Steven Chu Vows to Push Nuclear Power

Steven Chu said on Tuesday that he would push as the new energy secretary to help the nuclear energy and clean coal industries jump-start their contributions to battle the nation’s energy crisis.

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during his confirmation hearing that he’d help streamline nuclear loan guarantees that would help the industry construct several new plants to produce low-emission energy and would push the Energy Department to examine options for recycling nuclear waste.

More Nuclear, Wind and other Energy News
Business Week indicates that wind power projects have financing problems.

According to market researcher Emerging Energy Research (EER), new installed wind capacity worldwide will increase by just 14% in 2009—less than half the typical annual growth rate booked in the past decade. Consultancy Accenture (ACN) projects wind power capital expenditures over the next two years could fall by as much as 30%.

The slowdown is closely tied to the global economic crisis. Project financing costs, a critical element in this capital-intensive sector, have skyrocketed as banks cut back on lending. Scores of independent (and often highly leveraged) energy producers have already been pushed out of the market. That could cause demand for wind turbines to fall by as much as one-third in 2009, as only cash-rich utilities such as Florida Power & Light (FPL) have the means to continue investing.

With sales soft, Europe’s turbine manufacturers have been forced to cut prices to offload unsold inventory and to shut down costly plants built to accommodate now-reduced global demand. Profit margins have fallen in tandem.

Analysts project it will take until 2012 to install what was previously projected for 2010.

For European players, the toughest problem now is rising financing costs that render many wind projects no longer cost-effective. Industry watchers figure the cost of capital has jumped by up to 200 basis points (two percentage points) over the past six months as banks embraced more conservative lending practices.

Global wind capacity is expected nearly to double by 2020. But for now, public sector help seems needed. Says Sak Nayagam, climate change lead at Accenture: “Government help for the wind industry could provide a much-needed economic stimulus.”

Until U.S. President-elect Barack Obama outlines more details about his proposed $150 billion, 10-year plan to invest in green energy, analysts reckon investors will shy away from the sector

European utilities On and RWE will act together to build “at least 6000 MWe” of nuclear capacity in the UK.

EOn signed a letter of intent to cooperate with Siemens and Areva to build the latter’s 1600 MWe EPR design in April last year and it has gone on to secure a grid connection agreement for exactly 1600 MWe at Oldbury B. Meanwhile, RWE has secured agreements for three 1200 MWe connections at Wylfa C. This matches the output of Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor.

The connection deals are in the ‘scoping’ phase and would all be available between 2020 and 2022, according to data published on 12 January by the UK’s National Grid company. They total 5200 MWe, leaving space for one more project to fulfill EOn and RWE’s stated goal of 6000 MWe.

Separately in the UK’s rush to replace its aging nuclear fleet, British Energy and its new owner Electricité de France plan four EPRs: two at Sizewell C and two at Hinkley Point C.

If all these projects go ahead, nuclear energy would generate about 35% of UK electricity in the 2020s, compared to about 15% last year and an all-time high of around 30% in the 1980s.

Italy continuing poltical moves and building commitment for major nuclear energy construction.

MIT is advancing an improved imaging technology for oil wells. This could help enhanced oil recovery. Only about 30% or less of the oil in the ground is removed before conventional drilling is unable to remove it economically.

Oil is around $35/barrel and the EIA is projecting two years of a loose oil market