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Cost Skyrockets For United States' Share of ITER Fusion Project

Maury Markowitz Re:Stop Now (172 comments)

"End all involvement. This is a massive and pointless waste of money. It will never lead to any practical source of energy."
"I'm so glad you're smarter than all the scientists working on it."

Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. But he's still right.

There are two definitions of "working" one needs to consider. One is "this device fulfills a minimum technical requirement". The other is "this devices works, and is economically attractive". It is very clear to everyone involved, including "the scientists working on it", that ITER-like devices will almost certainly never fulfill the second of those two definitions.

I don't say this idly. I know some of the scientists working in fusion personally, I've written to and had conversations with a number of others. I've distilled the information down into the majority of the articles you'e read on the topic on the Wikipedia. I have a good overview level of the technology, and more critically, the other technologies fusion completes with. So I can speak with a good level of authority on this topic.

It's that (second) lash point that's important. If fusion were, as someone in this thread put it, "the only solution" to our energy problems, then the two definitions become one. As soon as it works, you start building them. But it's *not* the only form of energy that can solve "all our problems". And those solutions already work, and more importantly, will cost less than fusion of the ITER (or NIF) ever could. Period.

Even if ITER works, and even if there is a follow-on device that works better, there is, in theory, no way to make it cheap enough to compete with existing devices. For instance, on often sees the complaint that solar can't be the solution to our problems because the sun doesn't shine at night. Well actually it does, it just does it somewhere else. It will cost less to build enough panels to power everything AND a HVDC network to spread it around the world than it would to get the same power from fusion.

But don't take my word for it. Here's the word of *the guy that ran the US fusion program*:

First, we have to recognize that practical fusion power must measure up to or be superior to the competition in the electric power industry. Second, it is virtually certain that tokamak fusion as represented by ITER will not be practical.

If you want to know *why* this is, go here:


5 days ago

Elite Violinists Can't Distinguish Between a Stradivarius and a Modern Violin

Maury Markowitz Re:I'm playing the world's smallest violin (469 comments)

"However, even elite violinists cannot tell a Stradivarius from a top-quality modern violin, a new double-blind study suggests"

Is anyone really surprised to hear this?

"Antonio Stradivarius and his shop built wonderful instruments that probably played like 2x4s when new"

I suspect you would fail the same double-blind test, today, then, or in 100 years.

People convince themselves "they can tell the difference" when they can't. They've been doing it for all of history. Here is the canonical example:


about two weeks ago

To Reduce the Health Risk of Barbecuing Meat, Just Add Beer

Maury Markowitz From what to what? (179 comments)

"polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which damage DNA and thus increase the eater's chances of developing colon cancer"

Pretty rare to start with, so I suspect it's from "one in a million" to "1.5 in a million".

We have actual things to worry about, grilling isn't one of them.

about two weeks ago

It's Time To Bring Pseudoscience Into the Science Classroom

Maury Markowitz Who cares? (470 comments)

"By incorporating examples of pseudoscience into lectures, instructors can provide students with the tools needed to understand the difference between scientific and pseudoscientific or paranormal claims"

Everyone already has all the tools they need to separate "real" from "pseudo" science. It's not that they can't, they just won't.

People who want to believe in this stuff believe in this stuff. It's not a lack of understanding or intellect, they simply want to (or not to) believe.

about two weeks ago

Will Living On Mars Drive Us Crazy?

Maury Markowitz What's the big deal? (150 comments)

The Navy's been doing this for years, I find it difficult to understand why mixing in microgravity will suddenly make people go nuts.

about two weeks ago

Will Cameras Replace Sideview Mirrors On Cars In 2018?

Maury Markowitz Robot vision (496 comments)

I'm surprised how low-tech these solutions are. They appear to be going for the "classic solution" of simply piping a camera's view to a screen, perhaps with some overlays.

I recall seeing a demo many years ago of a robot vision system. If you're not familiar with the term, it uses a number of low-res cameras (all cameras were when the demo was made) pointing in different directions, and fused the imagery together in 3D software to produce a view from any location looking at any location. The idea was to put these in armoured vehicles and allow the guys inside to look anywhere.

This seems like a much better solution here. Instead of simply replacing the mirror with a high-def camera, replace it with a dozen VGA cameras around the car. Fuse the imagery back together and then overlay it on a 3D model of the car as seen from above. Now you get a birds-eye view from the front looking down showing you all the traffic in the area.

about two weeks ago

Scientists Develop Solar Cell That Can Also Emit Light

Maury Markowitz Re:farmland (79 comments)

> Does this mean these cells could be installed over farmland/ in greenhouses

You mean like this?


about three weeks ago

Scientists Develop Solar Cell That Can Also Emit Light

Maury Markowitz Re:Cents per Watt (79 comments)

> Can someone who understands the subject matter better than I do please explain
> to me how "cents per watt" is an applicable comparative metric for fossil fuels and solar cells

The price of electricity is basically the total money you put into running the plant over its lifetime divided by the total amount of power you get out of it during that lifetime. That's called the "levelized cost of electricity" or LCoE.

For plants that don't use fuel - wind, hydro, PV - the total amount of money is basically the price of the plant, the price of repairs and operations, and the price of borrowing the money to pay for the first two. For systems that go up in a short time, like wind and PV, the costs are utterly dominated by the price of the equipment.

For other sources the total cost of operations varies. Nuclear plants use fuel, but so little of it that it's not a major factor. However, these plants have enormous up front costs and decades long building cycles, so their LCoE tends to be utterly dominated by the prevailing interest rate. Coal and natural gas plants cost about 1/4 that of a nuclear plant and are therefore more heavily dominated by fuel costs, so their cost of operations goes up and down with the cost of the fuel.

So when you're trying to compare the price of a PV plant to a coal plant, for instance, the key metric in the case of PV is the cost of the panels. That's because there's no fuel cost and almost zero maintenance (had mine 5 years, done exactly $0 work on them so far).

Since the amount of sunlight shining in a particular area is averaged over long periods and available online, you can then predict the amount of power the plant will produce over its lifetime. For instance, in Toronto 1000 W worth of panels (i.e., a set of panels that will produce 1000 watts under specific conditions) will produce about 1200 kWh of power every year, after all conversion losses are factored in. We expect those panels to last about 25 years. So then

LCoE = (cost in cents/watt * size of system in watts) / (25 years * 1200 kWh * system size in KILOwatts)

So let's say the system, *all in*, costs you $3.50 a watt (about right these days). Then if you put up a system with 12 panels like mine, you get

LCoE = (3.50 * 3000) / (25 * 1200 * 3) = 11.66 cents/kWh

I think you'll find that is very comparable to what you are paying from your local utility, which is why PV is the fastest growing power source in the world today.

This same basic formula can be used with any power source, but the inputs will differ. For instance, the equivalent number for a nuclear power plant is about 7500 to 8000 kWh per kW of panels installed, because they run full out 24/7, or at apt 85% full power, or "capacity factor". But as you might expect, construction costs are much higher, about $8/W or more (that plant in Florida came in at about $11/W, which is why they cancelled it).

Likewise, wind turbines here in Ontario average about 30% "capacity factor" (CF), so that's about 2600 kWh/kW. That sounds bad until you consider they cost about $2/W installed. So when you compare the two head up it's something like (2 / 0.3) = 6.66 for wind vs. (8 / 0.85) = 9.41 for nuclear, which is why wind is the second fastest growing power source on the planet.

And that's why we measure everything in terms of cents per watt. If you know that (although dollars per watt is the typical figure) and the capacity factor, everything else sort of disappears. So you can get a *very* good idea of the economics simply by dividing the ($/W) by (CF).

If you'd like to do this on your own, with real numbers and more factors, you can. It's actually very easy and you can run through a given location in about 2 minutes:


about three weeks ago

Google Glass Signs Deal With Ray Ban's Parent Company

Maury Markowitz Re:Yay! (125 comments)

> You can never have a monopoly on a web page

Balogna. Google has content that they have captured both themselves and from other people that they use to feed their search results. Examples include AdWords, Books and YouTube. Since those two already exist, and block competitors from getting the data, you will find it very difficult to make a search engine that comes anywhere near as close to being as good. You'll have access to public works, but not the private ones that Google has swallowed.

about three weeks ago

Google Glass Signs Deal With Ray Ban's Parent Company

Maury Markowitz Re:fuck me (125 comments)

> The portability, sharing and collaboration of Gdocs is light years ahead of the others

But not light years ahead of sending an xls in an email.

Sorry, but that's what the real world still uses.

Maybe someday someone will figure out how to change that fact, but so far GDocs is not that solution.

about three weeks ago

Google Glass Signs Deal With Ray Ban's Parent Company

Maury Markowitz Yay! (125 comments)

So one near monopoly with 80% market share is getting together with another near monopoly with a 90% market share?

What could possibly go wrong?

about three weeks ago

Overuse of Bioengineered Corn Gives Rise To Resistant Pests

Maury Markowitz Re:Scientists suprised by evolution.... (259 comments)

> dousing the entire countryside

Countryside?! They had trucks driving around cities and towns fogging it on everyone.

about a month ago

Overuse of Bioengineered Corn Gives Rise To Resistant Pests

Maury Markowitz So this is a bad why? (259 comments)

"1996. The first reports of root worm resistance were officially documented in 2011"

So we got 15 years of pesticide-free corn? And the downside is we have to return to what we used to do, until we get another variety?

If it's 15 years for that one too, I suspect we can out engineer the bugs continually.

about a month ago

Computing a Winner, Fusion a Loser In US Science Budget

Maury Markowitz Re:fusion is expensive (196 comments)

> Who's to say that eventually, reactors will be built that not only work economically, but even cheaply?

Basically anyone that's not in the fusion industry. You know, like nuclear bomb designers:

Lawrence E Lidsky, ‘The Trouble With Fusion’, Technology Review Vol. 86 October, 1983. Pages 32-44.

Or large scientific groups:

Allen L Hammond, William D Metz, and Thomas H Maugh II, ‘Energy and the Future’ Washington DC, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1973.

Or the entire US power industry:


Or even supporters of other versions of fusion:


about a month and a half ago

Computing a Winner, Fusion a Loser In US Science Budget

Maury Markowitz Re:DOE says AVERAGE 35. Maybe 11 at 1PM in SoCal (196 comments)

> It's the current installed cost [greentechmedia.com] of utility scale solar.

The AVERAGE utility scale. The low-end costs already beat SunShot:


about a month and a half ago

Computing a Winner, Fusion a Loser In US Science Budget

Maury Markowitz Re:a blog starting with "change all the numbers" (196 comments)

> That blogger WISHES solar was only twice as expensive

Well that's what I paid for mine. Are you saying I'm lying?

> The DOE price survey says solar customers actually pay ten times as much

No, it says they paid ten times as much several years ago. Go look at the Table 1 in the latest version here:


This is the DOE *prediction* is for 2018, based on numbers from 2011 (read the caption). And the one you're quoting twice the number on the DOE web site, which I suspect is an older report based on numbers from before 2010, precisely when the costs started falling so rapidly:


Ray, I don't know why you are clinging to this line of reasoning, but you need to stop wasting your time here and go read something that was compiled with data from last two years. Or, simply do what the original page said, and take the two minutes to do the calculation yourself.

about a month and a half ago

Computing a Winner, Fusion a Loser In US Science Budget

Maury Markowitz Re:green blog vs DOE. As long as nat gas 100% capa (196 comments)

An addendum, proving the point:

The DOE is currently estimating installation prices in 2018, you can see their numbers here:


If you look at the number for PV, you'll see they predict $130.4/MWh at 25% CF. So that's $32.6/Mw, essentially. From that they estimate a total all-in cost of 144.3. Systems are going in at half that all over the place. First Solar just signed a PPA at 5.6 cents/kWh for 20 years in Nevada, which implies an installed cost of 85 cents/W.

If you compare that number to others on the same chart, even the DOE is saying things are pretty good. For instance, they say "Advanced Nuclear" is 108.4. So basically they're saying PV is expected to cost just a little more than nuclear in 2018. They predict wind will be significantly less expensive.

Yes, I'm aware that older DOE reports have much higher numbers for PV and wind, etc. Which simply shows how quickly things are changing in this field. It is also VERY telling when you take their predictions over the last 10 years and graph them.

about a month and a half ago

Computing a Winner, Fusion a Loser In US Science Budget

Maury Markowitz Re:green blog vs DOE. As long as nat gas 100% capa (196 comments)

> I see you've "rebutted" the DOE price survey by pointing to a blogger as your source.

Yes, I quoted me. A professional in the PV field.

The DOE report in question is based on numbers that are approximately five years old. That's how long it takes them to put reports together. In the last five years, the price of PV has fallen seven times. When you divide by seven, you get my number.

But what's really telling is that the post in question shows you how to do this calculation yourself using up-to-date numbers. But clearly you didn't bother to use the two minutes it takes. Are you really that lazy, or just don't want to admit you might be wrong?

> You don't need any energy storage as long as your base power can supply all your needs. Period

Incorrect, trivially so. If your base load power cannot throttle, when you can't use it all you need to dump it. There are a limited number of places you can do this, and when they run out you have to shut down the plants.

Nuclear is a good example. Most reactors can throttle about 15 to 25% within a 24 hour period, and somewhat less than that on a day-to-day basis. Yet daily power use varies at least 50% practically everywhere. So if you had a 100% nuclear base load supply, you'd have to find somewhere to dump about 30% of it every day.

And that really is like dumping 30% of your money into the turbines, which is precisely why fission represents a fairly small percentage of most supplies, including here in Ontario which has one of the highest penetrations at a little over 50%. If we go any higher, we have to start dumping power. France has pushed this to 75% through a fascinating system of rotating fuelling, but even then they've had to shut down parts of the network during heat waves.

Natural gas is a wonderful dispatchable source, as is hydro and to somewhat less extent, coal. A grid consisting of as much PV, wind and hydro you can make, with NG filling the rest, appears to be the future in North America at least. Such a system is sustainable, low cost, and much lower carbon than the one we had five years ago. And it's not just "nice to have", it's the fact on the ground: coal and nuclear plants are being turned off as I write this, while NG, PV and wind compete for title of "fastest installed".

about a month and a half ago

Computing a Winner, Fusion a Loser In US Science Budget

Maury Markowitz Re:Multiple electrical production means (196 comments)

> Since peak power usage (in the US) tends to be in the afternoon, that's excellent up
> to about 10% market penetration Above that, you need energy storage



> Solar is also less effective in winter (shorter days) and in locations with significant overcast.

Luckily peak usage matches PV input very closely south of the mason-dixon. We're not so lucky up here in Canuckistan, but it still works OK when you examine the charts:


> The true answer is, there is room for multiple approaches to technology development

Absolutely! Which is precisely why I talked about a bunker mentality. The fission industry is *rabidly* defensive against any and all alternatives. Here's some examples:


about a month and a half ago

Computing a Winner, Fusion a Loser In US Science Budget

Maury Markowitz Re:Natural gas 3.5, solar electric 35 (196 comments)

> Solar 35 cents (10AM - 4 PM only)

More like 8 to 15, depending on where you live. You can do the calculation yourself, I'd be interested to see if you come to any other sore of conclusion:


> Wind 5 cents (when wind is between 30-40 MPH)

Nope, all in.

> The bottom two are supplementary power

And as another report released this very day noted (available on Ars), you can have 40% intermittent power like PV and wind before you have to do *anything* to the grid. To be clear: no form of energy storage *whatsoever* is required until you get about 40% intermittent.

about a month and a half ago


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