Adjusting Nuclear, Wind and Solar Energy For Equal Comparisons

The coronavirus crisis has US corporate interest rates are in the 1.8-4.1% range. China has a 10-year government bond yield of 2.6%. Low rates make new nuclear energy and other high capital cost projects more affordable. We have to adjust the cost calculations for solar and wind to factor in the shorter usable life of solar panels and wind turbines. We also have to adjust solar and wind energy prices for the natural gas backup they require to handle the fluctuations in their power production.

A 2015 NEA report made the important point regarding LCOE: At a 3% discount rate, nuclear is the lowest cost option for all countries.

In China, it is estimated that building two identical 1000 MWe reactors on a site can result in a 15% reduction in the cost per kW compared with that of a single reactor.

It should also be noted that it is irrelevant if the handful of nuclear power plants that the US and Western Europe have tried to make in the last 30 years has been expensive. What matters is the cost efficiency of uprates and plant life extensions to the older fleet. The world is building more energy in Asia. The US and Europe are mostly not building new power plants. They are just working on some efficiency increases. China generates more electricity than Europe and the USA combined and China will double again in twenty years. South Asia (ASEAN and India) will be the next to scale up energy construction. We need to compare the costs where the power is actually being built. People should also note that even the Bloomberg New Energy group (very pro new energy and pro-solar and wind) expect China and Asia to still be operating coal power past 2050. Coal is super polluting and super deadly. So those that care about air pollution and saving lives and CO2 for climate change should prefer nuclear energy over coal.

A decade or two of low-interest rates from coronavirus will ensure China will build a lot of new nuclear energy over the next 20-30 years.

There is cost analysis from the Institute for Energy Research.

There are detailed studies of wind turbines and they typically have planned operating lives of 20 years. In particular, offshore wind turbines face harsh conditions that cause them to breakdown. Pro-wind people hope wind turbines can last 35 years. There are some small and old wind turbines that have lasted 35 years but they are inefficient old technology.

The National Renewal Energy Lab has an analysis of the costs and economics to repower wind turbines. In general, repowering is 10% lower cost than building an entirely new turbine.

The National Renewable Energy Lab also looks at the life of solar power farms usually lasting 20 years and examines the costs to extend to 30 years.

The costs to keep a nuclear plant operating out to 80 years remain at about $70-100 per kilowatt. The operating and maintenance costs do not have a large escalation and there is usually no need for an extensive rebuild. The CANDU reactors can have extensive maintenance but most other pressure water and boiler water reactors do not.

Wind turbines and solar power panels deteriorate in the wind and sun. They lose about 1-2% of their energy generation each year.

The Institute for Energy Research factors in the standard use of natural gas to back up large wind and solar power installations.

The overnight cost of solar and wind power usually do not factor in that they are comparing against nuclear, hydro and coal plants that can get extensions from standard 40-year operation to 80-100 years.

China and South Korea have been building most of the new nuclear reactors. They happen to be the countries completing those projects mostly on time in 4-6 years and with good costs. Lower interest (discount rates) below 3% will make new nuclear power cost less than 3 cents per kwh. (less than $30 per MWH).

US government bond yields.

71 thoughts on “Adjusting Nuclear, Wind and Solar Energy For Equal Comparisons”

  1. The report used for this blog post was produced by a partnership between the Institute for Energy Research and America’s Power.

    Never heard of them? Well the IER was formed by Charles Koch, of the Koch brothers, and the later is better known as the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy. As you might expect, the two are well known for their anti-renewables stance. The president of the IAR, Thomas Pile, was invited to join Trumps DOE transition team and wrote a memo that has been called “the fossil fuel industry’s wish list” which includes every item the administration has put into effect – rolling back CAFE standards, opening federal land for drilling, etc.

    The report was written by two nobodies. One is a BA in marketing and the other a computer lecturer who claims to be the director of the “Palmetto Energy Research Foundation”, which is in his house, has a broken web page, and apparently is in trouble with the IRS (google it).

    The report is a joke. Basically they spend page after page justifying their decision to cherry-pick data from the EIA, which they do by averaging capacity factors over a 10 year period. That might sound OK until you consider that PV and wind are relatively new technologies, with the vast majority of the installed capacity new within the last 5 years. As we get better at building these things the capacity factor goes up, whereas with existing older sources like coal and nuclear, the CF tends to go down over time (old things break more). So by choo

  2. There is already an hourly capacity charge that generators charge utilities. So if you can reliably provide power 24/7 you can make some extra money.

    By the way, most fossil power plants are peakers and don’t run 24/7.

  3. “Fast start” gas turbines exist to support electric distribution systems. They provide emergency power when a transmission line or a generator trips. They get spin up if transmission is curtailed due to a severe thunderstorm. They provide peak power during heat waves. Since they already exist I seriously doubt a utility is going to say don’t use them because the wind stop blowing or the sun stop shining. The cost of using them is added to everyone’s bills especially customers who are charge for demand.

  4. The solar and wind only crowd loves to bellyache about nuclear subsidies with pockets filled with government handouts of their own and with their own hands held out for even more subsidies. At least nuclear is carbon-neutral power without the intermittency problems of solar and wind and is cheaper in the long run.

  5. The cost of nuclear power is actually lower than most of the other options, “public money is thrown at it billions at time” because its a long term investment, even so it remains a viable option, all we need is to change public perception..

  6. Even nuclear reactors need support unless they are max out and are able to provide enough power during peak hours, which is insane, are they going to let the excess during off peak go to waste?
    No one solution by itself is practical, it has to be a combination of assorted forms of generators.

  7. Why would it be a problem for a society controlling limitless fusion power to get rid of a couple of shiploads of spent fuel ? It’s not as though the fuel rods are that much of a threat – the uranium oxide is a very hard, unreactive ceramic, surrounded by tough zircalloy metal, and then by reinforced concrete and steel. I’d be happy to have a cask in my basement – it might put out enough heat to take the chill off the house a bit.

  8. Why make it hard to get at? For the same reason Yucca mountain is empty. NIMBY may be a pain, but unless fears of ground water contamination and other security or muckery fears can be addressed then nuclear waste will continue to be a problem. If we actually get fusion power or something else in 20 years, that material will be sitting in a degrading container for 50k years because it will truly be waste and not reprocessed. Not in my back yard. Valid or not, if nuclear is going to be used in this country again, nuclear waste (as well as Fukushima concerns) have to be addressed. That means moving it to a place that it can not be a threat to anyone, ever, for up to 50k years.

  9. If we are going to adjust the cost we should include the healthcare cost and the future cost of climate change.

  10. One of the things I like about this idea is they said they had retrieved a test package from down a borehole. So as soon as someone builds a reactor to use the Pu & U238 in the spent fuel, it can be retrieved for use. It can also be retrieved if any use is found for some of the fission products

  11. I’m not a big fan of Moore, I personally attended several of the speeches he edited into one fictional speech in Bowling for Columbine. The guy is a propagandist, not a documentarian, he doesn’t really care if his work product is truthful.

    That said, even a propagandist can stumble onto a topic where the propaganda line he wants to push happens to be true, just by accident.

    He’s really screwed himself with this one, though; His earlier works burned any bridges to the right, and now the left will be mad at him, too.

  12. Yeah, that’s why, for actual power storage, I’m a fan of inverse hydro, where instead of pumping water into the air, you pump air into the water. Plenty of room for that all along the coasts.

    Seriously, though, if you’re having to store more than a few hours of energy, you’re doing it wrong. A proper mix of baseline and load following plants should eliminate the need for more than a little storage to handle unexpected plant downtimes.

  13. Which is exactly what you would expect in a fully-engaged war time economy. No labor or natural resource slack. Likewise during the Weimar Republic, the nation had just lost >85% of its horses which were its primary logistical vehicle plus about 15% of its labor force had either been killed or wounded. A huge issuance of money met a huge reduction in productive capacity.

  14. haven’t you agreed with Michael Moore before? You just like one of his videos because it suits your agenda?

    BTW, I watched the whole video. The only thing I took from the video is everyone can be corrupted. Money talks.

  15. Everyone has a vested interest in maintaining a habitable planet, not just those with shares or jobs in the industry. The Trump administration has been doing its bit to minimise safety issues by putting former oil and coal industry lobbyists in charge of the federal departments charged with regulating the sectors. They also are rescinding Obama-era rules on methane leaks from drilling. Methane levels in the atmosphere, which rose less sharply during the decade up to 2006, are now increasing even faster, and isotope ratios of the carbon atoms suggest that increased hydrocarbon drilling is the cause. Methane doesn’t last as long in the air as CO2, but its near-term warming effect is about 80 times stronger.

  16. Current nuclear had a physical explanation for the energy released by a chain reaction long before it was actually demonstrated in the laboratory. The LENR pushers are trying to go the other way, building supposed energy producing contraptions without a skerrick of plausible physics to underpin their supposed surplus heat production. No neutrons or verified isotope discrepancies either. It’s almost enough to make hot fusion look imminently doable, in comparison.

  17. When they first started drilling for oil, the gasoline fraction was of no use, and was discarded into the nearest river. Likewise nowadays when a drillshaft, fracked or conventional, accesses oil, but there is no pipeline handy to take away the associated methane, the gas is often flared off or simply vented. This is not only short-sighted wastefulness, it’s also much worse for the climate than burning to CO2.
    So-called ‘spent fuel’ still has about three times as much fissile material in it as freshly mined uranium, and the fuel rods are twenty times more concentrated than the best uranium ores. That’s without even counting the ~ 93% fertile uranium 238, some of which will be converted and burnt in a standard light water reactor, and all of which could be used in a fast reactor. Instead of trying to ship the stuff to out-of-the-way places, or chuck it down deep holes, it’s perfectly affordable and safe to just keep it in casks. It doesn’t take that much room, and it represents centuries worth of clean energy for our children. Why make it hard to get at ?

  18. I’ve already lowered my opinion of that company by 25% based on the fact that I went through their entire website, and the links, and not once did I find anywhere that actually said what their technology actually was. It was just a string of buzzwords.
    And half the links went to pay-per-view websites.
    One of the links finally mentioned sulphur-air-flow batteries, which enabled me to find the wikipedia article, from there to an actual paper, and finally work out what they are doing.
    But going to that much trouble to conceal things speaks badly.

  19. But aren’t you assuming the existence of the limited resource? That is, the existence of suitable places to put your pumped water?

    If there are suitable places to put nice new, pumped hydro, lakes, then pumped hydro could be very suitable. And gives you some nice lakes (though if you are using the full storage capacity, these lakes may fill and empty a bit too much to be good fishing and boating places).

    But when people list issues with pumped hydro, the top of the list is that there are often not sufficient cubic km of floodable valleys near the big cities that need said storage.

  20. I just finished reading a book on economics in the Third Reich.
    (The Wages of Destruction).
    It was interesting to note that even at the height of NSDP power, when they could and did just execute bankers and industrialists for not being sufficiently supportive of government policy, they could not stop inflation when they issued more money than the markets could absorb.

  21. The amount of fast start fossil power (or storage) needed will go up much more steeply than the rise in the proportion of power from unreliable weather sources. If the goal is to eliminate CO2 emissions, which it should be, there’s no point heading down a track which becomes more and more difficult the further you go. Things like Allam cycle with carbon dioxide sequestration, grid scale batteries, even pumped hydro, are infinitesimal, or completely unproven, on the magnitude needed to put a dent in our GHG output. In contrast, nuclear has demonstrated big cuts in fossil use, at reasonable cost.
    Spain, as an example, has installed over 37 GW of solar and wind power in the last two decades, well above their normal demand level. Unlike Germany, it has better sun and wind, ten times as much hydro proportionally, and hasn’t foolishly wasted its nuclear resources. Emissions from power generation have gone down by about half, but vary from year to year since so much is weather dependant, and are still about five times higher on average than those in France, where nuclear makes ~80%, as to 20% in Spain.

  22. That’s pretty cool, and seems doable. May be a way forward when the pressure to do somethings gets strong enough.

  23. “Coal is super polluting and super deadly” How about having no electricity? Much deadlier. Coal is much cleaner than it used to be, much, much cleaner. Nat gas is better, but don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

  24. LCOE studies have shown fraudulent numbers in the past. Those who constantly quote the Lazard study don’t look at what the study omits to show solar/wind has lower LCOE. The Lazard LCOE study’s footnotes reveal the omissions, but nobody who’s in favor of solar/wind bother to admit the study’s shortcomings. I’d suspect many of the same shenanigans in this study too. In the end, you bake the cake you want by changing the ingredients.

  25. I like this idea you posted. and I believe people could be convinced with open debate on it. There are also ice free areas in the Antarctic that have remains of trees from millions of years ago laying around on bare ground. Really, really cold. Seems like another good place because no danger of ground water contamination, no real life forms, nobody to complain.

  26. Sorry, Newt. We’re destined to disagree, I guess. My wife is a retired inspector for the EPA. Every thing ‘exposed’ in the film, she has confirmed with her own 25+ year first-hand knowledge and inspector’s experience.  First hand, Newt.

    The mendaciousness of those who have co-opted the green movement’s best efforts … is stunning, and darkly consistent with Western Capitalist ‘values’.  

    The bottom line cannot be made more simple: the flow of money thru multiple corporations launders the nefarious intent of the monies ‘invested’. Money installs mealy-mouthed people who serve the monies’ owners’ demands. And they’re pölïtically savvy enough to repurpose the language of their mendacious enterprise to “fit the narrative of the moment”.  

    Dirty, cheap, and effective.  

    It used to be “beware the military-industrial complex”.  Now it is “beware the ecological-industrial coöpting industry”.

    ⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  27. Mmmm … yes and no. 

    Is it a propaganda hit-piece? Yep: it hits the Green propaganda head-on at 100 miles per hour. It does not mince words … the Green movement’s ideals and idealists have largely (been) sold out to the money laundering industrialists that are happy to take both their and their fawning government’s happy-juice-so-you-vote-for-me money.  

    Of course there is value in the green movement’s ideals. But the point is: NOT when undermined by sell-outs. Then just the opposite … the green movement’s advocacy becomes part of the problem, not the solution. 

    Insofar as I can adjudge, there are risks associated with every energy-production-and-delivery related enterprise that we humans engage. Every one. None, without its drawbacks. The question is, apart from the very very few of us who actually understand quantitative statistical optimization, how is Joe Q. Public to decide?

    Beware the mob of card-carrying apparatchiks and their industrialist underwriters. 

    Evil comes dressed “in Prada”.

    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  28. As usual let the market decide. If the people fronting their money, energy and careers think nuclear is better then let them build them. At the end of the day the people with the most vested interest will likely make the best choices. We just need to make sure that government is out of the way where safety issues are not in play as much as possible.

  29. Well, sure: It wouldn’t be within NASA’s job description even if it was free.

    O’Neill colonies will probably come about, but they won’t come about as a result of aiming for O’Neill colonies, they’ll come about because people are doing something else in space, and need somewhere to live.

  30. I was pissed in 2008 when they didn’t let some financial institutions just go under. Forget “too big to fail”, that’s why we have FDIC.

  31. Nothing is going to solve the political issue except for telling people who really want modern industrial society to just go away to take a hike.

  32. Cheaper, maybe. Better? I really doubt you can go fishing in a liquefied air storage facility. I live in South Carolina, and hydro is basically the only reason we HAVE lakes of any size around here.

  33. Liquefied air storage is already cheaper and better than pumped hydro. It’s basically a solved problem that just needs to be scaled up. Give it 15 years and it will be everywhere.

    EDIT: Looks like there’s also been a feasible breakthrough in 150 hour aqueous air batteries – one project to go live in 3 years

  34. True, but with the official unemployment rate now at 14.7% and the unofficial but probably more accurate rate at 20% or higher due to difficulties in claiming unemployment, there is plenty of slack in human and natural resources right now. Inflation will come from supply chain disruptions, as it always does, not from money creation, which is done in response to supply chain shortages. Also, the pandemic gives SOME employees new bargaining power, as essential workers, so we may see a small amount of wage inflation from that, long overdue, IMO.

  35. The Fed has committed to buying unlimited amounts of Treasuries, plus other things like the infamous MBS’ again:
    Without that interest rates would climb, but with this and also the Fed buying the bonds from other countries and foreign bank debt too, theFed is cementing the dollar as the world’s currency, and also bringing interest rates down. Nobody particularly likes this arrangement, but the alternative of a worthless dollar andno other viable replacement, is much worse. Then we would have a worldwide depression.

  36. “within the limits of its human and natural resources”

    Historically those limits become very real when the economy does well. So then you must pay, either by inflation or by tax. The world has been in a long stretch of very low inflation though.

  37. In the Energy Control Center power is dispatched by next incremental cost. How much does the next MW cost to produce. This Incremental cost is calculated from the Cost of Fuel and the Cost of Maintenance. The cost of financing doesn’t matter. What is means is that renewable power sells first because the cost of fuel is zero. If there is no transmission constraints renewable power sells first. Coupled with government subsidies companies selling renewable sometimes will pay utilities to take their power.

    So as renewable grows everything else diminishes because they can’t compete.

  38. It’s actually not that expensive, but it is a big political issue because no local jurisdiction will okay it. So that leaves dry casking spent fuel onsite which is 4x as expensive.

  39. The entirety of that 5GW of on demand generators is cheaper than 1GW of nuclear. A drop on the bucket relatively speaking even if you did apportion it.

  40. Are people self-serving and greedy? Sure. Do people exaggerate to promote their agendas? Of course. But Is the “whole” green energy movement corrupt? Is there NO value to the green energy movement? Are there risks to continuing with only carbon and nuclear? Can green energy mitigate those risks? Those points are unaddressed in this propaganda hit piece.

  41. Did not include LENR. Yeah, hard to cost that out right now.
    And if later it tips over the entire apply cart, we can run a new spreadsheet.

  42. Yes, and no. 

    Sovereign ‘fiat’ debt is a trust-and-value shell game to be sure. Yet, all the players are bound by an open market reality: it does not matter one iota what the sovereign decides its bonds’ paper will deliver in interest, rather it is the auction, the open and unbounded auction of the paper every Tuesday at the various regional Feds (or each country’s version of the same) that determines the REAL yield of each paper instrument.  

    When a sovereign decides to issue a LOT more paper to ‘paper over’ its obligations, the auction softens. Finite buy-side demand with expending sell-side paper issuance. The result is that the auctions settle BELOW facia value. A $100,000 note sells for $86,533 (as a made-up example); its printed-on-the-paper interest of 2.00% becomes worth about 2.6% of actual interest.  Real yield. Depending on the term of the bond or note. Shorter notes, calc out at higher yield (for this example). Longer, less.

    So, as far as the market is concerned, interest is going up. 

    In another sense, this also reflects the ‘trust and value’ side: at auction, the buyers and sellers both monetize the VALUE of the lucre at each day’s close. 

    Anyway, sounds like theory. It is pretty real in practice.

    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  43. slight tangent but related to finances: with the costs to borrow so bloody low right now, I’m seriously pissed that large, already profitable, with billions in bank corporations were given any funding relief. Let them take out a loan.

  44. indeed, wish he would go away. There are many intelligent people on the comments section that have worthwhile opinions.

    With the coming revolution in genetics, AI, robotics it might be easier, and faster, to design people that are adapted to live in the ocean, artic and desert than to build enormous habitats in space. Having humans that can live underwater, go without water and withstand cold and heat could fulfill his constant droning about keeping humanity alive in an ambiguous – WHAT IF? – scenario.

    Even the science fiction narrative (which could eventually happen) shows a severe lack of imagination imo.

  45. Nuclear is a product the people don’t want and grows only where the people cannot decide and where public money is thrown at it billions at time. I have no problem in subsidizing r&d and even commercial development of products that people want, but nuclear is not one of them. Not to mention that the costs in case of catastrophic failures are always covered by public money (every insurance will just get paid until the accident and then file for bankruptcy) as well as the costs of waste long term storage.

  46. Actually, because the Fed turns all its profits back over to the Treasury, other than its own relatively minor operating costs, it can self-finance anything with minimal ultimate costs to the Treasury. The Fed is buying about 1/3 of all U.S. bonds now anyway, probably more with the restarted QE. So, this is not money we owe to anyone but ourselves, and it’s wrong to think of it as “debt” at all. It’s an accounting trick. A monetarily sovereign nation can pay for anything, within the limits of its human and natural resources.
    For that matter, the Treasury could reissue U.S. Notes as it did to pay for 40% of the Civil War, and not increase the debt at all. U.S. Notes are excluded from the quarterly U.S. Debt Report.

  47. Learn the difference between science and science-fiction, you simpleton. O’Neill habitats will remain science-fiction for centuries.

    If you are so desperate to found new habitats, go build floating cities in the middle of the ocean, or in the deserts (we have entire continents almost uninhabited). Unlike fantasy O’Neill, these are feasible.

    Give us a rest with your continuous O’Neill non-sense.

  48. Discount rate is NOT the interest rate. It’s the opportunity cost. S&P 500 has returned 6.6% long term. That is after inflation adjustment.

  49. Even if heavy lift rockets grew on trees and were free, i cannot envision NASA “going to O’Neill Space” in the next 50 years.

  50. We are seeing everyday the effects of Chinese style massive solutions made possible by simple multiplications cost and effect calculations aided by out of the wood tilted research centres.

  51. ‘Fast start gas turbines do not exist to support renewable so their cost should not be added to the cost of renewable.’
    ‘Reciprocating internal combustion engines (piston engines), which are typically used for backup, standby, or emergency power, are now becoming increasingly popular for larger utility-scale power generation applications, especially in areas with high levels of electricity generation from intermittent sources such as wind and solar, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) … Texas, which has the most wind electricity generation capacity in the country, has 910 MW of natural gas-driven reciprocating engines, or 20% of the national total (4,642 MW).
    Kansas (564 MW) and California (398 MW), both states with large amounts of renewable generation, have the next highest capacities of reciprocating engines.
    In addition to the Denton Energy Center, Texas is home to three other facilities that rank among the six largest reciprocating engine plants in the United States’

  52. Fast start gas turbines do not exist to support renewable so their cost should not be added to the cost of renewable. The gas turbines exist for summer peaks and for emergency support like if a generator trips or a transmission line goes offline. Fossil power plant are already paid a capacity charge for been available most of the time. There is no need to add a charge to renewable. if we are going to do so then we should add the healthcare cost of fossil fuel air pollution.

  53. batteries.

    Know anything about these? Seems like a viable way for renewable energy grid storage.

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