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Infographic: Nuclear Power vs. Energy Efficient Homes

Peter Troast's picture
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  • Jul 18, 2011

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Our friends at Energy Savvy continue to be great visual communicators of the benefits of energy efficiency. Yesterday we stumbled across this great infographic that provides a powerful visual demonstration of the economics, as well as the job-creating potential, of residential energy efficiency vs. building nuclear power plants

In short: For less than half the cost of replacing just 1 nuclear power plant, we could retrofit 1.6 million homes for energy efficiency and reduce the need for the same amount of energy the plant would produce. Doing so would also create 90 times more jobs than replacing the power plant.

In addition to the job-creating benefits of a residential energy efficiency project of this scale, it would improve indoor comfort and reduce utility bills for 1.6 million families. You can imagine the economic benefits of that. 

Without further ado, we present to you the brilliant nuclear vs. energy efficiency infographic from Energy Savvy:

Energy Savvy Infographic: Nuclear vs. Energy Efficient Homes

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John Englert's picture
John Englert on Jul 15, 2011

What a silly graph. I’m surprised no one has posted a response to it since February. The numbers don’t even make sense. I’m supposed to believe that retrofitting 1.6 million homes will create enough of a demand for goods and services to employ 220,000 people for the next twenty years?  The employment numbers for the nuclear plant make sense, they are consistent with the number of people who work at a large nuclear power plant, but I just don’t know where the 220,000 efficiency jobs come from.  I just don’t buy it, even if a graphic is interesting to look at doesn’t mean it is correct.

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Jul 15, 2011

I’m surprised TEC’s cadre of nuclear bloggers didn’t pounce on the even more suspicious number on the left side of the graphic.  $41 billion for 1 nuclear power plant?  If you take the time to read the article from which this was taken, it reveals that that figure includes not just the up-front cost of building the plant, but all its costs for 40 years, apparently on an undiscounted basis.  So it appears to compares a sum, most of which occurs in the future, to another, most of which is a cash cost today.  

It’s certainly true that if we invest more in efficiency, we’ll need fewer power plants over time.  However, it would require much more detailed analysis to figure out precisely what type of capacity could be avoided, and at what cost, particularly considering that the kernel of the idea here involved displacing power from a highly seasonal and regional electricity application: home heating.   

Peter Troast's picture
Peter Troast on Jul 15, 2011

John–this was reposted from the Energy Savvy blog where there is a more detailed substantiation of the data. The source of the efficiency jobs data is a statement from the head of Efficiency First. I’m going to dig to try to find the math behind that claim, but it is generally consistent with my understanding of the labor intensiveness of home energy retrofits. 

Peter Troast's picture
Peter Troast on Jul 15, 2011

Gary–I don’t disagree that the comparison in this infographic is perhaps intentionally provocative, but in fairness to the folks at EnergySavvy, their point is that a significant chunk of current nuclear generating capacity will reach end of life in the next 20 years, and must be replaced with something. I posted this in admiration of good information design that helps people understand both the opportunity and economics of efficiency. On a personal level, I’m more in your camp on nuclear. 

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Jul 15, 2011


In my book, good information design starts with accurate information and makes it accessible, rather than obscuring it with clever-but-inaccurate graphics. 

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jul 16, 2011

I am all for efficiency (having heard the Gospel according to Wilem Post),  and although pro-nuclear I am by nor means an expert, nor am I a true advocate.


The reason I had not bothered to respond to the above graphic, is that it strikes me as obvious bias that would not change minds and I tire of pointless arguements that could likely devolve into sharp sarcasm.

Amelia Timbers's picture
Amelia Timbers on Jul 19, 2011

I guess that depends whose perspective you’re adopting- owners or workforce. Further, efficiency has proven economic benefits, and does not ‘destroy the economy’. Runaway energy costs have been shown to destroy the economy however, which can be significantly tempered by aggressive efficiency projects.

Peter Troast's picture
Peter Troast on Jul 19, 2011


We’re in sync on the value of efficiency. With regard to the validity of the data in this chart (which I highlighted in this post but did not create), I think the points made by Geoffrey Styles on nuclear costs are valid. But what is most dramatic about this infographic, which you point out, is the labor vs materials intensity of efficiency. It is really quite remarkable, and also not, for the most part, outsourceable. This is a story I’m afraid too few people understand, and one of the key reasons I liked this as a communications vehicle. We geeks can debate the finer details, but the jobs message around energy efficiency is something the greater populace needs to grok. 

John Englert's picture
John Englert on Jul 20, 2011

@ greenslade1 You wrote, “The US subsidies of nuclear are unimaginably huge, and they go to the taxpayer.” Not sure what you meant by this. It’s quite easy to imagine, you start with the US federal budget then remove everything that is not a subsidy to nuclear power plant operations. What you end up with is about $1.59/MWh, which is about 15 times less than wind and solar projects. Most of the subsidies were early in the history in the form of research and development. Today, nuclear power is a net positive to the US treasury in the form of taxes and fees.

Also you wrote, “Nuclear waste and all the attendant infrastructure and ongoing costs does not last 40 years (the lifetime of the plant). We’re talking 100,000 years. ” The 1e5 years number really is just imaginary for the purpose of scaring people away from nuclear power. First, over 95% of the activity will have decayed away in the first few hundred years. Humans have plenty of experience building structures that last that long.  Second, The area that is supposed to be the final resting place for unprocessed spent fuel is right next to Nevada National Security Site.  If you look at a google earth image of that part of the world, you’ll notice all the large dimples in the ground.  Each of those is an underground nuclear test.  Nuclear weapons don’t burn all of their fuel and they also form other minor actinides in the unburned fuel.  There aren’t any containment structures built to hold these, just fused rock that melted in the first few microseconds of the detonation. Why should we worry about 100,000 years from now when we’ve already filled the test site with spent fuel from spherically symmetric single use nuclear reactors?

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jul 21, 2011

So, it’s ok to power our society mostly with fossil fuel, as long as our homes are efficient? I don’t agree.

I have not heard any compelling reason that we cannot improve end-use efficiency and decarbonize our electric supply. The fact remains that with today’s technology, we need nuclear power in order to make an electrical system that is not majority dependent on fossil fuel.

Also, the 90x jobs claim is totally bogus.  The total salary available for those jobs is only somewhat more than the project cost (i.e. the multiplier effect is small and similar for the two).  So the efficiency project could only hire 90x more people if they employed them for 1/180th as long.  Is it better to hire a buch of people, then lay them off after a few months?  I think it’s better to have a smaller workforce that is needed for the life of the plant.

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Jul 21, 2011

The Chinese are saying they’re going to get construction time for their version of an AP1000 to below 30 months.  

The cost overruns on nukes are because of delays, as interest mounts and no revenue comes in.  The shorter the construction time, the lower the cost.  Even with realistic construction times assumed for the US just starting out with new builds again as opposed to a Chinese juggernaut cranking out their 50th one or whatever, MIT still says nukes will produce electricity as cheap as new fossil, if nukes could just get equal cost of capital.  

Wall Street is happy to con us into handing them hundreds of billions to replace what they’ve thrown into the nearest furnace, but they’re skin flints when it comes to having anything to do with financing at normal rates any new nukes even given the climate case and the case that the nuclear option should be kept open because of it.  

Let’s salute the sacrifice of our latest Medal of Honor winner and then go back to business as usual where sacrifice is what we force the other guy to do so we can hog it all, while we pretend we don’t know the planet is being killed.  

But all the cost figures I’ve seen are for what the power costs as the plant is being paid for.  After the plant is paid off, they’ve got it for 40 more years.  Its gravy.  These things run at better than 90% capacity.  The one in Washington state is producing power for 2.5 – 3.5 cents a kWh.  

What’s the point of trying to talk to people who actually believe a nuclear plant could cost $41 billion?  Well, I suppose one might want to keep trying, but another question is, what’s the point of trying to assist the US nuclear industry with its PR problem, an industry that is largely right wing morons who don’t believe there could be such a thing as a climate problem?  They have a knee jerk reaction to anyone they detect who believes in exotic but bullshit religions such as climate science.  

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Jul 23, 2011

Nothing’s being obscured.  Whether you cleverly use graphics or words to convey a lie, its still a lie.  

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