Clean Power

Published on June 17th, 2013 | by Thomas Gerke


The Breakthrough Institute – Why The Hot Air?

June 17th, 2013 by  

I’ve recently stumbled upon a number of articles by the Breakthrough Institute (BTI) that aimed at discrediting renewable energy on the one hand and on the other preaching about nuclear energy as the solution for the global energy crisis of the 21st century. With their hearts and minds pre-set on pushing their narrative, that some kind of a nuclear salvation is being held back by leftish environmentalists (sinister!), the so called German “Energiewende” (Energy Transition) has apparently become a regular target of the Breakthrough Institute staff’s publications.


Public displays of ignorance and misrepresentation of facts are neither new nor rare when commentators try to discredit the feasibility of a shift to a renewable energy supply. This most regulary includes unscientific pandering to conventional wisdom. In the case of the Breakthrough Institute’s recent articles on Germany and solar energy, all of the above are certainly the case.

The Straw Men Army

As I mentioned at the top, I am writing this because I’ve recently stumbled upon a couple of Breakthrough Institute articles — I wasn’t too familiar with the “Breakthrough Institute” before that. In the middle of May, the Breakthrough Institute (BTI) published an article comparing the alleged costs of what its analysts call “the German solar program” and the costs of a Finnish nuclear project currently under construction and which is plagued by cost overruns. A couple of weeks later, Michael Shellenberger (BTI President) & Ted Nordhaus (BTI Chairman) published an article defending the previous article against unspecified criticism and making a couple of incredibly silly claims in the process.


Reason I wrote this post.

So here’s a roundup of a few straw men, dubious connections, distortions, and stuff that’s plain and simply silly.

#1 – Irrelevant “Cost” Comparison

[unscientific pandering to conventional wisdom]

Comparing the alleged gross-price tag of Germany’s solar policy with a Finnish nuclear project might seem like a very clever thing to do, but in reality it’s simply silly. The comparison suggests a non-existent equality in circumstances, goals, and preconditions that simply isn’t there.

What I am trying to say is, that if you want to judge two policies or projects, you should judge them foremost by their goals and motivations, not by an unrelated number game.

The motivation and the goals of Germany’s unprecedented solar policy are neither a secret nor hard to research (EEG 2004, Article 1). For decades, the main problem of solar had been identified as it being too expensive to deploy. But, at the same time, only deployment and mass production would lead to significant cost reductions. To overcome this barrier, the German parliament adapted the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) in 2004 to incentivize the installation of solar PV systems, thus creating the first uncapped mass market for solar power. It was the goal to reduce the technology’s cost through deployment, innovation, and market forces within the solar industry. The plan has succeeded a lot faster than anticipated and the cost of PV is expected to decline by at least another 50% by 2020.


The developement of feed-in-tariff rates for solar power (actual production costs / kWh are abit lower).

In contrast, the goal of the Finnish nuclear power plant had been to have a fully operational 1.6 GW Generation III+ nuclear reactor by 2009 for $4.2 billion. Since the decision for the new nuclear plant was made in 2000, that would have been 5 years of planing and permitting and 4 years of construction. Since the current estimate is that it might enter commercial operation in 2015 — 10 years after construction began — and at a price of approximately $11.1 billion, it can with no doubt be considered a massive failure.

Everyone can judge for themselves what they want to think about the two political projects.

  • On one side, a German policy that may have come with a price tag to consumers, but has successfully triggered the global commercialization and industrialization of an energy technology that sat dormant for far too long. (In addition, Germany’s solar industry — far more than solar cell manufacturing — still provides 100,000 high-paying jobs and is registering more patents than ever before.)
  • On the other side, the newest commercial product of the veteran nuclear industry failing miserably at delivering what it promised.

But there’s no arguing about the outcome. In most places around the world (including Germany), installing solar technology onsite can now lower the bill for households, businesses, and even industries. It takes only a few weeks/months from making the investment decision to producing a relatively certain monthly amount of peak-load power.

For any new nuclear power project, there is no such certainty nor is there a similar market-driven investment incentive at the horizon — even after almost 60 years of commercial nuclear power. (This is all something the BTI didn’t care to mention.)

I won’t delve into how nuclear and solar operate in different technological and economic paradigms at this point, but it should be obvious to everyone that neither solar panels nor a nuclear reactor represent a complete energy system. 

#2 – A Dubious Source as the Main Witness

[Questionable Motives]

I was not surprised to find the “100 Billion Euro disaster” paper written by Dr. Frondel of the RWI at the heart of the the first BTI story. What’s amusing is the naïve sort of “a German wrote it, it must be true!” attitude that is rather prevalent in many articles/comments that quote his work. Rarely does any journalist follow the money or intentions, nor does the American press care about the criticism of Dr. Frondels’ work.

In reality, Dr. Frondels’ analysis is nothing more than a simple calculation of a price tag. He then chooses to equate the price tag with macroeconomic costs, by overly simplifying and ignoring the complexity of the economic reality. Basically, the study was written to give lazy journalists easy-to-copy-&-paste headlines and snippets in order to attack solar energy (which is controversial, of course, which brings in readers and makes the journalists look “critical” and “smart”).

Undoubtedly, those economic interests that have commissioned the RWI study and fund the work of people like Dr.Frondel are very pleased to see the BTI making such “good” and uncritical use of their investments.

I’ve created this little infrographic below to illustrate some background information on the history of Dr. Frondels’ study and other somewhat related information. See what you can find.



To give you an even better understanding of the general nature of Dr. Frondels’ work in recent years, I would just like to refer you to the RWI’s publication called “Positionen Nr. 45” from April 2011. The title of this particular RWI paper was, “The Cost Of Climate Protection – A Look At Electricity Prices.” In it, Dr. Frondel comes to the surprising (Who pays the piper, calls the tune) conclusion that German household electricity prices in 2011 could have remained at their 1998 levels if it wasn’t for all that nasty climate action!

I personally find it fascinating how the BTI chooses to utilize Dr. Frondels’ work to discredit renewable energy and attack people like Bill McKibben, while at the very same time, the whole Keystone XL decision is an increasingly important issue in the US.

Well, whatever reasons the BTI may have for its recent urge to make renewables look bad, it did choose not to mention the dubious connections of its main source on the alleged economics of Germany’s renewable energy policy. Its reasoning for withholding this relevant background information is obvious though: A study comissioned by the American Oil & Gas industry, written by a guy who is involved with a German version of the Heartland Institute simply isn’t a very convincing main witness when you are try to make a simplistic case against renewables in favor of nuclear energy.

#3 – The Emissions Blame Game

[Misrepresenting & Oversimplifying]

The good folks at the BTI love to foster the myth that less nuclear must lead to higher emissions, and that Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear will kill the climate. Unfortunately, there is no denying the fact that emissions did in fact rise in 2012.

However, not mentioning the colder-than-usual winter (including the related French electricity crisis in February 2012) and the increase of coal-powered electricity exports due to the collapse of the European emissions trading system is a willful choice.

For the record, with 317 Mio tons of CO2, the 2012 emissions from electricity generation are still well below the 5-year pre-recession average (2003-2007) of 330 Mio tons. If you consider that the German economy made a strong comeback after the global recession in 2009, with record-breaking employment and export levels, this becomes even more significant (i.e. energy productivity increased).

In fact, 2012 emissions per kWh were almost 10% lower compared to 2002, which was the year with the highest nuclear output in Germany. More info on total GHG emissions (not only the 30% caused by electricity generation) is included below.

#4 – Renewables have had no impact!

[Clown Territory Loss of Reality Disorder(?) / Pandering to conventional wisdom]

In their opinion piece titled “No Solar Way Around It,” Shellenberger and Nordhaus get carried away and make the following remark:

“In reality, there’s little evidence that renewables have supplanted — rather than supplemented — fossil fuel production anywhere in the world. Whatever their merits as innovation policy, Germany’s enormous solar investments have had little discernible impact on carbon emissions.” — No Solar Way Around It, BTI

This statement is a showcase example of the the smartass microcosm the BTI president has chosen to populate with his fact-free wisdom. I don’t know what he was trying to say, but the only thing he could have hoped to accomplish is to reinforce anti-renewable mythology. By doing so, he obviously disqualified himself as a reasonable member of the energy debate. But I am hopeful that he’ll correct his claim….

Here are the facts, plain and simple, for you to judge:

Impact of Renewable Energy on the Energy Supply and GHG-Emissions

Impact of Renewable Energy on the Energy Supply and GHG-Emissions. Source: UBA, AGEB, BMWi

During the first 12 years of this century, the final energy supplied by renewable energy sources has more than tripled. Final energy is what is left of primary energy after conversion and transmission losses. At the same time, efficiency increases have reduced the overall final energy demand, despite a growing economy. Both developments did not only compensate for the decline of the marginal nuclear contribution, but they also supplanted about 9.3% fossil fuel final energy consumption since the year 2000.

The Decline of Fossil Energy

The Decline of Fossil Energy. Source: AGEB

Fossil primary energy consumption (energy content of the fuel input of a countries energy system) declined by 11.5% since 2000 and by 18%  since 1990. Which in turn explains the decline of greenhouse gas emissions by 10.5% over the same period and a decline of 25.5% compared to 1990.

It’s important to keep in mind that the German “Energiewende” (energy policy portfolio) is about improving energy efficiency (since the late 1970s) and increasing the share of renewable energy sources (proactively since 2000) at the same time. While the growth of renewables in the electricity sector gets a lot of attention, it’s by no means the only aspect of the “Energiewende”.

Considering this and the facts mentioned before, it’s only fair to notice that the “Energiewende” has accomplished significantly more during just the last 12 years, than the quite substantial nuclear program did since its inception.


These small details (easy-to-access facts) are a good transition to my next and final point in this post.

#5 – The Germans don’t know what they are doing!

[The Straw Giant]

“What that means is that if Germany doubled the amount of solar, as it intends to do, there might be a few hours or even days every year where the country gets 100 percent of its electricity from solar, even though solar only provides 10 percent of its annual electricity needs.

What happens beyond that is anyone’s guess. Some say Germany could sell its power to other countries, but this would mean other countries couldn’t move to solar since Germany would provide electricity at the same hours it would seek to unload it on their neighbors.” — No Solar Way Around It, BTI

Germany-BismarckSuggesting that the German long-term energy strategy is somewhat irrational is a very common thread of most BTI attacks on the “German Energiewende.” They want you to believe that Germany – the fourth largest economy of the world and the country that is excessively proud of its engineering art and long history of industrial innovation — is wandering into some kind of fantasy land. In my opinion, this claim alone should make even uninformed readers pause and question what the BTI is suggesting.

Unfortunately, the BTI is probably somewhat successful in reinforcing conventional wisdom on renewable energy and its “green hippies are naïve” narrative, simply because most people usually don’t get quality information about these rather complex issues. This tilts the game in favour of people voicing simplistic messages (e.g. if you care about climate change => go nuclear!).

The BTI might also be successful in confusing the public because it works so hard to misrepresent Germany’s energy strategy (one of the world’s leading positive examples of strong renewable energy policy), arguing almost exclusively against its little straw men army instead of discussing reality. Is it doing so out of ignorance or because reality is infringing on its late 1980s-style nuclear-salvation narrative? I don’t know.

What I do know is that it spends a lot of time, energy, and money suggesting that Germany’s game plan is to simply go solar (with a little wind added in) or that Germany hasn’t run the numbers.

Obviously all those German scientists and engineers, policy leaders, and business leaders didn’t check the numbers, because they didn’t come to the conclusion that there has to be a nuclear component. It can’t be what must not be!

So what’s the takeaway from all this?

In my opinion it’s very simple. Unless you choose to believe all the comfortable conventional wisdom that comes along, you don’t have to be a Raketenwissenschaftler to notice that the Breakthrough Institute is producing a lot of hot air. If you come to that conclusion, the next legitimate question should be to consider its motives. Why has it chosen to walk down a partisan disinformation alley?

My Humble Opinion

I strongly believe that an informed public is crucial for confronting the global energy crisis so I am obviously kind of disgusted by narrow-minded messages of ignorance being delivered as if they were wisdom from enlightenment. Still, I can not help finding the BTI’s attempts to discredit Germany’s energy vision as quite amusing and at the same time intriguing (more on that at the end).


Why amusing, you wonder?

While there are definatly worse anti-renewable advocates in the US, addressing some of the BTI’s claims gives me the opportunity to relive some of the more ridiculous energy debates that happened 10-40 years ago in my country. In Germany, I can only read and ask people about how previous generations struggled to overcome certain mental barriers. However, due to the internet and the rather asynchronous state of the energy debate globally, I can now experience those struggles firsthand — which is exciting!

Nationwide print campaign by the German power industry - 1993 - Sounds familiar?

Nationwide print campaign by the German power industry back in 1993

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of anti-renewable and anti-Energiewende advocacy going on in Germany, but it has gotten a lot more sophisticated and insidious in recent years due to an overwhelming pro-renewable public opinion.

In Germany, the goal of anti-renewable advocates has long been to suppress the rise of ambitions within the civil society. There are significant vested interests that profit from the status quo, so they fear any challenge of the current structure of the energy industry. De-activating society by feeding it no-future scenarios or by telling it that meaningful action requires technological breakthroughs that are decades away are just two of the common themes. Pretty standard anti-enlightenment stuff. 

In my opinon, the BTI tries to apply the above-mentioned tactics. There is no way for me to prove that opinion or know what the BTI’s intentions or motivations truly are. Perhaps its staff members just sing and dance to the “Status Quo” crowd’s song out of pure personal convictions. What I do know is that they are currently very obviously promoting their upcoming overly emotional pro-nuclear “documentary” Pandora’s Promise. This in mind, I can understand their desire to shoot in all directions, desperately trying to stir up a debate* and get as much attention for their message as possible. (*damn it! it worked on me…)

I can understand it from a PR point of view. Though, I think they are shooting themselves in the feet in the process by attacking renewable energy deployment increasingly often.

A Brave New World

In any case, the Breakthrough Institute is one of America’s first more prominent organizations exercising phase 3 of anti-renewable advocacy designed to discourage those who have realized that there is an alternative, but who are not yet convinced that a rapid transition to renewable energy is feasable or how it might work.

The surprisingly large amount of media coverage which the BTI enjoys — compared to so many institutions and people who are actually having an impact around the world — reinforces my belief that the powerful “Status Quo” crowd wants you to hear their message. This is fact is intriguing because it would mean that somebody is starting to get worried about a long-overdue, massive energy democracy spill on US soil.

Typical phases of resistance to renewable energy, as descriped by Dr. Herman Scheer are as follows:

  • Phase 1 – Belittle & Deny the Renewable Energy Option
  • Phase 2 – Denounce & Mobilize Against the Renewable Energy Option
  • Phase 3 – Spread Doubt & Misrepresent the Challenges in the Disguise of General Support

(Note: reaching Phase 3 doesn’t mean that Phase 1 & 2 will disappear.)

Today, basically every assault on the transition to renewable energy in Germany comes in the disguise of general support. Whether it’s the current German federal government trying to discourage renewable energy investments or the conventional energy industry that builds coal power stations rendered unprofitable by the rise of renewable community power — everyone is officially 120% in favor of the “Energiewende“.

The common use of such phase 3 tactics by the “Pro–Status Quo” crowd is also the reason why many international analysts and journalists fail miserably at understanding the current developments over here. There is a naïve tunnel vision when it comes to looking at the actual front lines of the German energy debate.

This lack of quality by international commentators is also the reason why partisan criticism by people like Dr. Frondel of the RWI and INSM is so often quoted throughout the international press, while all those numerous other German experts promoting the energy transition are hardly ever heard of — despite the fact that they have obviously shaped the country’s policy.

“Clearly we will win, because we got the better arguments. We are on the right track, the Energiewende is a successful model. We have created great markets, we are leading the world in energy efficency.” — Prof. Dr. Claudia Kemfert, Head of the Energy Department at the German Institute for Economic Research, during a TV debate in reply to the question “Who will win this “battle” of pro & con arguments — the US (shale gas) or us (German Energiewende)?”

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

is a close observer of the scientific, political and economic energy debate in Germany and around the globe. Inspired by the life's work of the renewable energy advocate Hermann Scheer, Thomas focuses on spreading information that showcase the possibilities & opportunities of a 100% renewable energy system. Though technology is key for this energy shift, he also looks at the socio-economic benefits and the political, as well as structural barriers.

  • John_ONeill

    ‘It takes only a few weeks/months from making the investment decision to producing a relatively certain monthly amount of peak-load power.’
    Since peak load in Germany, as in most temperate countries , is in the evening around 8 pm, especially in winter, you can indeed be certain in advance what your solar production will be then – zero.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Brilliant, John!!!

      I wonder why that has not occurred to anyone before?

      • John_ONeill

        Maybe it did. A lot more people without solar than with. Especially outside the subsidy zone.

        • Bob_Wallace

          It did, John. And that’s why we’re using a mix of renewables to re-power the grid.

  • bigcitylib

    Interesting stuff on RWI. A valid comparison to Heartland would be devastating to Breakthrough. So: is RWI really that awful re AGW issues?

  • Eli Rabett

    Mind if Eli borrows the poster?

  • Tom K

    “I won’t delve into how nuclear and solar operate in different technological and economic paradigms at this point…”

    Is this a concession that solar does not compete directly with coal then (given that coal and nuclear occupy the same energy-supply niche)? Why then, does CleanTechnica have numerous articles claiming that solar is reaching “grid parity” if solar does not operate in the same technological and economic paradigm? Isn’t this an “irrelevant cost comparison”?

    “What I am trying to say is, that if you want to judge two policies or
    projects, you should judge them foremost by their goals and motivations,
    not by an unrelated number game.”

    So, basically, intentions are everything, outcomes are irrelevant? Frankly, I don’t think the climate cares about your goals or motivations. The climate responds to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, and people respond to the cost of energy – these are numbers games, no matter how you try to spin it.

    By the way, claiming that a cost comparison represents an “attack” on renewables, and then mimicking the Pandora’s Promise poster with a picture of faeces is extraordinarily hypocritical, not to mention plain childish.

    Great article though! :-/

    • Bob_Wallace

      Grid parity is a cost per kWh comparison. Solar has dropped in cost to the point that solar is competing with other methods of generation on the grid.

      New solar is cheaper than new coal.

      If we include the health costs of burning coal then solar is already cheaper than ‘old’ coal. Electricity from coal plants already built and paid off. (Construction and financing of new coal plants are expensive, fuel isn’t.)

      Obviously coal can be operated more hours of the day than the Sun shines. But that does not make coal less expensive. It costs what it costs.

      Our future grid will almost certainly use the cheapest inputs, wind and solar, when they are producing. And then fill in with either dispatchable generation or storage. In the short term we’ll use dispatchable natural gas but we’ll almost certainly replace that with storage.

      • Tom Keen

        Your comments, regardless of their accuracy, have absolutely no relevance to the point I was making. My point was that if the author of this article is going to claim that a nuclear vs solar cost comparison is “irrelevant”, this implies that a coal vs solar cost comparison is also irrelevant. This is because coal and nuclear operate in the same energy-supply niche – which, amongst other things, makes nuclear a very practical substitute for coal and a good climate strategy.

        Cost comparisons are not irrelevant, and the author’s attempt to claim that they are is ridiculous. And the numbers speak for themselves. Even the giant cost f$&*-up that is the Olkiluoto nuclear plant is much lower cost than solar in the world’s best-performing solar nation. That is an entirely reasonable point to make in a climate policy context, and in no way constitutes an “attack” on solar.

        • Bob_Wallace

          “Even the giant cost f$&*-up that is the Olkiluoto nuclear plant is much lower cost than solar in the world’s best-performing solar nation.”

          No, you are making the mistake of using the price of electricity from paid off nuclear reactors and making a comparison to the price of electricity from solar which is still recovering its capex and paying off its financing.

          If we want to make a new nuclear to new solar comparison, solar is now being installed for a lower LCOE than new nuclear would cost. That’s with no subsidies for solar and does not include the cost of taxpayer liability and waste disposal costs for nuclear.

          If you want to compare the cost of paid off solar and paid off nuclear there is no contest here either. Paid off solar has a roughly $0.01/kWh O&M cost while paid off nuclear is over $0.05/kWh.

    • ThomasGerke

      Hi Tom,
      thanks for your remarks.

      Outcomes are very relevant, the problem with the BTI’s articles is, that they pick details to proof their pro-nuclear activist points.
      Obviously the climate doesn’t care about intentions, but it also doesn’t care about the money Germany spend on commercializing solar technology.

      The reality is, that no new nuclear EPR reactor has produced any TWh to date – while German solar generated 28 TWh in 2012.

      Furthermore solar & wind have lowered wholesale market prices and load hours in Germany to the point, that hard coal power plants are unprofitable. If the European emissions trading system would not be broken due to bad (unambitious) design, even horrible lignite coal would be pushed out of the market.

  • Peter Bradford

    In their piece urging nuclear as a low cost source of low carbon energy (“Going Green? Then Go Nuclear” WSJ May 23, 2013) Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger state that “the cost of building and operating the Finnish nuclear plant over the next 20 years will be $15 billion. Over that time period, the plant will generate 225 terawatt-hours (twh) of electricity at a cost of 7 cents per
    kilowatt hour.”

    Like so many broken nuclear industry economic promises, Nordhaus and Shellenberger combine outright error with unrealistically optimistic assumptions. The outright error is their failure to count the inevitable multibillion dollar required return on the $11 billion invested. Correcting this error alone will double the 7 cent cost projection.

    But it gets worse.

    Nordhaus/Shellenberger do not know whether the forecasts that they state with
    such certainty will happen. The Finnish plant is a first of a kind whose
    construction management has gone from woe to woe. Yet they assume it will
    outperform most of the world’s existing plants over their first 20 years to
    produce that 225 terrawatt-hours of electricity. In fact, the Finnish plant, like so
    many other reactors, may operate poorly, break down, require additional

    If EDF (the would-be builder of a similar reactor in Great Britain) has confidence in the Shellenberger/Nordhaus promise of 7 cents per kWh, why are they insisting that British customers guarantee a price of more than 14 cents/kWh for 30 years? Why does Exelon, the owner of the largest U.S. reactor fleet, forecast new nuclear at 12 cents pr kWh, a price that it acknowledges is above many low carbon electric sector alternatives?

    The answer of course is that EDF and Exelon know better than Nordhaus/Shellenberger what nuclear power will cost. But at the 14 cents/kWh that EDF must charge, any economic advantage for new nuclear over the many low carbon energy alternatives – not just the Nordhaus/Shellenberger solar straw man – is out the window.

    Peter Bradford

    • Joris van Dorp

      14 cent/kWh for nuclear is a lot for nuclear power plant (even if it is first-of-a-kind) But one would not expect a fleet of EPR nuclear plants to each cost 14 ct/kWh. The Chinese are doing quite well with their EPR’s. They seem to be largely on schedule and within budget.

      Even if hundreds of still-to-be-built EPR’s all cost 14 ct/kWh (which is highly implausible) that 14 ct would still be less than the (at least) 17 ct/kWh that would be required in a 99.9% renewable scenario for 2030, such as has been calculated by Budischak et. al. here:

      Budischak is being optimistic in this study. Note for example that the author assumes that electrical transmission costs in a 99.9% renewables system would NOT increase. There are other assumptions, such as that electric vehicle batteries will be available for grid-tied energy storage and supply services, and that large-scale hydrogen energy storage is cheap and easy.

      While TBI arguably was a little snark by comparing the costs of solar and the costs of nuclear the way they did in their article, it is still true today that nuclear power is far less costly than solar + backup in Germany. I have a read a lot of anti-nuclear articles that are full of direct falsehoods. The TBI article doesn’t contain anything like the kind of lies anti-nukes like to bandy about.

      Anyway, without belaboring the point, I wonder if the Peter Bradford posting here is the same Peter Bradford who is shown to be a staunch supported of shale gas here:

      • Bob_Wallace

        Actually the Budischak number is very high.

        First, they used only wind, solar and storage (tiny amount of NG). Incorporating load-shifting and power purchases/sales with adjacent grids would lower their cost.

        Second, the prices they use for wind and solar are high. The price of both wind and solar now are already cheaper than their 2030 assumptions.

        As for storage, do not forget that any appreciable use of nuclear on the grid also requires storage. Off-peak nuclear production must be moved to peak demand hours.

        We don’t know how China is doing, budget wise with nuclear. But we do know that they aren’t building new reactors super fast.

        Finally, in your support of nuclear, do remember that nuclear has to earn “14ct/kWh” 24/365. Unlike natural gas reactors can’t be shut down when demand is low and the monthly loan must be paid. When wind or solar set the price, which can be quite low, nuclear has to underbid them to force them to curtail. Then nuclear must sell for a much higher price in order to make up for that loss.

        Wind, without subsidies, is now selling for around 6c/kWh. Solar, without subsidies, is breaking under 10c/kWh and will fall significantly lower before a new reactor could be brought on line. Pricing wind and solar off the grid would mean having to earn some tremendously high prices for the remaining hours which would easily be undercut by natural gas.

        • Ivor O’Connor

          I see China has standardized nuclear pricing across the nation at 7c/kWh. With your wind quote at 6c/kWh I don’t see how China can justify building any more nuclear plants. It would be interesting to compare communist 5 year plans to what actually took place over the last decade. And look at their latest plans…

        • mechanieker

          “Pricing wind and solar off the grid would mean having to earn some tremendously high prices for the remaining hours which would easily be undercut by natural gas.”

          Oh right. I’m sorry, I thought the plan was to eliminate fossil fuel burning. Nuclear can do that, France shows. Wind and solar can’t, because they will stimulate gas burning as you correctly point out. Don’t you care about the climate?

  • Karl-Friedrich Lenz

    Excellent article on the facts. I am not sure about the part about the BTI’s motivation, though. This should not really matter much for the debate.

    Anyway, I read that exchange on Twitter as well, and I noted that BTI claims they are pro-renewable. I don’t think that claim has any merit, as you demonstrate conclusively above, though some of it could just be honest lack of knowledge and willingness to do some research, as opposed to intentional lies.

    What BTI and other nuclear advocates don’t get is that every time they attack renewable, they increase the level of opposition to nuclear energy even more than there is in the first place. The only case for nuclear is that it should be barely tolerated until global warming is solved in a couple of decades, and anyone attacking renewable will not find much support from people worried about global warming.

  • agelbert

    Soon the BrokenRECORD Institude of marvelous mendacious nuclear mummblygook will reach STAGE FOUR:

    STAGE IV = Laughing stock stage when the FINNISH IDIOTS discover the 2/3 nuclear power and 1/3 renewables will cost 3 or 4 times 100% renewables and abandon the nuclear idiocy. LOL

    Do any of these nuclear nuts EVER price in the cost of baby sitting used fuel rods for a few CENTURIES!!?

    WHO paid to dig those deep caverns in Finland or Norway to store this poison per secula seculorum?
    Do ANY OF THESE IDIOTS understand cost accounting?

    And in the USA they’ve got another “bright” idea. They want to use LIGUID SODIUM (of the fast breeder accidents infamy, by the way) to ACCELERATE radioactive decay of fuel assemblies so they will be A-Okay in ONLY a hundred yeas or so instead of 100,000 YEARS! Aren’t they SO thoughtful and kind?

    One more thing. Has the BROKEN-THROUGHOUT INSTITUTE ever tried to price the cost of paying nuclear scientists and technicians versus PV panel and Wind technicians and maintenance personnel?

    OF COURSE NOT!! The word “nuclear” is code for $$$$$$ and they just don’t want to let go of their poisonous cash cow. To HELL with them!

  • Ross

    Great post Thomas. Well done for having the patience to debunk the nonsense.

    • ThomasGerke

      Thanks. Well, that 20 year old German power industry campaign communicating the exact same message was a great inspiration. 😉

  • Bob_Wallace

    The American Energy Alliance (AEA) was founded in 2008 by Thomas Pyle, who previously lobbied on behalf of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and Koch Industries and who previously worked for CongressmanTom Delay (R-TX), when Delay served as Whip and before Delay, as House Majority Leader, stepped down from the U.S. House of Representatives under an ethical cloud.

    AEA states that its aim is to “create a climate that encourages the advancement of free market energy policies” and in particular ensure drilling for oil is allowed in the Artic National Wildlife refuge and in US coastal waters.[1]

    On its website it lists the Institute for Energy Research (IER) as a “partner” organization and states that it is the “grassroots arm” of IER.[2] AEA states that, by “communicating IER’s decades of scholarly research to the grassroots, AEA will empower citizens with facts so that people who believe in freedom can reclaim the moral high ground in the national public policy debates in the energy and environmental arena.”[3]

    There are a bunch of interlocked anti-renewable energy organizations. I spent some time following the trail a while back and started hitting some familiar names – Koch, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney….

  • Bob_Wallace

    See the IER in Thomas’ figure?

    The Institute for Energy Research (IER), founded in 1989 from a predecessor non-profit organisation, advocates positions on environmental issues including deregulation of utilities, climate change denial, and claims that conventional energy sources are virtually limitless.

  • Bob_Wallace

    This is not the Breakthrough Institute’s first appearance on the misinformation stage.

    Joe Romm on Jun 17, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    The Breakthrough Institute (TBI) has dedicated the resources of their organization to trying to kill prospects for climate and clean energy action in this Congress and to spreading disinformation about Obama, Gore, Congressional leaders, Waxman and Markey, leading climate scientists, Al Gore again, the entire environmental community and anyone else trying to end our status quo energy policies, including me (see “Memo to media: Don’t be suckered by bad analyses from the Breakthrough Institute” and “Will America lose the clean-energy race? Only if we listen to the disinformers of The Breakthrough Institute“). Now they are embracing and defended those who deny the reality of climate science.

    This year TBI founders Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger published a string of factually untrue, egregious statements in an essay titled: “The Green Bubble: Why environmentalism keeps imploding.” The biggest whopper: “It has become an article of faith among many greens that the global poor are happier with less and must be shielded from the horrors of overconsumption and economic development-never mind the realities of infant mortality, treatable disease, short life expectancies, and grinding agrarian poverty.” No one in the environmental movement believes that, but it is a right-wing fantasy of the “greens.” Robert J. Brulle, Professor of Sociology and Environmental Science, Drexel University utterly debunks this essay (see below) and writes of this quote, “Who or what environmental group has ever said anything of this nature? This statement is an out-and-out fabrication.

    Joe has a nice long piece on the junk this group has pushed on the public.

    Recommended reading.

  • jburt56

    Polls show 9 of out 10 mutants support nuclear power!!! Raise your tentacle if you agree!!!!

    • agelbert

      Good one! :>)

  • photosymbiont

    The Breakthrough Institute was originally a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers, Inc., which is a creation of Rockefeller Financial Services. The top investments of that well-diversified firm include Exxon and Chevron as well as banks like Citigroup that are heavily dependent on oil trading and coal-fired power – as well as being deeply invested in utilities with large nuclear portfolios. They are best described as an astroturf program set up to protect the status quo energy mix (fossil and nuclear) from renewable competition.

    • Tom K

      The Breakthrough Institute still is a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers. RPA is a fiscal sponsor only – they provide no funding.

      You can find all of the financial supporters of The Breakthrough on their website:

      None of the supporters have any direct economic interest in any of Breakthrough’s analyses or policy prescriptions, as a matter of Breakthrough policy.

  • JamesWimberley

    A good debunk but the marginal value of such exercises is declining. Nuclear power has zero support on Wall Street and its fellows. Nuclear sentimentalists are preaching to an empty church – unlike the disinformation campaigns funded by fossil fuel interests, which have real money and political clout.

    BTW, the chart of German FITS must be mislabeled. The orange line must be the rooftop FIT, the blue line the average.

    • ThomasGerke

      Thanks. I agree with you on nuclear, there has never been a good pure business/market case for nuclear.

      I can see how the labels are confusing, it appears to be a quite literal translation of a commonly used German term “Durchschnittsvergütung”.

      The orange line refers to the average FIT-rate payed across the entire installed capacity to this date. So the entire 34 GW installed over the last years recieve an average 0.30€ / kWh.

      The more new solar is installed, the lower that “average FIT for PV” gets.

    • Adam Grant

      Agreed that nuclear is roadkill, but just how flat is the ugly toad?

      It would be valuable to see a summary of all remaining nuclear construction programmes, with a recent, realistic assessment of their likelihood of getting built. Apparently the Saudis and Chinese plan to build more, although the Chinese level of commitment will probably drop with each five-year plan as renewables prove themselves and their water situation worsens.

      • Bob_Wallace

        My guess is that over the next ten years we’ll see new nuclear startups drop to about zero. With ten more years of increased efficiency and continued drops in wind and solar costs it’s going to be hard to justify building capacity that would increase the cost of electricity.

        Now, obviously, if someone invents a way to bring nuclear energy down in price to where it is competitive with renewables things would change. But after over 50 years of working to reduce costs and watching costs rise it’s not likely we’ll see a change.

        • Adam Grant

          I quite agree; however, the nuclear advocates are claiming that, worldwide, dozens of new reactors are being built, and it would be desirable to have factual sources to refute this. Now, their total probably includes research reactors, reactors used to make medical isotopes, the full reactor count from the original Chinese plan (only a few of which may ever get built, the way things are going), etc etc.
          Of course, the nuclear industry won’t be forthcoming with such a survey, but perhaps some reliable third party has stepped up…

          • Bob_Wallace

            It’s not hard to find out how many reactors are actually being built. You can get a count from this page…


            The claim of “dozens being built” is accurate, but it’s small dozens. China has 28 in construction, so that’s multiple dozens. Outside of China the number is pretty small.

            One in the US with three other likely. (I’m not sure they’ve actually started construction on Vogtle 4 or the two South Carolina reactors.)

            Two in Europe, which are way over budget and taking a lot more time than promised.

            If you ask the nuclear industry, they claim 60 reactors under construction. But they count reactors being planned as being constructed. They claim 13 new reactors “under construction” in the US when the actual number is one to four. There are “planned” reactors which have been in the planning stage for many years and almost certainly won’t be built.
            Just eyeballing the two pages, I’d say roughly three dozen new reactors are being built. A lot of countries get into the planning process, look at the cost, look at how rapidly renewable costs are dropping, look at how efficiency and rooftop solar are lowering demand, and put their reactor plans on hold.

          • Adam Grant


          • Bob_Wallace

            Just saw a little while ago that Brazil has decided to not build their four.
            That’s why you want to be careful with nuclear industry claims of a great nuclear revival in our future. A bunch of the “plans” are quite tenuous.
            I’m about to the point of making a serious prediction that China will slow their future builds. Again.

            If they are installing solar at $1/Watt and have a great wind industry I suspect they won’t waste money on more expensive nuclear.

  • GRLCowan

    What has the trend in Germany been with respect to burn injuries? I’m expecting them to have been substantially up in the past few years.

    • GRLCowan

      … but they aren’t. From ,

      “We retrospectively reviewed our local single center database of patients
      with thermal injuries admitted to the burn intensive care unit (BICU)
      of the Cologne-Merheim Medical Center (University Hospital of
      Witten/Herdecke). The cohort was divided into two groups according to
      the decade of admission and the epidemiology and clinical course of the
      patient sample admitted during the period 1991-2000 (n=911) was compared to that of 2001-2010 (n=695).”

      If bottled gas use has increased, the safety of this use has increased faster.

Back to Top ↑