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FRONT COVER

One of the 500,000 volt transmission line towers carrying the two
highest capacity circuits feeding electricity to Sydney, NSW. Each
3-phase 4-conductor circuit can transmit the entire 2.64 gigawatt
electrical power output of the huge Eraring generating station near
Newcastle. The station has four giant coal-fired boilers delivering
steam to each of four enormous 660 megawatt turbo-alternator sets.

At full load this twin-circuit transmission line can supply roughly


half of Sydney's peak needs which amount to all the electricity
generated by….

 Both Eraring and Bayswater coal-fired power stations,


totalling over five gigawatts.

 Five nuclear power stations of one gigawatt output.

 44,000 Kooragang wind turbines, provided that an efficient


means of storing electrical energy near the wind turbines is
available for when the wind is not blowing hard enough
(assuming 20% capacity factor).

 1,200 square kilometres of solar panels, provided that an


efficient means of storing electrical energy is available close
to the solar farm for when the sun is not shining (assuming
17% capacity factor).

{one gigawatt = 1,000 megawatts = 1 million kilowatts}


Nuclear Electricity Gigawatts

Supporting Alternative Energies

Colin Keay, PhD, DSc

The Enlightenment Press


2002
2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


The author is a retired physicist and astronomer who, as an associate
professor at the University of Newcastle for 24 years, taught basic
thermodynamics and the principles of energy conservation and
conversion of energy from one form to another.
One of the challenges was to give students a good feel for relative
amounts of physical quantities like energy and power and the
distinction between them. All too often in news reports energy and
power are terms used interchangeably, resulting in confusion by the
public. And more often than not there is a gross miscalculation of the
amount of either. This problem is much in evidence when intermittent
energy sources (like solar and wind) are featured in the media.
This booklet has been written to give readers a feel for the strengths
and weaknesses of the many different ways of generating electrical
energy - an indispensible commodity for the prosperity and good
health of communities anywhere on this planet.
The author has no past or present connection with the nuclear or any
other energy industry.

Other titles in this series are

Nuclear Energy Fallacies - Forty Reasons to Stop and Think

Nuclear Radiation Exposed - A Guide to Better


Understanding

Copyright ©2002 by Colin S Keay. All rights reserved.

First published in Australia by The Enlightenment Press

ISBN 0-9578946-2-7

Printed by Longworth & Goodwin Pty Ltd, NSW 2305

Victims of a Global Confidence Trick


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"Last week's (British) Government energy review, proposing a


massive expansion in wind power to produce electricity, perpetuates
one of the most bizarre confidence tricks of the modern world." So
wrote a commentator in the London Sunday Telegraph of February 17,
2002.
The article went on to reveal that Denmark, a world leader in
electricity generation from wind turbines, has called a halt to their
program on the grounds that it is too expensive and "has yielded no
reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases".
Furthermore, the article notes that "what is extraordinary is how
successful the propagandists for wind power have been in creating the
illusion that it is in any way environmentally friendly."
This ground-breaking Sunday Telegraph article concluded "And who
could seem more gullible than Mr Blair, falling for the great wind
fantasy just when the Danes have recognised it as one of the silliest
delusions of our age?"
It has taken a long time to read in a national newspaper like the
British Sunday Telegraph anything critical of alternative electricity
production. As expected there were howls of protest from wind
advocates, but those scientists and engineers, whose careful negative
assessments of alternative energies have in the past been mercilessly
ridiculed, are giving quiet thanks that the great global sustainable-
energy bubble is at last showing signs of bursting.
This is not to say that there is no place for wind power and other so-
called renewable sources of energy. There is indeed a role for them, as
we shall show. But there are very few practical options for generating
reliable uninterrupted base-load electricity essential for powering a
modern economy, such as Australia's.
Expecting windmills and solar farms to provide base-load electricity
is pie-in-the-sky, simply because the sun and wind are intermittent.
The amazing thing is that so many otherwise thoughtful people have
fallen for green misinformation and fail to realise that blackouts
inevitably follow at times when electricity supplies are inadequate.
Californians have been learning this lesson the hard way. In 2001
they were forced to cut domestic electricity consumption by ten
percent because alternative energies failed to keep up with increasing
demand.
And increasing electricity demand is a global problem.
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Take a look at this set of electricity load curves for the State of New
Sourth Wales. It plots the system load in gigawatts (thousands of
megawatts) against the time of day 1:

12
10
Summer
8
6 Winter
4
Minimum
2
0

To supply the daily peak load of nearly twelve gigawatts, the majority
of the state's coal-fired power stations need to be in full operation. If
alternatives are being relied upon for part of this load, say 20 percent,
the stage will be set for power blackouts. Consider the evening peak in
winter, the sun will have already set and the wind may or may not be
blowing. Power cuts at that time will be most unpopular.

The Many Ways to Make Megawatts of


Electricity
There are many ways to take one or other source of energy and
convert that energy into useful electricity. There are three primary
sources of energy on this planet of ours:

 sunshine from that giant reactor in the sky that we call the Sun,
 energy of radioactivity from the interior of the Earth,
 and rotational energy of the Earth-Moon system.

There is some evidence that oil and natural gas are also primary in
the sense that they may have been bestowed from the formation of our
planet from a cloud of dust and gas containing organic matter. Coal
and peat on the other hand are derived from past solar energy.
From whatever source they come, energy supplies have their merits
and failings, requiring a careful evaluation which we shall attempt.

1
Source: Transgrid Annual Report 2001
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In assessing the relative outputs of various types of alternative energy


we need a yardstick of some sort. A station producing an electrical
output of one gigawatt (1 GWe), equal to a thousand megawatts, is one
capable of making a significant contribution to the energy needs of a
large city or a State. This is still short of the output of the largest
Australian power stations such as Eraring or Bayswater which each
generate 2.64 GWe (employing four 660 MWe turbo-alternator sets),
a fact that should be remembered when comparisons are made.
Also bear in mind that a power station does not have to have a power
rating of 1 GWe. For example new, inherently safe, designs for nuclear
power reactors can have much lower output ratings and be distributed
closer to locations of electricity demand.

The ten major contenders for electricity production discussed here


have been rated against five significant criteria relevant to their base
load performance. The more smileys awarded, the better they are:

Cheap Electricity Cheaper electricity is certainly better


Capacity Factor Proportion of time output is available
Energy Payback Lifetime return on construction costs
Economy of Area The less land demanded, the better
Greenhouse Gas The less gas and pollution, the better.

We commence by discussing the predominant method of electricity


generation in the world today.

Coal
The profligate combustion of coal and oil during the past few decades
is a major cause of the steady rise in global carbon dioxide levels,
prompting fears of global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.
Fossil fuels, no matter how they are burned for heat energy, produce
roughly twice their weight in carbon dioxide and release considerable
volumes of other pollutants, including toxic trace elements, into the
environment. In these respects natural gas is the least noxious fuel
and coal the most, with oil pretty much in between.
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A 1,000 MWe coal-fired power station burning coal and operating at


75% capacity has a typical fuel requirement of 3 million tonnes of
black coal a year. It pours into the atmosphere over 6 million tonnes
of carbon dioxide, more than 100,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide
which returns to the environment as acid rain, and about 200,000
tonnes of particulates in the ash residue although a small amount
escapes up the smokestack depending on the efficiency of the filters or
scrubbers at the base of the stack. If brown coal is burnt the figures
rise appreciably because more of it must be burnt to produce the same
amount of electricity as from black coal.
Worldwide, coal fired power generation consumes over 1,500 million
tonnes of black coal every year. This leads to an annual emission of
well over 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, and if all other fossil-fuel
electricity generation is included the sum total is around 7 billion
tonnes per year. To appreciate the whole picture, the use of fossil fuels
for all purposes - heating and transport mainly - raises the figure to
20,000 million tonnes a year of which around 45 % comes from coal
and 40 % from oil. And it is still rising year by year which means that
attempts to curb it have not been successful. One possible way is
through the introduction of a carbon tax. In 1997 the Australian
Conservation Foundation proposed such a tax at the rate of eight
dollars per tonne which would add almost a quarter of a cent per kWh
to everyone’s electricity bill, big industry and small consumer alike.
Coal and oil are bulky fuels compared to uranium because their
energy content is so much less. Whenever fossil fuels need to be
transported an appreciable distance from the mine or well-head their
conveyance generates further emissions to add to the above totals.
Returning to the wastes from coal-fired electricity production, they
arise because coal seams, over eons of time, have accumulated
through precipitation a wide variety of minerals. The reactive organic
content of coal creates the necessary conditions to trap these elements
within the coal seam in recognisable streaks of thucolite, named after
the radioactive thorium and uranium they contain. The annual wastes
from a 1,000 MWe coal-fired power station include several hundred
tonnes of toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury,
selenium and vanadium which retain their toxicity permanently, as
well as the two radioactive elements in thucolite which have long half
lives. The daughter elements they produce when they decay also
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contribute to the level of radioactivity in the ash. Radon gas is the


daughter element with the greatest mobility and because of its highly
active decay products it presents the greatest radiation danger to
nearby population. Compared with other naturally occurring sources
the radiation levels are not high, but are still over ten times higher
than the emissions from a nuclear power station of the same capacity.
It is interesting to note that a coal-fired power station discharges in its
wastes more uranium than a nuclear power station consumes for the
same amount of power if fast breeder reactors are used. Here are the
facts: Australian coals2 contain from 0.4 to 5 parts per million
uranium, with a mean of 2 parts. The energy released by the nuclear
fission of uranium is more than one million times greater than the
yield of chemical reactions such as coal-burning. So one tonne of
uranium, if fully consumed in a breeder reactor, provides as much
energy as more than a million tonnes of coal. That much coal releases
more than two tonnes (average) of uranium in its wastes. This may
come as a surprise to many readers but is well-known in the power
industry.
In order to avoid giving a false impression, the more common non-
breeding reactors extract only two or three percent of the energy of the
uranium fuel, so the ratio drops from several million to a few tens of
thousands. This still means that, megawatt for megawatt, the uranium
in the wastes from coal-fired power generating stations is
considerable and is about as radioactive as unprocessed uranium ore.
Before moving on, some coal-fired power stations in Australia have
been used as incinerators of other wastes including garbage. Some
10,000 tonnes of contaminated soil, coal tar, used oil and other
hydrocarbons a year were being mixed with ten million tonnes of coal
and burnt at the Bayswater and Liddell power stations in the Hunter
Valley. When this came to light it drew strong criticism from
Greenpeace spokespersons concerned at its potential to cause
cancers3. An Environmental Protection Authority spokesperson
stated that the practice complied with clean air regulations. So the
question is whether or not one should reclaim energy from the
disposal of combustible wastes, and reduce coal demand
correspondingly.

2
“Trace Elements in Australian Bituminous Coals and Fly-Ashes”, Swain, D J,
Coal Colloquium, Newcastle University, August 1979.
3
Newcastle Herald, 25 February, 6 and 7 March 1998.
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The reckless consumption of the world’s petrochemical resources for


electricity production (and transport) represents an irrecoverable loss
of feedstock for the needs of future generations in the areas of
pharmaceuticals, plastics production and other organic chemical
manufacturing processes.

Cheap Electricity  Capacity Factor 


Energy Payback  Economy of area 
Greenhouse Gas  OVERALL 

Oil
Oil, for transportation and to some extent energy generation,
accounts for roughly half of the global energy market.
Petrol, kerosene and diesel fuels refined from oil are the mainstays of
our transportation systems. Never mind the pollution they produce.
For as long as oil is available land, sea and air transport will guzzle it.
Natural gas supplements petrol and diesel for land transport and fuels
derived, at some expense, from coal can substitute for oil to some
extent.
The question is, and again never mind the pollution, how long will
the oil last?
Well why worry? The world survived the oil crisis of the 1970’s and
the cost of oil has risen by a factor of ten to around 25 to 30 US dollars
a barrel at the present time. The question still is, and never mind the
cost, how long will the oil last?
To answer the question and get real we must seriously examine some
figures, like rates of discovery and consumption. The rate of discovery
of new oil deposits peaked around 1967 at 43 billion barrels a year. It
has dropped to less than five billion (Fleay 1995). The good oil is
getting harder to find. Annual global consumption is running at
around 30 billion barrels a year, with demand increasing as world
population rises. Oil is now being consumed at more than five times
the rate it is being discovered. A worrying thought for motorists.
The question remains, and it’s now a matter of reserves, how much
longer will the oil last?
At this point the ifs and buts take over. Campbell (1997) states that
“At the risk of understatement, we may conclude that the world’s
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political and economic stability which relies on an abundant supply of


cheap oil, is in serious jeopardy. In these circumstances it might be a
good idea to determine what the reserves really are. It is more a
political than a technical problem.” One vexing aspect of the political
problem is the way that national oil companies exaggerate their
estimates of oil reserves. Firm figures are difficult to glean but even
the most optimistic experts in the industry expect the era of cheap oil
must end before the year 2020. The more pessimistic forecasters like
Fleay, on the basis of mid-nineties estimates, considered that cheap
oil would be no more than a nostalgic memory by the year 2002. He
forecast that oil price would then rise steeply, with serious impacts on
transportation and energy production. This has not happened - yet.
The only thing that can be said with any certainty is that the
geopolitics of the twentyfirst century will be closely tied to the politics
of oil and then move quickly toward the politics of energy supplies. Oil
will be increasingly reserved for irreplaceable transport requirements.

Cheap Electricity  Capacity Factor 


Energy Payback  Economy of area 
Greenhouse Gas  OVERALL 

Natural Gas
Natural gas is seen, with hydroelectricity, as a logical partner to the
intermittent alternative energies such as solar and wind power. Like a
hydroelectric station the power from a gas turbine electricity
generator can be brought online in a matter of minutes and carry a
load until the wind picks up or sunshine returns.
Because of its high methane content, giving a lower ratio of carbon to
hydrogen, natural gas reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about one
third. Also, depending on the source of the gas, other pollutants such
as sulphur are lower than for other fossil fuels. Like coal-burning,
natural gas releases the radioactive daughters of any radon it
contained at the well-head, although their activity is reduced by length
of residence in storage tanks and pipelines where they are deposited.
Natural gas does, however, provide a significant contribution to
world electricity generation. In the United States alone electricity
utilities
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have installed about 50 GWe of gas turbine equipment, some of it


burning kerosene fuel but capable of using natural gas if it is locally
available. Recent data from the World Energy Council shows that the
use of natural gas is expanding very rapidly in several European
countries, as well as in developing countries. Over 1990-96, carbon
dioxide emissions from natural gas rose 23% in OECD countries while
developing countries burned 61% more natural gas in 1996 than in
1990 (UIC 1997). It might be called 'galloping consumption'!
In western Sydney, motorists travelling along the Cumberland
Highway can hardly miss seeing the three large exhaust stacks of Sithe
Energy's 162 MWe cogeneration plant4. This exemplary facility has
three General Electric 38 MW turbo-generator sets powered by
natural gas. The exhaust heat is harnessed to power a steam turbine
producing a further 65 MW. The low temperature spent steam is then
piped next door to supply the needs of a paper recycling mill. This is
the cogeneration aspect of the operation.

Cheap Electricity  Capacity Factor 


Energy Payback  Economy of area 
Greenhouse Gas  OVERALL 

Biomass
This is essentially a combustion process, where gas from decaying
garbage is collected and burnt to provide energy. The gas is very
similar to the natural gas associated with coal and oil deposits, being
mainly methane. Methane is itself a contributor to the greenhouse
effect, and the product of its combustion is water and carbon dioxide.
So one greenhouse gas is consumed to produce others! Whether the
whole process is greenhouse-neutral or not calls for closer analysis.
However the methane produced by the decay of garbage represents a
source of energy that might just as well be utilised, especially if it
saves the burning of valuable fossil fuels. Another such source is the
anaerobic digestion of sewage by appropriate bacteria, producing
enough methane to run the sewage treatment plant. Unfortunately the
amount of energy generated is nowhere near enough to meet the

4
Fact Sheet, Sithe Energies Australia P/L
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needs of the community supplying the sewage. Beckmann (1979)


colourfully suggests that the power from garbage is little more than
needed to power the presses that print garbage about power from
garbage.
Wood burning falls under the heading of biomass. Its contribution to
environmental pollution makes it one of the least desirable fuels for
energy generation. From the greenhouse perspective it is far better to
preserve and plant trees wherever possible. Even burning dead wood
is not such a good idea but often it is the only option where the natural
processes of rot and decay, which releases methane, are impractical.
Such a facility is the waste wood power generation station at Kettle
Falls in the American State of Washington which produces 42.5 MWe.
It, of course, produces substantial carbon dioxide emissions.
In Australia the Broadwater Sugar Mill produces more than five
megawatts of exportable electricity by burning cane residues (bagasse)
and through cogeneration supplies the process heat for the mill. The
energy value of the annual bagasse production from sugar factories in
northern Australia amounts to nearly a billion billion joules (AEN, No
7, 1998) or a massive 30 million MWh of thermal energy.
On a global scale less than two percent of world consumption is
supplied from non-commercial biomass energy sources, such as wood,
shrubs, agricultural wastes and animal dung. These require no capital
investment, only labour.
Alcohol (mainly methanol) from wood and plant fermentation
processes can augment transportation fuels, but its production costs
will remain against it until fossil-fuel prices rise well above their
present level. For fuel production on a large scale the amount of land
required is excessive and at the expense of food production. In many
cases the amount of energy consumed in the production of the alcohol
is more than it supplies through its combustion (Waltar 1995).

Cogeneration
This is not so much generation of electricity as the reclamation of
energy which would otherwise be wasted. Large industrial enterprises
often require vast quantities of high temperature heat that is dumped
to the environment after it has performed its role in whatever process
is involved. Instead, using cogeneration methods, it may be harnessed
to generate much or even all of their electrical requirements.
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Examples of such industries are pulp and paper mills, sugar mills,
petrochemical refineries, breweries, fertiliser plants and even large
hospitals.
An industry association formed to promote cogeneration estimated
in 1996 that about 1000 MWe was already being produced in this way
and that cogeneration has the potential to take care of 25 percent of
Australia’s electricity requirements. Because the electrical power is
generated at or near where it is needed there is a saving in
transmission costs. And it has the great advantage in the current
greenhouse gas situation that its savings can be realised very
promptly.

Fuel Cells
A fuel cell is a means of obtaining electricity directly from a chemical
reaction. It is the opposite of the process of electrolysis, in which an
electric current passing through water, for example, breaks the water
down into its chemical constituents hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen
is given off at the negative electrode and oxygen at the positive.
Unfortunately it is very much harder to design an electrolytic device
which can operate in reverse and produce electrical energy.
For several decades fuel cells were specialist devices for use in critical
applications such as manned spacecraft. However they are gradually
becoming a commercial proposition as units of up to half a megawatt
capacity are achieving enviable performance figures. They can run on
anaerobic digester gas from sewage treatment works, gas from landfill
dumps, and they offer the cleanest and most versatile means of
converting natural gas and gasified fossil fuels to electricity. Whatever
combustible gases are used, they must first be cleansed of chlorine
and sulphur compounds before feeding to the cells otherwise they ruin
the semi-permeable membranes necessary for them to work. On the
other hand the exhaust gases from fuel cells comprise very pure
carbon dioxide as well as water vapour which can be condensed and
used in many applications. If the emerging molten carbonate fuel cell
technology matures, and large capacity systems (50 to 250 MWe at
better than 50 percent efficiency) become feasible they could cut
carbon emissions by about one third with no sulphur or nitrogen
oxide pollution. The outlook is good because fuel cells can be scaled
upward in size to enable compact power stations of large capacity to
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be built having the capability of generating reliable base-load


electricity (at the expense of carbon dioxide emission).
A small company in Massachusetts, Ztek, is challenging the large
manufacturers with an innovative design which greatly reduces the
size of their solid-oxide cells to the extent that a stack of sixteen is only
2.5 cm in height. Hundreds of them packed together comprise Ztek’s
basic 25 kW unit. Running silently off natural gas, fifty of these units
coupled together can supply over a megawatt of electrical power and
still be compact enough to be transportable by a single semi-trailer.
In this country the first significant use of fuel cell technology is at the
Australian Technology Park at Redfern, in Sydney. An American ONSI
200 kWe unit about the size of a shipping container produces
electricity from natural gas. The ONSI fuel cells are very reliable,
achieving an operating availability of over 95 percent, with early
models still supplying power after more than 40,000 hours. They
operate between 100 and 200 degrees C which gives them excellent
cogeneration capabilities, supplying plenty of steam or hot water for
use in addition to the power output. Their thermodynamic efficiency
is superior to gas turbine systems and diesel-electric generators which
means that the greenhouse gas emissions from fuel cells are lower per
kilowatt power output. Costing over $5,000 per kilowatt, the Redfern
installation is not exactly cheap, but prices are set to fall as the
technology matures. Cost is the main reason why, after four years of
trouble-free operation, the Redfern installation remains the only one
in Australia.
A contest is on in the automotive industry to develop an efficient car
powered by fuel cells, preferably using hydrogen as fuel in order to
achieve the holy grail of zero-emission figures. The use of fuel cells
offers hope to defeat the limited range and long recharge times that
plague present-day battery-powered cars. A summary of progress in
battery and fuel cell design with prospects for use in powering road
vehicles is given by Kendall (Physics World, 2002).
General Motors engineers have been working on a prototype car to
run on a fuel cell powered by methanol, while Ford is less advanced.
They consider that cars powered by fuel cells are more than a decade
away. Some private companies are more optimistic. A two-seater
“Green Car” developed in Florida several years ago used two ten-kW
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solid polymer hydrogen fuel cells capable of powering it to faster than


140 km an hour, and giving it a range of 200 km. Since 1995 wealthy
golfers in southern California have been getting around on and off the
golf course in buggies powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
If you visit Vancouver you may be lucky enough to travel around the
city on one of their Canadian-built Ballard hydrogen-powered buses.
Chicago is also testing the Ballard buses and hopes to equip its
commuter fleet with two thousand of them. The overall efficiency for
vehicles powered by fuel cells is about three times better than for
those with internal combustion engines, and they do not require
pollution control measures.

Cheap Electricity  Capacity Factor 


Energy Payback  Economy of area 
Greenhouse Gas  OVERALL 

Solar Power
There are several distinct ways of harnessing solar energy. One may
simply gather its heat. Another is to cause it to produce a current flow
in a solar cell. These are usually called thermal and photovoltaic
methods respectively. Both are limited by the dilute nature of solar
energy and "it is important to realise that solar is most available when
it is least wanted, in summer; and solar energy is least available when
it is wanted most, in winter" (Hoyle 1980).
Above the Earth’s atmosphere the total amount of energy over the
whole solar spectrum amounts to 1.36 kilowatts per square metre and
the radiation spans almost the entire electromagnetic spectrum.
After the sun’s rays have passed through the atmosphere their total
energy is reduced through absorption by hazes of various origins.
Under clear skies in the tropics the solar energy density may approach
one kilowatt per square metre and its spectrum ranges from the ultra-
violet rays which can give an exposed person severe sunburn, through
to the infra-red rays which are felt as heat. The energy falls away
dramatically at higher latitudes due to the lengthened path of the
sun's rays through the atmosphere and hence greater absorption loss.
Thus the usefulness of solar power varies greatly from country to
country, meaning that solar panels performing well under Australian
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conditions would be totally inadequate in northern Canada. Similarly,


along the Arctic seaways where the Sun rarely shines, the Russians
have been obliged to employ radionuclide power units for their radio
beacons and lighthouses (Tsipenyuk, 1997).
In our discussion of solar energy, the figures will apply for locations
at around 35 degrees latitude, the Sydney-Newcastle region of New
South Wales, Australia, to be specific. They would also be appropriate
for Los Angeles, Athens, Tokyo, Buenos Aires or Capetown.

Thermal solar power


There are many ways sunlight can be used to provide low-grade heat.
Suitable building design is one which is all too often ignored. If we
consider temperate latitudes where most of the global population
lives, it is not very difficult to design a dwelling which is warm in
winter and cool in summer. Unless, of course, the building site is
hopelessly shaded by tall structures, dense trees or steep terrain. The
trick is to take account of the different path the Sun takes from season
to season as it passes across the sky. Maximise the window area facing
the equator, and minimise it in other directions. Provide an overhang
that shields the summer sun but allows deep penetration of winter sun
onto a stone or concrete slab floor. Done properly, the results can be
astounding. I once designed such a house and made provision for oil
heating in case more heat was needed on cold frosty nights. The oil
heater never needed to be installed. It could be a very wise move for
building regulations to mandate the adoption of solar-efficient designs
in all future dwelling construction. Done sensibly it need not add
much to the cost of a house and in some instances could even reduce
the expense.
Besides space heating, solar energy is also good for providing hot
water. For a cost of A$3,000 (with $1,500 "green" rebate)a solar water
heater of four square metres area can provide up to 5 kWh per day in
winter to more than ten kWh per day if sensibly oriented at a latitude
of 35 degrees. This amounts to 2.5 MWh a year and represents an
annual saving on power bills approaching A$250. With a 300 litre
storage tank the needs of a family of four can be met with only a small
amount of external power being drawn during the winter months. For
a state or region with one million homes, the universal
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adoption of solar hot water installations could save approximately 300


MWe of electricity generating capacity - a significant contribution.
However the capital cost of three billion dollars would be borne by the
individual householders.
By using curved mirrors solar heat can be concentrated and focussed
on a boiler where much higher temperatures may be reached than
with unfocussed sunshine. In some parts of the world this method has
been used for metal smelting. In other places it has been used for
electric power generation. One such place was the small isolated town
of Whitecliffs in New South Wales. In 1979, as a feasibility project by
the Australian National University, an array of fourteen three-metre
wide dish mirrors was erected at Whitecliffs to provide electricity for
the community of about 150 people. The mirrors tracked the sun by
day and back-up diesel generators took over at night. The cost of the
solar power was half that from the diesel generators. However it was
almost a full-time task to keep the mirrors clean and operating
efficiently and in the final analysis sunshine provided at best ten
percent of the power demand of the Whitecliffs community. Although
the installation was quite a tourist attraction it was closed down in
1989 after operating for a decade5. Whitecliffs is now connected to the
State electricity grid system.

Cheap Electricity  Capacity Factor 


Energy Payback  Economy of area 
Greenhouse Gas  OVERALL 

Photovoltaic solar power


A number of substances, such as cadmium sulphide, have the ability
to convert light into electricity when fabricated into a thin film with
contact electrodes to convey the current away from it. Great leaps in
efficiency have recently been made, notably by a team at the
University of New South Wales, by fabricating photovoltaic solar cells
from silicon semiconductor material similar to that used to make the
chips in computers and high-tech electronic devices. For solar cells,

5
“Lights out for `sun town’ plant”, The Australian, 4 Nov 1989.
17

the silicon is cleverly laced with selected impurities and formed into
thin sheets with electrical contacts etched into their surfaces.
Efficiencies of around 24 percent have been achieved. That translates
to about 200 watts of electricity per square metre in direct sunlight at
low latitudes. Cells having that level of efficiency are, as might be
expected, relatively expensive. However they are in demand where
cost is a minor consideration, a good example being the solar-powered
cars competing in the annual Darwin to Adelaide race for that class of
vehicle. The usual energy conversion efficiencies of solar cells is in the
region of 11 to 16 percent. The world record for conversion efficiency is
around 35 percent, for a tri-junction cell devised at the University of
New South Wales, closely followed by 33 percent for a tandem cell
developed by the Boeing Corporation.
A photo-voltaics researcher at the University of New South Wales,
Bob Largent, frankly conceded that “solar energy was likely to cost five
times more per kilowatt hour than power supplied from the grid”6.
However the great advantages of solar cells for stand-alone
applications, like solar cars, remote telemetry transmitters, space
satellites and a host of other uses, outweigh their high capital cost for
those applications.
In the latest (2000) catalog from Australia’s leading commercial
supplier of solar cells the largest panel available costs A$815. It
supplies a maximum power of 83 watts (17 volts and 4.9 amperes of
direct current) when full sunshine falls perpendicularly on its surface
area of three-quarters of a square metre. This does not include the
costs of mounting the unit, regulating the electrical output or
conversion to alternating current for transmission over a power grid7.
From the above figures one can easily calculate that twelve million of
these solar panels would be required to equal the power generated by
our standard 1 GWe power station, and then only when the Sun is high
in the sky and the sunlight is falling perpendicularly on the face of
every panel. The amount of time during which this power level can be
sustained averages about eight hours a day if the panels are
continuously swivelled to follow the Sun. This is a complication
adding very considerably to the cost of the installation. If the panels
do not follow the Sun the output is roughly halved when a daily

6
Australian Personal Computer, Vol 19, No 2, p58, 1998
7
'Going Solar' Catalog and price list, 2001
18

average is taken. Naturally the output is further reduced on cloudy


days.
So, neglecting cloudy weather, and assuming some form of large-
scale energy storage to tide consumers over the night-time lack of
electricity from the dormant solar array, we find that 72 million panels
will be required to match the reactor output. These will cover an area
of 96 million square metres, or 96 square kilometres. That is to say, a
farm roughly ten kilometres square. The costs must include inverters
to change the direct current from the panels into alternating current
for onward transmission, and of course the necessary transformers,
circuit breakers and transmission lines themselves. If bulk
manufacture reduces the panel cost to only one quarter of the catalog
price, that is to say two dollars fifty a watt, the cost will still be in
excess of three billion dollars for the solar cells alone, with not much
change left out of five billion dollars when Sun-tracking mechanisms,
and all of the electrical equipment are factored in. This, remember, is
for a solar power producer providing its rated output for only one
third of the time at best!
Having said that, Australia has plenty of poor quality land where very
extensive solar farms, covering tens if not hundreds of square
kilometres, could be established without alienating precious arable
land. Unfortunately such sites are well away from most consumers
and the necessity for long transmission lines and related equipment
could easily double the overall cost.
“The world is on the brink of a clean energy revolution” claimed the
New South Wales Minister for Energy in March 1998 when he
officially opened at Singleton the largest solar energy farm in the
southern hemisphere. At a cost of two million dollars its 3456 solar
panels spread over 1.5 hectares feed 400 kilowatts of electricity into
the State power grid - when the sun is shining full-on to the panels
fixed at 30 degrees elevation.
The total cost was over $2 million. At the official opening it was
claimed (and the news media echoed) that the farm would provide
power for 3,000 households. That works out at 133 watts per home -
when the sun is shining - which is about one sixth of the amount
necessary to run an electric jug to boil water for a cup of tea.
Even so, a development such as the Singleton solar farm is highly
valuable because it is in effect a large-scale pilot project that will yield
19

firm figures on the economics, reliability and usefulness of solar


power generation using photovoltaic devices.
Some of the disadvantages of solar farms here on Earth are overcome
by placing them in space. In the 1960's Dr Peter Glaser advanced the
concept of building solar power stations in space where sunlight is
continuous and unattenuated. Placed in geosynchronous orbit like
most comsats the powersat could deliver electrical energy by
microwave transmission to an array of receiving antennae at ground
level. In 1973, Glaser presented his scheme to a US Senate Committee,
and two years later an experimental test of bulk power transmission
by microwaves over a distance of a mile was successfully carried out in
California. It was thought that the structures for a five gigawatt
powersat could be carried into low orbit by space shuttles then
boosted into geosynchronous orbit by additional rocket stages. But the
heavy demand and cost of shuttle transport consigned the scheme into
limbo. It was a case of the cost outlay exceeding the returns.
However the Japanese are actively seeking to diversify their energy
sources by looking toward powersats. By the year 2040 they hope to
have their first one-gigawatt powersat in operation, delivering
microwave power to a receiving array several kilometres in diameter
built above the sea. Their powersat will weigh 20,000 tonnes and cost
the better part of twenty-billion US dollars. This will price their
delivered power at least four or five times the cost of fossil or nuclear
electricity. Unlike solar farms the power from space will be available
24 hours a day, except for brief outages twice a year when the
powersat passes through the Earth's shadow and is eclipsed.
Finally, a word about the frequent description of solar power as clean
power. During operation this is true. However experts on the subject
point out that the chemical carcinogens in wastes from the
manufacture of photovoltaics for solar energy generation are many
times more harmful than the nuclear waste produced through the
generation of the same amount of electrical energy (Cohen 1990).

Cheap Electricity  Capacity Factor 


Energy Payback  Economy of area 
Greenhouse Gas  OVERALL 
20

Wind Power
There’s something about wind farms that fascinates people. They can
almost feel the power churning out from the huge blades whirling
hypnotically in a stiff breeze. One of the largest windfarms in the
southern hemisphere is at Ten Mile Lagoon, near the town of
Esperance in Western Australia. Since coming into operation in 1993
it has proved to be a significant tourist attraction. It has nine 225 kW
Danish wind turbines, with diesel backup which is absolutely essential
since the Esperance region is not connected to the State power grid.
The entire project cost $5.8 million. An earlier wind farm not far away
began operation in 1989 with six smaller wind-turbines manufactured
in Perth. Its success stimulated the new installation using larger and
more efficient Danish turbines.
The largest wind-turbine in the world is a 3.2 megawatt unit at
Kahuku in Hawaii. The blade diameter is 97.5 metres - the length of
each blade is 48 metres (not including the hub) compared with the
wing length of 28 metres for a 747 jumbo jet! This must be close to the
practical upper limit for fabricating blades strong enough to withstand
the stresses imposed by wind gusts. A wind farm with smaller, more
robust units would seem less vulnerable.
There’s also something about wind power that makes people wax just
a trifle over-enthusiastic. On the day in 1997 when Australia’s largest
wind turbine was assembled on Kooragang Island, near Newcastle, the
evening TV news8 interviewed an Energy Australia spokesman who
proudly announced that the Danish Vesta 600 kilowatt installation
would produce enough electricity for 6,000 homes. Six thousand?
That works out at one 100-watt bulb per home!
A few weeks later, at the official opening ceremony, the
parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Energy, said “it would
generate enough energy to supply about 4,000 customers...”9. That
now equates to two 75-watt bulbs per customer!
According to a Newcastle City Council State of the Environment
Report the average domestic electricity consumption per household in
the Newcastle Area is 5,500 Kilowatt-hours per annum. This works
out at 620 watts per household averaged over a whole day. So the

8
NBN TV 1st November 1997.
9
Newcastle Herald, 25 November 1997.
21

Kooragang 600 kilowatt generator could theoretically supply the


needs of just under 1000 homes. Not 6,000, or even 4,000.
But wait. No account has yet been taken of the wind turbine’s overall
efficiency, because the wind does not blow all the time. Some weeks
previously the project manager for the Kooragang turbine revealed its
expected efficiency (capacity factor) to be 36 percent. If so, that figure
reduces the number of homes supplied to 350. Or to put the situation
another way, 970 homes could be supplied by wind energy provided
the occupants were happy to have either reduced supply or no
electricity at all for 64 percent of the time!
Another figure frequently cited in the media is that the Kooragang
wind turbine will generate `over a million kilowatt-hours of energy
per year’. Sounds impressive. Again using the Council’s figure for the
average home electricity consumption as 5,500 kilowatt hours per
year and dividing this into the figure of over one million kilowatt
hours shows that the number of homes that could be supplied entirely
by power from the wind turbine is around 200, an estimate rather less
optimistic than the figure of 350 homes derived earlier.
Whichever way you look at the matter, the revised figure is only a
fraction of the touted 6,000 homes that the wind turbine was said to
be able to supply. It strikes me as interesting that alternative energy
enthusiasts very frequently over-estimate the productivity of their pet
technology. Maybe its because we live in an age of advertising hype.
Returning to the Kooragang wind turbine, its published power output
as a function of wind speed is shown in the following table.10

4 metres/sec (14 km/hr) Start-up wind speed


6 metres/sec (22 km/hr) Delivers 77 kW
8 metres/sec (29 km/hr) Delivers 206 kW
10 metres/sec (36 km/hr) Delivers 371 kW
12 metres/sec (43 km/hr) Delivers 514 kW
16 metres/sec (57 km/hr) Delivers 600 kW
20+ metres/sec (72+ km/hr) Automatic shutdown

From the table we see that the rated power is delivered only when the
wind speed is between about 50 km/hr and 70 km/hr. Near the design
limit of 72 km/hr, wind gusts cause sudden shutdowns which

10
P Myors, Newcastle Herald, 28 Oct 1997.
22

render the supply very intermittent. Large wind farms tend to reduce
this problem somewhat since gusts don’t strike every wind turbine
simultaneously.
The above table allows one to apply the annual wind statistics from
nearby Williamtown airbase to the Kooragang wind-turbine revealing
its efficiency to be about half of the 36 percent expected. In fact, from
the time its blades began to turn, the average annual output of 900
MWh shows its efficiency (capacity factor) to be close to 17 percent.
The country with the greatest investment in wind power is Denmark,
where ten percent of their electricity is derived from wind-farms that
achieve a capacity factor of 20 percent. The total global production of
electricity from the wind is currently a little over 20 gigawatts, which
is less than twice the total coal-fired generating capacity of the State of
New South Wales. It could be provided by twenty of our standard
power stations rather than tens of thousands of wind turbines.
Sustainable energy gurus seldom mention that wind power is a
highly unreliable electricity source without power back-up of some
kind. Consumers demand continuity of supply. This makes it essential
for wind farms to operate in conjunction with diesel back-up or base-
load power generation, whether it be fossil-fueled, hydro or nuclear,
where the turbo-generators are kept spinning to take up extra load at
literally a moment’s notice when the wind fails - or blows too hard.
The weakness of wind and solar power is that they are both dilute
and intermittent. Thus they can contribute only a few percent of the
power demand in any large-scale distribution system.
To appreciate the inadequacy of wind power as anything other than a
supplementary source of electricity consider the extent of a wind farm
required to substitute for our standard one-gigawatt power station. If
the wind blows steadily at 60 km/hr and the turbines operate at their
maximum power of 600 kWe, 1,667 of them will be required. But the
wind does not blow continuously, or always within the correct speed
range. Taking into account an overall efficiency of, say, 20 percent we
find that 8,330 units will be needed.
Where large wind turbines are placed closer together than about half
a kilometre they suffer a shadowing effect which reduces their output.
Let us be as fair as possible and suppose that their rows can be
staggered to allow nine per square kilometre. The 8,330 wind turbines
would then occupy 926 square kilometres. More than ten times that
23

area would be needed to equal the existing generating capacity in the


Hunter Valley alone.
At a unit price-tag of 1.5 million dollars, the cost of the 8330 wind
turbines in this huge wind farm would be over 12 billion dollars, rising
to well over that figure when taking into account the costs of linking
them all electrically and connecting the array to the main grid system.
These, and the other downsides of wind power are rarely publicised,
and dismissed whenever they are.
Bird strikes are frequent, especially when the blades whirl in the
close vicinity of a bird sanctuary, as at Kooragang Island. I read
somewhere that the Audubon Society is becoming alarmed at the
number of rare raptors killed at the extensive wind-power farms
which supply one percent of California’s electricity. According to
figures released by a British anti-windfarm organisation there were
300 raptors killed in 1989 alone, and many more wind-turbines have
been erected since then. Wind Power Monthly in February 1994
reported that the corpses of birds of 13 protected species had been
found under the wind-turbines at Tarifa in Spain. It would be
interesting to discover the bird toll from the Kooragang installation
where large numbers of migratory birds visit its location.
Noise from the turbine blades is said to be a problem for up to one
and a half kilometres from a wind turbine. That may be true for earlier
designs. The modern Kooragang wind turbine is very quiet and its soft
swishing is easily drowned out by the sounds of traffic nearby. Under
perfectly quiet conditions it might be more intrusive. As with aircraft
noise, some people are bothered by it - others are not.
Likewise for the visual impact of a wind turbine. It is claimed that
properties near wind-farms have been dramatically reduced in value.
These and other fears are presented in fact sheets distributed with
petitions and enrolment forms by such groups as Britain’s `Country
Guardian’ or the Welsh `Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales’
and their `Friends of Black Hill’ group. Visit the World’s largest
assemblage of second-hand bookstores at Hay-on-Wye, in the shadow
of Black Hill, and you will find petitions to sign in many shop
doorways protesting further intrusion of wind-farms. With more than
400 whirling windmills dotted along their skylines, Wales has the
most wind turbines of any region in the British Isles.
24

Recently (early 2002) the British anounced a major expansion of their


wind energy program, with thousands more turbines planned for their
windswept north. Germany, too, is building more. However Denmark
is calling a halt to their program which has given them the dearest
electricity in Europe.
Returning to the Australian scene, a 4.8 MWe commercial wind farm
has been constructed near Crookwell, in New South Wales 50 km
northwest of Goulburn. It takes advantage of a 66 kV transmission
line which runs across the site and electricity has been fed to the grid
since 1998. Energy costs as low as 6 cents per kWh were expected
(AEN, No 6, 1997) but this a yet another pie-in-the-sky figure. Over a
period of two hours on the calm, sunny day when I visited Crookwell
only one of the seven wind turbines was sluggishly turning to produce
only a trickle of electricity - if that.
This brings us to a significant problem with wind power that is rarely
discussed. It is an electricity grid load manager's nightmare. It is bad
enough coping with fluctuations in demand that require calling online
extra generating capacity, or reducing it, but random variations in
supply compound the problem of maintaining a stable voltage. This
need is the reason why FPL Energy, America's leading wind energy
generating company, has purchased a 1161 MWe nuclear reactor11.
Whether or not wind farms become a significant adjunct to electricity
generation in Australia, there is certainly a place for wind-power in
the overall energy scene. It is well-suited to pumping water (which
only needs to operate on an intermittent basis) and for supplying
power in certain situations, such as for isolated communities. It seems
to have been forgotten that Australia was once a world leader in
generating electricity from the wind. In earlier years of the 20th
century, 'Dunlite’ wind-driven generators kept the batteries charged
on many outback stations to provide enough power for radio
communications and a modest amount of lighting.

Cheap Electricity  Capacity Factor 


Energy Payback  Economy of area 
Greenhouse Gas  OVERALL 

11
UIC Newsletter #3 May-June 2002
25

Hydro Power (and reverse storage)


Hydro-electric power production, which accounts for three percent of
the global energy supply, is a renewable resource with a low
greenhouse gas liability, arising from drowned vegetation and the
manufacturing processes of the required materials. After construction
is completed there are still greenhouse gas emissions. Until recently
hydro schemes were considered to have zero pollution while in
operation, but some now consider the creation of water storage
through the flooding of valleys and destruction of habitat as a form of
pollution and greenhouse gas generation. Nevertheless, hydro power
has saved New Zealand from being listed among the worst global
greenhouse gas emitters per capita, but that country has now utilised
practically all of the water resources available without introducing
unacceptable environmental damage.
In Tasmania some years ago the violent protests at the site of the
proposed Franklin dam demonstrated that what might appear as
magnificent opportunities for hydro-electricity production may be
completely unacceptable because of the damage inflicted on the
environment and local ecosystems. However there is a small scope for
obtaining power from existing water storage dams such as the
Warragamba dam near Sydney because a continuous discharge of
water is necessary to maintain the health of the river system
downstream from the dam.
It has been seriously suggested that the Hunter Water Corporation
could cut its annual four million dollar power bill by harnessing the
water released to keep river flows fresh downstream from the
Chichester dam, a major source of water for the Newcastle region. A
mini power station should cost less than a million dollars and supply
one hundred kilowatts (one tenth of a megawatt) of electricity,
according to its advocates, because the Healthy Rivers Commission
has recommended that the the daily release of water be increased
seven-fold to 14 megalitres a day12.
Provided it is designed to have a reversible turbine which can act as a
pump, a hydro-electric installation has the great virtue of acting as an
energy storage system. It can help to smooth out the typical daily
peaks and troughs in the power consumption of consumers in the

12
Newcastle Herald, 2 October 1997
26

serviced region. At times of low demand, excess power from base-load


generating equipment, such as a nuclear power station, can be used to
pump water up into the storage dam or reservoir. Then, in the late
afternoon, when the domestic load is climbing and the industrial
requirements are still high, the peak energy demand can be met by
hydro-electric generation from the stored water.
In southeast Australia the Tumut 3 hydroelectric power station with
1500 MWe capacity has a pumped storage capability (with an
efficiency of around 70 percent) but the other six hydroelectric power
stations of the Snowy Mountains scheme are suitable only for power
generation. The total output of the seven stations is 3740 MWe but the
lack of enough water severely curtails their operation. Even so, their
contribution is extremely valuable for coping with peak power
demands in New South Wales and Victoria. Other smaller
hydroelectric installations produce up to 224 MWe of useful power.
Pumped storage schemes like Tumut 3 require suitable reservoirs
both above and below the station, which is not available at very many
hydroelectric sites. In Argyll, Scotland, a huge reservoir and power
station within Ben Cruachan together with the waters of Loch Awe at
the foot of the mountain fill this function for the Scottish Power and
Scotland Hydro-Electric supply authorities.
Besides the obvious environmental damage due to drowned forests,
habitat destruction and flooded farming country, dams, whether built
for hydroelectricity or flood mitigation, have frequently failed, with
losses of life numbered in the thousands. In this regard they are
possibly the worst killers of all alternative energy sources. In the
United States there are at least two hydroelectric dams whose sudden
collapse would be an utter disaster costing over 200,000 lives. About
once a decade at least there is a dam failure somewhere in the world
with more than a thousand lives lost.
Massive hydro installations cost lives even if they don't fail. During
its construction the Snowy Mountains scheme cost over 120 lives.

Cheap Electricity  Capacity Factor 


Energy Payback  Economy of area 
Greenhouse Gas  OVERALL 
27

Wave Power
Harnessing wave power is still very much at the experimental stage.
Theoretical and experimental studies are being carried out in Norway,
Denmark and Scotland. Great Britain’s long coastline exposed as it is
to heavy seas receives an enormous amount of wave power which
almost constantly pounds its shores with a peak energy dissipation of
up to 40 kW per metre of shoreline. An advantage of wave power is its
greater availability when seas are running high in winter, the season
when its electricity contribution is most needed. Obviously when seas
are calm the output power will fall away quite drastically.
Under moderate sea conditions it would be theoretically possible to
equal the output of our standard one gigawatt power station by
harnessing the energy delivered along 50 km of coastline. However
that assumes complete energy extraction by perfect machines. In
practice the conversion efficiencies are much lower, requiring
machines operating over a greater extent of coast without any breaks..
There are two main classes of wave power machines: floaters and
sitters. Floaters seem to be more efficient, but sitters are less
susceptible to storm damage. For either class the working fluid may be
oil or air, which drives a turbine or hydraulic motor, and of course the
action is intermittent as the waves rise and fall.
One type of floater that reportedly can extract up to ninety percent of
the energy from waves is Salter’s `duck’, a large device which rocks
like a see-saw with the wave action.. Another is Cockerell’s `raft’
design consisting of a line of rafts stretching out at right angles to the
wavefront, with pistons between them. Both types have been under
trial for many years and a full-scale installation using either of them
has, to my knowledge, yet to be built.
Experiments have been conducted in Denmark on a floater design
consisting of a float like a buoy tethered to the sea-floor 30 metres
below. The rise and fall of the waves drives a pump and generator
producing one kilowatt of power from a two-metre wave height.
Another type of sitter is the Vickers `duct’, a submerged tube which
works rather like a coastal blowhole. In it the water rises and falls and
compresses air to drive a turbine. It is perhaps the simplest and most
robust of all.
28

Each of these devices suffer to a greater or lesser extent the usual


problems of all marine machines: corrosion, fouling and storm
damage. Their environmental impact can be considerable and must be
set against the amount of power generated. The fact that attempts to
harness wave energy have been in train for decades without much
success is not encouraging.
Fifteen years ago an eight million dollar project was unveiled to build
“the world’s biggest” wave power generator near Esperance in
Western Australia13. The one-megawatt installation was to augment
the wind-turbine farm nearby. The wind farm is delivering electricity
but nothing more has been heard about the wave power contribution.
However Energetech Australia, a private company, has presented a
proposal to trial a new wave power system that uses a parabolic
reflector to focus the energy in a 40-metre wavefront (AEN, No 7,
1998). The rush of water compresses air and drives a turbine
producing “enough power for 2000 homes”14. That amounts to 2 MW,
or 50 kW per metre, which is a trifle optimistic because it assumes
continuous high seas. The company is seeking two million dollars to
build a prototype which will generate electricity at about 15 cents a
kWh. They maintain that their “unique system (which) does not use
traditional ocean-hydro methods” will eventually produce electricity
for less than 5 cents a kWh and that the coastline between Sydney and
Newcastle is the best site. In view of the lack of success elsewhere in
the world it will be interesting to see if this project gets anywhere, and,
if started, doesn’t finish up as heaps of rusting equipment like
shipwrecks dotted along the shoreline.
In most countries nuclear power stations are bonded by law to fund
full decommissioning at the end of their operating lifespan. Will the
same provisions apply to other methods of power generation?

Tidal Power
At those coastal locations where the tidal range is sufficiently high a
tidal power station may prove to be an economic proposition. Such an
installation has been working successfully at the mouth of the River
Rance, in France, since 1968. Others have since been built in Canada,

13
The Australian,May 2 1987.
14
Newcastle Herald, 26 June 1997
29

China and Russia. The French installation extracts more than ninety
percent of the energy of the water rushing into, then back out of, a
large reservoir. When the tide turns and there is no head of water to
drive the turbine there is no electrical output. Notwithstanding this
unavoidable intermittency, the electricity generated amounts to 500
gigawatt-hours per year, roughly the equivalent of a 50 megawatt
power station.
A tidal power station is being considered for Broome, in the north of
Western Australia, where the tidal range of eleven metres is the
largest to be found anywhere around the Australian continent.
Proponents believe that for a cost of a billion dollars hydro-turbines
could be installed in dammed tidal estuaries along the Kimberley
coastline to generate more than 250 GWe - ten times the nation’s
current consumption15! To get the energy across to the East coast they
propose to manufacture hydrogen and transfer it by pipeline in the
same way natural gas is conveyed. This has the merit of overcoming
the intermittency problem with tidal power. In conjunction with
hydrogen fuel cells at the point where electricity is needed this
proposal is one of the few with the potential to provide a reliable base-
load electricity source. However it must be noted that piping huge
quantities of highly inflammable hydrogen gas across a continent the
size of Australia has never yet been attempted.
By way of contrast, a recent proposal for a hydro-turbine16 in
Newcastle harbour is a joke. The tidal range averages only one metre.
For a flow turbine to operate effectively from the harbour ebb and
flow a barrage would be necessary, seriously impeding shipping
movements. If a separate tidal basin is constructed the size of a
suburban swimming pool it might provide for about half the time an
effective head of water of, say, one fifth of a metre which could be used
to drive a small turbine. Assuming a basin capacity of 2 megalitres, the
turbine could produce something like 200 watts of power while it is
turning, barely enough to run a home computer. It would be a long
time before the capital cost of the basin and turbo generator is
returned, not to mention maintenance costs.

15
The Reader’s Digest Atlas of Australia, p47, 1994.
16
“Hunter’s Ark Plan Energy Showcase”, Newcastle Herald, 31 July 1997.
30

OTEC
Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion schemes have been bandied
around for decades with nothing to show because the problems are
enormous. The oceans are extremely efficient collectors of solar
energy. Solar radiation penetrates the water and is trapped,
maintaining in the tropics a surface temperature of around 25 degrees
celsius night and day throughout the year. The Gulf stream carries
warm water into temperate latitudes where it flows over much colder
water, creating a thermal gradient of as much as twenty degrees. It is
estimated that the thermal energy passing the coast of Florida is
10,000 times the total consumption of electricity in the United States.
In 1929 a French engineer, Georges Claude, built and operated a 22
kW OTEC plant off the coast of Cuba17. Because OTEC schemes aim to
draw upon the huge heat reservoirs in the world’s seas, making use of
temperature gradients between upper and lower layers of water, they
require sites where water deep enough is present close inshore. There
are few suitable places in the world. The thermodynamic efficiency is
woefully low, about five percent, requiring vast quantities of water to
be passed through whatever system is employed. This and other
problems like corrosion where seawater is involved (as with tidal or
wave power) help explain why there are no OTEC plants anywhere.

Geothermal Power
Geothermal energy is derived from the natural heat below the earth's
surface, which, on the human scale, would be virtually limitless if it
could be accessed successfully. Wherever hot underground steam can
be tapped and brought to the surface, either near volcanic regions or
at sites where stronger than normal radioactive granites exist, it may
be used to generate electricity. The engineering problems are
immense due to the corrosive properties of dissolved minerals. Also
the release of noxious gases can render it damaging to the
environment.
The countries where the engineering and economic problems have
been overcome include California, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Mexico and

Cook, C S, “Renewable Energy: The Other Answer”, Yearbook of Science and the
17

Future, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1979.


31

New Zealand. A global total of some 6,500 MWe of capacity is in


service, which equates to six or seven of our standard power stations.
The Australian National University `Hotrock’ project18 is exploring
Australia’s geothermal energy resources. The Cooper Basin in South
Australia is considered to be the best site in the world because of the
unusually high level of radioactivity in the underlying strata.
Lesser reserves have been located by surface geophysical surveys in
other geological basins, such as the heat reservoir considered to exist
in granites four kilometres below the surface in the Hunter Valley of
New South Wales, not far from the State's electricity grid.
Although the Hunter Valley hotspot has an area of only fifty square
kilometres, it is the second hottest (average temperature 250C) in
Australia and holds enough energy to supply the entire continent for
at least four years. The four-year estimate is due to the heat
diminishing with time, because it is only slowly replenished by the
rock's natural radioactivity.
The Geodynamics company conducting test bores found that the hot-
rock depth is a kilometer deeper than expected and have abandoned
the Hunter Valley project in favour of the Cooper Basin. They plan a
demonstration site costing $20 million to produce 13 MW of power at,
they hope, just over 6 cents per kWh.
There are some countries where geothermal steam is used directly
for greenhouse heating, grain drying, water desalination and fish-
farming, thus saving the need for that amount of electricity generation
or the consumption of fuel.
Large-scale use of geothermal heat is problematic. In most parts of
the world the heat reaching the upper layers of the Earth’s crust is too
weak for exploitation. Besides the regions mentioned earlier the only
other places where appreciable geothermal heat is escaping are near
mid-ocean ridges which are inaccessible and remote from population
centres. So geothermal energy, being mostly low-grade and somewhat
localised, is not a contender for supplying global electricity needs.

Cheap Electricity  Capacity Factor 


Energy Payback  Economy of area 
Greenhouse Gas  OVERALL 

18
ANU Hotrock Project (http://hotrock.anu.edu.au, 2002).
32

Nuclear Power
Because of relentless propaganda by various groups having an anti-
nuclear agenda, abetted by a gullible media, there is a widespread
belief that electricity generation employing nuclear fission reactors is
unsafe. Not so. Unbiassed statistics show it to be one of the safest
energy sources overall. No lives were lost through the major meltdown
accident at Three Mile Island in 1979. And the 80 percent complete
destruction of the number 4 reactor at Chernobyl in 1986 cost fewer
than 50 lives, despite the widespread fallout and the subsequent
clean-up operation (UNSCEAR 2000 Report).
There are over 400 nuclear power reactors around the world, with up
to eight at any single site. The majority of stations use highly reliable
pressurised water reactors which draw their energy from enriched
uranium fuel-rods. The extent of enrichment amounts to a few
percent, a far cry from the more than ninety percent necessary for a
nuclear bomb.
All power reactors, including retro-fitted Soviet installations, have
extensive safety systems. A member of the Presidential Commission
investigating the TMI accident, A R Buhl, commented that had the
operators simply walked away when the alarms began to sound the
safety systems would have shut the reactor down successfully19 and it
would not have suffered a financially disastrous melt-down. There are
a number of new reactor designs that are inherently safe, needing no
intervention if anything goes wrong - they simply slow down or stop
functioning. Buhl also dispels the myth that operators were to blame
for the TMI accident: it was their training that proved inadequate. The
lessons have been learnt (as in the aviation industry) and these days,
with comprehensive simulator training, reactor operators are, in their
own sphere, as competent as airline captains.
The Chernobyl disaster was another matter. There the operators
violated several safety rules and because the Soviet RBMK reactors
incorporated so few safety systems a disaster was almost inevitable.
The operators simply did not know that RBMK reactors are unstable
under certain low power regimes. About a month later their operating

Buhl, A R, Three Mile Island, NBS Special Publication 534, US Govt. Printing
19

Office, Washington DC, pp 216-219, 1980.


33

manuals were updated with that information, shamefully known all


along to the nuclear power establishment in Moscow.
Breeder reactors have suffered a bad press despite a good record of
success. They are able to retrieve energy from depleted uranium and
from the abundance of thorium in the earth's crust - enough to meet
global energy demands for a millenium or more. India, for example,
has an abundance of thorium reserves. They have successfully
operated a small fast breeder test reactor and are about to start
construction of a 500 Mwe prototype for future installations.
For the foreseeable future nuclear fission reactors, including
breeders, are the only environmentally benign source of energy to
fully support the various forms of renewable energy and pave the way
for an eventual transition to a hydrogen-based energy economy.

Cheap Electricity  Capacity Factor 


Energy Payback  Economy of area 
Greenhouse Gas  OVERALL 

Nuclear Fusion
For more than half a century major projects to obtain energy from
the fusion of hydrogen to helium have yielded nothing more than a
gradual climb towards the energy break-even point where, for a
fraction of a second, the energy produced exceeds the energy fed in. It
could be another century before continuous energy release is achieved
to run a power station.
The problems are so enormous, particularly in confining the
millions-of-degrees process, that some doubt that it will ever succeed.
Through neutron activation nuclear fusion is not free from the
production of radioactive wastes, but this is less than the wastes from
fission.
So-called `table-top' fusion driven by a plasma discharge is a fun
laboratory experiment but not a practical generator of useful energy.
Cold fusion? This is the very long-odds outsider in the race for energy.
If it can be made to work, a whole new chapter in the understanding of
nuclear physics will be written. Although a number of groups are
working on the problem it will greatly surprise the majority of nuclear
physicists if they ever succeed.
34

Global Primary Energy Mix and Kyoto


At the present time about 80 percent of the world’s energy is derived
from the combustion of fossil fuels, with the remainder shared fairly
equally between renewables (largely hydro) and nuclear. It is worth
noting that the only countries with any hope of meeting the 2010
targets set by the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas control are those
generating nuclear power. Decades ago a Canadian expert on carbon
emissions, Dr A A Bruneau, took into account the energy of
construction of renewable energy sources and showed that if world
energy demand was doubled by 2050 there would be little benefit in
carbon dioxide reduction by raising the proportion of renewable
energy beyond 20 percent at the expense of nuclear power generation
at an assumed 65 percent20.
It must also be remembered that all means of producing electrical
energy present some degree of environmental degradation and are
hazardous in one way or another. And it must not be overlooked that
all energy sources generate wastes, even if only during the
manufacture of the devices used. The nearest thing to `clean’ energy is
what you receive when sunbaking and even that is carcinogenic!

There's a Place for Everything


Just because some of the alternative energies have not scored many
smileys does not imply that they should be disregarded. They each
have a use somewhere in providing electrical energy.
But there are few methods of generation capable of supplying the
base load power vital for our economy. That is, until an efficient
means of energy storage is ultimately developed. This includes the so-
called 'hydrogen economy' which still has a lengthy development
phase ahead before hydrogen becomes safe enough for widespread
use.
The main reason for writing this book is to counter the pie-in-the-sky
promises of irresponsible alternative energy advocates. Nature is most
unforgiving where energy is involved and cares not for political
correctness or the wishful thinking of amateur scientists with `small is
beautiful' social agendas.

20
A A Bruneau, National Science Council, Canada (see Wyatt 1978)
35

Many people, reading this far, will still consider nuclear electricity
unpalable because of anti-nuclear propaganda suggesting all manner
of problems. Even the most serious reactor disaster at Chernobyl, with
a death toll of around fifty (see the UNSCEAR report), is eclipsed by
many other energy-related disasters, mainly in the coal industry.
Nuclear electricity is clean power. Its wastes can be readily contained
and easily managed because they are so small for the amount of power
generated. Effective disposal of nuclear waste is not a problem except
to sadly misinformed citizens and green-blinkered politicians.
A hard-hitting rebuttal of noisy anti-nuclear claims was written more
than two decades ago by the late Sir Fred Hoyle and his son. It is a
shame his revealing book has not been read and digested by media
commentators hypnotised by the greens. It is also worth noting that
the vast majority of Nobel laureates in the physical sciences, along
with senior members of Australia's Academy of Sciences, support
nuclear production of electricity. These people are not fools. The
strongest supporters of nuclear electricity are those who know the
most about it. So why are the real experts not listened to?
Here in Australia we owe our descendants the opportunity to live in a
properous society possible only through an abundance of energy to
maintain a high standard of living for the greatly increased population
that is forecast for the future. Nuclear electricity generation is the only
proven technology able to meet this demand without unacceptable
pollution. When the lights go out you can't say you weren't warned.

The Last Word - No Place for Bombs


Early efforts to plan and construct Australia's first nuclear power
station at Jervis Bay were clouded by demands for Australia to build
nuclear weapons. Nuclear electricity and bombs are not necessarily
linked. Of the 33 countries generating nuclear electricity, only a few
have nuclear weapons. It's a purely political matter. From discussions
with engineers and scientists of the former Australian Atomic Energy
Commission I can report that they planned to construct a reactor
purely for the generation of electricity. Had that station not been
abandoned, this country could have been enjoying the benefits of
clean, green nuclear electricity for the past quarter of a century.
36

Main reference sources


AEN (Australian Energy News), published quarterly until June 2002 by the
Department of Primary Industries and Energy, Canberra ACT.

Beckmann, P, “Why `Soft’ Technology Will Not be America’s Energy Salvation”,


Golem Press , Boulder CO, 1979.

Campbell, C J, “Better Understanding Urged for Rapidly Depleting Reserves”, Oil


and Gas Journal, April 7 1997.

Cohen, B L, "The Nuclear Energy Option", Plenum Press, New York NY, 1990.
ISBN 0-306-43567-5

Fleay, J F, “The Decline of the Age of Oil”. Pluto Press, Sydney N S W, 1995.

Garwin, R L and G Charpak, "Megawatts and Megatons: A Turning Point in the


Nuclear Age", A A Knopf, New York NY, 2001. ISBN 0-375-40394-9.

Hayden, H C, "The Solar Fraud - Why Solar Energy Won' t Run the World", Vales
Lake Publishing, Pueblo West CO, 2001, ISBN 0-9714845-0-3.

Hoyle, F and G Hoyle, "Commonsense in Nuclear Energy", W H Freeman & Co,


San Francisco CA, 1980, ISBN 0-7167-1237-7.

Physics Today, Special issue :"The Energy Challenge", April 2002.

Physics World, "Energy Challenges for the 21st Century", July 2002.

Tsipenyuk, Yu M, “Nuclear Methods in Science and Technology”, Institute of


Physics Publishing, Bristol 1997. ISBN 0-7503-0422-7

UNSCEAR 2000 Report, "Sources and effects of Ionising Radiation", United


Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radaition, Vol. 2, Annex J.
ISBN 0-19-856540-2.

Waltar, A E, "America the Powerless", Cogito Books, Madison WI, 1995.

Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the material presented in
this booklet. If an error is detected the author would be pleased for it to be
identified and be advised of a more authentic source. Should a correction be
necessary, the author will be grateful and an amendment incorporated in future
reprints.
Supplement 1

Nuclear Electricity Gigawatts Supplement


2005 Colin Keay

The Perils of Part-time Power

The only escape from the intermittency of solar or wind power is to have it
supported by reliable base-load generating capacity on hand with generators
fired up and spinning ready to carry the load whenever the wind drops below
about 4 m/s (14 km/hr), or when sunshine is absent. This requirement sets an
upper limit of around 20 percent for the amount of on-again, off-again green
power that can be absorbed within a national grid system. Even with good
weather forecasts, sudden variations in supply to the grid makes wind (and
solar) power a load manager’s nightmare.
This lesson is being learned the hard way by Denmark and Germany. Early
in 2004 Denmark was reported to have decided to build no more wind farms
on land or sea because wind-power has given them the most expensive
electricity in Europe. But they intend to continue manufacturing wind
turbines for export because of being world leaders in the technology.
Why is Danish power so dear? Because the wind is so fickle and the Danes
became too reliant on it. When, due to lack of wind, there is a shortage of.
electricity they have to import power at well above market prices. Often it
cannot be imported from neighboring Germany, where there is usually a
shortage of wind power at the same time. That leaves Denmark reliant on
power from the Nordic grid – where it is generated by hydro plant in
Norway, where over 95 percent is hydro power, or a mix of hydro and
nuclear power from Sweden.
On the other hand, when there are strong winds over much of northern
Europe there is a surplus of wind power. P Anderson of Eltra, one of the two
Danish Transmission Service Operators (grid controllers) claimed as early as
2001 that on occasions Denmark has had to give electricity away abroad for
nothing, or has even had to pay to get rid of its surplus! Eltra’s house
magazine quotes their chairman as stating that wind power has produced an
acute need for innovative thinking. The company has been forced to develop
a new plan to cope with the usual winter over-production of electricity.
Germany, with extensive wind farms all along its northern seaboard, has
run into similar difficulties. The 2003 paper “Challenges and Costs of
Integrating Growing Amounts of Wind Power Capacity into the Grid – Some
Experiences Dealing with 12,000 MW in Germany” by Steffin Sacharowitz
of the Berlin Technical University highlights the developing problems in that
country. The paper contains valuable material I have been seeking for a long
time, particularly a chart of the feed of wind power as a function of time over
Supplement 2

a period of twelve winter days for a major national grid system, in this
example Germany. Notice how the amount frequently falls away to next to
nothing – not good for industry and commerce,

The above chart gives the lie to green claims that variations in wind power
even out over an extensive region. The German wind farms, the most
extensive in the world, are prone to outages as much as smaller installations.
Supplement 3

As shown in the second graph, the capacity factor of wind farms varies
greatly with season, as one might well expect. However the maximum values
are the ones often quoted in brochures and publicity releases.
The effects of wind power on conventional power production can be quite
dramatic. It is found that a twenty percent wind power contribution results in
a net saving of only six or seven percent overall simply because base load
plant has to be kept on-line, at considerable expense, to absorb sudden wind
power shortfalls.
Germany is currently (2005) facing a showdown over power generation.
The German government’s energy research agency, supported by the wind
industry and supply companies, has produced a 490-page report proving that
their plans to double the current number of wind turbines by 2015 will result
in drastic cost rises to consumers who already heavily subsidise wind power.
Not only will their costs rise, from EUR 1.4 billion to EUR 5.4 billion, but
the government will need to invest EUR 1.1 billion in better grid
infrastructure to cope with supply fluctuations. The German Greens dispute
the report’s adverse findings and have forced its withdrawal for “re-editing”.
So, all told, wind power is not the greenhouse gas saviour that many hope.
And much the same will prove true for solar power. It is noteworthy that
Australia’s largest solar-cell array near Singleton, NSW, opened seven years
ago, has not been duplicated anywhere in Australia to my knowledge.
Do not imagine that here in this country we do not have subsidies for green
power like those operating in Denmark and Germany. Here we have MRET,
the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target scheme providing credits of up to
$A40 per megawatt-hour which halves the $A70 per MWh cost of wind
power, making it comparable to the $A30-35 per MWh cost of coal power
and $A40-42 per MWH cost of gas-fired power.
States in Australia facing serious power shortages in the near future are
WA, SA and Tasmania. The latter, like Norway, has a high fraction of hydro
power that can absorb fluctuations in supply if they build more wind farms.
South and Western Australia are not so fortunate, and their expansion of
wind power is restricted by their limited base-load capability. According to
energy consultant Dr Robert Booth, South Australia already has, like
Denmark, a dangerously high contribution from wind power. In future, in
both states, crippling blackouts seem likely at times of high demand.
Power blackouts are very costly to the economy. Industry and commerce
suffer severely when power fails. Losses will quickly mount up if the
construction of additional reliable base-load electric power plant is delayed.
Then Australia will really suffer the perils of part-time power.
Supplement 4

Wind Versus Nuclear Construction Costs

For a given delivery of electrical energy, the construction costs of a nuclear


power plant are much less than for an equivalent wind farm. This has been
vigorously contested by activists who claim that the construction of a nuclear
power station causes massive greenhouse gas emissions through the
manufacture of the required steel and concrete. It is a myth worth busting.

Let us look at the characteristics of a Danish Vestas V47-660 kilowatt wind


turbine similar to the one at Kooragang, in New South Wales.
The number of 660 kilowatt wind turbines needed to provide the same
energy output as a 1 gigawatt nuclear plant, assuming a generous 25 percent
capacity factor, is roughly 6,000. The amount of steel in the nacelle and 65
metre high tower is 93 tonnes (we won’t count a further 7 tonnes of other
materials, particularly in the massive rotor). The amount of concrete in the
massive base needed to anchor the structure in high winds ranges from 130
to 260 tonnes depending on the nature of the terrain. So for the 6000 wind
turbines we are considering, a total of more than half a million tonnes of
steel and around a million tonnes of concrete are required.
The size of wind turbine does not make much difference – the bigger the
turbine the fewer will be required. So the totals stay much the same..
Now look at nuclear power generation. The 1974 technical paper
“Estimated Quantities of Materials Contained in a 1,000 MWe PWR Power
Plant” by R Bryan and I Dudley of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory
presented the following figures (for a Pressurised Water Reactor plant
including the turbo-alternators and connection to the grid): 35,000 tonnes of
steel and 200,000 tonnes of concrete.
Thus we find that the wind farm producing as much energy as a nuclear
power station requires around fourteen times as much steel and five times as
much concrete. It is inescapable that constructing a wind farm is much more
demanding on materials – and hence greenhouse gas contribution from their
manufacture – than a nuclear installation of equal output. And this difference
will to a large degree be reflected in their overall costs.

* * *
This supplement shows how thorough investigation is essential to refute
only two of the many unsupportable claims made by irresponsible elements
of those opposed to safe, clean nuclear electricity production. See the book
“Nuclear Energy Fallacies” in my Nuclear Issues series for many examples.
Inside back cover

Have you seen the first booklet "Nuclear Energy Fallacies -


Forty Reasons to Stop and Think" in this series designed to
make average Australians better informed on important
nuclear issues?

Here is what an eminent Australian scientist and a leading


newspaper columnist had to say about it…

"Too often debates on important issues get tied up


with political correctness and unjustified declarations.
I welcome this contribution by Dr Keay to the nuclear
debate. In his booklet he has provided guidance on
valuable source material which ensures that facts
rather than hysterics drive the discussion."

Professor John O'Connor, President, Australian


Institute of Physics

"Keay lists (anti-nuclear) myth after myth and neatly


disposes of them all…"

Padraic McGuiness, Sydney Morning Herald

This booklet was mentioned in the NSW Hansard on


November 29, 2001, and gained international exposure on
the ABC Ockham's Razor program on February 17, 2002.
Back cover

"Nuclear Radiation Exposed - A Guide to Better


Understanding", the second booklet in this series has been
written to calm public alarm about nuclear radiation. Here
is the response from a recognised Australian expert on
environmental biology, Emeritus Professor Peter Parsons
from LaTrobe University, to whom a copy was sent…

"Thanks very much for the book on Nuclear


Radiation Exposed, which excellently crosses the
many disciplines required for an understanding of the
biological effects of ionising radiation. It should help
to expose some of the hysteria associated with the
'Nuclear Debate'….".

Peter Parsons.

The four booklets of this Nuclear Issues series are no longer


on sale. They are now accessible on line in the form of four
PDF files that may be copied in full without change or in
part subject to normal copyright law.

ISBN 0-9578946-2-7