Cleantech News from CleanTechnica: Cleantech, Climate, & Other Green News — Update #1

Jay Owen Greentech

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech, Climate, & Other Green News — Update #1

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 07:26 PM PST

Just a reminder that I’m now updating this Google Doc daily with top cleantech and climate stories from around the interwebs: Cleantech, Climate, & Other Green News.

Today was the first update.

Solar panel, wind turbine & globe via Shutterstock

Cleantech, Climate, & Other Green News — Update #1 was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

How Are Electric Vehicles Selling? Quite Well!

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 02:01 PM PST

Reposted from EVObsession:

Nissan Leaf via Nissan

One of the most common myths repeated and repeated and repeated in mainstream media (and even in cleantech and EV media) is that plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) aren’t selling well. Quite to the contrary, for this stage of the technology’s evolution, they’re selling very well.

The first question that probably comes to mind for you here is: “If most other reporters and bloggers are saying that they aren’t selling well, why do they think so?”

I think there’s one main reason why these other people are more negative about this matter — expectations. (And, really, that’s the root of all of our disappointments, isn’t it?) In the case of PEVs, there have been some very ambitious expectations. Because the expectations were so high, and actual sales have been quite a bit lower, everyone is saying that PEVs aren’t selling well. However, they are selling quite well considering that they are a completely new type of car.

Plug-In Electric Vehicles Versus Hybrids

Chevy Volt via Chevrolet

U.S. Toyota Prius sales totaled 15,556 cars in the model’s first full year, while Honda Insight sales we considerably lower at 3,788.

U.S. Chevy Volt sales totaled 7,671 cars in the model’s first full year, while Nissan Leaf sales totaled 9,674.

So, 19,344 units of the the first two hybrids were sold in the U.S. market in their first full year, compared to 17,345 units of the Leaf and Volt.

In year two, 15,600 Toyota Prii were sold and 4,700 Honda Insights were sold, versus 23,500 Chevy Volts and 9,800 Nissan Leafs. So, in year two, PEVs are beating hybrids by about 13,000 units. Additionally, plug-in electric vehicle competition has increased much faster, with most major automobile companies now having one or more PEVs on the market.

In other words, early plug-in electric vehicles have seen sales similar to early hybrid sales, or even better.

And why is all this important? Because hybrids now account for a large portion of the automobile market. Last year, the Toyota Prius actually became the 3rd most popular car in global auto sales. It also became the most popular car in California (which doesn’t surprise me — last time I was in California, I saw a Prius just about every 5 seconds).

Furthermore, plug-in electric vehicles (and especially 100% electric vehicles) are considerably different for the consumer end than hybrids were compared to gasoline-powered cars. With a conventional hybrid, your driving and fueling up is the same as it has always been. Whereas plug-in electric vehicles mean plugging your car into a socket or EV charger. The larger the change, the more likely people are to be cautious about it. While the difference in plugging in versus filling up a gas tank isn’t all that big a deal (and is actually more convenient), the shift surely keeps a good number of people from quickly making the shift.

The implication of all this, however, is that PEVs will be selling like hotcakes in a handful of years.

Why Were The Expectations So High?

So, the question remains: why were sales expectations so much higher than they should have been? I’ve got a few guesses.

1. Car companies looked at the numbers — the overall cost of car ownership for a gasoline-powered vehicle versus a PEV — and figured PEVs would be a smarter choice for a large number of buyers. However, unfortunately, buyers aren’t so rational in their purchasing. Most do not look beyond the sticker price and also compare the full price (or full cost) of automobile ownership when comparing cars.

2. Car companies didn’t anticipate the anti-PEV media attacks and overall messaging that slowed sales of the Leaf and Volt.

3. Car companies thought consumers would be much more excited about fuel-efficient, green cars that cut our oil use and emissions. (After all, a large majority of citizens are supportive of “being green” and cutting our emissions, and are not fans of oil companies or oil wars.) In particular, after the rise in hybrid popularity, I think Nissan and GM anticipated consumers would more easily take the “step up” to PEVs.

Pretty reasonable assumptions. Unfortunately, they were a bit off.

However, I think that as people slowly come to realize that PEVs are actually cheaper, that the anti-PEV propaganda most people in the media have been pushing is BS, and that PEVs are actually more convenient than gasmobiles, we will start to see these numbers take off. I think the fact that PEV sales beat hybrid sales in their second full year of sales in the U.S. is an early indication of that.

How Are Electric Vehicles Selling? Quite Well! was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

U.S. High-Speed Rail We Can Dream About

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 12:00 PM PST

Reposted from EVObsession:

U.S. high-speed rail (HSR) is a dream of many, including President Obama and Vice President Biden. The Obama administration and Congress dedicated a good bit of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 for high-speed rail in locations across the U.S. This excited a good number of people, but there’s no denying that the funding was probably a few decades late and far too little to get U.S. transportation systems to where they need to be. Could Obama have gotten Congress to put more into HSR? Who knows. But at least he got what he did.

Billions of dollars are now being used or will be used to help upgrade and expand rail lines in the U.S. The overall, generalized vision, as presented by the Obama administration, is this:


Better than what we have, that’s for sure. But high-speed rail advocate and map creator Alfred Twu recently decided to create a U.S. high-speed rail dream map that paints an even much more ambitious picture. Here’s that map:


Writing in the Guardian, Twu comments:

I created this U.S. High Speed Rail Map as a composite of several proposed maps from 2009, when government agencies and advocacy groups were talking big about rebuilding America’s train system.

Having worked on getting California’s high speed rail approved in the 2008 elections, I’ve long sung the economic and environmental benefits of fast trains.

This latest map comes more from the heart. It speaks more to bridging regional and urban-rural divides than about reducing airport congestion or even creating jobs, although it would likely do that as well.

Instead of detailing construction phases and service speeds, I took a little artistic license and chose colors and linked lines to celebrate America’s many distinct but interwoven regional cultures.

For more reflections from Twu, his recounting of some of the many reactions to the map that he has read, and some high-speed rail mythbusting, check out the Guardian piece: A U.S. high speed rail network shouldn’t just be a dream.

U.S. High-Speed Rail We Can Dream About was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Rewind: Obama Fireside Hangout

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 10:55 AM PST

President Obama recently engaged in in a Google+ On-Air Hangout, a “Fireside Hangout,” to discuss issues mentioned during his State of the Union address and other issues brought up by the participants and YouTube users. Some cleantech and climate issues were brought up during the hangout, so I thought it was worth a share here. Check it out:

Rewind: Obama Fireside Hangout was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Australia Electricity Emissions Fall To 10-Year Low

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 07:01 AM PST

This article was originally published on RenewEconomy

Emissions from Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM) have fallen to 10 year lows, as demand continues to ease and the amount of coal reduction falls because of the growth of renewable energy, which has reached its highest levels since the 1980s.

In its latest assessment of Australian electricity production and emissions, consulting group Pitt&Sherry said even production from highly polluting brown coal generators has fallen in the past 12 months. Part of this was due to floods at the Yallourn mine in June,

The report notes that a 500MW unit at the Wallerawang C power station near Lithgow in NSW has also been mothballed, for at least 12 months, as a result of the changing dynamics of the NEM. This adds to the near 3,000MW of coal-fired capacity put on hold in the past year.

The latest data (illustrated in the graph below) shows that gas, hydro and wind generators have all increased output, with the Tasmanian hydro system reaching its highest level since joining the NEM in 2005, taking total hydro electricity production to it highest levels since 2000-01.

australia electricity emissions

Wind energy generation fell slightly in January from December, but Pitt&Sherry said the commissioning of the 420MW Macarthur wind farm in Victoria would push wind output to its highest levels in the next month or so.

Gas generation also reached its highest ever annualized levels in January. “These are precisely the changes in the electricity supply mix which the carbon price would be expected to induce,” the report said.

Total renewables (hydro plus wind) reached 12.1 per cent of NEM generation in the year to January 2013. This is the highest share of renewable supply in what is now the NEM since the 1980s, when total demand for electricity was less than 60 per cent of its current level.

“This fact highlights that the growing share of electricity supplied by low emission generators in the NEM, and the corresponding fall in average emissions intensity of total NEM generation to its lowest ever level, is due as much to the fall in demand for electricity from the NEM as to the increased output from low emission generators themselves,” the report said.

“Had demand kept growing at the rates seen up to the end of 2006, the shares of gas, hydro and wind generation would have been significantly lower, for the same total output, and the emissions intensity of NEM generation higher. “

The report notes that the biggest falls in demand have occurred in NSW and Victoria, with demand in SA and Tasmania virtually unchanged for more than four years.

“It is hard to identify all possible reasons for these changes in demand. In NSW, the closure of the Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter is obviously important,” it said.

“However, the impact of increased rooftop photovoltaics, another factor thought to be important, is not obvious, since the two States with the highest PV take-up rates – Queensland and SA – also show the smallest reduction in demand on the NEM.” (One factor to explain that might be that those two states also recorded the highest growth in air conditioning in recent years).

Australia Electricity Emissions Fall To 10-Year Low was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

GE And Google Team Up For Improved Utility Productivity

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 06:10 AM PST

Earlier this month GE and Google announced that they were partnering to help utilities boost their productivity. GE’s Smallworld electrical, telecommunications and gas applications will now come with Google Maps out of the box to provide better visualising and analysis of data.

GE and Google Team Up For Utility Productivity“We are relentlessly looking at ways to bring value to our customers and this agreement brings together two world-leading solutions providers to help improve productivity,” said Bryan Friehauf, product line leader—software solutions for GE’s Digital Energy business. “Millions of people are already familiar with Google Maps as seen on their computer screens in the office or on mobile devices in the field. Now we’re able to bring that familiarity to our Smallworld products so that our customers can use a platform that’s completely customized for their assets and networks.”

The combination of GE’s Smallworld and Google Maps will enhance the existing visualisation capabilities of utilities, as well as enable them to provide their customers with more precise outage restoration times.

“By using Google Maps and our API offering, GE is providing its customers with the advantage of a simple and intuitive user interface. Because so many people already know how to use Google Maps, this allows GE’s Smallworld technology to be an even more powerful enterprise solution,” said Tarun Bhatnagar, director, Google Geo Enterprise. “Both GE and Google have a heritage of innovation, and we look forward to working together to provide new ways to use and visualize data on a map.”

Smallworld is a suite of products which “design and model complex network infrastructures while supporting management lifecycle processes and producing solutions for companies with complex network asset management problems.” Implementing Google Maps will increase the usefulness of these products, allowing users better integration of their networks with real world information.

“We believe together, GE and Google will utilize their unique combination of technical talent and capabilities to significantly enhance the efficiency of their operations in a wide array of applications,” said Friehauf. “Ultimately, our customers will notice significant benefits from this new agreement.”

Source: GE

GE And Google Team Up For Improved Utility Productivity was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Carbon Negativity Emerging As Global Warming Solution

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 05:41 AM PST

Scientists at the Stanford University Global Climate and Energy Project have proposed taking the global warming fight to a whole new level. The problem is that we’re so far behind in greenhouse gas emissions management, that it’s time to get more aggressive. Rather than simply trying to reduce the carbon we put into the atmosphere, the Stanford team proposes a carbon negative strategy in which plants are deployed on a massive scale to grab carbon out of the atmosphere.

Great idea, but there’s a way to make it even better.

carbon negative strategy to fight global warming

A Biomass, Carbon Negative Strategy

As described yesterday in our sister site PlanetSave, the Stanford team has identified the biomass as one of the most promising ways to achieve carbon negative systems, on a large scale.

These biomass-based systems are called bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

The basic idea is to break the carbon cycle. As plants grow they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Rather than letting carbon cycle back into the atmosphere, there are various ways to capture and convert it into other useful products.

However, there’s a catch. Massive agricultural operations require massive amounts of equipment, which means that as BECCS scales up so does agricultural equipment manufacturing.

In other words, industrial carbon capture has to be part of the solution, too.

Industrial Carbon Capture, Microbe Style

Conventional industrial carbon capture is based simply on direct storage (aka carbon sequestration), but when you consider some of the next-generation carbon capture solutions, sequestration starts to look more like old fashioned waste dumping.

Rather than treating carbon as a form of waste, the carbon negative approach treats carbon as a valuable resource.

One example that we’ve been following for a while now is demonstrated by a New Zealand company (now headquartered in the U.S.) called LanzaTech. We first noticed LanzaTech back in 2009, when the company announced that it had developed a proprietary microbe that thrives in the carbon rich, hydrogen poor waste gases from steel mills.

The initial process yielded pure ethanol, and in 2010 LanzaTech stepped up its carbon recycling platform to produce 2,3-Butanediol. That’s a foundational chemical for making any number of products that are normally made with petroleum, including plastics and synthetic rubber as well as fuel.

Aside from steel mills the system also works on industrial flue gas from other types of facilities, and on synthetic gas derived from other systems including biogas (from landfills or manure biogas systems), biomass, municipal waste, agricultural or forestry waste, and even burning tires.


Last year, LanzaTech achieved demonstration-scale ethanol production at a steel mill in China, as a precursor to a commercial facility. It expects commercial sale of 2,3-Butanediol in 2014.

CO vs. CO2

Just a note to clarify, LanzaTech’s system is aimed at capturing carbon monoxide (CO). Though considered a “weak” global warming gas compared to carbon dioxide in terms of direct effects, CO plays a significant indirect role in global warming. About half of global CO emissions are man-made, mainly from burning biomass and fossil fuels.

Image (cropped): Smokestacks by Salim Virji

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Carbon Negativity Emerging As Global Warming Solution was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

2015 Solar Module Price Forecast Down To 42 Cents Per Watt

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 05:00 AM PST

This article was originally published on RenewEconomy.

One of the most common misconceptions about the global solar PV market is that is it the massive oversupply that is driving the bulk of technology cost reductions, and that these cost cuts will evaporate once the market has reached some sort of equilibrium.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As we have remarked before, the intense competition in the market is sparking remarkable innovation and efficiencies in the manufacturing process.

Last July, we noted how Greentech Media was heralding the arrival of US50c/Watt solar modules by 2015 – a development that would likely herald the arrival of parity between the cost of fossil fuels and utility scale solar in the US, China and India.

Six months later, Greentech Media have already cut that forecast for solar modules by 18 per cent, and brought forward the time interval by a year. According to research published overnight, the group is now forecasting the price of conventional silicon based solar modules to fall to US42c/Watt by 2015.

“Between 2009 and 2012, leading “best-in-class” Chinese c-Si solar manufacturers reduced module costs by more than 50 per cent,” it notes. And in the next three years, those players — companies like Jinko, Yingli, Trina and Renesola — are on a path to lower costs by another 30 percent.

It provides this chart below, which compares to the one we published last July. As you can see, costs have been shaved off each pricing component.

solar module price forecasts

“Clearly, the magnitude of cost reductions will be less than in previous years. But we still do see potential for significant cost reductions. Going from 53 cents to 42 cents is noteworthy,” says Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM Research.

Greentech Media notes that there is still plenty of innovation in manufacturing processes –  including new sawing techniques, thinner wafers, conductive adhesives, and frameless modules — and manufacturers will be able to squeeze more costs. Hence the focus on the “balance of system” cost issues identified by US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, both in the article mentioned above, and in his recent parting letter to the Department of Energy, where he predicted solar PV would soon be cheaper than coal or gas-fired generation.

Even Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries – the owner of the world’s largest oil refinery and the largest private company in India – said on Sunday that solar power will be at the core of the shift in future source of energy needs from hydrocarbons to renewables.

“We will transit from hydrocarbon presence which is coal, oil and natural gas over the next many decades into a fully renewable, sustainable future and the solar really will be at the heart of it,” Ambani said in an interview to CNN International.Reliance already has a solar division that was established to bring solar energy systems and solutions primarily to remote and rural areas.

2015 Solar Module Price Forecast Down To 42 Cents Per Watt was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Cleantech: What’s In It For You?

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 04:30 AM PST

Here’s a fun, short video from the good folks over at Future360:

Good one, eh? Share the short video with your friends and fam via this post, the YouTube page, or the Future360 post.

Cleantech: What’s In It For You? was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

3rd Thing I’ve Learned From The Tesla–NYTimes Firestorm

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 04:01 AM PST

This article was originally published on EVObsession.

We all love math, by _Untitled-1 (some rights reserved).

I think this is the last major thing I learned from the Tesla–NYTimes saga. (Also see my first and second revelations, as well as this list of5 myths that have been spread all over town in the midst of this internet brouhaha). Unfortunately, this one is again a sad comment on the masses (combined with a positive comment — or 5 — about EVs).

Basically, from the many articles and comments I read, I learned that a lot of people can’t do (or don’t try to do) math. Possibly the most common (and ridiculous) thing I heard about electric vehicles — over and over again — was that they are more expensive than gasoline-powered cars.

Yes, if you look at only one number in the equation — the purchase price of a vehicle — electric vehicles are more expensive. (And, yes, this does influence a great number of buyers.) However, doing this is like looking at this:

3 + 1+ 1

and saying it’s greater than this:

2 + 10 + 10

simply because the 3 is bigger than the 2.

But what am I getting at when it comes to electric vehicles? I’m talking about five other costs (which we do pay) that make gasoline-powered cars much more expensive than electric vehicles:

§ fuel & maintenance costs

§ time costs

§ health costs

§ global warming / climate change

§ energy security costs

If you simply look at the price of electric vehicles (e.g. $28,800 for a Nissan Leaf, $29,125 for a Mitsubishi i, or $25,000 for a smart electric drive) + the price of their fuel + the price of maintenance, many of you would find that they’re cheaper than comparable gasoline-powered cars.

However, that’s not the end of the equation. We also spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year on health costs related to the burning of gasoline, as well as trillions of dollars a year related to protecting supplies of foreign oil that we have become dependent on, and potentially even much worse if we don’t get global warming and climate change to stop (and, first, slow down).

Furthermore, there are considerable time costs to owning a gasoline-powered vehicle versus an electric vehicle. As stated in my last article, you save a ton of time standing or sitting at gas stations when you own an electric car — because instead of doing that, you simply have to plug the car in when you get home or to work, and then unplug it again when you leave.

Of course, there are actually several other benefits to electric vehicles that you could try to quantify, but the case has already been soundly made, so the rest is just fun and games.

The bottom line: as long as you do a somewhat decent job of quantifying the costs of an electric vehicle versus the costs of a gasoline-powered vehicle (e.g. get a hypothetical grade of “D”), you will see that electric cars are already much cheaper than gasoline-powered cars in the vast majority of cases. Give it a try!

3rd Thing I’ve Learned From The Tesla–NYTimes Firestorm was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Next-Generation Lithium-Ion Battery Designed, Should Hit Market Within 2-3 Years

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 03:00 AM PST

Next-generation lithium-ion batteries that hold more than 3 times the charge that current batteries do and can recharge in around 10 minutes are now within reach. The new design, created by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC), may be commercially available within only 2-3 years according to those involved.


The design is based on replacing the currently used graphite anodes with porous silicon nanoparticles. This follows work done by the same researchers last year using silicon nanowires. The nanowire version actually lasts much longer (2000 recharge cycles) than the current nanoparticle version (200 recharge cycles) and conventional graphite-based designs (500 recharge cycles). But the researchers are confident that the lifespan of the nanoparticle design can be greatly improved in the near future. The problem with nanowires is just that they are relatively hard to mass manufacture, while silicon nanoparticles are readily available.

The impressive charge capacity and recharge rate could be very useful for many slow-charging batteries currently in use, such as those used in electric and hybrid cars, laptops, cell phones, etc.

“It’s exciting research. It opens the door for the design of the next generation lithium-ion batteries,” said Chongwu Zhou, professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and lead researcher.

“Researchers have long attempted to use silicon, which is cheap and has a high potential capacity, in battery anodes. (Anodes are where current flows into a battery, while cathodes are where current flows out.) The problem has been that previous silicon anode designs, which were basically tiny plates of the material, broke down from repeated swelling and shrinking during charging/discharging cycles and quickly became useless,” the University of Southern California press release states.

So, last year, the researchers began experimenting with silicon nanowires, with their small size and their porous nature offering some resistance to the damage caused by swelling. “The tiny pores on the nanowires allowed the silicon to expand and contract without breaking while simultaneously increasing the surface area — which in turn allows lithium ions to diffuse in and out of the battery more quickly, improving performance.”

The researchers are also working on the development of a new cathode material to pair with the silicon nanowires and nanoparticles, potentially creating an entirely new battery design.

The new research was published in Nano Research.

Image Credit: Silicon via Wikimedia Commons

Next-Generation Lithium-Ion Battery Designed, Should Hit Market Within 2-3 Years was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or justvisit our homepage.

Trainsforming America — New Documentary

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 02:00 AM PST

A new film, Trainsforming America, takes a look at passenger rail in the US from the passengers’ perspective. This is a documentary produced by two concerned citizens, Katie Chen and Rebecca (Autumn) Sansom, who are worried (like many people are) about what an increasing population combined with climate change is going to do to our beautiful country.

Europeans’ lives involve mass transitlarge bike paths (more like streets in some places) much more so than Americans’ lives. So, regularly riding modern trains is like drinking water for many, something one is doing naturally in the course of a day or week. So, inTrainsforming America, Katie and Rebecca talk to passengers who are used to living in a train culture. They contrast this experience with that of Americans, who are used to living in a car culture. The intent is that they get everyone to understand that our transportation systems need to change over to mass transit to a much greater extent. We have to improve our infrastructure in considerable ways, and it needs to happen soon.

I’d recommend that you make your own American Train Story someday. Travel San Francisco to LA on the Starliner, for example, going over the Pacific and watching as flickering beams roll over waves. Smooth motion and movement of the train over the ocean lulls one to a most relaxing state. I’ve made this trip (as well as several others) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Ocean moon 3


One of the filmmakers, Rebecca Sansom, recently spoke with Transportation Radio’s Bernie Wagenblast about the film. (You can listen to that conversation at th link above.)

Image Credit: Ocean under moonlight by lakewentworth

Trainsforming America — New Documentary was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Solar Power Cheaper Than Nuclear In Cloudy Old England

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 01:00 AM PST

It's so unfair.  Solar doesn't have to shield their giant reactor but we do.Once again it appears that reality is interfering with the building of new nuclear power plants in the UK. As a result, it looks very unlikely that any new reactors will be built. Personally, this is a setback for me, as I am very much in favour of the building of new nuclear plants in the UK, and indeed in pretty much any country that isn’t Australia.

I favour the building of new reactors, not because nuclear power is a cheap way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — because it’s not. It’s hard to think of a more expensive way to decrease emissions that doesn’t involve linking hamster wheels in parallel to a generator. And I don’t favour the building of nuclear plants for safety reasons. While it’s much safer than coal, the small but real chance of nuclear catastrophe means that nuclear power is uninsurable by normal means. No, the reason why I am in favour of the building of new nuclear power plants is the purest of all reasons — personal greed.

You see, Australia has more uranium than you can poke a stick at. (WARNING: Do NOT poke enriched uranium with a stick.) We have the largest deposits of the stuff in the world. It’s just lying out there in the desert, doing nothing except slowly mutating rabbits that dig their burrows into it. The more nuclear plants the rest of the world builds, the more of that stuff we can dig up and send overseas far away from us, and the lower my chance of being attacked by a mutant rabbit the size of an Alsatian.

The more uranium we sell, the more prosperous Australia becomes. I’ll get to share in that prosperity and we can use the money for things that are of real importance to Australians, such as developing a Grand Theft Auto game where you get to play a good guy.

Oh, wait a minute! I just remembered that as a small, open economy, Australia’s prosperity is based upon the prosperity of the rest of the world. So if the rest of the world wastes money on nuclear power plants and potentially on cleaning up nuclear disasters, that’s no good for us. The Australian economy has already taken a hit from Fukushima, and we have no desire for that to happen again. (Although, I have to admit we did get off rather lightly compared to the Japanese.) I’ve changed my mind. Strike what I just wrote. I’m now against the building of new nuclear plants anywhere.

Don’t get me wrong, if the choice is between new nuclear and new coal, nuclear wins hands down, or even all three hands down. But, fortunately, we are not faced with that choice, and I doubt anyone would ever be stupid enough to suggest that we are. Not unless they enjoyed being laughed at. Our options are not so limited.

The projected cost of the 1,600 megawatt Hinkley Point C reactor in England is 14 billion pounds or $22 billion. That’s $13,600 per kilowatt. And just because the projected cost is $22 billion doesn’t mean that it will cost $22 billion. When one is as skilled at reading nuclearese as I am, one knows that it actually means it will cost at least $22 billion. Nuclear power plants have a tendency to go over budget in a way that is rather similar to how the ocean has a tendency to be wet.

Even in cloudy old England, the cost of electricity from rooftop solar is much cheaper than the cost of electricity from new nuclear. I realize that a certain type of person reading this may feel the need to point out that solar power doesn’t produce electricity at night. Perhaps they’ll even use one or more exclamation marks when they do, as if it’s some sort of astounding revelation that they’ve only just been struck by. This never fails to surprise me, as I’ve always thought the fact that solar power depends on the sun is sort of given away by its name. Personally, I realized the sun was required years ago. Nuclear power has a problem because rooftop solar does produce electricity during the day, which pushes the price of electricity down and makes the economics of nuclear power even worse than they currently are. And just for the benefit of that certain type of idiot, I’ll mention that there are quite a few countries without nuclear power that still manage to have electricity at night.

In the final quarter of last year in the UK, installed rooftop solar apparently cost an average of about $3.30 a watt. This is quite a bit more than in Australia, and a heck of a lot more than in Germany, but even at this price, it’s still cheaper than new nuclear. How do I know this? Well, first I looked up how much light actually makes it through all the clouds, rain, mist, smog, sleet, and pipe smoke that tends to cover England, not to mention the fleets of spaceships full of Daleks, Cybermen, and Sontarans that are queued up waiting their turn to invade the place. Then I made reasonable estimates of the costs of fuel, operations and maintenance, nuclear waste disposal, decommissioning, and government oversight and inspections…. Oh, wait a minute. I just realized there’s a certain type of nutter, sorry, I mean person, who is never going to accept my estimates for the cost of nuclear power. They’ll be frothing at the mouth and waving around “studies” on how a nuclear reactor in Japan in 1974 cost negative dollars to build and straightened teeth. How can I convince these people to trust me? I know! I’ll go to some pro-nuclear site and use their figures! How about the NEI or Nuclear Energy Institute, a U.S. nuclear lobbying group? I’m sure their site can be trusted to have reliable information!

The NEI site gives a fuel cost of 0.68 cents per kilowatt-hour for nuclear power. This seems a bit low given the current cost of uranium, but seeing how little demand there is for new reactors, it might actually end up less than this. Then they give a figure of 1.51 cents per kilowatt-hour for operations and maintenance. That’s pretty darn cheap. For decommissioning costs, they give $300-500 million per reactor. But then they immediately appear to suggest it may be $450-500 million. But let’s go for the middle of their first figure and say $400 million. And for waste disposal… well, they don’t actually give a cost for that. They just point out that, in the U.S., nuclear plants pay 0.1 cents per kilowatt-hour for waste disposal (without mentioning that’s not actually the cost of disposing of waste). They certainly don’t mention that $12 billion of the money that was collected was spent developing a waste disposal site that was then abandoned and that nuclear waste in the US is now just stored at nuclear plants with nowhere to go. Fortunately, this apparently poses less of a security threat than my belt buckle at an airport. But let’s give them their 0.1 cent figure. Who knows, in a few years Nuke-Away might be invented.

I can’t see any figure for government oversight and inspections, but I guess we can manage to do without that. After all, if you can’t trust a for-profit nuclear power corporation, who can you trust?

And finally, I just need one more piece of information and that’s the cost of insurance. And I see the Nuclear Energy Institute lobbying group gives a figure of…. Hmm, that’s odd. There’s no mention of the cost of insurance at all. That’s a bit of an oversight. I know that nuclear power is uninsurable in the conventional sense that no insurance company will cover it, but that doesn’t mean the cost just goes away. Even if a nuclear power plant doesn’t pay a cent of insurance, that just pushes the cost back onto society as a whole. And while the chance of a nuclear disaster is quite low, the astounding costs that can result when things turn mutant pear shaped is staggering, and so insurance costs are quite high.

A German study by Versicherungsforen Leipzig says the actual cost of insuring nuclear power ranges from $0.19 to $3.16 a kilowatt-hour or even higher. I’ll be optimistic and assume that since Hinkley Point C will be all new and shiny, it will also be super safe and so its insurance cost will be the lowest point in the range.

So, using the costs for nuclear that I got from an industry lobbying site, and adding the most optimistic estimate of insurance costs from another source, because for some reason the lobbying site didn’t mention the cost of insurance at all, I see that even with the UK’s high solar installation costs, rooftop solar in England is much cheaper than new nuclear, costing around 30 cents kilowatt-hour, with new nuclear being about 46 cents. While the cost of electricity from rooftop solar is very high compared to Australia or Germany, it is still well below the cost of new nuclear. Utility-scale solar farms are also cheaper than new nuclear, coming in at about 42 cents per kilowatt-hour, if it’s assumed they have the same installation cost as rooftop solar. Solar would be even cheaper if I took into account the fact that it can produce electricity pretty much from day one, while it can take a great many years for a nuclear plant to be completed. However, I didn’t factor this into my calculations on account of how maths is hard.

But new nuclear doesn’t get off that easily. It’s not simply 50% more expensive than rooftop solar. If the Hinkley Point C reactor goes ahead, it won’t be completed until sometime in the early 2020s at best. If the installation cost of UK solar drops as fast as it has in Germany or Australia, then in a few years, UK solar would be as cheap or cheaper than it currently is in Germany, and electricity from it would be less than half the cost of electricity from new nuclear. If solar is installed for $1 a watt by the time Hinkely Point C is operational, then rooftop solar would cost one fifth as much as new nuclear. And it’s quite possible that the cost of solar will continue to decrease while electricity from Hinkley Point C will be stuck at about 46 cents. It could well end up being the world’s most expensive albino elephant.

So, given how much electricity from new nuclear costs, my advice is don’t build new nuclear. I guarantee you can find a mix of low-emission energy sources that will do the job at a lower cost, especially if you take into account the time it takes to build a nuclear plant. Solar is likely to be an important part of the mix, but it’s not the only option, so there is no need for anyone but idiots to worry about the fact that the sun doesn’t shine all the time or that batteries are expensive.

Solar Power Cheaper Than Nuclear In Cloudy Old England was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Compact Thermal Energy Storage Technologies (VIDEO)

Posted: 19 Feb 2013 12:10 AM PST

Continuing on with our daily series on Leonardo ENERGY videos, here’s one on the topic of compact thermal energy storagetechnologies.

Compact Thermal Energy Storage Technologies (VIDEO) was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feedfollow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.