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Old 05-23-2019, 08:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
But now we are trying to implement it in Alberta, which gets half the solar insolation as the equator and has a factor of three difference between the amount of available solar power in winter vs summer - a much more expensive proposition.
I'm not going to argue in favor of every renewable project out there--clearly, some of them are dumb. The entire German solar experiment is dumb, IMO.

But at the same time, the US in particular has a tremendous amount of land available for PV. More than enough to supply the entire continent if desired. It's dumb to produce solar in Alberta when it can be produced in New Mexico and shipped north. We can build a grid intertie that moves the power around. And Canada has excellent hydroelectric resources that I suspect an be exploited further for long term storage, so a grid link will work well in both directions.

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We're already putting them in the best places, but the rate of new power generation will slow as we have to start using more marginal locations.
We've hardly started on offshore wind farms, and that's an absolutely prime location. Yeah, there will be complaints--both from Martha's Vineyard types and misguided greenies--but I don't expect this to be a serious obstacle in the long run.

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Likewise, there is no evidence that the rate of production that is sustained at current levels can be easily scaled to produce say, 10X as much without creating major shortages and price spikes of raw materials which will drive up the price of renewables, slowing demand.
We don't need 10x. As noted, the current rate will get us there in ~30 years. It would be nice to halve this, say. 2x does not seem a huge stretch.

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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
Even if renewables are a grid parity, losing the subsidies will lower demand.
Spot prices during peak production for renewables will be much lower than gas and others, even without subsidies. Storage will push the average prices back up, but the cost effects will still be disruptive.

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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
Germany has resorted to paying factories to close because they couldn't provide enough power to keep them running.
In some sense, this is exactly what we want: low productivity factories stop working when they can't afford the current price of energy. The way you phrase it, "paying factories to close" sounds like politically charged language, and I don't know what the real meaning is there. But the basic principle that renewables bring larger variation in prices and there may be times of day when some consumers are better off shutting down is completely legitimate.

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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
And so far, the rate of adoption of renewables has not even been fast enough to keep up with world energy growth, let alone replace current energy sources.
It's kept up in the US. Different nations face different problems, so what holds true here may not hold true elsewhere.

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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
No, it isn't. In terms of engineering, if we wanted to get to 100% renewable in two decades we'd already have to have the whole design and be well on the way towards breaking ground for every facility we'd need - many thousands of them. We are still at the point where we are debating what to do
It feels like your data is coming from a decade or two ago. Renewables are already being built at a massive scale. And unlike coal and nuclear which require an enormous lead time, we don't know--or have to know--about solar/wind projects just a few years out.

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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
Would you accept a plan to accelerate nuclear utilization through modernizing existing plants or building a new plant on the same site, therefore avoiding a number of regulatory or NIMBY hurdles? That seems like at least a reasonable place to start. We could begin construction of new plants on the sites where existing plants are, and if they come online while the existing plant is still working we can feed both into the grid. Then when the old plant needs to be decommissioned, the new one can just take its place.
In principle, sure. But where's the example of this happening anywhere? Instead, we can barely keep plants open that have been running fine for years. Maybe stanch the blood on those first.

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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
All of which add more cost and more inefficiency. Pumped hydro loses energy at the pump, through friction in the pipes, evaporation in the reservoir, friction coming down the pipes, and generation losses. All in, you're probably losing 20-40% of your energy to storage losses.
So? This is no more relevant than saying half of all coal energy goes up the flue as low-grade heat. Sure, it would be nice to capture that lost energy, but it's a meaningless number by itself.

Also, your numbers, while not exactly wrong, are on the pessimistic side. >80% is achievable and I think <70% is uncommon.

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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
Things we've really never done at scale, with unknown effects on the economy. Clean, undisturbed, constant power is a vital input to our manufacturing economy. It is dangerous to screw with it.
Too bad, but we don't have a choice. It's wishful thinking that we'll make it through the next few decades with zero economic disruptions, and we need to be thinking of solutions that will very likely ameliorate the worst effects instead of approaches that have a slim probability of letting us continue the current usage model and a high probability of failing utterly and exposing us to the worst effects.

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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
Why would it be expensive? The majority cost of a natural gas plant is fuel cost, and if the demand for natural gas declines the cost of it will decline until there's a new equilibrium. Under your scenario natural gas would decline in price to whatever the cheapest source is, so long as it is sufficient to fill demand.
The majority cost of a natural gas plant that's running most of the time is fuel. Not so for one running a small percentage of the time, which would be the case if solar is providing cheap power during daylight hours and wind is supplying somewhat variable nighttime power.

We already have peaker plants for similar scenarios, and they are very expensive. So expensive that batteries can already take over their role much of the time.