The Best Nuclear Fusion Reactor Is 93 Million Miles Away. Here’s Why.

Nuclear fusion as a source of energy

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably heard about a recent breakthrough in nuclear fusion. But if you missed it because you were distracted by Elon Musk’s latest buffoonery, you’re forgiven.

In a nutshell, scientists and engineers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California made a controlled fusion reaction that, when looked at in a certain way, gave off more energy than it took to make.

The word “controlled” in the previous sentence was important.  As was the bit about looking at it in a certain way. 

The fusion reaction released more energy than the laser beams used to initiate it, but significantly more energy was needed to charge and maintain the apparatus. They used 83 kWh of grid power to generate 0.875 kWh of fusion thermal energy. They generated about 1% of the energy they put in.

But that was heat energy. If nuclear fusion reactors had converted that heat into electrical energy at the expected rate, they would have gotten 0.3% of the electrical energy they put in.   

Clearly, fusion is a long way from being a net energy source.  But it wouldn’t have mattered if their experiment had released 10, 20, or 100 times more energy than it consumed.  This is because Earth-based nuclear fusion will never be a practical source of energy.

Misleading Media

If you thought nuclear fusion had the potential to provide cheap energy on Earth, it could be the result of endless articles with headlines like these:

Many stories are just the product of talking to someone enthused about fusion or regurgitating PR announcements; adding a question mark to the headline as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Getting out of jail free means not reporting if the claims are realistic. Unfortunately, media organisations can get away with this when the US Secretary of Energy says the USA will create commercial nuclear fusion within the next few decades without any hint of awareness that she’s talking out of her butt.

You can see the US Energy Secretary introduce the official announcement of the fusion experiment results here:

This stream became available in the wee hours of the morning.  I watched it because I had to get up to wee a stream and couldn’t get back to sleep.

They are correct that an impressive scientific and engineering advance was made, and I’m happy for the physicists.  But their plans to develop commercial fusion power stations over the next several decades will not pan out.  This is because when it comes to generating electricity, the technology is already economically obsolete. 

Nuclear Fusion Reactors Are Expensive

The Lawrence Livermore Labs used 192 laser beams to blast a peppercorn-sized pellet stuffed full of hydrogen isotopes with x-rays.  This heated it to 150 million degrees and — briefly — initiated fusion.  This was not easy to do.  It was so tricky that laser blasting is unlikely to be used in future reactors as magnetic confinement inside a giant techno-donut is considered more practical.

Toroidal nuclear fusion reactor concept.

Behold — the techno-donut!  (Image: US Department of Energy)

The technology was not cheap.  Creating sustained fusion will be even more expensive. Because of the high-precision engineering, it will be a high-capital-cost form of generation.  If it was cheap and simple we would have built fusion reactors 30 years ago.

The three major reasons why Earth-based nuclear fusion will never be an economical source of energy are:

  • High Capital Costs:  Reactors will be expensive to build.
  • Fuel Costs:  Despite many claims to the contrary, fuel for current fusion reactor designs is not cheap.
  • A Poor Fit For Modern Grids: Grids with high — or moderate — amounts of solar and wind generation have extended periods of low or zero wholesale electricity prices.  This is disastrous for the economics of an expensive-to-build energy source.

Because the interior of nuclear fusion reactors will become radioactive over time, they’re also likely to have high decommissioning costs.  But as they don’t even exist, I won’t bother to speculate on what it might eventually cost to decommission one.

High Capital Costs

Nuclear fission power generation has been around for 66 years and still isn’t cheap.  This is because it costs a huge amount of money to build a fission reactor with a high level of safety.  While the cost of building nuclear fission power stations could be reduced, it’s not possible for them to be as cheap as coal power stations because they are more complex and can go wrong in ways that coal power can’t.

Nuclear fusion reactors will cost more than fission because they are far more complicated.  To create heat with fission, all you need to do is put the fuel rods close to each other, and it happens automatically.  To create heat in a fusion reactor, advanced technologies such as immensely powerful lasers or magnetic confinement techno-donuts are needed.  

Nuclear fusion doesn’t have the same level of radiation hazard as fission, but reactors’ interiors will still become radioactive.  This means the costs of precautions against releasing radioactive material may be much lower, but they can’t be eliminated. 

But even if fusion power plants could be built for the same cost as coal power stations they still won’t be able to pay for themselves.  This is because new coal power stations are becoming uneconomic worldwide.  In fact, any thermal generation — including nuclear fission and fusion power stations — will find it difficult to compete with solar PV and wind turbines that don’t require expensive heat exchangers, condensers and turbines.

Nuclear Fusion Fuel Isn’t Cheap

A widely repeated claim is that fuel for fusion is dirt cheap.  But this is a techno-myth.  It’s uneconomically expensive now and unlikely to ever be very cheap in the future.

Current nuclear fusion reactor designs use hydrogen isotopes for fuel.  By weight, the fuel is two-fifths deuterium and three-fifths tritium.  Deuterium is relatively cheap, but tritium is currently around $40,000 Australian per gram.  At this price, when used in a fusion reactor that is 33% efficient at turning heat into electricity, the cost of tritium will be around 58 cents per kWh generated. 

This paper from 1991 says the cost of producing tritium in a fusion reactor could be as low as $215-$300 US per gram.  If we take the lowest end of that range and convert the $215 into 2022 dollars it becomes $640 US.  At the current exchange rate, that’s $930 Australian.  Assuming 100% of the tritium undergoes fusion, the fuel cost will be around 1.3 Australian cents per kWh generated.  This is roughly the same fuel cost as for nuclear fission and around 4 times the cost of coal for Victorian power stations.

Coal, Fission, & Fusion Don’t Play Well With Renewables

Here in South Australia, we have long periods of low, zero, or negative wholesale electricity market prices.   This is due to wind and solar power accounting for 70% of the state’s generation.  This is terrible for the economics of baseload generators such as coal, nuclear fission, and future fusion. 

Because they have high capital and low fuel costs, they save little money by shutting down during periods of very low electricity prices.  But as they’re competing against solar and wind with zero fuel cost, their only options are to shut down or operate at a loss during these periods. 

Even if nuclear fusion energy research receives hundreds of billions in funding, a prototype fusion power station able to provide more energy than it consumes is still decades away.  In 30 years, the world’s electricity generation will be mostly renewable, and most of the time, that electricity will be extremely cheap.  Even if fusion reactors are technically feasible, they won’t be profitable to build.  If coal and fission can’t pay for themselves, neither will nuclear fusion. 

Energy Storage Is Not A Problem

Some people suggest — often over and over — that some kind of nuclear power will be necessary if we want low-emission electricity because solar and wind generation won’t always meet demand.  But it makes no sense to build an expensive fusion reactor and only run it some of the time as a peak or critical period generator. 

Because nuclear fusion reactors will be expensive to build, if one is only run half the time it’s capable of, it will almost double the cost of the electricity produced.  If only run one-fifth of the time, the cost of its electricity will nearly quintuple.  Since it will already be a very expensive source of electricity if it’s run at full capacity, it makes no sense to build nuclear reactors — whether fission or fusion — to meet demand for limited periods.

Australia is constructing lots of pumped storage capacity.  We’re also installing world-beating amounts of battery storage because it’s expected to be cheaper than natural gas, and natural gas is cheaper than nuclear power and vastly cheaper than nuclear power stations that are only operated some of the time. 

Large-scale batteries have fallen a long way in price and will fall further.  They will be much cheaper in 5 years’ time and should be a fraction of their current cost in the 30+ years before fusion reactors become feasible.

The Best Nuclear Fusion Reactor Is In The Sky

Fortunately, we already have access to a naturally occurring fusion reactor in the sky.  It’s called the sun and provides free energy to the Earth 24 hours a day and to specific spots on the Earth for an average of 12 hours a day.  This free nuclear fusion power is yours for the taking simply by installing solar panels on your roof.  These require no heat exchangers, turbines or water for cooling, have zero fuel cost, and aren’t radioactive.  They are also the cheapest source of electricity available to Australians. 

The sun will provide an increasing amount of fusion power over the next 5 billion years and a decreasing amount for the next 10 billion after that.  It’s not a radiation hazard, so long as you’re not too pasty, and is perfectly safe to use as a source of light, heat, and electricity — provided you avoid eye contact.  

The sun.

Human-built nuclear fusion reactors may be great in the future around Uranus or the rings of Saturn, but here in the inner solar system, there’s only one fusion reactor you need for your solar system.

About Ronald Brakels

Joining SolarQuotes in 2015, Ronald has a knack for reading those tediously long documents put out by solar manufacturers and translating their contents into something consumers might find interesting. Master of heavily researched deep-dive blog posts, his relentless consumer advocacy has ruffled more than a few manufacturer's feathers over the years. Read Ronald's full bio.

Comments

  1. Randall Mathews says

    I do like the writing of Ronald Brakels.
    One of your best among many good ones.
    Thank you.

    • Declan Power says

      Thanks as usual Ronald for that very clear explanation. I too have moments of great enlightenment and inspiration in the “wee” small hours of the morning but unfortunately that spectacular lucidity has disappeared by the time I wake later in the morning.

      I noticed that the articles I read elsewhere did not mention the energy input to the actual reactor body, only the laser input power and “energy” (ie heat not electricity) output. I wonder why?

      My understanding is that the feat of “more energy out than in” has been achieved previously elsewhere but the amount that had to be sent in to trigger the reaction was vastly higher and the resulting output was somewhat smaller than even this experiment. Correct me if I am wrong on that.

      I don’t have a very technical brain really so I have to rely on you and various others on here and elsewhere. But when I ask these two layperson’s questions to nuclear proselytisers I either get no answer or a response which avoids the core question – much the same outcome really and something our former PM would be very proud of.

      1. Can you guarantee me there will never be a highly dangerous nuclear accident at the fission/fusion site which harms many people and our environment? (I used to work with Safety Risk Management in high risk environments so this tends to interest me).

      2. Can you guarantee that there will never be a high impact threat to people or the environment from the radiation in fuel or equipment. (See above comment).

      It seems to me these questions are either too hard or too embarrassing to answer.

      • I'm Old Gregg! says

        Of course, guarantees are not feasible, but it would certainly be nice to limit the destroyed, uninhabitable land area to, say, 10,000sq.km every time a centralised, concentrated-energy generator goes bad.

  2. Thanks so much for this Ronald – some really technical stuff in there, with good science adding depth, but also with the all-important humour to keep it light and engaging.

    I saw the headline and my first impression was: ahh, another distraction, like CCS or nuclear power – and sure enough, it is just that – just another “look over here!”, to distract us from putting time/ energy/ money into the free energy that Mother Nature provides…

    So, well done mate – keep it up!

  3. Power generation via nuclear fusion, despite having first been theorised over 60 years ago, is still very much in the experimental stage. However, if we consider many of the things we take for granted today, they have equally been written off as unworkable, too expensive, etc… during their experimental period. If I remember correctly, early critics of the steam train claimed that people would suffocate as they wouldn’t be able to breathe at speeds approaching 30mph! So to simply dismiss this based on where the technology is today, is just wrong. Will we see nuclear fusion based power generation in the next decade, two decades, three decades, etc…? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean we should write it off either. Much better to acknowledge where the technology is in its lifecycle, applaud the advances made and keep going. That’s the only way most things advance after all.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Fusion reactors generate electricity by producing steam, the same as a coal power station. Coal power stations are becoming uneconomic — even when they have a very cheap source of coal — because they face competition from solar, wind, and energy storage that has no need for steam, condensers, heat exchangers, etc. In the case of solar and batteries, they don’t even require turbines. As fusion reactors can’t be built as cheaply as coal power, we can be certain they are not going to be economic in the future. Not unless there is some radical new design that cheaply converts fusion energy directly into electrical current without the need for the all the hardware current coal and nuclear fission power stations require.

      • Hi Ronald – a method of fusion that *partially* meets the criteria of ‘radical new design that cheaply converts fusion energy directly into electrical current’ is already being studied and developed: aneutronic fusion. This method of fusion – and there are several candidate fuels for it – would release energy in the form of charged particles directly.

        It would also avoid one of the major problems you mention in your article – nuclear contamination of the reactor equipment. The contamination you mention, in the design of the more common reactors such as the deuterium-tritium one mentioned in the recent announcement, occurs as a result of neutron bombardment (with these reactors, around 80 percent of the energy is released in this way).

        Unfortunately, the conditions required to harness aneutronic fusion are even more extreme than those required for deuterium-tritium fusion, resulting more prohibitive costs for the development of anything remotely resembling a practical reactor for the generation of electricity. The challenges are not insurmountable – the impact of various concurrent emerging developments in both plasma and particle physics and in material sciences, in particular, should not be underestimated – but they are certainly enormous in scale.

        When I say that it partially meets the criteria, I therefore refer to the ‘cheaply’ part. Aneutronic fusion would certainly have the future potential to be cheap, far cheaper than the deuterium-tritium variant – both in the lower maintenance costs and in the price of the potential fuel sources. But at the present time, the costs involved in its development are prohibitive to the point of impracticality, albeit well worth investment it in the longer term – provided this does not come at the expense of much-needed shorter term solutions. In other words, at present I’m in full agreement with you that solar is currently a far more relevant solution with respect to the current grid infrastructure and requirements.

        • Ronald Brakels says

          I’m so old I can remember when there were people hoping to develop aneutronic fission. Aneutronic fusion would probably be great for deep space exploration but practical applications are probably a very long way off.

  4. Based on the state of the technology today, you’re absolutely right! However, it’s not available today, so everything could change before it becomes practical, if ever that occurs. The point is that you can’t write off tomorrow’s technology based on today’s knowledge – we’d never advance if we did that.

    • Declan Power says

      I think that Ronald is trying to say is, in layperson terms, that if we follow a similar path to the current one used for fusion then it can never ever be anywhere near as cheap as wind and solar. Only if there is some fundamentally different approach to the whole process of generation of electricity by fusion, which we can’t even conceive of now and doesn’t seem practically possible, might it ever be competitive.

      Remember when you refer to horse and cart days etc we now have a fundamentally better understanding of physics and chemistry than people of that era, and what may be theoretically possible even if not for a very long time. A significantly new approach may eventuate that makes it competitive (not just possible) but that seems extremely unlikely.

  5. A well grounded & simple explanation to which I would only add that Solar & PV (& in the future, storage) are highly competitive because they are:

    1. A distributed resource
    2. Resilient (because they are distributed)
    3. Economic without state support
    4. Consumed at source (mostly, at least for small scale generation)

    The above excludes eg Singapore’s collaboration with Australia, which in itself shows how competitive large scale solar PV & storage can be when located & designed properly.

    • Mark Williamson says

      Des has summarised this so well, the key being distributed. I once heard an interview with a man in central Africa using solar and wind, and he said “Dictators can’t take away my sun or wind”. Another huge negative for centralised generation, especially when you think of the bombing of power stations in Ukraine.

      And Ron good you mentioned the outer solar system. This is where initially fission and then fusion (we hope) will be needed for successful settlement, assuming we don’t all kill ourselves first.

  6. Michael Paine says

    Great points – thanks Ron.
    The Conversation has a couple of related articles (written by academics):
    Australia needs much more solar and wind power, but where are the best sites? We mapped them all:
    https://theconversation.com/australia-needs-much-more-solar-and-wind-power-but-where-are-the-best-sites-we-mapped-them-all-196033

    + A major ‘fusion breakthrough’ was just officially announced in the US. But what does it actually mean?:
    https://theconversation.com/a-major-fusion-breakthrough-was-just-officially-announced-in-the-us-but-what-does-it-actually-mean-196474

  7. They are a decade away best cast scenario, by that time batteries will be more energy dense and less expensive and solar panels will be even more efficient and cheaper….It will be very hard for anything else to compete by then.

    • Randy Wester says

      The northern countries certainly are trying to use solar power, right up to lan’s end in the north.

      But the seasonality of it is pretty extreme. A large solar farm using the best bifacial panels and trackers might see a 36% capacity factor in summertime, but only an 8% capacity factor in December, and many days with 1.5% of rated output.

      At the same time, wind power is just as variable. Alberta might see a steady 2,000 MW for several days in a row, then 50 MW or so for another few days. But there’s little seasonality, and of course it works at night, not jusr for a couple hours like solar.

      All this is happening at thr same time that ‘Mother Nature’ is doing her best to kill everything that doesn’t hibernate underground with overnight trmperatures in the -30s. Without seasonal energy storage (i.e. biomass) or transferrng solar from a couple miles closer to the equator, there’s no surviving it. It takes far less energy to move people to where the sunshine is, so about a million Canadian retirees like to go camp out in Arizona for 5.99 months of the year.

      4 to 10 KM down, there’s plenty of toasty warm rock, so there’s a lot of interest in that, but it’s not yet clear which technology is going to use the least oil + gas + coal / money, to build and maintain.

      So where you live might determine the ‘best’ technology. Our $33,000 rooftop solar system delivered almost 60 KW-h in *two* *weeks* so far this December, still 10 KWh short of it’s best summer output in one *day*.

      It’s still worth having rooftop solar, because that’s 12,000 KWh per summer per household that won’t have to come from coal or gas. For us, the Sun is simply not the most reliable nuclear reactor.

      • Ronald Brakels says

        Canada has a massive amount of hydroelectricity and gets about 60% of its electricity from it. That should make it pretty easy to get through periods of extreme cold.

        • Randy Wester says

          60% of electricity, yes, but only 25% of *energy*.

          It’s theoretically possible to almost double the hydro power output by completely ignoring every environmental concern, but that’d still leave a 50% gap, and much of it would be as far from where it’s needed, as Singapore is from Darwin

          Oil is 30.9%, and gas is 28.1% of *energy* used, so we very obviously can’t simply switch everything to hydro-electricity. But we can certainly use wind and solar *some* of the time, to do some of the work.

          Canada has 169 years of coal reserves, but also also a $50 per tonne carbon tax that adds $50 per MW-h. The carbon tax rate escalates to $170 by 2030, so just one month of electric winter heat in a well-insulated house (7,000 KW-h) will cost an eye-watering $1,190 in carbon tax alone, in addition to the $1,820 it costs here today.

          Or… $30,000 invested in a vertical (drilled) ground-source heat pump and a third of the electricity used, if we’re to switch from gas to electric.

          All of which is why Canada is working furiously on developing nuclear power, while building wind and solar farms at a brisk pace. And why I’ll have soon have a wood pellet stove in my garage.

        • Bob Lockley says

          Hydro is nice…
          Except that water becomes solid state below a certain temperature so requires the application of heat (energy) to keep/render it liquid enough to flow anywhere. Geothermal heating to keep it liquid or chemical anti-freeze?
          Solar is not as dependable as one might think either – not so many years ago a rather untidy volcano covered 1/2 the northern hemisphere with a dust cloud that interrupted much more than just aeroplanes. There are plenty more above and below water waiting their turn to spout so perhaps poking a heat exchanger into some of them (that nuisance one in Indonesia might be a good candidate) could generate electricity fed into a 6kv DC distributor grid linking the whole region. Storage cells at intervals buffer/provide backup and supplement whatever is generated locally.
          Reminder for the risk-averse … 90 years ago my father as a 14 yo was ploughing with a team of horses near Esperance when a swarm of bees decided to take a short-cut across the field: the horses bolted, destroyed the harness, fences and a shed – a runaway adrenaline-fueled reaction?
          Keep up the research I say.

          • Ronald Brakels says

            This is Canada, not Pluto, Bob. The thickest ice that forms over winter on the Great Lakes is normally less than one metre thick. As for the 2010 Iceland volcanic eruption, they concluded dust from it definitely could have affected PV production in Europe but any effect it had was difficult to tease out from normal variation.

            I agree it is a good idea to be ready for unforeseen circumstances, but I don’t think what will be extremely expensive fusion reactors, if they are built, will be a good fallback.

          • Randy Wester says

            Alberta isn’t allowed to build more hydro reservoirs due to environmental concerns. There is a lot of hydro power in eastern Canada, but it doesn’t keep Alberta’s lights on anymore than the Three Gorges Dam powers your oven in Darwin.

            For the existing dams, cold weather means dry air, low precipitation, and of course no melting, so the hydro reservoirs are held back as ‘Dispatched Contingency Reserve’, basically extreme emergency power.

            Before the Bow River dams were built, the glacier-fed rivers would sometimes freeze solid because there wasn’t any flow. The Niagara River of Niagara Falls fame last froze off in 1948, but that was an ice jam. (Wind across large lakes can drive large sheets of ice with amazing force.)

            It’s not Pluto, of course, but a -48 C wind chill can cause frostbite in five minutes. So we use a lot of energy, and at times when the supply from renewable energy is weak.

  8. Richard Courtenay says

    I agree that nuclear fusion is still an idea being hatched in scientists minds. I’m interested in the question of Australia becoming a manufacturer again or staying an importer. If we do want to grow our manufacturing and also processing minerals we will need 24 hr 365 day bulk power like China has.
    I have had panels and batteries for 15 years but I still use the grid for high amp purposes. Hospitals require large amounts of power to be able to function 24/7.
    Will the wind and solar do all of this regardless of weather events that may reduce electricity supply.
    I’m just asking the question, not nay saying.

  9. Ronald,
    Clearly, fusion is a long way from being a net energy source. But it wouldn’t have mattered if their experiment had released 10, 20, or 100 times more energy than it consumed. This is because Earth-based nuclear fusion will never be a practical source of energy.

    Humanity doesn’t have decades to wait for this technology to become viable & affordable.

    It’s all academic anyway if humanity cannot rapidly reduce human-induced GHG emissions ASAP AND drawdown atmospheric GHG concentrations to below 350 ppm CO₂-equivalent to Holocene levels, before irreversible climate ‘tipping points’ initiate.

    A pre-print paper by Hansen et.al. titled Global Warming in the Pipeline, submitted on 8 Dec 2022, outlines our likely path.

    Figure 6 shows the difference between the observed global mean surface temperature (black line) and the expected warming due to GHGs, the difference (blue area) being an estimate of the cooling effect of the (unmeasured) aerosol (‘Faustian bargain’) forcing. The paper includes:

    We conclude that peak aerosol climate forcing – in the first decade of this century – was of a (negative) magnitude of at least 1.5-2 W/m². We estimate that the GHG plus aerosol climate forcing during the period 1970-2010 grew +0.3 W/m² per decade (+0.45 from GHG, – 0.15 from aerosols), which produced observed warming of 0.18°C per decade. With current policies, we expect climate forcing for a few decades post-2010 to increase 0.5-0.6 W/m² per decade and produce global warming at a rate at least +0.27°C per decade. In that case, global warming should reach 1.5°C by the end of the 2020s and 2°C by 2050 (Fig. 19).

    https://arxiv.org/abs/2212.04474

    Unless someone can prove with absolute certainty that Hansen et. al. are way off, we should be acting as though the path given is the future we should do everything possible to avoid.

  10. Hmmm….who to believe on this one ?

    All those pesky, completely overly optimistic scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (and all of the other scientists around the world who seem to think that fusion might actually be possible on a commercial scale one day).

    …or Ron Brakels (the guy who writes all of those funny and slightly sarcastic articles on solar energy for Solar Quotes)…

    • Q: who to believe? The answer lies not in the person/ people, but in deciding whether the T&Cs of the scientists’ findings make it reasonable to assume that fusion will become practical in the near future. To me the answer is really simple…

  11. I'm Old Gregg! says

    *pffff*

    Nuclear fusion. Bah. It’s always 8 minutes away.

  12. Lawrence Coomber says

    Commentators:

    Minister Chris Bowen detailed the Governments policy to mitigate Australian GHG, in a high level diplomatic speech in Washington on the 25th Sept:

    https://minister.dcceew.gov.au/bowen/speeches/towards-clean-and-secure-energy-future-indo-pacific

    A first examination of how this policy is unfolding in practice is revealing.

    Australia’s Progressive Score Card since this speech [25/09 to 18/12 = 84 days = 2.76 months] ago.

    WIND [Total plan = 3480 Turbines]

    Turbines: ACCORDING TO GOVERNMENT PLAN: Target required to be Installed and Commissioned by 18/12 = 40 x 2.76 = 110.00 x 7.00 MW Turbines. [= 9.17 MW per day].

    Turbines ACTUALLY Installed and Commissioned during this 84 day period: = 6.00 Turbines. [= 0.50 MW per day]

    ——————————————-

    SOLAR [Total Plan = 60,000,000 Panels]

    Panels (calculated at 500W each): ACCORDING TO GOVERNMENT PLAN: Target required to be Installed and Commissioned by 18/12 = 22,000 x 84 = 1,848,000 Panels. [= 11 MW per day]

    Solar Panels [calculated at 500W each] ACTUALLY Installed and Commissioned during this 84 day period: = 420,000 = 5000 per Day. [= 2.50 MW per day].

    Summary: If Australia maintains this current rate of Installation and Commissioning progress; to achieve the Government Policy Targets to mitigate Global GHG, it will be achieved in:

    Solar Panels: 60,000,000 / 5000 Panels per Day = 32.87 Years; and
    Wind Turbines: (3480 * 14 Days) / 365 = 133.47 Years.

    Obviously, the Minister needs to engage a numbers guy to revise the spreadsheet based on industry performance and [show me the money] funding so far; OR come up with another policy.

    Lawrence Coomber

    • Ronald Brakels says

      I don’t know about wind – except that capacity additions are very lumpy – but last financial year Australians installed solar at the rate of 13 MW a day. It hasn’t gone down this financial year either.

      EDIT: I originally wrote “week” instead of “day”. Day is correct.

      • Lawrence Coomber says

        Thanks Ron.

        And yes your 2021 [13 MW Solar per week] installed, accords closely with my calculations above:

        12-13 MW per week = [my 2.50 MW per day x 5 business days per week].

        It needs to skyrocket from the current 13 MW per week to around 80-90 MW per week immediately [like starting this afternoon] to align with Minister Bowens stated Governement Policy Initiative.

        We have just lost over 800 MW of Solar install since the international fuse was lit by Mr Bowen in washington on 25th Sept, and COP 27 to boot.

        Over to you Mr Bowen.

        Or start forming up a new policy.

        Fantasy bubbles will not be tolerated for much longer without serious community unrest becoming evident.

        Lawrence Coomber

        • Ronald Brakels says

          Sorry, I wrote “week” when I meant to write “day”. Australia went from 22.8 GW of solar in June 2021 to 27.6 GW this June. That’s an increase of 4,800 MW or 13 MW per day.

  13. Lawrence Coomber says

    Thanks Ron.

    I am having difficulty reconciling Mr Bowens policy speech on 25 Sept, and in particular his lack of transparency and understanding about acquiring, installing, commissioning, and paying for: 40 x 7 x 84 = Total 3360 – Wind Turbines [23.52 GW] by 2030.

    If this was possible it would place Australia in 5th position globally with over 30 GW of installed Wind Power.

    It also reveals that Australia would become the ONLY ONE of the top 6 Wind Powered nations [China, USA, Germany, India, Australia, Spain] who does not manufacture Wind Turbines for our own national infrastructure development.

    In our case we would have to import them from other countries, and our taxpayer dollars leave the country.

    Does this sound like a solid and well-constructed plan that Australia has put into Government policy?

    Or, have we rolled over and capitulated as a nation on this one?

    What’s your take on this please Ron?

    Lawrence Coomber

  14. In the mid 1990s people said the electric car was no good and killed it off.
    30 years later they are meant to help save the world.
    Personally i hope they sink hundreds of millions into trying to make fusion work, rather then just saying it probably will be to expensive and stop trying.

  15. Bruce Dunlop says

    In the early 1940s, IBM’s president, Thomas J Watson, reputedly said: “I think there is a world market for about five computers.”

    These days most western households probably don’t know how many computers (including laptops, phones, cars appliances toys etc) they own. However here are very few households which don’t own at least one device with a computer in it and owning dozens is unexceptional.

    Many of these devices each contain billions of transistors. The equivalent of a transistor in the 1940s was a vacuum tube (aka valve). These devices are still available and still used in high end guitar amps. They typically cost at least $20 each for the cheapest ones. On this basis, the cost of making an iPhone based on 1940s assumptions would be a lot more than the GDP of Australia if possible at all (and it wouldn’t be). It would not be located in a pocket … it would require a large amount of real estate with a truely massive power supply.

    The point is a fair bit of caution is required in making judgements about what is going to be impossible during one’s lifetime.

    The obstacles confronting the realisation of economically viable fusion power are daunting but the future will always play out some scenarios that the best informed minds were convinced were impossible.

  16. Comments by experts indicate they don’t expect fusion to be a working, practical technology for decades if not longer.

    Regardless of the long term viability or practicality of fusion technology, we need fundamental scientific research such as this because such research often gives rise to discoveries that have had immense benefits, as evidenced throughout the history of scientific research eg. discovery of the atom, sub-atomic particles, double helix, etc.

    I’ve long wondered about the possible negative consequences of fusion energy (if and when it should become reality) -in particular with regard to global warming. My thinking may be fundamentally flawed and, if it is, I’d be grateful if someone would point out where my thinking fails.

    The thinking behind my concern with fusion technology is thus:
    1. Fusion technology creates more energy than is input.
    2. It’s inputs are essentially energy that’s stored in the fuel that it uses – energy that’s been stored in that fuel for millennia which will be released in a very short period of time in geological terms.
    3. So, assuming fusion technology becomes ubiquitous and we continue to consume at an unabated pace, increasing amounts of ((fusion generated) energy will be consumed much (vast amounts ?) of which will be converted to heat through manufacturing processes, transport, heating and lighting our homes, our hot water, etc, etc.
    4. With the very large and ever increasing amounts of fusion energy being converted into heat, what happens to all this extra heat that will be generated, keeping in mind that global temperatures are held stable (within a very narrow range for life as we know it to be possible) through an equilibrium between the amount of heat that comes from the sun and other sources that originate from burning fossil fuels (and fusion) etc.
    5. So, could fusion technology give rise to a different cause of global warming by adding muchmore heat to the atmosphere than can be radiated into space ?

    • I'm Old Gregg! says

      I suspect that this issue (our constant production and radiation of waste heat) is probably sitting patiently in the wings, waiting to see if we ever decide to stop emitting greenhouse gases. I also wonder if this will be an issue of a similar order of magnitude – I suspect it will, because of the sheer amount of waste heat generated without much concern for efficiencies.

      Sadly, it will probably be an even more difficult problem to solve, given that without paying attwntion to efficiency, waste heat generation wiil be practically equivalent to energy equity.

    • The answer to this is complex. Any heat released into the atmosphere will cause its temperature to rise at the surface, however this is quickly radiated out to space….. or it would be if it wasn’t for the natural greenhouse effect caused by water vapour and CO2 molecules (amongst others) which reflect heat in all directions – some of which heat up the next atmospheric layer and so on until it radiates into space BUT some of which radiate back to the earth’s surface (keeping it warmer at night for example), and slowing down the radiation to space. So the key isn’t so much the energy we put into the atmosphere (insignificant against solar absorption and re-radiation) but the way we are adding our own input to the natural greenhouse effect….

      We need the greenhouse effect. But not too much of it!

      Finally & slightly off topic, most people recognise that adding CO2 to the atmosphere (whether naturally or not) causes atmospheric temperatures to rise (and dispute only what man’s role in the quantum is), what isn’t widely understood is that raising temperatures causes the atmosphere to take up more water vapour vapour. More water vapour leads to bigger, more violent (the term here is ‘dynamic’) weather systems which are especially problematic for the damage they then can cause to our built environment and transport systems on which we are highly dependent AND ecosystems migrate with the temperature changes, leaving us with less viable land to support our population (which is in itself growing rapidly.) Yes, plants may grow better but we will suffer!

      • Matt O'Connell says

        Nicely summed up Des. The heat generated by both coal and what would be generated by fusion is insignificant to the re-radiated heat from the Earth due to the Sun (black-body radiation). I would like to expand on one point further – just for interest – one of the feed-back loops that you started talking about, is that, ironically, we will lose all the cumulus clouds even though we will have more water vapour in the air. These clouds reflect a huge portion of the incident radiation at the moment. When these go, it will cause the biggest and fastest jump in temperature, to the point of mass extinctions. This won’t happen until we hit 6-8 degrees higher (from memory). So let’s hope we don’t.

  17. Phillip Dimond says

    The NIF and ITER are not the only fusion games in town. Helion (look them up) have a very good chance of a functioning commercial energy producing fusion reactor in this decade. They’ve also avoided the thermal generation efficiency issue, they generate directly from their plasma magnets. They also address the fuel issue.

    The funny thing about fusion is that it’s actually not all that hard. The Helion guys helped a couple of YouTubers build a fusion reactor on their workbench. Watch it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsikwXnUcBs&ab_channel=CleoAbram – obviously this is a tiny reactor doing nothing, but it makes a powerful point.

  18. Matt O'Connell says

    A well constructed article for the average person to understand Ron. You must have done a bit of research.
    For those of you who like to listen to podcasts, this physicist does a wonderful job researching topics and has great guests. He did a whole series on nuclear fusion including the history of it. This podcast session below, is based on more recent activity…I highly recommend it.

    https://physicalattraction.libsyn.com/justin-ball-and-jason-parisi-on-the-future-of-fusion-energy-part-i

    In a perfect world, scientists should have access to heaps of cash to research. Unfortunately, they have to window dress their accomplishments in order to survive, then the media hype it up into a frenzy. The reality is, there will be no nuclear fusion/electricity in the near future. However, the technology and understanding of fusion, transduction, plasma physics, superconductivity all get driven by projects such as these, otherwise really, we are just cavemen banging sticks on rocks.

  19. “But as they’re competing against solar and wind with zero fuel cost, their only options are to shut down or operate at a loss during these periods.”

    It’s even worse than that. If they want to operate when prices are negative they have to pay to operate!

    The utilities need to pull their finger out and build storage. They make enough money from buying peoples rooftop solar for less than 10 cents per kilowatt and selling it back for 25 cents plus.

    Surely they can take some of that money they gouge out of us rooftop solar owners and build grid scale storage capacity.

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