Optimism Averted (Or, Has Anyone Ever Seen Lockheed Martin and the Koch Brothers in the Same Place at the Same Time?)

I’ve been mired in a funk of hopefulness over the past week or so.

I blame 03— who, a couple of posts back, reminded me of last autumn’s announcement from Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works (I’d seen it at the time, but had apparently repressed the memory). One of the world’s largest aerospace firms— about the furthest you can get from the tin-foil hat brigade— is claiming they’ll have a working prototype of a fusion reactor in five years. A production model in ten. A device small enough to load onto a truck, powerful enough to run 80,000 homes on 25kg of fuel per year. Trivial radiation issues that fade after a mere century.

If it’s true— if it’s true— it could change everything.

Carbon pollution: ended. Climate Change: mitigated at least, the worst scenarios averted (with hope for renewed stability once the current bolus of thermal inertia works its way through the system). Clean energy in abundance. A world where the boots of the powerful might even ease up off the necks of the rest of our necks, a world where resources are so plentiful there’s no real need to kick us in the teeth just to maintain the swimming pool in your rooftop penthouse. (Granted, a lot of one-percenters might well go on kicking us in the teeth just for fun. Still.) The Utopia Express, leaving on Platform #4 in 2025.

Yes, there were questions. There were skeptics. The comments on this Aviation Week piece run the gamut from measured skepticism about deuterium-tritium reactions through to Youtube links that purport to show a working fusion reactor someone cobbled together ten years ago out of two coat hangers and an alarm clock. (Hell, a lot of the comments right here on the ‘crawl show way more skeptical erudition than I could ever pretend to.) But Lockheed Martin. We’re talking technological breakthroughs here:  if not them, who?

I moped, at first. All my carefully-researched environmental apocalypsi, obsolete. All my grim odes to the coming dark age, suddenly quaint and simpleminded. My own increasing certainty that I’ll probably end up freezing to death with a broken and gangrenous leg, huddled in the burnt-out shell of some Scarborough duplex while my step-pones, fighting over the last tin of Irish Stew, swing nail-studded 2x4s at each other— maybe a wee bit too pessimistic after all. Thanks to Lockheed Martin I was less relevant than ever.

But then a change started to come over me. “This could… this could fix things,” I half-whispered to the BUG, as if speaking too loudly might somehow jinx the coming Utopia. “Things might actually get better. In just ten years.” A little later, down in the shower, I said it again, less hesitantly: “If we can just hang in there for another decade, we might be able to fix it all. They’re even talking about powering spaceships with this thing.”

Of course it seemed to good to be true. But what if it wasn’t? What if life could actually be awesome? Maybe I’d live to see warp drive and mini-skirted female astronauts with beehive hairdos after all.

And then I read this.

Okay, so Alternet isn’t what you’d call a peer-reviewed journal. But they’re not talking about their own opinions here; they’re gloating about the opinions of a major European financial institution. Apparently, Deutsch Bank expects that solar will own the energy industry in a mere fifteen years. And they’re not the only ones: this study out of Cambridge also sees solar kicking Petro’s ass in the not-too-distant future. A new generation of batteries will crush the storage issue. Forget cutting back on dirty energy for some airy-fairy reason like “saving the planet”; we’ll leave all that shit in the ground because it’s just not worth the cost of digging it out, given the cleaner, cheaper alternatives. The numbers seem compelling even to the oil barons themselves, if the industry’s rearguard campaign against solar is anything to go on.

We’re not quite there yet, of course. Coal’s still the cheaper option, and these new Flow Batteries aren’t quite up to the task at their current state of development, but within just fifteen years

Shiny... so very shiny... no need to look behind the curtain...

Shiny… so very shiny… no need to look behind the curtain…

Ah. Now I see it.

Because, you know. Why bother investing in all that pricey R&D, so essential to Solar’s future dominance, if we’re going to have small, safe fusion reactors on every street corner before it even pays off? Why waste resources trying to farm wind and sunlight when the tech will be obsolete before it’s ready for prime time? Makes way more sense to just keep fracking that shale, digging that coal, for another few years until fusion takes over. Invest in renewables? You might as well be flushing billions of dollars down the toilet.

And if, a decade or so down the road, Skunk Works goes Oops— unforeseen technical difficulties, we misplaced a decimal place so we’re a little behind schedule— but don’t worry, we’ll have practical fusion in another ten years, twenty tops— well, there’ll always be good old reliable fossil fuel, infrastructure firmly in place, to take up the slack.

So here I am, a wide-eyed realist who dreamed for a few glorious hours that he was an optimist. But now the dream is over, and I am awake.

Now, I just want to know how much of Skunk Works’ funding comes from Exxon.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Monday March 09 2015at 06:03 am , filed under scilitics . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

61 Responses to “Optimism Averted (Or, Has Anyone Ever Seen Lockheed Martin and the Koch Brothers in the Same Place at the Same Time?)”

  1. Damn it, Watts! I was having the same dream and it was very nice.

  2. You’re just so amazingly good at making lemons out of lemonade, man.

  3. Practical fusion occupies the same space in my mind as strong AI – both have been “10 years away” since before I was born. I think both are worth pursuing if only for the spin-off benefits, but neither should be relied upon or planned for.

  4. Weird how I didn’t hear about this until I read it on the ‘crawl. However, maybe it is my optimism but I honestly think the complete environmental apocalypse in Rifters may be averted thanks to this. Even if it aint, Solar is still growing. I feel as if we’ll avert the worst of this after all

  5. That’s… uh… plausible I guess.

    But don’t despair, after all they had fusion and better in the blindsight/echopraxia future and it was still all screwed up.

  6. “Hydrogen — the fuel of the future. Always has been. Always will be.”

  7. A realist dreaming he is an optimist is indulging in pessimism.

  8. Sorry, PW and the rest of us. I think N Tesla could have given us all hoverboards by now if those pigeons hadn’ta gotten to him first. Who’d have thought Edison would train those flying rats to talk?

  9. A couple of points.
    All Lockheed has really announced is a concept, which they expect to turn into a prototype by 2020.
    It’s pretty easy to make a prototype fusion reactor, many people have done it on youtube. Net power generation is the tricky part.
    Even if the engineers at Lockheed have a secret telephone line to Aliens/Cthulhu/Nikolai Tesla and have a plan which will produce a working prototype, it ain’t gonna be cheap. Think a Solvaldi style distribution for the 1st and 2nd world and the 3rd world will still be burning cheap abundant coal, oil and gas, because it’ll be so much cheaper when the west + the BRICS no longer want any of it.
    Which will mean we’re still pretty fucked as far as climate change goes.
    Also probably a real shooting war in the middle east as a horde of now suddenly economically irrelevant wake up to the crash in oil prices.

  10. The message I took away from Limits to Growth back in the mid 70s was that if the resource limits don’t get you, the pollution will. And that technical fixes make the ascent faster, the peak higher, but the crash afterwards worse and more sudden.

    Personally, i’m still hoping for a soft landing. Hoping we can get from here to there with some kind of civilisation in tact and a reasonably 20th-century technological lifestyle for the survivors.

  11. And if the pollution don’t the waste heat do.

    http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/04/economist-meets-physicist/

    Though i guess it could be considered a form of pollution…

  12. There never has been, nor will there ever be, safe fusion power. I will bet anyone here a hundred dollars that there will be none in the next 20 years. I’ll even adjust for inflation when 2035 arrives.

  13. I doubt that the Skunkworks folks are engaging in anything but the time-honored practice of deluding themselves that they’re the smartest guys in the room, and can quickly knock out a problem that’s stymied the best minds of several generations. (And if the announcement happens to pop their share price a bit, no harm done right?) No need to go hunting for a carefully coordinated conspiracy when the dreary reality of human cupidity and vanity will explain the facts as we know them.

    The good news, such as it is, is that it’s exceedingly unlikely (at least down here in the lower 48) that any actual energy policy will get made based on Lockheed’s press releases. Even in DC, everyone knows that “we’ll have a prototype in about five years” is code for “give us a bunch of money and don’t expect anything to ever happen” and the memory of this announcement has already faded from view.

    (An extremely good if somewhat technical summary of the problems and opportunities of fusion power can be found here. TL;DR: fusion might save our great-great-grandchilden, but don’t bet the farm on it and we’d probably be much better off plowing the R&D money into better storage and transmission solutions for solar.)

  14. I think this is a bit too pessimistic. Yes, solar is looking great – but you can’t power an destroyer, carrier, or air wing off solar. (At least not directly, although the Navy is investing big in ways to synthesize fuel from seawater and electricity.) That’s Lockheed’s main target market here. Even if the first few generations of fusion reactor turn out to be too expensive to displace solar in most markets, it doesn’t matter as long as Lockheed’s concept model – conveniently sized to fit into even small ships like the LCS – is cheaper than a solar-powered diesel production. Any attempted bribery from the Kochs and their ilk would be way offset by the delicious, never-ending stream of dollars and euros that would come with refitting the entire NATO naval force.

  15. The only thing better than being able to smell a trap, is to have an excellent ability to know where a trap ought to be if indeed there can be one. That should work whether or not your nose is working.

    Another way of looking at this is “always place the safe bet, yet stay reminded that the House will do its best to make sure that the odds always favor the House”. It’s like saving for retirement rather than gambling your savings on the stock market. It’s painfully slow, decidedly un-sexy, you forego all hopes of a jackpot, yet it’s almost certain you won’t be homeless when you’re 80.

    Translation? “Keep investing in and promoting renewables.”

    Great call, Dr Watts. IMHO.

  16. I give humanity six months after fixing the world’s energy issues to forget it was ever a problem and return to being dicks about the usual shit (or, perhaps, all new shit). And the Right Wing Nutjobs will deny ever being against clean energy (providing, of course, their businesses are running the new tech). Or maybe we’ll just use all that new tech for ever-worse weapons. So don’t worry Peter — humanity will always turn the greatest accomplishments into fecund disappointment and destruction.

  17. Hey, I just saw that Korea (where I live) is hosting the next International Symposium on Fusion Nuclear Technology, in September.
    http://www.isfnt-12.org/

    I covered Korea’s K-Star fusion project for Science magazine a few years ago, and I remember thinking it was all pretty pie-in-the-sky. But apparently the government just announced another $1 billion for fusion, so maybe we’re actually getting somewhere.

  18. If fusion did produce cheap, limitless energy I don’t think it will be any panacea, in fact I think just the opposite, it will be straight out of Pandora’s Box. Think of the urban sprawl we will produce as our bulldozers will be able to work 24 and 7, practically for free, with their robot drivers. Look at the mining that will take place as limitless energy will make even the lowest grade rocks ore. Look at the cars we will build and their roads with limitless energy. If we have fusion reactors in 10 years, I’d give us another 10 years before we pave the entire globe, including antarctica. Hell, we may even terraform Mars and pave that completely too. After all the land is gone, think of the wars we will fight as our tanks, ships, and planes have limitless range and are armed with fusion weapons.

  19. Tokamaks and inertial confinment fusion will never be economic with the best fission reactors. There are other fusion concepts -as above -but these are long shots. I would look to Terrapower. Some very heavy hitters are involved and the technology is there. More or less.

    Lockheed really have disgraced themselves with the F-35. But you never know.

  20. @sptrs: Lockheed really have disgraced themselves with the F-35. But you never know.

    Considering some of the stuff I have seen said about the F-35 over the last “while or two”, from quite a wide range of people who arguably might know whereof they spoke, it’s almost reasonable to think of this as Lockheed yelling “squirrel” as a distraction. As in “lookee we are going to save the world for mass electrical consumerism, please keep buying our crap fighters”. Then again, I did try to look to see how much Exxon might be bought into Lockheed Martin, and I am finding it a little difficult to find. Probably google is finding it but digging it out from the tens of thousands of pages of prospectus isn’t easy.

    That being said: you might look on page 25 of this PDF and look at the employment history of the nice lady. This is not at all atypical in the industries. Pan around through the facebook-y section and see who sits on what boards outside of LM and it’s a sort of who’s-who of a lot of corporations we love to hate. I am not saying that these people are underqualified, and I don’t want to insult the agnostics and atheists of this forum by suggesting that these are clearly the minions of the devil himself, but people who are both religious and “leftist/progressive” in US terms might not scruple to hesitate in such statements. I mean, yes, one might reasonably suspect a bit of perfidy and/or misdirection in press releases and the timing thereof.

    As for “what if fusion was real?” If it can run the house on those days when the sun doesn’t shine, and run the house on any given night, I am all for it. But I still want battery backup with solar recharge, and why pay for fusion when comparatively speaking, solar is free.

  21. sptrs,

    The F-35 has done exactly what it was planned to do – transfer $1Trn from the taxpaying public to various private entities. It’s not supposed to do anything useful and not working very well has probably made the world safer rather than more dangerous.

    The fusion project is more of the same.

    Deutsche is probably wrong on the shift to solar, the timescale is too short in their report.

    I’m sure humanity will continue to find new things to be dicks to each other about.

  22. Two reasons to be optimistic about solar energy: capitalism and international rivalry.

    If the USA decides not to invest in solar energy, so what? A quick google for world wide solar panel production showed the US as being pretty insignificant. Exxon and the Kochs causing a USA withdrawal from the solar energy market would have about the same impact as the USA withdrawing from the soccer world cup.

    Number one producer of solar energy tech by most charts and stats is China. Does anyone think that the Chinese, either at the government or corporate levels, are happy at the thought of having to pay either oil companies or Lockheed Martin in perpetuity? Why would they pass up a chance to knife their USA competition?

    (And if the Chinese decide to take things slowly, there’s always India. Or France. Or … Solar energy, unlike nuclear, seems to be able to start small and diffuse.)

  23. @Chris S

    I only mention the F-35 because in principle it’s a straightforward project. They are not pushing physical theory and materials science to its limits the way a fusion project would. And yet even on that basis they fail.

    I personally don’t have any faith in the “renewable” initiatives. If we get throught the next 50 years more or less intact it will be due to wide spread nuclear IMO. Then things might get interesting. Finally.

  24. Not a word about proliferation. Depleted uranium, the common stuff used in counterweights, munitions, etc, if put into such a reactor turns into plutonium.

    Frankly, I’m more optimistic about the various novel breeder reactors, like the Terrapower mentioned above.

    Mr Non-Entity: But I still want battery backup with solar recharge, and why pay for fusion when comparatively speaking, solar is free.

    Yeah. If you get someone else to pay for it through tax money.

    Free my ass. A solar-power setup with batteries enough to last a couple of days probably costs as much as a half of a house in most places.

  25. @Y: [re: “free” solar]Yeah. If you get someone else to pay for it through tax money. […] Free my ass. A solar-power setup with batteries enough to last a couple of days probably costs as much as a half of a house in most places.

    I’m looking carefully at the words “in most places”. If we’re talking the Republic of Benin, if they still exist, you may be right. However, in possibly most places where the cost of a house is measured in two weeks to one month’s income for people in the Industrialized nations, they probably don’t need all that much solar power. It might cost such people in such a place a year’s income for a really minimal solar system, but if they mostly need a recharge for their cellphone and some LED lighting, that one year’s expense might serve those needs for 20 or more years, although the battery would need recycling every 3-5 years if it is deep cycle battery that is used hard.

    Now, look closely at my own use of the words “comparatively […] free”. Even if we had off-the-shelf house-rated fusion reactors, I think we could reasonably expect them to cost a bit more than a house-rated solar-PV system. A few threads back, I did a fairly thorough if off-the-cuff solar system output estimate, use that as a reference. A house-rated fusion system in the proposed Lockheed model can’t be cheap and would probably cost a lot more than the whole suite of power-hungry appliances such as kitchen and laundry combined. A “grid-feeding meterable” system of solar-PV will cost you, in today’s prices, about U$240.00 for a 120W nominal-12v monocrystalline unit of about 6 square feet, including shipping. (If the link fails, amazon.com search for solar 120W and page around.) That plus a U$50.00 regulator, and a U$120 12V deep-cycle wheelchair/marine battery is a 10A system for circa $400. Call it $500 to include most incidentals but excluding all labor. This will not run your washing machine but it will light your house.

    “But that’s not how these systems work!” you might rightly say. That is true, and it is true that enough batteries to run the washer and dryer and refrigerator will put a dent in the budget of even a rich Industrialized family… if they are a stack of the wheelchair/marine deep-cycle type. Yet it is tough to get an estimate on the costs of “appropriate” batteries such as the 16-kWhour Chevy Volt’s battery. As the link shows, prices range wildly through an order of magnitude, from about U$3500 to U$35,000. That market isn’t yet stabilized. Yet the market is stable-yet-declining-rapidly for solar panels. Enough panels and a charge controller to suit the Volt replacement battery could easily fit on about 500 square feet of roof and might set you back U$75,000 and I may be overestimating that. I will let others do the research to check the prices on a comparable non-storage “home emergency backup generator system” and the cost of fuel to run it for as long as the solar cells will last. Again, we have been discussing grid-disconnectible systems or independent non-grid systems.

    Grid-connected systems are much more standardized and semi-stable in terms of prices and the prices have been going down, although as noted above, utilities are seeking regulatory “remedy” to make them more expensive, in raw money terms. Yet once again we have to weight the allegedly-intangible costs to the environment for failing to seek alternatives to the widespread model of paying someone else to burn fossil fuels and deliver it to you.

    Note, please, that wind power tends to be a utility-owned model and it may be that some of the rent-seeking in proposed regulatory capture is reasonably supposed to be a means to defray costs in those utilities that are migrating into wind or large-scale-solar, or as means to support grid maintenance costs which could deliver such Centralized Renewable Energy products to faraway homes and businesses. Yet there may be a means whereby we can all stop booing the nasty old “eleco” (electrical utilities) and get behind the bandwagon, so to speak, and push it in the direction you want it to go, rather than letting the “eleco” steer. In the States, this would include involving yourself in the regulatory-legislative hearings and begging for a time-out, a moratorium of no less than a year or three, creating a legislative separable-issues notion that power generation and power delivery are two separate things, already the law in most states, if not in all of them.

    In my humble opinion, the grid needs to be there, if only to support industry, but the power-generation need not be fossil-fuel based. Would most investors be happy to see generation costs move towards renewables, with less potential variability in “motive costs” based on politically sensitive oil or other fossil fuels? Oh yes. Wind may not be 24/7, nor is solar, but in aggregate over time those are extremely predictable and unlikely to change in costs for “motive power”, except to see those costs go down as more efficient means of harvest are developed. So be happy to pay the “eleco” so long as legislation mandates that they migrate into wind and/or large-scale solar. Yet at the same time, we all need to be activist in supporting the rights of people to generate power locally to where it will be used, as in home-solar, either grid-independent, grid-feeding, or mixed models.

  26. @Y.

    All of the current crop of reactors produce and fission Plutonium in-core.

    As for the Terrapower concept it was designed at the outset to utilize “waste” -depleted uranium -as fuel and to meet the rational concerns -not the fever-dreams of anti-nukes -of proliferation and actual waste disposal.

  27. The skunkworks report seems to be about little more than a rough idea. There are no numbers describing the performance so far, which would suggest there isn’t any. You should look for measurements of ion temperature and plasma density to see whether they have made progress. All descriptions of the device look like the devices from the 80’s that no one could get to work, even with thousands of people and hundreds of millions of dollars. There doesn’t seem to be any recognition that this is old well-trod ground, with huge well-known problems. It’s not impossible that someone finally figured out how to make a mirror machine work, but it would be strange to present it as a new idea, rather than saying that you dusted off an old idea and fixed it.

    Fusion is unlikely to ever be cheap. As long as the atmosphere is a free trash dump for whatever people want to put there, carbon-neutral concepts will never be able to compete economically. But if you add the cost of cleaning out the carbon to your monthly electric bill, things will look very different. In the long term, fusion is the best bet for supplying enough carbon-free power to the planet–solar or wind alone will never bring the population of Asia to a decent standard of living. But to get there, we need to spend a lot of money on development. I have seen a recent estimate of $1T to get a decent number of watts on the grid. Whether it takes 50 years or 500 years depends on how fast you are willing to spend the money. With research money for fusion decreasing substantially over the decades the goal can only recede into the indefinite future.

    Last day to nominate Echopraxia for a Hugo! I filled out my ballot…

  28. @Y.

    Apologies Y. I think I misread you. I went from Fusion concepts to Terrapower without being clear about what Terrapower is.

  29. Mwahahahaha. I cackle with diabolical glee, the methane clathrates will end them all. 😐

  30. […] Peter Watts – Optimism Averted (Or, Has Anyone Ever Seen Lockheed Martin and the Koch Brothers in the Same Place a… […]

  31. Stopping back for a brief note, you may wish to swing past a horribly ad-laden Mother Jones magazine page of solar-v-utilities graphs. This gives some coverage of market shares by fuel type, etc. The comments section is fairly interesting, as well.

    They do note that for all of the debate and ballyhoo over home-solar, on a megawatt basis, by far and away the large scale commercial generation projects lead the pack. Several large-scale systems are about to come online, such as the Topaz Solar Farm in sunny California.

    I think we can rest our cases about Lockheed Martin’s press releases about fusion being pretty much a case of a corporation yelling “squirrel” as a distraction.

  32. Yeah, those “Skunk Works” usually go for the “Moon Shot” ideas that may develop into some viable technologies in 10 to 20 years. I suspect the big oil companies want to know what there up against in the near and long term future in energy alternatives. They wouldn’t want to have a Kodak moment:

    Steven Sasson develops the first digital camera in 1975 in Kodak’s Apparatus Division research labs, and was asked how long before this technology would become a threat to the company’s market. Sasson told them, fifteen to twenty years. Long story short, Kodak ignored the technology and continued with their chemical and photographic paper business. Unable to compete with digitalization, Kodak filed for Chapter 11 in January of 2012.

    My cards are on Elon Musk’s SolarCities and the development of more efficient battery storage. That and more homo sapiens turning to a plant based diet: 50% of fossil fuels support a animal based agriculture to grow millions of acres of GM crops like soy and corn used for several thousand head feedlots and animal processing factories (farms?).

    Hey, I heard a report on NPR about the prolonged drought in Texas that may cause dust storms, and there is a concern about antibiotic resistant bacteria from feedlots west of Austin being blown in. Can’t say I’m thrilled about that since live in Austin.

  33. Mr Non-Entity: A house-rated fusion system in the proposed Lockheed model can’t be cheap and would probably cost a lot more than

    LOLWUT?

    They propose a unit rated around a 100 MW. Meaning small-ish power plant. Not house units. No one’s ever been talking about ‘house’ nuclear reactors.

    Ever. Smallest unit ever proposed was some wacky Japanese idea to build energy self-sufficient skyscrapers with a small reactor in the basement. Popular-Mechanics stuff..

    Mr Non-Entity: That plus a U$50.00 regulator, and a U$120 12V deep-cycle wheelchair/marine battery is a 10A system for circa $400. Call it $500 to include most incidentals but excluding all labor. This will not run your washing machine but it will light your house.

    ‘Lighting’ a house is not a big ticket. 12V @ 10 A is nothing, that’s like 0.1 kWh. That’s bullshit reserve power – I wouldn’t be able to run my computer off it for an hour.

    Mr Non-Entity: market is stable-yet-declining-rapidly for solar panels. Enough panels and a charge controller to suit the Volt replacement battery could easily fit on about 500 square feet of roof and might set you back U$75,000 and I may be overestimating that.

    500 sq feet is what… 4.5 m2? That gives you what, 20% efficiency, a kilowatt at best, and generates, in central Europe about a 1 MWh per year. Average household here uses 2.5 MWh per year, just to run appliances (no heating, or hot water – everyone does that with NG). US households apparently use 11 MWh per year.

    According to this (http://re.jrc.ec.europa.eu/pvgis/download/PVGIS-EuropeSolarPotential.pdf) I’d need at least 2x as much to even get enough power if I had perfect energy storage. So the average American household would require 5×9 ~ 45 m^2 of solar panels, and a ~ 9 kW system. What would that cost?

    Mr Non-Entity: Yet there may be a means whereby we can all stop booing the nasty old “eleco” (electrical utilities) and get behind the bandwagon, so to speak, and push it in the direction you want it to go, rather than letting the “eleco” steer.

    Germans did that. Now the result is that electrical power from non-renewable resources sometimes has negative cost. Utilities are barely hanging on, apparently.
    Meanwhile the electricity prices for industry are double that in the US, and some industry has already moved out.

    http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21587782-europes-electricity-providers-face-existential-threat-how-lose-half-trillion-euros

  34. sptrs:
    @Y.

    All of the current crop of reactors produce and fission Plutonium in-core.

    As for the Terrapower concept it was designed at the outset to utilize “waste” -depleted uranium -as fuel and to meet the rational concerns -not the fever-dreams of anti-nukes -of proliferation and actual waste disposal.

    Non-breeder reactors don’t produce any useful qualities of fissile materials. The various novel form of breeder reactors are designed in such a way that the bred fissiles would be extremely difficult to separate from the rest of the fuel.

    Whereas, in a fusion reactor with it’s very high neutron flux, getting a nice piece of plutonium would involve just stacking ingots of U-233 next to it and leaving them there for some time.

  35. I have seldom seen a corporation get so much mileage out of a press release as Lockheed-Martin managed with this one. That is all it was. Not a shred of supporting evidence for the initial statement.

    But they didn’t need it to have kept the buzz going (and their stock price marginally higher) for six months now, did they?

    A few thousand for some meetings and hack writing, push it to the normal media outlets, and consider an experiment done. The credulous I Want To Believe crowd might take it from there. And so it proved to be. If there is any silver lining in the entire sorry thing, it is that at this point LM is likely wasting money on marketing consultants or some such. Who will attempt to trot out their own trademarked brand of bullshit metrics. Virality Index for whether credulous bloggers helped it go viral, or whatever.

    WTF is wrong with you? Do you still have some hope for the future, or will to live, or something? You are letting me down.

  36. jc,

    “I have seen a recent estimate of $1T to get a decent number of watts on the grid.”

    I have seen recent estimates from unstated sources of unkown credibility for all sorts of unlikely things.

    If (and it is a big if) it could be done for a terrabuck, it would be cheap at the price. Roughly comparable to overall costs of Iraq 1 & 2, which amounts to about 725 gigabucks, in constant 2008 dollars, if you believe the State Department. I don’t, and other estimates have run as much 4X (Wshington Post and others) higher.

    Costs of Major U.S. Wars at
    http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/108054.pdf
    is the first reference. Any Web search on reasonable terms will turn up wildly divergent numbers. I don’t think there are any credible numbers, for several matters which one might think, if government ran on rational thought, might conceivably be regarded as somehow, you know, *important*.

    However, the world appears to run on the completely politicized protoscience of economics, the fevered dreams of politicians, capitalists, and marketing departments, and naked greed. And I am an optimist, in that the situation could be much worse.

  37. jc:
    The skunkworks report seems to be about little more than a rough idea. There are no numbers describing the performance so far, which would suggest there isn’t any. … All descriptions of the device look like the devices from the 80’s that no one could get to work, even with thousands of people and hundreds of millions of dollars. There doesn’t seem to be any recognition that this is old well-trod ground, with huge well-known problems. …

    Fusion is unlikely to ever be cheap. As long as the atmosphere is a free trash dump …carbon-neutral concepts will never be able to compete economically. … In the long term, fusion is the best bet for supplying enough carbon-free power to the planet …But to get there, we need to spend a lot of money on development. I have seen a recent estimate of $1T to get a decent number of watts on thegrid. Whether it takes 50 years or 500 years depends on how fast you are willing to spend the money. With research money for fusion decreasing substantially over the decades the goal can only recede into the indefinite future.

    Exactly. That. We are years and bazilla-bucks out. Thank you jc for your post.

  38. Sheilagh Wong,
    This is my fear, too. If energy costs don’t stop us what will?
    We’ll burn thru one resource after another – no hill too steep to level, no forest so remote it can’t be logged, no water so far away it can’t be diverted.

  39. @ET,

    why stop? How else do we provide the material needs and economic opportunities for billions of people. It’s only with technology can we hope to stabilize population and protect the environment. Energy is the key. Energy density. Power density. High ERoEI. it isn’t and won’t be renewables or Fusion. Of course there are hard limits, but energy needn’t be one of them. And if you have energy you have choices. Without it your screwed.

  40. Just a note that Requires Hate is now revving up everything in her defense on a twitter account (talkinghive), so she may start bringing you up again in the future. She’s characterizing the Mixon report as a hit-piece, etc.

  41. Nestor: But don’t despair, after all they had fusion and better in the blindsight/echopraxia future and it was still all screwed up.

    Yeah, but it would be nice if I didn’t have to do everything myself.

    seruko: Also probably a real shooting war in the middle east as a horde of now suddenly economically irrelevant wake up to the crash in oil prices.

    I actually wrote a story a couple years back that mentioned that in an offhand way. Everyone over here was relieved that we didn’t have to give a shit as the Middle East went up in flames.

    Of course, every now and then one of us went up in flames too, since it turned out that spontaneous human combustion was a side-effect of biofuel technology. Overall, though, most people thought it was a good trade.

    digi_owl: http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/04/economist-meets-physicist/

    That was a very easy-to-digest refresher.

    Doctor Memory: No need to go hunting for a carefully coordinated conspiracy when the dreary reality of human cupidity and vanity will explain the facts as we know them.

    Well, maybe no need, technically. But it’s a lot more fun.

    slybrarian: or air wing off solar.

    Well, maybe a very slow, small air wing

  42. Mark Russell: I covered Korea’s K-Star fusion project for Science magazine a few years ago, and I remember thinking it was all pretty pie-in-the-sky.

    I did not know you wrote for Science!

    Sheilagh Wong: After all the land is gone, think of the wars we will fight as our tanks, ships, and planes have limitless range and are armed with fusion weapons.

    Thanks, Sheilagh. I needed that.

    Chris S: The F-35 has done exactly what it was planned to do – transfer $1Trn from the taxpaying public to various private entities. It’s not supposed to do anything useful and not working very well has probably made the world safer rather than more dangerous.

    Concisely summed up by ,a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4zss6s1PMk”>Dick Jones after the ED209 went sideways: “renovations, spare parts for 25 years—who cares if it works or not?

    Of course, it was a lot funnier when it was merely mocking reality instead of being reality.

    Y.: Free my ass. A solar-power setup with batteries enough to last a couple of days probably costs as much as a half of a house in most places.

    So did the first computer that had a hundredth of the power of the one you’re reading this on. Prices do come down with economies of scale…

  43. I feel it’s worth noting that that, for all its many (many, many) flaws, a significant chunk of the military-industrial complex seems to be both aware of the impending fuckstorm and crapping its collective metaphor as a result.
    I’ll be surprised if this particular incarnation pays off (cheap-clean-safe fusion has been a decade away for how long, now?), but I’ll also be surprised if it’s entirely for want of trying.

  44. Peter Watts: So did the first computer that had a hundredth of the power of the one you’re reading this on. Prices do come down with economies of scale…

    Batteries are not microchips, and the advances in them come far more slowly. Furthermore, are there not physical limits inherent in the nature of chemical bonds, and raw material inputs to consider.

    However, it does seem likely that eventually, provided the world doesn’t burn or run out of money a team of well-incentivized lab-coat wearing fellow apes is going to figure out how to store industrial quantities of energy with a decent efficiency in a way that’s not limited by geography, like pumped water storage.

    On the other hand, if the economy keeps contracting quite possibly oil might end up being cheap until it gets really scarce. Who knows. If I knew, I’d not be posting here but trading futures.

    Right now Germans are so desperate that they’re into making natural gas with excess renewable power …

  45. Peter Watts: I did not know you wrote for Science!

    Yeah, but just on the policy/life stuff at the front of the magazine. Government funding for science, that sort of thing. And, being in Korea, a bit on Hwang Woo-suk (the clone guy), unfortunately. But Science has a strong paywall, so I can only link to the summaries.

  46. Y.: http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21587782-europes-electricity-providers-face-existential-threat-how-lose-half-trillion-euros

    That was a really interesting article. (I really should resubscribe to the Economist.) Understandably (given the nature of the magazine), they seem to be bending over backwards a little to generate the conflict. Sure, physics and sustainability are cutting the ground out from under business models predicated on infinite growth and the arbitrary exclusion of inconvenient variables (costs due to environmental damage, for example). Personally, I think it’s a good thing when fantasy gets upended by reality. Better in the long term.

    gregm: WTF is wrong with you? Do you still have some hope for the future, or will to live, or something? You are letting me down.

    It is a flaw in my character. I am working to fix it.

    anonymous reader:
    Just a note that Requires Hate is now revving up everything in her defense on a twitter account (talkinghive), so she may start bringing you up again in the future.She’s characterizing the Mixon report as a hit-piece, etc.

    Oh, yeah. There she is.

    Not that surprising that she’d play victim now, railing against the same tactics she used herself with such gleeful abandon back in the day. Not surprising that she’d keep hauling out her own mea culpas as evidence of honest rehabilitation, without commenting on the odds that she’d just happen to find Jesus at the same moment Mamatas outed her.

    I suppose, if I’m honest with myself, that it’s not even that surprising that as of this moment, there are 74 people on the internet who are apparently stupid enough to fall for it all over again. I wish it were.

    All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again.

  47. Peter Watts: Personally, I think it’s a good thing when fantasy gets upended by reality. Better in the long term.

    Well, it won’t be pretty when German electricity grid starts pining for the fjords. They’re going to close a lot of conventional power plants. Meanwhile the grid is unstable. They don’t have enough storage to balance it out.

    Re-opening the plants will take too much time. In energy industry, especially in democratic countries, opening a new plant takes ages.

    Seriously, Czech grid supervisors are worried. Already several times Germans almost crashed the Czech national grid. German grid has also almost collapsed several times. Unstable grid is quite a problem for a modern country.

    This won’t end well. Unless somehow Germany gets a magical number of electro-cars whose batteries could somehow balance it all out…

  48. @Y: [trim trim of good arguments to the effect that solar is not quite half-baked yet]

    Honestly, I am not certain where you are posting from, nor have I any idea of the technical level of the average home there. However, I need to point out a flaw in your argument which is an easy one as it is tricky.

    Watts are commonly used in expressions of how much power is used in appliances, and generally speaking these are “understood” (assumed) to be W@V, watts at some voltage, usually a standard voltage such as 12VDC or 120VAC, which is “understood” to be pertinent to the discussion. Your argument is generally good but overlooks the fact that when you are converting from 12VDC to 120VAC, there’s a bit of math that needs to be done. 10A@12VDC is 120W. 10A at 120VAC, 1200W (1.2kW) but it’s not really the same thing. Looking at solar PV the estimate is that you get 1kW/hour (1kWH) for ever 100 square feet (100ft² = 9.2903m²). Of course, if you run your house most of the time for under 1kWH. For my single-family detached home, there is roof mounting space for about 1000ft² of PV panel so if I run the house at under 1kWH I can sell up to 9kWH back to the grid during good daylight hours. Please note that these estimates are all for 120VAC, and it’s not hard to find a fairly recent listing of energy usage for various appliances. My own power consumption in this rather cold and windy February, in a not-particularly-well-insulated “luxury” apartment is about 2.95kWH (averaged over 30-day month). The overhead roof could easily hold 600sq/ft (about 58m²) which would generate about 6kWH. I would use only about half (on average) of what could be generated (in aggregate), and the rest could be sold back to the grid.

    Now, would this run a steel smelting operation? Not at industrial scale. This isn’t meant to run factories; it is meant to take the residential load off of the industrial scale generation facilities required to run industrial operations.

    About the Economist article? Leaving out the difficulties faced by economies and banking systems, which are at present deeply intertwined with Industry, you don’t have to read past the first section of the article to be reminded of the days when the American Association of Buggy-Whip Manufacturers did their level best to lobby Congress to outlaw the automobile. In a lot of ways, they are simply bitching about the cost of retooling factories and re-engineering processes to a more variable pace of operation. Yet, aren’t we beginning to see a move away from Large Batch Process towards a more Just-In-Time “short-order” Piece-On-Demand model? Does “3D Printing” sound like something you’ve heard-of?

    New models are developing and they are emerging rapidly. So why base arguments against the new, on the basis of how the old models are quailing and failing in the face of the new? Are you, on this SF board, really saying “only the old is good” and casting fear-uncertainty-and-doubt on the new? Because, frankly, the old models are killing the planet and are not sustainable. We need more new models, not less.

    Sure, fusion would be great. But why not use good, when great is not available and isn’t likely to come anytime soon?

  49. Re: Peter Watts

    Oh, come on, humble me has given Peter an optimism attack.

    I kind of realize that your “conspiracy” is tongue in cheek, but still – I think you’re being unfair to pretty much everyone involved (except maybe Kochs, because they deserve every bit of badmouthing laws of physics could plausibly allow one to heap upon them :) )
    I mean, come on, investment into fusion is by no means a detriment to solar research and development, especially since solar is, to a certain geographically limited extent, a mature technology.
    Not-quite-there, and oh-so-sliiightly more problematic than its proponents often like to claim (for one, apparent successes of solar often are due to direct subsidies and not their inherent “in the field” performance, for two, production and lifecycle management of solar panels is not always particularly “enviro-friendly” , which is something that people tend to skip over), but it is already here, it’s rather profitable, and unless folks somehow manage to legislate it into oblivion (not a realistic perspective given that everyone and their dog, including even USA, are subsidizing renewables) it’s gonna stay and it’s gonna attract investor money on its very own.

    Unlike fusion, modern solar is no longer a bold, risky, glorious scientific undertaking that needs to bleed a crapton of money in a bid to make a scientific breakthrough.
    Solar is simply business.
    And from the looks of it, not a bad one already.

    So I say, fusion is a more worthwhile application of government funds (especially smaller projects that have been somehow reaching milestones and demonstrating results on shoestring budgets of several humble millions).

    Solar industry is a big boy…errrr…girl…ummmm…thing… :) and can look after itself.

    Re: sptrs Re: Mr. Non-Entity

    Well, F-35 is disgraceful, but IMHO it’s just a sad, sad part of a time-honored and well-known pattern of US Mil-folks fucking up an otherwise nice idea with their conflicting goals, subtle corruption, vague project milestones, lackadaisical attitude towards insurmountable technological limitations and other gross project mismanagement, and then blame everyone (contractors included) for the resultant clusterfuck .
    Of course, Lockheed did get quite some cash out of this crap-pile, but given that project was pretty much screwed from conception, can you blame them for trying to grab a chunk of personal silver lining (okay, more like dollar lining) from this particular toxic cloud ?

    Re: Sheilagh Wong

    That sounds… glorious.

    Add in availability of almost-undying, preposterously overpowered cyborg bodies (GITS-style) for me to “inhabit”, and you get a world I could call paradise :)

    Re: anonymous reader

    Oh come on, she has a woe-is-me sob story on the shittiest repository of crazy sec-wave feminist / crazy commie scribblings on the net.
    What do you expect her to do, admit her faults, reform and become an actually bearable human being… really?

    She made her bed.

    And no matter how many ultra-leftards lick her figurative wounds, she will now have to sleep in it.

    P.S.:
    Back in the good old days, I had a DM exchange with her and told her it would eventually go down more or less like this.
    She called me a cunt (well, a bit more than that, but I found the “cunt” part to be particularly amusing, because such feminism).
    Go figure :)

  50. Mr Non-Entity: Your argument is generally good but overlooks the fact that when you are converting from 12VDC to 120VAC, there’s a bit of math that needs to be done. 10A@12VDC is 120W. 10A at 120VAC, 1200W (1.2kW) but it’s not really the same thing

    I did not make that mistake 😉 The array mentioned is 120 W.

    Also, at no point I was dealing with anything else but power.

    Mr Non-Entity: My own power consumption in this rather cold and windy February, in a not-particularly-well-insulated “luxury” apartment is about 2.95kWH (averaged over 30-day month).

    You could mention what do you use the energy for. 90 kWh /month is not much. I presume you heat your air, water and cook using fossil fuels, right?

    Mr Non-Entity: In a lot of ways, they are simply bitching about the cost of retooling factories and re-engineering processes to a more variable pace of operation.

    So at a time manufacturing is already hard-pressed by foreign competition which has the advantage of cheaper labor, generous subsidies, lax environmental laws and less red tape, we ought to ‘help them’ by forcing them to to also adapt to an unstable grid? You’d be thinking about it in a different manner if your business was on the line..

    Mr Non-Entity: Yet, aren’t we beginning to see a move away from Large Batch Process towards a more Just-In-Time “short-order” Piece-On-Demand model? Does “3D Printing” sound like something you’ve heard-of?

    Nope. 3d printing is a niche thing in industry – useful for specialty stuff that can’t be made in any other way, or bespoke/small order stuff. For real applications, not plastic toys, it’s not even remotely competitive on price with classic machining. A gun made in a 3d printer costs something like $15,000 to produce. Machining it’d probably cost $350.

    I’m not saying costs are not going to get lower – they will, but it’ll take time.

    Mr Non-Entity: So why base arguments against the new, on the basis of how the old models are quailing and failing in the face of the new?

    Why? Because I’m pretty pissed off at solar. You know what happened in Czech Republic? The deal the power utilites got was extremely sweet. Whatever solar energy is sold to the grid has to be bought up at a minimum set price, which is going to rise by 2% yearly, this valid for 20 years. Meanwhile, most of the solar plants were built by extant grid operators, or well-connected companies. A lot of fraud happened, like diesel generators…

    And all this is going to cost customers and companies something like 1 trillion crowns (50 billion $). This amount to be paid out of pockets of people with median pay of 4$ /hr.

    For a lesser amount of money, Czech Republic could easily have built several new nuclear power plants.

    And as the ‘renewable’ goal was set for 2020, it’d make much more sense to put in the plants later on after the technology has improved. This is not a rich country.

    Mr Non-Entity: Because, frankly, the old models are killing the planet and are not sustainable. We need more new models, not less.

    Nothing except nonexistence is sustainable. The Zeitgeist is not sustainable. Finances of the developed world are not sustainable. Fisheries are not sustainable either, IMO a bigger problem than everything else, really.

    I’m not convinced renewable energy is better than the new liquid metal cooled breeder reactors. It’s not reliable, it needs vastly more space and is worse for the environment (wind, especially).
    But it’s more ‘hip’ so it’ll prevail. In the end solar is likely going to get good enough to be useful.

    Mr Non-Entity: Sure, fusion would be great. But why not use good, when great is not available and isn’t likely to come anytime soon?

    No it wouldn’t. Aneutronic fusion isn’t coming anytime soon. Fusion producing lots of neutrons would cause a lot of proliferation issues, unlike the new breeder reactors, in which separating bomb isotopes out of the core is impossible without infrastructure and taking the reactor offline. The power levels are similar.

    Great is available now, but we’re too idiotic to see it. Just like with everything else, really.

  51. Peter Watts: Sure, physics and sustainability are cutting the ground out from under business models predicated on infinite growth and the arbitrary exclusion of inconvenient variables (costs due to environmental damage, for example).

    Proponents of wind and solar also ‘forget’ a lot of variables. Like the non-existence of power leveling systems which requires building conventional power plants to manage the grid. Etc.

    You seem to forget you’re dealing with humans here. Nothing ever works out fine if you involve them. The entire 21st century so far is just one gigantic reminder that everyone is just faking it, completely out of their depth. Whether gov’t, financials, citizens, etc.

  52. Y.: The entire 21st century so far is just one gigantic reminder that everyone is just faking it, completely out of their depth.

    Damn, that’s all too true – every now and then, you read something that crystallises the supersaturated thoughts in your own head.

    As for the oh-so-promising Skunkworks fusion: we’ll just keep burning fossil fuels – because surely one more day’s emissions won’t make a difference – all the while hoping for a technological fix that will bail us out, until our tomorrows are all spent and the world bleeds out by a thousand cuts.

  53. @Y. (re March 14th, 2015 at 2:17 pm)


    Mr Non-Entity: Your argument is generally good but overlooks the fact that when you are converting from 12VDC to 120VAC, there’s a bit of math that needs to be done. 10A@12VDC is 120W. 10A at 120VAC, 1200W (1.2kW) but it’s not really the same thing

    I did not make that mistake 😉 The array mentioned is 120 W.

    Also, at no point I was dealing with anything else but power.

    Mr Non-Entity: My own power consumption in this rather cold and windy February, in a not-particularly-well-insulated “luxury” apartment is about 2.95kWH (averaged over 30-day month).

    You could mention what do you use the energy for. 90 kWh /month is not much. I presume you heat your air, water and cook using fossil fuels, right?
    […]

    Sorry, this is all to which I should respond right now. I’ll try for more later if needed.

    I once had an algebra teacher catch me “solving” a linear equation by tabulation. I was getting the right answers but sie looked as sie was having a sudden migrane and said, sorrowfully, “please don’t do that”.

    So, perhaps I could have written that response better than I did, I’ll try to not do that again, myself.

    But what you should not do, which many people do in fact do, is to think of a kWH (kilowatt/hour) as a unit figure, when actually it is a rate (in this case @120VAC). If you are going to use it as a unit, you still need to specify time. The way I am using it, the way it should be used, is as one kilowatt in one hour. When I say I am using “2.95kWH (averaged over 30-day month)”, that means, on average, per hour, I use 2.96kW. Now multiply times 24 and then by 30. That’s 2131.4 kWH/month. While hardly categorized as eking along at bare-bones consumption levels, it us nowhere near your 11MWH/month estimate for a typical US house, which would be average consumption over a 30-day month of 15.277kW/hour… Running the AC in mid-summer with all doors and windows open while filling several bathtubs with scalding water and operating all burners on the electric stove, and operating the stove itself, might use that much power, or maybe you’ve got a 24-module Beowulf Cluster crunching numbers with the graphics cards. It’s exorbitant.

    As to your points about the utilities not having enough storage, sure, I can see it. You might be thinking “battery technology isn’t sufficiently advanced”, but why use batteries when there is already a well-standardized industrial component called the SMES (superconducting magnetic energy storage)(wikipedia). Pretty amazing amounts of energy can be stored with these, but they require external energy to maintain refrigeration, etc etc. That Wikipedia article gives a lot of good detail, but they don’t give price per joule, possibly in part because SMES can store unlimited cycles and so the longer they operate the more the price goes down, so to speak. If the Germans are screwing the pooch it’s probably because they haven’t got enough SMES in the grid or have it in the wrong places. Once they, and anyone else in the same position, get more SMES capacity in the right places, I expect the operations will be more smooth.

    If anyone is thinking “now that is going to cost the utilities some money”, they are probably having the right thought. Perhaps some sort of interim expense recapture tariff might be necessary, but I suspect that it may not really be required and should be written off of taxes or somesuch per legislative action. Keep an eye on it and it may happen this way.

    See also Static synchronous compensator with superconducting magnetic energy storage for high power utility applications. Molina, Marcelo G., et al. Energy Conversion and Management.Volume 48, Issue 8, August 2007, Pages 2316–2331.

    Paywall but the abstract is free. It’s how elecos keep grids from thrashing… if they have enough.

  54. Defense sector views climate change as feature, not bug. Lots of killing to do to make room for quasi-immortal billionaire projects, multinational monoliths, and big smiling statues of Jesus while soaking up those dollars that could have been spent on a War on Ignorance. I figure as long as we’re declaring war on emotions and inanimate objects…

  55. Mr Non-Entity,

    wrt SMES. These have found a role in small niche applications where cost is no object. But from what I read given the state of the art they will not scale at any price. A non-solution I’m afraid.

  56. Mr Non-Entity: But what you should not do, which many people do in fact do, is to think of a kWH (kilowatt/hour) as a unit figure, when actually it is a rate (in this case @120VAC). If you are going to use it as a unit, you still need to specify time. T

    >>If you are going to use it as a unit, you still need to specify time. <<

    Now I'm confused. Here in Europe we use kW * h (= kWh )to measure electric energy.
    Joules (aka Ws , a watt-second) are usually used for other forms. What is this kW / h you talk of? What is it good for? Can't wrap my head about that concept. Also, should you not write it as kWh^-1 ?

    Mr Non-Entity: Pretty amazing amounts of energy can be stored with these, but they require external energy to maintain refrigeration, etc etc. That Wikipedia article gives a lot of good detail, but they don’t give price per joule, possibly in part because SMES can store unlimited cycles and so the longer they operate the more the price goes down, so to speak. If the Germans are screwing the pooch it’s probably because they haven’t got enough SMES in the grid or have it in the wrong places. Once they, and anyone else in the same position, get more SMES capacity in the right places, I expect the operations will be more smooth.

    Very interesting stuff, but the Wiki says that so far it’s only a very-small scale stuff with a few large test installation. And requires liquid helium*. Sounds quite expensive, so the cost does matter.

    Definitely does not sound like something commonly used, anywhere.

  57. @Y: kWH is often used as a unit but technically it is kilowatts-per-hour. If I run 10*100W light bulbs for one hour, the power consumed is 1kW/hour. It’s done that way to distinguish from Joules, probably because joules are a sort of time-on-target sort of measurement, power-per-time in the same way as kWH but joules are used specific to the application and kWH are a standardized rate. You might use joules, for example, in a pulse laser measurement, for example a xenon-flash-pumped synthetic ruby laser delivery-to-target. You could also use it for a CW (“continuous wave” such as HeNe or diode) laser application but because that is CW, you might as well use kWH, even if it’s 0.00025kWH. Joules, in the current context, are for short-term measurements, kWH for long-term accounting. FWIW 1 joule = 2.77777778 × 10^-7 kilowatt hours, so you can see why generation-facility output isn’t usually expressed in joules.

    Regarding applicability of SMES to renewable energy grid systems, see the “membership-required but not paywall” articles at Improved Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage (SMES) Controller for High-Power Utility Applications. Molina, MG et al. IEEE Transactions on Energy Conversion (Impact Factor: 3.35). 07/2011; DOI: 10.1109/TEC.2010.2093601 Source: IEEE Xplore.

    However, you might find this to be more interesting, as it directly relates, and is by a different (and German) research team. Decentralized control of units in smart grids for the support of renewable energy supply. Sonnenschein, Michael. Environmental Impact Assessment Review (Impact Factor: 2.6). 03/2015; 52:40-52. DOI: 10.1016/j.eiar.2014.08.004 This does cover the issues of improving control of the grid as the renewables contribution expands, but doesn’t directly address storage.

    I think you might find most of your issues addressed in Superconducting storage systems: an overview. Luongo, CA. Magnetics, IEEE Transactions. Volume:32 Issue:4, originally published 1996 but updated in 2002.

    See also an interesting Project page on SMES with an impressive list of participants.

    If there’s a point I hope I am making, it might be that like fusion, large-scale deployment and constant evolution of SMES has long been a vision in the engineering and research community; unlike fusion, it is here now, even if it’s not quite up to the task as it has been deployed thus far.

    Cheers,

  58. Mr Non-Entity:
    @Y: kWH is often used as a unit but technically it is kilowatts-per-hour.

    I’m afraid Y. is completely right on that count; kWh in fact stands for 1000 Watts times hours, not Watts per hour (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kilowatt_hour).

  59. @Pirmin: Yes. Kilowatts in an hour. As in, 2kW in one hour is 2kWH. So is 1kW in 2 hours. So treat it as a unit. To some degree “I stand corrected” but in other ways, not. While it is proper to think of KwH as a unit (or more properly as a product used as a unit, rather than as a result of division used as a unit), kWH per month divided by the number of hours in a month will give you kWH/hour. That will give you the operating load you will need to plan generation capacity, for example for a backup generator, for example a 35kW generator should handle any fairly large house, with a lot to spare. Ah, language. Not the best thing for engineering, is it. FWIW the Wikipedia page is both accurate and confusing but that’s due to the topic rather than the writing.

    Whatever, as to power storage, Elon Musk announces a home storage battery of the Tesla Motors type. Images indicate a rating of “90kW”. For however many hours, is not given. Yet looking at the “insane mode” acceleration of the Tesla cars, one presumes that at least this proposed battery should have no problem handling sudden demands, however well it handles sustained demand.

  60. andrej,

    +1

  61. Christina Miller:
    There never has been, nor will there ever be, safe fusion power.I will bet anyone here a hundred dollars that there will be none in the next 20 years.I’ll even adjust for inflation when 2035 arrives.

    Is this just basic pessimism, or is there a justification founded in physics to support it?