Saturday :: May 30, 2009

Very Expensive Energy

by Mary

When coming up with ways for generating clean energy technology, one of the most expensive is relying on nuclear power. Today, Joe Romm writes about the cost and schedule overruns that are hitting the two latest generation nuclear power plants in Europe. According to the New York Times, the cost overruns and delays are largely due to the company using materials that are not to the standard that they need to be for nuclear systems and for poorly trained labor that had made mistakes during construction.

Serious problems first arose over the vast concrete base slab for the foundation of the reactor building, which the country’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority found too porous and prone to corrosion. Since then, the authority has blamed Areva for allowing inexperienced subcontractors to drill holes in the wrong places on a vast steel container that seals the reactor.

In December, the authority warned Anne Lauvergeon, the chief executive of Areva, that “the attitude or lack of professional knowledge of some persons” at Areva was holding up work on safety systems.

...In addition, nuclear safety inspectors in France have found cracks in the concrete base and steel reinforcements in the wrong places at the site in Flamanville. They also have warned Électricité de France, the utility building the reactor, that welders working on the steel container were not properly qualified.

Large, complex, centralized systems are always more expensive that smaller, more distributed systems and when they involve nuclear power, the safety constraints increase the cost of the materials.

And Jouni Silvennoinen, the project manager at Olkiluoto, said, “We have had it easy here.” Olkiluoto is at least a geologically stable site. Earthquake risks in places like China and the United States or even the threat of storm surges mean building these reactors will be even trickier elsewhere.

What it means is far from being a cheap, reliable form of power, nuclear power costs are enormous compared to other clean power sources. And in the United States customers are being charged extra even before the power comes online.

This year, authorities permitted Florida Power & Light to start charging millions of customers several dollars a month to finance four new reactors. Customers of Georgia Power, a subsidiary of the Southern Co., will pay on average $1.30 a month more in 2011, rising to $9.10 by 2017, to help pay for two reactors expected to go online in 2016 or later.

These costs could be avoided if the power companies focused on the most effective energy program there is: energy efficiency. As Joe Romm says:

[If] Public Utility Commissions allowed on-bill financing of energy efficiency, which is under half the cost of any new power generation — and 5 times cheaper than new nukes — we could stop electricity demand growth in this country for two decades while lowering consumer electric bills by tens of billions of dollars a year (see "Energy efficiency is THE core climate solution, Part 1: The biggest low-carbon resource by far" and "Part 3: The only cheap power left").

I have to say that when I heard the news that the new Lawrence-Livermore Labs Laser Facility for Nuclear Fusion would help find another source of clean energy, I thought it would be hard to find a more expensive source of power right now.

[If] the coming years of experiments, which start next year, are successful, a truly limitless supply of clean electrical energy with no carbon waste would be created using the limitless hydrogen fuel in the world's oceans.

...NIF's completion is, in fact, behind schedule and far beyond its original budget, but the charge that new H-bombs would be under development has been denied repeatedly by everyone from the highest levels in Washington to the scientists and engineers at the Livermore lab.

One wonders just how many homes could be outfitted for solar energy if just a fraction of the money poured into this project was instead devoted to making homes more efficient and less reliant on huge, expensive power plants. (BTW, there's a lot of evidence that the clean energy claim has the lowest priority for the lab. But it's such a good selling point these days.)

Mary :: 2:11 PM :: Comments (7) :: Digg It!