Let's Talk About Energy Production

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BattleMoose
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby BattleMoose » Mon Mar 02, 2009 7:09 am UTC

The cost of nuclear there seems very high, or coal seems very low, every study that I have looked at, place the cost of nuclear energy and coal, as roughly equal, depending ofcourse on alot of things.

Image

From, "The Cost Of Generating Electricity"

A study carried out by PB Power for The Royal Academy of Engineering

March 2004
Published by
The Royal Academy of Engineering
29 Great Peter Street, Westminster, London, SW1P 3LW

Okay, its abit dated, more up to date sources are very welcome!

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Minerva » Mon Mar 02, 2009 9:22 am UTC

Comic JK wrote:Reliable, I can agree with. Safest, I'm not so sure: nuclear power is much safer than people think, but comparing the minuscule danger of radiation release to the nonexistent danger of being whacked by a windmill blade, you can't say that small danger is safer than none at all. And as for 'cheapest'...citation needed? The cost to build a nuclear plant is enormous, the time and political will necessary are prodigious, and operating costs have never been as low as proponents have hoped.


With regards to safety, I'm certain we've discussed before, perhaps in this thread or perhaps in some other thread, but I can't remember for sure, how nuclear power empirically seems to have a stronger safety track record than wind turbines.

The cost to build a nuclear power plant is large? Well, how does it quantitatively compare with the cost to build some alternative type of energy generating infrastructure, to get the same amount of energy out?

If a wide expansion of nuclear power is the fastest way to do this technically (unlikely; they take a long time to approve and build) or politically (even less likely; the public misinformedly hates them), then we should do it. But since more of the public is behind wind power, and it already works pretty well, that's where I think we should focus.
[/quote]

"takes a long time to approve" comes under political factors, not technological factors.

Nuclear power plants take a long time to build? No, they don't, in a realistic context.

A typical modern large nuclear power plant with two 1100 MW power reactors operating with a 90% capacity factor will generate 17.4 TWh per year.
How long does it take to construct such a plant? Let's suppose, conservatively, it takes 10 years to construct.

If you want to build wind turbines to do the same job, supposing they're 2 MW wind turbines operating with a 30% capacity factor, you need 3300 wind turbines for the same amount of energy production.

If you were to build those wind turbines within the same 10-year time frame as it takes to build the nuclear power plant, you would need to build and erect one complete wind turbine every 1.1 days. This just isn't plausible, of course.

Comic JK wrote:France's nuclear power grid, which is very impressive and I wish the US would emulate, was not built by private industry, but by the government and state-run companies, like most of French infrastructure. All of the nuclear plants in the US, while privately owned, have been built with government support. I don't know where people are building nuclear plants privately without subsidies, but I would like to hear about it if you would leave a link.


People often seem to forget that the experience with nuclear power in the US, and the amount of nuclear power reactors that the US has operating today, absolutely dwarfs that of France. There's nothing special about what France does compared to the USA, other than the fact that they get a much larger portion of their electricity from nuclear than the US, and they're sensible about reprocessing. They're a much smaller country than the US, with much smaller energy needs. The USA could very easily retain world leadership in the area of nuclear power, if they chose to.

I think electricity generation and distribution is pretty critically important to the well being of a developed society, and for that reason, because it's so critical and needs to be fairly tightly controlled by the government, there's often no really compelling reason why there shouldn't be government ownership of the electricity network, and there is in a great many countries, including stable Western democracies. It's just that the Americans have such a strong, deep seated aversion and distrust for anything that even remotely looks like the S word - let the government own one power station, and next thing you know, they'll be erecting the red hammer and sickle on the White House.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Caaw » Mon Mar 02, 2009 9:55 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:This might be a misunderstanding: when people talk about improving the grid, they rarely mean reducing the losses in the existing grid, as those losses are small, and money is better spend on other savings.

When they want to improve the grid, they mostly want to make more connections in the grid over long distances, so that fluctuations in supply and demand can be spread over longer distances, and disruptions can be taken care of with more ease. They also can mean systems to make elctricity prices change on a short scale so that people and companies are encouraged to consume when there is over supply.


Thanks, that is what I was getting at with my original question -- and the reason I asked the question, "what goes into efficiency", here, was because I was curious what Mosc, (who earlier said that he worked precisely on making grids more efficient), would answer. To me energy efficiency is related more towards this supply issue then anything else. If we had a 'flexible' grid, that better understood and accounted for fluctuations in supply, then, by my thinking, we could reduce the amount of power production in general. Do 500,000 people really need x amount of Mw to power their homes, or is that number 25%-30% higher then the number a more efficient grid would require -- because of peak usage, etc. This is important to my way of thinking, so I'd appreciate it if someone could slap the idea out of my head if it's too off base.

If you are trying to extend the reach of the grid that services Los Angeles to a newly developed housing community in Lancaster, wouldn't it make sense to drop 80 or so concentrating solar thermal devices, and have them locally power that edge of the grid? Sure the up front cost is greater, but CST + thermal storage seems to be ideal for a place like Lancaster, who might only need an extra 100 or 200Mw for their population to be comfortable. While the cost per Mw is greater, the overall cost of the project would be smaller then the capital required to build a 1000Mw nuclear plant (I assume).

Or is it always better to create a 1000Mw nuclear plant, or a 700Mw coal plant? If all Lancaster needs is 200Mw, is it always better to make a larger plant, since the excess power will just go to the larger grid anyway. I guess I'm killing my own idea -- logistically, if I was in charge of the budget, I suppose I would err on the larger construction of the nuclear power plant, as opposed to the field of CSTs. In this way I will have avoided a second or third construction project years down the line and contributed much more energy production to the grid immediately.

But that supposition aside, it reveals the true nature of my question: Is what I just described 'improving the efficiency of the grid'? (set aside also for a moment the first instinct reply of 'nuclear is more efficient, therefor')

I'm certain, too, that the people of Lancaster would rather spend the extra coin on a CST solution, as opposed to a coal or nuclear plant. That is an intangible cost, and maybe should not be included in this discussion? Still, the people element certainly has an effect on our overall energy production (see: post 1970 nuclear power plant commissions).

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby BattleMoose » Tue Mar 03, 2009 6:21 am UTC

Efficiency is defined as desired output/required input.

Theres an efficiency related to the generation of electricity, coal fired is roughly 40%. (Energy of the coal burned)/energy (that is converted to electricity)

Then there is the efficiency of the grid, (electricty that goes into the grid)/(energy that is drawn from it), there are losses in the grid, mostly generated as heat in the cables and transformers. Which is being accepted as 93% efficient. (Is that only for the United States or is that a figure that could be roughly applied to the grids of most nations?)

And then there is the efficiency of any appliance that you use, then lets go with a kettle, which is pretty much 100% efficient. Assuming you make tea with all the hot water, because tea is fantastic.

When people have been talking about the efficiency of the grid, I have always assumed the formal defintion of efficency was being implied, and in this case, energy efficiency. (Desired output)/(required input)

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby cypherspace » Tue Mar 03, 2009 2:17 pm UTC

BattleMoose wrote: Which is being accepted as 93% efficient. (Is that only for the United States or is that a figure that could be roughly applied to the grids of most nations?)

It's pretty much the same everywhere, I believe. Maybe a few percent here or there.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Fri Mar 06, 2009 5:07 pm UTC

Caaw wrote:What exactly goes into improving efficiency? (from a technicians standpoint, or the guy responsible for the entire grid)
*spanish accent* You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. *ahem* There is no ELECTRICAL efficiency problem. There is a COST and EMISSIONS efficiency problem. It's not that improvements reduce losses ore makes more power available, it's that they enable you to select from a wider variety of power on the grid. If you have a variety of options, you have cheaper options and you have lower emission options. It's not that you can't get power, it's that the power you get costs too much or pollutes too much. Improving our grid also helps with reliability.
Zamfir wrote:When they want to improve the grid, they mostly want to make more connections in the grid over long distances, so that fluctuations in supply and demand can be spread over longer distances, and disruptions can be taken care of with more ease. They also can mean systems to make elctricity prices change on a short scale so that people and companies are encouraged to consume when there is over supply.
Ding ding ding! Except I'd state that they are encouraged to reduce consumption when prices are high. It's more a problem that people aren't aware of how much more expensive peak power is and how consumption reduction over very short periods can make huge difference in costs.
cypherspace wrote:even a 1% increase (in efficiency) saves hundreds of millions of pounds. There's no specific drive towards any figure, but the natural evolution of the system is towards greater efficiency in general.
Yes it would. It would also cost THOUSANDS of millions of pounds to achieve. It would be a puny cost-benefit to try and reduce costs by reducing losses. Efficiency can be 99% if you want, you just have to PAY. It's not worth it. You already have the most COST efficient grid possible.(more or less)
Comic JK wrote:Solar power is even more expensive than nuclear, to be sure, but wind seems to cost less: http://peswiki.com/energy/Directory:Cents_Per_Kilowatt-Hour.
Again, wind power is not dependable. It can never be a large portion of your power production. It only supplies power, well, when the wind blows. Energy storage is infeasible on those levels. Remember too that demand changes over time GREATLY. Failure to be able to adjust supply accordingly leads to blackouts. Also, I would point to some complexity in those cost numbers that gets things very skewed. Nuclear is very cheap even compared to coal but if you start adding in arbitrarily high cost adders for waste disposal (which the plants don't do atm), and "decommission costs" (whatever the FUCK that means), you can skew things very easily. Remember too that you don't just pay for power, you pay for getting power EXACTLY when you want it. The co-ordination of power generation to demand is a massive uncounted cost adder to most renewables.

Further response to Caaw: You are trying to relate very different things to the same problem. Having to deal with huge peaks and valleys in demand leads to added cost and emissions, yes, however it is not helped much by grid improvements. It's really only addressable on the demand side. As far as building something close vs building something more efficient further away, that's why you have a grid in the first place. The answer is just build something efficient regardless of where and build the infrastructure needed to connect it sufficiently.

Most of the time, you can think of the grid as a big lake where power is the water. You can drain out anywhere and pour in anywhere. The lake level moves as one. It's true that there are bottlenecks but generally these are local. Bottlenecks add cost and really hurt reliability but really don't effect losses or "electrical efficiency". Removing bottlenecks doesn't reduce demand, it simply gives you more supply options and increases the chances that there will be timely options to keep the lights on. More options means cheaper choices and cleaner choices.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Zamfir » Fri Mar 06, 2009 8:15 pm UTC

mosc wrote:Nuclear is very cheap even compared to coal but if you start adding in arbitrarily high cost adders for waste disposal (which the plants don't do atm), and "decommission costs" (whatever the FUCK that means), you can skew things very easily.


I think, but might be mistaken, that plants in most countries are already required to set aside money for waste disposal, and significant amounts too, enough for rather extreme schemes.

Decommisioning is nothing mysterious. Removing a radioactive plant after is it too old is an expensive business, hundreds of millions per plant, so governments require that plants set that money aside in advance, so that a bankruptcy of the plant doesn't leave the government with that task.

The comparison with coal is difficult. The current EPR being built in Finland is way over its budget, and at those prices nuclear wold be more expensive than coal. But this is partially the result of an industry that hadn't built a new reactor in years (I think the manufacturer, Arreva, shoulders the cost overrun entirely), and it seems very likely that future copies of that reactor are going to be cheaper. But how much cheaper is hard to say.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Fri Mar 06, 2009 8:29 pm UTC

Well, I didn't phrase that very well at all.

What you get into here is speculation over the "total lifespan" cost of the plants when calculating their "true" price. I didn't mean to imply nothing is done on waste management, it's far from that. It's just that you have to make a lot of assumptions on what the future will hold for nuclear waste and nuclear regulation when you're coming up with these numbers. The wholesale price on a given day for nuclear is very cheap, that's not disputable. What is disputable is the extra costs in construction, waste management, and decommissioning. What I meant was that if you are overly conservative like many of these watchdog entities are or if you bring some anti-nuclear bias to the table, you get results which include billions of added cost not currently realized.

Decommissioning in particular is a lot of speculation since all our large scale nuclear sites are still in operation. I've seen analysis that adds in hundreds of years of monitoring at the site and other far fetched costs to scare the public. You're right, there's nothing that complex about taking the thing apart. It's just that many people refuse to view it that way and with no real examples to dispute their guesswork, you get huge projected costs.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Zamfir » Sat Mar 07, 2009 1:42 pm UTC

Mosc, I think you are completely correct. On the topic of decomissioning, I think that worldwide a significant number of research reactors, and Soviet garbage reactors have been decommisioned, so I expect that reasonable price numbers are available. i'll try to find them when I have some time.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Minerva » Sun Mar 08, 2009 6:00 am UTC

mosc wrote:Nuclear is very cheap even compared to coal


Wait a minute, why are we making a cost comparison between nuclear and coal? Nuclear power is not cheaper than coal, nothing is cheaper than coal. There is no way that any other energy technology can compete with coal on a cost basis.

With "nuclear waste", you never hear the end of it, yet with coal, every power plant spews out many tens of millions of tons of toxic, ecologically dangerous waste, including carbon dioxide, and fly ash, and other things, every year, and it all goes straight out to be dumped into the ecosphere, and people generally don't even seem to acknowledge that such material exists.

When coal-fired generation has got this free license to just piss out as much of this dangerous toxic waste straight into the environment as they want, it begins to be obvious why nothing is cheaper than coal.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Sun Mar 08, 2009 8:42 am UTC

Show me where I said nuclear is cheaper than coal. I said it was very cheap, even when compared to coal. Not that it won the comparison. Nuclear is not THAT much more expensive than coal.

And hydro can be very cheap as well remember.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby BattleMoose » Mon Mar 09, 2009 6:25 am UTC

The The Royal Academy of Engineering is of the opinion that nuclear is as expensive than coal or cheaper, according to a study that they carried out. And as usual, the costs associated with adverse health conditions because of coal and its CO2 emissions were completely ignored, and they still come out at a fair comparison.

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Nuclear Power: Time to reconsider?

Postby RAKtheUndead » Sat Mar 28, 2009 12:56 am UTC

Nuclear Power – A Proposition Argument

There has always been a lot of NIMBYism surrounding nuclear power, probably from public perception of nuclear weapons, and to be honest, I'd be frightened out of my mind if I thought that nuclear power had much in common with Texan bomber pilots whooping and waving hats as they descended to the ground.

Luckily, nuclear power is nowhere near as violent or dangerous, and in this day and age of increasing oil prices, there are a number of advantages which should be considered before trying to condemn nuclear power.

- Nuclear power has far lower carbon dioxide emissions than all fossil fuel sources, and as it stands, lower emissions than even wind and solar power.

- Nuclear power is reliable. Capacity factors of 75%-plus are comparable, and sometimes even superior to fossil fuel sources, and far superior to the 15-30% capacity factors of wind and solar power.

- Nuclear power is flexible. Because nuclear reactors are constantly running while not being routinely maintained, they can cope with surges in demand easily, such as those in the morning or evening. Wind and solar power lack this capacity, being dependent on weather conditions.

- Nuclear power is scalable. A nuclear reactor can currently be scaled to fit everything from comparatively small aircraft carriers and submarines to the biggest metropolises. Recent developments, including the Toshiba 4S, seek to make the nuclear reactor even smaller, with 40MW of power produced in a building little bigger than a current electricity substation, and because a single pound of U-235 can produce hundreds of thousands or even millions of times the energy of a pound of coal or oil, nuclear reactors can hypothetically be made even smaller than that.

- Nuclear power has an exemplary safety record in most modern nuclear countries. There have been absolutely no fatal accidents in France and Japan, for instance.

But you may be thinking, "How can you say that nuclear power has an exemplary safety record when the likes of the Chernobyl disaster was allowed to happen?" In response, I will note that even though the Chernobyl disaster may have been tragic and devastating, there were several characteristics of the reactor design and elements of staff training which make it difficult to compare to modern reactors.

The Chernobyl reactors were RBMK-type designs, based on 1950s technology and known for being extremely crude. In fact, they were noted to be one of the most unsafe and dangerous reactor designs ever put into production. The RBMKs were made for two purposes: to be cheap and to produce plutonium, and they were only later adapted to produce electrical power. For this reason, safety features suffered, leaving the reactors with design flaws including:

Control rods with graphite tips which, when initially placed into the reactor, displaced coolant, speeding up the reaction before slowing it down.

- A SCRAM, or emergency shutdown, procedure which took eighteen seconds, compared to the five seconds of modern reactors.

- A design which left the reactors more dangerous at low power - counter-intuitive and confusing to the reactor crew.

- No concrete shielding around the reactor, unlike all contemporary American designs.

But the shocking thing was, even with these critical design flaws, it took gross incompetence and human error to cause the Chernobyl disaster. The catastrophic decision was made to test the emergency cooling system in the reactor during routine maintenance, a decision that no trained nuclear engineer should have made. More shockingly than that, it was done just before a shift change, leaving the incoming workers completely unknowledgeable about the experiment.

The first thing that most people would think of when they hear the word "Chernobyl" would probably be, "meltdown". That would be incorrect. Chernobyl was not a meltdown of the traditional kind - it was a power excursion which caused a steam explosion, which would not have been anywhere near as devastating if the reactor had been enclosed with concrete. When the disaster was first realised, the technicians attempted the SCRAM procedure, which was ineffective due to the previously discussed design flaws - pointing to both abominable design and human error as causes of the disaster.

However, despite the far-reaching consequences of the event, a 2005 report by the Chernobyl Forum, made up of members of the International Atomic Energy Agency and several UN organisations, including the World Health Organisation, established that apart from the 57 direct deaths due to the disaster, total deaths from the event were estimated at 4,000 to 9,000 due to thyroid cancer.

This is a figure which has to be looked at in context. More deaths occur every year as a result of particulate air pollution from fossil fuel sources than have died as a result of accidents and radiation release from the entire history of nuclear-fuelled energy. Hydroelectric power is no more innocent - the Banqiao Dam collapse in China caused an estimated 26,000 deaths due to flooding and an extra 145,000 due to epidemics and flooding. Imagine the devastation if the likes of the Hoover Dam were to collapse or be destroyed - a large part of western America would be redefined, leading to the deaths of millions.

Considering these figures, the Chernobyl disaster shows less about the inherent dangers of nuclear power than the inherent dangers extant in all energy sources if proper safety precautions are not taken. What is important to remember is that the Chernobyl reactors were of a kind unlike all contemporary Western reactors and that such an event would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to replicate in any modern reactor.

A more relevant nuclear accident was the 1979 Three Mile Island reactor failure. This was a true partial core meltdown in a more modern reactor design, but it isn't at all appropriate for arguing against the dangers of nuclear power - the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported absolutely no deaths as a result of the accident.

Unlike Chernobyl, the Three Mile Island reactors were shielded with concrete, leading to no detectable release of radiation outside of the plant. The disaster is more relevant because it shows that even a potentially more dangerous reactor accident than the Chernobyl disaster could be averted with proper safety procedures. Safety records have only improved since then - there is a higher emphasis on computers, which do not tolerate deviation, unlike humans, and do not make mistakes due to fatigue, et cetera.

So, we move onto the other great big complaint about nuclear power - the problem of nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is universally considered to be a Bad Thing, by all parties involved, including reactor operators, to which it represents wasted power. That is why modern nuclear power plants make provisions to cut down on the amount of waste produced by their power plants.

But before I discuss the problems associated with nuclear waste, there is one matter which has to be considered: the issue of coal waste. According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory of the United States Department of Energy, not only does coal combustion produce 100 times the population effective dose of radiation of nuclear power plants, because of the presence of radioisotopes of thorium and uranium in coal waste, but this nuclear waste in coal ash is equivalent to dozens of nuclear fuel loadings, and in fact is present in such high quantities that there is more energy present in that nuclear waste than is liberated from combustion of that coal.

Yet, there are few people complaining about the problems of disposing of coal waste. At least waste from nuclear reactors is present in one place. But, considering that, I return to the issue of nuclear waste. The usual way of disposing of nuclear waste is to vitrify it, or to turn it into a sort of glass. This would reasonably be combined with reprocessing in order to allow the maximum of energy to be taken from the nuclear material, and leaves the waste with a much lower radioactive dose. Some may consider that the idea of placing nuclear waste underground is dangerous and irresponsible, probably forgetting that the nuclear material came from underground in the first place. In any case, it is far easier to dispose of nuclear waste than it is to dispose of the carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel consumption.

In conclusion, nuclear energy is not a perfect alternative. There are inherent dangers in processing nuclear waste which do lead to expense, if not particular danger, but with fossil fuels becoming increasingly expensive and having inherent dangers associated with them which are far more prevalent than those posed by nuclear energy, and with wind and solar having capacity factors which leads them to be only useful as backup sources of energy at best, it is time to reconsider the advantages of nuclear energy versus the disadvantages.

Weighing them up, I am convinced that the superior capacity factors, scalability and flexibility of nuclear energy, along with the very small amount of material needed to produce energy and its surprisingly exemplary safety record far outweigh the problems posed by nuclear waste, and therefore, I am fully in support of nuclear power as the energy source of the future.
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Re: Nuclear Power: Time to reconsider?

Postby Cynwulf » Sat Mar 28, 2009 1:27 am UTC

Hell yes.

I'm a fairly green person, and although I believe 'renewable' generation (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal) is the way to go, we can't just build those types of plants everywhere right now. Most of those technologies need to be developed or are geographically dependent. Therefore, we can utilize nuclear as a stepping stone from carbon-based to renewable.

France can be viewed as a model for successful nuclear power generation. They boast a fantastic safety and environmental record (except for a booboo in 2008), low energy costs, fuel-waste reclamation, and a surplus of energy (that they sell to their neighbors). With new technology like breeder reactors and thorium fuel, and proper oversight, nuclear power is an excellent short term solution.

The main problem (in the US) is overcoming the 'nuclear fear' that has gripped people since the news-overblown Three Mile Island Accident. Fortunately this attitude, while still shaky, seems to be improving.
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Re: Nuclear Power: Time to reconsider?

Postby drunken » Sat Mar 28, 2009 2:23 am UTC

I am a New Zealander. For those that don"t know my country has a total ban on all nuclear technology due to a popular movement against it. This earned us a lot of stress from the US and other nuclear powers who wanted to do things like base their nuclear powered ships in our harbours.

What is being said in this thread so far is a reasonable point of view and as someone with a basic understanding of the physics and engineering behind the technology I understand and agree to an extent. But I still stand by the policy of my country and would fight against any change. Why this is is difficult and complicated to explain but I will try.

Some of the reasons are local and economic: the majority of our power is hydroelectric and we have many mountains and rivers. We have no uranium deposits so converting to nuclear would cost us immense sums of money without making our power any cleaner or more renewable. But there is more to it than this. I don"t want to sound like a paranoid hippy but we don't fully understand sub atomic physics, it is still a relatively new science. When the technology was first used we were all told that it was safe, but then there were several incidents: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civilian_nuclear_accidents.

Many people claim that most of the incidents were due to human error or lack of routine safety precautions and that in theory the whole world could be nuclear powered without incident. While this is true it is only in theory. In a perfect theoretical world where we have intelligent qualified scientists operating everything and multiple comprehensive emergency and fallback systems, clever people would think of failsafe ways to dispose of the spent fuel and we could boldly conquer the galaxy under a flag of peace and blah blah blah.....

This is a very pretty fantasy but it is nothing more. We live in a world where corporations with few scruples and a burning desire for ever higher profits make policy, and this is the world that lead us to the previous incidents. People are fallible, they get tired or have trouble at home, they can be corrupted by offers of money and power. Machines can malfunction even when excellently maintained. If the whole world converted to nuclear energy the safest assumption is that nuclear disasters would increase proportionally. Also massively increased use would result in a much higher demand for fuel which is a limited resource just like oil. Not to mention the massive increase in spent fuel that would have to be dealt with. It is possible to deal with spent fuel safely but it is very very difficult. Even in Germany which has had nuclear power for some time and are well known for their engineering precision and their practicality of thought, there is a big debate going on about what to do with the waste. Originally they had been burying it in an abandoned mine deep in the earth. All the scientists believed it was safe until it was found that there was some unconsidered factor which allowed groundwater to flow through the area, possibly resulting in increased radiation levels in both natural water bodies and drinking water supplies.

Basically the is a world of difference between nuclear power being potentially safe and being actually safe,. When things go wrong the consequences can be truly devastating. It is also important to think long term, different types of radioactive waste are unsafe for between hundreds of thousands of years and millions of years http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_waste. Think long term, rather than focus on solving you short term ability to power your clothes drier and your big screen tv. Given the rate we are learning new things about high energy and atomic physics how do we know what we might need or do in the next 100,000 years, let alone adding more zeros. We may discover horrible and irreperable consequences of nuclear power that we haven't even considered yet. We may also find amazing a nd wonderful benefits that we haven't even considered yet, but we are talking about a great gamble, and it is one that doesnt need to be taken. The primary motivation for taking this massive risk with the life of our planet and species is greed for energy, and we know from experience that greed leads down dangerous paths. We can avoid the risks by continuing to researcht he technology and the physics but not impimenting anything on a large scale until we have ironed out all the wrinkles and really know what we are doing, ask me about this in 200 years and I may give a different answer. All we have to sacrifice for this safety is our culture of immediate gratification and our insatiable greed, things which are truly unsustainable anyway, and far more dangerous than the nuclear fuel that supports them.
***This post is my own opinion and no claim is being made that it is in any way scientific nor intended to be construed as such by any reader***

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Re: Nuclear Power: Time to reconsider?

Postby polymer » Sat Mar 28, 2009 2:45 am UTC

The consequences regarding nuclear waste are realistic to manageable in contrast to other wastes. The op never stated that it didn't have problems, rather that its problems are easier to deal with then the problems associated with current wastes. You haven't given a convincing argument for why this isn't the case. He also did a good job putting observed nuclear accidents in context of other accidents. Unless you can realistically argue that nuclear accidents will be more common or more dangerous then other solar/hydro/whatever accidents, then nuclear power despite its risks still comes out as the better option...

RAKtheUndead:Appreciated your essay, it was one of the better ones I've seen, will be paying attention to this thread for some counter-arguments.

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Re: Nuclear Power: Time to reconsider?

Postby SummerGlauFan » Sat Mar 28, 2009 3:29 am UTC

@ Drunken

I hope I can shed some light on your concerns about the safety of nuclear power. There is a type of reactor called the pebble bed reactor. In layman's terms, the pebble bed reactor is utterly incapable of melting down. It is a self-regulating reaction, and even if you remove all the coolant and safety systems, the reaction will still self-regulate and prevent a meltdown. It does this because the reaction is naturally tempurature-dependent; the higher the tempurature, the slower the reaction becomes.

As for issues of nuclear waste: I and others have stated in the fora before that there are effective ways of all but eliminating the hazards of nuclear waste. The best method is waste reprocessing. A typical chunk of "spent fuel" is in fact a 95% pure chunk of fuel, it's just the outer bit that is spent. By removing the 5% impurity, you can re-use the spent fuel as well as greatly reducing the hazard from the truly depleted 5%. The real waste is much less of a threat because a), it's not tied up with a huge chunk of pure fuel and thuse not anywhere near as radioactive, and b), it is much less volume and mass, making it much easier to store.

For your country, New Zealand, it's great that you get so much of your power from renewable sources. I applaud your country for doing that. However, most of the rest of the wolrd doesn't, and it's not likely to be practical to get it to do so anytime soon. Nuclear power has the option of providing clean power for the world.
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Re: Nuclear Power: Time to reconsider?

Postby Seraph » Sat Mar 28, 2009 6:21 am UTC

RAKtheUndead wrote:- Nuclear power is flexible. Because nuclear reactors are constantly running while not being routinely maintained, they can cope with surges in demand easily, such as those in the morning or evening. Wind and solar power lack this capacity, being dependent on weather conditions.

Nuclear power plants are used as baseload plants. They can not "cope with surges in demand easily". In order to do that you need to use a peaking plant, the majority of which are natural gas, or oil fired. Trying to use a nuclear plant to deal with the unevenness of demand is either going to strain the eqipment, or result in a lot of unused capacity in the plant. Solar and wind are also unable to respond to demend, but have the advantage that their output is somewhat related to the natural demand curve.

- Nuclear power has an exemplary safety record in most modern nuclear countries. There have been absolutely no fatal accidents in France and Japan, for instance.

I'm not particulary familiar with the nuclear program in France, but the Japanese program is riddled with accidents and coverups, and claiming that there have never been fatal accidents there is a blad faced lie. The Tokaimura nuclear accident in Japan back in 1999 killed two people, and exposed over 100. There was also another another incident in 1999 which didn't kill anyone, but was covered up by the Hokuriku Electric Company for almost 10 years.

The first thing that most people would think of when they hear the word "Chernobyl" would probably be, "meltdown". That would be incorrect. Chernobyl was not a meltdown of the traditional kind - it was a power excursion which caused a steam explosion, which would not have been anywhere near as devastating if the reactor had been enclosed with concrete. When the disaster was first realised, the technicians attempted the SCRAM procedure, which was ineffective due to the previously discussed design flaws - pointing to both abominable design and human error as causes of the disaster.

They had molten nuclear fuel oozing into spaces under the reactor, had to kill a few people to drain the bubbler pool to avoid a 2nd steam explosion as a reuslt of the molten fuel. What definition of meltdown are you using that doesn't count the reactor fuel melting?

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Re: Nuclear Power: Time to reconsider?

Postby Cynwulf » Sat Mar 28, 2009 7:06 am UTC

I will not argue the fact that Chernobyl was an absolute disaster, but I really don't think it should be used to demonize an entire industry or technology. Otherwise the Ford Pinto proves all cars are four-wheeled exploding coffins.

Let's not forget a few factors in Chernobyl: negligent operation of an old and unsafe reactor design built and run by a failing Soviet Union.

For everyone so concerned with getting poisoned by nuclear waste, you might want to consider that you've also been poisoned by radioactive material and mercury from coal for a long time.
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Re: Nuclear Power: Time to reconsider?

Postby GoodRudeFun » Sat Mar 28, 2009 11:34 am UTC

I strongly agree that nuclear power is one of our best options right now. Though I doubt it's going to be a serious permanent long term solution, it would at least solve a lot of the issues we have right now, and serve as a nice hold over while we develop more renewable energy resources. There's also the fact that an increase in the use of nuclear power would result in an increase in time and money invested into researching nuclear power, possibly even giving us the chance to discover viable cold fusion technology.

Though honestly, nothing is going to be better than reducing our over all consumption. Even if we develop unlimited free energy, we still have the issue of the heat pollution that would cause, and other used up resources. If we reduce our over all consumption of not just energy but everything else, we wouldn't have to worry as much. The problem is that we have a consumer based economy, and doing so would be counter intuitive to economic prosperity with our current set up. If we could move away from our rampant consumer based economy, then reducing our over all consumption might simply result from that.
Oh. Well that's alright then.

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Re: Nuclear Power: Time to reconsider?

Postby tKircher » Sat Mar 28, 2009 12:23 pm UTC

While i've always advocated nuclear power over the less-efficient and safe methods currently used (especially in the green spectrum, wind and solar are disgustingly inefficient), it's unlikely to catch on due to a couple factors.

1. Stigma. You may have reasonably addressed all the concerns of nuclear power and shown how flimsy they are, but try convincing the majority of Americans of that when the word "nuclear" is used in place of "catastrophic" in colloquial usage.

2. Regulation. The U.S. has such stringent laws and regulations on the construction on new nuclear power plants that it takes a minimum of 25 years to simply obtain the permits and cut through the red tape to begin building one. The ones we have now are far less efficient and less safe than ones we can make currently, simply because no madman has the money to waste on such beaurocratics [sic]. It's nigh impossible to remove such regulations, primarily because Congressmen are subject to Factor #1.

3. Cost. Nuclear power may be light years ahead of gas- and coal-burning technologies, but it has the unique problem of high initial investment, even when disregarding the cost of dealing with government restriction. Nuclear generators take an insane amount of planning, preparation, materials, people, and cash to pull off, and take at least a few years to construct. Compare this to the relatively quick and cheap "burner" units that we use now, and any idiot would tell you that the burners win in terms of money.

In a scientific sense, none of these arguments hold water. The energy is cheaper, safer, and cleaner than the current solution. In a political sense, these three factors crush any possibility of reform (you try getting people to battle uphill against popular opinion and paperwork).

And, of course, political finances crush scientific truth at every turn (see the Global Climate Change theory).

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Re: Nuclear Power: Time to reconsider?

Postby TheStranger » Sat Mar 28, 2009 1:08 pm UTC

I've been a big fan of nuclear power for many years now... and have always supported its implementation above dirtier sources (hydrocarbon) and less efficient (wind/solar) sources. The general public needs to be educated to these facts... because all they usually hear are the nay-sayers.

An interesting tidbit regarding nuclear waste disposal... there have been some advancements in using nuclear fusion to process nuclear waste material... using the neutrons created by fusion to accelerate the decay of nuclear waste if I recall correctly.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Azrael » Sat Mar 28, 2009 3:32 pm UTC

Merged because 90% of what can/has/will be brought up in this new thread is already in this other one.

Go forth and read.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby cypherspace » Sat Mar 28, 2009 10:00 pm UTC

mosc wrote:
cypherspace wrote:even a 1% increase (in efficiency) saves hundreds of millions of pounds. There's no specific drive towards any figure, but the natural evolution of the system is towards greater efficiency in general.
Yes it would. It would also cost THOUSANDS of millions of pounds to achieve. It would be a puny cost-benefit to try and reduce costs by reducing losses. Efficiency can be 99% if you want, you just have to PAY. It's not worth it. You already have the most COST efficient grid possible.(more or less)
This reply may be out of date, but: Please don't treat me like an idiot. You may work in this field, but so do I. I never said we should attempt to increase efficiency through any means other than natural replacement of old parts. Alright?
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby NarwhaleAttired » Sun Mar 29, 2009 2:11 am UTC

Comic JK wrote:Solar power is even more expensive than nuclear, to be sure, but wind seems to cost less: http://peswiki.com/energy/Directory:Cents_Per_Kilowatt-Hour


Maybe a little behind the current discussion, but let's just consider the feasibility of solar power.
World energy use in 2005 was 500 exajoules (5 x 10^20 J) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_energy_resources_and_consumption, and in the best possible locations, solar panels get around 6 kwh per m^2 per day.(best possible year averaged results from http://rredc.nrel.gov/solar/old_data/nsrdb/redbook/atlas/serve.cgi). That's about 2.16 X 10^7 joules per m^2 per d, or 7.884 x 10^9 joules per m^2 per year. With 50% efficient solar panels, which is far better than what our current best is, we'd need 1.268 x 10^11 m^2 (126800 km^2) of solar panels(!!) to cover the world's current energy usage. To put that into perspective, that means we'd have to cover the entire surface of Greece in solar panels.

Solar panels at the very cheapest cost around $(US)100 per meter squared, so this would cost about US$1.268 x 10^13. World GP in 2007 was around about US$5.4 x 10^13 http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DATASTATISTICS/Resources/GDP.pdf.

Of course, we'd want this solar panel system to work in the future, so we'd have to consider that most undeveloped countries don't use much energy at the moment, but would expect to in the future.
If every country in the world reached similar standards to current high income nations, world energy use per capita, and so world energy use, would approximately triple. http://earthtrends.wri.org/text/energy-resources/variable-351.html.
This puts our area up to 380400 km^2, or a little larger than Germany. The cost also increases to be comparable to current world GDP(though obviously this would dramatically increase in this situation). That's not even including population growth in this time.

So, solar energy will really never be feasible to cover all or even most of the world's energy needs. At least until we build a dyson sphere.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Sharlos » Sun Mar 29, 2009 4:49 am UTC

Why would we be be powering the entire planet's power needs from one source? Even now we use nuclear, hydro, oil, gas, coal. Also, as time goes on (and the efficiency of solar panels goes up, we'd need less space for the same amount of power.

You also are forgetting that solar panels can be put on the roofs of buildings already there, that are already taking up more space than the size of germany.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby NarwhaleAttired » Sun Mar 29, 2009 5:09 am UTC

Sharlos wrote:Why would we be be powering the entire planet's power needs from one source? Even now we use nuclear, hydro, oil, gas, coal. Also, as time goes on (and the efficiency of solar panels goes up, we'd need less space for the same amount of power.

You also are forgetting that solar panels can be put on the roofs of buildings already there, that are already taking up more space than the size of germany.


The same problems arise for ANY significant fraction of the world's power supply coming from solar power. Even just 10% of it would cost about 2% of world annual GDP in materials costs alone, let alone set up and maintenance. I already assumed a solar panel that is twice as efficient as current best technology, and priced it at the level of current technology, so my calculations are, if anything, underestimating the enormous problems involved.

And if you put solar panels on building roofs, that means you're taking away all the energy that's normally going into the building roof. Which means more heating costs, which means more energy usage.

Another issue is that we just aren't making anywhere near enough high quality silicon, and won't in the forseeable future.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Sharlos » Sun Mar 29, 2009 8:23 am UTC

well I guess that just depends on where you are building these solar panels. In many parts of the planet they would be useless while in some parts they would be very useful.

In Australia having a solar panel on your roof would give you the most electricity when you are using it the most (on air conditioning). I doubt you are going to have the same benifit in the northern parts of America or northern Europe.

Are solar panels ready for mass use at the moment? I'd have to agree with you and say no, but there are various methods being researched at cheaper/more efficient alternatives that will likely work well.

In a country like australia with a lot of sunlight (and a fair amount of electricity use during the hotter periods of the day) solar seems like a fairly logical supplement to our power supply. Whatever our country uses we definately need to stop using so many coal power plants.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Zamfir » Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:15 am UTC

The Dutch government recently made its new subsidy schedule known. The goal of the subisidies is to give a constant subsidy per kWh, with a maximum of X kW worth of projects in total, and the size of the subsidy is determined as the amount needed to make a particular technology competitive with normal energy. So presumably, it is a good estimate of the extra cost involved.

The large part is subsidy for wind eenrgy, set at 9.4 eurocents per kWh, and i think they are thinking of increasing it a bit for off-shore. PV-solar on the other hand requires 45 cents to be competitive, and a similar amount for tide energy. So those last two are limited in the number of projects they will support, it is more meant to encourage than to really provide a large scale alternative for normal power.

If you take into account that coal power is more in the 5 cent range, excluding delivery, it is clear that at this moment, wind energy is only an alternative when subsidized, and solar is really not a serious alternative yet. But again, the subsidy is also meant to stimulate development for the future.

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Re: Nuclear Power: Time to reconsider?

Postby mosc » Mon Mar 30, 2009 2:44 pm UTC

Seraph wrote:
RAKtheUndead wrote:- Nuclear power is flexible. Because nuclear reactors are constantly running while not being routinely maintained, they can cope with surges in demand easily, such as those in the morning or evening. Wind and solar power lack this capacity, being dependent on weather conditions.

Nuclear power plants are used as baseload plants. They can not "cope with surges in demand easily". In order to do that you need to use a peaking plant, the majority of which are natural gas, or oil fired. Trying to use a nuclear plant to deal with the unevenness of demand is either going to strain the eqipment, or result in a lot of unused capacity in the plant. Solar and wind are also unable to respond to demend, but have the advantage that their output is somewhat related to the natural demand curve.

Bullshit. Nuclear in the united states does not follow demand because it is so cheap to run. There's no reason to. HOWEVER, the plant itself is VERY MUCH like a coal plant in it's ability to respond to changes in demand. France, for example, uses nuclear almost exclusively to respond to changes in demand. There is an issue of failure response (when a substantial portion of the grid generation goes offline unexpectedly) which require very fast units but for the demand curve itself, Nuclear works very well.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Zamfir » Mon Mar 30, 2009 3:08 pm UTC

I seem to rember that the EPR, France's new design, was aimed at a maximum of 200 load changes a year, although I can't find this exact number anymore, making it suitable for daily load changing but not shorter term. That would be comparable, perhaps a bit better than a coal plant. But for both coal and nuclear, you only want to change load when all the oil and gas plants are already closed, because their fuel use is more expensive.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Mon Mar 30, 2009 6:11 pm UTC

Right... but you're missing the point. If you HAVE sufficient nuclear generation, you can simply run less of it. Granted if you don't have enough you're better off maximizing your nuclear and then adjusting everything else (because the nuclear is cheapest to run) but that has nothing to do with the technology itself. The nuclear plant COULD respond to demand, you're just creating an economic situation of scarcity where you're better of with it NOT following demand.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Tusket » Mon Mar 30, 2009 6:18 pm UTC

There are several other forms of emerging energy technology,one isn't really new but is gaining a foothold and that's natural gas cars , they produce between 80 to 90% cleaner exhaust and a gge(gas gallon equivalent is about 67 cents before taxes are added.another form that's gaining steam is the use of algae as an energy maker,that work is rapidly coming to fruition and stands a very good chance of being the next big thing.As far as electric power production the clear winner in ecology and cost is geothermal , not all places can support geothermal but those that can would be wise to invest in it, the people of Iceland are blazing a trail in that technology and have made huge advances , enough to change the world.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Mon Mar 30, 2009 6:30 pm UTC

It's hard to sell me on gas when you consider how easy hydrogen is to do now. Fuel cells are just around the corner. Emissions are a thing of the past when you're working with hydrogen. Exhaust is water.

Plus, hydrogen can be dispensed in liquid form VERY similar to gasoline stations. True you can do similar with natural gas, but hydrogen doesn't require fossil fuels or combustion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_FCX_Clarity
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby SummerGlauFan » Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:28 pm UTC

mosc wrote:It's hard to sell me on gas when you consider how easy hydrogen is to do now. Fuel cells are just around the corner. Emissions are a thing of the past when you're working with hydrogen. Exhaust is water.

Plus, hydrogen can be dispensed in liquid form VERY similar to gasoline stations. True you can do similar with natural gas, but hydrogen doesn't require fossil fuels or combustion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_FCX_Clarity


This. This very much. Hydrogen fuel cells are one of the few realistic power sources that I support even more than nuclear.

Plus, the infrastructure would be even simpler than the current gasoline one is; all a hydrogen fueling station needs is connection to the water and power networks. The only downside I see is a temporary loss of jobs because fuel delivery trucks are no longer needed.
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I knew from that moment that she was something special"


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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby mosc » Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:50 pm UTC

Uh? What?

Hydrogen is not a fuel source, it's essentially a storage mechanism.
1) You Make electricity
2) You use it to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen.
3) You deliver that Hydrogen to a Car
4) You use a fuel cell to turn that Hydrogen back into water delivering power to the car

Basically, Hydrogen cars put MORE use on the electric grid which means you'll need MORE electricity generation. "More than nuclear" makes no sense. One is an energy source, the other is an means of storage. Hydrogen cars highlight the ridiculously huge and rising need for massive investment in nuclear power. If we have massive amounts of clean electricity, we have massive amounts of clean fuel.
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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby SummerGlauFan » Mon Mar 30, 2009 10:02 pm UTC

Mosc, I believe you misunderstood me.

Yes, I know hydrogen fuel cells are going to be (mostly) limited to vehicles. Most of why I support them is due to their ability to reduce/eliminate emmissions from cars.

When I said I support it more than nuclear power, I was mostly trying to point out how much I like hydrogen as a power source for vehicles, considering how many posts I have made that are pro-nuclear.

I support nuclear as being the primary source of grid power, supplemented by renewable sources, of course. I support hydrogen as a means for powering vehicles. I know there's a difference.

Long story short, you and I are in agreement. We just had a communications breakdown somewhere. ;)
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I knew from that moment that she was something special"


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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby BattleMoose » Tue Mar 31, 2009 9:45 am UTC

Slightly Offtopic.

Hydrogen cars or electric vehicles.

I have been favouring electric vehicles over hydrogen powered ones.

They both have zero emission at point of use and for comparative discussion, the same electeric source as well.

Not entirely sure how they compare energy efficient wise, I think electric vehicles come out abit better. Electric vehicles are a proven concept, with good working models out at the moment, the only real disadvantage that I see is that it takes a while to charge a battery, so filling up becomes abit more complicated. A system could be developed where an empty battery is replaced with a charged one, at a "filling station."

While hydrogen does have some significant cons.
Explosive combustiable gas on board the car. (Granted electric batteries aren't without danger)
Burns with a clear flame, difficult for emergency services to determine if there is a fire at a crash scene.
Stored at cold temperature, difficult to store, requires refrigeration, energy expense, leaks easily.
An entire industry and distribution network for producing hydrgoen would need to be established, although it would be possible to produce hydrogen on site at a filling station, probably not the most efficient or cost effective route to go.

Also electric vehicles can have a motor on each wheel, providing a level of control thats never been experiened before in cars.

Electric vehicles seem to come out as a clear winner over hydrogen powered ones, well to me anyway, comments?

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby Zamfir » Tue Mar 31, 2009 10:25 am UTC

I would make a distiction between hydrogen burning cars and hydrogen fuel cells. The first is currently easy to do without much change to existing cars, and therefore an easy trick for car manufacturers to produce "hydrogen cars" for PR purposes. But the overall efficiency of producing hydrogen and them burning it is horrible, so you are completely right that electric cars are better.

But electricity from fuel cells does have a future, perhaps not in automotive if it doesn't get cheaper and storage smaller and lighter, but people will continue working on it for industrial purposes.

the current best battery tech is not good enough to give a range comparable to gas-powered cars. I have no doubt that we will see a lot more electric power in cars the coming decade, but fully electric vehicles really need even higher capacity batteries than lithium batteries. It is possible, but not obvious as far as I know, that those batteries are going to be there, so if in 10 or 20 years gas is expensive and batteries did not make another leap in technology, fuel cells might be able to compete.

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Re: Let's Talk About Energy Production

Postby BattleMoose » Tue Mar 31, 2009 10:36 am UTC

But electricity from fuel cells does have a future, perhaps not in automotive if it doesn't get cheaper and storage smaller and lighter, but people will continue working on it for industrial purposes.


The entire purpose of my post was to disuss why people think hydrogen powered cars (fuel cells or otherwise) have a future within automobiles.

I listed all the pros and cons that I know of regarding the two technologies.

the current best battery tech is not good enough to give a range comparable to gas-powered cars. I have no doubt that we will see a lot more electric power in cars the coming decade, but fully electric vehicles really need even higher capacity batteries than lithium batteries. It is possible, but not obvious as far as I know, that those batteries are going to be there, so if in 10 or 20 years gas is expensive and batteries did not make another leap in technology, fuel cells might be able to compete.


And this, from wikipedia, Tesla roadster, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesla_Roadster

The Roadster can travel 244 miles (393 km) on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery pack, and can accelerate from 0–60 mph (0–97 km/h) in 3.9 seconds.


Cars are by the far majority used for city driving and I hardly ever commute more than 393km in a single day. (Incidentally I commuted more than 700kms on Sunday but that was a rare exception and completely beside the point) A range of even 100km should be good enough for a car designed for city commuting. So yeah, the technology is here and it works.


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