The Finnish Domino and Chinese Hurricane

a letter from the future has these stamps

There are three common lies you hear about why renewables can not replace nuclear power:

  1. They dont run 24/7 like reactors and you dont want to be without power just because the wind stopped blowing or the sun dipped behind a cloud.
  2. They are too expensive (require too great govt subsidy) to run
  3. They can not be put in place fast enough and represent only a tiny fraction (excluding large hydro) of the most countries energy mix.

If you read the comments on articles about nuclear power you will hear these reasons repeatedly, they are the backbone of the opposition to real renewables.  Today, these paragraphs appeared in BusinessWeek:

“Utilities are pulling out of nuclear projects across Europe as uncertainty over energy prices makes them too risky. EON’s withdrawal from Finland follows its decision in September 2011, along with SSE Plc and RWE AG (RWE), to give up building nuclear plants in the U.K.

German 2013 power dropped to a record 46.90 euros ($60.85) a megawatt-hour on Oct. 15 as output from wind and solar cuts usage of gas and coal plants.”

So the first lie about renewables not being available 24/7 is not actually meant for technicians and energy analysts who know better, it is for lay people to believe and become skeptical about wind.  Intermittent renewable resources can be forecasted and “firmed“.  This is happening all over the world, it works out to cost about US$0.004/kWh to store wind power.

What about the cost argument?  Well, these paragraphs from Business Week (hardly the environmental press) are telling us the exact opposite.  That because of the ramped up introduction of wind and solar in the wake of nuclear plants being closed in Germany, renewables are entering the market and driving prices down, displacing both gas and coal as they do it.  And as i have written about before, on hot days this past summer Germany was generating 50% of it’s electricity from solar alone.  So much for not being able to ramp up quickly enough.

After i started writing this post the new broke of China’s new energy plan.  China had halted approval of new reactor construction after Fukushima for the last year and a half.  So the nuclear industry was hopeful that they would get good news from the new 5 year plan.  They got some, but clean energy activist got far more.  China decided to slow the growth of nuclear power significantly from the targets it has confirmed as recently as earlier this month.  It has eliminated all proposed reactors on islands because of tsunami risks.  China will begin approval of new reactors, ending its Fukushima moratorium, but will approve 10 to 20 reactors fewer than previously planned by 2015.

China’s energy future

While the business press is focused on the restart of reduced new nuclear projects, reading the full plan reveals that the target installed capacities for 2015 are:

290 GW Hydro power

100 GW wind power

40 GW nuclear power

21 GW solar power

[Remember that installed capacity is not what is delivered to the grid, these numbers must be multiplied by capacity factors, which are higher for nuclear than intermittent renewables]  But when these numbers are compared to where China was at the end of 2011

230 GW hydro power (first in the world)

47 GW wind power (first in the world)

12.5 GW nuclear power

3 GW solar power

We can see that China’s real commitment is to the rapid growth on non-nuclear, real renewable power.