Forbes: Did Tesla just kill nuclear power?

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Nuclear proponents argue that humans can store radioactive waste, but not solar energy. Tesla’s Elon Musk just proved them wrong.

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Nuclear proponents argue that humans can store radioactive waste, but not solar energy. Tesla’s Elon Musk just proved them wrong.

One of the biggest furphies propagated by proponents of nuclear energy – that renewable energy cannot be cheaply stored – has been blown away by the battery storage pricing announcement of Tesla founder and chairman Elon Musk.

The focus of Tesla Energy’s battery storage announcement was on household solar storage. But it is possibly in the utility scale storage market that the impact will be most profound.

tesla powerpack

The Tesla PowerPack, a 100kWh battery storage array unveiled by Musk that can be readily scaled, will be offered at a capital cost of around $US250/kWh. For delivered energy, that equates to an extra 2c/kWh on the cost of renewable energy sources.

Musk said it could push fossil fuels out of the market. The conservative business magazine Forbes on the weekend said it could also be the “final in the coffin of nuclear.”

It quoted a debate between noted nuclear critic Arnie Gundersen and Jordi Roglans-Ribas, the director of the Nuclear Engineering Division of Argonne National Laboratory.

Roglans-Ribas, Forbes reported, had just finished delivering the normal nuclear argument that renewables could not replace fossil fuels because of the variability of solar and wind.

Gundersen called that claim a “marketing ploy.”

“We all know that the wind doesn’t blow consistently and the sun doesn’t shine every day, but the nuclear industry would have you believe that humankind is smart enough to develop techniques to store nuclear waste for a quarter of a million years, but at the same time human kind is so dumb we can’t figure out a way to store solar electricity overnight. To me that doen’t make sense.”

Gundersen points out that solar can now be delivered for around 6-7 US cents, and wind for less than 4 US cents/ per kilowatt hour. Musk’s utility scale storage adds 2 USc/kWh to that price, still much lower than what nuclear can deliver.

Musk is not the only battery storage developer to point out that utility scale storagte can provide all the “balance”, as well as the frequency, needed for grids, and previously provided by coal and nuclear. German company Younicos is arguing the same, as we reported in this article, “The battery storage system that could close down coal power”

Nuclear proponents continue to argue that nuclear is cheap, but the people within the industry know better.

Exelon, which operates 22 nuclear plants in the US, the most of any US utility, added its voice to that assessment last week. Not only are renewables half the price of new nuclear power, they are competing with already built nuclear power stations.

John Rowe, the newly retired CEO of Exelon, said nuclear power is no longer an economically viable source of new energy in the United States, and he said it won’t become economically viable for the forseeable future.

“Let me state unequivocably that I’ve never met a nuclear plant I didn’t like,” he told the University of Chicago‘s Harris School of Public Policy. “Having said that, let me also state unequivocably that new ones don’t make any sense right now.”

Even existing ones don’t make much sense. Exelon is threatening to close five nuclear power plants early because they are no longer profitable.

He’s not alone in thinking that new plants are too difficult. The Bulgarian government recently pulled out of a contract with Westinghouse, arguing that it was too expensive. The Russian government owned Rosenergoatom has pulled development of its next generation nuclear plants, saying it’s not convinced that economics don’t add up.

France’s nuclear flaghsips are facing technical problems and its major developer is virtually bankrupt. No government wants to take the risk of underwriting the first nuclear plant in the UK, despite a guaranteed tariff that starts at around $180/MWh in 2023 and finishes at nearly $500/MWh 35 years later.

“The operative word in this discussion tonight is now,” Gundersen said. “What are we going to do now to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere?”

“Solar, wind and storage can be implemented immediately. We know how to insulate a building. We know how to put double and triple-pane windows in them. We know how to build windmills and put solar cells up. These are immediate things. We don’t have to invest $50 trillion and wait 15 years for that to come to fruition.

“Producing our way out of the problem with renewables is half the solution. Conserving our way out is the other half.”

 

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44 Comments
  1. Ken Dyer 5 years ago

    Well one can hope that Tesla has killed nuclear, but they wont go quietly. The nice thing about this article is that it makes Greg Hunt look stupid because just a few days he approved a new uranium mine in the middle of a National Park
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-24/uranium-mine-kintyre-given-federal-approval-cameco-says/6418974
    Leave it in the ground Greg!

  2. Billeee Bangle 5 years ago

    I hope that Tesla has just killed Carbon. But if it were a lay down misère, we wouldn’t need a RET would we?
    I note that the Uranium price remains high, the resources index hasn’t budged, and so I guess there’s a market for Uranium for a while yet.
    I’m not aware that James Hansen has withdrawn his “No credible path to climate stabilization without a substantial role for nuclear energy.”

    Giles Parkison has one particular ideological belief, and it skews his writing to the point that it makes Fox News and Russia Today look sensible.
    A scientist changes their opinion to accommodate the facts. Giles seems to try and twist the facts to fit his narrative, but they don’t.

    • onesecond 5 years ago

      Nuclear is way to expensive, everybody knows that. It’s not Giles fault that nuclear can’t compete with renewables plus storage on price and that it takes way to long to deploy compared to renewables anyway.

      • Vm 5 years ago

        the russians, the chinese, the indians and the south koreans can make cheaper nuclear reactors.

        • onesecond 5 years ago

          Still not cheap enough, especially considering the ever declining cost of renewables. In 2050 cost of 2 cents/kWh are forecasted for PV.

          • Vm 5 years ago

            but how much is the cost during a non windy night? if with batteries its more expensive than gen 4 nuclear then nuclear still has a niche

          • Jenny Sommer 5 years ago

            We will see in 20years or whenever there is a price. Till then have a look at next generation wind energy.
            https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/kitegen-the-ultimate-green-energy-solution

          • onesecond 5 years ago

            I really wouldn’t bet my money on that. Nuclear reactors are hard to turn on and off and are typically not designed for that, so this would make them even more expensive. On the other hand there is no reason why storage shouldn’t have a dramatic cost decline like solar in the next years. Batteries and thermal storage make more money by also putting peak plants out of business because they are way more flexible than nuclear. There will be simply no space for these huge baseload plants.

          • Vm 5 years ago

            actually load following nuclear reactors exist

          • onesecond 5 years ago

            Where? And if so they just can’t compete on price with storage even if you don’t factor in the toxic waste problem and the potential catastrophy problem. They are just not needed. Nuclear reactors belong in the museum where they can join other technology of the 50`s. Today we simply got way better options.

          • Vm 5 years ago

            \Where?\

            germany and france as an example

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Load_following_power_plant#Nuclear_power_plants

            \And if so they just can’t compete on price with storage\

            in other countries like india and south korea they can compete in price

            \ even if you don’t factor in the toxic waste problem and the potential catastrophy problem.\

            toxic waste is not a problem, its important but anti nuclear people have exagerrated the problem.

            For example you can transmute them to shorter lived isotopes in burner reactors or thorium reactors. Those reactors are also safer

            And as a backup we have deep borehole disposal

            \Today we simply got way better options.\

            such as gen 4 reactors

          • onesecond 5 years ago

            You are running in circles. Load following reactors with transmutation of their toxic waste and deep borehole disposal has price advantages on renewables with storage exactly how? All of that makes them more expensive, just as enhanced safety regulation did. Technically you can do an awful lot of things, but why should anybody still invest in nuclear when they just can’t compete because of all their unnecessary problems like creating waste to begin with and are not needed anyway?

          • Vm 5 years ago

            \has price advantages on renewables with storage exactly how?\
            because storage and overbuilding and backup fossil fuel plants for wind/solar add more cost

            \ just as enhanced safety regulation did.\
            enhanced safety is more expensive if its active safety which are add ons to a light water reactor. Passive safety is mostly inherent to gen 4 reactors

            \but why should anybody still invest in nuclear when they just can’t
            compete because of all their unnecessary problems like creating waste to
            begin with and are not needed anyway?\

            because wind and solar have problems of their own like intermittency

          • onesecond 5 years ago

            Well, since you obviously don’t want to listen to facts, I have a suggestion. Let’s wait and see. I say nuclear will soon be priced out of the market completely and renewables will take over. You disagree. Let’s continue this argument in 15 years. 🙂

          • Jenny Sommer 5 years ago

            Nuclear never was cost competitive. France’s court of audit came to the conclusion that 75% of the running cost is covered by energy sales. When r&d, capital cost, upgrades, decommissioning, safety and research, reprocessing, storage,…would be included they stated a price of 50-56cent (€)/kWh for a realistic price (including estimates for decommissioning and waste storage but no insurance cost…would not help in densely populated France anyways).
            In the same report they criticised the EPR project at Flamanville which will never be competitive.

            That result is inline with the 45€c/kWh the German studies find.

          • onesecond 5 years ago

            I thought that it never was cost competitive. In my opinion it doesn’t need a genius to figure that out to be honest, but thanks for the numbers. I just doubt that anything will convince Vm. The upside of this is that his opinion doesn’t matter. Renewables can’t be stopped anymore and nuclear is a dead horse, imho. I think the more interesting question is, if renewables take over quick enough to prevent a catastrophic climate change.

          • onesecond 5 years ago

            To be more precise: I say nuclear will soon be priced out of the market completely because the nuclear industry won’t find a government stupid enough to cover for the inherent problems with insane amounts of subsidies anymore and renewables will take over. I really didn’t want to create the impression that there ever has been a fair market price for nuclear without heavy subsidies! (And there has never been a “free market” for power generation anyway.)

          • Jenny Sommer 5 years ago

            http://www.dw.de/image/0,,16925641_401,00.jpg

          • onesecond 5 years ago

            Obviously a dishonest fantasy calculation. I would love to see how they came up with these numbers. I bet they conveniently forgot about financing costs, insurance costs, costs for safety systems, toxic waste disposal and deconstruction of the nuclear plant after their shelflife. That is how the nuclear industry has been fooling governments for decades and numbers from organisations outside the nuclear industry couldn’t disagree more. Oh, and the numbers for renewables are clearly from some years ago. Unlike nuclear they get cheap very fast and now it’s somewhere between 4 and 8 cents for wind and sun in the US before the tax credit.

    • Giles 5 years ago

      Silly Billy. My beef against nuclear is its costs. And it’s a reality that the nuclear industry readily acknowledges, although not its outside fan club. The ideology comes from nuclear boosters like yourself who refuse to acknowledge the evidence and constantly produce nonsense arguments against renewables. In the meantime, your push against wind and solar serves the interests of the coal industry, and no one else.

      • tweenk 5 years ago

        China builds AP1000 (American design approved by U.S. NRC) for 1700$/kW. Considering nuclear’s higher capacity factor, this is a lot cheaper than wind or solar. Even at $6000/kW for first-of-a-kind projects in Europe, this is competitive if you consider the 60-year operating life of a nuclear power plant vs ~30 for onshore wind turbines and less than 20 for offshore.

        Non-hydro renewables are a costly distraction and the utter lack of success in killing coal in countries that invested heavily in wind / solar proves it. Meanwhile countries that invested heavily in hydro and/or nuclear are using almost no coal (Sweden, Norway, France, Brazil, Switzerland, Canadian province of Ontario).

        • Jenny Sommer 5 years ago

          The reason France is seemingly not using fossil generation is that it is importing fossil power. Germany could retire some GW of coal if it wasn’t for export.
          Meanwhile French nuclear plants have become uncompetitive against 30€/MWh German power.
          That’s the reason France is abandoning nuclear in the long run. Flamanville would lose money the day it went critical anyways. Yet another stranded nuclear asset.
          Hinckley P C…Luxembourg and Austria will at least delay it for another 3 years…I doubt this will go anywhere.

          • tweenk 5 years ago

            France is actually the largest exporter of electricity in the world. The balance is negative for Germany, but it exports massive amounts to Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and the UK.

          • Jenny Sommer 5 years ago

            Actually Germany is exporting more now in absolut numbers. Both their trade balances are at 2B€.
            France is the bigger net exporter though.
            This is not good for France. It’s more expensive nuclear power is worth much less than Germany’s cheaper power. That’s why they are importing in the first place.

            France used to dump even more power on their neighbors practically distroying their energy politics. In times of need France was always importing fossil power from it’s neighbours.
            That is changing now and legacy nuclear and failing to invest in the grid is becoming a burden to France.

            What are you suggesting to do for France? As it stands the most sensible path is to slowly phase out old reactors as they become uncompetitive and roll out RE as fast aa possible. Slowing RE down will only result in falling behind the rest of Europe.
            A 100% RE study did escape them some weeks ago.

            Belgium is also quite troubled by its legacy nuclear plants.

  3. James Sefton 5 years ago

    Can someone proofread this article & fix all the errors… might help with the credibility of the story… actually, NO it won’t!

    • Geoff James 5 years ago

      There are a couple of typos but the story has a set of facts and figures convincingly pulled together. The quotations and inspiration come from another reasonably credible source. So I think your challenge James is to write an equally credible refutation.

  4. Ronald Brakels 5 years ago

    I think nuclear was already very very dead. Hinkley C’s 20 cents a kilowatt-hour wholesale price was what eliminated any doubt that it might not be quite dead yet. At best, Elon Musk has merely pulled the handle in the crematorium and incinerated this dead parrot. Of course, this won’t stop nuclear nutboys from pulling a Black Knight and threatening to bite our legs off as we shake our heads and walk away.

    • Vm 5 years ago

      dont cherry pick hinkley. Other countries like india, china and russia have lower costs specially for gen 4 reactors (2 are coming online this year in russia and india)

  5. arne-nl 5 years ago

    Did Tesla just kill solar thermal? The main advantage was the option of adding cheap thermal storage. Main advantage, or is that the only advantage?

  6. tweenk 5 years ago

    This article contains several manipulations.

    1. Why should nuclear power be killed when coal is an immeasurably bigger environmental problem? The battle is not nuclear vs renewables, it’s coal vs everything else. The author obviously has an axe to grind.

    2. Exelon said that nuclear power plants have a hard time competing with extremely cheap shale gas, not renewables.

    3. The statement that Areva or EDF are near bankruptcy is apparently pulled out of thin air. Areva has losses (mainly from its renewables division), but EDF recorded more than €1 billion in profit. Furthermore, the EPR is the worst design of the new generation, incorporating lots of gratuitous complexity, so focusing on the company that makes it is a manipulation in its own right. Korean, American, Russian and Chinese designs do not have such problems.

    4. “No government wants to take the risk of underwriting the first nuclear plant in the UK” – Does this attempt to rehash the myth that nobody will insure nuclear power plants? Because it is totally false.

    5. “We don’t have to invest $50 trillion and wait 15 years for that to come to fruition” – the other side of this comparison is completely absent. $50 trillion over 15 years is around 4% of total world GDP and it would buy at least 5 TW of nuclear, which would produce twice as much electricity as the current total production. By contrast, buying enough of Tesla’s battery packs to store even 1 hour of world’s total electricity production would cost $578 trillion – over 10 times more, and that omits any cost of actually replacing fossil fuels with carbon-free energy sources.

    • Giles 5 years ago

      Your comment contained more manipulations than i could possibly manage.
      1. No axe to grind, the article points out how expensive nuclear is. The nuclear vs renewables comes from nuclear boosters. Nuclear and coal have a shared interest in protecting centralised generation.
      2. Exelon, and analysts, have made it abundantly clear that nuclear has hard time competing with gas AND renewables.
      3. Statement that AREVA near bankruptcy actually comes from French energy minister, who says she is considering folding AREVA into EDF.
      4. Insurers? Name me one – that will take on 100% of risk without government acting as support.
      5. $578 trillion? Where did that number come from. If you use Elon Musk’s figures, it’s less than one tenth of that.

      • tweenk 5 years ago

        1. Decarbonization is immeasurably more important than decentralized generation. Moreover, most renewable generation also comes from centralized facilities (large hydro), and even when we restrict it to wind and solar the lion’s share is produced by large farms, which can’t be considered decentralized in any meaningful way. You are also avoiding the question of why we shouldn’t get rid of coal first.

        2. Solar and wind are not a direct competitor to nuclear due to their erratic output – gas is.

        3. Areva is a reactor design and construction company, not a reactor operator. By your logic, Solyndra is proof that the PV business is unprofitable.

        4. Name me one branch of industry that is required to buy insurance without any cap on liability. Insurance requirements in the nuclear industry are in fact uniquely high. Compare this to hydro dams, which can kill vastly greater numbers of people than any imaginable nuclear disaster – no insurance required. Or even to airlines – there are worldwide conventions limiting carrier liability.

        5. The battery is quoted as being $250/kWh. World production of electricity is 20261 TWh/year, equal to about 2.31 constant TW. Storing 2.31 terawatt hours requires 2.31 * 1e9 * 250 = $578 trillion. This is the cost of adding just one hour of storage for all electricity, and does not include the cost of actually decarbonizing the energy supply.

        • Giles 5 years ago

          My god. Your ignorance of electricity markets is profound. Of course decarbonisation is more important than decentralisation, but unless you intend to nationalise the entire global electricity industry, then decentralisation will drive market choices because they are the cheapest. That has follow through impacts all through the industry – including to base load generators and grids. And why would you need 2.31 terawatt hours of storage, unless you believe that every dam will be empty, every river will stop flowing the same time that there is no sunlight and no wind anywhere in the world. FFS.

          • tweenk 5 years ago

            “decentralisation will drive market choices because they are the cheapest”

            I don’t understand this statement. If this is about market choices, then what is the point of feed-in tariffs for renewables?

            Truly ‘decentralized’ generation such as rooftop solar is more expensive than centralized facilities, for example because rooftop solar cannot use sun tracking.

            “And why would you need 2.31 terawatt hours of storage, unless you believe that every dam will be empty, every river will stop flowing the same time that there is no sunlight and no wind anywhere in the world”

            Periods of no wind at night over entire countries are a rather common occurrence, certainly far more common than nuclear accidents. And “anywhere in the world” is not relevant – every region would need a lot more than 1 hour of storage for its 100% renewable grid (or 10 hours for 10% of its capacity), unless you propose constructing a worldwide supergrid capable of satisfying any demand from any supply at massive additional cost. Of course, no such feats of planet-scale engineering are needed with nuclear.

          • Jenny Sommer 5 years ago

            “Of course, no such feats of planet-scale engineering are needed with nuclear.”

            Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

            “unless you propose constructing a worldwide supergrid capable of
            satisfying any demand from any supply at massive additional cost”

            Which massive additional cost?
            O course you would not need a “worldwide supergrid” either.
            Please read Gregor Czisch who did falsify your statement 10 years ago. Even 10 years ago nuclear was ruled out for cost.

            Battery storage adds about 2c/kWh. Now you have to weight this against grid cost.
            (300€/kW is the tipping point where new pumped hydro becomes uncompetitive against battery storage – 6k cycles on a daily cycling basis).
            The optimal economic solution would be a mix of grid builtout coupled with decentralised generation and grid storage. Expensive nuclear generation does not fit in here (PV doesn’t either in the Czisch scenario when integrating African summer wind ressources).
            That’s actually what I expected from Tesla, a remote controlled swarm battery – everything that Vehicle2Grid could have done.

            There are several other aspects to a nuclear heavy grid. Atop of the expensive generation, troubling technology, slow builtout, the waste, lack of , declining industry and workforce base and all the other known problems you still need a fair amount of grid. You need to balance against sudden outages of huge centralised plants. This includes unexpected outages when other nearby plants are on scheduled outage.
            You also need peaker plants atop of your grid and expensive nuclear generation. Probably gas. You would not want to burn natgas but methan from your massive, expensive, offpeak nuclear overcapacity.

            Of course this all can only work in a heavily regulated market with no competition from cheaper RE.
            The good thing is that there is about 2-3month of storage in place already and that you can move gas effectively in existing pipes with capacities up to 70GWth.

            In reality the grid is independent from generation. Only if the grid operator and the utility is one entity can you balance generation cost and grid cost for optimum economics. As it stands we prefer an open market and some competition where utility and grid operator can’t be the same. The grid operator charges for grid services and the utility for power.

            Can you come up with a credible study that shows high nuclear penetration and is competitive with a 100% RE scenario? I am not aware of one but would really be interested. All recent research shows that new nuclear would be among the most expensive and least effective way to archive a low carbon energy supply.

          • tweenk 5 years ago

            Nuclear can work with the current grid with slight upgrades. It does not need the construction of infrastructure that allows one to satisfy any demand from any distant supply of renewable energy, which is what Giles appears to be proposing.

            “You also need peaker plants atop of your grid and expensive nuclear generation.”

            You can also build more plants and have them load follow, or you can use those batteries, but in much smaller amounts than would be required with RE. With nuclear, you don’t need to replace your entire generation from batteries on a windless night. You only need to cover daily variability in demand and guard against maybe 1 or 2 plants unexpectedly going offline, as is the case with the current grid.

            Any storage technology that will make a 100% renewable grid practical will also substantially reduce the cost of a high-nuclear grid, by reducing the need for extra reactors for load following. It requires a lot less storage capacity to even out the peaks and troughs on the demand curve and make it flat than to make it conform to randomly varying renewable production that sometimes abruptly goes to zero.

            “Can you come up with a credible study that shows high nuclear penetration and is competitive with a 100% RE scenario?”

            http://2050-calculator-tool.decc.gov.uk/
            This is an energy pathway calculator for the UK, based on several studies. Example pathways that achieve an 80% CO2 emissions cut require either the use of nuclear power or drastic energy conservation measures and relying on imports.

          • Giles 5 years ago

            You say: “Nuclear can work with the current grid with slight upgrades.”
            Absolute bollocks, as you know, but one out of the pro-nuclear renewable denialist brigade’s handbook of misinformation.
            The UK Grid operator said that Hinckley C will require grid upgrades and back-up generation, and the costs of that should be paid for by consumers, at Stg160 million a year. That’s $12 billion over 35 years.
            Keep trying.

          • tweenk 5 years ago

            As usual, you are cherry-picking an extreme example. Projects such as Vogtle 3 and 4 will not need substantial grid upgrades because the grid is already there.

            Hinkley Point C would produce over 63 TWh per year, so those $12 billion over 35 years is actually only 0.5p/kWh in that period, and there are still at least 25 years of useful life in the reactors after that.

          • Jenny Sommer 5 years ago

            Thats where you are wrong. You should really get some actual numbers to support your theories. I already pointed you to Czischs work.
            There is nothing wrong from importing power when it is cheaper than generating it locally.
            Some countries like Austria import up to 50% of their power and provide storage in return.

            When a supergrid gets you power for under 47€/MWh including grid and financing it is hard to see how new nuclear, very expensive on it’s own, that will have to see grid upgrades because you can’t just replace any plant all over the country by a huge npp, that you just made much more expensive by overbuilding and load following, could be anywhere near cheap. Atop of that people will go offgrid when you have your expensive npps in place. That and cheap RE imports would do the rest.
            Germany already got among the cheapest power in Europe. With more RE builtout and new lines they will export more cheap power to the rest of Europe and Britain.

            I also don’t see how investors would take the risk in nuclear and why utilities should choose it over easier and faster renewables when they don’t operate the grid in the first place. That’s two separate things. The grid operator is not building generation but charging for grid and grid services. Utilities and investors won’t do nuclear unless they can charge a premium and pass on all risk and liability – preferably to future generations and tax payers.

            I don’t see any way how your ideas would work. You need to explain the economics and show how professionals like Gregor Czisch are wrong.

      • tweenk 5 years ago

        P.S.: here is one company that will insure nuclear power plants:
        http://www.chaucerplc.com/underwriters/nuclear

        • Giles 5 years ago

          Didn’t say no insurers would insure them. I said no insurers would accept all the risk. Chaucer insured Fukushima, but made no pay out, because Japan government took the risk on natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis. Big risk in earthquake zone. So hooray, insurer dodges bullet, japan taxpayer picks up tab. That’s why most governments want out of nuclear.

  7. Alec Burslem 5 years ago

    Let’s all take chunks out of one another pitting renewables against nuclear like it’s a zero sum game!

    I get it, nuclear is not ideal, it is expensive, it might be necessary to subsidise it a bit more to plug the gap while renewable tech continues to mature or to keep the lights on when the output is unusually low, or it might not. What I don’t understand is all this effort begin expended on being anti nuclear when coal is a certain disaster, not an uncertain one. Doesn’t that seem like a waste of energy?

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