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Earth Power The Almighty Buck

Nuclear Energy Now More Expensive Than Solar 635

Posted by samzenpus
from the sunlight-is-free dept.
js_sebastian writes "According to an article on the New York Times, a historical cross-over has occurred because of the declining costs of solar vs. the increasing costs of nuclear energy: solar, hardly the cheapest of renewable technologies, is now cheaper than nuclear, at around 16 cents per kilowatt hour. Furthermore, the NY Times reports that financial markets will not finance the construction of nuclear power plants unless the risk of default (which is historically as high as 50 percent for the nuclear industry) is externalized to someone else through federal loan guarantees or ratepayer funding. The bottom line seems to be that nuclear is simply not competitive, and the push from the US government to subsidize it seems to be forcing the wrong choice on the market."
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Nuclear Energy Now More Expensive Than Solar

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  • Conditions Apply (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:27AM (#33066400)

    Except during nights.

    • by ThoughtMonster (1602047) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:34AM (#33066434) Homepage

      Which also means you'll need to buy batteries, which are quite expensive, and have a fairly short lifespan. Which was always the point.

      • by hey! (33014) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @07:18AM (#33067346) Homepage Journal

        At present, the most efficient "battery" would be unburned fossil fuels. The biggest advantage is that we already have the infrastructure in place to store energy as unburned fossil fuel; we simply use less of it during the day.

        That's not a viable technology in the long term, but the long term gives us plenty of time to come up with efficient storage technologies (in any case if we don't collect it, that sunlight is going to waste). We should also expect to get energy from a greater variety of sources in the future, nuclear may be part of that.

      • by SysKoll (48967) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @08:36AM (#33068134)

        I agree. I question the mode of cost calculation in the article.

        Here is a reference point. 82% of France's electricity comes from nuclear power plants. The price of power for industrial customers is about 0.06 USD/kWh. This includes huge personnel and pension costs (powerful unions) and sloppy financial management (politically appointed execs). So it means that actual production and delivery costs are below this price point. Since EDF, the French electricity semi-public firm, is a monopoly, there is little incentive to be more cost-effective. And yet, even so, they achieve a cost of 6 cents per kWh.

        I am therefore not impressed with the 0.16,USD/kWh quoted. It' s almost 3 times more expensive than what the French can get, without even trying to be cost-effective.

        • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:5, Interesting)

          by ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @09:18AM (#33068648)

          To be fair, France benefits from a much more centralized population. The U.S. can't just build enormous nuke plants and send power by wire across the country without serious losses on the line. France is small enough that it can send power to a larger number of people with shorter lines, and moreover, they benefit from economies of scale, because they aren't just powering France, they're selling the power to neighboring countries (presumably at a profit).

          They also engage in fuel reprocessing, which the U.S. does not, and that makes a huge difference in the economic factors. The U.S. policy is due to a fear of plutonium being stolen from reprocessing facilities for use by terrorists or rogue states, combined with a need to "set an example" to other countries; if we reprocess fuel, then they'll claim they should be allowed to as well, but reprocessing fuel is an easy way to produce bomb grade fissionable material. I don't know if I agree with the U.S. policy (wasting tons upon tons of usable reactor fuel to set an example seems pointless when no one follows the example, and you end up with political quagmires like what to do with all the waste), but the costs in the U.S. are definitely higher.

          • by vtcodger (957785) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @09:51AM (#33069146)

            ***The U.S. can't just build enormous nuke plants and send power by wire across the country without serious losses on the line.***

            You sure about that? I tried to research transmission line losses recently, and came up with a rather hazy 3-8%. And we already do routinely send electricity many hundreds of kilometers -- as, for example, from Boulder Dam to Southern California. Do you have a reference for higher losses? Seriously, I'd like to read it.

            Nuclear plants will generally be built within a few hundred kilometers of their loads. Wouldn't make lot of sense to build one in One Tree Gulch North Dakota unless there are users nearby.

            If your point is that the US power grid probably can't handle a major buildout of electric power of any sort, I fear you are probably correct. But that applies equally to wind, solar and nuclear.

          • by FoolishOwl (1698506) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @02:14PM (#33074144) Journal

            US policy is to deliberately create unnecessary nuclear waste, instead of recycling it via proven technology, when one of the biggest objections to nuclear power generation is the production of nuclear waste?

            I hadn't realized this. This is pretty appalling.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by js_sebastian (946118)

          I agree. I question the mode of cost calculation in the article.

          Here is a reference point. 82% of France's electricity comes from nuclear power plants. The price of power for industrial customers is about 0.06 USD/kWh. This includes huge personnel and pension costs (powerful unions) and sloppy financial management (politically appointed execs). So it means that actual production and delivery costs are below this price point. Since EDF, the French electricity semi-public firm, is a monopoly, there is little incentive to be more cost-effective. And yet, even so, they achieve a cost of 6 cents per kWh.

          Right. But I bet most of the plants were built by the French government (read military) in their effort to become a nuclear power, and EDF does not pay huge interest costs on the gigantic loans that would have been needed to build them, nor does it pay for waste disposal. Nuclear energy has been hugely subsidized throughout its history because of its military applications, and now the plan seems to be to start hugely subsidizing it for "ecological" reasons.

        • by vtcodger (957785) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @09:38AM (#33068944)

          ***I am therefore not impressed with the 0.16,USD/kWh quoted. It' s almost 3 times more expensive than what the French can get, without even trying to be cost-effective.***

          Dead on. The article has many numbers, none of which seem to be consistent with either reality or each other. As of last December, Vermont utilities were paying Vermont Yankee which is about 100 miles down the road from the author 4.2 cents/kwhr and Entergy was trying to wheedle an increase to 6.1 cents.

          I'm not against solar power or wind, or cogeneration or any other sane non-fossil fuel based technology for meeting energy needs. But this report appears to me to be 100% pure Vermont cow manure. Based on what I can see, it's best and highest use would be to burn all the copies for heat next winter. Winters in this part of the world are a bit nippy.

          (And solar probably is not a 16cent/kwh hour choice for Vermont anyway. Too far from the equator, too much cloud cover, and for three or four months of the year, snow would have to be mechanically removed from the collectors. Now for Honolulu, Barstow, Tucson, or Las Vegas ...)

      • Batteries? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by msauve (701917) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @09:09AM (#33068548)
        So, you've never heard of pumped storage [wikipedia.org], or any other forms of grid energy storage [wikipedia.org], eh?
    • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:5, Informative)

      by eexaa (1252378) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:43AM (#33066482) Homepage

      Did everyone forget about molten salt and similar tech? It was here a week ago...

      http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/10/07/23/0125235/Worlds-First-Molten-Salt-Solar-Plant-Opens?from=rss [slashdot.org]

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Did everyone forget about molten salt and similar tech? It was here a week ago...

        Plus night time usage is not the problem, it's daytime demand that is the problem, so large scale solar plants could help reduce them and thereby reduce emissions. There is plenty of other use cases for solar power such as domestic air conditioners in places like Florida, why run them on grid power when you can install solar cells on the roof and use them to power your air conditioner, or you could use solar cells for charging your hybrid/electric cars. In Germany I've seen roof mounted solar cells being us

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by StripedCow (776465)

      Except, it's always day on some part of the planet...

      • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:5, Informative)

        by A beautiful mind (821714) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @05:44AM (#33066740)
        Ok. Let's factor in the cost of transporting the energy or storing it to provide night time load handling capability and look at the costs again.

        To be honest I don't buy the "nuclear is expensive" thing. It's expensive the way you're doing it. Learn from the French [slashdot.org].

        In Japan and France, construction costs and delays are significantly diminished because of streamlined government licensing and certification procedures. In France, one model of reactor was type-certified, using a safety engineering process similar to the process used to certify aircraft models for safety. That is, rather than licensing individual reactors, the regulatory agency certified a particular design and its construction process to produce safe reactors. U.S. law permits type-licensing of reactors, a process which is being used on the AP1000 and the ESBWR.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by panda (10044)

          Hi, my name is Yucca Mountain [http]. I'd like to disagree with you about the costs of nuclear energy.

        • by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @06:28AM (#33066986)
          Yes, let's learn from the French: The French Nuclear Lesson [energypriorities.com] If you don't like that review, there are plenty of others that demonstrate over and over [google.com] Nuclear is not "competitive" (let's say viable competitive it will never be) unless your willing to increase taxes (or inflate your currency) to subsidize construction, operation and waste disposal to the hilt. That or you could always do what the Italians and some other countries have done, and just quietly dump it into the sea [google.com]. Quotes:

          "Like the U.S., France does not have a permanent solution for disposal. The cost of temporary waste storage -- hundreds of billions of euros -- is being passed along to French taxpayers and ratepayers by the state and its subsidized plant operators."

          "The only other hope for nuclear would be to subsidize it, and subsidies must increase taxes, deepen the budget deficit, or both. That's not new in America: The fossil fuels industry receives more subsidies than all other forms of energy combined."

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by LWATCDR (28044)

          A lesson that the Navy learned early.
          They standardized a reactor called the S5W it was used for the Skipjack class of subs, the George Washington Class, The Ethan Allen Class, the Permit class ,the Sturgeon class, The Lafayette class, and the Ben Franklin class. It may well be the most produced type of reactor in history "Don't know about Russia I know they built one reactor type for the Hotel, Echo, and November class but I am not sure of the numbers. This article is fud but the headline will cause people

          • Re:Conditions Apply (Score:4, Informative)

            by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Thursday July 29, 2010 @11:37AM (#33070914) Homepage

            They standardized a reactor called the S5W it was used for the Skipjack class of subs, the George Washington Class, The Ethan Allen Class, the Permit class ,the Sturgeon class, The Lafayette class, and the Ben Franklin class.

            That was an accident of history more than anything else. Thresher/Permit started life as 'Improved Skipjack'[1] and even though it evolved all out of recognition retained S5W. The same applies to George Washington (modified from Skipjack) and Ethan Allen (a mashup based of off Skipjack and Thresher/Permit). [2]

            The balance of the SSBN's that compromise the '41 for Freedom' are all incrementally evolved from Ethan Allen, so they ended up with S5W as well. The fact that they were all designed and built in a short time frame on an accelerated schedule contributed mightily to this. Sturgeon retained S5W because she was also essentially an evolved Thresher/Permit.

            So S5W was retained not because of any conscious decision to standardize, but to hold engineering effort and costs so as not to jeopardize construction and maintenance schedules. Between new construction boomers and SubSafe overhauls, US submarine shipyard capacity and budgets were maxed out throughout the bulk of the 1960's. (Scorpion had her SubSafe overhaul delayed and then only had a minimal overhaul because of this - which is often considered as one of the potential causes for her loss.)

            On top of which, there really isn't a 'standard' S5W installation - they varied considerably between classes, there's several different machinery and reactor compartments layouts. (Including the unique installations like Jack and Lipscomb.) Not even the cores were standard - they varied by class and over time. So really, the S5W ended up being a family of roughly similar reactors rather than a single 'standard' reactor.

            On top of which, by the mid 60's, the USN recognized that they'd created a problem - ship displacement has grown considerably while the output of the S5W power plant... hadn't. Hence both the 'Super-640' (the unbuilt follow on to the Franklin's) and the Los Angeles classes had new reactors because of this. (The Los Angeles's was also designed for increased stealth.)

            I'm also told (and I invite correction) that the standardization in France is leading toward a 'monopoly/monoculture' because when one company can consistently underbid the others, it has gradually driven competitors from the field.

            [1] See Friedman's US Submarines since 1945.
            [2] Ethan Allen essentially uses Thresher/Permit's engineering spaces with a Skipjack bow. (Though there's a lot of detailed systems differences throughout the ship as Ethan Allen and her descendants were a deep divers like the Thresher/Permit's.)

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by LWATCDR (28044)

              "So S5W was retained not because of any conscious decision to standardize, but to hold engineering effort and costs so as not to jeopardize construction and maintenance schedules."
              Sounds like a great reason to standardize to me.
              The Thresher may have started out as an improved Skipjack but it really didn't end up that way.
              The Thresher had a totally different hull shape, it was much quieter because it used rafting, it had totally different bow Thresher and Permit used a spherical sonar array and had torpedo t

      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @07:10AM (#33067252)

        Except, it's always day on some part of the planet...

        True enough. Did we factor into the cost of Solar the cost of electrical transmission lines under the Atlantic Ocean sufficient to supply North America's power needs?

        I didn't think so.

        Oh, and how much extra capacity did we assume for Solar in our price comparison to allow for pumping water uphill, or melting salt, or whatever, to deal with night/clouds/etc? None?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tomhudson (43916)
      No, you have several choices:

      Pumped storage. Remember those water towers near factories? They were used to drive generators for extra peak power. Any form of dam would also work - or even just raising a huge weight, or compressed air in an underground chamber.

      Using reflectors to heat up your steam generator - an idea from the 1970s. That retained heat can drive your steam plant until the next morning.

      Eutectic salts - ditto.

      Inertial storage systems, such as composite flywheels running in a vacuum - c

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JohnBailey (1092697)

      Except during nights.

      Yep..When all those offices and factories and everything are up and running.

      Oh wait..

  • by dimethylxanthine (946092) <mr DOT fruit AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:31AM (#33066414) Homepage

    The bottom line seems to be that nuclear is simply not competitive

    Of course the same people would be arguing that oil and gas are the way to go.

  • by psone (1416351) * on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:33AM (#33066424)
    Nuclear power offers the advantage of massive energy production on a small area of land, giving it a high W/skm rate. The ideal solution probably lies in the intelligent combination of several powering solutions depending on the zone type, energy demand and area coverage...
  • Coal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by saibot834 (1061528) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:35AM (#33066440) Homepage

    Yeah, and what about coal? Fossil fuels are still by far the cheapest ways of getting / storing energy. (I recommend reading "Physics for future presidents", which lists and explains the reasons for our "love" of oil/gas/coal).

    I'm not arguing that we should use coal, but rather that a free market is inherently not (always) in line with protecting the environment. Sure, in the long run fossil fuels will become more expensive and "green energy" more affordable. But in the meantime, the government has to make sure that the industry doesn't destroy the environment. International treaties (Copenhagen, I'm looking at you) would have been a first step.

    • Re:Coal (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Aceticon (140883) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @06:26AM (#33066972)

      Fossil fuels are the cheapest way to produce energy as long as they do not have to pay for negative externalities.

      The byproducts of burning fossil fuels for electricity are just dumped in the air and as long those that are doing the burning do not have to pay for the negative consequences of those byproducts they can "produced" electricity for a lower cost.

      Here's an example for your understanding:
      - Imagine I came up with a process to get gold from seawater. Running the process would cost me $50 for every gram of gold produced. However this process would have the downside that for every gram of gold extracted it produce 1 cubic kilometer of highly toxic water and cleaning that would cost $1000.

      If I have to pay for the negative externalities of the process ($1000 per gram of gold produced to clean-up the 1 cubic kilometer of toxic water produced as a side-effect) then my process is only competitive for gold prices above $1050 per gram.

      However, if I can get away with just dumping the toxic water somewhere for free, then at $50 per gram of gold my process is highly competitive with getting gold the old-fashioned way (mining).

      Generation of electrity from fossil fuels is currently at the point where they get away with dumping some of the toxic products created as a side effect of their process directly to the air without paying for it. Like my example above, their process is profitable because they don't have to pay for dumping toxic substances into the environment.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by 0xABADC0DA (867955)

        If I have to pay for the negative externalities of the process ... then my process is only competitive for gold prices above $1050 per gram. However, if I can get away with just dumping the toxic water somewhere for free, then at $50 per gram of gold my process is highly competitive

        There is another angle to this. If you can improve your solar efficiency by 0.1% but it will cost you $10 million to modify the factory then you need to recoup that $10 million from sales that would otherwise go to competitors or not be made. If you aren't selling much then you have less ability to improve the product.

        So the reason we should be investing a lot on solar in the form of subsidies is to grow the market, which will improve the technology as a side effect. The difference between solar and a lo

  • by Calinous (985536) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:35AM (#33066442)

    But in cold and rainy climates, especially when electricity is used when it's cold outside (as opposed to when it's hot outside), nuclear can be much better than solar.

    • by dunkelfalke (91624) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:49AM (#33066512)

      For cold climates, active solar water heating systems are a good alternative.
      Read more here. [wikipedia.org]

      And by the way, in Germany on sunny days there is more electricity produced by photovoltaics than by nuclear reactors.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        And by the way, in Germany on sunny days there is more electricity produced by photovoltaics than by nuclear reactors.

        That's because Germany has long have had an anti-nuclear stance, while actively promoting solar energy. Even they are reconsidering on keeping nuclear plants open for a longer time, in the wake of economic realities.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The Germans cheat on Nuclear power use. In particular, they IMPORT a lot of Nuclear-generated electricity from France and the Czech Republic.

    • by grimJester (890090) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:59AM (#33066558)
      I'm as pro-green energy as anyone, but the chart here [thephoenixsun.com] looks completely absurd. Nuclear has quadrupled in price in a few years? Even ignoring the trend lines, how on earth does nuclear go from 8c/kWh to 22 from 2005 to 2010? A jump like that can't be assumed to be a trend, surely.

      The good news, assuming the data points can be trusted to be somewhat realistic, is that solar _is_ getting competitive and has changed significantly in a very short time.
      • by Hinhule (811436) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @05:30AM (#33066696)

        1. Energy industry cartels.
        2. Energy industry realizes people will still use roughly the same amount of power regardless of price why not capitalize on that and make outrageous profits.

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @05:30AM (#33066698) Journal
        The trend is nonsense, but the data is not. A lot of nuclear fuel came from decommissioned nuclear warheads, over the past couple of decades. As a result, a lot of mines were shut down or reduced to a lower output because there was less demand. Now the spare warheads are almost used up, but it will take a couple of years to reopen the mines and get them up to production capacity. This means that there is currently a (short term) shortage of fuel for nuclear reactors, driving the price up. Once production increases again, this should stabilise (not, as that graph indicates, continue to increase forever).
    • by argStyopa (232550) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @06:23AM (#33066944) Journal

      The money shot from that, for those who are too lazy to follow the link:
      "For the cost of solar electricity, Blackburn and Cunningham relied on reported offers of "commercial scale" solar electricity at a certain price to the grid supplier - without noting that those offers are on a strictly "when available" basis that is also take or pay.

      Here is an analogy - if you happen to grow tomatoes in your yard, imagine going to your local grocery store and demanding that the grocer pay you the same price that he charges at retail. The grocer must take all of the tomatoes that your garden produces, but you make no promises about how many you will bring each day. When you want to eat tomatoes at home, but your garden has not produced any, you expect to be able to walk into the store and purchase all of the tomatoes that you need at the same price that you sold them for. (Actually, this is not a very good analogy, because on page 11 of their paper, Blackburn and Cunningham admit that certain solar electricity suppliers will actually be paid a "subsidized" rate of 19 cents per kilowatt hour, which is almost two times the residential retail price in North Carolina of 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour.)

      In addition to failing to mention the terms and conditions under which electricity is being offered, Blackburn and Cunningham bury a few "minor" details about solar electricity real costs in an appendix. As they admit in a section that few people will read, the price that some installers are talking about charging utilities is the "net" price - after they receive and bank all currently offered payments from other taxpayers and after they have obtained taxpayer subsidized 25 year amortization, tax free loans. In North Carolina today, a homeowner who purchases a solar energy system receives a 30% cash grant from the federal government and a 35% cash grant from the state government.

      Using the example provided in the paper, those cash payments turn a 3 KWe (max capacity), $18,000 system that produces electricity at 35 cents per kilowatt hour (if financed at 6% interest for 25 years) into a system costing the homeowner just $8,190 and producing electricity for a total of 15.9 cents per kilowatt hour - when the sun is shining. Of course, that means that the homeowner has received a grant of $9,810 from his or her neighbors, some of whom may not own a home (renters) or even own a roof (condo and apartment dwellers). Blackburn and Cunningham admit that they did not include energy storage costs of any kind (pg 11)."

      and
      http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_lfibbBnlKt8/TFAYotKn1yI/AAAAAAAAA4Q/e7giOX_5kV4/s1600/LCOE_Electricity_OECD.png [blogspot.com] ...that shows the sustained price for modern nuclear power to be about $50/MWh or 1/3 of Solar. (That's in the US; in Eur/Jpn/Kor where their proficiency and experience is much better, about $0.033/MWh.)

      New York Times guilty of 'writing to their preconceptions' again.

  • by johnjaydk (584895) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:37AM (#33066454)
    Fantastic for those who live in sunny states. A lot less great for those of us who don't. Try repeating those studies in northern Europe. For extra credit, factor in the saving from MODERN nuke plants. Even better, factor in the savings from serial production of those plants.

    The plants in the US are ancient one-off designs. Small wonder they don't compare well.

  • Overregulation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Coolhand2120 (1001761) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:42AM (#33066470)
    I'm sure that the amount of regulation in plant creation, "green" subsidies for solar and "politically correct" as opposed to "environmentally correct" disposal of waste serves to distort the true price of these sources.

    Besides, anyone who has played sim city knows that nuclear is much cheaper.
    • Re:Overregulation (Score:5, Insightful)

      by chrb (1083577) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @05:48AM (#33066758)

      the amount of regulation in plant creation

      Every aspect of manufacturing and industry is regulated in the Western world. The factories that manufacturing solar cells are also regulated. Regulation is a cost of doing business. The BP spill should remind everyone of what happens when regulation fails.

      "green" subsidies for solar

      The study authors already thought of that - from TFA: "While the study includes subsidies for both solar and nuclear power, it estimates that if subsidies were removed from solar power, the crossover point would be delayed by a maximum of nine years."

      "politically correct" as opposed to "environmentally correct" disposal of waste

      Do you have any evidence that this occurs? Storage and disposal of nuclear waste has real costs - even nuclear industry scientists acknowledge that disposing of the UK's nuclear waste stockpile will cost £85 billion [independent.co.uk]. Cleaning up decommissioned sites is costing £72 billion [bbc.co.uk] Who do you think pays for this - the nuclear industry, or the tax payer? Why are taxpayers subsidising disposal costs for new-build plants? [guardian.co.uk] The nuclear industry benefits enormously from the taxpayer.

  • Dammit! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wjh31 (1372867) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:49AM (#33066514) Homepage
    I just had a reactor fitted to the south side of my roof aswell!
  • by AbbeyRoad (198852) <p@2038bug.com> on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:54AM (#33066538) Homepage

    Check out:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar_thermal_power_stations [wikipedia.org]

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_power_stations [wikipedia.org]

    Now considering that one nuclear power station usually generates 1 to 5 GIGAwatts, and these generate in the order of TENS OF MEGAwatts, it is inconceivable to me how anyone can compare Solar to Nuclear.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by evilandi (2800)

      Now considering that one nuclear power station usually generates 1 to 5 GIGAwatts, and these generate in the order of TENS OF MEGAwatts, it is inconceivable to me how anyone can compare Solar to Nuclear.

      You forgot to consider the costs of building and decommissioning the power plant. A solar plant can be built and operational in a couple of months (or a couple of days if small-scale), with decommissioning taking half that. A nuclear plant takes 3-5 years to build and several hundred years, if not thousands of years, to decomission.

      You need to factor in the whole life of the project.

      I still think nuclear wins, but it's not a trivial choice.

    • by sunspot42 (455706) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @05:43AM (#33066732)

      Now considering that one nuclear power station usually generates 1 to 5 GIGAwatts, and these generate in the order of TENS OF MEGAwatts

      The Mojave plant already produces over 300 megawatts, the plant in Spain produces 100 megawats, and there are plans for solar plants of half a gigawatt to about a gigawatt. The Topaz Solar Farm in central California is supposed to produce 550 megawatts, and cost around a billion, which is steep but pretty comparable to the skyrocketing price of nuclear power. It's a PV installation. Of course solar only works during the day, but that's when demand is by far at its peak (especially in central and southern California) and customers pay the highest prices.

      Why does the plant capacity make a difference, anyhow? Cost seems like a much bigger issue than capacity. If you can build and operate ten 100 megawatt solar plants for the cost of building, operating and decommissioning one 1 gigawatt nuke plant (and insuring it for liability, and dealing with its waste), why not go with solar?

      I think real advantage solar offers over nuclear though comes from photovoltaics, which are also just starting to become practical, especially in warm sunny climates where peak summertime power rates spike. I think subsidizing the deployment of rooftop panels atop homes and businesses in places like California and Texas is going to be a more cost effective strategy than sinking tens of billions into nuke plants, and it'll help to advance a technology that could conceivably lead us to near total energy independence.

      It also gets a chunk of power generation out of the hands of the enormous energy conglomerates and into the hands of the people, which'll make it much more difficult for the powers that be to play games with the price of electricity on the spot market, a la Enron. And moving power generation much closer to the source of demand could ultimately reduce the overall peak summertime load on our power grids (at least here in America), not to mention the drastic cut in transmission losses.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by QuantumRiff (120817)

        Meanwhile, in the little town where I lived in Southern Oregon a few years ago, a Natural Gas 500MW power plant cost something like $80-100 million to build.

        If you can build and operate ten 100 megawatt solar plants for the cost of building, operating and decommissioning one 1 gigawatt nuke plant (and insuring it for liability, and dealing with its waste), why not go with solar?

        Maybe not all of us want to see every square inch of desert covered in solar panels. Compare the surface area used to generate 1Gigawatt at a Nuke vs Solar...

    • "Now considering that one nuclear power station usually generates 1 to 5 GIGAwatts, and these generate in the order of TENS OF MEGAwatts, it is inconceivable to me how anyone can compare Solar to Nuclear."

      Which is precisely why no nuclear power plants are being built in the US. Utilities don't need large amounts of new power all at once. They need smaller amounts over time. Solar and wind are great at supplying this incremental demand.

      The utilities learned the hard way about the unreliability of future p

  • by evilandi (2800) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Thursday July 29, 2010 @04:56AM (#33066542) Homepage

    Where is it cheaper? Cheaper than nuclear in the north of England, or just in the southern United States?

    Hydro dams or wave power, possibly cheaper than nuclear near Manchester. Solar... not so much.

  • by LordFolken (731855) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @05:20AM (#33066656)

    It factors in the subsidies for solar energy. Compares an absolute discount price of solar to the average of nuclear power, ignores the fact that nuclear energy is a constant supplier etc.

    In short: sensational and bogus.

    I think the rebuke mentioned earlier should be read as well: http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com/2010/07/gullible-reporting-by-new-york-times-on.html [blogspot.com]

  • by fadir (522518) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @05:33AM (#33066704)

    Just because the follow-up costs of nuclear energy are consequently ignored in those calculations it has been so cheap so far. While the costs of the solar panels, installation, etc. is to be fully covered by the one installing it, the nuclear waste is handled by the government and so is the insurance.

    Calculate the full costs, including recycling, insurance and the like and there is hardly any power source that's more expensive than nuclear energy.

    • by c6gunner (950153) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @07:03AM (#33067210)

      You know, no matter how many times you lie about it, you're not going to change what's true. Not only is it not true that the "follow up costs" are ignored, but they're actually overestimated due to the current policy of not reprocessing fuel. Change that, and electricity becomes even cheaper than the current calculations show.

    • by argStyopa (232550) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @09:01AM (#33068434) Journal

      Absolutely wrong.

      This study does the opposite, in fact it builds in the gigantic subsidies for solar, and disregards the same for nuclear. Further, the replacement costs and long-term costs of nuclear are well known, this 'study' disregards that for solar.

      Finally, this 'study' disregards any storage costs for solar, intermittance, or transport costs for the voltage.

      Basically, solar has a strong potential for arid, sunny climates.
      Unfortunately, the bulk of the Western World doesn't live in deserts, and power transmission isn't free.

  • Thorium (Score:3, Insightful)

    by madsenj37 (612413) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @05:45AM (#33066742)
    What is its price compared to uranium?
  • utter nonsense (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheLoneCabbage (323135) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @05:58AM (#33066806) Homepage

    The report compares running costs of a solar plant against the running costs of nuclear PLUS construction costs. Not only that but also chooses the most expensive plant designs, and takes the extremely high end estimates.

    Taken from http://energyfromthorium.com/ [energyfromthorium.com]:

    Fuel costs. Thorium fuel is plentiful and inexpensive; one ton worth $300,000 can power a 1,000 megawatt LFTR for a year – enough power for a city. Just 500 tons would supply all US electric energy for a year. The US government has 3,752 tons stored in the desert. US Geological Survey estimates reserves of 300,000 tons, and Thorium Energy claims 1.8 million tons of ore on 1,400 acres of Lemhi Pass, Idaho. Fuel costs for thorium would be $0.00004/kWh, compared to coal at $0.03/kWh.

    Capital costs. The 2009 update of MIT’s Future of Nuclear Power shows new coal plants cost $2.30/watt and PWR nuclear plants cost of $4.00/watt. The median of five cost studies of molten salt reactors from 1962 to 2002 is $1.98/watt, in 2009 dollars. The following are fundamental reasons that LFTR plants will be less costly than coal or PWR plants.

  • NYT really blew it (Score:3, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday July 29, 2010 @12:24PM (#33071954) Homepage

    That's an amazingly bad article for the New York Times. It's based on a single paper which reads like a sales brochure. The figures for power costs are after subsides. Solar power isn't charged with storage costs. (Although, in hot areas, the solar peak coincides with the air conditioning peak. Wind has much worse problems; output is totally unrelated to when power is needed.)

    Their projections are even worse. Their projection graph has data points in the future, which they then fit with a line. What? The SolarBuzz solar power price index [solarbuzz.com], which is from a solar advocacy group, is far higher than the numbers in that paper. SolarBuzz shows a decline from $0.22/KWh in 2000 to $0.19/Kwh in 2010 today for medium-industrial sized roof-top solar projects in US sunbelt states, including inverters and grid connection, but not land or power storage. That's only a 10% decline per decade, not the 40% decline shown in the paper.

    Nobody has actually built and started up a big nuclear plant in the US in several decades, so there's no real cost basis available there. China has 22 reactors under construction right now.

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