Wind & Solar Power Use Far Less Land Than Coal

Wind and solar energy vs coal - land use

The lowest cost way to replace the coal power now providing 63% of Australia’s electricity is to replace it with a combination of wind and solar generation plus energy storage.  The cost of renewable energy and battery storage has fallen so far, the only way existing coal power stations will be able to turn a profit soon will be if crooked politicians hand out favours to fossil fuel industries. 

It makes no difference if the bent pollies never personally pocket a dodgy dollar.  As far as I’m concerned, anyone who takes taxpayers money and uses it to subsidise something that kills taxpayers has a crookedness of the soul.

But despite the advances that have given us low-cost energy able to power civilisation without wrecking it, there are still denizens in the deep dark regions of the internet, and Parliament, who continue to pull out the now hoary old myths that…

  • Wind and solar energy generation take up too much space, and…
  • They require too much material and resources to be worthwhile.

People who say these things are idiots.  I don’t mean idiots in the traditional sense of not being able to think, but in the modern sense of being capable of thinking but refusing to.  If they’d bothered to spend a few minutes considering how much land and material is required for a coal power station and then used the internet to look up some basic information, they’d either realize they were wrong or at least recognize they don’t have a clue about what they’re going on about.  

To put these two zombie ideas to rest, I’m going to use my ability to steal pictures from Google Maps and demonstrate simply but effectively that wind and solar energy generation require far less land than coal. 

While I realize my efforts may not be enough to finish off these shambling monsters, these zombies are falling to pieces, so hopefully, I’ll succeed in driving a silver stake through the heart of the brains of these undead ideas for the final time and finish them for good.

A Giant Coal Hole

This is the Leigh Creek coal mine in South Australia:

Leigh Creek coal mine - South Australia

It’s no longer in operation as South Australia’s last coal power station closed down in 2016.  But the hole is still there, and it’s enormous.  The area inside the black square in the photo below is…

Leigh Creek coal mine land area

…50 square km.  

That’s not even the entire mine area.  It’s just the main works. 

The maximum amount of electrical energy generated from coal supplied by this mine was 4,541 gigawatt-hours in 2010.  That was its best year.  Of course, going by the amount of environmental destruction caused — unless you happen to be a jellyfish — it was its worst year.   

Solar Farms Require Less Land

The orange square in the picture below is 3.7 square kilometres and the size of the solar farm required to generate as much electrical energy annually as coal produced from this mine in its best year did.

Leigh Creek coal mine vs. solar power - land area

It requires under 8% of the area inside the black square.  This is for 20% efficient, north-facing, fixed solar panels with adequate spacing, so they don’t shade each other in winter.  If the panels were put on solar trackers that follow the sun or mounted facing east and west, the land required would be less. 

Wind Power Needs Even Less Land

Wind power in South Australia only needs a little more than one-third as much land as solar power to generate the same amount of energy, as the green square in the picture below shows:

Leigh Creek coal mine vs. wind power - land area

The green square represents 1.3 square kilometres.  This means wind requires less than 3% of the mine area to match its maximum energy output. 

If the small area required by wind makes you want to say:

“But don’t wind farms cover vast tracts of countryside, as this photo of one near Snowtown shows?”

Wind farm - Snowtown

My response would be:

“Wind farms do spread their turbines over a wide area, but 99% of the land can still be used for its original purpose.  The wind turbines and their service roads require little room.  The land in the photo was originally used for grazing and just about all of it can still be used for that purpose.  The reduction in local wind speeds caused by the wind turbines increases water availability, so it’s possible erecting this wind farm has resulted in no loss of agricultural productivity.”

Rooftop Solar Requires The Least Land

Most of Australia’s solar energy is provided by rooftop solar power systems, and the image below shows how much land this takes up:

Leigh Creek coal mine vs. rooftop solar power - land area

Note that yellow oval doesn’t represent an area, it’s a numeral.  Rooftop solar removes zero land from its original use because it goes on roofs.  (The name is a bit of a giveaway.)

Materials – Coal Vs. Wind And Solar

As a very rough estimate, a solar farm that produces as much energy as the Leigh Creek coal mine in its most productive/environmentally destructive year might weigh 50,000 tonnes.  That’s for solar panels, racking, foundations1, and inverters.  As an extremely rough estimate, the two coal power stations the mine supplied in 2010 may have totalled 20,000 tonnes.

If you think this means solar farms need more than twice the amount of material than coal generation, then there’s something pretty hefty you’ve overlooked, and that is the weight of their fuel. 

According to Einstein’s special theory of relativity,2 the amount of sunlight energy required to generate one gigawatt-hour of electricity using 20% efficient panels has a mass of 5 grams.  According to the SA Department for Energy and Mining, the amount of Leigh Creek coal required to generate one gigawatt-hour has a mass of around 810 tonnes. 

Using this figure means in its best year it produced around 3.7 million tonnes of coal.  That’s 18 times as much material as is required to build a solar farm able to produce that much energy.  The sunlight energy required would mass around 23 kg and would have smacked into the ground anyway.  

On a smaller scale, going by the average energy content of coal used for electricity generation in Australia, over its lifetime one modern solar panel can easily produce as much electrical energy as 12 tonnes of coal.  So while material needs to be mined to produce solar farms, it’s trivial compared to what’s required for coal power. 

Wind farms require a comparable amount of material as solar farms and come nowhere close to what coal requires. 

Because rooftop solar goes on roofs and doesn’t require foundations, it requires the least amount of material.

Dispatchable Power

Coal power is dispatchable.  This means it can be turned on and off as needed.  Or at least it technically can.  In practice, coal power stations are costly to turn on and off and have to provide a minimum amount of power that ranges from around 42-60% of their maximum capacity. 

Solar and wind power are reliable but variable.  They’re reliable because weather forecasts give us an excellent idea of how much power they’ll provide.  Also, if one solar inverter or wind turbine breaks down, it has an insignificant effect on total output, unlike when a coal power station breaks down.  But, while reliable, it’s not dispatchable because output depends on the weather.  If you need some energy right away, turning a solar farm on at midnight is not an option.

To make solar and wind generation effectively dispatchable, energy storage can be used.  Pumped storage is one example and takes up some room, but batteries are more likely to be used thanks to their falling cost.  The land footprint of utility-scale batteries isn’t large, as shown by this Google Maps aerial photo of Australia’s largest utility-scale battery, the Hornsdale Power Reserve:

Hornsdale Power Reserve - Tesla Big Battery - South Australia

Four of them would be able to — temporarily — supply more power than the Northern Power Station, which was South Australia’s largest coal generator, while taking up an insignificant amount of space compared to the Leigh Creek coal mine.  The space would be insignificant even compared to the Northern Power Station when it was still standing.

If a lot of our energy storage ends up in electric vehicles, that will require no extra land use.

Solar & Wind + Batteries Requires Far Less Land

As my astounding mastery of coloured rectangles has shown, the amount of land renewables require is far less than coal.  While some Australian coal mines produce more coal per square kilometre than Leigh Creek did, and several use underground tunnels rather than open cut, coal mines alone remove far more land from its original use per kilowatt-hour generated than renewables.  As the efficiency of solar panels improves and the size of wind turbines continues to increase, renewables will require even less land per kilowatt-hour generated.

Countering this, I expect in the future we will overbuild our renewable capacity to a large extent because it will be cheaper to generate more clean energy than we need and have some go to waste than it is to store it.  But this isn’t a problem.  For one thing, we still have plenty of room for solar panels on our roofs.

Footnotes

  1. Modern solar farms may not bother with building foundations and instead use concrete ballast sitting on the ground to hold solar panels in place because it’s cheaper.  Sandbags or rock cages would be more environmentally friendly, but until we put some kind of carbon price on emissions from cement production, concrete is probably going to be used.  This is one reason why putting solar on your roof can have a lower environmental impact.
  2. Einstein developed the special theory of relativity after realising how boring his mundane theory of relativity was.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. Could compare the effect on the employment numbers required to run solar,wind and thermal coal. Being recently made redundant from a thermal coal mine and also an installer of solar I am interested on the impact. I am chin and chow on this. My guess would be solar and wind would require far less employees to run and maintain. Then look at the wages and compare where these wages go (hint economy). I have a personal interest in solar and batteries with a never to get ROC investment spending upwards of $40k on parts. I do all my own Labor of love and passion.
    Cheers
    Bruce Hughes
    Former coal mine worker and director of PECS Solar Power pty Ltd.

    • George Kaplan says

      Bruce, you raise an interesting point. Assuming my quick bit of Ducking is correct, it looks like roughly 39,000 may be directly employed in coal mining, and of course there’s all the jobs that exist to support them – tools, transport, vehicles, administration etc, as well as jobs that rely on coal – e.g. power stations, or benefit from those jobs.

      As a whole, mining provided almost 250,000 jobs in February 2021. (It’s not clear if oil and gas employment is included in these figures).Surprisingly (to me at least) it looks like more are employed in metal mining than coal, however there are a lot of metals – Australia doesn’t only mine iron ore, there’s also gold, bauxite, lead, lithium, and rare earth elements amongst other things.

      By contrast ABS only reported 26,850 FTE jobs in renewable energy for the 2018-2019 period. (Roughly half were in roof-top solar PV, …, wind & hydro both contributed 3,000+, …, and geothermal contributed 40).

      While coal miners couldn’t simply switch to renewables – there’s simply not enough employment available, perhaps expanding other forms of mining e.g. uranium for India, would soak up the excess for those wanting to reduce\abolish coal mining?

      • Ronald himself said that coal currently produces 63% of local electricity. So comparing its present-day employment numbers to that of the weak percentage of renewables is unfair at best.

        The mining industry is pushing for more automation anyway, along with many other industries, making these numbers unreliable for future decades.

        Also, avoiding modern technology just because it causes unemployment (eg. the effect that EVs will have on mechanics) without also taking into account ecological requirements for human life is myopic.

        Sustainability is a very broad, society-wide need, and needs similarly holistic thinking. There are no easy answers to employing 10 billion+ people in a highly automated future scenario, but nor will there be any need to.

  2. Max Scholefield says

    We had a farm near Acland (Toowoomba area) during the 17 years we were there the New Hope coal mine chewed through over 40.000 hectares of prime agricultural land. We tried our best to fight it from the outset, we completed every objection available to us, we were involved in the land court action against further expansion of the mine, which we won, only to see the mine have the ruling overturned by means of appeal on any and every ground their team of barristers could dream up. This mine tells people they rehabilitate their mine sites, this is simply a lie, the land can never again be used as it was before for a wide range of agriculture. The land is now ruined in perpetuity.
    We simply must use any means we can to stop this world wide mining disaster.

  3. Since the coal mines are already there, then doesn3your argument fail?

  4. George Kaplan says

    Isn’t this comparing apples and turnips? (Yes I know the saying is oranges but bear with me). The article is about how much land wind and solar use versus coal, but it doesn’t compare wind and solar farms to coal plants, no it compares wind and solar farms to coal mines, hence apples v turnips. For an equal comparison surely you should be comparing the mining involved in acquiring the resources for wind and solar?

    Whereas Australian coal plants are powered by coal mined according to Australian environmental standards, rare earth mining for wind and solar is mostly done according to Chinese standards, with the clean up for closed mines being expensive, time consuming, and likely to take decades or even a century plus for the environment to recover. Note this doesn’t take into account the environmental issues that occur while production is actually happening e.g. pollution flowing downstream to cities like Ganzhou – population 8+ million. Hiroshima and Nagaski were only brief environmental problems by contrast.

    Of course comparing coal plants v solar and wind farms wouldn’t show wind and solar in a positive light, but this piece seems to rely on shortcuts in data that it shouldn’t. Yes I favour coal – which doubtless makes me an anomaly amongst followers here, and I jumped on the solar bandwagon because of economic concerns rather than environmental ones, but doesn’t that simply make me akin to ordinary Australians not convinced by anti-coal pro-solar arguments?

    What would convince me? … Perhaps an analysis of the full supply chain, from resources required to produce the coal\solar\wind power station, through to ongoing supply, factoring in costs to manage reliable power. Can solar, wind and other forms deemed renewable energy manage that?

    • Donald E Osborn says

      Studies done by many, including NREL in US, clearly show that the life cycle pollution and resource consumption for solar (and wind) is much much less than that of fossil fuel cycle. Of course we need to do even better but do not make the mistake of equating jay walking with grand theft.

    • Geoff Miell says

      George Kaplan,
      You state: “Yes I favour coal…”

      Why?

      George, do you want planet Earth to become increasingly hotter and more hostile for humanity (and other species) to the point of civilisation collapse and beyond (with multi-species extinctions) before this century is over? Do you want billions of people to suffer and die (including perhaps your own family members you may care about) from those increasingly more hostile conditions? These are the consequences of more GHG emissions from continued use of fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil).
      See my comments at: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/kurri-hunter-power-project-mb2042/#comment-1095309

      • George Kaplan says

        Geoff, I favour coal – for now, because it provides cheap reliable energy which allows for a functioning economy and society.

        I reject climate change scare claims so the notion of Earth turning into Venus, or humanity and animal species going extinct, strikes me as pure fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fantasy and SF at least as much as the next guy, I just object to science being bought and paid for or politicised to the point it fails it fundamental purpose. Further, if you genuinely believe there is a climate\environmental threat, then what do you recommend is done about China? Remember Australia is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things whereas China produces roughly a third of all global emissions!

        Hope this makes it through – apparently Ronald didn’t like my response to your linked comment. 🙂

        • Geoff Miell says

          George Kaplan,
          You state: “…I favour coal – for now, because it provides cheap reliable energy which allows for a functioning economy and society.”

          George, what evidence/data do you base that on?

          Overwhelming evidence I see clearly indicates coal is no longer the cheapest energy source.

          “New solar and wind projects are increasingly undercutting even the cheapest and least sustainable of existing coal-fired power plants. IRENA analysis suggests 800 GW of existing coal-fired capacity has operating costs higher than new utility-scale solar PV and onshore wind, including USD 0.005/kWh for integration costs. Replacing these coal-fired plants would cut annual system costs by USD 32 billion per year and reduce annual CO2 emissions by around 3 Gigatonnes of CO2.”
          https://www.irena.org/publications/2021/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2020

          “Solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind continue to be the cheapest sources of new electricity generation capacity in Australia, even when the integration costs of renewables are included, according to the final 2020-21 GenCost Report, released today.”
          https://www.csiro.au/en/news/news-releases/2021/csiro-report-confirms-renewables-still-cheapest-new-build-power-in-australia

          Coal is not as reliable as you suggest – see: https://reneweconomy.com.au/australias-coal-and-gas-plants-are-breaking-down-every-three-days-34744/
          Also Callide C catastrophic failure – see: https://reneweconomy.com.au/a-new-flagship-coal-plant-failed-spectacularly-but-it-wont-be-the-last-time/

          You also state: “I reject climate change scare claims so the notion of Earth turning into Venus, or humanity and animal species going extinct, strikes me as pure fantasy.”

          The average temperature on Venus is 880°F (471°C).
          The average temperature on Earth is 61°F (16°C).
          https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/resources/681/solar-system-temperatures/

          Earth doesn’t need to heat up to Venus-like conditions to cause mass species extinctions and human civilisation collapse. Compelling scientific evidence I see indicates +4.0 °C global mean warming (relative to Holocene Epoch pre-industrial age) would be enough to probably do it, and this is likely before 2100, on our current GHG emissions path. Humanity as a species would probably still survive, but most likely greatly diminished. However, billions of people probably will suffer and succumb as a consequence of these increasingly more hostile conditions.

          Species extinctions are already happening. As planet Earth warms the extinction rate will increase.
          https://ourworldindata.org/extinctions

          Ignorance (whether wilful or unintentional) and ill-informed ideology won’t help us solve the escalating energy security and climate crises.

        • Yes, but who is buying all the products that China produces? Us.. so, we are directly tied into China’s emissions when we export coal and iron ore in order to import cheap products endlessly.

          China is not a consumerist society unlike most of western societies. Without cheap labour, the likes of Australia and the USA would still have manufacturing and therefore emissions would have remained here instead of China.

          The USA has 5% of the world’s population, yet it consumes 25% of the world’s resources. I dare say Australia would have a similar ratio.

          The problem is we’re thinking too much along the lines of “out of sight, out of mind”. Just because we don’t see it here, doesn’t mean we don’t have the problem here. We shifted manufacturing overseas. So, we can not blame China for its emissions. Consumers globally are causing this in the quest for cheap products in large quantities.

          • George Kaplan says

            Australia comprises roughly 5.1% of Earth’s land area, and produces about 1.08% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

            America comprises roughly 6.1% of Earth’s land area, and produces about 13.77% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

            China comprises roughly 6.3% of Earth’s land area, and produces about 29.34% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

            Those whining about Australia’s pollution levels, or America’s pollution levels usually ignore the dragon in the room. Why?

            As for people buying Chinese made items, often there are no alternatives. I for one would be more than happy to see the reliance on China and cheap\slave labour cease, but I seem to be a minority. If manufacturing ever returned to Australia – it won’t because corporations like massive profits and low cost labour, then it would be subject to Australian environmental standards, which further raises costs, rather than China’s more laissez-faire approach to environmental issues which don’t adversely affect Beijing.

            Perhaps I’m just out of step with the average consumer, but it seems to me that you can’t blame consumers when consumers have little to no control over the situation. I deliberately avoided Chinese crap when I invested in my solar system, and given the choice I try to look for alternatives to made in China. Then again a relative chose to go with a Chinese option because that’s all that was offered to him if he wanted the best return on his investment. Perhaps the government should consider placing an tax on imports from countries with little to no environmental controls, and a reliance on slave or low wage labour? Sadly I doubt either party would agree to that – the Coalition isn’t a fan of taxes, and Labor isn’t a fan of offending Beijing, so what alternatives are there? : )

          • Geoff Miell says

            George Kaplan (re your comments at June 26, 2021 at 3:20 pm),
            You state: “Australia comprises roughly 5.1% of Earth’s land area, and produces about 1.08% of global carbon dioxide emissions.”

            George, where do you get your data from?

            Per The Australia Institute report titled “High Carbon from a Land Down Under: Quantifying CO2 from Australia’s fossil fuel mining and exports”, dated Jul 2019, it includes:

            “Australia is the world’s third biggest exporter and fifth biggest miner of fossil fuels by CO2 potential. Its exports are behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia, and far larger than Iraq, Venezuela and any country in the EU. Yet Australia’s economy is more diverse and less fossil fuel intensive than many other exporters. Australia has an opportunity and obligation to decarbonise its exports in line with the Paris Agreement.”

            In the TAI’s report in the Executive Summary, it includes:

            “Australia is the fifth biggest miner of fossil fuel carbon, behind China, the USA, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Australia mines more fossil fuel carbon than Indonesia, India, Canada, Iran and Iraq. Australia makes up 4% of global fossil fuel mining by CO2 potential.”
            https://australiainstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/P667-High-Carbon-from-a-Land-Down-Under-WEB_0_0.pdf

            What Australia does matters on a global scale.

            You ask: “Those whining about Australia’s pollution levels, or America’s pollution levels usually ignore the dragon in the room. Why?”

            Many big GHG emitting countries including China and USA have now committed to reducing their GHG emissions to net-zero by 2060 or 2050, which I note is still far TOO LATE per the latest climate science I see, but better than NO COMMITMENT. Australia has not offered any commitment (other than the 24 to 26% by 2030 interim target, which I’d suggest is unlikely to be met on our current trajectory), only a ‘preference’ for net-zero by 2050, but is still encouraging more fossil fuel development. Deeds matter far more than words.

            GHG emissions ‘accounting tricks’ are useless and ignore the Laws of Physics.

            ALL of humanity must rapidly reduce GHG emissions, or we ALL reap the consequences of an increasingly more hostile planet Earth. There are no exceptions.

          • George Kaplan says

            Geoff, which data? Do you mean the land area figures or the CO2 emission levels? CIA, UN, Britannica all have different figures for the land area, but the percentage figures remain similar. The CO2 figures are derived from the European Commission’s J RC Science for Policy Report. Should I provide the DOI? 🙂

            http://dx.doi.org/10.2760/30158

            What Australia does is irrelevant on a global scale, but it is critical to the well being of the Australian economy and society. In Queensland for instance Treasury figures state that for 2020 coal comprised 49.27% of exports, with LNG comprising a further 19.49%. Mining as a whole contributed 11.7% of the 2019-2020 economy. Add in the crash in the tourism industry, the shrinkage in the education industry, and well lets just say the general employment and economic situation, and now is not the time to be messing with one of the few pillars remaining.

            You say China has committed to reducing their greenhouse gas levels by 2050 or 2060, but that’s 30 or 40 years away. They’re heavily expanding their GHG production at present – heavy investments in coal power etc which are long term decisions. That strongly suggests their commitment to lower GHG production in another generation or so aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

            Note too that China’s emissions have risen by over 350% between 1990 and 2017 whilst Australia’s have only risen 46%. Factor in land area to emission levels and Australia is quite frankly a bit player at best.

            You say deeds matter more than words, which I absolutely agree with. Problem is you’re happy to take China’s word that they will get around to it whilst condemning Australia for failing to pay lip service to the notion.

          • Geoff Miell says

            George Kaplan (Re your comment at July 15, 2021 at 2:17 pm),
            You ask: “The CO2 figures are derived from the European Commission’s J RC Science for Policy Report. Should I provide the DOI?”

            Yep, thanks. It’s helpful to understand where you are getting your information from, that apparently leads you to a flawed conclusion.

            What’s special about the European Commission’s “JRC Science for Policy Report: Fossil CO2 emissions of all world countries” published on 23 Nov 2018 (per the link you provided), George? There’re two more recent ones, including the latest published on 10 Sep 2020.

            I’d suggest this CO2 ‘accounting practice’ by the JRC report only considers countries’ respective DOMESTIC emissions and ignores contributions from exported fossil fuels combusted outside their respective domestic jurisdictions. As I stated in my previous comment, and you appear to have conveniently ignored (why is that?), Australia makes up 4% of global fossil fuel mining by CO2 potential, which is roughly four times its domestic contribution. Atmospheric GHG emissions do not respect geopolitical boundaries. Australia’s overall fossil fuel contributions clearly do matter on a global scale.

            You state:

            “In Queensland for instance Treasury figures state that for 2020 coal comprised 49.27% of exports, with LNG comprising a further 19.49%. Mining as a whole contributed 11.7% of the 2019-2020 economy.”

            Markets require both sellers and buyers. In 2020, Japan was Australia’s largest coal customer (27% of Australia’s total coal exports), and South Korea and China were also major customers. Japan, China and South Korea have all committed to net-zero GHG emissions by either 2050 or 2060. Japan is intending to phase-out most of its coal-fired power stations by 2030, and South Korea is intending to phase-out around half by 2030. I’d suggest that’s a big problem in the near future for coal mines (and coal jobs, and Treasury receipts) for both Queensland and more so for NSW. Do governments continue to ignore these accumulating unfavourable indicators or plan for and action an orderly transition to viable alternatives, George?
            https://australiainstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Impacts-of-Japanese-use-of-Australian-coal.pdf

            You state:

            “You say China has committed to reducing their greenhouse gas levels by 2050 or 2060, but that’s 30 or 40 years away. They’re heavily expanding their GHG production at present – heavy investments in coal power etc which are long term decisions.”

            I’d suggest those investments in more fossil fuel developments will either soon become “stranded assets”, or global GHG emissions continue to rise and the Earth System will soon be ‘locked-in’ to +3 °C global mean warming (relative to Holocene Epoch pre-industrial age) later this century, and probably hotter (i.e. +4 or +5 °C), and that likely means civilisation collapse and consequent suffering and deaths of billions of people in the coming decades. What future would you prefer for your family, George?

            The YouTube video titled “What do you say to coal miners who care about the climate AND about their job? | Ask An Economist”, published Jul 4 by The Australia Institute, explores the ‘Kodak moment’ economic and social implications for Australia’s coal industry and the communities dependent on it.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAqhmhLAUH8

  5. Rod Munro says

    Yes, the FUD merchants are getting desperate for “reasons” renewable energy will ruin us all

    There was a (surprisingly) good article in the Weekend Australian quoting 3 actual farmers who had leased land for solar farms

    All were very happy with the arrangement and stated they were getting as much or more value from their sheep due to shading and dew runoff

    There are numerous examples of cropping and grazing on wind farm sites and grazing on solar sites

    • George Kaplan says

      Not a ‘ reason renewable energy will ruin us all’ (that’s another debate entirely) but what proportion of Australians can actually afford a solar system? Is it exclusively an option for middle and upper class suburbanites?

      According to various sites and articles, 1:5 Australians have no emergency savings, and a further 31% don’t have enough to cover 1 month of living expenses. 23% of Australians would be unable to raise a mere $2,000 in a week for something important, and according to a May 2021 Cost of Living Survey, only 38% of Australians have savings of greater than $5,000! Frankly this is terrifying!!!

      According to SQ the approximate cost of a 6.6 kW system as of April 2021 is $5,000 – $9,000 (https://www.solarquotes.com.au/panels/cost/). Based on the information above, far less than 38% of Australians could afford this!

      The Australian Energy Council reports that as of December 2018, 1.5 kW systems were the most popular, comprising 44% of rooftop solar. Are these being replaced now hence the federal government’s concerns regarding solar panel recycling?

      SQ (https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/aussii-solar-july-20-mb1589/ reports) reports that of those looking at the site in June 2020 with a definite size in mind, 51% wanted a 6kW system, and a slightly smaller group wanted a >6 kW system.

      And energy.gov.au claims 29% of Australian homes already have rooftop solar,

      Factor in all those living in apartments or other accommodation which doesn’t suit rooftop solar, and how many more Australians can afford or support solar?

      • Rod Munro says

        Speaking of FUD merchants

        The article and my response are about utility scale. You go off on some weird tangent about affordability

        Better things to do with my time than refute deniers

      • Kirsten Anker says

        There are useful articles about accessing solar power if you are a renter. Further, it’s the responsibility of governments – which some are talking up, for example, the ACT – to ensure public housing is provided with solar panels and to provide subsidies for lower income households. But what’s happening is that companies are coming in and putting panels on rooftops for free, and the residents pay the equivalent of their electricity bill to the panel supplier without having to pay for panels up front. The panels are easily paid off in a couple of years, as solar power is heading to 1c/kwH, compared with the current rate of around 20c from energy providers.

  6. Spot on and very well presented. This matches the analysis I did back in the 1980s while at the University of Arizona. By the way, solar also uses a fair bit less than natural gas generation when transport (pipelines) are accounted for.

  7. Ian Thompson says

    Ha – Ronald…

    I think you will find the Special Theory of Relativity came first – as a Special case of the General theory, as it did not incorporate gravitational effects of mass…!

    Just nit-picking…

  8. A great as always, thank you.
    However, I see a flaw in the logic that the FF brigade will inevitably pounce on.
    The area of the mine hasn’t always been that big. And they could dig coal from a small portion to obtain a years supply. So the total area needs to be divided by the number of years it had been operating.
    Also, you should include the area that Northern actually occupied too.

    Dave.

  9. Peter Carpenter says

    Your land area argument should consider that the coal pit was dug over 30 plus years or use the total power plant output over 31 years of operation.

  10. Donald E Osborn says

    Actually that is not a flaw. The mine total area represents some 30 yrs (about) of operations (or maybe less?). The solar area provides the same 30 years of resource, and then, perhaps with a new system, continues on and on.

  11. Stephen Brickwood says

    They are idiots to believe that we are stupid and will believe them.

  12. Bob Johnson says

    Open cut coal mines are definitely an eyesore, are bad for the environment and difficult to rehabilitate.
    Solar farms are not choosy about the fertility of the soil and access to water etc of their chosen site so I assume a barren site with a slight slope to the south will not affect cost or output.
    So why did University of Queensland build their 64MW solar farm on prime and productive farm land about 5km east of Warwick.. With beautiful black soil of the Downs, good rainfall, access to water, close to markets and a northerly aspect it is a farmers dream. Less than 30km to the west there is plenty of marginal land that would be suitable (I do not know about suitable grid access) and would only inconvenience a few sheep.
    One of the reasons given was it is close to UQ campuses (about 100 or 150km).
    Just not good enough for a institution at this time (completed in 2020).

  13. Ian Speer says

    Ronald, I get it completely, but you and Finn keep telling us all that batteries are not a viable investment at this time? Writing this sort of article without offering real, available and economically competitive very large scale storage system/s just gives ammunition to the naysayers.
    Granted as I am in WA where pumped hydro is not really a possibility the situation is slightly different SA is also in the same situation as WA.
    The current Snowy extension is a huge project but we would need quite a few of them to begin to provide grid security comparable to the current fossil fuel baseload generation capacity and can you see the green lobby agreeing to more big pumped hydro installations up and down the east coast?
    Maybe we could simply set up every possible pumped storage location in Tasmania as well but it would still not be enough and there may be a few unhappy people down there as well?
    We need practical plans to provide storage for periods long enough to keep the entire grid going through a gloomy wet week or two at least.
    At this time a nuclear solution seems like the only carbon free base load option but reactors seem to be non economic compared to fossil fuels and have long term pollution issues of a different kind.
    At least the Eastern states have an interconnected grid which effectively means that days with no sun at all on the entire grid are not very likely so with upgrades lots power could be moved around as required.
    We have a Powerwall 2 and 5kW of PV panels albeit subject to shading from neighboring trees and as modest power users we are just about self sufficient for 9 months of the year. If the WA power regulators ever get their act together and permit export controlled residential installations which do not threaten grid stability we could be largely independent except for one or two cloudy weeks per year.
    I suspect that most houses in Perth would be in a similar position but that does not take into account the industrial power users and their roof to consumption ratios are rather different.
    Baseload storage is the issue so let’s not prattle on about all the “available” solar power resources as they are worthless unless we can effectively store them in sufficient quantities to cover the low solar periods with 100% backup.
    Even if you covered the entire Leigh Creek site totally with tracking panels and ringed the lot with wind turbines the lights would go out on Adelaide almost every night.
    In the most recent census there were 818,000 dwellings in Perth so if we plonk a Powerwall 2 on each dwelling at about $15K per unit installed and do not include the cost of the associated panels the cost would be 12.8 billion dollars for a start. We could reasonably add 4 billion for the panels I think however we would still need standby baseload generation capacity plus capacity to power industry.
    Maybe Elon would give us a break on the Powerwall 2 prices for such an order but very large storage to back up the system is still an outstanding issue.
    Even if we installed two Powerwall 2 units on every dwelling there would still be periods where grid backup would be required based on our usage patterns.
    I do not have all the answers but I think articles without practical solutions play into the hands of the current grid providers and their lobbyists as previously mentioned.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Finn has something like 132 kilowatt-hours of battery storage in his driveway.

      • Ian Speer says

        Lucky Finn he is obviously not driven by economics like many of us! I guess he would be off grid at that sort of storage situation but the point about adequate backup with 100% renewables as a target remains.
        I was hoping Ambri would come through as their direction at first was very promising as they were looking at very large batteries for grid scale storage but they are now focused on a product based storage system which has applications but will never be truly grid scale as I see it.
        Their founder had the foresight to want to develop a battery using readily available materials at very large scale and this is I suspect where the eventual solution will be. Batteries built of steel and concrete in very large sizes which are fully recyclable or can be fully refurbished as required.

    • Geoff Miell says

      Ian Speer,
      You state: “Granted as I am in WA where pumped hydro is not really a possibility the situation is slightly different SA is also in the same situation as WA.”

      Not so, according to a 2017 ANU audit of 22,000 potential sites across Australia for pumped hydro energy storage, which can be used to support a secure and cheap national electricity grid with 100 per cent renewable energy.

      WA has 3,800 potential sites with an approximate energy storage capacity of up to 9,000 GWh with a head of 200 metres.

      SA has 185 potential sites with an approximate energy storage capacity of up to 500 GWh with a head of 300 metres.
      https://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/anu-finds-22000-potential-pumped-hydro-sites-in-australia

      The global potential pumped-hydro atlas is at: http://re100.eng.anu.edu.au/global/

      RenewEconomy’s Pumped-Hydro Storage Map of Australia (for proposed, announced, under construction and operating projects) is at: https://reneweconomy.com.au/pumped-hydro-energy-storage-map-of-australia/

      Only the best 0.1% of the Australian potential 22,000 off-river pumped-hydro sites are needed, per Professor Blakers and his team.

      Andrew Blakers has co-authored a RenewEconomy piece on 22 Feb 2021 headlined “For $100 billion, Australia could have a low cost and reliable zero emissions grid”.
      https://reneweconomy.com.au/for-100-billion-australia-could-have-a-low-cost-and-reliable-zero-emissions-grid/

      On 9 Feb 2021, the world’s leading researchers on wholesale energy transitions, some who have been researching for almost two decades the realisation of a complex and secure energy supply with 100% RE, have summarised the findings of their research in a 10 point declaration.
      https://global100restrategygroup.org/

      • Ian Speer says

        I should have said pumped hydro is not a practical prospect at this time in WA and SA..

        I read that ANU report but pumped storage is very expensive to build and once built you need an ongoing water supply to top up evaporation and other seepage losses not to mention salinity issues such as Wellington dam south of Perth.

        Sure in the Kimberly you have significant rainfall but in the SW of WA in particular rainfall has significantly reduced over the past 40 years with no indications it is likely to increase in the near future.

        The first Renew article lists one proposed location currently considered of interest in WA and a few small possible systems in South Australia. The second Renew article points out that an east West interconnector would benefit the SW of WA but not the east coast hilighting the low storage potential in the opinion of its authors as I see it?

        I doubt we will see these pumped hydro projects in SA and WA developed any time soon let alone the hundreds of geographically blessed locations identified by the ANU report which would struggle to get over the line due to multiple permitting issues as well as isolation.

        I would love to be wrong and time will tell but capital will be slow coming to risky investments. I was trying to highlight the problem resulting from the ongoing promotion of our bountiful solar and wind resources without offering well throughout storage systems to enable the creation of a robust grid.

        I readily acknowledge the excellent performance characteristics of pumped hydro, good demand response using available technology. At this time based on the given reasons I just do not see it happening in WA and SA for the reasons outlined.

        Clever large scale batteries distributed around the existing grid in the SW of WA seem to be more within reach I suspect. We just need those batteries.

        • Geoff Miell says

          Ian Speer,
          The ARENA commissioned report titled “Comparison of Dispatchable Renewable Electricity Options”, published in Oct 2018, includes a key finding that states:

          “The dispatchable renewable options of; PV or wind driven batteries, pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) or hydrogen; concentrating solar thermal; bioenergy and geothermal all have a role to play. There is no single winner, and at each timescale there are multiple options that fall within a general least-cost band.”
          https://arena.gov.au/knowledge-bank/comparison-of-dispatchable-renewable-electricity-options/

          Compelling evidence I see indicates batteries are currently not cost-competitive energy storage solutions beyond about the 4 to 6-hour timescale, and certainly are not viable for 12-hour timescales and more (including multi-day) energy storage.

          Off-river pumped-hydro systems recycle water. Evapouration control measures can limit losses well below local available replenishment resources.

          You say: “The second Renew article points out that an east West interconnector would benefit the SW of WA but not the east coast hilighting the low storage potential in the opinion of its authors as I see it?”

          You seem to have missed these statements in the article:

          “Connecting the west and the east via South Australia helps everyone. Alice Springs has excellent sun and wind, and additionally has extensive off-river pumped hydro energy storage opportunities.”

          You state: “I was trying to highlight the problem resulting from the ongoing promotion of our bountiful solar and wind resources without offering well throughout storage systems to enable the creation of a robust grid.”

          There are multitudes of energy storage solutions available to enable affordable, reliable, zero GHG emissions grids here for Australia and for other regions around the world. I think your apparent summary dismissal of the works/studies by people like ANU Professor Andrew Blakers and his team, works/studies commissioned by ARENA, and of other leading global researchers (that include signatories to the Joint Declaration of the Global 100% Renewable Energy Strategy Group) is an example of wilful ignorance.

          Ignorance and ill-informed ideology won’t help us solve the escalating energy security and climate crises.

          • Ian Speer says

            I guess time will tell I am as keen as you to see a zero carbon future and was trying to make a point about articles being pumped out about the abundant renewable energy resources in Australia without at the same time adding information about practical storage solutions.
            Yes there are multitudes of possible rechargeable energy storage solutions as you say. The issue is how many of these are currently practical? Pumped hydro and batteries seem to be the two currently working in Australia.
            So my sin is to question the viability of pumped hydro in WA and SA by questioning their practicality.
            I do not know what the make-up volume of water required to keep the Snowy 2 system at full capacity is but I suspect it would not be insignificant.
            Where will all the water come from to both initially fill and then to maintain the required water volumes of water in all the possible projects set out by the ANU people.
            Yes only a small percentage of the total would be required but they still need water which is in short supply in the two states I was referring to.

          • Ian Speer says

            Alice Springs annual rainfall 232mm. Alice Springs annual evaporation rate 3000mm. Where will they get the water to fill and maintain the system? There is limited underground water available and the pastoral industry and Alice Springs as a whole will be displeased if the aquifers are drained to fill a pumped hydro system. ANU found lots of suitable settings for pumped hydro but they may have not looked at whether there was sufficient water and suitable (water holding) geology. At lease one of the proposed SA projects is slated to use seawater so no shortage for that one but same question for the rest as permanent few flowing rivers in SA to fill and top up pumped hydro systems.
            No summary dismissal of the good professors work just asking relevant questions which may have been missed.

          • Ronald Brakels says

            Water is 5 cents a tonne in Alice Springs. It’s extraction from the ground isn’t sustainable, but neither is Alice Springs and the cow industry unless global cooking is controlled. There are many options regarding water for pumped storage but not really relevant because pumped hydro is not going to be the most cost effective method of firming electricity supply in Alice Springs at current prices and I’m sure that will be the case in the future.

          • Geoff Miell says

            Ian Speer,

            Per the ANU study, for the whole of Australia, only about 20 sites (with about 0.5 TWh combined storage capacity) out of the 22,000 identified POTENTIAL sites are needed for a reliable 100% renewables grid. We can afford to be choosey.

            SA is the least endowed state for pumped-hydro sites, with about one site required per 10 potential sites identified; while NSW is the most endowed state with about one site required per 1,000 potential sites identified.

            I’d suggest SA has the option to rely on inter-state transmission links, if it cannot find enough suitable sites for its own energy storage needs.

            I think your questions have been addressed in the YouTube video titled “2017 CURF Annual Forum – Andrew Blakers keynote”, duration 37:54.

  14. Peter Simmonds says

    Need to factor in that coal mining is an export industry where solar is not for us in Aus. I suspect we export far more coal than we consume locally.

  15. Peter Simmonds says

    Please do the comparison with Muswellbook in NSW – also an open cut mine. About 1700 sq kms and supplies local power stations and export as well (I think?)

  16. Kate Laney says

    I was really happy to see this topic researched and addressed.
    It is a strong argument against the advice of that our state/federal governments are trying to persuade us of. I would love to see this research put forward to our politicians and work on a way to reduce coal mining for the sake of our environment, our children and our future.
    Like all other things in society that have been made redundant over time, coal mining for energy should be a top priority, lets see it as a new opportunity to re-train and re-skill our workforce into the 21st century.
    We have a problem, lets get creative to solve it, together.

  17. Ian Speer says

    Geoff Miell you quoted as follows,

    “Connecting the west and the east via South Australia helps everyone. Alice Springs has excellent sun and wind, and additionally has extensive off-river pumped hydro energy storage opportunities.”

    Even the good professor says evaporation mitigation can reduce water use by 90% and as I pointed out that is less than required to address the losses in your highlighted location of Alice Springs. As Ronald says that one is a non starter for other very good reasons.

    Yes I agree with your point and the professors point that pumped hydro is the future for Australia overall but there are places where it will not work so well.

    Refer to his publication “90-100% renewable electricity for the South West Interconnected System of Western Australia” June 2016 where and I quote he states
    Pumped hydro only accounts for a small fraction of the system LCOE (Fig. 6). the attached graphs are interesting.

    You got upset about my remarks pointing out that pumped hydro was not really a practical possibility in WA and SA and it seems the good professor agrees in large part.

    Sure there are any number of geographically suitable locations but that does not equate to actual practical installations.

    If the interconnector technology costs come down they and the time shift offer real benefits for WA and SA as well as the Eastern States.

    • Geoff Miell says

      Ian Speer,
      You state: “Sure there are any number of geographically suitable locations but that does not equate to actual practical installations.”

      Please show credible evidence/data that indicates there are NO suitable/practical pumped-hydro locations in SA and WA, that supports your earlier statement:

      “I doubt we will see these pumped hydro projects in SA and WA developed any time soon let alone the hundreds of geographically blessed locations identified by the ANU report which would struggle to get over the line due to multiple permitting issues as well as isolation.”

      Even if your supposition is correct, I’d suggest that may mean SA and WA are more vulnerable to energy supply disruptions when renewable generation is inadequate (i.e. when there’s insufficient wind and/or solar) and shorter-term energy storage systems (like batteries) have been depleted, and if transmission links are disrupted (e.g. by storm events).

      Less energy storage capacity means significantly more overbuild/’spillage’ of renewable generating capacity and more robust/stronger transmission links would be needed to maintain the reliability for a high percentage RE grid – that’s the tradeoff.

    • Ian Thompson says

      Hm-mm Ian

      Long Transmission lines of adequate capacity have been shown elsewhere to be horrendously expensive – both to build, and to maintain. And lossy.

      Elsewhere, it appears the 2-3 hour time shifts (at least for PV) are not that useful – we need the energy when it is generated, not when available the other end – and I have observed on the NEM widget that occasionally (not always), the WHOLE of Australia is in a Wind drought, or ALL states are high in excess wind generation, so inter-connectors would often not be of much use here, either. Low utilisation = super high costs.

      I feel we just need to ‘bite-the-bullet’, and simply pay for the expensive batteries that are needed for adequate storage – charging energy customers accordingly. As Ronald says – intermittent sources are getting cheaper and cheaper (although graphs do show this is flattening out rapidly, so I feel his glasses are a little ‘rose-tinted’). Then, we can keep paying for battery replacements, until battery reliability and lifespan can be improved. Maybe someone will come up with a better system somewhere ‘down the track’. We can hope.

      Of course, down the track we may also find that FNR/SMRs are better value for money for ‘firming’ intermittents – who knows? At least these would be based on proven technology, that has the highest capacity factors of any other technology, and has gone a long way to offset CO2 emissions world-wide. China appears to be going this way – and they their emissions swamp ours, so they have every reason to.

      And we can spend more money on all the other potential technologies of doubtful and unknown efficacy – as we have been doing for some time – and charge this to the customer or tax-payer as well, via grants, subsidies, tax-breaks, etc., etc.

      I remain ‘against’ COAL, due to the very high ‘externality’ costs – including being the leading technology for maximum death rates/TWh produced.
      I’d rather have NGas pick up the slack.

      • Geoff Miell says

        Ian Thompson,
        You state: “Long Transmission lines of adequate capacity have been shown elsewhere to be horrendously expensive – both to build, and to maintain. And lossy.”

        What evidence/data do you base that statement on, Ian?

        Meanwhile, IMO, Prof Blakers provides a very different perspective about transmission – see the YouTube video in my earlier comment above from time interval 0:08:46 to 0:10:56.

        You also state: “Of course, down the track we may also find that FNR/SMRs are better value for money for ‘firming’ intermittents – who knows?”

        I see you are still fantasizing about nuclear, Ian? It seems to me you’ve already forgotten/ignored my earlier comments on Jun 11 to you at: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/productivity-commission-nuclear-mb2021/#comment-1087911

        Since my earlier comment on Jun 11, NOAA has updated its AGGI. In 2020, the CO2 equivalent for all GHGs has risen further to 504 ppm, of which 412 is CO2 alone.

        If we/humanity can find solutions and deploy them in a timely manner to mitigate the climate crisis, then I’d suggest there’s unlikely any need for much more expensive and much slower to deploy nuclear. If we/humanity cannot solve the climate crisis then there likely won’t be a civilisation, and thus there likely won’t be any more nuclear.

        You finish with: “I’d rather have NGas pick up the slack.”

        Why, Ian? Gas is ‘dirtier’ and more expensive than coal.
        https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/resources/why-is-gas-bad-for-climate-change-and-energy-prices/

        • Ian Thompson says

          Geoffrey – no, I did not ‘make that up’.

          Someone else posted details of the costs of long transmission lines, within the blog about SH2. Did you miss this? Was commenting about actual experience somewhere else in the World – using ACTUAL FIGURES for a long line – the USA, I suspect. $ 10 billion as I recall, for a quite modest capacity (2GW) – comparable with SH2 – that was the point of the blog…! Be mindful that the demand of NSW alone can exceed 10 GW.

          No matter how many times you say it, Geoffrey – it doesn’t make you necessarily correct. In the context, your statements that nuclear is ‘too slow’ are quite simply, an abject red herring. Yes, it is ‘too slow’ for right now, today, but even you do not have a crystal ball to predict the future (unless you ARE omnipotent) – it could be that FN/SMRs, with development and down the track, like I said, are more cost-effective than batteries, or a combination of batteries and wind or solar. I mean – you are also ‘hanging out’ the fond hope that batteries will eventually reach reasonable cost, capacity, and reliability status (and, they have been around for much, much longer than nuclear – while STILL not having reached that point yet).

          Same goes for your arguments about cost – you CANNOT KNOW where SMR costs may go. Another red herring.

          FNRs can recover huge amounts of energy from waste from existing (old technology) plants – whilst burning up the long-decay half-life actinides, and substantially reducing both the volume and residual decay life of that waste. Plus, I see they can produce somewhere from 60 to 200 times as much energy from uranium resources (by transmuting the far more highly abundant U238 content) – so your availability of fuel argument is yet another red herring.

          Look, Geoffrey – I do agree that ANY as-yet unproven technology (batteries included, if we are comparing with nuclear) may not ‘make it’ in the future. But would you plan to cease development of batteries? Of better lifetime and efficiency PV? Of more efficient and lower cost wind turbines? All I am saying, is that if we ignore the huge potential of nuclear, we may also miss a great opportunity IN THE FUTURE for a lower-cost source of green energy. Or, we may not. Throwing the baby out with the bath water!

          Besides which – if nuclear fusion eventually ‘gets up’, I feel your beloved intermittents and batteries (and, probably, hydro as well), will be doomed to history.

          Geoffrey – you need a broader mindset. You understanding of nuclear is 1950s.

          • Geoff Miell says

            Ian Thompson,
            You state: “Geoffrey – no, I did not ‘make that up’.”

            Then please provide credible evidence/data that we can all see and evaluate. I do. Why can’t you, Ian?

            You also state: “In the context, your statements that nuclear is ‘too slow’ are quite simply, an abject red herring. Yes, it is ‘too slow’ for right now, today, but even you do not have a crystal ball to predict the future (unless you ARE omnipotent)”

            You’ve admitted nuclear is currently TOO SLOW to deploy. There’s no evidence/data I see to indicate that the situation is likely to change in the decades to come. I rely on the available evidence/data. It seems to me you rely on wishful promises on the never-never.

            You also state: “you CANNOT KNOW where SMR costs may go.”

            Ian, neither can you. What I do know is SMR costs need to come down a very long way to be competitive with renewables with ‘firming’, and all the current indications I see show SMR costs are heading in the wrong direction.
            https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/nuclear-power-is-a-stalking-horse-for-gas,15174

            You claim: “FNRs can recover huge amounts of energy from waste from existing (old technology) plants – whilst burning up the long-decay half-life actinides, and substantially reducing both the volume and residual decay life of that waste.”

            Please nominate what “FNRs” have actually DEMONSTRATED they “can recover huge amounts of energy from waste from existing (old technology) plants”, etc.

            I think you are mesmerized by the inflated claims of nuclear booster propaganda.

            And I see you’ve avoided my question on gas.

          • Ian Thompson says

            Geoffrey Miell

            Do you always need to be spoon-fed? How about you try doing some of your own research? Try Google: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast-neutron_reactor – I’ll help you get started:

            Clementine was the first fast reactor, and was built in 1946 in the USA for fast neutron research purposes. Dounreay was a UK prototype fast reactor built in 1959. BR-5 was USSR built also in 1959 for research purposes.
            I learned about fast breeder reactors way, way back in my time at Uni.

            Russia’s BN-600 produces 560 MWe, has been in operation since 1980, and is a Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR, transmutes U238). They also have a BN-800 FBR producing 880 MWe that has been operating since 2014 – full power since 2016. The world has 400 fast reactor-years of operational experience, and this link (and others) show they can recover 60 times as much energy per kg of fuel, compared with conventional (slow neutron) reactors https://www.powermag.com/rapid-advancements-for-fast-reactors/
            They can even MAKE fuel for conventional reactors, and I have seen references to even greater conversion efficiencies. It is logical, Geoffrey – there is only about 0.7% U-235 in uranium found in nature (the fissile isotope), but about 99% is U-238 – which won’t fission, so needs transmuting to provide U-235, plutonium (fissile), and other fuel sources – which can be done in a FNR as a byproduct. Plus, FNRs can burn up actinides – these are the very long half-life waste products of conventional (slow neutron) plant, and burn their waste as fuel. Wouldn’t that be a very good thing – get rid of all that stored waste, use it usefully, reduce the volume dramatically, then be left will a small amount of waste with a major decrease in residual half-life?

            India has a PFBR 600 MWe under construction, and another planned.
            Russia, South Korea, and the USA have FNRs, probably FBRs, at the design stage.

            No Geoffrey – I freely admit I don’t know where SMRs costs will go – but we wouldn’t even have PV and Wind turbines if someone hadn’t done some research and development to get them to where they are today. Nor Batteries, nor Hydro, nor Gas Turbines, nor even coal stations and electricity grids. Perhaps because I have spent a lifetime in R&D, your lack of an enquiring and curious mind seriously disappoints me. You have said ‘I don’t care about GEN4 protocols’ – well, you should, if you are to have any qualification at all to speak at all on the matter of a nuclear future.

            Engineers take all sorts of scientific research and endeavour and experience into consideration, and make calculations concerning how things might work, then even build prototypes and demonstrators if necessary, as part of the design process to build a commercial product or to address some issue. Our energy-saving CFLs and LED lights did not come about because everyone sat on their backsides. Nor electric vehicles, nor even the high efficiency of modern petrol cars. We do WORK, in order to advance technologies, to get manufacturing costs down, and to improve energy efficiencies.

            Yes, I freely admit nuclear is likely too slow for deployment to deal with the present climate crisis – but your logic is totally flawed if you then take this to imply nuclear CAN NEVER be deployed. What rot…! What hypocrisy…!

            The inconvenient truth, Geoffrey, is that it IS being planned for development and deployment, right now – just not in Australia. More fool you.

            Geoffrey – you know I know something about fugitive emissions – your comment that I avoided your question is both blatant and misleading BS – plus while NG fugitive emissions can make NG just as bad, or worse if not dealt with than COAL, the reality is that COAL emits carcinogenic radon gas, and intellectual damaging non-organic mercury as well. Burning NG produces approximately HALF the CO2 emissions of COAL (to produce the same thermal energy) – so if fugitive methane emissions are correctly managed, NG is not worse than COAL. Of course, if not well managed, NG COULD be worse. You know I know this – I believe the jury is presently out.

            I tend to think the link you attached may have been little more than the booster arguments of renewable advocates, not wanting NG to ‘get up’ in front of the deployment of expensive batteries for ‘firming’ purposes – it had a lot of raving, but very little in terms of reference data and proof. I, too, would want PV and Wind to get up, but fear the tediously slow rate of progress on this to date, and the unknowns of future battery costs and lifespan, will make it inevitable that we will be forced to use NG or COAL for ‘firming’ – like we are doing right now. I’d rather use NG, even if a little ‘dirty’, because we can use it only when needed (‘peaking plant’), not all the time like COAL seems to require (as we are doing now).
            Your comments treated the information irrelevantly – we wouldn’t use NG full time, and even SCOMO has said as much.
            Are you going to stand there and deny this point?

          • Geoff Miell says

            Ian Thompson,
            You ask: “Do you always need to be spoon-fed?”

            I’ve found I need to spoon-feed you, because you seem to ignore the inconvenient evidence/data. When I challenge your claims, in many instances they don’t seem to stack-up.

            How many fast breeder reactors are there currently ‘commercially’ operating around the world? Let’s see:

            1. Russia, Beloyarsk-3, type BN-600 sodium-cooled, 560 MWe net, construction began 1 Jan 1969, commercial operations began 1 Nov 1981;
            https://www.world-nuclear.org/reactor/default.aspx/BELOYARSK-3

            2. Russia, Beloyarsk-4, type BN-800 sodium-cooled, 789 MWe net, construction began 18 July 2006, commercial operations began 10 Dec 2015;
            https://www.world-nuclear.org/reactor/default.aspx/BELOYARSK-4

            IMO, these are soviet-era, pre-Fukushima incident design reactors. If this technology is so fantastic, I ask you Ian, why aren’t there a whole lot more operating around the world? Well, if you scroll down the Wikipedia page titled “Fast-neutron reactor”, that you so helpfully provided, thank you Ian, you should find a section sub-titled “Disadvantages”, that includes these statements:

            “The main disadvantage of fast-neutron reactors is that to date they have proven costly to build and operate, and none have been proven cost-competitive with thermal-neutron reactors unless the price of uranium increased dramatically.[9]

            Some other disadvantages are specific to some designs.

            Sodium is often used as a coolant in fast reactors, because it does not moderate neutron speeds much and has a high heat capacity. However, it burns and foams in air. It has caused difficulties in reactors (e.g. USS Seawolf (SSN-575), Monju), although some sodium-cooled fast reactors have operated safely for long periods (notably the Phénix and EBR-II for 30 years, or the BN-600 still in operation since 1980 despite several minor leaks and fires).”

            The other link you provide from powermag uses words like “potential”, “could” and “only about 20 fast reactors have operated, some since the 1950s”, and refers to:

            “At least 16 other fast reactor projects are inching closer to deployment spearheaded by the U.S., France, Belgium, Romania, Russia, China, South Korea, India, and Japan. Two of these projects—Russia’s BN-1200 and China’s CDFBR-1200—could be commercial projects when they come online by 2030.”

            So let me get this straight, Ian – you are advocating for nuclear technologies that have PROVEN they are already costly to build and operate, more so than the more ‘common-variety’ nuclear fission technologies that are already much more expensive than renewables with ‘firming’. Do you want to bankrupt us all, Ian?

            Or is your hidden agenda about acquiring fissile materials for military purposes, Ian? That’s the only reason I can see for advocating horrendously costly fast-breeder reactor technology. IMO “FNRs can burn up actinides…” is just a smoke-screen for the real reason. I’d suggest it’s all about maintaining technologies and materials for weapons of war, but you only need a relatively few fast-breeders to achieve this.

            Whether we have/have not nuclear weapons is a whole other argument.

            You also state: “…so if fugitive methane emissions are correctly managed, NG is not worse than COAL.”

            But they are MOST DEFINITELY NOT – that’s the problem.
            Which part of “we/humanity need to stop emitting ALL GHGs ASAP” do you not understand, Ian?

            Please spare me!!!

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