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Exchange With Nuclear Devotee #2

My nuclear devotee correspondent continued to press his questions, so I offered him some more replies. Part of me suspects he was personally behind the gush of comments on my little web log by the Thorium Trolls, so he might be trying to waste my time, but hey, a frank exchange of views can be productive, so let’s try.

To: Jo
Date: 1st November 2011

first – this is not “disinformation” – these are questions and very reasonable ones at that and secondly just conceivably the questions might be “mis-informed but are clearly not “disinformation” –

I am genuinely interested, as are most people, in getting the best solution – this one puzzles me and I would like to know more

To address the points

1 – I was commenting on the specifics of solar which elude me – the reference you give seems to me is a broad comment on renewables. It provides little hard information – so can you please be a little more specific as to the evidence of our need?

2 At least we agree that the present aggrieved sector is mainly building (and yes I think they have been let down) – but exactly how do you see the solar industry as having the potential to benefit us technologically – when at least for the moment people can buy across the world? I see other areas – tidal for example where we have a huge advantage but not solar.

3 solar cells have a life – and if the life is exceeded by the “payback” then it seems to me they are loss makers – “payback” in this context seems to me a bit of a misnomer

4. You write “everybody pays, but the amount is not that large, and the economic knock-on benefits from a subsidy to homeowners is enormous” – that of course is true if the numbers are small – but surely if everyone had the facility then electricity would hugely more expensive – and what exactly are the benefits and how do they appear?

As I see it XXXXXXXXXXXXX’s points seem good ones and annoying as it is to some of us (me included) who were planning Solar the logic seems sound – but I am happy to be shown otherwise.

To: Nuclear Fan
Date: 1st November 2011

I might eventually completely lose my patience with you because you appear to want to waste my time (classic troll behaviour, by the way), but I will reply to this e-mail, although I might not reply in future.

1. The simultaneous and parallel impacts of both climate change and depletion in fossil fuel energy predicate the development of all forms of sustainable and renewable low carbon energy. Just for clarification, I do not consider “Clean Coal”‘s Carbon Capture and Storage or any Generation of Nuclear Fission Power to be sustainable or renewable. The climate and energy crises also oblige near-term alternative energy development. Thus, if something cannot be deployed in the next five to ten years, it is worthless. It is wrong to delay deployment on the grounds that the technology will improve with time, therefore getting cheaper. Dr Joseph Romm recommends a policy of “deploy deploy deploy research and develop deploy deploy deploy” :-

We know that we are not installing the best and biggest and optimal solar power kit at the current time, but it is important to get the kit up there on the nation’s rooftops now, to prevent the energy crisis taking away our economy. We need solar power because it is doable, smallscale, in the now. If it requires state subsidies, it should get them. At appropriate levels to stimulate appropriate installations. The United Kingdom is fast converting from an energy exporter to an energy importer, and the implications are significant. Energy security considerations demand solar power.

There is another concern which you are unlikely to have fully scoped. It is becoming apparent that large centralised energy plant construction companies are just a little bit shy about commencing projects. Despite the UK Government’s “support” for Carbon Capture and Storage and Nuclear Power, only one CCS demonstration went to trial, and the project has failed; and only Hinckley appears to be up for reactor development. What on Earth can the UK Government do to make sure the lights stay on with this kind of energy industry reticence to invest ? Why, up the feed-in-tariff of course, to incentivise general solar uptake.

2. Ramping up the solar sector by increasing installations and stimulating business start ups will eventually create the kind of industry weight that will precipitate demands for solar panel and solar microelectronic manufacture at home. You need to show the business is there before the high tech clean tech manufacture can see a reason to be in the UK. When we talk “advantage”, we need to talk about a mixture of natural physical advantage (for example, Scotland has twice the wind profile of England, and the UK has 40% of the wind profile of Europe), and the rate at which business can be developed. Solar can be done now, today. Tidal is some time down the road. The advantage is with solar. Onshore wind power can be done now, today, with the right grid access. Offshore, Europe-wide networked wind power is a several years away. The UK should prove to the citizenry that they have an energy policy that is already producing results instead of promising CCS which could be decades away and then prove to be too expensive, or nuclear, which would be decades away and too expensive.

3. Nobody really knows how long a solar panel will last once it is installed. But I have seen some functioning electronics from the early 1970s that are still viable. If solar panels do not degrade significantly, they can still be producing power in 50 years’ time, maybe not at optimal levels, but that’s not really the point. If the solar panel carries on generating after it’s economic, carbon and embedded energy payback periods, then it is a working asset. A genuine asset.

All new energy systems need public investment. This point has been proved time and again. To build renewable assets is not only going to increase energy independence and energy security, it’s going to stimulate economic activity – maybe not growth, but a sustainable economy – a nation that can still produce electric power for manufacture and home energy without having to import fossil fuels.

The reasons why energy is starting to cost more are varied. Partly because the country has not seriously invested in renewable energy until recently, and is now struggling to catch up. Partly because of the balance of payments problem with becoming a net fossil fuel energy importer. Partly because of having to catch up with missed decades of energy infrastructure investment. The “green” element in any energy development is not very significant. But these new extra energy costs are all being blamed on green policies, which is inaccurate. Solar power generated 33 Gwh in 2010 from 76.9 MW installed capacity, a lot of it new :-

Yet the budget to stimulate this increase is measured in £100s of millions of pounds a year, rather than the billions bandied about when talking about nuclear power and CCS. In 2012-2013, the UK Government has budgeted to spend £161million on the feed-in-tariff, so say there are 18 million home energy bill payers, that’s under £10 per household a year. That’s really not very much. Everybody is expected to contribute towards National Insurance. Why not National Energy, too ? :-

The question has to be asked – OK, so the feed in tariff costs households, but what does it save them having to pay ? The high level of the feed in tariff was designed so that nobody should be prevented from being able to finance a solar power system at home (if they own a roof or other suitable space). There have been shared schemes set up, community schemes, neighbourhood street schemes. Nobody should be excluded from the benefits of solar power and its feed in tariff. But the industry has not been able to expand rapidly enough to cope with demand. So much more could be done with better organisation. And adjusting the feed in tariff to keep solar growing. Then we wouldn’t need to think about nuclear or CCS.

“The poor can’t afford it” is a poor argument if the stimulus is sufficient – as it has been. With solar hardware prices coming down, this should make an impact on affordability, even as the feed in tariff is gradually wound down, as it should be.

Those who purchase systems in the early years when the kit is more expensive should be compensated more than those who buy the kit later on when it is cheaper. It’s a fair deal.


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