Or, how a small middle-income island could save the world
I always regret American conservatives missing the boat on this issue - if they'd admitted climate change was real but insisted that nuclear power was the only solution they'd annoy the libs just as much as they do now but the world would be a better place.
“water scarcity issues evaporating” made me chuckle.
Solar seems like a more practical solution for Jamaica.
Yes, its small and somewhat crowded. But it's not *that* small- it's not the Kowloon Walled City. It's about 10^10 square meters. Cover just 1% of that with Solar panels, and you've got 100,000,000 square meters of panels.
Jamaica is blessed with a lot of sun- it's at low latitudes and it shines almost every day of the year when it's not a hurricane. It gets about 5 KwH/square meter of incident solar energy per day. At 20% efficiency, that would be 1KwH/sq meter: 100,000,000 KwH per day for the 1% of the country with solar panels, or 36,500 GwH per year. That dwarfs the roughly 4000 GWH that Jamaica currently produces in total electricity, as well as the 4600 that Iceland uses for its main aluminum smelter (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%A1rahnj%C3%BAkar_Hydropower_Plant).
OK, the sun doesn't shine at night, or 365 days a year. The standard story here is that you need to build battery storage systems to store the energy so you haven it constantly available. But I think Jamaica is a perfect case for the opposite- what renewable energy optimists call "superpower". Rather than adjust energy to meet your demands, you adjust your demands to meet the energy source. Make hay while the sun shines, as it were.
Specifically: you can plan to do aluminum smelting only while the solar panels are producing. You don't need to do at at night. And if they're not producing because of a hurricane or whatever, just take the day off. Jamaica is famous for having a relaxed, flexible culture, which fits this. Aluminum smelting doesn't need to be done continuously- it's not like a hospital or a heat source. The same applies to many of the other things they'd use energy for in the short term- water desalinization, liquor distilling, and yes, air conditioning. We just have to change the standard business/manufacturing culture to make this work. Flexibility is the key, rather than following a rigid schedule like a 19th century railroad timetable.
The best part of Nuclear for Jamaicia is that you can use the waste heat for desalination (multi-effect distillation) while still making electricity, and it gives a user that could be sized to let a reactor run near max power all the time by taking any extra capacity off peak.
A regionally related question - why isn't Biden doing more to normalize relations with Cuba, the largest and closest of the Caribbean Greater Antilles? If it's fear of Cuban voters in Florida I think that ship has sailed. One of the best things Biden has done was blow off the foreign policy establishment and just pull the plug in Afghanistan, and I would have hoped he'd show similar commonsense disregard for the groupthink that produced a decades long policy failure on Cuba.
I love ideas like this but one missing element to this piece is that any serious consideration of nuclear in the Caribbean has to contend with the possibility of a Cat 5 hurricane. There is also tsunami risk as the area is highly geologically active.
Maybe this new generation of reactor can better contend with these threats. I'd like to know.
The more I look into this but but 10,000 years! Objection the more annoyed I get.
First, concrete won't last 10,000 years buried in the desert. Hum...do we have very old concrete buildings still standing? Sure, the Pantheon is 2000 years old, still standing and still in use. And it's been out in the weather!
Ok...hum do we have objects that have been buried in the dessert for thousands of years? Well....we have King Tut's tomb contents. They were buried 3,300 years ago. How did they hold up?
It's made of f_king wood! A skinny guy might still be able to ride it.
Reeds! It's a basket made of reeds!
I somehow don't think waste mixed with glass, inside a muti foot thick 17,000 psi concrete sarcophagus that is welded inside a 2 foot thick stainless steel vessel that wrapped in f_cking kevlar, is going to have a problem lasting 10,000 years.
Of all the places I have worked in the world in the course of an engineering career Jamaica was the most fascinating. It is the only place I have ever seen, for example, where electrical generation was accomplished by dragging the ass end of a large ship onto land. And hooking up its marine diesel to a generator. That was an impressive hack.
Jamaica being Jamaica it took weeks to get the permits and water supply to do the tests I was there to evaluate and demonstrate so I had a lot of time on my hands and a guide to show me around. And that was nine months after the equipment necessary had been shipped to Jamaica. I learned a lot. For example I learned that cultural status depends on the lightness of your skin. Hence dense crowds of all Jamaicans walk on the shaded side of a street be it never so crowded, while the sunny side is largely unoccupied. Even in the coolest times. I also learned that if you are ascending the heights surrounding Kingston and you have space in your pickup then you stop and let anybody climb on. Two classes of people live on those heights. The relatively rich who have cars and masses of poor people who daily trudge up and down. They line the roads. So if you don't want to be on the receiving end of a brick you give everybody you can a ride.
Also Red Stripe is a pretty good beer and makes an excellent bribe.
A quibble first with that line about coal fired generation being replaced with wind and solar generation and natural gas as an adjunct. I don't think you can can that when 90 percent of the coal replacement is being done with natural gas and the other 10 with alternative sources like wind and solar. You seem to have a very good grasp for a non-science guy of the nature of the problems associated with integrating large wind and solar generation but you did overlook one of the key problems. Yes you would have to massively overbuild wind and solar generation in order to have a hope of matching supply and demand. And yes this would also require a massive amount of energy storage in order for wind or solar to become primary energy sources. But it also, as you point out, would require that continent spanning grid in order to distribute such power from where it is generated to where it is needed. Batteries, btw, are the least efficient way of storing energy. The costs of creating such a grid as well as the energy storage problem make wind and solar very expensive indeed. And this is a fact that its advocates like to surround with a Somebody Else's Problem Field. But it will still show up on your electricity bill.
The question in my mind is could you even build that grid. There are numerous technical issues and frightening vulnerabilities inherent in putting all your eggs in one basket so to speak with that integrated grid. But I fear that the advocates for wind and solar are going to fight it tooth and nail. One need only look at what happened in Maine. Which voted down a transmission line that would wheel Quebec hydropower though Maine to Massachusetts where it is needed. Who fought against it hardest? The same people who tell you we need to rely on wind and solar. Even though the only way to scale up wind and solar is to build exactly such infrastructure.
Sometimes the stupidity of environmental activists makes me want to weep. After I am done laughing.
Another problem with only having 4 power plants is the lack of redundancy, leading to a fragile grid and widespread power outages during hurricanes. With a technology like SMRs, outages could be a lot more localized. Dr. Charlyne Smith touches on this in the INL profile Matt linked to.
Minor typo: NREL is the National Renewable *Energy* Laboratory.
I think stuff like SMRs and Thorium reactors and other advanced concepts are definitely important research that should be pursued further. But we should also be realistic about the timeline here. SMRs, for all the hype they're generating, are still a long way from being scalable and marketable. There's been a big OECD study recently where they concluded that SMRs won't entry the market until the mid-2030s at the earliest. And that's before those things get commissioned and actually built. Of course, you could always just build a standard run-of-the-mill nuclear power plant, but even those things take at least like a decade to construct (and are expensive as hell).
So while I agree that Jamaica seems to be one of the places where nuclear is actually a smart option because nuclear power plants take up so little space, it's not a solution it can depend on to combat the effects of climate change. The time we have to combat the worst effects of climate change is substantially shorter than 20 or 30 years. I feel like this is something that gets overlooked very often in the current energy debate. I'm also not sure if those aspiring Jamaican aluminium industrialists can wait two or three decades for their business to take off.
(Related question: Does Jamaica dabble in offshore wind energy at all? I mean, it's an island!)
Cue an enormous meltdown (as it were) by the global environmental advocacy industry for “using the people of the global south to test dangerous and unproven nuclear technologies”.
And…they wouldn’t be entirely wrong? The optics of this really are kinda terrible: if these technologies are really so promising, why haven’t China or India made a serious play for them, and if they’ve demurred then why on earth would you make a tiny, densely settled country with endemic corruption and limited disaster response capacity the test bed?
If you want to do a simple thing to help Jamaica, let a lot more of them emigrate to the US. Speaking as a resident of a neighborhood that’s like 80% Dominican, it seems to work pretty well for the DR.
I agree with Charlie P. Nuclear always runs over time and budget, has had tons of government funding and little to show for it. Even the well run French scheme is not cheap enough to make bauxite refining work. Just coating the existing Jamaican building stock with solar panels should be be able to give you close to 10 GW, plus you must be able to find some unproductive land to build another 10GW at say 2-3c/kWh. There’s a lot of ruin in a nation. And wind can coexist with animal grazing and other forms of agriculture. Unlike nuclear which requires lots of water and will most likely have to be built on the coast, killing tourism.
Yes - its all gotten much more expensive. Due to over-regulation and too many veto points. That's why other countries can do it cheaper than we can.
Damn... late to the comment party as always. Random thoughts.
None of the gas turbines are Siemens Energy models. I only bring this up because it would be awesome to work there. Damn it. Actually the only Caribbean Island we work on is Trinidad and Tobago, and... it's not so nice. Actually one of the shittier places we work at.
Also... go Idaho National Laboratory! Not only is Idaho top of the charts on renewable energy... we have all dem smarty pants Nuke dudes.
One of the biggest resources needed for a Nuclear Plant is cooling water, and Jamaica's island status makes it ideal. So I fully support this idea. Hell, I would even slum it and work the Nuke / Steam side of the house to get a job there.
On the footnote. On population density.... it's the West that really changes things, above and beyond Alaska.
On a completely semi-not related subject. Wow Yellowstone was a great show. Explains why Montana's murder rate is higher than Idaho.
I assume the future of this technology lies with France and / or China - developed countries that really have the political will to get behind next-gen nuclear and to make a national export industry out of it.