Debunking Myths about Global Solar, Wind and Nuclear

I was debating Ned Ford about solar, wind and nuclear energy at Quora. My energy answer on Quora was about how nuclear power was still being more economical than solar and wind. Ned is a volunteer conservation chair at a Sierra Club chapter.

Ned believes many popular myths about solar, wind and nuclear.

Solar and Wind have gotten a lot cheaper and a few unsubsidized projects are less expensive than coal and natural gas but overall costs in 2018 are about $1300 per KW for Solar and $2327 per KW for Wind. Overall wind and solar are still heavily subsidized. World nuclear build is about $4300 per KW. Each GW of Solar generates 1 TWh per year. Each GW of Wind generates 2 TWh per year. Each GW of nuclear power generates 6-8TWh per year.

Adjusted for actual generation, nuclear is half the price of solar per TWh and 50% cheaper than wind.

Confusion About Kilowatts Versus Kilowatt Hours

Solar and Wind have big kilowatt capacity numbers. The problem with any figures about kilowatts is I could have ten thousand 100-watt light bulbs but it could still be dark if I do not have them powered up for minutes or hours.

There has been 100 Gigawatts of nuclear power in the USA for a couple of decades and they have been generating about 800 Terawatt hours of power every year. Global solar is about 500 GW and generates 500 TWh. This is all global solar power including the new, cheaper solar and wind.

Energy Additions are 30-40% in China and 70% in Asia

The US is not going to be increasing overall energy generation much. The new power is being built in China, India and the rest of Asia. So you do not get to disqualify the costs and energy construction there because that is where it is all happening. The US could change 1000 TWh of power if the US chose to replace the coal power. The US could replace another 1200 TWh of power if the US chose to replace natural gas with some zero emission power.

Total Solar, Wind and Nuclear Energy Costs

Looking at total spending each year in China, Germany, USA and other countries, and World figures versus how many TWh the world is getting from new and old solar, wind, hydro and nuclear. China is spending about $80–90 billion per year on solar including 2018 and 2019 and they are got a cumulative total of 178 TWh from all solar in 2018. They spent a combined $160 billion in 2017 and 2018 plus hundreds of billions in prior years. If the $500 per KW is to be believed then they should have gotten 320 GW of solar installed but the cumulative total is 177 GW in China.

Look at total spending for the world on wind and solar in 2017, 2018 and 2019. It is $220–260 billion per year.

Clean Energy Investment Exceeded $300 Billion Once Again in 2018.

Wind investment rose 3% to $128.6 billion, with offshore wind having its second-highest year. Solar dropped 24% to $130.8 billion.

So $130 billion of solar investment bought 109 GW in 2018. This looks like $1200 per KW in 2018 and not $500 per KW.

$128 billion bought 55GW of wind power in 2018. This looks like $2327 per KW in 2018 for wind.

About $50 billion per year has been spent building out nuclear power. This will add 110 terawatt hours of energy as each year of investment gets completed. The global average is about $4300 per KW in 2018 for nuclear. However, one KW of nuclear is worth 7 KW of solar and 4 KW of wind. Adjusting the per KW price has nuclear at lower cost.

IRENA says Solar will add over 100 GW each year. So let us go with 120 GW per year in 2019, 2020 and 2021. In 2018, Solar commitments declined 24% in dollar terms even though there was record new photovoltaic capacity added, breaking 100 GW barrier for the first time.

Global numbers for spending and power generation show the true costs and value in solar, wind and nuclear.

Overpriced Nuclear in the US and Europe Were For About 4-6 Nuclear Reactors

$12000 per KW for nuclear reactor build are for the handful of nuclear reactors in the US and Europe. It is like using the San Francisco Bay Bridge $6 billion as the price for bridges. US ripoff prices are not what is being paid for 90% of the nuclear reactors in the world. Just like the world is not paying Bay Bridge or Boston Big Dig prices for tunnels. China AND South Korea AND Russia are 4 to 6 times cheaper than the US price for nuclear. This is why 90% of the nuclear reactors for the past two decades have not been made in the US r Europe.

All energy is and was massively subsidized. Solar and wind are subsidized. Oil, gas and coal are subsidized. Nuclear is subsidized.

Solar and Wind have gotten $50 billion of production tax credits in the US. Annual wind and solar subsidies are about $8 billion per year.

Nuclear is mostly dead in the USA, but all energy construction is tiny in the US and Europe relative to world construction other than oil and gas. The existing nuclear should be subsidized if having using less coal and natural gas was a priority.

I think the best bets for nuclear getting some growth in the US and Europe is with power uprates from metallic fuel and fuel with different shape which would be able to have better transfer of heat and higher power.

Lightbridge might be able to deliver new extended uprates and add about 60 GW of nuclear power generation at affordable prices and quick projects.

The other possibility in the new small, modular reactors. I like the chances for the eVinci reactor from Westinghouse. 25 MWe at $50 million each starting in the late 2020s. They would be factory-built like airplanes. One month to build each one.

Closing Nuclear Plants in the US, Germany and Japan Caused a Lot More Emissions

Vermont Yankee shutdown cause emissions to rise 2.9% in New England. Vermont Yankee supplied 4% of New England’s power.

Closure of Vermont Yankee nuclear plant boosted greenhouse gas emissions in New England. It is the low cost of natural gas because of subsidized fracking which is pushing out nuclear.

In 2018, the US added more natural gas and oil power usage.

New Nuclear build in the USA is too expensive. All large projects (buildings, roads, bridges) in the US are too expensive by several times.

SOURCES- Bloomberg NEF, IEA, Masslive, Quora
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

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