Nuclear math doesn’t add up

by John Quiggin on July 20, 2016

Writing in the National Review, Robert Bryce< of the Manhattan Institute criticises the Democratic Party platform for omitting any mention of nuclear power, and accuses the Democrats of failing to “do the math”. Unfortunately, although he throws some numbers about, he doesn’t do any math to support his key conclusion

But even if we doubled the rate of growth for wind and solar — and came up with a perfect method of electricity storage (which of course, doesn’t exist) — those renewables aren’t going to replace nuclear energy any time soon
So, I’ll do the math for him.

Here’s the data Bryce supplies

  • In 2015, America’s nuclear plants produced 839 terawatt-hours of electricity (this industry source says 798), compared to 253 for hydro, 193 for wind, and 39 for solar
  • The current rate of growth is 7GW per year for wind, with output of 2.6 TWh/GW, and 5 GW per year of solar with output of 1.5 TWh/GW

That’s enough to check Bryce’s claim. The gap between nuclear and renewables is currently 552 TW/year. The current rate of addition of capacity for solar and wind combined amounts to additional generation 25.7 TW/h per year. Doubling that gives 51.4. So, assuming a doubling of the current installation rate, which seems plausible even without any new policies, it will take 10.5 years for renewable generation (including hydro) to surpass nuclear. Excluding hydro it will take 15 years. So, if the goal of policy were to replace nuclear with renewables, the answer is that it could be achieved in the fairly near future.

Of course, replacing nuclear power is not the goal of climate policy. The objective is to replace coal and, as far as possible, gas as sources of electricity. We can’t afford to spend 10-15 years replacing nuclear first.

So,Bryce is right to say that ““widespread retirement of America’s nuclear power plants would make it extremely difficult if not impossible”. If we didn’t know that a rapid shutdown of nuclear power would be a big problem for a decarbonization policy, the examples of Germany and Japan make it pretty clear.

But Bryce is shifting the ground. he fact that The Democratic platform says nothing about nuclear power implies that they don’t have a policy for a rapid shutdown. In fact, the Obama Administration has consistently supported an “all of the above” policy including loan guarantees for nuclear power.

The problem is that new nuclear power is hopelessly uneconomic, and even existing plants are finding it hard to cover their costs. Bryce doesn’t propose a solution, presumably because any solution would require government intervention on a scale so massive as to horrify the readers of National Review.

Still, it might be worth looking at the possibilities for an expansion of US nuclear power in the foreseeable future. Apart from a handful of plants under construction there’s no chance of any new ones in the 10-15 year time-frame we just derived. So, let’s look out a bit further to the early 2030s. On past experience would require starting construction by 2020, which means we can confine our attention to proposals that have already started the licensing process.

In the first flush of enthusiasm for the “nuclear renaissance” of the early 2000s, proposals were put forward to build around 30 new units, typically of 1 GW each. Four of those have gone ahead (over time and over budget as usual), and should be completed by 2020. At least ten have been abandoned, while the remainder are in limbo, being kept alive as options but without any actual prospect of occurring. That’s a maximum of around 15 GW, or around 100 TWh per year.

The new additions have already been offset by closures. Even with the most friendly policy environment possible, we’re bound to see more over the next 15 years, given that many plants are already well beyond their initially planned operating life.

So, even with an all-out effort to implement every currently proposed nuclear power plant, and to keep closures to a minimum, we might get a net addition of 50TWh a year. That’s the equivalent of two years of additional solar and wind at the current rate, which has been increasing steadily over time.

  • For completeness, I should mention Small Modular Reactors, which are often seen as the nuclear hope of the future. The only project that’s currently active is that of Nuscale which aims to produce a demonstration plant by 2025. Even if SMRs prove economic (there is no reason to believe this), large scale deployment will be well into the 2030s.

{ 68 comments }

1

Matt 07.20.16 at 4:52 am

There are 8766 hours in an average year*. At 100% capacity factor, 1 gigawatt of nameplate capacity would generate 8.766 TWh of electricity per year.

2.6 TWh annually per GW of capacity, for wind, indicates a capacity factor of 29.7%. 1.5 TWh annually for 1 GW of solar PV capacity indicates a capacity factor of 17.1%.

These estimated capacity factors are too low for utility scale renewables in the US, especially for solar. As you can see on the EIA’s data page, American utility scale wind has averaged 33% capacity factor and solar PV has averaged 27.25%. Annual wind generation, relative to nameplate capacity, is 11% higher than Bryce estimates and solar PV production is 59% higher.

*Including the extra day in a leap year, once every 4 years; 365.25 * 24.

2

Dr. Hilarius 07.20.16 at 5:00 am

Nuclear proponents in the US also ignore the history of cost overruns, construction mismanagement and profiteering in nuclear plant construction. The Washington Public Power Supply System’s (WPPSS) attempt to build two plants resulted in one of the largest municipal bond defaults in US history, $2.25 billion. A reporter friend of mine covered the mess, documenting the use of unapproved substandard steel, welders who couldn’t weld and walls built, torn down and rebuilt repeatedly as they failed inspections. Not exactly confidence building. And we still don’t have a solution for long-term storage of radioactive waste. Amusingly, the abandoned plants in Elma, WA were used as sets for some shots in The Hunger Games.

3

Matt 07.20.16 at 5:23 am

The EIA also estimates that 9.5 gigawatts of utility-scale solar and 6.8 gigawatts of wind will be added in the US in 2016. Doubling the installation rate and keeping the capacity factor the same as past measured values, that would add:

6.8 * 2 * 0.33 * 8.766 + 9.5 * 2 * 0.2725 * 8.766 = 84.7 TWh of new annual energy output from utility scale renewables.

In fairness toward nuclear power, its actual capacity factor in the US averages 91.3%. If the US actually did install 15 GW of new nuclear capacity per year it might add:

15 * 0.913 * 8.766 = 120 TWh of new annual energy output.

4

ZM 07.20.16 at 6:05 am

I think that with the global potential of renewable energy generation nuclear energy doesn’t make sense, not only with the economic costs, but also with the environmental problems of the waste.

There are discussions in Australia about a nuclear waste facility in South Australia, which after a Royal Commission the S.A. government has said “400 people [will] be selected to sit on citizens’ juries to consider the state’s approach to its nuclear future.”
http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/australians-face-big-decision-on-nuclear-waste-dump/news-story/dac386f5403f21a105642d5bfa7f43c2

Earlier this year China outlined plans for a global solar and wind renewable energy grid to be built by 2050, so countries can share energy across borders. I think this really means that new nuclear power plants are not going to be needed in the future, when there is safer and cleaner energy available from solar and wind RET.
http://futurism.com/building-big-forget-great-wall-china-wants-build-50-trillion-global-power-grid-2050/

The positive news about the the Democratic Party platform is that Russell Greene sponsored an amendment to the platform which was inserted and it includes language about a WW2 style climate mobilisation. The amendment says:

“Democrats believe it would be a grave mistake for the United States to wait for another nation to lead the world in combating the global climate emergency. In fact, we must move first in launching a green industrial revolution, because that is the key to getting others to follow; and because it is in our own national interest to do so.

Just as America’s greatest generation led the effort to defeat the Axis Powers during World War II, so must our generation now lead a World War II-type national mobilization to save civilization from catastrophic consequences.

We must think beyond Paris. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, climate experts, policy experts, activists and indigenous communities to chart a course toward the healthy future we all want for our families and communities.”

Russell Greene introduced the amendment by saying:

“Global warming threatens to destabilize the climate system for tens of thousands of years, sending the Earth into a hot state inhospitable to humanity. If business as usual continues for much longer, a chain reaction of proliferating droughts, famines, and subsequent state failures will cause the unraveling of an organized human community. Furthermore, the global economy’s overshoot of the planet’s limits has initiated the 6th mass extinction of species, which threatens to wipe out much of life on Earth within this century. If allowed to unfold, it could take some 10 million years for life to fully recover…

We must call this out explicitly. It is not enough that this is the most progressive platform in Democratic history. What matters is that this matches the moment. What will be remembered from our work here this weekend is not only what we have put in, but what we have left out. Prioritizing a climate mobilization provides the most immediate path to social, economic, and environmental justice. As with the WWII home front mobilization, the climate mobilization will create full employment and drastically reduce inequality, with the principle of fair and shared sacrifice embraced by all Americans.”

http://www.theclimatemobilization.org/dnc_ww2

In news from Australia, the State government of Victoria, where I live, has issued its first Green Bond of $300 million which was fully subscribed in a bit over 24 hours. I think this is the first Green Bond scheme in the world.

http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/victorian-green-bonds-an-australian-and-world-first/

5

Richard M 07.20.16 at 10:12 am

Doesn’t this argument rely on a definition of ‘profitable’ that itself depends on the political and regulatory environment in place? In other words, it assumes it’s own conclusion.

The real economic problem with nuclear is that it produces energy too cheaply. All the costs are up front, so the owner has no leverage to control prices. Which leads to the risk that they drop too low, distributing the returns on the investment to wider society instead of returning them to the investor.

The same issue applies, of course, to other infrastructure like roads and bridges. Those are, of course, financed by governments deciding they are necessary and borrowing the money to build them.

Either the government decides to do that, or it doesn’t. Either way, profitability, the ability to capture and monetarise returns, has no rational relation to the decision.

6

P O'Neill 07.20.16 at 11:02 am

There’s a chance we will get some sensible public economic analysis of the European nuclear power sector with the EU commission investigation of the Areva restructuring, which in turn is closely tied to UK nuclear power expansion. Of course an unstated case for Brexit may have been the freedom to build more nuclear power plants without having to consider market distortion.

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-2587_en.htm?locale=en.

7

Pete 07.20.16 at 1:58 pm

@RichardM the same applies even more so to renewables: the running costs are dwarfed by the upfront capital cost, and are not very dependent on the amount of power actually sold. So it’s looking like renewables are pushing out nuclear on cost grounds. Because the upfront investment in nuclear is much larger, and it’s more prone to overruns, and it must set aside the huge cost of decommissioning.

(A strange side effect of low interest rates is that the discount rate changes, making huge costs far in the future have a higher present value).

The capacity factor is still far from being a serious issue in most countries, and utility-scale battery technology is waiting in the wings to ramp up.

8

Omega Centauri 07.20.16 at 2:02 pm

I guess the small scale reactors being developed offer a bit of hope to Nuclear proponents. Supposedly these are cheaper/safer. I am not enthusiastic. I’m sure a few will be built, but it would take a lot to make a serious dent.

9

Scott P. 07.20.16 at 2:08 pm

“And we still don’t have a solution for long-term storage of radioactive waste”

Well, we do, but political interests prevent its implementation.

10

Richard M 07.20.16 at 3:17 pm

@6:
Again, it not really cost, but practicality of monetisation.
Consumer renewable are sold as a consumer product; the manufacturer gets the money straight away, instead of waiting to make it back by selling electricity.

For utility-scale renewables, the main investment is in land ownership. So long as that land has other uses, there is a credible threat to walk away and use the land for something else. So prices can be kept high enough to make a profit (and if the market does collapse, you have still got the land).

Which is all fair enough as long as you are relying on it being the case that current market conditions and property ownership regimes are naturally going to lead to adequate decarbonisation; nothing needs to change.

However, if you are talking about political action, then that needs to be assessed in appropriate terms, not self-referential ones.

11

Jim Doyle 07.20.16 at 3:57 pm

Your math is omitting that our power supply must be constant 120 VAC/60 Hz 365/24/7.

Wind/solar are intermittent weather driven sources that require 100% back-up usually by gas fired combustion engines. (i.e. giant jet engines).

The cost of the back-up is never figured in but nonetheless the back-up is required. Nuclear is 365/24/7 and CO2 free and that’s why it adds up.

12

Patrick 07.20.16 at 4:10 pm

@Richard M #9
In the case of a contaminated nuclear site I’d say there is little credible threat that you’re going to use the land for anything else. If I follow your argument, this would be advantage renewables (at least for commercial management)

13

Matt 07.20.16 at 4:23 pm

For utility-scale renewables, the main investment is in land ownership. So long as that land has other uses, there is a credible threat to walk away and use the land for something else.

For solar it certainly isn’t. It takes about 5.8 acres per megawatt-peak (AC) for a fixed-tilt utility scale PV project. As of Q4 2015, large fixed-tilt PV projects could be built in the US for $1.33 per watt-peak. You can find suitable land parcels in rural Kern County or Riverside County (both popular locations for California solar projects) for less than $1000 per acre. At $1000 per acre, a 100 megawatt fixed tilt PV project that cost $133 million to build would spend $580,000 on land, or less than one half of one percent of the construction budget.

14

Patrick 07.20.16 at 4:47 pm

@Matt
I think he’s talking about the opportunity cost of the land. The possibility that the owner could not produce power and thus bargain for higher electricity prices. If the producer can’t use the land for anything else, then the buyer knows that the producer will sell the power for any price above their marginal cost of production. (even if it is below their average cost, and thus an unprofitable investment, overall)

15

Jim Doyle 07.20.16 at 4:52 pm

I’m an anti-subsidy guy but realize that we will never repeal the wind/solar subsidies. Wind is only viable for the subsidy.

If you are going to provide a subsidy then do it across the board for all CO2 free generation.

16

Matt 07.20.16 at 4:57 pm

The real economic problem with nuclear is that it produces energy too cheaply. All the costs are up front, so the owner has no leverage to control prices.

This is not true either. If nuclear power were the lowest cost producer around, like large scale hydroelectric generators, it would be the last producer left standing in an environment of low wholesale prices. Instead it’s getting squeezed out by low priced natural gas and (to a lesser extent) wind power.

Nuclear generation has by far the highest O&M costs per unit of capacity — $198 per nameplate kilowatt per year on average. Or $198 million per year for a 1000 megawatt plant. If that plant runs at 91.3% capacity factor, the O&M cost per megawatt hour is:

198000 / (24 * 365.25 * 0.913) = $24.74

For comparison, solar is $25 per nameplate kilowatt per year, and normalized by its lower capacity factor that comes to:

25000 / (24 * 365.25 * 0.2725) = $10.47 per megawatt hour.

I suspect that a large part of these costs comes from nuclear labor. The two new AP1000 units at Plant Vogtle are supposed to provide 800 permanent jobs once construction completes. Each unit produces 1117 MWe nominal. At a 91.3% capacity factor that’s:

(1117 * 2 * 0.913) / 800 = 2.55 annualized real megawatts per worker.

The 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm provides 12 permanent jobs in the operational phase. Last year it generated 1301337 MWh, for an annualized power of 148.45 MW, meaning the power-to-labor ratio was

148.45 / 12 = 12.37 annualized real megawatts per worker.

That’s nearly 4.9 times as much annual electricity output per full time employee. For nuclear to lower its operational labor costs below those of utility scale solar, it would have to pay workers a lot less than they would earn in solar operation. But I don’t think that is possible.

17

Joseph Brenner 07.20.16 at 6:09 pm

“Of course, replacing nuclear power is not the goal of climate policy. The objective is to replace coal and, as far as possible, gas as sources of electricity. We can’t afford to spend 10-15 years replacing nuclear first.”

Now tell that to the Greens. Over in Germany, once in power
they started phasing out nuclear power and replacing it with
renewables, and consequently have not actually made a dent in
their CO2 emissions. They continue to burn lots of very
dirty coal, and have in fact been building new coal plants…

Meanwhile, the new art form of triumphalist Green headline
writing seems to have convinced everyone that Climate Change
is a solved problem, and there’s nothing to worry about.

“Fastest growing power source!” (Easy when you’re near
zero…); “Elon Musk announces new household batteries!”
(Expensive ones… and he didn’t ship, did he?); “Germany
generated 78.99% of it’s electricity from solar!” (For ten
minutes in July…)

18

John Quiggin 07.20.16 at 7:09 pm

Joseph @14 You might want to read the post a little more carefully, especially the para immediately after the one you quote

19

Displaced Person 07.20.16 at 7:19 pm

Two additional points offered (not made by me):

An old friend, with a PhD in energy economics will tell you, as he has told me, that we still don’t know the life cycle cost of a nuclear power plant, which makes normal planning and budgeting very difficult.

A senior MIT scientist (shortly thereafter recruited to Harvard), told a group of alumni and parents of students at MIT that I was in about five years ago, that there is simply not enough nuclear material in the world, if all possible nuclear plants were built as fast as possible (which is not very fast) to meet the world’s energy needs. He saw nuclear as a bridging technology, but not a solution, until renewable technology could replace it. For himself, and the reason that Harvard recruited him, the answer lay in the work that he was doing. He is/was one of the leading researchers on artificial photosynthesis.

20

cassander 07.20.16 at 8:05 pm

@Matt

>That’s nearly 4.9 times as much annual electricity output per full time employee. For nuclear to lower its operational labor costs below those of utility scale solar, it would have to pay workers a lot less than they would earn in solar operation. But I don’t think that is possible.

The trouble with this comparison is that there’s a lot of work that goes into a power plant that isn’t directly onsite in terms of things like spare parts, mining and transporting fuel, etc. A solar farm doesn’t need a lot of people onsite, but it does need a factory somewhere cranking out replacement panels. I can’t prove it, but I’d bet a bundle that nuclear would be on the low end for offsite labor because of the robustness of the initial construction and the low demand (volume wise) for fuel.

21

cassander 07.20.16 at 8:18 pm

@Dr. Hilarius

Are those overruns worse than overruns for non-nuclear projects, or do they just get more attention because of the large sums (nuclear power being paid for up front) and the degree of government involvement?

22

Matt 07.20.16 at 8:21 pm

The trouble with this comparison is that there’s a lot of work that goes into a power plant that isn’t directly onsite in terms of things like spare parts, mining and transporting fuel, etc. A solar farm doesn’t need a lot of people onsite, but it does need a factory somewhere cranking out replacement panels. I can’t prove it, but I’d bet a bundle that nuclear would be on the low end for offsite labor because of the robustness of the initial construction and the low demand (volume wise) for fuel.

Spare parts and fuel are included in O&M costs. As shown above, nuclear O&M runs to $24.74 per megawatt hour and utility scale solar PV O&M runs to $10.47 per megawatt hour. The lower advantage ratio here — 2.4 to 1 in favor of solar, rather than the 4.9 to 1 ratio in favor of solar for onsite labor efficiency — does indicate that relatively more of solar’s O&M expenses are offsite. But it’s not more expensive on an absolute basis.

23

Joseph Brenner 07.20.16 at 8:27 pm

John Quiggin @ 15:
Yes, I’m expressing furious agreement, as is often the case on the internet.

“The problem is that new nuclear power is hopelessly uneconomic, and even existing plants are finding it hard to cover their costs. Bryce doesn’t propose a solution, presumably because any solution would require government intervention on a scale so massive as to horrify the readers of National Review.”

Well, one solution is to go ahead with Obama’s Clean Power Plan,
which is essentially a cap-and-trade system. Once something like
the real costs of carbon-emissions are captured in the price,
then I expect things like nuclear power will start looking
better.

This is indeed the kind of thing that the National Review is not
likely to say, but it is the kind of thing that I would think
would keep someone like yourself from making pronouncements like
“nuclear power is hopelessly uneconomic”… maybe, under a weird
regime that doesn’t blink at coal plants killing thousands and
trashing the climate in the process. In general, the fracking
boom has been doing weird things to us, making natural gas look
really cheap, at least in the near term.

(If you’re going to talk about new technology, nuclear power has
various Great Hopes, including various fourth generation designs
under development that ought to be able to use a lot of the
existing high level waste as power sources.)

24

Matt 07.20.16 at 8:55 pm

Are those overruns worse than overruns for non-nuclear projects, or do they just get more attention because of the large sums (nuclear power being paid for up front) and the degree of government involvement?

Construction Cost Overruns and Electricity Infrastructure: An Unavoidable Risk? reviewed utility scale generation cost and schedule overruns. Large scale hydroelectric projects were the worst, then nuclear, then thermal combustion generation, and solar PV was by far the best at sticking to budget and schedule. The authors offer several explanations for the different patterns found. The simplest correlation I notice is that larger projects are more likely to encounter problems.

There is no such thing (yet) as a commercial nuclear reactor that you can ship assembled from the factory, like an aeroderivative gas turbine, and use to generate a few tens of megawatts, like an aeroderivative gas turbine. If you want to build a nuclear reactor in the US or Europe you’re currently committing to more than 1000 megawatts at a time. Nuclear power is only available in “extra chunky” style at present. Making reactors bigger was supposed to lower generating costs relative to the older Gen II designs that could be built in somewhat smaller increments, but that only works if you can get repeat business and learn by doing. The early experiences building these larger, newer reactors are so discouraging that repeat business looks like it may be hard to come by.

I think that you could probably get costs under control again if there were a long term commitment to a sustained nuclear build, like France did in the 1970s and 1980s. But that was achieved while France had a single state owned national monopoly supplier for electricity. France has completed only 1 reactor since the electricity monopoly ended, and their costs/schedules are going terribly for newer reactors. There’s something for everyone to hate in the one big successful switch to nuclear power: a substantial part of the environmental-left is wary of nuclear power as a technology and the freemarket-right is wary of the heavy state involvement that is (apparently) needed for success.

25

Omega Centauri 07.20.16 at 9:02 pm

The odd thing was that early on Nuclear was very cheap, it was only after safety concerns kept ratcheting up that costs began to skyrocket. I think there is an analogy with the sapce shuttle, as demands to push safety beyong the level that was natural for the technology arose, costs shot up exponentially. In the case of the shuttle, cost per flight, went up manyfold, and turnaround time also went up manyfold, with little improvement in the risk per mission. I suspect Nuclear is caught in the same bind, with public/govermnet etc. demanding ever higher safety, and more and more expense is thrown at the safety problem.

We could argue till the cows come home whether or not we are massively too sensitive to nuclear dangers, and that this excessive caution is the real reason that we can no longer afford it. But, long before we could settle that argument, we could have rebuilt our power system with renewables.

26

Brett Dunbar 07.20.16 at 10:49 pm

Fuel supply isn’t really an issue.

Firstly the known resources of uranium relative to current consumption are large enough that there isn’t any real point in looking for more. There are a fair number of locations which would be likely to have usable resources, if we had reason to look we would find more.

Secondly even if the mineable ores ran out we know how to extract uranium from seawater. The cost is about ten times the current market price. About $250 per kg. The concentration is low but the sheer quantity of uranium in the oceans is vast. At that price supply is effectively unlimited.

Fuel is a relatively small part of the operating cost of a nuclear power station.

The main problem is an exaggerated fear of radiation. The aftermath of Chernobyl failed to show any detectable excess of cancer cases in areas within the plume compared to areas outside the plume. With the exception of 2,000 cases of one very rare extremely low mortality (#0.5%) childhood thyroid cancer which is almost exclusively linked to exposure to radioactive iodine. In all other cases any signal was overwhelmed by the noise of the background rate of the cancer. The linear no-threshold model appears to seriously overstate the risk of low level exposure. With more evidence based safety standards nuclear would be lot more cost effective.

A properly functioning emission permit market or a carbon tax would also help by forcing the fossil fuel generators to price in the externalities caused by their emissions.

In fact per unit generated nuclear is the safest form of power generation, solar is second (installation accidents, such as falls are the main risk there).

27

Matt 07.21.16 at 2:08 am

The odd thing was that early on Nuclear was very cheap, it was only after safety concerns kept ratcheting up that costs began to skyrocket. I think there is an analogy with the sapce shuttle, as demands to push safety beyong the level that was natural for the technology arose, costs shot up exponentially. In the case of the shuttle, cost per flight, went up manyfold, and turnaround time also went up manyfold, with little improvement in the risk per mission. I suspect Nuclear is caught in the same bind, with public/govermnet etc. demanding ever higher safety, and more and more expense is thrown at the safety problem.

That’s a reasonable hypothesis but it doesn’t seem borne out by the data. When the EPR was designed it was supposed to be the safest commercial reactor ever. But the large size and careful design were supposed to make it cost a reasonable €3.7 billion per unit, only 2 € per watt-peak. And the first unit was supposed only 4 years to build. The first unit to start construction, Olkiluoto 3, is now at 11 years of construction and €8.5 billion — and still counting. The AP1000s under construction haven’t slipped as badly, but still, nuclear construction for Vogtle Unit 3 began in March 2013 and by June 2013 they were announcing 14 months of delays. As of this writing its completion date has been delayed from 2016 to 2019. In the interim there were no reactor redesigns, no court orders suspending construction, no activists chaining themselves to equipment. The failure to execute appears to rest on the nuclear industry itself.

If the problem were just high safety standards, the extra costs and time should be known up front. Something weirder has to happen for initial estimates to go awry this badly. The pharmaceutical industry is heavily regulated for safety too, but nobody excuses budget-and-schedule failures of this magnitude from major pharma companies.

Maybe it’s a uniquely Western curse?
A recently approved Russian-Egyptian deal to build 4 reactors, 4800 megawatts total capacity, comes to $29.4 billion ($25 billion in loans cover 85% of costs) — a painful $6.13 per watt-peak.

China’s offerings are expensive too; the 1150 megawatt Hualong One reactor to be built by China in Argentina is expected to cost $9 billion for $7.83 per watt-peak.

If you look in the IAEA’s Power Reactor Information System, you can look up milestone dates for Chinese and Russian reactors built in China and Russia. The three reactors that most recently entered commercial operation in China took 6 years each to enter service from construction start. Russia’s three newest took 8, 6, and 16 years respectively. Whatever-it-is that makes reactor construction slow and expensive, it’s not confined to the US, or to rich countries, or to democracies.

I think that the people who fantasize about making nuclear quick-and-affordable by slashing regulations and/or silencing protestors (not saying you are advocating for this, but it’s disturbingly common among frustrated nuclear advocates) have misidentified the root cause of slow-and-expensive. I’m not saying I understand the root causes, but “excessive attention to safety” and “excessive tolerance for popular protest” seem very unlikely when you see these issues in Egypt and China.

28

awy 07.21.16 at 4:15 am

high safety standards lead to overengineering, which are not ‘natural’ engineering solutions in that they require often novel changes to routine systems and complex systems interactions may lead to unintended effects resulting from modifications. basically modifications made without taking into account their effects, either due to lack of awareness of potential implications or simply nature of designing new technology, introduces a lot of cost uncertainty and overrun potential.

29

John Quiggin 07.21.16 at 6:36 am

@20 I support a carbon price, of course. But

(i) As pointed out in the OP, the long lead times mean new nuclear power isn’t going to happen on a large scale for the next couple of decades, in the US or elsewhere in the developed world, no matter what the policy settings.

(ii)a carbon price would help nuclear against gas and coal but not against solar and wind, which are already much cheaper, even if you add a storage cost.

30

Will Boisvert 07.21.16 at 9:01 am

“That’s enough to check Bryce’s claim. The gap between nuclear and renewables is currently 552 TW/year. The current rate of addition of capacity for solar and wind combined amounts to additional generation 25.7 TW/h per year. Doubling that gives 51.4. So, assuming a doubling of the current installation rate, which seems plausible even without any new policies, it will take 10.5 years for renewable generation (including hydro) to surpass nuclear. Excluding hydro it will take 15 years. So, if the goal of policy were to replace nuclear with renewables, the answer is that it could be achieved in the fairly near future.”

John, no, this is all mixed up.

Bryce was talking about “replacing” nuclear power–that is, growing renewables enough so that the *additional increment* over present production is enough to equal current nuclear production. (The issue is how soon could growth in renewables make up for the loss of low-carbon electricity if the entire nuclear fleet is closed, as Bernie Sanders wants to do.) But then you did a calculation for how soon renewable generation, current plus additional growth, would “surpass” nuclear. That’s not what Bryce was talking about. Then, you switched back to the word “replace,” which is what Bryce was talking about, but your calculation is wrong for “replacement” of nuclear power.

At your assumed growth rate of 51.4 twh per year, it would take about 16 years to *replace* nuclear.

Also, “the gap between nuclear and renewables is currently 552 TW/year,” no. (TWh/year.) 2015 net nuclear generation was 797 TWh while total RE generation was 562 TWh, for a “gap” of 245 TWh. But closing the “gap” is meaningless as a decarbonization goal, since if we then lose the nuclear sector we’re still left with dramatically less carbon-free generation than we have now.

Anyway, your assumption of 51 TWh/year growth in RE generation is unrealistic. From 2006 to 2015, growth in total RE generation was 176 TWh, a growth rate of 20 TWh per year. At that rate, 40 years for RE to replace nuclear; 20 years if growth rates double.

But in recent years RE growth rates have slowed. From 2011 to 2015, total RE generation grew 48.3 TWh; that’s 66 years to replace nuclear, 33 years if growth doubles. From 2014 to 2015 RE grew 13.8 TWh; 58 years to replace nuclear, 29 years if that growth rate doubles. (Replacement times assume no attrition or productivity decline in wind and solar facilities, which would lower the net growth rates.)

Growth rates are very unlikely to double. The 2015 energy bill phases out federal wind and solar subsidies over the next decade. In 2013, when federal wind subsidies briefly lapsed, just 1 GW of wind was installed.

(See https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_1_1 for US electricity generation data.)

Bottom line: RE is growing very slowly (much slower than historical rates of nuclear buildout) and wind and solar are still dependent on subsidies. If nuclear reactors close prematurely it will take decades for RE to make up the loss, with nothing left over in the meantime to displace fossil fuels from the grid.

31

Will Boisvert 07.21.16 at 10:21 am

“The problem is that new nuclear power is hopelessly uneconomic, and even existing plants are finding it hard to cover their costs.”

I don’t get it, John.

Existing US plants are shutting down because cheap fracked natural has cut wholesale electricity prices by almost half. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reckons the amount nuclear plants need to make good their losses at 0.5 to 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, about 5 to 10 percent of retail electricity prices. That makes them “hopelessly uneconomic?”

It seems like you’re saying that when a dip in fossil fuel costs undercuts low-carbon nuclear power by even a fraction of a penny, we should write the industry off as “hopelessly uneconomic.” That sounds kind of extreme and unjustified (and neo-liberal).

And it seems like you have a double standard when it comes to judging the economics of nuclear and renewables. Wind in the US gets 2.3 cents per kwh federal subsidy, and more from many states. In New York, for example, wind projects are getting additional state subsidies of 2.3 cents per kwh for 20 years. That’s a lot more than the 0.5 to 1.5 cents per kwh subsidy existing nukes need. Without those subsidies, wind and solar would also be undersold by gas and coal, and they would never be built. And yet you don’t call wind and solar “hopelessly uneconomic.” Just seems inconsistent.

Georgia state regulators reckon the lifetime cost of power from the new Vogtle AP1000 reactors at about 6.2 cents per kwh. That doesn’t sound “hopelessly uneconomic” to me. It seems like a reasonable price to pay for super-reliable low-carbon power. Offshore wind prices are even higher than that, and for power that’s nowhere near as reliable as nuclear and that will need to be backed up by natural gas, which is bad for the climate. So I don’t understand why you call nuclear “hopelessly uneconomic” while embracing off-shore wind.

South Korea’s latest Gen 3 APR1400 reactor is up and running. It cost about $3200 per kilowatt, financing included. That’s a lower capital cost than wind or solar per average kilowatt, and nuclear power is priced cheaper than coal in South Korea. South Korea is a developed nation with high wages, so it’s clear that nuclear can indeed be very economic in developed countries. I think that contradicts your “hopelessly uneconomic” pronouncement.

26–“solar and wind, which are already much cheaper, even if you add a storage cost.”

How much is the storage cost that you’re talking about? Do you have any cites on that?

32

Rob T. 07.21.16 at 2:13 pm

Any thoughts regarding Transatomic Power’s MSR or TVA’s Clinch River Early Site Permit?

From:
http://www.transatomicpower.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/transatomic-white-paper.pdf

“The overnight cost for an nth-of-a-kind 520 MWe size, including on-line fission product removal and storage, is estimated at $2.0 billion with a three year construction schedule.”

“The $2 billion price point can greatly expand the demand for nuclear energy, because it has a lower entry cost than do large-sized nuclear power plants. The Vogtle 3 and 4 plants, each 1100 MWe and built in parallel, have a combined project cost of over $19 billion for approximately four times higher output [18]. Similarly, the Flamanville EPR is estimated to cost $11.7 billion for 1630 MWe, or just over three times higher output [19]. Even if the cost per watt were the same, a lower price for a smaller unit will still expand the number of utilities that can afford to buy nuclear reactors, better match slow changes in demand, allow greater site feasibility, and reach profitability faster. The speed of construction and faster payback also reduce financing costs.”

From:
http://www.knoxnews.com/opinion/editorials/tva-sensible-to-move-forward-on-modular-reactors-330d8663-2497-4069-e053-0100007fd1e3-380001651.html

“TVA is the first in the industry to submit any type of application related to SMRs (small modular reactor) to the NRC.”

33

Kiwanda 07.21.16 at 3:10 pm

The current rate of addition of capacity for solar and wind combined amounts to additional generation 25.7 TW/h per year. Doubling that gives 51.4. So, assuming a doubling of the current installation rate, which seems plausible even without any new policies, it will take 10.5 years for renewable generation (including hydro) to surpass nuclear.

This is a strangely linear view of renewable growth, which has been exponential for some time; in the last fifteen years, solar has doubled seven times, wind four times; this happens in tandem with cost reductions, with solar down 80% since 2008, wind down 50% since 2009.

This puts them at 1% and 4% of generation, which isn’t much, but they are now cheap, and storage technologies are coming down in price as well, which together with demand response should deal with production variability to a large extent.

So they have every chance of continued exponential growth, and production dominance in coming decades. These conditions make nuclear irrelevant.

34

Soru 07.21.16 at 3:20 pm

Environmentalist, definition: someone who thinks that now we have ‘every chance’ of being saved from global warming by exponentially cheap solar, nothing needs to be done.

35

ZM 07.21.16 at 3:22 pm

This comment has been in moderation for a couple of days, so I am seeing if goes through as 2 comments, in case it got auto modded for having too many links

I think that with the global potential of renewable energy generation nuclear energy doesn’t make sense, not only with the economic costs, but also with the environmental problems of the waste.

There are discussions in Australia about a nuclear waste facility in South Australia, which after a Royal Commission the S.A. government has said “400 people [will] be selected to sit on citizens’ juries to consider the state’s approach to its nuclear future.”

http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/australians-face-big-decision-on-nuclear-waste-dump/news-story/dac386f5403f21a105642d5bfa7f43c2

Earlier this year China outlined plans for a global solar and wind renewable energy grid to be built by 2050, so countries can share energy across borders.

I think if a world renewable energy grid is technologically possible then it really means that new nuclear power plants are not going to be needed in the future, when there is safer and cleaner energy available from solar and wind RET and it can be shared across borders

http://futurism.com/building-big-forget-great-wall-china-wants-build-50-trillion-global-power-grid-2050/

36

ZM 07.21.16 at 3:27 pm

I think it would be preferable if the grid was built by international efforts rather than just China though, since having one country in control of the whole world’s shared energy grid seems kind of problematic to me.

The USA might come on board with it, given the positive news from the Democratic Party Convention, where the platform was changed by Russell Greene sponsoring an amendment including language about a WW2 style climate mobilisation.

The amendment says:

“Democrats believe it would be a grave mistake for the United States to wait for another nation to lead the world in combating the global climate emergency. In fact, we must move first in launching a green industrial revolution, because that is the key to getting others to follow; and because it is in our own national interest to do so.

Just as America’s greatest generation led the effort to defeat the Axis Powers during World War II, so must our generation now lead a World War II-type national mobilization to save civilization from catastrophic consequences.

We must think beyond Paris. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, climate experts, policy experts, activists and indigenous communities to chart a course toward the healthy future we all want for our families and communities.”

Russell Greene introduced the amendment by saying:

“Global warming threatens to destabilize the climate system for tens of thousands of years, sending the Earth into a hot state inhospitable to humanity. If business as usual continues for much longer, a chain reaction of proliferating droughts, famines, and subsequent state failures will cause the unraveling of an organized human community. Furthermore, the global economy’s overshoot of the planet’s limits has initiated the 6th mass extinction of species, which threatens to wipe out much of life on Earth within this century. If allowed to unfold, it could take some 10 million years for life to fully recover…

We must call this out explicitly. It is not enough that this is the most progressive platform in Democratic history. What matters is that this matches the moment. What will be remembered from our work here this weekend is not only what we have put in, but what we have left out. Prioritizing a climate mobilization provides the most immediate path to social, economic, and environmental justice. As with the WWII home front mobilization, the climate mobilization will create full employment and drastically reduce inequality, with the principle of fair and shared sacrifice embraced by all Americans.”

http://www.theclimatemobilization.org/dnc_ww2

I think that is really great news. Definitely another reason to vote for the Democratic Party in the elections.

Even for people who say that Trump would be better on jobs — if the Democrats are in government and start making policy for a climate mobilisation this will create so many jobs for Americas, in a way that looks to the future, rather than backwards to isolationism and walls and protectionism.

In good news from Australia, the State government of Victoria, where I live, has issued its first Green Bond of $300 million which was fully subscribed in a bit over 24 hours. I think this is the first Green Bond scheme in the world.

http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/victorian-green-bonds-an-australian-and-world-first/

37

Rich Puchalsky 07.21.16 at 3:40 pm

soru: “Environmentalist, definition: someone who thinks that now we have ‘every chance’ of being saved from global warming by exponentially cheap solar, nothing needs to be done.”

As someone working on environmental issues since 1990, let me modify that for you:

Environmentalist, definition: someone who thinks that now that almost everything that we’ve advocated for hasn’t been done and is still being prevented from been done politically, thinks that the only remaining alternative is exponentially cheap solar.

38

Kiwanda 07.21.16 at 6:21 pm

Soru & Rich Puchalsky: “saved from global warming” != “irrelevance of nuclear” != “nothing needs to be done”.

39

Will Boisvert 07.21.16 at 7:17 pm

Kiwanda 29, “This is a strangely linear view of renewable growth, which has been exponential for some time; in the last fifteen years, solar has doubled seven times, wind four times; this happens in tandem with cost reductions, with solar down 80% since 2008, wind down 50% since 2009.”

No, wind and solar growth rates have definitely not been exponential over recent years.

Exponential growth is when the year-over-year rate of increase in output is a constant. So, if every year something increases say 50 percent (or 20 percent, or whatever) over last year’s quantity, and that percentage growth rate stays the same every year (or increases), that’s exponential growth.

But we don’t see that at all with wind and solar. Instead we see a sharp downward trent in year-over-year relative growth of wind and solar. Here are the BP stats for global solar output:

Year; Yearly Output (TWh); Increase over previous year’s output (percent)
2007; 7.4; —
2008; 12.2; 64.8 %
2009; 20.5; 68.0 %
2010; 33.3; 62.4 %
2011; 63.8; 91.6 %
2012; 101.9; 59.7 %
2013; 142.6; 39.9 %
2014; 190.8; 34.3 %
2015; 253.0; 32.6 %

As you can see, the year-over-year percentage increase in solar output has dropped sharply, and precisely during the period 2011 to 2015 when solar experienced its great cost reductions. This is a far cry from exponential growth.

In reality, solar exhibits not exponential growth but boom-and-bust cycles driven partly by cost reductions but mainly by subsidies. Eventually subsidies and the difficulty of integrating large amounts of solar grow too large, subsidies are trimmed and solar growth stalls.

Germany is a good example. In 2012 Germany installed 7.6 GW of new solar. But the renewables surcharge was spiralling so they cut back solar subsidies and the solar industry collapsed; in 2015 new installations were just 1.4 GW, down 82 percent.

Rather than growing exponentially, it’s quite likely that absolute solar growth rates worldwide will stall in coming years or even decline as the latest boom countries like China, Japan and the US cut subsidies and burst their bubbles. Even if last year’s best-ever absolute solar growth rate doubles, it would still take about 20 years for solar output to match that of nuclear power (assuming no growth in nuclear).

Again, when we look at the data we see that wind and solar are growing really slow, far too slow to replace nuclear soon, let alone make significant inroads into fossil fuels. The notion that renewables growth renders nuclear “irrelevant” is obviously wrong. And yes, talk of “exponential growth” does indeed breed complacency—how could it not?—as well as encouraging very wrong-headed ideas about where climate policy should go. It’s very irresponsible.

That’s why many environmentalists are defining the word to mean strong support not just for existing nuclear plants but for rational regulatory and industrial policies that let reactors get built faster and cheaper.

40

Kiwanda 07.21.16 at 8:22 pm

“No, wind and solar growth rates have definitely not been exponential over recent years.”

It sounds like you’d be game for an agreement involving chessboards and grains of rice.

By your numbers, the compound annual growth rate from 2007 to 2015 of solar output was 55%, that is, the production in 2015 was 1.55^8 times that of 2007. Continued at that rate for another 25 years, production would “only” be 1600 terawatts (14,501,501 terawatt-hours for the year). Current consumption is about 12 terawatts, or let’s say in the tens of terawatts. So I think those paltry growth rates of solar from 2007 to 2015, if continued for awhile, just might manage to keep up with world energy needs.

Even the relatively “weak” 32% growth you quote for 2015, if continued for another 25 years, would result in production of about 30 terawatts, or about three times current world consumption.

And that’s just solar.

Solar and wind are now competitive without subsidies in many places, and still getting cheaper and more competitive in more places. So subsidies are less and less relevant to growth.

So yeah, nuclear is irrelevant.

41

Collin Street 07.21.16 at 9:08 pm

Earlier this year China outlined plans for a global solar and wind renewable energy grid to be built by 2050, so countries can share energy across borders.

There’s a major video game that just got released that has as one of its signature characters a chinese climate scientist.

42

Will Boisvert 07.21.16 at 9:19 pm

Kiwanda @ 36,

No, you need to think a bit harder about what you’re saying here and try to understand what exponential growth really is and why it doesn’t occur for very long in the real world.

Renewables growth won’t “compound” at 55 percent or 32 percent. The relative growth rate will keep dropping, just like it has in preceding years. It won’t hold up at 32 percent for 25 years, just like it didn’t hold up earlier at 92 percent or 59 percent; it just keeps dropping. The data show this clearly; no use trying to deny them.

“It sounds like you’d be game for an agreement involving chessboards and grains of rice.”

Uh, Kiwanda, think harder about how that “agreement” actually plays out. Do you think it ends by putting quadrillions of rice grains onto the chessboard, (or building 30 terrawatts of solar)? No. In the real world, material and logistic constraints always snuff out exponential growth rates. Imagining that wind and solar are somehow immune to this fact is just day-dreaming, and it’s clearly disproven by the stats that I cited.

Again, it’s really irresponsible to talk about wind and solar growing exponentially, because that vastly overestimates how fast they will actually grow, and therefore encourages people to not take the necessary policy steps to ensure that other low-carbon energy sources are brought onto the grid.

43

Will Boisvert 07.21.16 at 9:34 pm

@ Kiwanda 36

“Solar and wind are now competitive without subsidies in many places, and still getting cheaper and more competitive in more places. So subsidies are less and less relevant to growth.”

Then why do wind and solar get such heavy subsidies? Why have solar installations collapsed in Germany with the trimming of subsidies? Why did wind installations collapse in the US when subsidies lapsed in 2013? I think there are some deserts in Chile and Arabia where solar is said to be viable without subsidies, but what about places that aren’t deserts?

I just don’t see much evidence to support what you’re saying here.

44

Matt 07.21.16 at 10:31 pm

I agree with Will that exponential curves don’t last long in the real world. But I would disagree that solar growth is being driven more by subsidies than by falling prices. The US federal government has offered the same 30% investment tax credit for solar power projects since 2005 — and it was extended through 2019 at the end of last year — but capacity additions have been going up each year even as the tax credit remains the same. (Though expect 2017 to be lower than 2016, since extra projects were scheduled for 2016 in anticipation of the expiration of the now-extended tax credit). Globally, money spent on solar projects last year declined even as the sector set a new record for capacity additions. That’s because of rapidly falling prices.

Most of the world’s population lives in places significantly sunnier and less densely populated than Germany, significantly less sunny and more densely populated than the Atacama desert. I think that the continental United States is less of an outlier than either Germany or Chile in this regard.

@Will if you have a citation for Georgia state regulators reckon the lifetime cost of power from the new Vogtle AP1000 reactors at about 6.2 cents per kwh, I’d love to read it. I have a hard time figuring out how one should convert capital-intensive, long-life energy project costs into per-unit output costs.

45

Matt 07.21.16 at 10:41 pm

Addendum to the last: I should say that most of the world’s population lives in countries significantly sunnier and less densely populated than Germany, significantly less sunny and more densely populated than Chile. Most of the world’s population now lives in cities, and the area within their boundaries is (I expect) more densely populated than Germany as a whole.

46

Kiwanda 07.22.16 at 12:32 am

“I agree with Will that exponential curves don’t last long in the real world. “

I thought Will’s argument was that because exponential growth can’t last forever, it doesn’t exist: eight years of growth better than Moore’s law (actually, longer than eight), with a virtuous circle where higher adoption leads to lower prices and vice versa, must surely be ending because last year the growth was “only” 32%.

Sure, ultimately we’ll see something like a logistic curve, as renewables saturate the market. So also Moore’s law must end, the world’s population cannot increase without bound, and disease epidemics cannot kill more hosts than exist. What matters is how long the early, exponential part of the logistic curve continues. With the current and improving competitiveness of wind and solar, it won’t end for a good long time.

“Globally, money spent on solar projects last year declined even as the sector set a new record for capacity additions. That’s because of rapidly falling prices.”

It’s that virtuous circle continuing.

While 6.2 cents/kwh, was estimated by Georgia regulators, a solar contract for 3 cents/kwh was signed in Dubai, and for 3.6cents/kwh in Mexico.

47

Will Boisvert 07.22.16 at 1:34 am

@ Matt 40,

“Will if you have a citation for Georgia state regulators reckon the lifetime cost of power from the new Vogtle AP1000 reactors at about 6.2 cents per kwh, I’d love to read it.” http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/2015/08/01/vogtle-nuclear-expansion-total-cost-is-65-billion-dollars-former-commissioner-says/

A PSC staffer at a hearing put the “revenue requirement” for the two Vogtle units together over their 60-year lifetimes at $65 billion.

“Revenue requirement” is a utility term of art for the total revenue the utility will have collect from rate-payers to cover all costs of the plant over its lifetime. The costs include capital costs with financing, O and M, fuel costs, decom and waste funds, allowed utility ROI, the works. It’s a proprietary figure, so it’s rarely revealed.

The two units together should produce 1,057 terrawatt-hours over a 60-year service life at 90 percent cf, so $65 billion in revenue requirement works out to 6.15 cents per kwh. That accords pretty well with my own calculations.

The reactors cost a lot, but when you factor in their long lives and prodigious output it’s not a bad deal.

Note also that the two new units at Vogtle will make the existing 2 units there cheaper to run for the remainder of their lives, because many elements of plant overhead won’t scale but will be spread over more output. Vogtle will be the biggest plant in the US, so it should have very low operating costs.

48

Will Boisvert 07.22.16 at 2:20 am

@ Matt 40,

“The US federal government has offered the same 30% investment tax credit for solar power projects since 2005 — and it was extended through 2019 at the end of last year — but capacity additions have been going up each year even as the tax credit remains the same. “

That’s just one of many subsidies solar gets. Lots of states have their own renewable tax credits and grants. State RPSs have separate renewables quotas that ratchet up as time passes, driving utilities to buy more solar; that creates a market in SRECs which is a whole nother revenue stream for solar plants. A lot of the solar growth has been rooftop, which gets state and local rebates in addition to federal subsidies. Then there’s net metering, which is a huge subsidy; it essentially makes utilities pay rooftop PV retail rates (average 12-13 cents per kwh) for electricity that they could buy on wholesale markets for 4-5 cents per kwh. Solar gets a lot of different subsidies, and the industry has been very active and effective lobbying for accelerated subsidies in recent years.

Yes, solar has also accelerated because of cost reductions, but without the subsidies it would still be dead. Again, take Germany. Subsidized market premium rates are now about 8 eurocents per kwh for utility scale, with rooftop drawing FITs of 11-12 eurocents. But wholesale prices have plunged to maybe 2-4 eucents per kwh because of RE overcapacity. Without those subsidies there’s simply no way any new solar in Germany could compete against wholesale markets and none would get built. As it is, even with the subsidies, German solar is almost dead.

49

Will Boisvert 07.22.16 at 2:30 am

@ Kiwanda 42,

“While 6.2 cents/kwh, was estimated by Georgia regulators, a solar contract for 3 cents/kwh was signed in Dubai, and for 3.6cents/kwh in Mexico.”

That’s nice, assuming that there really are no obscure subsidies in there, which is never a good thing to assume with solar.

But how does solar in Mexico and Dubai keep the lights on in Georgia? Georgia sure doesn’t have Dubai’s or Mexico’s solar resources. If you tout weather-dependent renewables you need to acknowledge that there performance and cost varies radically depending on climate.

And do the Mexico and Dubai prices include the costs of storage and gas backup and that old reliable “demand response” when the solar panels conk out? Nuclear plants are way more reliable than solar panels and maybe that reliability deserves a 2.6 cent per kwh price premium.

50

Kiwanda 07.22.16 at 1:58 pm

Will Boisvert 48: don’t know about subsidies, implicit or otherwise, for the Dubai or Mexico projects; there are claimed to be none. Although it’s true, the estimates of regulators are surely more accurate than signed contracts.

Speaking of implicit subsidies, solar doesn’t see a lot of taxpayer coverage of cost overruns, abandoned plants, and waste storage, unlike nuclear. But subsidies for solar will be ending, now that this emerging technology has taken off. Meanwhile, new ideas for nuclear are just around the corner, the same corner they’ve been around for 50 years.

True, Georgia doesn’t have the vast solar resources of California, Texas, Arizona, or Nevada, or the vast wind resources of Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, or the Dakotas. (Or even Iowa, which will be getting about 40% of its power from wind.) This is why a better grid for load and generation balancing, like the Plains and Eastern project allowing Georgia to buy cheap wind power, is so crucial.

51

Matt 07.22.16 at 4:38 pm

True, Georgia doesn’t have the vast solar resources of California, Texas, Arizona, or Nevada, or the vast wind resources of Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, or the Dakotas. (Or even Iowa, which will be getting about 40% of its power from wind.)

Georgia’s solar resources are pretty good, actually. Atlanta’s annual insolation is 86% of Los Angeles’s at 4.36 kWh/m^2/day. Like LA Atlanta also gets reasonable winter sunlight; December still sees 53% of the yearly average insolation.

Munich, Germany averages 3.15 kWh/m^2/day and, worse, December only gets 28% of the yearly average insolation. (Hamburg is worse yet at 2.72 kWh/m^2/day and 19%.) Germany also has triple the population density of Georgia. Germany really has a hard row to hoe when it comes to solar electricity. But as I’ve said before, most of the world’s population lives in countries that have a higher sunlight-to-population-density ratio than Germany.

52

Will Boisvert 07.22.16 at 6:26 pm

@ Kiwanda 49,

“Speaking of implicit subsidies, solar doesn’t see a lot of taxpayer coverage of cost overruns, abandoned plants, and waste storage, unlike nuclear.”

Huh? federal taxpayers pay 30 percent of the cost of every solar plant and rooftop rig that gets installed, with state and local taxpayers paying more. Nuclear overruns and abandoned plants aren’t paid for by taxpayers, they’re paid for by rate-payers—the same rate-payers who pay extra charges for net metering for solar homeowners and above-market rates for solar plants required by renewable portfolio standards. All storage of waste from nuclear plants is paid for by nuclear utilities, not by taxpayers. In fact, nuclear plants paid about $25 billion in fees to the federal government to fund Yucca Mountain, which was cancelled—which means the government owes nuclear plants about $25 billion.

“But subsidies for solar will be ending, now that this emerging technology has taken off.”

Not hardly. The Federal Investment Tax Credit will taper from 30 percent to 10 percent over the next decade, then stay there. But state and local subsidies for solar—tax credits, rebates, net metering, SREC income and above-market PPAs mandated by renewable portfolio standards—are huge and are, if anything, growing.

“Meanwhile, new ideas for nuclear are just around the corner, the same corner they’ve been around for 50 years.”

Yeah, nuclear, always the same old tiresome ideas—generating 60 percent of America’s low-carbon electricity, 24/7/365. Why don’t they try something new, something that needs bigger subsidies and conks out when the sun sets or the wind dies down?

53

Will Boisvert 07.22.16 at 6:30 pm

@ Kiwanda 49

“True, Georgia doesn’t have the vast solar resources of California, Texas, Arizona, or Nevada, or the vast wind resources of Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, or the Dakotas. (Or even Iowa, which will be getting about 40% of its power from wind.) This is why a better grid for load and generation balancing, like the Plains and Eastern project allowing Georgia to buy cheap wind power, is so crucial.”

And the cost of those grid improvements would be another large implicit subsidy that should be added to the tab for renewables. Renewables need vastly expanded transmission to bring power in to load centers from prairies and deserts where no one lives. That costs a lot, but the renewable generators don’t have to pay for it. (Nuclear builds like Vogtle also have extra costs for new transmission to carry the additional power to the grid, but that’s accounted in their capital costs.)

Germany and China are each spending tens of billions of dollars for new transmission to accommodate wind, none of it paid for by wind farms. Texas is just finishing a $7 billion transmission network to ship Panhandle wind to load centers in the Southeast of the state, paid for by the grid and not the wind farms.

There’s a proposal afoot to build Wyoming wind farms and ship the power to California. The cost of the required transmission line will add 2.9 cents per kwh to the cost of the wind power, according to NREL—but that cost won’t show up in the wind farms’ contract price, because the cost of the transmission is picked up by the grid at large, not by the wind farms. Your suggestion to transmit renewable power thousands of miles to Georgia from Arizona or the Dakotas would add even more to the real price of the kwhs—probably half the total cost of Vogtle power just for transmission.

That’s why simplistic power-purchase prices like the ones you quoted for solar are a very bad measure of the comparative cost of renewables—they don’t capture the enormous system costs of storage, gas backup, demand response and, yes, transmission that weather-dependent RE imposes on the grid.

–And can I ask why we never hear this kind of argument applied to renewables? Take the Cape Wind offshore wind project in Massachusetts, which has cost estimates of around 15 cents per kwh or more. Renewables boosters don’t say, “Hey, Mexican solar is cheaper, so that proves offshore wind is hopelessly uneconomic and irrelevant! Don’t build Cape Wind, just build a transmission line to a Mexican PV plant.”

Yet we hear this argument against nuclear all the time. “So what if Vogtle is 6.2 cents per kwh, Dubai solar is 3 cents per kwh! Nuclear is therefore hopelessly uneconomic and irrelevant!”

We never hear invidious price comparisons used to try to ban renewable technologies, no matter how expensive they are. Yet antinukes make precisely this argument against nuclear, despite its being wrong on the facts and extravagantly wrong on the logic.

Why the difference? It’s because the “economic critique” is just a nonsensical cover for the irrational ideological animus greens hold against nuclear power, all too evident in this discussion.

54

Matt 07.22.16 at 7:11 pm

It’s because the “economic critique” is just a nonsensical cover for the irrational ideological animus greens hold against nuclear power, all too evident in this discussion.

Do you forget history so quickly? Simple cost comparisons with no caveats or attached spreadsheets were by far the most straightforward and common argument against solar power a decade ago (deployed against solar by advocates for nuclear power and fossil fuels alike). I found those arguments convincing! I used to have a “nuclear green”-type perspective on the matter. Solar power was fine for millionaires, but nuclear power was clearly the everyman’s route to decarbonizing electricity. All you had to do was look at two numbers: capital costs and capacity factor. Divide A by B and the lower number wins. Nuclear power was easily the winner. Solar advocates who wanted to make lengthy arguments about the hidden benefits of solar and the hidden costs of nuclear appeared to be motivated reasoners who had an immovable position and were only good at identifying additional issues in service of their fixed conclusions.

But solar PV subsequently cut costs and increased scale beyond my most optimistic expectations. And the “nuclear renaissance” I expected stalled, with costs and schedules slipping worse than I expected. Nowadays if I divide A by B, there are a lot of places that nuclear power can’t win that simple numbers game. We probably shouldn’t have used such simple metrics in the first place, but I assure you that they were wielded in favor of nuclear power in the recent past. Turnabout is fair play.

FWIW I still agree with the “nuclear greens” that nuclear fuel is abundant and that electricity from nuclear power is safer than fossil combustion. It’s just the changing numbers that have made me more enthusiastic about solar. I agree that solar probably can’t serve 100% of demand even in sunny California without extraordinary costs. But the same is true of 100% nuclear without storage. (Are you going to build an extra 10 gigawatts of reactors needed only a few days each year for peak summer cooling demand?) Criticizing near-term projects that take solar up to maybe 10% of supply, on the basis that they’d be financial disasters at 90% penetration, makes no more sense than the parallel argument against near-term nuclear projects (“OMG all that unneeded electricity while everyone sleeps” vs “OMG all that unneeded electricity in the middle of the day”).

PS to mods I have a previous comment stuck in moderation. Please un-stick it at your convenience.

55

Kaleberg 07.23.16 at 5:11 am

The reason that solar has been getting cheaper so quickly is because there was a dialog between China’s leaders and their engineers that went something like:
— “We have a looming environmental problem due to wanting much more electricity.”
— “What are some possible solutions?”
— “Solar could one day be cheaper and solve both the cost and pollution problems.”
— “How much money do you need to find out?”
— “A lot, about $10 billion”
— At this point the leadership fall on the floor laughing.
(from http://mobile.businessinsider.com/china-laughed-when-it-saw-how-cheap-solar-could-be-2014-6)

The cost of solar panels, like the cost of a lot of manufactured goods, goes down as capacity increases. China decided to spend the money to build capacity and lower unit costs.

Interestingly, France did this with nuclear power back in the 60s and 70s. In the US, and much of the world, each nuclear plant is like a bridge, more or less designed from scratch. France standardized design and procedures and actually made nuclear power work rather well. Their big hangup has been the spent fuel problem. They have actually managed to do one level of reuse, but that recycled fuel cannot be recycled again. For years, they’ve been working on a breeder reactor to solve this problem, but even they haven’t managed to get this working.

Just about every power source has involved government subsidies whether it is cheap access to timber and oil leases, research and development, direct funding, subsidized loans or what have you. Why not solar? It’s incremental. It’s price responds to market stimulus. It is unlikely to bite us in the ass.

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Will Boisvert 07.23.16 at 9:41 pm

@ Matt 52,

“We probably shouldn’t have used such simple metrics in the first place, but I assure you that they were wielded in favor of nuclear power in the recent past. Turnabout is fair play.”

Huh? Bad, misleading energy-economics analysis is now “fair play?”

And Matt, the historical equivalence you’re trying to draw between pr0-renewables and pro-nuclear sides of the debate is bogus. When have pro-nukes called for banning wind and solar? When have they called even for banning *subsidies* for wind and solar? They haven’t and they don’t.

While pro-nukes have consistently argued that nuclear power is more economic than wind and solar, their consensus policy is simply that nuclear should get subsidies equivalent to those of wind and solar. That’s a stark contrast to leading renewables advocates—Greenpeace, FOE, NRDC, Sierra, Green parties in European governing coalitions, Bernie Sanders, Ralph Nader— who have made a legal ban on nuclear a principle demand since the 1970s.

–And actually, the simplistic A over B analysis is still in general very favorable to nuclear power, without any caveats about system costs.

For example, in 2015, 10 new reactors came on line globally with 9.4 GW of capacity. Their total capital cost, financing included, was about $31 billion. Last year’s crop of new solar installations was 59 GW, costing about $92 billion. Assuming the nuclear has a cf of 86 percent and lasts 60 years and the solar has a cf of 15 percent (that’s the global average) and lasts 40 years, then the nuclear capacity will produce 4,260 TWh over its lifetime and the solar will produce 3,120 TWh. Last year, A / B = $3,720 per kw for nuclear, $10,359 for solar.

In other words, last year the world got new nuclear capacity that will produce 36 percent more clean energy over its service life than will last year’s crop of solar capacity, and got it for *one third* the cost of the solar capacity. Solar operating costs will be about 1 cent per kwh lower than those of nuclear, but that’s greatly overweighed by the system costs of transmission, storage, and gas backup that solar imposes.

The nuclear capacity was heavily weighted towards Chinese reactors (80 percent), but the comparison still holds up. In China, solar LCOE’s and feed-in tariffs are twice as high as those for Chinese nuclear, the best comparison of costs given comparably supportive policies for both technologies. Also, South Korea’s two latest reactors, coming on line last year and in January (its Gen III APR1400), cost the same as the Chinese reactors, about $3,200 per kw with financing costs. South Korea is a developed country with high wages, so there’s no reason its success can’t be replicated everywhere in the West. Indeed, cheap builds are historically the rule, not the exception; France’s fleet, for example, was built for an average cost of about 1,600 euros per kw in 2010 euros.

So there’s no doubt that new nuclear is still far more economical than wind and solar, even leaving very high system integration costs aside and without looking ahead to the wall of diminishing returns at even moderate intermittent penetrations. With supportive industrial policy that performance could be achieved everywhere and hugely accelerate the decarbonization of the energy supply.

I don’t argue that solar and wind should not be subsidized and deployed. The reason I point out their severe shortcomings is to challenge the green group-think that intermittent renewables are “competitive” while nuclear is “hopelessly uneconomic.” That false meme grossly distorts energy policy and impedes effective action on climate change, and I hope the people who put it out will think a little harder about their responsibilities as public intellectuals.

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Will Boisvert 07.23.16 at 9:43 pm

@ Matt 52,

“I agree that solar probably can’t serve 100% of demand even in sunny California without extraordinary costs. But the same is true of 100% nuclear without storage. (Are you going to build an extra 10 gigawatts of reactors needed only a few days each year for peak summer cooling demand?) Criticizing near-term projects that take solar up to maybe 10% of supply, on the basis that they’d be financial disasters at 90% penetration, makes no more sense than the parallel argument against near-term nuclear projects…”

Funny, that precise claim about the difficulty of integrating solar is being made by solar advocates in California in order to shut down nuclear power, and for 40 percent penetration, not 90 percent penetration.

The recent agreement to close Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, made by FOE, NRDC etc. with PG & E, is explicitly predicated on the argument that Diablo Canyon must close in order to make way for mid-day solar surges that would otherwise have to be curtailed. PGE reckons that will become a crisis in the mid-2020s, with total intermittent penetrations in their system of roughly 40 percent.

Of course, the easy answer would be to just curtail the solar surges, but California’s RPS mandates will make that impossible. So PGE allows that they will have to start curtailing Diablo instead, which will push it into the red, so they will have to close it. The result is that Diablo’s emissions-free generation will be replaced by a mix of RE and natural gas—gas is explicitly preferred by the green groups because it is better at balancing intermittents—with dramatically higher greenhouse emissions.

Naturally, greens crowed that Diablo would close because of “economic” considerations. But PGE said that, if California allowed nuclear in its RPS, then decarbonization would have been cheaper and more effective by keeping Diablo open. And indeed, their forecasts showed that keeping Diablo open and building no new intermittents at all would cut their gas generation and greenhouse emissions about 25 percent below what they will achieve with the closure plan.

Curtailing nuclear to run solar is stupid and counterproductive, but it will gain PG&E and solar power only a short reprieve. As solar capacity rises further, it will be hydro, geo, wind and solar itself that will have to be curtailed during surges, setting off a spiral of diminishing returns and escalating costs that will kick in far short of anything like the penetration levels nuclear can achieve.

Bad policy, more expense, more CO2—this is the fruit of thoughtless renewables ideology.

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Matt 07.24.16 at 4:38 am

While pro-nukes have consistently argued that nuclear power is more economic than wind and solar, their consensus policy is simply that nuclear should get subsidies equivalent to those of wind and solar.

This at least I can fully agree with. Since production tax credits can drive negative pricing, I’d prefer an investment tax credit offered at the same rate across the board for nuclear, solar, wind, storage, and transmission serving any of the above. (Or better yet a carbon tax, but that seems like it won’t ever happen.)

I also agree that it’s horrible to shut down nuclear plants that remain technically operational while there are still fossils being burned for electricity. If states want to keep increasing renewables and existing nuclear gets in the way, require storage to go with new renewables. Or use real-time pricing to encourage demand to chase production peaks. Or build interconnections over longer distance to enable more flexibility. Anything that shuts down fossils before emissions-free sources instead of pitting one emissions-free source against another.

59

Matt 07.24.16 at 5:29 am

an investment tax credit offered at the same rate across the board for nuclear, solar, wind, storage, and transmission serving any of the above

Actually, I shouldn’t call out generation technologies by name. I support the same treatment for any generation method that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide during operation.

60

John Quiggin 07.24.16 at 5:39 am

We all seem to be in furious agreement on the point that it is silly to close down nuclear plants while fossil fuel plants are still in operation. Going back to the OP, if the Manhattan Institute, National Review and others really cared, they’d be supporting a carbon price. But of course, all they want to do is score points against their tribal enemies. If Obama’s pro-nuclear policies actually produced some kind of renaissance, they’d be against it.

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Will Boisvert 07.24.16 at 7:10 pm

@ Matt 56,
“If states want to keep increasing renewables and existing nuclear gets in the way, require storage to go with new renewables.”

Storage is still colossally expensive, and California has already reached the point where it has to curtail some solar during spring mid-day surges—at a statewide penetration of perhaps 7 percent. Requiring storage would choke off intermittents growth.

“Or build interconnections over longer distance to enable more flexibility.”

Weather patterns, like sunsets, propagate over continents and hemispheres. Even huge grid extensions do little to smooth the surge-and-slump volatility of intermittents.

“Or use real-time pricing to encourage demand to chase production peaks.”

The corollary of that is real-time price spikes to force people to curtail use during intermittents droughts. Who will suffer from that grid austerity? It won’t be rich people.

Seriously, do you think it’s possible to shift a large portion of the economy to a chaotic surge-and-slump production mode to match surge-and-slump intermittent power *without* incurring large indirect costs to the economy, costs that should be added to the intermittent tab?

A publically regulated grid, based on reliable centralized generators providing steady electricity at stable prices to everyone, was perhaps history’s greatest triumph of collective provisioning. I don’t understand why left greens are so eager to trash that in favor of blatantly neoliberal “smart grid” schemes to let volatile prices dictate society’s energy usage and economic patterns. But then, renewables dogma can take people to some strange places.

–In reality, none of these options will make much impact. Intermittents volatility is mainly being balanced by gas (except in Germany, where it’s balanced by coal). That’s going to continue, until intermittents penetration grows high enough to require pervasive curtailment.

Alternate arrangements to cope with intermittents volatility are having the predictable unintended consequences. Britain’s capacity market, instituted to shore up the grid against the growing intermittents presence, is dominated by diesel generators, a close runner-up to coal in carbon intensity. That’s also true of some of the “demand-response solutions” you read about. Some of those “flexible” demand responders go off the grid when capacity is strained—by firing up their diesel generators, with emissions higher than if the emergency had been met with gas peakers.

–All these inadequate stop-gaps are needed to try to cope with the huge volatility that wind and solar inject into the power supply (much greater than demand volatility). There’s no particular reason to go that route because we could instead build reasonably cheap, very reliable low-carbon nuclear plants that don’t add volatility.

That would fit much better with the way the power system should evolve as it decarbonizes. Deep decarbonization will require electrifying transport and home heating, both of which are mainly night-time loads that will smooth the demand profile by filling in night-time demand slumps. The demand profile in the future should be much flatter and less volatile, and will much better fit the baseload production profile that nuclear is suited to, with little need for storage. Nuclear is indeed very costly for peaking, but peaking should be much less of an issue for a decarbonized grid.

Unfortunately, greens are fixated on wind and solar generators that make the system radically more volatile, and therefore are chained to expensive, ungainly, unfair half-remedies and a major residual dependence on fossil-fueled backstops. That’s the wrong model for decarbonization.

62

Kiwanda 07.26.16 at 1:02 pm

“Huh? federal taxpayers pay 30 percent of the cost of every solar plant and rooftop rig that gets installed, with state and local taxpayers paying more. “

In response to the observation that nuclear gets subsidies, you note that solar gets subsidies, a point not in dispute.

“Nuclear overruns and abandoned plants aren’t paid for by taxpayers, they’re paid for by rate-payers”

Oh, sorry, rate-payers. If the difference significant?

“But state and local subsidies for solar…are huge and are, if anything, growing”

I assume you mean “rate of subsidy”, because otherwise this is merely agreement that solar is growing rapidly. Why would a state want to encourage the growth of a power source as clean, reliable, and low-water-use as solar? Hard to figure.

“And the cost of those grid improvements would be another large implicit subsidy that should be added to the tab for renewables. “

“Your suggestion to transmit renewable power thousands of miles to Georgia from Arizona or the Dakotas would add even more to the real price of the kwhs”

I did not suggest that. Besides, as Matt notes, Georgia has pretty good solar resources, and some offshore wind potential. That Plains and Eastern project I mentioned, for transmission capacity from OK and TX to the southeast, looks pretty serious, and is not government funded: it’s a business venture, to build and sell transmission capacity.

“That’s why simplistic power-purchase prices like the ones you quoted for solar are a very bad measure of the comparative cost of renewables—they don’t capture the enormous system costs of storage, gas backup, demand response and, yes, transmission that weather-dependent RE imposes on the grid.”

The solar *contracts* are 1/2 or 2/3 of the *estimate* for a nuclear project that hasn’t completed, but somehow they’re not believable, because of some hypothesized costs: well, that’s a pretty tight argument.

Yet we hear this argument against nuclear all the time. “So what if Vogtle is 6.2 cents per kwh, Dubai solar is 3 cents per kwh! Nuclear is therefore hopelessly uneconomic and irrelevant!”

” It’s because the “economic critique” is just a nonsensical cover for the irrational ideological animus greens hold against nuclear power, all too evident in this discussion.”

Matt has answered this last at length above, but: you *were* making a cost argument, that wind and solar are hopelessly uneconomic. But wind and solar have been dropping rapidly in price, in tandem with wider adoption. In favorable settings, they have crossed an important threshold: they are cheaper than other sources. And the price trend shows no sign of stopping. Nuclear, meanwhile, has no such prospects. So in the face of unfavorable economic trends, you’re left with blowing smoke and making accusations of bad faith.

“Seriously, do you think it’s possible to shift a large portion of the economy to a chaotic surge-and-slump production mode to match surge-and-slump intermittent power”

“Solar operating costs will be about 1 cent per kwh lower than those of nuclear, but that’s greatly overweighed by the system costs of transmission, storage, and gas backup that solar imposes.”

Maybe you could have phrased that as “0.001 cents per watt-hour” advantage. Just as a rough comparison, regarding that 1c/kWh as saying that nuclear operating costs are 1c/kWh hour and solar operating costs are zero, the cost per megawatt-hour for that nuclear capacity over its lifetime is $17, while that for solar is about $10, using your numbers. Putting in some x cents/kWh for solar and x+1 cents/kWh for nuclear would decrease that ratio, but solar would still have the cost advantage. But that’s not accounting for the cost of transmission for solar, which is often from the roof to inside the house, so maybe that’s not fair.

And solar prices are still decreasing rapidly.

“Storage is still colossally expensive, “

Lithium-ion battery packs are about $190/kWh: not economical for all applications, but not what I’d call “colossal”. Several manufacturers now offer home energy storage systems, which can be based on cheaper technologies than lithium-ion; these can help with load balancing, especially combined with using all-electric vehicles for demand response.

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Ogden Wernstrom 07.26.16 at 3:25 pm

“Storage is still colossally expensive”
I’ve lost track – is that about nuclear wastes, or solar-generated energy?

Although it makes little difference in who ends up paying, does the cost of nuclear waste treatment and storage fall to ratepayers, taxpayers, future generations, or someone else I have failed to consider. (Oh, yes – shareholders! Not likely, is it?)

64

Will Boisvert 07.26.16 at 9:48 pm

@ Kiwanda 62,

“I assume you mean “rate of subsidy”, because otherwise this is merely agreement that solar is growing rapidly.”

Right Kiwanda, the rate of subsidy. But total value of subsidies matters too, because it reliably causes governments to slash subsidy rates when the total grows insupportable in order to stall installations. That’s what has happened in Germany, and Britain recently.

“Why would a state want to encourage the growth of a power source as clean, reliable, and low-water-use as solar? Hard to figure.”

Solar reliable, Kiwanda? Capacity factors for the best solar plants run about 33 percent, the global average is 15 percent, in Germany and Britain they are about 11 percent, compared to nuclear’s US fleetwide average of 90 percent. In Germany the entire solar sector goes dark for weeks on end in the winter. The only thing that you can count on with solar is that it will produce no power during most hours of the year. Calling solar “reliable” is positively Orwellian.

65

Will Boisvert 07.26.16 at 9:49 pm

@ Kiwanda 62,

“That Plains and Eastern project I mentioned, for transmission capacity from OK and TX to the southeast, looks pretty serious, and is not government funded: it’s a business venture, to build and sell transmission capacity.”

Except that the wind power the Plains and Eastern Clean line ships will get state and federal subsidies. (As will a portion of Vogtle’s power for the first eight years of operation.) That government funding helps make the project as a whole feasible.

The long transmission route will add a lot to the cost of the power. The developers’ application to the Dept. of Energy estimates the cost of transmission will add $30 per mwh to the $45-50 per mwh cost of the wind power, for a delivery price of $75-80 per mwh. (This is based on some extremely optimistic assumptions, like a 53 percent cf for the Oklahoma wind farms; for the last four years the cf of OK wind has averaged 38 percent.)

That gives us a measure of how misleading the contract price for wind PPAs can be. 700 miles of transmission for Plains wind power increases the cost by 60 percent or more. Schemes to run the whole continent off Plains wind or Southwest solar need to reckon with those transmission costs. And in fact, the Plains and Eastern line only takes the power from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Memphis on the Mississippi, not all the way to Georgia.

Now, $75-80 per mwh is not an outrageous price for wind power. But it does show that Vogtle’s life-cycle cost of $62 per mwh is definitely not “hopelessly uneconomic” and does not make nuclear “irrelevant” in comparison to renewables, as you suggested, Kiwanda. That’s especially true because Vogtle’s power has an incomparably better reliability and quality than wind power. High transmission costs are just one part of the high integration costs, including storage and gas backup, that wind imposes on the grid.

66

Will Boisvert 07.26.16 at 9:54 pm

@ Kiwanda 46, 50, 62,
“While 6.2 cents/kwh, was estimated by Georgia regulators, a solar contract for 3 cents/kwh was signed in Dubai, and for 3.6cents/kwh in Mexico.”

“Will Boisvert 48: don’t know about subsidies, implicit or otherwise, for the Dubai or Mexico projects; there are claimed to be none. Although it’s true, the estimates of regulators are surely more accurate than signed contracts.”

“The solar *contracts* are 1/2 or 2/3 of the *estimate* for a nuclear project that hasn’t completed, but somehow they’re not believable, because of some hypothesized costs: well, that’s a pretty tight argument.”

So I looked up the most recent Mexican capacity auction. http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Solar-Stuns-in-Mexicos-First-Clean-Energy-Auction-1860-MW-Won-at-50.7-P I find that the average contract price for solar was $50.7 per mwh, range $35-67, and then look at this: “Additionally, all 11 projects have won contracts for a combined 4 million Clean Energy Certificates.” [A number equal to the projects’ combined yearly mwh output.]You know what that means, Kiwanda? The solar plants are selling those Clean Energy Certificates at home or abroad on the international carbon offset market for a whole nother income stream in addition to the contract price for the power.

So you were flat wrong when you claimed that the Mexican solar contract prices were unsubsidized. In fact, they get big, honking government subsidies, just as I surmised; that’s why contract prices are so low.

And of course, as the Plains and Eastern transmission project you tout show, the cost of actually shipping that Mexican solar (1000 miles? 2000 miles?) to Georgia would double the contract price and more. And we haven’t yet accounted for the system costs and carbon costs of storage and gas backup for unreliable solar.

That’s why it’s utterly meaningless, indeed actively misleading, to cite the contract price of Mexican solar in a discussion of whether the Vogtle plant makes economic sense, as you did.

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Will Boisvert 07.26.16 at 9:58 pm

@ Kiwanda 62,
“ Just as a rough comparison, regarding that 1c/kWh…” Your math is incoherent, no time to decipher what you’re trying to say.

“Lithium-ion battery packs are about $190/kWh: not economical for all applications, but not what I’d call “colossal”.

Kiwanda, you’re citing a lowball estimate for the bare battery packs, not counting the cost of inverters and ancillary electronics or installation, which will triple the price.

Take the celebrated Tesla Powerwall. This recent article (http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/is-teslas-powerwall-luster-already-fading) puts the cost of stored solar power from a Powerwall at 58 cents per kwh. Other systems are a bit cheaper, but all surveyed are 42 cents per kwh or more.

Yeah, that is colossally expensive, almost 7 times Vogtle’s lifetime average electricity price.

Anti-nukes habit of hand-waving off the costs of storage, backup and transmission for renewables is totally divorced from reality.

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Will Boisvert 07.26.16 at 10:01 pm

@ Ogden Wernstrom 63,

“I’ve lost track – is that about nuclear wastes, or solar-generated energy?
Although it makes little difference in who ends up paying, does the cost of nuclear waste treatment and storage fall to ratepayers, taxpayers, future generations, or someone else I have failed to consider. (Oh, yes – shareholders! Not likely, is it?)”

I meant storing wind and solar power.

Storage costs for nuclear waste are paid out of the plant’s revenue. The US DOE assessed a fee for a permanent waste depository at Yucca Mountain (now canceled because of political opposition), to fund construction and an endowment for maintenance in perpetuity. The fee was 0.1 cents per kwh, to be paid until the repository was full and closed. (Then the fee would have been earmarked for another depository for subsequent waste.)

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