July 02, 2008

Lester Brown Plan B is mathematically and logistically flawed

Lester Brown is pushing an Earth Policy Institute plan for replacing all coal, oil and most natural gas by 2020 Their calculations for energy are flawed. It appears that they ignore capacity factor. They also do not look at pricing or consider the build up of factories and supply chain. Although I guess some of that comes from an assumption of taking over (mobilizing) existing automotive factories and converting them to building wind turbines.

Plan B includes a cost of $4.5 trillion for the wind turbines alone. This does not count the production of new factories and does not count the build out of grid. It also does not address intermittent nature of wind abd solar power. The supply chain build up is the bigger cost and strain. Also, taking the necessary steel and concrete allocation. Also, the biomass increase will still contribute to air pollution.

3000GW of wind in Plan B but wind has only 20-40% capacity factor. The european avg is 25% load factor over the course of a year (European average). US average is 30%. The US wind capacity produced 31 billion kWh per year from 16.8GW)2007. American wind farms will generate an estimated 48TWh from 24GW. So 3000GW would produce 5500 TWh.


Spreadsheets for Plan B indicate that there is a proper units view:

It also indicates that while capacity factor is considered for overall power. The intermittent nature of solar and wind power is not. Plan B also focuses on electricity generation and while the initial charts they use look at the total energy picture they will still have a lot of oil usage for transportation and coal and oil usage for industrial purposes. So the graph which shows no oil and coal usage is only addressing electricity and not transportation and industrial energy usage.

Nuclear already generates 2600 TWh. The base reference case for the EIA International energy outloook 2008 is for an increase in nuclear power to 3290 TWh in 2020 (no mobilization just existing trends). 690 more TWh with no mobilization. The Lester Brown turn there nose up at what people are already going to build with a dismissive nuclear costs too much according to Amory Lovins, when the plan is for upwards of $10 trillion in extra spending.

Spend a few billion on assisting and accelerating the development and $500 billion for deployment of the MIT annular fuel system for 50% power uprates to existing reactors. This would allow for 1600 more TWh to the reactors that exist now and are planned to be built anyway. So less than 10% of the spending to get 41% of what the wind energy turbine build is targeting.

$2 trillion per year in energy infrastructure spending is already the default projection for 2015.

In the IEO2008 reference case, the world’s installed nuclear capacity grows from 374 gigawatts in 2005 to 498 gigawatts in 2030. The IEO2008 projection for nuclear electricity generation in 2025 is 31 percent higher than the projection published in IEO2003 only 5 years ago.

They rely heavily on efficiency gains from replacing cars to plug in hybrids and new public transportation and changing out all appliances and increasing industrial efficiency by upgrading to the most efficient equipment.

This still leaves 300+ exajoules of coal, oil and natural gas. The 6000GW of renewables that they propose does not even replace the electricity generation because of the reduced capacity factors.

They need to re-examine the calculations, the supply chain, the costs, training of people to build and install, and existing trends that would help with their goal of greenhouse gas reduction. They need to consider how the biomass is increased to minimize environmental impact. They do not just purposefully ignore political reality but they ignore economics, business and engineering reality as well. There charts hop from the overall energy picture to the electricity only generation picture without clarifying what is being done at the overall level.

A far better plan is the one presented by McKinsey consulting for offsetting climate change

This site also offers a better energy plan


Charles Barton said...

Brian Thank you for this excellent post. Right now there is a whole lot of very bad thinking about energy. You have cut through some of the crap.

Red River said...

The Wind Power numbers from that study are a fantasy.

The variability in wind power means its true utilization rates are <20% while most other power sources are > 90%. Add in the maintenance needs and other overhead and its just not competitive economically or by any other measure with primary load sources like coal and nukes.

jj said...

I could not disagree more with the title and content of this posting. A quick visit to allows you to download a blueprint of Plan B with references as well as access all data behind the calculations. For starters, the goal of Plan B is not to replace all fossil fuel use economy-wide, as this posting insinuates. The goal is to reduce net carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020. In achieving this goal, the power generation sector replaces all coal, oil and 70 percent of natural gas with renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, etc. Fossil fuel use in the industrial sector is maintained to build the renewable infrastructure.

Second, capacity factors are not ignored. The capacity factors applied are from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Power Technologies Energy Data Book. The capacity factor used for wind is 36%. Thus, 3,000 GW of wind capacity will generate 9,461 TWh (34,059 PJ). A capacity factor of 36% in the year 2020 is well within reason since the next decade will see an explosion of offshore wind capacity, which is more reliable than onshore. Also, wind turbines being installed today have higher capacity factors than many wind turbines presently operating, due to better designs that enable the turbines to spin at slower wind speeds.

Thirdly, the mentality that supply chains and prices will thwart Plan B is definitely thinking inside the box. As explicitly explained, the entire economy will require retooling, much like the retooling of the economy for arms production during World War II. Realizing the Plan B economy will revitalize economies, creating jobs and lifting people out of poverty. While trillions of dollars over the next dozen years sounds like a lot, it is comparable to expected spending for fossil fuel development and military operations to protect oil supplies. With the introduction of the proposed Plan B carbon tax, the economy will efficiently shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewables. It is not a money issue. The money is already there. It is just being invested in the wrong areas.

Fourthly, the goal of Plan B to hold nuclear power generation at its current level is a sound strategy. Any cost accounting quickly exposes the exorbitant cost of nuclear power. The total amount of incentives handed out to the wind industry in its 25 year history in the United States is equal to a single year of incentives handed out to the nuclear industry during the first 40 years of nuclear development. Nuclear is also high risk and, thanks to the Price-Anderson Act, taxpayers must shoulder the burden in the event of a nuclear accident. And accidents still happen. Case in point is the nuclear leak that occurred in France last week. Besides, one of the only reasons that nuclear is competitive today in the United States is that many nuclear plants were sold to utilities at below cost. And if you think the private sector can develop nuclear power, think again. The only 100% privately-financed nuclear plant is being constructed in Finland and it is years behind schedule and billions over budget.

Lester Brown never said that achieving Plan B would be easy. When one takes the time to get the facts straight, it becomes clear that Plan B offers a solid strategy to stabilize climate and to move us towards a sustainable world economy.

bw said...

what I indicated was misleading was the Plan B chart and text which sometimes indicates replacing all fossil fuels. It is more clear with the backup material but the roughly 12 page summary was not clear.

In reality, supply chain issues do matter. Even if a damn the costs and resources kind of approach were to be adopted then relative cost and resource use should still be a factor. In which case it does not make sense to focus on only wind and solar and geothermal. Nuclear energy already provides 20% of electricity. China is scaling up to 100 AP1000 reactors built or being built by 2020. (1.25-1.7GW sizes). Plus they are making mass producable meltdown proof high temperature reactors.

how many people died from the French leak ? Zero.

There is background level radiation in the ocean and water and environment.

I do not think that you are calculating the subsidies for wind power correctly.

Feed in tariffs are multiple billions of dollars per year for wind and solar

This site has looked a energy costs with externalities included and the data does not support your claims

Price Anderson has cost nothing to the tax payer because no payouts have ever been triggered. Based on the calculations of when Price Anderson would be triggered the possible costs are not that high. There are no containment domeless reactors for the high cost Chernobyl case.

You complain about any non-private funding or guarantees for nuclear and then support a plan B effort with massive public spending ala a world war 2 mobilization. So is non-private funding bad. If so then there should be no non-private funding for Plan B. If a larger public spending effort is in order then the optimum spending plan and plan with the fastest results should be considered and one that involves the least barriers to adoption from the countries that would matter (china, India, US, Europe, Canada, japan, Brazil).

So which was is it ? Big public spend for a new energy plan or private only funding ? If it is a big public spend then everything should be considered. If it is a new call for private only that is a change because all energy sources get public money in every country.

Looking at materials used for construction as well Offshore manufacturing of wind involves a lot more effort and materials than onshore which uses a lot more material to generate the same power as nuclear.

The global wind energy report

The average feed-in tariff over 20 years for turbines
installed in 2007 ranged from 8.19 euro cent/kWh ('initial
tariff') to 5.17 euro cent/kWh (‘basic tariff’). The initial
tariff is reduced by 2% every year, so it will be 8.03 to
5.07 euro cent/kWh for turbines installed in 2008.

20TWh at an average 2008 feedin tariff rate of 6.5 euro cents is $1.3 billion euro.

By 2020, the overall German onshore capacity could be at
45,000 MW, assuming an optimal use of sites and no general
height restrictions for turbines, with an additional 10,000
MW offshore. This would account for about 25% of German
electricity consumption, or about 150 TWh/year.

30% reduction in feed in tariff.
5 euro cents per kwh.

7.5 billion euro/year for the 150TWh capacity.

150TWh is less than the 806 TWh produced by thirty year old nuclear technology in the USA from 99GW of nuclear. 55GW of nuclear would produce 440 Twh. About three times more than the projected 2020 Germany wind situation from a global wind group.

the current situation is that air pollution and other pollutants from coal and oil and natural gas are killing millions of people every year. (World Health Organization). Global warming is a potential issue. But addressing air pollution is a pressing concern for today. If the fear of global warming can be used to help address this real issue then all the better. But those informed about the energy and pollution issues should recognize that nuclear is far better and available to help reduce those deaths sooner just as they already have by displacing coal and oil for 20% electricity generation.

85% of energy from all uses is now from fossil fuels. 8% is from nuclear power. If nuclear power was not used up to this point then that would have been more coal and natural gas.