Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Renewable energy countries have lower CO2 emissions than nuclear powered countries - not!

A report, promoted by the University of Sussex, claims "Pro-nuclear countries making slower progress on climate targets". It was written by Andrew Lawrence, Benjamin Sovacool & Andrew Stirling for Climate Policy. A journal which claims to be

a world leading peer-reviewed academic journal publishing high quality policy research and analysis on all aspects of climate policy, including policy and governance, adaptation and mitigation, policy design and development and programme delivery and impact

Peer review and excellent editorial oversight I presume. So why did the peer reviewers/journal editor allow the author (Savacool) to reference himself 10 times within his own paper? Why did they allow flowery, and essentially meaningless language like this?:

For instance, it may be that persistent commitments to nuclear power as a large-scale, capital-intensive, ‘lumpy’, centralized ‘baseload’ thermal generating option can actually impede contemporary moves towards more liberalized, organizationally diverse, distributed, and networked systems of energy service provision, integrating supply and demand in innovative, more information-intensive ways
Bizarre that peer reviewers and editors should allow such language unless they shared the authors's prejudice in favour of renewable energy (RE). For example distributed, and networked systems. All power sources connected to the grid are likewise.

Why is a report written by lifelong opponents of nuclear power considered acceptable as reference material? The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015. None of the authors of that have any experience in nuclear power, and I doubt any have experience in any electricity generation technology. They are serial employees of deep green groups, often in receipt of funds from multi-billion dollar capitalized, tax exempt, foundations in North America.

The report's key antinuclear idea

The report authors' key idea is to split the EU27+3 into 4 groups of countries I to IV. According to the authors, "Group II" countries:

  • "retains some continuing nuclear commitments, but has adopted deliberate plans to decommission existing nuclear plants, eventually, without constructing new ones (e.g. Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Sweden)"
  • have "highest average percentage of reduced emissions – 11%"

Their classification is arbitrary! "Group II" has 7 countries and only 1 (Germany) is wholeheartedly committed to nuclear power phase out. The other six in this 'anti-nuke' group:

  • Slovenia: Has not shut the reactor it jointly owns with Croatia, but instead, they intend to add more nuclear power
  • Switzerland: Public voted to continue with nuclear power
  • Sweden: Will phase out its nuclear tax in 2019. It has not banned new reactors
  • Spain: In 2011, the government lifted the 40-year limit on all reactors, allowing owners to apply for license extensions in 10-year increments
  • Belgium: When Germany tried to bully them into closing a reactor they refused
  • Netherlands: In 1994 voted to phase out their 2 nukes. In 1997 one NPP shut. In 2003: shutdown of others was postponed till 2013. In 2006 shutdown was postponed till 2034. Seriously Holland! It's only one reactor. If you're committed to the anti-nuke cause shut it down like our report authors want you to!

Six out of seven countries show less than 100% commitment to phaseouts and some of them had only very minor commitments to nuclear power start with (Slovenia, Netherlands). Strange how the authors made these 7 countries into a "group". I keep thinking There must be something else they have in common too!

The French parliament recently voted to install 50% renewable energy sometime in the future. Perhaps the authors should move France from a Group III (pro nuclear) to their Group II (who disdain nukes)?

More issues with this paper

  • The GFC should be factored into emissions reductions for Southern Europe: Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, respectively.
  • Technology level is ignored. E.g. UK + France are grouped with poorer ex-communist countries.
  • Geography is ignored. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, 3 former Soviet Baltic countries have much lower population densities and/or access to RE energies like hydro, geothermal, and or land for biomass. Unsurprisingly these countries generally have the highest renewable energy proportions in Europe. Who knew that lots of spare land and water would make RE easier?
  • "Regarding patterns of renewables adoption" Sweden had plenty of RE (hydro) for decades. Well before AGW became an issue. Because it's cheaper and they have lots of land, and hills.
  • Likewise France built its NPP fleet to ensure energy security and independence from fossil fuels which crippled its economy in the 1970s oil crises. France had a huge amount of diesel powered electricity in the 1970s. The did not do it to 'save the climate'; Saving the climate was a side effect.
  • Most EU RE is still biomass. Biomass was was over 60% of all RE in 2013. By ignoring the specific sources of RE Sovocool and Co. let their readers presume too much. The word wind occurs 12 times in the report, solar 5 times, biomass only twice. Why do the authors give little prominence to the biggest source of RE in Europe?
    Fig: European Union renewable energy, by technology (Source: Eurostat)
  • Poland never had a NPP built in the Soviet era and is a country rich in coal. Hardly surprising they are so dependent upon it in the electricity sector.
  • Time is ignored. Much of the hydro capacity added in Europe was put there decades ago. Not because of an EU renewable energy mandate. Politics does not work back in time
  • "The most uneven progress is among the Group III states". I almost laughed when I read that. UK and France do surprisingly well for emission reductions. A glance at EDGAR database tells us so. They are well above Germany in the CO2 reduction stakes. In fact, poorly Germany never even came to the races and may have to be put down soon by the vet. Germany has not cut its CO2 emissions since 2009.
    Fig: New EU coal plants since 2010 - Germany has more than rest of EU combined.
  • The complete data should include Croatia. One can group them with Slovenia because they share ownership of a NPP, or with Group III because they plan to build more nukes. The authors do not even explain why they left Croatia out.
  • The term renewable energy is arbitrary. It's a political construct. Many people have questioned whether any biomass/biofuel is renewable. For example: In USA, corn is grown to eventually make ethanol for use as motor vehicle fuel. It requires vast amounts of phosphate fertilizer which must be mined. The tailings are mildly radioactive: NORM. These pile up as huge mounds. Due to the vast amount of tailings made growing corn for biofuel ethanol, it emits more radioactivity than nuclear power plants (per unit of energy made). Many times over. If fertilizer dependent biofuel is a renewable why isn't nuclear power?
    Fig: NORM 'radioactive' gypsum stack - tailings from phosphate extraction.

More Issues

Since writing this blog my attention was drawn to other issues (see 1 & 2 below). Looking into that, I found a third.

  1. Which GHG emissions?

    Their table 2 column is labelled "Emissions reductions". But which emissions?:

    • all GHG emissions or just CO2,
    • only GHG emissions in the energy sector or all. i.e. including those from agricultural land use changes, ...

    The obvious conclusion is all emissions, but then I must ask myself: Why all? GHG emissions in the energy sector are often factored as CO2 emissions because burning fossil fuel is the main cause. Certainly for nuclear power which is under criticism here. So why not use only energy sector emissions? Perhaps the answer is that Germany's energy sector emissions record has been dire since 2009, and that coincides with Germany phasing out over half of its nuclear powered electricity.

  2. Mysterious data

    Getting back to the GHG emission data they use. Where did it come from? They cite an EC handbook, (pdf), which only has data up to 2012, and does not include 3 of their countries: Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. The handbook they say they used, gets its data is from Eurostat. Eurostat emissions data is here. There is a link on that page to a table. Then a download link from that table to CSV, spreadsheet data, etc. This table has data from 2005 to 2014. The same period written about. Could this be it? Maybe not. The table excludes 3 non-EU countries: Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, which were included in the Sovacool report. The emission reductions calculated from this Eurostat data do not correspond with the claimed emissions reductions in table 2 of the report by Sovacool et al.

  3. Citation explosion

    Look at the PDF for the report. It has a lot of references. Many of those references seem to have nothing to do with the report's ideas, nor evidence. Are they referencing just for the sake of it, or is something else going on there? I can't help but feel this is how political activists work. Cite as many of your political allies as you can, just to give them a cross citation boost. Put a load of noise into the academic literature just to advance one's career, and the careers of political allies. My old fashioned understanding of citations in an article is you cite anything you quote in your writing to give your writing authority (whether it be data, ideas, etc.). It looks to me like they doing the opposite. Gaming the system. Citing their friends to give they cross-citation 'authority'.

Comparison of Eurostat data with that of Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling.

Now I've added a 2nd major modification to this blog. Purely to keep everything in the same place. Here is Eurostat data I downloaded from their website (all sectors). I calculated the GHG emissions reductions over 2005-2014 (see penultimate column). This is the same time period the authors report. They also claimed to use Eurostat GHG emissions data. Compare the penultimate to the last column of data. A negative value shows an GHG emissions fall. I can't see how they get their data (in the last column).

GHG emissions (CO2 eq) in thousands of tonnes. All sectors
% GHG emissions
fall 2005-2014
20052014EurostatLawrence, Sovacool & Stirling
EU28 + Iceland under Kyoto5,354,909.054,427,823.61-17.3
Czech Republic149,659.99126,767.73-15.39
United Kingdom727,266.29556,651.52-23.5-16
UK under Kyoto730,843.47560,124.72-23.4
Note: A negative sign in the last 2 columns shows a fall, otherwise it is a rise.

More Eurostat data:

This looks nothing like Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling GHG data either!

GHG emissions intensity of energy consumption.
Country20052014% change
Czech Republic89.882.8-7.8
EU 2895.489.3-6.4
United Kingdom95.589.4-6.4
Units: kTOE;
Source: Link to here, then click: Energy statistics - main indicators, download: tsdcc220.tsv

So where do Lawrence, Sovacool & Stirling get their GHG emissions data from (seen in their table 2) upon which their entire argument rests? Who knows. They certainly did not get it from the EU stats summary report they cited in their paper. Data in that summary report stops at 2012.

Notes, references

  • Univ. Sussex press release.
  • The report: "Pro-nuclear countries making slower progress on climate targets"
  • AGW: Anthropic global warming. Human induced climate warming to you.
  • NPP: Nuclear power plant
  • GFC: Global Financial Crisis of the late noughties
  • RE: renewable energy
  • Tailings: bits of rock, stone left behind in mining after extraction
  • NORM: Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials. Defined by U.S. EPA, and regulated at state level (not federally). Can be very difficult to dispose of. No one wants 'radioactive waste'.
  • EU27+3: The EU28 minus Croatia, plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.
  • Actual countries they say are Group II: Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.
  • EDGAR emissions database
  • Eurostat RE, 2014


  1. Confoundingly there are so many confounding factors so as to make the findings meaningless. I wonder how a study that groups Western vs Eastern European nations would fare. I don't however need to wonder how individual countries fare irrespective of groupings by political leanings.

    We already know where Germany is faring WRT CO2 reductions. Nada! Zip! Just chalk Germany up as a failed experiment. Now let's get on with the real task at hand: implement nuclear to acheive twin goals of energy prosperity and reduced greenhouse gases.

  2. Over 15 issues so far. Just added another : No German GHG emissions reductions since 2009! Inept paper. Surely could not have been peer reviewed. Who gave it a free pass and why?

  3. Interestingly, the "climate targets" they are slower at achieving don't ACTUALLY have any significant effect on climate change prevention. Their "target" is a switch-over to renewable power, not a reduction in CO2 emissions. In other words, when the report says they are slow to achieve their targets, I say, well that is fantastic!!! Because they will be faster at actually reducing CO2 emissions.

  4. Power Mag don't think Sweden is a "nuclear phase out" country : http://www.powermag.com/abolished-nuclear-tax-relief-unprofitable-nuclear-operators-sweden/

  5. You might want to know that the Lawrence paper has been retracted: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14693062.2016.1260249

  6. You might qualify for a new solar program.
    Find out if you are eligble now!