Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mark Z. Jacobson is Credible as a Scientist?

I have criticized Mark Z, Jacobon's research in the past. Other critics, including Barry Brook, Brian Wang and Bill Hannahan have pointed to numerous and serious flaws in Jacobson's research. In addition a series of critical comments on one of Jacobson's papers appeared in the December 2008 in response to a publication by Renewable Energy World.com of a Stanford press release on Mark Z. Jacobson's paper, "Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security." Jacobson failed to respond to those comments. Again following the publication of a Jacobson coauthored paper in the January 2009 Scientific American, numerous critical online comments were offered by Scientific American readers. Again Jacobson failed to respond. Further, when Bill Hannahan charges that when he attempted to publish a critical review of a Jacobson paper, Jaconson blocked its publication by failure to cooperate with the vetting process. Jacobson has not responded to any of my critical posts, nor did he responds to Brian Wang. Jacobson offered one response to Barry Brook, but failed to defend his response when critics pointed out numerous flaws in it.

Criticism is normal in science, and scientists must be prepared to defend their work from criticism. If scientists are unwilling or unable to defend their work, then they have limited recourse. They must retract undefended or indefensible statements or be discredited as scientists. To date Jacobson has failed to retract numerous statements and claims that have received unanswered criticisms. Yet he continues to claim their truth. While he is free to do so as a human being, he damages his credibility as a scientist if he brings his scientific cradentials to the table.

Jacobson published a comment on nuclear power recently on the CNN Opinion page. In his comment Jacobson made a number of questionable comments. First he claims,
First, it's not carbon-free, no matter what the advocates tell you. Vast amounts of fossil fuels must be burned to mine, transport and enrich uranium and to build the nuclear plant.
In fact many researchers have concluded that the lifecycle CO2 emissions from nuclear power and wind are both quite small compared to CO2 emissions from any form of electrical generation from fossil fuel, and most research suggests that CO2 emissions from wind and nuclear are about the same. So ambiguous words like "vast amounts" are in fact ambiguous and are not used in scientific reports, and hide from readers the fact that nuclear is a reliable source of low carbon electricity.

Jascobson claims that it takes
"10 to 19 years . . . to plan and build a nuclear plant. (A wind farm typically takes two to five years.
In fact, it takes far less, although in the United States far more time is devoted to the licensing process than to actual nuclear plant construction. Asian nuclear plants require far less time, for example Chines reactors are expected to take about 5 years to build. However Nuclear manufacturers such as Babcock & Wilcox expect shorten reactor construction time to only 2 years, by building reactors in factories rather than on site.

Jacobson claims
The on-the-ground footprint of nuclear power, through its plants and uranium mines, is about 1,000 times larger than it is for wind.
This claim has been questions. First, Jacobson only considered the size of wind generator base in estimated the land, but wind mills are built from materials that come from mines, and were he to be consistent, he would also include the size of those mines in his estimate. Secondly Jaconson failed to consider the visual impact of wind generators, and that the visually impacted area would easily cover tens of thousands of square miles. Jacobson further neglected to consider the environmental impact of wind related construction and service roads, which are by now thousands of miles long. Finally Jacobson failed to consider the environmental impact of thousands of miles of power lines, which must be built in order to transmit electricity from wind generators to electrical customers.

Jacobson correctly acknowledges that the world has abundant renewable energy resources, but what he fails to add is that it is more expensive to supply a given amount of power for a year from wind and solar power generating facilities than it is to supply that power from nuclear power plants.

Jacobson states,
Nuclear proponents also argue that nuclear energy production is constant, unlike fickle winds and sunshine. But worldwide, nuclear plants are down 15 percent of the time, and when a plant goes down, so does a large fraction of the grid.
But nuclear plants in the United States are only down 8% of the time and most of that time is for refueling and repairs that have been planned in advance. Since nuclear plant operators can control the time of the shut down, they often take advantage of predictable periods of low power demand for their shutdowns. In contrast, wind generators produce little electricity during periods of maximim consumer demand, such as hot summer days. Solar generators, of course shut down at twilight, and don't start generating again until after dawn no matter how much consumers demand electricity. The shutdowns of nuclear plants are simply not comprable.

Jacobson claims,
Connecting wind farms over large areas through transmission lines smoothes power supply.
In fact, this system requires the building of many thousands of miles of expensive electrical transmission lines to connect widely dispersed wind generators, and requires the building of wind generators with five times the generation capacity of a nuclear power plant to even begin to approach the reliability of nuclear power plants. Even then in Texas the system that Jacobson describes is expected to deliver no more than 10% of its rated capacity on hot summer days, and sometimes it will deliver much less. The gap is expected to be filled by burning fossil fuels. Such smoothness comes at a very steep price.

So what would Jacobson do about all of those Texas air conditioners that are demanding power on hot summer days." He tells us,
storing energy (with concentrated solar) and giving people incentives to reduce demand. It is not rocket science to match power demand. It merely requires thinking out of the box.
Storing energy is another expensive solution to the problems of wind and solar. Incentive to reduce demand means high energy price, which of ourse you will have if you are dependent on expensive wind generators, and the wond stops blowing in Texas on hot summer days. People, even Texans, can always be forced to turn off their airconditioners, if the electricity costs too much. Thinking out of the box may cost people, it may hurt people, it may even kill them, but it does not solve the probl;em of wind and solar unreliability.

Finally Jacobson claims,
Combining geothermal with wind (whose power potential often peaks at night) and solar (which peaks by day), and using hydroelectricity to fill in gaps, would almost always match demand.
In the United States right now, hydro provides 6% of the electricity, and most cost effective hydro dams have already been built. So Hydro is not going to fill in the gap on windless nights. Geothermal power plants are typically built in volcanic areas, and while they are reliable, there are not enough volcanic areas in California to provide night time power to that state, and California has more volcanos than most of the country. A recent attempt to build a geothermal plant in a none volcanic area of Europe is believed to have cause an earth quake. Surely Jacobson knows about the earthquake problem. If he doesn't he is a very bad researcher. If he does, he is hiding it from his readers as he makes the highly unlikely suggestion that hydro and geothermal can make up for the failures of wind and solar.

Thus we see that only a few of Mark Jacobson's statements about nuclear power and renewables are true. We also see that he hides information, if it does not support the case he is arguing. That he uses ambiguous, unscientific language, and that he suggests unrealistic solutions to the problem of living without nuclear power if we run out of fossil fuels or choose to dispence with them. We also see that Jacobson has repeatedly avoided answer criticisms of his work, and even has blocked the publication of a critical review of one of his papers. Thus it is legitimate to as the question is Mark Jacobson credible as a scientist?


DV8 2XL said...

The best independent scientific opinion money can buy...

Anonymous said...

Solar can supply 5-10% of total electricity demand (depending on the grid) without the need for storage or burdensome operating procedures. This means the US should be able to install 200 GW of PV before having to worry about additional pumped hydro or compressed air storage reservoirs.

T-Squared said...

Thought I would add a note on the time to build a nuclear reactor to dampen, nay squash, Jascobson's hyperbole.

A very recent example is Japan's Tomari-3 reactor. Tomari-3 is a 912 MW reactor. Construction was started 18 Nov 2004; it connected to the grid 20 Mar 2009; and began commerical operation 22 Dec 2009. That makes it 5 years in my book, 4.5 years if you don't count comissioning activities.

This is probably a great example of how long it takes to build a reactor. While Japan may not have the same regulatory structure,i.e. less lawyers and more engineers, as the US, it has, nonetheless, a strong regulatory system.

Incidentally, Tomari-3 is Japan's 54th nuclear reactor. Their game plan to meet the greenhouse gas challenge is to build another 11 reactors over the next years -- basically one a year. These new builds will increase nuclear's share of Japanese electricity production by 35%, from 25% to 60%. Each % increase in nuclear capacity represents a potential reduction of 3 million tonnes of CO2e, not shabby.

LarryD said...

Anon:"Solar can supply 5-10% of total electricity demand (depending on the grid) without the need for storage or burdensome operating procedures. ..."

At exorbitant cost, assuming your claim is true. Which, I note, you supply no support for. Justify your claim.

And since solar PV (396.1) and solar thermal (256.6) are far more expensive than natural gas (79.3 to 139.5) or nuclear (119.0), with much inferior capacity factors (21.7 to 31.2 vs 87 to 90), you have a lot to explain to make your claim credible.

DV8 2XL said...

Larry - This is what we are getting in the way of renewable apologists these days. They blow into a discussion, drop their little load of hollow assertions, then disappear.

They can't defend their positions anymore, and they know it, it would seem that they have fallen back on stuffing their fingers in their ears, and shouting whatever comes to mind, as a way of trying to avoid facing the truth.

The truth being that they have been used as useful idiots by natural gas and it has been dawning on everyone else that the Greens have been had.

Anonymous said...

Here is an NREL study.


A Frunhofer study specific to Germany.


An SMA brochure.


"Even if an assumed PV capacity of
30 GW is reached (in 2008 the installed capacity in Germany was only approx. five GW), one does not anticipate any adverse effects on grid stability as a result of solar power infeed."

The rough math indicates that 30 GW would produce about 5% of Germany's electricity. At Germany's present installation rate they will come up to this penetration level by the end of the decade.

LarryD... Those LEC figures for PV are too high. The solar farms going into the southwest have LECs quoted at close to 10 cents per kWh. Granted, these LECs incorporate the 30% tax credit but even when you tease out this condition the LEC will still be under 20 cents/kWh.

PV is still rather expensive but it's nowhere near as expensive as it used to be. German homeowners can install systems for 2.5 to 3 euro/watt. At about 2.2 euro/watt they'll reach levelized electricity costs that are at retail parity - i.e. PV will generate electricity at the same cost as electricity delivered from the grid.

You guys just don't get it.

Charles Barton said...

Anonymous I do not put great stock in NRES studies, because they tend to pass on Renewable Industry propaganda claims as if they were facts, and consistently downplay the bad news in their data. For example, The latest Eastern Interconnect study clearly demonstrated that rising wind penetration would lead to increased electrical costs, but this was not one of the conclusions that was featured in the press release, or in the executive summary. A preliminary finding of the Western interconnect study of wind and solar has been that renewables will primarily displace CCGTs, while leaving coal largely untouched. Thus the carbon mitigation of high penetration wind and solar was much less than would be assumed if we did not have that information, but the NREL study failed to draw the obvious conclusions about the relative carbon mitigation costs of of renewables verses nuclear. I am not impressed by the 30 GWs of German PV. The capacity factor of German PV is likely to be under 10%. That means that the 30 GWs of PV capacity will probably produce under 3 GW years of electricity every year. Displaced generators are likely to be CCGTs, and German cloud conditions will likely requite a large number of OCGTs to be kept spinning. With the looming shutdown of German nuclear plants, the carbon emissions from the operations of of the German electrical system are likely to rise rather than fall. Thus we must consider the opportunity costs of the German FIT. What Germany will have is a hugely expensive electrical system that will almost certainly produce more CO2 than it does now. If PV farms are as cheap to operate as you claim why do they need such huge subsidies?

Are you telling the truth about PV costs, or are you selling snake oil?

Anonymous said...

The point I'm trying to make is that it is technically possible to install lots of PV and still not worry about storage. This point has made in CEC documents, NREL reports, Fraunhofer studies and elsewhere. It seems that many here are willfully denying a simple thing to understand. You reiterate the opposite. It is like a FOX news show. And you claim techno-industrial literacy?

As to the economics, they are improving quickly. A new report on current German installed $/kWp prices comes out this week.

Ah yes... PV replaces gas turbines. This is a good thing from an economics point of view. For Germany this is also good because they import their natural gas.

Carbon is not my concern. Your carbon mitigation metrics are very distracting.

Charles Barton said...

Anonymous No storage? What about power on windless nights? Amd carbon mitigation is important, according to climate scientists. Mitigation costs distracting? Distracting from what? PV advocates keep telling us, that when PV gets cheap enough, the messiah will come, but even if they could afford to give away PV modules, there would still be daunting and expensive to fix problems.

Anonymous said...

I'm not talking about wind. You keep bringing wind up. I'm talking about PV providing power during the day and the fact that you don't need to install storage capacity or change operating procedures significantly if your goal is simply to get 5-10 percent of your electricity from PV. Germany's stated goal is to get 10% of their total electricity from PV. That translates to around 66 GW of PV that they want to install by 2030. At their current install rate they will reach this level in the stated time frame.

Installing more PV than this requires storage and new operating procedures such as cycling coal plants on and off or spilling excess PV. These things are technically doable but they are problems for the future. We cannot anticipate all the variables required to fully consider how to develop the grid this far in the future.

Germany is trying to encourage self-consumption of PV with their new policies. Self-consumption would encourage things like heat-pump water heaters that run off PV and power down at sundown - and many other such technologies. We cannot know how these technologies will develop over the next 5, 10, or 20 years with any accuracy. The lack of knowledge in this area makes forecasting difficult.

So... avoid forecasting and look at what's possible with the technologies at hand. This is the point of concentrating on the 5% of grid goal over the next decade and perhaps 10% over the next 20 years.
Storage does not factor into the equation if you set your parameters practically.

Alex P. said...

If there is a country had showed that solar PV doesn' t work without HUGE amount of government subsidies, this is Germany, indeed, given the TENS of BILLIONS of euoros invested and the tiny solar production (actually less than 1% of the natioanl electric need)
Moreover, given that modest solar prodction in Germany, I find the argument of no need of solar storage really ludricous...

Charles Barton said...

Anonymous the entire German PV pipe dream will go down the tube without a huge FIT subsidy. And even then, you can just turn the heat and lights lights of in Germany at night, because there will be no power. Such schemes will no doubt ruin the German economy, but hay, unlike prosperous India and China, India will be doing without nuclear power.

Anonymous said...

The argument I made here is that you can supply 5 to 10 percent of the grid without the need for storage or burdensome operating procedures. I provided some basic evidence but the idea that storage only becomes an issue past a threshold penetration should be obvious.

Germany has indeed spent billions but I think they know what they are doing.

If you sketch out some possibilities for the FiT over the next year some interesting possibilities come into view.

The FiT is currently 39.14 cnt/kWh.
The FiT is planned to fall to 32.88 cnt/kWh on July 1st.
The FiT adjustment for Jan 1, 2011 is planned to be a minimum of 10% or 29.91 cnt/kWh.

"If the newly-installed capacity in 2010 exceeds 3.5 GW, there will be a further 2.5 percent degression along with the degression that is already planned. If more than 4.5 GW is installed, the planned degression will increase by a further 5 percent."

If Germany installs over 4.5 GW in 2010 the FiT will go down another 17.5% to 27.12 cnt/kWh. I think this is likely. If PV continues to grow despite these FiT cuts this technology is going to get a lot more attention.

Whether you like PV or not, the next 12 months will be very interesting.

Charles Barton said...

Anonymous there are a number of issues here. As I understand it, one of the methods for lowering German PV costs, has been to shift production off shore, and particularly to China. The manufacturing of PV's is fairly energy intensive, and the Chinese PV manufacturers do not rely on PV generated electricity in the manufacture of their product, they rely primarily on coal generated electricity to keep their manufacturing costs low.

Since German PVs have on an annual basis a very low capacity factor, the grid penetration of even 66 GWs of PV capacity will be on average days, less than 7 GWs. This would seem to allow for grid stability to be maintained with no more than 7 GW of spinning reserve, making grid stability manageable. However, carbon mitigation would be exceedingly small, because of the carbon costs associated with the use of OCGTs in load balancing and spinning reserve roles. However rapidly moving weather fronts might pose a problem. In a matter og hours German could shift clear skies to cloud cover and back to clear skies. This would require potentially a much larger reserve to maintain stability, and might require grid managers to dump some PV generated electricity. If carbon emissions management becomes an important consideration for grid operators, dumping PV generated electricity might become an important options. This might be the case even for rooftop PVs, as the electrical demands on the grid from homeowners and businesses will shift quickly with
cloud condition related variations in PV output.

Another important consideration would b th supply of and cost of natural gas. Since grid management with future high levels of PV penetration would require a large amount of natural gas, cut offs of natural gas supplies would compromise ability to manage grid stability, and increases in natural gas cost would make electricity on a high PV penetrated grid more expensive, no matter what PV itself costs.

Even if PVs are given away in Germany because they cost nothing to manufacture and distribute, they will still carry with them significant costs, and electricity on a grid with high PV penetration will could cost more than electricity on a grid with high nuclear penetration. At the same time the production of electricity on a high PV penetration grid would extract as far higher carbon penalty than nuclear generated electricity would.

Anonymous said...

There is no one source, we have to intelligently use all the renewable resources.

A combined power station "developed" in Germany by the University of
Kassel that uses wind and
solar as base load with hydro and biogas as peak / makeup.

There is quite widespread generation of biogas in Denmark and Germany
from agricultural "waste". After the methane is extracted it is
returned to the fields as a "fertiliser" and to build soil
tilth/structure. A number of towns in other regions of Europe are now
generating biogas from there plant/organic municipal waste collection.
These are large scale "industrial" solutions processing 10s of
thousands of tonnes per year.


An analysis in Germany with their power plant mix found that on site chp/cogeneration of heat and
power with the heat and power used locally produces the lowest CO2
emissions. With further effort (efficiency losses), the methane can be converted to clean
"natural" gas änd injected into the gas network. Converting further to
hydrogen allows on site cogeneration in a fuel cell with water and CO2
wastes (and no polluting products of combustion such as SO2, NOx, particulates, etc.)

In tropical / subtropical climates like Florida or Brisbane a neat little
Indian Arti digester for home use, using kitchen wastes (high starch/sugar content)
probably operating at mésophilic temperatures 35 °C, can produce quite a bit
of gas : 1kg of sugar or starch yields about 400 litres of methane, within a
period of 6 to 8 hours. This quantity is enough for cooking one meal
for 5 to 6 "Indian" persons.


Though finally we will have to reduce our energy consumption, by
using it more efficiently/intelligently. We cannot continue at current
consumption levels otherwise its bye bye New York, et al in perhaps 50 to 100
years (it may well be too late now).


John Daglish
Paris, France

Charles Barton said...

John Daglish, schemes such as the University of
Kassel scheme you describe, are extremely redundant, and thus highly expensive. Conventional nuclear is far cheaper, and factory built LFTRs would even cheaper. The Germans will ruin their national economy with their anti-nuclear reneewable worshiping ideology.

You simply have no idea that how expensive the schemes you advocate are.

Anonymous said...

Solar can power California 100%.
Germany will be 100% solar powered by 2030.
Germany will shut down all its nukes by 2022, because it will have more solar installed, under the Feed-in-tariff, paying homeowners $0.54 kWh for harvesting solar & feeding it onto the grid.
Youtube: paul8kangas


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