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Nikola Nesic's picture
Product Manager Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy

Offshore wind product manager with experience in R&D and production

  • Member since 2020
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  • Jun 29, 2020
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In this article, I present why the LCOE cannot be used alone for selection of energy sources, and which parameters also have to be evaluated before we head towards 100% renewable energy future.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 29, 2020

"On short term nuclear could help to solve the CO2 problem I agree, but if you think about the problem of the waste I don't like the solution so much. It can't be that we create energy now and make profits on behalf of our future generations and shift the problem of waste to generations in thounds (sic) of years from now."

Nikola, this comment on your LinkedIn post sums up the only real problem with nuclear energy, the most energy-dense fuel known to humanity. It's thinking about "the problem of the waste" - a problem that doesn't exist:

"Nuclear waste has never been a problem. In fact, it’s the best solution to the environmental impacts from energy production. 

Consider:

• Every year, the lives of seven million people are cut short by waste products in the form of air pollution from burning biomass and fossil fuels;

• No nation in the world has a serious plan to prevent toxic solar panel and wind turbine waste from entering the global electronic waste stream;

• No way of making electricity other than nuclear power safely manages and pays for any its waste.

In other words, nuclear power’s waste by-products aren‘t a mark against the technology, they are its key selling point."

Stop Letting Your Ridiculous Fears of Nuclear Waste Kill the Planet

The only real problem with nuclear energy isn't cost, or waste. It's irrational fear.

Nikola Nesic's picture
Nikola Nesic on Jun 29, 2020

Hi Bob,

Thanks for the comment.

As far as I see it, the biggest problem of nuclear energy is an extremly large consequence for one of the failures - core meltdown. Other eletricity generation sources do not have this issue - wind turbine might fall - so what? Solar panel might be destroyed by something - again no issue. It is only the hydro with large accumulation that could come close to the scenario of Chernobyl, and even that would be local when compared to the spread of radiactive gas.

After Fukushima, it seems that this fear has taken over and that we have given up on solving the issue...

Nikola

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 29, 2020

Nikola,
1) On any nuclear plant built since 1980 core meltdown is virtually impossible (Fukushima was commissioned in 1971).
2) Poor design standards were entirely to blame for both Chernobyl and Fukushima. The 1978 loss-of-coolant accident (LOCA) at Three Mile Island was identical to the one at Fukushima, with completely different results.
3) Health effects from Fukushima were grossly exaggerated. Though no one was killed or injured from escaped radiation, an estimated 1,300 residents were killed during the panicked evacuation.
4) Radioactive gases were never an issue at Fukushima or Chernobyl. The explosions and fires that followed each accident spread heavy radioactive material high into the atmosphere, but nearly all of it had fallen to the ground within 30 days. For comparison, the radioactivity from naturally-occurring radon gas is responsible for 21,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.
5) "...it seems that this fear has taken over...". Agreed, but wouldn't it be irresponsible to give up on this abundant, carbon-free source of energy if the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself?

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 29, 2020

United Nations IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) strongly suggests that the best approach to replace fossil fuels is to adopt a mix of nuclear, hydro and other renewables.

This recommendation makes sense, but is obviously challenging today for many regions-- hydro is location dependent, and nuclear has a mountain of policy hurdles to climb where it's not wanted. Do you see that markets will largely take this advice in the long-run?

Nikola Nesic's picture
Nikola Nesic on Jun 29, 2020

It will be country-dependent I guess. Some, like Germany, will never again build a new nuclear plant, while others, like Russia, are heavily investing in R&D and will deploy new generation of reactors in future.

Electrical grid needs stable + variable sources of electricity. If you eliminate fossil fuels, you are left with:

a) nuclear + renewables solution

b) apply carbon capture technology on existing fossil fuel sources and then add renewables

c) go renewables only and apply bateries to stablize the grid

What we see today is stopping of nuclear + burning of more coal. That is not clever.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 29, 2020

That is not clever.

Agreed! Well said, and thanks for the response. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 30, 2020

"Electrical grid needs stable + variable sources of electricity. If you eliminate fossil fuels, you are left with:

a) nuclear + renewables solution..."

I think you're confusing "variable" with "flexible" here, Nikola. When grid engineers talk about renewables being variable, they're referring to the fact their output varies - unpredictably. That creates enormous challenges for maintaining voltage and frequency stability on the grid. If either strays more than ~2%, the grid goes down - a negative, not a positive.

In its early days nuclear energy was extremely inflexible - it couldn't be intentionally varied to meet consumer demand. In France, where 80% of electricity was generated by nuclear, that became a big negative, too, because the country remained reliant on oil to be able to meet the gentle curves of customer demand. When French engineers developed a new breed of reactors that could vary their output rapidly and reliably, grid planners looked forward to a day when the French grid would be 100% nuclear - no carbon emissions, no dependence on oil from the Mideast.

Then came Chernobyl, and a poor design, combined with poor standards and poor implementation, once again made nuclear energy a target for legions of antinuclear, anti-growth activists.

Though nuclear still suffers, undeservedly, from the legacy of Chernobyl, climate change has changed the equation. Now renewables are not only unnecessary, they're getting in the way - and the only reason we don't have a 100% carbon-free, flexible grid is irrational fear of nuclear energy.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 29, 2020

Let's be clear here...

If we are looking at Nuclear helping reduce WW CO2 - that means that we are talking about the 2030s.  

We are now done with 1/2 the year and there has yet to be a single construction start for a new nuclear plant in 2020.But there has been 2 plants shutdown- 1.9GW of nuclear capacity.

This follows 7.9GW of shutdowns in 2019 vs 5.2GW of new nuclear grid connections and 5.9GW of new constructions starts. In other words, 2019 was a year in which nuclear went backwards. 

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 29, 2020

Yes, let's be clear Joe. Despite the best efforts of renewables/gas developers to grab market share by shutting down existing nuke plants, killing new projects, and resorting to lawsuits to delay works-in-progress, nuclear has maintained a 20% share of U.S. generation since 2003.

"Although in 2019 there were fewer operating nuclear reactors than in 2013, total nuclear electricity generation capacity at the end of 2019 was about the same as total capacity in 2003, when the United States had 104 operating reactors. Power plant uprates—modifications to increase capacity—at nuclear power plants have made it possible for the entire operating nuclear reactor fleet to maintain a relatively consistent total electricity generation capacity."

Backwards? In 2019, U.S. nuclear capacity was up 1% and set a new record for generation:

Contrast with the efficiency of PV panels degrading 1% each year (in other words, solar starts going backwards before it's even installed!).

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 30, 2020

Thanks Bob... your comments  and chart strongly reinforce exactly what I said. 

"If we are looking at Nuclear helping reduce WW CO2 - that means that we are talking about the 2030s. "

I was talking about WW - but as you clearly stated the US has been just as stagnant when it comes to new nuclear generation as the world has been.

Going forward, total nuclear generation in the US will still be flat - if not down - in 2030 vs today. 

By the way, I was slightly incorrect with my comment:

"We are now done with 1/2 the year and there has yet to be a single construction start for a new nuclear plant in 2020.But there has been 2 plants shutdown- 1.9GW of nuclear capacity.

France is now in the process of shutting down the second reactor at Fessenheim. So, I need to add another 880MW to my total for shutdowns so far in 2020.  Now we are at 2.8GW of shutdowns vs. 0 GW of construction starts in 2020.

The two Fessenheim units were France's oldest - 43 years old when they were shutdown. There are two reactors in France that are 42 years old, two that are 41 years old and seven reactors that are 40 years old. Just sayin.

 

Nikola Nesic's picture
Nikola Nesic on Jun 29, 2020

Hi Joe,

IPCC gives recommendations, but cannot enforce them... So I guess that there will be some countries that do deploy a lot of nuclear, but they would do it with or without global warming.

To be honest, I do not know plans for nuclear energy until 2100

Nikola

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 30, 2020

IPCC gives recommendations, but cannot enforce them... So I guess that there will be some countries that do deploy a lot of nuclear, but they would do it with or without global warming

Of course. Fully agree.

I am trying to emphasize the following:

  1. there is a long lead time for any new nuclear
  2. a lot of new nuclear will just be replacing old, retiring nuclear plants

Here are the four large nuclear plants that went live in 2019. 

  1. NOVOVORONEZH2 (1,114 MW) Russia - Started construction July 2009
  2. SHIN-KORI4 (1,340 MW) Korea - started construction Aug 2009
  3. TAISHAN2 (1660 MW) China - started construction Apr 2010
  4. YANGJIANG6 (1000 MW) China - started construction in Dec 2013

Average of about 9 years to build these reactors after construction started. Long lead time.

WW currently there are 80 GW of nuclear plants 40+ years of age.  A chunk of these will retire in the next ten years.  Meanwhile, there are only 57 GW of nuclear under construction WW.  

 The 2020s will be another lost decade for nuclear.  Maybe the 2030s will be different??  

Kent Knutson's picture
Kent Knutson on Jun 29, 2020

Nikola, a very insightful article you posted on LinkedIn last year.  I've been skeptical of using LCOE as an indicator of parity in energy generation for some time.  The two key parameters you developed, as you suggested, don't even consider the intermittent nature of most renewables.  So if we're not going big in nuclear and probably not in hydro . . . that leaves a balanced approach to the future with a lot of variable resources like wind and solar mixed with some fossil and energy storage technologies.   I really enjoyed your article, thx for sharing.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 29, 2020

 I've been skeptical of using LCOE as an indicator of parity in energy generation for some time

This has been my main takeaway, too. We're also so thirsty for a single metric to tell us what's 'right' and 'best'-- but not everything can be broken down as such, especially generation types that are based on so many outside factors to know what the 'optimal' choice is in a given site. 

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