Friday, December 19, 2008

Scientific American: A Second Look at Nuclear

Scientific-American-Nuclear-Wind-SolarMatthew Wald, Energy reporter for The New York Times, has written the cover story for Scientific American's special edition, Earth 3.0. Wald's piece, "Can Nuclear Power Compete?", went online Tuesday and is currently the most-read energy story on the SciAm site. The pull quote,

...Like another moon shot, the launch of new reactors after a 35-year hiatus in orders is certainly possible, though not a sure bet. It would be easier this time, the experts say, because of technological progress over the intervening decades. But as with a project as large as a moon landing, there is another question: Would it be worthwhile?

A variety of companies, including Wallace’s, say the answer may be yes. Manufacturers have submitted new designs to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s safety engineers, and that agency has already approved some as ready for construction, if they are built on a previously approved site. Utilities, reactor manufacturers and architecture/engineering firms have formed partnerships to build plants, pending final approvals. Swarms of students are enrolling in college-level nuclear engineering programs. And rosy ­projections from industry and government predict a surge in construction.
Characteristic of Wald's reporting, the article is even-handed and thorough. One small complaint? The online producers at did not include sidebar material from the print version. Two of the more interesting charts are below.




Anonymous said...

this article provides some information that is based more on green enthusiasm than on reality.

The costs of electricity from windmills is in Germany (22000 MW installed) paid with 9,2 c (euro) about 13 c$
The investment costs for windmills given looks very low. It needs to be mentioned as well that a windmill is usually producing on average 17% of nominal capacity a nuclear plant at more than 80%. Though the investment needs to be multiplied x4
The electricity from windmills is erratic. It does not replace any coal fired plant. These plants needs to be kept on fire in case of low wind. Though this electricity is nearly useless.


Anonymous said...

From one anonymous surfer to another: You don't have any of your facts straight.

A recent wind analysis specific to ERCOT in Texas showed that 80% of wind's production displaced nat gas but about 20% displaced coal (see top of pg. 21).

Here's a whole report on wind capacity factors and how they are generally exaggerated. The report mentions a European average of 21% over the last 5 years.

I'd like to see the source for the German wind cost data. The US is running about 4-8 cents/kWh. That puts wind in a highly competitive position relative to other new plants in the US.

We always have nat gas plants on reserve whether wind is part of the picture or not. These plants are literally paid whether they run or not. If the US had a rational demand side management plan that included voluntary real time pricing measures you wouldn't have to rely on reserve capacity so much.

Electricity is electricity whether it comes from a nat gas plant or a wind plant. The primary criteria
that differentiates the generation technologies should always be cost. For wind this should include the costs of maintaining a reliable supply of electricity in the face of wind's variability. These costs are real (about 1 cent/kWh) but they are hardly the deal breaker that they're made out to be.

Anonymous said...

Would like to leave with a notice that is an anti-wind power site. It's bias is obviously anti wind power. It's articles are not peer reviewed in any fashion and this one's capacity factor numbers are contradicted in articles from the DOE's wind power review 2007 and wind power 2030 articles as well as the IEA. So take windwatch stuff with a grain of salt.

The windpower 2030 from the DOE pegged the additional costs from wind to be lower than 1c/kWhr. Such costs are lowered with better predictive modeling so that standby generators are kept off when not used.

I do find that the overal costs of that are put up are contradictory to other sources. For wind, in 2007, the installed costs went up to the $1700's. The cost per kWhr is totally derived from who knows what since there is no actual reference to any factors like discount rate or what it actually is.

It seems like a delivered cost which would artificially lower the price of nuclear since it wouldn't include the interest charges on the large capital costs. A better overal scheme would be to use levelized costs rather than delivered costs. From I believe the IEA, levelized costs would make coal the cheapest, wind second and nuclear trailing third.

I found the article to be somewhat balance in what could derail nuclear but way too pessimistic in it's evaluation of alternative generation and technologies.