Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Future Energy Costs: A Short Revisit

A paper, "Greenhouse-gas Emissions from Solar Electric- and Nuclear Power: A Life-cycle
Study," by Vasilis M. Fthenakis and Hyung Chul Kim of Brookhaven National Lab contained a passage that caught my attention:

"Our analysis shows that, although the construction cost per kWh electricity produced is similar for both structures, the amount of steel used for the NPP [nuclear power plant] is 3-10 times less than the PV BOS. There are two ways to explain this anomaly. First, the steel components used in NPPs may be more expensive, labor intensive, and perhaps, energy intensive. Second, the cost of constructing NPPs is relatively high due to expenses unrelated to steel and concrete components."

Yes, I thought, just as I anticipated. Relative costs will be heavily dependent on the costs of things like steel and concrete. What is the case for PV generating facilities will also be the case for ST facilities. No doubt there will be a concerted effort made to make the PV and ST power plants get by with less material. However, that is still some way off. We know how to make reactors loose concrete and steel, and become safer, and also become less dependent on CO2 generating mines, and Uranium enrichment plants. That is to shift our reactor technology from LWRs to Molten Salt Reactors.


Joffan said...

I seem to recall that wind uses significantly more concrete and steel than nuclear too. I am a little surprised that solar PV calculates out as high as that.

A small note, though - mines don't generated CO2 intrinsically, they just use energy (which currently is supplied by fossil fuels). Uranium enrichment is already undertaken without CO2 generation in France. Making concrete on the other hand has intrinsic CO2 generation as well as energy use.

Charles Barton said...

Joggan, Mining does use diesel fuel, and other fossil fuels. Hence it generates some CO2. Milling also does fossil fuels. Uranium enrichment via gaseous diffusion draws a lot of coal fired electricity.

You are right though, Wind and Solar do require more building and structural materials. At the moment these are in short supply and growing more expensive. But if the Chinese stop building their economy, who knows.

Joffan said...

My point was that mining uses energy which is supplied by fossil fuels at present, but could be sourced elsewhere. Carbon sources of energy in the nuclear power lifecycle is an argument for more nuclear to me.


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