Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Comparative Energy Production Costs, Materials

Large countries require large power generation capacity. Recent proposals to convert power generation to wind and solar renewable energy have received enthusiastic support at the highest levels of the US Congress and European governments. Unfortunately, people at the highest levels of those institutions tend toward innumeracy, and seem incapable of making basic data comparisons.
Though wind turbines don't consume fuel, it takes at least 150,000 lb of steel, concrete, and fiberglass to build a single 3-MW turbine. Thus, turbines have a carbon footprint that is laid down before they ever generate a single kilowatt. And detractors point out that steel and concrete are both energy intensive, carbon-emitting industries. There are also networks of roads needed to service wind farms. And wind turbines take land, somewhere between 60 and 300 acres/MW. (For comparison, nuclear and coal plants generate about 1,000 MW/acre). _BrianWang

Wind and solar require on-call backup energy generators in order to be viable, usually gas turbines. The new Altair lithium titanate utility scale batteries may eventually be scaled up to practical size, or sodium sulfide batteries may eventually become available for utility backup at the scale needed. Both would be incredibly expensive.

The clear winner in terms of materials, land use, and baseload reliability is nuclear. Particularly in the age of "carbon hysteria" and peak oil mania.

The Chinese have apparently come to the same conclusion, and are trying to tie up the Westinghouse output of AP-1000 nuclear reactors for a decade or so. China will no doubt run up the price of nuclear fuel as well--which is not such a bad thing, since security around the sale and transport of nuclear fuel might improve even a bit more, with higher costs--which are a negligible cost of running a nuclear power plant.



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