Friday, December 19, 2008

The Whole Energy Portfolio

staLogojan05a Investors Business Daily has an interesting editorial touting nuclear energy in terms of interest to their readers: the pocketbook.

Until recently, there was no domestic capacity to manufacture the huge components needed to build nuclear reactors. Global nuclear giant Areva and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding are partnering to start building heavy nuclear components. The U.S. had very little enrichment capacity. Now, two new facilities are under construction, with two more planned.

Westinghouse, for one example, has already created more than 3,000 jobs and expects to add 2,900 for a development in Louisiana that will be used to construct modules for new nuclear plants.

Each new reactor will employ 1,400 to 1,800 people during construction, rising to as high as 2,400 jobs as the facility is built. During operation, a nuclear plant typically has a skilled work force of between 400 and 700 employees.

They’ve got this about right – jobs, jobs, and more jobs is certainly the topic of the day - and we certainly don’t disagree. The name of the editorial, however, is Bailing Out Wind and a big part of the argument is that wind and solar power are big financial soaks for not very much return:

Wind power is currently uncompetitive. … to "invest" in wind and solar to replace fossil fuels will be expensive. … to achieve even modest amounts of wind energy in [Texas] would cost rate- and taxpayers at least $60 billion through 2025. … green subsidies will cost German electricity consumers nearly 27 billion euros in the next two years. … Each of the 35,000 solar jobs in Germany is subsidized to the tune of 130,000 euros.

You get the idea.

We view this with a somewhat fishy eye and wonder whether what  drives the newspaper’s embrace of nuclear energy is strictly on the merits or enhances a disdain of traditional “green” energy – maybe on ideological grounds. But they’re not exactly wrong, either. The differing amounts of energy a wind or solar farm can produce versus a nuclear plant is pretty stark.

But still, it seem a narrow approach – the rise of hybrid-electric cars and a smart grid or grid overlay to enhance energy transmission to service them, and the ramping down of fossil fuels and foreign-derived oil, argues in favor of keeping all options open – and keeping government in the loop. Neither wind nor solar energy seem to us industries that have yet become government-sustained sinkholes. (But let’s check in again after a few years of the Obama administration.)


Rod Adams said...

Investors Business Daily is doing what it is supposed to do - provide advice for people who want to know where to put their precious money with the best chance of getting a return on their investment. Investing is inherently a weeding out process that makes choices - a dollar invested in GE cannot also be invested in Areva.

Only governments with the power to make money from thin air would create an investment portfolio by "keeping all their options open". Though others are free to hold their own opinions, I have worked pretty hard to develop mine, so I do not mind sharing.

It is a waste of money to build giant wind farms or solar arrays. They can only compete by getting a steady stream of taxpayer money or by forcing utility ratepayers to continually pay a higher than market rate for the power they produce. They do not carry their full share of the burden of keeping a stable grid and have to depend on generators that get their heat from controllable combustion or fission in order to take care of power factors, frequency and voltage control.

Distributed wind and solar collectors have their niche uses, but they do not belong on the grid on which we all depend and they do not deserve any subsidy payments from our tax dollars.

I know that many large NEI members have huge amounts of capital invested in wind and solar in order to capture some of those available tax dollars and credits, so I cannot expect the NEI blog to criticize those energy "alternatives". Fortunately, critical readers are not under similar constraints.

Marcel F. Williams said...

You're right Rod. Unfortunately wind and solar are the politically correct icons of the new energy age.

Hopefully, utilities and investors (including the Federal government) will see the wisdom of investing in a little bit of wind and solar (just to appease the left)-- and in a lot of nuclear to help keep the lights on and to solve the climate crisis.

Marje Hecht said...

The "Keeping all their options open" attitude is a loser if you intend to get the U.S. and world economy going again. Learn about energy flux density.

Wind is already a sinkhole--without subsidies it would die.


Martin Burkle said...

I would like to know more about the value of the kilowatts generated by an actual wind farm. I see people discussing capacity factors (23% to 50%) but can someone point me to an annual report for a wind farm? I am from Indiana and have been looking for detailed production reports from the Benton county wind farm. Does the farm get 'time of day' indexing for power produced? How much income is generated?

Is the actual data for wind farms so bad that it is hidden or is it someplace I have not looked yet?

Reiner Kuhr said...

Deployment of large amounts of renewable generation which has limited availability will increase our dependence on gas fired peaking and intermediate power generation units, with associated impacts on our environment and economic security. Natural gas is our best source of natural hydrogen and should be valued based on our long term need for hydrogen in our oil, chemical and petrochemical industries.

Also, the advent of rechargeable hybrids and low cost off peak power rates provides a major opportunity for the power grid to replace a significant amount of oil in the transportation market. Increased demand for offpeak power will increase the value of baseload units, including new nuclear power generating stations. A flatter load duration curve in our major power grids will improve overall power generation economics and favor new baseload capacity installation. This means that new nuclear power plants can have a major impact on our future transportation energy and costs. Long term stable energy prices associated with new nuclear facilities will help stabilize long term transportation energy cost.