Sunday, November 16, 2008

Clean California Power: Renewables or Nuclear?

Brian Wang at Next Big Future posted a discussion of the California energy situation yesterday. His post called attention to the official version of how much 33% a renewables penetration of the California grid would cost.  The official version is that it would cost 60 billion, but this is really the cost to Californians as tax payers.  It neglects how much the cost to Californians as rate payers would run.    The California plan called for no less than 70 GWs of name plate renewable power.  I estimated the cost of the 20 GWs of wind generation facilities to run with inflation to from $68 billion to $100 Billion, with most of the the rest of 50 GWs coming in at a higher price tag per name plate kW.  I estimated that if the entire 70 GWs could be supplied by wind the cost would run from $238 billion to $350 billion.  In contrast the carbon free electrical generation function for 33% of California's electricity could be easily performed by 10 reactors that would cost from $80 to 120 Billion.   (Actually only 7 reactors were needed, but the number 10 was chosen in able to assure that even with one reactor down for refueling and two reactors scramed for random reasons, the system still would be able to supply at least 33% of California's electrical demand.)

If California were to attempt to draw all of the from Ausra solar facilities with all of the cost saving Ausra claims possible were in place the cost would be well over 50% higher for the solar based system than with the nuclear based facilities.  The odds are probably against Santa giving David Mills everything he wished for, and David will be lucky if the Ausra 3x base load system could be built for under $18,000 per kW in 2015.     That still would a lot less expensive than a wind base solution and certainly less than the proposed renewables mix. 

Now how is Californians to pay for their 10 new high price reactors?  The reactors would of course replace fossil fuel burning power plants, and the savings in fuel purchase costs would go a long way to pay for the new nucs.  The spot market price for coal has doubled during the last 18 months.   California electrical consumers face a 30% rate increase in the near future, and California already has the most expensive electricity in the country.  TVA recently reported that its Browns Ferry Unit 1 saved it $800 million during its first year of operations.  A savings savings of that magnitude would more than pay the interest and principle on the $8 to $12 Billion new nuks are now estimated to cost.  

There are other savings pointed too by Brian Wang's post.  A recent study by two Cal State Fullerton economics professors found that air pollution related to fossil fuel use, cost the California economy $28 billion a year in health related expenses. There was no break out of the percentage of that cost could be attributed to the use of fossil fuels in the production of electricity, but it undoubtedly runs into the multibillion dollar range.  Everyone ends up paying the health related cost of air pollution including people who pay or copay medical insurance paid claims, insurance companies, employers, and tax payers. Thus a considerable savings in health care related expenses would be returned to California rate payers in the form of healthcare related savings by reducing the use of coal in electrical generation.

It would appear that Californians would not add more financial burdens in paying the cost of new nuclear plants and would in fact enjoy at least slightly better health. Even granted the highly speculative cost of the Ausra CSP system, Californians would still end up paying a very large "Green premium" for choosing renewable rather than nuclear generated electricity. Unfortunately the California energy debate is dominated by insane anti-nuclear fanatics who continue to repeat 30 year old lies about the cost of nuclear power, why the repeat equally outrageous underestimates about the cost of renewable electricity.


DW said...

I think everyone's numbers are way off here.

California's ISO controlled base load is "only" 22GWs. It's not near 70GWs even on a hot day and including that part of the grid that is not under ISO control (but under public power authorities, or about 20% of the grid).

So we don't need this much.

Chuck De Vore calls for building 8 nuclear power reactors, or around 11GWs of nuclear energy which would be about 60% of base load need including the 4 reactors on line right now).

For California, however, our non-baseload power is almost 150% of that baseload of's goes up to 44GWs on those hot summer days so we need something for that period. Smaller load changing nuclear power plants would fit that bill nicely.


Charles Barton said...

David, the expectation is that there will be a 33% renewables penetration into the California grid by 2020. California is running out of decent wind sites, so even 20 GW of wind is not going to get a whole lot of capacity. The 70 MW figure could very well be the way the CPUC staff is trying to tell the people of California that this whole idea is crazy.

DW said...

Could be. The people to really talk to, however is the California ISO. I can't imagine what it would be like to schedule power for this state with "33%" renewables...let alone the cost.


Charles Barton said...

Crazy isn't it? But no one is talking about how crazy it is,

Anonymous said...

I am very concerned that while we discuss the pitfalls and limitations of renewable energy, the environmental lobby is actively engaged in influencing the energy supply plans of power agencies and they seem to have a lot of support in the government. Some of the representatives of the environmental groups have no experience in power generation or related degrees, and yet they are treated as valid stakeholders. Why is someone with a degree in Russian literature trying to define my standard of living in the future and why is this acceptable?

Charles Barton said...

Lynne. We are living in what I call the era of confusion. Most people really believe that renewables offer the solution to the energy problem. We have a lot of romanticism and wish fulfillment, coupled with thinking errors, intellectual laziness, and band wagon effect going for renewables right now. But a few people are starting to wake up. I don't expect the great awakening, until around 2012. When it comes, we will enter a different world in terms of our thinking and perception of our problems.


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