Why isn't electricity cheaper?


#1085

Renewable to me means that the material is regenerated as in bio-fuel which grows to replace the material consumed, in the case of the uranium, it’s harvested from the sea after it leeches out of the ground, the material is not regenerated.


#1086

The seawater content of uranium is regenerated to replace the material consumed. The fact that it comes from a finite reservoir is no different from the energy of solar photons for biofuel, which are similarly finite. Usable energy in the entire universe is finite in the long run. The concept of “renewability” contains an implicit timescale. Seawater uranium and solar photons are renewable over similar timescales so it is arbitrary to consider one renewable and not the other.


#1087

Biofuel? All good in theory but mostly a big scam. Cutting down mature forests to grow crap like palm oil and sugar cane.


#1088

Agreed, but it is a good way to restore land that has already been stripped of its natural vegetation, for example much of the bogland in Ireland would have originally been forest.


#1089

There Is Very Little Potential for biofuels on irelands peatland. There is some potential for AD and recovery from wastes. Afforestation of certain peatlands would make sense, depending on location.


#1090

Possibly a big deal

Some interest in Hydrogen at present


#1091

Ireland has essentially unlimited power from atlantic wind and current.

Its not harvested for whatever reason, but someone choosing to use the excess that the atlantic could produce would to well to get on it.

All this ‘what do we do when the wind blows at night and no one needs energy’ is a red herring.
The energy is essentially free and limitless so it should be put to use in some energy intensive form.

Setting up an array of liquid Hydrogen producing plants on the west coast would be the ideal answer.
This is a very energy intensive process but produces a liquid form of energy that can be transported and sold.

Critics will tell you its inefficient and wasteful - and they’d be correct; it is.
But its free; so who cares how inefficient it is?

Harness a MW of wind to produce a KW of hydrogen? Sacrilege!
But why?
If the source is free and limitless, why postpone its collection because of low conversion rates?
It makes no sense.

Energy is free and limitless - wind or solar.

This is the next revolution.


#1092

It’s more to do with the EROI economic return on investment, the costs of setting up such systems are too high for the returns. It is better to look more into battery(wide interpretation) storage systems that can release the stored energy back to electricity. Hydrogen also fits that bill along with many other static battery solutions.

Unfortunately none are cheap(er) than fossil fuels, it really needs a commitment to invest for the long term energy security for these systems to really come into their own, Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe that can easily become energy independent, and a net exporter of electricity.


#1093

Because the capital invested in the west coast offshore windfarm has to be recouped somehow. If the surplus power produced by such a windfarm garners such a low revenue, then it doesn’t pay to invest offshore. If we still want it and the market doesn’t pay back for that power, then the customers will have to pay regardless through the PSO…and that’s why isn’t electricity cheaper.

This is not a comment on what’s right or wrong…just a comment on economics.


#1094

Can I have one of your free windmills please? And a few free solar panels?

Also I’d like a free warranty and maintenance contract…


#1095

I don’t think he said the harvesters were free, just the resource (in reality, all natural resources are free), it’s the cost of converting them into useful energy that costs.

Which begs the question, could they be considered strategic, in the same way as defence is a strategic service that is a financial sinkhole that gets no return in a business sense, except for some job creation for the service sector. Most of the time it produces no economic benefit, but can save the country from invasion.


#1096

That must be worth billions. It’s quite amazing nobody ever thought of it, for whatever reason.


#1097

That’s a puff piece, I’m afraid – which merely parrots another puff piece. Eric Lerner of LPPFusion is an interesting guy but he’s as eccentric as they come. Here’s his own assessment of his dense plasma focus approach from four years ago – he’s the green “Focus Fusion” dot in the middle:

Lerner’s chart was only for non-tokamak approaches which he dealt with separately in another slide in the same presentation. Here’s a different assessment of tokamak appoaches from another article, with Z-pinch (an approach related to Focus Fusion) included at bottom:

The vertical scales need a bit of explaining. They represent the fusion triple product, the product of energy, confinement time, and density. The so-called Lawson Criterion sets the lower bound for this product to achieve net energy from fusion, which is handy because it is relevant across all the different approaches, allowing them to be compared.

Lerner’s scale only differs in that it has the ion energy in TeV instead of keV, and the ion number density in inverse cubic centimetres instead of metres. So multiply by 10e15 and you get 10e24 at the top of Lerner’s scale. That’s still higher than the tokamak scale. The difference is explained by Lerner using the Lawson criterion for D-D (deuterium) fusion instead of D-T (deuterium-tritium). The former needs ten times the temperature – 100 million degrees for D-D versus 10 million for D-T.

But Lerner is proposing aneutronic p-B11 fusion, which needs a temperature of a billion degrees, ten times higher again. If I understand it right, the triple product would be around 10e11 TeV sec / cc. That would put Focus Fusion five to six magnitudes away from net energy. Lerner has a shoestring budget and I don’t believe he’s achieved anything like that improvement in the past four years.

Aneutronic fusion is the holy grail, producing energy with no radioactivity and no need for a steam generation cycle. But I think it’s a very remote outside chance for the medium term. ITER and its successors will get there eventually with D-T fusion, but whether such giant and complicated machinery will ever be cost effective is another question. My hopes are pinned on compact tokamaks with HTS magnets being done by Tokamak Energy and MIT Sparc, or one of the inertial confinement concepts like EMC2 or Lockheed-Martin skunkworks.


#1098

I’m impressed with the amount of information that Tokamak Energy is sharing about its ongoing development.

For comparison, here is ITER’s recent update on their diverter – it looks damn complicated! So is ITER too complicated or is Tokamak Energy’s ST-40 too simple? Or is the compact spherical tokamak just inherently simpler? Answers on a postcard – I’ve no idea.


#1099

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-020-0661-2

Subsidy free windfafrm starting in 2021 in holland, 11MW turbines compares to 2-3 MW onshore turbines


#1100

That’s impressive. It’s also sobering. 200 metre rotor diameters. A square kilometre of space needed per turbine. The energy density is so tiny compared to fossil fuels and nuclear. At full nameplate capacity it could supply 4% of Netherlands instantaneous power requirements. Or about a third of a per cent of Germany’s. There are single gas turbines that can produce almost as much power as this entire field, much more reliably. I think if wind power can pay for itself, as this project seems to, by all means do it. I just can’t see it taking over the world, ever. Global installed wind capacity could exceed a terawatt this decade. At 30% capacity factor that’s around 2,000 TWh annually. Global electricity demand will be 35,000 TWh by the end of the decade. So wind won’t be much above its current 5% share of generation.


#1101

One of the best hopes for viable commercial nuclear fusion are compact tokamaks, as I’ve mentioned up thread a few times. They depend on using much stronger magnetic fields than ITER to confine the plasma in a smaller radius. And that in turn depends on the use of high-temperature superconducting magnets.

The amazing thing is that although we have such magnets today, we have a poor understanding of how they work. They’re made from materials called ReBCOs – Rare Earth Barium Copper Oxides, a type of ceramic which is normally an insulator. But cool them down to liquid nitrogen temperature (which is still 90 degrees above where superconductivity normally occurs) and their electrical resistance falls to zero. Much of the work over the last few years on cuprate superconductors involves figuring out how to form them into tapes which can be sandwiched between metal layers and wound into coils to make electromagnets. Record breaking fields of 24 Tesla have been achieved in the recent past.

The MIT Sparc concept takes advantage of the flexibility of the tapes to make a hinged construction that would allow the whole tokamak to be opened up to take out its blanket layer. The lowest temperature, and therefore most achieveable, fusion reaction is deuterium-tritium fusion. The deuterium is available in unlimited quantities from seawater. But the tritium is radioactive with a fairly short half life and must therefore be created. DT reactors will be a sort of breeder, where a lithium blanket is bombarded by neutrons from the reaction to make more tritium while protecting the outer vessel and magnets. But this whole structure becomes mildly radioactive and embrittled over time and must be replaced every few years. The flexibility afforded by the ReBCO tapes potentially allows the reactor to be opened up and the blanket layer lifted out, instead of having to do a sort of keyhole surgery through small portholes using robots. That means less maintenance downtime and thus lower electricity costs.

Understanding how ReBCOs achieve superconductivity would enhance our understanding and maybe allow better materials to be engineered. They are in a class of materials called strange metals whose resistivity varies linearly with temperature, unlike normal metals where the relationship is with the square of temperature. There’s been a flurry of recent theoretical work in the area, such as this reported in PNAS.

… with a more digestible summary here:

and this from Nature:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41567-020-0988-4.epdf

with a summary here:


#1102

Soviet physicist, Lev Artsimovich, the “Father of the Tokamak” may have summed it up best: “Fusion will be ready when society needs it.”


#1103

I’ve never seen anyone tout fusion as the “perfect” energy source – there is no such thing. That article is unduly pessimistic. First of all it’s primarily about ITER, and there I agree: there is a question mark over the commercial viability of conventional tokamak fusion because of the sheer size and complexity of the machinery.

But the other objections he raised are facile. Tritium handling is a relatively well known and straightforward process. You avoid using polymers in pumps and other devices (due to the tendency of tritium to substitute for hydrogen), and you keep it cool and at low partial pressures outside the reactor. Here are two PhD students happily handling tritium:

His points about the shortfall in tritium recovery is completely speculative. This is an engineering issue being worked on alongside the development of fusion itself. Papers and PhD theses are being written about it, such as by the students pictured above. We have no reason whatever to suspect that tritium will be lost in quantities that will overwhelm to ability to breed new supplies.

The arms proliferation issue is a red herring. Anyone able to operate a fusion reactor, replace its breeding blanket with U-238, remove it and extract Pu-239 – already has the technological wherewithal and materials availability to create and operate a fission breeder reactor.

And radioactivated materials from a fusion reactor are simply not in the same category as the spent fuel from a fission reactor. Spent MOX fuel rods do contain Pu-239 and a host of other long-lived radio nuclides that will remain radioactive for half a million years. The radiation from a fusion reactor will be low-level and short lived. The material will be suitable for recycling and reuse after a hundred years. Picture an underground carpark with maybe 30 cars in it that need to be locked up for a century. That’s the sort of storage volume we’re talking about. After a century is up, the cars can be removed and sent to the crusher.

The stuff about parasitic power consumption is completely wrong. The power for plasma heating and confinement is an intrinsic part of the fusion process. It is not used when on standby, and is simply not parasitic. It is taken into account by the “Q” – the power gain factor – of the reactor. As to a fusion plant needing 100 MW of power to maintain the systems while the reactor is shut down? I’d like to see the numbers on this – I think it’s BS. In any case, even if true for ITER it is definitely wrong for compact tokamaks which would be a small fraction of ITER’s size. His points about radiation being generated to no end, because of parasitic power drain, are faintly ridiculous. You could say that any power generation using a steam cycle is to no end because of the limited thermal efficiency. This is just bitching,

His points about maintenance are ones that are already tackled routinely for fission reactors. And as I mentioned, maintenance time on reactors using HTS magnets could be dramatically reduced.

Coolant water consumption is the same issue as for any plant with a steam cycle. As fusion would be replacing existing fossil and fission plants there is no additional issue.

Basically the only valid point he makes is that fusion will not be some completely radiation-free nirvana. But we knew that already, and handling it is well within our capabilities. There are also two sides to every balance sheet. Would you prefer the continued hazards of fossil fuel extraction? Would you prefer the massive waste handling (including, incidentally, radioactive waste) of coal fired plants? Would you prefer to keep producing 30 gigatonnes of CO2 per year?


#1104

prices going up