Skip to main content

Renewables did not surpass nuclear in 2010

Cleantechnica has a post referencing a report (pdf) from the Worldwatch Institute that claims renewables (wind, solar and biomass) have surpassed nuclear energy. This is only true if we were to look at one metric: capacity additions (megawatts). A more important metric, however, is output (megawatt-hours). Here’s the Institute’s claim (page 4):

In 2010, for the first time, worldwide cumulated installed capacity of wind turbines (193 gigawatts*), biomass and waste-to-energy plants (65 GW), and solar power (43 GW) reached 381 GW, outpacing the installed nuclear capacity of 375 GW prior to the Fukushima disaster.

Good job for those technologies. They still have a long ways to go, however, to be able to match the same output as nuclear.

Below is a chart showing the electric generation fuel shares worldwide from the International Energy Agency’s 2010 Key Stats report (pdf).

image

Nuclear provided 13.5% of the world’s electricity in 2008 and renewables provided 2.8% (excluding hydro). The Other category includes the same renewable technologies as the Worldwatch’s report plus a few others. Yet, despite renewables “outpacing” nuclear in capacity in 2010, the actual output was more like one-fifth of nuclear’s output. If renewables were to surpass nuclear in output, then the amount of capacity needed would be almost five times as much.

Further, Cleantechnica and the Worldwatch’s report referenced an analysis from a Duke University professor (prepared for NC WARN) claiming solar is now cheaper than nuclear. The New York Times even picked up on the Duke report. But what they probably missed was that the NY Times had to distance themselves from the analysis and that the actual report had flaws in and of itself.

If Worldwatch wanted to provide a meaningful report, then they should use some of its efforts for analyzing nuclear and apply it to other technologies for comparison. There are a lot of folks who would be interested to know the historical performances of wind, solar and other techs. I’m sure we’d find that other technologies do not have rosy histories either. Otherwise, Worldwatch's annual regurgitation of nuclear statistics does little to provide readers with any perspective.

Update 4/22, 1 pm EDT: I left the following comment at 10 am on two posts at Cleantechnica's site and they haven't shown up yet three hours later. A few other comments have been approved since then. Hmmm...

When it comes to actual production, renewables are far from surpassing nuclear worldwide. Folks here may be interested in a different take: http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com/2011/04/renewables-did-not-surpass-nuclear-in.html

David Bradish
Nuclear Energy Institute

Comments

The wind doesn't blow consistantly everywhere and I can't imagine running a Ford plant on solar panels. Coal is a bad word and we've pretty much dammed up everything we can. Is there is any other serious industrial sized power gen option besides nuclear?
John Wheeler said…
I posted a similar comment on the story three days ago. They did publish my comment but continued to argue against my assertion that actual output is different than rated capacity.

Either they do not understand the difference between rated capacity and actual output, or they don't care. Then again, perhaps they do understand it, but realize most of their readers won't bother to read beyond the headline.
Alan said…
Something isn't right in your analysis. Think about capacity factors. The majority of the capacity number should be wind, but this doesn't make sense. That 2.5% is very small. Think of it this way, use % as a energy unit, representing a percent of 2008 world energy use.

Nuclear net capacity factor:
15.9 / 375 = 0.0424 % / GW(cap)

Now, worldwide nuclear capacity factor certainly isn't greater than 90% in the typical measure of generation over capacity. Use this number to get a comparable number from all renewables:

((2.8 / 381) * 0.9) / (15.9 / 375) = 0.155994652, or 15%

And that's conservatively high, if you use a lower CF for nuclear, the figure is lower. Even the changes 2008-2010 won't affect this much and will err on the high side. Wind power does not have a capacity factor of 15%, it is much higher. This confirms my suspicion, the 2.5% versus 15.9% is somehow not representing what's claimed - two similar capacity ratings.

Check EIA data on capacity for renweables worldwide:
http://tonto.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/iedindex3.cfm?tid=2&pid=34&aid=7&cid=regions&syid=2004&eyid=2008&unit=MK

It gives 200 GW in 2008. According to the graph in the referenced post, wind accounts for almost all net change, and gets almost to 40 GW, and the data ends in 2010. So correct for this by 200+40*2= 280 GW. Compare to claimed 381 GW. I think the 280 GW is much more right, and it even includes geo.

AH! Found the error. The report includes small hydro. So it is accounted for as hydroelectric generation, which throws off the prior calculation.

However, that's not what they say on the blog. It's "wind turbines, biomass and waste-to-energy plants, and solar power reached".

This claim is incorrect.
Zach said…
Hello,

Thank you for your follow-up to our piece. I'm sorry you had to wait on your comment, but comments with links in them are grabbed by our system and must be moderated -- too much SPAM in the world. other comments were auto-approved by the system.

As I think I made pretty clear in the article (and in comments on our post), the statistic of focus was capacity because that is the statistic where we saw a crossover. When we get to the output crossover, I imagine we will cover that.

I think you don't give the Worldwatch report much credit -- it is a very insightful, thorough report on everything nuclear. Of course, every report has its limits -- while it covered some renewable energy factors (quite well), the focus was nuclear. I think you can understand that. It was actually very useful, I think, that it went above & beyond a typical nuclear report by comparing it so thoroughly and carefully to other energy sources.

Nuclear has its benefits, but it also has its downsides. I think the report gave a very balanced view of both.

Anyway,.. it was nice to run into a continued discussion of our post.

Thank You,

Zach
Neil Howes said…
Last time I looked hydro was part of the renewable mix, so in 2008, total renewable power production exceeded nuclear.
But since 2008, 70GW of wind capacity has been added(17GW in China in 2010 alone) and considerable hydro(3 Georges) also added so that total renewable output has certainly increased faster than net nuclear(nuclear may have declined?)
David Bradish said…
I think you don't give the Worldwatch report much credit

And I don't intend to. They've been releasing their annual reports for years and they all try to show poor nuclear performance.

Nuclear has its benefits, but it also has its downsides. I think the report gave a very balanced view of both.

I don't think we're reading the same thing. I couldn't find one benefit of nuclear mentioned in the 80 page report (unless I missed it). One obvious benefit that could have been mentioned is the difference between capacity factors among technologies. Yet the authors neglected any mention of this like it doesn't matter. The high reliable capacity factors of nuclear are a big reason why companies want to build them. That's just one easy benefit that could have been mentioned for balance.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…