The California Power Mess

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ABMax24

Minister of Fire
Sep 18, 2019
1,316
Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada
I guess you missed my point,, "leaving aside the whole topic of climate change" is the point. Resource depletion used to be the issue, aka Peak Oil. The far greater issue is disposing of the waste CO2 from burning carbon before the climate is so degraded that world population starts to plummet. There will be plenty of fossil fuels available long after the climate is past the tipping point. Unless the world stops using them, the remaining human population will not need them. Already large oil majors are writing down their high cost recoverable reserves as even they have seen the writing on the wall that the atmosphere can not absorb the carbon from the current reserves let alone new discoveries.

It is interesting to me that Peak Oil may actually have occurred not due to lack of resource but lack of ability to deal with the waste products.

You can pull whatever information you want to make your point, but atmospheric CO2 levels paint the factual story. With very few exceptions we set records for the amount of CO2 dumped into the atmosphere every year. It took what 65 years to go from 300ppm to 400ppm? My guess is it will take less than 50 years to go from 400ppm to 500ppm. Fossil fuel use on a per capita basis may have gone down slightly from the peak, but the total amount is still increasing.

A major shift is needed to change this, and I don't see it happening. China and India continue to amass wealth and with it the funds to purchase and consume more fossil fuels. Even in Canada and the US there is a significant portion of the population that can't be convinced that climate change is occurring, or is human induced.

I stand by my statement, we may never completely "run out" of fossil fuels, but the cheap to extract ones will be exhausted before alternative energy completely takes over. Even if the western world limits their extraction, Russia, China, the Middle East, and Africa will continue the extraction.
 

SidecarFlip

Minister of Fire
Feb 7, 2010
5,273
S.E. Michigan
At 70 and a cancer survivor, I'm not concerned much with what if's. My tenure here is limited anyway and I intend to have fun while it lasts and that fun don't have anything to do with carbon footprint or peak oil or the Green New Deal or a 4 wheel toaster either. Someone else can agonize over that stuff. I'll be a long time into my dirt nap when that comes down. Until then. I'll enjoy my infernal combustion engines (gas) and my smoking pre 4 emissions diesels too. Diesel smoke.... hillbilly incense.
 

thecoalman

Member
Jul 18, 2008
50
Coal Country
coalpail.com
You totally missed my point.

But yes we would run out fossil fuels, as is the case with the exploitation of any finite resource.


Obviuosly there is a limit but here in the US as a practical matter it might as well be infinite especially where the coal is concerned. If you did absolutely nothing to curb it's use it would be inevitable that technology would superseded it before the supply ran out. Estimated recoverable reserves adjusted for current growth and using today's tech is about 125 years. That is just the coal they know with abosulute certainty exists and can be feasibly mined, total estimated reserves including unknown deposits is off the charts and may be a few thousand years.
 

SidecarFlip

Minister of Fire
Feb 7, 2010
5,273
S.E. Michigan
None of it concerns me. I'll be long time gone.
 

Mech e

Feeling the Heat
Feb 26, 2019
385
NorCal
www.dtengineer.com
The power mess in CA can be solved by allowing competition, repairing/updating the delivery system and maintaining it, and moving back to nuclear power generation.
 

Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
19,524
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
I agree that nuclear is what will save us. It’s so easy and simple. We put reactors, sometimes two, on boats for crying out loud and have been for decades.They’re all over the place and we’re jacking around with coal, oil, gas, windmills,etc.
 
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woodgeek

Minister of Fire
Jan 27, 2008
4,440
SE PA
I'm all in for nuclear from an engineering POV, but cost seems to be a big factor. Since most analysts think that nuclear costs 2-3X what renewables cost, and more than renewables + storage at today's prices, there you are. Absolutely fine for powering a sub or carrier (where the cost difference is negligible), but for running my microwave....nope.

And its not obvious that more engineering will bring costs down....we've already spent trillions on nuclear tech (today $$s). We shoould be down the learning curve, no?

Of course, a lot of that money was non-competitive, so learning curve doesn't apply. Not unlike rocket science. We spent trillions there too, building and flying 1960s tech in a non-competitive (satellite launch) marketplace. And lots of moaning about the costs. And then SpaceX shows that there ARE innovation possibilities (like much better engines and hypersonic retro-propulsion to enable landinds), brings down costs by a factor of 3 (while building all the hardware in the Bay Area), and captures the whole launch global market in a few years.

So I can't rule out nukes, but we could wait decades for someone like NukeX to come along and innovate to lower costs.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,779
Northern NH
The small factory produced modular reactors are the only short term option. B&W has been building nukes for the navy for a long time, they were in the running but I think the parent company bankruptcy knocked them out.
 

woodgeek

Minister of Fire
Jan 27, 2008
4,440
SE PA
It could be harder to be a 'disruptive' startup in nuclear, versus aerospace or other tech, bc a lot of the issues are material issues that take years if not decades to show up. With a rocket, its one and done. Test fire it, fly it, collect your cash.
 

ABMax24

Minister of Fire
Sep 18, 2019
1,316
Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada
Technologically I think Nuclear is feasible, I think the engineering, and construction are possible within reasonable time frames.

The issue is public perception, the incidents with Fukishima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island will cause mass protests, particularly if the project is well publicized. We face this daily with oil and gas, we can't get pipelines built because of the lengthy approval processes driven by the opinion (of in many cases) the uninformed public. In the Northeast US, powerplants are being built dual fuel, and in some places there are moratoriums on new natural gas service because there isn't enough gas available to supply demand. So instead oil and even coal are being used in place. Sure makes sense doesn't it?

Nuclear will face the same uphill battle, and will face problems finding investment, no one wants to put up billions of dollars and wait years or even a decade before the first shovel hits the dirt, if the project even gets approved.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
91,299
South Puget Sound, WA
Nuclear will face the same uphill battle, and will face problems finding investment, no one wants to put up billions of dollars and wait years or even a decade before the first shovel hits the dirt, if the project even gets approved.
Agreed. And then there is the expensive and unresolved waste problem that continues to fester.
 
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ABMax24

Minister of Fire
Sep 18, 2019
1,316
Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada
Agreed. And then there is the expensive and unresolved waste problem that continues to fester.

I know there's a few people that figure the waste could come up north and be disposed of in the abandoned uranium mines, since the surrounding rock is fairly impermeable and radioactive anyway.

A similar concept could be used for the powerplants themselves, if the uranium could be mined, processed, consumed, and disposed of on one location in the north it limits the risk of radioactive contamination. Particularly if all facilities were placed underground to avoid contact with the atmosphere in the event of an incident. One major issue with this is transmitting the energy to market, it would require an extensive transmission system to get the energy south.

At some point we are going to have to do something we don't want to. Do we build wind turbines and solar farms in every corner of the globe? Do we mine lithium by the the millions of tons to store the intermittent energy from wind and solar? Do we build nuclear plants to provide a source of consistent energy to the market and understand that it comes with the issue of dealing with the waste? Or do we continue to burn fossil fuels as we head for 500ppm CO2, and continue to quibble about the small issues with any other energy form?
My bet is placed on the last one.
 

CaptSpiff

Minister of Fire
Jan 13, 2014
550
Long Island, NY
Agreed. And then there is the expensive and unresolved waste problem that continues to fester.
The dangers from mis-operating a Nuclear Plant are real and present; the storage of spent fuel is many orders of risk lower.
We need to focus on developing a nuclear plant process that fails safe, with automatic runbacks that won't jeopardize an operators job. The way to solve the later is to build smaller 200-300 MW plants that don't have the financial and grid impact of the present 1000-1200 MW units. One of the biggest risks is when a human operator tries to "save or ride thru" an abnormality because the cost and scrutiny of any runback or shutdown is potential career ending.

And yes, the classroom training already says "if in doubt, shut it down", but textbook seldom holds in realtime ops.
 

semipro

Minister of Fire
Jan 12, 2009
4,103
SW Virginia
And yes, the classroom training already says "if in doubt, shut it down", but textbook seldom holds in realtime ops.
It's interesting that the very act of shutting down the Chernobyl reactor is what ultimately destroyed it.

I've been ingesting a lot of info lately about nuclear power and unintended nuclear excursions and the one thing that strikes me the most is that despite engineering in multiple failsafe systems nature has a way of showing us the error of our ways through the exercise of probabilities as we take on the impossible quest of identifying those edge case scenarios that may result in failures.

There are still many things we don't understand about the longer-term effects of radiation on materials as @woodgeek mentioned.

A recent paper reveals some interesting info on how nuclear compares to renewables WRT carbon emissions. I haven't read this paper but I can't help but believe that nuclear is not quite the cure-all as touted when life-cycle costs are considered.
 
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woodgeek

Minister of Fire
Jan 27, 2008
4,440
SE PA
Lots of informed opinion about nukes around here, but I would add that the current uranium fuel cycle is terribly inefficient. So we have these conventional reactors that are terribly expensive to build on a $/Watt perspective, and which are so inefficient at burning U that at modestly expanded hypothetical use rates we would run out of uranium in decades, not centuries. The industry got a shot in the arm with a lot of cheap enriched uranium becoming available after the end of the Cold War, but that has worked through the system.

So a long term quasi-sustainable nuclear industry is unlikely for TWO reasons, the conventional plants are both too costly AND not sustainable. Of course, we can break out stories about breeders and Thorium, which would enable centuries of power production, but there is no reason to think that those systems can be built more cheaply than the existing conventional plants. So we need to solve the cost problem twice over....first to make conventional nuke plants cheaper than renewables AND then to do it again with breeders/thorium plants.

And while all that is happening, the cost of renewables and lithium batteries will just keep falling. Good luck winning that race.
 

Mech e

Feeling the Heat
Feb 26, 2019
385
NorCal
www.dtengineer.com
I don't think better batteries will solve CA's energy woes. If things turn out well in November, perhaps this initiative will move forward:

 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,779
Northern NH
One of the larger owners of hydro electric power plants in my area, Brookfield, is in the process of installing batteries adjacent to their mostly run of the river hydro plants. They bought a lot of the former hydro plants that supplied the large pulp and paper complexes in Northern New England (and were arguably the death knell for at least two of the pulp and paper mills). Unlike the big dams in the Southeast and West coast many of the original dams were "run of the river" dams with no signficant upstream storage. That means that the dams generate power 24/7 no matter what the power demand is. Of late wholesale power rates during off peak hours drops significantly to the point where they can go negative. Installing batteries allows the dam operator to charge them up when the rates are low and discharge them when the rates are high. Even with a big upstream reservoir, a conventional hydro plant without batteries generally have to maintain a minimum river flow at the discharge of the dam as widely varying flows and lake elevations have significant environmental issues so having batteries in addition to reservoir allows faster response for power demand. There are various markets in the region for fast response power supply and a premium paid for "green power" during these fast supply events. These markets are generally quite profitable so its win for the regional grid.

Many of these dams date back to the early 1900s, some were there long before there was a grid. A couple of the dams that my former employer owned before Brookfield were historic landmarks. Interesting to see the new life they can get out of them by adding batteries. One of the other hydro systems they bought 20 years ago was a 40 cycle system as that was the arbitrary frequency that the pulp and paper mills used when they were built. 40 Cycle works fine for motors although the synchronous speed is different but they give a distinct flicker to incandescents. The local people had to buy clocks set up for 40 cycle as otherwise the clocks would be off.
 
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