Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nuclear Power Costs Up Front

In 2005, a few would-be [nuclear] reactor builders said they could construct a facility generating 1.2 to 1.6 gigawatts for $2,000 per kilowatt of capacity. Now, they put the cost at $4,000 per kilowatt....

...The Electric Power Research Institute, a utility consortium based in Palo Alto, CA, recently put the capital cost of a new coal plant at under $3,000 per kilowatt and that of a natural-gas plant at $800 per kilowatt. _TechnologyReview
There are the costs of installing a power plant, in dollars per kilowatt, and the costs of generating electricity from a power plant, given in [fractions of] dollars per kilowatt-hour. Both must be taken into account when planning a sound energy strategy. In the above chart, nuclear would fall between coal and gas, and wind would fall between oil and solar.

A nuclear plant may cost $4,000 per kw to install compared to a solar plant at $10,000 per kw and a large wind plant at $4,000 per kw. A coal plant is cheap at $3,000 per kw and a gas plant is a steal at $800 per kw.

Wind generators, necessarily exposed to the elements, begin to break down after 10 years compared to a projected 60 year life for a nuclear plant. Large solar plants are likewise unproven for endurance over the long haul.

Wind and solar are non-baseload, non-dispatchable power sources -- unreliable. They must be backed up by more reliable forms of power. This increases the expense of power management immensely. It is these long-term costs that pile up over time and make one wish he had built a nuclear plant instead.

Nuclear plants -- like hydroelectric plants -- are very expensive to build, but can provide many decades of reliable service if maintained properly.

Of course the economics shifts when the small, modular reactors come onto the scene. These new factory-built reactors will be cheaper to build, install, and operate. They can be scaled to fit the demand, and used for a wide variety of purposes. They will be baseload power available anywhere on Earth, the oceans, or in space.

Wind energy advocates are fighting a losing battle against time and technology. Wind power is only suitable for particular places and particular niches, at small to intermediate scales.

Solar power has wider application -- particularly considering the eventual placement of solar power off-planet.

Fossil fuel power is doomed by the limited locations and amounts of fossil fuels. Perhaps a century more before almost complete replacement.

Only nuclear (including fusion), off-planet solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and bioenergy can provide the kind of on-demand dispatchable power that future human societies will require.



Blogger John Nicklin said...

I have some questions about off planet solar collection. Where would the collectors be located? I assume that a synchronous orbit would be desirable since it would simplify the transmission of the resulting power to the surface receiving station. That would put the satellite in shadow for some part of the day, I think. If that is the case, then there would be a dropout in power.

I defer to your superior knowledge in this matter.

8:42 AM  
Blogger szilard said...

What's wrong with on-planet solar in deserts and oceans? Just because of the day-night cycle, plus cosine of incident angle issues? It should still be much cheaper than anything in space. Eventually we'll have to go to space, but that's because we covered up all of our deserts, and we need more, plus more place to put the 3 trillion people in a few hundred years. There is a lot of room in outer space, and probably space stations will eventually hold 99% of all life that originated on this planet, and this planet will be preserved as a natural reservation/museum.

11:52 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

John, I understand that the SPS would be in shadow for about an hour a day -- but only for a few days a year around the two equinoxes.

In other words, over 99% of the time they will be in the sunlight.

Szilard, the only thing wrong with placing large solar power plants in deserts is the inefficiency -- compared to space based solar, (and nuclear, clean coal, etc.)

But since it will be a long time before the money is freed up to put an SPS into GEO, the point is moot.

I only mention orbital SPS in the context of long term energy planning.

8:44 AM  

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