New paths to power

Politicians and environmentalists alike are obsessed with a narrow set of old technologies. It’s time for 21st-century ideas

10 November 2012

The energy debate is stuck in a rut: all politicians seem to be able to talk about is a narrow set of existing technologies — coal, gas and nuclear power stations, supplemented by wind farms and rooftop solar. Each of these technologies has its own lobby, and they fight each other for subsidies. Should we, like Germany, build more coal power stations, or go for a big nuclear programme, embark on another dash for gas, or build lots more wind farms on- and offshore?

In one sense this is not surprising. The abiding feature of the electricity industry over the past century has been its lack of technical progress. Coal power stations are 19th century. The gas combined cycle and nuclear power stations date from the 1940s and 1950s, and there are cables in London dating back to the 19th century too.

But in another sense this is a profound mistake with major economic (and climate) consequences. While the policy-makers look out of the back window, all around them the world is changing. In just the past seven years, fracking and shale oil and gas have transformed the fossil-fuel markets. North America is now moving towards energy independence — first withdrawing from world gas markets and next radically reducing its reliance on Middle Eastern oil. The US is repatriating energy-intensive industries from China, and there are major new petrochemical investments.

The important point is that none of this was foreseen a decade ago. Plenty of -politicians here in Britain and in Europe remain in denial about the radical implications for competitiveness as the US reaps the benefits of its cheap and abundant feedstock. There are even still people who believe in the nonsense of peak oil and gas, while all around the evidence of -fossil-fuel abundance mounts up. The problem is that we have too much fossil-fuel resource, not too little — enough to fry the planet several times over.


Shale oil and gas were not the result of any radical technological revolution, but rather of a combination of advances in seismic information technologies, horizontal drilling and the ability to split open rocks at depth. Why did it happen? Part of the answer is the incremental process of innovation, combined with rising prices of oil and gas — innovation plus markets.

Now use a bit of imagination and consider what other possible technological advances are out there. Some are like fracking — already largely in place, but needing a push. This category includes battery storage and smart grids and meters. We have within our grasp the ability to store electricity, and to make the demand side active rather than passive. Put these two together and what they could bring is every bit as significant as fracking. The electricity industry we know today is the product of no storage and passive demand: that is why it is dominated by large, vertically integrated utilities. Advances in batteries have transformed communications — think of the batteries in your smartphone and laptop. Think too of your home remotely managed as the smart meter ‘talks’ to your fridge, washing machine, central heating and air-conditioning. Add electric cars as major ways of storing electricity (as they currently store petrol) and the transformation looks even more credible.

These enabling technologies are likely to be supported by new ways of generating electricity. There is no doubt that we will need them. No existing technology has much hope of decarbonising the world’s economies. Coal, the dominant fuel in China and the growing fuel of choice in Europe, is disastrous.

It is really dirty: it kills lots of miners, it damages the health of everyone who enters the mines, it leaks methane, it pollutes water tables with heavy metals, and it requires lots of energy to extract and transport it to power stations, which in turn produce lots of pollution in burning it. Then more water is needed for cooling, and the ash has to be disposed of. Gas is much, much cleaner, with half the carbon emissions of coal and few of the other pollutants, and yet it can only provide a transitional fix for coal, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) works. Nuclear will decline by about a quarter at the global level in the next couple of decades, as old plant is retired (or forcibly closed, as in Germany), whether or not there is major new build.

These facts are pretty well known, and understood by many. What is not well understood is that current renewables like wind turbines, rooftop solar and biomass stand no serious chance of making much difference to decarbonisation. It’s very simply a matter of scale. Wind turbines are each very small. Even the biggest — say 5 MW — are trivial compared with a 500–1,000 MW conventional power station. Even this comparison fails to do justice to the scale of the problem. Wind works about 20 to 30 per cent of the time. So the 5 MW is more like 2 MW for the comparison. To generate enough power to make a difference, vast areas of the planet’s surface and its shallow waters would need to be covered in wind farms. -Current solar panels are very energy-inefficient, and like wind they would be needed on a vast scale in northern latitudes to make much difference. Biomass is worse still: corn ethanol in the US is not even carbon-neutral, requires vast land areas and drives up food prices for the world’s poor. Timber-based products for burning in power stations require a lot of energy to turn into fuels -delivered to a power station, and release stored carbon. Think of biomass as the reverse of CCS — instead of storing the carbon through photosynthesis, this is fast-track release, like opening up a CCS storage facility.

Faced with the practical impossibility of current renewables bridging the gap, and the sheer scale of coal’s pollution, what are Britain and Europe’s politicians doing? They are presiding over a dash for coal and channelling scarce customers’ monies towards wind farms, solar panels and biofuels. It’s not only blinkered, but also incredibly expensive — and just as the US’s energy price competitiveness has opened up.

What should we be doing? It is time to go with the grain of technology and recognise that if current technologies cannot bridge the gap, new ones are a necessity. Some steps are obvious. Immediately we need to reverse the dash for coal. Only gas can do this at the global level in the next couple of decades. It has already significantly reduced carbon emissions in the US, and can do so elsewhere. A serious carbon price would encourage a coal-to-gas switch — and that is the second necessary step. As demonstrated in the shale gas example, price matters. Instead of the low, volatile and short-term price produced by the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme, we need a long-term stable and rising price — a carbon tax. But the real breakthroughs come from future renewables. They have to if we are to avoid serious global warming.

What might these future renewables be? The right answer is that we do not — and cannot — yet know. There are very promising developments in next-generation solar, and we have alongside solar only three other fundamental energy sources — geothermal, gravity and nuclear — to turn to. Everything else is derived from these. This research is where the money should go, reinforced with a long-term carbon price — and not poured into just a few ‘winners’ chosen to meet the EU’s 2020 renewables directive. Think what £100 billion would buy in research and technological development. Current renewables will no doubt improve, but theirs is a bit part in a future low-carbon world.

Dieter Helm is Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Oxford, Fellow in Economics at New College, Oxford, and author of The Carbon Crunch.

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  • john_busby

    The US Eagle Ford and Bakken oil shales are claimed to hold reserves of 12 Gb, less than 5 months of the world’s annual consumption of 30 Gb. It won’t provide oil independence for the US, but will help. Every thousand cubic feet of “dry” shale gas (MMBTU) cost $8 to produce and sells for just over $3, losing $5. So the drilling rigs and fracking truck convoys are moving over to tight oil and NGLs from “wet” gas.
    Generation consumes the best quality coal, needed for coke for iron and steelmaking so it should move to sub-bituminous and lignite, leaving the bituminous for steel before it exhausts. Currently 85% of coal production is from the best half of the reserves. CCS will not be applied, not because it won’t work, but because it uses 50% more coal for the same generation.
    At current production there is only 60 – 70 years of the best quality coal left and we can’t with present technology do without it. We won’t get enough charcoal from forests to support it.
    Dieter Helm is right – we need new thinking.

  • Ian Brett Cooper

    “There are even still people who believe in the nonsense of peak oil and
    gas, while all around the evidence of -fossil-fuel abundance mounts up.”

    That would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. We reached the world peak of crude oil plus condensate 7 years ago. Peak oil is not ‘nonsense’ – it’s an historical fact. But hey, if you want to believe in the fantasy of abundance that the gas and oil industry is spinning, you go right ahead. You put money in those North American tight oil plays and into fracking if you’ve got the nerve. As they say, there’s a sucker born every minute.

  • leedsjon1

    Some v interesting & insightful views in this post – but I have to take Professor Helm to task on a couple of issues: 1. I am glad to see that somebody with authority has finally exposed all the many negative aspects of coal – eg their hazards to health,inefficiency in both extracting it and then transporting it on to power stations etc but he misses out 1 other important property which is both fundamental to this discussion and should be obvious to anybody who has any knowledge of the geology and underlying science surrounding the issue of fossil fuels – they are finite resources which are going to run out. This seems to be the one factor which rarely gets any coverage in discussions today but is vital to the debate – all fossil fuels, and especially coal, will run out (in some cases in as little as 40 years according to some estimates) and when they do, cannot be replaced. This is why, irrespective of the related issues concerning man made climate change, our long term energy strategy must move quickly away from a system based on fossil fuels to the exploitation of renewable energy resources and the associated technologies. 2. Some coverage is given to the perceived positive economic benefits of technologies such as fracking -eg transforming the fossil fuel markets and allowing the US to move closer to energy independence. I must take issue with this view – fracking may well have the benefit of producing large quantities of shale gas in a relatively cost effective manner (financially speaking that is) but the reality is that it is in fact a primitive method of subterranean mining (it involves the wholesale detonation of underground rocks in an uncontrolled and dangerous manner) which results in substantial environmental and ecological damage. In the UK, one of the few times in which this has been attempted on an industrial scale, an earthquake was caused as a direct result of these processes. In the US, where the use of this method is more extensive, large areas of previously arable agricultural land have been rendered barren by the use of this technology, resulting in the necessity for the energy companies who use this method to provide subtantial compensation awards to the landowners affected – which, perhaps, adds doubt to the suggestion that this technology is quite as cost effective and as ‘cheap’ an energy solution as its proponents would have us believe. I do not doubt the necessity of finding new,alternative sources of energy generation but this method is unviable and must be resisted at all costs – it is simply an illogical and irrational approach to solving both the present and future energy crises which we face by investing in a technology which, while producing the required level of energy in the short term, destroys a substantial quantity of the wider environmental resources we possess (eg in terms of the surrounding ecology) in the long term. This, ironically, introduces almost as many negative aspects as Professor Helm correctly associates with coal. The debate on this issue needs to expand to wider parameters if we are to reach any kind of satisfactory or useful conclusion – simply identifying the amount of energy produced by any new form of technology is an inadequate means of assessing its viability and potential unless an assessment of its wider impact on our existing environmental resources is also conducted. eg fracking produces substantial quantities of energy – but so would the detonation of a small nuclear device. Would anybody seriously consider attempting to rapidly increase our reserves of electricity by detonating a nuclear device? Of course not – while providing the energy it would, unfortunately, also destroy substantial proportions of our natural resouces (including the resulting impact on human life). This same argument can be applied, within the context of damage to our wider environmental resources, to fracking. This is a dangerous and unviable potential method for future energy generation which should be avoided at all costs.

    • http://twitter.com/poloniumman John Englert

      There was a nuclear generation technology concept that involved exploding many low-yield nuclear devices in a stainless steel lined cavern partially field with a molten salt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PACER_(fusion)

      • Robert Steinhaus

        PACER fusion – The only fusion technology available today capable of producing net energy without requiring physics breakthroughs to commercially build.

        Nuclear fusion will continue to power human civilizations
        long after the sun has burned out in 5 billion years (when all renewable energy systems that depend on the sun also stop operating).

        The time since the earth first formed = 4.54 billion years.

        The time until the sun burns out = 5 billion years.

        Why take the short term myopic point of view?

        D-D nuclear fusion of the deuterium in the sea is capable of
        comfortably powering a planet of 10 billion people at a level of 60 Terawatts
        for 8.33 billion years (longer than the earth has existed or the sun will burn)


        • Daniel Maris

          Shame the technology doesn’t exist isn’t it?

  • http://twitter.com/Atomicrod Rod Adams

    What is the basis for the assumption that nuclear energy will inevitably decline? It is the only power source available today that is both reliable AND emission free. In addition, the fuel supply is virtually inexhaustible and the technology has the potential for mass produced machinery that drives down the cost. Both the US and France have shown that it is possible to build new nuclear plants at rates in excess of 12 units (GW scale) per year per country.

    • Eric

      If you are talking about Thorium fed nuclear then definitely yes! however uranium is on par with silver and platinum as far as concentrations in the earth’s crust go, so I couldn’t see that lasting for any great length of time.

      • http://twitter.com/Atomicrod Rod Adams

        I favor all fission fuels – uranium, thorium and plutonium. Taken as a whole, the resource base is inexhaustible. http://www.journalogy.net/Publication/50514377/nuclear-fission-fuel-is-inexhaustible There is no reason to abandon uranium to move to thorium, and no reason to ignore the value of thorium.

        • Daniel Maris

          There is no reason to be seduced by any more promises from a nuclear industry that can’t even get insured on the open market.

          • http://twitter.com/Atomicrod Rod Adams

            Actually – the nuclear industry is self insuring. The system has never cost taxpayers a dime. The only reason that the federal government has to be involved is to allow an exemption from anti-trust rules that would prevent the companies from cooperating and providing financial support to each other.

          • Daniel Maris

            Thank you for that bedtime fairy story. Meanwhile in the UK the government has been quite candid in accepting that the nuclear industry can exist only with an implicit government guarantee that it will cover the costs of a Chernobyl type disaster (which could easily wipe out 50% of our agricultural land in England – we live in a v. crowded island).

      • Jill

        I was under the impression that uranium was 40 times as abundant as silver. Granted, using thermal reactors severely limits the use of that uranium as only the fissile U-235 is utilized. I think fast reactors and other alternative designs could definitely extend the use of uranium fuels for a significant time (well over the projected century most people like to throw about).

        • http://twitter.com/Atomicrod Rod Adams

          Fast reactors multiply the energy potential of uranium by a factor of between 50 and 150. The US was within a year or two of demonstrating an Integral Fast Reactor with on site recycling via pyroprocessing until the project was cancelled by the Clinton Administration. Interestingly enough, a number of people who were influential in that decision had deep ties to the natural gas industry.

          That industry would suffer a huge loss of wealth and power if nuclear energy was allowed to reach its full potential.

          • Daniel Maris

            No doubt you think hot fusion shows great promise as well. We’ve been sold that for 50 years as well.

            The reality is the new nuclear facilities have been subject to horrendous cost overruns.

          • http://twitter.com/Atomicrod Rod Adams

            You are quite wrong. I have written several articles on why fusion is a chimera that obtains political support because it has no hope of threatening the market share of the fossil fuel industry. Here is one example:


            The reality is that there are a number of examples of fission power plants producing reliable, economic electricity for many decades after they have been completed. There are also many examples of fission power plants that have been built on time and on budget – especially in countries where there is no organized opposition financially supported by an incredibly wealthy and powerful fossil fuel lobby.

      • http://www.facebook.com/aaron.hinman.58 AAron Hinman

        Eric – Current US stockpiles of mined and refined Uranium are sufficient to provide all of Americas energy needs for roughly three thousand years. Globally, conventional Uranium reserves are sufficient for roughly 50,000 to 60,000 years. Unconventional Uranium is a slightly different story. There is enough unconventional Uranium to provide all of Earths energy needs for somewhere between five million and seven million years (yes, I said “million”).

    • Robert Steinhaus

      I favor building significant numbers of new nuclear
      plants, but I believe that nuclear will inevitably fade and decline unless
      current US nuclear regulator (NRC) is reformed. In the US, we currently have
      reached industry killing levels of regulatory obstruction. You must have an NRC
      license to build any commercial nuclear power reactor, but NRC has granted only
      two licenses to build new reactors in 30 years. Unless the US style of nuclear
      regulation is reformed and something more balanced is put in its place that
      protects the public but also encourages the growth of the nuclear
      industry, nuclear will inevitably fade as current legacy nuclear plants reach
      end of life while licenses to build new reactors are only granted at the rate
      of two in 30 years.

      • http://twitter.com/Atomicrod Rod Adams

        @google-d48911ca605042aaf9a53e48dcb9e9d1:disqus Though the NRC obstructionism has been legend – especially with certain politicians masquerading as scientists selected as Chairman, there is plenty of blame to go around. Nuclear energy has been under a multi-front attack for decades from all of the weaker energy sources that hate the idea of competing with a power source that is both reliable and emission free, both abundant and affordable.

        The people who want to keep human society addicted to burning fossil fuel have introduced the distraction of weak and intermittent, weather dependent “renewable” power sources. They promote the heck out of them. They get credit for cloaking themselves in green – or just changing their logo to look like a green sun – but the reality is they know that the wind and the sun are never going to power a developed society. People will not put up with fluctuating power. They tell us that gas will be used for “firming”, but neglect to mention that the systems being “firmed” only produce about 15-25% of their nameplate capacity – the “backup” has to do 75-85% of the work.

        I see nuclear energy as being tied down with a bunch of Lilliputian like strings and the nuclear industry as being as reluctant as Gulliver to hurt any of the people that are tormenting the sleeping giant that is fission’s true potential. The industry leaders won’t even take a stand against overtly silly regulatory actions like keeping San Onofre or Ft. Calhoun shutdown when they are no threat to anyone’s safety.

        I am a Clay Christensen fan – it is time for a little disruptive innovation in energy.

        • aalberti

          Great post and great analogy, Rod.

        • Daniel Maris

          Do you really think German engineers are unaware of the problems of intermittency? Of course they are and they are addressing them. Do you really think German engineers don’t know the difference between nameplate capacity and output? (Same applies to nuclear – e.g. France’s nuclear industry has had to close down in exceptionally hot summers).

          In 20 years Germany will have shown the world how to break the back of the energy problem.

          • http://twitter.com/Atomicrod Rod Adams

            I think that Germans have a history of being susceptible to mass hypnosis. There are some excellent engineers there, but they often go with the flow and figure they can put their skills to use in whatever power system the politicians choose.

            I personally think that is a dumb way to make decisions.

            BTW – do you realize how influential Gazprom has been in German politics – to the point of hiring the former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the man who designed the initial nuclear phase out, for a multimillion dollar director’s position within weeks after he left office.

          • Daniel Maris

            Yeah, well fortunately you’re not in charge of German energy policy. Germans are. There is nothing amounting to a rebuttal in your comments.

            As for Gazprom, the point is that with 100% renewables, they won’t be dependent to any degree on Russian gas.

            You can’t get away from the fact that Germany, the industrial giant of Europe, is pursuing a 100% renewables energy programme.

            They are already producing 26% of electricity through renewables in the first half of this year.

          • http://twitter.com/billrodgers William Rodgers

            Pursuing a goal of having an industrial economy rely 100% on weather dependant generation systems and acutally succeeding are two different things. Germany is a long way from having a energy system based on 100% renewable. There are also several ways to measure “success”.

            Germany has committed itself to an incredibly complex and expensive experiment with Merkel’s proclamation of shutting down the nuclear power plants. Individual power rates are increasing and currently are three times the average power rates of the US. The increase just to pay for the FIT’s may be approximately 6% per year for the next 5-10 years based on some estimates I have seen. That rise in power rates to the average consumer does NOT include other typical rate increases that are necessary to cover standard O&M costs. Nor does that rate increase cover the required grid upgrades. That 6%/year is strictly for the FIT’s.

            Even Germans are now beginning to question the validity of the rapid and unproven attempt to switch to wind and solar:

            “Private households are expected to pay for an energy transition for which no clear plan exists,” says Holger Krawinkel of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations. The group says that one-seventh of Germany’s households now live in “energy poverty.” Government data shows that more than 600,000 households had their electricity turned off for non-payment in 2011″

            Then, none of these figures factor in the cost of the transmission and distribution system upgrades that are necessary to move more wind onto the German grid and stop dumping onto its neigbor’s grids. Those figures are at $25-50 Billion over the next 10 years for just the projected German upgrades ($2.5-5 Billion per year). Germany’s neighbors will also need to upgrade their own grids to ensure their systems are protected from wild swings of wind power due to the interconnected nature of the European grid.
            Finally, add in the general European economic issues in addition to Germany’s own economic concerns and it seems unlikely Germany will be successful any time soon at forcing their energy generation, transmission and distribution system to rely 100% on weather dependant point sources. There just won’t be money available especially since several main employers are already beginning to move operations out of Germany to countries with less expensive power rates. And Germany will now need to shift part of its GDP towards Russia to pay for natural gas to back up weather dependent systems.
            IF (and that is a big if) Germany is “successful” in its experiment, the cost to the average German consumer will be very, very high. Several years from now the discussion will be IF the cost of a 100% weather dependent system was worth the cost if Germany is successful (which I doubt they will).

          • Daniel Maris

            Since when has “renewable energy” been synonymous with “weather dependent energy systems”? Since never. In addition to wind, there is hydro, biomass, biofuel, tidal, wave and sea current, none of which are especially weather dependent, certainly not short term. Furthermore, you can store energy and of course that is what the Germans are giving their attention to now.

            Anyone would think that in Germany there were poor homeless people and huge numbers queuing up for food handouts as a result of massive energy bills…er, no, that’s the USA.

            As others here have pointed out, you also have to factor in things like Germany’s energy efficiency programme. If your electricity costs twice as much but your home is 50% more energy efficient, you end up paying the same.

            Another point you have to factor in is the overall economic effects. You keep going on about the expense, but nearly all that “expense” is also domestic economic activity. At the last count there was something like 300,000 jobs dependent on the green energy economy.

          • http://twitter.com/billrodgers William Rodgers

            Wind, Solar, Hydro, Biomass Biofuel, Tidal and Sea Currents are all weather dependant systems.
            They rely on the rising and setting of the sun in conjunction with the spin of the earth. Basic stuff being discussed here.
            No sun, no wind, and/or no precipitation add up to no biomass, no hydro, no wind or no solar energy generation. Tidal will happen but only once about every 10-12 hours due to the revolution of the moon about the earth. Once again, basic stuff being discussed here.
            Droughts happen all the time. The western US struggles about every 10-20 years with drought issues that affect their hydro generation system. Wind is usually only available about 25% of the year along the Columbia River Basin. What to do if wind is not blowing and Columbia River dams face drought conditions thereby requiring rationing of water for salmon runs or farming needs? Problem is the same no matter where on the planet wind and water are systematically combined to generate power.
            Hydro and biomass-biofuels are also land limited as well as being used to store water for other non-power needs. The US and Europe have only a few good spaces left for large hydro. There are many small hydro sites available but it takes a large number of small hydro (30MW) facilities to reach the GW stage needed to balance out wind and solar surges. NIMBYism will rightfully become an issue because many people will not want their favorite hiking or picnic area flooded.
            Germany is supposed to be a poster child for efficient use of electricity already. So if they have 600,000 households in an “energy poverty” situation then what does that say about their “efficiency” programs?. If efficiency was supposed to help them save money and save energy then why are 600,000 homes starving for energy in a country that already uses less energy per capita then the US? What does that mean for the US if equivalent German programs are forced on the US consumer by legislative means? How many jobs will be lost due to business being unable to keep the doors open because of high power rates?
            Large scale energy storage has been the holy grail of the wind and solar crowd for decades.
            Pumped Hydro – see comment about land limitations and multiple demands of water storage facilties above.
            Compressed Air – requires the right type of underground storage and access to natural gas (land limited and requires buring of fossil fuels).
            Batteries – grid scale are very large and very expensive also involving concentrations of lead, acids and other harmful compounds. Decades of government sponsored research into batteries from the time of Thomas Edison have not lowered the cost nor have resulted in dramatic changes in the industry. Right now the changes are around the edges, not breakthrough type changes needed to make them a viable alternative to existing power generation mechanisms.
            Flywheels – technology still being refined and is only in the 10-30 MW scale not the GW scale needed to assist in balancing out an entire grid. 10-20 years away before having a significant effect at the grid level if even financially viable.
            Hydrogen storage – does not require wind or solar. Only requires a large scale energy source to perform the electrolysis of water. So if a large power source is all that is needed then a nuclear power plant, natural gas plant or hydro facility can perform the same function. Requires a infrastructure that will cost billions to create. Natural gas industry will fight back to maintain their hold on the consumer since the burning of hydrogen and natural gas involve the same basic chemical and mechanical engineering issues.
            And those 300,000 jobs are dependant on a direct government subsidy. When the subsidies, FIT’s or PTC’s go away, the jobs disappear overnight. Not exactly a strong industry if the only thing keeping them on the payrolls are government payouts supported by taxes or loans from other countries. See Spain for what happens when government payouts exceed revenues and overly generous budgetary expectations about solar are used to assist in developing national budgets.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Steinhaus/1426782108 Robert Steinhaus

          @Rod –
          NRC Licensing is the rate limiting process in building US
          nuclear. Without an NRC license, nothing gets built (no exceptions).

          Chairman Allison MacFarlane is a gentler and more congenial face, and she will cause less embarrassment to the Obama Administration than her predecessor, but few (or no) new licenses will be forthcoming under her chair(women)ship as she will successfully keep the lid on new nuclear and thwart all hopes of a nuclear

          Without licenses to build new reactors, it does not matter how fossil fuel companies connive, posture, and advertise; miniscule progress in deploying nuclear will occur until NRC is reformed. NRC pacing of progress in new nuclear (two licenses in 30 years) is slow enough to ensure nuclear gradually shrinks in its share of US power generation and ultimately slowly, over the course of decades, fades away.

    • Daniel Maris

      France, Russia and Japan have all shown the dangers of nuclear. One terrorist incident at a plant will be the end of nuclear. Why risk half your country and millions of people’s homes with such a dangerous and expensive technology (more expensive than land based wind or gas).

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Pearson/100003283895832 Brian Pearson


      The used radioactive stuff can go here: Nicknamed “fast glass,” a more efficient formula for vitrifying
      radioactive waste, developed by a team of researchers at PNNL and the
      Savannah River Technology Center.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamberry28 Jameson Wade Smith

    Professor Helm is advocating additional research. Bill Gates has said this is needed. Mr Gates also had a good analogy of energy sources: farms (dams, winder, solar) and factories (coal plants,nuclear reactors, gas generators ). He is putting his efforts for better energy into nuclear “factories” in South Korea and China as both countries have acceptable regulatory environments.

  • Daniel Maris

    This is an odd have your cake and eat it article.

    1. It presupposes AGW is a real phenomenon. The evidence is still ambiguous on that in my view. Though I support carbon reduction on a precautionary principle, given he accepts the reality of AGW he seems pretty relaxed about continuing to rely on carbon.

    2. If he thinks we are cracking the energy storage problem, why is he not more enthusiastic about wind and solar given intermittency is their key deficiency?

    3. It fails to mention cold fusion which many (including leading figures in NASA and elsewhere) think shows great potential.

    4. It is misleading about Germany “turning to coal”. Germany is rapidly moving to a 100% green energy system but it can’t be done overnight. Coal is merely part of the interim solution. Meanwhile the Germans are roaring ahead, installing about 8-10 Gws of solar capacity every year.

  • David W

    Dieter I’m not sure if you mentioned tidal and wave but I think they are important.

    I also think the combination of solar, wind, tidal, biogas, wave and particularly geothermal can bridge the gap from conventional fossil fuels to renewable energy. All of the above are abundant and we have current and emerging technologies to harness them. The difficulty is political will power, or lack thereof, lack of vision, lack of innovation and corporate reluctance..

  • Colin Megson

    I can’t believe a Professor of Energy Policy, right here in the UK has not mentioned the excellent prospect for the early deployment of a GE Hitachi, 600 MW PRISM Power Block. A PRISM PB (2 x 300 MW reactors plus a fuel reprocessing plant) equates to an Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), which Clinton put the mockers on, in the States, in 1994. This PRISM PB will burn up our 50 odd tonnes of plutonium over a 5 year period and evaporate a big proliferation problem, whilst generating commercial electricity.

    A fleet of 30 PRISM PBs would provide our 16 GW of ‘New Nuclear’ as economically as the PWRs/BWRs to which we are (possibly) committing. Moreover, PRISMs are orders of magnitude safer than these LWRs, as they are inherently safe – they shut down in the worst of accident conditions, according to the laws of physics, without human intervention.

    What’s more, PRISM PBs could provide all of the electricity and, indeed, all of the energy required in the UK, from our legacy ‘waste’ for the next 500 years, without mining another gram of uranium – energy security, or what? So, our legacy ‘waste’ problem also evaporates and the minuscule amount of real waste created decays to background radiation levels in 300 years – capable of easy, cheap and safe storage.

    Surely this should quell the inane vitriol we get from the rabid anti-nukes, as witnessed in some of these posts.

    Google “prisms to power the uk” to see what might be the potential for this technology.

  • It think the article is wrong

    This article is unacceptable at all.
    Shale gas emits methane that is an climate change agent more powerful than coal.

    I can’t accept this article has not been pais by the shale gas industry.
    You can see in the next link a lot of american studies about pollution of shale gas extration. See please:


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