Steven Chu Vows to Push Nuclear Power

Steven Chu said on Tuesday that he would push as the new energy secretary to help the nuclear energy and clean coal industries jump-start their contributions to battle the nation’s energy crisis.

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during his confirmation hearing that he’d help streamline nuclear loan guarantees that would help the industry construct several new plants to produce low-emission energy and would push the Energy Department to examine options for recycling nuclear waste.

More Nuclear, Wind and other Energy News
Business Week indicates that wind power projects have financing problems.

According to market researcher Emerging Energy Research (EER), new installed wind capacity worldwide will increase by just 14% in 2009—less than half the typical annual growth rate booked in the past decade. Consultancy Accenture (ACN) projects wind power capital expenditures over the next two years could fall by as much as 30%.

The slowdown is closely tied to the global economic crisis. Project financing costs, a critical element in this capital-intensive sector, have skyrocketed as banks cut back on lending. Scores of independent (and often highly leveraged) energy producers have already been pushed out of the market. That could cause demand for wind turbines to fall by as much as one-third in 2009, as only cash-rich utilities such as Florida Power & Light (FPL) have the means to continue investing.

With sales soft, Europe’s turbine manufacturers have been forced to cut prices to offload unsold inventory and to shut down costly plants built to accommodate now-reduced global demand. Profit margins have fallen in tandem.

Analysts project it will take until 2012 to install what was previously projected for 2010.

For European players, the toughest problem now is rising financing costs that render many wind projects no longer cost-effective. Industry watchers figure the cost of capital has jumped by up to 200 basis points (two percentage points) over the past six months as banks embraced more conservative lending practices.

Global wind capacity is expected nearly to double by 2020. But for now, public sector help seems needed. Says Sak Nayagam, climate change lead at Accenture: “Government help for the wind industry could provide a much-needed economic stimulus.”

Until U.S. President-elect Barack Obama outlines more details about his proposed $150 billion, 10-year plan to invest in green energy, analysts reckon investors will shy away from the sector

European utilities On and RWE will act together to build “at least 6000 MWe” of nuclear capacity in the UK.

EOn signed a letter of intent to cooperate with Siemens and Areva to build the latter’s 1600 MWe EPR design in April last year and it has gone on to secure a grid connection agreement for exactly 1600 MWe at Oldbury B. Meanwhile, RWE has secured agreements for three 1200 MWe connections at Wylfa C. This matches the output of Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor.

The connection deals are in the ‘scoping’ phase and would all be available between 2020 and 2022, according to data published on 12 January by the UK’s National Grid company. They total 5200 MWe, leaving space for one more project to fulfill EOn and RWE’s stated goal of 6000 MWe.

Separately in the UK’s rush to replace its aging nuclear fleet, British Energy and its new owner Electricité de France plan four EPRs: two at Sizewell C and two at Hinkley Point C.

If all these projects go ahead, nuclear energy would generate about 35% of UK electricity in the 2020s, compared to about 15% last year and an all-time high of around 30% in the 1980s.

Italy continuing poltical moves and building commitment for major nuclear energy construction.

MIT is advancing an improved imaging technology for oil wells. This could help enhanced oil recovery. Only about 30% or less of the oil in the ground is removed before conventional drilling is unable to remove it economically.

Oil is around $35/barrel and the EIA is projecting two years of a loose oil market

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8 comments

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1

The whole renewables idea sounds great as long as you don't look at the details. The details stink. Solar and wind both cost more by kWh of generated electricity than nuclear power, and the renewables still require fossil fuel backup. If we want to solve the CO2 problem, we go with nuclear or we shiver in the dark.

2

Augmented contacts or Microvision's HUD glasses. Seems to be pretty much the same. I believe Microvision is still a few years from having a viable commercial product though.

3

I opted out of calculus for lack of desire. Your point is valid anony, but on the other hand kurzweil is very well connected to business and science leaders who know more than us. It's not all crystal ball waving or simple extrapolation from a trend. He does seem to be wrong about augmented reality contacts, which are still more than a few years off since it would take longer than that to just get them fda approved.

4

I find this statement by RK incredibly shallow:

"We also see an exponential progression in the use of solar energy," he said. "It is doubling now every two years. Doubling every two years means multiplying by 1,000 in 20 years. At that rate we'll meet 100 percent of our energy needs in 20 years."

I'm pretty certain that the dynamics of solar energy growth is a lot more complicated than that which a first order linear time-invariant ordinary differential equation would describe.

5

I do not all of Kurzweil's ideas are long view, but certainly the ones that get more popularity tend to be the long view ones. His nearer term views do not diverge that much from the mainstream, but the ones a few decades out tend to diverge a lot.

ie. His views on life extension are more modest in the near term. A version of be careful what you eat, exercise and take supplements (somewhat but not extremely controversial).

The solar prediction/goal does not look at the spinoffs that would result before the end goal of 1000 times more solar power than we have now with up to 60% efficiency.

Ten years before that solar goal is reached we could the similar tech of thermoelectrics to boost the thermal efficiency of nuclear power by 50% (and other power plants).

It is like running out some prediction based on Moore's law for twenty years and ignoring how to be creative with current capabilities or solutions that could be possible after 1-4 iterations.

6

Yes, advanced fission--and just as important small and medium scale, modular fission--will help facilitate other energy approaches.

Solar and enhanced geothermal are the big players long-term, neglecting fusion.

Kurzweil tends to take the LLLOOONNNGGG view of things, which often makes his ideas irrelevant now and for the next few decades.

7

I do respect Ray Kurzweil. I should have emphasized that. I have also personally met him a few times at Foresight conferences and gatherings. He is so respected because he has been right on predictions and inventions in the past.

He has made several inventions like music synthesizers and automated reading for blind. He made several companies and sold them and it has made him rich. The latest thing to make him even richer is using AI to run his own hedge fund.

His predictions and charts on hardware progress has been spot on. It has allowed him to anticipate when hardware would make some inventions successful.

I agree with him that solar will have improving costs and more penetration. However, as I note in my article success with fusion, advance fission could enable other forms of clean energy to remain very important. This is all good so long as the various clean energies can displace coal, oil and other highly polluting fossil fuels.

8

if kurzweil is so crazy, why is he so respected?