Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Intermittency Isn't a Problem in San Francisco

From the "somebody didn't do their research" file:

The Nitty Gritty and the Grandiose: How and Why CCA Works in San Francisco

The main benefits of forming a CCA are local control over electricity resources, increased negotiating power that comes from "aggregating" or pooling our local purchasing power, and access to low cost capital for the development of future generation capacity. CCAs also empower local regions to develop their own generation resources, offer specific rate incentives to business, and implement aggressive conservation and efficiency programs.

San Francisco currently consumes between 650 MW and 850 MW at any time. San Francisco's CCA plan includes 360 MW of capacity and load reductions. This consists of:

  • 107 MW of conservation and efficiency load reductions
  • 150 MW wind farm outside the city
  • 104 MW of distributed generation - including a minimum of 31 MW of solar photovoltaic installations.

San Francisco's CCA is uniquely designed to promote a massive investment in building a renewable energy infrastructure. The aggregation policy is designed to couple with the bond authority - specifically the Prop H Bonds passed by voters in 2001 - allowing governments to link aggregated procurement bids with requirements to build renewable energy generation and conservation projects at a significant scale.

Apparently, Jevons' Paradox doesn't apply in San Francisco. (But in fairness, their city government is insane enough to apply regulatory strictures that might make this happen.) However, I doubt that God is planning to delegate control over the wind and sun to the city of San Francisco so that 150 MW wind farm and 31 MW of solar panels will always be producing their peak capacity when they're needed. That, or the plan involves a mind-boggling amount of energy storage that the plan doesn't mention.

Also, this program has some interesting qualities:

3) Prove That Nuclear is Not Necessary. PG&E argues that the state depends on the 23% nuclear energy that is created by PG&E's Diablo Canyon and San Onofrio nuclear plants, and that an expansion of nuclear energy is the only way to address climate change. CCA proves that cities can create 40-50% of their energy by building renewable energy infrastructure. San Francisco's CCA will create 1/6 of the energy capacity created by Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. This proves that if a handful of cities switch to CCA, it is completely unnecessary to support costly nuclear energy and its highly toxic waste.

4) No Extra Cost to Consumers. CCA requires all energy service providers who are bidding for the community's contract to meet or beat PG&E's rates. Some expect that electricity bills will be lowered over the long term and even possibly over the short term. At the very least, we will move our city to 51% clean, green energy, and our utility bills will be spared the rollercoaster ride!

On number #3, there seems to be a mental disconnect as to where the other 49% of their power will come from. They can get it from natural gas, coal, or nuclear. If they want to fight global warming, then they have a nice existing nuclear power plant to provide plenty of firm capacity. But apparently, this scheme will prove that this is unncessary.

On #4, I'm totally bewildered by how this makes economic sense. As another part of the page explains:
Is Community Choice Energy secure?
Yes! Under the Community Choice Energy plan, the ESP (Energy Service Provider) is committed to delivering the power at promised rates for the duration of the contract. As part of that contract the ESP is required to post a bond that would cover the City's costs of returning to PG&E if the ESP defaults. So, if it is not able to deliver the power it has promised, if it goes bankrupt or simply can't do the job, the city is protected. In short, all of the risk is borne by the ESP.
Why would investors ever shoulder this risk? It minimizes the potential for profit while denying them the security that a regulated monopoly would offer. It's a total lose-lose for the energy service provider.

However, the ultimate horrors are found on their quote sheet:

Dr. Helen Caldicott
Author, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer
Founder and President, Nuclear Policy Research Institute

“I wrote in my recent book, ‘The potential for growth in the renewal non- CO2 producing sectors is enormous. All that is required is a commitment by government leaders to urgently enact serious laws mandating energy conservation, and to shift the subsidies currently provided to the nuclear power industry to alternative and renewable electricity generation. . . . In truth, the earth is in the intensive care unit, and the prognosis is poor indeed unless we all take courageous measures.’ I am gratified that the San Francisco through the Community Choice Energy program is making these commitments and taking bold action to save the earth. This program will meet 51% of San Francisco’s community power needs with renewable energy in just twelve years. It is an extraordinarily visionary and exciting project that I am pleased to support. I believe that self-sacrifice and responsibility are noble traits to which most people aspire. They are the qualities that will lead the world toward sanity and survival and they are the qualities of the Community Choice Energy program.”
Perhaps more worrisome than that, however, was this flight from reality:

Daniel Kammen
Prof. UC Berkeley & Dir. Renewable & Appropriate Energy Lab

"The German state of Schleswig-Holstein as of today has replaced 25% of its prior coal/nuclear mix with renewable power, mostly wind and biomass. Their goal is to reach 50% in 10 years. San Francisco has a much better resource mix. The benefit of this sort of aggregation is so good we don’t even know how good a deal it is. Every time we have seen large-scale investment in wind or solar we have discovered the price was much less than previously thought. San Francisco is sending all the right signals for businesses to want to locate here; to take advantage of the excellent work force and the opportunity to sell those technologies into this aggressive renewable energy efficiency market. This is a good deal for the city over a relatively short-time scale."
Super-disturbing fact: Kammen is a Professor of Nuclear Engineering at UC-Berkeley.

I'm a little worried that NO-ONE seems to have pointed out that intermittency will make this scheme non-viable. Are the people who run San Francisco really this... stupid?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Our Friend Ralph

Ralph Nader's recent entry into the presidential race has been greeted with a Bronx cheer by much of the political blogosphere, and with good reason. The left is particularly perturbed by Nader's insistent refusal that he did not throw the election to Bush in 2000, that he isn't crippling the Green Party by splitting their base every four years, and the consideration that Nader just doesn't seem to be a very nice or honest person. But I welcome his candidacy, as his attempts to monopolize the nuclear power issue only serve to strengthen the cause of nuclear energy. With enemies like these, we don't need allies.

If you visit Nader's campaign site you'll notice an interesting pattern- Nader's campaign insists that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both pro-nuclear, and that only Nader represents a true anti-nuclear, "pro-solar" agenda. His "issues" page states that only Nader will take nuclear "off the table" and use "solar energy first." So far his campaign hasn't issued a detailed declaration of its position on the issue, but given the priority they seem to have assigned it, I expect one within a few weeks. On the "News and Analysis" page of the website, they offer the following links (original text preserved):
Obama's Nuclear Connection
Hillary Obama Not Nuke Free
Nuke Black Out
I believe this is a most fortuitous development for nuclear power, and I wish Nader all the success in the world in convincing the anti-nuclear movement that the Democratic Party is their enemy. There could be nothing better for nuclear power than to have the far left drive a wedge between the anti-nuclear movement and mainstream politicians. If the Democrats decide that they can't rely on the support of the anti-nuclear lobby, the primary reason for them (in general) to oppose nuclear power will be eliminated, and nuclear power will become, for all practical purposes, a non-partisan issue. Then we could see a broad bipartisan program to realize GNEP and start solving our energy problems instead of goofing around. And without the support of the Democratic leadership, the anti-nuclear movement would probably disintegrate as a major political force in the United States.

So go ahead, Ralph. The anti-nuclear movement is yours to keep. And if you want to drive a wildly popular Democratic politician like Obama into the pro-nuclear camp, we'll be more than willing to accept the gift.

I Really Wish Harvey Wasserman Would Actually READ the Paley Commission Report


Fifty years ago the pushers of the "Peaceful Atom"---including Lewis Strauss, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission---promised electricity that would be "too cheap to meter." The pledge has turned into the biggest lie in U.S. financial history. Far from being cheap or reliable, nuclear power plants have drained the American economy of hundreds of billions of dollars. That money could have financed green power sources that would have avoided the global warming crisis and freed the US from dependence on foreign energy sources.

The key decision was made in 1953. A year earlier, Harry Truman's Blue Ribbon Paley Commission reported that the future of American energy was with renewable sources. Predicting 15 million solar-heated homes by 1975, the Truman Administration knew that our best route to energy independence and economic security was with green power.

In 1953, Bell Laboratories made an historic breakthrough, perfecting photovoltaic (PV) technology to the point that cells made of silicon could transform sunlight into usable electric current. The first cells were used to power space satellites. But the prospect of making homes and offices energy self-sufficient with PV rooftop installations was a monumental moment in technological history.

In an essentially military decision, Dwight Eisenhower chose nuclear power instead. Pledging to share the Peaceful Atom worldwide, Eisenhower turned the US away from green power.

Um, no. Given what the Paley Report actually said this is absurd on its face, but that doesn't keep Wasserman from repeating it over and over again. Seeing as he's been known to style himself as a historian in his spare time, one would hope that he would actually, you know, read his sources.

For more bizarre pseudohistory from Wasserman, check out his latest column, where he demonstrates that nuclear power is at the root of all of Ohio's problems. Of course, the solution to these problems is through increased investment in the most expensive forms of electrical generation available:
In the meantime, electric prices and green energy are in deep in limbo, and have dragged down any hope of an economic revival. Except for municipal utilities like Cleveland and Bowling Green, northern Ohio endures some of the nation's highest electric rates.

The region does not lack green visionaries---or resources. Bowling Green owns four extremely successful wind turbines, and may build more. The Cleveland Foundation and others are pushing hard for a renewable energy infrastructure along the lakefront to manufacture wind turbines, solar panels and fuel cells. The Museum of Science hosts the only utility-scale windmill in a US downtown.
Does Wasserman seriously think that siting a utility-scale windmill in the center of an urban area is a good idea?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nuclear Subsidies- $60 Billion a Year?

Those of you who read the post last fall on Shakespeare's Sister about nuclear power may recall that the author promised a follow up demonstrating how nuclear power is simply unnecessary for our energy needs. Well, it's finally here!

There's too much here for me to delve in all at once, but I'd like to call attention to one point that jumped out at me- the most outrageous estimate of U.S. nuclear subsidies I've ever seen:

And then there are the nuclear subsidies. One estimate is twenty billion in subsidies in 2005. However, Koplow, the grand old man of government energy support estimates, calculates that nuclear receives between 4-8 cents per kWh in subsidies in the US alone (not including the one extorted from our grandkids who'll be paying for dealing with the waste). Compare that to the average, you-see-it-on-your-bill residential cost for electricity of 10c/kWh. Just the subsidy is more than half that. It adds up to $30-60 billion per year, since nukes are said to produce about 85.6GW per year.

Of course something is horribly wrong here. As it turns out, it's that the author failed to actually read what his source said. From Doug Koplow's "Subsidies in the US Energy Sector: Magnitude, Causes, and Options for Reform," regarding the provisions of the 2005 energy bill:
Federal subsidies to new nuclear power plants are likely between 4 and 8 cents per kWh (levelized), and could well be the determining factor driving the construction of new nuclear power plants. (Koplow, 2005a).
As for the other half of the author's math, I don't know where the 85.6GW figure came from. The page he linked to states that the annual production of nuclear energy in the US is 750 TW-hr per year. But a $0.04 subsidy per kW-hr for this amount of generation is equal to $30 Billion, so the math is "right," as it were. But the reading comprehension sure isn't. The subsidies referred to here are for plants that are still on the drawing board, not those currently in operation. More important, Koplow himself calculates the figure at $9 Billion- still far too high, but nowhere near $30 Billion, and much less $60 Billion.

Hyperbole Can Provide All of Our Energy For The Indefinite Future

What is Genesys?
Our Technology is the ONLY cost effective solution that:

  • Eliminates global warming
  • Provides energy security for everyone
  • Totally renewable
  • Supply abundant energy at reasonable cost
  • Eliminate the need for ALL fossil fuels
  • Completely non-polluting
  • Can be produced anywhere
  • Can supply all our energy needs for the future


Sound too good to be true? Of course it is. I made the mistake of suffering through the entire video, and I'm not sure exactly how many physical laws this thing violates. From the sound of it its supposed to be a magical fuel cell that "knows" everything about the individual water molecules and can therefore dissociate them with 95% efficiency. (Maxwell's Demon, anyone?) Never mind that a) hydrogen is not a very good energy carrier and b) if energy to produce hydrogen were so abundant, we'd already be using it to generate electricity. But for one of these free-energy fantasies they sure do muster a lot of impressive-looking equations to distract readers from the fact that the scheme violates basic common sense.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Big C

I've been spending a lot of time recently in the bone marrow transplant clinic. Fortunately, it's not because I have leukemia- I'm on the donor end of things. I signed up for the National Marrow Donor Program back when I was in college, and I came up for a match for someone that I've never met. Fortunately, it's being done with a non-invasive procedure, so my own recovery should be quite quick. No pelvis-drilling surgery for me!

This did put me to thinking, though, about how far we've come in the treatment of cancer. I have a wonderful "Atoms for Peace" propaganda film made in the Soviet Union in 1955 that contains great footage of early Soviet efforts to treat cancer with nuclear technology. I'm planning on uploading it, but I don't have the software to convert the file into something YouTube will accept. On one hand, the "War on Cancer" has been a huge disappointment. Futurists in the 1960s tended to believe that the scourge of cancer would be eradicated by now, and this was even declared an official goal in 1971. This ambitious aim has obviously eluded researchers. But it overshadows the enormous progress that has been made in cancer treatment.

Take the leukemia patients in the marrow transplant clinic. Before WWII, leukemia was a death sentence; no workable treatment existed. Studies of the radiation injuries resulting from the atomic bombings in Japan led researchers to study full-body radiation therapy as a potential cure. Of course, this was of no use without workable marrow transplants. It took decades of research to transform this procedure into a safe, effective treatment. Today, many forms of leukemia are quite treatable- a huge improvement over the old days.

Indeed, we need to do more to remind people of the countless lives that have been saved by nuclear technology. For every overblown "disaster" like Three Mile Island, there are thousands upon thousands of people whom the friendly atom has saved from an early grave. Despite the potential of nuclear power, medicine is the sphere where nuclear technology that has done the most good for mankind. We may not have "cured cancer," but we can cure some cancers- and in that sense, one of the dreams of the Atomic Age has come to pass.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ядерная безопасность

From the Russian TV program "Scanner."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Civil Defense and the Moscow Metro

Interesting piece from the Moscow Metro here.
Начиная с пятидесятых годов станции стали строиться с учетом новых реальностей - наличия высокоэффективного атомного, химического и бактериологического оружия. Отныне все вентиляционные стволы оборудовались фильтрами, на перегонах строились санузлы, способные обслуживать большое количество людей, которым в случае тотальной войны пришлось бы провести под землей не один день. Согласно нормативам, использование этих санитарных узлов в мирное время не допускается.
My rough-n-ready translation:
Beginning in the 1950s stations began to be built in accordance with the new reality of the availability of highly effective atomic, chemical, and bacteriological weapons. The ventilation systems were equipped with filters, and the spaces between the stations were provided with restroom facilities in order to accommodate the large numbers of people who would have to spend several days underground. In accordance with regulations, the use of these sanitary facilities was not allowed in peacetime.
This is interesting, since Leon Gouré's critics decades ago charged that the Metro would be of minimal usefulness as a shelter in part due to the absence of restrooms. Apparently, they were wrong.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Russian Government on Disarmament

Sergei Ivanov on disarmament negotiations:

Despite recent disagreements over the missile defense system, Ivanov said Russia and the U.S. must work closely together to combat nuclear proliferation. He suggested that old bilateral treaties between the U.S. and Russia on nuclear arms — like the Salt 1 agreement — should be replaced by multilateral agreements.

"It is imperative to ensure that the provisions of such a regime should be legally binding so that, in due course, it would really become possible to shift to the control over nuclear weapons and the process of their gradual reduction on a multilateral basis," he said.

Involvement of all major nuclear nations, he said, "is the essence of our proposals related to the anti-missile defense and to the intermediate and short-range missiles."

The significance? Firstly, the demand for multilateralism isn't new- the Soviet regime always hoped to suck France and the UK into the disarmament process. Whether these countries will be interested is an open question, but the real mystery is China. Would the PRC have any interest whatsoever? Getting all these countries to agree on a disarmament framework would be a tall order. Never mind Israel- the undeclared nuclear power whose arsenal probably merits it a place on a list of "major nuclear nations."

This does suggest that the Russians would like to discontinue the current treaties and start over, presumably with arrangements more favorable to their strategic interests. Russia would benefit greatly from both limiting the EU's nuclear capabilities and forestalling a potential Chinese nuclear arms buildup. In any case, the reality on the ground is very far from the idealistic visions of a nuclear-weapons free world circulating in the United States.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What if Castro Had the Bomb?

Vote for Humphrey!

Nuclear Fish Cakes.... AGAIN?

It's a little after 8:20. This is the second half of a 1956 TV special about what life would be like "in the pushbutton world of 1976." Fascinating stuff- unfortunately, the first part doesn't seem to be on YouTube.

UCS: A Little Less Anti-Nuclear Than Before?

David Lochbaum's new piece has been posted on the BAS website. Titled "Fixing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," it details the UCS' position on NRC regulation.

An excerpt:

The United States operates 104 nuclear power reactors, which provide nearly 20 percent of the nation's electricity. More than half have had their original 40-year operating licenses renewed for an additional 20 years. Encouraged by billions of dollars in subsidies and incentives in the 2005 Energy Bill, a handful of companies applied for licenses to build new reactors last fall, and other companies are expected to apply later this year. Recurring lessons from the past consistently inform us that unless the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) undergoes major reforms, nuclear power will remain both riskier and more expensive than necessary.
I'm actually kind of shocked. Maybe the tone of the article doesn't reflect the official position of the UCS on nuclear power very well, but in comparison to their past writing on the subject it's so... reasonable. Not that the article is 100% fair, but I think that the main thesis is perfectly defensible- that the NRC regulatory regime leaves a lot to be desired. I mentioned in a previous post that the UCS' position on nuclear power seemed to be softening somewhat; could this be a further symptom of that?

Friday, February 01, 2008

An Embarrassment to Sovietology

Anne Applebaum's new piece on "where all the beautiful Russian women were under Communism" has been getting knocked around the blogosphere. Now, Applebaum has an ...interesting reputation among people in my field. Let's just say that she isn't taken seriously by all observers.

From the article:
To put it bluntly, in the Soviet Union there was no market for female beauty. No fashion magazines featured beautiful women, since there weren't any fashion magazines.

Umm, no.

Meet Мода и время, an authentic Soviet fashion magazine from 1979!

Also, meet some beautiful Soviet women!

Sovietology truly is the first and noblest of all the sciences.

Soviet Civil Defense Shelter

This is for all you doubters out there.

You know who you are.

The ones who said Soviet Civil Defense was a "paper program."

Here's your proof. Photos of a nearly unmolested bomb shelter fresh from the heyday of Soviet civil defense. It's apparently in Moscow, although I'm not sure exactly where. From my research I believe this to be a fairly elaborate example- in fact, it looks like it's probably some kind of command post.

Go here and drink it all up.