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A PATH TO SUSTAINABLE ENERGY BY 2030
October 13, 2009 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of the world's energy, eliminating all fossil fuels. HERE'S HOW (via)

BONUS
-Earthships - "what the world needs now is 1 billion of these immediately" (previously)
-A safe operating space for humanity
-Reasons to be optimistic?
-Everything is OK
posted by kliuless (82 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ugh, giant PDF. Summary?
posted by rokusan at 9:44 AM on October 13, 2009


SPOILER: IT'S PEOPLE!
posted by photoslob at 9:44 AM on October 13, 2009


Well, all this seems to check out. Mission accomplished, people.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:49 AM on October 13, 2009


One possible summary: The authors’ plan calls for 3.8 million large wind turbines, 90,000 solar plants, and numerous geothermal, tidal and rooftop photovoltaic installations worldwide. In other words: just do it.
posted by tybeet at 9:51 AM on October 13, 2009


BY ELIMINATING LOWERCASE LETTERS FROM THE ALPHABET WE PLAN TO SAVE 1.31 KJ PER SECOND OF ENERGY FROM NOT HAVING TO HOLD DOWN THE SHIFT KEY. THIS SAVINGS WILL HOWEVER BE OFFSET BY 0.27 KJ/SEC OF ENERGY SPENT CONTINUALLY YELLING.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:56 AM on October 13, 2009 [17 favorites]


If we want this, we want a Smart Grid. US Dept. of Energy's take on that. A much cooler display of some of the same information is on GE's Ecomagination website. Or, here's a Youtube video produced by the IEEE about it.
posted by Houstonian at 10:04 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Awesome. I love that someone(s) is/are countering the "b-b-b-ut we NEEEED oil and we can't possibly cut back even one drop or we'll all DIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!" FUD.
posted by DU at 10:06 AM on October 13, 2009


...eliminating all fossil fuels.

We're already doing that as quickly as we can.
posted by rocket88 at 10:07 AM on October 13, 2009 [15 favorites]


KEY CONCEPTS (copy-pasted from the paper)
■ Supplies of wind and solar energy on accessible land dwarf the energy consumed by people around the globe.
■ The authors’ plan calls for 3.8 million large wind turbines, 90,000 solar plants, and numerous geothermal, tidal and rooftop photovoltaic installations worldwide.
■ The cost of generating and transmitting power would be less than the projected cost per kilowatt-hour for fossil fuel and nuclear power.
■ Shortages of a few specialty materials, along with lack of political will, loom as the greatest obstacles.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:10 AM on October 13, 2009


Shortages of a few specialty materials, along with lack of political will, loom as the greatest obstacles.

Political will need not be an obstacle. The power grid is already a two-way street. That is, I can generate power at my house and feed it to my neighbors, and get paid for it. A typical home uses about 3 kW continuously. If I installed 10 kW generating capacity, then, I'd be reducing exactly that much fossil fuel usage and getting paid for it.

Distributed, diversified, user-controlled electrical generation. Power to the people, literally.
posted by DU at 10:19 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


From the article introduction:
"In December leaders from around the world will meet in Copenhagen to try to agree on cutting back greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come. The most effective step to implement that goal would be a massive shift away from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources."

Right there in the second sentence is a controversial statement that needs to be examined. If you could burn fossil fuels cleanly using carbon capture and storage, you could achieve the same goal. One of my profs, who has written a book on this topic, talks about policy "degree of difficulty". The difficulty in getting China to burn coal with acceptable levels of carbon capture and storage: pretty hard. Difficulty in getting China off coal completely: off the charts, through the roof, simply not an option.

It's true that carbon capture and storage technologies are in their infancy and have lots of hurdles before they could be implemented on a large scale, but there are hurdles facing large-scale renewable projects like the ones proposed that could be just as high, or higher. I saw that the authors dismiss nuclear because of carbon from construction costs, and carbon capture and storage because of non-carbon air pollutants and coal mining dawmage, and biofuels because they're less clean than wind-water-solar, but I didn't find these arguments at all convincing and I would have liked to see a real analysis of the tradeoffs between various options.

I think a lot of people overestimate how much of our energy we get from renewables today. In the US, it's currently 7% of total (see pie chart at right). Of that 7%, half is biomass, a quarter is hydropower, 7% is wind, and 1% is solar. In other words, wind is currently 0.5% and solar is currently 0.07% of US energy consumption; that is to say, basically nothing. Going from nothing to everything in twenty years has a very high degree of difficulty.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:23 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is what West Texas is starting to look like: the nodding donkeys for oil, the wind turbines for wind, all sitting next to each other. If you look at this wind map, you'll see where wind can best be gotten in the US.

St. Olaf (Minnesota) put up a wind turbine on their campus. This video shows that and I think is interesting because it shows the size and scale of the turbines. Their turbine is a smaller one, but it's still pretty big.

However, nuclear power is coming back strong in the States and it will be interesting to see the difference in economies between it and wind/water/sunlight.
posted by Houstonian at 10:28 AM on October 13, 2009


Contaminated Sites = Renewable Energy Hotspots: U.S. EPA and the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory have identified nearly 10,000 contaminated sites that could be reused for renewable energy generation. The EPA has a PDF of a powerpoint presentation (Google viewer/cache) that there are "[o]ver 40,000 sites for screening," with more than 7 million acres of land in total, and that might be in Arizona alone.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:29 AM on October 13, 2009


Going from nothing to everything in twenty years has a very high degree of difficulty.

It's too late for baby steps. And even with perfect carbon capture, we'd still have the problem of there only being a finite amount of oil. We need to use energy at no greater the rate than it is falling on (or bubbling up from) the Earth or we are dead.
posted by DU at 10:29 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Or we could build 300 gen-4 nuke plants and be done with it...O, and upside to that, far less dangerous to the environment; look at the construction of photovoltaic power plants and realize the danger of the heavy metals used, not to mention the toxicity of the enormous batteries required to store power from sources that do not provide a constant energy flow. Plus, rather than writing off, "shortage of specialty materials" as an easy to overcome obstacle, we could implement current nuclear technology without undertaking the most massive infrastructure project of all time counting on future unforeseen technological advances to be available when necessary.
posted by karmiolz at 10:42 AM on October 13, 2009 [9 favorites]


Their turbine is a smaller one, but it's still pretty big.

Is that really a small one? It's enormous. Great video.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 10:45 AM on October 13, 2009


I always want to skip this part and just go right to the arcologies blasting off into space, but that's still about 20 hours of gameplay away.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:46 AM on October 13, 2009 [11 favorites]


The Wall Street Journal had an article recently about the inter-relatedness of the coal/wind issue in China. They want to have 15% of their energy met with wind power by 2020, but are backing the intermittent times with coal to prevent blackouts. However, they are making and installing a huge number of wind turbines. I believe that earlier this year I read that they were set to be the largest wind turbine manufacturer pretty soon, as they are creating their own plants to make them instead of purchasing them from (their) overseas.

To see wind power done really right, we should look at Denmark (19% of energy is from wind) and Spain (11%). They are the leaders in wind power, perhaps because the two largest wind turbine companies (Vestas and Gamesa) are Danish and Spanish companies

One neat thing is that we can put them offshore (in the ocean), too. There's a large wind farm offshore of Wales. In New Jersey, there are concerns that there will be reduction in tourism, because people won't like to see them from the beaches. I think they are beautiful.
posted by Houstonian at 10:46 AM on October 13, 2009


How about methane recapture suits...like the Fremen water suits in Dune?
posted by Xoebe at 10:49 AM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


karmiolz: Or we could build 300 gen-4 nuke plants and be done with it...O, and upside to that, far less dangerous to the environment; look at the construction of photovoltaic power plants and realize the danger of the heavy metals used, not to mention the toxicity of the enormous batteries required to store power from sources that do not provide a constant energy flow.

I ask unrhetorically, because I haven't read a ton about it, but what I have read worries me: What about radioactive waste?
posted by shakespeherian at 10:51 AM on October 13, 2009


karmiolz: "Or we could build 300 gen-4 nuke plants and be done with it."

But it produces radioactive waste that will be lethal for thousands of years, you say?

Just dump it off the coast of some bumfuck country and be done with it.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:52 AM on October 13, 2009


What about suspending the waste in glass-matrices that are not lethal even the first day, that you can hold in your bare-hand without danger? You say the waste will be lethal, yes if swallowed whole and in large amounts. Or, even better, lets use breeder reactors and cut the "waste", which is worth 400 times per ounce as gold, by turning it into more energy. By the late 60's we had storage facilities that could withstand the worst case scenario without exposure of waste: a truck, hit by a train, then catching on fire. Germany's nuke plants can withstand direct impact with a commercial jet with no leak. Fear of nuclear waste is simply unfounded.
posted by karmiolz at 10:57 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fear of nuclear waste is simply unfounded.

Unless you live downwind of Prypiat, of course.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:02 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, because we should really build those ridiculous failing-Soviet Republic style reactors. Which, was still the result of human error, both in inciting the incident, and being insane enough to build it without proper containment. That's like saying you refuse to ride in a Maybach because a Yugo once crapped out on you.
posted by karmiolz at 11:09 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


My fear with nuclear power is two little words: Human error.

The best technology, the best design, the safest construction, the brightest thinking, can all be undone by human error. Human error has been at least partly the cause of many energy-related incidents (and really, many incidents and accidents in our personal lives as well as all business sectors). We can build things to protect us in the event of human error, but even then there are incidents.

On preview: What karmiolz said, but different.
posted by Houstonian at 11:15 AM on October 13, 2009


CAPS LOCK: CRUISE CONTROL FOR SUSTAINABILITY.

Now that I've got that out of my system... I think the analysis is very interesting, but there are a few parts that trouble me. I think they get a little hand-wavey about the materials shortages. They suggest that, in relation to possible shortages of silver, tellurium, and indium, "[r]ecycling parts from old cells could ameliorate material difficulties as well." But on the same page, they say that less than 1% of the solar cells we'd need, across all types, are currently installed. Given the huge build-out that's required, I don't see how recycling really solves anything. There basically aren't any panels out there to be recycled, and even if panels are recycled at the end of their service life, we still need to build a shitload of them first. Recycling old panels can't possibly supply more than a tiny fraction of the materials necessary for the panels their plan calls for, and I don't really even understand why they mention it, given that.

Also, they don't seem to address any of the environmental problems that have been raised in regard to some renewable sources. While it's true that some issues may be FUD or cover for hidden agendas, that doesn't mean that there aren't problems that need to be addressed, or at least weighted next to fossil-fuels. Examples include bird-strikes from wind turbines, and fish kills due to increased organic pollution after installation of hydroelectric dams. (Hydroelectric dams, when placed across flowing rivers, increase organic pollution and are so bad for the rivers involved that I hesitate to even call them "clean" energy sources. Given the choice between a modern fossil-fuel plant and a standing-head hydropower dam across an otherwise-healthy river, I don't think the dam is by any means an environmental win.) It may be that these local losses are offset by a reduction in fossil-fuel use worldwide, but that case needs to be made—particularly to people who are going to be adversely impacted—much more clearly than it currently is.

There's also some stuff towards the end that strikes me as just totally Polyanna-ish. "For their part, legislators crafting policy must find ways to resist lobbying by the entrenched energy industries." Right. If wishes were fishes, we could run the world on cod liver oil. Legislators will give preferential treatment to clean power just as soon as clean-power companies can outbid fossil-energy companies. (And then they can become the "entrenched" energy companies and use the regulatory structure to stifle competition!) As the industry grows and employs more people, it will become less easy for Washington to crap on at will. We're starting to see the beginnings of that now, but it's completely a function of people employed and money the industry has to spend on lobbying. The actual 'social value,' in any sort of objective sense, of the industry pales in relevance compared to those factors, to the point where it's hardly worth discussing.

However, the most important conclusion of the paper is, in my opinion anyway, a really heartening one: "Our analyses strongly suggest that the costs of WWS will become competitive with traditional sources." That's game, set, match right there, at least in the long run. Deep down, I think the petroleum energy companies know it, too; they're just milking oil for all its worth in the meantime. The real question is: between now and the time when truly clean sources become economically preferable, how much damage will we do to the biosphere, and what will the effects of that damage be?
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:16 AM on October 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


I just think that the fear of human error is a poor excuse for shutting down the obvious answer to cheap sustainable energy. It amounts to not flying because you fear a pilot is suicidal. Besides, the technology behind modern nuclear power plants really buffers them from human error in acting upon a properly constructed reactor. Granted that means that human error can still cause problems in the construction, but then you would also require human error of the very specific kind that would miss the error already committed when they checked their systems. Multiple fail safes that rely on inalterable laws of physics rather than human intervention seems safe enough to me.
posted by karmiolz at 11:20 AM on October 13, 2009


Or we could build 300 gen-4 nuke plants and be done with it.

From Wikipedia: Generation IV reactors (Gen IV) are a set of theoretical nuclear reactor designs currently being researched. Most of these designs are generally not expected to be available for commercial construction before 2030...

I think that we are discussing feasible energy alternatives, not some theoretical designs that may be available 20 years hence. The fact of the matter is that we can't just build "300 gen-4 nuke plants" and suggesting that we can is disingenuous.

Every time there is a thread related to renewable energy here, someone has to dump a pile of comments claiming that nuclear power is the solution to all our problems. It derails threads and it is pretty tiresome. If you want to participate in the discussion, that's one thing, but if you just want to make ridiculous claims about a subject that you apparently don't know much about, then save us the trouble and save it for your blog.
posted by ssg at 11:20 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


That's like saying you refuse to ride in a Maybach because a Yugo once crapped out on you.

Your analogy only works when nuclear reactors are built like Maybachs. Energy corporations have no financial incentive to build Maybach reactors. Responsibility to the shareholders, etc.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:21 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well I wouldn't want to live downstream from a poorly maintained hydroelectic dam, or downwind from a "properly" operating coal power plant, much less one that's skimped on the filter budget. Things that produce a lot of energy are inherently dangerous because simply there's a lot of energy involved. If that energy ends up going where it isn't supposed to, bad things happen. We need good regulation for any sort of power generation. Though there is less experience with nuclear power, so there's a gap between theoretical safety and actual safety I am sure.

Also building large scale photovoltaic power plants is a terrible idea. Just do solar thermal, less rare heavy metals, and the parabolic reflector/stirling engine set up can be pretty darn efficient. Over 30% under optimal conditions if I remember correctly.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:21 AM on October 13, 2009


Only some of these seem to be old Soviet reactors...

However, I understand we don't have to finish building those storage facilities in salt domes and whatnot and the waste can just be shipped to your address?
posted by Djinh at 11:24 AM on October 13, 2009


They are only theoretical in that no one has built them. It's not as if there are unproven and unreliable science behind them. Major difference between the "materials shortages" of the article and the construction of soundly founded reactors. Zalzidrax is right about solar thermal too. http://discovermagazine.com/2009/oct/08-introducing-most-efficient-solar-power-in-world
Not saying in areas that have the proper conditions for harnessing other energy sources, I live in northern Nevada and we have plenty of geothermal energy here, isn't ag reat way to buffer a new power-grid. Just that for massive amounts of energy, at a consistent prices and power levels, nuclear offers the far and away best technology.
posted by karmiolz at 11:27 AM on October 13, 2009


Okay, I'm feeling a bit stupid, but how do I see the actual paper? I see the one-sentence abstract, I see links to the authors; I see the reference number; what I don't see is a link to the paper itself.

Was it pulled? Are we discussing a one-sentence abstract? Is "Here's how!" with no link to anything some kind of meta-level joke? HALP ME PLS
posted by ook at 11:29 AM on October 13, 2009


DU: If I installed 10 kW generating capacity, then, I'd be reducing exactly that much fossil fuel usage and getting paid for it.

The problem with that is that solar PV currently costs in the neighborhood of $7.50 per installed watt. So your 10 kW array is going to cost you $75,000 up front. That right there is what's stopping every house in the world from having a 10 kW solar array on the roof. If some company came to me and said "Hey! Here's the deal: we'll install a solar array on your roof, at no cost to you, and charge you the same rate as the power company for all the electricity your house uses, just like you're billed now, and keep any extra for ourselves," I'd ask where to sign. Until someone does that, it's not going anywhere.
posted by rusty at 11:30 AM on October 13, 2009


Djinh, I would totally allow that waste to be stored at my house, and make a fortune doing so haha. I wish Yucca mountain would go through, with the money made of that we wouldn't have had to cut Nevada's higher education budget by 49%.
posted by karmiolz at 11:33 AM on October 13, 2009


ssg, I mentioned nuclear power and I'm sorry if it derailed -- in fact, I'm in love with wind, and not so much with nuclear. For my part, I mentioned it in terms of economies. On the one hand, renewable energy can be intermittent, and so present some problems there. Some of those problems can be resolved with the Smart Grid, but it's going to take a lot for us to get there: The US has 3 grids, and finding agreement on the details will not be easy.

On the other hand, nuclear plants are hugely expensive, somewhat dangerous, and in the US they have a very bad reputation. But, we already use some, without too many problems, and once they are running they do not have the the issues that renewable energy has.

I do think that "energy corporations have no financial incentive to build Maybach reactors" is right and wrong. Companies do qualitative and quantitative analysis of incidents to make the decisions about how much time, money, and effort to expend to save health, lives, environment, etc. That's the responsibility to shareholders. It sounds cold, but this is the way companies do it. I assume that's true for all companies in all sectors, but I work in the Energy sector and can tell you that's the way it's done there.

I think it will come down to total cost for development, installation, reputation-rehab (for nuclear), and of course kilowatt/hour.

Go Wind!
posted by Houstonian at 11:35 AM on October 13, 2009


Like most of our problems, they can be solved IN SPACE.

Suddenly that investment in the space program seems like a good idea, n'est-ce pas?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:37 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ook brings up a very good point: The article we linked to is gone. Now what?
posted by Houstonian at 11:42 AM on October 13, 2009


Mirror
posted by rusty at 11:50 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks, rusty!
posted by Houstonian at 11:51 AM on October 13, 2009


It's from the November 2009 SciAm, so chances are it'll be online sometime in the next month. I assume someone at UCD got dinged on releasing it early.
posted by rusty at 11:59 AM on October 13, 2009


Houstonian, sorry if my comment was too broad. Nuclear can certainly be part of the discussion and I have no problem at all with your comment. I've noticed a repeated pattern of BS comments from the nuclear-will-solve-all-our-problems crowd in these threads and I think it tends to derail the discussion.

And yeah, go wind! But in terms of $/kWh, conservation is still pretty cheap right now (not to mention that it's, you know, the right thing to do), so go conservation!
posted by ssg at 12:12 PM on October 13, 2009


karmiolz: Djinh, I would totally allow that waste to be stored at my house, and make a fortune doing so haha. I wish Yucca mountain would go through, with the money made of that we wouldn't have had to cut Nevada's higher education budget by 49%.

I know nuclear power is sort of a derail here, so apologies for contributing, yadda yadda. But speaking of Yucca Mountain, there was an article in the Believer a while back about how all a bunch of people involved in the Yucca project were sitting around trying to come up with some kind of warning sign that they could put on the mountain to keep future civilizations out, since the half-life of a lot of the dangerous elements is far greater than the entire history of human civilization so far, and they wanted to make sure that Joe Futureman three hundred thousand years from now keeps out. They haven't come up with anything.

That kind of enormous-scale element to the issue of nuclear power gives me pause. It makes nuclear power seem tremendously short-sighted, even when it is approached with the big picture in mind. By the time all of our current landfills of plastic grocery bags have turned into topsoil, Yucca Mountain will still be filled with dangerous shit.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:14 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


ssg, to clarify my stance on nuclear, I would say it needs to be the backbone of any major grid, supplemented at the local level by available alternatives. The advantage it does have however, massive amounts of energy capable of transmission along new DC power lines over long distances, could become its major drawback. Technologically advanced nations building plants and then essentially extorting other nations for the juice. Think ONEC. The technology is sound and constantly advancing, with its major hurdle being ill-informed public opinion.
posted by karmiolz at 12:17 PM on October 13, 2009




karmiolz, what is ONEC?
posted by Houstonian at 12:37 PM on October 13, 2009


Wow, that "Everything is OK" video is impressive. Not a chance that he'd get away with that in the US. Here it would've ended with him being driven away by law enforcement right away. We don't allow that kind of thinking done publicly here. Terrific.
posted by peppito at 12:37 PM on October 13, 2009


Two weeks ago I flew from NYC to El Paso. I was astonished at the number of wind farms I saw on the way over -- seemed to me to be about 5 times as many windmills as even a year ago.

We put a 2.75kW photovoltaic system on our rooftop 2 months ago. It's net metered, so no batteries. So far we've generated 740kWh, and used 570kWh. I'm looking forward to my first check from the electric company.
posted by Killick at 12:40 PM on October 13, 2009


AFAICT, this is how it works, according to the article:

1. Earthships
2. Magic fairy dust and good intentions
3. ???
4. Success!
posted by clvrmnky at 1:08 PM on October 13, 2009


re: Earthships. A house in Montana that costs $350,000 is supposed to be sustainable?!? Urban infill houses are way cheaper than that, and that's here in the District of Columbia where the land the house sits on is actually expensive. There's a reason we use the materials we use: they're scalable. Urban living is much more environmentally friendly than setting up a homestead in the desert: we take advantage of economies of scale, we don't have to drive, and we end up using and wasting less stuff.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:24 PM on October 13, 2009


Thanks for the mirror link, rusty.
posted by ook at 1:26 PM on October 13, 2009


rusty: "If some company came to me and said "Hey! Here's the deal: we'll install a solar array on your roof, at no cost to you, and charge you the same rate as the power company for all the electricity your house uses, just like you're billed now, and keep any extra for ourselves," I'd ask where to sign."

There are actually companies out there doing just that.

Basically it's a rental rather than outright purchased system. You rent the panels from them, and you get the power from them and can sell any excess onto the grid.

I think there are other companies doing a model where they actually retain ownership of the panels, and then they sell you power at a locked-in rate for a certain number of years, with any excess being sold onto the grid at a profit to you. Can't find the company doing that at the moment, but I've definitely heard of it.

Most of these business models depend on reverse metering, so if you have any interest at all, step one is pushing as hard as you can, with whatever means you have, to try and get reverse metering in your area.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:45 PM on October 13, 2009


*does some trippy ninja thing, with a backflip, so he can hit both the OVERPOPULATION and the THORIUM gongs simultaneously, then rappels off of the roof*
posted by adipocere at 1:53 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


This was on Slashdot today: New Jersey Outshines Most Others In Solar Energy. From the article:

Considering all three sources of funding, their contractors estimate that it should take the couple a little under five years for the solar panels to pay for themselves. “We thought it would take longer, like 10 to 12 years,” adds Bob.

Just wanted to throw that in.
posted by exhilaration at 2:30 PM on October 13, 2009


Anybody who thinks there will be enough "Earthships" or wind power for 7 Billion people - or even three billion - is smoking crack. And you know if there was we'd be in worse trouble. & billion people cannot live even close to first world status. Even first world status like some sort of spartan Green socialist ideal. It's not possible. He says world population will start to decline. Well. One way or the other it's gonna.
posted by tkchrist at 3:02 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


A sincere question: How much of the world's population is without power now? If I'm reading you right, you are concerned that power for everyone would lead to overpopulation? Or have I got that wrong?
posted by Houstonian at 3:07 PM on October 13, 2009


Those wind farms you flew over: they can't get the power out. Major transmission congestion issues between west Texas and east Texas, where the power is actually needed. T. Boone just canceled his plan to build 1,000 MW (or was it more?) out there.

Because of the decline in panel prices, residential rooftop solar systems in the last few weeks are coming in around $5,000/kw in some areas ($5/Wp). Utility-scale solar is down around $3/Wp.

And the boom in solar energy New Jersey is the direct result of SRECs trading above $300/MWh over the next 5 years.

Nuke plants are great, but difficult to finance, especially in this capital market environment.

Spain is a leader in wind because of it's former feed-in-tariff made wind development economic.

Finally, I've visited Yucca Mountain. It's incredible. Over-engineered as one would want a nuclear waste repository should be and will likely never see service. The issue, according to the DOE people I spoke to, is that the waste is to be brought in by rail, crossing many states in the process, and therefore, many Congressional districts. And every single U.S. Representative and Senator were against nuclear waste crossing their their areas.
posted by jchilib at 3:29 PM on October 13, 2009


jchilib, that's pretty neat! How did you get to see Yucca Mountain? I assumed it was not open to the public, but part of our military bases there. Was it a work-related trip, or can anyone go see it?
posted by Houstonian at 3:47 PM on October 13, 2009


what shakespeherian said.

Nuclear is fossil fuel in reverse: takes millenia to make a barrel of oil, and millenia for radioactive decay.

what we are burning here people is time.
posted by fistynuts at 3:49 PM on October 13, 2009


thanks for the save rusty!

re: nuclear, this other sciam article i thought was pretty convincing

re: transmission, apparently they're going to connect the US' power grids with HTS

also btw bill mckibben sez, "Earth to Obama: You can't negotiate with the planet."

oh and i don't think earthships and cities are necessarily mutually exclusive, esp if in 20 years we really do eliminate all fossil fuels and are able to implement a functioning 'smart grid' of distributed power generation.
posted by kliuless at 4:44 PM on October 13, 2009


The best thing about wind power is it will take advantage of the massive wind storms that will result from the catastrophic environment change wrought by fossil fuel use. Win/win.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:25 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


A sincere question: How much of the world's population is without power now? If I'm reading you right, you are concerned that power for everyone would lead to overpopulation? Or have I got that wrong?

No. His premise is that as the average third worlders standard of living raises— and the western standard of living falls, the third world population will start to decline. Which is true. But hat he doesn't say is how fast that happens and what also "raised standard of living" means.

In order to raise 3rd Wolrd SOL they will have to start producing AND consuming more. And there are degress magnitude more of them than us. None of this will stat happening until after world population is projected to hit 8 - 9 BILLION. So if life expectancy increases with SOL, like it usually does, you have 50-70 year gap between when populations realistically start actually declining all the while consumption increases.

IOW. What is the god damned point of the west going to lengths to achieve sustainability — and wholly agree that that west simply MUST curb consumption — and then have a century or more of third world consumption increase astronomically.

What does that gain us?

Especially when you factor climate change and IRREVERSIBLE species loss to habitat loss. Even if in a century or two population goes back (without violent contractions like he thinks) to where it is now or slightly lower — and that I doubt — and we attempt the herculean task of replenishing and conserving our natural environment you will still have oceans utterly wasted of most life for centuries and centuries, forests without balanced ecosystems and devoid of diverse wildlife species.

In other words sustainability movements to create MORE energy use will only increase demand and increase consumption and increase pollutions and environmental degradation. Without a concerted effort to combine sustainable energy creation, reduced consumption, with immediate population controls all of this will be for naught.

Becuase world population will contract one way or another. Either we o it deliberately, ethically, and rationally or massive amounts of people die from war and starvation.

The math is simple. Either 8 billion people attempt to scratch a rather crappy existence (without things we take for granted like air travel, natural wildlife, and personal liberty) on this rock or three billion people live pretty damn well.

Basically, nobody should get on the grid without being on birth control.
posted by tkchrist at 6:02 PM on October 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Switch off the mind and let the heart decide
posted by kcds at 6:07 PM on October 13, 2009


Another (often unspoken) problem with expanding nuclear is that you're expanding the problem of being stuck digging non-replenishable fuel out of the ground, in a race to the bottom against everyone else while prices skyrocket as the low-hanging fruit is rapidly depleted.

We're getting burned (and about to get a lot more burned) because we built everything on the assumption that oil would remain cheap forever. Let's actually learn something from that lesson. Let's leave it to others to fight with increasing desperation and increasing nastiness over increasingly scarce resources, when we have an alternative at hand that is endless. And (once subsidies are taken out of the equation) about the same price already.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:12 PM on October 13, 2009


ONEC is just a bad pun on OPEC
posted by karmiolz at 6:16 PM on October 13, 2009


With current technology and no breeder reactors we still have 200 years of uranium.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-long-will-global-uranium-deposits-last
posted by karmiolz at 6:49 PM on October 13, 2009


Wind turbines cause depression and other mental problems. Large, non-audible decibels fucking with your mind.

This kinda sucks.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:33 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Surprisingly, and i think karmiolz missed this, the point of Gen IV nuclear reactors is that they EAT nuclear waste - they are the best solution to current nuclear waste that we have. Gen IV nukes would result in the closing of highly problematic uranium mines.

The wastes that come out of a Gen IV reactor are hot for only a few hundred years too. Something that is much more within our capabilities than the many thousands of years current Gen II and Gen III demand.

One of my favourite advocates for Integral Fast Reactors is Professor Barry Brook at the University of Adelaide: http://bravenewclimate.com/integral-fast-reactor-ifr-nuclear-power/

Note that he's not a physicist, he's a biological scientist with climate change expertise.
posted by wilful at 9:33 PM on October 13, 2009


Gah, don't know why I messed up that link.
posted by wilful at 9:34 PM on October 13, 2009


It's worth remembering that if something is still radioactive, then it's still possible to use it for power generation. Obviously it is non-trivial to design a series of interlocking-fuel cycles that do not leave highly radioactive waste, but it is not physically impossible.
posted by atrazine at 11:00 PM on October 13, 2009


karmiolz: "With current technology and no breeder reactors we still have 200 years of uranium. "

That's not great, compared to what it could be with a properly-implemented fuel cycle. Although I'm in many ways a big proponent of nuclear energy, if we're not going to do it right—use the relatively small amounts of naturally fissionable uranium to breed plutonium and thorium—we ought to just leave it in the ground. It's too good a resource to just waste, burning it up like that.

If oil is a magical resource that we're just squandering, U-235 is like God's own goddamn pixie dust. If we're not going to use it to its full extent, we should save it for another millenia when we might need it that much more.

Using up the world's easily-accessible reserves of uranium in a mere two centuries would be criminal; it shouldn't even be contemplated. I suspect that in time, current uranium-"burning" reactor designs will be viewed as one of the more flagrant wastes of the 20th century, on par with anything that the oil or auto companies could ever dream up.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:23 PM on October 13, 2009


"With current technology and no breeder reactors we still have 200 years of uranium. "

We currently have about ~430 commerical nuclear plants operating globally and they produce 6-7% of total global primary energy consumption. Building another 400 plants is going to reduce the time it takes for the uranium to run out while only contributing a fraction of global needs, espeically when you consider how energy demand is going up. The other problem with uranium supply is that as demand goes up then the concentrations of ore that is available reduces, and digging it up becomes more environmentally damaging, including with regard to associated climate change emissions.
posted by biffa at 3:45 AM on October 14, 2009


Wind turbines cause depression and other mental problems. Large, non-audible decibels fucking with your mind.

You're not referring to "wind turbine syndrome" are you? Because the study it's based on sounds pretty dodgy to me. It was self-published and "peer-reviewed" by her husband and a couple of mates; and based on a self-selected group of 38 people with no control group: not really the best science around.
posted by harriet vane at 4:12 AM on October 14, 2009


Usually I jump on nuke derails in renewable energy threads with gusto, but tonight I'm tired. So I'll just put in the usual link to the usual book for those who haven't already read it. We don't need more nukes, and unless massive amounts of government funds get diverted their way at the expense of other things that will reduce carbon emissions faster, market forces alone will probably mean we won't end up with them.
posted by flabdablet at 5:19 AM on October 14, 2009


U-235 is like God's own goddamn pixie dust. If we're not going to use it to its full extent, we should save it for another millenia when we might need it that much more

If we also end up needing non-renewable fuels in some other millennium, we're doing it wrong.
posted by flabdablet at 5:21 AM on October 14, 2009


Ok I don't know if this has been asked before but here it goes:

Everything exists in nature for a reason. If we take things out of nature, things start going bat shit crazy. EG most of the natural predators were either killed or removed from my area (50-75 mile radius). I now see tons of deer in my neighborhood. This is not that surprising to some but I live in the city. Now if you take that example and apply it to oil, what effect is using up all of the oil in the ground having on our planet?
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:00 AM on October 14, 2009


Kadin2048: I have heard of those panel-lease companies. I should probably have mentioned it in my comment, that I didn't mean to say "this will never happen" but "this is not happening on anything like the scale it needs to yet." Sorry.

Maine does have net metering now, and apparently we have a local representative for that company. Last time I looked they weren't rolling out systems yet. Maybe I should get in touch with them again and see where we're at.
posted by rusty at 8:16 AM on October 14, 2009


Mastercheddaar: Ok I don't know if this has been asked before but here it goes:

Everything exists in nature for a reason. If we take things out of nature, things start going bat shit crazy. EG most of the natural predators were either killed or removed from my area (50-75 mile radius). I now see tons of deer in my neighborhood. This is not that surprising to some but I live in the city. Now if you take that example and apply it to oil, what effect is using up all of the oil in the ground having on our planet?


Well, just off the top of my head, there's the fact that we're removing high-pressure stuff from the ground and leaving nothing there to fill the space, which can cause massive sinkholes.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:27 AM on October 14, 2009


Note that he's not a physicist, he's a biological scientist with climate change expertise.

Even more reason not to trust his evaluation of nuclear technology.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:58 PM on October 14, 2009


Everything exists in nature for a reason. If we take things out of nature, things start going bat shit crazy.

olivia judson i thought had a pretty good explanation...

(btw, fwiw, here's more on the "national transmission superhighway" ;)
posted by kliuless at 6:14 PM on October 14, 2009


Even more? Why not try reading what is presented there - by very experienced physicists, as well as climate scientists. Try it, you might be surprised.
posted by wilful at 10:24 PM on October 14, 2009


What about suspending the waste in glass-matrices that are not lethal even the first day, that you can hold in your bare-hand without danger?
Having dealt (tangentially) with nuclear waste remediation:

Those glass containers have a leach rate. The project I worked on dealt with vitrifying waste that was only 'moderately' radioactive because the much more highly radioactive material at the superfund site would leach out of the glass ingots before it could decay to a level that was considered safe. And 'container' is a bit of a misnomer - the waste is mixed in with sand, borax and a few other compounds, heated to a ridiculously high temperature and: tada! a glass ingot! Which is still radioactive. It's just not as likely to wander off into water supplies as the 'raw' waste.

There is, of course, plenty of research into making materials that have a much lower leach rate (from 1998, but it's what I could find quickly: Microstructures and leach rates of glass–ceramic nuclear waste forms developed by partial vitrification in a hot isostatic press).
posted by combinatorial explosion at 4:28 AM on October 15, 2009


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