Around the world, nuclear can’t compete with growing renewables | RenewEconomy

Around the world, nuclear can’t compete with growing renewables

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No matter which aspect of the nuclear industry is assessed, the picture isn’t pretty. Even China is investing 9 times more money in renewables.

“What is spectacular is the extent to which the nuclear industry is appearing to ignore reality.”
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Greentech Media

“What is spectacular is the extent to which the nuclear industry is appearing to ignore reality.”
“What is spectacular is the extent to which the nuclear industry is appearing to ignore reality.”

Global investment in new nuclear is an order of magnitude less than renewable energy investment. That is just one of the findings of a new independent report on the state of the worldwide nuclear industry that was issued on Thursday. No matter which aspect of the nuclear industry is assessed, the picture isn’t pretty.



Despite talk of a nuclear renaissance in the 1990s, no single Generation III reactor has come into service in the past 20 years. Most are delayed three to nine years and are far over budget.

“The impressively resilient hopes that many people still have of a global nuclear renaissance are being trumped by a real‐time revolution in efficiency‐plus‐renewables‐plus-storage, delivering more and more solutions on the ground every year,” Jonathon Porritt, co-founder of the Forum for the Future and former Chairman of the U.K.  Sustainable Development Commission, wrote in the forward to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015. “[The report] remorselessly lays bare the gap between the promise of innovation in the nuclear industry and its delivered results.”

China, which leads the world in new nuclear builds, spent about $9 billion in 2014, but invested more than $83 billion on wind and solar in the same year. China’s non-hydro renewable fleet produces more energy than its nuclear capacity.

What’s more, Germany, Brazil, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain and Japan all generate more electricity from non-hydro renewables than from nuclear. Those countries make up nearly half of the world’s population and three of the world’s largest economies.


For nuclear that is being built, the word “boondoggle” seems to come up frequently, especially in the West. “The project is in shambles,” the report said of the U.K.’s Hinkley Point C reactor, which was meant to be the first new nuclear in the country in decades. Now, the company building it, Areva, is bankrupt. Areva’s Olkiluoto 3 project in Finland and Flamanville 3 in France are also both way over budget and still not in operation.

“What is spectacular is the extent to which the nuclear industry is appearing to ignore reality,” the report states. In 2013, Areva’s then-CEO predicted reactors would be coming back on-line in Japan by the end of the year and that his company would be taking new orders in the next few years. In 2015, Japan has been nuclear-free for the first time in more than four decades. Areva has had no new orders.

Despite the issues with Areva reactors, there are more than 60 reactors currently under construction. Of those reactors, most have been under construction for more than seven years. Three-quarters of the building sites are delayed and, amazingly, five have been listed as “under construction” for more than 30 years.


For the reactors that are in operation, many are aging rapidly. The mean age for reactors worldwide is about 29 years, and most were designed for life spans of 40 years, but many will operate beyond that. The cost of going beyond 40 years isn’t cheap — about $1 billion to $5 billion per reactor. By 2050, nuclear’s share of global electricity generation is expected to be similar to its role today, which amounts to about 10 percent.

Given the cost and time necessary to build large reactors, many in the industry have argued for a move to small modular reactors. Yet SMRs have also suffered from higher-than-expected costs and long development timelines, the report states.

The U.S. Department of Energy has been one of the proponents of this technology, yet none of the designs it said in 2001 could be available by the end of the decade were deployed. Of the two companies the DOE chose years later for SMR development funding, one slashed its spending on SMRs in 2014. NuScale, the other SMR manufacturer, is still continuing with development. Even so, “there is no evidence that SMRs will be constructed in the United States anytime soon,” the report states.

The picture is not rosier in other countries that have lent support to SMRs. South Korea, for example, has been developing an SMR since the 1990s, and while it was approved in 2012, no orders have yet been received. Saudi Arabia did say earlier this year it would test the technology in a three-year pilot.

“The static, top-heavy, monstrously expensive world of nuclear power has less and less to deploy against today’s increasingly agile, dynamic, cost-effective alternatives,” wrote Porritt. “The sole remaining issue is that not everyone sees it that way — as yet.”

Source: Greentech Media. Reproduced with permission.

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  1. Rob 5 years ago

    Nuclear is more expensive than wind and solar but surely not more expensive than solar plus storage?

    Cost of solar varies by region as well. Same install cost can yield considerably fewer kWh in some Northern European locales making cost per kWh greater than Australia or California.

    Suggests a role for nuclear for part of the de carbonization challenge.

    • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

      As Giles has pointed out before local rooftop solarPV would be cheaper than coal generated power even if the cost of coal was free per tonne. That’s because network cost are up to 50% of domestic electricity bills, in this country at least.

      So with battery storage now on cost curve projection similar to solar (20% reduction every ~two years) depending on size of solar installation and demand levels and time of use yes solar with storage can be cheaper than nuclear today and for sure will be in the near future. Remember nuclear has a five decade cost curve history of getting more expensive (LCOE) over time and often has it’s hidden costs externalised just like FF sources of energy.

      The only argument that can be made for nuclear is how soon or later existing plants should be shuttered or closed down completely and have their sites remediated. If those remediation costs are to be borne by the taxpayers then there’s an argument that says we defer that until approaching 100% RE and net zero emissions because the money is better spent averting global systems collapse as a ‘war economy’ type of prioritised effort. (I wish someone would come up with a better alternative to ‘war economy footing’ but it’s a good example of national refocusing of the means of production towards a single easily defined goal).

      • Rob 5 years ago

        Comparing the wrong locale. Point is nuclear may have a place where solar production is low. Storage still very expensive per kWh cycled through it. Storage has round trip losses to consider.

        • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

          Like Germany and Scandinavia with their high application of solar and wind respectively?

          Round trip loses aren’t so much a big deal for grid storage. If you are buying energy at $20/MWh (or even being paid to take it as happens with German excess power sold at negative prices overnight to Denmark) and selling it at >$2000/MWh even 50% round trip inefficiency isn’t going to cost so you much.

          Anyhow at grid level today, PH has 80% efficiency, PH using retired underground mines is ~90% efficient and thermal storage is into the mid to high 90%s efficiency. Chemical battery is already competing in network roles so presumably efficiency not impeding it there.

          • Rob 5 years ago

            Not thinking forward. Today there is high marginal utility of each kWp of added wind and solar energy. As you displace fossil fuels and go to 100% renewable marginal utility of each extra kWp of renewables drops sharply. I design off grid renewable power stations for a living which exposes the problem very clearly.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            So what efficiency level is acceptable to you? 100% because 98% is too inefficient?! Network costs far outweigh this nit picking argument of yours.

          • Rob 5 years ago

            I don’t think you understood my comment. I was talking about renewable fraction. Last kWp very underutilized in high renewable fraction systems.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            Yes but the last fraction of generation is not specific to one installation like say the most expensive gas ‘peaker’ in a FF powered grid.

            One day it might be in Wind in SA that can’t get into the market the next day it might be utility solar in central Australia that can’t get onto the grid for a dollar. The impacts will be distributed due to the variability of weather conditions across Australia and demand requirements across the grid. with proper grid design or market design (which we most definitely do not have if we want to retire FFs ASAP) they should all be able to make money enough times in the year to turn a profit.

          • Rob 5 years ago

            Australia the wrong model. I don’t support nuclear for Australia because we have such great renewable potential. Many nations in very different situation and nuclear might be their only option to fully decarbonize. Some will quite reasonably be wary of relying on neighbors for critical supply.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            How many countries produce all their own oil? Countries have learned to live while relying on other countries for critical supply.

            How many countries have terrible wind and solar and hydro resources? Every country I can think of has a reasonably good amount of one of the three.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            like where then? Iran needs nuclear power like a hole in the head given the prices Saudi Arabia is doing solarPV and solarCST with thermal storage for. (which makes one query their determined perseverance in pursuit of nuclear at cost of sanctions on their people). All it will do is attract preemptive Israeli aggression and diplomatic pressures being levelled against them. Iceland, plenty of geothermal for now and the foreseeable future.

            Where else? Tell me a place where existing RE resources plus a small component of energy storage at $100/MWh cannot do the job? Then as i mentioned before RE2Fuel is only going to grow as large nations go beyond 50% RE.

          • neroden 5 years ago

            China has huge renewable potential, so does India, so does every single country in the Southern Hemisphere and every single country in the tropics.

            That would limit nuclear’s potential to northern “snowbelt” countries. Nuclear isn’t remotely competitive in the US or the UK, or even Germany which has terrible solar potential. Scandanavia and Canada are blessed with massive hydro. What does that leave? Russia I guess? Well, we can’t do anything about Russian energy policy, but they seem to have a lot of wind and hydro which hasn’t been exploited.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Have you looked at the capacity factor for the gas peakers that are now being used for ‘the last kWp’?

            There are gas peakers than run only a few hours a year or perhaps not every year. US capacity factors for natural gas plants runs under 30% and that includes a lot of CCNG plants that run a lot of hours.

          • juxx0r 5 years ago

            We have plenty of unmanned reciprocating engine natural gas gensets dotted around the State producing power on a 85% CF at <20c/kWh including profit margin. Convert that to USD and you're at 15c/kWh, Add 66% for running them at 15% CF and your last kWh costs you only 25 cents. Or as we like to put it here in Australia, that's cheaper than you can buy it from the grid.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            The cheapest “last kWh” solution might be turbines or liquid fueled generators. Especially if we use already paid off hardware and stretch its life to several decades with very infrequent use.

            And we can make it ‘green’ by using biofuels for those few hours each year.

            Paid off coal plants fired with biomass could be another good ‘last kWh’ solution.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            oh don’t say that Bob this venal and corrupted Abbott govt has just included native forest burning under the RET legislation as if it’s renewable energy to burn native forests! The kind of forests they want to log include East Gippsland forests recently discovered to be fixing carbon at a higher rate per hectare than any other land use designation in Australia. It turns out that these old growth forests fix more carbon than even young regrowth on the same land (in spite of conventional wisdom saying the opposite), and they never grow back as good and species become extinct in the mean time.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            If we’re talking about using biomass for ‘the last 1%’ there’s no need to burn old growth forests. That need can be met with wood waste and/or plantation trees.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            yeah but unless you say “crop waste” the loggers start looking for another govt handout to “save” their “protected species status” largely now mechanised industry. like they’ve been doing for the last three decades or more. they’re more teamsters than loggers in the traditional sense of the word.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            I know nothing about logging in AU, except for the fact that some species of eucalyptus grow extremely fast.

            Here, in the US, we have immense amounts of forest land that badly needs thinning. We need to remove built up fuel and allow a smaller number of trees to grow very large rather than be taken out by wildfire.

            We also have tree plantations that were established for the production of pulp. Paper use is way down. Those areas are good candidates for biomass production.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            yes we have plantations on both private and public land but the loggers who are donating to political parties don’t get to take them for free with roads made and paid for by the taxpayer. so they prefer to take old growth forests where the mature eucalyptus take over 100 years to developed the hollows from fallen limbs that endangered powerful owls nest in. these forests have the tallest flowering plants in the world and they’re incredibly majestic, and like I said amazing sequesters of carbon and cyclers of water.

            Regrowth from clear felling is species poor and lacks the same habitat potential forever more. There’s some good articles on The Conversation about these issues and there’s always the BZE Land Use Report.

            We’ve had enough pine plantations to handle pulp for decades and now hardwood plantations too but it’s all about dollars falling in which pockets. Sorry tail of policy corruption on a national scale. The international pulp price has fallen so far (and the stigma of non-FSC pulp) the 400,000 tonnes a year they’re taking from East Gippsland Rainforests has no market so they’re desperate to open new avenues to continue to destroy native forests. Parallels with the Japanese whale meat industry.

          • Rob 5 years ago

            No need to lower tone of debate by casting aspersions.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            I find your line of thought exasperating. Sorry for reflecting that.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            ” As you displace fossil fuels and go to 100% renewable marginal utility of each extra kWp of renewables drops sharply.” I never made any assertion or comment implying that this is not the case. The last 5% is likely going to be the most expensive in the 100% RE grid, although with solarPV still continuing on a -20% per 2 years cost curve and battery storage likely to experience the same who knows.

            As Ray Kurzeil has observed solarPV is on track to be delivering free energy by 2036. with enough wind, demand management, localised and grid level storage, EVs as a domestic load shifting option, micro-grids, time-of-use pricing maybe the last 5% will just happen by magic?

            In the BZE plan they proposed burning bio-waste at solarCST plants on a few day a year in some years where the weather conditions were unfavourable to meet their demand projection. Kind of a cost effective stop-gap if you will.

          • Rob 5 years ago

            Kurzweil wrong on this one. Solar plants need maintenance to ensure continued DC health. Land leases must be paid. Panels and inverters must be replaced. Structures have finite life. Fences kept in good order. Weed growth managed. All these costs permanent. Ray is disciple of the singularity and plans to upload his consciousness to the cloud and thereby become immortal. Bold claims are his forte. Prefer to have a plan that doesn’t depend on his claims coming true.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            The EIA sets operating costs for US solar farms at a bit under 1 c/kWh.

            All generators have fixed operating costs. Solar’s are the lowest.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            he’s talking module costs. and obviously running a business making a physical product needs to buy materials, no matter how cheap they are. I’ve run the numbers myself a couple of times using 20% reduction every two years with different start points and the curve is more like out to 2048 before price is less than 1 cent per watt. The point is that the curve has stayed on trend for decades now with no sign of a plateau (unlike moores law which has started to reach physical limits of quantum mechanics and less premium on CPU power these days).

            I don’t have much time for futurists TBH and don’t have any time for the notion of machine consciousness (as opposed to machine intelligence) but he’s achieved some remarkable tech breakthroughs himself and thinks a lot about tech trends.

        • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

          As I already stated, nuclear is about the worst match for RE you can commission to the grid. It’s slow/impossible to ramp depending on the plant and for the ones in France that do ramp, they basically blow hot air out a stack to ‘ramp’ rather than curtail heat generation so it’s just makes them more expensive again as providers.

          As for your dismissal of PH, France has a lot of PH for the very reason that Nuclear is so bad at load following. Must even work in winter I guess despite the sub-zero condition in France during winter.

          • Rob 5 years ago

            Battery totally solves the ramp following problem, battery is fast response. Engineering design to fuse fast and slow response rate technology is done routinely in many domains.

      • Rob 5 years ago

        Storage also has much bigger final resource constraint problem than nuclear if implemented globally to supplant coal.

        • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

          not much of a resource issue in using old coal mines to do pumped hydro storage with. I’d like to see a comparative LCA of nuclear power including the fuel mining and water use with Li-ion batteries actually, that would be interesting.

          • Rob 5 years ago

            Seems unlikely that there are enough appropriately sited old coal mines with right features for to provide meaningful contribution. But yes bring on the study. A quick desktop analysis would likely resolve the potential impact of coal mine pumped hydro.

            A storage plus solar/wind model for meeting global energy demands in all locales requires a collosal amount of storage.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            colossal? read BZE Stationary energy report or any of the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets reports or AEMO which said not much different to BAU even without pricing carbon and air pollution health ‘externalities’.

            Then there’s the recent French study (yeah 75% nuclear France) which found that it would cost them same as BAU to go 95% RE with storage (and zero nuclear) using an ammonia storage medium. Remember that nuclear is very bad at balancing RE because it’s more costly and slow to ramp than any other form of generation. So that’s despite their ‘colossal’ sunk costs invested in a state owned nuclear power industry that it would save them money to scale back to 50% and cost no more to replace entirely with RE.

          • Rob 5 years ago

            Wrong locales again. Sunny Australia with worlds best solar resource and low population density a very poor model for global energy solution.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            France, Germany and Scandinavia are located in Australia?

          • Rob 5 years ago

            The BZE model you refer to is for high renewable fraction in Australia not land locked Northern Europe. Think through a succession of overcast winter days with temperature below zero.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            Which is why I have previously discussed the French 50% and 95% and 100% RE modelling (reported on RenewEconomy) The instance of Germany exporting power to Denmark at negative prices (peak demand is in summer in Australia for reasons of milder winter temperatures and current gas but BZE SE plan was “no gas” not sure about Denmark, they likely have winter peak demand but already have large amount precinct heating installed which can serve to time shift energy use) also goes to overcast winter days. Germany has two states already producing 150% net RE and obviously they can rely on the other states and nations that are not 100% for now but these issue will be worked through. Europe and Japan are both examining intercontinental transmission for access to ideal solar resources. Once we start seeing nations approach high penetrations of RE many ingenious ways will be found to deal with the edge cases of peak demand during trough RE output. I expect RE2fuel technology to make gains as RE drops in price in locations with excellent resources and as grids go beyond 50% RE also.

          • neroden 5 years ago

            Market penetration in Australia matters since Australia’s got an exceptionally dirty grid right now.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            MEI has already released research on coastal PH in Australia. places like Hazelwood have the advantage of upper and lower ponds already constructed with 100m vertical fall and heavy duty transmission lines to network.



            Tim Forcey and Dylan McConnell also wrote a piece here on RenewEconomy about prospects for mine conversion to PH:



          • Rob 5 years ago

            Sure but what fraction of global energy storage does this model supply? Not even necessary here as BZE demonstrates and Australian mines PH can’t supply other less sunny locales. So Hazelwood solves zero percent of the problem.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            Think you are forgetting wind. PH will come into the equation where peak demand capacity and last 10% has market value in the grid. Pretty simple.

          • Rob 5 years ago

            Bear in mind there is a big difference between sometimes producing 150% of demand and producing all your needs every second of every day. This why the marginal utility of last kWp of generation is low. I attended the BZE launch at Sydney town hall some years ago. Matthew Wright said it needed infrastructure investment at 3% of GDP from memory which another speaker described as a war footing. So true levelised cost not small. Infrastructure for long interconnecting transmission lines to facilitate his statistical energy matching.

            Don’t get me wrong I am devoted to renewables but also battle scarred from experience designing and deploying such systems. There are real issues with high penetration unique to renewables that must be addressed properly. Right now it’s all low hanging fruit and cheap. This phase will end and it will start to get much more expensive probably a decade or two into the future. This is well within energy supply planning horizons.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            Of course, I acknowledge that fact in my comment about the two states in Germany that are 150% RE (mostly wind). Since BZE SE Plan UNSW plan I linked to elsewhere did away with the HVDC link and it doesn’t probably stack up financially, especially with the cost fall in solarPV that has come since the ZCA SE Plan. I think we do need to be on a ‘war footing’ on CC action but even AEMO has said it’s pretty much same as BAU to go to very high penetrations of RE. As has the French Government commissioned study shown which was supposed to be in confidence but got leaked.

            The big impediment today as Giles often writes about is the fact that it’s so cheap to keep throwing coal into fully depreciated coal power plants that were built with taxpayers money and the market is not designed in the slightest to see them disadvantaged. attempts like a (cheap) carbon price and the RET are responses to market design failures. Maybe we need a new market that doesn’t have such blatant failures in the first place. Unfortunately we have private gentailers and FF industry with a compliment Abbott government prepared to destroy RE though whatever they can do in the legislature and in the MSM by way of white anting. The engineering challenges of the last 10% of the 100% RE scenario whatever it turns out to be are the least of our worries ATM in my opinion.

          • Rob 5 years ago

            Totally agree a war footing is appropriate. Sadly we are in the minority, for the moment anyway.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            The US has about 80,000 existing dams and uses only 2,500 or so for power production. At least 10% of the remaining should be capable of providing pump-up storage. (Adequate head and relatively close to transmission lines.)

            There are also thousands of rock quarries and mines. Both open pit and subsurface. Then there are thousands of places where closed loop PuHS could be developed.

            I would imagine the same holds for about any country of any appreciable size.

            There’s a study which finds thousands of closed loop PuHS sites in Europe where one or both reservoirs are already in place.

    • juxx0r 5 years ago

      What we need is to have Nuclear plus storage, that way we can save all the little electrons from dying when we have too much energy from all the solar panels that are half the price, without having to shutdown the nuclear plant.

      • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

        even though France says it’s cheaper for them to decommission their nuclear fleet (with all it’s entailed sunk costs of a state owned and developed industry) and embrace RE than continue with 75% nuclear? care to throw some data at your proposition?

        • juxx0r 5 years ago

          Well the Ontario society of professional engineers (link, careful pdf: Wind and the Electrical Grid) said that they couldn’t accept wind and solar on the Ontario grid because they had too much baseload nuclear, so the solution was to build more baseload nuclear (recommendation number 9). I feel that if we have a generating source like nuclear that is inflexible, then we need to attribute the storage to the inflexibility not the cheaper solar power which tends to deliver mostly when you need it.

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      Prices are hard to nail down. I’ll give you some US prices.

      Unsubsidized solar in the US is now about 6 c/kWh.

      Subsidized nuclear in the US is now about 13 c/kWh.

      The best price for pump-up hydro storage I can find is from Switzerland and it’s 5 c/kWh for a new dam construction project. Converting some of the US’s thousands of existing dams, rock quarries or mines should be cheaper.

      EOS Energy Systems is scheduling shipment of large scale zinc batteries in 2016 at $160/kWh. Daily cycling would make the price under 3 c/kWh.

      By the time a new nuclear reactor could be built and brought on line solar should be down to about 4 c/kWh or lower.

      Now take those numbers and make whatever combinations you like.

      4 c solar + 3 c storage is 7 c which is cheaper than 13 c nuclear.

      6 c solar + 5 c storage is 11c which is cheaper than 13 c nuclear.

      But the comparison is not nuclear vs. stored solar. The real comparison is directly used wind (3c) + directly used solar (4c) + stored wind/solar vs. directly used nuclear (13c) + stored nuclear. (Unless nuclear penetration is kept quite low.)

      Solar may not be all that affordable in Northern Europe (unless it’s shipped in from Southern Europe). But wind is cheap.

    • Mike Ives 5 years ago

      My thoughts too Rob

      • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

        What are your working numbers for electricity coming from new nuclear, wind, and solar, Mike?

        • Mike Ives 5 years ago

          Frankly Bob, as yet we (that’s all 2.5 of us) have not got round to churning out electricity cost scenarios. This may seem rather neglectful in some folk’s eyes but what we feel is possibly the top priority is how, if at all possible the world in general can decommission its current fossil fuel 128 trillion kWh pa primary energy burden which is growing at over 2.6% pa (ex BP’s 2013 figures) all within the next
          14 or so years and within a remaining carbon budget of just around 672 GtCO2. (ex 2013 Global Carbon Project).

          That of course is all in the hope that will give us a better than 66% chance of keeping the planet average temperature increase to 2 deg C or less
          (IPCC), hopefully without having to go down the CCS’s shaky trail and with due consideration to available resources of the various world’s ‘players’.

          It may well be that most sovereign states will not need nuclear and all its perceived ‘nasties’. Certainly Professor Mark Diesendorf among others, believes Australia can avoid nuclear and replace current electricity supply completely with reliable renewables. No doubt you
          good folks have similar scenarios. As Australia has very limited hydro reserves and much less EGS maybe you can tell us how it should be tackled and what changes will be needed to the grid to ensure the lights can be on 24/7?

          Also how would we replace the other FF primary
          energy like transport. EVs seem most promising but how do we supply the life cycle electricity for same? What about shipping, aircraft, excavators etc.….all within the remaining carbon budget …it goes on?

          The task of costing will no doubt follow how each sovereign state proposes to achieve its specific goal within its pro rata budget. It will take considerable modelling by a much larger team than we have right now. We believe it is all possible however if the right energy frugal replacements take place. Any takers in Australia?

          Now as I am currently engaged in helping draft our freebie ebook on the big energy challenge (our priority), could I respectfully be excused from further comment until late October?

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            If one doesn’t have a grasp of costs then there’s no way to suggest an energy mix to replace fossil fuels. Whatever we use going forward must be affordable enough to push fossil fuels aside.

            How might AU provide a 100% renewable grid (and charge EVs)? There are published studies. Here’s a couple from a few years back – “National scenarios exist for Australia (Wright and Hearps, 2010; Elliston et al., 2012b)”. I’d suggest reading those papers and a little library or searching time to see what has been published more recently. Giles probably has an AU list that’s more current than mine.

            At a very basic level AU has tremendous solar resources and some decent wind. Pump-up storage can be built in abandoned rock quarries, abandoned mines and at places where the elevation rises rapidly. Battery technology is improving at very high rates. EVs are on the verge of becoming more affordable to purchase than ICEVs and cost only a small fraction as much to operate.

            Sounds to me that you’ve got a lot of learning to do prior to writing a book on what to do.

          • Mike Ives 5 years ago

            Ooouch! A tad cutting Bob. Do I sense a ruffled feather or two?

            It seems you are hoping we can just push fossil fuels aside by feeding in any cheaper alternatives right? Bang for buck?

            Well there may be more to the problem we are facing than that I suggest.
            We have a reasonable grasp on prices of individual alternatives but what mixtures of same tick all the other boxes? Or do we just blast away on price and hope for the best outcome as to a workable electricity system?

            We are under the impression that we humans are being encouraged to try to stay below 2 deg C increase globally and still have workable energy/transport systems.

            Some of the other boxes:

            Will the chosen variable renewable fraction of the mix be independent of the rolling reserve option of fossil plants during the overall conversion period i.e. there a ceiling percentage of VRE that is workable?

            Will the final mix work 24/7 without massive additions due to low availability/capacity factors.

            What costs to upgrade the grid will be involved (say a smart grid).

            Will the final mix be sufficiently robust to cater for the energy to provide all future transport fuel replacements.

            Will the complete transfer be achieved within the respective carbon budget and in time. If we are just talking Australia then we will emit something like 1.12% of the roughly 41GtCO2 the globe will have emitted during 2015, including that due to land degradation. So will your best cost only scenario be achieved within Australia’s next 7,5 GtCO2 emissions (pro rata share) including that to retain the status quo plus that required for the replacements, or are we planning to raid some other’s Gt share? Not a good idea.

            Has the energy expenditure and return over time of the likely mix components been assessed? How much does each reduce emissions, how quickly and over what time? If not enough should we include more expensive alternatives in the mix.

            GHG reduction impact per buck is more our notion.

            I believe I have already referred to Prof Diesendorf et al but thanks for the references anyway. Computer model analysis is one thing but how about real world experience?

            You have no doubt checked Uni Melb Energy Research Institute’s ZCA Plan stuff also. Not too much there on meeting a set Australian carbon budget but their ten year schedule sounds very positive. I would be most interested in reading any such literature you know of by experienced generating utility personnel. Some in the US are not too
            excited about the prospects of 100% it appears..

            Yep Australian solar resource is ‘nearly ten thousand times larger than Australia’ current annual energy consumption’ according to BREE 2014

            Pump-up storage.. Agreed pumped storage as you suggest would be very effective in smoothing out availability shortfalls and a very desirable part of any renewable mix.. Presumable you have a data base
            of suitable new sites in Australia including disused quarries and mines hopefully with reasonably adjacent water and power supplies.
            Plus you have no doubt allowed in the cost only mix for those that would be required plus adequate off peak reserve to feed the pumps or do we also need to allow for stand alone solar/wind at the quarries/mines?

            Yep again. I have already commented on the promise of EVs and they have positive EROI over their anticipated life we understand.. But Li ion batteries themselves, depending on their type take somewhere between
            240 and 690 times as much energy to produce than each unit of their capacity according to the US EPA. And as you only get back a portion of the energy fed to them during their lifetime their already poor EROI goes downhill from there. Other battery types are not a lot better. So using these as backup for solar PV may not be such a great

            Also maybe you have checked out the Gemsolar CSP in Spain that boasts 15 hours of molten salt heat back-up. Almost 2 square kilometres required to produce less than 20MWe. OK for such as Australia I suppose but not everyone has so much gash space.

            Re your comment on us being costing poor I may just have more experience than you suggest. FYI we intend to include at least one present worth costing using published totally renewable mixes. One such, if it were adopted in Tasmania so that state would then have heaps of hydro
            electricity to export to brown coal Victoria via an upgraded BASSLINK and also to be available as backup reserve should it ever be needed,

            You might learn a thing or two yourself Bob but then you will have to wait for our ebook pal.

            Bye, Have a great weekend

            Signing off

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Mike, you ask a series of questions. I am simply going to tell you that those questions have been largely, if not completely, been answered. But I’m not going to put any energy into giving you the answers.

            Go write your ebook. The world can tolerate another worthless piece of drivel written by someone who is unwilling to do their homework first.

          • Mike Ives 5 years ago

            Your comments are important to us. All of our staff are currently unavailable. We may be responding in due course.

  2. Mike Ives 5 years ago

    I truly think it is high time nuclear power knockers looked a little bit closer at the dire state we are in. While I am 100% behind renewables we will need both those and nuclear to pull out with a better than 2/3 chance of limiting increases to 2 deg C.

    Australia may be able to by-pass nuclear albeit with a massive redesign of our grid systems if it ever gets its act together, but some countries do not have the luxury of low population, good solar radiance and plentiful wind, wave energy and space etc.

    Price becomes irrelevant when we consider the energy needed to install some
    alternatives, the large majority of which will have to come from
    fossil fuel sources and we have precious little energy budget left for

    • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

      so which country is better off beginning a nuclear program? Seriously, answer your own question: when even the countries with existing nuclear technology have RE at resources prices well cheaper than nuclear even without pricing-in the nuclear externalities/subsidies not typically included in LCOE which countries need nuclear power? I’m quite open to the idea that one exists but I can’t think of one.

      The economics around nuclear are around centralised ownership and profit not anything to do with covering some gap in RE technology. Also nuclear complements RE variability more poorly than any other generation kind as I’ve explained in other comments on this thread. Every dollar spent on nuclear, and those dollars start out in scales of billions, is less billions spent on RE. The more we spend on RE the cheaper it gets, the more popular it becomes, virtuous circle of sorts (as close as a steaming pile of filth planet can get to it in the energy sector anyhow).

      Also given your prefacing remark: I’m reasonably skeptical about the likelihood world staying below 2ºC and reasonably pessimistic about the safety that <2ºC offers the planet's present day ecosystems in the longer term as feed backs start to play out (feedbacks that IPCC doesn't include in it's various sensitivity projections). So while nobody can be sure of climate sensitivity and of positive feedback thresholds, when the lag between emissions and results can be ten/forty/one-hundred years depending on which climatologist you ask, I think it's ok to assume I know how dire the state is. That's why I spend so much of my time campaigning for meaningful 'war footing' climate action hear and globally.

      5m sea level rise is pretty much locked in now a recent study has said and 20m not far away. At that's just sea level…

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      The nuclear industry has pushed the theme that “We need some nuclear, too” but has given us no believable argument as to why that is true.

      Why do we need to add more expensive generation to our grid when we have far more less expensive sources than we could ever use?

      It’s like saying that we need to buy 30% of our gas from the station down the street that is selling for $10 a gallon when the station right in front of us can sell us all the gas we want for $3 a gallon.

      • Mike Ives 5 years ago

        An impressive database Bob thanks. Is there a source reference as, among other issues I am following impacts on a grid of so called variable renewables (VRE – wind, solar, wave etc..)?

        Wow! if we all had even 25% GWhe secure hydro (or so called enhanced geothermal systems EGS) and with a reasonable chance that the respective water supplies would not reduce too much over time as a result climate change, then I would probably stop rabbiting on about nuclear. Having these two options in an energy mix would take care of just about any intermittent pattern presented by VREs.

        Presumably the above data only includes electricity generation without allowance for replacing all transport’s petroleum requirements with those of alternative ‘fuels’. We will need heaps more electricity for this.

        For the record, since it appears to be a motive for backing nuclear, I am not in the pay of the nuclear industry (although admit I was some 45 years ago). I have also worked on wind farm installations and am seasonally impressed with our personal solar PV system. Instead I am just an ageing retired engineer with concern for my offspring and my take is that each individual sovereign state will probably only get one chance to get its energy mix right before it runs out of its respective slice of a workable GHG budget. I am sure you will agree that no state wants to be stuck with a ‘pig in a poke’. The ‘few years’ you suggest may be required to prove 100% RE (excluding hydro and EGS of course) I suggest we can ill afford and would rather have a secure plan in place just in case .

        Please add to your EROI definition the words ‘… over the entire
        life-cycle including recycle or waste disposal’

        Can you kindly provide your references for EROI figures on solar and thin film solar? I trust they will be independent of the PV industry Argonne National Laboratory or NREL among many others should be fairly unbiased.

        Similarly can you point me to the up front energy reference to supply your personal PVs?

        FYI I am not, so far at least questioning the EROI of wind turbines.

        Again I am not questioning the cost of electricity from renewable as I am fully aware solar and wind are becoming very competitive financially.It’s the EROI penalty of some renewable that raises my concern.

        • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

          (Did this comment end up in the wrong place?)

          Transportation. First, there’s a significant amount of electricity used in extracting, refining and distributing gas/diesel. That’s electricity that won’t have to be generated anew, but just repurposed.

          Second, EV can be an excellent ‘dispatchable load’. The average EV (13k miles per year) will require roughly three hours per day of charging. And cars sit parked 95% of the time. That means that we can install a lot of wind and solar and charge most cars only when supply is high compared to demand. It will make grid prices cheaper because it will lower the need for storage and curtailing/dumping power.

          But let’s set those sources aside and look at the cost of powering EVs with only ‘new’ capacity.

          13,000 miles per year, 35.6 miles per day. At 0.3 kWh/mile that’s 10.7 kWh per day. Assume 4.5 solar hours a day (US median) it would take 2.4 kW of panels, call it 3 kW to cover battery charging and distribution losses. At $1/watt, which is where we’ll be in the US for utility scale in the next few years, that is $3,000 for 30, 40, 50, ? years of charging an EV. Wind is even cheaper.

          A 30 MPG ICEV driving 13,000 miles a year using $3/gallon fuel runs up a $1,300 fuel bill per year. Well less than three years of fuel savings pays for decades of electricity. (Now take out the freed up electricity from petroleum. Payoff in under two years.)

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            ” I am sure you will agree that no state wants to be stuck with a ‘pig in a poke’. The ‘few years’ you suggest may be required to prove 100% RE (excluding hydro and EGS of course) I suggest we can ill afford and would rather have a secure plan in place just in case .”

            Are we talking US state or AU state? I can’t give you AU state info but there is an incredibly valuable study of US states which was carried out by Mark Jacobson and his group at Stanford. They did a state by state analysis of the RE resources available in each state and the best mix for a 100% grid (based on today’s technology). I’ll link the infographic they produced. Click around on a few states and see now the mix varies. The difference between Arizona and New Mexico, I find interesting.


            There’s no question that a 100% RE grid would work. The remaining question is how much pump-up hydro and how much battery storage would we use? How would we distribute our storage use between the two. And how much deep backup (biomass burned in a coal plant, for example) would we need.

            The pig in a poke, IMO, is nuclear. Very expensive electricity. Long time to build. No reasonable solution for radioactive waste. Makes no sense to build any more.

            The US state of Georgia has filled up their poke with two new reactors. Between efficiency and rooftop solar demand has not grown so the reactors, if they come online, they will be redundant.

            And the price is now around 13c/kWh while wind is below 4c and solar rapidly moving below 5c. Ratepayers are going to be overspending for electricity for 20-30 years while those reactors are being paid off.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            “Can you kindly provide your references for EROI figures on solar and thin film solar? I trust they will be independent of the PV industry Argonne National Laboratory or NREL among many others should be fairly unbiased.”

            This may answer your EROI for solar. Note the difference in time depending on the solar resources where the panels are installed. As with wind turbines, resource strength matters.


            And I’ll paste this in from my notes…

            “The number of years to payback varies depending on the technology. Silicon panels take a bit longer than thin film panels. And payback will depend on the amount of sunshine where they are installed. Payback will happen quicker in sunny SoCal than in the less sunny Northeast. And payback times have been dropping as manufacturing becomes more efficient. IIRC, the first panels required more energy to manufacture than they produced in their first 40 years of use.

            Let me copy out part of a 2012 study and give you a payback graph from it…

            “EPBT (energy payback time) for the same type of systems installed in the U.S. Southwest are decreased in proportion to the solar irradiation ratio (1700/2380) between the U.S. average and Southwest solar conditions. Thus, for Southwest irradiation the EPBTs for the three PV technologies shown in Figure 3 are 1.2, 1.2, and 0.5 years … thus 50 times better than stated in the July PE article. And these EROI keep improving as systems and material utilization efficiencies continue to improve.”


            Six months to 1.2 years.

            And an example of how EPBTs have decreased as manufacturing has become more efficient, here’s an earlier (2008) study that found –

            “The study shows the EPBT for standard, single-crystalline module PV systems to be two years. For PV systems using multicrystalline modules produced by the casting method, the EPBT is calculated at 1.7 years. PV systems with modules produced using the ribbon method reduced the EPBT to 1.5 years.


            (Those last two links may not work. If not, then just use some words from the paper to search.)

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            “Similarly can you point me to the up front energy reference to supply your personal PVs?”

            ?… Don’t understand.

            “It’s the EROI penalty of some renewable that raises my concern.”

            The EROI issue is mainly about using too much of a limited energy source to obtain more energy. It’s an oil thing.

            There’s no practical limit on wind or sunshine. We can use wildly more energy than we now use and not even put a dent in the amount of wind and solar energy available to us.

            We ain’t gonna use up the Sun.

            We can mine, refine, manufacture, deliver and install wind turbines and solar panels with electricity alone. We don’t really need oil to do any of that. We’re just using oil for a while longer as we transition.

            The issue is really cost. As long as the electricity coming out of a wind turbine or solar panel is affordable do we really care how much energy it took to take that turbine from mine to operation?

            EROI/EROEI is a distractor. Leave it behind with oil wells and stinky exhaust pipes.

          • Catprog 5 years ago

            I think the issue is how quickly it can expand.
            (numbers are assuming 20 year of lifetime)
            A payback of one year means you can make 20 panels from the electricity of 1 panel.

            A payback time of five years means you can only make 4 panels from that one panel.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Growth is exponential. Assume a one year payback.

            Manufacture one panel from fossil fuels. In its first year it would generate enough electricity to manufacture one more.

            Next year those two panels gen enough for two more panels. Year after those four panels gen enough for eight. 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, …..

            And there’s no 20 year cutoff. Plenty of 30 year old panels still working away. Our oldest array is now about 40 years old and doing just fine.

            IIRC we passed the point a while back where there was enough solar online to cover then energy needs for a year’s panel manufacturing.

          • Catprog 5 years ago

            Or for a four year payback.

            1,1.25,1.56,1.95,2.44 You get the same result just much slower.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            I suppose you could use four, but I’m not sure why one would. Makes more sense to use a real number.

          • Catprog 5 years ago

            I am not sure what the real number is.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            I’m not either. Looking at the graph below – light blue sections of the four bars on the right – one sees <2 and <1 year for energy payback for different panel types.

            But those are 2008 and 2009 numbers. Current payback times are certainly lower. More efficient cells means less aluminum framing and less cover glass per watt. A move from 12% to 16% efficient panels drops aluminum and glass use by one third.

            Thinner sliced silicon means less embedded energy in processing silicon. Other efficiencies have likely occurred over 6-7 years.

          • Catprog 5 years ago

            Anyway the point is EROEI is an important thing. Not for the energy from the sun, but from the energy used to make the PV panels.

            And to be fair you need to include the other parts as well.

            For 1.25 years you get 429 panels after 10 years
            At 2.75 years it is only 22 panels.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            If the input energy is “unlimited” as are sunshine and wind then we don’t need to worry about the EI of ERoEI.

            Just attend the cost. If there is an expensive energy input then the cost will be high, if the cost is low – use it.

          • neroden 5 years ago

   has some nice proposals, but in practice I don’t think the numbers will come out exactly like they propose. For instance, they propose 0% geothermal a lot of places… but in fact geothermal home heating is really popular in the snowbelt for its high efficiency and ability to work with old, hard-to-insulate buildings. Maybe that doesn’t count as geothermal *energy generation*, I suppose, but it makes the numbers look really odd.

  3. Mike Ives 5 years ago

    Alistair for you comments. Now you mention:

    Economics, profit, prices, dollars. As I specifically mentioned energy expenditure must be considered and price may have to take second place. Having personally been involved in costings it is common knowledge one can play a tune on cost benefit analysis depending on which ground rules are chosen.

    Whether you are optimistic at limiting increases to 2, 3 or 30 deg C we will
    still have a limit of how much GHG we can still emit. Energy consumption or LCA GHG has to be a major factor on how various countries tackle the climate situation as fossil fuel currently represents over 85% globally (90% in OZ) of our primary energy source. Hence whatever emissions we think we may have left this must
    include GHG expenditure on providing the alternatives, and their pay back within their early life span. Many renewable seem to have a poor track record regarding EROI, including solar PV, batteries and most biofuels, albeit again it depends on how the ground rules are set.

    Whatever limit in global temperature increase you feel the human race can
    tolerate, energy used and early payback in converting to alternatives must be considered a priority and perhaps even over their higher price.

    Which countries: While you are asking which countries should start a nuclear program, let me first ask which countries (let alone those in the first world), can boast 100% renewable 24/7? I’m not talking the odd day here and there. We have an immense amount of learning to do on how to manage that prospect.

    More variability with nukes as back-up for RE?: Not quite sure what is meant here and would be grateful for a reference.
    If we talking capacity or availability factors then please let’s discuss same. Most VPE backup systems proposed degrade their overall EROI considerably.

    Sceptical, pessimistic. lag: I understand your inertia comment but while you seem less than hopeful of meeting the 2 deg C should we all roll over and hope for the best? I strongly suggest that does not gel with most of us. We need to pull together on this and pursued the world’s policy makers to focus on the really big issue.

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      ” let me first ask which countries (let alone those in the first world), can boast 100% renewable 24/7?”

      Actually, several. I’ll list those countries with 60% or more renewable grids. You can count the 100% countries…

      Albania (100% hydro in 2008).

      Angola (96.45% hydro in 2008)

      Austria (73.86% renewable in 2009, 12.5% of that non hydro)

      Belize (90.91% hydro in 2008) Update: REEGLE says only about 80%.
      Bhutan (99.86% hydro in 2008)

      Brazil (88.88% renewable with 4.93 non hydro in 2009)

      Burundi (100% hydro in 2008)

      Cameroon (77.31% hydro in 2008)

      Canada (61.95% renewable, with 1.86% non hydro in 2009)

      Central African Republic (81.25% renewable in 2008)

      Columbia (85.67% hydro in 2008)

      Congo (82.22% renewable in 2008)

      Costa Rica (93.11% renewable in 2008)

      DPR Korea (61.86% hydro in 2008)

      DR Congo (99.46% hydro in 2008)

      Ecuador (64.12% renewable in 2008, with 2.21% non hydro)

      El Salvador (62.24% renewable in 2008, with 26.92 non hydro)

      Ethiopia (88.17% renewable in 2008, with 0.27% non hydro)

      Fiji (68.04% renewable in 2008)

      Georgia (85.52% hydro in 2008)

      Ghana (75.03% hydro in 2008)

      Guatemala (61.31% renewable, with 17.5 non hydro in 2008)

      Iceland (100% renewable, with 26.27% geothermal in 2009).

      Kenya (62.59% renewable, with 21.06% non hydro in 2008)

      Kyrgyzstan (90.85% hydro in 2008)

      Lao PDR (92.46% hydro in 2008)

      Latvia (62.23% renewable with 1.96% non hydro in 2008)

      Lesotho (100% hydro in 2008)

      Madagascar (66.67% hydro in 2008)

      Malawi (86.31% hydro in 2008)

      Mozambique (99.87% hydro in 2008)

      Myanmar (62.05% hydro in 2008)

      Namibia (70.91% hydro in 2008)

      Nepal (99.67% hydro in 2008)

      New Zealand (72.52% renewable, including 15.42% non hydro in 2009)

      Norway (97.11% renewable, including 0.93% non hydro in 2009)

      Paraguay (100.00% hydro in 2008), exporting 90% of generated electricity (54.91 TWh in 2008)

      Peru (60.53% renewable, including 1.47% non hydro in 2008)

      Sweden (60.42% renewable, including 10.58% non hydro in 2009)

      Tajikistan (98.25% hydro in 2008)

      Tanzania (61.45% hydro in 2008)

      Uganda (74.77% hydro in 2008)

      Uruguay (61.98% renewable, with 9.33 non hydro in 2008)

      Venezuela (69.57% hydro in 2008)

      Zambia (99.69% hydro in 2008)

      Update April 2013: Portugal joins the list for the first quarter of 2013, with 70% renewable, 27% of which came from wind.

      Now, yes, hydro plays a very large role. But remember, wind and solar only recently became inexpensive. It will take a few years to start seeing 100% RE countries with large wind/solar percentages.

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      Let’s start with making sure we are in agreement as to what EROI means.

      Energy return on investment (EROI) is the ratio of the energy delivered by a process to the energy used directly and indirectly in that process.

      Silicon solar panels return all their embedded energy in less than 2 years.

      Thin film solar panels return all their embedded energy in less than one year.

      We’ve got panels that are 40 years old and still cranking out over 95% as much power as when they were new. But let’s be more conservative and assume only 25 years. That would make the EROI for solar between 12.5+ and 25+.

      Wind turbines return their embedded energy in 3 to 8 months, depending on the wind resources where they are installed. 30 years looks like the lifespan of our first generation of turbines. Current turbines are being designed for 40 to 50 years service. The EROI for first gen wind turbines would run from 45 to 120.

      EROI for nuclear reactors ranges from 10 to 74, depending on who is making the estimate. (74 comes from, surprise, the nuclear industry.)

      So nuclear might be a bit better than solar (worst to worst) and somewhat worse than wind (best to best). But what does that really matter?

      The real metric that we need to look at is cost of delivered electricity. Wind, without subsidies, is now under 4 cents in the US. Solar, without subsidies, is now about 6 cents. Nuclear, with subsidies, is running 13 cents.

      In each case the embedded energy is paid for. “Energy density” (another nuclear advocate talking point) is figured in. Capacity factors are accounted for.

      Cost. Pay attention to the cost of electricity.

      The rest is a diversion, a bucket of red herrings tossed out by people trying to protect their jobs.

  4. Greg Churm 5 years ago

    Nuclear is always going to be too expensive. 3 factors, the remediation of the site, dealing with the waste properly are always covered by the taxpayers. Then what about accidents; infrequent but costly. Who payed for Fukushima, the taxpayer. Imagine paying for insurance to cover situations like that.

    I still think solar thermal with thermal storage will have a role to play in moderating the renewable energy grid. Very quick to ramp up and ramp down power production

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      I really wonder if thermal solar will make it.

      People are now talking about 2c/kWh PV solar in the near future. We’ve got companies stating that they are bringing $100/kWh to $160/kWh battery storage to market.

      Battery storage is “generic” storage, it can store electricity from any source. Thermal storage can only store heat from collectors. That means that battery storage can cycle two times a day (night wind -> morning peak; PV solar -> evening peak) while thermal storage can only cycle once. More cycles means quicker return on investment.

      A $100 or $160 kWh battery cycling twice a day costs about 1c/kWh. Put 2 cent PV together with 1c or even 2c storage and thermal solar with storage would be in trouble.

      (Plus batteries can earn extra income by providing grid smoothing functions along with providing storage.)

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