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Published on March 18th, 2011 | by Zachary Shahan

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Offshore Wind Energy Cheaper than Nuclear Energy, EU Climate Chief Says

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March 18th, 2011 by Zachary Shahan 

offshore wind turbineI wrote a short piece last week on onshore wind energy being cost-competitive with coal in some regions. Now, EU climate chief Connie Hedegaard has added that offshore wind energy is cheaper than nuclear.

Offshore Wind Energy is Very, Very Cheap — Cheaper than Nuclear

You often see people claiming that nuclear energy is so cheap — (I always wonder if their figures are based on what nuclear energy projects are projected to cost or the actual cost of such projects, which often ends up beings several times higher). Of course, not even taking the great risk posed by nuclear power plants into account, wind power costs have been dropping in recent years and, as Hedegaard (referring to offshore wind energy, in particular) contends, “People should believe that this is very, very cheap.”

“Some people tend to believe that nuclear is very, very cheap, but offshore wind is cheaper than nuclear,” Hedegaard says.

EU May Learn from Nuclear Catastrophe in Japan

While leading U.S. Republicans in Congress think we have nothing to learn from the nuclear catastrophe in Japan and the Obama administration has said that nuclear still needs to be a part of our clean energy solutions, the tone is very different in the EU.

“There are 143 nuclear power plants in Europe and they are not going to disappear,” Hedegaard said at the European Wind Energy Association’s annual conference in Brussels. “But when it comes to new energy capacity that discussion is likely to be very much influenced by what is happening in Japan.”

Even without taking the risks of nuclear energy into account (and the problem of tremendously long-term storage), the supposed need for nuclear in order to get off of potentially more dangerous coal is quite dubious.

Solar Energy Also Cheaper than Nuclear Energy

And remember that last summer, John O. Blackburn, a professor of economics at Duke University in North Carolina, and Sam Cunningham, a graduate student at Duke, wrote a paper titled “Solar and Nuclear Costs — The Historic Crossover” that reported solar photovoltaic energy had become cheaper than nuclear.

And really, beyond the costs, what are the risks of wind turbines or solar panels failing?

Is it time to finally let the nuclear dream of “energy too cheap to meter” fade away?

Related Stories:

Photo via Nuon/flickr

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About the Author

spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as the director/chief editor. Otherwise, he's probably enthusiastically fulfilling his duties as the director/editor of Solar Love, EV Obsession, Planetsave, or Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and wind energy expert. If you would like him to speak at a related conference or event, connect with him via social media. You can connect with Zach on any popular social networking site you like. Links to all of his main social media profiles are on ZacharyShahan.com.



  • Roland
  • Pingback: Legal Marijuana and Nuclear Free World = Economic Sustainability? – EcoLocalizer

  • http://gomakesolarpanels.com/affordable-solar-energy/ affordable solar energy

    Solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal power all have potential to be more affordable once the technology starts to get more efficient (with investment). They key is really to get off of fossil fuels (whether foreign or domestic) as quickly as possible.

  • Pingback: Offshore Wind Power Cheaper than Nuclear Power, EU Climate Chief Emphasizes – Planetsave.com: climate change and environmental news

  • Pingback: Say Goodbye to Nuclear Power – EcoLocalizer

  • Bart

    Even if wind and solar are cheaper, I do not think that this for the eu is the issue. The issue is, however, capacity. The amount of gigawatts one can produce.
    I suggest we invest more in clean energies to make them indeed cheap in terms of euros per watt, so that when the nuclear plants are turned off, we are not in the dark and with a slowing economy.
    Until then I fear the environmentalists must be ready to see the reality of things and that all taken into account, clean & green energy is not ready to take over from nuclear.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

      reliability is a big issue that we see a lot of incorrect claims about — i’ll come back to that in a full post soon. i have to say that i think it is purely a political issue now, not a technical one

  • Bob Wallace

    A link to Hedegaard’s statement? Was she saying that offshore wind is currently cheaper than nuclear (new nuclear I would assume) or on track to become cheaper? Did she put numbers to her statement?

    BTW, if you check Blackburn’s article I think you’ll find that PV has reached parity with new nuclear if one includes federal subsidies for PV. I believe he was making a statement about the best financial decision for North Carolina to make, not a statement about the absolute price of solar vs. nuclear.

    (Of course the quoted price of new nuclear does not include all federal subsides, so equality might have been reached on an absolute level.)

    • http://zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

      the link to the Guardian article that quotes Hedegaard is in my piece above (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/mar/17/wind-cheaper-nuclear-eu-climate). she seems to very clearly be saying that offshore wind is cheaper than nuclear (yes, i would assume new nuclear as well) now.

      i am pretty sure that Blackburn was talking about the avg. cost for the nation, not for that region, but will look into it. also, believe it was in reference to the costs, not the price. but it wouldn’t make much difference. as noted: “From 1943 to 1999 the U.S. government paid nearly $151 billion, in 1999 dollars, in subsidies for wind, solar and nuclear power, Marshall Goldberg of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, a research organization in Washington, wrote in a July 2000 report. Of this total, 96.3 percent went to nuclear power.” solar and wind have a long ways to go to catch up

  • BlueRock

    > And really, beyond the costs, what are the risks of wind turbines or solar panels failing?

    This is a point I often make about the relative risks. The nuke fan club have no coherent response.

    As for costs, renewables are arguably already cheaper – even without the massive externalities of fossils and nukes added in to the mix.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

      Exactly. The private market takes this into account much better than governments do. Nuclear could not survive *anywhere* without massive government support. The risks of nuclear, coal, and natural gas are grossly underrepresented in the costs, in my opinion. But nuclear especially

      The thing I have thought about numerous times in the past couple weeks — what are the risks of wind turbines crashing (even though they didn’t in Japan) or of solar panels breaking down.. (doesn’t compare)

  • http://www.yellowbluedesigns.com Steve Lionais

    The fact that we can own wind turbines or solar panels as individuals, giving us independence from the utility companies is very attractive.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

      yes, this is a huge, underrated point in my opinion. thanks for adding it

    • ZAIMatte

      That is possibly true…but what is the environmental impact of your presumed energy storage device?

      • Bob_Wallace

        Minimal. Nothing we can’t live with.

        It’s not clear what form(s) large scale storage will take. There are many emerging technologies and it’s not clear which will win out. Cost and environmental impact will play the major roles in decision making.

        Right now the least expensive storage method is pump-up hydro. We can install closed loop pump-up on existing dams and in abandoned rock quarries as well as open pit and deep earth mines. Or we can build new sites where there sufficient elevation changes can be found. As long as we wouldn’t be flooding valuable land the impact is low.

        The most promising storage technologies (chemical batteries, liquid metal batteries, compressed air) are being designed as shipping container sized units. These can be hauled from the factory to “industrial” areas and plugged into the grid. The materials used will likely be recyclable.

        • ZAIMatte

          I am sorry (not really), let me rephrase that.

          What is the environmental impact of any presumed energy storage device available today?

          Compressed air? Are you serious?

          The term “Minimal” lacks definition, supply referenced numbers please.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m not sure how to answer your question. Everything we do has some sort of environmental impact. The important issue is making choices that have the least harmful impact.

            Right now a lot of battery storage is being done with lithium-ion batteries. The materials are recyclable and do not give off any harmful ‘whatevers’ during use. However lithium-ion batteries may be superseded by other chemistries.

            You’re asking for numbers which simply are not yet available.

            Compressed air? Certainly. There are two CAES (comressed air energy storage) systems up and running now. They’ve been operating for decades.

            CAES, the old style, has an efficiency flaw in that the heat generated during air compression is lost, energy is lost.

            Newer CAES technology uses a spray of water into the compression cylinder, the water absorbs the heat, the water is drained away and stored. The heat from the stored water is then used to reheat and expand air during the generation cycle.

            Will this be a dominate storage method? Too early to tell.

            What we can say is that none of the currently developing storage methods pump CO2 into the atmosphere or produce highly dangerous waste streams. We’re clearly on the right track but it’s too early to determine the final destination.

          • ZAIMatte

            Mining and processing of lithium (including recycling and reusing) is quite a dirty process, if you don’t know the numbers don’t throw around assertions you can’t back up, it will only hurt your credibility.

            The efficiency losses in compressed air storage are huge, considering the environmental impact of your primary energy source, compressed air will give you, at best a 1:3 ratio. Water spray will only marginally increase your efficiency as expansion of the gas can be done using heat exchangers with ambient air.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Many industrial processes are dirty. Lithium is certainly not unique. However lithium processing from brine deposits via evaporation is a fairly clean process.

            LIghtSail, one of the companies bringing heat storage CAES to the grid reports a 70% round-trip efficiency.

            Perhaps you should get up to speed before damaging your credibility.

          • ZAIMatte

            And there you go again, “fairly clean process”…compared to what and by what/whos numbers?

            My heatpump gives me a 3,5-4:1 or 350-400% heat from electric energy conversion, so I am not impressed…and what a company claims to attract investors is not really what I would call “reliable” data.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’ve got to admit that I don’t see any sense in trying to address your questions.

            If you want to compare lithium processing to, say, uranium extraction and processing or coal mining then do some research. To be honest, I’m not willing to spend my time doing the job for you.

            As for how efficient your heat pump is also doesn’t interest me. The topic is the least cost method to store energy, not the most efficient way to heat/cool your house.

            Obviously what a company claims may turn out not to be factual. That’s why I’ve said that we will have to wait for the future to arrive in order to know how things will turn out.

          • ZAIMatte

            Well, you looked so sure of your self with your statements that I was sure that you had your references at hand (or at least close at hand).

            But as I am more convinced by every post you make that you don’t actually have a clue and are just going by gut feeling and cherrypicking (seasoned by ideology no doubt). I have done my homework, I have studied plenty of LCA documentation to know the numbers, so my questions were more rhetorical in order to eek out what type of renewable-peddler I was dealing with.

            Nice chatting to you, nice to know I still can expose the fraudsters for what they are…enjoy your fossil fueled future, thats what the renewable bandwagon will ensure, nothing more.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.

            And try not to spread any more disinformation about the cost of renewable electricity and pump-up storage. Or the efficiency of CAES.

          • ZAIMatte

            Oh, I don’t have to spread any disinformation, the industry is doing a very good job of destroying it self from within. Inefficiency is never profitable in the long run anyway…

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let me give you some particulars about one of the grid storage batteries that we know about. (Large companies tend to develop products out of sight.)

            Eos Energy Solutions is manufacturing a zinc-air battery. If it works as stated it will provide low cost storage.

            They are claiming $160/kWh and >10,000 100% DoD cycles. A 30 year calender life. That’s considerably cheaper than lithium-ion batteries and much higher cycle life.

            “Eos zinc-air battery is environmentally safe, in that it relies on materials that are nontoxic and nonflammable. (CEO Michael) Oster has said, “You could flush it down a drain; you could drink it.””

            Their batteries are going to be field tested on multiple grids around the world in the coming months. ConEd (NYC) is one of the test grids.

            In a video on their site they claim a total cost of ~10 cents per kWh to store electricity. That’s a complete accounting which even includes battery owner profits.

            Storing ~ 3c/kWh wind for a dime is a price-beater. It’s cheaper than new coal or nuclear. It’s cheaper than gas peaker power.

          • ZAIMatte

            Still not available today so not what I asked for…

            10 cents a kWh sounds impressive, but not when you add the 10-15 cents/kWh generation costs from wind. So you need a battery capacity to deal with the intermittency problem of wind/solar, which has a capacity factor of 25% and ~18% (not accounting for weather) so quite a large installed overcapacity is required to fill the energy need, not to mention the infrastructure to deal with overproduction as well…

            Sounds very expensive, and how many tons of zinc are we talking about, per kWh capacity? It would not surprise me if coal would beat such a system on environmental performance…

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let’s see if we can catch you up a bit. First the current cost of wind generated electricity –

            “The prices offered by wind projects to utility purchasers averaged $40/MWh for projects negotiating contracts 2011 and 2012, spurring demand for wind energy.”

            http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2013/08/06/new-study-finds-that-the-price-of-wind-energy-in-the-united-states-is-near-an-all-time-low/

            http://www1.eere.energy.gov/wind/pdfs/2012_wind_technologies_market_report.pdf

            $40/MWh means $0.04/kWh. Add back in the $0.022 PTC (which lasts only ten years) and it’s $0.051/kWh for a 20 year PPA.

            This is a low number. It’s not just the LCOE of wind. It includes real estate, transmission, taxes and wind farm owner profits. It’s the “delivered to the door” cost of electricity, not just the generation price. Taking all those factors into account the actual average generation cost is probably about 4c/kWh.

            Then solar –

            “The cost of large-scale solar projects has fallen by one third in the last five years and big solar now competes with wind energy in the solar-rich south-west of the United States, according to new research.

            The study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory entitled “Utility-Scale Solar 2012: An Empirical Analysis of Project Cost, Performance, and Pricing Trends in the United States” – says the cost of solar is still falling and contracts for some solar projects are being struck as low as $50/MWh (including a 30 percent federal tax credit).”

            “Another interesting observation from LBNL is that most of the contracts written in recent years do not escalate in nominal dollars over the life of the contract. This means that in real dollar terms, the pricing of the contract actually declines.

            This means that towards the end of their contracts, the solar plants (including PV, CSP and CPV) contracted in 2013 will on average will be delivering electricity at less than $40/MWh. This is likely to be considerably less than fossil fuel plants at the same time, given the expected cost of fuels and any environmental regulations.”

            http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/big-solar-now-competing-with-wind-energy-on-costs-75962

            Capacity factor is a red herring. Price of produced electricity and time of delivery/dispatchability are the important metrics.

            Tons of zinc per kWh? What sort of a question is that?

          • Bob_Wallace

            “Still not available today so not what I asked for…”

            You seem to be asking for 100% reliable answers for what the future holds. You’ll have to wait until we get there.

            I’m trying to tell you what we have on hand right now – pump-up hydro, CAES w/o heat storage, lithium-ion and flow batteries. Those are the technologies now connected to the grid and operating.

            And I’m trying to give you some idea of what seems to be coming. EOS batteries were an example of new battery technology which is currently being manufactured but not yet proved out in real world use.

            Possibly coming is Ambri’s liquid metal battery. It’s reportedly working in prototype and they are developing better chemistries and setting up manufacturing. If this one pans out we would have large scale quite inexpensive storage.

            But if none of the EOS/Ambri new technologies work we would be fine with what does work, pump-up and flow batteries for large scale scale storage and lithium-ion for grid smoothing.

          • ZAIMatte

            I was not asking for the future, I was asking for what was available today and what the environmental performance of these technologies really are. If you don’t have a grasp of these numbers than you are just spouting hogwash and might just as well claim that “clean coal” will save the day.

            What might be available down the line is interesting (from a technical point of view) but not relevant to what is available today and actually can allow “sustainable” development.

            So what you are saying is that what we have is pump up hydro (insanely expensive), compressed air (inefficient) and batteries (expensive and environmentally questionable)?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Pump-up is certainly not “insanely expensive”. With frequent cycling the cost can be a low as 3c/kWh. Somewhere around 6c/kWh is probably a decent working number.

            Storage is not something we need solved today. Our grids can absorb 25% to 40% wind and solar before storage becomes an issue and that is years away.
            I’m not sure what your issue is, perhaps you’re just naturally an unpleasant, argumentative person who doesn’t have sufficient skills to carry on a civil discussion.

  • http://rhondawinter.com/ rhonda winter

    How much does it cost to rebuild an entire planet after it has been consumed by massive clouds of toxic radiation?

    • http://zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

      hmm, good question :D

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