Ouch! This is a zinger against the Windustry! Your decision to purchase an electric car doesn’t appear too wise, either. Thank you for these authors for taking their time to research and put together a tremendous amount of information about our various energy options and the costs to the future of our nation and our electric stability. The costs to implement the renewable aspirations of this administration are absolutely terrifying and not sustainable. China, the largest foreign holder of our debt, is aware of this and they are building Thorium reactors. Why shouldn’t we?…..
Four bottom lines up front:
- It would cost over $29 Trillion to generate America’s baseload electric power with a 50 / 50 mix of wind and solar farms, on parcels of land totaling the area of Indiana. Or:
- It would cost over $18 Trillion with Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) farms in the southwest deserts, on parcels of land totaling the area of West Virginia. Or:
- We could do it for less than $3 Trillion with AP-1000 Light Water Reactors, on parcels totaling a few square miles. Or:
- We could do it for $1 Trillion with liquid-fueled Molten Salt Reactors, on the same amount of land, but with no water cooling, no risk of meltdowns, and the ability to use our stockpiles of nuclear “waste” as a secondary fuel.
Whatever we decide, we need to make up our minds, and fast. Carbon fuels are killing us, and killing the planet as well. And good planets are hard to come by.
If you think you can run the country on wind and solar, more power to you.
It’s an attractive idea, but before you become married to it, you should cuddle up with a calculator and figure out exactly what the long-term relationship entails….
Wind and solar farms are gas plants.
Don’t take our word for it; listen to this guy instead, one of the most famous voices in the renewable energy movement:
“We need about 3,000 feet of altitude, we need flat land, we need 300 days of sunlight, and we need to be near a gas pipe. Because for all these big solar plants—whether it’s wind or solar—everybody is looking at gas as the supplementary fuel. The plants we’re building, the wind plants and the solar plants, are gas plants.” – Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., board member of BrightSource, builders of the Ivanpah solar farm on the CA / NV border.
Large wind and solar farms are in the embarrassing position of having to use gas-fired generators to smooth out the erratic flow of their intermittent energy. It’s like showing up at an AA meeting with booze on your breath….
We’ve been cuddled up with a calculator, thinking about whether to go with a 500 MW Light Water Reactor, or a 500 MW wind or solar farm.
So far, wind is weighing in at $26.7 Billion, CSP solar at $12.3 Billion, and a Gen-3+ Light Water Reactor at $4.03 Billion. The land, steel and concrete for the reactor is minuscule, the material for wind or solar is substantially more, and the land for the wind farm is enough to make you faint.
But wait, it gets worse…
A reactor has a 60-year service life. Renewables, not so much.
The industry thinks that wind turbines will last 20-25 years, and that CSP trough mirrors will last 30-40 years. But no one really knows for sure: the earliest large-scale PV arrays, for example, are only 15 years old, and CSP is younger than that. And there’s mounting evidence that wind turbines will only last 15 years….
A word or two about natural gas.
Gas-fired plants are far less expensive than nuclear plants, or even coal plants, which typically go for about $2 an installed watt. Nuclear plants, even in America, could be as cheap as coal plants if the regulatory and construction process were streamlined—assembly-line fabrication alone will be an enormous advance. Still, a gas plant is about a third the price of a coal plant, which sounds great. But the problem with a gas-fired plant is the gas.
CO2 emissions from burning “natural gas” (the polite term for “methane”) are 50% less than coal, which is a substantial improvement, but it’s still contributing to global warming. It’s been said that natural gas is just a slower, cheaper way to kill the planet, and it is. But it’s even worse than most folks realize, because when methane escapes before you can burn it (and any gas infrastructure will leak) it’s a greenhouse gas that’s 105 times more potent than CO2. (If it’s any consolation, that number drops to “only” about 20 times after a few decades.)
Another problem with natural gas is that it’s more expensive overseas. Which at first glance doesn’t seem like much of a problem, since we’ve always wanted a cheap, abundant source of domestic energy. But once we start exporting methane in volume (the specialized ports and tankers are on the drawing board), why would gas farmers sell it here for $3 when they can sell it over there for $12?
A final note on natural gas: Even if all of our shale gas was recoverable (which it’s not), it would only last 80-100 years. But we have enough thorium, an easily mined and cheaply refined nuclear fuel, to last for literally thousands of years.
Natural gas is a cotton candy high. The industry might have 10 years of good times on the horizon, but I wouldn’t convert my car if I were you. Go electric, but when you do, realize that your tailpipe is down at the power plant. So insist on plugging into a carbon-free grid. Otherwise you’ll just be driving a coal burner.
Which brings us back to nuclear vs. renewables, the only two large-scale carbon-free energy sources available to us in the short term. And since all we have is the short term to get this right, we’d better knuckle down and make some decisions.
America has 100 nuclear power plants. We need hundreds more.
Reactors produce nearly 20% of America’s electrical power, virtually all of it carbon-free….
Let’s Run the Numbers – Nuclear Energy vs. Wind and Solar | The Energy Reality Project.