Sunday, July 8, 2012

Comparing Costs of Solar and Nuclear

In a recent Forbes article, the most glaring parameter is that the sun doesn’t always shine…a standard availability being 20-30%.  So, if you compare that solar production strictly against a base-load generator with a 70-80% capacity, you come up with a very big negative for solar, as well as other renewable. 

What is missing in this cost analysis is the “true” value of the electricity…other than just a  price per KWH.  Solar is peak demand KWHs…especially valuable and most probably more than cost effective and competitive on hot summer days when air-conditioning demand is at its highest.  There is usually no distinction between cost/kwh during the day and night when demand is low, and when a lot of costly generators are turned off.  As with so many aspects of the environment/climate change, the “true” costs and implications are marginalized.

Another strike against solar PV is the life expectancy of the panels itself.  For many years, a 20 year life was used…I guess today it is 25 years.  The argument was/is that there is not enough actual use history to extend that timeframe, even though those panels may work for 50, 60, ?? years.  A nuclear power plant has a license for 40 years, and most industrial facilities have a 30-40 year life expectancy.  So, if you depreciate, spread cost out over that life-expectancy timeframe, whatever economic  gimmick you use, is at a big disadvantage.

One last point I usually make in my arguments is that the real cost of nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste disposal is extremely understated.  Here at the Humboldt Bay Reactor which we are decommissioning, the cost is in excess of $0.12/kwh for the electricity it produced in its 14 year run.  The cost of dry storage of the fuel is about $12 million /yr until 2020…and after that, who knows what.

I know this is all so complex, and I am not an economist, but for all these years I have felt slighted by the “powers that be” in all my activism for sustainable, renewable energy. 

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