Interesting stuff, Zoido. Go Germany! Way to plan for the future.
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When Germany recently [again] passed a law to phase out their nuclear power plants till 2022, many users here & voices in the international media described the decision to be an angst or political decision...
The comments were often overly simplistic, painting the picture that Germany -one of the worlds largest economies & technology leader in many areas- would suddenly and without thinking change the energy policy of it's future.
Another tenor of the reactions was, that renewable energy sources are still no alternative, so this "Angst Reaction" would lead to higher use of fossil fuels and higher CO2 emmisions in the coming decades. Or simply a lasting increase of electricity imports from France.
The arguments and outlooks propagade the dogmatic world view that "There Is No Alternative" for centralized Fossil/Fission power production, not even in the 21th Century.
All these talkingpoint commentators willfuly or out of ignorance ignore the developements in technology, economic viability and the results of large scale application that have occurred during the last 5-10 years.
It would be nice if people wouldn't simply repeat age old talking points about renewable energy sources in this thread, but discuss the realities on the ground in Germany and the current state of technology
Traditionally Germany has a very similar electricity production as the US. It's dominated by Coal, in addition of Nuclear and Gaspower, with a certain amount of hydroelectic power.
Since 1990 there has been a very different developement in Germany though.
In 1990 the European Union started to open the electricity market for competition and at the same time, in Germany a first legislation to favour renewable energy sources was passed. The 1990 & 2000 laws offered investors mainly certain investment securities and powergrid access and not so much tax funded direct subsidies. Due to those changes in policy and shift in mentality, the electricity production in Germany changed alot since 1990.
As a consequence , the share of renewable electricity production (excluding hydroelectric power) rose exponentially:
1991 - 0.3%
1995 - 0.7%
2000 - 2.3%
2005 - 7,0%
2008 - 11,6%
2010 - 13,8%
That's almost a 100% increase in the last 5 years and we had already 17% sustainable and renewable electricity production in 2010 after adding hydro to this.
The Current Situation
The current electricity production in Germany comes from a variaty of sources. In 2010 Coal makes up 43%, Nuclear power 22% and Natural Gas about 14%.
The 17% electricity from renewable sources came from Windpower (6,2%), Biomass (5,6%), Hydro (3,2%) and Photovoltaic (2%).
Because the growth of renewable sources outpreformed all expectations, Germany is currently produceing more electricity than in needs. This has lead to the stupid situation, that renewable sources can not feed their electricity into the grid and have to stop producing, because large base-load powerplants can't reduce their production below a certain percentage. So while very cheap renewable power would be available, it's technically impossible to stop burning ressources to produce electricity.
Talking points - replacing nuclear till 2022, grid-stability & storage technolgies
The goal to replace all nuclear power plants till 2022 will require the current renewable power supply to double within 10 years. A goal considered by many to be toooo ambitious to succeed.
Considering the past growth rates, the reduction of costs and the increasing costs for fossil fuels, why should the expension of renewable energy sources suddenly slow down? Why shouldn't the exponential growth rates continue? Why shouldn't the growthrate at least remain constat at the last record of 100% expansion within 5 years continue?
There are also the talking points that renewable energy sources are unreliable and indanger grid-stability.
Continues & sudden availability of renewable energy has been proven possible since 2007. Back then a large scale "virtual power plant" combined renewable sources from all over Germany to produce a steady amount of electricity whenever demand required it.
The 2007 project was a success and a second large scale project is currently being conducted to proof that 100% renewable supply is possible even with current technology and under all weather conditions.
The question of an economic and technologicaly viable energy storage has been pushed as the ultimative argument against renewable energy sources. Electricity can't be stored unless batteries get alot cheaper or new huge infrastructure projects like new powerful powergrids or new pumped-storage hydroelectric stations are being build. A massive and expensive task that would take years or even decades.
But even for this issue, the sollution is already being implemented in Germany.
In reality, large scale windpower has to stop operating alot more often due to risks of overpowering the local power-grid than due to lack of wind. This frustrating waste of windpower has lead operators of windpower stations to develope an alternative use for their excess power. Their solution is simple and promessing. They convert their "un-needed" electricity into a natural gas substitute and feed it into the already existing natural gas grid with it's massive storage capacity.
The natural gas substitue is an ultra clean methan produced from hydrogen from electrolysis and CO². To make this natural gas substitute a truely Renewable-Energy-Gas the CO² used comes from Biomass-Energy.
This form of energy storage can be used for the unlikly event that we suddenly have significant shortage of wind, is very practical because current gas grid & strogage already hold the capacity to supply all of Germanies electricity needs for 2-3 months. Gas turbine powerplants are already in use and decentralized small scale gas-power & heat stations are already being build throughout the country for energy-efficency & economic reasons.
In case you are wondering, the first implementions of the "Windenergy -> RE-Gas" converters work at 60% efficiency.
Since the electricity used for the conversion would otherwise been wasted, this is a cashcow for the windpower operators. Large scale facilities are currently under construction and will hit the energy market later this year.
Acceptence & the economics of renewable energy
In 2009, 95% of the German population thought that the expansion of renewable energy is important. At the same time 78% would prefer their energy to come from renewable sources and 77% are willing to pay more for it if neccessary. (That includes 69% of low income households and 87% of high income households)
The German public, politicans and researchers are convinced that the transformation of the german energy market toward renewable energy will lead to economic benefits and even lower & stable prices in the future.
The reasons for the future economic benefits of renewable power production:
- The cost for renewable energy sources has declined significantly over the past 20 years and is projected to continue to decline. At the same time the price for fossil & fission energy is rising constantly. Prices decline for renewables because their cost is fuel independent and mainly a matter of technical/enginiering issues. They can also be mass-produced => their price will fall even faster.
- The German economy combines global industry leaders for all the renewable technologies and the supporting industries. Steel & Metal, Engines & Generators, optics & electronics, machinary, chemicals,... The last 10 years have shown overall economic benefits and stimula despite slight electricity price increases => No reason to believe it won't continue that way.
- Decentralized power production with energy sources producing energy at net-parity, that can be build with rather small funds of just a few million euros, finally offers the posibility of real market forces to be introduced into the energy market. => free market forces cost reduction Booya!
- Cheap small scale renewable energy sources will be on high demand as the developing world seeks ways to bring electricity to their people in absense of a working power grid or the neccessary funds for centralized power stations / the neccessary fuel. => global export oportunity for the renewable power sources or the machines to build them.
I hope this thread and situation report can put the discussion on a more meaningful track. Maybe soon we will discuss why the US and havend taken the same steps in the past, instead of wondering / ridiculing Germany for it's rather long term and objective policy decisions.
Last edited by El_Zoido; 07-06-2011 at 08:17 AM.
Interesting stuff, Zoido. Go Germany! Way to plan for the future.
Well the subject is really complex and has many layers, but the opinions and viewpoints offered in the international media are very slow to adapt to rapid changes of the market.
For example as of early 2011 installation cost (construction & setup) for completed wind power projects in Germany were:
- 1000€ / kW - onshore wind
- 3000-4000€ / kW - offshore wind (those are the costs of pilot projects and include costs for construction vessels, etc.)
In comparison the new nuclear reactors that are currently being build in France & Finland cost 3500-4000€ / kW.
( projections costs were at about 2000€ per kW... so that number didn't add up and they are still under construction).
To be fair:
It's fact that onshore wind operates at an anual adjusted rate of about 20-25% of installed capacity in Germany. The first offshore windparks have operated at 47% of installed capacity in the first 9 months.
New and modern Nuclear reactors operate with about 90% of their installed capacity due to regular week long complete shutdowns for refueling etc.
That means you have to install 4-5x as much onshore and 2-3x as much offshore capacity to get the same maximum capacity.
On the other hand, windpower only needs maintainance after it's build.
It's not neccessary to shut down the entire windpark for this, just the one wind power turbine that is being serviced.
Nuclear power on the other hand requires maintainence & cooling, fuel, waste management and a 20 year decommision process after end of life (cost about 300-500 million Euro for every reactor).
Prices continue to fall far wind turbines, while construction costs, uranium costs and waste management costs keep rising for nuclear power.
Very optimistic, El_Zoido.
But this is the real German Agenda:
1. Turn the nuclear powerplants off faster to keep the greens down...
2. Purchase nuclear energy from France and Czechia
Billions of Euros will be the costs for a working renewable energy model.
Power supply lines, the energy producing devices and the energy storage devices have to be built up.
Furthermore, the rape growing will turn big areas into mono cultural fallow lands without animals and other signs of life.
Ahh... the Sabatier reaction. Certainly an interesting twist and a much needed improvement on a system dependent on the weather. It could and should be applied to solar thermal systems as well.Originally Posted by El Zoido
But the fact of the manner is that while renewable sources can be tailored to individual residences and small offices, renewable sources are impractical to most commercial and industrial applications, because they require constant and dependable energy. Simply looking at a chart that says there is x amount of energy floating in the breeze and that y piece of machinery can capture z percentage of it doesn't keep your servers warm at night. Nuclear is the answer. And all of the so called "downsides" to nuclear power are imposed on us by Luddites forcing us to keep using 50 year old designs.
Popular Science had a great article on Generation IV thorium fueled molten salt reactors in its latest issue.
Even with their significant safety improvements, Generation III+ plants can, theoretically, melt down. Some people within the nuclear industry are calling for the implementation of still newer reactor designs, collectively called Generation IV. The thorium-powered molten-salt reactor (MSR) is one such design. In an MSR, liquid thorium would replace the solid uranium fuel used in today’s plants, a change that would make meltdowns all but impossible.
And we had better get our butts in gear, or the Chinese will beat us to the punch, and the leak of manufacturing from the West will become a torrent.
Outside the U.S., the transition could come more quickly. In January the Chinese government launched a thorium reactor program. “The Chinese Academy of Sciences has approved development of an MSR with relatively near-term deployment--maybe 10 years,” says Gehin, who thinks the Chinese decision may increase work on the technology worldwide. Even after Fukushima, “there’s still interest in advanced nuclear,” he says. “I don’t see that changing.”
As I wrote in the first post, the problem of constant and secure availability is already solved and the viability of the solution has been proven in field tested.
The Project of "Kompikraftwerk 1" (Combined Powerstation 1) was successful in providing the actuall demand situation in a scale of 1:10.000. That means that they matched the actuall demand on a small scale. The results of the project have been released 4 years ago in 2007. (that's ages in renewable energy terms)
If you are interessted, here is a little video in english:
"Kombikraftwerk 1 - Wind, Solar, Biomass & Hydro deliver 100% renewable power"
The press release can be found here and a handout document describing the setup here.
The research project "Kombikraftwerk 2" is currently being conducted to examine system wide stability (frequency & voltage stability) on an even larger scale. At the same time other so called "virtual Powerstation" & "Smart Grid"-Concepts are being field tested.
I think it's important to recognize that it's all in a field testing stage and by no means a IF,WHEN and HOW of the early concept phase.
I found another english language video to describe the basic concepts, policies and conflicts of the whole renewable energy situation in Germany. It's abit long and the Australian Journalists sometimes look abit funny but overall it gives a good insight. It's from 2006 though. So since then renewables already doubled their output in electricity and primary energy output and the goals/predictions are alot more ambitous now. (80% by 2050)
The Sustainable Star - Germany ( 28min )
Now about "your" Thorium Reactor .
The concept and techonolgy sounds as wonderful in theory.
However in my opinion it shares too many flaws with the present nuclear/fossil power plants.
You got the high installation costs, a fuel-cycle, centralized power generation and expensive decommision at end of life (radioactive machinary).
In addition the molten-salt reactor would require massive reasearch investments and there is no reason to believe that it would turn out alot better than all the other Generation IV reactor projects.
Even if the optimistic 10 years till operation claimed in the article would be true, adding the construction time for the first reactors it will take about 20 years till any of them can hit the energy market.
At the same time renewables become cheaper, experience & optimization increases their efficiency and massproduction is pushing cost down.
The cost for the installation of solar capacity dropped an average of 50% from spring 2009 - early 2011.
At the same time cost for the new Finish nuclear reactor doubled in that time, due to delays, construction errors and optimistic numbers.
It's my impression that the nuclear industry has always offered "magic" in order to get reasearch funding & investment subsidies... at the end they delivered a very mixed bag with a price-tag in my opinion.
Since the Thorium Reactor isn't really renewable in any way, maybe this isn't the right thread to continue this exchange of ideas after this reply.
Oak Ridge Tennessee hosted an operational Thorium reactor for several years back in the Sixties, before it was shut down because it didn't produce weapons grade material. This is not a theory. The only R&D that needs to be done is to incorporate modern materials into the system.
And you can compare the expense of Gen II light water reactors to thorium MSRs because they operate quite differently.MSRs were developed at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the early 1960s and ran for a total of 22,000 hours between 1965 and 1969. “These weren’t theoretical reactors or thought experiments,” says engineer John Kutsch, who heads the nonprofit Thorium Energy Alliance. “[Engineers] really built them, and they really ran.” Of the handful of Generation IV reactor designs circulating today, only the MSR has been proven outside computer models. “It was not a full system, but it showed you could successfully design and operate a molten-salt reactor,” says Oak Ridge physicist Jess Gehin, a senior program manager in the lab’s Nuclear Technology Programs office.
There is essentially is no meltdown risk, so you don't have to over build the thing to the ridiculous degree. It is self regulating, so there is little need for the several times redundant coolant systems. That is where the expense comes from, plus the regulatory costs. Without that need, expenses plummet.The MSR design has two primary safety advantages. Its liquid fuel remains at much lower pressures than the solid fuel in light-water plants. This greatly decreases the likelihood of an accident, such as the hydrogen explosions that occurred at Fukushima. Further, in the event of a power outage, a frozen salt plug within the reactor melts and the liquid fuel passively drains into tanks where it solidifes, stopping the fission reaction. “The molten-salt reactor is walk-away safe,” Kutsch says. “If you just abandoned it, it had no power, and the end of the world came--a comet hit Earth--it would cool down and solidify by itself.”
And the waste? What waste?Without the need for large cooling towers, MSRs can be much smaller than typical light-water plants, both physically and in power capacity. Today’s average nuclear power plant generates about 1,000 megawatts. A thorium-fueled MSR might generate as little as 50 megawatts. Smaller, more numerous plants could save on transmission loss (which can be up to 30 percent on the present grid). The U.S. Army is interested in using MSRs to power individual bases, Kutsch says, and Google, which relies on steady power to keep its servers running, held a conference on thorium reactors last year. “The company would love to have a 70- or 80-megawatt reactor sitting next door to a data center,” Kutsch says.
That solves the Yucca Mountain issue. Not to mention the fact that the waste is instead stored right in your backyard now, and as in Japan, may still require active coolant.Although an MSR could also run on uranium or plutonium, using the less-radioactive element thorium, with a little plutonium or uranium as a catalyst, has both economic and safety advantages. Thorium is four times as abundant as uranium and is easier to mine, in part because of its lower radioactivity. The domestic supply could serve the U.S.’s electricity needs for centuries. Thorium is also exponentially more efficient than uranium. “In a traditional reactor, you’re burning up only a half a percent to maybe 3 percent of the uranium,” Kutsch says. “In a molten-salt reactor, you’re burning 99 percent of the thorium.” The result: One pound of thorium yields as much power as 300 pounds of uranium--or 3.5 million pounds of coal.
Because of this efficiency, a thorium MSR would produce far less waste than today’s plants. Uranium-based waste will remain hazardous for tens of thousands of years. With thorium, it’s more like a few hundred. As well, raw thorium is not fissile in and of itself, so it is not easily weaponized. “It can’t be used as a bomb,” Kutsch says. “You could have 1,000 pounds in your basement, and nothing would happen.”
And while is not renewable, there is enough for several hundred years. Any fission plant is just a placeholder for fusion anyway. But if neccicery, there is plenty of thorium on the Moon.
What cost you ask?
Sure it is not possible to compare different technologies with each other. But the reality is, that thorium-reactors are not ready for market use. There are no working products for Molten-Salt Reactors from GE, Siemens, Toshiba or whoever offers the technology. So even if they are going to become a hit, it will take about 10-20 years to get them on the market.
China is putting money in the technology, because they put money in ALL technologies concerning energy production. Their coal power is killing them, traditional nuclear takes too long to install and their power demand outgrowths their production.
At the end, all high-tech energy production conecpts have high financial risks. Complex and big centralized concepts have bigger risks though.
If you confront people with choosing between an old and well tested design and a new potentially great design... they most likly choose the well tested one.
That's a struggle renewables know all to well.
There is also the Terrawatt nuclear concept that recieved billion dollar funding from the Gates Foundation 2 years ago and others.
But I think all these nuclear conecpts are off topic in this thread.
Please feel free to open another thread. I will no longer reply out of politeness to this subject. I think that is reasonable don't you think?
The idea that power has to be supplied whenever demand goes up, sure speaks against a 100% windpower or solar energy supply.
But there is nobody suggesting a concept of 100% renewable energy only by wind- or solarpower.
As I wrote twice, the "Kombikraftwerk 1"-Project did proof it is very possible to supply 100% renewable electricity at all times. The argument that it is impossible to harness renewable energy on a large enough scale is simply not based in reality. The sheer potential of renewable energy is so much greater than the energy we require that there is absolutly no realistic reason to make that assumption.
Even our domestic coal / lignite mines are not alway german owned. And even if, a global corperation has no significant interesst in improving the region. Why should people be forced to buy energy in a way that benefits special interessts and flushes capital (profits) out of the country / region.
In my State in Germany, open-pit mining consumes huge areas of land.
Gigantic machines dig holes hundreds of meters below sea-level on an area that consumes more than 200 km² in the coming decades. Thousends of residents have to be relocated, the enivromental effects are huge.
And the area looks like this:
Sure the transition from centralized to decentralized requires alot of changes.
But the economic benefits are huge. The concept of decentralized renewable energy production keeps capital in the region / country. Because there is less of a steady outflow of money to foreign/domestic special interesst groups, through the massive purchasing of fuel.
Also the decentralized small scale production is far more efficent than centrilized power production as access heat can be used more efficiently in combination to electricity production.
Windpower doesn't consume land in a destructive fashion. It coexists with agricultural use. In many north german states it contributes up to 50% of electricity production already. Biomass energy can be harnessed in ways that doesn't conflict with other interessts (food production).
Solar heat & electricity can lower private energy dependence in rural and urban areas. The potential is still huge, as there are about 2700 km² of potential roof-top space fit for harnessing solar energy in Germany alone.
So on So on...
If you still have doubts about decentralized solution to ensure power supply on large scale, here is an article from 2009:
German LichtBlick to market new mini power plants