43 Comments

Excellent analysis. I saw this back in 2008 after spending 4 years analysing all types of power. It was clear to me that renewables were not economically viable on their own and were instead a loss leader for natural gas. Nuclear was the ONLY energy source that actually replaced fossil fuels. This is the reason nuclear is fought tooth and nail. Cal Abel’s proposal to use molten salt as the peaking storage eliminates the need for natural gas as a peaking source. Honestly, I would like to see what an unregulated nuke build could cost at the bare minimum to make it a power plant. I am guessing less than $1,000 / kWh.

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"Mutual exclusivity" is a phrase nobody wants to hear. Bitter pill. Swallow hard now because it just keeps getting bigger and more bitter. Well done, Jack.

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And what if we think the other way around?

Often argument is that nuclear energy must be "flexible" and adapt to demand. When storage is a reality, nuclear could operate at base-load and excess renewable could be used for the storage.

Or nuclear plants could operate always at 100% power (regardless demand) and use some part for demand and some part for storage (or hydrogen production).

Or you could even put the nuclear plants off the grid and use them only for hydrogen production or only for storage (more crazy idea, but...).

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Out of curiosity, what would the $2k/kW but no FF case look like.

Not that I don't think the tiny use would be OK, but I don't think NG supply remains a viable industry at those low utilization, but high momentary demands and such high year to year variability.

I think H2 for non-grid users will be key, with some of that stored for industry pulled back in pinch times.

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Jesse,

In the real world, the actual FF peaking/backup would be oil, just about everywhere, since oil is so much cheaper to store than gas. But the current GKG model does not include an oil source nor the cost of storing oil/gas.

It would be easy to add an oil source, but the LP is highly compute intensive and needs a proprietary interior point solver to run in reasonable time. We had trial licenses from mosek and gurobi. But they have expired, so I cannot do the run you've asked for.

I dont understand why people worry about a tiny bit of FF electricity, when the elephant in the room is all the fossil fueled, non-grid markets.

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Thanks.

I worry about the "NG as backup" as it's the part that absorbs the tail of the variability, and we are trying get it out of use for all those other things as well. I worry that we could put the NG supply chain at industry collapse risk if we are not smart about it.

Agree on oil or liquid syn-fuels as backup. Or H2 where there is storage established for non-power users.

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Jesse,

Getting rid of all fossil fuel is not possible, and it would be a disaster of diluvian proportions if we tried. Gordian Knot News will have a three part series on what is possible. Here's a hint: Net 50 by 2100. About IPCC Scenario SSPC-4.5. But this only happens if we have truly cheap nuclear.

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Jack, what do you think of smart meters to handle the few hours of peak demand. It could be all voluntary, no rationing. I and most residential customers would accept occasional short outages for a small, maybe 10% reduction in our electric bills.

A very smart meter could even be programmed to cut off only customers who are using too much during peak hours, so those who are careful could at least keep the lights on. (LED lights of course). It would be interesting to run your model on the German hourly demand data and see how far down you can trim that peak, under various assumptions about customer cooperation.

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David,

Such pricing can make some theoretical sense in situations where the MARGINAL cost of providing power (eg oil or gas fuel) is higher than the value of the power to a customer net of the social cost of CO2. But in the real world, it's nibbling at the edges. And to claim that voluntary Smart meters can make up for wind/solar intermittency is innumerate nonsense.

If nuclear is as cheap as it could be and must be, then the grid will be nearly all nuclear. See the model results. But you will still need quite a bit of low CAPEX dispatchable capacity, to handle unplanned outages. That source can also handle peaking, if we accept the probability of load shedding in a simultaneous peak and outage. End of story. There's no such thing as a zero CO2 grid nor is there a need for one.

Adding such pricing to the GKG model would not be difficult from a coding perspective; but the model is already so compute intensive I cannot afford to run it now that I've lost my Gurobi trial license.

Not sure I like the sound of "very smart meters" cutting off customers who use "too much" electricity. What happened to the "all voluntary". Who decides what is "too much". But if we are really determined to have a largely wind/solar based grid that's where we are headed.

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Nov 25, 2023·edited Nov 25, 2023

I agree, my smart meter suggestion was NOT to accommodate the huge intermittency of wind/solar, but rather the 15% extra system size needed to accommodate that last 1% of demand in the German hourly demand histogram.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2081763568746983/posts/3359320360991291

"Very smart meters" could still be "all voluntary". Just have a variety of plans for customers to sign up. The biggest discounts, plan A, would be for customers like myself who could tolerate total outage for a few hours each month. Plan B could work for my wife's business, where she could leave the air conditioner off, but keep the lights and medical equipment on, thus avoiding a premium charge for using "too much" during peak hours.

Plan C could be for customers who need maximum reliability at all times, and are willing to pay the full cost of that 15% overbuild. All plans would get notifications on their smart phones when a rolling blackout is anticipated.

If only 20% of customers sign up for plan A, they could get as much as 50% discount on their regular bill, and it would add only 1% to everyone else's bill. With a system like this, that 1% of lost service, I am guessing, would go half to the Plan B members who are being frugal, and half to Plan A members who would then see what looks like a 2.5% loss of service.

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How does non-grid FF use currently break down between residential, commercial, industrial and transportation uses?

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Dont know. But most sources put grid GHG emissions at about 25% of total GHG emissions. That's why its particularly stupid to insist on a zero fossil fuel grid. Even if you are an alarmist your goal is to reduce total GHG, not just grid GHG. By making electricity expensive to get rid of the last bit of FF power, you insure that electricity wont penetrate as far into off grid markets which produce much more GHG.

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Jack, what do you think of Cal Abel’s proposal to use molten salt storage storing Nuclear heat as the peaking solution?

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David,

I'm a great believer in letting a 1000 flowers bloom (in a competitive garden free of government subsidies, mandates, whatever). But I'm not betting on molten salt storage winning that competition. ThorCon looked into molten salt to even off diurnal fluctuations in demand and came away unimpressed. And our heat was already molten salt. Peaking storage is very much tougher. When it comes to storing energy, very hard to beat a barrel of oil.

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Good point the energy density of oil is higher than salt.

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By about a factor of 100 . And you don't lose 0.5% of your heat per day.

Guys, Banning fossil fuels would be a calamity. What we can do is be much more selective in how we use fossil fuels. One excellent use is peaking and backup for unplanned outages.

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Jack, have you or anyone at the GKG had discussions with senior members of the NRC regarding regulatory changes (specifically with regards to ALARA & LNT). Apologies if this has been addressed elsewhere but it seems like we need to be heavily engaging the NRC with a lobbying effort towards our goals if we want to have any hope of solving the Gordian knot.

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JS,

I personally have only had contact with mid-level people at NRC. In my view, the system is both totally broken and unrepairable. If nuclear power is to fulfill its remarkable promise, we must regulate nuclear like we regulate other hazardous but beneficial activities. Our suggestion is in teh companion piece Market Based Regulation of Nuclear Power. You might also want to check out the closely related Two Lies piece.

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The NRC proved it is unfixable with its attempt at a better framework where a large majority of industry respondents said they'd take the current regulations

We need to put out a tender for new nuclear regulations with the possibility of the winning contract also going on to form a replacement regulation agency

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Jack, sorry for the delayed response. I may be an optimist, but I refuse to believe the system is irreparably broken. I would urge you and the GKG to submit a petition for rule making to the NRC (https://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/regulatory/rulemaking/petition-rule.html). Worst case, the NRC will have to publicly comment on your petition. I would do it myself, but you are much more knowledgable about the subject than I am.

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JS

https://thebreakthrough.org/blog/the-nuclear-regulatory-commissions-break-with-reality

People respond to teh incentives they are given, not good intentions. The regulators are being completely consistent with the incentives they face. A petition does not change the incentives.

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Thank you for the context. Doing some research it looks like a petition was also already filed and rejected. The original petition writers are attempting to raise money to sue the NRC:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-sue-nrc-to-end-the-use-of-the-lnt-model?utm_campaign=m_pd+share-sheet&utm_content=undefined&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_term=undefined

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Simply superb, Jack.

Just what Germany needs. Wind/solar capacity factors being driven down further (to 5%!!!).

We truly believe folks like you, BF Randall, Doomberg and other incredible writers on Substack and elsewhere doing work like this are capable of changing the world. Hopefully before the physics and economics of the present situation does it instead in a rather chaotic fashion with suboptimal results.

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excellent analysis, Jack. I am still in catch up mode so the simple has great appeal.

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An easy solution to eliminate that bit of fossil might be smart meters. Instead of rolling blackouts affecting big sections of the grid, we could trim off those few hours of peak demand with millions of customers who volunteer to have a few minutes outage on rare occasions. I would certainly volunteer for a few % off on my electric bill. Also, I really think we will find good use for that excess nuclear power. Then the solution is just a few more MW of nuclear.

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Yeah the cynic in me thinks that California is basically trying to wean its citizens off the whole concept of on demand power and get them to accept electricity as a limited resource only available when its available. Then the techocrats will come up with ways to ration usage.

And to think we used to be optimistic about the future in America and California was the epitome of that optimism!

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My proposal does not require rationing. It is entirely voluntary.

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Jack what do think of using Nuclear heat / power to produce synthetic fuels?

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Only works if nuclear power is truly cheap, less than 3 cents/kWh.

And you will still need a CO2 tax.

First thing first. Nuclify the grid. Then worry about non-grid markets.

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If we had enough energy (lots of modern nukes) we could do carbon capture and sequestration w/o a problem.

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Matt,

Truly CHEAP, very low CO2 non-intermittent electricity is an absolutely necessary condition for large scale CCS. But that's only half the problem. The other half is where do you put the CO2 and keep it there? I have not seen a satisfactory answer to this question for large volume CCS.

But unless we have really CHEAP nuclear, no need to debate this issue.

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You assume only cheap nuclear can solve the problem. Because your sources, while considering many possibilities for the costs of CO2 and nuclear, didn't bother to consider the possibility of cheap solar. Solar and battery technologies are on a rapid exponential fall in price. Nuclear isn't.

The cost of solar and batteries are already less than half what they are in the model, and falling fast.

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Donald,

Give us well-referenced, credible costs and we will run them. Costs are no longer falling, certainly not in nominal terms. How much of this is temporary due to all teh current discombobulation we shall see. But W/S/batteries are very sensitive to commodity costs due to their resource intensity. Tables 6 and 13 in https://gordianknotbook.com/download/the-gkg-grid-model/ compares our base case cost numbers with what was publicly available about 6 months ago.

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I`d argue that cost in monetary terms is a little misleading here. Most of solar panels production is in China. Aside from the cheap labour cost, those panels needs somewhat pure Silicon (99,999% purity). It is an insanely energy intensive product by itself and unfortunately, the most used energy source in China is coal! How ironic to producing of so called green energy panels, releasing a lot of carbon to the atmosphere.

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Tach,

The GKG model is unusual in that it includes embedded CO2 for all sources including wind and solar. Currently, the model uses the UNECE estimate of 37 gCO2/kWh. This appears to be a sort of average. The CO2 intensity of Chinese panels may be as much as a factor of two higher. But we have taken a stab at including the CO2 emitted by solar PV in the model.

GKG converts the UNECE number to "fixed" kg CO2 per kW nameplate capacity. So when the capacity factor is pushed down by curtailment the CO2 per marketed kWh goes up.

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In general, I agree with your analysis, and its conclusion regarding nuclear energy. My problem is with the focus on the amount of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity generation that is the measure of effectiveness.

Our education systems have been brainwashing our students since Hansen's fraudulent presentation to the US Congress in 1988 - 35 years ago! They were schooled that CO2 is a pollutant and, despite its limited presence in our atmosphere, it threatens our very existence on this planet by heating our atmosphere. In actuality, there is far more CO2 in our planet's oceans than in the air. CO2 is pumped into greenhouses, not to increase their internal temperature, but to enhance to growth of the foliage therein! It's plant food!

Had we ignored Hansen, Gore, Thunberg, Mann, Flannery, the UN, etc, we could have saved ourselves humongous amounts of money which our leaders have squandered in the futile pursuit of their aims. Historians will look back in amazement!

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In general, I agree with your analysis, and its conclusion regarding nuclear energy. My problem is with the focus on the amount of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity generation that is the measure of effectiveness.

Our education systems have been brainwashing our students since Hansen's fraudulent presentation to the US Congress in 1988 - 35 years ago! They were schooled that CO2 is a pollutant and, despite its limited presence in our atmosphere, it threatens our very existence on this planet by heating our atmosphere. In actuality, there is far more CO2 in our planet's oceans than in the air. CO2 is pumped into greenhouses, not to increase their internal temperature, but to enhance to growth of the foliage therein! It's plant food!

Had we ignored Hansen, Gore, Thunberg, Mann, Flannery, the UN, etc, we could have saved ourselves humongous amounts of money which our leaders have squandered in the futile pursuit of their aims. Historians will look back in amazement!

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The statement for the $8,000/kw nuclear case..."The grid cost is a very expensive $127/MWh."

It is true that this is expensive wholesale power, but you have a grid that works, is low carbon, and at a wholesale price that is competitive to European power or High dollar US (California e.g.) power.

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Ross,

Yeah, 8K gets you a deindustrialized Germany or a CA full of homeless, but what about the rest of teh world. Do you expect India to pay 13 cents/kWh at the plant. And I thought we were supposed to "electrify everything". Expensive nuclear is nowhere good enough. And it is tragically unnecessary.

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I don't believe California's homelessness crisis is caused by expensive energy, so much as by widespread NIMBYism and the state's attractive climate.

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Here's the analysis I'd like to see: given that we *have* invested a lot of CAPEX on solar and wind, and there's no sign of slowing, and that we *aren't* likely to do an Operation Warp Speed for cheap nuclear, what's the least bad path forward? I think the question I'm asking is, how much nuclear, and at what cost, do we need to build to avoid the costliest redundant generation and storage expenditures?

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