The only thing I do not get is why energy companies are not forced to carry more extensive insurance policies to the long term damages/risks they cause. Pushing this through all the way should provide enough incentives to move towards renewables.
Not really. Nuclear disasters are bad for the environment, but considerably less bad than say... Building a city somewhere.
And "cough a bit more" is probably the understatement of a day. Those fuckers even create more radioactive waste (which won't get collected) when they work as intended, than nuclear plants when they break down. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is...)
You are on track with the insurance policy. Though it's pretty safe to assume, that real costs of coal and carbon-based fuels are not calculated very well for insurance purposes either.
The end-point of unstoppable climate-change could potentially render the entire earth inhabitable via the Venus-effect. Even most apocalyptic local consequences are pretty minor compared to those.
How about reading your own linked article before making a fool of yourself with claims like that? It says coal plants create more radioactive waste than a nuclear plant that has not broken down.
The problem is that it's so politically difficult to build new nuclear plants so that old ones can be retired, that we're still using poorly designed plants from the 1960s that are already past their design lifetime. And then people are surprised that they're problematic.
Finland is building one at the moment. At $4.1 billion it's now 50% over budget.
And Finland's reactor is remarkably cheap, if it only cost $4.1B. I believe typical plants cost closer to $10B. Nuclear plants are not cheap to build.
That's a lie.
The equation breaks down when you factor in any of the following:
A) Waste handling and disposal
B) Reactor upgrades and replacement on a sane schedule (i.e. more frequently than the current ~35 years)
C) Hardening against deliberate attacks such as airplanes
D) A single catastrophic event due to continued negligence of B and C
The nuclear industry operates on the premise of being able to push the cost for all of the above upon society at some indefinite point in the future (cf. Fukushima). You may or may not agree with that approach (i.e. you could argue "it's worth it"), but let's not drink their kool-aid please.
When you factor those in, it becomes more expensive than coal, and slightly cheaper than oil or gas.
Also, airplanes pack very little punch compared to other things like internal steam buildup that plants are already hardened against. In a properly designed plant, you get airplane tolerance effectively for free.
And that magic knowledge you take from... where?
Last time I checked there was no solution to the waste issue; we simply have no idea what to do with it in the long term. Meanwhile in most countries the transport and "temporary" storage of the waste are conveniently paid for by the tax-payer.
Last time I checked most reactors are destined to be running for 40 years. Except when, like in USA and France, they decide to extend that to 60 years. So much for replacing ancient reactors with safer designs.
Last time I checked most reactors were not hardened against deliberate attacks. And Fukushima was supposed to be one of the few specially hardened sites - we have seen how that went.
In a properly designed plant, you get airplane tolerance effectively for free.
Studying the viability of, of all things, solar power, and comparing the costs of various competing technologies. (The school I studied at is quite involved in solar research. It's price needs to drop by a significant factor before it becomes competitive, but it's on the way.)
To borrow your words: "And that magic knowledge you take from... where?"
When you design a reactor to take the rather substantial internal steam explosions (and the associated water hammer) that might happen in a complete failure scenario, you end up with quite a solid building.
Living densely is one of the most sustainable things humans can do.
Nothing benefits from a nuclear disaster.
Only you have to built a city to house people, whereas you don't have to build a nuclear reactor to give them energy, there are other options. Next argument?
>And "cough a bit more" is probably the understatement of a day. Those fuckers even create more radioactive waste (which won't get collected) when they work as intended, than nuclear plants when they break down.
Not so. The article you link to says the researchers found comparable or slightly higher levels to that of a nuclear factory in normal operation. And it goes on to say:
McBride and his co-authors estimated that individuals living near coal-fired installations are exposed to a maximum of 1.9 millirems of fly ash radiation yearly. To put these numbers in perspective, the average person encounters 360 millirems of annual "background radiation" from natural and man-made sources, including substances in Earth's crust, cosmic rays, residue from nuclear tests and smoke detectors.
Quite quaint. Not at all what happens in a nuclear plant accident.
A lot of geek people like to support nuclear plants because they think it's the pro-science thing to do ("oh, those ignorant masses, they are afraid of science"), and will twist the facts as fast as any bible-yielding evolution-denier to do so.
Well, nuclear plants are not science: they are technology, that is applied science.
Unlike, say, math, technology is not perfect: it's shaped by private interests, it's prone to human error (from the design to the development, to the operation stage), and it can also do a lot of bad shit, from blowing up people a la Challenger to Chernobyl.
PS: Of course this is also because the nuclear industry has killed so few people.
It all works only because government(s) get their bombs, energy companies in cahoots with the government get their unrealistically low 'production costs' and the suckers taxpayers pay for any accidents and cleanups, whose costs are therefore never included in the accounting when making the comparisons.
German electors still have some say in the matter and they did their sums.
I'm not sure how you can assert this to be true. Because it is a rare event, the premiums won't be that obscene, particularly if the carrier isn't carrying related policies.
The expense of a nuclear plant failure is most certainly high but, for example, can't match the impact of say Katrina (and while no insurance company was carrying all the impact of Katrina, several of them bore far more than the costs of pretty of completely destroying an entire major city, which is more than any nuclear power plant failure).
Certainly the money to be made from producing that much energy that cheaply outweighs the insurance costs.
Ironically, I'd argue this is part of the problem with nuclear energy. If left completely unregulated, I could see that a typical nuclear power station would be built with quite spare safety precautions, with the expectation that it likely would fail within a certain period of time, with an insurance policy in place to cover the expenses when that occurs.
The reason for this is that insurance companies aren't gamblers - they don't like insuring against minutely-likely but stratospherically-high-cost events, even if they can charge a premium that gives them a positive expected value. That's because they have to factor in that with such a high payout, there is a risk of destroying their business altogether. You can't capitalise on the positive expected value over 1000 years if you went bankrupt in year 3, even if that was just due to "bad luck".
This is just like the understanding that poker players have, that you need a considerably larger bankroll than the stakes you are playing in order to ride out "variance", as it's known.
Insurance companies understand risk.
Other than that, you make a good point, and history bares it out. Insurance companies aren't gamblers, they aren't willing to support minutely-likely but stratospherically-high-cost events, even if they can see high profit margines. Bottom line: they really understand risk.
Note that the $441 billion was just for a small division inside of AIG. The bigger divisions are obviously capable of handling more.
It turns out that Fukushima was 'insured' but the insurers won't be paying anything. It is all excluded, see?
To prove your assertions, you need to come up with an example where a major nuclear disaster was actually cleaned up at the insurers expense. Till then, I stand by my statements.
To prove your assertions, you'd need to come up with a nuclear reactor which was constructed in an unregulated environment. ;-)
Look, I'm not making claims one way or another. I'm simply suggesting that your claim doesn't seem very credible once one has applied some very simple logic. I could be missing something, but I think you ought to have some evidence to back up such an extraordinary claim. As someone else pointed out, your typical coal operation ought to have a higher incident rate and cost, which means it ought to be even more expensive...
Realistically, you can calculate the costs without coming up with your silly example. It is sufficient to simply add up the costs needed to cover the disaster, and then look at the premiums paid for covering similar sized disasters with similar rates of occurrence, making your best effort to extrapolate over any gaps.
Alternatively, speak with an actuarial who works in the business and they can extrapolate what the premiums would be. In a truly unregulated market, I'd imagine the incident rate would be higher and the recovery costs a bit lower, so it might be hard to get a real cost, but go for the costs in the existing regulated market. I have a hard time imagining they'd be prohibitive, but I'd be intrigued if you proved otherwise.
436 plus 63 in construction (as of 2010).
It is sufficient to simply add up the costs needed to cover the disaster
The total cost for the Chernobyl incident was estimated at $235 billion in 2006 and the figure only keeps growing.
Since 2007 they're building a new sarcophagus (because the old one is falling apart). The costs were estimated at another $1.4 billion for that alone. But they're late already, and well, you know how it goes.
In contrast Hurricane Katrina was a bargain at $150 billion dollars .
The Fukushima incident is estimated to cost $257 billion dollars  and that's probably a little optimistic.
and then look at the premiums paid for covering similar sized disasters with similar rates of occurrence
See, here is your problem. At these scales there is no coverage and no reference; these are disasters of national scale. For Katrina the insurance industry paid $41 billion dollars , guess who carried the rest.
And the real question is: What happens when some confused individuals somehow manage to smuggle nail-clippers onto passenger planes and then fly them into multiple reactors, in densely populated areas, at the same time?
What is the insurance premium on that?
It's worth noting that the US military has at times very deliberately attacked nuclear facilities with armaments much more deadly than nail-clippers or a passenger plane that you might obtain from them. The damages are not the stuff of legend.
The US government has done the test, granted an F4 isn't a passenger jet but it probably has similar kinetic energy to a smaller passenger plane as it was going rather fast.
The most widely used passenger plane is the Boeing 737.
F4 Phantom empty weight: 29,500 lbs
Boeing 737 empty weight: 62,000 lbs
The average operating weight difference is probably quite a bit larger. You know, fuel, baggage, passengers.
You may want to review those videos from 9/11 to see what a passenger plane does to a building. You may also want to listen to the narrative of your video: The wall in your video is a specially hardened wall. Your reactors are not equipped with such walls because that would be cost prohibitive. And even these hardened walls are unlikely to withstand a passenger plane (ever wondered why the US government selected such a small plane for your video?).
On the second point:
"The containment building itself is typically an airtight steel structure enclosing the reactor normally sealed off from the outside atmosphere. The steel is either free-standing or attached to the concrete missile shield. In the United States, the design and thickness of the containment and the missile shield are governed by federal regulations (10 CFR 50.55a), and must be strong enough to withstand the impact of a fully loaded passenger airliner without rupture.[not in citation given]"
It's also not my nuclear reactor. My power comes from hydroelectric thank you very much.
The Phantom was crashed into the wall at 500 MPH
The cruising speed of a Boeing 737 is 485 MPH.
Also I'll ask you a very simple question: Why did the US Government not use a passenger plane for that video-demonstration, which would undoubtedly be a much more realistic scenario?
As to why they used an f4? Probably a heck of a lot cheaper than a 737 at the time.
Sometimes the government isn't out to screw you you know...
But it didn't in the video.
It would seem like there are plenty of scrapped 737s available to carry out such a test. I'm too lazy to look up prices on these things, but I'd be very surprised if those were significantly more expensive than a scrapped Phantom.
Because retired jets that are going to be scrapped are easier to obtain from the military.
We've seen how these designs fare in the face of an earthquake and flood.
We're both arguing on the grounds of mere guessing here, but my guess would be that a plane crash might very well cause similar disruptions.
Also if I was a terrorist plotting such an event, I might just fly two planes into the same reactor - because, why not?
The question is not about how such an event is executed but how likely it is. I hope we can agree that a dedicated team of individuals will find a way to cause a catastrophic event in these facilities.
And that's precisely the problem; Nuclear plants require something that we can't provide: Perfection.
We may be able to keep the nominal failure rate at the level that we've seen (Chernobyl, Fukushima). But all economic calculations that these plants have going for them are immediately invalidated when you start considering a single successful deliberate attack.
...can probably just build a bomb on their own just fine.
Nuclear power plants don't require perfection. There are minute possibilities of terrible disasters with almost any facility. Nuclear plants do have some particularly disconcerting problems that seem fairly obvious and must be mitigated against, but I think we can allow for the fact that with or without a nuclear plant, bad shit can happen, and actually without said plant, bad shit will happen.
Bhopal didn't have a nuclear power plant, just a measly ol' pesticide plant.
Building a bomb with effects comparable to a reactor meltdown requires significant resources. Running a few planes into a building requires - plane tickets.
You do remember that 9/11 thing, do you?
There are minute possibilities of terrible disasters with almost any facility
You pull every last ridiculous straw, don't you?
Yes, other bad things happen, too. If you think long and hard then you might grasp the difference in magnitude.
Hint: Chernobyl is estimated to have caused 250.000 deaths. 1700 square miles of land have been rendered permanently inhabitable. The numbers for Fukushima are still outstanding.
They work out at well over a billion per commissioned plant.
It is hardly a low risk, is it?
Estimates of Chernobyl's costs have been exacerbated by a number of factors, not the least of which was a number of ridiculous things that were done to cover up the mess.
The $150 billion Katrina estimate is ignoring a number of factors including things like... loss of life, which you know, tends to impact the costs of things.
Just the Federal government has spent >$100 billion and nobody in the area even tries to pretend that they've restored it to its previous state or undone the economic harm. Insurance companies, as you said, have paid $41 billion, so there you're at $141 billion and you've barely scratched the surface as compared to the things factored in to that $235 and $257 billion figures.
But let's cast all that aside. Let's assume the cost is 2-3x Katrina. The incident rate is obviously not that high (there's a reason basically all nuclear plant failures trace back to a design from the 60's), but I'm sure you can plug that in.
There is a pretty handy Wikipedia page with details for Nuclear Plant disasters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_and_radiation_accidents...
Now, I haven't done the math for how many aggregate plant-years of operation we've had, but let's say your average plant has been in operation for 10 years (which is definitely low-balling it in the US, but the mere fact we run these old nuclear power plants is exactly why they are so much more likely to have problems). That's 4360 plant-years. The Wikipedia page has 20+ incidents listed, but that includes a lot of cases that are tiny compared to the disasters you are thinking in terms of (and of course, ironically, anyone who is insuring these things will tell you that those smaller incidents are the primary drivers of the costs in an insurance policy). I count 5 cases throughout history with costs >$1 billion. That works out to a very exaggerated rate of one incident every 972 plant-years.
So, with all those "tie your hand behind your back" factors, a premium of $50 million/year would cover costs very well and leave the insurer rolling profit margins that'll probably create a congressional investigation. That's a lot of money, but compared to the economic output of a power plant, isn't prohibitive.
Realistically though, newer reactor designs, particularly post-3 mile island, have a much lower incident rate than their predecessors and much better mechanisms for containing damage. If insurers were driving the design of plants, it'd probably be even lower (or costs would drop). Most insurers would probably also adjust their premiums based on the age of plants, which at some point would make it more cost effective to build a new one than to keep operating an old one. They'd also reduce costs by establishing rules that would limit their liability in circumstances where the failure was due to some other party not managing their responsibilities.
I'm curious what the real numbers are, but you can see that even being grossly unfair, insurance costs for disasters are not going to make nuclear plants economically non-viable.
Please do your math again, and now factor in 3 simultaneous meltdowns in USA reactors, due to plane hits.
Yes, this is exceedingly unlikely. I'd say about as unlikely as passenger planes deliberately crashing into the WTC.
It looks like the Fukushima meltdowns, which with better reactors design would have been manageable.
If you want to get worked up about risks, do the math on meteor and comet impacts. There is a reason that American defense planners are blasé about nuclear reactors and worked up about extraterrestrial impactors. It's only a matter of time before we lose a city to a meteor. That's lose, not temporarily evacuate or have an unfortunate increase in cancer rates.
Perhaps. An energy shield (like in starwars!) would also make them safe. But we don't have these things. Most reactors are over 20 years old and not going to be replaced with better designs any time soon.
If you want to get worked up about risks, do the math on meteor and comet impacts
We can't do anything about meteors and comets.
But we can get rid of nuclear plants.
The meteor problem is even easier to solve. We need to build observation telescopes, lots of them. We then use off-the-shelf rockets to paycheck off-the-shelf nuclear bomb interceptors mounted on almost-off-the-shelf delivery platforms.
Looking at Fukushima, it is not the terrorists and the meteors that frighten me the most. It is the simple combination of the everyday events like earthquakes, with corruption, inefficiency, cost-cutting and the culture of secrecy that fosters and supports it all. These are the real but invisible dangers that you cannot shoot down from your robotic space platforms.
Wait a minute. Last I checked it was not "environmentalists" running these facilities?
Also, nobody would turn against a design that can be proven safe.
The problem is: that design doesn't exist.
The meteor problem is even easier to solve.
Your naivety is somewhat amusing. It seems you are watching too many bad hollywood movies.
Chernobyl is actually a wildlife wonderland now people can't live in the area. Animals don't deem to have a problem living in highly radioactive environments. They have more immediate issues than getting cancer. But for humans a nuclear meltdown is bad news.
So its not through environment that suffers on the whole, more that it is no longer suitable for humans.
But yes, the result of a nuclear disaster is much more dramatic in the short term, making it scarier than the same amount of damage that a coal powerplant dripfeeds.
"Not scientifically justified".
> But scientists who assessed the 1986 disaster's impact on birds said the ecological effects were "considerably greater than previously assumed".
> "Many people come here expecting to see a lunar landscape, so when they see trees, and birds and a few mammals, they're surprised.
> "They think, 'ah well maybe it's not so bad'.
> "But what we're finding is that there is a significant impact on both the population and the biodiversity - the number of species - in the zone. And it's directly proportional to the level of contamination."
(But the article mentions that this is a polarised debate, and that this is only one side.)
Chernobyl Birds are Small Brained
Insects in decline
Solar is increasingly cost-competitive. In my city there is at least one per block for the parking payment stations - it's cheaper than connecting them to the grid, even in the middle of the city.
As the costs of solar go down and we know we can close down plants, the political focus will shift to coal. I can't wait.
CO2 emission ~5.46·10^9 t ~4.18·10^9 t
population ~304·10^6 ~498·10^6
emission per capita ~180 t ~83.9 t
A study was released late last year by the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)  which found that a switch to natural gas would increase warming over the next few decades, as outlined in NCAR's report .
It acknowledges something the shale gas industry studiously avoids in calculating figures for its green credentials pitches: fugitive emissions. A significant amount of methane leakage occurs in the fracking process and piping of gases.
When you add in the input-intensive activity of multiple well constructions, fracking, pipeline construction, and fugitive emissions the 'green' story of shale gas doesn't add up.
The dismissal of fracking-triggered earthquakes is also odd, considering a US company (Cuadrilla) was forced to stop fracking in the UK after two seismic events occurred , a recent report by the UK was focused on mitigating fracking-related seismic events , and Cuadrilla released a report  which concluded "it is highly probable" hydraulic fracking triggered a number of tremors.
When you factor in the unavoidable well contamination of underground aquifers (as pressure differences inevitably lead to aquifer water filling the fracked area over time) the shale gas 'bonanza' seems anything but.
Now you may be fine with cutting your energy requirements in half; bully for you. But don't be surprised if this isn't a popular idea for the rest of the world.
Reducing requirements by half isn't that big a deal. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_energy_con...
There's huge variation. We can support a better standard of living with much less energy.
Keep in mind that there are different types of coal, and choice normally depends on what is locally available / cheapest in volume. IIRC there's a lot of dirty lignite (Braunkohle) in Germany.
In US terms imagine you had to keep voters in Berkley and Pennsylvania happy
Are you talking about the Bundesrat (upper house), where SPD (social democrats), Grüne (greens) and Linke (leftists) are present (you can look at the current allocation of votes at http://www.bundesrat.de/cln_235/nn_8328/DE/struktur/stimmenv...)?
The problem with photovoltaic is that it needs 100% backup in traditional power plants.
Combined, this allows various providers in Germany to sell energy without resorting to fossil or nuclear fuel, right now.
The bad part (for big Energy Co.s and their buddy Angela Merkel) is that this way of doing things is too decentralized for the old oligopoly to keep an inherent edge over new entrants on the market.
Building and operating a nuclear plant (or even a coal plant, in highly regulated Germany) can't be pulled off by just anybody. Setting up solar or wind power, and scaling up over time is possible even on a much more limited budget.
Yes, but it has a much larger risk: the risk of tens or hundred of thousands of people getting radiation poisoning, and the region becoming inhabitable for years.
Plus it creates nuclear waste, that is not mere pollution, but extremely toxic for thousands or years. Not to mention the consequences to be had with a nuclear plant in the hands of the wrong people (terrorists and such). With a coal plant, not that many...
Reactors range from 400MWe to 1600MWe, and plants generally have 2 to 6 reactors with 2 outliers at respectively 7 (Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in Japan) and 8 (Bruce in Canada, although it's only running 6 reactors right now). The 10 biggest nuclear plants all have more than 4GW installed capacity.
FWIW, France has a total of 20 active plants grouping 57 reactors. The installed capacity is almost 62GWe.
The remaining plants have mostly only one reactor of around 1.4 GWe.
See 9:16. He arranges the power consumption of countries by per person per sq m. And renewables can sit on same scale, and his estimate for PV solar is about 20% of land mass of Germany needs to be covered.
This is one of the many problems of the renewables debate - apples and oranges. The Germans have done an incredible and positive thing. Massively upped the feed into the electric grid from solar PV. And electrical consumption is where nuclear plants feed - so the two methods are direct competitors.
But electrical consumption is only about 1/3 of goal energy budget of western countries, rest is evenly split between transport and heating and about 5% for everything else like rocket launches.
So 50% of about 30% says that "Germany has 15% of it's total energy from renewables, will need to increase that by 7fold, give everyone an electric car and heating that uses electricity and not ....
Yes it's a great step forward. But really, we are going to have to change our lifestyles beyond belief to meet even 80% energy use from renewables. Forget driving to supermarkets to pick up refrigerated milk and tomatoes flown in from Africa.
Watch the talk - his book is very good too.
This is great propaganda for the solar power industry but it does little to change the fact that solar power doesn't produce power when it's needed and storing energy is extremely expensive. This is not an indication that solar power is ready for prime time, to serve as base load power generation, it's just an indication that if you build enough PV panels you can get a lot of power for a few hours on a sunny day, which is something we've always known.
Despite the discussions in Germany about the high costs of PV for consumers, this still shows something remarkably: a (in general) not so sunny country in the northern hemisphere installed approximately half of the solar power capacity of the world. It's not easy, and even in Germany there are huge challenges lying ahead, but especially industrialized countries should take this as a sign to accelerate their own renewable energy strategies.
So the question is: why hasn't a country with more and more intense sunlight hasn't done it? And why aren't they scaling up massively now, with the price of PV much much lower than when Germany decided to do it?
Nowadays investment in renewable energies is politically risky after the Solyndra failure, after the DOE gave Solyndra over half a billion dollars of loan guarantees.
After the dramatic failure of its own renewable energy initiative, it began attacking other countries' initiatives to expand solar use. For example: "The U.S. yesterday imposed tariffs of as much as 250 percent on Chinese-made solar cells to aid domestic manufacturers beset by foreign competition, though critics said the decision may end up raising prices and hurting the U.S. renewable energy industry." 
It's a sad state when the US government--presiding over one of the sunniest and advanced nations in the world--will not only refuse to sponsor domestic initiatives to bolster renewable energy development, but also punish countries that do.
But from the perspective of people in the US who want solar panels, or Chinese producers of solar panels, it definitely is a bad thing.
Also, the link you supplied doesn't mention a word about solar--so punishing solar companies in order to "get back at" wind companies just doesn't make sense. Moreover, it isn't the case anymore that the Yuan is unambiguously undervalued. Many things are more expensive in China (in exchange-weighted nominal terms) than in the US, such as cars, electronics, etc. Also, in terms of the current account surplus, it is considered "normal" now .
Tariffs are not to punish China because they stole wind tech, that is something that should be properly resolved in Chinese courts, but somehow I doubt that the US company is going to find proper restitution there. It's just an illustration of how unfriendly China can be to US competition. Copy tech & then go home & hide behind a convoluted & foreigner unfriendly court system.
The central Chinese government will do what it thinks is best for itself. This may involve squashing human rights, lax worker safety, destroying their environment, manipulating markets with currency(regardless of where the Yuan is right now) or raw materials. China is not above doing what it takes to benefit it's own manufacturers. I don't see why the US should not investigate benefiting it's own manufacturers as well. You could say that people will suffer because they won't get super cheap solar panels made under questionable circumstances, but honestly more people need to look beyond the price tag & at the "true costs".
Also, we have been importing commodities from brutal dictatorships for decades or even centuries in order to fuel our economies without ever complaining about low standards. Now that these countries start competing with us we're suddenly up in arms.
But ethical issues aside, such tariffs just make very little practical sense. Helping US and German panel manufacturers and at the same time hurting installers, equipment makers and consumers isn't going to help. Surely, the Chinese will retaliate.
Effectively, the Chinese and the Germans are subsidising everyone elses cheap clean energy. Let's just use it!
I'm just saying that I believe it's not in its interests ultimately to levy such a heavy tariff on solar panels, regardless of where they're from. You may disagree on this, as many will disagree with China's policies.
I'd love to get cheap, subsidized solar panels--better if it's not subsidized by my own taxes. I just think levying a punitive tariff goes against even the spirit of self interest.
Plus with modern international energy trade, you get averaging benefits. I.e. when it is cloudy in your country, it may well be sunny in one of your neighbouring countries, so you can do instantaneous energy swaps like that, reducing the need for storage.
And that's a pretty good result btw, truly a world champion -level achievement. Meanwhile, Japan's nuclear phaseout is done with 99,999478% in fossils. (The bloomberg links are down where they were calculated before, but should be googlable with "Japan's Use of Oil May Surge by 300000 Barrels a Day" & "Japan Will Use More Coal During Maintenance, Deutsche Bank Says".
Yes, you can get rid of nuclear, but for all intents and purposes, it has always resulted with more dinosaur burning, not less. And that's pretty bad.
Even with all flaws, nuclear is a lot cheaper economically and environmentally as an insurance option than what Germany and most global economies are currently pursuing.
I live in Northern Germany and the days where it is not windy aren't that much. During the next two decades you will see massive investments in offshore wind parks. Winds on the North Sea are very strong and steady.
Current distribution networks are being upgraded. You'll see more of that in the next decades. We'll have a HVDC grid around the north sea. Connecting the wind parks, pumped hydro and the consumers.
90% from new electricity from fossil in the next years? That won't happen. The market for new fossil fuel plants is currently dead in Germany. To make that happen, the market would need to be restructured.
New fossil plants are also not that bad, since the new combined heat power plants are extremely efficient. There are new gas power plants which have a combined efficiency of 90%.
Japan's phase out is also not only done with fossils. Much of that is done with reduced consumption.
The German plans for its electricity production look forward to 2050, where around 80% of the electricity production will be from renewable energy. That's 38 years away, but it directs the policies and the investments. Nuclear then will be long gone.
Nuclear is also extremely expensive. Not cheap. The private sector is not willing to invest into it, without massive subsidies. Nuclear is getting more expensive, not cheaper. The whole area of safety is underdeveloped. The storage of nuclear waste is not solved. The public pays for accidents (see Japan, where Tepco gets more and more money from the government). Acceptance of the technology is going down. The nuclear industry had many costly adventures: reprocessing plants, breeders, thorium reactors, ... Many old reactors need to be replaced or upgraded.
Nuclear in its current form is no option. It generates huge centralized energy monopolies and it hasn't solved its core problems (waste, safety, security, ...).
In my opinion, this is the main issue that needs to be solved. Currently, we have centralized power plants with constant output, which distribute energy over medium ranges.
Decentralized energy production with fluctuating output doesn't play well with the existing network. However, that's not an unsurmountable problem - it's just not profitable as long as fission and fossil fuels are acceptable alternatives.
Because there's too much fluctuation in solar output in Germany.
What is needed to make renewable enery viable in Europe (mainly solar, wind, waves) are better energy storage mechanisms and integration of national grids.
To be more precise: From a single, cloudy and relatively cold country. California isn't really the right comparison.
But anyway, very cool.
Like I said, it isn't unusual for people to say "gigawatts" and actually mean "gigawatt hours" when it comes to the power business.
But yeah, if you look for it you'll see this in maybe 70 or 80% of news stories about power generation.
I applaud them!
We already hear about such new discoveries every few months now. Imagine if many more countries and Government were committed to solar energy and would make the solar industry boom because of it. We're still very early in this, and the potential is enormous.
Concentration on solar is great but has some sub-optimalities. Concentration on an energy industry that could also provide materials for a cold war arms race was clearly a bad idea.
Why aren't people working on thorium reactors?
IMHO the success story isn't solar, it's lots of tools (PV, wind, water, burning waste, storage) building an energy market with many participants where for nuclear, a few large corporations can control it all.
That's what's happening in Germany, and the Big Four definitely don't like that. It's not all roses, but I prefer the situation now over the several decades of subsidies + no liability for an industry club of 4.
Wikipedia lists current projects in the US (~2015), India (~2013) and China (~?).
The reason for India's interest in the technology should be obvious, and it's quite probable that we'll see further development on that front.
"Whether it comes to benefit from carbon pricing or not, nuclear power would be more competitive if it were cheaper. Yet despite generous government research-and-development programmes stretching back decades, this does not look likely." http://www.economist.com/node/21549936
And the special report on that: http://www.economist.com/node/21549098
Here's one possibility: Sunny countries will begin to make a lot of money generating solar power and selling it to cloudy countries. North Africa, for example, could easily support all of Europe's electricity needs if we find some way to keep sand off the solar panels. But all of that money goes into the pockets of African and Middle Eastern autocrats, and the world enters a new era where everyone tries to grab the sunniest parts of the world ... umm ... wait a second, those are the same areas where we're currently killing people for oil. tl;dr: History repeats itself.
But on the flip side, solar energy would allow humanity to make good use of some of the most barren parcels of real estate in the world. Instead of using fertile fields to produce biofuel, we could use those fields to produce actual food and leave power generation to places like Arizona.
It'd be way cool to see all of that come together In The Future, but in the near-term, surplus solar power in Africa is not going to help Europe, unless they use it indirectly by using solar electricity to synthesize oil or something.
The strait of Gibraltar is only 14km across. So maybe not all of Europe, but Spain could easily connect with African grids even with conventional equipment.
700MW, 580km long: world's longest submarine power cable... Between HVDC stations at Eemshaven in the Netherlands and Feda in Denmark.
I still think everyone owning an electric car for storage is probably a more realistic plan, but it's definitely not impossible to create a world energy grid and run the world even just from solar.
Your comment is exactly right; a blend is what's needed. Though in the case of solar, a blend still requires very long, very high capacity HDVC cables.
In the long term, since the grid is a monopoly that is not eager to drop its price, whereas solar and batteries are likely to keep dropping in price, in part due to competition and in part due to appealing to early adopters, I expect that a few decades from now, the typical homeowner will use mostly solar and batteries instead of paying the monopolies' higher prices.
One might use excellent storage technology to, e.g., charge batteries in the Sahara and ship them to Switzerland (or, more realistically, synthesize oil in the Sahara and ship it Switzerland), but that's just a slightly more indirect way of addressing the problem of transportation- moving the energy from the place where it can be produced to the place where it is needed to be used.
If more of our electricity came from nuclear, load-following would become more of a design priority. Or we would build some highly adjustable loads that can take a bunch of excess power when it's there, like aluminum smelting or electric car charging.
Edited for spelling.
Other problems: you require a pretty significant hydrological infrastructure for PS: upper and catchment resevoirs, and a sufficient gradient to provide a net energy differential.
The logistics make multi-purpose use of PS systems (vs. typical flood-control or irrigation reservoirs) somewhat problematic as water levels may fluctuate dramatically over a brief period of time, and spillways/headways constitute a significant flash-flood drowning risk unless access-controlled.
Still, yes, pretty efficient energy storage systems overall.
But seriously, solar power generation by huge space stations that beam the power down to earth, then use mirrors to feed it where it is needed.
The best idea might be something like in the movie Moon where the power is stored chemically, then shipped back to earth.
I think the most common technology in use today at powerplant-scale is the "Pumped-storage hydroelectricity plant". You basically pump water uphill when you have energy - and let it flow downhill again, through your energy-producing turbines, when you need it back.
Either way, there is tons of research in this area (e.g. SmartGrid). It seems like a problem that we will solve eventually.
Comparatively high cost is the main factor why it is still be considered less efficient although that is slowly changing.
You'd lose too much power in the beaming process
"Rectenna conversion efficiencies exceeding 95% have been realized."
Here's another experiment that achieved 84% efficiency.
you'd have a death ray beam that destroys anything that flies between it
A bird flying above a rectenna on actually proposed designs would feel warmer and keep flying.
but then you'd need a collector dish the size of montana.
There are no collector >dishes< involved, as far as I know, rectennas don't need a parabolic reflector. Parabolic dishes add directionality, but increasing the effective aperture is a better design for power receiving. Proposed collector area is typically on the order of one or a few squares mile, which compares favorably to the footprint of existing power generation schemes.
The power wasn't stored >chemically< in the movie.
Germany is developing the whole range of renewable energy including new storage options.
Not just solar.
Fukushima's output has been equal to zero solar panels for over a year, despite its incomparably greater cost.
Most of those things are by-design made to be sturdy as fuck. And so far, no-one has died from Fuku-radiation?
Currently none of those is operating. Several of them will stay shutdown.
The clean up of Fukushima is costly.
That's a huge economic loss.
OTOH most of the other power plants (i.e. non-nuclear) are running.
There are some 50 reactors in the US of the same vintage and design as Fukushima, including the spent fuel rods storage right next to the reactors.
Nuclear reactors produce very large amounts of heat concentrated in a small volume. Thus when the cooling system stops working, for whatever reasons, the core is going to melt down, guaranteed.
Despite the secrecy of TEPCO and their friends in government, many people now believe that the cooling failed the moment the earthquake struck. Mostly due to the poor state and maintenance of the cooling pipes. The backup diesel generators to run the cooling circuits (again the same as in the US), with known shaft/bearings problems, packed up within minutes. After that, there is nothing anyone can do, as we had seen. The tsunami probably provided just a creditable scapegoat excuse.
DaniFong, I hope your company Light Sail Energy has some deals with Germany in the works for your energy storage product.
This is in German, but the only source i could find. It says PV produced 3% of the procuced energy in 2011. It is said the capacity grew about 30% since q4 2011, but the stats seem to be pending.
In 2010 604,0 TWh where consumed , so that would be 604,0 TWh * 3% / 8760 h = 2 GW as a conservative estimate. But note the stats are all a bit out of date.
As the graph says 612 TWh where produced, so 612 TWh * 0.03 / 8760h = 2 GW.
What's really impressive here is that Germany of all places is producing this much solar energy. One would better predict a sunnier climate as the place to do this. It's great work, but I can imagine that maintaining base-load is is still a difficult thing for the Germans. Anybody know how they are handling storage for distribution during winter months/nighttime/inclement weather conditions?
For personal generation a well designed feed in tarrif should provide incentive to build solar panels/wind turbines on your roof etc. A million households producing a little power each makes it a lot easier to get to sustainability.
For consumers, it's not so great. Germany has some of the highest electricity prices before the FIT, and the FIT just makes it worse.
Incidentally it's cost about €100 billion  to build this, at taxpayer expense. (Though this a future-spending figure: the subsidies aren't paid at the time a power plant is built, but deferred over 20 years -- the present value is somewhat lower). The specific subsidy rates are listed here  (they're set by the year the plant is installed).
[a] Note that the installed capacity increased a lot over 2011, so you can't do simple comparisons like dividing 2.1/24.8 -- a lot of the capacity wasn't installed at the beginning of the year, and was at the end. But see the example capacity factors in the power plant table in 
At energy consumers expense to be precise. 100 billion € sound scary, but it's just adds another 8,2% to the incredibly expensive German electricity bill.
GW per hour would be the rate of change of power generation, which is obviously incorrect given the context :)
According to Reuters, solar provided 18TWh in 2011 (up 60% from 2010) which was 3% of total power output.
There is a persistent myth that solar panels take more energy to fabricate than they produce in their lifetime. It is shown false with minimal effort (consider if the entire cost of a panel was energy. no labor, not capital equipment overhead, no raw materials… they still have payback periods shorter than their lifetimes).
Basically, Greenhouse gas emission including construction, material acquisition, maintenance etc. per kWh im g CO2:
Nuclear: 66 (which assumes that enrichment is done with conventional energy)\
Solar power in Germany (the page claims) takes between 15 - 100 months to generate as much energy as producing them takes. I assume 100 is for old panels, and with modern (=more efficiently produced) panels it's more like 15. Wind power takes just 3 - 23 months to establish this "energy payback".
The page has more detailed figures and sources.
But then technology advances so fast, so it might be the right stuff.