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In a rigorous analysis is this "missing link" a solution or evidence of a much larger and systemic policy, market, and investment problem?

While Prof. Sadowy is correct on energy issues, his “the missing link” conclusion lacks perspective and highlights a larger problem in clean energy.

The Yardstick

“Missing link” technology has to have specific performance (other technologies have these) and cost. The most central feature for a "missing link's" is -

The combined system cost per kWh must net out lower than today’s renewables to have value.

This battery’s cost is 1/3 "the best battery technology" (MIT). AGM batteries are ~$250 per kWh of storage. Renewable output needs to be leveled (store when producing a lot, supply when not) to behave like fossil. Wind requires 3-5 days of leveling storage equal to 50% of rated capacity (the turbine’s max output) (LBNL).

Storage for 1MW wind turbine = 3 x 24 x 500kW x $80 = $2,880,000

1MW turbine cost = $1,800,000

Wind subsidy is ~$.026 per kWh to equal Natural Gas at $.065 per kWh

Combined wind/storage cost = $.15 per kWh, Subsidy raw = ~$.085 per kWh, Subsidy w/externals = ~$.05 per kWh

The effect of subsidizing a large percentage of global consumption at current rates is severe (see Edenhoffer’s ADAM) on the order of a 2% global economic contraction per year. More expensive renewable energy that behaves like fossil is not a solution.

The Larger Problem

As long as governments are subsidizing (driving private investment) energy technologies that are highly unlikely to solve our core energy problems, our problems will not be solved because we frittered away the money to solve them. The last 30 years provide a snapshot of this problem.

The US has funded and subsidized incremental storage, solar, and wind technologies for 30 years at a cost of tens of billions of dollars without producing anything that can or is on track to actually compete with fossil. If we continue to lack rigor in clean energy policy and investment and to invest large sums without vision, the future for climate change and/or our standard of living looks very dark.


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  • Jan 16 2013: There certainly is an energy problem, and our "solutions" so far are rather inadequate, and not well thought out. It seems quite true that a moderate level of "civilisation" depends strongly on cheap energy, and translates into money directly,
    As to systemic problems, that;s for sure. The fairly obvious answer to the world baseload energy problem was invented and demonstrated 50 years ago, then forgotten about. So much for the "Informatiion Age'. I'm referring to the OTHER type of nuclear fission power plant, developed as an aircraft engine project for the Air Force in the Cold War.. See Thorium Liquid Fueled reactor, Youtube, Kirk Sorensen , for details, if anyone is interested.
    • Jan 17 2013: Thanks, Shawn, for the pointer to thorium liquid fueled reactors. Really exciting to me. I had not known about that technology.

      I'm working on an open letter to a group of climate scientists who wrote to the President urging him to continue rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline (see 350.org blog). That request is all well and good, but I think 350.org, climate scientists, and others need to focus on getting alternative energy such as thorium-based fission into the news and public consciousness. All I see in the press and in popular anti-global warming movements is push back on fossil fuels but little push forward on what we can do technologically to get out of this mess. (This could partially be because of my own ignorance of what everyone is up to or due to bias of the press, I don't know. But I'll happily make a fool of myself in trying to push for technological solutions.)

      Given that the Obama administration has signaled that "climate change" is one of its top 5 priorities for its second term, we need to ratchet up the pressure somehow. I see that someone created a White House petition for thorium-based fission (and even renewed it last June). Certainly that could be resurrected once again, but perhaps also with a focus on nationalization of the electric grid and utilities, and preceded with a push to get some groups with big mailing lists on board _before_ opening the petition. Other avenues include the open letter I mentioned.
    • Jan 17 2013: A further note on thorium. It's going to take me quite some time to sort out this area. Studies such as the one from MIT (http://mitei.mit.edu/publications/reports-studies/future-nuclear-fuel-cycle) or the pointers to the failures of India's program are cited by detractors as showing LFTR is not a good investment. It's frustrating to read, though, because, 1) I can't find a head-to-head debate on LFTR's pro's and cons (just repeated claims that thorium makes a lousy replacement fuel for current reactor technology, which appears to not be what advocates are advocating), and 2) all the vitriol from both advocates and detractors.

      Is there any sober discussion out there between detractors and advocates (for us poor folk who don't have enough background to come to our own conclusion)?
      • Jan 21 2013: stephen: Thanks for asking. Much of the anti-Thorium effort seems to be based on merely not being familiar with the whole ORNL Liquid Fueled nuclear aircraft engine effort, combined with a lack of knowledge about Alvin Weinberg and Eugene Wigner. Also, seriously misleading is the fact that the Indians, although they are certainly interested in Thorium , are trying to use it as a cheap substitute for Uranium, in LWR solid fuel reactors, which is of course also scheduled to run out in time, and is clearly not cheap., as well as having the usual problems. Also I believe they want bombs, unofficially, of course. Good wbsite FYI is , with a forum. Sorry if this is somewhat garbled; the "edit" button doens't show the whole paragraph.
        For an excellent account of the whole energy scene, try "Thorium: Energy Cheaper than Coal". by Robert Hargraves. For some more detailed diffculties with it, see website , which seems to try to be fair about it, , and feel that LFTRs are are the best bet, though they are not as optimistic as Weinberg and Wigner (the inventors). has some interesting video interviews with surviving engineers from the ORNL projects, who believed that all the supposed difficulties would not be show-stoppers. This site also has a an ongoing forum , which one can view or oin, for serious questions.
        • Jan 22 2013: Thanks Shawn. Much appreciated. If you get a chance, please post those two links. Somehow they didn't show up in your post.

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