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Nuclear Renewables

Germany – crunched by the numbers

Guest Post by Tom Blees. Tom is author of Prescription for the Planet – The Painless Remedy for Our Energy & Environmental Crises. Tom is also the president of the Science Council for Global Initiatives.

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Following up on the article Barry pointed out the other day about Spain’s drastic turnabout in solar subsidization and the ripple effects it’s having on the solar industry worldwide, I thought I’d mention some similar news from Germany. I ran across an article from Die Zeit, a prominent German publication. You can find a typically rough Google translation of the article here. I did have a German friend of mine translate a few of the pertinent paragraphs to get a more accurate rendition:

The entire amount can be pretty accurately calculated. The expected installation of new solar modules [in Germany] for the year 2009 will cost the consumer at least ten billion Euros in the next 20 years. Count on an additional 1.8 billion kWh of sun energy from the outlets, which represents about 0.3% of the entire present energy consumption, which means almost nothing. Whatever was built up to 2008 will amount to even more than 30 billion Euros. That at least is what the Rheinisch-Westfaelische Institut fuer Wirtschaftsforshung calculated.

And the costs will grow rapidly. If the prognosis of the Union of the European Photovoltaic Industry proves correct, there will be so many new installations by 2013 in Germany that the cost will grow to at least 77 billion Euros, without inflation.

Here’s what Germany’s solar electric output came to in recent years (in gigawatt hours):

2006 = 2,220 GWh;     2007 = 3,500 GWh;     2008 = 4,300 GWh

According to this, the increase in 2009 comes to another 1800 GWh, bringing the 2009 total up to 6,100 GWh. Note the progression hasn’t been steady since 2006, increasing by 1300, then just 800, and now 1800, for a three-year average of 1,300 GWh. I don’t know what the prognosis of the photovoltaic industry organization above projects for increases to 2013, but let’s assume it’s even higher than this year, that it’ll be 2000 GWh more per year. So that’ll give us this probably over-generous estimate:

2009 = 6,100 GWh;     2010 = 8,100 GWh;     2011 = 10,100 GWh;     2012 = 12,100 GWh

So by 2013, Germany will have committed to spending €77 billion (that’s over $113 billion USD) for solar capacity equivalent to less than 2% of their 2006 electrical demand.

Now let’s look at the cost of nuclear power plants. Setting aside the legalistic and political quagmire that characterizes the nuclear power industry in America, we can look at the cost of the Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWRs) that were built in Japan in the late 90’s at a cost of about $1.4 billion/GW, and the Chinese’ recent estimates for the final cost of their first two AP-1000s ($1.76 billion/GW), and come to the reasonable conclusion that Germany could build Gen III+ reactors for $2 billion/GW, especially modular units in the dozens.

At the moment, Germany’s Gen II nuclear plants have strong capacity factors, including probably the best one in the world with about a 94% CF. So let’s assume that Germany’s brand new Gen III plants could average a 90% CF. For $112 billion, they could build 56GW of new nuclear capacity, for an effective capacity at a 90% CF of about 48GW. Those plants would thus produce about 421,000 GWh annually, which is approximately 68% of Germany’s electrical needs in 2006 (I keep using 2006 figures to be consistent here because that’s the latest IEA data I can find for Germany’s energy stats). Compare that with the <2% expected from solar, and of course unlike solar, nuclear runs 24/7. Now figure in the expected lifespan of the systems: Nuclear: about 60 years. Solar PV: 20-30 years. Being generous and saying 30, that means you’ll get twice as much as the already astounding 34 times the energy that nuclear will produce compared to the same solar investment.

So Germany’s ill-considered (and, amazingly, continuing) national experiment with solar power is costing them roughly 70 times (in costs/kWh) what it would have cost them to build top-notch nuclear power plants, disregarding the intermittency problem with solar, which is no small matter. In other words, Germany could have gone France one better and gone 100% nuclear and saved a ton of Euros in the process. Instead, we have the example of environmental ideology run amok, with very real and seriously negative economic and environmental ramifications.

While I suspect that solar advocates might quibble with some of my figures above, perhaps pointing out that Germany might install even more solar panels by 2013 than I project here, but really there’s simply no comparison no matter how you massage the numbers. The statistics are there in plain sight.

So what will happen in Copenhagen come December? If the result of that conference is some cap-and-trade shell game along with solemn (and ultimately ignored) promises to cut down on CO2 emissions based on fantasies of wind and solar power, the end result will be as ineffectual as the previous conferences have been.

The people on this planet will not be satisfied with an energy-starved and desperately thirsty world. Before they settle for that they’ll yank every bit of coal and oil out of the ground and toss it on our unfortunately common (funeral?) pyre, solemn promises to the contrary be damned. Delusions about wind and solar coming to the rescue are ludicrous, especially in the face of the demographic landslide in which we find ourselves until at least mid-century.

There is only one source of energy currently available that can possibly provide an energy-rich yet environmentally benign future, including supplying the massive amounts of energy that will be required to desalinate water for literally billions of people. I fully realize that pro-nuclear people at Copenhagen will probably be about as popular as a porcupine in a condom factory, but unless these harsh realities—and their politically incorrect solution—are brought to the fore, just what effect is Copenhagen going to have? What we should be talking about there is how to ramp up nuclear power while putting in place an international regime to forestall nuclear weapons proliferation in the process.

Why do I have the sinking feeling that isn’t going to happen?

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

111 replies on “Germany – crunched by the numbers”

Japanese NPP, see appendix 5 (page 141) of MIT nuclear study (http://web.mit.edu/nuclearpower/).
Genkai 3 – 1180MW – Operational March 1994 – 339 billions yen (~ $4.34 billion in today’s exchange rate) – $2818/kW (using PPP)
Genkai 4 – 1180MW – Operational July 1997 – 324 billions yen (~$3.52 billion, today rate, roughly consistent with 15% lower cost of multiple builds at one site) – $2258/kW
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP 3,4 – 1,100MW -320-340 billion yen
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP 6,7 – 1,356MW – 400-420 billion yen

Wiki links to source and has nice table http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashiwazaki-Kariwa_Nuclear_Power_Plant
I guess we could argue what kind of exchange rate should be used since according todays normal exchange rate it would be ~ $3048/kW even for cheapest of them or PPP exchange rate (that would mean 33% drop in price and ~$2000/kW, PPP is used in the study for $/kW). No idea.

Anyway according to the study (that is what I meant by “cost goes up”),
* Since 2003 construction costs for all types of large-scale engineered projects
have escalated dramatically. The estimated cost of constructing a nuclear power
plant has increased at a rate of 15% per year heading into the current economic
downturn. This is based both on the cost of actual builds in Japan and Korea
and on the projected cost of new plants planned for in the United States.*

“15% per year. Based on acual builds in Japan and Korea.” It should be noted that cost has increased for everything(see the table 1 in http://web.mit.edu/nuclearpower/pdf/nuclearpower-update2009.pdf), not only nuclear.

So in the end, I still don’t believe in $2000/kW.

I realize how emotionally invested you are in IFR so I have no desire to argue about it. My point of view is that for now, IFR is simply not here to make any kind of impact and it will be a while before it will have some kind of impact (unless you become world dictator).

Although I would be interested in your response to one comment made by Charles Barton (http://djysrv.blogspot.com/2009/06/ge-hitachi-briefs-congress-on-prism.html):
An S PRISM related study “S-PRISM Fuel Cycle Study: Future Deployment Programs and Issues,” suggested that as of the year 2000, four hundred tons of plutonium could be recovered from spent nuclear fuel. This in turn would provide enough plutonium to supply start up charges for twenty-two, 1520 MWe S-PRISM facilities with about output of 33,440 MWe. That is about 12 tons of plutonium per 1 GWe of reactor capacity.

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And as the last thing it should be me who apologize about grammar and typos. My second posts is full of them.

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@Peter Lang:
I am not sure what are you asking. The update basically said the cost of big construction projects has gone up, nuclear power plants are still offered and build only in jumbo size and they cost arm and leg to build.

NPP are very expensive, only big utilities (or group of smaller ones) can afford it. There was some post on Idaho samizdat a while ago listing US utilities that could afford it. It was rather short list. Building NPP is “bet the farm thing” for many US utilities.

The study also has some recommendations for spurring the buildup of NPP, but IMO US government should simply ask Westinghouse to build 4 AP1000 for taxpayers money. That would get rid of FOAK problem with regulator, recreated nuclear suppliers and also show that they are really build at reasonable price and at reasonable timeframe (at least last two). It is not easy to be first.

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Honza,

Thank you for that info. I had no hidden agenda in my question. I was genuinely asking you if you consider the costs the MIT study has come up with are about right. I felt the MIT 2003 study leant towards an anti-nuclear bias and they had inflated the prices somewhat (not intentionally, just because of the influence of the group’s beliefs).

I agree with much of what you say. It is why I keep harping on that Australia has the choice of low cost or high cost nuclear. High cost is what you and the MIT study are quoting. Low cost is what nuclear could cost if we were prepared to stop the massive over-engineering, massive over-regulation, accept uniform regulations for all electricity generation, and accept the same level of risk for all electricity generation technologies. If we really want to cut CO2 emissions, we are going to have to cut the cost of nuclear.

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Peter Lang,

to estimate cost of NPP is really complex issue, there is a lot of studies, anyone can pick the one they like. I would recommend reading this blogpost ( http://www.energypolicyblog.com/?p=849 ).

Of course, nuclear could cost far less, but the reality is that it won’t. At least not in the “west.” I believe that price will settle at ~$3000-$3500/kW + inflation, assuming reasonably big production of standardized reactors.

Ultimately, we will know after some projects are finished. I hope that Westinghouse will learn from Chinese experience and will not make same mistakes as Areva, btw they delayed Olkiluoto again, mid-2012 is not realistic, wtf are they doing?

The problem in EU are non-uniform regulations(every state is doing it’s own certification ect), EU should concentrate on EU-wide nuclear certification instead of ban of light bulbs. I am from one of smaller countries, there are 3 reactors planned (at the current sites) and it will take 7 or 8 years of paperwork to get the permit. 190 out of 200 MEPs support it, population is also very supportive. And it will take at least 7 years to get the stamp for the reactors. I really hope they will choose big ones.

I have more or less resigned on CO2 emissions, nobody who really matters cares about it. There has been nice video about GW with great quote: Imagine that tomorrow’s headline is “Al-Quada is dumping CO2 to the air and is planning to destroy us using global warming.” That would produce results. GW is not perceived as threat.

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Honza,

Thank you for these comments. Very interesting. The link you provided is interesting, particluarly since up to date.

This sentence caught my eye: “One clear lesson from the history of nuclear power is that forecasted costs are invariably lower than actual costs incurred during plant construction.”

I agree (of course that applies to renewable projects too). I’d also point out that the most successful projects have been the brainchild of an exceptional engineer and leader. The book “The seven wonders of the Industrial World” illustrates this with examples such as “Panama Canal, Brookland Bridge, the light house off Scotland, an enormous ship, railway across the Rocky Mountains, Boulder dam and another I don’t remember off hand. The Australian Snowy Mountains hydro electric scheme, is another example; I’d attribute the success of the project to the leadership of Sir William Hudson.

The point I’d make is that we cannot allow a brilliant engineer to be in charge and build a project, such as a nuclear power plant, any more. The public and politicans won’t allow it. We all have to be part of ripping to pieces those trying to build anything like an NPP now days. This is what we we will need to change if we want low cost nuclear power. I have no doubt in my mind that low cost nuclear is feasible, but not under the type of regulatory environment that curreently aplies to nuclear energy in the West.

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Personally I think that these problems are for one of a kind projects and FOAK projects. Once you build standardized products, predictability stabilizes after

The “lesson” they are talking about is mainly about US, where basically every plant is custom made. No wonder costs spiraled out of control.

Here is a little known fact: majority of China’s leadership are engineers.

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Honza wrote: I realize how emotionally invested you are in IFR so I have no desire to argue about it. My point of view is that for now, IFR is simply not here to make any kind of impact and it will be a while before it will have some kind of impact (unless you become world dictator).

With commitment from government, we could have a commercial IFR up and running in five years. If that construction project proceeded comcomitantly with NRC oversight and certification, we’d be able to start building them shortly thereafter. Because they operate at near-atmospheric pressure and don’t require the construction bottlenecking pressure vessel, we could almost immediately begin building them by the hundreds. As for fuel supply, I dealt with startup fuel requirements in my book, the conclusion being that if we took all the spent fuel and ex-weapons plutonium worldwide and processed it into IFR fuel assemblies, we’d have enough to fuel about 600GW+ of IFRs. I’m not sure what your comments say there about it, and frankly I don’t have time to dig into it so I’ll just refer you too my book if you want more detail. Better yet, here are a couple of the pertinent paragraphs:

The problem is that the actinides needed for the IFR startup loading only comprise about 1% of spent thermal reactor fuel, and it takes about 5 tons of actinides to fire up a 1 GW IFR. So if we could somehow reprocess all 300,000 tons of “nuclear waste” available in 2015, that would yield 3,000 tons of IFR fuel, enough to start up about 600 GW of the new reactors. The crash program proposed would build some 250 GW per year. Even if we add in old weapons-grade material from military programs we’ll have less than three years’ worth of IFR startup fuel at that rate of building, even if we could reprocess all of the spent thermal reactor waste very quickly.

If we site all the early generation IFRs in nuclear club countries and configure them all for maximum breeding capability, each of them will be able to create enough new fuel to fire up one more IFR of similar size in about 7 years. Thus for every plant built as a maximum breeder that means one more in seven years. If we could manage to meet our startup goals for the first seven years, after that the program would be completely self-sustaining. Of course even if we have only enough fuel for three years of startups at our one hundred plants (of 250 GW ea) per year rate, with maximum breeding we’d be able to consolidate new fuel so that by the fourth year we’d have enough from the first three to start up about sixty more. We’d be almost halfway there. The more IFRs come online, the more startup fuel will be available every year for new ones.

It would seem that the only way to meet our startup goals would be to ramp up uranium mining for a while. Embarking on a crash program of IFR building and uranium mining would surely drive up the price of uranium to hitherto unseen levels. But whereas uranium enrichment for LWRs only requires a 4% U-235 concentration, IFRs require 20%. The cost of that five-fold increase would be a deal breaker. Added to the increases in mining it would entail, and all the other cost factors, the saner choice would be to simply build as many IFRs as quickly as possible so that their breeding can begin in earnest, and make up the shortfall with the most sophisticated and safest LWRs, such as the Westinghouse AP-1000 or GE’s ESBWR.

While this is not the perfect world scenario we might prefer, it is hardly a grim prospect. Just look at the major negatives of nuclear power today: safety, proliferation, cost, and waste disposal. These new LWRs are designed to be safer than any nuclear plant ever built. They employ passive safety systems similar to that developed for the IFR, and can be expected to perform perfectly well over the course of their service lives, especially considering that they would be under the construction and operational oversight of GREAT. Proliferation concerns would be addressed by that very same operational factor, and if necessary every one of the them could be built in nuclear club countries, with IFRs being built in both club and non-club nations.

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Hey guys,

I know I’m stepping into the den of the beast here, going back to stcking up for solar power after this long thread of pro-nuclear comments. Clearly we have a high percentage of Nuclear supporters on this blog (unsurprisingly of course, given the nature of the blog).
But after Peter and Honza discussed the costs of new NPPs at length I feel the need to step in and stop the self congratulatory economical debate in it’s tracks.

I’d like to refer you back to the “Die Zeit” article that Barry used in the initial article here, to get his point across.
http://tinyurl.com/ydvbp8n
Page 2 in particular is of interest to me.

Now, Honza and Peter seem to have come to the agreement that a new NPP can’t be built in a western market for substantially less than $3000/kW. Currently building a Solar Power Plant in Germany will cost you roughly 4000€ /kW.
The problem in large parts of this discussion is that it relies on german number and that the german market is skewed in it’s pricing of solar power.
As you can read in the “Zeit” article the consulting company “photon consulting” has calculated that the cost of solar panels is down to about 1000€ /kW. Adding the cost of cables, etc, connecting to the grid, and installation they estimate a final price tag of 2000€ /kW for a fully functioning solar installation. And that is today.
The reason why germans are still paying 4000€ /kW for their solar installations is that the energy policy hasn’t “failed”, it just failed to stop at the appropriate time. It has done what it was supposed to: it has stimulated research and mass production, in turn bringing down production costs and promoting widespread acceptance of the technology.
Now it is time for germany to start cutting away the substitution. The amount of money that Germany throws at people who feed their solar power into the grid keeps the prices for solar panels up artificially. The big winners here are the solar companies who have 1000€ /kW solar panels rolling off their belts and sell them to consumers for 4000€ /kW because they know home owners will still break even whithin 10years.
Please recheck my numbers in the link that Barry posted:
http://tinyurl.com/ydvbp8n
If you add the fact that solar plants maintenance costs are a fraction of an NPPs, I think we’ll see solar panels become economically viable very soon, ESPECIALLY without substitutes, which have up to now kept the price of solar power unnecessarily high across europe.
Consider too, how long it takes to contruct a new NPP, including paperwork and actual construction time (I think we’re looking at 10+ years, if not more, I’m not sure here) and then consider that because of it’s modular nature, small to medium scale solar plants can be punched out of the ground within a year all over the country, in many places at once, then “reaction time” becomes a factor in the climate debate as well. Remember that this is a political debate just as much as it is an economical one. Many countries have committed to lowering their CO2 levels considerably within short timeframes, such as by 2020, and beyond. Building new NPPs is simply not an option to reach those short term goals. Not to mention resistance in the population of Germany against additional nuclear complexes.

Now. Putting this all back into perspective. Considering the price of constructing Nuclear power plants is going up, and the price of solar panels is going down, I do believe that solar power will play a continually larger role in any countries energy mix, wether you like it or not.

However, I must agree with you guys on the hot subject of demand spikes. Without a reliable and widespread storage solution, solar power, as well as wind power can only remain a partial solution to energy demands, and it remains to be seen how well governments and renewable energy providers will respond to this concern.

I feel that this comment might fall on deaf ears on most of this blog’s audience, but I hope you will at least consider these points and provide valid counter arguments that will further the debate.

Ps.: I forgot to mention that Germany imports all of it’s nuclear fuel from other countries, mainly russia if I’m not mistaken. This of course adds to stability concerns and significantly heats up the political debate surrounding nuclear power.

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