What do I think, What can I do?

Posts tagged ‘nuclear’

EROEI, another strange word

I recently met twice this interesting concept, EROEI, I do not intend to give a better definition than wikipedia so I quote it:

energy returned on energy invested (EROEI or ERoEI); or energy return on investment (EROI), is the ratio of the amount of usable energy acquired from a particular energy resource to the amount of energy expended to obtain that energy resource

The easy and rough way: how much energy you need to get a unit of energy.

  • How much energy is neccessary to drill holes for getting oil, and then tranporting, refining,.. before final consumption in form of gas.
  • How much energy is needed to build a wind farm and the electricity net associated.

I like this concept because it is very physical and physicists love those things. Apart from that it is something that does not depend on economic circumstances or the influence of big companies in prices, or subsidies… The economy is more prone to account for short term interests and factors, so a more pure measurement system to compare different energy sources is welcomed. Of course it does not substitute the actual prices because nobody will accept it straightforward but it is another tool to takelong term decisions and understanding what’s going on. These 3 links go deeper in that concept, here, hear, and here. And finally this article in neofronteras that explains it very clearly in Spanish, as usual in that blog.

The calculated EROEI valujes range from 100 for oil almost in the surface to almost 1 or even less than one values for cases where the needed energy is more than the obtained.  It is considered that values below 10 are doubfully profitable and cases close to 1 should not be profitable at all but could be due to econonomical circunstances. Another factor is the time, that is not considered in this calcaulation and has led to other indexes as EIRR (last figure).

However, actual EROEI figures are not as pure as the concept and differ seiously from one source to other, you can check it in the figures below. Wind mills are ussually in the 20 values, quite good, there is also a coincidence about the lowering value of oil, but nuclear and coal prsent several different values. Photovoltaic is ussualy near the 10 limit. I do not know the cause of the divergence, I suppose it is not easy to calculate or maybe the same factors affecting energy economy are present here too, I will have to check it better.

At least, I agree with the idea that in the long term it is difficult to maintain a cheap low EROEI energy system, it would not be sustainable in any sense.

Another EROEI calculation, source, Searching for a miracle, but obtained from neofronteras.

Some EROEI calculations , source: Wikipedia

EIRR and EROEI from ococarbon.wordpress.org

EIRR and EROEI from ococarbon.wordpress.org

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Feed-in-Tarif Stopped in Spain

Image from Wikipedia

Spanish new conservative government has decided to stop feed-in-tarif for new renewable installations. The installed ones will continue to receive their feed-in-tarif. Although media coverage has not been too extensive the people around renewable energy are very disappointed.

The responsible minister, Soria, said that it is not definitive but this is impossible to say now. It is very important to contextualize this decision and to understand the possible causes:

  • Spanish economy is in a very bad time, and the government is desperately looking for any cost reduction. However the have not touch for the moment carbon subsidies
  • Spanish energy production will be higher than demand in a shrinking economy (it was last years with a better situation). So new installations would be redundant economically if others are not shut down, for example the ancient nuclear in Garoña, very similar to Fukushima.
  • There is a very-difficult-to-understand thing in the Spanish electric market called tarif-deficit. In two words, recognized costs to the companies are lower than allowed energy sale prices. And this creates a debt that want to stop (this issue deserves many post itself).
  • The powerful power companies were asking for something like this.
  • Feed-in-tarif has been very successful, with a lot of wind and solar power installed the last years.

But, at the same time the story of feed-in-tarif in Spain and its relationship with politics is neither simple nor free of contradictions. In a very simplistic and undeserved explanation: The former conservative government was the one to put it in practice and many local conservative governments applied it very effusively. During the last 8 years of progressive government the feed-in-tarif suffered some noticeable cuts and a lot of uncertainty, sometimes criticised heavily by conservative local governments. And the fathers have finally kill the baby.

Certainly, feed-in-tarif has helped to save a lot of tons of CO2, develop many new economy companies and jobs (now at severe risk) and for sure help to reduce production costs for windmills, solar panels,… So, it has been a story of success, but at the same time there are many lessons to learn as how to link it with the rest of traditional energy system cost, howto explain it, howto include the big energy players to get their compromise, howto invest in R&D enough of the income, howto plan the amounts of tarif, of installed power and tarif evolution and how to discuss the conditions with the renewable energy sector and howto offer enough stability not depending on the government in charge.

And the future? Uncertain, with some hopes in international markets for some companies, with hope in the not so far grid parity for some others whereas unemployment or great activity reduction will be inevitable for many others. And still with too much CO2 in the air and a changing climate menace in the way.

Do we have to recalculate Fukushima’s bill?

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The atomic nucleus is an incredibly small place with exceedingly strong powers fighting each other. This power was first showed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those people living there suffered terrible devastation from two small bombs and world vision of war and peace was never the same again. But at the same time many people started to dream about harnessing this incredible power, Asimov’s classic science-fiction novels are full of those examples, I think it was the hope of a generation and a really nice hope because unlimited cheap energy would be a wonderful thing to improve our lives.

In nuclear case, however, it was more complicated. I have posted before I am neither in favor nor totally against nuclear power. Climate change is a must and an urgent risk so we have to be careful with the MWh production we lose. I also believe that we have to consider the total bill of nuclear energy, including accidents, stronger safety measurements and waste disposal for a long time. And these not very commented news from beginning of this month may be important to recalculate those costs, because Japanese again have suffered the worst part of nuclear power and it seems that Fukushima’s issue is far for being solved and clarified for cost calculation updates.

And when we recalculate, it may happen that many renewables are not so expensive. I suspect that this is one of the reasons for most countries not to deploy nuclear power plants in the last 20 years.

Some Words about Fukushima

Fukushima

Imagen from the reactors (From http://www.fayerwayer.com cc)

I wrote this title when Fukushima was a mayor headline, and after that I left blog writing for some months. However, Fukushima still holds some interest in my blog apart from the overwhelming tragedy for zone inhabitants, workers and most Japanese in general.

I wrote in a previous post that nuclear was dangerous but at the same time give us important KW*h not easy to substitute in this moment. I still hold this opinion in spite of the disaster. We have checked that nuclear security fails in some cases (it was extraordinary I admit it) and when it fails the consequences are disastrous but closing all of them together is a price we can’t afford in this moment. I prefer to maintain their installed power while we close the oldest and less secure, and even accept to install a new one in some cases to maintain power.

Nevertheless all this should be conditioned to rigorous security checks. Just thinking that there is a very old nuclear power station at 60 Km from my home makes me feel quite edgy and knowing the desing is not different from Fukushima even more. But the main idea I wanted to work was about the cost of Fukushima. Without knowing the details I think it is clear it will be very expensive, however making some simple figures it becomes much worse.

Following Doc’s green blog the total cost may reach $50000 million, so $5*10^10. Considering total energy output per year for nuclear plants is around  2.5 10^12  KW*h (2009 data from WWI), it gives us a rough estimate of 2 cent per KW*h over the whole world production of nuclear energy this year. It is not despisable, and will likely be paid to a great extent by Japanese goverment and so Japanesee in general.

Do you consider it a subsidy for nuclear? I do.

The other nuclear: Fusion Power

Some time ago I saw an interesting documentary in the TV about nuclear fusion. It was very nice to see and closely related with climate change. As it uses to happen in this program  the contents were built around a pre-eminent scientist. In this case the main character was Steven Cowley. He defended convincingly the future of this technology, explained very clearly the basic ideas and some difficulties and recognised without doubt the risk of climate change.

I was a pleasure to watch this program. I only disagree in one aspect, about the solutions to climate change. Of course, Steven was convinced that Fusion was an important part of the solution of energy production for our world, he also considered important an alternative mobility (electric car or similar) and solar power. My doubts arise basically in the first one, I can not deny nuclear fusion could be a wonderful solution for universal, cheap and centralized energy. In fact it is our main energy source as the sun is fuelled in this way and the sun is the source for fossil fuels, hidropower, wind mills, solar,…

But in the same way I doubt about conventional nuclear power, I am not sure of the short or medium term possibilities of this energy source. The expected times are always 20-30 years later and the very expensive projects are fully international (very respectable and positive but also showing a poor confidence in its profitability). It would be wonderful, maybe it will be wonderful sometime, but do we have enough time? In my opinion is wiser to act with easier or closer possible ways and not thinking too much in magic solutions. Because if you buy a house based in a possible but not clear future incredible job, you can loose this big house and the possibility of a modest one.

Anyway, I support employing public money for fusion investigation, but just in case lets act as if were not successful.

Nuclear, yes or not?

This is an old debate many times repeated. The interesting question about repeating a debate is that sometime new points of view appear and gain strength. This happened when James Lovelock claimed a “Climate Change point of view” to rediscover nuclear as the planetary energy solution for the present. I suppose that terrible discussions between ecologist followed this statement.

I have never been a nuclear supporter, even if I am physicist and know many supporter close to me. Maybe the main reason is subjective, related with my father point of view and campaigns against “Lemoiz” nuclear in my childhood. They are vague memories of complicate issues but the clear conclusions for me over the years is that most people here were against nuclear but they have used several nuclear Kwh during last decades from Garoña and French nuclear power stations.

I still think that nuclear power stations are risky in spite of the controls. I also have many doubts about their economical profitability considering the eternal residuals and dismantling cost of the power station itself. Nevertheless I agree in some points with Lovelock’s idea:

  • “Climate Change point of view” may be different from classical ecology, and Climate Change should be the priority in this moment because if we fail too much here the consequences will worsen many other ecological, social and economic problems.
  • It is true we need to act now and fast and change our minds in many aspects to address this challenging situation. Fossil fuels have to be substituted from this moment.
  • I also think there is no magic and perfect solution. We will have to sacrifice. I agree that reneweables alone are not able to maintain our energy thirst in this moment.

But I do not agree in the main idea, I do not think nuclear power stations are the solution for the following reasons:

  • Nuclear fuel is also scarce and I do not know how many energy is possible to obtain from it or how many time it can spare us but likely not enough to bridge to a renewable future.
  • Nuclear power stations are very expensive at the beginning and we-don’t-know-how-expensive at the end of their life. A total transition to nuclear in this moment would lead to add the cost of closing all stations and opening new ones. Would not be cheaper to research more intensively in renewables?
  • Widespread nuclear would increase the risk.

I do not believe nuclear is the magic card but I also consider very difficult to get ride of nuclear Kws in this moment, they will be something we have to live with for many years and I prefer to have new, safer and more efficient nuclear power stations instead of the old-fashioned ones, just in case.