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As most observers of the energy scene know, Dr. Steven Chu is the Energy Secretary of the United States, a physicist, and a Nobel Laureate. Discovery Magazine, in a recent issue, selected what it called the "100 top stories of 2010", one of which was authored by an editor of Discovery, and whose main purpose was evidently to verify Dr. Chu's green credentials.
As good luck would have it, the article was only two pages long, and did not contain any elementary physics or mathematics -- two subjects that I failed twice in my first year at engineering school, and as a result of which I was duly expelled and forced to join the army. On the other hand, some important observations of the Econ 101 variety were missing from Dr. Chu's answers to editor Corey Powell's questions, which unfortunately prevents me from recommending his 'piece' to my friends and neighbors.
Mr. Powell began his Q&A with a reference to the Gulf Coast oil spill, asking how an accident of this magnitude could happen. I won't bother to discuss Dr. Chu's answer, because both question and answer were irrelevant. Statistically, accidents of that type are unavoidable, and have always taken place. If we go back to the Second World War, we can e.g. consider the completely unnecessary attack on Manila, the failure to clear the approaches to the port of Antwerp as soon as possible, and perhaps the worst blunder of all, which was adopting the 'Sherman' as the main American battle tank. Compared to those 'accidents', the Gulf Coast tragedy was small beer.
For long term energy investments, Dr. Chu pictures the U.S. moving toward a large-scale electrification of personal vehicles. So do I, only in my head the details involve electricity supplied by breeder reactors, and since I am not a fan of the plutonium community, I confine my studies to the economics of conventional nuclear facilities. Even so, I would be genuinely pleased if the secretary and his successors, and their foot soldiers, could provide me and my future students with their insights on this topic, and preferably sooner rather than later -- assuming that they, unlike my good self, have examined this issue sufficiently to tell us something beyond public relations hype.
I will admit that Dr. Chu's thoughts on nuclear energy bother me somewhat, because he states that large reactors will cost 7 to 8 billion (US) dollars. I regard that estimate as completely and totally wrong, and suggest that he should have a talk with the former director of the French firm Areva, Anne Lauvergeon, and in particular ask about the information she has concerning the new Chinese reactors. In terms of cost, the Chinese reactors are probably capable of producing the most inexpensive electricity in the world. As I informed the environmentalist Mr. Jeffrey Leggett, after he questioned my bona-fides at the Singapore Energy Week, the problem is the grotesque failure to teach the kind of economics that would enable the advisors of politicians and bureaucrats (and others) to provide accurate calculations for their employers.
If his French is not up to scratch, Dr. Chu can obtain and read some of the materials in my new textbook (2012), because evidence from the nuclear past and present leads me to insist -- often in non-academic language -- that "large" nuclear facilities, whose construction is organized by competent managers, who in turn have the sympathy of competent politicians, will soon cost a maximum of 5 billion dollars. In other words, buyers of nuclear equipment could do business with enterprises like Areva or the South Korean firm that is constructing reactors in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and five years later -- or thereabouts -- they can begin selling electricity.
Here I can mention the new reactor in Finland, the largest in the world (at 1600 MW), which was supposed to be constructed in 5 years, but required 8+. The Finns reacted to this disappointment by beginning a discussion about the purchase of two more reactors, because in that country, with its highly educated population, nuclear offers attractions that the non-nuclear silliness sponsored by the Merkel government in Germany cannot match, or for that matter the natural gas of Norway or Russia.
"Future-gen" (in the form of zero-emission coal power plants) evidently plays a prominent role in Dr. Chu's vision of an optimal energy structure. It plays none whatsoever in mine however, and I never use the expression "future-gen" nor listen to anyone discussing it. I also think that it is necessary to be realistic about the use of coal in the U.S. (and also other countries, particularly China). In these countries, in the near future, coal fired power plants cannot be dismissed. In the U.S. they account for more than fifty percent of electric power production, which is more than natural gas and nuclear combined. Moreover, estimates of U.S. coal resources (or hypothetical reserves) -- as compared to verified reserves -- are huge, and there are still some question marks associated with the future availability of natural gas.
For instance, according to a Bloomberg article (2012), the U.S. Energy Department reduced its estimate for natural gas reserves in the Marcellus shale formation by 66 percent. If this turns out to be correct, and possibly an indication of what we can expect in other shale formations, then a little secondary school mathematics will show that a number of big-ticket investors are going to lose billions of dollars as a result of over-aggressive beliefs and commitments in these resources.
Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is found close to the top of Dr. Chu's wish list, and where that topic is concerned the directors of the Swedish firm Vattenfall once made certain optimistic promises to the German government, as well as newspaper readers in several countries. Jeffrey Michel, an MIT graduate and important energy consultant living in Germany, calls CCS a thermodynamic travesty, and my own long and delightful study of thermodynamics and engineering economics causes me to say that Michel's judgement is much too mild. 'Crank' is the most appropriate description of the discussions coming my way on that subject.
As abstract as it sounds, the notion of carbon-free regions is still making the rounds. A recent large energy meeting in Berlin was on the same wave length as Dr. Chu's contemplations, where the emphasis was on the part that solar and wind would play in Germany's new energy future. Where wind is concerned, readers should turn to GOOGLE and its reference to John Droz. With all due respect, the German aims are strictly off-the-wall, and in 2050 the German nuclear intensity will likely be as large as that prevailing in France. Much of the nuclear apparatus will be breeder reactors, and I sincerely hope that the security problems associated with those reactors are solved the way that they should be solved, because if not somebody could be in a world of hurt.
Finally, Dr. Chu mentioned that "there is no law of physics which states that the whole society can't benefit", and unlike the contention of e.g. Gordon Gekko (in the film Wall Street), he says that "there is no zero-sum game here". It was really very decent of the Secretary to inform us of his interest in things like welfare economics and game theory, because in a world of 9.5 billion souls -- which is his prophecy for 2050 -- a complicated version (or extension) of the zero-sum paradigm is going to be the order of the day, and there is very little -- or more realistically nothing -- that he or all the Nobel Prize winners since Adam and Eve can do about that.
For his information, as well as yours and mine, for the first time in human history, people aged 65 and over will soon outnumber children under the age of five. This will pose enormous problems for the health and general welfare of those 'pensioners'. But unfortunately, even if the supply of youngsters were to greatly increase, it may not improve things, which is an ugly reality for persons reading this contribution to ponder and discuss at great length. They might also attempt to understand that their Governments should be compelled to deal in facts rather than half-baked fantasies, and in addition try to learn that the right kinds of education and educational milieus are the key to confronting and dealing with this and other dilemmas.
Banks, Ferdinand E. (2012). Energy and Economic Theory. Singapore, London and New York: World Scientific (Forthcoming).
Bloomberg . (2012). U.S. cuts estimate for Marcellus Shale Gas Reserves by 66%. Bloomberg Com News (2012-01-24)
For information on purchasing reprints of this article, contact sales. Copyright 2013 CyberTech, Inc.
As usual, Fred provides zero numbers for his arguments. Numbers, Fred, numbers!!
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.16.12
Tam Hunt wants numbers for my arguments. Well, I'll give you three sets of numbers Tam. Sweden constructed 12 reactors in 13+ years. China constructed a 1000 MW reactor recently in less than five years, and last but not least, 2+2=4'
Now, in the brilliant lectures that I have given (or will give) on this topic I also explain that technology moves forward, and not backward. If an ignorant environmentalist t encountered recently wants to believe that it takes 10 years to construct a nuclear reactor, I say let him. That's his business. But the economics I teach makes it clear that the time required to construct a reactor is now less than 5 years. I won't bother saying what that means in terms of cost, because even you should be able to figure that out, or at least provide an estimate.
However, assuming that you cant provide an estimate, let me say that - optimally- a 1000 MW reactor should cost about a billion a year.
The amazing thing about this nuclear thing is that the macroeconomic argument is lost. The attack on nuclear is no less than an attack on the living standards of the gainfully employed, in whose ranks I include millionaires as well as ignoramuses who have come to the conclusion that wind and sun can replace nuclear.
mike alexy 3.16.12
While I agree "in the near future, coal fired power plants cannot be dismissed", coal's status in the US is quantitatively substantially lowered than indicated in this paper. And, indications are that this is a trend that will continue for the rest of the decade, possibly longer.
According to the US EIA, and in contrast to a figure claimed in this paper, the last year coal produced more than 50% of US electricity was 2003, nearly a decade ago. It has trended lower since then. For 2011 the average was roughly 42%. Most interestingly, in December of 2011 the market share dropped to 39%.
See "energy source all sectors" at
This drop is noteworthy for several reasons. First, "winter" in the US typically represents peak utilization of coal fired plants. This multi-decade low during what would typically be "peak" season can be in indicator of future deterioration in coal use for electrical generation in the US. Second, this erosion of market share occurred while overall US electric generation remains below its 2007 peak. Third, this low was achieved even before implementation of announced and threatened coal plant shutdowns over the next three years. Fourth, it appears that several large scale energy efficiency improvements are likely to be implemented in the US over the next decade, or more. It seems possible that some of these could impact coal consumption more than other fuel types.
While it would be premature to dismiss coal in the US, its days of preeminence appear doomed, possibly by the end of this decade.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.16.12
Thank you Mike for your contribution, but your belief that coal is finished in the US in a decade is wrong. Also, this article is NOT about coal, although CCS was mentioned. Where CCS is concerned, it is mostly a scam, and I am amazed that intelligent people want to believe in it.
Furthermore, I'm getting tired of hearing about energy efficiency improvements being implemented in the US or anywhere else. A lot of that talk was launched by millionaires who are furious because they are not billionaires. In the coming decade we are locked in to what we have, unless we go on a stupidity binge and adopt some of the ruinous energy energy practices so heartily believed in by certain contributors to this form..
What about giving me a break. Chu is probably a brilliant physicist who doesn't know any economics, and as a result he should not have been given his present job. Of course the man who gave him that job doesn't know any physics or economics, but he could at least have asked somebody who does.
mike alexy 3.16.12
Wrt the article's topic, I agree on the need for nuclear. It seems likely to me that at least 100 reactors will be built globally by 2030. As to the economics, I would point to a very interesting and seeming unrelated recent announcement from China. A 30 story hotel was erected in 15 days. Consider the implications.
As to Dr Chu and CCS...politics.
I recognize that the article was not about coal. However, it did mention coal and implied that its use is not only dominant but undiminished. Given the trend of the last decade and recent regulatory and technical developments, I felt it was important to clarify the reality and indicate the mid-term implications.
I agree that CCS, based on present and developmental technology, seems unlikely to gain traction anytime soon. I heartily agree, coal use will not be "finished" in the US, and certainly not within a decade. However: if its market share in the US further erodes to roughly 30%, as is possible given recent trends and regulatory, economic & technical developments; and if the market share of natural gas grows to roughly 30%, which isn't much of a stretch since it is already at about 25%.....I stand by my original statement, coal's preeminence appears doomed.
The efficiency improvements to which I referred are not merely "talk". They are based on technology that is already being cost effectively adopted without subsidy. Although the applications and much of the technology is prosaic (and no new breakthroughs are assumed) , the impact has the potential to be surprisingly large. At a minimum it will enable US electricity consumption to remain roughly flat even as (if) GDP grows. This is not yet broadly recognized. I am considering providing this forum a paper touching on that topic.
Jim Beyer 3.16.12
The best way to sequester carbon from coal is to leave the unburned chunks of it in the ground. Either use it or don't, but FutureGen is silly and stupid, and I'm suprised that Chu supports it. It makes no sense technically or practically (I don't see China following suit anytime soon) but perhaps there's some political angle.
The energy market is simply so big and has so much money in it that one can't simply do things for technical reasons. The political aspects dominate.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.17.12
Mike, I think that we are basically on the same page, even if I dont know if I can go along with the efficiency improvement thing at the present time. Of course, eventually we will see some of that, but if the oil price goes up another thirty dollars or so, it wont make any difference if we get all of those efficiencies by next Christmas.
Jim says that Future Gen is nuts, and I say that the fact that Chu supports it means that he should be back in Berkeley instead of in Washington. Frankly, I see no reason to be optimistic about what is going on in the US energywise, although in the long run it is possible to be very optimistic: I know what happened in that country in WW2, and the same is possible today if that is what a majority of voters really and truly want.
Jim Beyer 3.19.12
The reason I think FutureGen is nuts is that it intimately ties CO2 emissions with coal use. I don't know why this is done. Because CO2 is CO2, some some kind of offset (from another industry) makes more (technical) sense to me. For example, concentrated sources of CO2 are produced by both concrete production and biofuel (ethanol, renewable methane, prob. landfills) production.
So it would make more sense from a technical and cost perspective to offset CO2 emissions with a capture project somewhere else. I admit I don't get the long-term goals of Futuregen. Is it a research project to figure out how to burn coal w/o CO2 emissions? I guess that's worthwhile. The only path forward from that would be to provide the technology to everyone worldwide and ask that they do this for all their coal plants.
But economically, it only makes sense to do this after all the other "easy" source of concentrated CO2 (concrete production, etc.) have been exploited.
Again, I'm no Nobel Laureate, nor am I particularly astute politically, but I don't get FutureGen, certainly in the short term, and not really in the (realistic) long term as well. My "gut" tells me that FutureGen is being pushed by the coal lobby as a way to demonstrate that coal can be 'clean'. As lobbyists are obviously clever, they are working to have this PR effort paid for by the U.S. government. Fed. funds would be better spent having more mercury filters added to coal stack emissions. IMHO, more mercury in our environment is not a good thing.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.20.12
Your gut probably tells you right, Jim. The big Swedish/German utility Vattenfall went into the soft coal business in Germany, spreading the lie that they were going to save the world with FutureGen. The funny thing is that they got some of their own highly intelligent engineers and managers to believe this, when the point was to raise incomes for the top managers.
Incidentally, I am NOT against the raising of incomes for top or bottom managers as long as I do not have to take a reduction in income. Unfortunately, this is what it often comes to. Convincing people that it comes to this is another matter, even if they are taking a fall.
Tam Hunt 3.20.12
Fred, give us some REAL numbers about actual nuclear power plant costs - not what you would like it to cost, or think it should cost. For years you've plugged nuclear power and entirely ignored the actual costs, which are coming in at many bilions of dollars per GW, and rising all the time. I and others won't take you seriously until you start discussing real numbers, not fantasy numbers.
Michael Pinca 3.20.12
Mr. Banks you are not alone....thanl you for the opportunity to ADD...the (GP) general public and most, don't get the words "Base Load" and "End User Technology" and that there must and there can be a harmony between both that is very necessary, one is no good without the other .....all the wizards of Green Technology have had enough time to learn that few machines provide 24/7 electric power...cleanly, safely and provide a long term investment with stimulus to local USA industrial manufacturing (if only capital investors could be convinced that hand held electronic devices will not build infrastucture future generations need NOW). And that is all I have to say about that. Good to see you haven't given way to the "oh by the way what about this, and what about that", obstructionists.
Jim McBride 3.20.12
The cost per unit (BTU or KW) of energy certainly matters in macroeconomic terms. If the Chinese can build 1000MW in under 5 yrs, for $5B, or unfettered coal-fired plants, then their cost of production will continue to beat the economics of production in the West. Expect all basic industrial production - steel, petrochemical, etc to migrate to such favorable business climates, even while China's population ages and demands higher wages. Energy is a fundamental input to economic activity and there's just no way around it. The current focus of the US DOE is completely backwards. Lowest cost production should be the goal.
Joseph Somsel 3.20.12
Again, Professor Banks nails the big picture. CCS is a thermodynamic atrocity that winds up consuming half again the coal in a plant that costs twice as much - and those are generous estimates.
I am not as sanguine on the prospects for electric cars since the limits of battery technology are constrained by the Periodic Table. With lithium batteries, it is difficult to imagine a lighter, more energy-dense reactant - and energy density is THE figure of merit for chemical batteries.
As to breeder reactors, I'm willing to defer my enthusiasm for them as a nuclear engineer until a shortage of uranium is definitely forseeable and the long term price rises as a result. (Yes, I LOVE molten sodium cooling!) Right now, the planet has barely begun to yield up its crustal contents of an element more common than lead. If we need more uranium, it is simply a matter of opening a new uranium mine.
As to the people involved, such as Sec. Chu, they are either completely disconnected from the realities and needs of their citizens or they are con men, using their credentials and positions to sell us all a snow job of the first order. Either way, I know how I'll vote come November.
As to the price of a new nuclear power, I can speak with substantial recent and direct experience gained in Taiwan, Finland, and Texas while with TWO leading reactor vendors. Give us less government interference and significant volume production, and we CAN and WILL knock current price estimates down to levels the Professor would welcome, given constant dollars and low interest rates.
Government in the US seems to throw every road block in the way and will gladly appease any interest group with monetary claims on a new plant. Otherwise underemployed government scientists at national labs will milk a simple application review for YEARS by playing "bring me a rock" - and I can name names!
bill payne 3.20.12
Two emials from New Mexico Tech coal geologist Ms Gretchen Hoffman received but not read. Iam working on other stuff.
Second 2 MB email titled effectively reports answers to questions.
Monday March 18, 2012 08:55
Subject: New Mexico coal production efficiency and exploration questions
Hoffman, Gretchen Bureau of Geology Sr Coal Geol/DB Mgr 575-835-5640 email@example.com
Hello Ms Hoffman,
For each ton of surface coal produced approximately two gallons of diesel fuel are consumed by mining machinery.
How much diesel fuel is consumed for each ton of surface coal at
1 Navajo 2 San Juan 3 Lee Ranch
And how much diesel fuel is used to transport that coal to the generator for each mine?
Electricity and natural gas are surely used in production of each ton of surface coal. How much for each mine?
How is coal exploration done in New Mexico? Reason for question is that the Mckinley mine was closed to be replaced by the Lee Ranch mine. El Segundo mine is apparently planned to replace the Lee Ranch.
How was exploration conducted for the El Segundo mine, Lee Ranch mine ,Navajo coal mines and San Juan coal mine? What are the reserves of these mines?
If this information is not currently available, then how would New Mexicans find this out?
Perhaps a publication similar to New Mexico's Natural Gas Resources, but with references, might be an appropriate medium?
Please acknowledge if you receive this email.
BEFORE THE NEW MEXICO PUBLIC REGULATION COMMISSION
IN THE MATTER OF THE APPLICATION OF PUBLIC SERVICE COMPANY OF NEW MEXICO FOR APPROVAL OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RIDER NO. 36 PURSUANT TO ADVICE NOTICE NO. 439 AND FOR VARIANCES FROM CERTAIN FILING REQUIREMENTS
PUBLIC SERVICE COMPANY OF NEW MEXICO,
Case No. 12-00007-UT
MOTION FOR LEAVE TO INTERVENE AND REQUEST FOR DISCOVERY
C Renewables, like solar and wind, may not be the best way to go?
Efficiency winning the day
The second big trend—which is driven in part by the first—is that VCs are focusing on less-capital-intensive, “demand side” investments of modest size in the smart grid, energy efficiency and energy storage markets. For instance, there’s a slew of software companies offering applications that let utilities manage energy distribution more effectively and that enable the utilities’ customers to reduce energy consumption and costs.
“Renewable energy has been a big theme for many years,” said Lux’s Holman. “I think energy efficiency is going to take center stage.”
Money, cleantech and what comes next Bruce Rayner 3/5/2012 12:15 PM EST
Best, Google 'embedded controller forth for the 8051'
May the forth be with us. :-)
Don Hirschberg 3.20.12
What’s important is how much coal is used world-wide, not what percentage of US electricity comes from coal. We are all peeing in the same pool.
The numbers are daunting: 7229 Mt in 2010; 6823 Mt in 2009; and 4677 Mt in 1990. That means we burned 55% more in 2010 than in 1990, and more shocking from 2009 to 2010 the rate went up about 6% whereas the compounded rate for the 21 year period only went up at about 2%. (World Coal Association.) If memory serves we absolutely positively had to get CO2 emissions below the rates of 1990.
Michael Keller 3.20.12
Well at the risk of spinning up the good Doctor Banks, I'm kind of on Tam's side in this discussion, which for me is pretty unusual.
There is just too much steel/concrete/regulations/stuff associated with conventional nuclear plants. That is why they cost billions and billions of dollars in the US, with little likelihood of significant reductions. The only way to change that equation is to meaningfully change the technology so it costs less to build and has a much smaller regulatory target. Not likely for a very mature technology like the light water reactor.
From an investment standpoint, the natural gas fired combined-cycle power plant pretty much crushes the competition, at least here in the US where natural gas is cheap. These machines are moving past the 60% efficiency level; nuclear a little better than 30%.
As for Dr. Chu, he is dutifully carrying out his instructions from the White House. I doubt he is exercising much independent thought.
Don Hirschberg 3.20.12
“These machines are moving past the 60% efficiency level; nuclear a little better than 30%.”
Michael, This comparison is really a bit misleading. Thermal efficiency (sub fossil fuels) is not the equivalent to thermal efficiency (sub nuclear fuel). The efficiency of the Rankine end of a nuclear plant has never been of the essence.
Sorry, bear with me, another anecdote. When I visited an early (earliest?) Commonwealth Edison nuke with engineers who designed oil refinereries (which often had generating plants) I was surprised at how low was the pressure of the steam generated. I had expected super heated 600 psig or higher. Our guide said they were not interested in the efficiency of that end of the plant as the BTUs from the Uranium were relatively cheap and designing for higher pressure and temperature increased cost and decreased safely. Seemed reasonable to me. Still does.
An interesting aside. Our engineer guide could hardly contain his enthusiasm for coming fusion. Here he was at one the early fission plants and he wanted to tell me about fusion, in maybe the fifties?
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.21.12
I'm sorry Michael Keller, but you are NOT on Tam's side, no matter what you think. Tam wants all nuclear replaced with renewables - which mostly means wind and solar - and no matter what your belief about gas it is NOT the major energy source of the distant future. The inexpensive gas now available is a transient phenomenon if you think in terms of decades and not months or weeks or hours or whatever your horizon might be.
Tam's insistence on numbers is something that I would be ultra-glad to satisfy in a seminar room or conference. That is, I would be glad to do it if I could keep from laughing and were paid to do it. But I feel that a mini-economics lesson might be useful now. If dumb ____ thinks that it takes ten years to build a 1000 MW nuclear plant in the US, Canada, Dubai, or Shangri-Li, I am not going to say that he is wrong. What I am going to say is that the EQUILIBRIUM period for construction of a 1000 MW facility is 5 years. In Finland Areva said that they would construct a faility in 5 years, but it will actually take 8+. In the Gulf the South Koreans say that it will take 5 years for them to constuct 1000 MW nuclear plants. Maybe they can and maybe they can't. It will probably take longer, but in reality I don't know and don't care. What I do know is that they are going to construct beaucoup plants in 5 years, and once the industry gets up momentum, that is just the beginning.
The main thing I know is that if the Chinese can do it in 5 years the Americans (and a lot more) can also do it, unless they listen to people like Tam. And that is what this article is all about: people who make the mistake of listening to people like Tam and the good Dr Chu. This nuclear thing is absolutely incredible, and not only amounts to an attack on the living standards of the gainfully employed, but a belief by some people that the march of technology is a rearward movement. In other words, what was done thirty or forty years ago cannot be done in this decade. Would some kind soul please tell me where that nutty concept came from.
Fred Linn 3.21.12
Private industry is motivated by profits alone.
Government is motivated by control.
Both groups will sacrifice anything in that is in the public interest to further their own ends.
Both groups will lie, steal, and impose any type of force they can to achieve what they want.
If the public allows the two groups to join together to monopolize their source of power----the public has no hope of avoiding economic slavery.
Len Gould 3.21.12
The worth of politicians judgements can fairly be evaluated by a quick overview of Greek, Portugese and Italian politicians decisions (disastrous borrowing to buy votes) in recent history. And inthis regard in eg. the US, as is clearly obvious that the only decisionmakers worse than Democrats are Republicans.
Michael Keller 3.21.12
My thinking with nuclear is that it is too expensive, relative to the alternatives (at least here in the US). That same thinking applies to renewable energy, which has been not only a monumental waste of money but deliberately deceptive in its promotion as well.
As far as the 60% efficiency is concerned, what I was trying to convey is that modern combustion turbine plants continue to improve by leaps and bounds and that makes them ever more competitive. The same can not be said for nuclear, which has been mired in a state of more or less technical stagnancy because of the basic limitations of the steam power plant. I might add, the bureaucrats have pretty much put a wet blanket on innovation as well and that is not helpful from the perspective of making the plants more cost effective.
Garth Barker 3.21.12
Interesting article- interesting comments, but the one thing that wasn't mentioned concerning the cost of nuclear energy is the baby sitting required for the waste. Compared to paying for filters and scrubbers storing nuclear waste seems to be a far greater cost, at least until the technology is developed to nullify that item. Dumping it in the ocean as the french do isn't a solution at all and here in the US no State wants a repository in their back yard so maybe improving renewable regardless of the initial cost is better. Geothermal, storage, wind and hydro along with solar might just be a better avenue in the long term regardless of what the politicians want.
Tam Hunt 3.21.12
Fred, thank you for your statement that you won't provide numbers about actual nuclear costs. That's pretty much QED from my point of view: you have no leg to stand on and it seems that perhaps you have no idea what nuclear plants currently cost. I urge you do some research Mr. Economics Professor.
Here's a start on your research from today's New York Times: decommissioning alone in the US is now projected to cost half a billion to $1.5 billion for a single plant. That's just decommissioning. When we add in capital costs for new plants that are as high as $8-10 billion (with a "b") per GW, we're well into the stratosphere for the levelized cost of electricity from new nukes.
As Lovins said years ago: "You can defibrillate a corpose and it will jump but it won't come back to life."
Energy efficiency alone can do far more, far more cheaply, than a new generation of nuclear plants. Renewables are now growing at exponential levels and are now competing in some situations with fossil fuels on costs. In the next few years, it seems very likely that the cost curves for wind and solar in most situations will drop below the costs of fossil fueled power. We are in the elbow of the exponential growth curve for renewables and I'm actually a little optimistic about our ability to withstand the coming storm of peak oil due to this growth. The hard part, as I've written about recently, will be to shift our transportation of people and goods away from petroleum. This is a monumental task but with three dozen new models of electric vehicles coming on the market in 2012, we may see similar exponential growth in electric vehicle adoption. Let's cross our fingers.
Jim Beyer 3.21.12
Tam and Fred,
FWIW, I think if we can't get nuclear cheap enough, then we are screwed. Nothing else has the prospect of providing baseload without CO2 emissions. It's not really a matter of how expensive nuclear is; if it's cheaper than FutureGen, then it's the way to go. I think it's cheaper than FutureGen.
Renewable is not competitive (if widely applied) because of the need for electrical storage. That sends the price through the roof without substantive and unprecedented changes to our infrastructure.
And I'm sorry Michael, but I don't buy cheap NG forever, which you support of NG plants counts on.
Since nuclear energy is heavily subsidized anyway, the Federal gov't needs to step and get the nuclear power industry to settle on ONE design (like they do in France). It will be safer and cheaper that way.
And Tam, FWIW, I value what YOU say about 10x more than anything Amory Lovins may have been quoted about.
Jim Beyer 3.21.12
I think a point to consider is this:
Is nuclear power too expensive because it is just inherently so? Or because we aren't doing it right? Also, do you (personally) WANT nuclear power to be too expensive? That was the Lovins approach: by citing cost issues with nuclear power (Quantitive) one can avoid the more subjective issues concerning risk and safety (Qualitative). But now that argument seems to be an end in of itself.
The reality is that nuclear power plants are ungodly expensive to build. But they last forever and usually pay for themselves in their 40-70 year lifetimes.
Michael Keller 3.21.12
Is natural gas going to be cheap forever? Nope, but then it does not have to be.
Gas is cheap now and will be for a while. There is no good reason to make an investment in extremely expensive power plants at this time; the significantly lower cost plants (i.e. natural gas and maybe coal) are a better deal.
When events unfold that point to very expensive natural gas on the horizon, then we'll come up with something better. That also buys time to greatly improve the economics of nuclear power - and renewable energy for that matter.
Joseph Somsel 3.21.12
Nuclear energy is NOT "heavily subsidized" at least in the US. In fact it is a cash cow of taxes for federal and local governments.
Look at the MACRS tems for nuclear vs. wind: 20.5 years to 3.5 years. For the same $5 billion investment, that's an extra $650 million in tax breaks to wind. Plus, the reactor makes TWICE as much electricity per year.
Look at what happens to the "fee" for the nuclear waste trust fund that doesn't get spent on Yucca Mountain. It goes to the US Treasury in exchange for "promissory notes." That's about a 4% excise tax on wholesale nuclear electricity (at $25 per MWhr.)
What is erronously considered a "subsidy" is Price-Anderson liability coverage over $500 million. Below that nuclear is self-insured through pools and there has never been a Price-Anderson payout. One could consider the levels in New Orleans as having the same quality of subsidy - although nuclear plants are MUCH better build and inspected.
Malcolm Rawlingson 3.21.12
Joseph, Regarding your earlier post the enthusiasm one has for fast breeder technology depends on which part of the globe you reside on. In Canada with vast supplies of Uranium at very high concentrations and consequent low production costs there is no incentive whatsoever to build breeder reactors. In China which has very little Uranium (and is buying it up like it is going out of style) the incentive is much greater. Also one needs to overlay the availability equation with the political aims of the country in question. Referring back to China clearly there is a political motivation to be energy self sufficient and that is what is driving the development of the fast breeder technology by that country. First you need a conventional reactor program to produce the necessary Plutonium. Once that material which does not occur naturally is extracted from the fuel a breeder reactor can be built. The "breeder" blanket of readily available U238 can be used to produce more plutonium and then no further Uranium supplies are required from the outside world. The technology and feasibility of this has already been demonstrated at the Dounreay fast breeder reactor in Scotland which successfully operated on fuel that had been created in the breeder blanket. At the present time Uranium fuel is cheap, however with many reactors undergoing life extensions and over 60 under construction as we speak that plentiful supply is about to become very constrained. This is not due to the fact that Uranium is particularly rare but the time between finding the deposit and producing Uranium Dioxide (U3O8 - yellowcake) is long of the order of 10 years or more. There has been very little exploration over the last 20 years and the knock on effect of that is that there are few new mines coming into production (Inkai in Kazakhstan being the obvious exception). The Chinese, being the wise and long term thinkers that they are see the impending shortage and will build fast breeders once their conventional reactors have produced enough Plutonium to fuel them. Then the Chinese are fully independent of world Uranium supplies. The UK - in a very similar situation to China - was in the happy place of being able to do that however the lack of attention to long term planning and great attention to short term re-election thinking caused the abandonment of this brilliant technology. The Chinese of course now have all the technology paid for by the British Taxpayer and are going to reap enormous economic and financial benefits from it as well as being able to be fully independent of external sources of Uranium. Imagine an economy like China's being powered by very low cost emissions free electricity. China has 27 1000MW + nuclear reactors under construction and over 130 planned. They are doing what should be obvious to the west which is mass produce identical designs over and over and over again. That way the Henry Ford principle of mass production kicks in and the price falls dramatically along with construction times.
To answer Tam's quest for numbers. The Canadians designed Quinshan 2, 3 and 4 reactors and these were constructed in less than 5 years and less than 5 billion each. The last two reactors were UNDER budget and 6 weeks (for U3) and 4 months (U4) AHEAD of schedule.
Of course the Chinese do not permit people with axes to grind to interfere with the economic well being of their country so there were no artificially induced delays to the schedule. In a few short years the Chinese will have more operating reactors than the total of all other countries in the world and their population will benefit immensely from low cost non-polluting nuclear power. With that coupled with fast breeder technology they will become the next economic superpower dwarfing the Americans and snuffing out the so-called "American Dream"
Also worthy of note. While the Chinese will become independent of foreign energy supplies - especially Uranium - the west will increase their dependency on the Chinese supply of neodymium without which Tams beloved windmills cannot be constructed. Each of those machines consumes about 700 lb of Neodymium and China owns about 90 to 95% of the entire world supply. Obumma is now so concerned that the Chinese will just stop producing the stuff and shutdown the entire wind industry that he has lodged a complaint to the world trade organization for "unfair" trading practices by the Chinese Government. This of course does not change the fact that the Chinese own all of the readily available Nd and therefore control the entire worldwide wind industry which they can now snuff out like a Chinese lantern.
The Chinese - whether you like them or not - are a great deal smarter than the entire collection of US Senators and Representatives. But then that is not much of a compliment to the Chinese is it.
Malcolm Rawlingson 3.21.12
There was some interesting discussion above regarding the comparison of nuclear steam cycles with combined cycle natural gas turbines. Great credit is due to the gas turbine designers in improving cycle efficiencies to above 60%. However the reason for doing that was that the fuel was and is a very large component of the production cost. Obviously when your fuel is expensive wringing the last drop of energy from it is well worth doing.
However making the comparison to 30% efficient Rankin Cycle steam plants is a bogus argument. To a great extent the efficiency of a nuclear plant. steam cycle is irrelevant. The fuel is such a very tiny fraction of the production costs in a nuclear plant that increasing the efficiency to 60% would have NO effect on the cost of production and therefore there is very little incentive to improve steam cycle efficiency. There is simply no pay back for the investment. Nuclear fuel would need to increase in price by an order of magnitude and even then I doubt that the impact would be significant.
Now that is NOT to say that there is not great sense in increasing the electrical output of nuclear plants. That strategy is not to save fuel costs but to get more out of the same capital plant and equipment which (for most plants) is already written off the financial books. Almost every plant in the USA is fully paid for and are money spinners for the utilities that own them.
As a result of the above economic reality utilities have been focussing efforts on increasing the capacity factor. They have done an admirable job - especially in the USA - where capacity factors have gone from around 60% (still nearly three times better than the average wind plant) to well over 95% today. Same plants, same equipment, same fuel just running better and longer than ever.
There is a case for improving thermal cycle efficiency but it has nothing to do with fuel costs. Given the same plant and equipment (already paid for) it is clearly desirable to be able to increase the electrical output and this is being done through improved turbine blade technology, better generator, transformer and isolated phase bus designs.
On the horizon is the Brayton Cycle using CO2 as the working fluid instead of water. By using CO2 at the gas liquid phase it is possible to extract far more electrical energy from the Thermal Cycle. Sandia Labs is working on this now. The equipment uses mostly stainless steel components and is very much more compact than steam turbine equipment. This cycle could double cycle efficiencies from the current 30 - 40% to well over 60%. Increasing electrical output from existing nuclear plants would only require the additional capital investment for the new equipment and removal of the existing steam turbines which is dirt cheap considering the amount of additional revenue created from a plant running at 95% cap factors and 60% thermal efficienfy.
So while it appears to some ill-informed individuals that nuclear has been doing nothing for the past 30 years the facts are that major improvements have already been made to extend the lives of existing plants and capacity factors have been improved dramatically. By contrast there is nothing the wind industry can do to improve capacity factors since that is entirely dependent upon when the wind blows.
Malcolm Rawlingson 3.21.12
Of course Tam wants nuclear power to be more expensive. If he did not his entire life's work will be for nought. The unfortunate facts (for him) is that despite all the efforts to make it more expensive it stubbornly remains the cheapest and cleanest means of producing electrical power bar none. That is why TVA is completing Watts Bar and its other unfinished reactors because it is very economic to do so. It is also why two new plants are being built at Vogtle site in Georgia....because there is a solid business case and they will make money for their owners and investors.
And it is why the nuclear fleet in Canada is being refurbished to add another 30-40 years of life to each reactor.
Economics as well as the elimination of dependence on foreign coal supplies is why the Chinese have 27 plants now under construction and another 130 on the books.
Nuclear is inherently cheap, extremely safe and highly reliable. It is what is going to power the world for the next few centuries - whether Tam likes it or whether he doesn't.
Don Hirschberg 3.21.12
Thank you Malcolm. I learned much from your comments above.
Malcolm Rawlingson 3.21.12
Don you are most welcome. When you have been in this business for as long as I have - 42 years and counting - and listened to the same distorted anti-nuclear rhetoric over and over again I do try my best to set the record straight.
I have learned much here also and certainly your thoughtful posts on the key problem we face - too many of US - has changed my views substantially.
I don't think the world is capable of sustaining 7 billion of us at the standard of living the west enjoys now....at least not with the current sorry excuse for leaders that we have elected.
I despair at the comparison between the antics of Obama and the political imbeciles in power to the south of us and the Chinese who are applying western technology to develop their nations prosperity. Americans and Canadians have no God given right to the standard of living we enjoy and our current crop of politicians are selling us out and the future of our children.
However I am an optimist first and my reaction to folks like Tam is to work even harder and even smarter to build and maintain a successful nuclear industry in Canada and around the world.
I think the worlds problems are solvable but we are running short on time. The problem of course is self-rectifying since if we as human beings do not take action to fix the mess we have made Mother Nature will do the job for us. We may not like her methods.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.21.12
Thanks Malcolm, but you have not helped Tam. You see, it is not the Chinese who are trying to snuff out the American dream, it is people like Tam. Sweden produced 12 reactors in 13+ years, China can produce 1000 MW reactors in 5 years, and Tam has a problem adding 2+2.
However, I can overlook that. What I cant overlook is his desire to make fools of the electorate by convincing them that they should scrap the entire nuclear inventory. The Swedish Energy Minister wants the same thing, but I forgive her because she is too confused to find out that the temperature in Northern Sweden can be minus 25 or so in the winter. And by the way Garth, I didn't know that the French were dumping nuclear 'dechet' in the ocean. I thought that they locked it up to be used in some new generation of reactors. Of course, it doesnt make any difference to yours truly what they do, because when you talk about technology, the future belongs to nuclear.
Listen folks - take the word of a humble American.. The comments of Malcolm and Joseph Somsel are all that you need to make fools of people like Tam at the next Town Hall meeting on nuclear. Of course, you might add a little macroeconomics. If the voters are dumb enough to believe what Tam is offering, they will deserve what they get where salaries and incomes are concerned.
Jim Beyer 3.22.12
Would anyone fund a plant in the U.S. without Price-Anderson? Has anyone offered to waive it for their plant? If not, then it's a subsidy.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.22.12
Jim, as you may or may not know, one of my favorite subjects is WHEN IS A SUBSIDY NOT A SUBSIDY. It might have been Tam or somebody like Tam who claimed that the Swedish nuclear sector was subsidized because it was paid for with taxes, but of course my argument was that Swedish taxpayers (as a group) did not pay a penny for those reactors.
The increased incomes taxpayers as a group gained because of the cheap energy that became available, as well as various other benefits derived from a generally more prosperous community, more than compensated them for their (willing or unwilling) generosity. The same is true in France. If the French government had asked Tam whether they should construct reactors or continue with coal, Tam would have said 'continue with coal until you have a windmill every 25 meters in Montmartre and on the Boul Mich.'
Joseph Somsel 3.22.12
Price-Andersen exists in the US and is necessary, by law, for any US nuclear power plant. Our legal system and the trial lawyers who staff it DEMANDS that people who invest in nuclear power plants have some protection against a "you bet your company" business decision.
I haven't followed the Fukushima cleanup, exvacution, and liability situation closely, but from what I do think I know, the Price-Anderson statute would be called into play if off-site liabilities have probably exceeded $12.6 BILLION which is the current self-insurance capacity. (I misstated a lower self-insurance level upthread.)
But the QUANTIFICATION of Price-Anderson "insurance" subsidies requires a curve of payouts versus probablities. If Fukushima can be considered a near-worst case AND it's costs come in under $12.6 billion, then the is NO implied subsidy from the government. Note that there are no US sites with more than three reactors - Fukushima-Diachi had four with others just a few hundred years away.
The overall issue about nuclear subsidies through Price-Andersen is just as fuzzy as valuing negawatts of energy efficiency. In other words, "valuation" is used as a political tool.
Jim Beyer 3.22.12
Your comment is disingenuous. Without Price-Anderson, nuclear power plants wouldn't be built in the U.S. because they wouldn't be able to get the secondary insurance in the private market. Duke Power Co. fought FOR retaining Price-Anderson all the way up to the Supreme court in 1978. You act like it is something imposed on the power companies, when it is actually something they fight very hard to maintain.
The subsidy is not in the payoffs (which have not been exercisde), but in the saved cost of the extra insurance, if it could even be obtained.
Tom McNevin 3.22.12
Two points: Joseph Somsel asserted that uranium is more common than lead. As I recall, U in the crust averages about 3 ppm, where Pb averages about 15 ppm, which rather makes sense as U has been converting itself into Pb for the past 4.5 billion years or so. Of course these are averages. As mineral distributions tend to be somewhat log-normal, one will occasionally find much larger concentrations. We call these ore, and tend to dig them up!
Mike Alexy noted the generation peak in 2007 and the downward trend in coal use that occurred even before the recent announcements of pending retirements that have been appearing of late. Part of this generation reduction is due to both the increasing efficiencies of electricity consuming devices, and the steady increase in demand response initiatives. Economic conditions have obviously been a factor as well over the past 3-4 years.
PJM , the regional grid operator , despite gruesome record setting summer heat the past 2 years has yet to equal its record peak load in the Mid-Atlantic sector set August 2, 2006! This past July 22 was a definite contender, but some 2,400 MWh of demand response load reductions prevented a new record from being set.
I type this three miles from a 660 MW coal plant with SOTA controls that, with the exception of a 3-day cold spell in January, has not operated since September! As recently as 2007, the two units operated at annual use rates of 96% and 70%. Meanwhile with natural gas prices at 10 year lows combined cycle use has been soaring.
Do to both the economics of fuel costs and impending EPA regulations, a surge of recent announcements has brought the total of coal units in the eastern US who have or will close 2011-2018, mostly in the next couple years to over 136 boilers totaling some 25,000 MW. While these do tend to be smaller and older than many, (median size = 160 MW, median startup year = 1954), there is also a good cohort here that have been seeing steady use in recent years (2010 median use rate = 57%).
Coal is not going to disappear anytime soon, but its clear claim on dominance is slipping with remarkable speed. The EIA data cited by Mike show coal plateaued above 50% at least back to 1990. It slipped to 49% in 2006 and has been moving down inverse to gas ever since. When available, EIA 2011 data will undoubtedly show the same trends continuing. Available EPA data for 2010 and 2011 show a 10% decrease in annual coal consumption in Pennsylvania. I’d be surprised if this vector is not echoed in national data as well.
Jerry Watson 3.22.12
Trivia update, did everyone see that the US commerce commission levied retroactive tariffs on several Chinese PV manufacturers ranging from 2.9 to 4.73%. It is a lot smaller than 20% many expected. Looks like it is to small to make a difference.
Michael Keller 3.22.12
Malcolm, A conventional water reactor is not capable of any meaningful increase in efficiency because of the thermal limits associated with the pressures and temperatures of the system.
A 1300 MWe nuclear unit will spend around a $105 million/year on fuel. If we could increase the efficiency from current levels of around 34% or so to say 48%, that would save around $30 million a year. That is not what I would call insignificant.
Increasing efficiency is very much about economics.
The increases in the output of existing nuclear plants have largely been the result of "sharper pencils" calculating the safety margins in the core, thereby allowing higher reactor temperatures. Those higher temperatures do marginally increase efficiency (perhaps a few percent) but it is the increases in steam flow and the large size of the base plant that causes the bulk of the power increase. On a $/KW basis, the power up-rates are cheap relative to the incremental investment.
The fact is, conventional water reactors are a mature technology that has reached the limits of the steam cycle, as constrained by the need to keep the reactor core from being damaged.
In places with only expensive fossil fuel for generating electricity, the economics of inefficient and expensive nuclear power make sense. However, when placed in an arena with lower cost options, nuclear power has a lot of trouble competing. There is a kernel of truth in Tam's position.
An efficient and reasonably priced nuclear power plant would do well, however. That requires a different reactor technology, as you observed.
As to nuclear being cheap, well my house would be cheap if only I did not have to pay-off the mortgage. Therein lies the crux of the problem with nuclear.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.22.12
"Lower cost options". I wonder if we could hear what those are Michael. I presume that you are talking about shale gas, which has been hyped to the sky. And that is my problem with Dr Chu. He sits in the executive suite of a building filled with all sorts of talent, and yet we are confronted with information about shale gas (and other things) that may be untrue. Perhaps even bunkum.
As for your infatuation with Tam's position, that gentleman is talking about wind and solar. Are we really supposed to believe that we can protect our life styles with wind and solar? What you call the crux of the problem with nuclear is the failure to discover and then adopt an optimal program for nuclear construction that puts the good of the country first. And I repeat, this does not mean a reactor on every street corner, or the absence of renewables and alternatives.
Don Hirschberg 3.23.12
Michael, I do not follow your arithmetic. While I recognize e=34% as a limiting efficiency of practical Rankine plants I cannot go further in your comment.
The BTUs from fossil fuels are not the same as BTUs from nuclear reactions in saving the planet.
Jerry Watson 3.23.12
Renewable, traditional, or Nuclear technologies are not mutually exclusive. Economics should be the determining factor and right now Nuclear in the US is pricey. Vogtle stated output is 1117MW unit rating for 2234 total without subtracting station service divide its $14.8 billion price tag and one gets $6600/KW. This number can be divided out across 10 billion years if needed to make it look attractive, but that is not how Southern will do it, Southern will target around 11% ROI. Southern’s customers will be paying 8.3cent/kw without fuel and maintenance at a 100% EAF with maintenance and at 90% EAF it is more like a $110/mw. Someone help me understand how that is good deal for the ratepayers when combined cycle gas is less than half that. Actually today more like a quarter.
It is better deal for the shareholders who will borrow money around 5% using government guaranteed loans and then make an additional 6% to get to the ROI on the $14.8 billion (5 cent/KW) for the risk socialized across the ratepayers since recovery is assured. The shareholders of the IOU will recover millions for the risk they are not taking. Southern’s executives should get some big raises for this deal. This shows the fundamental flaw with assured recovery for approved projects. If Southern and it partners were informed the could build the plant as an IPP facility without assured cost plus recovery it would be laying off workers tomorrow. Southern would employ different technologies or would go to the market and get long term PPAs since they would be far cheaper. All the hype anyone wants to produce will not change the fact it does not make economic sense and is punitive to the ratepayers. I assume the Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC) is clueless. It is amazing the price tag has went from $3 to $15 billion and the project continues to roll along. Somewhere around $8 billion it became a loser and GPSC should have stopped supporting the project and quit promising other peoples money. Money the GPSC has a ethical and fiduciary obligation to protect.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.23.12
Given the capital cost of gas burning equipment, and now the low price of gas, nuclear and coal dont have a hope in hell - assuming that the price of gas will remain about where it is now for X years. What has happened though is that liars and fools are making claims about shale gas and shale oil that cant possibly be true, and they are getting away with it .
I blame the governments and their energy 'experts'. In Europe someone associated with the European central bank has just said that they have underestimated the oil price because they use the futures price as an estimate of the spot price in the future. I wonder how anyone can be that stupid, and as for the US nuclear scene, I've given up trying to understand it.
Michael Keller 3.23.12
Well done Jerry! Your analysis is spot on. My work comes up with very similar figures (and the same conclusion as well).
The price of natural gas is factually very low in the US, as is the capital cost of the combined-cycle power plant. If you have access to natural gas, it makes economic sense to use it in a combined-cycle plant, which is also a highly flexible platform to accommodate the grid's fluctuations in the demand for power.
Price of fuel, build cost and efficiency are all intertwined and must be considered together in order to determine the best options for new power plants. Those metrics do not support renewable or nuclear energy in the US.
Joseph Somsel 3.23.12
The price differential electricity from nuclear vs natural gas is a factor of three items.
1) Operations and Maintenance costs (plant staff, lube oil, supplies) where nuclear is getting more expensive due to government requirements. I think it doesn’t need to be as high as it is (just don’t cut my salary!)
2) Capital costs - a function of overnight costs and interest rates. Nuclear does have substantially higher overnight costs. Lower interest rates help nuclear by lower carrying costs.
3) Fuel costs - nuclear heat costs about 50 cents/mmBTU in the reactor. Natural gas at Henry Hub has been as much as $1/mmBTU and is currently about $2.50/mmBTU. Add a buck for transportation costs to make it $3.50 in much of the country.
Higher efficiency does help both in lowering fuel costs and in lowering capital costs. But a CCGT at 60% (or twice nuclear) with fuel that is 7 times more expensive at point of conversion in the best of times (now) and 33 times in the worst of times (just a few years ago) and it is still a horse race in many parts of the country like the Northeast and the West Coast.
So one advantage of nuclear is that is an option AGAINST higher natural gas prices. The volatility of fossil fuel prices is a real factor and stability of electric prices is a good thing.
As to Mr. McNevin's point about U vs Pb abundance - he might be right. Still, uranium is still a fairly common component of the earth's crust and we've only a few decades of its commercial exploitation. There is plenty left to be discovered and extracted. Geologists’ estimates probably have some variance in them but U and Pb are of the same order of magnitude in percentage abundance.
As to Mr. Beyer, he plainly misread my discussion of Price-Andersen. Yes, the nuclear industry wants it and needs it – always has and probably always will. Sorry if you got the wrong impression through my vague wording and rambling structure. It is a financial necessity for investors but my point is that treating the existence of Price-Andersen as some government subsidy of great magnitude and a burden on the taxpayer is a matter of considerable speculation and, I think, political exaggeration.
Jerry Watson 3.23.12
Mr. Somsel, I am a firm believer in, and a supporter of Nuclear power, but the technology is still maturing and the US cost is ludicrous. It is equally absurd to phase out existing Nucs simply because they are Nucs as some propose. Even being a supporter it is obvious that the overnight cost of Nucs need to be under $4000/kw. When Nuc whispers restarted, costs of $1500-2000/kw was the perceived cost and nothing can compete long term with $2000/kw Nuc. To me it was a matter of overcoming unrealistic fears and getting on with it, but over night costs went from favorable to ok and then proceeded onward to the point where the capital outlay is worth more than the future energy production.
As I have said previously I do not think Nuclear is an if, I think it is more of a when. I cannot see nuclear fuel supply as a issue even with available breeder technology. Right now in history, the mundane well being of the US people is better served by other technologies in particular combined cycle gas plants. I anticipated the current shift to gas and actually left my employment in a coal plant for a Combined Cycle plant since I felt the move would produce more opportunity and it has. I have had a lot of fun in my career including trading power for a 5 years. Trust me I know gas prices can be volatile in fact they dropped much lower than I expected and it appears the prices will likely remain lower longer than my prediction would have been. High gas cost was a driver in the revival of Nuclear and now it a nail in the US revivals coffin. I am sure nat gas prices will again make Nuc attractive, the question is when. I am also a fan of solar and it is starting to get interesting were it not for dirt cheap gas it would be real interesting. Gas is a bridge fuel I seriously doubt we have a hundred year supply but it could be significant for a couple of decades if predictions are even close and wear out one generation of machines. Then we can look and see what best serves the populous it will likely be nuc but it is a little distant to predict.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.24.12
Now we see where the problem is, don't we. Some of the people above should be in the US Department of Energy, and trying to educate Dr Chu - which may or may not be possible.
I don't need to be present however, because I have heard all of the pro-nuclear stuff before, and I believe all of it. I believe it because my economics tells me that I have no choice. Nuclear costs in the US may be scandalous, but so what. The equilibrium cost is the one in China, and that is what it will eventually be in the US, later if not sooner, and moreover TAM and his friends cannot keep it from happening, although they have done a magnificent job so far of making fools of the voters up to now.
The highest energy bureaucrat in Sweden was a PhD in technical physics, and staunchly anti-nuclear. He was anti nuclear because the people at the parties he attended were anti nuclear. He's gone now, ostensibly to Japan, and maybe for the same reason that I went there when I was in the US Army. His replacement is probably also anti-nuclear, which means dumb, but not so dumb as the people who appointed him. But again, what difference does it make. The Swedish people want their standard of living protected, and that means nuclear. That was and is the bottom line. There is also the little matter of no country anywhere talking more about renewables and alternatives than Sweden, but doing less. That is because of the high quality of education in this country. The same applies to Finland where, as Joseph Somsel points out, nuclear provides an alternative to high gas prices, or Russian and Norwegian gas, or somebody's coal, or something that will be in short supply in forty or fifty years.
A Canadian billionaire once pointed out that we live in the most dishonest age in human history. If we was referring to the great world of finance, then I don't believe him, but this energy thing starts my head spinning. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen some of it.
Michael Keller 3.24.12
Strikes me that Finland is a good example of where nuclear power makes a lot of sense. Indigenous fuel supplies? Some hydro. Natural gas from Russia? A really bad idea. Coal from Germany. Bad idea.
Please note, I do support nuclear power, but deploy the much lower cost alternatives first. In the US that is natural gas which is a fuel that exists in our own borders. Ditto for coal, which I am confident we can clean-up sufficiently, particularly when "man-caused-global-warming" reveals its true colors. A complete scam.
Do I think the cost of new nuclear will come down significantly? Yes, but perhaps not quite the way most believe.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.25.12
Nuclear does make a lot of sense in Finland, although there are people like Tam who want it replaced with solar and wind. As for natural gas in the US, there are some people who say that there is NOT as much gas as some people claim, and I believe them - ALTHOUGH IT IS LIKELY THAT THERE IS A GREAT DEAL, and it should be used rationally.
As for this nuclear thing, I GO ONCE MORE to the main battle tank of the US during WW2. The last time I thought about it, I concluded that reliance on that tank instead of the one that easily could have been built cost at least a million lives. At least. Putting American soldiers in the Sherman tank instead of the superior tank that could have been built was nothing less than criminal or stupid or both. Ergo, to entertain the ignorance or stupidty or both of people who want to attack our quality of life with a sub-optimal energy future is...not nice at all.
Lets get something straight here. It is more important for serious people to think seriously about nuclear, which means planning for where it should be located in the future, how much, what it should be in a technological sense, and what it shouldn't be, and how this or that could or should happen before going off on a reactor construction spree - like the Chinese might be doing, and the Russians will probably do, and which might make a lot of sense...I don't know. The stupid thing is to forget about the macroeconomic and social side of encouraging a totally uneconomic energy system to be constructed, by which I mean the energy system that Tam and his friends and neighbors find so charming.
And not just Tam. When asked how much nuclear fuel was available, an elderly professor of particle physics in Sweden could hardly get his estimate out of his mouth, because he was scared silly of having that estimate questioned by persons who probably thought that particle physics had something to do with enemas. And if I thought that I wouldn't break out laughing and be unable to stop, I would review my German and try to absorb some of Angela Merkels crazy reasoning about the energy future.
Don Hirschberg 3.25.12
Professor,When you wrote “I concluded that reliance on that tank (M4 Sherman) instead of the one that easily could have been built cost at least a million lives” you protesteth too much.
During World War II American battle deaths from all services in all theaters totaled 291,557. Individually the Sherman, a medium tank, was not a match for the German heavy tanks. But the Shermans did destroy the German armor. And I saw Shermans effectively used in the Korean War.
Sure, we might well have had a better medium tank but when we had a zillion of them ready for D-Day was not the time to shut down the war and re-tool. I’d guess the Sherman decision might have been made in 1940 when we had essentially no tanks whatsoever.
Personal experience with an M4. I was doing a little recon for my smoke generator platoon. As I unknowingly passed under the muzzle of a M4 under camouflage netting when they fired their 76mm. The muzzle blast blew me out of my jeep. The jeep kept going at idle speed until it went into a ditch stalling the engine. The tankers opened their hatches and were greatly releaved to see me wave that I was Ok. Imagine if they had to make a report that while trying to kill Chinese they instead got an American officer. I found my helmet, no harm done except for ringing in my ears.
Don Hirschberg 3.25.12
I greatly admire the Finns. Like so many things I find admirable they are scarce. I know the Finns as I do the English Cornish miners one finds wherever hard rock mining is done throughout the world. They came to the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan to mine copper. Our cousins Jack and Jenny.
But here on this site we are concerned with energy, global energy, and nuclear plants. If five million Finns disappeared overnight how would you notice? We are 7 billion and growing at about 100 million a year.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.26.12
Well Don, let me be completely humble about this and say that where the Sherman tank and its deployment is concerned, you don't know what you are talking about. The tank that should have been constructed was on the drawing boards in l942, and definitely in l943, and so it should have been constructed and shipped off to Europe in l944. Instead, less than fifty reached the front in l945. That is all there is to it. As for the industrial engineering involved here, the US constructed thousands and thousands of Shermans, and could have easily found some space to produce Pershings.
Also, where Sherman successes are concerned, they would have been multiplied by X if better tanks and tank-destroyers had been available. Of course, the key factor in ground success in France and Germany was the allied air force. (For instance, when the final attack on the Gothic Line (in Italy) was made, hundreds of planes were involved.) The tankers did the best that they could, but they were working with inferior equipment. Whoever was making the production decisions was too dumb to realize the gains that could have been made if a slightly better gun had been put on the Shermans. I think that the British did eventually put a better gun on their Shermans.
There were many scandals in WW2 and of course Korea, and this is hardly the place to discuss them, but the one that cannot be forgiven is the failure to provide American soldiers with a better piece of equipment than the Sherman By the way, the first lecture that I ever gave was at a sinkhole between Yokohoma and Tokyo. I was 18, and the topic was the bazooka. It was an engineering company, and I called that bazooka a piece of junk, which led the company commander - whose was no believer in Fred Banks - to ask me to stick around and do some calculations for him. I smiled and got the hell out of there as fast as I could.
Len Gould 3.26.12
Re Tanks in WWII, I agree with Fred about the criminal lack of quality of the Sherman. (Tommy-cookers the germans called tham). As soon as the Russians encountered failure against the German tanks, they rapidly designed the T34, with sufficient gunpower and armour to stand up to most of the German tanks. They then built tens of thousands of them, and won the war for us. If Americans had reacted similarly, the war might have been won likely a year earlier, avoiding at least a million deaths in concentration camps alone.
Jim Beyer 3.26.12
The point I'm trying to make is that nuclear power will always be "socialized" to some degree. For 3 reasons:
1) Gov't involvement in ultimate insurance against loss, that is, Price-Anderson. 2) Gov't involvement in long term waste disposal, like Yucca mountain or the equivalent. 3) Gov't involvement in the control of nuclear materials to prevent weaponization.
As a result, in both a negative and positive sense, its not clear exactly how profitable nuclear power would be without all this gov't involvement. (Maybe very profitable, until some problem happened.)
I think France is wise to acknowledge it's a gov't thing, and just have the gov't handle them (at least much more than we do here.) I'm not a big fan of socializing things, but nuclear power is one of those things that just might make sense: Because it is heavily tied up with the gov't anyway, and for-profit decisions by bean counters (Fukishima, 3MI) tend to not be very wise.
OTOH, you have the gov't and its handling of Yucca (Yucka!) Mt.
It's ridiculous for the industry to not agree on a single design and move forward. It would save huge amounts of money. The industry could move forward better if they acknowledge they are in a socialized domain, and not true capitalism.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.26.12
Energy/electricity is so important that governments should not stand idly by and allow the introduction or expansion of sub-optimal investments. This is the role that voters want governments to play, although they - the voters as a group - don't know it, or if they do know it are afraid to say so.
And yes, the failure to provide a suitable main battle tank for the war in France was nothing less than criminal, or worse, because it is difficult to comprehend how that mistake could be made. Remember that - for what it was worth -American armor had been taught a lesson in North Africa. Of course, to be realistic, if all generals and politicians were made to answer for their blunders, it might make things worse.
Joseph Somsel 3.26.12
As to government involvement in nuclear power plants, I always point to Rancho Seco and WPPSS as examples of the failures of socialism. Granted that private enterprise has had its fubars too.
Jerry Watson 3.26.12
My fear would be if we socialized US nuclear power production future political winds could end making huge stupid mistakes. Currently we have a mixed bag and grandiose errors on a nationwide scale are difficult to implement. It will be hard to quickly scrap all US nuclear on a political whim as some advocate. It is also hard to develop any coordinated strategy in a system made of many independent groups.
I still hold out the hope the nuclear technology will improve markedly in coming years and is one of the reasons I advocate a wait and see attitude in the US since we have no reason to be desperate controlling vast coal and gas reserves. I believe the Chinese will test and prove better technologies that would take three billion years to get rolling the US with its political climate. Besides as much technology as the Pacific Rim nations have made use of from the west, the western nations are due a little payback.
If the designs are not improved, then it appears we still be better served getting barge mounted nuclear plants from China. The US can park them off the east coast rather than build our own. This way the US can have reasonably priced Nuclear Power and remain up wind a win win.
Don Hirschberg 3.26.12
The US Army has nearly always had very good kill ratios on the battlefield. In WWII we were nearly always going against an enemy with selected and prepared positions. An army can win with overwhelming numbers. But to win with an outstanding kill ratio also requires a good combination of training, equipment and leadership.
Combined US battle field deaths of less than 300,000 in WWII and about 38,000 in Korea are quite low considering the scope and the deaths inflicted on our enemies, even those with superior tanks. China never released Korean War figures but estimates of only the Chinese battle deaths range from over a million to two million during about 3 years
In sharp contrast the USA military over a period of 237 years has suffered about 660,000 battle deaths, including current wars.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.27.12
I see no point in discussing or for that matter just mentioning the putative 'socializing' of US nuclear. All that is necessary to get a favorable outcome where the nuclear issue is concerned is that the US has a government where somebody is capable of understanding the energy future, and speaks out, and keeps speaking out when the fools throw in their two cents. Mr Chu is not that man, and I suspect that he prevents other employees of the USDOE from demonstrating that they can add two plus two.
Another point - you say that "if designs are not improved". Are you still talking about the US , or have you gone off on a tangent and mean some stone age country. For your information the US doesn't need Chinese reactors or Chinese barges, and the suggestion that they do is preposterous.
Don, I would love to say that you and I are basically on the same page, but I can assure you that basically this is not the case. I have made a deep study of the US military and US casualty figures, and I don't see any reason to be optimistic.
Tam Hunt 3.27.12
Fred, thank God you're not a policymaker. You acknowledge that nuclear costs are exorbitantly high in the US and then state that you don't care! How does this not disqualify you from serious discussion?
It matters not what you think the nuclear price should be or could be, it matters what actual prices are now, and what credible projections show prices will be in the near future.
We agree on one thing: I think you're right that natural gas costs are unlikely to stay at current lows for very long and I think the fracking gold rush may come to a nasty end, when we consider the decline rates from these new gas fields and the number of wells being dug to eke a few more percent of production.
Here are some actual numbers from NREL's levelized cost of electricity calculator, plugging in reliable cost estimates for the Vogtle plant (which will, if history is any guide, be able half the actual costs when the project is complete). I've assumed $14 billion for 2 GW, plus $1 billion in decommissioning, plus 2 c/kWh in O&M. I've not included any financing costs, which of course is totally unrealistic. Nor have I included insurance costs or any other costs. I've assumed a 40 year life, without additional expenses, which is also unrealistic when we consider that SCE just spent almost a $billion replacing the steam generators at its San Onofre 2 GW facility (only to be shut down for the last three months due to premature wearing of components in the new geneators).
Using these inputs, we get a levelized cost of 9.1 c/kWh, compared to wind power (adjusting for all appropriate variables, including project lifespan and capacity factor) is about 6 c/kWh.
Solar power comes in at today's prices of about $3,500/kW and a 25% capacity factor at about 12 c/kWh.
A major factor, however, are cost trends over time: solar is steadily dropping in price, and so is wind. Nuclear power has gone the other way, as jurisdictions around the world have rationally tightened safety standards after each major accident.
So subsidize nuclear power, given its history, counts as "dumb subsidies," because they're not doing what they're designed to do, whereas subsidizing wind, solar and other renewables count as smart subsidies because they are achieving what they're designed to do.
Jim Beyer 3.27.12
Good points, Tam. And I wouldn't be surprised if solar was close to $2,000/kW at this point.
But solar and wind aren't baseline electricity production, and nuclear (and coal and NG) are. That's the bugaboo.
Michael Pinca 3.27.12
"Bug-A-Boo", precise and succinct. Atta way to go Jim. Baseload vs End User Technology, no one can see past the price line. Mr.Banks gets it, but mention something like investing in baseline electricity production, and good grief, you're looked at like you have two heads.
Tam Hunt 3.27.12
Variable renewables like wind and solar can get to about 15% on modern grids without requiring any back up because modern grids have planning reserve margins already built in, as numerous studies have shown. In fact, the CA Independent System Operator recently concluded that CA can get to our 33% renewables by 2020 mandate without adding any new capacity. This is the case because modern grids require planning reserve margins for when large thermal plants, coal, natural gas, nuclear, go offline unexpectedly or expectedly. Right now, CA's San Onofre 2 GW nuclear power plant is offline and has been for almost three months, requiring a massive amount of backup power.
Wind and solar are nowhere near 15% on most grids, with some remarkable exceptions like Germany, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Hawaii leading the way. As wind and solar grow further, storage and back up power will become more important, but many studies have also found that integrating variable renewables even up to penetrations of 40% or so come with no more than a 10% price premium (as a recent summary from Lawrence Berkeley Labs found). Here's the link (see page 55):
So if wind and solar are already in the ballpark with fossil fuels and nuclear, or even cheaper sometimes, and we can integrate them with a 10% premium, my arguments above still hold.
Jim Beyer 3.27.12
Again, Tam agreed. But what happens after 15% pentration?
I agree that will take some time, but one needs at least a vague notion of what the grid will be like many years hence. Personally, I'd rather have nuclear plants than coal. I don't like mercury being spread over all our farmland for another 100+ years.
Tam Hunt 3.27.12
Jim, glad you agree, but I just discussed what happens when we exceed 15%. The LBNL report summarizes a number of major studies that show integration far above 15% can be done for an average 10% premium above the cost of energy by itself. So integration above 15% is not a negligible problem, but is a very manageable problem.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.28.12
Tam, those numbers you submit are like manna from heaven to this former American soldier. 9 cents per kW hour for nuclear vs 6 cnts for wind. Oh brother, am I dreaming? I have 9 cents in a long paper that I just wrote for a short course in Spain, and thanks to you I now know that 9 cents is probably wrong. As for your wind cost, 6 cents/kwH is NOT wrong - it is crazy.
The thing that particularly interests me is your statement that what is important is what prices are today, not what they could or should be. You are right on the money there, although I wont go into this IS-SUE. As for my being a policy maker, I'm not even a policy maker in my own home, nor have I ever been as far as I can tell.
6 cents/kWh for wind. You've got to get control of yourself, Tam. You cant say things like that in mixed company. But I guess that I owe you something for contributing to my exposure, and so I will provide you with a clue. Using some linear approximation and your estimate of a 25 percent capacity factor, leads me to believe that you should have been standing next to me when the Dean of Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology pronounced me hopeless and expelled me from his school..
Jim Beyer 3.28.12
I don't think 9 cents is far off. That's the number I keep coming up with, but I included financing. I think I assumed a longer lifetime.
I don't believe that one could integrate a renewable source as a baseline source for only a 10% premium. Storage is much more expensive than that. It's possible with load leveling and electric vehicle charging and demand management we could do better, but that's a lot of ifs.
Michael Keller 3.28.12
Tam, Just because you could achieve +15% penetration using renewable energy does not mean you should. You could achieve 100% penetration using nuclear power with "zero" greenhouse gas emissions and no particular impact on grid reliability, but that does not mean it's a good idea.
The key factor is how much is that going to cost the consumer. That's where both nuclear and renewable power have major problems.
Also, your cost assumptions on renewable energy simply do not hold-up for the vast majority of the US landmass and population. However, the folks in California are certainly welcome to collectively pursue what ever path is voted in. As for most of the rest of us, we'll take the most economic path, particularly once the zealots in Obama regime's EPA are given their walking papers.
Michael Keller 3.28.12
PS Why should the consumer pay a 10% premium? Why not use natural gas and actually have your power bill significantly reduced?
Jim Beyer 3.28.12
I'd vote for nuclear power over a temporary drop in NG prices that will likely not last. NG is best used to fuel vehicles anyway as oil gets more dear.
Tam Hunt 3.28.12
Michael, the 10% premium is on top of the cost of renewable energy, not NG energy. With NG so low right now, the cost curves have reversed again, and NG is certainly cheaper than almost all renewables as a baseload source, for the time being (but not for peak power, where solar is still cheaper than NG). But NG prices are, as we have seen, incredibly volatile and I won't be at all surprised if they go back up a lot in the next few years as companies figure out how to use dirt cheap NG in products and exporters find a home for large amounts of LNG. Arbitrage ensures that all energy prices are ultimately fungible - as long as their is a way to ship the energy.
Tam Hunt 3.28.12
Fred, read the Lawrence Berkeley Labs report I just linked to. It shows wind power prices lower than what I calculated. So my price figures are actually supported by real world data. Yours are fantasy.
Tam Hunt 3.28.12
PS. Michael, my wind power price estimates do hold up for much of the US, as the LBL report shows.
You're partly right re solar, which of course requires good sun to get to 25% capacity factors and this is available only in the West and Southwest generally speaking. Nevertheless, places like Ontario are rapidly building out solar by providing a higher price, which they deem societally worthwhile.. And don't forget Germany, long the market leader in solar, which installed enough solar to power about 1.5 million homes in both 2010 and 2011. That's real growth.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.28.12
Tam, nobody who can add and subtract can be stupid enough to believe that the cost of wind power is what you say it is. And in case they are dumber than stupid, tell them to study the wind power situation in the promised land of wind power, but which I mean Denmark.
Speaking of dumber than stupid, one of the Swedish experts on wind and things did some math in a morning paper where he came up with the following result: if a wind turbine has a capacity factor of 25%, four turbines can replace an equivalent amount of capacity from a reactor. And to think that they kicked ME out of engineering school for failing math twice, and I was fired from Hughes in LA. No wonder I feel so satisfied with myself.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.29.12
Here is another item for the consideration of Tam. THE REASON THOSE FLUNKIES AND HIGHLY EDUCATED NO-HOPERS CALCULATED THE PRICE OF WIND THAT YOU FIND SO ATTRACTIVE IS BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T DARE TO CALCULATE THE ACTUAL PRICE. We have come to a point in history where lies and misunderstandings are inescapable, and this is just the beginning.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.29.12
One more thing. Just the idea of solar making economic sense in Germany is absurd. Don't people understand that this business in Germany is about votes. If wind was what Tam thinks it is, you couldn't walk ten meters in Sweden without bumping into a wind turbine. The engineers in Sweden know that wind and solar are crazy, and while they dont say so, they know that it is in their interest to stay away from them.
Even so, I can accept that there might be OK to invest in some wind in this country, but that is not what Tam and his friends want: they want ALL NUCLEAR dumped, both in this country and elsewhere. The rational approach, which is to keep it to a minimum, isn't even taken into consideration.
I've got a suggestion Tam. Take your next vacation in Sweden and give a lecture called WHY SOLAR IS CHEAPER THAN NATURAL GAS FOR PEAK POWER. iI'll sit in the front row but I won't interfere with you. I won't interfere with you because I won't be able to stop laughing.
Jim Beyer 3.29.12
I can see you are exasperated. I understand. I felt the same way when Fukushima allowed a horrible situation to occur because they couldn't spend a few million dollars putting their generators on stilts. Stupid. And crippling to the industry. There's apparently a ready supply of stupid people in all of these industries.
Michael Keller 3.29.12
Tam, you are factual incorrect.
You are cherry picking information while overlooking the highly biased assumptions cleverly hidden in the footnotes of your sources.
Try running the numbers on an apples-and-apples basis. Determine the capital cost of the investment, cost of fuel, hours of operation, and debt payment on the money borrowed. All options evaluated in the same manner. Use average conditions (vice cherry picking wind and solar locations). Then see where the cost of energy ends up.
I can save you the trouble. Wind and solar are incapable of beating natural gas power plants unless the price of gas is about 5 times current levels.
Note: peaking gas turbines are efficient and really cheap, as is the fuel. That is a lethal combination for solar energy. The only way out is to piggyback onto the natural gas power plant - the Integrated Solar Combined-cycle plant. However, with natural gas prices at current levels, that combination is not particularly competitive either.
Tam Hunt 3.29.12
Fred, looks like you're not capable of a rational discussion anymore. Did you even read the report, from a national lab, that I linked to? We can debate policy, but let's not simply reject facts because we don't like them.
Tam Hunt 3.29.12
Michael, I'm not cherry picking anything, I'm going off the best facts available re equipments cost, etc., that affect actual real world prices of power. Here's a recent report from the CA Energy Commission comparing the prices for new power plants in CA, showing that solar power is a lot cheaper than natural gas peakers, even using outdated solar panel prices (which have come down by half in the last couple of years). See page 4 for a quick visual summary:
And the CA PUC calculates the "market price referent," each year, which is the cost of power from a new 500 MW natural gas baseload power plant. This is now about 9 c/kWh for a 20 year contract, about the same as power from wind in a decent location (30% capacity factor or so).
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.29.12
Tam, you and I cannot debate policy because you cannot do the math and the economics. I'm genuinely sorry. Somebody else who cannot do the economics are the know-nothings, no hopers and flunkies at the lab that calculated the cost of wind at six cents per kWh, and if Dr Chu is listening in I can say the same thing about him where the economics is concerned.
Now, I know that a nice feller like myself is running some kind of risk when he calls the ladies and gents at the LBL flunkies and no-hopers, but I have no choice. They cant understand because where the topics we are discussing here are concerned they have been ordered to not understand. It happens all the time. It happened in Germany when Hitler declared war on the US. Moreover, with the numbers that you provide above I think I can show that the cost of power from nuclear is less than 9 cents. I can show it unless the Dean of Engineering at IIT turns up again to send me on my way..
One more thing Tam. Here in Sweden I cant think of anyone teaching energy economics who is not totally and completely incompetent, and proud of it. Something like you for instance where this topic is concerned. I mean, with all due respects, you cant say some of the things you say above, because those things dont make economic sense, and they put you in the same miserable category as those...well, you know. As for rejecting facts, Sweden constructed 12 reactors in 13+ years, and when they were tuned up they provided more than 50 percent of the power in this country at what was initially one of the lowests costs in the world. And as Malcolm notes, the Chinese can construct 1000 MW plants in less than 5 years. Those are all the facts I need to do my song and dance.
Michael Keller 3.29.12
The California Energy Commission may be your best source, but they are clearly not creditable. Without question, they are committed ideologues to the "green energy" movement. As they also get their paychecks from the Democratic Brown regime, there is no way in hell they'll do anything but toe the party line.
If you lads in California are paying 9 cents/KWh for a base-loaded new combined-cycle plant, you are getting taken to the cleaners.
Stop and think for a moment. If the regime is pushing green energy and you want to continue to receive a paycheck, of course you will put your thumb on the scale to make sure the results are "acceptable" to the boss. That is exactly what's going on.
As I've pointed out before, it's not that difficult to figure out the economics of all this. You should run the calculations yourself before believing the propaganda being spewed by the elitists. If you run the analysis yourself and reach the same conclusion as you now hold, that's fine.
P.S. Just figure the “overnight cost”, as it puts everything on an even keel. The “20 year contract” or “levelized” numbers are complete nonsense because of the unpredictability of the distant future and ease with which the results can be gamed.
P.S.S. It's telling that the your vaunted commission only recently divulged the cost of "renewable" energy after being sued, and even then "redacted" showed up all over the place. So much for transparency.
Malcolm Rawlingson 3.29.12
Tam the "reserve" you talk about for the California grid is provided largely by the Hoover Dam. You know the environmentally friendly facility that shuts off all the water from the Colorado River to the Mexicans who once used it to irrigate their fields.
Muchos Gracias Uncle Sam.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.30.12
Thanka guys. Thanks for the materials I need to write the nuclear article of my present dreams. And Michael, as for Tam, he's been taken down the garden path by those beach boy and girl environmentalists in wonderful California.
But tell me Mr Hunt, is is really and truly asking for too much to want nuclear energy to supply a well-under-fifty-percent fraction of the electric power in the U.S. What have the workers and millionaires in the U.S. done to be denied that largesse.
And Tam, please convey my warmest regards to those no-hopers and flunkies at the LBL who have once again shown that luck is more important than brains when it comes to getting fixed up with prime employmnet.
Tam Hunt 3.30.12
Fred, you have zero credibility in my book. You offer no numbers of your own and simply disbelieve anything that doesn't fit your atavistic and aspirational views of what nuclear "should" cost. End of argument.
Michael, I've already done what you suggested, in this very thread. Look up a bit and you'll see my levelized cost calculations, based on the easy to understand NREL levelized cost calculator.
As for using overnight costs only, that's patently absurd - sorry to be harsh. The whole point of a levelized cost calculation is that fuel costs for renewables are free and they're far from free for fossil fuels and nuclear. So you have to include fuel costs and O&M costs, as well as financing costs, to do an accurate comparison. That's the whole point of a levelized cost calculation: it normalizes between technologies and includes things like capacity factor normalizations.
As for the CEC having to be sued, I don't know what you're referring to but I suspect your'e confusing this with a different matter.
Last, with respect to Brown and the CEC report I linked to, it was produced long before Brown became governor, under Schwarzenegger, a Republican. Hmmm.
Malcolm, no the planning reserve margin for CA is not primarily comprised of Hoover Dam. It's primarily comprised of baseload natural gas plants.
Tam Hunt 3.30.12
Fred, one last point: LBL is not "calculating" the wind prices. They're taking the actual contract prices from actual wind power contracts. You know, actual empirical data. Like actual economists are supposed to do.
Tam Hunt 3.30.12
Fred, actually one more point to soften my previous comments a bit. I'm glad that we've agreed in the past, and I think we still do, that peak oil is a major concern. I think we both agree that we need to dramatically transform our energy situation quickly - and that's what all of my writings have been about.
We disagree on nuclear because when I look to even the economics of nuclear (forget the safety and terrorism risks, which themselves kill nuclear), it just doesn't make sense given the available alternatives, as I've argued here.
For the globe to continue the energy transformation required, we need to be highly rigorous and empirical in our arguments and decisions. And that's why I'm giving you a hard time on nuclear - you've divorced yourself from reality and I think that damages the discussion that needs to take place.
Jim Beyer 3.30.12
I think there's been a bit of cognitive dissonance on all sides here.
I think Tam makes some good points. But, study or no study, I think providing baseload with renewables is a big challenge. And yes, I've read studies that are technically flawed. And please don't bring up Schwartzenegger and energy. Back in 2005, I talked one of his energy aides into a corner w.r.t. the idiocy of the hydrogen economy. All he could do was stare at me blankly.
OTOH, it will be a long time indeed before we get past 15% penetration with renewables, so harping on that 'what if' is a bit (but not completely) disingenuous.
Michael, again you are very wise. I disagree with the belief that NG will stay cheap, though it is ungodly cheap right now in N.A. But it's tricked us like this several times in the past. Your steadfast belief that global warming is some left wing conspiracy theory does not serve you well. FWIW, I could agree there might not be much we can do about it in any practical sense, but that doesn't make the science wrong.
Fred, Tam has a point that you try to bluster past your lack of hard numbers. OTOH, I do believe that nuclear can and should be reasonably priced in North America. It may even be so now. Tam has a point that this needs to be demonstrated. I do think it can be if we can get our act together.
I want to underline Tam's final point that peak oil will be the main driver much more that economically-driven shortages of grid power. Come on! Without oil, our economy sinks in any case. Worrying about where the grid power comes from when a core component to our economy (oil) is drying up is definitely a deck-chairs-Titanic situation. Again my point that the cheap NG should be vectored to transportation and not electricity production.
There, I think I've dumped on most everyone!!
Malcolm Rawlingson 3.30.12
Likewise Tam you have zero credibility - period.
What does "primarily" mean. A completely meaningless statement - and you criticize Fred for a lack of hard numbers. However it is clearly not zero and all the water that the USA has stolen from Mexico to produce power and to irrigate the California desert so you can grow almonds etc. appears not to trouble you one bit, For a so-called environmentalist you have some serious explaining to do.
And you never did explain where you are going to get all the Neodymium from for your beloved windmills when most of it (95%) is mined in China (in very non-environmentally friendly mines using some very nasty chemicals) who is steadily shutting down its export of the stuff. Hence Mr Obamas appeal to the WTO. You can't build windmills without it.
Explain how you plan to build millions more windmills when you do not have the material supply necessary. Maybe you plan to invade China to get it.
Ferdinand E. Banks 3.31.12
This gets better all the time. IT GETS BETTER ALL THE TIME FOLKS. Let's see what Tam tells us.
He says that the economists at LBL that I call flunkies and no-hopers have not calculated anything, but taken prices from "contracts". Wind is on the block for six cents a kWh, while nuclear goes for 9 cents/kWh. In these circumstances wind wins the day. The problem is that only a fool would sign a legally binding contract to sell electricity based on wind for 6 cents/kWh, and it may be true that only a bigger fool would sign a contract to buy it, so there is more to it than that. I wont bother to go into what that might be.
Jim Beyer seems to have a problem with dumping nuclear and letting wind (and presumably solar) carry the base load. I dont have a problem with that Jim - its just _______ wrong. In fact I should charge Tam for telling him that it's so stupid that if he insists on singing that tune he is going to lose the great credibility he may have among the stooges and no-hopers in California's great academic and research communities. And Tam, that's not up for debate...unless some money changes hands of course. By the way Jim, the hard number 9 cents/kWh that you obtained I have also obtained, but that's wrong. Using the numbers that the flunkies and no-hopers supplied for Tam's edification, it's less. Of course, I dont care what it is or was or could be. The Chinese can construct plants for less than 5 billion, and in the economics that I teach that is THE cost, and from that we get the answer I need - if, that is, you can add and subtract.
About the building of large numbers of windmills Malcolm. It is not going to happen. We wont discuss the intelligence of voters, but as long as they prefer more to less they are not going to let that take place on other than a minor scale. And if it does take place it will be recalled, and most likely sooner rather than later. What is happening now is that the Chinese are setting themselves up to take it all. To compete and out-compete with one and all, any time and any place I don't know whether to curse or cheer, because in a sense it's marvelous to think that there is a country in this world that is filled with the kind of intelligent people that normally I only encounter in the elementary economics books I once taught from.
Bob Amorosi 4.1.12
"Again my point that the cheap NG should be vectored to transportation and not electricity production."
I think Jim has it right, when oil is drying up our economy will sink without a widespread cheap substitute primarily for transportation, and NG is technically easy to adapt in most vehicles. But the much stronger push by auto manufacturers is for electrification of vehicles, not NG. This is bound to result in a huge increase in future demand from the electricity grid to supply them. So the debate about grid generation is an unpleasant necessity.
Michael Keller 4.2.12
My steadfast belief is that large parts of the "green energy" movement have been co-opted by the left. Such a strategy is clever, as energy is the life-blood of our modern society.
My thesis is that if a movement can gain control over our energy, it is then relatively easy to control a society thru the pocketbook. Thus the ultimate goal of power and money for the elite few is achieved.
Far fetched? Maybe not. Why the attacks on anyone that takes issue with the "global warming"? Man-causing the planet to overheat and create catastrophe should be an issue to debate, with pros and cons logically posited and all parties willing to examine the evidence, with “agree-to-disagree” an acceptable position in light of the complexity of the issue.
Instead those that disagree with man-caused global warming are demonized, personally attacked and economically threatened. That is right out of the leftist playbook and indicates depth of deceit involved.
Jerry Watson 4.3.12
Are you sure you have thought this through? The US energy sector is already control be handful of players and things like roof top solar would promote independence from the few not add to it.
Are you sure you know your “left” from your “right” I thought it was the "right" that supported control by the “elite few” you know like fascist and the left leaned towards social justice and at its extreme anarchy. Being a dues paying member of the illuminati I am good either way.
Don Hirschberg 4.5.12
Illuminati? No kidding. There seems to be quite a number of groups claiming the name. The common thread seems to be conspiracy theories. The Marvel Comics group might have the most clout.
Larry Page 5.22.12
This long time electrification of vehicles is happening now. There are many electric vehicles that you can see on the streets today. The power source of these vehicles are stored on the car batteries which distributes the electricity to make the vehicle run. This is quite an achievement but few people today accepted this change.