Reasons for Nuclear: The KISS principle

I have always been a man of seemingly conflicting interests. I’m an engineer and scientist in my core, I appreciate the ability to be productive and useful in logical and quantifiable ways. But I have also been vigorously involved in the Arts and know that unquantifiable efforts can be productive in their own right. Every school play I could physically cram myself into I did and I have been on a few playbills in my local Fringe Festival, making my professional theatre debut in the 6th grade.

Waaaaay down in the bottom right corner, little old me.

So where am I going with this? Well, it has a bit to do with all this current Green New Deal down in the US. If you live under a particularly heavy rock and are unaware of what that is, the basics are this. Pretend to be Germany until they are a bigger version of Germany. The goal is 100% renewable energy, complete refits of all infrastructure to promote energy efficiency, a vast increase of high-speed rail to replace air travel, a full build-out of a Smart-Grid electricity system, and a bunch of other non-energy related items. Its current estimate for cost is in the tens of trillions of dollars.

Now having lived in Germany, I would love to see more countries adopt high-speed rail transit as a more substantial method of travelling long continental distances. It’s relaxing, it’s pretty, there’s a bar car… But the problems I have with the GND, on the whole, is that it is trying to do everything at once. Which basically means that it will do none of them, or at best a few of them quite poorly. And this is where the engineer part of me starts coming to the fore.

You have to build a good foundation for everything else to build off of properly.

But what is foundational in the desires of the GND? What is the thing that everything else can base off of to be successful? As far as I can tell, nothing is foundational. It’s all woven together and interrelated so that you can’t do anything without at least one other thing. Politically, I can understand the reasoning for it because it prevents the attempt from getting pared down to the absolute basics. But as a method of building something functional and long lasting it’s an awful self-defeating practice.

The closest thing to a foundational desire is the transition to renewables and the smart grid together. You can’t operate a 100% renewables energy sector without a smart grid to handle the instability and constantly shifting current directions. But here’s the thing, without renewables as the primary power source, a Smart Grid is just very expensive for no reason.

A good foundation has to be able to stand on its own. Everything else that you put on top of it can be as flamboyant or ephemeral or counterintuitive as you want. If you try to build something on top of two things using each other for mutual support however, you are just asking for failure. And that is not something that should ever be allowed to be considered as an option. Especially when talking about the energy that supports the livelihood of everyone in an area, whether it is the United States or Alberta or anywhere else.

Just an impressive picture, no metaphor here no sir.

Nuclear energy is that foundation we need. You build a full fleet of nuclear energy and you have the capability, reliability and sustainability to build pretty much anything you can dream of on top of it. I know it’s boring to think about doing things one part at a time, and it feels like it isn’t quite enough. A problem as all-encompassing as climate change should require a massive effort across all sectors, shouldn’t it? We should have to revamp not only our infrastructure but our society as well to counter the crows of our past excesses that have come home to roost on us.

And here’s why I said that I had a history in theatre. Because the GND reads like someone thinks that this is a play or a movie, that the onrushing storm can be averted by a few plucky do-gooders that rally everyone behind them to save the day. It’s a heady, intoxicating narrative to tell yourself. That a gamble with the world on the line can do nothing but succeed. We feel that way because we are almost conditioned to believe that a David vs. Goliath story always works out for David.

Thanks to Grant Snider of Incidental Comics for portraying this so clearly and succinctly

But here’s the problem, we aren’t in a Man vs Man story, or even a Man vs. God. This is Man vs. Nature, and that’s terrifying because you cannot reason with Nature. It doesn’t care about your good intentions, your crystal energies, your history of recycling or the fact that you separate your organics, plastics, and papers. Nature is indifferent to suffering or pleasure, agony or ecstasy, life or death. Nature simply happens. All the goodwill or attempts to appease it with what we think “It” wants are worth less than sand in the wind. In our modern society, we have forgotten that nature is not a being to entreat and bargain with, but something to be survived. Something to prove to that we are worthy of living in Its world.

We Have to live with nature and are dependant on it for survival. The way we have historically tried to do it has been proved that it will kill our civilization eventually through fire or flood. So if we don’t want to have to hope that we can find a tiny cave to shelter the storm in and hope to survive then we have to build something that is capable of surviving what is coming.

We Can build a foundation to begin fixing our problems right now. We Need to build a foundation to fix our problems Right Now. But instead, we seem to want to do things the hard way, the long shot, the storybook underdog tale. And in this, both my engineering and my theatrical parts are in agreement that we cannot afford to be making things more complicated than absolutely necessary.

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5 thoughts on “Reasons for Nuclear: The KISS principle

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  1. So what does this have to do with the KISS principle? The term doesn’t seem to appear anywhere in the body, and I’m at a loss what this has to do with the GND. Perhaps you mean…

    “You can’t operate a 100% renewables energy sector without a smart grid to handle the instability and constantly shifting current directions. But here’s the thing, without renewables as the primary power source, a Smart Grid is just very expensive for no reason.”

    You need a smart grid with nuclear too, and I know because 51% of the electrons I’m using to write this come from nukes. In the past we did that take up with coal, now we do load shifting, natgas and negawatts. It was not expense to convert, so I’m not sure why you think the SG is “very expensive”.

    Alberta has looked at nuclear on and off for quite a while now, and decided “no”. Ontario, meanwhile, was convinced it was the future and said “oh yes indeed!”. So you guys got to pay for AECL so that now I pay much more for power than you do. Great deal all around.

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    1. you obviously do not need to have a smart grid to use multiple types of sources of energy as Ontario does not currently have a smart grid. A “Smart Grid” is the title used to describe an electrical grid that is capable of handling electricity as both an export and import from Every endpoint in it without having conflicting currents blowing up transformers. The current Canadian grid system has its defined inputs and for locations that use solar energy, they are upgraded on a case by case basis so that people who want to earn a bit of money by supplying their excess home solar to the grid can do so. This upgrade is reflected in the cost of grid connection fees. I do not know whether those fees are limited to the people who ask for the upgrades or whether they are spread around the populace. as for Alberta paying less than Ontario for energy, correct me if I’m wrong but does Ontario use electrical heat sources for home heating? in AB we use natgas which is one reason things are cheap here, I have a previous post touching on how we need a more efficient way to create heat from electrical sources here because currently using resistive heating from electrical sources would run something like 4x more than using natgas (https://albertanuclearnucleus.ca/2018/12/04/energy-and-civilization-series-more-than-just-electricity/) as for the KISS principle, without large scale distributed renewable power generation to require the input-output connections at every terminal of the electrical grid, a smart grid is a vastly expensive upgrade to a regular grid for no reason. So why build two things that require each other when one thing can do the same work, and arguably for cheaper?

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  2. “A “Smart Grid” is the title used to describe an electrical grid that is capable of handling electricity as both an export and import from Every endpoint in it without having conflicting currents blowing up transformers”

    That is definitely *not* the definition of a smart grid.

    https://www.smartgrid.gov/the_smart_grid/smart_grid.html

    What you are referring to is bidirectionality, which is a much simpler thing to achieve.

    “they are upgraded on a case by case basis so that people who want to earn a bit of money by supplying their excess home solar to the grid can do so.”

    There were no upgrades in our area; quite the opposite, Toronto Hydro refused to even consider them anywhere. Yet there’s PV all over the city, including my garage. There’s also utility-sized wind and PV systems all over the place. Two days ago the grid was 21% wind power, today it’s 2.1 (there’s no wind), yet that variability was easily handled with a grid that’s mostly from the 70s and 80s.

    “This upgrade is reflected in the cost of grid connection fees”

    Oh if only it were so! No, the bunglings of the former Ontario Hydro were mostly hidden in my income taxes until they were forced to stop doing that about 15 years ago. That’s when the rates went from 4.8 cents to 9 overnight. Actually, I read something similar is happening for some Alberta customers right now?

    “I’m wrong but does Ontario use electrical heat sources for home heating?”

    The vast majority is natgas. The condo I lived in was electric, however, but…

    “electrical sources would run something like 4x more than using natgas”

    … it used a heat pump which is 3x as efficient as resistance heating. It only used it due to local ordinances about gas lines in upper-floor units, whereas you could run electrical wiring anywhere. I think only Quebec has any real amount of resistance heating, and I think they’re regretting that now. Sure is cheap to install though!

    “arguably for cheaper?”

    Because it’s not cheaper. The last reactor we built in Ontario was supposed to be 3.something billion and ended up being 13.8. Then they were going to build another at Darlington (just down the road from the house with the heat pump, literally) but it came in a $26 billion and 12 years and the government told them to take a leap.

    So then they installed ~25% of peak using wind over a period of about six years and it cost about 1/3rd as much. And that was a BAD deal, at current prices wind is about 10 times cheaper than nukes. So that’s why no new nukes in Ontario.

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    1. dammit, I had a nice long post and lost it cause I mis-clicked and closed the tab.
      First, I only ever heard of a smart grid being used to more efficiently integrate distributed renewables without causing local overloads in switching stations. The rest of those points seem like common sense upgrades that shouldn’t require an entirely new grid to implement but since no one knows how to do anything on time or on budget anymore they just decided to lump them in with everything else. Also, grid-scale renewables don’t require a new grid because as you said, the current grid handles their instability just fine.

      your condo heat pump is probably still running on natural gas I would bet, I don’t know what natural gas prices are in Ontario but I would guess maybe a little higher than here in Alberta, Mix in with the efficiency gains of a single large boiler plus heat pump I’m betting you probably pay about even for heat with Alberta.

      I’m not entirely sure about all of Alberta, but Edmonton electricity rates are currently capped at 6.8 cents per kWh with any overage in those prices being paid to the companies out of the funds collected from the carbon tax. average in Edmonton seems to be about 0.7-1.3 cents per kWh overage.

      and nuclear plants are not what is driving your personal payments up. Nuclear costs a bunch up front but it is usually the cheapest form of electricity other than hydro because nuclear produces for long periods of time at very stable levels for many decades (a very rough outline of this effect here: https://albertanuclearnucleus.ca/2019/01/18/costs-of-nuclear-lies-greed-and-misery). The things that are driving Ontario prices up is having to pay the averaged costs of all that wind. Cause sure, when there is lots of wind the prices get driven down very low, potentially even negative, but when there is no wind those costs soar as companies bid on that tiny chunk of energy. also according to this aggregate site https://www.electricitymap.org/?page=country&solar=false&remote=true&wind=false&countryCode=CA-ON Ontrio actually payes noticeably less for energy than Alberta does. (Prices listed in USD I believe.)

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