Energy Subsidies and Amory Lovins Misdirection on Private versus Government Money

Correcting Amory Lovins Grist Aricle: Stewart Brand’s nuclear enthusiasm falls short on facts and logic

Amory Lovins tries to indicate that nuclear power is unique in getting governments paying for its development.

* Per KWH nuclear gets less support than renewable energy

Energy Information Agency calculation of per KWH support:

Source – subsidy and support in dollars per megawatt-hour (mills per kilowatt-hour)

Nuclear – 1.59
Biomass (and biofuels) – 0.89
Geothermal – 0.92
Hydroelectric – 0.67
Solar- 24.34
Wind – 23.37
Landfill Gas – 1.37
Municipal Solid Waste – 0.13
Renewables (average) – 2.80
Total (average) -1.65

Energy subsidies in the US and around the world support all forms of energy.

US Energy subsidies, Management Information Service analysis of US energy funding of all kinds from 1950-2006

Feed in Tariff support of renewables around the world

* In spite of the feed in tariff and tax credits and rebates in the US which exceed nuclear on a KWH basis, more private money money must be added to build renewables. So Lovins is trying to spin the higher cost of solar as an advantage.

Energy costs with externalities (the unpaid costs of pollution)

Amory Lovins lie is not that nuclear power costs large amounts of money. The big lies ignore these truths:

1. Other forms of power also cost a lot money
2. Government money massively subsidizes and supports all forms of energy
– public money is needed to prop up all of the private energy companies and industries
3. Other forms of energy are risky to develop as well

Most thin film solar companies fail. Out of hundreds of companies only one or two companies have brought products to market in any scale.

The reality, according to Neal Dikeman, partner with VC firm Jane Capital Partners, is that only one or two thin-film projects have brought product to market in 30 years, and it’s a US $100M-$200M dollar up-front investment “just to play the game and see if your product really works.”

Silicon Valley investors have mistakenly bet on “really great teams” while the technology is still at a science experiment stage, he argues — investors are beginning to realize this, he thinks, and that the industry is sitting on the back end of about 5-10 years of US $100M bets. “We’re going to see a bunch of write-offs coming up,” he warns.

The challenge that has caught startups in this sector time and time again, Dikeman explained, is underestimating the engineering scale-up and production on a tens-of-megawatts (MW) scale.

“People always assumed that if the technology worked and the team was good, that the rest was just engineering…and so far, that has never proven to be the case,” he observed, noting that there have been several hundred (thin film) companies that have tried and only two succeeded.

“The challenge has been that the engineering scale-up has been much harder than the science experiment.” Citing the “black art” aspect to thin-film projects, he observed that for factories in the 30-40 MW range, what matters is getting the same yields, distributions and performance out of the second plant as was achieved in the first.

New energy costs money to develop. Tens of billions spent on wind and solar over decades to get them to this point and they are still not certain in scaling up. Any hope of scaling up is only with massive government support.

Governments are involved all over energy. It is not “all just private companies”. Jerome Paris is and investor and developer of wind energy projects. In an Oil Drum article he is asking Obama for constant high levels of government subsidies. He notes that three times the wind energy industry was wiped out because of periods of insufficient of subsidies.

Solar and wind are likely to be getting $20 billion from a clean energy bill, probably going along with tens of billions more in whatever 800-1500 billion stimulus packages get passed.

The long-term extension of the renewable energy production tax credits, which would cost the government $13.1 billion over 10 years. Plus 30% tax credits for instant subsidy.

Worldwide it is about $2 trillion per year for energy spending. Hundreds of billions on subsidies and research and development. Energy costs BIG money. Why does anyone think otherwise ? All the investments are big and multi-year and often decades long. Just because you can chunk up some aspects of it into small pieces is meaningless. Yes, one set of solar panels does not take long to make but you need millions of houses with solar panels on roofs to equal one nuclear plant. It takes time to make the factories to make the panels. Doing the research and development takes time. As noted only a small percentage of the thin film solar power companies make it. The solar companies are often betting on competing specific technologies. It takes time to scale up the supply chains. Wind power takes 5,000 large wind turbines to equal one nuclear power plant. Again it takes timed to scale up the wind factory and the component supply chain and it takes ten times as much concrete and more steel for enough wind turbines to generate comparable amounts of power.

The solar and wind factories and supply chain cost a lot of money and take years to scale up. $100-200 million for each solar thin film company to make a serious play and they take a decade or so to get their R&D and then make scaled factories and try to deploy. Plus each one is competing with a hundred other variants. So which is the riskier long term investment ?

The US energy grid is going to take well over a trillion to upgrade over the next decade or two. Same for Europe’s energy grid. Renewable like solar and wind need a better energy grid to have deeper penetration.

What is this “all private” BS ? By that standard you would be telling wind power developers like Jerome Paris – make it “all private” which he as a developer of wind, lack of wind subsidies wipes out the wind industry. Coal gets and natural gas and oil get their credits too and the biggest gift to coal is not having them pay for their waste or handle it. (the CO2, smog, particulates which would more than double the cost of coal power, it would also add 30% to natural gas)

External Costs Include Deaths and Medical Costs from Energy Sources

Coal and fossil fuels are way more deadly and dangerous nuclear energy This matters because Amory Lovins counts “micro-energy” which is mostly generated from coal, diesel and natural gas which still have air pollution.

Coal power and coal waste details

Newly Identified Persistent Free Radicals (from burning fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas)

Scientists have long known that free radicals exist in the atmosphere. These atoms, molecules, and fragments of molecules are highly reactive and damage cells in the body. Free radicals form during the burning of fuels or in photochemical processes like those that form ozone. Most of these previously identified atmospheric free radicals form as gases, exist for less than one second, and disappear. In contrast, the newly detected molecules — which Dellinger terms persistent free radicals (PFRs) — form on airborne nanoparticles and other fine particle residues as gases cool in smokestacks, automotive exhaust pipes and household chimneys. Particles that contain metals, such as copper and iron, are the most likely to persist, he said. Unlike other atmospheric free radicals, PFRs can linger in the air and travel great distances.

Once PFRs are inhaled, Dellinger suspects they are absorbed into the lungs and other tissues where they contribute to DNA and other cellular damage. Epidemiological studies suggest that more than 500,000 Americans die each year from cardiopulmonary disease linked to breathing fine particle air pollution, he says. About 10 to 15 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed in nonsmokers, according to the American Cancer Society. However, Dellinger stresses additional research is necessary before scientists can definitely link airborne PFRs to these diseases.

Air pollution is a major environmental risk to health and is estimated to cause approximately 2 million premature deaths worldwide per year.

The mortality in cities with high levels of pollution exceeds that observed in relatively cleaner cities by 15–20%. Even in the EU, average life expectancy is 8.6 months lower due to exposure to PM2.5 produced by human activities.

Deaths per TWH (TeraWatt Hour) for different energy sources

Rooftop solar can be safer [0.44 up to 0.83 death per twh each year). If the rooftop solar is part of the shingle so you do not put the roof up more than once and do not increase maintenance then that is ok too. Or if you had a robotic system of installation.

World average for coal is about 161 deaths per TWh.
In the USA about 30,000 deaths/year from coal pollution from 2000 TWh.
15 deaths per TWh.
In China about 500,000 deaths/year from coal pollution from 1800 TWh.
278 deaths per TWh.

Wind power proponent and author Paul Gipe estimated in Wind Energy Comes of Age that the mortality rate for wind power from 1980–1994 was 0.4 deaths per terawatt-hour. Paul Gipe’s estimate as of end 2000 was 0.15 deaths per TWh, a decline attributed to greater total cumulative generation.

Hydroelectric power was found to to have a fatality rate of 0.10 per TWh (883 fatalities for every TW·yr) in the period 1969–1996

Nuclear power is about 0.04 deaths/TWh.