Clean Power

Published on February 19th, 2013 | by Ronald Brakels


Solar Power Cheaper Than Nuclear In Cloudy Old England

February 19th, 2013 by  

It's so unfair.  Solar doesn't have to shield their giant reactor but we do.Once again it appears that reality is interfering with the building of new nuclear power plants in the UK. As a result, it looks very unlikely that any new reactors will be built. Personally, this is a setback for me, as I am very much in favour of the building of new nuclear plants in the UK, and indeed in pretty much any country that isn’t Australia.

I favour the building of new reactors, not because nuclear power is a cheap way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — because it’s not. It’s hard to think of a more expensive way to decrease emissions that doesn’t involve linking hamster wheels in parallel to a generator. And I don’t favour the building of nuclear plants for safety reasons. While it’s much safer than coal, the small but real chance of nuclear catastrophe means that nuclear power is uninsurable by normal means. No, the reason why I am in favour of the building of new nuclear power plants is the purest of all reasons — personal greed.

You see, Australia has more uranium than you can poke a stick at. (WARNING: Do NOT poke enriched uranium with a stick.) We have the largest deposits of the stuff in the world. It’s just lying out there in the desert, doing nothing except slowly mutating rabbits that dig their burrows into it. The more nuclear plants the rest of the world builds, the more of that stuff we can dig up and send overseas far away from us, and the lower my chance of being attacked by a mutant rabbit the size of an Alsatian.

The more uranium we sell, the more prosperous Australia becomes. I’ll get to share in that prosperity and we can use the money for things that are of real importance to Australians, such as developing a Grand Theft Auto game where you get to play a good guy.

Oh, wait a minute! I just remembered that as a small, open economy, Australia’s prosperity is based upon the prosperity of the rest of the world. So if the rest of the world wastes money on nuclear power plants and potentially on cleaning up nuclear disasters, that’s no good for us. The Australian economy has already taken a hit from Fukushima, and we have no desire for that to happen again. (Although, I have to admit we did get off rather lightly compared to the Japanese.) I’ve changed my mind. Strike what I just wrote. I’m now against the building of new nuclear plants anywhere.

Don’t get me wrong, if the choice is between new nuclear and new coal, nuclear wins hands down, or even all three hands down. But, fortunately, we are not faced with that choice, and I doubt anyone would ever be stupid enough to suggest that we are. Not unless they enjoyed being laughed at. Our options are not so limited.

The projected cost of the 1,600 megawatt Hinkley Point C reactor in England is 14 billion pounds or $22 billion. That’s $13,600 per kilowatt. And just because the projected cost is $22 billion doesn’t mean that it will cost $22 billion. When one is as skilled at reading nuclearese as I am, one knows that it actually means it will cost at least $22 billion. Nuclear power plants have a tendency to go over budget in a way that is rather similar to how the ocean has a tendency to be wet.

Even in cloudy old England, the cost of electricity from rooftop solar is much cheaper than the cost of electricity from new nuclear. I realize that a certain type of person reading this may feel the need to point out that solar power doesn’t produce electricity at night. Perhaps they’ll even use one or more exclamation marks when they do, as if it’s some sort of astounding revelation that they’ve only just been struck by. This never fails to surprise me, as I’ve always thought the fact that solar power depends on the sun is sort of given away by its name. Personally, I realized the sun was required years ago. Nuclear power has a problem because rooftop solar does produce electricity during the day, which pushes the price of electricity down and makes the economics of nuclear power even worse than they currently are. And just for the benefit of that certain type of idiot, I’ll mention that there are quite a few countries without nuclear power that still manage to have electricity at night.

In the final quarter of last year in the UK, installed rooftop solar apparently cost an average of about $3.30 a watt. This is quite a bit more than in Australia, and a heck of a lot more than in Germany, but even at this price, it’s still cheaper than new nuclear. How do I know this? Well, first I looked up how much light actually makes it through all the clouds, rain, mist, smog, sleet, and pipe smoke that tends to cover England, not to mention the fleets of spaceships full of Daleks, Cybermen, and Sontarans that are queued up waiting their turn to invade the place. Then I made reasonable estimates of the costs of fuel, operations and maintenance, nuclear waste disposal, decommissioning, and government oversight and inspections…. Oh, wait a minute. I just realized there’s a certain type of nutter, sorry, I mean person, who is never going to accept my estimates for the cost of nuclear power. They’ll be frothing at the mouth and waving around “studies” on how a nuclear reactor in Japan in 1974 cost negative dollars to build and straightened teeth. How can I convince these people to trust me? I know! I’ll go to some pro-nuclear site and use their figures! How about the NEI or Nuclear Energy Institute, a U.S. nuclear lobbying group? I’m sure their site can be trusted to have reliable information!

The NEI site gives a fuel cost of 0.68 cents per kilowatt-hour for nuclear power. This seems a bit low given the current cost of uranium, but seeing how little demand there is for new reactors, it might actually end up less than this. Then they give a figure of 1.51 cents per kilowatt-hour for operations and maintenance. That’s pretty darn cheap. For decommissioning costs, they give $300-500 million per reactor. But then they immediately appear to suggest it may be $450-500 million. But let’s go for the middle of their first figure and say $400 million. And for waste disposal… well, they don’t actually give a cost for that. They just point out that, in the U.S., nuclear plants pay 0.1 cents per kilowatt-hour for waste disposal (without mentioning that’s not actually the cost of disposing of waste). They certainly don’t mention that $12 billion of the money that was collected was spent developing a waste disposal site that was then abandoned and that nuclear waste in the US is now just stored at nuclear plants with nowhere to go. Fortunately, this apparently poses less of a security threat than my belt buckle at an airport. But let’s give them their 0.1 cent figure. Who knows, in a few years Nuke-Away might be invented.

I can’t see any figure for government oversight and inspections, but I guess we can manage to do without that. After all, if you can’t trust a for-profit nuclear power corporation, who can you trust?

And finally, I just need one more piece of information and that’s the cost of insurance. And I see the Nuclear Energy Institute lobbying group gives a figure of…. Hmm, that’s odd. There’s no mention of the cost of insurance at all. That’s a bit of an oversight. I know that nuclear power is uninsurable in the conventional sense that no insurance company will cover it, but that doesn’t mean the cost just goes away. Even if a nuclear power plant doesn’t pay a cent of insurance, that just pushes the cost back onto society as a whole. And while the chance of a nuclear disaster is quite low, the astounding costs that can result when things turn mutant pear shaped is staggering, and so insurance costs are quite high.

A German study by Versicherungsforen Leipzig says the actual cost of insuring nuclear power ranges from $0.19 to $3.16 a kilowatt-hour or even higher. I’ll be optimistic and assume that since Hinkley Point C will be all new and shiny, it will also be super safe and so its insurance cost will be the lowest point in the range.

So, using the costs for nuclear that I got from an industry lobbying site, and adding the most optimistic estimate of insurance costs from another source, because for some reason the lobbying site didn’t mention the cost of insurance at all, I see that even with the UK’s high solar installation costs, rooftop solar in England is much cheaper than new nuclear, costing around 30 cents kilowatt-hour, with new nuclear being about 46 cents. While the cost of electricity from rooftop solar is very high compared to Australia or Germany, it is still well below the cost of new nuclear. Utility-scale solar farms are also cheaper than new nuclear, coming in at about 42 cents per kilowatt-hour, if it’s assumed they have the same installation cost as rooftop solar. Solar would be even cheaper if I took into account the fact that it can produce electricity pretty much from day one, while it can take a great many years for a nuclear plant to be completed. However, I didn’t factor this into my calculations on account of how maths is hard.

But new nuclear doesn’t get off that easily. It’s not simply 50% more expensive than rooftop solar. If the Hinkley Point C reactor goes ahead, it won’t be completed until sometime in the early 2020s at best. If the installation cost of UK solar drops as fast as it has in Germany or Australia, then in a few years, UK solar would be as cheap or cheaper than it currently is in Germany, and electricity from it would be less than half the cost of electricity from new nuclear. If solar is installed for $1 a watt by the time Hinkely Point C is operational, then rooftop solar would cost one fifth as much as new nuclear. And it’s quite possible that the cost of solar will continue to decrease while electricity from Hinkley Point C will be stuck at about 46 cents. It could well end up being the world’s most expensive albino elephant.

So, given how much electricity from new nuclear costs, my advice is don’t build new nuclear. I guarantee you can find a mix of low-emission energy sources that will do the job at a lower cost, especially if you take into account the time it takes to build a nuclear plant. Solar is likely to be an important part of the mix, but it’s not the only option, so there is no need for anyone but idiots to worry about the fact that the sun doesn’t shine all the time or that batteries are expensive.

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About the Author

lives in Adelaide, South Australia. Now that his secret identity has been revealed he is free to admit he first became interested in renewable energy after environmental mismanagement destroyed his home planet of Krypton. He is keenly interested in solar energy and at completely random intervals will start talking to himself about, "The vast power of earth's yellow sun."

  • Will E

    super article. and totally true.
    decommission Sellafield in the UK did already cost 70 billion euros, is almost 100 billion USD and not done yet. the state has to take over.
    google Sellafield for more info.

  • Drew

    Seriously who in their right mind would endorse nuclear after Fukishima. Solar is viable in places like Germany and Enhland let alone the massive and largely sun covered USA. We could be a leading exporter of solar power if we got our stuff together

    • Bob_Wallace

      People who stand to make money off building nuclear plants endorse building nuclear plants.

  • Pingback: UK solar sees record-breaking start to the year |()

  • Pingback: UK Solar Sees Record-Breaking Start To The Year | CleanTechnica()

  • John

    an additional benefit of the solar, which should subtract cost, is the (not unknown or thought of already) fact that the panels keep sunlight and thus heat off of the structure thus not only helping to power the cooling, but also reducing the amount/frequency that cooling units need be run

  • Nick Austin

    It looks like Germany actually is partially replacing nuclear with coal:

    Despite the growth in coal, they state that it’s not due to the turndown of nuclear:

    “The growth in renewables and the decline in power consumption have already fully bridged the gap opened by the shutdowns of the eight nuclear reactors in 2011,” Norbert Allnoch, head of the IWR, said in today’s statement.

    Seems strange.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Actually, not.,..

      Germany’s new coal burning plants are replacing (not adding to) the older plants that either have been or will soon be decommissioned.

      By 2020, 18.5 gigawatts of coal power capacity will be decommissioned, whereas only 11.3 gigawatts will be newly installed.

      Furthermore those plants will be more efficient, releasing less CO2 per unit electricity produced than are the ones they are replacing.

      Germany gets its natural gas from Russia. It would be politically dangerous to build their fossil fuel component around an undependable supply. Furthermore their new coal plants are capable of load following to some extent, which will further reduce the amount of CO2 they produce.

      The citizens of Germany decided that they would accept slowing their reduction in CO2 in order to get nuclear reactors out of their backyards. They live next door to Chernobyl, they still experience the nuclear fallout.

      After seeing a technologically advanced country like Japan melt some down they decided that they did not wish to live with this danger any longer. Other European countries have made the same decision.

      I suppose we’ll have Homer one of our plants into a pile of smoking radiation before we figure it out in the US. We are just so “superior” that we have a difficult time learning from other’s experience.

      BTW, Germany is still on track to be CO2 free by 2050.

  • Roland
  • Roland

    Environmentalist tout German
    renewable power system was the model for
    the rest of the world but this is about to take a turn as the Germans
    discovered that solar and wind is not burning coal but very deep holes in people’s
    pockets and provide benefits.

    Institute for Climate and Energy Warns Germany’s Feed-In Act “Will Lead Country
    to Economic Ruin”

    • Bob_Wallace

      Roland – do you really expect to find reliable facts on a denier site such as the European Institute for Climate and Energy?

      Please don’t bring that crap here.

      Solar is lowering the wholesale price of electricity in Germany. Period. Fact.

      • Roland

        The Spigel is one of the highest valued magazines in Germany.

        If you read this article you will find that in Germany the Government are at least honest about the truth cost of solar and wind on the German electricity bill; not like in Australia where the cost is hidden.

        • Bob_Wallace

          “an extra €185 on the annual electricity bill”

          An extra half euro per day to get rid of the danger of nuclear reactors and to help avoid extreme climate change.

          Why don’t you worry about something important Roland?

          Like what you’re going to do with all that nuclear waste you’ve made over the years? Or all the people suffering and dying from coal pollution?

          You might even want to worry about why the reduction in the wholesale price of electricity that solar is bring to the grid is not getting passed on to customers.

          Since pennies are so important to you, why not spend some of your energy figuring out why utility companies are giving themselves extra profits and not passing some of the savings on to you?

          • Roland

            Dear Bob, I do value your comments.

            Ironically we are having the same sincere concerns; I assume it
            is dangerous climate change.

            The only difference is that your proposed approach might be different to mine. I have been following the technologies and trends since the seventies and I am learning every day; naturally, I have my ideas what needs to be done and how.

    • Roland
  • Madan Rajan

    Solar power should be compared to Coal, Oil & Gas, but not with Nuclear power.
    After all both Solar & Nuclear are clean sources. Its the Oil & Coal that should be reduced.

    • Ronald Brakels

      I certainly wouldn’t want to see an nuclear plant that passes stringent safety tests shut down and replaced with a coal plant. But when it comes to new nuclear, a mix of other low emission energy sources gives more bang for your buck. (Or perhaps less bang for your buck. The lack of banging is why insurance costs are so much lower for wind and solar.)

      Thanks for the link, but it doesn’t matter how big a feed-in tariff a country slaps on solar, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s cheaper to generate electricity from solar than from new nuclear.

      And I notice the article counts feed-in tariffs as a cost when they are actually a transfer. If Germans decide to transfer a load of money amongst themselves, there will be some deadweight losses associated with that, but overall it’s pretty much be a wash.

      And once again, the point is not that the UK needs to become solar powered, it’s that solar cheaper than new nuclear in a place famous for its miserable weather.

    • Bob_Wallace

      If we didn’t have renewable technology which we can use to replace fossil fuels then nuclear would be our option.

      But since nuclear is more expensive than renewables, is hard to site, is very slow to scale (to bring on line in large amounts) and brings us unnecessary dangers it seems to me that the best idea is just to let nuclear energy die away.

      Let’s go with the cheap, fast and safe….

  • wattleberry

    I much enjoyed Ronald’s entertaining article and the responses. Apart from the fact that the UK situation has had to be aired from the other side of the world, a more serious issue for me is the lack of evidence that the UK Government is engaged in any urgent way.
    That seems to be the depressing way things are there now. The continuing stand-off between the administration continuously on the defensive in its fire-fighting financial predicament and the public has produced a sort of ‘secret agenda’ where everybody is trying to second-guess its true motive because of the inevitable uproar which follows every opinion it expresses. Unfortunately, this vacuum produces a happy hunting ground for the mischievous and strident gossip-mongers who quickly drown out any attempts at a constructive public debate on any topic,leaving the many informed would-be contributors silent and frustrated.
    I’ve occasionally tried to make suggestions to the Prime Minister’s office through the internet channels but, except at election time, have never reveived any reply nor acknowledgement beyond the usual automated reply.

  • Roland

    The so called renewable sources of energy are a total waste
    of time. It is time that we might not have do something meaningful to avoid dangerous climate change. All solar does in Australia is making rich people richer by stealing money from the poor that cannot purchase solar collectors and own no

    The poor are now paying more and more for power grid services and power
    generation that get more and more inefficient as they have to compensate for uneconomic solar and wind in feeds that take priority by green law. All solar does is
    raising the cost for the poor that have to purchase power and are otherwise of little
    benefits as the coal fired plants have to be capable to produce sufficient power
    if there is no wind or solar. I cannot wait til the next government will
    hopefully get rid of these silly power ideas and will put Australia back on a
    track of modern technology that will generate prosperity for all Australians. Climate
    change is a global problem; it cannot be solved by punishing Australians by
    putting them into poverty.

    • Ronald Brakels

      You are a liar, Roland. At best you are lying through negligence and are repeating something that sounded good to you without bothering to check for yourself if it matched up with reality. We all mature at different rates, but by the time someone is 18 we generally understand that some fact checking is in order if we want to maintain an honest reputation. If you’re not aware of this, I appologise on my behalf for your education. If you are a child, then that explains a lot. (Well, actually it just raises more questions. Why aren’t you skateboarding? Hanging out with your friends? Chasing girls/boys/sheep?)

      Renewable energy certificates from rooftop solar comprise 0.5% of household electricity bills. Feed-in tariffs comprise 0.9% of household electricity bills. This makes for a total of 1.4%. And offsetting this is the reality that renewable energy lowers electricity prices for everyone by pushing down wholesale prices. South Australia had a cut in retail electricity prices from the first of January as a result of the state’s renewable energy capacity.

      The lower income half of Australians have more rooftop solar than higher income half.

      You want the next government to get rid of solar? How? It not as if there is any real support left to cut. Rooftop solar is now treated the same as any other renewable energy source despite its transmission benefits. For most Australians the feed-in tariff for new solar isn’t much higher than daytime wholesale electricity prices and doesn’t reflect transmission benefits. This means that along with pushing down wholesale prices, new rooftop solar is now subsidising the rest of the grid.

      So, Roland the Liar, you can either admit that you were wrong and apologise, or you can show the courage of your political masters and shut up and slink away.

      • Roland

        The famous British Novelist and Philosopher Iris Murdoch sad,
        “We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.” Reality is that only from last year to this year my average kWh price went up by 34%. My electricity bill is not lying.

        Reality is that a friend of mine with 3.5kW government subsidised solar panels on his roof receives from his power company about $500.00 back while my power bill was for approximately the same time over $ 1,000.00.

        I call this what it is, government assisted steeling form the poor.

        Where do you get the electrical power from at night? Who is paying to replace all the transformers so that you can actually feed the solar power back into the power grid? Who is paying for the spider web of transmissions lines required to connect wind power?

        The answer is, all poor Australians do while people that are better off just enjoy the benefits off the national grid for free! Time to change government; to a government that can offer “truth Labor values” and can distinguish between wishful thinking and reality.

        • Ronald Brakels

          I didn’t say your electricity bill was lying, Roland, I said you were. If you are saying that renewable energy is responsible for more than a tiny portion of your bill increase you are lying. Why don’t you look up how much of your electricity bill solar is responsible for, or renewables over all? Then you can apologize and stop lying. And then presumably dedicate your life to truth, justice, and the Appian way.

          • Roland

            Does the term “cooking the books” mean anything to you? That
            is what this government is doing to us poor Australians. We need a royal commission in determining who is responsible for stealing from the poor; but since Slipper and Thomson I have really little trust in politicians. If we produce wind power for 8 cent why do I have to pay 35 cent? Why is my solar collector friend getting money back? He and his wife are only in the house in the evening and then he is using grid power!

          • Ronald Brakels

            So it’s not you who is lying, it’s instead that there is some massive government conspirousy that must involve the AEMO (Australian Electricity Market Operator) and all the Australian power companies, to portray the increases in electricity prices as being mostly due to increased transmission and distribution costs rather than renewable energy, in order to do what? What benefit do they get from this? No, really, how do they gain from this? Let me outline their plan for you:

            1. Raise electricity prices.
            2. Blame the raise mostly on increased transmission and distribution costs instead of renewables.
            3 ?????
            4. Profit.

            You’re dreaming into existence a massive conspiracy so you can be right. Do you any idea how crazy you sound? Well, no, I guess you don’t, otherwise you probably wouldn’t say it.

          • Roland

            For many years the increase for electricity was only about
            what the inflation rate was but then within the last years with wide scale use of solar and wind the electrical power prices increased dramatically. Fact or fiction?

            One example. A power plant is a commercial installation and
            the output is calculated to produce a product at a cost related to the output capacity, just like the old Mitsubishi plant. Mitsubishi’s production line was designed to produce about 240 cars, the sales were about 60 and that forced Mitsubishi
            to close as they could not pass the cost on by increasing the cost for the cars.

            The same applies to a power plant, in simplified terms, if
            it has a capacity to produce X amount of MW but are only able to sell Y amount of MW because green energy has priority it would normally go out of business, however, because the excess energy is required to stop the power grid from collapsing
            if there is no sun the cost is passed on to the consumer, me, because I am renting and cannot afford to purchase solar collectors.

            Green ideology has replaced reality and the big players in
            this show-down are the big companies involved in providing equipment and services to work on the so called green future; but it includes also the coal, oil and gas producers as they know that as long as we build windmills and solar collector’s we need fossil fuels.

            These players have no interest in the true values of
            renewables (or no value), they make lots of money; money that is predominately stolen from the poor. These global players know that first coal seam gas and then nuclear will eventually
            kill there profitable scheme so it is demonised in any way possible; a massive conspiracy, yes.

          • Ronald Brakels

            So, no evidence of shame at your conspirousy theory involving government bodies and all power companies, and then advances an explanation that is not only wrong, but cannot explain a 34% increase in electricity prices given Australia gets about 4% of its electricity from wind and solar. Especially not since the state with the most wind and solar, South Australia, has had an electricity price cut from the first of this year.

            It’s obvious you’re not here to learn and quite that you have nothing to teach but nonsense, so I’ll stop feeding you. Bye!

          • Roland

            With Neil deGrasse Tyson fames words “One of the biggest
            problems with the world today is that we have large groups of people who will accept whatever they hear on the grapevine, just because it suits their worldview—not because it is actually true or because they have evidence to support it. The really striking thing is that it would not take much effort to establish validity in most of these cases… but people prefer reassurance to research.”

            I sorry to hear that you run out of arguments, I do understand, unlike you I have worked many years in engineering and I am not easily sucked in by green propaganda in fact, it was never easier to find the truth with the internet on our fingertips. When I studied I spend literally hours in the library to work out what takes now minutes with the www. The whole power situation is actually very complex and it cannot be analysed with a few lines of comment; I apologise that I can just not find simple words of describing this complex situation.

            The Gillard government spend $10mill to brainwash our kids
            with green ideology. The money would have been better spent by making a semester of basic physics, chemistry and biology compulsory so that everybody gets a feeling about basic science and it would then be much more difficult to tell lies
            on national TV.

            But never forget public ignorance is the government’s best
            friend. However, Australians in general are much smarter than it looks and that gives me hope for the future. Unfortunately,
            again it is the poor population that will suffer most until we get some common sense in this solar madness.

          • haha, nice quote, good scientists & human, but very faulty logic as applied to your example. i guess you’d probably ignore that Neil supports solar over nuclear?

            “So, your question was nuclear power plants: I think we should using solar power, just because it’s free. It’s there. That’s the reason why we shouldn’t use nuclear, because solar is out there, and we’re not putting enough energy to get it. I’m much less concerned about the safety of solar power than others who point to the singular disasters that have taken place, without pointing to the fatherless homes of coal miners and to the deaths that have resulted from the pollutants that have gone into the atmosphere that have gone into the atmosphere from burning coal – you want to add that to the numbers, that’s worse than any secondary or tertiary cancers you might be citing from nuclear power plant leaks. It wins in every context, plus there’s places like, in France, they’ve had nuclear power forever, and it’s not a big deal there. So, alright, you don’t build it on a fault line, and you do some smart things, but the solution to that is not safer nuclear power plants, the solution to that is solar power. And by the way, hydro-electric is solar power. You know, you don’t get water at the top of the dam without the evaporative energy of the Sun. That’s solar power – plants are solar power. Solar power is much broader than people are thinking it to be.”

          • I’m not sure of the details of your country or state, but:

            1. new electricity, no matter the source, cost more than electricity from power plants installed 30 years ago.
            2. new electricity from nuclear does not compete (in unsubsidized cost per kWh) with new electricity from wind or even solar power.
            3. if you’re concerned about Big Industry ripping you off, you should surely know that the nuclear industry is up therw with the oil industry as the most accused of being involved in government corruption. (supposedly, that’s the reason the Japanese built nuclear reactors on top of popcorn makers, and why the industry is even in business at all anymore.)

  • tmac1

    I really liked your article
    It is so much fun to read when the writer includes rhetorical questions and has a very good sense of humor

    Huge fan of solar here in cloudy sometimes NEW england
    God I wish they had more originality

    SO many good points on the advantage of solar
    I know the focus was on pure cost of solar to nuclear but….

    A few more:
    1 democratic form of distributed energy; makes average citizens both consumer and producers more likely to CUT use
    2 less infrastructure for the grid as pointed out no transmission lines as I power my neighbor if I have spare electrons
    3 no water cooling needed. As climate change accelerates water conservation will be crucial. Nuclear power uses about 40% France freshwater


    • Wow, you have a link on that 40% figure?

      • tmac1

        Dear Zachary

        I am addicted to Commonwealth Club of California Climate One series PODCASTS FREE from ITUNES

        Lots of great panels and speakers talking about energy the economy and the environment.
        RFK Jr
        James Hansen
        Bill McKibben
        Jeremy Rifkin
        Daniel Akerson CEO GM
        Danny Kennedy Sungevity

        That quote about 40% water use was from Jeremy Rifkin talking at that series I think in 2012 or 2011 He wrote “the Third Industrial Revolution”
        I read the book a few times and I do not recall seeing it there.

        The 40% use was in response to someone who was asking about the Nuclear Experience in France.


        • Ronald Brakels

          Just in case anyone is unclear on what is meant by this, I’ll mention that Nuclear power could well use 40% or some large percentage of France’s fresh water, but that’s not in the sense of it being used up or evapourated. Some of it is evapourated and most of it is returned to rivers, which then lose more water to evaporation than they would otherwise due to their increased temperature. There is a limit to how much heat can be added to a river before the temperature starts to kill the life in it. For this reason a lack of water flow due to low rainfall, or just hot weather, can require a nucler plant to shut down. The same is true for coal plants, but they produce less heat per kilowatt-hour than nuclear.

          • tmac1


            Thanks for clarifying yes it is not used up
            The point is almost all nuclear needs water to cool.
            This presents two problems
            1) nuclear plants must be placed close to ocean or river putting them at risk for flooding tsunamis earthquakes hurricane Irene Sandy. ,…..?
            2) though not used up the cooling water is now hot and therefore you have drastically altered the local ecosystem
            Here in New England we have lots excess water
            Not so everywhere else

            Cheers Tom

          • Bob_Wallace

            Interestingly, China has decided to build no more inland nuclear reactors.

            They’ve drastically reduced the number of reactors they plan to build and only construct at more remote coastal sites where they can evacuate the locals in the event of a melt-down and where no fresh water sources would be contaminated.

          • Ronald Brakels

            And tradgically, for insurance purposes, a life in China is considered to have less economic value than a life in the UK. But while Chinese reactors are being built in a middle income country, with their planned 40 year or longer lifespans they will end up being used in a high income country, causing massively increased insurance costs. Or to be more precise, it will make insurance costs much more massiver.

          • tmac1


            That is a step in the right direction

            Given how awful the air in Beijing is I think chinas leaders know they have to get off coal. Solar wind nuclear !

          • Bob_Wallace

            Solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, wave, and biofuel.

            Nuclear is simply too expensive and too dangerous.

        • Awesome, nice list.

  • Bill_Woods

    “The projected cost of the 1,600 megawatt Hinkley Point C reactor in
    England is 14 billion pounds or $22 billion. That’s $13,600 per kilowatt.”

    Okay, here’s your first mistake. The Hinkley C project is for two EPRs —
    3300 MW. Call it $6,700 /kW.

    “The NEI site gives a fuel cost of 0.68 cents per kilowatt-hour for
    nuclear power. This seems a bit low given the current cost of uranium, …”

    Here’s an anti-nuclear site:
    The figure they calculate is 0.91 cents/kW-h. Not much of a difference.

    “I can’t see any figure for government oversight and inspections, but I
    guess we can manage to do without that.”

    I don’t know how it works in the UK, but in the US, “The FY 2012 annual fee for each operating power reactor … is $4,525,000.”
    That works out to about 0.06 cents/kW-h; I presume it’s included in the O&M.

    “A German study by Versicherungsforen Leipzig says the actual cost of insuring nuclear power ranges from $0.19 to $3.16 a kilowatt-hour or even higher.”
    That’s just crazy. The US government has estimated its cost at about $600,000 per reactor-year. That works out to 0.008 cents/kW-h.
    But other people think it should be more; be conservative and call it 0.1 cents/kW-h.

    “If the Hinkley Point C reactor goes ahead, it won’t be completed until sometime in the early 2020s at best.”
    The two Chinese EPRs are on track to be completed in less than 5 years. Not that the UK is likely to do as well, but that’s the ‘at best’.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Oh my. How quickly down the memory hole things go these days. You see, two years ago there was a bit of a nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan and it provided fairly strong evidence that an insurance rate of 0.008 cents a kilowatt-hour, or even 0.1 cents a kilowatt-hour, isn’t going to cut it.

  • nice article…here in canada we can get solar panels for about a buck a watt using our new australian made plastic canadian money.. i raised a daughter on our sailboat here on the west coast and it wasn’t that long ago that we paid eight and even ten dollars a the efficiency is up and cloudy days still hold a bounty of power..

    we also have a shitload of uranium and it’s safe to say nuclear is not even an issue/option here in canada, our concerns are more environmental than needing any more energy sources…

    it seems that every time somebody here turns over a rock they find more gas or oil..

    we also pay as little as .04/kwh…with over 90% of our power being produced by renewable hydro resources

    in my home here on vancouver island, nanaimo has but two solar powered homes that i know of…most boats in the harbour don’t have solar power and there are thousands of both…

    we simply don’t take it seriously, we’re rich and wasteful and it’s still cheaper to run a house on grid..the average bill in the winter here including heat is less than 100$, not much incentive to jump over to solar for most..yet i still enjoy watching my meter spin backwards on a sunny day..

    good luck with the parrots

    • o.O

    • Ronald Brakels

      Robert St Amour, the work with the Parrots is going well. Today we worked on the Fibonacci sequence… Oh my god! I just realized, the Fibonacci sequence is what I used for the security codes! What have I done?

  • You are talking about solar costing 30 cents per KwH (there is about a 4% difference between Australian and US cents, so I will treat them as equal). Americans on average pay 11 cents per KwH. 47% of American families are now living paycheck to paycheck, and you would have them triple there electric bills on top of $4 gasoline and smaller paychecks due to the reintroduction of suspended payroll taxes. Try telling them how America is the richest country in the world and they can easily afford it. Natural gas produces 11 cent electricity at the meter and makes America the only country to meet the Kyoto Accord for the reduction of CO2.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Solar produces during peak demand hours. Utilities pay big money for peak demand supply. In Germany only a modest amount of solar on the grid has greatly cut the wholesale price of electricity, driving it down to the level of late night off-peak electricity cost.

      BTW, large array solar in the US is now producing electricity as low as 10 cents per kWh. No subsidies. 10 cents.

      Natural gas is still pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. Not as much as coal, but more than we should allow. And methane leaks are a very big problem for climate change. Additionally, we can’t count on natural gas as a long term solution, there just is not enough of it.

      • 9 cents/kWh, i think. or am i recalling wrong?

        • Bob_Wallace

          The First Solar/New Mexico solar farm. 5.79/kWh plus 2.7 NM subsidy plus 2.2 US subsidy. 10.7 cents.

          (Those numbers are from memory. You’ve been warned….)

    • Ronald Brakels

      What? Oh, I forgot, Germany is a tropical paradise compared to the US. David, did you miss the part where I said this was for cloudy old England? Or where I said UK solar installation costs where very expensive? Or where I pointed out that the cost of solar electricity was much higher in the UK than in Australia or Germany? If I didn’t have complete faith in you I’d almost think you were being intentionally dense rather than just obviously skimming through the article too quickly. Don’t worry, at German installation costs point of use solar will pay for itself for most Americans. Australia is approaching German installation costs and if Australia can do it, so can the United States.

      • There is only one thing that matters regarding the numbers. that is the cost at the meter. Natural gas works best everywhere in the US and is needed as standby infrastructure even where solar often produces large amounts of power.

        • “Natural gas works best everywhere in the US.” This is a HIGHLY debatable statement. Highly debatable.

          • Power companies have been replacing old coal fired plants with new natural gas (NG) fired plants as rapidly as possible for 2 years now since fracking brought the price of NG to $2 per million BTUs (now about $3.42 in the US and $18 in Asia). In the process they have certainly reduced my electric bills. The US is also the only nation on its way to meeting the Kyoto Accord requirements (in spite of refusing to sign) thanks to NG replacing coal and producing half the CO2 per KwH produced. 82% of new capacity in the US in 2013 will be NG. (See: for example). The new combined cycle NG plants effectively use the heat twice and are particularly efficient. It is hard to debate against what is actually occurring.

          • Dave, your statements here don’t match up with your initial statement.
            Yes, the price of natural gas is artificially low — it doesn’t adequately take into account externalities. As a result, we’re getting a good deal more of this than is good for society.
            Your electricity bill may be lower, but other costs you and others have to pay are higher than if we installed solar or wind turbines instead. Furthermore, even ignoring externalities (which *really shouldn’t be ignored*), wind is already cheaper in many areas, and solar is cheaper for some electricity consumers than buying from the grid.

  • Rosana Francescato

    Great article! And you’re already changing minds with it, impressive.

    Another thing about solar is that in addition to being quick to deploy, as you note, if installed on rooftops and other places near where it’s used (over parking lots, etc.), it requires fewer new distribution lines to be built.

    Solar isn’t the whole answer anywhere, but it will be a big part of the overall solution: — with less poured out in subsidies than has been going to nuclear:

  • globi

    A Swiss nuclear power operator even made an expensive TV commercial with the coach of the national soccer team in it, where a supposed ‘green-nut’ is wearing a solar watch which doesn’t work because it’s raining:
    (They wanted new nuclear power plants and needed to explain why the lights would go out, if we were to invest in alternative options.)

    Ironically, their largest nuclear power plant (Leibstadt), which provides 15% of the Swiss power needs (!), unexpectedly failed to produce any power for almost 6 months (!) two years earlier and no lights went out.

    • haha. yep, the nuclear folks would be better off staying away from their uptime claims — droughts, heat waves, and floods are resulting in long nuclear reactor shutoffs in the US at an increasing rate.

  • MieScatter

    Really well written article, I enjoyed reading it, thanks!

    I don’t understand where you got 46 cents/kWh from, though? The new offer for Hinkley is that the power station will be guaranteed less than £0.10/kWh (or 15.4 cents/kWh). Rooftop solar is guaranteed about $0.30/kWh under the current subsidy regime and with this level of subsidy we’re installing it at a rate of about 300 MW/year.

    Even a solar evangelist like me accepts that UK solar will almost certainly never provide more than 20% of the UK’s power.

    And winter is the reason. On the 16th January, Germany’s solar output peaked at 0.9 GW and it produced measurable amounts of electricity only for 8-9 hours. On summer days you can expect 10-20 times as much peak power and 16 hours of measurable output.

    If we provided all of the UK’s midday power (55 GW say) with solar during the summer, then in the middle of winter we could expect 2-5 GW. We’d need ~50 GW of power supply that only operates during the winter.

    And if we had 55 GW peak output, that would be maybe 80 GW of solar power which, over a year, would generate about 20% of the UK’s average power consumption.

    If we went above 20%, then we would have to either dump power generated during the summer, or have enormous amounts of energy storage that would work out to be very expensive because it would have a low utilisation factor.

    • globi

      PV & Wind complement one another very well (page 26 & 27):
      It does therefore make a lot of sense to invest in wind as well as PV.

      EDF wants up to £140/MWh for its new nuclear power plants in Britain and this doesn’t include decommissioning:
      This is more than the feed-in tariffs for PV in the UK above 4 kW:

      Limiting PV is a non-issue.
      All small German PV-power are limited to 70% of their nameplate capacity (since 2012). This reduces yield by about 3 – 4%.

      For decades millions of brake pads need to be exchanged every day, because people waste valuable gasoline and diesel energy with their brake pedal. PV-power plants don’t waste brake pads and don’t need to be curtailed on a minute basis.
      If you are worried about storage, start worrying about the millions of vehicles which waste brake pads because most vehicles don’t store valuable braking energy.

      • thanks for the comment, and especially that top link. been wanting to come back to that topic and get another post up on it. sure the Fraunhofer piece is a good jumping off point — will just have to run it through Google Translate and do my best to decipher the translation. 😀

    • Ronald Brakels

      The 46 cent figure for nuclear has three main components. The capital cost, the insurance cost, and distribution costs. It’s the retail cost, not wholesale. All up it makes for a very high figure. And not only does new nuclear in the UK require a high guaranteed minimum price, it also requires the British public to bear a staggeringly huge burden of free insurance. It would be cheaper to burn fossil fuels instead and pay other countries to remove the CO2 released into the atmosphere agriculturally. Fortunately there are better options than relying on this.

      I don’t know how much energy the UK will get from solar. But my point is not that the UK will build a huge amount of solar capacity, but rather that even in a country famed for its rain and lack of sunshine, and even at current high installation costs, solar power is still cheaper than new nuclear. And in a few years it should be as cheap or cheaper than it currently is in Germany. At that point it will pretty much pay for itself, while Hinkley Point C is never going to pay for itself and is doomed to be a while elephant. (But hopefully not a glow in the dark white elephant.)

      • Bob_Wallace

        You are significantly underestimating the cost of nuclear by omitting the cost of financing. Accumulated interest during construction can easily equal the cost of construction.

        If the government finances, let’s assume a 4% cost, during a ten year construction process it would add about 40% of the capital cost to the project total.

        If outside money could be found at 8% it would more than double the capital cost.

        • Ronald Brakels

          Don’t worry, the cost of financing is included. I used a 5% discount rate for nuclear and utility scale solar farms and a 6.25% discount rate for point of use solar. A 5% discount rate is pretty much traditional for estimating the cost of nuclear power. In the past I would have said it was too low, but what luck! The world economy has degenerated enough to actually make the commonly used discount rate for nuclear power realistic.

  • Pieter

    I must say, I generally dislike the wide-spread idea that solar is a good solution for places like the UK (or Nort/Nort-Western Europe in general) because I believe it is not. I am more keen on other renewable sources that are ‘cleaner’ (I don’t like PV-cells, it’s just not good enough, I much more like like wave, wind, tidal,CSP etc.)
    On the other hand I have also always believed that nuclear was the way to go as (big) part of the fossil free energy market and altough your article did not change my ideas on PV it did on nuclear energy, it’s a well documented article that pinpoints correctly identified problems and that makes a strong case against building new powerplants (it also however, provides arguments against closing current existing ‘safe’ nuclear plants). I’m glad you took the time to write and document this and I hope you find satisfaction in the fact that you managed to change at least one person’s idea about the future of nuclear power! (unless they manage to complete fusion of-course 😉 )

    • Ronald Brakels

      I’m glad you liked the article and I appreciate that you took the time to tell me. But I will say that I think solar PV will end up as part of the energy mix in the UK. This is because with the current retail price of electricity in Britain, once the cost of installation reaches German levels, people will be able to save money by installing rooftop solar because it competes with the retail price of electricity and not the wholesale price. Solar may not dominate as it might in places like Australia and India, but I do think it will make a useful and cost effective contribution.

      • Pete Larson

        Solar does play a role in the uk – there’s a feed-in tariff scheme that provides it with guaranteed revenue and costs have been driven down quite significantly ever since it was introduced, and the number of installations has rocketed. What proportion of electricity supply in Australia comes from solar? Do you have any figures on that?

        Your piece is well argued, but it does mistake a kwh from solar as equivalent as a kwh from nuclear, which sadly isn’t the case. The intermittent nature of solar, as it depends on the weather, does mean that it is harder (note, I’m not claiming it’s impossible) to predict, and particularly as usage patterns tend not to be related to sunlight levels that can cause problems. Nuclear, however, tends (again, I realise not always, but pretty reliably) to be baseload – they switch it on, it runs and provides reasonably predictable output. Worth pointing out, I thought.

        Also you mention costs of waste disposal – the UK does put a figure on that, as it happens. Or an estimate currently, final figure to be established when more is known about the long term repository for waste disposal. Lots more info is available, if you’re interested, at the Waste Transfer Pricing methodology documents (available halfway down in the “post consultation documents” section at

        Just to point out as well that I think the £14bn estimates (and I think that’s all they are at the moment, speculative estimates) for Hinkley Point C are for 2xEPR units, so it would be closer to 3GW

        • Bob_Wallace

          It’s not as simple as you put it. A kWh of solar is going to be more valuable during peak hours than will be a kWh of nuclear at late night when demand is low.

          And people really need to quit treating country boarders as something that blocks power. Put the UKs panels in Spain or Morocco. Run a big wire between the two. Ship solar up and then when the Sun is down and the wind howling ship UK wind south. Tie Europe from Iceland to Bulgaria together. Hook into North Africa and the Middle East.

          The UK imports and exports all other kinds of stuff.

        • as Bob notes, peak solar power is more valuable than baseload nuclear power that can’t easily be shut down or restarted. so… a kWh of solar is worth more than a kWh of nuclear. “baseload power” will one day be extinct in many places — what’s replacing it is a more responsive grid. this isn’t just the talk of a cleantech enthusiast, though — i’ve seen a number of utility company execs make the same point.

          thanks for the other info — looks useful.

        • Ronald Brakels

          The average kilowatt-hour of solar electricity is worth more than the average kilowatt-hour of nuclear electricity, even in England, because solar produces electricity during the daytime when prices are higher, while nuclear produces electricity all the time during normal operation including the late at night and early morning when electricity costs are low. Even England’s winter evening peak shouldn’t be enough to change that. Nuclear can’t shut down during times of low electricity prices as it will lose money unless the price is less than about half a pence per kilowatt-hour due to its fuel cost being so low. I didn’t include the greater value of solar electricity in my calculation as I didn’t think it would be large enough to have much effect.

          My information was that Hinkley Point C would be 1,600 megawatts and I assumed the extreme cost was due to the government refusing to shoulder the risk for cost over runs and delays as in Olkiluoto and Flamanville. If the projected cost is actually for two 1,600 megawatt reactors, that would make the cost of new nuclear electricity about 41.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, a little cheaper, but not enough to change the conclusions of the article.

    • globi

      I think one can dislike brussel sprouts. But the energy field is simply too costly, to not base ones decisions on what to favor on facts.

      And fact is, that energy from the roof is not only silent, doesn’t depend on uranium imports, doesn’t require cooling water, doesn’t need any costly waste repository, doesn’t have any costly remaining risks, reduces the load on the grid, creates tax-paying regional jobs and most importantly its electric energy costs are already less than half of the mechanical energy costs of an efficient Diesel engine.

    • nice. 😀 yes, i think wind, wave, and perhaps tidal will be much more suited to the UK and will dominate. but happy that Ronald went through the trouble to convey (even entertainingly!) how completely off the “cost estimates” for new nuclear are. it’s a societal rip-off… which is why nuclear doesn’t go up anywhere where the private sector must fund it (the private sector is a little more careful with its investments).

      • Bob_Wallace

        I just ran across this a little while ago while looking for something else…

        “The report reveals that rapid development of the UK’s offshore resource – using fixed wind, floating wind, tidal stream, tidal range, and wave technologies – could by 2050 generate an amount of electricity equivalent to a billion barrels of oil per year, or the same as the average annual output of UK North Sea oil and gas production seen over the past four decades.

        If developed still further to tap their full practical potential, offshore renewables would allow the UK to power itself six times over at current levels of demand.”

        • Nice. Just pulled up all those “___% of ___ could be powered by renewables” articles to try to put them in a more accessible place — i often have trouble remembering the titles well enough to find them quickly, and actually forgot about some of them. Will add this to the resource page. 😀

  • text was tl;dr, but one brief comment. Nuclear is not renewable energy source. Not because there is scarcity of uranium, but because it produces waste that we currently have no means to get rid of. And this waste problem is cumulative. Therefore nuclear does not differ substantially from scarce fossil fuels.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Waste isn’t that big a problem! We’ll just stick it back in the holes it came out of! Which means a lot of it will have to be shipped back here to… Wait a minute! Yeah, you’re right! It is a big problem!

    • Christian Abel

      So called “waste” is a fantastic resource.

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