Sunday, November 8, 2009

Apples and Oranges? Compairing Nuclear costs with Wind

Renewable advocates often criticizr nuclear power costs, but rarely compare the costs the cost of Nuclear power with renewables. When challenged to make the comparison, renewable advocates will often resort to the apples to oranges dodge. That is when challenged to make a comparison between nuclear electrical costs, and renewable electrical costs, renewable advocates will claim that such a comparison is impossible because it is an apples to oranges comparisons. There are several ways to get around the the apples to oranges dodge. One way would be to compare the cost of generating a kW of electricity for a year (8400 kWhs). Once we do that we quickly would discover that a single nuclear plant would come close to producing the 8400 hundred hours of electricity on its own, while most renewables are going to require substantial help. Photovoltaic generators in very sunny spots, may produce 4 to 5 times their rated capacity every day. But there are 4 hours a day, so the daily electrical output of PV solar generator may only be around 20% of its rated capacity. In contrast a nuclear reactor will generate on average over 9o% of its potential output in a year. Thus one way to compare our apples and oranges is to compare how much of their name plate output actually gets delivered. This if a PV system costs $40 million is is rated at 10 million Watts, but only produces 4 times that amount in a day, then we are paying not $4.00 per 24 hour a day watt, but $4 per 5 hours a day watt. in order to find how much it costs to for for a 24 hour a day watt, we are going to have to multiply our $4.00 by around 5. Thus our watt of 24 hour a day electricity is going to costr about $20.00, Renewable advocates will objet that we don't need for all electricity o be 24 hour a day electricity, but of course the problem is that a good deal of the electricity wind produces, is generated when consumers don't want electricity, while wind does not produce electricity when consumers want it.

I believe that recently, I made a very powerful case against wind generated electricity. I demonstrated that West Texas winds are not matched to consumer demand. I pointed to the admission by a well known West TexasWind developer that the West Texas business exists because of subsidies, not profits. I pointed to arguments suggesting that wind matched to fossil fuel generation does not substantially lower the carbon emissions from wind-fossil fuel generating systems, and that investments in nuclear power would bring far more CO2 reduction, dollar to dollar than investments in wind. My conclusion was that a new West Texas wind project financed by Chinese investments and American stimulus monies, existed solely because government subsidies would be financing much of it, and that those subsidies would primarily benefir chinese workers and investors. The project did little to mitigate the energy related emissions of CO2 from the electrical generation industry, and thus was a a largely wasted investment as far as climate is concerned.

My story got posted on the energy collective, and about the same tme, the energy collective posted another essay, by David Levy, a University of Massachusetts, management professor. Levy, in effect criticized protests against the West Texas wind project on the grounds that were directed to its failure to creat American jobs. Levy suggested that such attitudes place American business related policies at a disadvantage in competition with China.

I can see Levy's point, but in one respect Levy goes off base, He claims
the proposed wind farm will generate plenty of clean power,
This, bot the jobs issue goes to the heart of my case. The words "clean power" are a sort of shibboleth. Levy seems to believe that ifthe words "clean power" can be attached to a project, it is justified. I asked Levy,
David, Do you have any answers to my argument that the proposed Texas wind farm will generate largely useless power that will not meet the needs of Texas electrical consumers, and that money spent on this project would will be far less effectively spent on a nuclear project if CO2 mitigation is the project goal. I suspect that a government subsidy of a nuclear project would create more long term American jobs.
Levy responded,
read that land-based wind power costs a long term average of 4-8c/kWh, depending on location and scale. At least we have plenty of wind online to be able to estimate the costs. True, there are problems of intermittency, but gas powered peak backup is needed for multiple reasons, including plant downtime, etc. It doesn't need to back up wind one-to-one. Intermittency only becomes a major problem when wind reaches 15-20% of grid capacity, a limit being reached in parts of Europe. But a balance of wind, solar thermal (good for the hot afternoons and with some storage potential), some long-distance transmission (esp. across time zones), and new storage technologies will address the issue. We really don't know the long term costs of nuclear, including decommisioning. In Mass., we are paying around 2c/kWh, I think, for the 'transition charge', the nuclear bailout.
Now David's comment raises several questions about wind cost. First, Davod assumes that the price of wind is its true cost. That is not the case. Last year Drew Thornley looked at hidden Texas wind costs. Thornly notes,
Cost estimates for wind-energy generation (not includ- ing costs of building and maintaining wind turbines) of- ten exclude many of wind energy’s costs, such as the following:
• Wind-energy transmission costs;
• Grid-connection and grid-management costs;
• The costs of backing up wind turbines with tradi- tional power sources;
• Lost tax revenues from federal and state subsidies and tax breaks.
Thornley notes another, little noticed. subsidy for wind in Texas:
unlike conventional-power generators, wind-energy providers do not have to pay ERCOT for generation-schedule deviations.† This is no small perk for Texas’ most intermittent energy source, and it distorts wind energy’s price, relative to conventional power prices. The result of this is that non-wind generators, and primarily customers, must bear the cost of ERCOT’s deploying regulation and other reserves when there are large deviations from their schedules.
Thus when Levy recites the "4-8c/kWh" cost for wind generated electricity, he no doubt ignores the hidden costs of wind. Levy tells us that fossil fuel back up need not be one on one. Excuse me professor, but in Texas and indeed in California as well, when summer winds stops blowing and wind capacity factors drop as low as .02, you are going to need one on one backup, if you are going to avoid rolling blackouts when air conditioners start begging the grid for electricity.

Levy's solutions to the problems of wind contained many hidden costs, Build long distance transmission lines, well according to Thornton in 2008 they cost $3,282,828.28 per mile. That does not count against Levy's "4-8c/kWh." Levy does not tell us how much it costs to build and operate a fossil fuel or solar back up system. The Royal Academy of Engineering, estimated that the cost of maintaining and operating a back up fossilfuel system increased the real cost of wind generated electricity by something close to 70%.

CSP facilities currently run to $4 billion per GW, and that gets you 5 GWh per day of electricity. Levy tells us, "Intermittency only becomes a major problem when wind reaches 15-20% of grid capacity"? Ask ERCOT, if they agree.

Professor Levy claims, "We really don't know the long term costs of nuclear." But do we know the long term cost of wind? Given Thornley's observations, we don't even know the short term cost of wind. Wind generators are suppose to last for 25 years, but the data suggest that they last about 16 years. After 16 years they windmills ware out and have to be replaced. Nuclear plants have a nominal life span of 40 years, but many are now being relicensed for 20 more years, and research has begun on extending their life to as long as 80 years. Levi mention "transition charges." How come there are no nuclear transition charges in Texas or Tennessee? Finally uses the strange term, "nuclear bailout." Wind is constantly being bailed out, at the rate of two cents per kWh, what is a nuclear bailout?

If there is an apples to oranges comparison of wind and nuclear power, It would appear that much of the problem is that many costs for renewable electricity are not accounted for when renewable advocates make comparisons.

6 comments:

Soylent said...

Charles, if you haven't listened to the latest "this week in nuclear" podcast you probably should go do so.

Paul Burke said...

Did I miss it or was there absolutely no metnion of nuclear waste - I would love it if nuclear was the answer but the people who actually work in the industry from the big generators to the engineers working with nuclear propulsion are people who get the most hideous forms of cancer.

I understand all of your points but if wind and solar got half the subsidies nuclear power has been getting since the 1960's it would be a competitive and ingrained energy source already.

The waste issue is real - ignoring it won't go away and there is a a federal lawsuit over it by the big utility companies themselves versus the United states.

Until nuclear waste and power can be safe and clean it is just another "dirty" energy source that we must ween ourselves off of - unless you like the idea of nuclear proliferation.

Instead of fighting against wind, solar thermal and algae based energy sources - maybe you should focus your intellect on them and help us all live safer, cleaner and healthier lives.

Paul Burke
Author-Journey Home

Charles Barton said...

Paul, You have been misinformed about nuclear power. I advocate the development of advanced nuclear technology that will largely eliminate the problem of nuclear waste. This technology was developed in Oak Ridge in the 1959's and 60's, and has long been known in the nuclear community. I grew up in Oak Ridge, and I can assure you that repeated studies have shown that there is no unusual cancer problems in Oak Ridge or near by communities. . Indeed there is no evidence of problems in the neighborhood of America;s 104 power reactors. Nuclear power very safe, does not kill birds and bats as wind does.

Charles Barton said...

Paul, You have been misinformed about nuclear power. I advocate the development of advanced nuclear technology that will largely eliminate the problem of nuclear waste. This technology was developed in Oak Ridge in the 1959's and 60's, and has long been known in the nuclear community. I grew up in Oak Ridge, and I can assure you that repeated studies have shown that there is no unusual cancer problems in Oak Ridge or near by communities. . Indeed there is no evidence of problems in the neighborhood of America;s 104 power reactors. Nuclear power very safe, does not kill birds and bats as wind does.

Jason Ribeiro said...

Paul, you are not only misinformed about nuclear power as Charles states, I'm afraid you might be hopelessly ignorant on the matter, but I'd like to be proven wrong in the assumption. You've obviously adopted other people's ignorance without doing any investigation on your own to make your decisions. Generally, the more people learn about nuclear energy the more they like it.

Studies have shown the nuclear workers actually have lower rates of cancer than the general population. There is no lawsuit against the federal government at this time regarding nuclear waste. Nuclear energy is the safest form of energy even when you include the Chernobyl accident.

So called "renewable" energy is inherently flawed. No matter how much money is poured into it, it will never become a dominant source of energy.

Nathan2go said...

Uhm, back on the subject of cost, it's important to remember that there are three cost metrics that are all important.

The two of most interest to investors are upfront capital cost and levelized (per kWh) cost. Wind and nuclear are similar for these two.

For consumers, the most important metric is fleet average generation cost. That averages the cost of all generators on the grid, old and new; and is what determines our electric bills.

For fleet average cost, wind is much costlier than nuclear, because reactors last three times as long as wind turbines! By the time the construction loans are paid for, it's time to replace the turbines; but the reactor still has decades of life remaining.

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