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Author Topic: How can economies continue to grow, given a finite supply of resources?  (Read 11465 times)

Offline alancalverd

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Actually reliability, wind is more reliable. If the forecast says you'll get a certain amount of power, you do get that. With other sources, the power station can get a fault and disappear, all at once.

We live and learn. On my planet, all rotating machinery is subject to occasional breakdown and surface wind forecasts are at best an educated guess. But what do I know? I only fly around in the stuff, propelled by rotating machinery. And whenever I fly near a windfarm, I notice a substantial proportion of windmills are not turning: clearly there is no demand for free electricity on Earth, since they are all 100% reliable.

There is however a more serious side to "reliability". The point of electricity, gas, JETA1, coal, or cow dung, is that you can get the power you need when you need it, not when the wind thinks fit. And if you need more, you just turn on the tap or shovel more peat into the furnace: "no wind" won't appease the train traveller or the victim on the operating table. Without even going into details of general meteorology and cyclone genesis, I might ask windmill enthusiasts to step outside around dawn and dusk. Remarkably, just when electricity demand is highest, surface windspeed is least.
 

Offline CliffordK

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By connecting a large number of wind generators, one can improve the odds of 24 hour coverage.  Somewhere in the USA, the wind has to be blowing.  Of course, there are transmission losses with moving wind power from Nebraska to California.

There are also batteries and various methods to store the power, although difficult to do on a MW or GW scale.  I have suggested that hydroelectric installations could be designed to vary output to compliment solar, wind, and other renewable power generation.

But, it is a good point that much of our society is organized around power on demand.
 

Offline alancalverd

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But I would argue that increases in productivity from automation and computers in other industries haven't always resulted in higher wages, or more leisure time, for all workers.
I told this tale on another thread, but it bears repeating. Some years ago I was offered a job in a confectionery factory. The plant employed several hundred workers and produced several tons of sweeties every day. The job on offer was to double the output and replace nearly all the staff, by automation. I didn't take it, but somebody did, and the redundant staff are now buying the product at full price with their dole money, instead of half price at the company shop. That's capitalism working hand in hand with socialism to make the rich richer!

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Land and housing prices often go up at 5% to 10% a year, while wages and the price of commodities increase at a much slower rate of perhaps 3% a year.
I don't think this is entirely due to scarcity or population density, though it is much more apparent in the UK than in the USA (and you can get a nice plot in suburban Detroit for $10 nowadays).

What happened in the UK was an interesting sociological phenomenon. Houses had always been affordable (average UK house price in 1940 was 1.5 times the average wage) but the supply was not plentiful - and why should it be? There's little point in having more houses than families, and people rarely moved house. Mortgages were limited to about 2 x one man's salary as there was little prospect (or indeed need) of a wife continuing to earn. Thus price was limited by the availability of money.

In 1960, it suddenly became feasible to undertake to repay a mortgage from joint salaries, thanks to oral contraception. Within 5 years, house prices had doubled simply because more money was available to buy them. Now if you have just bought an asset whose value seems to be appreciating at 12% per annum, it's very tempting to "move up the housing ladder", and the housing market moved from a slow trade in essentials to a fastmoving speculative commodity market, with people moving from house to house every year instead of once in a lifetime. 

The forces of nature asserted themselves and people began to reproduce once again, so wages had to rise to pay for the mortgage burden now mainly falling back on men. But since all transactions are counted as part of Gross National Product, even if nothing is actually being produced, and GNP per capita is the parameter or prosperity, it suited successive governments to allow raging inflation both of speculative house purchases and he wages to pay for them. The pound collapsed against the dollar (from $4 in 1950 to $2 in 1970) but that simply made exports of luxury cars all the more attractive, even if less profitable.

And here we are, with absurd house prices and a government once again doing its best to stimulate a bogus market because it looks good to have lots of money changing hands, even if no value is being added to any product.

AFAIK the same thing happened, though on a less absurd scale, in the USA, and it all fell apart because deregulation encouraged people with no secure income to join in the speculation.         

 
 
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Actually reliability, wind is more reliable. If the forecast says you'll get a certain amount of power, you do get that. With other sources, the power station can get a fault and disappear, all at once.

We live and learn. On my planet, all rotating machinery is subject to occasional breakdown and surface wind forecasts are at best an educated guess. But what do I know? I only fly around in the stuff, propelled by rotating machinery. And whenever I fly near a windfarm, I notice a substantial proportion of windmills are not turning: clearly there is no demand for free electricity on Earth, since they are all 100% reliable.
I never said they were 100% reliable. They're 99+% reliable, and there's always 2-3 days warning when they're generating.
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There is however a more serious side to "reliability". The point of electricity, gas, JETA1, coal, or cow dung, is that you can get the power you need when you need it, not when the wind thinks fit. And if you need more, you just turn on the tap or shovel more peat into the furnace: "no wind" won't appease the train traveller or the victim on the operating table.
No, because they can break. And when they do, you need a great big back-up generator. The UK has got some old fuel-oil generators it uses for that (probably mostly diesel). The UK has plenty of capacity.

FWIW there's an interesting chart here which shows you the current UK generating pattern, and historical for the last year:

http://gridwatch.templar.co.uk/

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Without even going into details of general meteorology and cyclone genesis, I might ask windmill enthusiasts to step outside around dawn and dusk. Remarkably, just when electricity demand is highest, surface windspeed is least.

Really? Can you point to that in the above chart for the last week, because I can't see that ever happening.

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Actually reliability, wind is more reliable. If the forecast says you'll get a certain amount of power, you do get that. With other sources, the power station can get a fault and disappear, all at once.

We live and learn. On my planet, all rotating machinery is subject to occasional breakdown and surface wind forecasts are at best an educated guess. But what do I know?

Well, you're clearly not a meteorologist.

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There is however a more serious side to "reliability". The point of electricity, gas, JETA1, coal, or cow dung, is that you can get the power you need when you need it, not when the wind thinks fit. And if you need more, you just turn on the tap or shovel more peat into the furnace: "no wind" won't appease the train traveller or the victim on the operating table.
Wow, nobody have ever thought of your clever argument against wind power, I'm glad you've pointed that out!
 

Offline alancalverd

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The UK has plenty of capacity.

Not according to our glorious government

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/48132/2175-emr-white-paper-exec-summary.pdf
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●● security of supply is threatened as existing plant closes: over
the next decade we will lose around a quarter (around 20 GW) of
our existing generation capacity as old or more polluting plant close.
Modelling suggests that de-rated1 capacity margins could fall below
five per cent around the end of this decade, increasing the likelihood
of costly blackouts. In addition to this huge reduction in existing
capacity, the future electricity system will also contain more intermittent
generation (such as wind) and inflexible generation (such as nuclear).
This raises additional challenges in terms of meeting demand at all
times, for example when the wind does not blow;

but what do they know?

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Well, you're clearly not a meteorologist.

Obviously not. Meteorologists forecast the weather. I'm  pilot. We fly in actual, not forecast, conditions - the difference can be lethal.

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Really? Can you point to that in the above chart for the last week, because I can't see that ever happening.

http://www.weatheronline.co.uk/cgi-bin/expertcharts?LANG=en&CONT=euro&MODELL=gfs&BASE=00&VAR=pslv&HH=24 shows a typical UK anticyclone, last Tuesday. Widely spaced isobars so buggerall wind over most of the UK - 10 kt max at 3000 ft midday, down to zero on the surface at dawn and dusk (as convective mixing decreased - happens every day to some extent). Just a random day when I happened to be airborne and the forecast was pretty close to actual. You can listen to the air traffic control tapes if you wish: inbound to Nottingham at 10 am I was told "Runway choice at your discretion. There's no wind."

During the summer the high pressure tends to center further north and the condition can last for weeks at a time. Sorry I can't quickly find a better example as I wasn't around for most of this summer but the visible symptom is interesting: after a few days you get a dust haze that leaves vertical visiblity fairly clear, but restricts horizontal vis during daylight hours to the point that visual flying is dangerous - you can see the ground but not other aircraft.  And no wind.

PS I just plotted a flight along the south coast of England and into south Wales for this afternoon. Coldish, gloomy autumn day. Forecast surface wind: 0 to 5 kt, decreasing to calm by nightfall.
« Last Edit: 14/10/2013 12:32:36 by alancalverd »
 

Offline alancalverd

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Incidentally I'm intrigued by the high capacity factors now being claimed. These don't match up with the wind roses, so I wondered how to get a high capacity factor without breaking the laws of physics.

It turns out to be very easy. If I put a 100 kW wing on a 50 kW alternator, I will get twice the capacity factor because the alternator is working flat out when the wing is only at 50% power. It all depends on what you mean by "installed capacity", and knowing how politicians like their statistics massaged, you can get any answer you like.
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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You see, this is the thing, while I'm sure you're a fine pilot you have no clue what you're talking about when it comes to wind power.

Many of the wind farms are in Scotland. On that particular day (Tuesday October 6, 2013) the graph I sent you a link to shows the UK wind farms produced a rock-steady 2G of power the whole day, which is almost exactly average, and showed no dip in production in the early morning or any other time at all.

The local wind conditions you mentioned had no impact at all on the overall energy production (although they probably meant the southern generators weren't running, the northern ones were); and you took this to mean that none of the wind farms were operating in the whole of the UK, and even further to claim that wind power is useless!

In science terms, you have an interesting theory, but the evidence of the real world graphs of wind power production do not back it up.
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Incidentally I'm intrigued by the high capacity factors now being claimed. These don't match up with the wind roses, so I wondered how to get a high capacity factor without breaking the laws of physics.

It turns out to be very easy. If I put a 100 kW wing on a 50 kW alternator, I will get twice the capacity factor because the alternator is working flat out when the wing is only at 50% power. It all depends on what you mean by "installed capacity", and knowing how politicians like their statistics massaged, you can get any answer you like.
That is one of the factors that influences capacity factor, it's a completely legitimate strategy. But the bigger blades cost more money of course. Another strategy is to build taller, or to place them in windier places (offshore wind has a higher capacity factor.)

Note that any subsidies and other income that get paid for building a wind generator at all, are not paid for capacity factor, they're paid for the actual energy generated and the income has to pay for the windmill. It's the builder that risks losing money if they artificially push up the capacity factor not politicians.
« Last Edit: 14/10/2013 13:06:16 by wolfekeeper »
 

Offline alancalverd

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Nice charts, indeed. How interesting that

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On that particular day (Tuesday October 6, 2013) the graph I sent you a link to shows the UK wind farms produced a rock-steady 2G of power the whole day, which is almost exactly average,

Now since the average wind speed varied a lot in the previous week, but output didn't, we must presume that most of the 2 GW came from offshore, which is admittedly more reliable.  But it's worrying that with 10 GW installed capacity, the annual graph never exceeded 50%, and it warms my heart to note that total wind output fell to near zero for most of July, when the anticyclone covered the North Sea as well as the landmass.
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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The wind is always lower in summer, and higher in winter. There's also 10GW lower demand then, to some degree this balances out.

But it is definitely a variable source of power.

Denmark currently has enough wind power capacity that if and when the wind blows hard across the whole country, they generate more than enough power to power the whole country from the wind alone, and they sell the extra energy abroad, particularly to places like Norway. Norway then turn down their hydrogenerators, and collect the water. When the wind goes away, they turn the taps back on, and sell it back to Denmark.

The UK could do much the same thing, it already has some taps to Europe.
« Last Edit: 14/10/2013 18:07:49 by wolfekeeper »
 

Offline alancalverd

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The wind is always lower in summer, and higher in winter. There's also 10GW lower demand then, to some degree this balances out.

Not according to the graphs you quoted. Demand was close to its minimum in late December, and wind output was at or above 30% of capacity during June and September.

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The UK could do much the same thing, it already has some taps to Europe.

All we need is (a) a friendly neighbour with vast overcapacity of hydropower (b) vast overcapacity of windpower and (c) a massive transmission grid. As of now we have a 2GW transmission capability and
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Since the commissioning of the 2,000 MW DC link in the 1980s [i.e. under an agreement between nationalised industries] the bulk of power flow through the link has been from France to Britain.
  mostly nuclear.

Nice science, Mr Wolfe,  but a long way from engineering reality!
« Last Edit: 14/10/2013 19:37:25 by alancalverd »
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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The question of this thread is asking how can economies continue to grow, but you don't think countries should build infrastructure such as grid interconnections???

If you look at that link it mostly flows into the UK.

There's also an interesting thing going on with nuclear power that most people don't realise; nuclear power needs hydro as well!

The reason is that the nuclear infrastructure is particularly expensive, so the cost per watt (peak) is much higher. Although you can turn nuclear power output up and down quite easily, to bring the kWh price down to sane levels the nuclear plants have to run as close to flat-out as possible. But the actual demand varies.

France actually have to use hydro to deal with this problem, as well as dumping excess power to its neighbours.

So nuclear actually has similar problems as wind power does, due to the variations in load.
 

Offline alancalverd

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I don't think it's pedantic to point out that a fluctuating demand that can be met, albeit at a cost, is quite different from a fluctuating supply that can't be matched to demand because it is not under human control.

It would indeed be very helpful if nations could share resources, but as far as the UK is concerned we don't have a national electrical system anymore, just a ragbag of noncompeting retailers with no interest in the future supply of anything. The fact that parts of the "privatised" grid are owned by the French and German governments doesn't seem to make it work any better. 
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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You sound like you read the Daily Telegraph. Most of the stuff written in The Daily Telegraph comes from 'Renewable Energy Foundation'.

The Renewable Energy Foundation sounds like it would be an unbiased source, but actually, it's headed by Noel Edmunds. Noel Edmunds, inspite of his cuddly on-screen image, is a man who believes there's energy orbs floating over each shoulder that can only be seen on digital cameras i.e. imaging technology compatible with photoshop. I am not making this up.

But REF is not about renewable energy, it's about making sure that there isn't any renewable energy near Noel Edmunds house. That's why he joined them back in 2004. I am not making this up.

So they publish information, but deliberately the information is cherry picked and packaged and released to make sure that it appears that wind power is useless.

So why's it called the 'Renewable Energy Foundation'? It's because if it was called the more accurate title of 'Down With Wind Energy', even the Telegraph wouldn't be able to publish it.

Anyway, there's a whole report about the costs of intermittency here, from UKERC, who were set up to be as balanced as possible, unlike REF:

http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/Downloads/PDF/06/0604Intermittency/0604IntermittencyReport.pdf
« Last Edit: 14/10/2013 23:51:01 by wolfekeeper »
 

Offline alancalverd

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I guess I probably would read the Telegraph if I agreed with its politics - I certainly approve of its use of polysyllables, which give it a reading age of about 12, by far the highest in the UK. But I loathe Mr Edmonds, his repellent on-screen persona, and all he does.

Fact is that I'm a physicist by trade, so I just look at the numbers and ask "will it work?" Doctors and engineers pay me to do this. If the job is to supply electricity sustainably and affordably to the UK, windpower without at least 5 days' storage or 100% backup simply won't. If the job is to supply "clean" energy for all purposes, there is no sustainable source that can support the UK population. I commend  http://www.withouthotair.com/download.html by Prof David MacKay for unbiased numbers.

I abjure "balance". Science is not democratic and the laws of physics do not bend to consensus.

It seems to me that the UK could be indefinitely sustainable in both biofuel (much more useful than electricity) and food with about 10% of the present population. This could be achieved in 100 years at no cost to anyone but (a) democratic politicians only think in 3 year horizons and (b) there's no short term profit to be made,  so our grandchildren are doomed and we have to pay over the odds to subsidy farmers in order to distribute the green vote and keep shortsighted incompetents in parliament and off the dole queue.
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Oh well then.

The Prof David MacKay is pretty good, and I was very impressed the first few times I looked at it his stuff, but he tends to be a 'there's needs to be A solution to all this' kind of guy; 'oh and by the way it's nuclear.'

But it doesn't look like it's going to be like that. There's going to be a mixture of different power sources. Great gobs of intermittent wind, some biofuels to fill in when the wind isn't working, and solar for midday, battery cars which can act as temporary storage for a month or two, hydro wherever that is available and some fossil fuel plants probably with carbon capture or only as a backup.

In combination these things have been proven to work, they massively reduce pollution and aren't much more expensive than the current network, and in the long run will probably be cheaper, maybe even massively cheaper due to mass production- wind is still getting cheaper and cheaper, and solar has reached grid parity for consumers already pretty much.

Nuclear is theoretically really good, but Chernobyl and Fukushima. And if anyone ever says 'oh they were old plants, badly designed' just point them to the Wikipedia page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_accidents

which shows there's been a serious incident every two years, with absolutely no signs of improvements. Bad design is a thing that is impossible to stamp out by dictat; it takes many generations of designs to do that, and there just haven't been enough nuclear generations. And each generation probably has a Fukushima in there.
 

Offline alancalverd

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Depands on your definition of "serious". The interesting column in the "nuclear accidents" article is "deaths". Apart from Chernobyl, the total is 11, all plant workers. That's about one week's worth of dead coalminers or construction workers, spread over 55 years. And no civilian deaths to date, compared with 12000 from coal smog in London in 1952 alone. Chernobyl wasn't a proper accident - it was caused by operators intentionally contravening the instruction manual, which was written precisely to prevent this sort of thing happening.

Fukushima is an ongoing cockup but entirely containable, unlike the tsunami that caused it and killed 20,000 people in a day - why does nobody talk about that anymore? Baseless public anxiety sites nukes on the coast, where they are most likely to be damaged by the forces of nature!  Apart from the pressurised water reactor, which is (a) inherently not failsafe and (b) the avowed choice of the UK government for future expansion, all the current civilian power reactor designs are OK as long as nobody tries to destroy them, as at Chernobyl. 
 

Offline cheryl j

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In general, I believe the average worker today in the USA, and most of Europe is better off today than one century ago, two centuries ago, or three centuries ago.

However, one concern is that not everything follows the same inflation curve. 

Land and housing prices often go up at 5% to 10% a year, while wages and the price of commodities increase at a much slower rate of perhaps 3% a year. 

Part of the increase in land values is pushed up by an increasing population, and rarity. 

A century and a half ago, the government could hardly give away land, especially on the frontiers.  Today, that land giveaway is all but gone, and there is increasing competition for the land due to population growth.

There is, of course, always the goal to get "bigger and better", but I presume if the population would stabilize, then home prices would also stabilize. 

But, obviously with supply and demand, anything that becomes rare with respect to demand will also cause the inflation disjoints.

I would also agree that in general workers are better off today than they were a hundred or two hundred years ago. Many of the benefits to people, though, are the result of things that were sort of all/ or nothing benefits for society as a whole, and could not be withheld from anyone at the lower end. There is either clean water running through city pipes, or there is not. There is either a fire department that puts out fires or there is not. There are either health and safety rules in a factory or offices or there are not. It became harder in some ways to withhold certain benefits provided to others, or perhaps another way to phrase it is that everyone benefited from advances that were only created to benefit a few. But despite that overflow effect, at some point if you keep paying workers less and less, they can't sustain themselves. For example, it costs me one day out of five to pay for the gas to drive to my job the rest of the week. If my child was still in day care, it would  cost another day to pay for five days of daycare.

So what I guess I am asking, is there a way that mathematicians can predict when an economical system becomes unstable. A small example would be the number of people paying into social security and the number withdrawing from it. At some point, the predicted numbers of people paying in can no longer support it. The other unsustainable aspect is that things that used to be small luxuries (store bought clothes, appliances) are incredibly cheap, but big ticket items, like a university education or houses or land (which you mentioned), are becoming more and more expensive, almost out of reach for an increasing number of people, which only seems to increase the economic divisions in society more and more, and if one dies poor, with uneducated children and no inheritance to pass on, those economic divisions only increase.
« Last Edit: 16/10/2013 04:06:11 by cheryl j »
 

Offline alancalverd

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So what I guess I am asking, is there a way that mathematicians can predict when an economical system becomes unstable.

I think the one thing that is certain about economics is that economists are not very good at prediction - especially about the future!

 
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The other unsustainable aspect is that things that used to be small luxuries (store bought clothes, appliances) are incredibly cheap, but big ticket items, like a university education or houses or land (which you mentioned), are becoming more and more expensive,


The difference here seems to be between those things that are mass-produced in third world sweatshops, and individualised one-offs produced in or native to the western world. It's not entirely clear to me what will happen in the future. As I grow older I'm less inclined to buy clothes and gadgets but pretty obviously vast amounts of money are moving eastwards in small quanta as people change their iphones and underwear for this year's model, and major Chinese and Indian capital funds are now rescuing undercapitalised western enterprises (like Jaguar Land Rover) from extinction. Two other huge financial gyres are oil revenues (which start wars) and illegal drugs (which keep crime and poverty on the streets), all of which drain money from the developed world and concentrate it in a few hands. Whilst the oil sheikhs seem to be investing openly in western industry and homeland development, it's not too clear where the drug money is being spent - largely, I suspect, on the revenue costs of running the trade by supporting small criminals along the supply route.

It's a far cry from the techno-capitalism of Brunel and Ford, or the philanthropy of Bazalgette and the New York Water Board.
 

Offline MarkPawelek

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Nuclear fission still can still give us plentiful cheap energy for thousands of years to come.

The main factors driving the high price of nuclear fission energy have been bad reactor designs, draconian regulation, and bad (for the customer) business models.

Most of today's reactors are pressurized light water reactors. This design goes back over 60 years. It was developed to power US navy submarines. It is inefficient in many ways.

1) By running a reactor at a higher temperature than the PWR more of the heat produced can be transferred. e.g. LFTR. The PWR is inefficient at using the heat produced.

2) Waste. PWR creates a lot of waste. Fuel must be periodically replaced. Only a tiny fraction of the fuel added is used. The remaining spent fuel is then most likely waste. It would be OK if it could be recycled but there are only 3 reprocessing plants on the planet. The spent fuel just festers away somewhere giving nuclear energy a really bad rep.

Because today's reactors almost all use Uranium as a fuel, they create a lot of plutonium and actinide waste. Very nasty.

A better design, such as a LFTR, would burn up all its Thorium fuel, leaving no spend fuel. At the end of the reactor life the waste would be a tiny fraction of that made by a PWR, and such waste would be low in plutonium and other actinides. It's even waste, as such, because it can just be added to another reactor.

3) Today's PWRs use Uranium as a fuel. Thorium is less damaging to the environment. 1 ton of Uranium needs 800,000 tons of ore to be mined. Thorium is often found in nature with the lanthanides. All the Thorium we need (to power the world with electricity) can be obtained as a by-product of lanthanide mining, with the vast majority left over for the future.

4) The LFTR is far safer than the PWR. It's reaction vessel is not pressurized. It intrinsically safer.  Melt-down is impossible, even if hit by a meteor, earthquake, terrorist attack, your worst nightmare, etc.

Next generation IV GEN reactors are far better than today's obsolete, 60 year old, reactor designs.

Coal and gas electricity plants both emit far more radiation than nuclear plants, orders of magnitude more. Coal also emits particulates responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths annually. We should replace all electricity from fossil fuel with IV GEN reactor designs.

Recommended: Thorium remix 2011 [nofollow].
 

Offline evan_au

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big ticket items, like a university education ... are becoming more and more expensive, almost out of reach for an increasing number of people.
Education is partly a problem of getting information and experience from those who have earned and learned it to those who have an incentive to learn.

Unconventional sources of education are now available from the Khan Academy, and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are now available from a number of universities.

At this point, it is not clear how to get a recognised certification from these institutions - or how these institutions are going to charge a reasonable fee for the course material.

What is clear is that a lecture that was once given to 100 students can now be viewed by 10,000 or more; and it doesn't cost the lecturer much more effort to deliver it. The challenge will be for students to get help when they get "stuck" - the equivalent of the traditional tutorial. Some institutions are letting students work together in online discussion forums to help each other.
 

Offline MarkPawelek

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We have a lot of energy reserves: Global energy resources in ZetaJoules [nofollow]
- chart compiled by 1984 Nobel physics laureate Carlo Rubbia

We'll be fried before we run out of oil and gas.

The slide can still be found on page 7 of : Carlo Rubbia's ThEC13 presentation [nofollow]
« Last Edit: 06/11/2013 11:34:35 by MarkPawelek »
 

Offline alancalverd

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big ticket items, like a university education ... are becoming more and more expensive, almost out of reach for an increasing number of people.
Unconventional sources of education are now available from the Khan Academy, and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are now available from a number of universities.

At this point, it is not clear how to get a recognised certification from these institutions - or how these institutions are going to charge a reasonable fee for the course material.


Not a problem! London University ran correspondence courses, initially for military personnel and prisoners and later for anyone (?possibly limited to Commonwealth citizens) leading to BA and BSc degrees, and also operated a worldwide scheme for mentoring PhDs. I guess that represents the expensive end of the scale - certainly extremely hard work for the students.

Not sure whether LU still do, but the Open University developed the concept in the Sixties with radio and TV lectures and demonstrations supplementing the correspondence material. They now offer 250 modular degree and diploma courses to over 250,000 students in the British Isles and Europe, with partnerships worldwide. The standard, at least in mathematics (I took some modules some years back) and physics (several of my engineering colleagues have OU physics degrees on top of factory or military apprenticeships - perfect preparation for a professional) is excellent and the postgraduate supervision seems to follow the old London model of mentoring workplace research - rather more practical than most "internal" PhD projects. How do you get a recognised qualification? Usual method: hand in your coursework, take the exams (usually held in school halls during vacations), and turn up for a viva. It's very tough (60% dropout in undergraduate maths!) but very satisfying and I think represents the future of education.
 

Offline evan_au

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We have a lot of energy reserves

I agree that there are a lot of currently untapped fuel reserves.

A number of countries are actively looking at Thorium reactors (like India). Despite being demonstrated in the 1960s, I imagine that they attracted little interest from the superpowers because its not so easy to make nuclear weapons with a Thorium reactor.

I think the important measures of energy extraction are:
  • How much energy do you need to inject to get energy out, over the whole lifecycle?
  • How much environmental damage do you create in the process?
There have been places in the world where you drill a hole, and the oil spurts out. But those oilfields are now spent, or in decline.

For liquid/gas fuels, now we have to look at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, where methane turns into a solid and gums up all the pipes, arctic oilsands, or in deep-ocean clathrates. It is getting more expensive to produce a unit of energy, because we have used most of the easier options.

Similar scarcity is striking other industries like fishing - we are using more powerful and sophisticated technology to chase fewer and fewer fish - leading to the collapse of some fisheries. Defining a sustainable fishing industry is a major political challenge in Europe at the moment.
 

Offline alancalverd

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I imagine that they attracted little interest from the superpowers because its not so easy to make nuclear weapons with a Thorium reactor.

More to the point, it's not so easy to make a thorium reactor! 

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Defining a sustainable fishing industry is a major political challenge in Europe at the moment.

Exactly. It's a political challenge, not a scientific one. The object of the EU fisheries policy, as with every other aspect of EU regulation, was to protect the market, not the stock, of fish. So there's a minimum market size for every species, a quota for landed fish above  the minimum,  and  all the "by catch" goes to waste or fertiliser. Contrast that with the Norwegian rule: you have to sell everything you catch, and there's a limit on total catch. Consequently Norwegian waters are just as productive as they ever were, and the rest of the North Sea is a desert. 
 

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