Solar and wind power and geothermal are about one third of nuclear power in the OECD (US, Canada, Europe, Japan, South Korea). 783 TWh for nuclear for the first five months versus 287 TWh for the renewables.
The University of Pennsylvania has a detailed explanation about why nuclear power costs in the US and many western countries went up four times from the 1970s. There was regulatory ratcheting and other changes which did not improve safety.
Amory Lovins will also make a big deal costs for nuclear and will still add distortions to try to get the numbers to tell the story he wants to push. Nuclear power still has a good economic case in the west particularly for uprates and annular fuel. The issue for the US and Europe is that with 2% per year GDP growth and 1% improvement in efficiency and using imports of goods from China for energy intensive products there is not much need for the US or Europe to build significant new power of any kind.
China however will triple its power from now to 2030. China is thus building all kinds of power of all types. China is building coal, hydro, nuclear, wind and solar. India and other countries will follow and probably buy exported power systems from China. This means that the DOE numbers for the cost of making power is not relevant.
Energy Costs in China and Asia
The bottom third shows the costs in China and Korea and Asia where most of the construction of new power generation of any kind is happening.
The whole OECD energy cost report is here
The executive summary has the LCOE (levelised cost of electricity) of solar photovoltaic at $215 to 600/MWH and solar thermal $136-243/MWH.
For nuclear $43-54 /MWH for the main asian (China and South Korea) countries that are building most of the new reactors (10% discount rate) and $68/MWH for russia.
New nuclear build in South Korea and China and Russia are very cheap. That is where most of the reactors (nuclear and other new power) will be built. China will also build almost twice as much hydro from 2010-2020 (almost 200 GWe of hydro and a lot of coal.)
Cost of coal without carbon costs is in dark blue below Coal costs without carbon costs and nuclear in China are very close to being the same at about $38-45/MWh.
A country by country comparison is more relevant and even region by region. There are variances in the quality of sunlight and wind. Canada solar is even worse because of the angle of the sunlight etc…
Listing the many other things that Amory Lovins gets wrong
I have listed why Amory Lovins was wrong in 2011. This is shown below. I have not updated the charts, but basically there has been more wind power built but solar and wind still provide about four times less energy than nuclear power. A lot of the new wind and solar are being built in China.
How much does being usually technically right matter for being an influential technical expert ? Energy policy is a subject that requires a lot of scientific and technical knowledge. Energy policy is loaded with people who are lying, are making blatantly false and misleading statements. I will also provide this case below.
Amory Lovins (or a staffer at the Rocky Mountain Institute) has placed a lengthy boiler plate anti-nuclear energy comment which summarizes Amory Lovins argument against nuclear power at Atomic Insights.
Claim 1. Nuclear power continues to die of an incurable attack of market forces.
Since 1980, nuclear power generation has increased by over 400%. So Amory Lovins is wrong about nuclear energy being a collapsing industry.
Claim 2 : New nuclear plants are bought (sparsely) only by central planners, not in free markets. America’s, China’s, India’s, and Finland’s powerful nuclear lobbies cling to life in noncompetitive intensive-care units. My bias is to trust capitalists in New York more than bureaucrats in Beijing; if yours is different, I can understand how you might reach different conclusions.
Claim 3 : China has a world-leading nuclear goal of 40 GW by 2020 (enough to offset a tenth of global retirements meanwhile), but by 2006 had already installed a world-leading 49 GW of distributed renewables—seven times its 2005 nuclear capacity, increasing by sevenfold more GW per year. India gets 3 percent of its electricity from nuclear, but has far more wind power, ranking #3 in world wind expansion.
So centrally planned wind power is good but centrally planned nuclear is bad.
Also, the 49 GW of renewables generates the equivalent of about 12 GW of nuclear power because the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow.
If China just completes the nuclear reactors that they have under construction they should have 45 GWe of nuclear power by the end of 2015. China is targeting 70-90 GWe of nuclear power by 2020. China is building more power generation of all kinds. So China is not following the Amory Lovins plan for national energy poverty. China’s plan is to shift to more and more nuclear power in the energy mix beyond 2020. The 70-90 GWe is just a start for China to get warmed up.
China has published plans where they shift to breeder reactors and offsite fuel reprocessing to close the uranium fuel cycle and to extract 250,000 tons of uranium per year from phosphate. China has also initiated a thorium molten salt reactor project. China is setting up to scale nuclear power to generate one hundred times more power than the entire country uses today. China already uses more electricity than the United States.
Country Number of reactors Nameplate watts Expected TWh generation China 27 27230 200 TWh Russia 11 9153 70 TWh S Korea 5 5560 44 TWh India 6 4194 32 TWh Taiwan 2 2600 20 TWh Bulgaria 2 1906 15 TWh Ukraine 2 1900 15 TWh Others 10 10000 80 TWh
Plenty of democratic and mainly free market countries – South Korea, India, Taiwan, Bulgaria etc…
China is moving towards a lot more capitalism – mercantilism. China is the second largest economy in the world and is on track to be the largest. It is a strange and defective analysis that disqualifies them in analyzing the world energy future.
France is a democratic country that built a lot of nuclear power.
Claim 4: California has held per-capita electricity use flat for 30 years
Yet the energy intensive industries are being outsourced overseas to China. Over the past 30 years, California has imported far more products (which require energy to make) and most of that is coming from China. China was using 80% coal power to make those cheaper products.
Claim 5: My [Amory Lovins] 1976 Foreign Affairs article, which used a 50-year time horizon, accurately predicted the heretical “soft path” graph was 4 percent below actual U.S. energy consumption in 2000
Amory predicted that oil and natural gas usage would be almost eliminated by 2011. He indicated that oil and natural gas usage in United States would be about 5% now. He also indicated that nuclear power would be eliminated in the 1990s.
Amory Lovins wrote the Energy Strategy : The Road not Taken? in 1976 for Foreign Affairs
The actual US energy usage is 7-11 quadrillion BTU (10% lower) lower because of imports from China of energy intensive manufacturing.
The main difference between Amory Lovins of 1976 and the Amory Lovins of today is that 1976 Amory was against natural gas but now Amory is for natural gas in the form of relabeled micropower.
The ExternE calculation of death/TWh from different energy sources (not including global warming effects and is the average for European nations).
Natural gas is 4 times safer than coal in the USA but it is 100 times more deadly than nuclear power.
Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh) Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity) Coal – China 278 Coal – USA 15 Oil 36 (36% of world energy) Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy) Biofuel/Biomass 12 Peat 12 Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy) Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy) Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy) Hydro - world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead) Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)
Claim 6 – Amory argued in 1976 and argues today that less per capita energy usage is better
Amory considers it a big success that old early 1970 plans to build a lot of nuclear power and to increase US energy usage to about 2 to 3 times what it is today is a great success.
France followed the path of building a larger amount of nuclear power relative its total usage and now uses 70% nuclear power. The air quality in France is superior to the countries that use less nuclear power.
China is now building more energy generation of all types. More solar, more nuclear, more wind, more hydro and more coal. An energy rich China is an economically richer China. The places that are not growing their energy generation have slower economic growth.
In 1971, Mexico was 5 times richer than South Korea on a per capita basis. Now Mexico is half as rich per capita as South Korea.
South Korea grew its electricity by 6 times faster and became ten times richer on a relative basis versus Mexico.
The United States is 2 to 3 times poorer today than it would have been if it had doubled or tripled the construction of energy production.
The United States will be poorer in the future if it follows Amory Lovins plan of energy poverty.
How Wrong can Amory Lovins be and still be the “expert”
How much does being usually technically right matter for being an influential technical expert ? Energy policy is a subject that requires a lot of scientific and technical knowledge. Energy policy is loaded with people who are lying, are making blatantly false and misleading statements. You can prove that the bulk or entirety of what was said was false or misleading but that seems to have no impact or repercussions for “expert” who made the statements. Energy policy is an area where experts can expound upon what they predict will happen or should decades into the future as it takes many years to build new power generation and many years to implement any new policy.
According to wikipedia Amory Lovins came to prominence in 1976 when he published an article in Foreign Affairs called “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?” Lovins argued that the United States had arrived at an important crossroads and could take one of two paths. The first, supported by U.S. policy, promised a future of steadily increasing reliance on dirty fossil fuels and nuclear fission, and had serious environmental risks. The alternative, which Lovins called “the soft path,” favored “benign” sources of renewable energy like wind power and solar power, along with a heightened commitment to energy conservation and energy efficiency.
Amory Lovins to this day claims his 1976 Foreign Affairs article, which used a 50-year time horizon, accurately predicted the heretical “soft path” graph was 4 percent below actual U.S. energy consumption in 2000, without – or 1 percent above, with – normalization to actual GDP growth.
The actual US energy usage is 7-11 quadrillion BTU (10% lower) lower because of imports from China of energy intensive manufacturing.
Yet the entire energy mix that Amory Lovins projected is completely wrong from what actually happened.
For 35 years, Amory Lovins has been claiming that nuclear power is a dying industry but nuclear power generates 400% more energy now than when he started making that claim.
Amory Lovins is considered an energy expert but he regularly makes statements that are purposely misleading. He will describe how 49 gigawatts of renewable energy was added but ignore capacity factor.
The net capacity factor or load factor of a power plant is the ratio of the actual output of a power plant over a period of time and its potential output if it had operated at full nameplate capacity the entire time.
Typical capacity factors
Wind farms 20-40%.
Photovoltaic solar in Massachusetts 12-15%.
Photovoltaic solar in Arizona 19%.
Hydroelectricity, worldwide average 44%, range of 10% – 99% depending on design (small plant in big river will always have enough water to operate and vice versa), water availability (with or without regulation via storage dam, where a storage dam is designed to store at least enough water to operate the plant at full capacity for around half a year to allow full regulation of the annual flow of the river).
Nuclear energy 70% (1971-2009 average of USA’s plants).
Nuclear energy 91.2% (2010 average of USA’s plants)
Here an example of two statements which are contradictory, inaccurate and blatantly goofy by Amory Lovins.
Amory Lovins: New nuclear plants are bought (sparsely) only by central planners, not in free markets. America’s, China’s, India’s, and Finland’s powerful nuclear lobbies cling to life in noncompetitive intensive-care units. My bias is to trust capitalists in New York more than bureaucrats in Beijing; if yours is different, I can understand how you might reach different conclusions.
Amory Lovins : China has a world-leading nuclear goal of 40 GW by 2020 (enough to offset a tenth of global retirements meanwhile), but by 2006 had already installed a world-leading 49 GW of distributed renewables—seven times its 2005 nuclear capacity, increasing by sevenfold more GW per year. India gets 3 percent of its electricity from nuclear, but has far more wind power, ranking #3 in world wind expansion.
Inaccurate – China is all central planned and not free markets, yet China has non-state owned enterprises and has broadly shifted to a mercantile economy. China is generally a hybrid economy
Contradiction – China nuclear power is bad but China wind power is good.
Goofy – Amory is saying that China’s nuclear power does not matter or count. China is the second largest economy in the world. How about China’s CO2 does not count because it is CO2 from a partially centrally planned economy ? How about we do not include China in world population counts because they are people from a country that is centrally planned ?
Amory trusts capitalists in New York more than bureaucrats in Beijing. In spite of the Lehman collapse and the financial crisis and the bankruptcy of Solyndra.
So it appears you can be massively inaccurate and misleading in the field for which the media and political leaders will still consider you an expert in that field. Amory Lovins was named by Time magazine one of the World’s 100 most influential people in 2009. He has provided expert testimony in eight countries, briefed 19 heads of state, and published 29 books.
I think it is an endemic problem in finance and energy. People can repeatedly give horrible financial, investment and energy advice and there will still be a line of people going back to them for more.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.