Wind or frack? Or will this post send you nuclear?

We want electricity.  What is the best way to get it?  This post is an attempt to summarise objectively three of the most controversial options – nuclear, fracking and wind power.  It will be controversial.  It is not intended to be the last word on the matter, rather to start the conversation.

This is a slightly unusual post.  I’ll update the content if new evidence arrives.  Let me know if you have any.

Nuclear Fracking Wind Power
Cost (source: US energy information administration) $0.108/kWh $0.065/kWh($0.075-$0.113/kWh inc. costs of climate change, after discounting the value of the future & ignoring e.g. tipping points & human impact)

Forecast to ~triple by 2030, to about $0.19/kWh excl. costs of climate change.

$0.086/kWh (onshore); $0.222/kWh (offshore)(forecast to reduce by 20-30% by 2030, to $0.06-0.07/kWh for onshore and $0.15-0.17/kWh for offshore)
Time 42-60 months, excluding planning; lasts 30-40 years. Drilling time plus 2 months to frack; Produces gas for about 10 years. 2 months, excluding planning; lasts about 20-25 years
Space Relatively small, but needs to be sited near the sea. 2580-3000 wells would be required to produce 9bcm (billion cubic metres) per year of gas from shale, which would require 830-970 square km…but production drops rapidly after the first couple of years.  That’s about 93 GWh per square KM per annum, excluding the power plant and roads / transport.(the feature image above is Texas fracked) If I’ve done my maths correctly, taking the numbers from David Mackey’s Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air, we’re looking at 26.3 GWh per square KM per annum
Legacy Nuclear waste needs to be stored somewhere safe for hundreds of years, creating a life no-go area – although that could be a long way underground.  Doesn’t make sense to shoot it into space, in case the rocket explodes. CO2 equivalent emissions about 40-50% less than coal, a few percentage points above natural gas (i.e. about 410-480 gCO2eq/kWh), because of the methane released during construction.  It’s still contributing to climate change.There will be a big hole and a load of chemicals underground when you’re done. None – when they’re done with, you take them down and you wouldn’t know they’d been there.(see pictures below)
Other Downsides The waste products are deadly and could be turned into a terrorist bomb.They cannot be quickly started up or slowed down, so the power they produce needs to be first on the grid. Water use – fracking requires 9,000 to 29,000 m3 per well fresh water, just when water is becoming scarce.The gas needs to be transported to a power station to be turned into electricity. Some find the turbines to be unsightly.  This is subjective.The power they produce is not predictable, so needs to be the first on the grid.
Myths It’s not particularly unsafe – when it goes wrong, it really goes wrong, and this skews people’s view on nuclear safety.  It does go wrong, though. Water contamination – this isn’t a big deal with good construction.Earthquakes – they’re mostly tiny.  But if fracking goes on near existing faults then larger earthquakes are possible – and we don’t know where all the faults are.  So lots of care needed plus detailed surveys. Birds – I heard a story about a community scattering dead birds around turbines so they could check that the person employed to clear up the carcasses was doing his job.They don’t generate much electricity / use more than required to power them – of course not, otherwise why would companies be investing in putting them up?

So, how do you want your electricity generated?  To me, it really comes down to whether you think the short-lived appearance of windmills on the landscape is worse than the longer-term impacts of climate change from burning gas, and whether or not you value the future in your decision.

Of course, there is another option.  You could use less electricity.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

Wind Turbines nr Addingham, Yorkshire – unsightly?
Wind turbines nr Addingham, Yorkshire

And after they were removed – hardly a trace
Wind turbines nr Addingham, Yorkshire - and then after removal

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