Clean Power

Published on July 29th, 2014 | by Michael Barnard


Wind Energy Beats Nuclear & Carbon Capture For Global Warming Mitigation

July 29th, 2014 by  

There’s an enduring myth related to wind energy and nuclear energy that needs to be put to bed. That myth is that only nuclear can be scaled to sufficient capacity to reduce the impacts of global warming, and that wind energy is much less scalable so it should be ignored.

Most recently, this appeared as a broad generalization without any supporting evidence in a pro-carbon capture series by a CCS researcher on the Siemens-sponsored Energy Collective, which features this particular myth regularly, being a bit of an echo chamber for it.  Of course the nuclear industry’s PR professionals love this line as well.

And there’s another myth related to carbon capture and sequestration being more significant than renewables that has to be assessed as well.

China is the true test bed for maximum scalability of nuclear vs wind. It has a tremendous gap between demand and generation. It can mostly ignore lack of social license for nuclear. It is building both wind and nuclear as rapidly as possible. It has been on a crash course for both for about the same period of time. It has bypassed most of the regulatory red tape for nuclear which sensibly exists elsewhere given concerns about economic fallout of Fukushima-scale disasters, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. And in four years it has built significantly less nuclear generation capacity than it built of wind generation capacity in 2013 alone.

What is the reality of nuclear vs wind built out?

  • China turned on just over 16 GW of nameplate capacity of wind generation in 2013 according to the Global Wind Energy Council. main-qimg-685d5352cac9646a84090629a1039504
  • Over the four years of 2010 to 2014 China managed to put 4.7 GW of nuclear into operation. This is not their stated plan for nuclear which is much higher, but the actual generation capacity put into production.
  • Modern wind turbines have a median 40.35% capacity factor and exceed 50% in the best wind resources according to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) who track the actuals on this sort of thing.
  • Taking similarly sourced numbers for nuclear capacity factor from the Nuclear Energy Institute, we see 90.9% capacity factors for nuclear reactors. These are apples-to-apples statistics from the same country.

Running the math, that’s about 6.5 GW of real capacity of wind energy in one year vs 4.3 GW of real capacity for nuclear over four years. That’s roughly six times more real wind energy capacity than nuclear per year. 2014 might be better than average as perhaps 2 GW have been made operational this year. We’ll see what reality brings as wind energy is being expanded rapidly as well.

Comparing 2013 only we see over six times as much real capacity from wind energy as from nuclear. There’s no reason to believe that this will change significantly as years slide by, as China is well below projections for new nuclear generation in operation, much like most jurisdictions’ experiences with the realities of getting nuclear to work.


No other geography is capable of building as much nuclear per capita as China is. India’s track record as the next biggest source of nuclear growth is poor as well, as they’ve only managed to build 4.2 GW in several decades.

Globally nuclear capacity has diminished and is expected to continue to diminish over the next few years as France shuts off 33% of its fleet in favour of mostly wind energy, Germany shuts off its fleet, Ontario intends to move from 55% to 42% supply from nuclear according to its draft long term energy plan and aging reactors globally reach end-of-life with no economic refurbishment possible. In empirical terms it doesn’t matter what anybody claims is possible: wind energy is growing rapidly while nuclear is going backwards. That’s reality.


Meanwhile, most geographies are perfectly capable of building wind farms and are, with utility-scale wind generation in 100 countries so far. For the past five years wind energy has averaged 40 GW of new operational nameplate capacity according to GWEC or 16 GW of median capacity and that is expected to grow.


To be clear, nuclear is a good choice where it can actually be built and where it makes economic sense. It is much better than fossil fuel generation; its problems are economic and pragmatic, not environmental or health impacts. But reality limits nuclear growth mostly to China and India because they both are existing nuclear powers and both have vast disparity between demand and supply. Similarly, refurbishing reactors in the developed world makes economic sense only some of the time where economics make it viable. There are many factors hindering nuclear growth that don’t apply to renewables.

What about the carbon capture and sequestration myth?

But this most recent reference to the nuclear scalability myth was also all in a series of articles by a person who researches and advocates carbon capture and sequestration. How does that stack up?

It’s a smaller myth than nuclear but it’s worth looking at. The author claims that CCS will be more of a factor in terms of reducing global warming than renewables, which he claims are immaterial compared to nuclear. He’s been proven wrong about nuclear vs renewables, but how does he do with CCS vs renewables? He makes the point in discussion that CCS has stored about 55 Mton of CO2, which is about a third of the total CO2 avoided by total solar photovoltaic generation of 370 TWH by the end of 2013. He makes reasonable assumptions related to avoidance instead of underplaying renewable’s displacement of fossil fuel generation.

He then claims that because CCS demonstration activities have only cost $20 billion to date and Germany’s solar subsidies are in the range of $100 billion, this is a pretty good indication that CCS is the better answer.

Of course, his source for the solar costs is the media outlet in Germany most opposed to renewables, but even accepting that, Germany has spent a higher price on solar than any jurisdiction will have to moving forward. And the solar that it has implemented is production capacity which continues to eliminate carbon, while demonstration projects are just that.

The obvious white elephant in the room, of course, is that he’s paying attention to just one form of renewables in his calculations. Wind generation by end of 2012 had 534.3 TWh of generation, with likely close to that much again since given the massive growth of wind capacity and capacity factors worldwide. So wind energy has likely avoided in the range of ten times as much CO2e as all of CCS and it’s being built much more quickly at a much lower cost, with resultant elimination of fossil fuel generation.

So just solar and wind so far have eliminated perhaps thirteen times the CO2e of all the CCS projects to date. And every day the production wind and solar avoid more CO2e from being created while creating electricity at economically viable prices. Meanwhile, CCS experiments to-date have been run sitting on top of places to sequester CO2, not realistic distances away.

That’s moderately damning as it is but let’s take a pragmatic perspective on CCS. Here’s a little data and a thought experiment to add to the empirical realities of CCS.

When coal burns the carbon combines with oxygen, and the resulting CO2 weighs 2.86 times the weight of the coal. Close to three times the weight of coal in CO2 must be be shipped to somewhere else for sequestration. An example coal plant requires 56 million tons of coal annually, which must be shipped in on boats and trains. That means that 167 million tons of CO2 must be shipped away from that coal plant annually if the carbon is captured. And coal and CO2 require completely different shipping containers. Coal can be shipped in open-topped cars, but CO2 requires pressurized or refrigerated railway tank cars, or pipelines. That means that full coal cars roll up and empty coal cars roll away, then empty CO2 cars roll up and full cars roll away or that pipelines get built. That’s very expensive logistically.

Here are all of the CO2 pipelines that existed in 2008 in the USA to feed enhanced oil recovery which is the dominant targeted expectation for use of captured CO2. It’s a mixed blessing at best in terms of atmospheric CO2 reduction as it just pushes more fossil fuels out the other end.


The last time I checked — and I spent a couple of months working on air carbon capture leveraging Graciela Chichilnisky’s GlobalThermostat technology  — CO2 varied between $30 and $50 USD per ton value to end consumers. That’s an entire new infrastructure and set of expensive logistics for a commodity which is cheap, already plentiful and only more plentiful with carbon capture. How much is this going to cost, and who exactly is going to pay for this extensive logistics network?

Per this CCS and fossil fuel industry lobbying group, CCS will cost roughly $120-$140 per ton of CO2 or three to five times the commodity value. It’s safe to assume that those numbers are conservative given the source, but not wildly off as it’s a Canadian organization. There are hopes that it will turn out to be more like shifting to lower sulphur coal and scrubbing, but that’s unrealistic. Burning coal gives off 70 to 286 times the weight of CO2 than of sulphur. It’s nowhere near the same scale, and there is no low-carbon coal to shift to which solved much of the problem for sulphur.
What does that mean for a MWH of electricity generated by coal?  Well, coal plants have just been getting worse in terms of emitting CO2 over the past decades.

Doing a little math, it’s apparent that CCS will add from $168 to $196 to the cost of a MWh of coal generation. That’s 16.8 to 19.6 cents per KWh which puts existing coal plants impossibly deep into unprofitable territory. For comparison, in the mid-West US states the total price of newly built wind generation including PPA, PTC, grid interconnections and additional ancillary services is 5.4 cents per KWh and dropping. The lowest cost of CCS for coal is three times higher than the total price for wind generation in those states. And it’s not like coal is free or plants run at zero cost. Retrofitting existing plants will cost more and take longer than building new wind generation in most of the USA and the rest of the world as well.

The organization suggests that enhanced oil recovery (EOR) revenues will cover some of the shortfall, but there just isn’t that big a market for EOR compared to generation. If every coal plant and steel plant using coal in the USA had CCS and a pipeline to EOR sites, the commodity price of CO2 would likely drop. They also suggest compliance has a value, but that’s really just a way of sugar coating the cost. Finally, they talk about corporate tax savings which might have some value.

The economics of CCS don’t withstand much scrutiny. There’s a lot of wishful thinking and a lack of reality of the sheer weight of CO2 that has to be moved long distances at significant cost.

Where does this leave the claims about nuclear and CCS?

Nuclear isn’t more scalable than wind or other renewables, in fact it’s going in reverse while renewables are being expanded rapidly. And CCS won’t dodge more climate change than renewables because wind and solar are being built in production rapidly and CCS isn’t and won’t be in comparable scales because the economics don’t support it. Both are busted myths.

Wind energy isn’t the only answer. It is likely to reach a maximum of 30% to 40% of supply in a century worldwide. That’s impressive and amazing, but far from the only tool necessary to deal with climate change. Solar will be in the same range. Storage will likely be necessary somewhere from 15% to 20% and grid interconnections will improve substantially. Biomass and geothermal will add their bits, as will tidal possibly. And demand for electricity will go up a lot as countries become richer and transportation and other forms of energy usage become electrified. It’s a complex space, and CCS has an important if smaller and only bridging role to play in it. Nuclear is useful as well, although diminishing as a percentage of total worldwide generation.

But the heavy lifting will be done by displacing fossil fuel generation with renewables, not trying to mitigate the extraordinary problems with burning fossil fuels or building nuclear generation. That’s what the empirical data tells us.

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About the Author

For the past several years Michael has been analyzing and publishing reports and articles on decarbonization technologies, business models and policies. His pieces on electrical generation transformation and electrification of transportation have been published in CleanTechnica, Newsweek, Slate, Forbes, Huffington Post, Quartz, RenewEconomy, RenewablesInternational and Gizmag, as well as included in textbooks. Third-party articles on his analyses and interviews with Mike have been published in dozens of news sites globally and have reached #1 on Reddit Science. Much of his work originates on, where Mike has been a Top Writer annually since 2012. He also has published a climate-fiction novel, Guangzhou Future Tense.

  • Bob_Wallace

    42 €/MWh is a price that would have to be subsidized by French taxpayers. Production cost for electricity in France in 2013 was 59.8 €/MWh.

  • Asteroid Miner

    Wind power works 20% of the time except when they lower the nameplate power to make it look better.

    Solar works 15% of the time.

    Due to overlap, wind and solar together work 30% of the time.

    The big problem: Winter can be cloudy and calm enough to drain your batteries a weeks’ worth over 4 months. This is especially true in New York where the sun rarely shines. The battery required to make up for intermittency would cost half a QUADRILLION dollars for the US. That means we can’t do it if you want to run heavy industry on renewable energy.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Gosh, aren’t you a fountain of misinformation?

      You both misunderstand wind CF and have the number wrong. And you must have cherry-picked that solar CF number somewhere, it ain’t the average.
      You seem to not know that onshore wind tends to blow hardest when the Sun is down.

      You can’t produce data to show a region in which “Winter can be cloudy and calm enough to drain your batteries a weeks’ worth over 4 months.”

      Tell us you’re simply a poorly skilled troll. Otherwise we are going to have to award you the Low Info Poster of the Month.

      • Asteroid Miner

        See: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner –

        “GVEA s Fairbanks battery bank keeps lights on”

        Fairbanks, AK spent $35 million in 2003 for a battery backup that can keep the power on in Fairbanks for 7 or 15 minutes, depending on how bad the blackout is. That is enough time to start up their diesel backup.

        To go with renewables only, you need a whole week’s worth of battery power for the whole world because Europe can have a long cold cloudy calm winter. The batteries can run down over several months.

        Geographical wind smoothing, supergrids and energy storage


        Be sure to read the linked papers. In the Arizona desert, solar has dropouts in mid day for no apparent reason.

        Geographical wind smoothing, supergrids and energy storage

        The Germans are paying ~$1.71 per kilowatt hour for renewable energy, assuming that nuclear + coal costs the same as what I am paying. Can you afford electricity at 22.8 times the rate you are paying now?

        Be sure to read the linked papers. In the Arizona desert, solar has dropouts in mid day for no apparent reason.

        Wind: There are rare places where wind works locally, but to power, for example, all of Europe, all of Europe and all of Asia has to be linked into one very expensive grid. You need the nameplate power times 4 spread over 12 time zones to get reliable power. The line losses are huge unless you have a superconducting grid, and superconductors now available require liquid nitrogen cooling.


        “The intermittency problem.

        The major limitation with most renewables is not to do with quantity but concerns their intermittency. The typical pattern of output from a wind system rises and falls markedly much of the time and sometimes there is little or no wind for long periods. Australian modelling by Poldy (2008) shows that electricity supply from a large integrated system would more or less rise and fall by a factor of 2 every day. In the past it has been generally thought that because of its intermittency wind might be able to contribute up to 25% of demand, but there is reason to think that the figure will be lower. Lenzen’s review (2009, p. 88) concludes that it will be 20 – 25%, because problems and costs due to variability increase steeply after that point. For instance dumping increases considerably.”

        “The Germans, with far more wind mills than any other country, and the Danes with the world’s highest ratio of wind output to electricity consumption, experience difficulties at times even though wind is supplying an average of only about 5% of national demand. (See Sharman, 2005, E.On. Netz, 2004, 2005. Sharman (2005) reports that even in Denmark in 2003 the average output of the wind system was about 17% of its peak capacity and was down to around 5% for months at a time. The E.On Netz (2004) report for Germany also says that in 2003 the system averaged only 16% of its peak capacity, and around 5% for months. They stress that 2003 was a good wind year.”

        “The magnitude of the integration problem is made clear in a recent study by Oswald Consulting (2006) modelling the typical performance of a system spanning the whole of the UK. They found that in mid-winter, the best wind time of the year, system output could plunge from 85% of peak capacity to 10% in 10 hours. Following is Oswald’s plot for January (…a good wind month.).”

        Mackay presents a similar picture on pp. of 186 – 187 of Sustainable Energy; Without The Hot Air, (

        “Calms would affect the whole area for days at a time. Their Figure 3 indicates that the aggregated system would be generating at under 26% of capacity about 30% of the time, and for 20% of the time it would be under 20% of capacity. Clearly a very large inter-connected wind system would have to be backed up by some other large and highly reliable supply system, and that system would be called on to do a lot of generating.

        The study of the wind energy potential of a system spanning the whole of Ireland (Coelingh, 1999) yields a plot (Fig. 7) similar to those from Oswald and Davey and Coppin, but with less favourable values. For instance, output would be under 20% of capacity 40% of the time, under 8% 20% of the time, and under 4% 10% of the time.

        Mackay (2008, p. 189.) reports data from Ireland between Oct. 2006 and Feb. 2007, showing a 15 day lull over the whole country. For 5 days output was 5% of capacity and fell to 2% on one day.”

        Lenzen’s review (2009) confirms the fact that synoptic weather patterns can cause whole continents to undergo stable and calm conditions for days at a time.”

        “The third and fourth diagrams, below, add these inputs (S + W), and also show the average hourly demand for a typical day. On the cloudy and calm day solar plus wind input falls far below demand, but on the good day they far exceed it, meaning much energy would have to be dumped, if it could not be stored. Note the big difference between total S +W contribution on the two days, differing by a multiple of about 6.”

        “Sharman points out that Europe can experience long periods of very cold, calm and cloudy weather in winter. As Hayden (2004, p. 150) says, “There are times when the wind is calm everywhere.””


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        Trainer, T., (2007d) EE

        Trainer, T., (2011), Estimating the potential of solar thermal power,

        Trieb, F., (undated), Trans-Mediterranean Interconnection for Concentrating Solar Power; Final Report, German Aerospace Center (DLR), Institute of Technical Thermodynamics, Section Systems Analysis and Technology Assessment.

        Ummel, K and D. Wheeler, (2008), “Desert power; The economics of solar thermal electricity for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East”, Centre for Global Development, Dec.

        Vant-Hull, L.L. (1991) “Solar thermal electricity, an environmentally benign and viable alternative”. Perspectives in Energy, 1992 – 1993, Volume 2, pp. 157 – 166.

        Vant-Hull, C., (2006), “Energy return on investment or solar thermal plants”, Solar Today, May/June, pp. 13 – 16.

        Viebahn, P., S. Kronshage and F. Trieb, (2004), New Energy Externalities Developments for Sustainability, (NEEDS), Project 502687.

        Wilson, E., (2002), “Twenty Myths Challenged”, EV World. Duplicated manuscript.

        Zero Carbon Australia, (ZCA), 2010,

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m not wading through all that stuff. I’ll hit a couple points.

          First, $35 million for a few minutes of storage sounds like a lot but it means that Fairbanks doesn’t have to leave their generators spinning but can turn them off and save fuel. Fuel savings will more than pay for storage.

          Yes, at some point in the future we will have to build a lot of storage and that will cost serious money. Fuel costs serious money.

          I’m sorry, that’s as deep as I’m venturing into the morass you posted. To a large extent you sources are pro-nuclear and pro-fossil fuel organizations/sites that publish incorrect information.

          All those “unreliable” renewables claims have been disproven over and over again. Read more and don’t let your brain be clogged full of Kock-brothers misinformation.

    • eveee

      You are confusing capacity factor with power output probability distribution. To make matters worse, the number is wrong. Average Capacity factor is higher than that. Your assertions are vague and unreferenced. Germany is running heavy industry on a fairly high percentage of renewables. Germany is cold and cloudy in the winter. They don’t seem to be in debt to the tune of a capitalized quadrillion dollars. How could that be if you say its impossible?

      • Asteroid Miner

        They are burning coal in large amounts, they are buying electricity from France and they still have working nuclear power.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Germany and France buy and sell electricity. Overall, France purchases more electricity than Germany purchases from France. Here’s the three most recent available years of data.

          Year / Fr -> Gr / Gr -> Fr / Net Gr Exp

          2010 / 9,571 / 16,081 / 68%

          2011 / 10,834 / 8,445 / (22%)
          2012 / 5,200 / 13,985 / 63%

          BTW, in 2012 Germany made a 7% profit from their electricity sales over what they spend for imports.

        • eveee

          You have your facts all wrong. Germany is a net energy exporter to France, no the other way around.

  • Keith Pickering

    NREL capacity factors are for the US only, which is one of the windiest nations on earth. Actual data from China shows that capacity factors for wind there have never exceeded 25% in any year, and since 2007 have averaged 16%. (See BP annual statistical review). Considering that even in windy Denmark capacity factors for wind average less than 30%, this is hardly surprising.

    I had hoped to find, somewhere in the article, actual support for the headline which claims that wind is better than nuclear for global warming mitigation. I didn’t find that. Instead, I found an economic argument based entirely on one single centrally-planned economy — an economy which contains a totally unknown level of subsidy for either technology.

    • Bob_Wallace

      You might want to look at some data for Danish wind farms.

      You’ll see that their average is lowered by farms build some years back. Newer farms are much higher.

      • Keith Pickering

        New wind turbines have high CFs for two reasons. First, because they’re new: all the gears and control systems are unworn and working perfectly. Second, because of the continuing trend to build larger turbines, which have higher CFs but cost more per kWh produced. (As the NREL notes, the mass [hence cost] of turbines scales with the cube of the rotor diameter, while the energy available scales with the square of the rotor diameter.)

        If the advantage of wind over nuclear is supposed to be cost, neither of these adds to the argument very well.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Keith, look at the graph I gave you for Danish wind farms. CFs are not dropping. The Nysted farm may be dropping after 20 years but we’d need a few more years to determine.

          Larger turbines are not driving the kWh prices higher. Just the opposite. The average PPA for wind in 2011 and 2012 was 4c/kWh. In 2013 the average dropped to 2.1c/kWh (not confirmed but from good source).

          Besides, common sense tells you that you are wrong. If smaller turbines produced cheaper electricity then wind farms would be scaling down turbine size, not increasing it.

          (CFs are part of the price calculation.)

          Wind, back when it was subsidized, received 2.3c/kWh for the first 10 years of production. For a 20 year PPA that means roughly 1.5c/kWh (a bit higher than 1.15 due to receiving the tax credit earlier rather than spread out over all 20 years).

          Citigroup recently took the known data for the two Vogtle reactors and found the LCOE to be 11c/kWh. That number does not price in the value of taxpayer loan guarantees and acceptance of liability. The actual price will be higher than 11c.

          New wind is 3x less than new nuclear.

          • Keith Pickering

            Citigroup’s report is unavailable on the web, and considering the number of factors that go into LCOE computation, it’s a complete black box. CIti is in the business of selling stocks, not selling energy.
            Fortunately, open source LCOE data is available, According to the OpenEI Transparent Cost database (, LCOE for onshore wind is 7 cents/kWh, identical to nuclear. According to EIA, even when not accounting for the longer lifetime of nuclear plants, nuclear is $96.10/MWh and onshore wind is a comparable $80.30/MWh. So I have a really hard time figuring out where you get the “3x less expensive” idea.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Wave away that inconvenient Citigroup number Keith. Wave it away. It doesn’t fit the reality you’ve created in your head.

            Now how about we look at the average PPA for wind in 2011 and 2012? You can find it in the DOE “2012 Wind Technologies Market Report”
            The EIA OpenEI states the median LCOE for onshore wind is 7 cents. It also says the low is 4 cents. Given that the database covers multiple years and that the price of wind has been falling – and the DOE report I just linked – don’t you think 4c more reasonable than 7c?

            (And it seems to be the case that wind took a further drop in 2013, but that number is not yet confirmed and would probably upset you.)

            The OpenEI for nuclear? It cannot yet reflect the LCOE for the Vogtle plants. They haven’t come on line. Personally, I’ll go with Citibank’s 11c until someone can show me a set of number that prove else wise.

          • I’d go with the UK Hinckley number of 15 cents USD per KWH personally.

            That’s the real market price in a developed country for new nuclear, and it’s on a pre-existing nuclear site for new reactors, which would make it less expensive than usual.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I pretty much agree. I doubt that Vogtle will make it to market at 11 cents. But if one uses the Hinkley number than nuclear advocates will bring in Citigroup’s 11 cents. Since they can’t make a case for nuclear at 11, that number is functional.

          • True true. And IEA agrees with 11-13 cents.

          • lastmanstanding

            The strike price for Hinckley C is being criticized for handing EDF a return-on-equity of up to 35%:

            On top of that, EDF will use the most expensive reactor design in the world, will take costs for restarting the British nuclear construction supply chain and will have to accept delays as the British nuclear regulatory agency reinvents how to deal with construction.

          • Keith Pickering


            “Wave away”? Before I do that, tell me this: what’s Citigroup’s LCOE for solar? Any idea? Could be 20 cents, could be 40 cents. I’m sure you’d like to wave that away, but since we don’t know what the number is, you’re comparing apples to oranges.

            PPA price and LCOE price are NOT the same number, and never will be. PPA will ALWAYS be lower than LCOE because of the transfer of marketing risk.

            LCOE, and ONLY LCOE, is a comparable number. I’ve provided those numbers from reliable sources. Wave that away, Bob.

          • Guest

            LCOE is always lower than PPA, otherwise you’d just lose money..

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, Keith. As I’ve explained to you, LCOEs are estimates of the cost of generation, and only the cost of generation.

            Real world prices are real world prices and cover costs in addition to the cost of generation. And are possibly lowered by subsidies.

            Real world prices will always be higher than LCOEs if one adjusts out subsidies. If source A has a LCOE of 5 cents and source B has a real world, unsubsidized price of 5 cents then we know that source A has a higher generating cost than source B.

            Think of your house payment as a “LCOE”.

            Then add in utilities, insurance and taxes to get your real world price for lodging.

        • Ronald Brakels

          Keith, how much efficiency do you think a car loses as it ages? The answer is a properly maintained car doesn’t have any significant loss of efficiency. Or if you want to be picky, it will have a very slight increase in efficiency in the first few years as it is worn in followed by a very slight loss of efficiency after that. But neither the gain nor the loss is really noticable.

        • eveee

          Keith, you are trying to build a case based on theory that is not supported empirically. Even your theory is wrong. Larger wind turbines produce electricity more inexpensively. Since its empirical, figure out why. BTW, wind experts have already figured out why larger turbines are more economical. You have some catching up to do.

    • eveee

      Chinese CF is also affected by the lack of transmission. When this is corrected, CF will rise. If Chinas CF is lower, how much difference does that make in wind cost? Not enough to bring it from 5c to 11c.

  • No way

    You know what is better than either wind or nuclear? Both wind and nuclear together at the maximum speed of implementation.

    Both are a great help for a cleaner, safer world and will be needed as long as there is a single piece of coal, drop of oil and molecule of fossil natural gas being used somewhere.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Show me the math that proves wind + nuclear is cheaper than wind + solar + storage.

      And do remember that the cheaper the route we pick, the fast we are likely to move along.

      • No way

        I’m not saying that it’s cheaper. What I’m saying is that to get to the goal faster we need to work at max speed at implimenting all green sources of energy.
        Solar and wind are breaking their own records but on a global basis they are still struggling with small numbers and even if you would put out wind and solar at max capacity (max capacity available today + max capacity of building new factories and implementing them) it will still take 20-30-40 years before we see any real change.
        Plus it’s not like there is a world dictator with a big bag of money and unlimited production capacity of any source of energy that will make the choice. Resources are taken from many different places and even if you were building wind + solar + storage at their maximium capacity there would still be room, money and other resources for nuclear power.
        Especially stupid is it to shut down existing clean energy (unless it’s too old and unreliable and updates are too inefficient and expensive which makes that particular plant a lost cause).

        There is a lot of coal, oil and natural gas to get rid of to make this a better world. It will take anything we have to stop that, solar, wind, nuclear, biomass, geothermal energy, cogeneration and distributed heat/cold, heat pumps, improving energy efficiency, changed life styles etc. etc..

        In the EU 14,1% (in 2012) of total energy came from renewables and most of that were biomass and hydro power, while 20 000 – 30 000 die every year (in Europe) because of fossil fuels. It’s a mass killing needed to be stopped.

        • Bob_Wallace

          “What I’m saying is that to get to the goal faster we need to work at max speed at implimenting all green sources of energy.”

          Agree on that. Wind farms are built in less than two years. Sometimes in less than one. And even before they are finished parts of the farm can start producing power. Solar farms are built even quicker. Rooftop solar is installed in hours. There’s a video on line of a rooftop system being installed in less than two hours.

          A new PV solar plant can be brought on line in a year or less. I doubt the time required is much different for a turbine factory. Assuming we’re installing in an existing building.

          “it will still take 20-30-40 years before we see any real change”

          There’s a good recent article on this site about exponential growth.

          I agree that we probably shouldn’t shut down (proven safe) reactors. But I’m willing to let the people who live around those reactors object if they wish. Germany could have cut CO2 faster had they not decided to close their reactors, but German citizens simply no longer wanted reactors.

          From the facts I have available we’ll get rid of fossil fuels fastest by sticking with the fastest to install and cheapest solutions.

      • Keith Pickering

        This is essentially asking whether nuclear is cheaper than solar+storage, and the answer is resoundingly yes.

        The largest PV plant in the US is the Topaz farm in California, 550 MW (when completed), producing 1096 GWh/yr (when completed). The cost is $2.5 billion. NREL estimates PV plant lifetime at 20 years, so it will produce (1096 x 20) = 21920 GWh during its lifetime. Capital cost is therefore $114 per MWh produced.

        The largest solar-thermal plant (with storage) in the US (also in the world) is the Solana Generating Station in Arizona, 288 MW but with 6 hours of storage to bring its CF up to 38%. Solana cost $2 billion and is expected to generate 944 GWh/yr. So over its 20 year lifetime it will produce (944 x 20)= 18880 GWh, so capital cost is $106 per MWh produced.

        There are currently four AP1000 nuclear reactors under construction in the US, two at Vogtle in Georgia, coming in at $15 billion for the pair and two at V.C. Summer in Georgia coming in at $10 billion for the pair. The plants are designed and engineered for a 60 year lifetime. At a typical nuclear capacity factor of 90%, each plant (1117 MW) will produce 8812.5 GWh per year. so all four will produce 35,250 GWh during a year. Over their 60 year lifetimes the plants will then produce (35250 x 60) = 2115000 GWh, so capital cost is $12 per MWh produced.

        That’s a factor-of-8 difference. Solar isn’t even in the ballpark.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Let’s check some numbers, Keith.

          Citigroup recently ran an LCOE for those Vogtle plants. They report that electricity from them will cost 11c/kWh. If there are no further cost/time line overruns. That 11c is lowered by taxpayer subsidies.

          In your list of AP1000 numbers I fail to see financing costs.

          Now, let’s check PV solar. In the last year we’ve seen solar PPAs for 5 cents and a bit under. Interestingly those PPAs don’t have inflation clauses so the price of electricity over the life of the contract will be 4c.

          Of course there’s a subsidy blended into that number so let’s tease it out. 2.3c/kWh for the first 10 years of production. How about we use 1.5c to make up for the value in getting the tax credit early rather than stretching out for all 20 years? So 6.5c/kWh. More than favorable for nuclear? I’d think so.

          What have we now? Subsidized nuclear at 11c (at best) and non-subsidized solar at 6.5c. Is not 11 > than 6.5?

          “But”, you say, “but, but, but storage”. Not so fast, dear sir. Those reactors won’t be on line for a few more years.

          “In his most recent testimony before the PSC in July 2013, the IM
          ​ (Independent Monitor)​ projected that the project is now 21 months behind schedule with final commercial operation dates for Plant Vogtle reactors 3&4 in early 2018 and 2019.

          Four more years. Four more years. In four more years the price of US installed utility scale solar is like to drop significantly. After all, we’re playing cost catch up with a few other countries. We might not totally catch up but we could get the unsubsidized price down to around 4 cents.

          Now comes the hard part. How much does storage cost? I’ve seen prices of 5c for PuHS.

          Let’s see how those numbers work.

          Current unsubsidized solar 6.5c. PuHS 5c. Total 11.5c. A bit more expensive that subsidized nuclear at 11c.

          Likely price of solar when the Vogtles come on line 4c. PuHS 5c. Total 9c. Cheaper than new nuclear.

          In summary – it’s kind of a toss up whether solar + storage is a bit more or a bit less expensive than nuclear. Certainly your “factor-of-8 difference. Solar isn’t even in the ballpark” claim doesn’t hold.

          Now, having gone through all that for you, let’s go back to my request –

          “Show me the math that proves wind + nuclear is cheaper than wind + solar + storage.”

          You didn’t do that. You tried to answer a question you made up instead. There’s no way to run a grid on nuclear and wind without storage. You’ve got one inflexible source and one variable source. Can’t load match with that combo.

          Why don’t you give it another try, Keith?

          Take the known price of solar (gave it to you) and the best estimate we have for Vogtle power (gave it to you), add in storage, and show me a mix of 4 cent wind + 11 cent nuclear + 5 storage would be cheaper than a mix of 4 cent wind + 6.5 cent solar + 5 cent storage.

          Four cent wind – 2011 and 2012.

          • Keith Pickering

            Yes, let’s check those numbers. Citigroup says nuclear LCOE is 11 cents/kWh? Fine. Now what does Citigroup say is the LCOE for solar? We don’t know, because they’re not saying. If Citi is using a high discount rate in their LCOE, solar could be 20 cents, or it could be 40 cents. Google it, Bob, like I did, and you will find that the original Citigroup report is simply not to be found. So check that number, if you can.

            Did I leave out financing? Sure, as I stated. That was not an intent to deceive, it was simply an illustraion of the VERY high hill solar has to climb to be competetive. And remember, it’s really fossil that solar has to compete with here, not nuclear. If solar replaces nuclear instead of replacing fossil, as is happening right now in Germany, the climate loses.

            Comparing PPA cost with LCOE cost is apples to oranges. They are not the same and never will be, because PPAs include the assumption of risk (by the buyer) and the shedding of risk (by the seller). Thus PPA prices will always be lower than LCOE, and the discount tends to be greater for solar and especially wind because the market risk being transferred is greater.

            For any non-fossil technology, capital costs are by far the biggest part of LCOE, and capital costs are driven by the discount rate, which is the rate of return powerplant investors are willing to take for the risk they are assuming. Those risks are in construction (will it come in on time and on budget?) and in marketing the product (will wholesale electricity prices be high enough to allow me to recoup my investment?) Higher discount rates lead to higher capital costs and higher LCOE.

            A PPA doesn’t just sell electricity, it also transfers the marketing risk from the seller (the powerplant owner/operator) to the buyer (the distribution utility). If the wholesale price of electricity drops below the PPA price, the distribution utility takes a bath, because he’s buying too high. If the wholesale price rises above the PPA price, he’s in the black. The marketing risk tends to be higher for solar and especially wind because of the possibility of wholesale price collapse: when it’s windy, a LOT of turbines are putting out 100% and the wholesale price collapses, sometimes to zero or even below. This is great if you’re a distribution utility without a PPA in force. But if you’re a turbine owner without a PPA in force, it’s a financial disaster: you’re giving away your product for free. Hence the need for a PPA. (And this problem will only get worse as renewables increase in market share.)

            Because the buyer is now assuming the risk, the seller — generally the original investor in the powerplant — should now be willing to take a lower return for his now less-risky investment. In effect, a PPA lowers the discount rate. So the PPA price is lower than LCOE, and always will be. It’s apples and oranges.

            If you want to be fair, Bob, look at LCOE and only at LCOE. Those are comparable numbers, and I’ve provided them. Solar is more expensive than nuclear, period. And solar with storage is much more expensive than nuclear.

            Why don’t you give it another try, Bob?

          • Bob_Wallace

            It doesn’t matter what anyone predicts for the price of solar. We have real world numbers.

            “Comparing PPA cost with LCOE cost is apples to oranges. ”

            More like comparing the cost of apples to the cost of an apple pie. Apple pie, like PPAs consist of more than the cost of apples/LCOE but both apples and LCOE make up a large portion of the cost.

            Remember, the PPA (with subsidy removed) is a larger number than the cost of generation. The LCOE is a calculation of the cost of generation.

            “A PPA doesn’t just sell electricity, it also transfers the marketing risk from the seller (the powerplant owner/operator) to the buyer (the distribution utility). ”

            PPAs provide risk protection for the buyer. Utilities are buying wind and solar PPAs because that protects them from rising NG prices.

            “If you want to be fair, Bob, look at LCOE and only at LCOE.”

            OK, Keith let’s do that.

            EOY 2013 utility solar = $1. (Greentech Media 2013 Solar Summary)
            CF for ‘Mid America’ = 19% (4.5 avg solar hours per day.
            O&M = $0.01/kWh (High).
            Years = 20
            Discount rate = 5%

            LCOE = 9.4 cents per kWh

            Looking at the sunnier SW, where we’re seeing 5 cent PPAs –

            CF = 23%

            LCOE = 7.8 cents per kWh

            Dropping the discount rate to 3% (these are days of low interest) –

            LCOE = 6.5 cents per kWh

            LCOE – federal subsidy (~ 1.5/kWh) = 5 cents. Which is the same as current PPA prices.

            OK. We looked at LCOEs. We arrived where we started but you should be a happier camper.

            Looking at only LCOEs makes zero sense. LCOEs are estimates. PPAs are real world numbers.

        • eveee

          Incredibly faulty math. Where is the cost of borrowed money? No legitimate finance person would ever do an analysis like that. Go over to Edmunds and take a look at TCO, true cost to own.

          “The components of TCO® are depreciation, interest on financing, taxes and fees, insurance premiums, fuel, maintenance, repairs and any federal tax credit that may be available.”

          • Keith Pickering

            Those figures were not intended to be complete, merely an illustration of the very high hill that solar still has to climb to be competetive. Complete figures are available as LCOE, where — no surprise — LCOE for solar is much higher than for nuclear.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Keith, LCOEs are higher for solar if one carefully picks data to fit their needs.

            If I use the data from Olkiluoto 3 I can give you a LCOE for nuclear that is through the roof.

            In the real world – look out your window, it’s out there – solar is being sold for about 6.5 cents per kWh (without subsidies).

          • lastmanstanding

            Germany is increasing its tariffs for rooftop solar from 17.2 cents to 17.6 cents per kWh in August to keep deployment within the corridor. The largest free-standing systems will get 12.4 cents.

          • eveee

            They are not only incomplete, they are utterly fictitious. Being false, they illustrate nothing, other than your inability to compute the cost correctly. As Bob says, its a waste of time to be theoretical about he solar numbers. We already know what solar is selling for in the Southwest and it is 5c/kwhr. Courtesy of Citigroup, we know new nuclear is 11c/kwhr. Your calculations are wrong.

        • dgaetano

          How is the Topaz Solar Farm $5/w? (That’s an honest question, not sarcasm) I can put solar on my house for $3/w, I would expect utility scale solar to be much less expensive than residential. Is the land crazy expensive?

          • Bob_Wallace

            That’s a good question. I did a bit of digging.

            This is all from Wiki…

            Topaz is sort of old. PG&E agreed to purchase the power in August 2008. Due to permitting and financing delays construction was not begun until May 2012.


            Now, let me do some guessing.

            First guess: PG&E signed a PPA based on 2008 solar prices. Which were very expensive by today’s standards.

            Second guess: By not starting construction until mid-2012 First Solar was able to install at much better prices and is making out like bandits. (Not that they did anything wrong, assuming they had no crystal ball. They lucked out by rapidly falling prices.)

            Third guess: The per watt for Topaz is not $5/watt, but closer to the price of utility solar in 2012 and since as more capacity is added. People are likely using the 2008 PPA cost because it lets them tip the scale in favor of their argument.

            Thanks for asking. I knew there was apparently some sort of cherry-picking going on by the anti-renewable folks but I hadn’t given it much thought.
            Now, perhaps someone with more knowledge can tell us if I’m guessing anywhere close to reality. ;o)

          • Bob_Wallace

            To get some historical perspective I’ve looked at the price of installed solar in Germany.

            In January 2009 (where the database picks up) the average installed price was € 4,110/kWp.

            By May 2012 (when the first panel was installed at Topaz) the avg prices had fallen to € 1,870/kWp. Down 55%.

            Latest prices, July 2013, the price is down to € 1,300/kWp.

            That’s 68% of the January 2009 price.


            Moving back to this side of the pond, let’s go with a presumed cost of $5/Wp in 2008. At the end of 2013 the average installed price for utility scale solar was $1.96/Wp. That’s a 61% drop.

            Until proven otherwise I’m going to be the $5/W is a 2008 cost.

          • dgaetano

            Taking a closer look the source referenced by Wikipedia for the cost of Topaz actually says $2B, and it’s an article from December 2011. So the Wiki entry on Topaz is a ridiculous choice as an example of the cost of modern solar.

  • JamesWimberley

    A thought on sequestration, If Hansen and are right, it won’t be enough to stabilise CO2 concentrations at 450 ppm, we will have to reduce them well below that, rapidly and on a gigantic scale. Ex hypothesi, we will have stopped burning fossil fuels before then so the CCS techniques being studied now will be inapplicable. It’s not an immediate problem, as we are still a very long way from stabilisation, for which the consensus target date is 2050. What this suggests is a shift in CCS research away from impossible early fixes to existing fossil plants towards long-term, fundamental schemes: biochar, deep ocean burial, carbon-positive cements, etc.

    • That’s where air carbon capture techniques such as Global Thermostat — referenced in the article — come in. CCS from coal plants just means lots of carbon goes uncaptured. Global Thermostat and similar technologies such carbon out of the air to return it to sane levels.

      Of course, they have pretty much all of the problems of the rest of CCS, but at least they are actually undoing the problem.

  • ToddFlach

    I have worked with CCS development on many different issues, including public acceptance for many years now, and I feel obliged to comment. The medical analogy is fitting. CCS is a like a medical treatment we know cannot cure the patient (our energy infrastructure), but it can quickly reduce the patient’s symptoms, in this case CO2 emissions. There will be side effects from using CCS to treat the diseased patient, most notably, to make CCS function, we have to expend new effort to capture and transport the CO2 to underground storage sites, and monitor the underground storage sites over a period of decades. A direct comparison of the efforts required to develop and operate long-term nuclear waste disposal sites has often been made, and CCS appears to be much more attractive than nuclear. In addition, the issue of nuclear proliferation, which has fallen off the radar screen, is also an advantage for CCS. But I think even the most enthusiastic CCS advocates realize it cannot scale up to fix all existing fossil fuel burning industrial plants, and society must replace as much ff with renewables as possible, and those ff-based processes that cannot be replaced by renewables must use CCS (steel, cement, fertilizer production come first to mind, but there are more examples).
    Several nation-states have very little wind, long, dark winters, little biomass, little geothermal, but they have lots of coal or natural gas. For them, they have only CCS and nuclear, and will likely do both, even though PV and or wind are cheaper than both in Australia, California, Denmark, etc. Let us not let the “perfect” renewables in Australia become the enemy of the “good enough and the best we have” CCS in Poland.

    • Absolutely. CCS has a part to play. This isn’t a dismissal, it’s a correction to enthusiasts such as the author who also thinks nuclear is more scalable than wind energy.

      But of course for Poland, they are already generating 3.5% of their electricity with wind energy, close to what the US is doing. They expect to get 29% of their energy from wind by 2030.

      And in 2012, Poland was second in European countries in sales of solar panels. They are basically the same surface area and latitude as Germany, which will have about 36.5 MW of solar capacity by the end of 2014.

      If you add the two of those together, you get 60% to 70% of Poland’s current generation needs from wind and solar. Without breaking a sweat and with room to grow.

      So while I agree that CCS has a place, let’s not be silly and think that it’s going to be dominant in nearly as many places as CCS advocates think. Wind and solar are still going to kick its butt, even in countries like Poland.

      Now Singapore, there you have an argument. Too little land mass for more than 10% solar in reality. No wind to speak of. Fossil fuel generation. That’s a country that could use CCS. If it’s fossil fuel generation meant anything given it has 5 million people in total.

      • José DeSouza

        So far, CCS has been a red herring, as its proponents seemingly cannot demonstrate how it might be done to effectively tackle the climate change problem without creating additional ones.

      • ToddFlach

        Hi Mike, thanks for you reply. The link to Poland’s wind market is from 2010, and I could not find a link to support your claim on PV in Poland. Do you have some additional sources you could share?

        • Sure Todd, WikiPidia’s translation of its Polish source is the source of the 2012 numbers.

          • ToddFlach

            Thanks, I think you should re-check the PV stats for Poland. In 2012, Poland was nr. 2 in Europe for Solar Thermal collectors, NOT PV. Poland ranks near bottom in total installed PV per capita in Europe. But true enough, there is a “sweet spot” for PV in the SE of Poland which is largely unexploited. But even when it is, Poland will still need considerable power capacity in the form of dispatchable installations. They already have several very large coal plants, why not install CCS on these?

          • Sure, thanks for the correction. It’s immaterial however, as your point was that solar PV wasn’t suitable for Poland, and my point was that it is virtually identical to Germany in solar resource so could be identical in capacity.

            And I think you need to spend some time reading up on modern grid management theory on dispatchability, baseload and flexibility. Here’s a start.

          • ToddFlach

            Your case for Poland above rests on your misunderstanding of the Polish solar irradiance resource and your misrepresentation of the PV market in Poland. Southern Germany is considerably further south than southern Poland. Your enthusiasm to promote the renewables case for Poland is simply unfounded in its solar irradiance and wind resources.

          • My apologies, but you don’t seem to know what you are talking about. This map shows watts per capita per German state. I’m not exactly seeing the southern skew you are pretending exists.

            My opinion of Poland’s wind resources are based on Polish projections. My apologies if you disagree, but you just seem to be disagreeing without references or indication of expertise on the subject.

            My opinion of Poland’s solar potential is based on German’s solar potential. Right next door, tons of gigawatts. And Germany has paved the way for lower solar prices for a lot of places, especially in Europe, so it can’t be that you think solar will cost as much as Germany spent unless you are violently in disagreement with empirical reality of solar prices today. I completely agree that I misread my reference on Polish solar. You seem to be hung up on that. Do try to get over it.

            And as a reminder, we are in agreement that CCS has a lower role than renewables in mitigating climate change. You seem to be starting to argue with me moderately stridently on a variance of a few percentage points.

            CCS is a useful technology. Renewables are more useful. This isn’t exactly hard to state, prove or accept unless you’ve got a reason to refuse to believe it. And since you already accepted it with the remarkably odd and provably inaccurate example of Poland, it’s unclear what exactly you are arguing about. Being proven wrong perhaps?

            Source Wikipedia. Feel free to troll the sources. They looked clean to me.

        • Ulenspiegel

          Here a nice paper by the ewea.

          page 7 gives status for 2013 and some estimates for 2020.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Singapore has rooftop. It could also utilize solar farms across the Malay Straight. Why import coal when you could import solar?

        Until recently we thought there were no decent wind resources in the US SE. Then people looked up a little higher (96 to 110 meters) and found that there is a lot of very good wind blowing just a bit higher than the 80 meter tower level. Between better matching of turbines to wind conditions and reaching higher even Singapore may find it has plenty wind.

        • As I live in Singapore, I likely can comment credibly. 😉

          Singapore’s problem is density. It has five million people in a total land area of just over 700 m2 and needs to move them and goods around rapidly and efficiently. Rooftop that is suitable for solar is the only real opportunity in Singapore, and it’s constrained as they have built vertically. As an example, one HDB flat — properly done government housing blocks lived in by 80% of Singaporeans — was putting in solar on top of the 12 story unit. With various other things on the roof, the solar was going to provide a maximum of about 8% of total building demand. There are a large number of warehouse-type buildings which are available. 10% is about right in my opinion, based on calculations I’ve done. It might get up to 15%, but not much higher as there is no room for utility scale solar and aircon demand is 24/7/365 here.

          Regarding wind, the entire island is a NOTAM zone. Singapore is equivalent to Israel is some respects: a small, rich country surrounded by less stable regimes of shifting military belligerence. Singapore maintains the airspace strictly for commercial and military flights as a result, and frequently does low level training flights over the island. Paragliders aren’t even allowed to ground-handle — kite the wings while remaining on the ground — in many places, never mind take short flights. (We do take 20 meter sled rides in one park in the north regardless; don’t tell anyone.) The equator gets thunderstorms, but not steady winds, nowhere near enough on average for utility scale wind generation. And Singapore is a city, an urban heat sink with significant turbulence in whatever wind it does get.

          It’s exploring wave energy, but that’s constrained too as part of the reason it’s the first or second biggest transshipment port in the world is because the waters are so calm, surrounded as it is by Indonesia and Malaysian islands. The other day I was at a restaurant on the water and counted 90 ships waiting for loading visible for the chair I was sitting in.

          So Singapore is a challenging place for renewables. It’s too small geographically to generate tons of renewable electricity. It’s trying for greater self-sufficiency of energy, but can’t get there. It imports a lot from Malaysia and burns a lot of gas and oil, which it refines here from regional crude deposits.

          • Dirk Knapen

            High density cities have the “advantage” of high concentrations of heat (every person is a 75W heat plant) as a possible energy source and of organic waste from food and waste water. Have a look at the approach Allan Jones, chief development officer for energy and climate change plans for Sydney to reach 100% renewable. He plans to cut electricity consumption by 70% by switching from air conditioning to trigeneration district cooling based on biogas.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “Several nation-states have very little wind, long, dark winters, little biomass, little geothermal, but they have lots of coal or natural gas.”
      Those would be?

  • Cosette

    Electricity production in the world : nuclear and renewables 2001-2018 (in French)

    Year : renewables / nuclear (TWh)

    2001 : 2,860 / 2,640 TWh
    2010 : 4,220 / 2,750
    2011 : 4,450 / 2,570
    2012 : 4,860 / 2,350

    2015 : 5,760 / 2,740 TWh (expectrd)
    2018 : 6,850 / 2,900

    Note : detailled data are in the pdf file.

    • What you should compare are not only nuclear and wind…but the real winner: natural gas which Mike didn’t talk about and anti-nuclear pro wind people really hate talk about. consider the huge increase in gas in western Europe after Fukushima…or the U.S…the real growth winner thanks to cheap fracked gas.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I have no hesitation talking about NG. It’s nasty. Thing is, it’s less nasty than coal. And it’s highly dispatchable.

        We need a reliable grid and until we have cheaper storage (it’s on the way) NG gives us that reliability. When the Sun is shining or the wind blowing we can turn off gas plants and then efficiently turn them back on when needed.

        If well leaks are controlled NG produces only 50% as much GHG as coal. A grid mix of 40% wind + 40% solar + 20% NG would emit only 10% as much GHG as coal.

        Used radioactive nuclear waste? Can’t turn it off. It will continue to be a danger to humans generation after generation after generation….

  • lastmanstanding

    China started construction of a lot of reactors 2009 and 2010, just before Fukushima, and they are coming online this year and the next. They were at 16 GW nuclear in the beginning of 2014, and two years later, at the end of 2015, the plan is to have some 36 GW online. The Fukushima review cost them about a year in construction.

    The Chinese plan right now is to have 58 GW in operation in 2020 and 30 GW under construction. Given Chinese nuclear CF, which is very good, that should give them some 500 TWh electricity in 2020. The latest I’ve heard on China’s wind plans is 200 GW in 2020, which at current CF of 20% or so will give only 250 TWh. However, if they do get CF up to 40%, then Chinese wind might match nuclear. Let’s hope for that.

    • lastmanstanding

      Sorry, bad mistake. 350 TWh, not 250.

    • Bob_Wallace

      China is likely to respond to the much lower cost of wind and solar and switch some of their nuclear plans to renewables.

      China’s short term nuclear plans may be viable, but I wouldn’t bet on what they start a few years from now. Nuclear has encountered something of a black swan event with the extremely rapid drop of wind and solar costs.

    • China planned to put just over 8 GW of nuclear into production in 2013. They managed one GW. They planned to put ten GW into production this year. So far, two GW. Those projections were made post-Fukushima.

      Plans are not the same as results. China’s nuclear roadmap has hit a lot of speed bumps, just like most countries historically. And their reactors are going in with roughly the same degree of oversight and inspection that they gave their high-speed rail and schools. Expect significant problems to emerge and drag that capacity factor down a lot.

      I’m a big fan of reality over projections when a few years of empirical data are available.

      • JamesWimberley

        Another possibility is that after Fukushima the Chinese nuclear safety regulators were given real authority. That is, they can say “do it again” and not be reversed. A Chinese Fukushima would shake the régime, so that shift would be logical. The consequence of tough nuclear regulators is delays, such as we are seeing.

        In India, there is no sign that the hardnosed Narendra Modi’s new gvernment is listening to the nuclear lobby, which as Mike points out has completely failed to deliver.

        • Bob_Wallace

          After Fukushima China canceled plans to build any more reactors inland and stated that they will now build in coastal areas in places where the local population can be quickly evacuated.

          Part of the no more inland/coastal decision has to do with cooling water. China’s fresh water supply is already tight.

          • lastmanstanding
          • Bob_Wallace

            Yes, it looks like China has revised its plans and will build some more inland reactors.

          • Correct, never cancelled, delayed only. Expect the go ahead for “approvals” for all of them this coming year. (the are not all planned on starting next year, just the approval for them). If you look at the list on the WNA you’ll see them all asteriked. Those are, mostly, the inland plants.

      • lastmanstanding

        “Expect significant problems to emerge and drag that capacity factor down a lot. I’m a big fan of reality over projections when a few years of empirical data are available.”

        Except when it comes to capacity factors, then?

        • Fair comment.

          Wind capacity factors in China have been constrained by shoddy workmanship in some cases, but mostly by grid connection issues which are being resolved. This is similar to grid tie-in challenges in Ontario and India; a resolvable issue which is being addressed but not in a timely fashion. The wind turbines aren’t inferior, nor are the wind resources.

          Regarding capacity for nuclear, choosing USA steady-state nuclear capacity factors of 90.9%, which is above world-wide average over the past few decades is certainly fair.

          The selection of two mature market capacity factors is a reasonable choice I believe under the circumstances.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Or we could use the 2011 and 2012 US CF numbers.

            84.3% and 81.4%.

          • Or we could use Korea’s plus 95%. China will develop, depending on the different types of reactors, their own average, likely close to 90%. Their wind capacity too will go up as Mike noted but now it’s hovering around 25%. See my note above. So divide their installed capacity by 4 to see the real ability for GW output.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The CF for nuclear will generally be high. Largely because it is so inefficient to cycle on and off. Nuclear is generally give a priority basis on grids, allowing it to keep producing even when less expensive sources are available.

            Do pay attention to wind CFs. They are rapidly increasing as we move to taller towers and turbines/blades designed for local wind resources rather that using ‘one size fits all’ approaches.

            Using US prices, unsubsidized wind is now under 4 cents/kWh. The recent bid for two new reactors at North Anna, Virginia would mean electricity at 19 cents/kWh. The actual price would be higher if nuclear paid its full cost.

            Even if we used China’s current low 25% CF wind is less expensive. And that’s before we price in the cost to future generations of the radioactive waste we’re handing off to them.

            The cost of wind (and solar) will continue to fall. Both should be around 3c/kWh before we could bring a new reactor on line.

            Nuclear is toast. You can advocate for it all you like. (But please, not on this site.) Nuclear costs simply do not go down over time, only up. Renewables continue to get cheaper and do not bring the sort of dangers to our lives of nuclear energy.

            There’s no economic or ‘need’ argument that supports nuclear. It’s only being built with strong central government support where the leaders are not adequately informed about their options. Private money will not touch nuclear construction unless governments/taxpayers assume the risk.

            It’s the 21st Century, David. Time to leave nuclear behind and move on. We’ve made spectacular advances in wind and solar over the last few years. Storage is progressing rapidly. We’re looking at a world of abundant, cheap, safe electricity. The old thermal solutions have no future.

      • No exactly: according to the Chart everyone uses 6 will have started up by years end. 21 online now, 30 under construction. The only reason the delays happened in 2013 was the political fall out from Fukushima. That’s it. Their delays are totally different in scale from “historical trends” in other countries. It’s not even close. They are far better in deploying nuclear closer to ontime and at budget than anything ever seen in the west.

        More importantly: China’s *plans* are indeed to go nuclear. There is simply no reason to think that these 21 plants, all of which are being built with almost no delays won’t go online within a year of their scheduled start up…virtually everyone has that has broken ground today. There at 10 due to go on line next year alone. I predict 9 will. there are only 6 due to go online the year after that, but then it gets real interesting.

        The big delay was the 18 to 24 month delay in approvals for new builds inland of the AP1000s that were schedule. As these get approved…20 at least, again the more and more, expect them to exceed 150GWs by 2030. Expect them to exceed that way beyond this number. As they have the will to build…they will be built…you haven’t come up with a reason the won’t be.

        Looking out to 2100 when all us reading this will be dead, as the Chinese like to plan long term…they are looking for 75% of their grid to be nuclearized. That’s their official position. So they will build out.

        BTW…we do you get “40%” CF for Chinese wind? It *will* go up…but right now *they* only claim a 26% capacity factor so you’all ought to redo all the numbers in the article and the commentary. China hasn’t done offshore wind in any big way, it’all land, much of it stranded (though being connected).

        The fact is that China is *committed* to both wind…and solar, and hyrdo and gas and nuclear and…more coal. I’m all for them doing exactly what they are doing but with an empahsis of lowering the % of coal on the grid, which I think they want to do but can’t.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Some of the “under construction” plants have been “under construction” for 20 years. Lots of plants have been started and abandoned over the years.
          Thirty plants under construction would not even replace the ones which have been closed in recent years and will be close in the near future. Nuclear continues to lose market share worldwide.

          China has no plans to “go nuclear”. Even with their current plans to start construction on six reactors a year nuclear will remain a small percentage of China’s electricity generation, less than 10% IIRC.

  • José DeSouza

    I wonder how much extra sodium hydroxide (from sodium chloride electrolysis; not even bothering what to do with the surplus chlorine thus created…) would have to be produced globally to effectively be used in the capture of all that troublesome CO2, by turning it into sodium bicarbonate. Would it be worth all that effort? I haven′t done the math yet, but I suspect the answer would probably be negative, given the amount of CO2 spewed into the atmosphere from static sources only.

  • Matt

    My one concern on scaling wind is that the yearly delta has been “flat” in 2009-2013. Yes to say flat I average the US 2012 and 2013 numbers and world goes from (45k and 35K MW added) to (39 and 41) added those years. Which then looks like 2009(38k), 2010(39k), 2011(40k), 2012(39k), 2013(41k). So in all 5 years we basically added 40k Mws of wind. While not a small amount, by any count, we need to see the delta growing! At end of 2013 wind was about 4% of world electric demand.
    – GWEC predicts a return to grow 2014(47, 51, 56, 60, 64)2018 which is ~6-8% growth in install rate. Which would be enough to get a 12% cumm growth rate.
    – But I guess we will have to wait and see. Cum growth rate of 12% means 6-7 years to double. 15% is 4-5 years. The delta in the install rate, needs to be growing faster to get the Cum growing faster.

  • Alan Poirier

    Does no one worry about the impact on birds and bats?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Absolutely, Alan.

      Since wind has a much lower bird kill per GWh number than coal that’s another reason to kill coal. To save birds.

      Thanks for caring….

    • Bart


      A good many people worry about the impact on birds and bats, which one must put into perspective.

      Domestic cats, dogs, insecticides & pesticides, other invasive species brought by humans, power lines, tall buildings, smog & other pollutants, and aircraft each as categories have at least an order of magnitude higher impact on birds and bats than the projected effect if 100% of the world’s energy demand were entirely supplied by wind.

      If a single city in the USA successfully banned outdoor cat roaming, it would entirely balance the scales of the harms of windmills on birds and bats. If neonicotinoid use were reduced 5%, it would reverse fifty times the effect of windmills. The grounding of planes for a day would save the equivalent of the windmill birdstrikes of a year.

      Windmill speeds have been tuned to minimize impact on avians while still delivering power, and studies show that the primary cause of the high profile impacts on charismatic avians, like raptors, can be largely avoided by removing high perching spots within line of sight, because raptors distracted by others of their species are the ones who wheel into blades.

      These are problems, but they are problems that can be fixed and solved, and moreover that the industry is aggressively looking for solutions to.

      Can we say the same about CSS, nuclear, or any fossil sector?

    • Matt

      Yes, people worry. Darke county Ohio will not allow any wind farm, after someone started looking at buy options from farms so they could study a wind farm. There are bats in the county; and the county commissioners didn’t want to look at any studies on impact or impact minimization.
      – Wind is held to a much higher standard than coal or NG.

    • Absolutely. Wind farms kill about one in 86,000 birds annually in the USA. Fossil fuel generation kills about 17 times what wind energy does on a per MWH basis. Replacing all fossil fuel generation with wind farms would save tens of millions of birds lives annually.

      Bats ditto.

      Not putting wind farms on top of endangered birds or bats is common sense.

      Not putting wind farms in when they would reduce the overall species risks for birds and bats substantially is just dumb.

  • Bart

    The lessons of economy of scale are not lost when we look and wind compared to nuclear and CSS.

    Nuclear is an industry of national vanity, simply beyond the efficient peak of its scale, which is likely 30-50 installations worldwide or less.

    CSS has yet to be developed to the point we know what is its efficient peak, but the technology of CSS might mean anything from pumping effluents underground and hoping they don’t emerge very soon to using CO2 emissions to force algae to grow for harvesting as (extremely costly) biofuel, to just planting deeper rooting lawns and trees; absent systematic LIDAR monitoring, it’s neither a verifiable product nor one free from loopholes. We will no doubt need CSS, but it’s not really a solution so much as harsh medicine for a diseased state.

    Wind is very far below its efficient peak yet, and the more installed capacity, the lower its cost per unit becomes. is just one possible signpost pointing toward the vast potential of the wind industry.

  • JamesWimberley

    The claimed German subsidy for solar of €100 billion is summed over the 20-year future lifetime of the FITs. It’s not clear if this headline number is the total of the FITs or of the subsidy element – the excess over the opportunity cost with the cheapest alternative marginal technology, coal or gas – which in recent years has become quite small. Still. let’s allow all of this legacy charge as subsidy. In terms of avoided carbon, you need to sum over the lifetime of the panels, at least 30 years.

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