Nuclear is the least-cost, low-carbon, baseload power source

After analysing a wealth of peer-reviewed studies on market needs, technology performance, life-cycle emissions and electricity costs, the researchers (Barry Brooks and Martin Nicholson, Tom Biegler) conclude that only five technologies currently qualify for low-emission baseload generation. Of these, nuclear power is the standout solution. Nuclear is the cheapest option at all carbon prices and the only one able to meet the stringent greenhouse gas emission targets envisaged for 2050. The three Australian authors wrote in a paper published this week in international peer-reviewed journal Energy.

Cost, and the impact of carbon pricing on that cost, is analysed on the basis of 15 comprehensive cost studies published over the past decade. Similarly the carbon intensity estimates are based on 14 published studies of life cycle greenhouse emissions from electricity generation. The comprehensive range of authoritative studies analysed (including research from the International Energy Agency, Energy Information Administration, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) means that the results that emerge are reliable, comparable and representative.

For a technology to be considered fit-for-service as a baseload generator it needs to be scalable, have a reliable fuel supply, a low or moderate emissions intensity, and high availability without the need for a large external energy storage facility.

It turns out that technology options for replacing fossil fuels, based on established performance and objective cost projections, are much more limited than is popularly perceived. The review identifies only five proven low-emission technologies that could meet this set of fit-for-service criteria for the supply of baseload power. The technologies are: pulverised fuel coal combustion (PF coal) coupled with carbon capture and storage (CCS); integrated gasification combined cycle coal (IGCC) with CCS; combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) with CCS; nuclear; and solar thermal with heat storage and gas turbines.

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