Are Renewables Cheaper than Nuclear?

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Are Renewables Cheaper than Nuclear?

Post by Red » Thu Sep 12, 2019 3:13 pm

I'm fully aware that 90% of internet debates (especially ones on Reddit) are a waste of time and sometimes counterproductive (backfire effect), and in the future I will try to avoid such debates, but this time, I got into a debate about Nuclear that is above my pay grade.

So I posted my video on Fusion energy to the appropriate subreddit, and I got roped into a debate about the cost of Fusion. Here is the thread:
https://www.reddit.com/r/fusion/comment ... rgy_video/
(I'm PresidentRed2056 BTW)
The discussion I am referring to starts with a comment by ArtisticSuccess, then starts getting a bit hairy.
Take a second to skim the thread. Are these people right? Is Nuclear overall more expensive than Renewable Energy?
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Post by brimstoneSalad » Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:09 pm

I'm assuming you accounted for storage costs to solve intermittency, and subsidies.

Nuclear has to pay inordinate amounts of money in insurance and regulation costs, whereas many other renewable forms of energy are almost unregulated. The death toll from e.g. solar manufacturing is a good example. Just pass off the risks to manufacturing workers, mostly in other countries. When panels are installed on rooftops those costs are also hidden in extant home owners insurance, and the insurance that contractors have (look at actual installed cost; it's not low).

Basically you have a bunch of externalities (ones with serious costs in terms of economy and human well being) that nuclear IS paying for but other renewable energies offload. Much like the same issue which exists with fossil fuels that don't pay for their environmental harm.

Speaking of fossil fuels, these renewables are also manufactured with them, and have much lower EROEI so they're burning through a lot more gas or coal that isn't covering its externalities too. Renewable energy can't bootstrap itself in the time-span we have to go green.

When the government picks up the insurance bill, nuclear is cheaper.

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Post by Red » Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:30 pm

brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:09 pm
I'm assuming you accounted for storage costs to solve intermittency, and subsidies.
Isn't storage of entire grids ridiculously expensive and possibly bankrupt the country?
brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:09 pm
Nuclear has to pay inordinate amounts of money in insurance and regulation costs, whereas many other renewable forms of energy are almost unregulated.
I brought that up, they didn't believe me. They assert that the costs of the technologies are far more expensive.
brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:09 pm
The death toll from e.g. solar manufacturing is a good example. Just pass off the risks to manufacturing workers, mostly in other countries. When panels are installed on rooftops those costs are also hidden in extant home owners insurance, and the insurance that contractors have (look at actual installed cost; it's not low).
I should have brought that up (I think I did?).
brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:09 pm
Speaking of fossil fuels, these renewables are also manufactured with them, and have much lower EROEI so they're burning through a lot more gas or coal that isn't covering its externalities too. Renewable energy can't bootstrap itself in the time-span we have to go green.
I brought that up, they kinda pushed it aside.
brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:09 pm
When the government picks up the insurance bill, nuclear is cheaper.
How does that happen exactly though?

One of them showed me this article, and now I'm not so sure (pgs 11-12):
https://www.lazard.com/media/450784/laz ... vfinal.pdf
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Post by teo123 » Wed Sep 18, 2019 3:09 am

Anyway, I am also considering making a YouTube video, as I'll soon have an access to a fast Internet, and I was planning to mention that the power the wind turbines give is proportional to the third power of the speed of the wind. However, when I think about it, that claim seems like nonsense. Think of it this way: the kinetic energy of the air is, of course, E=(m*v^2)/2. So, the SI unit for it is kg*m^2*s^(-2). So, the power is P=E/t, and therefore the unit for it is kg*m^2*s^(-3), or, equivalently, kg*m^2*s^(-2)*s^(-1). And, since the unit for speed of the wind is m/s, that is, m*s^(-1), the unit of power can be rewritten as kg*(m/s)^2*s^(-1). So, by definition, the power is, if it depends on it, proportional to the square of the speed of the wind, not the cube. So, that statement contradicts mathematics. Even if it is based on some experiment, that doesn't matter, since mathematics is a harder science than physics, right?

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Wed Sep 18, 2019 5:35 pm

teo123 wrote:
Wed Sep 18, 2019 3:09 am
So, that statement contradicts mathematics. Even if it is based on some experiment, that doesn't matter, since mathematics is a harder science than physics, right?
You're right about the total available power if it were 100% efficient. But turbines aren't that efficient. It's actually a bell shaped curve, at low speeds they have very poor efficiency because the friction and effects of air resistance and turbulence are wasting most of it. As the speeds pick up, the efficiency improves and you start to generate more power, so the curve might look like that at the start. When wind speeds get higher then you have more losses creep up again since the blades weren't designed for those speeds, and eventually you have to put the brakes on and lock the turbine so it doesn't break and you get 0 power.

Pretty much everything in engineering is a bell shaped curve, because real world mechanical devices are only designed to perform well within certain narrow parameters. Too little and they produce almost nothing, too much and again it's the same nothing.

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Wed Sep 18, 2019 6:33 pm

Red wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:30 pm
Isn't storage of entire grids ridiculously expensive and possibly bankrupt the country?
Basically yes.
Unless everybody has electric cars, and we use a network of electric car batteries to smart power the grid. It's... possible. But it's also a kind of logistical nightmare. That's the only way you get it to make economic sense, but the technical and infrastructure challenges are pretty incredible. We'd need to start forcing auto-makers RIGHT NOW to integrate the technology needed for electric cars to feed power back into the grid on demand and connect with the grid authorities for orders... under some heavy encryption of some kind. It's a serious vulnerability to hacking, since these devices usually aren't as secure as computers, and a simple virus could pretty much destroy the grid. We'd also need to incentivize car owners to keep their vehicles plugged in...
Red wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:30 pm
I brought that up, they didn't believe me. They assert that the costs of the technologies are far more expensive.
In France state covered insurance cuts the cost something like in half: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_e ... rce#France

And no, the technology isn't so expensive. The facilities are expensive. We're talking about large compounds with huge cement and steel bunker domes that can survive a plane crashing into them, massive cooling towers, etc.
Red wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:30 pm
One of them showed me this article, and now I'm not so sure (pgs 11-12):
https://www.lazard.com/media/450784/laz ... vfinal.pdf
Only one of those includes storage, so it's not at all a fair comparison when something doesn't give you any power at night.

But look at the nuclear more closely: see that little orange diamond way to the left? That's how much it actually costs to keep running the plants.
See, what they do for the levelized cost is they take the cost of building the facility and they divide that by some kind of expected lifespan. For nuclear, the lifespans of the plants are ridiculously short. Nuclear reactors REGULARLY perform well based the life spans they were originally licensed for, because they're still working just fine.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/arti ... tors-last/
Today's reactors, most of which were built in the 1960s and 1970s, were initially licensed for 40 years. Half of them have won NRC approval to operate for another 20 years, and the rest are expected to do the same.
The bottom line is that it's too conservative, and even dishonest, to divide the cost of nuclear facilities by 40 years. They should be divided by 60 at minimum and possibly even 80 years. That would cut those costs IN HALF, putting the actual costs much closer to that little orange diamond and FAR FAR under the costs of solar technologies.

Taking that into account, the actual costs would be 70 - 135, which is on the order of geothermal (an excellent technology that doesn't suffer intermittency issues).

Maths (because they're probably skeptical):

Code: Select all

28 + ((112 - 28)/2) = 70
28 + ((189 - 28)*(2/3)) = 145.3333...
The only solar technology with storage that comes close to being that cheap are solar thermal towers.

Solar is great for some things. If you have small lights that you don't want to waste resources and money wiring to a grid? Solar + batteries is brilliant.
I once saw a garbage can trash compactor design using solar power -- brilliant.
Solar is even good for some of the additional load that may crop up during the day, particularly in reliably sunny areas.
Solar thermal systems are brilliant for pre-heating hot water. The tanks on your roof are insulated and can store hot water ALL NIGHT. Again, it's about storage, and avoiding solar cells saves a lot of energy (the light directly into heat is very efficient).

There's a lot of space for solar, but expecting it to carry base load energy is not reasonable or realistic right now.

Red wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:30 pm
brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:09 pm
Speaking of fossil fuels, these renewables are also manufactured with them, and have much lower EROEI so they're burning through a lot more gas or coal that isn't covering its externalities too. Renewable energy can't bootstrap itself in the time-span we have to go green.
I brought that up, they kinda pushed it aside.
The fact that we can't bootstrap things like solar easily without burning through a lot more fossil is really crucial. When do they want to be off fossil fuels by exactly?

Nuclear power has an EROEI sufficient to build nuclear power plants. OR if you're afraid of meltdowns, use nuclear power out in the middle of nowhere to manufacture solar panels. Win-win. Except storage which is another issue... but at least you can make enough solar panels, and fast, without having to release so much more greenhouse gas.

And it's worth noting: a cheap nuclear pile without all of the safety measures would cost almost nothing. Basically build em' like Chernobyl; cheap and dangerous, but if they're in the middle of nowhere it doesn't really matter. So it would cost $20-something, cheaper than any other energy source. Operate it with robots at the North Pole or something.
brimstoneSalad wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:09 pm
When the government picks up the insurance bill, nuclear is cheaper.
Red wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:30 pm
How does that happen exactly though?
The government just has to say "hey if there's an accident we'll cover it, you (the company) are off the hook", in the U.S. you'd just be talking about dipping into FEMA funds if anything happened, and indemnifying the company in court.
The government probably isn't actually paying out anything to an insurer, but rather acting to cover the costs if there's an emergency: acting AS the insurer. In economic terms just like the government often has to cover the costs of damage from coal plants that are more spread out, but it would be a lot cheaper to cover nuclear since it's safer than coal for the population.

Apparently it's not fully covered in France? (http://www.assuratome.fr/en/19-reinsura ... lear-risks), but they have a system in place to mitigate costs. I'm not familiar with all of the details of how they work it out. Maybe you can ask a French speaker to help sort it out? A lot of this stuff isn't in English.

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Post by Red » Wed Sep 18, 2019 7:22 pm

Much appreciated for the response, brimstone. I'll tell those blokes over on the Reddits soon. Can't do it now, I have a Physics and Calculus exam next Thursday.

I would invite them over here, but not only do people often refuse to join when I invite them, it just seems kind of pointless for them to come over just to debate that one thing.

BTW did you see my new video? Wanna know everyone's thoughts on it.
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Post by Jamie in Chile » Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:09 pm

I saw the video. At times you compared "nuclear" to "fusion" which is not correct since fusion is also nuclear. It would make more sense to compare fission to fusion which at times you did. The rest of the video was fine. I can't imagine how many hours of work it took!

I think it's true in general that nuclear is more expensive than renewables. Most opinions I've read seem to agree. I've also seen datapoints on contracts in the UK and other countries where they quote the contracted price for solar and wind per kW that they sell to the grid. Solar and wind are managing to get better quotes that I've seen.

Solar and wind have gotten way cheaper in recent years while nuclear I think has possibly got more expensive over the decades. Any info you find on solar/wind pricing from 5 years ago is hopelessly out of date, while even in 2 years things sometimes shift a lot.

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Post by Red » Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:33 pm

Jamie in Chile wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:09 pm
I saw the video. At times you compared "nuclear" to "fusion" which is not correct since fusion is also nuclear.
I did consider that when I was writing the script, but I thought it might confuse some people.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:09 pm
It would make more sense to compare fission to fusion which at times you did.
Yeah, I probably should have.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:09 pm
The rest of the video was fine. I can't imagine how many hours of work it took!
Well to put it into perspective, each minute of video takes about 5 hours of work, which includes editing, voice-over, scripting, etc, not including research (although for this video I wrote it while I researched it). So this video took about 40-50 hours to complete.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:09 pm
I think it's true in general that nuclear is more expensive than renewables. Most opinions I've read seem to agree. I've also seen datapoints on contracts in the UK and other countries where they quote the contracted price for solar and wind per kW that they sell to the grid. Solar and wind are managing to get better quotes that I've seen.

Solar and wind have gotten way cheaper in recent years while nuclear I think has possibly got more expensive over the decades. Any info you find on solar/wind pricing from 5 years ago is hopelessly out of date, while even in 2 years things sometimes shift a lot.
well brimstone seems to know the economics behind all of this for some inexplicable reason.
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