Can Any Country Achieve Net Zero Without Nuclear?

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If you are lucky enough to have copious amounts of hydropower, you may be able to. But aside from that, I can't see how it can be done. In Australia, we have a policy of net zero by 2050, but it is beyond me how you can do it without nuclear. However, Australia has banned nuclear. Engineers are now giving interviews here in Australia, pointing out this absurdity. A moment ago, I watched one by Dr Adi Paterson (and he is far from the only one) saying it is impossible - utterly impossible:
https://www.uow.edu.au/alumni/honorary-alumni/honorary-doctorates/adi-paterson/

He has written to the government several times telling them this, but they have yet to reply. He is perturbed.

Sticking just to the science and avoiding any politics, are he and other engineers correct? Are we really up the creek without a paddle unless we allow nuclear?

Of course, the government has done modelling on this and produced a report:
https://www.unimelb.edu.au/newsroom/news/2023/april/australias-path-to-net-zero-charted-in-new-study

I find it unconvincing.

'Hydrogen made from solar, wind and desalinated water can replace our fossil fuel exports. We can also export large volumes of clean hydrogen with large scale implementation of Carbon Capture and Storage,” Associate Professor Smart said.'

Has such technology even been demonstrated at scale? To me, it looks like a pipe dream without a backup plan.

Thanks
Bill
 
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  • #2
It's net carbon. It's what you burn minus what you return to the environment. Normally, planting trees is the mechanism by which this is done. However, since Australia is the driest inhabited continent, it may be a good idea to try something else.

I suggest cane toads. Lots and lots of cane toads.

I estimate 10,000-15,000 cane toads per year. That's has a mean spacing between toads of 15 meters. Surely you can handle that. Of course, that's only the first year.
 
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  • #3
Vanadium 50 said:
I suggest cane toads. Lots and lots of cane toads.

Seriously, cane toads are spreading. They have now been found even in Sydney. It is a big problem.

In Queensland, where I live, there have been tons ever since I have been alive.

Several groups are working on tree planting, even in a dry country like Australia.

Thanks
Bill
 
  • #4
My numbers were per capita of course. And if you think cane toads are a problem now, just wait until my plan is implemented. These will look like the Gold Old Days.

This doesn't look completely impossible. A solar far 30 miles on a side (or 900 of them one mile on a side) would do it, at a cost of doubling all taxes for a few years. Or the equivalent in wind farms - who needs birds anyway? But Australia has a huge inland region filled with the poor and indigenous who are in no shape to complain about being run off their land so giant solar or wind farms can be constructed. We can all feel sad for them at our cocktail parties, so we can check off that problem as solved too.
 
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  • #5
Vanadium 50 said:
Or the equivalent in wind farms - who needs birds anyway? But Australia has a huge inland region filled with the poor and indigenous who are in no shape to complain about being run off their land so giant solar or wind farms can be constructed.

That is happening now; they are making a huge hullabaloo. But getting into that is more political than I, as a mentor, would deem suitable. Let's say it will be interesting to see how it plays out. An Aboriginal tribe stopped a nuclear dump site for the small waste we produce from the reactor at Lucas Heights used for medical purposes. As an aside, Lucas Heights is judged to be the 5th best green suburb in Sydney despite the reactor.

Seriously, what happens when the wind doesn't blow at night? Relying on gas generators that can be quickly fired up when required means we will still need fossil fuels - or, of course, nuclear. Australia is fortunate to have vast amounts of gas.

That being the case, instead of trying for 100% renewables, get engineers to design the cheapest and most reliable network (including nuclear) consistent with reducing emissions as much as practicable. That would be my choice.

I think it was Feynman who said reality can't be fooled. Any attempt to do so will fail, and Australia will start having actual blackouts.

Thanks
Bill
 
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  • #6
bhobba said:
I think it was Feynman who said reality can't be fooled.
To be precise, he said nature cannot be fooled. As somebody or other has in his sig...
 
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  • #7
How much energy can you take out of the wind, before it starts having noticeable consequences on global weather and ecosystems. Last I checked the wind does important things. When it’s not enough they will be sucking the energy from the ocean currents? Surely nothing can go wrong there either…Who needs ocean currents? I say we just blot out the sun with solar panels and call it day.
 
  • #8
bhobba said:
Seriously, what happens when the wind doesn't blow at night?
The idea is that you trade power with your neighbors. On windy days you are a net seller, and on calm nights, you are a net buyer. Granted, this requires a certain...um...perspective, because your neighbors might be burning carbon. But Australia has only 2% of the population of the largest countries, so it's easier to overlook than the US which is 10x bigger or the EU which is 20x bigger.

It would also help is Australia were not an entire continent.

erobz said:
How much energy can you take out of the wind, before it starts having noticeable consequences on global weather and ecosystems.
A lot. The better question is how much energy is one windmill on a wind farm taking from the others. That's a limit on the density of power generation available via wind. "We got wind farms, let's just stick up some more windmills on them" does not work as well as it sounds.
 
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  • #9
Vanadium 50 said:
A lot.
Sounds fuzzy. I guess we are about to find out.
 
  • #10
erobz said:
How much energy can you take out of the wind, before it starts having noticeable consequences on global weather and ecosystems. Last I checked the wind does important things.
Well, let's look at the amount of wind power available. Google tells me wind's power density is 4 MW /sq km*. That's less than I expected. Multiplied by the Earth's surface area, that's 2,000 terawatts. The current total electrical generating capacity is 9 TW. So we're talking half a percent. I'm not worried.

And heck, it may counteract the impact of clearing trees for farmland.

*that's probably at current height of towers and I'm not sure if that's a US or global average.
 
  • #11
bhobba said:

Can Any Country Achieve Net Zero Without Nuclear?​

If you are lucky enough to have copious amounts of hydropower, you may be able to. But aside from that, I can't see how it can be done.
What do you mean? Of course you can. The question isn't whether you can, it's whether it is a good/economical idea.

bhobba said:
In Australia, we have a policy of net zero by 2050, but it is beyond me how you can do it without nuclear. However, Australia has banned nuclear. Engineers are now giving interviews here in Australia, pointing out this absurdity. A moment ago, I watched one by Dr Adi Paterson (and he is far from the only one) saying it is impossible - utterly impossible:
https://www.uow.edu.au/alumni/honorary-alumni/honorary-doctorates/adi-paterson/
Do you have a link to the video and/or can you paraphrase the argument?
bhobba said:
Seriously, what happens when the wind doesn't blow at night?
You use your battery backup that was charged when the wind was blowing.
bhobba said:
Relying on gas generators that can be quickly fired up when required means we will still need fossil fuels
Leaving the generators in place for true emergencies is probably a good idea either way. 99.9% is almost as good as 100%.
 
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  • #12
Vanadium 50 said:
The idea is that you trade power with your neighbors.... Granted, this requires a certain...um...perspective, because your neighbors might be burning carbon.
That's why I don't like it and from a practical standpoint there are limits to how far you can economically transport power. But yeah, right now people in certain European countries with high renewable fractions are saying "Look at we are doing! Everyone can do this!". It's not true.
 
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  • #13
erobz said:
Sounds fuzzy. I guess we are about to find out.

That is the bottom line here. Australia is not meeting its 2030 targets, and in an attempt to rectify this is building more wind and solar farms.

If it keeps failing in an educated democratic country like Australia, one way or another, it will be rectified. If nuclear is the answer, then it will happen.

I wish it hadn't worked that way and Australia had a smoother transition.

Thanks
Bill
 
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  • #14
russ_watters said:
people in certain European countries with high renewable fractions are saying "Look at we are doing! Everyone can do this!". It's not true.
You don't have to look that far. California is crowing about how they have closed all their nuclear plants except one, but buying power elsewhere. "Golly, we have no control over how those other states make their power."

Power companies are delighted to sell "renewable and other zero carbon energy sources" which is obviously a code word for "nuclear with a tiny bit of wind mixed in" but everyone is happy to look the other way.

However, I think our salvation will be peoples' deliberate ignorance and hypocrisy. What needs to be done will be done, and people will find some way to rationalize it. Fifty years ago, Dr. Dixie Lee Ray summed it up: "People will ^%@# and moan about nuclear power...until the lights go out."
 
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  • #15
Ah, Australia. The nett zero talked about conveniently concerns electricity generation only. The whole ~5% of their primary energy production. Forget California and 'certain European countries'. This here is proper creative accounting.
 
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  • #16
russ_watters said:
Well, let's look at the amount of wind power available. Google tells me wind's power density is 4 MW /sq km*.
Is that the power density of the wind in the places that its blowing? You are multiplying it by the entire Surface Area of Earth. I think that is going to be a significant overestimate.

I don't know if I can post the reference article I'm reading ( IOPScience - "Are Global Wind Power Resource Estimates Overstated" it says it's under peer-review) ,but the authors are claiming when accounting for the effects of harvested wind load, there is a resource of 72 TW over the entire land surface area of the Earth. Over the land and oceans 148 TW.

Anecdotally just visit Windy.com and you can see that wind speeds over land mass is currently very low.
 
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  • #17
Bandersnatch said:
Ah, Australia. The nett zero talked about conveniently concerns electricity generation only. The whole ~5% of their primary energy production. Forget California and 'certain European countries'. This here is proper creative accounting.

True, but the situation is complex (I presume you are talking about the huge amount of coal and gas exported)

Even for electricity, the report justifying the strategy has glaring technical issues. Several 'posts' detail them, especially by an ex-physicist, Aiden Morrison, who became a data scientist. Interestingly, his technical expertise was not required - anybody could have spotted them, and many did. Their concerns are in an appendix as well as the report authors response. It was a word salad I couldn't understand, nor could Aiden.

If interested, do an internet search on Aiden Morrison. Personally, I wouldn't, but then again, throughout my working life, I have had to read far too many similar government reports.

Thanks
Bill
 
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  • #18
russ_watters said:
99.9% is almost as good as 100%.
You're thinking like an engineer, not like a zealot.
 
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  • #19
erobz said:
Is that the power density of the wind in the places that its blowing? You are multiplying it by the entire Surface Area of Earth. I think that is going to be a significant overestimate.
Power density where there are turbines. I could see it being high by a factor of 2-4x but i doubt it's much worse than that.
erobz said:
I don't know if I can post the reference article I'm reading ( IOPScience - "Are Global Wind Power Resource Estimates Overstated" it says it's under peer-review) ,but the authors are claiming when accounting for the effects of harvested wind load, there is a resource of 72 TW over the entire land surface area of the Earth. Over the land and oceans 148 TW.
It would shock me if it's that low. We're already at 1% of that and can't possibly have 1% of our land covered in turbines at this point. But I'd like to read it.

Note: what we're talking about here is harvestable wind energy. The winds on Earth blow for 10+ miles up and we aren't touching those.
erobz said:
Anecdotally just visit Windy.com and you can see that wind speeds over land mass is currently very low.
That really doesn't tell us anything useful. Wind's capacity factor in the US is 35% which is pretty good. Solar is 24% which isn't awful, but we heavily favor installation in prime areas (the sothwest). By comparison, Germany's is a truly abysmal 10%
 
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  • #22
russ_watters said:
You use your battery backup that was charged when the wind was blowing.

Leaving the generators in place for true emergencies is probably a good idea either way. 99.9% is almost as good as 100%.

Of course.

Interestingly, I was watching a story about what is being done with the decommissioned coal-fired Liddell Power plant. Two new plants are replacing it. One is a battery plant that can supply the grid for two hours, and another is a gas-powered generator close by that can be ramped up if the two hours of battery storage is not enough. The battery storage was more expensive than the gas power plant. The question the story asked, which can only be answered by an engineer, was whether the battery was necessary or the gas plant could be ramped up quickly enough. This sort of data is not forthcoming for some reason in such stories.

Either way, it makes good engineering sense. My issue, and one of the glaring issues in the report I mentioned, was it did not account for the cost of such plants that are needed when the sun doesn't shine, or the wind doesn't blow. The report points out renewables are now the cheapest form of energy but fails to mention they need to be backed up by battery and gas. That renewables are the cheapest isn't 100% true - see the following:

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

Normal solar and wind are cheap, plus battery and gas-fired power stations. Even doubling up on both to ensure 100% reliability isn't expensive. Notice, however, the cost of offshore wind, which Australia is looking to use a lot of. As can be seen, it is not much cheaper than nuclear. That's another area the report got wrong. It assumed the life of a nuclear reactor was about 25 years, the same as solar. My understanding is some have life spans of 80 years, and many are licensed for 60 years.

Thanks
Bill
 
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  • #23
bhobba said:
My understanding is some have life spans of 80 years, and many are licensed for 60 years.
True in the US. Not sure about other places.

Of course there were plants closed well before their original 40 year license, but IMO those suffered political rather than technical issues.

This is a reason the power companies shy away from nuclear. The voters can shutter a multi billion dollar facility, "because nuclear."
 
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  • #24
erobz said:
Who needs ocean currents? I say we just blot out the sun with solar panels and call it day.
Or ocean life? Blocking sunlight doesn't fix acidification.

Climate change gets all of the press. But the over arching issue is sustainability.
 
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  • #25
Vanadium 50 said:
Normally, plantingh trees is the mechanism by which this is done.
Yea, that solution never made sense to me. Unless you'll let those trees get buried and turned into coal someday, it seems like a short term solution.
 
  • #26
Vanadium 50 said:
I suggest cane toads. Lots and lots of cane toads.
What's a cane toad? You guys talk funny...
 
  • #28
I mean, introducing a giant prehistoric amphibian to a previously isolated continent with no natural predators. What could possibly go wrong?
 
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  • #29
Vanadium 50 said:
I mean, introducing a giant prehistoric amphibian to a previously isolated continent with no natural predators. What could possibly go wrong?

You summed up the Australian public service well.

The same is true with rabbits - but the public service can't be blamed for that - they came with the first fleet. The effect on our ecology has been devastating. They are the most significant factor in species loss in Australia, having an immense impact on natural resources, primarily overgrazing. The rabbits first deplete pastures, then woody vegetation, which includes small shrubs, leaves and tree bark. They are also responsible for erosion, as they eat native plants, leaving the topsoil exposed and vulnerable to erosion and it takes many hundreds of years to regenerate.

The only positive is that hunting them for food was popular when I was young, but it is rare these days.
 
  • #30
bhobba said:
rabbits
Do you have coyotes? Where I live I can watch the rabbit and coyote populations oscillate, slightly out of phase.
 
  • #31
gmax137 said:
Do you have coyotes?
There are almost no native plaental mammals in Australia. Mice, rats, bats, and the Dingo (which was introduced only a few thousands years ago).

Of course, one could introduce coyotes to eat the introduced rabbits. What could go wrong with that?
 
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  • #32
gmax137 said:
Do you have coyotes? Where I live I can watch the rabbit and coyote populations oscillate, slightly out of phase.
No coyotes, but foxes were introduced. Similar problem - invasive species preys on indigenous species.

The European Red Fox was introduced to Australia in the mid 1800s for hunting purposes. However, populations quickly spread across the country closely following that of rabbits. Today, foxes are found throughout all states and territories except Tasmania.
https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/biosecurity/pest-animals/priority-pest-animals/red-fox
https://www.agriculture.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/european-red-fox.pdf
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_foxes_in_Australia

Dingoes have been around for several thousands of years.
https://www.arc.gov.au/news-publica...-reveals-when-dingoes-first-arrived-australia

https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/arrival-of-the-dingo
 
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  • #33
Looks to me that whomever introduced apes to Australia is to blame. At least those with pasty hides.
 
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  • #34
gmax137 said:
Do you have coyotes? Where I live I can watch the rabbit and coyote populations oscillate, slightly out of phase.

Rabbits don't have any natural predators in Australia, although Kookaburras eat young Rabbits. That was why they caused such devastation. But we fought back with myxomatosis - a virus. That reduced their numbers significantly and probably accounts for why hunting them is less popular. It is still done, but those who eat Rabbits these days usually buy farmed ones. They are popular with those who like French cuisine.

Thanks
Bill
 
  • #35
Vanadium 50 said:
Of course, one could introduce coyotes to eat the introduced rabbits. What could go wrong with that?

Myxomatosis has done a good job.

Thanks
Bill
 

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