Clean Power

Published on August 5th, 2011 | by Zachary Shahan


Nuclear vs Renewable Energy Infographic

August 5th, 2011 by  

We have featured a number of WellHome’s infographics on our site and, as a result, the folks there decided to ask us what matters we thought were most important at the moment and worth creating infographics about. I supplied them with my feedback and they’ve gone ahead and made an infographic on some of the topics I thought were hot and worthy of their time.

Referencing us and our sister site Planetsave, here’s a good infographic on nuclear power and how it compares to power from renewable resources. There are a few things I would have worded a little differently or put more or less emphasis on, but overall I think they did a good job, so kudos to them! The issues I have with it, which a commenter below was quite upset about, include:

  • costs per kWh include subsidies and make coal and oil and nuclear fusion look better than they are (though, as someone who has delved into these topics, figuring out those costs is quite the challenge and depends on which assumptions you use);
  • solar power can work in non-sunny areas and wind power does not need a ton of wind, so these are not as limited as the infographic may make them seem;
  • also, while solar needs a lot of space, that could be space on rooftops or over parking lots, which are underutilized spaces;
  • there are a few redundancies in the “minuses” of some of the renewable energy options.

However, overall, I think this renewable energy vs nuclear energy infographic is quite helpful and useful.

Check it out and let us know what you think (CLICK TO ENLARGE):

Graphic Created by WellHome Energy Audits

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • I don’t know why the infographic says that nuclear “costs too much” when on the same graphic, it has the lowest cost ratio of ALL the power sources. Combine that with it being one of the safest power sources (not one American casualty) and that Thorium fuel rods eliminate all risk of meltdown and proliferation, and it’s looking obvious that nuclear is the best choice.

    • Bob_Wallace

      The numbers are screwy. Even power from old, paid off reactors costs a lot more than what is shown. Electricity from a new reactor would be one of the most expensive ways to produce power. I’ve seen no one predict less than 12 cents per kWh and that number makes a lot of favorable assumptions and requires government subsidies.

      Nuclear isn’t viable in a free market. To avoid bankruptcy a reactor has to earn an average of at least 12 cents per kWh for roughly 8,000 hours per year. “New” wind is 5 cents per kWh. If there is competing wind on the grid then nuclear has to sell at a loss, at 5 cents, when the wind is blowing.

      That means that nuclear has to sell at more than 12 cents the rest of the time.

      Solar is now being installed in Germany for $2/watt. Those prices will show up here. That means electricity for about 8 cents per kWh. If the Sun is shining then nuclear has to sell at 8 cents.

      Finally there’s natural gas. It’s producing for about 6 cents. Even if we put a big carbon tax on NG it would still be cheaper than nuclear.

      Nuclear cannot compete.

      Nuclear is not safe. Clearly nuclear is not safe. Just think about it. We have to build containment domes around reactors, build in all sorts of emergency systems, and surround the whole thing with armed guards.

      Thorium fuel rods are in operation only in video fantasies. We can discuss thorium reactors (and the cost of their power) when someone actually builds one.

      Nuclear takes too long to build. Ten years per reactor is not an unreasonable estimate. We have the ability to build only a handful of reactors at once. It would take a very long time to replace fossil fuels with nuclear and we need to get the job done quickly.

      Finally, there are not enough sites where we could build a hundred or more new reactors. They need cooling water and they need a “backyard” that would admit them. Look at a map of the US, identify the places where there is adequate cooling water (mostly along the coasts) and think about whether those neighborhoods would put out a red carpet.

      Best to not consider building on our inland lakes and streams. Look how the Mississippi is drying up at the moment. We’re likely to have many periods of severe drought in our future. Inland waters are heating as well. Reactors are already being shut down when local temperatures soar.

  • Andrew

    Renewable energy is doomed in the future. I can’t imagine a world powered by wind turbines, solar panels, dams, geothermal plants, etc. Renewables doesn’t mean green. The materials and the structures affect the environment too – both plant, animal, and abiotic factors. As energy demand increases, where are you going to find the land to build all this? If you can mathematically prove me wrong with “average” assumptions, reply. But until then, you’re spending billions of dollars on energy that will never be as cheap as coal, that it will be replaced by fusion in the decades to come, and that it takes up so much land for so little energy, it’s not even credible anymore. More and more environmentalists are rooting for nuclear energy primarily because of its safety benefits and its efficiency over energy produced over a small amount of land.

    Zack, nuclear energy doesn’t have the risk that you say it has. Apparently Fukushima is a “disaster” in which no one has died and no one has been injured (except for a guy that had a heart attack inside the plant – totally unrelated) – same with Three Mile Island. And its funny because every year in the US alone, about 10,000 people will die of coal mining accidents and cancer resulting from poor ventilation. So much for Chernobyl, in which about 9,000 people died from the explosion and the fallout. Fukushima has demonstrated that a 9.0 earthquake and a 60 foot high tsunami cannot induce a Chernobyl-like disaster. It has demonstrated that one of the most powerful earthquakes and the largest tsunamis cannot wipe out a reactor. AND DON’T BLAME NUCLEAR ENERGY FOR CHERNOBYL – BLAME IT ON THE SOVIET COMMUNISTS.

    And geothermal and tidal energy? Terrible. If you think about it mankind is becoming desperate with energy if we’re going to harness energy from some unusual source like that. The rocks are not hot enough and the tides are too weak. Simple. Again, mathematically prove me wrong and I’ll give in.

    And for all of you people who think that we can power the world with renewables alone – how will you power the world at night? You really think that wind, geothermal, tidal, biomass, and hydrogen will be able to compensate for the lack of sunlight? I don’t. Besides they work in daylight too.

    In support for civilian nuclear energy, it has killed less people in 60 years than coal has in a year. And a study showed that a solar panel the size of Europe (a little larger than the US) would be needed to power the city of London. Inefficiency to its max.

    • Anonymous

      Andrew, your comment is so completely full of nonsense it doesn’t even seem worth my time to respond to it, as you are clearly completely lost on this topic.

      Solar and wind power are ALREADY cost-competitive in some regions and solar will be cheaper than fossil fuels (not even taking health, environmental, national security, grid, or other externalities into account) within a few years.

      Wind is the cheapest form of new energy at the moment, which is one reason why it’s creaming other sources when it comes to new capacity to the grid.
      And forget nuclear, it’s out of the question when we’re talking about price.
      If you actually want to learn more about these topics, you can start with these:
      But I think it’s more likely you just popped in to dish out some
      anti-renewable energy & pro-nuclear propaganda. So, please hop on to your
      next site if that’s the case.

      • Zach, what the hell? Where is your professionalism? Besides that, Andrew happens to be right about nuclear power. Except with the death count of Chernobyl – the highest estimated death counts are around 4000, not 9000. The official count is 31 (but that’s from the Soviets…). And yes, nuclear really is that cheap. The startup costs are indeed high, but the plants last for decades. After all, all of America’s plants from the 70’s are still going strong.

        Renewable energy is undoubtedly the future, but it’s going to take a lot more research and development to make it truly cost-effective. Nuclear reached that level in the 70’s, and it’s only getting safer, cleaner and cheaper.

        Listen to this podcast about nuclear power:

        • Bob_Wallace

          Jake, apparently you have’t been keeping up with the economics of nuclear. New reactors are priced off the table.

          “Let me state unequivocably that I’ve never met a nuclear plant I didn’t like,” said John Rowe, who retired 17 days ago as chairman and CEO of Exelon Corporation, which operates 22 nuclear power plants, more than any other utility in the United States.

          “Having said that, let me also state unequivocably that new ones don’t make any sense right now.”

          “I’m the nuclear guy,” Rowe said. “And you won’t get better results with nuclear. It just isn’t economic, and it’s not economic within a foreseeable time frame.”

          Even old nuclear is struggling. A reactor in Kewaunee, Wisconsin will be shut down this month because it can’t compete with other sources of electricity. The owner couldn’t operate it and make money and couldn’t find a buyer.

          “(P)lain old economics could affect a lot more plants, including Crystal River, north of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast, which has not run since September 2009, when it shut down for replacement of major components. The installation job may have damaged the containment building, which may not be worth the $1.3 billion or so it would take to fix.

          In New Jersey, Exelon agreed in late 2010 to shut down the Oyster Creek reactor, the nation’s oldest operating commercial plant, by 2019 rather than rebuild its cooling system to meet environmental rules. In California, the San Onofre reactors closed in 2012 after apparently flawed new heat exchangers developed leaks.

          Even plants with no pressing repair problems are feeling the pinch, especially in places where wholesale prices are set in competitive markets. According to an internal industry document from the Electric Utility Cost Group, for the period 2008 to 2010, maintenance and fuel costs for the one-fourth of the reactor fleet with the highest costs averaged $51.42 per megawatt hour.

          That is perilously close to wholesale electricity costs these days.”

          • Interesting… Maybe I do have this wrong. I checked out the nuclear stocks, and they’ve been declining since August, except Babcock & Wilcox. Though those other ones are just starting to pick up, they’re not back to where they were. And as much as I love thorium, the one stock it had no longer exists.

            It really seems like fracking and natural gas is the way to go.

            Ok, I concede. Nuclear is too expensive. I found this too:


            Even the small and modular ones seem to not be a good choice:


          • Bob_Wallace

            Yeah. It’s been clear for a few years that the price of nuclear had risen while the price of wind and natural gas had fallen which left new nuclear too expensive to build. Articles started appearing around 2009 which were showing that the math no longer worked.

            What’s surprising to me is that some paid off nuclear plants are no longer competitive. I can see that with a plant that needs major repairs, such as Oyster Creek. But even plants in decent shape seem to be in trouble. Kewaunee, as far as I know, is facing no repair costs. It is getting shut down simply because it isn’t making the owners any money.

            Large array solar has now apparently hit $2/watt in Germany and I saw claims today that at least one US firm was installing for less than $2.50/watt. That’s going to get solar down to around the price of nuclear and give some more nuclear plants problems. It could very well force San Onofre to not be repaired. SoCal/San Diego got by this summer without San Onofre on line. A couple of large solar arrays and a bunch of new rooftop solar might make bringing the reactor back up unnecessary.

            What we need now is some affordable/cheap storage.

          • What do you think of this?


            THe source is clearly not objective, but their facts seem pretty sound.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’ll be honest, I don’t want to spend time going through it line by line. Let me just address a couple of things that jump out at me.

            Take a look at “*Actual Costs of Electricity (US cents/kWh)* “. Now, this is 2010 data and things have changed since then, but onshore wind generation, median price, is five cents/kWh. Transmission adds is about two cents more for a rough total of seven cents. They list a range of seven to twenty-three cents. Nuclear is not competing against twenty-three cent wind, that’s coming from older farms when costs were much higher, but against onshore that is currently being installed at less than what natural gas generation costs.

            Then solar. Nineteen to sixty-two cents. Solar farms are now signing ten cent, 20 year contracts in the US. Installed solar prices in Germany are now at eight cents per kWh.

            Then, the nuclear numbers they use. China ‘pays cash’ for their nuclear. Financing a nuclear plant roughly doubles the cost of nuclear.

            Then their “US Electricity Production cost 1995 to 2008” graph. First, we get almost none of our electricity from oil. That line should not even be on the graph. It serves no purpose other than to make nuclear look good.
            Then, since 2008 the price of NG has fallen to about six cents, they cut off the graph in their favor. As much work as someone did pulling that report together there is no excuse for not extending the data forward.
            Finally, it makes no sense to talk about the price of nuclear from old, paid off reactors if we’re talking about building new reactors. It’s like saying that it costs you less than $100 per month to drive your paid off 2003 Corolla so a new one would also cost you only $100 per month, operating costs plus payments.

            BTW, I question their nuclear price. They claim about two cents (in 2008). The Department of Energy says that the cheapest nuclear in 2012 was four cents with the highest twelve and the median six cents. Three times their claim.

   – Click on the LCOE tab.

            Finally, a lot of what they get into is fuel cost. About how much better nuclear is than coal or gas. Solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and tidal have zero fuel cost. A lot of their argument seems to be that they are better than the options that are worse than they are. The
            important argument is which, overall, it the best.

            There’s a reoccurring argument nuclear advocates like to make – “We’re better than coal”. It’s a bogus argument since we’ve got alternatives to both. It’s like one doctor saying you need your leg taken off because your toe is infected. Another says that they can fix you by taking off only your foot. Personally, I want antibiotics, thank you.

          • Bob_Wallace

            One other thing – I didn’t notice them dealing with the “need to sell 8,000 hours per year” issue.

            Whatever the projected price of nuclear is, 12 +/- cents/kWh, a plant has to sell 90% of the hours each year at that average price. When a lower supplier is on line, say wind at 5 cents, nuclear has to sell at a loss in order to force wind turbines to shut down. That loss has to be made up by earning more for the non-windy hours.

            If you’ve got wind at 5 cents and solar at 10 you could crank up the cost of gas a heck of a lot and still come in under the price of nuclear when they are trying to price away their wind/solar hour losses.

            Another way of putting this is if you are a utility company and need new generation you’re better off installing a mix of wind, solar and gas rather than building a reactor.

            Wind and solar are never going to have fuel costs. And it’s likely that we’ll have reasonably priced storage in the next few years which will significantly cut the use of gas. Gas plants are cheap to build. Build some now and pay them off quickly. Then they can sit idle as deep backup for an almost 100% renewable grid.

          • You make a very, very persuasive argument!

          • Bob_Wallace

            I stick my arguments up largely to see if someone can poke a hole in them. Learning where I might be wrong is important if one wishes to continue to learn. If you see anything it the page you linked that you think needs addressing, point it out.

            I’m fairly confident about the nuclear financial stuff because I see pro-nuclear people saying that new nuclear is priced off the table in a competitive market. Some of the very largest utility companies which own reactors have “shelved” plans that were underway for building more.

            The only places where new reactors are being built are where governments are putting a thumb on the scale in order to override the other options. The Chinese government, obviously, answers to no one. If they want to build reactors then they will.

            In the US the only places where reactors are being built, or where plans to build are going forth, are where the state government is willing to force utility company customers to pay for the reactors rather than purchase their power from cheaper sources.

  • In addition to the critiques from others, the statement, “during the same time (2004-2009) there were no nuclear capacity additions,” is wrong. No new U.S. nuclear facilities came online, but there were several uprates or other modifications that increased the U.S. nuclear nameplate capacity by 1.00% and net summer capacity by 1.38%. This website needs to be more careful with the underlying data.

  • Anonymous

    thanks for the comment (not aware of this)

  • Minnow68

    The per K2H costs for coal and nuclear look like costs for running the plant. In other words, the initial capital cost looks like it was not taken into consideration. If you include initial capital, nuclear becomes many times more expensive.

    Or we can play the game the other way, and remove initial capital costs from wind and solar. Those cost something like a penny per KwH (or less!) if you don’t have to worry about the capital to build it.

  • BlueRock

    “The curate’s egg” – excellent in parts!

    > The US will continue their expansion of nuclear reactors.

    That’s what the nuke lobby keeps telling us.

    * More Bad News For Embattled Nuclear Power Industry: Reactor Proponents Are Batting 0-6 in US State Legislatures in 2011.

    • Anonymous

      lol. nice

  • Anonymous

    thanks for the feedback & additional info.

    i didn’t actually create the infographic at all — just fed the company the general idea.

  • tibi stibi

    “I don’t see how the point where demand is 3x more than supply is at all relevant or how it’s a negative.”

    this should be a positive. every company producing something would be thrilled if the consumer wanted 3x it could produce!

  • Boufarguine Khemais

    Earth without clean/r wind,water and sun ,died ;in the same the world with all that can be lived but in now days it’s not as simply as that.

  • I’m sorry, but this is one of the most poorly executed infographics I’ve come across in a long time. The most glaring issue I have is with the cost per kWh especially for coal and oil. These costs really need to be calculated without federal subsidies. Since each energy source gets different amounts of subsidies, it skews the price shown. If you take away all subsidies, wind and solar are about the same price as coal. This shows them to be 4x more expensive.

    Also, it is a myth that solar can only be used in sunny areas. I’m not sure what the author is referring to with the “special mirrors are required.” My guess is they are referring to concentrated solar arrays that gather more light and focus them into a smaller receptor, but not all solar energy works like that. There is PV, solar heating and solar hot water (the latter of which doesn’t produce electricity, but decreases the need for it).

    As for wind energy can only be use in windy areas, this is misleading. Yes, wind is required, but turbines are designed and calibrated to meet the needs of a specific area and can be designed to efficiently with as little as 3-4 mph wind. Then you use the same misleading point as a second negative with “very dependent on the climate.” Also, I don’t see how the point where demand is 3x more than supply is at all relevant or how it’s a negative. It’s not an inherent negative feature of the technology, just the lack of wind farms that have been built. We have the capability to build more and are currently doing so. If you want to keep that as a negative, fine, but you can’t use “require many towers” because again you’ve already taken away points for that.

    Where in the world did you get 10 cents per kWh for fusion? This contradicts your own graphic where it says after 40 years there is still no break-even and there are no commercial plants yet. You say yourself that a negative for hydrogen is there is no break-even. How can this be a positive for Fusion if this is the fuel?

    Where is geo-thermal? where is tidal?

    • Anonymous

      I agree on the cost issue (should be unsubsidized), bad wording regarding need for “windy” and “sunny” places, redundancies, and ridiculously low cost of nuclear fusion — looks like some of this stuff, at least, came from nuclear websites.. looking at the references on the bottom of the infographic.

      I’m going to update the article above to bring more attention to these things — thought about most of them before, but obviously didn’t delve into them in the text above.

      • Anonymous

        I think the “3x” thing for wind is trying to say that nameplate capacity is ~3x average power actually produced.

    • just a dude who gives a shit

      Well said David 🙂
      Its almost as if they have been payed off by our corrupt governments to slander renewable energy technology, i wouldnt be surprised if that A$$hole Donald Trump had a say in this to sway people against the wind farm development up here in Scotland in favour of his proposed golf course! >.<'

      Not even a single word about micro renewables and no mention about Thorium nuclear fuel here either -.- (Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive chemical element, found in abundance throughout the world).

      Capitalism has its ugly grip on renewables, we need to think about renewable energy as a way to provide FREE energy for everyone.


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