# Energy independence for the US (or any other country)

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Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Well in Picken's case the price of competing fossil fuels is not the immediate issue. It is the financial snafu, at least according to him. He can't finance the the full turbine buy plus transmission right now. Oil could go to $100 tomorrow and that wouldn't change his problem. Everything was fine until the price of crude plumetted. One cannot obtain financing on alternatives that are not currently economically competitive. His entire plan hinges on the assumption that natural gas is price competitive with petro. mheslep Gold Member Everything was fine until the price of crude plumetted. One cannot obtain financing on alternatives that are not currently economically competitive. His entire plan hinges on the assumption that natural gas is price competitive with petro. Oil's$76 today, already touched $84 couple weeks ago, and Picken's final decision on the turbines was recent. Maybe most, but far from all. NPP as defined there excludes, for example, all of wind, geothermal, nuclear, and solar PV or solar thermal collection would be alternatives to NPP - "the amount of plant material left over after respiration" Right. What I mean is that the NPP is converting awesome amounts of power to materials and chemical storage simply from sunlight, and life on earth has operated on this clean renewable abundant power source since long before the industrial revolution. The fossil fuels we burn provide high-energy electrons which drive oxidation-reduction reactions (combustion), and the electron energy was captured from sunlight and processed in the past. There is a theory, which I used to consider bogus, that the earth produces renewable hydrocarbon fuels in its core, and now I'm more inclined to see if there is any scientific evidence for this theory. The Department of Energy had a pdf out a few years ago (lost the link) describing the path to innovation in nanotechnology wherein we use high energy electrons from sunlight in a variety of ways. If humans figure out how to effectively capture, store, and transport electrons over a smart grid through R&D, then the inexhaustible power of sunlight would be available for industy and home use without competing with the NPP (it would operate as a parallel system whereas some biofuels convert NPP into fuel instead of food). Although this is futuristic thinking, so were rockets and nuclear bombs/power stations a few decades ago, and our knowledge of the electron is being advanced by investments in public and private R&D. No, the OP asked about renewable energy providing up to 50% of total load. That and independence are not necessarily the same thing. The OP's title says "energy independence for the US (or any other country)" although you are correct that the scope is narrowed to 50% renewables in the post. The reprocessing of nuclear material according to the paper I posted above is going to be less than 2.5% of world stock in the next five years and would not be expected to exceed 30% in the future, so unless there is innovation in that field nuclear reprocessing is only partly renewable at this time (and it does not eliminate radiological material in existence, it increases the world stock, so any orphaned source or by-product material incapable of reprocessing is still regarded as radioactive waste). Ygggdrasil Science Advisor Gold Member Denmark already has high power connections to other countries, but in wind lulls Denmark makes up much of the slack using German coal and Swedish nuclear. Also I'm familiar with pumped storage, however, I'm unaware of significant pumped storage connected to Denmark's grid via Norway or Sweden, versus normal hydro. Generally grids with abundant hydro store energy by simply slowing or stopping the dam flow and allowing the water to collect behind the dam, but not pumping it up as the facilities were not designed that way originally. Here's text from the 2010 Nature news feature I cited in my previous post: Nature said: Denmark already gets about 20% of its electricity from land- and sea-based wind farms, and it is aiming to increase that figure to 50% by 2025. Because the North Sea winds can drop to low levels for days at a time, however, countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands are increasing their grid connectivity to Norway, which gets the vast majority of its power from hydroelectric plants. Norway's mountain reservoirs provide back-up power capacity, and also offer substantial amounts of pumped storage hydroelectricity, in which water is pumped uphill to a reservoir using surplus electricity, and released downhill again to turn a generator when power is needed. Pumped hydroelectricity has a storage efficiency of 70–85%, and it is the most mature and widespread technology being used for large-scale electricity storage. China, Japan and the United States, for example, have numerous installations with generating capacities ranging from tens of megawatts (MW) to several gigawatts (GW). Pumped storage hydroelectricity is a particularly good match for wind power because water pumped into an upper reservoir will stay there for a long time, making up for potentially large gaps in wind generation. I don't know the source of the discrepancy between the WSJ's quote of 30% and Nature's quote of 50%. Perhaps Denmark's policy has changed since the WSJ blog post was written. edit: Note Denmark also has the highest electricity rates in the world of reporting countries - 32 cents/kWh (2006). Note that the prices in the EIA source you posted include taxes and Denmark has notoriously high energy taxes (including a tax on carbon dioxide emissions), in part to help promote energy conservation and efficiency. Now, of course, some of the tax does go into subsidizing their wind industry, so part of the high taxes do reflect an increased cost of producing energy but how much is not clear. Ivan Seeking Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member Oil's$76 today, already touched $84 couple weeks ago, and Picken's final decision on the turbines was recent. What is the price per mile for natural gas vehicles? DrClapeyron Does anyone buy good ole "pump and dump" Picken's windmill farm idea? I think he is using it as an investment base to develop his natural gas reserves. He is definitely spearheading the "coal is dirty" coalition. I'm telling you this now, Picken's windmill plan is the second coming of the railroad. Natural gas prices are so volatile that Picken's whole idea is ridiculous unless he can somehow convince the US government to order all coal fired power plants to shut down. mheslep Gold Member Maybe see this earlier thread https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=244102&highlight=pickens Does anyone buy good ole "pump and dump" Picken's windmill farm idea? I think he is using it as an investment base to develop his natural gas reserves. He is definitely spearheading the "coal is dirty" coalition. I'm telling you this now, Picken's windmill plan is the second coming of the railroad. Natural gas prices are so volatile Compared to what? Maybe there's some confusion. Picken's states he wants to replace gasoline and diesel transportation with natural gas. He wants to replace fossil based electric generation, mainly gas, with wind. Last edited: mheslep Gold Member ...I don't know the source of the discrepancy between the WSJ's quote of 30% and Nature's quote of 50%. Perhaps Denmark's policy has changed since the WSJ blog post was written.... Either way, a goal statement can be just green wash. It doesn't mean they've demonstrated a practical, detailed plan on how to achieve the goal. I have not seen anything demonstrated in/by Denmark that leads me to believe they can do an average 50% wind. Also, at some point when a country points to a large percentage of backup power from another country, it doesn't continue make sense to view the country in isolation and say 'country X does Y% wind'. Rather, all the interconnected countries should be viewed as single system, that is if we want to use it as model. (https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=1795883&postcount=107". Last edited by a moderator: mheslep Gold Member http://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/october19/jacobson-energy-study-102009.html" [Broken] published in Energy and Environmental Sciences whose authors argue we can get 100% from renewables in 20 years. I see in the "www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/sad1109Jaco5p.indd.pdf"[/URL] the Stanford authors state a cost estimate for a 100% renewable, non nuclear, energy world: [QUOTE=Jacobson,Delucchi]...Overall construction cost for a WWS system might be on the order of$100 trillion worldwide, over 20 years, not including transmission.[/QUOTE]Or $5 trillion each year; I expect the US share of that approaches$1 trillion a year with transmission. In other words this is not a serious approach to the energy problem, my view.

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DrClapeyron

Compared to what? Maybe there's some confusion. Picken's states he wants to replace gasoline and diesel transportation with natural gas. He wants to replace fossil based electric generation, mainly gas, with wind.

He also stated he was going to buy Texaco. Natural gas storage creates fear some kind of horrific explosion amongst people.

I think people at large would resist conversion from coal to natural gas less than they would gasoline to natural gas. Call me crazy but that's my one little conspiracy theory.

I see in the "www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/sad1109Jaco5p.indd.pdf"[/URL] the Stanford authors state a cost estimate for a 100% renewable, non nuclear, energy world:
Or $5 trillion each year; I expect the US share of that approaches$1 trillion a year with transmission. In other words this is not a serious approach to the energy problem, my view.[/QUOTE]

My rough estimate is that the US spends on the order of 10 billion dollars per year on new renewable energy infrastructure so in only 2000 years we will have a new energy system.

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Skyhunter
My rough estimate is that the US spends on the order of 10 billion dollars per year on new renewable energy infrastructure so in only 2000 years we will have a new energy system.

http://www.nrel.gov/wind/systemsintegration/ewits.html" [Broken] that says if we spend $6.64 billion a year over the next 14 years, the eastern half of the US could get 30% of it's electricity from wind alone. Last edited by a moderator: mheslep Gold Member http://www.nrel.gov/wind/systemsintegration/ewits.html" [Broken] that says if we spend$6.64 billion a year over the next 14 years, the eastern half of the US could get 30% of it's electricity from wind alone.

Thirty percent on the East coast seems feasible, but not quite yet. The trick to supplying significant wind energy to the US east coast is offshore wind, as there is as much wind resource 30-40 miles off of the US east coast as is in the rest of the US land area combined, but I don't believe there's an economic offshore turbine design capable of tapping Atlantic wind yet. This report for some reason plays fast and loose w/ the offshore costs:
EWITS report said:
...Note that the integration costs do not reflect the higher capital costs (typically in the range of 50%) for the offshore wind in Scenarios 3 and 4....
That's a fairly large omission and 50% is an underestimate in this area, I believe. I have not yet seen even a speculative engineering study that explains how offshore could be economically built to handle east coast hurricanes.

For onshore, it appears from the transmission overlays that the EWITS plan is to ship energy from the wind intensive midwest to the east coast (where there is little or none onshore) by building more west-east transmission:
EWITS report said:
[...]The high capacity-factor wind power scenario requires a significant build-out of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission with high-voltage AC “collector” systems to deliver the wind power from the Midwest to the load centers on the east coast.[...]
Unfortunately, the US hasn't solved the political problems of building long distance transmission in the 21st century. Here, e.g., is the 275 mile http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potomac-Appalachian_Transmission_Highline" [Broken]by one of the states (Md) for technicalities.

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Reason Magazine online compares "nuclear socialism" to "solar socialism" arguments in this two page item How Green Are Your Nukes?.

http://reason.com/archives/2010/01/22/how-green-are-your-nukes/

I favor solar socialism for reasons stated above. I figure if Nature or Nature's God, as one prefers, can power life on the clean renewable energy of sunlight, then we can too. The conservatives who think I'm being "too optimistic" should remember that Ronald Reagan was an optimist. His energy strategy was to build up the military and keep oil flowing from the Middle East, and on this particular point, I refer to him as the "myopic optimist."

An optimist says we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist agrees!

russ_watters
Mentor
SystemTheory, the article you cite gives a pretty damning critique of the position you favor. Could you explain exactly why you favor it, in the context of what the article says about it?

mheslep
Gold Member
In the Reason article, Brand comments:

And proliferation? Brand points out that Israel, India, South Africa, and North Korea secretly developed their bombs using research reactors, not power reactors.

Proliferation is my concern about nuclear. I thought the Indian case was the other way around - Indians got their bomb through commercial power reactors. Anyone care to comment?

mheslep
Gold Member
From Reason again, the part asserting nuclear socialism comes from here:

The federal government is now offering utilities a host of new subsidies and guarantees to build new nuclear power plants. For example, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, supported by the majority of Republicans in Congress and signed by President George W. Bush, authorizes a production tax credit of 2.1 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 6,000 megawatts of new nuclear generation capacity, $2 billion to cover the costs of any regulatory delays, federal loan guarantees up to 80 percent of the project cost for advanced reactors, and a 20-year extension of the law that limits the liability of the nuclear industry—that’s the entire industry, with every company sharing a single fixed pool—to$10 billion. In 2008 the Department of Energy invited bids for up to $18.5 billion in nuclear construction loan guarantees. The department was flooded with applications seeking a total of$122 billion in loan guarantees. If the private sector is unwilling to put money into nuclear projects without an extensive federal safety net, that may say something about nuclear power’s economic viability.

In light of such policies, the liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias recently, and properly, accused many American conservatives of favoring “nuclear socialism.” Brand clearly falls into that camp as well. Gore, meanwhile, can fairly be accused of solar socialism.
I partly disagree. Yes the government is providing significant funds for nuclear power with one hand, but with the other they throw up large road blocks. The NRC process, as I understand it, requires an applicant prepare a very expensive plan, then deliver a truck full of application fee money to the NRC, and then wait nearly four years for an answer that might be no. If the application is rejected, what good are loans and operational subsidies? Why even take that kind of risk? I suspect some of the nuclear operators, running their long paid off nuclear plants at 95% capacity for a low operational cost, like it that way.

Then we have the unending legal challenges allowed by current law.

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Gokul43201
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Proliferation is my concern about nuclear. I thought the Indian case was the other way around - Indians got their bomb through commercial power reactors.
Not quite. If you had to put you finger on the biggest step towards producing weapons grade Pu in India, it would likely be the CIRUS research reactor, bought from Canada, with the US (Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace") supplying the heavy water.

mheslep
Gold Member
Not quite. If you had to put you finger on the biggest step towards producing weapons grade Pu in India, it would likely be the CIRUS research reactor, bought from Canada, with the US (Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace") supplying the heavy water.
On review it sounds like the distinction (research - power) is irrelevant. Apparently a commercial power heavy water reactor could have served the same purpose as the CIRUS research reactor, ie making plutonium later separated by a chemical process.

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russ_watters
Mentor
http://www.nrel.gov/wind/systemsintegration/ewits.html" [Broken] that says if we spend \$6.64 billion a year over the next 14 years, the eastern half of the US could get 30% of it's electricity from wind alone.
I haven't read it so I can't comment on the merrits or the flaws in it, but it's great they are doing such analyses. There isn't enough real analysis of the potential utility of alternate energy out there.

If the conclusion that you posted is realistic, it certainly seems like something that should be done. How to actually do it is another story....

...and still another story is that it does very little to decrease the need for nuclear power in the east.

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russ_watters
Mentor
Proliferation is my concern about nuclear. I thought the Indian case was the other way around - Indians got their bomb through commercial power reactors. Anyone care to comment?
How is that relevant to the issue at hand? The US already has nuclear weapons, so there is no risk (or at least no need to care about the risk) of the US secretly using its power reactors to make bomb fuel.

mheslep
Gold Member
How is that relevant to the issue at hand? The US already has nuclear weapons, so there is no risk (or at least no need to care about the risk) of the US secretly using its power reactors to make bomb fuel.
Yes of course, proliferation refers specifically to the spread of weapons usable technology and information to non-weapon states. As far as I know all of the large nuclear plant design companies have plans for international nuclear plants. At least one of the new and novel small reactor design companies have announced overseas interest.

russ_watters
Mentor
Yes of course, proliferation refers specifically to the spread of weapons usable technology and information to non-weapon states. As far as I know all of the large nuclear plant design companies have plans for international nuclear plants. At least one of the new and novel small reactor design companies have announced overseas interest.
I think I see what you are trying to imply, but could you state it explicitly, please? It sounds like you are saying that since companies that make nuclear reactors for the US could sell their reactors to other countries that would then use them to make bombs, the US shouldn't make nuclear plants. That's illogical: all we need to do is outlaw the sale of such technology (which we already do) - it doesn't mean we can't use it ourselves.

The French were irresponsible with the export of their nuclear reactors, but that doesn't mean we have to be too.

I think I see what you are trying to imply, but could you state it explicitly, please? It sounds like you are saying that since companies that make nuclear reactors for the US could sell their reactors to other countries that would then use them to make bombs, the US shouldn't make nuclear plants. That's illogical: all we need to do is outlaw the sale of such technology (which we already do) - it doesn't mean we can't use it ourselves.

Just an outsider here with a question:
Do these laws really work?

I guess two questions:
In the future will these laws continue to be as effective??

mheslep
Gold Member
I think I see what you are trying to imply, but could you state it explicitly, please? It sounds like you are saying that since companies that make nuclear reactors for the US could sell their reactors to other countries that would then use them to make bombs, the US shouldn't make nuclear plants.
I am not saying that. I think the US should build some new nuclear plants, maybe another ~20-50GW(e) to start, on top of the existing US 200GW(e) in the next decade or two. I come to that position after weighing proliferation risks, such as I little know them, and the alternatives. (There are other factors too cost, regulatory blocks - but I'm leaving those aside for the moment.)

I assert the proliferation risk due to the existing US nuclear power program right now is non-zero. However, a) I guess the existing risk maybe low from historical observation, b) regardless of the size of the existing risk, building, say, twenty more US plants on top of the existing one hundred is not going to much change the risk , and c) the risk needs to be put in the context of alternatives such as coal pollution deaths and, down the road in a more electric future, even oil imports count as an bad alternative to nuclear.

russ_watters said:
That's illogical: all we need to do is outlaw the sale of such technology (which we already do) - it doesn't mean we can't use it ourselves.
Well that was in part the point of my earlier question. What technology? I want to know more about what technology is usable for weapons and to what extent, not only for what might be exported, but also because if the US pursues any particular new nuclear power technology, the rest of the world is likely to attempt to follow that lead on their own.

Yes there's a ban on tech that can be used for, e.g, nuclear triggers. But visibly other types of US nuclear technology have been widely distributed. Gokul referenced the example of India's heavy water coming from the US that helped enable the Indian bomb. A Westinghouse AP1000 is going up in China. What are the proliferation issues of that design? How easy is it redirect that reactor design to produce plutonium versus another design? There's much discussion of implementing a waste reprocessing scheme in the US to reduce waste and extend the fuel supply, but I read reprocessing increases Pu stockpiles. As an example of the foreign consequences: if the US goes all over to reprocessing, the chances are that so will China (next door to Korea), as will Russia (next door to all kinds of bad actors).
russ_watters said:
The French were irresponsible with the export of their nuclear reactors, but that doesn't mean we have to be too.
I want to come back to this after checking on the history of the international flow of nuclear technology.

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