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Wind and solar generation half the cost of nuclear

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New-build wind and solar energy systems can generate electricity for up to 50 per cent cheaper than new nuclear power plants, a German study has found.

The research, commissioned by German think tank Agora Energiewende, compares feed-in tariffs for new nuclear in the UK with FiTs for renewables in Germany, and finds that nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CSS) – a technology not yet available in Europe – are both more expensive than wind and solar as energy strategies for preventing climate change.

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Released this week, the study also investigates the costs of “complete power systems” using natural gas power as flexible peak load back-up – something nuclear power plants need to achieve a generation capacity that makes them economically viable, and solar and wind farms need to make up for weather-affected intermittency.

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The study concludes that, “even today and under conservative assumptions,” a reliable power system based on solar PV, onshore wind and gas would be around 20 per cent cheaper than a system based on nuclear power and gas – a cost gap that was likely to widen as renewables became even more competitive.

Interestingly, the study does not even bother comparing a power generation system with high shares of coal or gas CCS – the energy mix Australia’s federal environment minister has put his weight behind – due to cost comparisons “clearly showing” it is “even less competitive (than nuclear) in comparison to PV and onshore wind.” (See chart below.)

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As an analysis of the report points out on the Agora Energiewende website, the “drastic declines” in the costs of power from wind and solar PV can be attributed to two decades of technological advancement, with feed-in tariffs for PV falling by 80 per cent in Germany in the past five years alone.

As the chart below illustrates, the value of payments for nuclear power in the UK during the reference time frame remain constant, assuming a fixed exchange rate of £0.85/euros. By contrast, says the report, “the value of payments for PV and onshore wind in Germany diminishes continuously.”

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Says the report: “New nuclear power is remunerated with a constant payment of €112/MWh (2013 prices) for 35 years. In contrast, large PV in Germany receives €96/MWh at the beginning, which declines to €57/MWh in the last year of operation. Similarly, onshore wind in Germany starts at €73/MWh and decreases to €44/MWh.

“Overall, Figure 1 shows that PV and onshore wind remuneration in Germany is considerably lower than the remuneration paid for new nuclear power in the UK, even without taking into account further cost reductions for PV and wind that are likely to occur due to future technological learning effects.”

The new findings come at a time when nuclear, coal and gas come under increasing economic pressure in Germany and other parts of the world. As we reported last month, German energy giant Eon reportedly wants to bring forward the shutdown of its Grafenrheinfeld nuclear plant to spring 2015.

Nuclear and fossil fuel plants are being squeezed out of Germany by renewables, wrote Craig Morris on RenewEconomy, with RWE recently announcing plans to close one of its gas turbines near Emsland because of all the solar power being generated in the region.

“Clearly, wind and solar power are dramatically cutting into demand for conventional power, making such plants increasingly unprofitable,” Morris said.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the government looks to be eyeing nuclear power as a clean energy option for the country’s future, alongside its dreams of abundant “clean coal.”

Last year, an issues paper released ahead of the Abbott government’s energy white paper noted that slow development in carbon capture and storage, and difficulties with hydro, meant nuclear technologies continued “to present an option for future reliable energy that can be readily dispatched into the market.”

And Dick Warburton, Abbott’s hand-picked head of the federal government’s RET review panel, has revealed himself as a big fan of nuclear energy, describing it once as the only alternative to fossil fuel generation.

In an article published in Australia’s Quadrant magazine in 2011, Warburton and his c0-author wrote that “except for nuclear power, there are no straightforward strategies for reducing dependence on fossil fuels without large economic costs.”

And last month, Dennis Jensen – the Liberal MP who wanted to be Tony Abbott’s science ministersuggested Australia establish a nuclear power industry to employ entrenched car industry workers.

It’s a slightly different view from that of the executive director of Agora Energiewende, Patrick Graichen, who argues that the winner in the battle over the cheapest means of CO2-free power generation has been decided.

“In the future wind and solar will play an ever greater role in countries across the world as a source of power,” he said.

“Together with other countries and regions taking the lead on preventing climate change, Germany has an opportunity to showcase how stable and cheap power production can be based on wind and solar.”

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  • Bob Bingham

    In the same way that the internet is affecting newspapers wind. soar. geothermal and hydro are changing power supplies. There is no such thing as clean coal and we can do a lot better. http://www.climateoutcome.kiwi.nz/clean-energy-alternatives.html

    • wideEyedPupil

      There is such as thing as CCS it’s a fig-leafed shape item you can buy in a gentlemen’s atelier along with bow ties and oxfords and brogues.

  • Christina Macpherson

    Dick Warburton is not alone in the nuclear push. Despite the recent collapse of the Small Modular Nuclear reactor (SMR) industry – (well not collapse, because it never even got up) The BHP-funded Grattan Institute, the Dept of Industry, numerous Adelaide worthies are seriously influencing the Australian government’s forthcoming Energy White Paper http://www.independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/strange-timing-to-suggest-a-lego-nuclear-future-for-australia,6404

    • Stephen Gloor

      Those Adelaide worthies would not include Barry Brook would they?

    • Ken Fabian

      There is no nuclear push and won’t be so long as the LNP’s priority is to NOT address climate change. As it stands it’s alleged “support” is entirely rhetorical hot air to fan the flames of anti-environmentalism – and is but one element of a broader, multipronged effort to undermine what it perceives as a primary source of community demands for action on climate.

      Nuclear has been in a battle with fossil fuels for the political Right’s affections and nuclear lost, but I’m not sure nuke spruikers are even savvy enough to know there was a fight, let alone perceptive enough to know that not only have they already lost but that it was these “friends” that slipped in the knife.

      Climate science denial deprives the LNP of the essential climate motivation to push for nuclear, and as long as fixing the climate problem is not a motivation they have no motivation to actually push nuclear except as a rhetorical political tool.

  • John_ONeill

    The study claims gas and wind would be twenty percent cheaper than gas and nuclear. Did they figure out how much CO2 either system would emit? Extrapolating from France’s current figures from the IPCC for grams CO2/kWh, with about three quarters nuclear production and ten percent hydro, the rest gas, compared to Denmark, with about one third wind, the rest gas and coal
    https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/sroc/Tables/t0305.pdf
    where we have France at 0.078 gCO2/kWh and Denmark at 0.385, that is, nearly five times worse, it’s very hard to see how wind and gas locally could give anywhere near the reductions already demonstrated by a largely nuclear grid. With nuclear having about ninety percent availability, and wind normally about thirty to forty percent at a good site, of course you’ll need a lot of gas. Add in a very high capacity continent-spanning grid and plenty of redundant wind capacity, and maybe more storage, and the carbon gap might narrow, but costing in the surplus transmission, windfarms and storage will blow out the budget.
    “Together with other countries and regions taking the lead on preventing climate change, Germany has an opportunity to showcase how stable and cheap power production can be based on wind and solar.” If Germany’s supposed to be showing the way, how come the only European countries on that IPCC list with worse emissions from electricity than Germany are Italy, Greece and Ireland – which have also all banned nuclear power?

    • George Reichel

      And besides,radiation never hurt anyone.lol

      • JonathanMaddox

        Radiation has absolutely hurt people, severely, and killed them. But radiation from civilian nuclear power stations has hurt relatively few. More people have died from mis-handled equipment used in nuclear medicine than from radiation accidents in civilian nuclear power, Chernobyl excepted. Chernobyl itself has been responsible for fewer than 100 deaths to date (true, look it up!), and may ultimately be responsible for a few thousand premature deaths.

        • BasM

          Other scientists conclude that Chernobyl kil

          • JonathanMaddox

            “A devastating review in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry points out that the book achieves its figure by the remarkable method of assuming that all increased deaths from a wide range of diseases – including many which have no known association with radiation – were caused by the accident. There is no basis for this assumption, not least because screening in many countries improved dramatically after the disaster and, since 1986, there have been massive changes in the former eastern bloc. The study makes no attempt to correlate exposure to radiation with the incidence of disease.

            “The academy has given me this statement: “In no sense did Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences or the New York Academy of Sciences commission this work; nor by its publication do we intend to independently validate the claims made in the translation or in the original publications cited in the work. The translated volume has not been peer-reviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences, or by anyone else.”

            http://www.monbiot.com/2011/04/04/evidence-meltdown/

          • JonathanMaddox

            (I did read the Yablokov and Nesterenko work, some years ago. I am not an epidemiologist and was mostly puzzled by the methodology. The review I quote above explains quite adequately why.)

          • BasM

            The three professors (Yablokov, etal) who wrote the book, estimate >1million death before 2006 which is 20years after Chernobyl.

            From RERF/LSS and medical studies we know that by far most health damage of low level radiation becomes visible after 20-60years. E.g. report no. 14: http://www.rerf.jp/library/archives_e/lsstitle.html
            Using those studies and the estimation of the book , would result in an estimation of 10million death due to Chernobyl.

            As I agree that part of the death stated in the book may be caused by other factors, I lowered my estimation a factor 10. Note that in line with RERF and medical studies most of those still have to occur (~90% after 2006).

            My factor 10 reduction seems more than enough considering the evidence they show, the general health decline after Chernobyl in the whole of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, etc.

            Note also that IAEA/WHO 2006 report avoided to consider almost all studies regarding the influence on the population by restricting itself to effects that were widely published in western papers. They even didn’t include all liquidators in their study which delivered official complaint of Ukraine government. They simply refused to include any W-European study.

  • George Henry

    The Fukushima disaster has put the kibosh on the promise of clean nuclear energy. The pollution from this is worldwide and lasts thousands, even millions of years. How anyone can seriously consider a future of nukes is beyond me. This one event, with at least 3 total meltdowns, could ultimately lead to our extinction. If they can’t stop the leakage of radiation into the Pacific it could eventually kill all the plankton, suffocating us from a lack of oxygen. Not even mentioning the loss of sea life and food supply. These things are so dangerous they should all be shut down tomorrow and then we better hope we develop a safe way of dealing with the waste they’ve already generated. Nuke power is sheer madness. We don’t even have the technology to deal with their destruction. Even our robots cannot function in such high radioactivity.

    • JonathanMaddox

      Sheer fear-mongering. Yes, there is radioactive material leaking into the Pacific. It isn’t wiping anything out. Some marine organisms and some people may get cancers, true. But who told you “it could eventually kill all the plankton”? Kookery.

  • Jason Schafer

    Should have left those Russian climate change worker stuck in the ice during their Antarctica trip. Sorry we just can’t risk the extra carbon to save you. Climate change is a liberal disease. You are fools.

  • Richard Hughes

    Cigarettes kill more people every year than any nuclear incident ever will. 30 year old tech as in chernobyl and Fukushima is irrelivent now. Nuclear power is the only future for a clean earth future. And to feed the growing world population