Sustainable carrying capacity – or what are limits anyway?

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Last week, the Royal Society published two papers on the sustainable carrying capacity of New Zealand. I’ve been working on these for a while but, as ever, I don’t feel like I authored them. Instead, they’re a consolidation of discussions with experts, reviewed by yet more experts. There’s a huge list of names of the …

Thoughts on the eternal headache that is nuclear power – Part 6 of 6: The US & the UK

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Despite my previous bitching, the nuclear industry does have a track record of delivering low-carbon electricity, at a scale so far unmatched by renewables. Given that climate change is going to hurt, given the absolute imperatives for rich nations to cut their carbon emissions by 80%, then any source of low-carbon electricity is needed. So …

Thoughts on the eternal headache that is nuclear power – part 5 of 6: Nukes in the real world

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How radioactivity damages your health, or maybe doesn’t: Why can’t we agree on how many people were killed by the accident at the Chernobyl reactor? We’re not arguing over a narrow range here, we’re arguing about widely disparate numbers. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation states the number of deaths …

Thoughts on the eternal headache that is nuclear power – part 4 of 6: Thorium, not as easy as you’ve

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Ah, thorium. Thorium will power the future, resulting in endless electricity for all… oh wait, or was that fusion power? Anyway, every man and his dog seems to be pushing to use thorium, instead of uranium or plutonium, with a seemingly endless stream of articles about how great it’s going to be. Apparently, it’s safer, …

Thoughts on the eternal headache that is nuclear power – part 3 of 6: innovation cycles, cost, bombs

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Every technology starts by being too expensive. The production costs of solar cells started at US$250 per Watt, back in the 1950s, then $65 per Watt in 1976, and now they’re pushing $1.4 per Watt. Why?

Thoughts on the eternal headache that is nuclear power – Part 2 of 6: Safety and Surprises

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Thoughts on the eternal headache that is nuclear power – part 1 of 6

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People keep asking me about nuclear power. This might be down to living in NZ, where people who know anything about it are few and far between. Or it might be because they pay me to think about energy systems. I put together the Royal Society of New Zealand’s energy report in 2006 (although I’m …

Energy research geekery – insulation

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“Warm homes: Drivers of the demand for heating in the residential sector in New Zealand”, Philippa Howden-Chapman, et al, Energy Policy, 37 (2009), pp 3387-3399 New Zealand houses are cold and damp. This kills about 1,500 people per year. We’ve a $300 million government scheme to insulate houses, open to all but with additional funding …

Energy research geekery – electric cars for NZ

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“The feasibility of long range battery electric cars in New Zealand”, Mike Duke, et al, Energy Policy, 37 (2009), pp 3355-3462 In summary: Ffs, just get on with it.

Energy research geekery – The hydrogen economy

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“System-level energy efficiency is the greatest barrier to development of the hydrogen economy”, Shannon Page, et al, Energy Policy, 37 (2009), pp 3325-3335 “In the wonderful future, all our cars will run on hydrogen” – as said by approximately every futurist for about thirty years. So where is this hydrogen economy then? Hydrogen is an …

Energy research geekery – carbon capture and storage

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“Carbon capture and storage: Fundamental thermodynamics and current technology”, Shannon Page, et al, Energy Policy, 37 (2009), pp 3314-3324 New Zealand’s energy system is pretty unique. We’re isolated and can’t trade electricity with anyone else, we’ve got more hydro than nearly anyone else, geothermal’s big here, and we’ve vast amounts of coal that we’ve yet …