Wind and Solar vs Nuclear
- May 25, 2021 12:23 pm GMT
New Brunswick is the home of the only Nuclear Generating Station outside of Ontario. The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station produces 39% of NB’s energy and has a capacity of 705MW. It has been running for 37 years and was built at an estimated cost of $1.4 billion (CAD). Refurbishments to the station were completed in 2012 at a cost of $2.4 billion, a billion dollars over budget (CAD). A billion dollars (CAD) could pay 32 051 people $15/hr for fulltime work, for one year. A further $500 million (CAD) has been spent to curb reliability issues that emerged after the costly refurbishment. For reasons both financial and energy-related, the conversation about nuclear energy and renewables is one that needs to be had here in New Brunswick. That is precisely the conversation this piece hopes to begin.
Overall, nuclear energy is riskier and has a worse environmental impact than wind energy, while wind is enormously less costly. The average levelized long-term price from wind power sales agreements has dropped to below 2 cents per kWh (USD).
In our regional context, according to NB Power’s 2017 Integrated Resources Plan, wind power is cheaper as measured by the levelized cost of energy. Note that an IRP is their outlook on the future of the energy grid and needs of NB for the next 10-20 years. It is a rigorous study NB Power is mandated to create and release every three years. According to their IRP, Nuclear costs 13.1 cents (CAD) per kWh, as opposed to wind energy at 9.6-10 cents per kWh. This is more expensive than what NB Power bills homeowners for electricity. This is a shift from NB Power’s statistics in this same category from its 2014 edition of the same report, in which wind energy was more expensive. By NB Power’s numbers, wind energy is decreasing in cost and is cheaper than nuclear energy. Their numbers seem rather inflated as well, as in 2017 the Alberta Energy System Operator (AESO) had an average levelized cost of energy at 3.7 cents per kWh for wind energy power purchase agreements.
Wind, solar, and other renewables are the future. Nuclear, specifically Small Modular Reactors are an expensive, unprepared, risky, still to be developed power source that cannot meet the challenge of mitigating the effects of the on-going climate crisis. Global nuclear electricity production in terawatt-hours per year (TWh/yr) peaked in 2006. The percentage contribution of nuclear energy to global electricity peaked at 17.5% in 1993 and declined to under 11% in 2014. Nowadays annual global investment in nuclear is exceeded by investment in each of wind and solar. When completed, they will generate 5.1 GW while newly built renewables will generate a very conservative 131 GW or 25.7 times the amount of energy produced annually.
Many nuclear power plants take 10-15 years to build, whereas large wind farms take roughly 2-3 years. Building nuclear power plants also require companies not going bankrupt in the process. Then Toshiba owned Westinghouse Electricity Company went bankrupt in 2017 after it suffered from ballooning construction costs and other expenses coupled with delays in building two nuclear facilities in the southern United States. This failure led to Toshiba posting a $9.9 billion (USD) loss for that fiscal year. Westinghouse’s collapse at the hands of nuclear energy serves as a warning.
Smaller nuclear projects take less time than that to be sure, but still, carry many of the same risks. From these facts, it is clear to see that nuclear energy is on the decline, and therefore cannot and will not meet the energy needs of consumers to provide clean energy to combat the current climate crisis. To further compound this point, between 2007-2017 nuclear energy generation declined by 0.4% annually, worldwide. In that same period, wind grew by 20.8% annually, and solar grew by 50.2% annually. In the Canadian context, between 2005 and 2017, wind grew by 27 000 GWh and solar grew by 3 500 GWh. In New Brunswick, generation from wind power increased from none in 2005 to 7% of the total generation in 2018. Particularly in the province of New Brunswick, nuclear has remained costly, risky, and stagnant, while wind is growing rapidly, representing a prime opportunity for investment and development. Looking to the future, as we always do here at Naveco, in the decade to 2030, 188 new reactors would have to be connected to the grid worldwide to maintain the status quo, which is more than three times the rate achieved over the past decade, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) estimates. This makes it abundantly clear that solar and wind are the future and the fastest way to transition fully to clean energy.
For those who suggest that nuclear, and SMRs are required to meet the ‘reliability challenges’ of wind and solar because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, we have one word: storage. Battery storage for solar and wind energy is increasingly less costly and rapidly progressing in its efficiency. Battery storage has been tried and tested, providing positive results and acclaim in Nova Scotia, PEI, and in NB by Saint John Energy. Saint John Energy has invested in battery storage as it is saving them $200 000 (CAD) annually. Cited in a Huddle article from January 3rd, 2020, Bill Marshall, a power sector consultant and former Director of Strategic Planning with NB Power, said the following in a blog post for Saint John Energy back in August of 2019:
“This sort of large-scale battery is crucial to our power system if we want to truly deal with climate change and take full advantage of renewable energy”.
Nuclear energy exists as a novelty of the past and cannot meet the challenge of facing our climate crisis. This is a bold statement to be sure, but one based entirely on reasonable fact. Firstly, nuclear energy poses some significant environmental and health risks. Most obviously, severely, and least likely of these are nuclear catastrophes. Whether they be Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, or Fukushima, the risks and consequences of these disasters are well documented and need not be illuminated here. But beyond the alarmism of possible (yet very unlikely) catastrophe, there are tangible environmental and health issues associated with nuclear energy. Nuclear physicist and nuclear supporter Manfred Lenzen found average life-cycle emissions for nuclear energy, based on mining high-grade uranium ore, of 60 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour (g/kWh), for wind of 10–20 g/kWh and natural gas 500–600 g/kWh. This coupled with the fact that we must store uranium in depositories for 100 000 years shows the significant environmental, and by extension, health risks posed by nuclear energy. Not to mention the scientific discourse that continues about the possible effects of nuclear energy on wildlife habitats. Meanwhile, wind energy gives us no concern whatsoever of the issues above, especially with direct drive turbines that do not have gearboxes. As to the impact of wind energy on wildlife habitats, there are numerous mechanisms in place to mitigate these effects, including Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), along with the continuous research on the effects of wind farms on different species.
Nuclear energy, including Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, are a novelty. They are an innovation of another time, and SMRs remain a research and development opportunity, not an economic opportunity at present. Examples in New Brunswick’s own history with nuclear energy, along with numerous examples elsewhere, show the overwhelmingly negative economic potential of nuclear energy. Wind and solar energy is clean, affordable, efficient, quicker to build, less risky overall, and more rapidly developing than nuclear energy. Wind and solar energy represents the best opportunities we have at present to transition to clean, renewable energy.
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