Tag Archives: MIT

Centralized Nuclear Bad Investment?

A writer for Forbes spells out the question of nuclear investment: how can something that expensive, over-budget, late, and phenomenally risky be a good investment, especially when cheaper and faster energy sources are readily available?

Peter Kelly-Detwiler wrote for Forbes today, New Centralized Nuclear Plants: Still an Investment Worth Making?

Just a few years ago, the US nuclear renaissance seemed at hand. It probably shouldn’t have been. Cost overruns from Finland to France to the US were already becoming manifest, government guarantees were in doubt, and shale gas drillers were beginning to punch holes into the ground with abandon.

Then came Fukushima. The latter proved a somewhat astonishing reminder of forgotten lessons about nuclear power risks, unique to that technology: A failure of one power plant in an isolated location can create a contagion in countries far away, and even where somewhat different variants of that technology are in use. Just as Three Mile Island put the kaibosh on nuclear power in the US for decades, Fukushima appears to have done the same for Japan and Germany, at a minimum. It certainly did not help public opinion, and at a minimum, the effect of Fukushima will likely be to increase permitting and associated regulatory costs.

He goes into detail: they take too long (while gas and solar got cheaper), they’re extremely expensive to build and run, and they’re all-or-nothing investments.

I was going to compile this list of recent nuclear financial failures, but he saves us all the trouble:

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There is something you can do

Anybody who has tried to do much of anything around here has run into this phrase:

There’s nothing you can do.

I was reminded of that when I read this, from the Economist 12 May 2012, Hope springs a trap,

This hopelessness manifests itself in many ways. One is a sort of pathological conservatism, where people forgo even feasible things with potentially large benefits for fear of losing the little they already possess.

The article expands on that idea:

Development economists have long surmised that some very poor people may remain trapped in poverty because even the largest investments they are able to make, whether eating a few more calories or working a bit harder on their minuscule businesses, are too small to make a big difference. So getting out of poverty seems to require a quantum leap—vastly more food, a modern machine, or an employee to mind the shop. As a result, they often forgo even the small incremental investments of which they are capable: a bit more fertiliser, some more schooling or a small amount of saving.

It may seem that the article is about the poorest of people, but that “pathological conservatism” could as easily apply to the hopelessness many people seem to have about ever getting solar panels on their own roofs, or to attracting enough business to our area to employ our high school and college graduates, or that businesses will ever come to the south side.

Yet the point of the article is that field studies by MIT economist Esther Duflo show Continue reading

Invent batteries to the price point of the electricity market —Donald Sadoway

MIT Prof. Donald Sadoway thinks he’s found a way to build electric-grid-scale batteries out of dirt.

Electric utilities complain solar and wind power are not baseload, capacity, energy sources because they are intermittent. You know, if they weren’t busy running up cost overruns that could easily exceed the entire annual budget of the state of Georgia, maybe the utilities could solve this problem. Meanwhile, Prof. Sadoway, instead of looking for the snazziest coolest most efficient new method of energy storage, defined the problem in terms of the market:

the demanding performance requirements of the grid, namely uncommonly high power, long service lifetime, and super low cost. We need to think about the problem differently. We need to think big. We need to think cheap.

Then he set parameters on the solution:

If you want to make something dirt cheap, make it out of dirt. Preferably dirt that’s locally sourced.

He cast about for possible precedents and found aluminum smelting gave him some ideas for using low density liquid metal at the top, high density liquid metal at the bottom, and molten salt in between. Choosing the right metals is the trick, which he thinks he’s found: magnesium at the top, and antimony at the bottom.

Is Sadoway right? Will his battery work at grid scale? I don’t know. But he’s asking the right questions, and it’s worth a try.

As Kyle Sager wrote for Heliocurrent 4 May 2012, Renewable Storage: Leave it to MIT,

Has Dr. Sadoway achieved the holy grail of renewable energy? Judge for yourself. Our attention is compelled by the degree of his certainty and the seeming simplicity of the approach. Watch MIT’s Donald Sadoway explain his vision here (link).

Seems to me there are at least two major approaches:

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