Friday, March 19, 2010

Bright Source to cost $15,000 per kW

Earlier this week the New York Times titled Major California Solar Project Moves Ahead. The story reported that the US DoE had approved a $1.37 billion loan guarantee to BrightSource Energy, for the construction of the 392-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.
The story discussed that an environmental controversy involving had broken out the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity were objecting to the project for environmental reasons although at least in principle support solar energy projects. One has to ask where these distinguished environmental organizations think it would environmentally sound to bulldoze several square miles of desert habitat, and cover the denuded land with thousands of mirrors?

The Times story contained major flaws. as David Lewis noted in response:
If you take the $1.37 billion loan guarantee as the cost of the project, and NREL published data for the estimated yearly output in MWhr (1,079,232 per yr), this works out to $11,120 per available kWhr. But this project relies on a natural gas assist. From the California Energy Commission's webpage on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System: "Each plant also includes a partial load natural gas fired steam boiler... for thermal input... during the morning start-up cycle... and during transient cloudy conditions". The gas fired assist explains how this plant can claim to be designed to produce power @ 31% capacity factor - a solar plant at that location could only be expected to produce 24% or so.

If you factor out the gas assist, you get actual low CO2 emission solar thermal power out of this thing for a mere $15,0000 per available kW, which is only THREE TIMES what it would cost to put in a nuke plant, if you assumed that Lester Brown is correct when he cites the Areva plant in Finland as the true "tombstone" poster plant that will kill the nuclear renaissance because it costs $5000 per available kW after the cost overruns are included

It would take about 11.7 of these Brightsource "392 MW" nameplate 123 MW actually available on average projects to equal the output of the far too expensive for Lester Brown to consider using Areva Finland nuke. Lester touts solar thermal, so, let's see, for a mere $16 billion or so, you could cover 75 square miles of places the Sierra Club, et al, say they don't want to see covered and use generating stations like these instead.

There was a reason that the Sierra Club used to support nuclear power.
Environmentalists continue to insist on their absurd argument that nuclear power is to expensive, while hiding the real cost of renewable power. The Times, of course, enables the confidence game.


SteveK9 said...

Hopefully this is too pessimistic, but I found this prediction plausible. From a post I ran across online titled:

Why I'm Long Uranium and Nuclear / Power Engineering - Daniel Moser


Let me cut to the chase. Current policy prospects for solving global warming stand just about a zero percent chance of solving global warming. Let me rephrase that in case it didn’t come off clearly….it doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of solving global warming. This is for a whole host of reasons. But nobody in office is particularly interested in the science or economics behind tackling this issue. However, they do care about votes and let’s face it, taxing the refining industry into bankruptcy has significant short term political benefits for every liberal democrat taking advantage of people who Bill Maher would refer to as “stupid people.” (I am not so sure he should be excluded from this group when it comes to the topic of energy policy and global warming.)

In my opinion, the only economically feasible solution that stands any shot of tackling the global warming issue is nuclear power. No global warming policy should be taken seriously unless it includes significant outlays for nuclear energy. Yes it has tremendous up front costs, but it is the lowest marginal cost provider of energy with the lowest emissions. Quite frankly nothing else comes close to nuclear power with any sort of scale.

Here is how I see it playing out...
The current bull market in politics will keep on pace subsidizing corn ethanol production in an effort to earn the Iowa caucus votes and the subsequent political benefits regardless of the fact that this policy offers zero positives to society but it does provide tremendous costs for the world. Solar and other alternatives will once again re-emerge as an investment fad. Much like the tech bubble, these companies might soar up in value as the craze hits. This craze will end much like the tech bubble ended. Investors will unfortunately find out that most of these alternative energy companies are not profitable and not even economically feasible with enough scale to warrant support, thus it will end in tears. They will go bankrupt but not before billions in IPO’s and political payoffs to lobbyist groups and politicians in which everyone i.e. Al Gore make millions and millions of dollars promoting bad policy to gain votes in addition to personal financial wealth.

When this collapse occurs, nuclear will finally emerge as the “duh” solution to solving global warming while expanding power capacity, thereby maintaining economic growth, for the world as well as the United States. At this point, the newly made millionaire policy makers will finally switch to some decent policy and will expand nuclear power plants in the United States.

Bill Hannahan said...

Charles, I think projects like this are great. It will be much easier to compete with the actual performance this plant racks up in a few years as opposed to competing with the idealized paper studies we compete against now.

We can argue for building demo nuclear plants as well, LFTR, uranium MSR, IFR, modular plants etc. We should promote this recommendation.

1...Implement a $100 billion / year R&D budget that pushes all technologies as hard and fast as possible. Dr. Steven Chu will know how to spend it. $100 billion/year is not much to solve the two biggest problems faced by the human race, energy and climate change. The economic return for getting it right will be many orders of magnitude larger.

2...Build demonstration plants of every technology as it becomes possible. If the first one fails, build improved models until the technology is proven to be useful or not. This is the D in R&D. D is the expensive part of Research and Development and we have been doing very little Development since the 1970’s.

3...Publish all the data.

4...Eliminate all subsidies. Note that R&D and subsidies are two completely different things. With R&D there is always the potential for a dramatic breakthrough that will change everything. Not so with subsidies.

5...Include all external costs for all technologies.

6...Allow the cost of energy to rise or fall to its real value on a totally level field.

7...Allow a well informed private sector of individuals and corporations to select the best technology for mass production in an environment of open and fair competition.

This process will produce the best possible solution, whatever that is, in the shortest possible time, even if we are all wrong.

Anonymous said...

One problem with your suggestion Bill is that the US Govt does some things classified e.g. the Polywell is being done by the US Navy, and no-one can see how it is going. How do you compare costs/success?

LarryD said...

In the case of Polywell, the Navy needs powerful sources of on-board electrical energy for their future warships. Their agenda is obvious and pragmatic. If Polywell can't cut it, the funding goes away.

If it can, the next step is the WB-D 100 MW demo reactor. If that's successful, then the Navy has to go to Congress for funding a reactor program, at which point they'll have to show figures.

Eventually EMC2 gets to publish.

Anonymous said...

I think your calculation isn't right.
You can't divide a yearly output by the total cost. That ends up with a price per kilowatt required to pay off the whole loan in a year.
The normal calculation would be a cost of servicing the loan, plus some principal (say over 30 years), and a reasonable return on capital above that.

Charles Barton said...

Anonymous yes you can. I am measuring not output, but the cost capacity factor units. If a plant produces 1MW of electricity 20% of the time, the capital cost of 1 MW of electricity produced 100% of the time is 5 the cost of the 1 MW plant. This is the mistake renewables advocates make.


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