The green fields of nuclear power (updated)

Despite Fukushima and the failure of the US “nuclear renaissance”, nuclear power still has plenty of fans in Australia. A question which opponents routinely ask is “where are the nuclear power plants going to go?”.

That’s obviously a difficult question, but there’s a subtly different, and even nastier, question behind it, namely “How should we decide where a nuclear power plant should go”. There are obviously all kinds of issues to be resolved. For example, should it be on the coast, and therefore potentially vulnerable to a tsunami? Should it be near or far from population centres?

If we in Australia made a decision to go for nuclear power, then decided to answer all these questions from scratch, it would take years, maybe a decade or more before we even picked a site (look how long we took over the much easier question of a site for the national capital). And, until we answered the siting question, any estimate of the costs of nuclear power would be a stab in the dark anyway. A plant located in the centre of the Nullarbor would be about as safe as you could get, but hopelessly uneconomic.

So, the obvious answer is; Look at what other developed countries have done when faced with the same problem. But it turns out there is a small difficulty. The answer, according to the US, Britain and every other developed country I’ve looked at, is “put your plant next to an existing one, so there won’t be any more trouble than you already have”.

Of course, it’s logically impossible that they always worked that way. But, as far as I can tell, the last time a new site was picked for a nuclear power plant in a developed country was in the 1970s, before Three Mile Island, let alone Chernobyl and Fukushima. Even supposing that experience were relevant, it’s lost in the mists of time – the decisionmakers involved are long since gone, and any records they left are probably buried in the archives.*

So, unless we can solve a problem that every other developed country in the world has chosen to duck for 30-odd years, we will never even get to the starting gate with nuclear power.

*Update It turns out to be fairly easy to retrieve material from the National Archives, for example, on the proposal, made in the late 60s and abandoned in the early 70s, to build a nuclear power station at Jervis Bay. Thanks to commenter Andrew for picking me up on this.

*Further update Contrary to the claim in the post, a Finnish company has announced a proposed site for a new reactor, though it is not clear that any proper approval process has been undertaken. I doubt that Finnish administrative processes will translate easily to Australia, but it looks like a counterexample to my claim.

187 thoughts on “The green fields of nuclear power (updated)

  1. @Ikonoclast

    The fixation various parties have with nuclear power cannot be explained logically.

    Here we go again. The IEA reports that 2011 emissions are up 3.2% on 2010 which itself was a bumper year. Emissions trajectory is right at the upper bound of IPCC projections. Current policy and deployment of low emission energy is barely a pinprick on the problem. Short of some sort of severe protracted global economic downturn or peak fossil fuels arriving sooner than anyone thought, there is no end in sight.

    That itself should be a huge warning signal that the interminable feel good stories told about the deployment of some wind or solar here or there (eg in SA) are a gross misrepresentation of the true state of affairs which in reality are quite bad indeed. But no, the blind belief endures.

    Reasons to deploy nuclear:

    1. Cheaper than non-hydro renewables except for on-shore wind which may be cheaper in the US and comparable in Europe.

    2. MUCH safer than fossil fuels.

    3. Reliable baseload, dispatchable capability that directly displaces coal. The “baseload myth” looks rather ridiculous when every electricity grid in the world completely depends on baseload, dispatchable generation for reliability. Including Denmark and Germany. If and when that might change is anyone’s guess but it is at the very least a couple of decades off anywhere in the world. If the priority is to decarbonize electricity supply, it might just be good idea to take this on-board. This is well borne out by Germany’s new fossil fuel build which is not going to be shut down in ten years time without some very cranky investors.

    4. Scalable and may be deployed on any suitable site with cooling water available. In principle there is no reason why air cooled steam condensers cannot be used removing the cooling water requirement. Most or all SMR designs are intended for water or air cooling.

    5. Compact, dense source of energy with very small land use requirements compared to any renewables and corresponding small environmental footprint.

    How many reasons do you need? Oh, we could add that most of this (except air cooling on large scale) has been historically demonstrated. You can run a grid in a large industrialized country mostly on nuclear – proven historical fact. Nuclear generates far more electricity than all non-hydro renewables put together- indisputable fact.

    It is truly sad that these outstanding characteristics of nuclear are swept aside, and a gish gallop of in many cases ill informed nonsense raised as objections to nuclear by those whose do not really want to look at the energy problem seriously and objectively, but are more interested in their own notions of how the world should be – even if the world refuses to play along and for example embrace the purported “reality” of the “baseload myth”.

    As for siting, if there is a commitment to nuclear power sites will be found. Somewhere near Ceduna in SA might be a good start.

    Do nuclear (and renewables) or do climate change. It is manifestly clear to me that some people would rather do climate change.

  2. @BilB

    “Total number of deaths cause by nuclear power in the OECD=0?
    Not True

    Correct, there was a criticality accident in Japan where a couple of people were doing things they shouldn’t have been. How many people have been killed over the years doing things they shouldn’t have been with petrol?

    Overall, nuclear power in OECD countries has had an outstanding record of industrial safety that would be the envy of just about all other heavy industries. That’s a fact.

  3. Sounds good quokka.

    Very convincing – so which political party has committed to nuclear as part of it’s election platform?

  4. @Michael

    Looks like we are doing climate change then, doesn’t it?

    How many political parties anywhere are truly committed to transforming the energy system on the necessary timeframe to avoid dangerous climate change? And even if they were, how many constituencies will fully endorse such commitment.

    It looks bad – a message the IEA is becoming increasingly vocal about.

  5. It’s just that, as good as nuclear can sound – no one is actually doing it.

    OTOH, Germany just had the experience of meeting 50% of its’ electricity demand from solar PV.

    So we have a situation of one potential solution that seems technically sound, but no one wil touch it with a barge pole, and another which still has some significant limitations, but is actually being installed.

    For all of nuclear’s potential, its actual contribution is zilch, and appears to be zilch into the forseeable future.

  6. @Michael

    In the last 14 months or so Sth Korea has brought three new reactors on-line. They will generate more electricity than all of Germany’s solar capacity. What’s more, it’s scalable. There is no special problems with adding another three and another three etc. In fact at least seven more are either under construction or planned.

    Contrast that inherent scalability with the situation of German solar. Double it and there will be the situation where at some time solar will meet all of Germany’s demand. That’s when things get interesting. Any wind output will have to be curtailed or put to some other use. Same goes for coal, nuclear, gas etc. And this situation will have arrived before PV produces 10% of Germany’s electricity. Meanwhile in winter, PV on many days is so poor that it may as well not be there.

    These problems may not be inherently insurmountable, but they are a really big challenge, will inevitably have very substantial cost no matter what technologies are deployed and take a substantial amount of time to sort out. To go to 100% renewables (without a lot of hydro) is even more difficult because nobody really has any good handle on how to store energy for weeks or months on end.

    The nuclear build in France faced no such difficulties and took a little over 20 years.

    Regardless of the attitude of political parties, claims about public opinion or anything else, these realities simply will not go away. They are not just a matter of the engineering – they are intrinsic to the nature of the (non-hydro) renewables resource.

    I really don’t know where you get the idea that nuclear contribution is zilch. It is by far the biggest source of low emission electricity world wide, in Europe and Nth America aside from hydro. All non-hydro renewables contribute far less. It has done so for decades. Turn that off and you effectively throw away at least a decade of a disturbingly small time window available to effectively address the climate/energy problem.

  7. “In the last 14 months or so Sth Korea has brought three new reactors on-line. They will generate more electricity than all of Germany’s solar capacity.”

    More relevantly — they will generate one-third of Germany’s solar + wind output in 2011.

    Only one of the reactors quokka mention is operating commercially: SHIN-KORI-1. The other two will be 9-12 months away.

    In 2011, in its first full year of operation (after 5 or 6 or so years planning + 4 years construction), SHIN-KORI-1 generated 7.9TWh.

    In 2011, Germany’s solar output increased by 7.8TWh, and its wind output increased by 8.7TWh, for a total of 16.5TWh.

    If Germany were to complete reactors at the rate of Korea (an average of one added to the grid per year), it would take them 55 years to phase out their current coal and nuclear.

    If Germany were to continue installing wind + solar at the rate they did in 2011, it would take them 27 years to phase out their current coal and nuclear.

    Now account for projected growth in electricity consumption over the next thirty years for both those scenarios and watch that balloon out a lot further…

    Germany’s wind and solar programs face major challenges — but for quokka to run around bleating “Time is running out! The choice is between nuclear or climate change oblivion!!” is just nonsense.

  8. Thanks quokka, didn’t know about SK.

    France – the plan seems to be shutting down more NPP than buidling news ones.

  9. There’s quite a strong case against closing down existing nuclear plants early, although another catastrophe like Fukushima would tip the balance. But new plants are clearly uneconomic in competition with renewables or (at any plausible carbon price) with gas.

  10. Be careful what you wish for; South Australian electricity prices are soon expected to exceed those of Germany and Denmark
    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/power-prices-to-be-highest-in-the-world/story-e6frea83-1226305741810
    I expect SA will ask the Federal govt to guarantee it will get a percentage of the east Australian gas otherwise destined for Gladstone and LNG export. Without that guarantee the big Olympic Dam project might not proceed. Even in a no growth economy windpower cannot be relied upon to help meet predictable demand without gas fired backup. Sometimes windpower barely achieves 5% of its rated capacity such as when heatwaves increase air conditioning demand.

    Fukushima factoids; some 167 cleanup workers have received 100 mSv or more of radiation. That may or may not lead to statistically measurable extra cancer deaths among the 50 million or 40% of the currently living Japanese who will die from cancer anyway. The death toll from the 2011 tsunami and quake was about 16,000 killed and 3,000 missing. So far zero radiation deaths.

  11. @John Quiggin

    Please explain this then. Phase I of the London Array offshore wind project will have a nameplate capacity of 630 MW and will cost EUR 2.2 billion. Assuming a capacity factor of 0.4 six such installations would produce as much electricity as one EPR nuclear power plant at a cost of around EUR 13 billion. A FOAK EPR at half the price looks like a pretty good deal.

    This is entirely consistent with the assessment of the UK Climate Change Committee’s “The Renewable Energy Review” which found on shore wind to be the only renewable technology to be cost competitive with nuclear. How this squares up with “new [nuclear] plants are clearly uneconomic in competition with renewables”, I really don’t know.

    Given that the UK has excellent on-shore wind resource and achieves an average wind on-shore capacity factor of 25-26% the cost balance possibly favours nuclear in some other places with poorer resources. Germany only achieves an 18% on-shore wind capacity factor. Despite all the talk about “inflexible nuclear” with regard to economics and load factors, it is renewables whose economic viability is most exposed to load factor. The economics of renewables does not just depend on the technology – it also depends on the available resource.

  12. @quokka

    Quokka, I and others have been over all this before in previous nuclear blogs on JQs site.

    (1) Nuclear is not cost effective. Once the full lifecycle costs and accidents and disasters costs of nuclear are factored in, solar is much cheaper and more effective than nuclear.

    (2) “Much safer than coal.” I don’t recall a coal plant experiencing a Chernobyl or Fukishima style event although refineries certainly burnt disastrously in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami. The fact that nuclear fuel is also a non-renewable fuel means its ability to replace coal burning is limited. Nuclear power does not have the capability to provide enough power to displace reliance on climate change generating fossil fuels.

    (3) “Baseload” in the incorrect sense in which you use the term is a myth. This too has been explained in previous blogs by myself and others.

    (4) “Scalable” is one of those fancy business management words taken from software engineering where it had a more suitable technical meaning. It now means “it can be made bigger and it will still work” or “it is suitably efficient and practical when applied to large situations”. Nuclear is scalable in great big, expensive, unwieldy chunks. Solar power is scalable in almost infinite gradations so it is by far the more flexible solution.

    (5) The compactness of nuclear power stations is open to dispute when they fail. Then they require 80 km radius exclusion zones at a minimum and all other infrastructure and land uses in that area must be temporarily or sometimes permanently abandoned. Solar power in many instances requires zero net footprint as units are sited on existing roofs and infrastrucures making them dual use. In many other instances, large areas of desert or waste land with little other viable use can be used for solar power thus the footprint issue is a non-issue.

    I need more reasons than this as all your given reasons fail to stack up to anything at all.

  13. @quokka
    You are appear to be assuming 100 per cent availability for nuclear. Of course, best case plants have managed very high availability for years. Equally, others have been closed for years at a time. Given its history so far, I suspect EPR plants will be closer to the bad end of the spectrum.

    If you assume 70 per cent availability, then nuclear, as represent by Finnish EPR, is roughly competitive with offshore wind in terms of capital costs (current estimates around $8 billion euro for 1600 MW plant), but would lose out since its operating costs are higher.

  14. @Ikonoclast

    (1) Nuclear is not cost effective. Once the full lifecycle costs and accidents and disasters costs of nuclear are factored in, solar is much cheaper and more effective than nuclear.

    Then produce some numbers. Only the numbers matter. Produce something that shows the comparison above of the London Array and EPR is invalid. Show how the UK CCC’s estimates are wrong. Show how the IEA is wrong. Show how the EIA is wrong. And keep in mind that these estimates do include full fuel cycle and decommissioning costs.

    The fact that these costs claims come only from those with a vested financial or ideological interest in making them surely indicates that they deserve very careful scrutiny. Some numbers from authoritative sources might be a good place to start. Where are they?

  15. “Please explain this then. Phase I of the London Array offshore wind project will have a nameplate capacity of 630 MW and will cost EUR 2.2 billion.”

    EUR2.2b is the cost of both phases. The entire 1GW, not 630MW.

  16. @John Quiggin

    Assume 90% for nuclear. The US has beaten this for more than a decade. And Sth Korea beats the US. Worldwide it is about 80%. The 70% capacity factor assumption is not justified and at odds From memory the CCC used 85%.

    Do you have a source for the EUR $8 billion figure? I have not seen it. However you slice and dice it, it is very difficult to support the claim that off-shore wind is “clearly” cheaper than nuclear. I would also like some clear evidence that off-shore wind costs are not going up as has been recently suggested.

    And why focus on just one nuclear project? And one whose execution could hardly be described as “stellar”? Why not also carefully examine the Sth Korean experience? How are the Russian projects going cost wise? Do they live on another planet? The most recent UK experience was Sizewell B which came in on time and on budget and despite some operational problems has still achieved an 80% capacity factor. What intrinsic reason is there to assume that experience cannot and will not be repeated?

    So many questions that inquiring minds should be considering if they are really interested in avoiding dangerous climate change. Instead we find a “political” objection to nuclear masquerading as “economic”.

  17. @Nick

    As per Wikipedia:

    “phase I is expected to be completed end 2012 at a cost of €2.2 billion and will deliver a capacity of 630MW.”

    What’s your source?

  18. London Array Phase 2

    18-12-2006: Offshore wind farms get go-ahead

    “The £1.5bn London Array scheme will have 341 turbines rising from the sea about 12 miles (20km) off the Kent and Essex coasts, as well as five offshore substations and four meteorological masts.”

    etc

    Also, see here for GBP to Euro exchange rates for the last 4 or 5 years:

    That EUR2.2b (1.5 x 1.5) you’re quoting from Wiki is more like EUR1.8b to EUR1.9b now (1.5 x 1.25).

    Not sure how much Euros ever had to do with a British offshore wind project…make sure to factor that into your calculations also.

  19. I can’t see the higher estimate now – it may have been dollars. This source gives $6.6 billion, and i don’t know if they have allowed for the capital cost of the delay. I’m confident it won’t come in much below 8.

    http://www.ekopolitan.com/news/nuclear-new-finnish-olkilouto-3-epr-reactor-further-delayed-and-price-has-m

    Why focus on just one project – because you mentioned EPR and gave prices in euros, so I assumed that was the comparator.

    But sure, if your claim is that best-case nuclear beats average off-shore wind, I think that’s probably right, assuming you don’t worry too much about costs of waste disposal etc

  20. @John Quiggin

    One more point and then I’ll shut up. If the EPR in Finland such a disaster why is Finland coming back for at least one more NPP? It’s fairly safe to assume that whoever gets the nod is not going to sign to something that screwed Areva so badly on overruns. As I understand it, a consortia of industrial corporations will be footing much of the bill. One would expect them to quite hard nosed about costs.

  21. @quokka If we are going to selectively quote the IEA to support the notion that “there is no end in sight” it might be worthwhile checking the IEA’s opinion on the matter

    Solar electricity could represent up to 20% to 25% of global electricity production by 2050.

    IEA also expresses cautious optimism that China has reduced emissions relative to GDP.

  22. @Nick

    That’s a 2006 cost estimate. What the actual project costs are may be quite different. Here is a later 2009 report that supports the EUR 2.2 billion figure, though I would agree that may well not be the final cost

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/may/12/wind-farm-electricity-london-array

    What is very obvious to me is that it is not so easy to obtain reliable cost data on renewables projects. Reports in the MSM or renewables industry web sites tend to be trivial nonsense banging on about powering X homes etc etc. Half the time they can’t even tell the difference between a kW and a kWh.

    And it’s not only for renewables. Despite the acres of documentation available for the Hinkley C EPR, I’ve not found a single figure for overnight cost estimate.

    All these blog claims about renewables being cheaper than nuclear in a generalized sense are to be taken with a grain of salt. As I said above it’s politics masquerading as economics. On-shore wind certainly seems to be in good locations and in some regions. Common sense tells you that PV is not competitive with nuclear in northern Europe. The new reduced PV FITs in the UK are something like 20p/kWh for small installations and 9p/kWh for utility scale. Offer the latter for nuclear and you couldn’t beat off the investors with sticks.

    As far as I am concerned, by far the most reliable estimates of costs come from organizations such as the IEA and in the UK, DECC and the Climate Change Committee. Among other things they “normalize” costs to 2010 dollars (or whatever) to deal with exchange rate issues and inflation.

    I highly recommend reading the CCCs work and the reports commissioned from external consultancies to support that work. Until anti-nuclear bloggers, or the renewables industry can produce anything approaching the quality of work of these bodies, I will take such work as representing the most objective information available on costs.

    The link to CCC is in the following post to avoid spam filter issues.

  23. @rog

    I’m not selectively quoting the IEA. That’s just silly.

    Yes, 20% of the worlds electricity might be supplied by solar in 2050. That’s a plausible scenario. However there is no probability attached to it. It would be better from a climate point of view if there was also 20% from nuclear, 20% from wind etc etc. Pick your figures as you like. It’s all very uncertain.

    However, the current situation is sharply rising emissions with no convincing evidence of when a turnaround might come about. Tamino suggests the increase is faster than exponential.

    If you look at the case of India, per capita electricity consumption is waaay below world average and way below that of China. The most likely scenario would seem to be that India will use everything it can lay it’s hands on to change that situation. Lots more coal seems very likely. Those holding power may not like it much, may acknowledge the reality of climate change but still be compelled by economic necessity to tread this path. Watch out!

    The current situation IS bad and insisting that non-hydro renewables can go from what? 1% of the world’s primary energy supply to even 50% by 2050 looks like a really, really tough task. Throwing nuclear under the bus based solely on belief and without any real handle on the likelihood of that happening looks extremely high risk. I would have thought that common sense would dictate that such choice should at the very least be postponed until non-hydro renewables exceed nuclear – whenever that may be.

    All this makes me think that agendas other than combating climate change take higher priorities for some Greens. And I don’t mean stupid right wing “watermelons” nonsense. If so, time to be honest about it.

  24. The biggest mistake the nuclear lobby (industry) has ever made, IMHO, is to promote nuclear power as a (even partial) solution to AGW. quokka reinforced my HO in this regard.

  25. @Ernestine Gross

    Well, that’s your opinion. It may or may not be humble.

    It does however completely fly in the face of the facts that the full lifecycle emissions from nuclear are on a par with those from hydro, solar and wind (actually probably better than PV) and definitely better than biomass. This by definition makes nuclear at least a partial solution to the climate/energy problem.

    Denying this lives in the same la la land as the climate deniers.

  26. @Ernestine Gross There are several camps muddying he waters (IMHO)

    1 total denial of climate change
    2 acceptance of climate change but denial of AGW
    3 acceptance of AGW conditional on usage of nuclear.
    4 acceptance of nuclear irrespective of AGW.

    The above probably constitute the political majority with the result that policy is stuck in the mud.

  27. @rog
    Yes, and I’d like to add another one. The term ’emissions’ – as if there would be only one type of externality.

  28. @Ernestine Gross

    The term ‘emissions’ – as if there would be only one type of externality.

    It’s a very significant one though, and one that is very hard to control. There’s also the question of the life of the resource and potential price shock. There are others though. Coal and gas plants have very significant footprints both at harvest (and coal during transport). Huge dams are not the most environmentally friendly things either and are potential hazards.

  29. @rog

    There are several camps muddying he waters

    Well, how about the “acceptance of AGW, acceptance of the usefulness of fission power, acceptance of the political reality that we can never use it” camp?

    Fission power is right up there with drug law reform : nice on paper but no upside politically.
    The timescale of the ‘really bad’ consequences of AGW is such that no unequivocal political argument exists for its implementation.

    Just another itch to scratch for those of us that understand (1) the inherent time lag from emission to warming and (2) the requirement for some kind of “base load” of stored energy.

    Short of a really, publicly successful implementation of one of the better fission designs or a workable approach to fusion (which can be promoted as a fresh start), there’s no prospect.
    We can bang on about it until the cows come home but it can’t be done – “The perfect is the enemy of the good”.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t continue to talk about fission power, but we certainly need to continue to implement the other alternatives that incorporate storage – solar thermal, compressed air, micro hydro; there’s a big list, none of them with as much baggage.

  30. @Happy Heyoka

    how about the “acceptance of AGW, acceptance of the usefulness of fission power, acceptance of the political reality that we can never use it” camp?

    or the above with an amendment:

    acceptance of the political reality that its future deployment in Australia in time to be useful is less rather than more likely

  31. @Fran – That would do too 🙂

    “in time to be useful” is also tricky – as an interested bystander it’s frustrating watching the slowness of the roll-out of major alternative energy projects… we need to be able to convince China, USA, India etc about it sooner rather than later – real progress on our part would help.

    We could spend twenty years and $20 billion getting one fission plant running just to replace one coal fired plant…

  32. How many coal fired plants have we replaced using wind and solar in the last 20 years?

  33. @Happy Heyoka

    We could spend twenty years and $20 billion getting one fission plant running just to replace one coal fired plant…

    I doubt that we would even begin such a process. We would only begin if there had been a sea change in attitudes to NPPs here that would foreclose that. I don’t see that occurring here any time in the next decade.

    @terje

    How many coal fired plants have we replaced using wind and solar in the last 20 years?

    It’s an interesting question, but perhaps not quite accurately framed. Perhaps we need to look at cuts in the proportion of capacity being sourced from coal and/or gas plants occurring concomitantly with growing use of sind-solar or other non-fossil capacity. I note with optimism the most recent figures in SA over the last year in which the proportion of power sourced from wind/solar went from 21% to 34% (wind roughly 31%; solar 3%) mostly at the expense of coal and to a lesser extent from gas and without increasing prices at wholesale. Regardless of his/her attitude towards nuclear power, assuming this result really is what it seems to be (i.e SA is not importing more fossil HC energy from Victoria that isn’t counted in the figures) that’s a result any advocate of low-CO2-intensive and footprint energy ought to celebrate.

    My attitude to nuclear power has never been that of an enthusiast for the technology in its own right. I’m keen on cleaning up our energy supply system by resort to the most efficient and effective suite of measures available on a scale consistent with human need. I strongly suspect that nuclear power will prove to be an indispensible part of that, probably in Australia, but almost certainly elsewhere in the world, including many parts of the world where increasing demand for energy is going to proportionately exceed growth in the developed world. Retiring existing nuclear capacity would make little sense because it would add to the above challenge without any tangible public benefits and with some quite significant challenges.

    I’d love to see a technologically-neutral but outcome-directed consensus develop around energy infrastructure in this country — one focused purely on how to change sharply the balance between energy harvest and supply on the one hand, and the human footprint on the other — but I’m gloomy about that. The discussion has an overlay of tribalism and parochialism quite as entrenched as one sees in discussions of AGW and in the case of both coal and nuclear both sides are adducing existential arguments which makes calm discussion very difficult. Post-Fukushima and in the midst of an LNP campaign to troll the regime by resort to any post-truth idiocy it can adduce and the disinclination/incapacity of the regime to defend itself and its policies in any coherent way, it’s hard to see public policy reason hitting our shores on a large scale any time this side of 2020.

  34. The looming closure of the 240 MW Playford B coal fired power station cannot be attributed to SA’s 127 MW of installed solar. More a case it was simply clapped out. I suggest the role of windpower in SA is to save gas. From memory gas was 44% and wind was 26% of the SA energy mix for the whole of 2011. Whether it is logistically prudent to take the permanent wind fraction higher than 30% remains to be seen. The wholesale gas price in SA is thought likely to rapidly climb from about $4 a gigajoule to $7 or so.

    This is also why there is unlikely to be any serious replacement of Latrobe Valley brown coal plants with gas. Gillard recently gave them $1bn in compensation for hurt feelings under the carbon tax. Hazelwood got nearly $300m of that which will seem odd if they are still there 20 years from now. SA and Vic are the prime candidates for nuclear power. When prefabricated modular reactors are approved in the US they should be among the first customers.

  35. @Fran Barlow

    Post-Fukushima and in the midst of an LNP campaign to troll the regime by resort to any post-truth idiocy it can adduce and the disinclination/incapacity of the regime to defend itself and its policies in any coherent way

    Reform by any government is tantamount to suicide – German voters showed the SPD the door, the big miners changed the course of Australian govt and Obama has yet to unwind the Bush legacy. The markets appear to be doing more to change politics than politicians. 

  36. @Fran Barlow MacGen spent $10m on a solar plant that reduces the amount of coal burnt at Liddell by 2000t/pa. To put that in perspective, 4 hours av consumption of coal at Liddell is >2500t.

  37. @rog
    An alternative perspective is that the capital cost of coal-fired power is about $1.5 million/Mw (so Liddell as a whole has a replacement cost around $3 billion) while the solar thermal comes in at around $1m/MW nameplate, or around $4m/MW for actual service. Once you take fuel costs into account, it doesn’t look crazy, considered as a pilot project. Given a carbon price and some technical progress, this approach might work.

  38. @John Quiggin

    At current spot prices of $62.95 per tonne for coal and savings of 2000t of coal p.a. the capital cost of the facility would be recovered in just under 80 years — which is not a great ROI. IIRC, this is one of those “super critical” plants using pulverised coal and thus already highly thermally efficient at using coal — leaving little scope for savings.

    Looked at another way, if 2000 tons of coal, when burned, produces 1800tCO2e (probably less in this plant for the reasons above, but anyway) the effective carbon price is $5500tCO2e to break even. I don’t see that occurring any time soon.

    It could be that I’m being a little simplistic here. I seem to recall that the solar additions allowed the plant to load follow more effectively — meaning that they could respond more quickly to demand, allowing the operators to take better advantage of peak demand fluctuations. If so, perhaps this facility is actually more valuable than the bald figures might suggest.

    Clearly, it’s justified as a small scale experiment — research costs money and it’s not assumed that every piece of industrial engineering research is going to have good ROI, but in the absence of some other consideration a qualitatively better performance would be needed to warrant this on a larger scale.

  39. @John Quiggin

    An alternative perspective is that the capital cost of coal-fired power is about $1.5 million/Mw (so Liddell as a whole has a replacement cost around $3 billion)

    Dollars per MW is a nice way to do it. The whole “all-you-eggs-in-one-basket flagship project” thing with the feds is disappointing. Given the poor history in Australia for getting “huge” alternative energy projects off the ground, I think we need to work on getting many smaller consortia up and running rather than a handful of big projects that seem to get bogged down in getting approvals and organising funding schemes.

    @rog

    MacGen spent $10m on a solar plant that reduces the amount of coal burnt at Liddell by 2000t/pa.

    There must be at least a couple of _houses_ valued at $10m – it’s nothing in the scheme of things.
    (well, unless you’re trying to raise it…)

    One of the reasons I like solar-thermal is that we can appropriate a lot of the technology from coal fired plants; wind turbines are good too – steel, concrete, copper – we make all of that here. 100 year old tech, no deal breaking IP restrictions – all fertile ground for a startup or two.

    While in theory we could do a nuclear plant from scratch, in practice we’d buy it from the Canadians/USA/Russia… another several years of negotiations before breaking ground on it.

  40. The “steam saver” at Liddell Power Station was devised by David Mills, Australia’s most detetermined and experienced solar thermal proponent, as a steam preheater and was a jointly funded from a government grant and the power company. It is the first example of the fresnel lens approach in Australia, a system that is favoured by Mills. This is a very small installation in a minimally suitable solar insolation area. It is by no means a facility from which costs for the efficient building of large solar fields can be extrapolated. The Liddell facility is a demonstration of the lengths that Mills had to got to in order to obtain the opportunity to build anything solar at all in Australia, this country that decades ago prided itself as being a leader in Solar implementation.

  41. “Looked at another way, if 2000 tons of coal, when burned, produces 1800tCO2e (probably less in this plant for the reasons above, but anyway) the effective carbon price is $5500tCO2e to break even. I don’t see that occurring any time soon.”

    A couple of errors here, I think. First, burning 2000t of coal (that is, carbon) produces around 5000 t of CO2. Second, you’ve compared the capital cost to the annual saving. If we discount at 10 per cent, then you get a cost of $200/t of CO2. You can cut that a bit further because you’ve also saved the cost of the coal, to somewhere between $100 and $150/t. As I said, not an economic proposition, but OK for a demonstration/pilot project.

  42. @John Quiggin

    Oh … I see what I’ve done — damn — put the wrong value in the spreadsheet formula … apologies. I’m still not following the discount you’re applying though. As I understand it too, the coal on spot markets is about $62.95 per tonne. Not true?

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