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solar now cheaper than nuclear?

A near fantasy .pdf from North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network [NC WARN, 18 pages] gives ‘imaginative’ charts that appear to show that solar electricity is now cheaper than electricity from new nuclear power plants.

This 66-page .pdf from M.I.T. is presented correctly. It is much better than the usual sloppy, drifting claims in most of this stuff, such as that from NC WARN.

p 16-17
“One of the most important reasons for updating the overnight cost figures from the MIT (2003) study is the sharp escalation in costs experienced in the last few years, especially for major engineering projects. Between 2002 and 2007, the GDP deflator index grew by 15% in total, which averages to a little less than 3% per annum. However, the price of key commodities used in construction of a power plant grew much faster. For example, the price of fabricated structural metal increased by more than 36% over these 5 years, the price of high alloy and stainless steel castings increased by more than 46%, and the price of cement increased by more than 37%. The price of engineering services increased as well. The combined effect has been a dramatic increase in the price of building new electricity generating plants of all kinds. The consulting firm IHS-CERA index of capital costs for power plants shows an increase of 60% for non-nuclear power plant construction between 2002 and 2007 – an annual increase of 9.9% –and an increase of 276% or 22.5% per annum for nuclear power plants.”

Note the real inflation relative to the constant false/fake numbers presented by governments.

‘Overnight costs’ means costs without interest costs accrued by the time taken between the start of construction to the start of. production

“A second EPR is under construction at Flamanville in France, to be operated by EDF. It is to have a capacity of 1,650 MW. Construction began in December 2007 and was scheduled to take 54 months with commercial operation beginning in 2012. Construction and engineering costs, exclusive of owner’s costs, were originally forecasted to be €3.3 billion ($4.8 billion) according to EDF. Construction has run into some problems that seem similar to the situation at the Olkiluoto site, but EDF claims it will still be able to meet the 2012 in service target date. The cost estimate has since risen to €4.0 billion, including an adjustment from 2005 € to 2008 €.”

So much for daft claims from NC WARN [p.8] about more than 10 years to build a nuclear plant.

One factor in the apparent good value of solar energy is government subsidies:

“Governments last year gave $43 billion to $46 billion of support to renewable energy through tax credits, guaranteed electricity prices known as feed-in tariffs and alternative energy credits, the London-based research group said today in a statement. That compares with the $557 billion that the International Energy Agency last month said was spent to subsidize fossil fuels in 2008.” [Quoted from]

The idea, suggested by NC WARN, that nuclear power jumps from less than 10 ¢ to more than 25 ¢ per kw looks extremely dodgy to me.

“For kWh prices of nuclear generated electricity from 2001-2008, the authors rely on the Cooper (2009) study of nuclear price trends. Nuclear kWh price projections from 2009-2020 are made by applying a 1.67% annual price level increase to the average of Cooper's 2008 projections.”

See this article at, particularly the comment by Charles Barton below it.

“And further when the MIT report calls nuclear power "uncompetitive", it is referring ONLY in comparison with coal and natural gas power, and ONLY when completely ignoring the costs of carbon emissions. In fact, by the studies' numbers, just a very small carbon price would make nuclear as cheap as coal.”

That accords fully with my own views/assessments.

“To append one thing to my comment - I want to preempt any argument that lifetime operation or decommissioning costs explain away the huge discrepancy with that $1.9-$4.1 trillion figure. Construction costs are by far the largest component of nuclear power costs, and other lifetime costs are comparatively trivial. Again citing the same MIT study (the supplement paper): Table 6C compares these. A full 72% of total costs are the initial construction costs (which would be $400 billion for one hundred 1 GWe reactors under this MIT study). A tiny 11% are operation and maintenance costs, 10% are fuel costs [for coal, fuel costs are in the region of 40%], and 7% decommissioning.” [Quoted from]

It’s all very complicated. 2,400 large wind turbines are intended to replace a ‘large’ nuclear power plant amid hand waving about the efficiency of wind. These 2,400 units need to be serviced and an intelligent grid is required to even out power supplies. And so on.

Lurking in the background, the considerable attraction of going off-grid when faced with generators’ retail prices and some juicy subsidies. But will off-grid be cheaper in overall costs and maintenance? (I include better house building energy standards in off-grid.)

Then there’s the huge filthy fossil fuel subsidies in a market that is so distorted it is hard to make clear judgements. Add to this that the prices of one supplier are strongly effected by competitive prices elsewhere in that market. Add to that the grid is managed in terms of removing the most expensive supplier as demand falls.

Further, just about everything tends to forecast ever increasing electricity usage (the NC WARN link is unusual in that it suggest the reverse!). Then there is Jevons’ ‘paradox’.

As I say, this is damned complicated

Provoked by comments from DVH.

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a real transition petrol/electric car is coming

GM Opel/Vauxhall Ampera petrol/electric car

“...Towards the end of the year[2010], the four-door mid-sized saloon will go on sale in America at a price of just under $30,000 after a government rebate of $7,500, while the very similar but more crisply styled Ampera, is due for launch in Europe about 12 months later.”

“The Ampera has a range of 350 miles before it needs refuelling and a notional thirst of 175mpg on a long journey which translates to carbon dioxide emissions of about 40g/km. Most of the time, however, the car will run without any need for the petrol engine, the batteries needing only three hours' charging from a domestic socket to deliver 40 miles of electric-only running. GM reckons that the cost of an electrically driven Ampera mile is a fifth of a petrol-driven mile in an ordinary car. Used daily for a 40-mile commute, the Ampera could save its owner more than £2,000 a year given European petrol prices. As for reliability, the battery is guaranteed against any failure for 10 years. Some of the strain is taken off it by software that stops it being depleted to less that 30% of its capacity before the generator starts working, and prevents it ever being charged to more than 80%. Apart from the battery, there’s nothing much to go wrong, and servicing will be at intervals of around 20,000 miles.”

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review of Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk by John Hofmeister

This book is a very useful analysis of the politics of the oil industry, and its interactions with politicians and the public. As the writer has been a high-level worker in Big Oil [president of Shell Oil Company, 2005-2008], he is widely informed but remains a determined team player for the industry.

This is a helpful background book for understanding the filthy fossil fuel industry and its dance of death with the planet and six billion self-interested humans. These are people addicted to the largesse and advantages of oil. However, they would really rather not have the bother of clearing up the mess, let alone pay more for their toys and a modern civilisation.

“The call for American energy independence was first made more than 35 years ago. At that time, we imported about one-third of our oil from other nations. After three and a half decades of repeated commitments by presidents, presidential candidates, and countless elected and appointed officials of both major parties at federal and state levels, after dozens of energy bills over the intervening years, through recessions and periods of heady economic growth and prosperity, by 2008 we imported two-thirds of our oil from other nations. Our reliance on foreign oil increased, not decreased. How's that for performance?” [p.26]

Hofmeister is correctly scathing of the dreadful problems posed by the politicking in Washington. He talks of political time with its short-sighted dogmatism and ever-present electioneering, energy time where immensely complex decisions and long-term planning is required, and the problem of the constant conflict of these two pressures.

“Put in charge of energy, the right wing will destroy the earth; the left will destroy our society.”

The book is very interesting as a treatise on the politics of energy, in particular the oil industry. It is far less relevant on the future and technolgy of energy. Hofmeister doesn’t consider distributed systems with any attention, being rather keen on large corporations and big government - and my god, he can be boring!

The book just stretches to a four GoldenYak award Four GoldenYak (tm) award.

Contents - chapter titles

  • The future is more, not less
  • There is an energy shortage, but there is no shortage of energy
  • Energy independence? Keep dreaming
  • No, we’re not addicted to oil
  • Go right! Go left! No way!
  • Forget the free market
  • The future is struggle
  • The industry is parochial. Surprised?
  • Oil and gas: unlovable and unavoidable
  • Utilities: ditto!
  • Can refueling stay simple?
  • Conservation starts with land use management
  • Inconvenient or not, the truth is that climate change is not the issue
  • Energy and politics: oil and water
  • Our government is broken
  • Here’s how we fix it *
  • More is more – every voice counts
  • Epilogue: U.S. Energy in 2110
Peoplpequake by Fred Pearce

Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk
by John Hofmeister

10.78 [] {advert}
publishing 25 June 2010, but some copies already available

$17.82 [] {advert}
Palgrave Macmillan, hbk, 1st edition (25 May, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0230102085
ISBN-13: 978-0230102088


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another step towards the electric car

“We plugged the i-MiEV into the Eaton charger and were ready to roll 25 minutes later. That’s all the time the charger needed to “fill” the i-MiEV’s battery to an 80 percent state of charge. Don’t have 25 minutes? Mitsubishi says 10 minutes on a quick-charger will get the battery to 50 percent. Why only 80 percent? Because the amount of time needed to get that last 20 percent rises quickly to an hour or more, Patterson said. The point of Level 3 charging to to get as much juice into the pack as quickly as possible.”

“There are still a lot of questions about the technology, not the least of which who’s going to pay for the juice. Some businesses in EV-crazy towns along the West Coast offer free 110-volt or 220-volt charging because they know it will draw customers — much like coffee shops offer free wi-fi.

“ “I have the choice of three different grocery stores,” Scott said. “I chose the one that has an electric charger. Businesses will learn that people will spend money in your store if you have a charger for them. My wife will spend $80 on groceries and get 20 cents worth of electricity.” ”

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gulf of mexico crude spill set to be yet another major disaster - now 200,000 gallon-a-day leak

How come this is “all BP’s fault”?

People buy the oil, people waste the oil, people demand the oil, people will sell their grandmothers for oil.

Governments make a fortune in oil taxes. The politicians seek ‘donations’ from the industry.

The BP rig was contracted out to a rig operation company.

Of course, suing yourself or the government is not so profitable as making BP the patsy.

Two years ago, it would have been all George Bush’s fault.

The immaturity of public debate and politics is a public embarrassment.

The ultimate responsibility is government regulation. The highly regulated nuclear industry has an incredibly safe record. [book review: The nuclear energy option by Bernard L. Cohen]

 Marker at

Thank the lord it wasn’t a bucket dropped in a clean safe nuclear power station, or you would never hear the last of it!

“At least 11 people were missing and seven others were critically injured after an explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, the US Coast Guard said Wednesday.” [Quoted from]

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