You are here

renewable energy

Why the nuclear lobby makes stuff up about the cost of wind and solar

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#879
04/11/2019
Giles Parkinson ‒ editor of RenewEconomy.com.au
Article

In Nuclear Monitor #878, we wrote about some of the tactics used by the nuclear industry and its supporters to spin nuclear power's clear economic disadvantage compared to renewables ('Big claims about small nuclear reactor costs'). Giles Parkinson ‒ editor of RenewEconomy.com.au ‒ offers this critique of recent nuclear spin regarding the costs of renewable energy sources.

There was no doubt that – given the opportunity – the ever-optimistic nuclear lobby in Australia would attempt to seize the moment and press the claims of their favoured technology to the parliamentary inquiry1 gifted to them by the federal government.

The nuclear lobby has largely given up on existing technology, recognising that the repeated cost blow-outs and delays means that it is too expensive, too slow and not suited for Australia's grid.

Instead, they have invested their hopes in a technology that doesn't actually exist yet, small nuclear reactors. But to promote it over the main competitors – wind and solar and storage – it has had to come up with forecasts for its pet technology that are, at best, fantasy, and assessments of wind and solar that are patently false and misleading.

It is generally accepted in the energy industry that the cost of new nuclear is several times that of wind and solar, even when the latter are backed up by storage. The GenCost 2018 report from the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) puts the cost of nuclear at two to three times the cost of "firmed renewables".2

The nuclear lobby, however, has been insisting to the parliamentary inquiry that wind and solar are four to seven times the cost of nuclear, and to try and prove the point the lobby has been making such extraordinary and outrageous claims that it makes you wonder if anything else they say about nuclear – its costs and safety – can be taken seriously.

RenewEconomy has been going through the 290-something submissions and reading the public hearing transcripts, and has been struck by one consistent theme from the pro-nuclear organisations and ginger groups: When it comes to wind, solar and batteries, they just make stuff up.

A typical example is the company SMR Nuclear Technology – backed by the coal baron Trevor St Baker3 – which borrows some highly questionable analysis to justify its claim that going 100 per cent renewables would cost "four times" that of replacing coal with nuclear.

It bases this on modelling by a consultancy called EPC4, based on the south coast of NSW, apparently a husband and wife team, Robert and Linda Barr, who are also co-authors of "The essential veterinarian's phone book", a guide to vets on how to set up telephone systems.

The EPC report admits to deliberately ignoring the anticipated cost reductions of wind and solar from AEMO's 2018 integrated system plan. Even worse, the report dials in a completely absurd current cost of wind at A$157/MWh (before transmission costs), which is about three times the current cost in Australia, and A$117/MWh for solar, which is more than double.5

The costs of wind and solar are not hard to verify. They are included in the GenCost report, in numerous pieces of analysis, and even in public announcements from companies involved, both buyers and sellers. St Baker could have helped out, as his company has signed two big solar contracts (for the Darlington and Vales Point solar farms) and we can bet he won't be paying A$117/MWh.

Apart from costs, the EPC scenarios for 100 per cent renewables are also, at best, imaginative. For some reason they think there will only be 10GW of solar in a 100% renewables grid and just 100MW of battery storage. Big hint: There is already 12GW of solar in the system and about 300MW of battery storage. But we discovered that assuming wind and solar do not or won't exist, and completely ignoring distributed energy, are common themes of the nuclear playbook.

The delivered cost of energy from wind and solar in the EPC modelling of a 100 per cent renewables grid? A hilariously outrageous sum of A$477/MWh (US$330/MWh).

Contrast this with SMR Nuclear Technology's claims about the cost of a modern small modular reactor – US$65/MWh – even though it admits the technology "has not been constructed", and which leading nuclear expert Ziggy Switkowski points out won't likely be seen for at least another decade. …

The EPC report also forms the basis of the analysis from the Nuclear Now Alliance, which describes itself as a not-for profit group of Australian scientists and engineers that are passionate about the benefits of nuclear "but have no connection to the industry."

Moltex, which says it is "developing" some sort of fission technology (it says it has a design but hasn't actually built anything) uses the same trick as EPC to paint a daunting picture of renewable and storage costs, in this case by multiplying the cost of batteries by the total amount of electricity consumed in a single day. "Australia consumes 627 Gigawatt hours of electricity per day, and so the battery storage required to cover just one 24 hour period would cost A$138 billion," it proclaims. It is such an incredibly stupid and misleading claim that it simply takes the breath away. …

But that's what the nuclear industry feels it needs to do to make its yet-to-be invented technology sound feasible and competitive.

Let's go to StarCore, a Canadian company that says it, too, wants to manufacture small modular reactors, and claims renewables are "seven times" the cost of nuclear, and which also has a fascination with the Nyngan solar farm. It uses the cost of Nyngan to make the bizarre claim that to build 405 of them would cost A$68 billion, and then compares this to what it claimed to be the "zero upfront capital costs" of one of StarCore's plants.

Say what? Does the nuclear plant appear just like that? Solar and wind farms also usually have long-term power purchase agreements, but they still have to be built and someone has to provide the capital to do so. Nuclear with a zero capital cost? Really, you couldn't make this stuff up.

Down Under Nuclear Energy, headed by a former oil and gas guy and a former professor at the University of Western Australia who specialises in mathematical social science and economics, also bases its solar costs on the Nyngan solar farm and makes this bizarre claim about battery storage: "The precipitous decline in solar technology is highly unlikely to be replicated in batteries, a technology already approaching 150 yrs of maturity," it says.

Hey, here's some breaking news. Costs of battery storage have already mirrored solar's fall, down 80 per cent in last decade6 and utilities like Transgrid predict another 60 per cent fall over next 10-15 years.7

And most large-scale storage batteries use lithium, an abundant resource, and this is battery technology that was actually invented just over 40 years ago by the winners of this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry. As the Nobel citation says: "(Co-winner Stanley) Wittingham developed the first fully functional lithium battery in the 1970s." Not 1870.

Women in Nuclear and the Australian Workers Union both quote the Industry Super report on nuclear, which we debunked a while back8, which puts the cost estimates of wind and solar plants at 10 times their actual cost.

The "capital cost" of the Dundonnel wind farm in Victoria, for instance, is put at A$4.2 billion (try A$400 million) according to their bizarre calculations, while the Darlington solar farm is put at $5.8 billion (try A$350 million). It's pure garbage and the fact that it is being quoted really does beggar belief. …

But all the nuclear submissions have one common trait. They assume that the deployment of renewables is stopped in its tracks, either now of sometime soon. It's more wish than analysis, but in that they will have found a willing fellow traveller in federal energy minister, Angus "there is already too much wind and solar on the grid" Taylor, who thought it a good idea to have the inquiry.

But the reality is that the rest of the energy industry wants to move on. They know that the grid can be largely decarbonised within the next two decades from a combination of renewables and storage.

That's a simple truth that the nuclear lobby cannot accept, and they've passed up the opportunity to have an open and honest debate by promoting utter garbage about renewables, to the point where it would be difficult to believe much of anything else they say.

Abridged from RenewEconomy, 23 Oct 2019, https://reneweconomy.com.au/why-the-nuclear-lobby-makes-stuff-up-about-c...

References:

1. https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Environme...

2. https://www.csiro.au/~/media/News-releases/2018/renewables-cheapest-new-...

3. http://www.smrnuclear.com.au/about-smr-nt/management/

4. https://epc.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Case-6.pdf

5. https://epc.com.au/index.php/nem-model/

6. https://about.bnef.com/blog/bullard-how-a-battery-can-lead-a-quiet-revol...

7. https://reneweconomy.com.au/battery-storage-nearly-there-as-smarter-chea...

8. https://reneweconomy.com.au/taylor-presses-nuclear-button-as-energy-wars...

See also: http://onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=20399&page=0

UK nuclear renaissance splutters while renewables boom

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#869
4759
28/11/2018
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

UK nuclear generation is down by more than a quarter since a 1998 peak; since then, four gigawatts of nuclear capacity has shut down. Most of the 15 operational reactors are ageing and all of them are expected to close by 2035, with only Sizewell B lasting beyond 2030. It seems increasingly unlikely that new build will match retirements.

In early 2018, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) downwardly revised its nuclear power projection, from 17 GW to 14 GW in 2035, compared to current capacity of 8.9 GW. Renewable capacity is projected to reach 68 GW by 2035.1 Other BEIS projections have fallen further; for example in 2014 BEIS anticipated 67 terawatt-hours (TWh) of nuclear generation by 2024, almost double the more recent estimate of 34 TWh in 2024.2

The UK Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) said in the aftermath of Toshiba's November 8 announcement that it plans to liquidate the NuGen subsidiary that was planning reactors at Moorside:3

"While the nuclear industry has lamented the energy and jobs potential it has consistently advocated would come from such developments, it is becoming increasingly clear that the large costs of new nuclear, their sheer complexity and the large subsidies in dealing with the current waste legacy makes such large investments required for them increasingly difficult to achieve. In contrast, increasing evidence shows the costs of renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy storage and suchlike is coming down year on year. Such projects are also much quicker to realise and do not have the safety and radioactive waste issues to resolve that makes new nuclear so complicated and expensive."

The NFLA endorsed an editorial in the Financial Times. An indicator of changing views towards nuclear power, the Financial Times said:4

"The cost of replacing old nuclear plants with new ones has steadily risen while technological advances have made the opposite true of wind and solar power. There could still be a case for nuclear power in a complementary mix of supplies that ensure both energy stability and emissions reductions. But that case may weaken to the point of obsolescence by the time five remaining nuclear projects – at various stages of planning – are due to be built.

"The state is not in a position to invest across the board. The borrowing required would run into tens of billions of pounds. Rather than approaching this quandary piecemeal, the government should commission a fresh strategic review. The last one took place in 2013 when the energy landscape looked very different. To keep its place in national ambitions, nuclear power needs to come in at a lower cost and to attract investment. It should not require subsidies unavailable to rivals."

A Business Leader (editorial) in The Guardian said:5

"Toshiba's decision to pull out of building a nuclear power station in Cumbria last week will cause shockwaves far beyond the north-west of England. ... Ditching new nuclear would require a huge increase in the amount of wind and solar power already expected in coming years. It would need dramatic progress on energy storage, smarter grids and even more efficient use of energy. All those things will be difficult. But pursuing an impossible atomic dream, as Moorside demonstrates, looks even harder."

National Infrastructure Commission

In a 163-page infrastructure assessment released in July, the government's National Infrastructure Commission argued that the government should take a slower, step-by-step approach to nuclear build and that the government should not agree to support more than one nuclear power station beyond Hinkley Point C before 2025.6 Sir John Armitt, chair of the Commission, said there is no need to rush with nuclear because "during the next 10 years we should get a lot more certainty about just how far we can rely on renewables."7

Armitt said: "One thing we've all learnt is these big nuclear programmes can be pretty challenging, quite risky – they will be to some degree on the government's balance sheet. I don't think anybody's pretending you can take forward a new nuclear power station without some form of government underwriting or support. Whereas the amount required to subsidise renewables is continually coming down. We've seen how long it took to negotiate Hinkley – does the government really want to have to keep going through those sort of negotiations?"8

Richard Lowe from AECOM Infrastructure & Environment UK said in response to the National Infrastructure Commission report: "This sort of message would have a lot of shockwaves. You would have to presume that [the planned] schemes would be affected. It's going to cause Korean and Chinese investors to have a long hard look at whether they still make that investment".9 Likewise, Tim Yeo said: "If this is taken on by government, it's a serious blow. You're not going to get people to invest in their supply chains on the basis of only one nuclear plant coming forward."9

The Commission estimated that an electricity system powered mainly by renewables would cost no more than relying on new nuclear power plants; indeed it estimates slightly lower average costs for a scenario with 90% renewable and less than 10% nuclear compared to a scenario with 40% renewables and around 40% nuclear. The Commission said the economic analysis factored in the cost of balancing intermittent renewables through storage, smart grids and interconnectors.

The Commission's report states that renewables have been undergoing a "quiet revolution" and there "is ample scope to build on this success in years to come." It says that by 2030 a minimum of 50% of power should come from renewables, up from about 30% today. The Guardian reported in July that renewables have already overtaken nuclear for electricity generation; wind, solar and biomass power stations out-produced nuclear in the previous three quarters with renewables supplying 28.1% of power in the April‒June quarter compared to nuclear's 22.5%.8

Armitt said: "When it comes to energy, then we see a future of renewables. ... I think where I have been accused of a change of mind is on nuclear. Where, in the past, I've been a strong supporter of nuclear, this work that we have done in the national infrastructure assessment – and the evidence base that we have got for it – I think that we are in a different world today. We don't have to be as dependent on a nuclear solution as maybe we thought we needed to be 10 years ago."10

More bluntly, the Guardian's financial editor Nils Pratley said: "The government, when it gets back to governing, needs to respond. Its mania for new nuclear plants has looked out-of-date, wrong-headed and unnecessarily expensive for ages. Now even its own infrastructure adviser agrees. A U-turn is required."7

Committee on Climate Change

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) ‒ an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008 ‒ notes in a June 2018 report that apart from Hinkley, "limited progress" has been made with new nuclear projects whereas renewable power generation has increased four-fold.11

The CCC report states that the share of electricity generated from low-carbon sources has increased from 20% in 2008 to 52% in 2017, driven by a quadrupling of renewable generation between 2008 and 2017, from 21 TWh to 91 TWh. Generation from nuclear power remained fairly constant over that period at around 60-65 TWh per year. Total electricity consumption has decreased by around 13% since 2008, the report states, despite a 5% increase in the total number of UK households.

In a section on the "limited progress in new nuclear", the CCC report states:

"The aim is for the Hinkley Point C plant to commission in 2025, but limited progress has been made with other new nuclear projects, aside from the recent announcements around the Wylfa nuclear plant. Site development and regulatory approval milestones have been passed, though formal negotiations have only just begun with one developer, raising questions over the likelihood of several new nuclear plants commissioning before 2030, beyond the Hinkley Point C project.

"One additional nuclear power plant beyond the Hinkley Point C project by 2030 is considered in two scenarios. If new nuclear projects were not to come forward, it is likely that renewables would be able to be deployed on shorter timescales and at lower cost

"The Government must put in place a progress monitoring framework that allows for risks to delivery of low-carbon projects to be identified ahead of time. In addition, contingency plans for the delay or under-delivery of projects, such as new nuclear or imported electricity, must also be developed. These plans should allow for alternative low-carbon generation to be contracted in time to replace any under-delivery without increasing carbon emissions."

Nuclear doom and gloom

Another indication of the gloom settling over the UK nuclear industry came from Alistair Smith, formerly nuclear development director at contractor Costain. He said in mid-2018 that most contractors have already lost faith. "Aside from those involved in Hinkley, contractors have lost interest and have moved on to more exciting things. Everyone's been burnt so many times that it would take a lot to convince a chief executive to go for another project again."12

EDF Energy ‒ majority owner of the UK's nuclear power stations ‒ is considering selling part of its 80% stake in operating UK nuclear power plants while retaining majority ownership. Centrica plans to sell its 20% stake by 2020.13 And therein lies one of the problems with the UK nuclear power industry: more insiders want out than outsiders want in.

Meanwhile, the Hinkley construction project moves ahead, £2.2bn over budget and a year behind schedule.14 In November 2017, the UK Parliament's Public Accounts Committee said Hinkley Point amounts to a "bad hand" and "the poorest consumers will be hit hardest"15 while the UK National Audit Office said Hinkley Point is "a risky and expensive project with uncertain strategic and economic benefits."16

Emeritus Professor Steve Thomas told a Parliamentary forum in September 2017: "A recent study estimated that Hinkley would be the most expensive 'object' built on earth. Yet it would use the EPR, a technology unproven in operation and which has run into appalling problems of cost and time overruns in the 3 projects using it. EPR would be supplied by Areva NP, which is in financial collapse and might not be saveable and has been found to be falsifying quality control records for safety critical items of equipment for up to 50 years."17

Current nuclear new build proposals:

 

CAPACITY

REACTOR TYPE

INVESTORS

Hinkley Point C

2 x 1,600MW

EPR

EDF 67%, CGN 33%

Moorside

Approx. 3,000 MW

?

Uncertain

Wylfa Newydd

2 x 1,350 MW

ABWR

Horizon Nuclear
(Hitachi-GE)

Sizewell C

2 x 1,600 MW

EPR

EDF 80%, CGN 20%

Oldbury

2 x 1,350 MW

ABWR

Horizon Nuclear
(Hitachi-GE)

Bradwell

2 (?) x 1,150 MW

Hualong One

CGN 66.5%, EDF
33.5%

References:

1. Richard Black / ECIU, 5 Jan 2018, 'Nuclear: Time for open competition', http://eciu.net/blog/2018/nuclear-time-for-open-competition

2. Simon Evans, 22 March 2017, 'Analysis: Dramatic shift in UK government outlook for gas and clean energy', www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-dramatic-shift-uk-government-outlook-gas-cl...

3. Nuclear Free Local Authorities, 15 Nov 2018, 'As the Moorside project collapses, NFLA advocate the future is renewable and decentralised energy as Councils pledge zero-carbon by the 2030s', www.nuclearpolicy.info/news/moorside-project-collapses-nfla-advocate-fut...

4. Financial Times, 13 Nov 2018, 'Editorial: The UK must reassess its long-term energy plans', www.ft.com/content/9ac85142-e746-11e8-8a85-04b8afea6ea3

5. The Guardian, 11 Nov 2018, 'Moorside's atomic dream was an illusion. Renewables are the future', www.theguardian.com/business/2018/nov/11/moorside-atomic-dream-illusion-...

6. National Infrastructure Commission, July 2018, 'National Infrastructure Assessment', www.nic.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/CCS001_CCS0618917350-001_NIC-NIA_Acces...

7. Nils Pratley, 10 July 2018, 'Government needs U-turn over mania for nuclear plants', www.theguardian.com/business/nils-pratley-on-finance/2018/jul/10/governm...

8. Adam Vaughan, 10 July 2018, 'Cool down nuclear plan because renewables are better bet, ministers told', www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jul/10/nuclear-renewables-are-better-be...

9. nuclear News, July/Aug 2018, No.109, www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/NuClearNewsNo10...

10. Carbon Brief, 13 Nov 2018, https://www.carbonbrief.org/the-carbon-brief-interview-john-armitt

11. Committee on Climate Change, June 2018, 'Reducing UK emissions: 2018 Progress Report to Parliament', www.theccc.org.uk/publication/reducing-uk-emissions-2018-progress-report...

12. 29 July 2018, 'Is the nuclear tide turning?', www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/news/comment/is-the-nuclear-tide-turning/

13. Reuters, 11 July 2018, 'EDF considering options over its 80 percent stake in UK nuclear plants', https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-centrica-nuclearpower-edf/edf-...

14. Adam Vaughan, 3 July 2017, 'Hinkley Point C is £2.2bn over budget and a year behind schedule, EDF admits', www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/03/hinkley-point-c-is-22bn-over-bud...

15. World Nuclear Association, 23 Nov 2017, 'British MPs question value of Hinkley Point project', www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-British-MPs-question-value-of-Hinkley-Poin...

16. Gerard Wynn, 29 Nov 2017, 'IEEFA Update: More Questions on U.K. Nuclear Project', http://ieefa.org/ieefa-update-questions-u-k-nuclear-project/

17. Pete Roche and Rachel Western, Nov 2018, 'Lessons for Hinkley from Sellafield', www.stophinkley.org/WManDecom/HinkleyTHORP.pdf

IPCC bets on the renewables revolution

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#867
4754
15/10/2018
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a landmark report warning that global warming must be kept to 1.5˚C, requiring "rapid and far-reaching" transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities.1

The world must invest US$2.4 trillion in clean energy every year through 2035 and cut the use of coal-fired power to almost nothing by 2050 to avoid catastrophic damage from climate change, according to the IPCC. To put the US$2.4 trillion figure in context, about US$1.8 trillion was invested in energy systems globally in 2017, of which about 42% was invested in electricity generation and about 18.5% in renewables.2

Unsurprisingly, the World Nuclear Association (WNA) used the IPCC report to promote nuclear power. WNA Director General Agneta Rising said the IPCC report "makes clear … the necessity of nuclear energy as an important part of an effective global response" to climate change and that it "highlights the proven qualities of nuclear energy as a highly effective method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as providing secure, reliable and scalable electricity supplies."3 In a separate statement, the WNA falsely claimed that nuclear power increases under all of the IPCC scenarios compatible with limiting warming to 1.5˚C.4

Almost all of the WNA's claims are false or exaggerated. The IPCC report raises numerous concerns about nuclear power (discussed below). In general terms, nearly all of the scenarios presented in the IPCC report envisage a decline in nuclear power generation to 2030 followed by an upswing.5 No logical rationale ‒ or any rationale at all ‒ is provided to support the upswing from 2030 to 2050.

The points that jump out from the IPCC's low-carbon 1.5°C scenarios are that nuclear accounts for only a small fraction of energy/electricity supply (even if nuclear output increases) whereas renewables do the heavy lifting. For example, in one 1.5°C scenario, nuclear power more than doubles by 2050 but only accounts for 4.2% of primary energy whereas renewables account for 60.8%.6 In another 1.5°C scenario, nuclear nearly doubles by 2050 but its contribution to total electricity supply falls to 8.9%, compared to 77.5% for renewables.7

The IPCC report notes that: "Nuclear power increases its share in most 1.5°C pathways by 2050, but in some pathways both the absolute capacity and share of power from nuclear generators declines. There are large differences in nuclear power between models and across pathways … Some 1.5°C pathways no longer see a role for nuclear fission by the end of the century, while others project over 200 EJ / yr of nuclear power in 2100."8

Nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger has a very different take on the IPCC report to the WNA … and most of his claims are false as well.9 Shellenberger takes the IPCC to task for stating that nuclear power risks nuclear weapons proliferation.10,11 That is "unsubstantiated fear-mongering", he claims, although Shellenberger himself has written at length about the manifold and repeatedly-demonstrated connections between nuclear power and weapons.12 "No nation has used its civilian nuclear plants to create a weapon", Shellenberger now claims ‒ which is garbage.13

Shellenberger seems troubled by the IPCC's claims about a possible connection between nuclear power and childhood leukemia ‒ but he doesn't explain why. The IPCC's comments are modest: "Increased occurrence of childhood leukaemia in populations living within 5 km of nuclear power plants was identified by some studies, even though a direct causal relation to ionizing radiation could not be established and other studies could not confirm any correlation (low evidence/agreement in this issue)."10 In fact the evidence of a link is stronger than the IPCC suggests.14,15

Shellenberger complains about "biased and misleading cost comparisons" in the IPCC report though the report simply notes that nuclear power provides an example of "where real-world costs have been higher than anticipated ... while solar PV is an example where real-world costs have been lower".16

Shellenberger claims that solar and wind contributed 1.3% and 3.9% to global electricity supply in 2017 ‒ the true figures are 1.9% and 5.6%.17 He fails to note that all renewables combined supplied 26.5% of global electricity supply in 2017 (2.5 times more than nuclear) or that renewable supply has doubled over the past decade while nuclear power has been stagnant.

References:

1. IPCC, 2018, 'Global Warming of 1.5°C', www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/

2. Reed Landberg, Chisaki Watanabe, and Heesu Lee, 8 Oct 2018, 'Climate Crisis Spurs UN Call for $2.4 Trillion Fossil Fuel Shift', www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-08/scientists-call-for-2-4-trill...

3. World Nuclear Association, 8 Oct 2018, 'The IPCC 1.5C Special Report: nuclear energy’s important role for effective action to mitigate climate change', http://world-nuclear.org/press/press-statements/the-ipcc-1-5c-special-re...

4. World Nuclear Association, 8 Oct 2018, 'UN report shows increased need for nuclear', www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/UN-report-shows-increased-need-for-n...

5. http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf

6. Table 2.6, p.2-55 in http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_chapter2.pdf

7. Table 2.7, p.2-55 in http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_chapter2.pdf

8. http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_chapter2.pdf

9. Michael Shellenberger, 8 Oct 2018, 'Attacking Nuclear As Dangerous, New IPCC Climate Change Report Promotes Land-Intensive Renewables', www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/10/08/attacking-nuclear-a...

10. http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_chapter5_table5_3.pdf

11. http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_chapter5.pdf

12. Nuclear Monitor #865, 6 Sept 2018, 'Nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger learns to love the bomb, goes down a rabbit hole', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/865/nuclear-monitor-865-6-sept...

13. See section 7 in: Nuclear Monitor #804, 28 May 2015, 'The myth of the peaceful atom', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/804/myth-peaceful-atom

14. Nuclear Monitor #812, 15 Oct 2015, https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/812/radioactive-spikes-nuc...

15. Ian Fairlie, 25 July 2014, 'Childhood Leukemias Near Nuclear Power Stations: new article', www.ianfairlie.org/news/childhood-leukemias-near-nuclear-power-stations-...

16. http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_chapter2_annex.pdf

17. REN21, June 2018, 'Renewables 2018 Global Status Report', www.ren21.net/gsr-2018/

The Age of Renewables is here: renewables make the grade in price, performance and reliability

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#866
4752
24/09/2018
Karel Beckman ‒ Energy Post Weekly editor
Article

Renewables have long been considered, by many in the market, as a nice complementary source of energy: clean, but expensive and of course unreliable. Now increasingly awareness in the market is growing that they are much more than a nice addition to our energy system: they are on their way to becoming its mainstay. Expensive they are no longer. And thanks to new enabling technologies they are rapidly becoming reliable as well.

The signs are all around us. In a new addition of its "Global Renewable Energy Trends", published on 13 September, consultancy Deloitte Global reports that "Renewable energy sources, notably solar and wind, "are reaching price and performance parity on and off the grid".1

Deloitte, in fact, sings the praises of renewables in every way.

According to the report, "three key enablers ‒ price and performance parity, grid integration, and technology ‒ allow solar and wind power to compete with conventional sources on price, while matching their performance."

In addition, "as technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and 3-D printing continue to advance the deployment of renewables, prices will likely continue to fall, and accessibility will improve."

Deloitte notes that:

"Longstanding obstacles to greater deployment of renewables have receded as a result of three key enablers:

  • Reaching price and performance parity: The unsubsidized cost of solar and wind power has become comparable or cheaper than traditional sources in much of the world. New storage options are now making renewables more dispatchable ‒ once an advantage of conventional sources.
  • Cost-effective and reliable grid integration: Once seen as an obstacle, wind and solar power are now viewed as a solution to grid balancing. They have demonstrated an ability to strengthen grid resilience and reliability and provide essential grid services. Smart inverters and advanced controls have enabled wind and solar to provide grid reliability services related to frequency, voltage, and ramping as well or better than other generation sources. When combined with smarter inverters, wind and solar can ramp up much faster than conventional plants, help stabilize the grid even after the sun sets and the wind stops, and, for solar PV, show much higher response accuracy than any other source.
  • The impact of technology: Technology is accelerating the deployment of renewables: automation and advanced manufacturing are improving the production and operation of renewables by reducing the costs and time of implementing renewable energy systems; AI can finetune weather forecasting, optimizing the use of renewable resources; blockchain can enable energy attribute certificate (EAC) markets to help resolve trust and bureaucratic hurdles; and advanced materials are transforming the materials of solar panels and wind turbines."

Wow. You may want to reread that passage and let it sink in. Who would have thought just two years ago that renewables could be described in these terms?

The report contains many noteworthy insights. For example, it notes that "wind and solar can become important grid assets. Intermittent renewables are already helping to balance the grid. For example, wind power helped decrease the severity of most of the northern Midcontinent Independent System Operator's steepest three-hour load ramps in 2017."

Deloitte adds that "When combined with smart inverters, wind and solar can ramp up much faster than conventional plants, help stabilize the grid even after the sun sets and the wind stops, and, for solar PV, show much higher response accuracy (respond faster and with the required amount of power) than any other source. Smart inverters can also turn distributed resources into grid assets with minimal impact on customers and make these resources visible and usable to utilities. The few jurisdictions leveraging these capabilities have mandated them (e.g., Quebec), allowed renewables to sell ancillary services in their markets (e.g., Italy), and/or created new services markets (e.g., the United Kingdom)."

With regard to advanced materials and manufacturing, Deloitte writes that:

"Perovskite and 3D printing are poised to revolutionize the solar and wind industries. Perovskite has been the fastest-developing solar technology since its introduction, making efficiency gains that took silicon over half a century to achieve in less than a decade. In June 2018, a British and German startup demonstrated a record 27.3 percent conversion efficiency on perovskite-on-silicon tandem cells in laboratory settings, beating the laboratory record of standalone silicon cells. Belgian researchers achieved similar efficiency the following month, and both claim that over 30 percent efficiency is within reach. Perovskite has a simpler chemistry, the ability to capture a greater light spectrum, and higher efficiency potential than silicon. Perovskite can also be sprayed onto surfaces and printed in rolls, enabling lower production costs and more applications. Perovskite modules may be commercialized as early as 2019."

On the wind front:

"[A]dditive manufacturing is paving the way for the use of new materials. Two US national laboratories collaborated with the industry to manufacture the first 3D-printed wind-blade mold, significantly reducing prototyping costs and time, from over a year to three months. The next frontier is to 3D print the blades. This would enable use of new combinations of materials and embedded sensors to optimize the blades' cost and performance, as well as onsite manufacturing to eliminate logistical costs and risks. Manufacturers plan to start with on-demand 3D printing of spare parts at wind farms to reduce costs and downtime for repairs. GE is already using additive manufacturing to repair and improve wind turbine blades. Manufacturers are heavily investing in these new technologies because they anticipate growing demand for solar and wind power."

And this is only the start. "Already among the cheapest energy sources globally, solar and wind have not even run the full course of their enabling trends yet", Deloitte notes.

The result: demand for renewables is growing rapidly:

"As costs continue to fall and accessibility increases, the demand for renewables is growing rapidly, driven by the following stakeholders:

  • Smart renewable cities: Most of the world's population now lives in growing cities, some of which have taken a proactive "smart" approach to managing their infrastructure with connected sensor technology and data analytics. The focus of more advanced smart cities is to enhance quality of life, competitiveness and sustainability. Solar and wind are at the intersection of these goals because they contribute to depollution, decarbonization and resilience while enabling clean electric mobility, economic empowerment, and business growth.
  • Community energy: Building on the original trend toward "community solar", the addition of storage and management systems give communities more flexibility when implementing renewables. On-grid communities can now be powered independently from the grid, and in off-grid areas, community-owned partnerships enable electrification and reinvestment of profits.
  • Emerging markets: The cumulative capacity of emerging markets to develop renewable energy is on the verge of surpassing that of the developed world, as emerging markets have helped bring down the cost of renewables and are innovating in ways that benefit the developed world.
  • Corporate involvement: Corporations are procuring renewables in new ways, with many large corporations pursuing Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and smaller corporations turning to aggregation. Furthermore, currently two thirds of Fortune 100 companies have set renewable energy targets and are leading global corporate procurement, signaling an important commitment from the private sector."

"Wide-scale integration of renewable energy sources is no longer a question of if, but when," says Marlene Motyka, Deloitte Global Renewable Energy leader. "Countries such as China, the United States, and Germany have already reached price parity for certain renewable sources. With prices continuing to drop, developed countries and emerging markets alike have the ability to integrate renewables into their grid systems to ensure competitive advantage."

And you can guess which is the "most renewable" big city in the world? It's San Diego, California:

What the Deloitte analysis shows is that the renewables sceptics are being proven wrong. Thus, the new Australian energy minister Angus Taylor who "has launched a new and extraordinary attack against wind and solar, saying they cause 'de-industrialisation' and claiming that Labor's 45 per cent emissions reduction target would send a 'wrecking ball' through the Australian economy", is way behind the curve.2

In fact, a new report, written by respected Australian market specialist Hugh Saddler, finds that it is precisely renewable energy which is helping to reduce wholesale electricity prices in Australia.

Reprinted from Energy Post Weekly, 18 Sept 2018, https://energypostweekly.eu/the-age-of-renewables-is-here-i-renewables-m...

References:

1. Marlene Motyka, Andrew Slaughter, Carolyn Amon, 2018, 'Global renewable energy trends', www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/energy-and-resources/articles/global-renewable-energy-trends.html

2. https://reneweconomy.com.au/taylor-launches-extraordinary-and-ill-inform...

3. https://reneweconomy.com.au/new-solar-and-wind-the-only-thing-pushing-do...

Nuclear power falls below 10%, overtaken by non-hydro renewables

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#863
4738
22/06/2018
Article

Nuclear power accounted for 9.8% of global electricity generation in 2017 (2,5031 / 25,5702 terawatt-hours). That's a big drop from nuclear's historic peak of 17.6% in 1996.3

Renewables accounted for 26.5% of global electricity generation in 2017.4 Thus renewables generated 2.7 times more electricity than nuclear power. Non-hydro renewables (10.1%) generated more electricity than nuclear (9.8%) for the first time in decades.

Global nuclear power capacity increased by 5.4% from Dec. 2007 to Dec. 2017 (from 372 GW to 392 GW) if including idled reactors (mostly in Japan).5 However, including those reactors in the count of 'operable' or 'operational' reactors is, as former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd states, "misleading" and "clearly ridiculous".6 If idled reactors are excluded, nuclear capacity as of Dec. 2017 was 353 GW7 and fell by 5.1% from 2007 to 2017.

Whether or not idled reactors are included in the count, nuclear capacity changed little from 2007 to 2017 (up or down by about 5%). Compare that to renewables: global renewable power capacity more than doubled in the decade 2007-2017, and the capacity of non-hydro renewables increased more than six-fold.4

Bloomberg NEF New Energy Outlook 2018

Bloomberg NEF has published the 2018 edition of its annual New Energy Outlook.8 The report focuses on electricity generation worldwide. Its long-term projections assume that existing energy policy settings around the world remain in place until their scheduled expiry, and that there are no additional government measures. The 150-page report draws on detailed research by a team of more than 65 analysts around the world, including modeling of power systems country-by-country, and of the evolving cost dynamics of different technologies.

Wind and solar are set to expand to almost 50% of worldwide electricity generation by 2050 on the back of cost reductions and the advent of cheaper batteries that will enable electricity to be stored and discharged to meet shifts in demand and supply. The report predicts a 17-fold increase in solar PV capacity worldwide, and a six-fold increase in wind power capacity, by 2050.

The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) from new solar PV plants is forecast to fall a further 71% by 2050, while that for onshore wind drops by a further 58%. These two technologies have already seen LCOE reductions of 77% and 41% respectively between 2009 and 2018. Solar PV and wind are already cheaper than building new large-scale coal and gas plants.

Batteries are also dropping dramatically in cost. Bloomberg NEF predicts that lithium-ion battery prices, already down by nearly 80% per megawatt-hour since 2010, will continue to tumble as electric vehicle manufacturing builds up through the 2020s.

Seb Henbest, lead author of the New Energy Outlook report, said: "The arrival of cheap battery storage will mean that it becomes increasingly possible to finesse the delivery of electricity from wind and solar, so that these technologies can help meet demand even when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. The result will be renewables eating up more and more of the existing market for coal, gas and nuclear."

Coal shrinks to just 11% of global electricity generation by 2050, from 38% currently. Elena Giannakopoulou, head of energy economics at Bloomberg NEF, said: "Coal emerges as the biggest loser in the long run. Beaten on cost by wind and PV for bulk electricity generation, and batteries and gas for flexibility, the future electricity system will reorganize around cheap renewables – coal gets squeezed out."

Gas consumption for power generation increases modestly out to 2050 despite growing capacity, as more and more gas-fired facilities are either dedicated peakers or run at lower capacity factors helping to balance variable renewables, rather than run flat-out around-the-clock. Gas-fired generation is seen rising 15% between 2017 and 2050, although its share of global electricity declines from 21% to 15%. 

Electric vehicles add around 3,461 TWh of new electricity demand globally by 2050, equal to 9% of total demand. Time-of-use tariffs and dynamic charging further support renewables integration: they allow vehicle owners to choose to charge during high-supply, low-cost periods, and so help to shift demand to periods when cheap renewables are running.

The New Energy Outlook report predicts US$11.5 trillion being invested globally in new power generation capacity between 2018 and 2050, with US$8.4 trillion (73%) of that going to wind and solar and a further US$1.5 trillion (13%) to other low-carbon technologies such as hydro and nuclear, with gas investments at US$1.3 trillion (11.3%) accounting for most of the remainder.

References:

1. IAEA, 2018, 'Nuclear Power Reactors in the World', www-pub.iaea.org/books/IAEABooks/13379/Nuclear-Power-Reactors-in-the-World

2. IEA, March 2018, 'Global Energy & CO2 Status Report 2017', www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/GECO2017.pdf

3. Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., 12 Sept 2017, World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2017, www.worldnuclearreport.org/-2017-.html

4. REN21, June 2018, 'Renewables 2018 Global Status Report', p.40-41, www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/17-8652_GSR2018_FullReport_web_...

5. www.iaea.org/PRIS/WorldStatistics/WorldTrendNuclearPowerCapacity.aspx

6. Steve Kidd, 13 Oct 2016, 'Nuclear power in the world – pessimism or optimism?', www.neimagazine.com/opinion/opinionnuclear-power-in-the-world-pessimism-...

7. Mycle Schneider / World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 9 Jan 2018, 'World Nuclear Industry Status as of 1 January 2018', www.worldnuclearreport.org/World-Nuclear-Industry-Status-as-of-1-January...

8. Bloomberg NEF, June 2018, 'New Energy Outlook 2018', https://about.bnef.com/new-energy-outlook/

REN21 Renewables 2018 Global Status Report

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#862
4729
08/06/2018
Article

REN21 ‒ a large coalition of industry associations, international organizations, NGOs, 10 national governments, and scientists and academics ‒ has released the Renewables 2018 Global Status Report.1

It was another record year with 178 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power generation capacity added in 2017. Non-hydro renewable capacity (1,081 GW) passed 1,000 GW for the first time and should overtake hydro capacity (1,114 GW) in 2018. Of the 178 GW added in 2017, 159 GW was non-hydro renewables and 19 GW hydro.

Year

Global Renewable Electricity Capacity (GW)

Annual Growth (GW)

2007

989

 

2008

1,058

69

2009

1,133

75

2010

1,223

90

2011

1,326

103

2012

1,444

118

2013

1,563

119

2014

1,690

127

2015

1,845

155

2016

2,006

161

2017

2,195

178

Renewables accounted for 70% of net additions to global power generating capacity in 2017, the largest percentage in modern history.

Solar PV capacity was up 29% relative to 2016, with a record 98 GW added. More solar PV generating capacity was added to the electricity system than net capacity additions of coal, natural gas and nuclear power combined. Wind power also drove the uptake of renewables with 52 GW added globally.

Renewables accounted for 26.5% of total global electricity generation in 2017 (up from 24.5% a year earlier), comprising hydro 16.4%, wind 5.6%, bio-power 2.2%, solar PV 1.9%, and 0.4% combined for ocean power, concentrated solar, and geothermal. Nuclear power accounted for 10.5% of global electricity generation in 20162 and probably a little less in 2017. Thus renewables generate 2.5 times more electricity than nuclear power. Renewable capacity (2,195 GW) is 5.5 times greater than nuclear capacity (395 GW including idled reactors in Japan).

The renewable energy sector employed, directly and indirectly, approximately 10.3 million people in 2017.

Investment in new renewable power capacity was more than twice that of new fossil fuel and nuclear power capacity combined. More than two-thirds of investments in power generation were in renewables in 2017, thanks to their increasing cost-competitiveness – and the share of renewables in the power sector is expected to continue to rise.

Broader energy sector

While the growth in renewable electricity continues the transformation of the electricity sector, REN21 says it is concerned by the lack of change in transport, cooling and heating, which means the world is lagging behind its Paris climate goals.

"We may be racing down the pathway towards a 100 percent renewable electricity future but when it comes to heating, cooling and transport, we are coasting along as if we had all the time in the world. Sadly, we don't," said Randa Adib, executive secretary of REN21.

The REN21 report said of particular concern was that global energy demand and energy-related CO2 emissions rose for the first time in four years in 2017, by 2.1% and 1.4% respectively.

The contributions of different energy sources to total final energy demand in 2017 were: fossil fuels 79.5%, modern renewables 10.4%, traditional biomass 7.8%, and nuclear 2.2%.

References:

1. REN21, June 2018, 'Renewables 2018 Global Status Report', www.ren21.net/gsr-2018/

2. Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., 12 Sept 2017, 'World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2017', www.worldnuclearreport.org/-2017-.html

2016 another record year for renewables

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#842
4640
26/04/2017
Article

A new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, Renewable Energy Capacity Statistics 2017, states that global renewable electricity generation capacity (including hydro) increased by 161 gigawatts (GW) in 2016, making it the strongest year ever for new capacity additions.1

Renewable electricity capacity grew by 8.7% in 2016, and renewables accounted for 60% of new capacity from all sources (55% if large hydro is excluded). Solar led the way with a record 71 GW of new capacity, along with 51 GW of wind, 30 GW of hydro, 9 GW of bioenergy (also a record), and just under 1 GW of geothermal energy capacity.

Global renewable electricity capacity has doubled over the past decade and now exceeds 2,000 GW:

YEAR

GLOBAL RENEWABLE ELECTRICITY CAPACITY (GW)

ANNUAL GROWTH (GW)

2007

989

 

2008

1,058

69

2009

1,133

75

2010

1,223

90

2011

1,326

103

2012

1,444

118

2013

1,563

119

2014

1,690

127

2015

1,845

155

2016

2,006

161

That 2,006 GW capacity is 5.1 times greater than nuclear power capacity of 392 GW (including idle reactors in Japan).2 Actual electricity generation from renewables (23.5% of global generation3) is more than double that from nuclear power (10.7%4)

The renewable electricity capacity mix is as follows: hydro 58%, wind 22%, solar 13.9%, bioenergy 5.1%, geothermal and marine energy both <1%.

This year's edition of IRENA's Renewable Energy Capacity Statistics series also contains data for off-grid renewables. Off-grid renewable electricity capacity reached a modest 2.8 GW by the end of 2016, with solar contributing almost half of the total.

Investment falls: A separate report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) states that the strong growth of renewables occurred despite an 23% drop in investment (excluding large hydro).5 A separate BNEF report finds that investment in 2016 ‒ including all hydro ‒ fell by 18%.6

The fall in investment last year was partly due to falling costs, with the average cost of solar photovoltaics and wind dropping by more than 10% compared to 2015.7 Solar provides the most striking illustration: investment in 2016 was down 34% yet solar capacity growth was 34% higher than the previous year.8

Despite the drop, investment in renewables in 2016 was still roughly double that of fossil fuel generation.

Employment in the renewable energy sector (excluding large hydro) increased from 5.7 million in 2012 to 8.1 million in 2015 ‒ an increase of 42%.9

Future Growth: IRENA Director-General Adnan Amin said in July 2016 that he believes the Agency's REMAP scenario ‒ a doubling of renewable electricity energy by 2030 ‒ is realistic.10 IRENA's REMAP scenario is consistent with the projections of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA's 2016 Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report predicts 825 GW of new renewable capacity from 2016‒21, a 45% increase on the 2015 figure.11 Growth of 161 GW in 2016 is consistent with that five-year projection. The IEA report notes that there is potential for more rapid growth than it projects, and identifies additional policy initiatives which would result in growth 29% higher than the projection of 825 GW.

Coal

A new report by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and CoalSwarm notes that the amount of new coal power capacity starting construction fell by 62% in 2016 compared to the previous year.12 In 2016, 65GW of new coal-fired units started construction, compared to 170GW in 2015.

In addition to the 62% drop in new coal plant construction starts, the report's findings also include a 48% decline in overall pre-construction activity, and an 85% decline in new Chinese coal plant permits.

Last year's coal decline was overwhelmingly due to China and India. In China, too much capacity has been built in recent years, and the move away from coal has also been driven by government policy to clean up air pollution. In India, the decline was due to slower-than-expected growth in energy demand, and rapid growth of renewables.

Paul Massara, the former CEO of RWE Npower and now head of a green energy company, North Star Solar, said: "The decline in new coal plants in Asian countries is truly dramatic, and shows how a perfect storm of factors are simply making coal a bad investment."13

A record-breaking 64 GW of coal capacity was shut down in the past two years, the report notes, mostly in the US and EU.

References:

1. International Renewable Energy Agency, 2017, 'Renewable Energy Capacity Statistics 2017', www.irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publications/IRENA_RE_Capacity_Statistic...

Media release: www.irena.org/News/Description.aspx?mnu=cat&PriMenuID=16&CatID=84&News_I...

2. www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/facts-and-figures/world-nuclea...

3. www.irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publications/IRENA_REthinking_Energy_201...

4. www.worldnuclearreport.org/IMG/pdf/20160713MSC-WNISR2016V2-HR.pdf

5. UNEP/BNEF, 2017, 'Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2017', http://fs-unep-centre.org/sites/default/files/publications/globaltrendsi...

6. BNEF, 'Clean Energy Investment End of Year 2016', https://about.bnef.com/clean-energy-investment/

7. http://web.unep.org/newscentre/more-bang-buck-record-new-renewable-power...

8. Jocelyn Timperley, 6 April 2017, 'Renewables growth breaks records again despite fall in investment', www.carbonbrief.org/renewables-growth-breaks-records-again-despite-fall-...

9. http://resourceirena.irena.org/gateway/dashboard/?topic=7&subTopic=53

10. Karel Beckman, 13 July 2016, 'Interview Adnan Amin, head of IRENA: "Everything we see is pointing to transformational change"', http://energypost.eu/interview-adnan-amin-chief-irena-climate-negotiator...

11. International Energy Agency, 2016, 'Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report: Executive Summary', www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/MTrenew2016sum.pdf

12. Greenpeace, Sierra Club and CoalSwarm, March 2017, 'Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline', http://endcoal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/BoomBust2017-English-Final...

13. Adam Vaughan, 22 March 2017, 'Coal in 'freefall' as new power plants dive by two-thirds', www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/22/coal-power-plants-green-ener...

Nuclear, renewables, and the maverick nuclear industry insider

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#833
4599
08/11/2016
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

In July, Nuclear Monitor published a summary1 of the latest World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) and a critical review2 of the World Nuclear Association's (WNA) feeble attempt to match WNISR with the publication of its own report, the World Nuclear Performance Report 2016.

Steve Kidd has recently reviewed the two publications for Nuclear Engineering International.3 Regular readers of Nuclear Monitor will know Kidd as the nuclear industry insider (formerly with the WNA) who says out loud what everyone else in the nuclear industry keeps to themselves ‒ the nuclear renaissance is dead, the uranium industry is probably in for a long-term slump, reprocessing is "environmentally dirty", etc.

Kidd writes that while the WNISR authors are "unashamedly in the anti-nuclear camp", the report contains "a lot of good information ... while many of the points made are worthy of reflection". He questions the failure to discuss hydro and fossil fuels in detail.

Kidd writes: "The growth rates of wind and solar are certainly hugely impressive and way ahead of what most analysts were expecting only a few years ago. And with the exception of China, South Korea and a few other countries, the nuclear situation on this measure looks bleak."

He notes that WNISR's "complaint that the nuclear sector is far too optimistic on the possibility of reactors getting established in new nuclear countries ... is entirely valid. The fact that only Belarus and the UAE seem set to reach there in the next five to ten years makes the point perfectly."

On the WNA's report, Kidd writes:

"The report, unlike WNISR, is also commendably honest about the status of the industry it is trying to promote. Statements such as "the situation facing the nuclear industry globally is challenging" and "the recent history of the global nuclear industry has been mixed" are understatements, but welcome all the same. Nevertheless, as with WNISR, one has to read the report with the expectation that the best gloss will be put on facts and figures to suit the authors' case. In particular, the few crumbs of comfort (such as any positive mention of nuclear in a prominent international report) are highlighted and accorded more significance than they deserve. ...

"[T]he statement that industry prospects seem brighter than they have been for a while is not supported by the facts and figures in the chapter on nuclear industry performance. In terms of power output, the world nuclear sector is still stuck where it has been for the last 20 years.

"Although the near future should at least see more reactors starting up than shutting down, the revival rests on shaky foundations. These include the Japanese restarts, where there remains huge uncertainties, a range of new technologies such as small modular reactors, advances in development (still many years away), several major nuclear build programmes about to get under way (where and when?), and a positive shift in public support for nuclear energy in many Western countries (where?)."

Kidd notes that there is a "huge mismatch" between the WNA's 'harmony' vision ‒ a near-tripling of nuclear capacity to 1,000 gigawatts by 2050 ‒ and where the industry is today. He questions whether the WNA's 'harmony' vision is "a scenario, a vision, an aspiration, a target or merely a fantasy?"

Kidd argues that the nuclear industry should abandon its vision of 'harmonious' growth of both nuclear and renewables and should instead wage war against renewables ‒ in his words, the nuclear industry should adopt "a more aggressive stance" and start pointing out the "pitfalls" of renewables. Whether or not that is good advice (from his pro-nuclear perspective) is a moot point: the nuclear industry is already waging war against renewables.4,5

Renewables

Commenting on the "hugely impressive" growth of renewables, Kidd warns that "this has been the easy phase for renewables" and ongoing strong growth depends on the resolution of "a number of difficult issues".3

That's a fair comment ‒ but it's also true that strong growth of renewables can be confidently predicted at least for the next 5‒10 years (beyond which there are too many uncertainties to confidently predict the trajectory of any power source ‒ few predicted the doubling of renewable energy generation or the decline of nuclear power over the past decade).

The International Energy Agency's (IEA) October 2015 Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report predicted 700 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable power capacity from 2015−2020, with renewables accounting for almost two-thirds of new power generation capacity over that period.6

And the IEA has just released the 2016 version of its Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report and it is considerably more bullish than last year's report:7 Last year's estimate of 700 GW of new renewable capacity over the next five years has been upped to 825 GW from 2016‒21.

The 2016 IEA report states:

  • annual renewable electricity capacity growth reached an all-time record in 2015 at 153 GW;
  • renewables accounted for more than half of net annual additions to power capacity in 2015, and will account for over 60% of total electricity generation growth from 2016‒21;
  • record deployment was accompanied by "continued sharp generation cost reductions", with further cost reductions of 15% for onshore wind and 25% for utility-scale solar PV anticipated over the next five years;
  • global renewable electricity capacity is expected to grow by 42% (825 GW) by 2021; and
  • the share of renewables in overall electricity generation is expected to rise from over 23% in 2015 to almost 28% in 2021.

Keep in mind that the IEA isn't an advocacy organization with a track record of publishing over-optimistic renewable energy forecasts. On the contrary, the Agency has a track record of consistently underestimating renewable energy growth.8

The IEA's latest report notes that there is considerable potential for far more rapid growth than it projects. The report identifies additional policy initiatives which would result in growth 29% higher than the projection of 825 GW. That would mean around 1,060 GW over the next five years to add to the 912 GW added from 2004‒149 and the 153 GW added last year.10

The 'additional policy initiatives' the report discusses are:

  • Addressing infrastructure challenges and market design issues to improve grid integration of renewables.
  • Implementing stable and sustainable policy frameworks that give greater revenue certainty to capital-intensive renewables and reducing policy uncertainties.
  • Developing policy mechanisms that reduce cost of financing and lower off-taker risks especially in developing countries and emerging economies.

IEA executive director Dr Fatih Birol said: "We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables and, as is the case with other fields, the center of gravity for renewable growth is moving to emerging markets."11

Nuclear comparisons

How does the spectacular growth of renewables compare to nuclear power? There is no comparison. A decade ago, nuclear and renewables produced roughly equivalent amounts of electricity; now, renewables produce more than twice as much as nuclear.

Nuclear power has been stagnant over the past decade if measuring by installed capacity.12 And to achieve that underwhelming conclusion of stagnant nuclear capacity, you need to include 40 idled reactors in Japan even though a significant fraction will likely never restart. Kidd states that the inclusion of idled reactors in the calculations presented by the WNA and the International Atomic Energy Agency is "misleading" and "clearly ridiculous".3

If we measure by actual electricity generation, nuclear power is clearly in decline. The latest World Nuclear Industry Status Report provides the following facts:13

  • nuclear electricity generation in 2015 was 8.2% below the historic peak in 2006;
  • nuclear power's share of global commercial primary energy consumption was 4.4% in both 2014 and 2015 ‒ the lowest level since 1984;
  • nuclear's share of global electricity generation ‒ 10.7% in 2015 (compared to renewables' 23.7%) ‒ has declined from a historic peak of 17.6% in 1996; and
  • since 2000, countries have added 646 GW of wind and solar capacity (combined) while nuclear capacity (not including the idled reactors in Japan) fell by 8 GW.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report concludes: "In short, the 2015 data shows that renewable energy based power generation is enjoying continuous rapid growth, while nuclear power production, excluding China, is shrinking globally. Small unit size and lower capacity factors of renewable power plants continue to be more than compensated for by their short lead times, easy manufacturability and installation, and rapidly scalable mass production. Their high acceptance level and rapidly falling system costs will further accelerate their development."13

Yellowcake blues

Kidd recently weighed in ‒ once again ‒ on the uranium industry's protracted slump. He writes:14

"Underlying demand for uranium in 2015, represented by calculated reactor requirements, was around 60,000 tonnes. Production in 2015 was close to this, but was almost double the level of the trough in 1999, when it was just over 32,000 tonnes. The missing factor here is of course secondary supplies. With the end of the HEU deal between Russia and the West in 2013 the level is not as high as it was during the late 1990s to early 2000s. But it is not much lower, as the enrichment companies have become adept at "creating" uranium through underfeeding and re-enriching it. ...

"Secondary supplies in total are still contributing about 15,000 tonnes, meaning that total supply is now running at about 75,000 tonnes. With demand at 60,000 tonnes, inventories held by the producers and their customers must be rising by about 15,000 tonnes per year. ...

"So overall, uranium production has risen by half over the past 10 years at a time when underlying demand has stayed constant. Abundant secondary supplies are coming to the market so the level of uranium inventories has naturally risen sharply. The market has clearly been production-driven. The question now is what happens if some of today's high inventory levels begin to hit the market? The only possible response is significantly lower production and possibly prices too."

As if to prove Kidd's points, the uranium spot price has been in free-fall recently. The spot price in late October ranged from US$18.75 to $20.00 / lb U3O8. That's a big fall from the spot price in January 2016 ($34.70); it's one-third of the pre-Fukushima price; and it's one-seventh of the price at the peak of a bubble in 2007. The long-term price ($35.50) is down 19% this year and down 44% compared to five years ago.15

References:

1. www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/827/world-nuclear-industry-sta...

2. www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/826/not-world-nuclear-industry...

3. Steve Kidd, 13 Oct 2016, 'Nuclear power in the world – pessimism or optimism?', www.neimagazine.com/opinion/opinionnuclear-power-in-the-world-pessimism-...

4. Michael Mariotte, 1 Aug 2016, 'It's not utilities leading the energy revolution', https://safeenergy.org/2014/08/01/its-not-utilities-leading-the-energy-r...

5. Mark Cooper, June 2015, 'Power Shift: The deployment of a 21st century electricity sector and the nuclear war to stop it', www -assets.vermontlaw.edu/Assets/iee/Power_Shift_Mark_Cooper_June_2015.PDF

6. International Energy Agency, Oct 2015, 'Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report', www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/MTrenew2015sum.pdf

7. IEA, 2016, 'Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report: Executive Summary', www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/MTrenew2016sum.pdf

8. Christian Breyer, 12 Nov 2015, 'Why does the IEA keep underestimating solar and wind?', www.theaustralian.com.au/business/business-spectator/why-does-the-iea-ke...

9. www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/REN12-GSR2015_Onlinebook_low1.pdf

10. www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/MTrenew2016sum.pdf

11. IEA, 25 Oct 2016, 'IEA raises its five-year renewable growth forecast as 2015 marks record year', www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2016/october/iea-raises-its-five-year-renewabl...

12. www.iaea.org/PRIS/WorldStatistics/WorldTrendNuclearPowerCapacity.aspx

13. www.worldnuclearreport.org/IMG/pdf/20160713MSC-WNISR2016V2-HR.pdf

14. Steve Kidd, 1 Sept 2016, 'Uranium – the market, lower prices and production costs', www.neimagazine.com/opinion/opinionuranium-the-market-lower-prices-and-p...

15. www.cameco.com/invest/markets/uranium-price

Watts Bar 2: Winning a battle while losing the war

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#832
4593
19/10/2016
Ken Bossong ‒ SUN DAY Campaign (www.sun-day-campaign.org)
Article

Ken Bossong puts the start-up of the first U.S. nuclear reactor in 20 years in perspective. To say that renewables are growing faster than nuclear is an understatement. Yet the nuclear industry is likely to trumpet Watts Bar 2 coming online as a big triumph. That is, once the reactor gets past the series of equipment failures that has repeatedly delayed the start-up since June. The Tennessee Valley Authority has spent nine years and more than US$4 billion to bring a 43-year old nuclear construction project to completion, when it could have used that time and money more productively on developing renewables and energy efficiency.

As it nears commercial operation, Watts Bar 2, the first "new" nuclear power plant in the United States in more than a generation, is proof that nuclear power has lost the race with safer, cleaner, and more economical renewable energy sources ‒ particularly solar and wind.

New electrical generation expected to be provided to the nation's grid by Watts Bar 2 during its first year of operating at full capacity has already been eclipsed several times over by new electrical generation provided by renewables.

For example, in just one year's time (i.e., July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016) as Watts Bar 2 prepared for commercial operation, solar and wind alone increased their contribution to the nation's total electrical generation by an amount three to five times greater than that expected from a year's worth of Watts Bar 2 generation (detailed supporting calculations are posted on the GreenWorld website1).

If one adds in the net increase in generation from other renewable energy sources (i.e., hydropower, geothermal, and biomass) during the past year, the ratio of new renewables generation to that of Watts Bar 2 is even greater.

Looking ahead, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is projecting 9.5% growth in electrical consumption from renewable sources during 2016 with further increases in the years to follow.2 Thus, the ratio of new renewable electricity capacity and generation vs. that from Watts Bar is likely to be even greater in the coming year and beyond.

Additionally, the very limited contribution to be made by Watts Bar-2 to the nation's electrical generating capacity hardly seems to have been worth the wait. Construction of Watts Bar-2 originally began in 1973, but was halted in 1985. The project was restarted in October 2007 and finally completed in summer 2016. Thus, not including the period while the plant construction was suspended, it took roughly 22 years to bring Watts Bar 2 online.3

During the eight-year period (2007-2015) required to build Watts Bar 2 following the resumption of construction, the reactor obviously produced no electricity. At the same time, however, new wind and solar plants ‒ which typically require only one or two years to construct and often less4 ‒ were coming online at an increasing pace and contributing to the nation's electricity supply. In fact, during the 2007‒2015 period, wind and solar produced about 15 times more electricity than is projected to come from Watts Bar 2 in the coming year.1

Moreover, since the resumption of construction of Watts Bar 2 in 2007, actual annual electrical generation by wind and solar has mushroomed. Today, those renewable sources are providing over 21 times more electricity each year than that expected annually from Watts Bar-2 ... and growing rapidly.1

Finally, when construction resumed on Watts Bar Unit 2 in 2007, TVA assumed the cost would be US$2.5 billion to complete. Upon completion, though, the actual costs totaled US$4.7 billion. This translates into a cost of approximately US$4.1 million per MW of capacity.5

While nuclear construction costs ‒ as represented by those for Watts Bar 2 ‒ have risen dramatically, those for solar and wind have plunged by 60‒70% over the same time period.

For example, in a November 2015 study, the New York investment bank Lazard reported current electricity production costs of nuclear power to be US$97‒136 per MWh. In comparison, the best large-scale photovoltaic power plants can now produce electricity at US$50 per MWh while onshore wind turbines can do so for US$32‒77 per MWh.6

Thus, as illustrated by Watts Bar 2, the pace at which new renewable capacity and actual electrical generation ‒ particularly wind and solar ‒ are exceeding that of nuclear, the long construction times to bring new nuclear reactors on line, and nuclear power's rapidly rising costs (compared to the dramatically declining costs for renewable sources) all underscore that the nuclear era is over. Watts Bar 2 is proof that nuclear power has lost the race against renewable energy.

References:

1. http://safeenergy.org/2016/10/05/watts-bar-2-winning-a-battle-while-losi...

2. www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/report/renew_co2.cfm

3. https://morningconsult.com/alert/first-new-nuclear-reactor-almost-two-de...

4. See, for example, www.ewea.org/wind-energy-basics/faq

5. https://morningconsult.com/alert/first-new-nuclear-reactor-almost-two-de...

6. www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-analysis-90

See also:

www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/electricity_generation.cfm

www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=19&t=3

www.renewable-energysources.com/

www.nrel.gov/analysis/tech_lcoe.html

About: 
Watts Bar 2

Renewables 2016: Global Status Report

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#825
4564
15/06/2016
Article

REN21 ‒ the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century ‒ has released 'Renewables 2016: Global Status Report', the latest edition of a report produced annually since 2005.1

REN21 comprises a range of governments, non-governmental organisations, research and academic institutions, international organisations and industry. It is an international non-profit association based at the United Nations Environment Programme in Paris. The latest Global Status Report involved over 500 authors, contributors and reviewers.

The report notes that 2015 was an "extraordinary" year for renewable energy:

"Renewables are now established around the world as mainstream sources of energy. Rapid growth, particularly in the power sector, is driven by several factors, including the improving cost-competiveness of renewable technologies, dedicated policy initiatives, better access to financing, energy security and environmental concerns, growing demand for energy in developing and emerging economies, and the need for access to modern energy. Consequently, new markets for both centralised and distributed renewable energy are emerging in all regions."

On the economics of power sources, the report states:

"Electricity from hydro, geothermal and some biomass power sources has been broadly competitive with power from fossil fuels for some time; in favourable circumstances (i.e., with good resources and a secure regulatory framework), onshore wind and solar PV also are cost-competitive with new fossil capacity, even without accounting for externalities. In 2015 and early 2016, expectations of further cost improvements were made evident by record-low winning bids in power auctions in places ranging from Latin America, to the Middle East and North Africa region, to India."

Facts and figures

According to the REN21 report, an estimated net 147 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity was added in 2015, up 9.7% from the 134 GW added in 2014. That 147 GW net growth is the largest annual increase in capacity ever.

By the end of 2015, renewables produced an estimated 23.7% of global electricity generation (5633 / 23,741 Terrawatt-hours). The 23.7% figure is up from 22.8% the previous year. Hydropower provided about 16.6% (3,940 TWh) of total global electricity generation in 2015 (70% of renewable generation), followed by wind 3.7%, bio-power 2.0%, solar 1.2%, with geothermal, concentrating solar power and ocean power accounting for a combined 0.4%.

Renewable electricity generating capacity (including hydro) increased from 1,701 GW to 1,849 GW in 2015, an increase of 8.7%. Renewable capacity (excluding hydro) increased from 665 GW to 785 GW, an increase of 18%.

Renewables accounted for an estimated 62.5% of net additions to electricity supply in 2015 (renewables 147 GW; coal and gas 82 GW; nuclear 6.5 GW).

Wind and solar PV saw record additions for the second consecutive year, accounting for about 77% of new renewable installations, with hydro accounting for most of the remainder.

The REN21 report doesn't predict future growth of renewables, but the International Energy Agency in an October 2015 report projected 700 GW of new renewable power capacity from 2015−2020, with renewables projected to account for almost two-thirds of new power generation capacity over that period.2

Investment: Global investment in renewables also reached a new record level in 2015 in spite of obstacles such as the plunge in fossil fuel prices and the strength of the US dollar (which reduced the dollar value of non-dollar investments). Investments in renewables in 2015 were US$285.9 billion (not including >50 MW hydropower projects), a 5% increase on the previous year. Including investments in > 50 MW hydropower projects, total new investment during 2015 in renewable power and fuels (not including renewable heating and cooling) was at least US$329 billion.

For the first time in history, total investment in renewable power and fuels in developing countries in 2015 exceeded that in developed economies. The developing world, including China, India and Brazil, committed a total of US$156 billion (up 19% compared to 2014). China increased its investment by 17% to US$103 billion in 2015.

Christine Lins, executive secretary of REN21, said: "It clearly shows that the costs have come down so much that the emerging economies are now really focussing on renewables."3

By contrast, renewable energy investment in developed countries declined by 8% in 2015, to US$130 billion. The most significant decrease was in Europe (down 21%) while in contrast, renewable energy investment in the U.S. increased by 19% to US$44.1 billion.

Solar accounted for 56% of total new investment in renewable power and fuels, followed by wind 38.3%. All technologies except solar and wind power saw investment decline relative to 2014: biomass and waste-to-energy, small-scale hydropower, biofuels, geothermal energy and ocean energy.

Jobs: Employment in the renewable energy sector (not including large-scale hydropower) increased in 2015 to an estimated 8.1 million jobs (direct and indirect), up from 7.7 million in 2014. Solar PV and biofuels provided the largest numbers of renewable energy jobs. Large-scale hydropower accounted for an additional 1.3 million direct jobs.

Policies: As of December 2015, at least 173 countries had renewable energy targets and an estimated 146 countries had renewable energy support policies, at the national or state/provincial level. And 110 jurisdictions at the national or state/provincial level had enacted feed-in policies, making this the most widely adopted regulatory mechanism to promote renewable power.

Solar PV installations increased 25% in 2015 to reach a record 50 GW, lifting the global total to 227 GW. Solar PV installations in 2015 alone were nearly 10 times the world's cumulative solar PV capacity of a decade earlier. An estimated 22 countries had enough capacity as of December 2015 to meet more than 1% of their electricity demand, with far higher shares in some countries (e.g., Italy 7.8%, Greece 6.5% and Germany 6.4%).

Concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) grew by 10% to reach a total of 4.8 GW installed capacity. Large facilities (greater than 100 MW) are increasingly the norm, as is the incorporation of thermal energy storage and dry cooling technologies.

Wind power: Globally, a record 63 GW of wind power capacity was added in 2015 for a total of about 433 GW. Non-OECD countries were responsible for the majority of installations, led by China, and new markets emerged across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Off-shore wind power grew by an estimated 3.4 GW for a world total exceeding 12 GW. Wind power is playing a major role in meeting electricity demand in an increasing number of countries, including Denmark (42% of demand in 2015), Germany (more than 60% in four states) and Uruguay (15.5%).

Energy efficiency: By the end of 2015, at least 146 countries had enacted some kind of energy efficiency policy, and at least 128 countries had one or more energy efficiency targets. Although global primary energy intensity declined by more than 30% between 1990 and 2014, energy demand has risen steadily.

Fossil fuel subsidies: The REN21 report comments on preferential subsidies for fossil fuels:

"Fossil fuel subsidies have to be phased out, as they distort the true costs of energy and encourage wasteful spending and increased emissions. Fossil fuel subsidies also present a barrier to scaling up clean energy by: decreasing the costs of fossil fuel-powered electricity generation, thereby blunting the cost-competitiveness of renewables; creating an incumbent advantage that strengthens the position of fossil fuels in the electricity system; and creating conditions that favour investments in fossil fuel-based technologies over renewables. Fossil fuel subsidies were estimated to be over US$490 billion in 2014, compared with subsidies of only US$135 billion for renewables."

Nuclear power: REN21 includes representatives from the governments of several countries with nuclear power programs (including Brazil, India, South Africa, UAE, USA). But the balance of forces is anti-nuclear, hence this commentary in the report:

"Policy design should financially discourage investments in fossil fuels and nuclear, while also removing risk from investments in renewable energy. This is crucial for scaling up renewables, which can help close the energy access gap. Although there has been some divestment from fossil fuels and advances in renewable energy investment, fossil fuel and nuclear investments continue to be favoured over clean energy in many instances, particularly when short-term gains are the primary consideration and long-term thinking is discounted. This can occur when politicians think only in terms of the next election cycle, or when companies attempt to provide shareholders with quick returns. Furthermore, fossil fuels are more institutionalised and have long-standing, well-financed lobbies."

Heating and cooling: The REN21 report states:

"Modern renewable energy supplies approximately 8% of final energy for heating and cooling services worldwide in buildings and industry, the vast majority of which is provided by biomass, with smaller contributions from solar thermal and geothermal energy. However, approximately three-quarters of global energy use for heat is fossil fuel-based. Although the total capacity and generation of renewable heating and cooling technologies continued to rise, 2015 saw global growth rates decline, due in part to low global oil prices. Policy support for renewable heating and cooling remained far below support in other sectors."

Transport: The REN21 report states:

"Renewable energy accounted for an estimated 4% of global fuel for road transport in 2015. Liquid biofuels continued to represent the vast majority of the renewable energy contribution to the transport sector. ... Policies to promote the integration of renewable energy and electric vehicles, as well as the use of renewables in aviation, rail or shipping, have been slow to develop."

The report further states:

"More emphasis needs to be placed on strengthening the role of renewable energy in the heating and cooling and transport sectors, as well as on sector coupling. Policy support for the use of renewables in these sectors has advanced at a much slower pace over the past 10 years than it has in the power sector; currently renewable heat obligations exist in only 21 countries and biofuel mandates exist in only 66 countries, compared to 114 countries with renewable energy regulatory policies in the power sector."

IRENA report

A March 2016 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) proposes a doubling of renewable energy generation by 2030. The annual rate of renewable energy deployment would need to increase six-fold and would require an average annual investment of US$770 billion up to 2030.

The IRENA report outlines key benefits of a doubling of renewable power generation by 2030:

  • When coupled with energy efficiency, it would limit average global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels;
  • It would avoid up to 12 gigatonnes of energy-related CO2 emissions in 2030;
  • It would result in 24.4 million jobs in the renewable energy sector by 2030, compared to 9.2 million in 2014;
  • It would reduce air pollution enough to save up to 4 million lives per year in 2030;
  • It would boost the global GDP by up to US$1.3 trillion.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance report

In its annual New Energy Outlook report, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) anticipates further sharp reductions in the cost of solar and wind power accompanied by strong growth.5 The report does not assume any further policy measures post-2020 to speed up decarbonisation; i.e. the strong growth of renewables will be driven primarily by economics.

BNEF says solar energy costs, which have already fallen by 80% since 2008, will fall another 60% by 2040. Solar's "precipitous" cost decline sees it emerge as the least-cost generation technology in most countries by 2030. It will account for 3,700 GW, or 43%, of new power generating capacity added from 2016‒40 according to BNEF. Small-scale solar makes up a bit more than a third of this new capacity; the bulk of solar PV will be utility-scale. Overall, solar PV supplies 15% of world electricity by 2040.

The cost of onshore wind power will fall a further 41% by 2040. It will account for more than 20% of new power generating capacity added from 2016‒40.

Onshore wind and solar will be the cheapest ways of producing electricity in many countries during the 2020s and in most of the world in the 2030s, the report states.

Wind and solar will account for 64% of the 8,600 GW of new power generating capacity added worldwide over the next 25 years.

By 2040, zero-emission energy sources will make up 60% of installed capacity.

Electricity generation from wind and solar will rise ninefold to 10,591 TWh by 2040, and to 30% of total global electricity generation, from 5% in 2015.

Prices will remain low for coal and gas, because of falling demand, but wind and solar will still be cheaper than these fossil fuels by 2027 in most parts of the world. "This is a tipping point that results in rapid and widespread renewables development," the BNEF report says.

"With the increase in renewable generation comes a fall in the run-hours of coal and gas plants, contributing to the retirement of 819 GW of coal and 691 GW of gas worldwide over the next 25 years," the report states.

The fossil fuel plants remaining on-line will increasingly be needed, along with new flexible capacity, to help meet peak demand, as well as to ramp up when solar comes offline in the evening. The report states: "As natural gas and coal plants are increasingly idled in favor of renewables, their capacity factors will take a big hit, and lifetime cost of those plants goes up. Think of them as the expensive back-up power for cheap renewables."

On top of the US$7.8 trillion forecast in the report, BNEF says the world would need to invest another US$5.3 trillion ‒ or US$212 billion per year ‒ in zero-carbon power by 2040 to prevent CO2 rising above 450 parts per million.

The BNEF report has little to say about nuclear power and it anticipates negligible nuclear growth to 2040.6 It states that nuclear retirements in Europe to 2025 will slow the decline of fossil fuel generation, but still anticipates renewables generating 70% of Europe's electricity in 2040, up from 32% in 2015.

Once again it's worth noting that the BNEF report does not assume any further policy measures post-2020 to speed the growth of renewables; it isn't underpinned by ideology or wishful thinking. Likewise, the report's projection of long-term nuclear stagnation doesn't reflect any ideological disdain. On the contrary, the Bloomberg Editorial Board published a pro-nuclear editorial on June 9.7

References:

1. REN21, 2016, 'Renewables 2016 Global Status Report', www.ren21.net/status-of-renewables/global-status-report/

Key findings: www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/GSR_2016_KeyFindings1.pdf

Full report: www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/GSR_2016_Full_Report_REN21.pdf

2. International Energy Agency, Oct 2015, 'Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report', www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/MTrenew2015sum.pdf

3. Matt McGrath, 1 June 2016, 'Renewable energy surges to record levels around the world', www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-36420750

4. IRENA, 2016, 'REmap: Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future', www.irena.org/News/Description.aspx?NType=A&mnu=cat&PriMenuID=16&CatID=8...

Full report: www.irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publications/IRENA_REmap_2016_edition_re...

5. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, June 2016, 'New Energy Outlook', www.bloomberg.com/company/new-energy-outlook/

6. See graph: http://about.bnef.com/press-releases/coal-and-gas-to-stay-cheap-but-rene...

7. Bloomberg Editorial Board, 9 June 2016, '(Nuclear) Power to the People', www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-06-09/-nuclear-power-to-the-people

Renewable energy revolution

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#812
4502
15/10/2015
Article

Greenpeace has released the latest edition of its Energy [R]evolution series, first produced in 2005. The 364-page report has been produced by numerous experts and institutions.1

The Energy [R]evolution reports have an impressive track record. Energy consulting firm Meister Consultants Group noted in March 2015: "Over the past 15 years, a number of predictions − by the International Energy Agency, the US Energy Information Administration, and others − have been made about the future of renewable energy growth. Almost every one of these predictions has underestimated the scale of actual growth experienced by the wind and solar markets. Only the most aggressive growth projections, such as Greenpeace's Energy [R]evolution scenarios, have been close to accurate."2

The Energy [R]evolution provides mid-term projections but the focus of the report is much more ambitious and much less certain − mapping out a pathway to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

The report proposes a phase-out of fossil fuels starting with lignite by 2035, followed by coal (2045), then oil and then finally gas (2050). As with fossil fuels, nuclear power is also phased out "as fast as technically and economically possible".

The report details the extraordinary growth of renewables over the past decade, with 783 GW of new renewable power generation capacity installed from 2005 to 2014. However "the overall transition away from fossil and nuclear fuels to renewables is far too slow to combat dangerous climate change." Over the past decade almost as much new coal capacity (750 GW) has been installed as renewables.

Hence the need for coordinated plans and political commitment to rapidly replace dirty energy sources with renewables. Under the Energy [R]evolution scenario, the world would stay within the IPCC's 1,000 gigatonne "carbon budget" − total carbon emissions between 2012 and 2050 would be 744 gigatonnes in the Energy [R]evolution scenario and 667 gigatonnes in an 'Advanced' Energy [R]evolution scenario. The report envisages global emissions peaking at the end of this decade, a return to 1990 levels in 2030, a 60% reduction by 2040 and near-zero emissions in 2050 (excluding some non-energy sectors such as steel production).

Electricity

In the electricity sector, demand should be constrained by energy efficiency measures but even so there will be growing demand because of the electrification of transport and the need to generate synthetic fuels to replace fossil fuels.

The share of electricity generated by renewables doubles from 21% to 42% by 2030 under the Energy [R]evolution scenario, then expands to 72% in 2040 and 100% in 2050. Measures proposed to incorporate fluctuating power sources into reliable electricity systems include smart grids, demand side management, and energy storage.

 

2012 capacity (GW)

Greenpeace 2050

Energy [R]evolution (GW)

Greenpeace 2050

Advanced Energy [R]evolution (GW)

Hydro

1099

1503

1536

Biomass

87

746

742

Wind

277

5,575

8,040

Geothermal

11

485

708

Solar PV

97

6,745

9,295

Concentrating

solar power

3

1,473

2,555

Ocean

0

552

738

TOTAL

1,575

17,079

23,614

Heating and transport

Renewables meet around 21% of current global energy demand for heating − almost all of it biomass. In the Energy [R]evolution scenarios, energy efficiency measures reduce growing demand for heating by 33% in 2050, with the use of fossil fuels for heating replaced by a portfolio of renewable heating (solar collectors, geothermal, renewable energy-produced hydrogen) and biomass.

Decarbonising transport can largely be achieved by growing and electrifying public transport systems, as well as encouraging the uptake of ever-improving electric vehicles. Aviation and shipping are particularly difficult, but planes and ships could be powered using biofuels, hydrogen and synthetic fuels produced using electricity. Under the Energy [R]evolution scenario, just over half of road transport energy demand is met by electricity by 2050.

Jobs and costs

At every stage in the transition to 100% renewable energy, there are more energy sector jobs. The number rises from 29 million now to 48 million jobs in 2030. Solar PV would provide 9.7 million jobs by 2030, equal to the number of people working in the coal industry today. Jobs in wind power would grow to over 7.8 million, which is twice as many as are employed in oil and gas today

In the Energy [R]evolution scenario, US$48 trillion in investments is largely offset by US$39 trillion in fuel cost savings. In the Advanced Energy [R]evolution scenario, US$64.6 trillion in investments is mostly offset by US$42 trillion in fuel cost savings.

International Energy Agency report

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released its 'Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report'.3 The report notes that renewable electricity expanded at its fastest rate to date (130 GW) in 2014 and accounted for more than 45% of net additions to world capacity in the power sector.

Further, the IEA projects 700 GW of new renewable power capacity from 2015−2020, and that renewables will account for almost two-thirds of new power generation capacity over that period. The renewable share of generation is projected to rise from 22% in 2013 to over 26% in 2020.

The IEA report states that global average costs for onshore wind generation fell by 30% from 2010−2015, and are expected to decline a further 10% by 2020. Utility-scale solar PV fell two-thirds in cost and is expected to decline another 25% by 2020.

The IEA report states that renewables are not a "luxury" that only rich countries can afford. The report states that "the geography of deployment will increasingly shift to emerging economies and developing countries, which will make up two-thirds of the renewable electricity expansion to 2020. China alone will account for nearly 40% of total renewable power capacity growth and requires almost one-third of new investment to 2020."

Another report recently released by the IEA noted that renewable electricity generation has overtaken gas to become the second largest source of electricity worldwide, behind only coal. Renewables produced 22% of total electricity or 5,130 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2013, more than double nuclear power's output of 2,359 TWh.4

Meanwhile, the Energy Watch Group has released a report detailing the IEA's track record of grossly underestimating the growth of renewables.5 For example:

  • in 2010 the IEA projected 180 GW of solar PV capacity by the year 2024 but that figure was reached in January 2015.
  • the IEA's 2002 projection for wind power capacity in the year 2030 was actually reached 20 years earlier, in 2010.
  • the IEA's 2010 projection of renewable energy's share of global electricity generation in 2035 has already been reached ... 20 years earlier!

References:

1. Greenpeace International, September 2015, 'Energy [R]evolution: A sustainable world energy outlook 2015', www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/Campaign-reports/Climat...

2. Meister Consultants Group, 16 march 2015, Renewable Energy Revolution, www.mc-group.com/the-renewable-energy-revolution/

3. International Energy Agency, Oct 2015, 'Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report', www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/MTrenew2015sum.pdf

4. IEA, 'Electricity Information 2015', www.iea.org/bookshop/666-Electricity_Information_2015

Free excerpt: www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/Electricitytrends.pdf

Media release: www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/news/2015/august/renewable-electricity-gen...

5. Matthieu Metayer, Christian Breyer and Hans-Josef Fell, 2015, 'The projections for the future and quality in the past of the World Energy Outlook for solar PV and other renewable energy technologies', http://energywatchgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/EWG_WEO-Study_201...

Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #811, 23 Sept 2015

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#811
23/09/2015
Shorts

Climate change: Citigroup shows the way?

Sometimes confirmation comes from the most unexpected quarters. For example, consider a 132-page report from Citigroup: 'Energy Darwinism II; Why a Low Carbon Future Doesn't Have to Cost the Earth'.

The authors ask the question: Can we afford not to take effective action on climate change in Paris this coming December? And they answer: No. "Paris offers a generational opportunity; one that we believe should be firmly grasped with both hands."

The path of action Citigroup recommends is based heavily on investments in renewables and energy-saving technology. Nuclear power receives little attention. The report states: "One of the key theories from the original energy Darwin report was highlighting these differing rates of cost evolution of different generation technologies. Solar in particular was exhibiting learning rates in excess of 20% (i.e. the cost of a panel would fall by >20% for every doubling of installed capacity), wind at 7.4%, gas was evolving via the shale revolution in the US, while nuclear was becoming more expensive, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) had also increased in cost by around 10% per annum over the last decade."

In Citigroup's 'Action' scenario, renewables would account for 29.4% of global electricity generation in 2020 (hydro 17.0% and other renewables 12.4%), nuclear 12.4% and fossil fuels 58.3%.

The gap in actual outlays for the two alternatives over the next 25 years turns out to favor taking action now: "Citi's 'Action' scenario implies a total spend on energy of [US]$190.2 trillion while our 'inaction' scenario is actually marginally larger at $192 trillion. While in the Action scenario we spend considerably more on renewables (reducing in cost over time) and energy efficiency (effective negative energy usage), the resulting lower use of fossil fuels lowers the total cost in later years."

The up-front costs are entirely defensible investments, the authors argue; they help to prevent "profound impacts on countries, industries and companies" worldwide. The incremental costs are limited, they write, and ultimately lead to savings; they offer reasonable returns on investment and should not impact too harshly on global growth.

Calculated over the longer term, non-action will be far more costly to the business world – not to mention humanity.

The authors' treatment of the concept 'stranded assets' is interesting. Oil companies frequently point to the 'costs' (to them) of not pumping up every last drop of identified reserves. The authors turn the argument around: Acknowledging the companies' "pain", they point out that low commodity prices have already 'stranded' some of these resources, and are likely to continue to do so: "Over time, impacts may spread further to lower cost or lower emissions fuels, including currently producing projects."

Energy sources that require high investment with long-term payback, the report underlines, are especially vulnerable to subsiding demand and lower prices. Shale oil and developing entirely new coal provinces, as Australia is considering, are the examples offered. (Although unmentioned, nuclear new build springs to mind.)

One of the report's principal recommendations is that world credit institutions and market actors be engaged to help cover the initial costs. The report points to the emergence of international coalitions of investors that have taken pro-active stands on climate change, with a view to faciltate the transition to a low-carbon economy, and some innovative financing schemes to enable consumer-level investments in energy efficiency that have been implemented in various parts of the USA. It would seem that some parts of 'the market' are already taking positive measures spontaneously – that is, without demanding costly publicly financed enticements.

Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions, 14 Aug 2015, 'Energy Darwinism II: Why a Low Carbon Future Doesn't Have to Cost the Earth',

www.citivelocity.com/citigps/ReportSeries.action

www.citivelocity.com/citigps/ReportSeriesPrint.action?recordid=44.

− Charly Hulten, WISE Sweden


Global Apollo Program

An coalition of prominent people has come together to ask the world's governments to find US$15 billion per annum to invest in scientific research and development dedicated to the goal of making renewable energy cheaper than coal within 10 years.

The coalition includes

  • a former chief executive of oil company BP,
  • BBC documentary maker and naturalist David Attenborough,
  • a former UK minister for energy,
  • one of the world's leading economists on the study of what determines our happiness,
  • a leading climate scientist,
  • the former head of the UK's major business lobby group
  • the chief executive of consumer products company Unilever,
  • former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern
  • and other prominent scientists and economists

The coalition draws its inspiration from President John Kennedy's Apollo Program which targeted putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth within the decade. They note that publicly-funded renewable energy R&D has been "starved" of funding, making up under 2% of the total of publicly funded research and development.

The coalition statement reads as follows:

We the undersigned believe that global warming can be addressed without adding significant economic costs or burdening taxpayers with more debt. 

A sensible approach to tackling climate change will not only pay for itself but provide economic benefits to the nations of the world. 

The aspiration of the Global Apollo Program is to make renewable energy cheaper than coal within 10 years. We urge the leading nations of the world to commit to this positive, practical initiative by the Paris climate conference in December.

The plan requires leading governments to invest a total of $15 billion a year in research, development and demonstration of clean energy.

That compares to the $100 billion currently invested in defence R&D globally each year.

Public investment now will save governments huge sums in the future.

What is more, a coordinated R&D plan can help bring energy bills down for billions of consumers.

Renewable energy gets less than 2% of publicly funded R&D. The private sector spends relatively small sums on clean energy research and development.

Just as with the Apollo space missions of the 1960s, great scientific minds must now be assembled to find a solution to one of the biggest challenges we face.

Please support the Global Apollo Program – the world's 10 year plan for cheaper, cleaner energy.

www.globalapolloprogram.org

Why not nuclear and renewables?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#811
4497
23/09/2015
Dave Elliott − Professor of Technology Policy at the Open University, UK
Article

Nuclear plants do not generate carbon dioxide, so why can't we have nuclear AND renewables, supporting each other, as a response to climate change? In evidence to the UK Energy and Climate Change Select Committee in July, Amber Rudd MP, DECC Secretary of State, suggested that despite its high cost nuclear baseload 'enables us to support more renewables' and was needed since, 'as we all know, until we get storage right, renewables are unreliable'. Can nuclear really support renewables, and is it really low carbon?

The first point to make is that although nuclear plants themselves do not generate CO2, producing the fuel they use does. The mining and fabrication of nuclear fuel is an energy-intense, and hence (at present) carbon-intense, activity and, as demand for this fuel rises, the energy (and carbon) debt will rise since lower grade uranium ores will have to be used, undermining the carbon saving benefits of using nuclear plants.

In theory, nuclear energy or even (perversely) renewables, could be used to power nuclear fuel production so as to avoid this problem but there would still be diminishing returns – there are finite reserves of uranium. Overall, if we attempted to expand the use of nuclear dramatically to deal with climate change, we would exhaust the reserves rapidly unless new more fuel-efficient nuclear plants were developed e.g. fast breeders, and even that would not extend the life of the uranium resource indefinitely.

Nor would it deal with the other problems of nuclear power – safety, security, weapons proliferation and terrorist attack risks, rising costs, inflexible operation and active waste disposal. Indeed it could make them worse. There may be some technical options for limiting some of these problems (e.g. the development of smaller plants, plants using thorium and perhaps recycling some nuclear wastes) but, although there are (strong!) disagreements, some say nuclear fission may not be a significant energy supply option for the future.

Even so, it might be argued that nuclear plants can still prove useful in the interim, before the fuel scarcity problem kicks in, for example to backup variable renewables, as Rudd suggested. For good or ill, in fact it does not seem so. Nuclear plants can't vary their output rapidly or regularly without safety problems. It takes time for the activated xenon gas that is produced when reaction levels are changed to dissipate – it can interfere with proper/safe reactor performance.

In any case nuclear plants need to be run 24/7/365 to recoup their large capital cost. So nuclear plants can just about deal with some of the daily energy demand cycles (demand peaks in the evening, low demand at night) but not with the fast irregular variations likely with wind etc. on the grid – they can't be used to back up the short-term variable output from renewables. It is conceivable that they could be used to cover the occasional longer periods when wind etc. is at minimum. This seems to be what is offered as one option in a new report from the Energy Research Partnership.1 However, that would mean running the plants at lower levels at other times, ready to ramp up slowly to meet the lull periods, which would undermine their economics.

Moreover, if there is a large nuclear contribution and also a large renewables contribution, there can be head-to-head operational conflicts when energy demand is low e.g. at night in summer, when in the UK demand is around 20 GW. The UK is aiming for 16 GW of nuclear by around 2030 and more later (there is talk of 75 GW by 2050) and maybe 30 GW of renewables by around 2020, perhaps more later. Assuming you can't export all the excess, or store it all, which do you turn off when demand is low? The nuclear operators do not want nuclear output to be "curtailed". Neither do the renewable plant operators – they would lose money. It would be a waste either way.

Basically the two technologies are incompatible at large scale on the grid. What you need is one or the other: large, essentially inflexible, nuclear plants with large (very expensive) energy stores to take excess output at low energy demand times, coupled possibly with exporting any excess (as France does) OR a renewables-based system, with a flexible smart grid that balances the variations, using back-up plants (small cheap-to-run gas-fired plants initially, but biomass-fired increasingly), some energy storage (but not much – it is expensive) and demand-side management to reduce/delay peak demand until later. Surplus power at times of low demand can be exported (as with nuclear) and balanced with power imported from overseas if available – the time difference in demand and local variations in wind availability, e.g. across the EU, would help. Having a large inflexible nuclear base-load component on the grid, in such a system, just gets in the way, though a small nuclear component might just about be accommodated.

Basically, in the new system, unless you have a vast energy storage capacity (which would be very expensive), having large base-load plants is a PROBLEM not a solution. The old system, with base-load plus top-up, was OK with large inflexible plant, although wasteful (with huge thermal conversion losses), but if we are to use variable renewables on a large scale we need a more flexible system.

There are some other angles: the surplus power from renewables can be converted into hydrogen gas by electrolysis of water and stored, ready for use in a gas turbine plant to make power when demand is high. Or for use as a vehicle fuel. Germany is already doing this via several wind-to-gas/power-to-gas plants, some of them converting the hydrogen to methane gas, using CO2 captured from the air or from power station exhausts, to feed into the national gas main. It has been argued that if you do happen to have a large, already built, nuclear component (as in France) you could do the same with the excess power from that at night, but that seems to be just a way to sustain the over large nuclear fleet for a bit longer! It would not be economic to build large numbers of new nuclear plants to do this, even if their fuel supply could be guaranteed and low carbon long term. On that last point, interestingly, a new study suggests that using thorium could lead to higher net carbon emissions.2

It is conceivable that nuclear fusion may be viable in the longer term (possibly post 2050). Some say that, rather than being used for base-load, fusion might be used for hydrogen production, in which case it might offer a way to balance variable renewables. However that is very speculative, and fusion is still some way off. Certainly, even if all goes well with the current research work, fusion won't be available in time to deal with the urgent problem of climate change, or to help renewables to do that in the near term.

In terms of the main focus for energy supply, both now and long term, it seems that we really do need to make a choice between nuclear and renewables.

[Reprinted from http://blog.environmentalresearchweb.org/2015/08/22/why-not-nuclear-and-...

References:

1. http://erpuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/ERP-Flex-Man-Full-Report.pdf

2. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0196890415003957

France's renewable energy potential

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#803
4468
07/05/2015
Article

A report by ADEME, a French government agency under the Ministries of Ecology and Research, shows that a 100% renewable electricity supply by 2050 in France is feasible and would cost hardly any more than a mix of 50% nuclear, 40% renewables, and 10% fossil fuels (primarily gas).

The 119-page report is the result of 14 months of detailed research, and examines the feasibility and costs of several different models ranging from a 40% reliance on renewables by 2050 up to 100% reliance.

For an all-renewables scenario, the report proposes an ideal electricity mix: 63% from wind, 17% from solar, 13% from hydro and 7% from renewable thermal sources (including geothermal energy).

To match supply and demand (and deal with intermittency), the report proposes demand management (electric cars, for example, charging and discharging), import/export, short-term storage (batteries and compressed air installations, for example), pumped-storage hydro, and power-to-gas-to-power technologies (hydrogen/methane).

The report estimates that the electricity production cost would be 119 euros per megawatt-hour in the all-renewables scenario, compared with a near-identical figure of 117 euros per MWh with a mix of 50% nuclear, 40% renewables, and 10% fossil fuels. The current average cost is 91 euros per MWh.

Damien Siess, ADEME's deputy director for production and sustainable energy, noted that renewable energy sources are currently more expensive than nuclear, but the cost of renewables is falling while the cost of nuclear is increasing, mainly because of the safety standards required for new reactors such as the EPR.

The full report (in French):

L'Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Energie (ADEME), 2015, 'Vers un mix électrique 100% renouvelable en 2050',

www.ademe.fr/sites/default/files/assets/documents/rapport100enr_comite.pdf

http://fr.scribd.com/doc/261245927/le-rapport-100-energies-renouvelables

English language summary:

Terje Osmundsen, 20 April 2015, www.energypost.eu/french-government-study-95-renewable-power-mix-cheaper...

Meanwhile, a new report by the China National Renewable Energy Centre finds that China could generate 85% of its electricity and 60% of total energy from renewables by 2050.

Article: www.rtcc.org/2015/04/22/chinas-electricity-could-go-85-renewable-by-2050...

Report: 'China high renewables 2050 roadmap − summary', www.scribd.com/doc/262740831/China-high-renewables-2050-roadmap-summary

Checking in on the energy transition in the US

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#805
4475
11/06/2015
Michael Mariotte
Article

In Germany it's called the Energiewende − the energy transition. It's a deliberate decision to move away from nuclear power and fossil fuels in favor of renewables and energy efficiency. And it's working. Renewables are skyrocketing, nuclear reactors have closed and more shutdowns are on the way, and coal use is declining too1, despite the misleading claims of renewable energy haters.

Here in the US, it isn't called anything −  if we have an "official" government policy at all it's "all of the above", which is the same as saying meaningless. But an ad hoc energy transition is nonetheless taking place in the U.S.

In April, 100% of all new electric generating capacity in the US was wind and solar –511 MW of wind and 50 MW of solar.2 For the year so far, renewables account for 84.1% of new capacity, with natural gas supplying the rest. The amount of solar is understated, however, since it doesn't account for rooftop solar and other distributed generation. Nor, of course, do these numbers, compiled by the Energy Information Administration, attempt to quantify the effect of energy efficiency on avoiding the need for new generating capacity. There has been no new capacity from nuclear, coal or oil.

This is an energy transition already underway, quietly, with some government support but without an actual transition policy − indeed, with a policy that is inherently hostile to the transition.

As Ken Bossong of the Sun Day Campaign points out, "Renewable energy capacity is now greater than that of nuclear (9.14%) and oil (3.92%) combined. In fact, the installed capacity of wind power alone has now surpassed that of oil. In addition, total installed operating generating capacity from solar has now reached and surpassed the one-percent threshold −  a ten-fold increase since December 2010."

But it's an energy transition with a long ways to go. Germany is the clear global leader in solar power −  despite its relatively low solar potential −  with 38,200 MW of solar installed as of the end of 2014. The US ranked fifth then with 18,280 MW of installed capacity, also behind China, Japan and Italy −  although the US likely has passed Italy by now. Given solar's low capacity factor, that's only about 4.5 large nuclear reactors worth of power installed in the US.

And it looks worse when you look at solar from a per capita basis.3 The US barely cracks the top 20 of installed solar capacity per person, at 19th in the world, the US is behind nations like Bulgaria (8th), non-nuclear Austria (13th) and even nuclear-dominated France (15th).

Still, the US is a big country with a lot of generating capacity (China is even bigger, and thus doesn't even make the top 20 on a per capita basis). It takes a while to install that amount of any form of generating capacity. And solar is growing faster than any other form. Remember that 10-fold increase in solar capacity in less than five years. With no indications of slowing down, there's good reason to believe that before the end of this decade another ten-fold increase will occur. That would put solar alone above 10% of our electricity generation, and wind will provide even more.

Another ten-fold increase after that would be impossible of course, since it would make solar the only generating source in the US. But this is how the energy transition in the US is occurring: without formal policy, without significant government support. Even though the nuclear and fossil fuel industry hacks continue to carp about subsidies for renewables, the reality is that their industries have been far more heavily subsidized over the years than renewables. If renewables do get the majority of the subsidy crumbs left on the table by the budget-slashers these days, and that's by no means clear, it's simply because it's their due for being ignored so long while untold billions of dollars were heaped on dirty energy technologies.

The US can, must, and all indications are will continue to bring renewables online rapidly. And as that happens, higher-cost and dirtier nuclear and coal plants inevitably will continue to close. The rationale for keeping them open with ratepayer bailouts becomes thinner and thinner even to those expected to be warm to utilities clinging to expensive and outdated dirty power plants. In the last week of May alone, the Illinois legislature deferred action on Exelon's 18-month pursuit of a nuclear bailout4, while the Ohio Public Utilities Commission has put off its action on a similar request from First Energy to bail out the Davis-Besse reactor and some coal plants.5 Whichever way those entities end up deciding on those issues, it's clear that the old arguments aren't working for the utilities. Even skeptics are now having to acknowledge the economic and environmental benefits of clean energy technologies.

And so the transition continues, largely out of sight to the average American and perhaps even less so to the average politician. But that doesn't make it any less real.

Michael Mariotte regularly writes at www.safeenergy.org

References:

1. http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/nuclear-isnt-the-only-energy-phase-out-h...

2. www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2015/05/wind-and-solar-account-for...

3. http://breakingenergy.com/2015/05/25/actually-the-us-is-a-dismal-solar-p...

4. www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20150527/NEWS11/150529874/springfield-ne...

5. www.dispatch.com/content/stories/business/2015/05/28/issue-of-coal-plant...

About: 
Davis-Besse

Pages