefits in other areas along the way.
Edit: I'll also add that we have already built fusion reactors, we just haven't gotten them efficient enough that they generate enough energy to sustain themselves.
The Manhattan project cost about $30 billion in today's dollars, I believe.
We have IPOs that raise close to that amount of money these days (e.g. Alibaba).
It's half a percent of federal spending in 2020 (admittedly not a normal year).
GameStop has lost over $30 billion from its peak valuation.
Your matter of fact claim that there's not enough capital in today's world for fusion power development really makes me wonder.
Once upon a time, I read a comment by someone somewhere that "everyone" (who is "in the know") knows fusion break-even is infeasible, but the research is relevant to maintaining nuclear weapons stockpiles.
Besides, if fusion power was possible...wouldn't Elon Musk be working on it?
I will add that I'm not sure it would be worth committing this amount of resources solely to fusion. Obviously I think it's worth pursuing long term, but not necessarily at that scale given the costs it would have in terms of other scientific research. I never claimed the amount of capital isn't there nor meant to imply it; it probably is possible (by 2040-2050, 2030 seems impossible to me) but not realistic barring some dramatic changes in the world.
Regarding why wouldn't Elon Musk be working on it... let's ignore that several other prominent billionaires have invested in fusion. But currently fusion is not an appealing private investment outside of philanthropy. There are a lot of up front costs and uncertainty for a payoff that is way down the road. Whether it's worth investing in is up to him, but "whether or not Elon Musk is doing it" is not a good measure of viability.
Regarding the comment that everybody in the know thinks breakeven is infeasible, that's certainly not the prevailing nor even a common view with the people I know working on fusion. Opinions are mixed on how far we are from breakeven and how far we are in terms of the technology required to achieve it, but as I noted previously the basic energy yield of fusion is there and the route to get there is mostly clear, if long. ITER has little cross-application with nuclear weapons, that would be facilities like NIF which aren't the main focus of research towards power production.
I'll add that I have no skin in this game, my research is unrelated to fusion I just happen to talk with those guys a lot and took some classes in grad school. I see none of those sweet gubbment fusion research bucks.
That's what I was doing...
>currently fusion is not an appealing private investment outside of philanthropy. There are a lot of up front costs and uncertainty for a payoff that is way down the road
As opposed to the Mars rocket business? As opposed to money-losing biotech? Bitcoin, now representing around $1 trillion in total? Is the disinterest in long term investments why the US government is thinking about issuing 50 and 100 year bonds, as well as the 30 year that already exist?
In 2021, saying that significant capital is only available to non-speculative investments with short term payoffs sounds like something from another dimension. One without the GameStop hearings.
Elon Musk isn't literally the sole litmus test of whether fusion is feasible; he just represents the general zeitgeist. If a few billion dollars would make it happen in the near future, how could it be that everyone is disinterested? Especially now that taking climate change seriously seems to be snowballing.
SpaceX talks a lot about Mars, but so far they've mostly stuck to Earth orbit, because that's where the money is. They are starting to do some Moon-related stuff – because both NASA and space tourists will pay to go there. Even Starship, which was designed as a vehicle to get to Mars, most of its actual use is going to be Earth orbit or lunar, it is going to be very many years before its Martian use cases outnumber its Earth/Moon ones.
SpaceX will probably fund a few unmanned trips to Mars out of their own pocket – land a couple of Starships containing supplies that might be useful to future colonists. But I'm sure straight after doing that they'll be knocking on NASA's door suggesting that NASA pay them for some Mars missions... imagine how many (and how big) rovers you could fit on a Starship.
Musk has said he wants SpaceX to develop the necessary transport technologies to support colonisation of Mars – and they'll try to use non-Mars-related revenue sources to pay for that development. But he's also said the role of actually setting up a Martian colony (as opposed to just providing transportation to get there) won't fall to SpaceX.
I have a theory – which could just be wild speculation on my part – at some point Musk is going to set up something like a "Mars Colonisation Foundation" as a non-profit tasked with colonising Mars. And when he dies he's going to leave it the vast bulk of his assets to it (I'm sure he'll leave his family enough to live comfortably, but they don't need billions to do that). And the "Foundation" will end up owning a big chunk of SpaceX, and will be a major customer of SpaceX, but will remain separate from it. It will actually try to pay for the colonisation of Mars, not SpaceX themselves. And it will stick at it as long as it takes (even if it takes a few lifetimes to pull it all off.)
I expect private investment will pick up eventually, when the technology is a little closer to market. I'm not at all disagreeing that we should be investing more in it and that it's looking increasingly urgent, it's still a relatively small effort compared to other things.
This isn't how market cap works.
This level of commitment will probably only happen if climate change (and the related ecological and economic collapses) are taken as seriously as COVID, which is unlikely since, once the effects become obvious as COVID, it will be too late. And even COVID has large numbers of people denying reality.
Even if a massive commitment to fusion started now, by 2030 we'd likely only have a promising proof-of-concept or two, with several more failed projects on the side. Wide-scale deployment would still be years away even with many companies tooling up to start building pilot commercial reactors while assuming high financial risk, since profitability would be far from guaranteed.
 Another point of comparison would be semiconductor manufacturing advances over the past 10 years. Tens of billions were spent researching and building factories, and in the end only a few companies made it to 7nm. And that was a clearly profitable endeavor iterating on already proven techniques!
Fusion would make fission look dead simple. If fission reactors cannot be constructed on schedule or budget, how bad would fusion reactors be?
If you think regulation is the problem, explain just which regulations you mean.
From what I can see fission reactors are doing just fine in France and Belgium. I don't know the specific numbers but the French don't seem worse off economically, despite having the greenest grid on the planet.
Fission has a number of disadvantages over fusion that make it a reasonable possibility of it being economically more viable than fission.
Because there's no compounding risks it is way more attractive to mass produce smaller reactors.
Once the key hurdles are solved it will be a simple calculation to decide how much investment will yield how much return, that means it will be an interesting investment opportunity.
Contrast this with fission, where a project is usually just one or two reactors, with tens of billions invested, loads of risk, slow and steady reward with various threats.
It is not the complexity that makes power plants intractible, we build more complex things than fission reactors every day. Its the lack of supply chain because of the unsteady build rate.
The iteration time of fusion reactors is measured in years, not decades by the way. Tokamak Energy is building its third iteration in 12 years, and plans to start the 4th in 2025.
Obviously we aren't there yet, but if it's possible, and a relatively small company like Tokamak Energy can build a proof of concept, then I don't see why we wouldn't have thousands of reactors spread through cities all over the world within the next 20 years.
Nuclear is in a bad state in France. Their recent attempts to build new reactors have gone massively over budget. Existing reactors are aging and it looks like they cannot replace them.
Fission has some disadvantages over fusion, but those disadvantages won't make fusion cheaper than fission (the costs of fuel and waste disposal for fission are minor compared to other costs.) Fusion is inherently much lower in power density than fission, which will make the nuclear island much more expensive to build. It will require a minor miracle for fusion to be competitive with fission, never mind the cheaper sources of energy that are beating fission.
> Tokamak Energy is building its third iteration in 12 years,
They haven't built a fusion reactor. They have built experiments that are smaller and less complex that what a fusion power plant would have to be. Small fission reactors iterated well too; they weren't commercial power plants.
The chance that we have thousands of fusion reactors all over the world in the next 20 years is indistinguishable from zero.
This is a political problem which has nothing to do to with technology or costs themselves.
Most infrastructures are aging and in a bad state in France, and the skills and knowledge to build or replace it has long been lost.
Add on top of this politically strong ecologist-extremists who decided that nuclear is evil and must be gone, and who will do everything to sabotage any project.
To take a counter example, nuclear is doing fine and growing in many countries, including China.
No, nowhere in the world is nuclear power economically competitive. Construction costs are about 3x-4x the cost per kW compared to solar or wind. [0 page 11]
> nuclear is doing fine and growing in many countries, including China.
No, net nuclear plants in Asia are not increasing. [0 page 4]
I only said that the problems in France are mostly due to politics, and so that we cannot use this specific example as an argument. This does not imply any affirmation from me about the absolute costs.
> No, net nuclear plants in Asia are not increasing.
Your link (0) page 4 only shows that the construction rate is not especially increasing lately.
Page 5 of your document (0) shows that almost all reactors < 25 years old are in Asia, which contradicts your affirmation. And it also shows that the number of reactors < 5~10 years old is bigger than the ones of about 10~25 years old, which implies a growth.
I don't have the knowledge or patience to read this further, but it is a very interesting read anyway, thanks.
The problems in France are because they screwed the pooch on building the latest reactor design. This wasn't politics, it was failure to execute.
I just stated the opposite, are you calling me a liar? And then you mock me for crediting your argument, does that make you feel good? Are we like fighting or something?
I mean, when I first read tinco's comment, I thought what you thought. But either reading is plausible.
If you're going to call someone a liar, maybe just don't reply.
They aren't, France has had nuclear for geopolitical reasons, not primarily economic ones. And now that these plants are old, they won't be replaced with new ones (save 1 big project that is already way over budget and won't be price competitive once it is live).
Texas recently is a prime example, wind turbines froze and gas turbines had co2 regulations that made it difficult to ramp up. Other issues aside these were major contributing factors and indicative of the challenges many states will have.
We can't control the weather and many of these renewable are dependent on it. In comparison every fossil or nuclear based energy source has well developed supply chains, control and planning. Issues will be likely compounded because severe weather often times means increased energy needs as well.
There were some wind turbines that froze, but wind power output overall is actually exceeding projections for this time of year. Not to mention that wind turbines can be winterized to withstand temperatures like in Texas right now. They just didn't because they didn't expect such low temps and it costs money.
It looks like renewables accounted for about 13% of the under-generation. Mostly it was issues with coal and nat gas as well as a nuclear plant going offline.
That's not to say that there won't need to be more storage technology or backups for renewables to become a large slice of the power pie.
If it's 'likely' to happen, then why are we not allocating 10's of billions towards it right now, to accelerate it so that it happens in 5 years?
Many, many things can be done in parrallel. Some effort would be wasted, bit it'd be worth it.
If fusion works, it's basically going to be priceless in terms of impact and value.
Even starting to account for climate change ... we could suck Co2 out of the air on demand.
Efficiency isn't really a good metric when the fuel is free. We see that in solar power where expensive high efficiency devices lose out to cheaper less efficient ones. It's more about capital cost and operating cost per unit of energy.
I say hypothetical because french attempts at "safely dismantling" nuclear power point are not going so well and are over-budget by an order of magnitude.
Then these people who can't even build/dismantle a plant (see the many Areva scandals) would like us to believe they can build an underground storage area for highly radioactive materials that's gonna be safe for at least 100 000 years? Despite growing evidence of the contrary
There's also growing evidence that nuclear and renewables tend to be incompatible, mostly because nuclear means a grid with huge centers of energy production, far away from energy consumption (the opposite is true with renewables).
My state gets over fifty percent of its energy from nuclear power plants. I pay a few pennies more per kWh than neighboring states. I'd pay a few more pennies than that to figure out the rest of this issue.
Like you, i don't believe price to be an argument of concern. I'm merely stating this because over and over, both in French media and on HN, i've seen stated that nuclear is the cheapest energy which is a blatant lie.
> We can reprocess the waste to make more energy with.
Source? From my limited understanding, all nuclear research that produced either less-dangerous waste or re-usable waste was shut down decades ago because there was no foreseeable way to turn that into weapons. The nuclear industry is deeply tied to the military industrial complex and (neo)colonial extractivism (see Françafrique networks for references).
> It's more reliable as a base load than any renewable.
Source? Here in France there's uncountable accidents/scandals in the nuclear industry and reactors are often stopped for weeks/months at a time. The same cannot be said about hydro power (dams) for instance.
> I'd pay a few more pennies than that to figure out the rest of this issue
Economic incentives is only part of the problem in my view. We in the industrialized world are aiming for ever-growing (ideally infinite) energy production and consumption, which necessarily leads to ecocide and other environmental damages. Don't you believe reducing our resources/energy footprint as a society is a more sustainable way to address the problem? There are many strategies we can put in place to reduce energy consumption, but these would contradict basic tenets of capitalism. For the most obvious example (from HN's perspective), see planned obsolescence or how/why we build more devices every few years than there are humans on earth (and yet we keep on having to buy new ones, which is severely damaging the environment).
The existence of La Hague site in northwest France has been very successful at nuclear reprocessing.
>Source? Here in France there's uncountable accidents/scandals in the nuclear industry and reactors are often stopped for weeks/months at a time. The same cannot be said about hydro power (dams) for instance.
It's not uncountable. There have been like ten in the entire country over the past fifty years.
>Don't you believe reducing our resources/energy footprint as a society is a more sustainable way to address the problem?
No. The one actual resource we can make and use is energy. We need to use less consumables. Energy isn't a consumable in our timeline. So many things are predicated on significant increases in clean energy. We could literally suck carbon out of the air with enough energy.
Usually when I see "efficiency" used in a pro-nuclear argument it's not used in any rigorous way, though. It's just a vacuous cheer word.
After that, lithium supplied T grows exponentially with the reactor usage, with a doubling time of a bit less than a decade. So, if it becomes the bottleneck (what means, if people to everything else right) you can expect some 3 or 4 decades before fusion even becomes a major power source.
Thereby the machine aims to demonstrate, for the first time in a fusion reactor, the principle of producing more thermal power than is used to heat the plasma. The total electricity consumed by the reactor and facilities will range from 110 MW up to 620 MW peak for 30-second periods during plasma operation. Being a research reactor, thermal-to-electric conversion is not intended, and ITER will not produce sufficient power for net electrical production. Instead, the emitted heat will be vented.
Global Warming may actually open areas previously unsuited for certain crops; evidence pointed to much warmer climates in Europe with grapes further North in mans short existence, and the impact on existing uses is not fully understood.
The simple fact is, every time someone suggest were are running out of food or have too many people or water is not wet anymore we find out that it simply is because we don't look further than we are standing.
The biggest reason people starve today is repressive governments that respect neither the person or private property. that one percent, the ruling elite of the world, loses its grip in highly informed, rights driven parts of the world but they sure do fight to keep the pie to themselves even there.
And there are many other renewal energy sources.
Like geothermal power in some areas or water (fall or tide) based power in other areas.
And you can put this power sources in a lot of places which are fully unusable for farming.
We're talking about powering a hydroponic greenhouse. The alternative to "Solar Powered LEDs" isn't "plant things in the ground". Its "make a glass window on your roof".
"Plant things in the ground" is also cheaper, though it does suffer from potentially poor soil conditions. Still, it seems to me that spreading fertilizer across soil (and conditioning the soil into a growable state) would be cheaper and easier than making large-scale indoor hydroponics.
> We're talking about powering a hydroponic greenhouse. The alternative to "Solar Powered LEDs" isn't "plant things in the ground". Its "make a glass window on your roof".
I think what they were getting at is that you can take land wholly unsuitable for farming or greenhouses (e.g. severe slopes), apply solar panels, and then funnel that energy to a vertical farm. Since the vertical farm does save space in the abstract (just not necessarily once accounting for space needed for electricity generation), the scheme overall is still a more efficient use of land.
I severely doubt that.
Solar panels are maybe 30% efficient. So 10-acres of glass-roofs need to be replaced by 30-acres of solar panels just to account for this inefficiency (let alone other inefficiencies: such as wiring, inverter, batteries, and LEDs). Maybe 50-acres of solar panels to be anywhere close to comparable against 10-acres of glass roofs once we include other inefficiencies.
Not remotely. Plants are also extremely inefficient, converting only about 1% of the solar energy that falls for their use. 
Most of this inefficiency is from solar energy being in the form of frequencies that the plants can't use, but solar panels can. So the panels can capture this energy, then funnel into the red and orange lights that are most efficient for plant growth.
I've read a bunch on this, and haven't been able to find an authoritative source for what the efficiency conversion is -- how many acres of solar panels power how many acres of vegetables, and is it greater or less than 1:1? -- but it's certainly not as simplistic as "solar would need 3x more land because they are 30% efficient."
That implies a 5% efficiency in the "total solar captured area" of the solar panel + LED lights compared to just sticking the plats out in the sun, which is totally independent of the plants own efficiency in photosynthesis.
(I guess coming from a site about Low Tech, their slant on the numbers might be questioned, but they certainly hold up to initial scrutiny from here...)
I own a townhome, so my only real ability to grow plants is through a grow-light connected to electricity.
As such, I've spent some time calculating the PAR values of a decent grow-light, as well as the amount of PAR that natural sunlight gives. Plants need a ludicrous amount of PAR (basically blue + red lights, green not needed cause green just bounces off of plants).
Sunlight is mostly broad spectrum: broader than plants need and therefore a source of inefficiency (green light is wasted) that LEDs can somewhat replace.
Grow-lights have a benefit that they can be placed very close to the plant (maybe just 1-foot away) to "focus" the energy a bit better. Nonetheless, the amount of PAR / PPFD from a typical day sun (or even a cloudy day) far exceeds what you'd get from 500W or even 2000W grow lights.
Its just a hobby of mine, and I'm not growing anything especially hard (just Basil, which is really easy to grow... but Basil is a summer plant that really wants sunlight).
Still, once you start calculating PAR and actually mapping out how much electricity your "emulated sunlight" needs, you'll realize how grossly inefficient that "solar panel -> electricity -> LED" plan really is.
EDIT: Natural sun is like 2000 PPFD or something FAR in excess of what most plants need. Still, a good growlight solution might hit ~1000 PPFD constantly. Lets take this 650W LED and think about it: https://allgreenhydroponics.com/collections/american-made-le...
You'll get ~500 to ~1000 PPFD across a 4'x4' or 16-square foot area from that 650W LED (and most of that light is focused on the center: you'll want to overlap your lights a bit for more consistency).
Then think about how much solar panels you need to power a 650W LED for the 16-hours / day your typical plant would want (to account for the lesser PPFD indoor plants get, you run the lights for a bit longer than sunrise-sunset).
Just some napkin math. Nothing serious here: just guestimating the area in my head.
EDIT: Now it should be noted: I've heard of good hydroponic greenhouses that have the "do both" approach: glass roofs to let the sun in most of the time, and LEDs to augment the natural sun (cloudy / rainy days, as well as winter-settings when you have fewer hours of sun). The sun isn't nearly as consistent as we'd like, but... that means that you need something aside from solar power powering those LEDs.
But the concept of building a all-LED underground (or "inside a building") without any natural light just... seems grossly inefficient to me. Such a setup only seems useful to those growing contraband IMO.
I was an engineer at a company called Heliospectra, we specialized in this and I personally built systems that on an industrial scale enabled above light/environment control down to umol of individual wavelengths every minute based on variables such as sensor feedback, algorithms for specific types of plants and traits as well as learning to adapt based on the environmental daily patterns from sensor feedback over time. It was actually quite fun to work on, I do still keep in contact with the company.
"Poor soil conditions" to include "soil" that is alkali dust, sand, dry for eleven months out of the year, frozen solid and under multiple feet of snow for more than half the year, and so far from either a river or reliable groundwater that any and all water used must be trucked in. In tanks. On trucks.
Plus, you only get to dump more fertilizer in the water if you filter it back out again.
Doesn't work as you can't stack plants with it nor can you grow them underground.
Do you mind if I ask why you're so against the idea?
Because it is clearly inefficient to convert sunlight -> electricity -> simulated sunlight.
You could also store it in or orbiting in a black hole, but good luck getting it back in its original form! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photon_sphere
If you were to use solar, then you'd need a country that has a lot of land that would be better used on solar panels rather than farmland, so maybe one that is mostly tundras or deserts.
But you need to remember that there are real costs to industrial farming on land. The use of pesticides, fertilizers and topsoil loss. There are a lot of benefits to vertical farming if it can be made to work economically.
IMHO a key point of the article is that solar is not really a suitable source of electricity for vertical farming. There are other sources of clean electricity that more suitable in order to reap the benefits of vertical farming (less transport and less use of land, and also less water and pesticides).
A while back I saw a plan for a greenhouse that used solar desalination to provide water for plants but don't know if was ever built
edit: Looks like they exist https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-seawater-greenhouse-...
Not a rhetorical question, I genuinely don’t know. I assume it varies by desert, but farming and power are both way out of my domain.
So the question is whether a greenhouse/farm in the desert is easier than solar in the desert connected through grid to vertical farm somewhere else.
I have no data. My guess is the ongoing logistics of piping electricity out of the desert is easier than fertiliser into the desert and produce out to where people live.
Not "per se" a knock against greenhouses, but definitely one of the things you're looking for is a closed system rather than the sort of greenhouse you'd get in many places in America, where it's just a robust plastic tent-on-a-concrete-slab, and they don't care much if the water runs off. In a desert you'd be really concerned about making sure the whole works has very, very low water-losses.
The key thing to make this useful is to conceptualize it not as the sort of area, like the Nile, where they've already got an ample water supply. To make this useful, it's best to think of something where there's basically no water supply at all, and we're trying to crack the problem of "okay, how could we grow crops here?" Something that right now, is just bone-dry barren desert. Most of the solutions we rely on in the wetter world just don't really care much about water loss.
Something that could fit the definition of a greenhouse, with windowed ceilings, might well be a viable solution. But I do suspect there's some correlation between making a grow site more bunker-like and lowering water loss (especially if it's recessed into the earth).
The other huge upside of a truly sealed system is it's another approach to pest control. Sealing the system could potentially completely eliminate the need for pesticides and herbicides. Right now those have huge negative externalities.
Transportation (!) from miles away, as a skyscraper could feed a city or a part of it.
For example the the Brunswick nuclear power plant in North Carolina, covers 1,200 acres or 4,860,000 square meters for 1,858 MW = 382 w/m2. It’s stated lifetime capacity factor is 75% which is much higher than solar, but that’s ignoring the long construction and decommissioning process afterwards.
You can find both higher and lower energy density examples, but I personally was surprised how close they where.
In any case, it's not close at all either for that specific example or in general, not least considering that a nuclear plant can produce 24/7 and that solar often does not reach peak production because of the weather.
"A solar PV facility must have an installed capacity of 3,300 MW and 5,400 MW to match a 1,000-MW nuclear facility’s output, requiring between 45 and 75 square miles. For comparison, the District of Columbia’s total land area is 68 square miles." 
 Nuclear Energy Institute @ https://www.nei.org/news/2015/land-needs-for-wind-solar-dwar...
1,000 acres, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaver_Valley_Nuclear_Power_St...
2,767 acres https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callaway_Nuclear_Generating_St... for just 1,190 MW.
Some are significantly more compact for example 391-acre https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catawba_Nuclear_Station, but that’s surrounded by water.
And it's possible to build much denser plants. The Shin-Kori facility in Korea is massive energy relative to the land it uses. Nuclear power is far more energy dense than solar or wind. This is just thermodynamic fact.
Callaway is 1,190 MW on 2,767 acres at 87.70% over it’s useful lifespan, but that’s ignoring permits + construction = 10 years and decommissioning which takes ~30 year. Even a generous 55 year operating lifespan is still reduced to 87.7 * (60 / (60 * 10 + 30)) = 48% capacity factor. Using a 20% capacity factor for solar (aka non tracking in a good but not great area).
That’s 1,190 MW * 48/20 = 2856 MW. A very good modern panel is hitting 220w/m2 add spacing, equipment etc, and 110w/m2 is a safe bet. That’s 2856 * 1000 * 1000 / 110 = 26,000,000m2 or 26 km2 or ~6,424 acres solar vs 2,767 acres nuclear. Lower efficiency panels bump that by 25% or so.
Clearly a win for nuclear, but not a 100,000 acre win.
PS: That said, this is largely a moot point as even with reprocessing we would quickly run out of fuel with large scale indoor farming.
You also have to adjust for the overproduction necessary to make intermittent sources a reliable primary provider of electricity. In far north or southern latitudes, angle of inclination is such that solar panels collect ~70-50% less energy than near the equator. This gets worse with seasonal fluctuations, which are more extreme the closer to the poles you get. Add weather on top of this and it can drop even further.
This might not seem like too big an issue, but keep in mind that most of the world's electricity consumption is in North America and Europe. These places don't have as good weather for solar.
100,000 acres is roughly the ratio that the article came up with, a factor of 75.
> PS: That said, this is largely a moot point as even with reprocessing we would quickly run out of fuel with large scale indoor farming.
No, we wouldn't: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2016/07/01/uranium-s...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAFSTOR “For nuclear power plants governed by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, SAFSTOR (SAFe STORage) is one of the options for nuclear decommissioning of a shut down plant. During SAFSTOR the de-fuelled plant is monitored for up to sixty years before complete decontamination and dismantling of the site, to a condition where nuclear licensing is no longer required. During the storage interval, some of the radioactive contaminants of the reactor and power plant will decay, which will reduce the quantity of radioactive material to be removed during the final decontamination phase.”
For example, Crystal River 3
(Florida) “Duke Energy announced in Feb-2013 that the Crystal River NPP would be permanently shut down.” “Systems Removal & Building Remediation(2070–2072)“ and that’s if things go well. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_decommissioning
As to indoor farming.
“It’s not just that the 4 billion tons of uranium in seawater now would fuel a thousand 1,000-MW nuclear power plants for a 100,000.”
That sounds like a lot, but of you want ~100w of power per m2 that’s 0.1GW of power per km2. So your 1,000 GW power plants are only replacing 10,000km2 of farm land. Meanwhile agriculture takes 51,000,000km2 worth of land. In other words replace 20% of global farmland and you got ~100 years worth of uranium from all the worlds oceans, it’s replaced by rocks.
But, “And those rocks contain 100 trillion tons of uranium.” gives you 2,500 years which is not bad, but that’s not going to be replaced.
PS: You might be able to beat 100w/m2 indoors, but remember this is also for 20% of farmland.
How did you arrive at these figures? I think you missed a conversion from pounds to tons.
Current global uranium consumption is in the hundreds of millions of pounds annually - hundreds of thousands of tons. And this is without reprocessing. Nuclear power already generates 10% electricity globally. Even if we assume a 200x increase in consumption from 200 million pounds to 20 billion pounds that still only 10 million tons of consumption annual. 100 trillion divided by 10 million is a lot more than 2,500.
If the land is reserved and left to nature that is still a positive thing because that helps the environment and biodiversity. But I'm sure that they could put solar panels on it if they wanted.
The point is that this land is not required for production and in any case solar require much, much more land, so, no, it's not even close.
When you adjust PV for capacity factor the difference ends up at over an order of magnitude.
75% capacity factor * 50y / (50y + 10y construction + ~30y decommissioning) = 42% capacity factor which is higher than solar but not by that much.
But let’s assume you’re at a 1.5x capacity factor advantage. So 1.5 GW of solar = 1.0 GW of nuclear. 1.5GW / 220w/m2 = 2.9 square miles of panels plus panel spacing and whatever infrastructure is needed. Double it to be really pessimistic and your under 6 square miles.
That's not how it works. PV capacity factor is 11-12% to the 90-95% of nuclear meaning you need to install about an order of magnitude more PV effect not 1.5x.
As we are talking land use, construction and decommissioning is a major hit to nuclear. But with solar you can operate continuously by just swapping panels and replacing wires etc as needed.
Basically, in steady state a 50 year nuclear power plant spends the first 30 years with the previous reactor being decommissioned, and it’s last 10 years with it’s replacement being built. Effectively you need 1.8 locations for a single power plant.
Also, I used a specific 75% capacity factor over it’s operating lifespan in that calculation. Some are higher, but the trend is down over time so you want to use an old reactor as your baseline. Here is 72.5% Decommission date 29 June 2020 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fessenheim_Nuclear_Power_Plant
>"Replacing panels is just a cost question"
Sure, I bet you won't need more than 2 guys and a pickup truck to install, maintain and replace the 120 million panels it would take to create the equivalent to a site with 4 modern reactors. After all, that's only 35 000 panels to install every day if you want to build the site in 10 years.
Everything is magical with solar.
That's a hypothetical figure for 2050.
I mean in theory sure it seems like it should happen, but in practice not so much.
I would presume it's a matter of very few new nuclear reactors being built. Some smaller sites will be decommissioned regardless though.
Anyway to use a specific example Capacity factor 26.6% (average 2015–2018) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topaz_Solar_Farm.
Bulk panels are $0.29 per W or 290$ per kW. PS-P72-330W https://sunelec.com/
If 1kw is worth 0.01997 $/h * 24 * 0.266 * 365 * 20 = 930$. Of course they don’t instantly break exactly in year 20. They lose efficiency over time so averaging ~90% over 25 years which is ~100% over 22 years. https://sunelec.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/P72_outlin...
I can’t find an exact breakdown of costs spent on panels vs interest, instillation, inverters etc. But, at most we are talking about fractions of a cent worth of subsides to hit 2c/kWh.
That's a calculation based on 1kW of installed capacity, which is about 3 of those 345W panels so the earning per panel over its lifetime (in sunny southern California btw) is about $310.
Also the $ sign goes in front of the number.
(The joke here is that the true cost is undefined because we here in the US have no method to store the long-term hazardous waste it produces. Current cleanup costs for just the military reactor waste are estimated at $500B, for civilian reactors the costs are said to be higher.)
2. We will continue to have nuclear waste if we want to have nuclear weapons
3. You can store all the waste you need to store in a football field (https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/5-fast-facts-about-spent-...)
Nuclear waste management is messy, but it's something we need to solve no matter what. It is now a sunk cost we have to deal with because of what we have already done and what we plan to keep.
So if we already have to pay the fixed cost, we should reap as much benefit as possible.
Claiming that hazardous nuclear waste represents a fixed cost no matter how much you generate is simply absurd.
You're overstating the cost of waste storage by two orders of magnitude. It's sealed into concrete cylinders. This doesn't look very haphazard to me: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Nuclear_...
As an aside, if you must snark, it's best to do it when you're following the thread of the conversation.
Replying to the misrepresentation of my words:
I did not state that HN is turning into Reddit. HN is not turning into reddit. The culture of HN has been damaged, however, by the lack of acculturation of last years influx.
Quoting the guidelines is not "throwing them at" other users. Please read the words actually written.
> Please don't post comments saying that HN is turning into Reddit. It's a semi-noob illusion, as old as the hills.
Maybe you ought to try following those guidelines before throwing them at other HN users?
I did a quick Google search and only came up with the C19 core magic set.
Also you could check my profile and see that I’ve been posting on HN since 2012.
(this is even more true when you consider the cost of externalities)
Solar and wind are simple and very amenable to mass production. Many parts of them are usable for other purposes -- we need generators for things other than windmills, inverters for things other than solar powerplants, etc. This means we're not making things as a one off, but doing mass manufacturing, and the different users all reap benefits.
They're easy to produce, which means there's lots and lots of competition, which pushes down price.
They're easy to install, scale and maintain.
They're easy to iterate, because it doesn't take billions to test a new design on a small scale.
They don't need most of the parts nuclear has -- if you think of it a windmill contains parts a nuclear plant needs too, but unlike nuclear doesn't have all the nuclear stuff along with it, which isn't cheap.
The way I see it, nuclear could have been successful but is going the way of the mainframe -- today mass computing is done on huge amounts of commodity hardware, and in the same way large, purpose built plants are already being overtaken by mass production of panel after panel being churned out of a factory, and that's not going to get any better for nuclear.
But if your goal is to actually eliminate carbon emissions, you need to factor in the cost of storage. And there really no feasible plan of storing the amount of energy required at the moment.
If your goal is to actually eliminate carbon emissions, nuclear presents a much more realistic option. We keep celebrating Germany, but in reality their carbon emissions per KWh of electricity is not actually very good. It is worse than Britain. And it's ~7x worse than it's neighborhood to the west, which we tend to ignore for some reason.
The ideal plan for nuclear is to pump out power at 100% 24/7. You save nothing by being idle, and you want to pay off your loan as soon as possible.
All that goes to hell once cheap renewables show up, because the moment wind or solar can sell power cheaper, a rational person would buy it from renewables. Which means that if the sun is shining, you're either not selling at all, or selling much less or cheaper than you'd like to. And so your loans now get repaid much later.
At some point a bank looks at that and figures that the proposition of maybe making a profit 30 years in the future isn't that great of a deal. That's a long time, for all the bank knows, solar might be dirt cheap by then and kill nuclear for good before it gets to making a profit. Probably better to put billions to some safer use.
Politically it's not a lot better -- nuclear costs $$$, and takes a long time to build, which means that if you're the one who got the country into nuclear on a large scale you can't really expect to see a benefit within your term. Worst case it goes wrong and is an expensive boondoggle, which doesn't bode well for reelection.
Nuclear may make sense if you think "emissions are paramount, screw money". But there's not a lot of people who'd be willing or even able to risk billions in such a manner.
Solar and wind are both intermittent. Wind is dependent on the weather and experiences situations with near zero production for long stretches of time. Solar is also weather dependent, and has day-night cycles on top of it.
This is fine if you're not actually looking to decarbonize a grid, just trying to opportunistically shave off carbon emissions here and there in a primarily fossil fuel grid. But if you're actually trying to eliminate fossil fuel use this is not a good approach. Theoretically we could store excess energy, but no scalable storage solution exists at the moment. That leaves nuclear power plants to serve as a dispatchable source. But as you pointed out, nuclear plants are just as cheap to run 24/7 as it does to run intermittently. So why not just build the nuclear plants and skip the renewables?
Unless your power production is run by the government, generation is done by companies looking to make a profit. Solar and wind companies don't mind in the slightest that they're screwing up the business model of nuclear. The fact that their production is intermittent isn't important to them -- it's already accounted into their business model, and nuclear's lack of ability to deal with that and grid stability is somebody else's problem.
If you think nuclear is the solution here you must be prepared to pour many billions of tax money on supporting its existence even though it's currently unprofitable. China can do that, because China's government has the long term control and lack of concern about public opinion to get such things done.
Politicians in democratic nations in general lack such a luxury. They know that they can get kicked out of power before their first plants get built, and then the successor either pulls the plug on the project entirely, or keeps whatever got built, but almost definitely nowhere near close to the full capacity needed.
You'd have a hard time skipping the renewables, because you'd essentially have to forbid them. You'd have to go there and make a law that you can't build solar even though it would produce power that's twice as cheap, or take craploads of tax money and subsidize nuclear. I suspect neither is going to look very good in the news.
Last time I checked France was a democratic nation. So was Belgium. Both of those have achieve majority nuclear power generation, and France over 70%.
The cynical reality, though, is that you're right. People would rather make a token effort on intermittent sources, while continuing to burn fossil fuels for most of their energy. The damage to the environment caused by the continued use of fossil fuels in this approach, though, will eventually take a toll. But that toll will mostly be borne by poor people in the global south, not in the countries that had the capability to build nuclear but chose to primarily use fossil fuels supplement it with intermittent sources.
That was the past. The dynamics have changed, and renewables are much more competitive now. Nobody is building more nuclear right now. True, there's paranoia, but there's also economics.
And I'm not talking about fossil fuels either.
Here's what I expect to happen today with a carbon tax: it'll kill fossil fuels, and give a huge boost to renewables. Nuclear won't benefit nearly as much, because renewables can sell each GW/h cheaper and are much faster and easier to build. We'll get a grid full of solar panels and wind, and probably serious instability. This is because the people that build powerplants don't care about the system as a whole, but about making profit within it.
At that point you can subsidize nuclear, heavily tax renewables, or subsidize storage. My view is that the last one is the long term solution because nuclear won't outcompete renewables long term.
> Here's what I expect to happen today with a carbon tax: it'll kill fossil fuels, and give a huge boost to renewables. Nuclear won't benefit nearly as much, because renewables can sell each GW/h cheaper and are much faster and easier to build.
This is overly simplistic. Eliminating carbon emissions is not just about generating more clean energy. It's about replacing the energy that fossil fuels currently provide. It's hard to do that with intermittent sources.
> At that point you can subsidize nuclear, heavily tax renewables, or subsidize storage. My view is that the last one is the long term solution because nuclear won't outcompete renewables long term.
Perhaps, if we have a miraculous breakthrough in energy storage. But unless that happens, we'll end up building nuclear power to fulfill off-peak demand. And since nuclear power is just as cheap to run 100% of the time as it does to run part of the time it'll just make the bulk of renewables redundant.
If you have 100 GW of solar solar panels plus nuclear plants generating 100 GW for nighttime use, it's just as cheap to run the nuclear plants 24/7 and ditch the solar panels.
The UK for instance has one powerplant actually in construction and it already got a bad rap because it's a bad deal economically.
Besides that, I think you're missing my point. My point is that you have to deal with reality, and reality doesn't really align with the way you want things to work. For instance, you said:
"So why not just build the nuclear plants and skip the renewables?"
My question is: "Who 'we'"? In a lot of countries, there's no "we" that applies. There's a government that sets the rules, and private enterprise that builds the plants. If "we" is the government, then they don't build powerplants themselves. They may allow them to be built, but a company still has to want to.
And if "we" is the commmercial enterprise, then nuclear is far too big for anybody to build it out of sheer altruism or good PR. That's big money territory and it must make a profit.
If you simply impose a carbon tax, private enterprise will just go and build solar. We have no storage? Those companies won't care. It's not their problem to solve. They'll build whatever makes the most money, which is almost definitely not nuclear.
If you want nuclear to happen you'll have to force it somehow, and I'm not seeing any particularly attractive ways of doing so. You want to be the politician who runs on a campaign of forbidding or heavily taxing solar and wind at the same time as dumping billions of $ into nuclear construction? Yeah, that'll go great, I'm sure.
Depends on how high the carbon tax is. Put it at a high enough rate that the country needs to go 100% carbon-free and people will build nuclear because that's the only solution (besides geographically limited things like geothermal and hydro) that can feasibly bring carbon emissions to zero.
Renewables are cheap when going from a mostly fossil fuel grid to a 50/50 renewable and fossil fuel grid. But bringing fossil fuels below 50% without the help of nuclear or hydroelectricity is extremely difficult. Any plan to do so basically assumes that some future breakthrough will make storage cost a fraction of what it does today.
> We have no storage? Those companies won't care. It's not their problem to solve.
Yeah, that's why there's no plan to actually decarbonize with renewables.
And if we actually want to stop climate change, yes it absolutely a problem that needs to be solved.
> If you want nuclear to happen you'll have to force it somehow, and I'm not seeing any particularly attractive ways of doing so. You want to be the politician who runs on a campaign of forbidding or heavily taxing solar and wind at the same time as dumping billions of $ into nuclear construction? Yeah, that'll go great, I'm sure.
Pass a carbon tax such that building a nuclear plant is less expensive than running solar during the day and natural gas at night. Renewables depend on fossil fuels until we make a breakthrough in storage.
Why? Because there's no "we". There's no central planning. What there is is a bunch of self-interested parties that don't care about the entirety of the problem. Everybody will go with what makes the most sense to them, the result will be suboptimal, and then once things go wrong the country will have to fix the problems somehow.
Your plan may make sense in China where the government can indeed implement a central plan, costs and opinions be damned. But it seems extremely unlikely to happen in most western democracies because the politics won't support it.
"Yeah, that's why there's no plan to actually decarbonize with renewables."
What I'm trying to say is that there's no global plan whatsoever. In most countries we don't have the ability to implement any kind of comprehensive central policy. We have multiple parties that can nudge things in one direction or another but none of which has full control over what happens.
"Pass a carbon tax such that building a nuclear plant is less expensive than running solar during the day and natural gas at night."
But the problem is that there's no single party in charge of solving that problem. You pass a carbon tax. Fossil fuels die. Companies will build solar, because it makes them money. Companies won't build nuclear because it's expensive to build and solar is eating their lunch. The powerplant building company cares nothing about the economics of keeping the country powered 24/7, they care about the economics of building their plant. If their business model works okay while selling nothing at night, then it works, and that's that.
Then we'll get blackouts at night, solar companies will shrug "not our problem", and the government will have to scramble to find a solution.
It doesn't work like that.
Contrary to your repeated insistence that there is no central planning, there is indeed extensive government planning in electrical grids. You can't just say "we'll only give you power during X hours of the day" to your customers. Likewise, you can't just tell customers who don't live near a dam that they won't be getting electricity when it isn't windy.
Wholesalers can do this, because they sell to other grid companies who actually sell to consumers. But no, if we have solar and wind and these sources aren't producing enough electricity then they have to burn gas and pay the carbon taxes. And if the carbon taxes are high enough, it's less expensive to build nuclear plants that emit no carbon and don't suffer from intermittency.
Where you have strong central government control -- there you can have comprehensive plans. Where you don't, you can't.
Which is why Covid-19 is a clusterfuck in the US -- because the US doesn't have strong enough central control (and heck, Trump didn't care anyway). Even with Biden at the helm his power is limited and he has to convince the various states to act, and Congress hangs in a very delicate balance.
Also, the fact that a country can do one thing doesn't mean it necessarily can do another. That you have centralized healthcare and can command a country-wide response to covid-19 doesn't mean you have centralized power generation and can command a country-wide decarbonization.
Sure, things can be restructured, laws can be passed, power generation can be nationalized, but none of that is quick nor easy and by no means guaranteed to happen even if it would result in the best outcomes.
Plus as far as the public is concerned, covid-19 is a lot more understandable and immediate of a concern. Climate change is more of a vague and slow moving threat, and that makes it much harder to do dramatic things in response.
The second part to the plan is to spend a lot of tax money expanding the power lines to nearby country in order to increase the capacity for importing energy from nearby countries coal based power plants.
As a conclusion I agree that the people that build power plants don't care about the system as a whole. The government however do care about stability and mine is perfectly fine with spending tax money on that. Politically, voters are not going to be upset that money is spent on grid stability, even if then ends up in the hands of owners of fossil fueled power plants.
The US has 25 GWh of storage, as compared to an hourly electricity consumption of 500 GWh. Literally less than ten minutes of storage. Almost all of it hydroelectric, which is a big infrastructure project on par with building nuclear power plants
I'm sure you're eager to talk about how thermal storage, or concret weights with pulleys, or compressed air is going to be 100x better than current solutions. But until those things move out to prototypes and I to mass production, they represent potential solutions not actual solutions. Like fusion. If the next attempt at fusion works, great! But building out infrastructure assuming it's going to work is extremely unwise.
> The US has 25 GWh of storage, as compared to an hourly electricity consumption of 500 GWh. Literally less than ten minutes of storage. Almost all of it hydroelectric, which is a big infrastructure project on par with building nuclear power plants
Storage was marginal in the past because there wasn't much of a business case for it. With renewables crashing in price and fossil fuels being phased out, that is changing. There are now strong market forces pushing development of storage technologies. Your insistence of carrying over the market conditions of the past into the future leads you astray.
Maybe one of the proposed storage solutions will pan out. But building out trillions of dollars of infrastructure projects on the hope that a future breakthrough will make storage feasible is very risky. Fusion has been 10-20 years away for the past 50 years. General artificial intelligence has been 10-20 years away for the past 50 years. Between:
1. Going with a known solution, that already generates more electricity than solar and wind combined and one we have 70 years of experience working with.
2. Going with a solution contingent on a massive technological breakthrough to actually work.
When the stakes are as high as climate change, I cannot even remotely justify going with #2 over #1 even if the costs are potentially lower on paper.
And that is a recent thing there. The global market is still developing, and technologies don't materialize instantly. CO2 taxes are still low (or zero) just about everywhere.
But hey, I hope you are also not going to claim nuclear will be cheaper in the future, because I could reflect that argument right back at you. And I could observe that, unlike with renewables and storage, nuclear has a horribly bad historical experience curve.
> Maybe one of the proposed storage solutions will pan out. But building out trillions of dollars of infrastructure projects on the hope that a future breakthrough will make storage feasible is very risky.
It's only a $$$ risk. We absolutely know the storage is possible, we just haven't confirmed how cheap it will be. Worst case is we spend a bit more. This is fine. Investments are not guarantees; one is always gambling.
By this logic why not just use fusion? It's possible. We don't know which exact approach we'll use (lasers, magnets, etc.). We don't know how cheap it'll be, but hey it'll happen eventually right? No.
It's not "worst case we spend more money". It's "worse case we never solve climate change". And that's a pretty bad worst case.
We're already at the point where markets are starting to see saturation with renewables. But this unfounded aversion to nuclear power is hampering actual progress to decarbonization. The cost of waiting around and hoping for storage to become viable is not just the cost of building those storage systems, but also the continued release of fossil fuels as we wait for that to happen - and who knows when that will happen, if ever.
We solve climate change by raising CO2 costs high enough. Again, this is not a go-no go thing, it is just haggling over the price.
> We're already at the point where markets are starting to see saturation with renewables.
This just means CO2 taxes aren't high enough. BTW, they'd have to be $300-400/ton for new nuclear to compete with gas in the US.
It's easy to make renewables look cheap if you assume some wundertech makes storage free. Will thermal storage, synthetic methane, or who knows what else fulfill this need? Who knows, but they don't yet. Thus renewables only present a solution coupled with an engineering breakthrough. It's like assuming moore's law held true and developed an app that assumed it'd run on a 1THz single-core processor presumably developed a decade in the future. Seems reasonable in 1995, but that's have been a very bad bet.
To recover energy, this is reversed, with the temperature difference driving the cycle in the other direction. Detailed calculations with inefficiencies show an overall round trip efficiency of 60% or better could be achieved. All the temperatures are below the creep limit of ordinary steel, so this system would require no exotic materials whatsoever.
It's also possible to design a thermal storage system without the cold store, using the ambient environment as a heat sink when running the generator. In that case, adding a backup heater (burning hydrogen, say) would make the store double as a backup generator at extremely low extra capital cost.
To the best of my knowledge, fusion only demonstrated net-positive energy production this decade, and hasn't yet reached ignition in a man-made device.
They're not the same.
It's like trying to be carbon neutral through burning biomass. Yeah, it works as a general principle. But the energy density just isn't there. The US consumes about much energy each year as we'd get from clear-cutting the entire country over the span of a single year. And the plants take longer than that to grow. Sure, we could try more exotic things like dumping iron into the ocean and harvesting algae blooms. But as a general principle, biomass energy source doesn't scale well.
Same with energy storage. Nuclear isotopes are a great store of energy. The best we know how to tap into in term of energy density, that's why we use it on submarines. Chemical energy like methane is good, but the sabatier process isn't that feasible and it needs a pre-existing source of carbon dioxide. Electrochemical storage like batteries is great for systems that need to store a relatively small amount of energy, like cars and electronics. But it isn't available at nearly the required scale. Hydroelectricity storage is better for scale, but still not good enough. And I'm sure you can name other proposed systems like pulleys, hydrogen, compressed air, an d more. But the point is that until they've demonstrated commercial viability let alone beaten competitive solutions it's a big assumption to factor these into solutions to climate change.
Are people accepting contracts to store X GWh of electricity in pulleys, or or compressed air and operating those projects successfully? Until then, these do not represent presently available solutions to climate change. I'd be happy to be proven wrong, but until then saying we have a realistic plan to provision enough energy storage to decarbonize through renewables is counterfactual - at least save for places like Norway or Iceland that have dispatchable sources of renewable energy nearby in the form of geographically dependent hydro and geothermal power.
The argument that nothing that hasn't been commercialized can be considered is a double standard. Nuclear on the scale needed to replace fossil fuels is also currently impossible. The infrastructure to build it isn't there, and the breeder reactors that would be needed to fuel it aren't commercially available either.
No, it's not deception. Both solar and wind suffer from low energy density, especially as compared to nuclear. 200 Watts per square meter isn't all that good energy density.
> Nuclear on the scale needed to replace fossil fuels is also currently impossible.
Again, France just mysteriously doesn't exist in the alternate reality that hardcore renewable supporters live in. Globally, nuclear generates more than solar and wind combined.
What reason is there to believe a generator with blades attached to it is going to lose to a generator with a containment building and reactor attached to it?
Grid scale batteries make wind cheaper by allowing less overproduction but they do that for everything by assisting grid balance and acting as a form of high frequency trading which is productive in ways other than increased market liquidity.
Fear-mongering is _the reason_ for the absence of progress and rising prices, not some technical obstacles.
Much more plausibly, the technology itself is to blame.
Although there are other options like pumped hydro (pump the water back up the hill) though clearly that has logistical limits.
I am personally of the point of view that if we went on a nuclear power plant building spree back in the day to replace coal plants/provide for growing needs and used breeder reactors to deal with waste we would be far better off. Renewables are cheaper per kWhr now however. For the future, who knows if fusion or renewable will work better for terrestrial grid applications once fusion reaches the point of a positive energy balance?
Today is the long term, and the costs are still uncontrolled.
by my math, that's $215bn to launch all our nuclear waste into space. Is there a reason that's not a viable option?
But first of all, the cost is still massive, even with SpaceX. And furthermore, you'd just put it into (decaying) low earth orbit that way. Further away would be even more expensive.
Finally, spent fuel still contains a lot of energy and should be recycled. This in turn is a very nasty and expensive procedure.
That is potential future fuel.
And what do you think drives the latest Mars rover, Perseverance?
A physicist who died 55 years ago said it'd be commercially deployed by 1975. 1954 was the "too cheap to meter" claim by an investment banker who worked for the Truman administration. That's still quoted today, said 2 years before Elvis debuted on Ed Sullivan.
We're all supposed to treat it like it's a valid opinion. While instead, 46 years after the predicted free energy for all bonanza, rate payers are getting hit with taxes to keep nuclear going. It's in practice, in actual reality, a more expensive option.
Continue to research. March on with science, sure. But as a matter of public policy and planning, relying on it is pure fantasy.
I don't know why hn is so koolaid-drunk on this stuff. It's a cult with 70 years of failed predictions. It's apparently like any other cult where wrong predictions make the true believers even more fanatical.
We're amidst planet altering climate change, this is really not the time to fuck around.
Right, and more than that, it appears to be relying on the old fallacy that a solar panel takes up "land" the same way a field of corn does, to the exclusion of other uses.
That is not necessarily the case, especially when we're imaging strategic uses of space that might become more prevalent in the future. Solar panels can go on top of things, including other solar panels in the form of vertical solar farms.
If we talked about pages of books the same way we talk about solar panels, you could claim that War & Peace takes up an acre of space.
Ahead of its time, it was unjustly rejected and persecuted by the ignorant masses. Its advocates are bonded by the quiet pride that at least they weren't unthinkingly siding with those masses. (And they're right!) Meanwhile, as the Amiga stagnated for terribly unfair reasons, other, scrappier technologies like the i386 and UMG-Si grew from being worthless boondoggles (except in special circumstances, like spaceflight) to being actually far better and cheaper. But the Amiga advocates keep the faith, sharing their suffering and resentment. They inevitably try the alternatives a little and perhaps even start to like them. Gradually their denial recedes, decade by decade.
But they know that however much fab costs go down and leave their beloved Amiga behind in the dust, you'll never be able to run nuclear submarines and Antarctic research stations on solar panels.
Such articles have an ideological bias.
“The cost of new nuclear is prohibitive for us to be investing in,” says Crane. Exelon considered building two new reactors in Texas in 2005, he says, when gas prices were $8/MMBtu and were projected to rise to $13/MMBtu. At that price, the project would have been viable with a CO2 tax of $25 per ton. “We’re sitting here trading 2019 gas at $2.90 per MMBtu,” he says; for new nuclear power to be competitive at that price, a CO2 tax “would be $300–$400.” Exelon currently is placing its bets instead on advances in energy storage and carbon sequestration technologies.
If the last European projects are to be taken as models, it's a negative number (Olkiluoto 3 started in 2005 and not online before next year at best...). Not better for Flamanville 3, maybe Hinkley Point C will be achieved a bit faster...
I mean if I put on my idealist sci fi glasses, I can see a future where we have infinite energy for free, in which case we will see a lot more energy-wasteful endeavours like vertical farms, air conditioning and cryptocurrencies. But we're not there yet, and we won't be there yet for a long time.
Energy production, also with renewables, increases year over year, but keeping right on it is energy consumption.
Examples from my own country. We're building big wind farms in the North Sea. But at the same time, Google and co are building data centers that use up a lot of their capacity already. And another thing happening at the same time is a push to reduce our dependency on natural gas for heating and cooking (because emissions and international politics / dependency on Russia). And the other push is towards electric vehicles. So thirst for electricity only goes up, probably faster than new energy sources can be built (renewable or otherwise).
This trend will continue, wouldn't be surprised if electricity consumption will double in the next decade.
I remember the first time that someone was telling that fusion would be producing a lot of power by the end of the decade, but I can't remember whether this was the 70s or the 80s.
Considering that humans have yet to produce one joule of net energy from fusion, and the longest anyone has ever run a fusion reactor was 20 seconds, I think you're wildly optimistic.
Indeed, I would say that if America today had working plans for a commercial fusion power plant handed to it by benevolent aliens, between a deliberately broken bureaucracy and the awesome power of the fossil fuel industry, I would be quite surprised if the first plant opened by January 1, 2030. (And I'd suspect that literally billions of kickbacks and graft would have to be paid for the gatekeepers to allow it in.)
(Other more rational, less kleptocratic countries might do better - I'm looking at you, Germany - and paradoxically, fully authoritarian states might also do better.)
Like it did "by the end" of 4-5 previous decades...
It's the perennial "soon" technology...
Vertical farm can be set up in a place where normal farm would not be possible. One can also imagine that solar panels can be placed on a piece of land that would not be suitable for growing crops.
There is loads of empty land on the world. Land that is worth a lot is close to where all people are and in places where it is fertile and ideally flat.
I imagine electricity, regardless of source, is still the most expensive factor.
- 95%+ reduction in water usage
- no need for any pesticides because... boom no pests
- no need for any other treatments to reduce disease
- can be powered in any way
- does not need to have complex freight
Sure it doesn't "save space" if you make a ton of win/solar farms. Sure. But its not about saving space as much as solving a huge logistics problem, water problem, pesticide problem, and even the taste problem (food harvested recently will taste better than frozen food transported for weeks/months)
How is vertical farming powered by solar panels better than building the same artificial growing environment at ground-level and powering it with sunlight?
Now try planting something there....
Mine produced ~4 bags over 6 weeks for an energy cost of ~$5 and a negligible amount of water. I think I can get the per-plant cost down to ~$0.50 once I start using my own seeds, so around $10 over 6 weeks to replace 4 bags of salad at around $3 each... a grand savings of $2. We're moving around 4 bags of greens a week between 2 adults, so I'd need to 6x that to replace all the greens we're eating, which gets the savings up to ~$2/week.
The cost savings is negligible -- I do it because it's neat and I like having a houseplant I can eat. It's also MUCH easier for a residential system to offset its energy usage than a commercial setup (I have way more square footage on my roof than I would ever "grow" inside my house).
The calorie argument is more compelling, but how many thousands of years did it take for people to get wheat so calorically dense? I think it's going to take time to develop nutrient-rich crops specifically tailored for indoor farming.
The only thing that makes vertical farming make any financial sense, today, is the access to cheap (subsidized) fossil fuels.
This is a counterintuitive misconception that I mention elsewhere in this thread. Plants aren't optimized for raw sunlight utilization, because that's not the bottleneck for growth or survival. Plants deliberately reflect away 90% of the sun's energy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthetic_efficiency) because other factors are more important: https://www.quantamagazine.org/why-are-plants-green-to-reduc...
They'll have that same efficiency with artificial lighting too… At least until our grow lights stop emitting light in the green spectrum (not something I expect to see anytime soon).
There is an exception to this: there is a standard LED graph which shows up quite frequently, identified by it's peeks in the deep reds, yellow, and dark blue, with a marked trough at cyan.
I also built six 4ftx4ft raised (dirt) beds in our back yard a few years back. I plant fairly densely (usually using 1x1 squares for most things, 2x2 for tomatoes) and I'm thinking about trying one of the tower gardens as a replacement for a single 4x4 bed this growing season. It's been a minute since I ran the numbers, but I think you can plant 20-25 plants on one tower vs maybe 4-16 in a single bed and theoretically not have to weed/water as much (but then you get pump maintenance/ph balance/feeding/cleaning instead).
I'm building a 2ftx2ft indoor herb garden for my apartment right now. I found the LEDgardener to be a good resource and forum for getting started.
Kind of free? There was nothing in that space before.