Is Nuclear Energy Needed to Fight Climate Change? How Much Better Is Renewable Energy Than Coal?

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Nuclear Power Plant, Cooling Tower

The reason that economic debates tend to trump (pardon the pun) environmental debates when finding answers to anthropogenic climate change, is because the senate is majority climate denying Republicans, who are more likely to react to economic arguments. Republican senators will be needed to pass surroundings regulatory legislation (now that Trump has ruined the Clean Power Plan, fresh energy/ environmental regulations are required ), and hopefully a federal carbon pricing system.

Energy policies that represent a cost savings; which are inclined to be renewable energy investments, over coal can be simply voted for by republicans.

The cost of producing energy with a renewable fuel vs. fossil fuels is dramatically lower when just the expense of generating electricity (marginal cost) is considered. When the expenses of the negative externalities associated with fossil fuel production are added in with the LCOE*, the relative price of renewable energy sources vs. fossil fuels is lower still. In general, the lowest cost of energy production is wind (which also has zero negative externalities), followed by natural gas (which carries the cost of negative externalities), followed by renewable energy sources, most significantly solar. Hydroelectricity represents a relatively low cost source of domestic energy for the United States. Producing energy from coal is harmful to the environment and public health, and is no longer cheaper than gasoline or renewables.

It represents the per-MWh cost (in discounted real dollars) of building and operating a generating plant within an assumed financial life and duty cycle. 4 important inputs to calculating LCOE include capital costs, fuel costs, fixed and variable operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, financing costs, and an assumed utilization rate for each plant.” – quote in the EIA

  • Cases of levelized costs of electricity include: up-front capital costs/ costs of initial investment (which are much higher for renewable energy than fossil fuel energy), marginal cost of the fuel source (which is a lot higher for fossil fuels, and almost nothing at no cost, abundant sources of renewable energy such as solar and wind energy, and very low price for hydro, geothermal, and biomass), cost of upkeep for the power plant/ energy farm/ dam, etc.. . , cost of transporting the fuel (again, zero for most renewable energy), costs associated with transmitting/ dispersing the energy, insurance prices for the energy generating facility, etc.. .

Nuclear is the form of electricity. The”good” thing about nuclear energy production is that there are little to no negative externalities with regard to the actual energy production, i.e. little to no GHG emissions… and you only need to find Yucca mountains to bury the radioactive waste so people are not exposed to potentially cancer-causing radiation… oh, and we must hope that there isn’t a Fukushima-type catastrophe.

That said, 4th generation nuclear promises to be secure (if it ever gets built). New reactors can run on uranium and even thorium. 4th generation nuclear has safe, cost efficient designs. As you can see in this graph actually, animal in attic removal cost, the levelized cost of energy production from new nuclear reactors is looking viable. The important problems with plants are: the possibility for another Fukushima and/ or nuclear weapons proliferation till gen atomic is ready to be produced and deployed, and the very high up-front capital cost of building new plants. The US Energy Information Administration estimated that for new plants in 2019 capital costs will make up 75% of the LCOE.

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