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Nukes as renewable energy?

by Jerome a Paris Fri May 18th, 2012 at 08:12:49 AM EST

My attention has recently been directed to a letter from Vince Cable to David Cameron, sent in February and published by the BBC in March (PDF) on the topic of industrial policy.

Beyond the tortuous reasonings to justify having an industrial policy (it boils down to "we're not picking winners, but it's a request of big business"), the most interesting bit was this quote:

While we are making move to promote the next generation of renewables (nuclear and offshore wind)
Nukes as renewables? That's quite an argument to make... Low carbon may be arguable, but renewable is rather more of a stretch!

But this means, more interestingly, that as a "renewable" source of energy, nuclear is likely to become a candidate for a feed-in tariff (or its marketista-distorted cousin, the "contract for differences" whereby the government lets you sell your power on the market but pays you the difference between that price and an agreed fixed price) ... but the price level required for nukes is a big open question and there are suggestions that it will end up being significantly higher than onshore wind and close to what is offered to offshore wind in other countries. That will put quite a dent in the argument that nukes are so much cheaper than renewables as a source of low carbon electricity. We'll see...


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My apologies if tho has been discussed already, I'm a little late in my ET reading...

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri May 18th, 2012 at 08:26:11 AM EST
Attended a Programme "Offshore Wind - Grid Connectivity in the UK and Germany" Wednesday afternoon in Bremen put on by UK Trade and Investment branch of the government (UKTI).

Both the British Consul-General in Deutschland and the head of UKTI's renewables made the same point. Additionally, carbon capture and storage is now officially a transition technology.

However, the focus of the meeting was the harmonizing of grid connection and finance between the two countries, and how to stimulate the maturation of the necessary supply chain. Dr. Ursula Prall, key negotiator in the German offshore wind grid debate gave an update on what's being done to solve the connection crisis in Germany. John Twomey, offshore grid connection manager for the UK's National Grid reported on UK status and plans. Very stimulating afternoon.

Perhaps it's a sign of the growth of wind that the nuclear industry is attempting to use similar incentives.

I learned that Scotland may well be taking a different path, focusing on offshore wind and other true marine renewables.

The Director Offshore Wind for REpower, the MD of NSW GmbH (General Cable), the Sales Director for GE Power Conversion all agreed, with Dr. Prall and NatGrid's Twomey, that while there were both cost and technical issues which must still mature, we are truly facing a political problem which could hold up offshore growth.

Or at least that's the summary i posited at the end.

ABB, Alstom Grid, Siemens, RWE, Vattenfall, were all there, as were a host of developers and supply chain companies. I didn't see anyone from the company responsible for grid connection in Germany, TenneT.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Fri May 18th, 2012 at 08:58:17 AM EST
Maybe nukes qualify more as an intermittent power source than as renewable.
by rootless2 on Fri May 18th, 2012 at 09:36:38 AM EST
Indeed - see my recent story on this.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri May 18th, 2012 at 09:57:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nuclear fission reactors run on existing, naturally occurring isotopes would obviously be using fossil fuel. Those using plutonium or other elements created as a part of regular use of such fossil fuel reactors, it could be argued, would also be using fossil fuel. An argument could be made that a breeder reactor is to nuclear fuel as a refinery is to gasoline: something that converts a naturally occurring substance into a more readily useable form.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri May 18th, 2012 at 09:52:58 AM EST
ARGeezer:
Nuclear fission reactors run on existing, naturally occurring isotopes would obviously be using fossil fuel.

Nuclear fusion within the sun is also run on existing, naturally occurring isotopes, yet we don't call that 'fossil fuel'. And in the same misguided vein of thought one could next argue that solar panels are using fossil fuel.

Fission energy is the result of the breaking of heavy atomic nuclei, fossil fuel energy is generated by oxidizing carbon bonds.

Let's stick to that and stay away from re-labeling just because it sounds better to some ears.

by Nomad on Fri May 18th, 2012 at 03:13:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Boiling water with fission is arguably as renewable as say growing corn to make alcohol - but so what. "Renewable" is simply a word some folks used to try to describe efforts to develop a relatively nonpolluting energy source. But nuclear isn't nonpolluting. The pollution may be deferred for a time, but once in the environment it's as insidious as anything, and much of it is long-lasting beyond our effective comprehension.
Calling nuclear "renewable" is just so much green-washing, but it will probably work for folk who don't care what kind of planet they leave for future generations so long as they get theirs now, and I get the feeling that's an awful lot of people.
by Andhakari on Fri May 18th, 2012 at 12:08:57 PM EST
Relabeling nuclear as a renewable is as misguided as labeling it fossil fuel. It is an option on itself, with pros and cons like any other energy source.

Similarly, labeling renewables as "nonpolluting" also carries a particular frame.

by Nomad on Fri May 18th, 2012 at 03:24:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]

My general take on this is that if we are going to use feedin tarrifs to drive an adoption of low-carbon power, the tarrifs should be utterly agnostic as to technology. The whole system where each and every tech gets its very own price is simply bonkers.

We want as many clean kwh as possible for our money, so the way to go is to set a maximum level of emissions per kwh produced to qualify for the clean tarrif, and apply the tarrif to everything that qualifies. The atmosphere doesnt care how emissions are avoided, after all, merely that they are.

Any other system is just begging to be gamed by lobbyists, and also fails to incentivise investment in truely new means of power generation, as people woking on kite-gen or other left-field options are not covered by the existing laws.

by Thomas on Fri May 18th, 2012 at 05:00:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Except that it's not just emissions, is it. Would you care to enumerate some of the other factors or externalities which enter into the equation?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Fri May 18th, 2012 at 05:53:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Toxin load, land destruction, scalability. I dont think we actually want to take scalability into account when setting a tarrif - after all, if someone comes up with a very cheap and clean way to supply 4 % of our electricity needs, which unfortunately doesnt scale beyond that - Such as a low cost retrofit package for biogas generation in sevage systems and agricultural waste streams, well.. not grabbing that 4 % because it doesnt scale would just be silly, no?

The first two can be dealt with the same way as emissions are. Set a maximum per kwh produced to qualify. - which will not disqualify nukes without at a minium also disqualifying solar. - Some of the chemicals involved in photovoltaic production are fairly terrifying.
And before you bring up catastropic risk..   It is not beyond the bounds of possibilty for a solar cell factory to catastropically fail in a way that would have greater-than-fukushima casualties.

by Thomas on Sat May 19th, 2012 at 03:57:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My general take on this is that if we are going to use feedin tarrifs to drive an adoption of low-carbon power, the tarrifs should be utterly agnostic as to technology. The whole system where each and every tech gets its very own price is simply bonkers.

We want as many clean kwh as possible for our money,


With an only very slight adjustment, this line of reasoning could be equally well invoked - and indeed has been - to argue against industrial development in any country that lacks an industrial tradition.

The implicit - and fallacious - lemmas here are that (a) production of low-carbon kWh is constrained principally by money, rather than by the state of the industrial supply chain and (b) that the technology that is cheapest this year will also be cheapest when measured over the lifespan of the feed-in policy.

(a) is obviously untrue, because electricity is ridiculously cheap relative to what people would, in extremis be willing to pay. (b) is obviously, ridiculously untrue: The potential gains from technical improvements in solar are much greater than for wind, where they are much greater than for nuclear. But, and this is another point that your neo-Ricardian reasoning assumes away, technical improvements will not happen if the assembly lines are not running.

Any other system is just begging to be gamed by lobbyists, and also fails to incentivise investment in truely new means of power generation, as people woking on kite-gen or other left-field options are not covered by the existing laws.

This is just the standard self-serving line peddled by incumbents in all matters of industrial development.

It's horseshit.

Effective industrial policy picks winners. Sometimes industrial policymakers fail to pick the first-best option, and detractors cite this as failure. But they still beat the market, because the market will reliably fail to pick any option at all.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat May 19th, 2012 at 03:59:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, obviously nuclear isn't renewable, but remember Sarkozy already tried to call it such years ago (so that France would not have to make any effort to reach EU targets).

What baffles me is that: "or its marketista-distorted cousin, the "contract for differences" whereby the government lets you sell your power on the market but pays you the difference between that price and an agreed fixed price"

So... it's less efficient than feed in while purporting to offer the same result because markets are always better except of course here it leads to a worse outcome?

And what happens if the market price is above the agreed one? A genuinely fixed price is not  a subsidy unless it's much too high, but a price floor is. So are they trying to say they follow pure free markets, yet have subsidies that feed-in avoids? It seems insane and a half.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Fri May 18th, 2012 at 01:56:25 PM EST
So are they trying to say they follow pure free markets empowering large corporations, yet have subsidies that feed-in avoids? It seems insane and a half like a nice gig if you can get it.

FIFY.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri May 18th, 2012 at 03:10:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, I agree that this is the real intent.

But the argument is about free markets. And it is very well swallowed, judging by many embryos of discussions I've had over the years (embryos only because I don't see much point in them after a short while -they get too reminiscent of "it is what plants crave, it has electrolytes" from Idiocracy).

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Sat May 19th, 2012 at 02:28:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
we're in it.

guaranteed to evoke a violent reaction from police is to challenge their right to "define the situation." --- David Graeber citing Marc Cooper
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat May 19th, 2012 at 02:51:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But the argument is about free markets.

The narrative is about free markets.

There is no argument. It's just an exercise in repetitively associating the unfavoured policy with "statism" and associating the state with jackboots and poverty, while associating the favoured policy with markets and markets with freedom and wealth. It is, in short, an invocation of a Pavlovian response. When it works, it is accepted without ever activating any brain functions higher than Chimpanzee-style tribalism.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat May 19th, 2012 at 04:05:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...as usual.

A contract for differences can be exactly equivalent to a feed-in tariff, if you just get paid for each MWh you produce the difference between why you got and what you would have gotten at the agreed reference price level. The way to do that is to look at your yearly production, your actual revenues, and pays the difference.

The reality is that CfDs will work on the basis of a reference market price, while you may sell using a different market price. There may be fixed corrections for certain electricity services (connexion, balancing costs, etc) which may or may not be equal to what the producer actually pays for these services. There may be caps put in place by the government on the amount they will pay (if wind is too strong, or of market prices fall below a certain level, as was set up in the Netherlands). There may be delayed payment terms (do you get the payment under the CfD monthly, quarterly, yearly?)

And so forth.

The more complex, of course, the easier it is for the bigger players to game the system to their advantage because (i) they can more easily allocate the resources to understand it and (ii) they can arbitrage away the 'small' differences between the theoretical payment and the one you should really be getting as they will typically be the counterpart in the middle (offering long term power purchase contracts, balancing services, grid compliance services, etc)

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat May 19th, 2012 at 04:31:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Would you (or anyone) care to elaborate on the mechanics of the currently proposed CfD scheme for the UK? Or is there a doc with a good explanation? (Where is LondonAnalytics when you need him/her/one?)

Reading through the explanation, i don't yet get how it works in practice, except that it appears more costly than a fixed FIT scheme to function properly.

And neither fully address externalities.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sat May 19th, 2012 at 05:30:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's the point: I don't know that anyone has seen an actual proposal... I certainly haven't.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat May 19th, 2012 at 05:43:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So the proposed changes in ROC value are an interim step? Or are they already in effect?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sat May 19th, 2012 at 06:48:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The changes in ROCs are indeed an interim step. They are already in force (to apply to projects put in service in 2015-2016).

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat May 19th, 2012 at 09:34:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"A contract for differences can be exactly equivalent to a feed-in tariff, if you just get paid for each MWh you produce the difference between why you got and what you would have gotten at the agreed reference price level."

In that case, it needs a mechanism to force the supplier to pay back when the market price was higher than the agreed reference. You must also force the supplier to declare it -as opposed to selling it over the counter to a local industry at a slight discount, for example.
And surely that would add costs (lawyers aren't cheap). Which would not make it exactly equivalent, would it?

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Sat May 19th, 2012 at 10:10:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What baffles me is that: "or its marketista-distorted cousin, the "contract for differences" whereby the government lets you sell your power on the market but pays you the difference between that price and an agreed fixed price"

A contract for differences is a financial derivative of the kind that Jerome likes to dismiss as "a job guarantee programme for London investment bankers".

guaranteed to evoke a violent reaction from police is to challenge their right to "define the situation." --- David Graeber citing Marc Cooper

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat May 19th, 2012 at 07:06:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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