Amory Lovins is a useful foil for the supporters of nuclear power. Lovins often provides the null-hypothesis of the case they wish to make. Thus by the logic of Karl Popper's theory of science, a refutation of Lovins is an argument in favor of nuclear power.
Amory Lovins claimed in 2008,
New nuclear saves 2–20+× less carbon per dollar, ~20–40× slower, than efficiency and micropower investments, Buying new nuclear instead of efficiency results in more carbon release than if the same money had been spent buying a new coal-fired power plantThe second statement is very confused. While it is desirable to spend money on efficiency and on energy production capitalization. Energy production and efficiency are not either/or proposition. While efficient lightbulbs may lower my home lighting costs, efficiency will not generate the electricity to light my house. Thus efficiency cannot be equated to carbon free generation of electricity. Lovins' claims about the carbon savings entailed in efficiency investment has been disputed by David Bradish, Robert Bryce, Vaclav Smil, Peter W. Huber ad Mark P. Mills,
Historical evidence shows unequivocally that secular advances in energy efficiency have not lead to any declines of aggregate energy consumption.Some time ago, Amory Lovins told Robert Bryce that he would produce an answer to Bryce's criticism of his (Lovins) claims about efficiency. Lovins also promised nearly two years ago to answer David Bradish's criticisms of Lovins' account of efficiency. Again the answers have never appeared. Thus the present state of the debate is that Lovins view that efficiency is more cost effective than nuclear power at displacing CO2 have been sivirly criticized. Critics have raised significant questions about the relationship between efficiency and society wide energy demands. So far Lovins has not answered his critics. Thus claims about the relative carbon displacement capacity of efficiency are at present without a plausible foundation.
We will pass back to the first statement. Since Lovins has not been able to demonstrate that efficiency displaced energy demand on a society wide, macro-economic level, the claim that New nuclear saves 2–20+× less carbon per dollar than efficiency is without foundation. We thus are left with the other half of Lovins claim, that "New nuclear saves 2–20+× less carbon per dollar" than "Micropower investments." Before we can determine if Lovins is correct, we need to decide what the word "micropower" means. The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary defines "Micropower
the use of your own equipment and the sun, wind, etc to produce all the heat and power that you need.We will quickly see that this definition is highly problematic, and that micropower as defined by Lovins has nothing to do with personal ownership. We will also presently see that the term micropower does not exclude fossil fuels, and indeed fossil fuel powered generators are and always have been a part of the definition of Micropower.
Encarta defines Micropower as,
electrical power in small amounts: electrical power generated or used in relatively small quantities, usually close to the location where it is needed.Again nothing in this definition holds up to scruteny.
David Bradish notes that Amory Lovins defines "micropower" as
distributed turbines and generators in factories or buildings (usually cogenerating useful heat), and all renewable sources of electricity except big hydro damsFurther when Bradish looked at Lovins supplied data on micropower, he found that,
By far the largest non-nuclear source of electricity in the above chart is decentralized generation (the big orange block) which the Excel file calls “Non-Biomass Decentralized Co-Generation.”“Non-Biomass Decentralized Co-Generation.” What does “Non-Biomass Decentralized Co-Generation.” refer too? According to Lovins it refers to Gas turbines and Diesel and gas turbine generators. So micropower clearly includes the generation of electricity and heat from fossil fuel sources. Bradish also notes when he consults a source of Lovins data, that coal fired co-generation facilities are included. Thus while Lovins does not acknowledge the inclusion of coal fired energy in his definition of "micropower," he entialis it by his choice of sources,
In a second post, Bradish pointed to more problems with Lovins definition of Micropower." He quotes another Lovins' definition of Micropower.
1. onsite generation of electricity (at the customer, not at a remote utility plant)—usually cogeneration of electricity plus recovered waste heat (outside the U.S. this is usually called CHP—combined-heat-and-power): this is about half gas-fired, and saves at least half the carbon and much of the cost of the separate power plants and boilers it displaces;Bradish points out that while Lovins' definition would seem to suggest an upper cap of 10 MWe on "micropower" generators, in fact Lovins sources include data on plants of up to 300 MWe generating capacity. The 10 MWe limit only refers to hydro-electrical generators.
2. distributed renewables—all renewable power sources except big hydro plants, which are defined here as dams larger than 10 megawatts (MW).
But there are other problems with Lovins definition. For example, definition 1 suggests that "micropower" sources are on site. But Lovins states that all renewables are included in the micropower category. Wind farm solar thermal facilities are rarely located on the site where the electricity they generate is used. Thus the first and second definitions contradict each other. Secondly, the 300 MWe limit David Bradish observed does not appear to be the upper output limit of Lovins' Micropower. Wind facilities of any sized would be included. Thus a 1000 MWe solar thermal plant or wind farm located 1000 miles away from the electrical consumer would fit Lovins definition of "micropower."
Having noted the apparent contradictions in Lovins' definitions of "Micropower" I will move on to attempt a test of Lovins assertion that Micropower is less expensive than nuclear power. Since Micropowe represents a loosely defined class of energy producing technologies, all of which Lovins claims are lower cost than nuclear, it is only necessary to demonstrate that some members of that class are do not cost less than nuclear power in order to demonstrate that Lovins' claim is false.
Since diesel electrical generation would be entailed in Lovins' "Micropower" definition, we will start with a Diesel-nuclear comparison. Diesel fuel costs would run from $0.16 to $0.23 per kWh. Excluding any other estimated cost, this would be an amount substantially greater than the estimated 2016 levelized cost of $0.12 per kWh, for new nuclear, as estimated by the United States Energy Information Agency. The EIA 2016 levelized cost of PV solar, Solar thermal, offshore wind and onshore wind would also be higher than nuclear. Lovins ignores the EIA cost findings are reports older data that suggests higher nuclear cost. No one knows what the actual cost of new energy sources in 2016 will be, but the price trend for all large engineering projects including both reactors and wind farms is up. The EIA levelized cost estimates do not include the cost of backups, grid extensions necessitated by the remote location of nenewable generation technologies, energy storage systems, and other hidden expenses related to intermittent renewable energy use.
Thus Lovins claim that nuclear power would be more expensive is built on a far from conclusive case, and indeed a good case can be made that the levelized cost of conventional nuclear before 2020 will be lower rather than higher than wind and solar.
Lovins charge that the nuclear power plants take 20 to 40 times slower to produce than efficiency and "micropower." We have already seen that the energy benefits of efficiency are at the very least debatable, and that Lovins so far has been unable to answer his critics about the ineffectiveness of energy efficiency. Thus it is far from clear what the significance of claims about fast accomplished efficiencies. Further we have seen that Lovins definition of micropower is confused and inconsistent. Lovins includes in his definition of micropower wind projects that take several years to plan, design and build. In many cases, the simple completion of wind projects is not enough to bring the electricity they produce to market, transmission lines must also be built. And in large wind producing states like Texas, the construction of transmission lines may be delayed for several years after wind projects are up and running. Thus in practice it has not even been conclusively established that less total time is required to bring electricity generated by new wind projects to market, that is required to bring electricity produced by new nuclear power sources to market.
Further discussions of off shore wind projects in the United Kingdom indicate that many projects required by EU mandates for completion by 2020 may not be completed by that date. This period falls into a similar time frame that would be required to conceive of, plan and build a NPP. Thus Lovins 20 to 40 times greater time frame for nuclear appears to be more a number thrown out to make nuclear look bad, than a reflection of well considered realities.
Let us turn now to another Lovins claim found in his essay Forget Nuclear:
[Nuclear power is] also a climate-protection loser, surpassing in carbon emissions displaced per dollar only centralized, non-cogenerating combined-cycle power plants burning natural gas29. Firmed windpower and cogeneration are at least 1.5 times more cost-effective than nuclear at displacing CO2—or about 3 times using the latest nuclear cost estimates.
Nuclear plant operations emit almost no carbon—just a little to produce the fuel under current conditions1. Nuclear power is therefore touted as the key replacement for coal-fired power plants. But this seemingly straightforward substitution could instead be done using non-nuclear technologies that are cheaper and faster, so they yield more climate solution per dollar and per year.
Coal is by far the most carbon-intensive source of electricity, so displacing it is the yardstick of carbon displacement’s effectiveness. A kilowatt-hour of nuclear power does displace nearly all the 0.9-plus kilograms of CO2 emitted by producing a kilowatt-hour from coal. But so does a kilowatt-hour from wind, a kilowatt-hour from recovered-heat industrial cogeneration, or a kilowatt-hour saved by end-use efficiency. And all of these three carbon-free resources cost at least one-third less than nuclear power per kilowatt-hour, so they save more carbon per dollar.
Combined-cycle industrial cogeneration and building-scale cogeneration typically burn natural gas, which does emit carbon (though half as much as coal), so they displace somewhat less net carbon than nuclear power could: around 0.7 kilograms of CO2 per kilowatt-hour1. Even though cogeneration displaces less carbon than nuclear does per kilowatt-hour, it displaces more carbon than nuclear does per dollar spent on delivered electricity, because it costs far less. With a net delivered cost per kilowatt-hour approximately half of nuclear’s, cogeneration delivers twice as many kilowatt-hours per dollar, and therefore displaces around 1.4 kilograms of CO2 for the same cost as displacing 0.9 kilograms of CO2 with nuclear power.
Lets deconstruct these claims. First he claims that firmed wind power is 1.5 times more cost effective than nuclear. The cost of firm wind is usually not advertised, but I calculated it, based on formulas derived from the Archer-Jacobson study of firmed wind. If we assume that in 2010 wind generators cost $2,500 per kW, and that the firm wind capacity factor is .21, the total cost of the firmed wind array, without transmission would be $11.90 per kW, but this figure does not include the cost of backups. In contrast the mid decade cost of nuclear power is estimated to be 8000 per kW. thus in absolute terms nuclear is cheaper than firm wind. But are wind and nuclear equally effective carbon mitigation tools. Ken Hawkins, noting studies from the netherlands and of data from Colorado and Texas, has recently raised questions about the effectiveness of wind as a carbon mitigation tool. After I reviewed data from the The National Renewables Energy Laboratory Eastern and Western grids renewables penetration studies, I found evidence that 20% to 30% wind penetration would basically displace relatively carbon efficient CCGTs rather than the worst carbon offenders on the grid, cola burning power plants. I concluded,
Carbon mitigation with conventional nuclear would thus appear well over 3 times more cost effective compared to carbon mitigation with wind. The true cost effectiveness advantage of nuclear cannot be gaged until we know more about the hidden costs of wind, but the hidden costs appear to extract greater cost penalties at higher levels of wind grid penetration.
Thus argument exist that contradict Lovins claims about the relative carbon mitigation effectiveness of wind. At the moment I do not need to press this case further.
Finally, what of Lovins claim that natural gas is a more cost effective carbon mitigation tool than nuclear? This would appear to be nonsense. Lovins admitts,
Combined-cycle industrial cogeneration and building-scale cogeneration typically burn natural gas, which does emit carbon (though half as much as coal), so they displace somewhat less net carbon than nuclear power could: around 0.7 kilograms of CO2 per kilowatt-hour1but claims
Even though cogeneration displaces less carbon than nuclear does per kilowatt-hour, it displaces more carbon than nuclear does per dollar spent on delivered electricity, because it costs far less. With a net delivered cost per kilowatt-hour approximately half of nuclear’s, cogeneration delivers twice as many kilowatt-hours per dollar, and therefore displaces around 1.4 kilograms of CO2 for the same cost as displacing 0.9 kilograms of CO2 with nuclear power.In fact while the EIA levelized cost of natural gas CCGTs is less than nuclearm it is no where near half the cost of nuclear. In fact CCGTs emit about half of what coal fired power plants, do, so the levelized cost of CCGTs must be multiplied by 2 in order to determine their carbon displacement costs. Carbon displacement with natural gas is more expensive per ton than it is with nuclear. Thus Amory Lovins has failed to establish reasonable grounds for his argument against nuclear power.