Nuclear and Renewables Debate – Building Renewables Fast Enough ?

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In a debate between Stewart Brand (pro-nuclear) and Marc Jacobson (anti-nuclear), Mark Jacobson tries to make the case that we can generate all of the energy that we need without nuclear power (and without fossil fuels). The video of the debate is below. There is also the other stupidity about nuclear weapons and war counting against the carbon footprint of nuclear power which this site has addressed before. This article will focus on how fast are solar and wind being built.

In the nuclear debate between Stewart Brand and Mark Jacobson, one of Jacobson’s main distortions is that nuclear power is slower to develop than solar and wind. Yet Germany and Spain and other countries have applied massive feed in tariff and other subsidies for over a decade to achieve more solar and wind power. Plus there was other spending by the builders of the factories and installers of solar and wind. Wind turbines developed supply chain problems with their generators for larger units. In spite of this effort, the OECD only has 286 TWH of solar, wind and geothermal. The United States added that much new nuclear power all by itself since 1987 even though almost no new nuclear plants were built. This was achieved through higher operating efficiency and some power uprates. Now the restart of build lag is past and this year some new nuclear reactors are coming online. From 2011 onwards there should be additions of 60-120 TWH in nuclear power (mostly outside the OECD in China, India, and Russia. But also in Japan, Korea and other places.

The International Energy Agency tracks electricity generation of the developed countries of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)
The chart above shows that for the United States, Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia combined the solar, wind and geothermal add up to 286 TWH. There could be 330 TWH in 2010 for all of those places combined. Nuclear power is 7 times higher and the total energy need is 33 times higher.
Germany has 47 TWH of solar, wind and geothermal. This is after spending $5 billion/year on feed in tariffs for over a decade.

20 Gigawatts of nuclear power in Germany generates nearly 3 times has much power as all of the solar, wind and geothermal.

Russia has paid $200/KWe for 311 MWe of nuclear power uprates. Uprates are the increased power generation from existing plants, which can be completed on 9-24 month schedules.

Nuclear power will be increasing from 3-5% per year starting in 2011. This will be 60-130 TWH per year. Most of the new reactors will be in China and other non-OECD countries.

I am all in favor of building more solar and wind, but it is wrong to say that building a lot of it is faster than building nuclear power. Nuclear power increased by 300% since the 1980s in the United States. Since 1987 the US alone has added 345 TWH of nuclear which is more than the entire OECD has now for solar, wind and geothermal. The 1987-2010 increase is after the building of reactors virtually stopped in the USA (Some reactors were or are being completed after long construction stoppages). This was due to improved operations where they run more consistently as well as uprates to the reactors.

Solar and wind require the construction of the factories and the research on the better technologies. The factories and the deployment of the electrical grid to offshore or onshore areas takes time. The case of Germany shows that even when the desire is strong and a lot of money is spent, the pace of adding the solar and wind has been and is still constrained.

One nuclear (1 GW) power plant is equal to 3000 (3 Megawatt) wind Turbines. The wind turbines are about 60 stories tall and have blades that are like the wings of a 747.

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