Material inputs

We have energy choices to make. These are the inputs required EVERY SINGLE DAY if we choose wind, solar, or nuclear. (Also remember we have to do wind again in 25 years, where nukes last 60 to 80 years).
Concrete: 1,250,000 tonnes
Steel: 335,000 tonnes

Concrete: 2,215,000 tonnes
Steel: 690,000 tonnes

Concrete: 160,000 tonnes
Steel: 10,000 tonnes

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5 Responses to Material inputs

  1. Patrick says:


    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. I majored in philosophy and am now learning computer programming but I also have an interest in climate change, sustainability , and social justice. I had a few thoughts for you to consider:

    I wonder if maybe you are underestimating the ability of solar and battery storage to replace fossil fuels. The big money is now betting heavily on solar plus battery. This includes the likes of Morgan Stanley, Barclays, Jeremy Grantham and others. Austin, Texas, where I live, just signed a contract for a big solar plant that will provide electricity at five cents per kilowatt hour- cheaper than any other source including coal, nuclear, and natural gas. The cost of solar panels is now less than one percent of what it was in 1977. The IEA, which is conservative, has said that solar could provide 27 percent of power by 2050 and become the dominant energy source. The cost of lithium ion batteries also continues to drop. Tesla Motors is building a “Giga battery factory” which is expected to further reduce the price of lithium ion battery storage. There are no constraints on the lithium supply that will be an issue for battery production. Within 5-10 years, if not sooner, we will see home solar power+battery systems being sold at places like WalMart and Best Buy. Panasonic and Kyocera are already selling such systems for the Japanese market.

    Ultimately, the best solution will probably be a combination of rooftop solar plus 48 to 72 hours worth of distributed lithium ion battery storage, plus backup generation. Micro wind turbines may be used to supplement the solar panels in windy areas. Geothermal can also be used where available. Backup generators can be powered with natural gas, biogas or biofuels. In this model, one to ten percent of total energy supplied comes from backup generation. The other 90-99 percent comes from wind, solar, geothermal where available and batteries.

    I think wind power will continue to see growth but not as much as solar. People don’t want to see big ugly turbines everywhere, but solar can be integrated into the rooftops of buildings making it the most unobtrusive power source available. Siting issues will limit the growth of wind power, but solar has almost unlimited room for growth. Wind also really only works well at the grid scale, but there is a lack of economical grid scale storage.

    The lack of economical grid scale storage will mean nothing less than the death of the grid. The lack of storage means that grids are limited in how much renewables they can integrate. Solar can only reach 15-20% of the total without storage, for example.

    The advantage of having a head start in the marketplace should not be underestimated. Each generation of tech sold provides money to improve the efficiency of the tech and the efficiency of production. And if the public becomes familiar with a tech before a competing tech comes out, it can be difficult for the new tech to gain a foothold, even if superior. At this point solar, wind, and batteries have a significant head start compared to nukes.

    I think you are right that generation 4 nukes will be the best energy source once developed. A melt-down proof reactor that is small and burns its own waste, extending fuel supplies for thousands of years would be the holy grail of energy. But most experts say it will be 15 years before the tech is commercialized. At that point, solar will have had an additional 15 years of improvement. What I’m thinking is that by the time gen 4 nukes become available, solar and battery storage may be so efficient that the nukes won’t be necessary. Even conservative energy analysts are now admitting that solar will be a game-changer that no one really saw coming, much like the introduction of the internet or smart phones.

    I think we should still continue to fund research of gen 4 nukes and fusion power, but a dilemma arises because resources are limited: how much money should go to funding of solar power, how much to nuclear?


    Sent from my iPad


  2. Eclipse Now says:

    Hi Patrick,
    I like the vibe of your comment. It’s not ideologically against nuclear, but willing to see what happens with technology. That’s the main reason a non-technical bloke like myself (with a social work background) blogs pushes nuclear: so that at least newbies to this subject can be helped to overcome the 3 main myths against nuclear that I carried around in my head for so many years! (UNSAFE, expensive, and couldn’t deal with the waste: when all 3 are exactly the opposite!)

    The main point I’d say in reply is that, in my very layman’s understanding of these things, if energy demand is x, why build 6x or 7x? Why not just the usual 2x (with backup for plant downtime and servicing)? Also, remember your home PV set only covers maybe a third of the day at maximum power. While I love solar PV if it’s primary function is to reduce ‘gold plating’ of the grid for the hottest days of the year (when all those airconditioners are blasting away and solar pv would help reduce the load), I’m not really a fan of asking it go baseload. Dick Smith, a successful businessman and activist in Australia, ran an energy special called “$10 bucks a litre” that concluded a solar PV home kit would need 4x solar for the home. 1 powers the house during peak sunshine for one third the day, and other 3 charge the batteries for the rest of the day! Over the 25 year lifetime of the product it worked out to cost 4 times as much as grid electricity. But if we don’t ask solar to go baseload, it’s CHEAPER than grid, offsetting some of the demand during the day and reducing gold plating for those hottest few hours a year.

    Next: super grids. To really make renewables work, advocates keep saying “the wind is always blowing and the sun is always shining somewhere”. They want continent spanning super-grids to shunt the power from Africa up through Europe. But small nukes can provide 24/7 power to tiny micro-grids in the Outback, or smaller grids across various states. We don’t have to build out super grids! Then there’s the possible extra costs that fluctuating renewable power place on the grid.

    So, if mass produced renewables + some new mass produced storage device do ever come down cheaper than nuclear power, I’d be the happiest guy on earth. So would James Hansen and Barry Brook, the 2 big climate guys I most frequently quote on this! But sadly I don’t really think we have any evidence of that happening yet, energy demand is only rising, and China are going to start building out Fast Neutron Breeder reactors in 2017. Please read this page. It’s amazing how fast these guys are going to be deployed.

  3. Patrick says:

    It’s my understanding that in all but the cloudiest of climates, one can currently go completely off grid generating 98 to 99 percent of their energy with solar plus batteries, using a backup generator to cover the remaining 1 or 2 percent. In a very cloudy climate one would add a micro wind turbine and a geothermal generator if available and would have to increase the size of the PV array by 1.5x. I think you could do this for around $50-60,000 for an average sized US home, including installation and maintenance. If the system lasts 20 years, a conservative estimate, the cost per year comes out to $2,500 to $3,000.

    If we did solar at grid scale it would be even cheaper since it’s easier to install lots of solar panels in rows on the ground rather than on a bunch of rooftops. It’s also more efficient to have one large backup generator serving lots of people instead of lots of individual generators. The problem is grid scale storage of energy to reduce the need for gas generation so that solar and wind can make up the majority of the energy supply. But we may actually have a solution – chromium iron flow batteries. They use abundant materials and have the ability to behave like the gas backup generators currently used by solar and wind plants. EnerVault has said that it’s flow battery can replace gas generators and is planning its business model around doing so.

    We shouldn’t expect any renewables to compete with fossil fuels at current prices because it’s not a fair comparison. Renewable energy is clean, never runs out, is produced locally, and doesn’t cause global warming. Another thing to note is that electricity is 2-3 percent of the average American household’s total cost. At that level it’s hardly breaking the bank to double or even triple energy prices. If the average individual can’t afford that its because wages have remained flat for 30 years while incomes for the top one percent have soared. To remedy this the US needs to raise the percentage that the richest pay in taxes from from 39 to 75 percent and then increase the earned income tax credit for poor and middle class families.

    We need a carbon tax and laws requiring clean coal technology. For natural gas production we need laws requiring extensive monitoring of methane leaks and plugging of these leaks. We also need to regulate methane as a greenhouse gas. All of this will have the effect of making renewables cheaper than gas or coal.

    I’m under the impression based on my armchair study of the subject that the generation IV reactors are 15 to 20 years away from being commercialized. But renewables are already here and growing exponentially. That kind of head start in the marketplace is often fatal to competing technologies even if they are superior. We also don’t have 15 years to start addressing climate change, which is why I think we need to go all in with renewables now.

    Sent from my iPad


  4. Eclipse Now says:

    the FNR’s mentioned in my link are actually classified as GenIV reactors but might not be classified as ‘Integrated Fast Reactors’. But they are FR’s, and they are GenIV, and France plans to move it’s fleet into Gen3 now and Gen4 later. Nuclear is already here and can grow exponentially, as France’s history shows. 70% of the grid in just 10 years! That’s what they already *did*: it’s a demonstrated engineering reality: and affordable. Today’s Gen3’s can be modularised and put up on the production line just like Gen4’s. Gen3’s produce the perfect fuel for Gen4’s. I see no reason why BOTH renewables and nuclear can’t grow exponentially.

  5. Eclipse Now says:

    Because science media reports records, that *one* day when Solar + Wind in Germany hit 67% penetration, the consistently low performance of renewables in Germany is forgotten: and this is despite the *enormous* money put into renewables in Germany.
    “The annual contribution of wind and solar is around 8% and 6% respectively, despite instantaneous penetration at some six times these levels.”
    Carbon intensity in “German electricity remains stubbornly high at 10 to 20 times the best performing European nations [33],”

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