How bad is it? BNEF says 55% of the nuclear plants in America are costing their owners — and by extension their long-suffering ratepayers — $2.9 billion a year. Just a few weeks ago, the Financial Times observed with some bitterness, “It sometimes seems like U.S. and European nuclear companies are in competition to see which can heap greater embarrassment on their industry.” Even the facilities that aren’t losing money are staying in the black by the slimmest of margins.
The upshot of all this red ink is that new nuclear generating plants are completely unaffordable. In South Carolina, two utilities decided to abandon construction of two nuclear plants after spending some $9 billion. Yes, they spent $9 billion of their ratepayers’ money and then gave up. We wonder how much money their industry friends got from that pie.
The twin plants, known jointly as the V.C. Summer Nuclear project, are less than 4o% finished. They were originally expected to cost $11.5 billion and be operational in 2018, but the latest projections gave at least a 3-year delay and a total cost of $25 billion. The utilities plan to pass on some of the loss to customers by raising rates.
US Nuclear Construction Halted
Vogtle in Georgia is “the last nuclear plant under construction in the U.S.,” according to BNEF. Last March, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called the project “a financial quagmire.” Last week, Bloomberg reported that the developers of the Vogtle plant, “are seeking more federal support for the project, potentially increasing a record $8.3 billion loan guarantee it has already been promised.” But it’s not clear how likely that is given Energy Secretary Rick Perry turned down a request from the South Carolina developers for $3 billion in support.
Even the Trump maladministration, which is in thrall to fossil fuel and nuclear interests, will find it hard to justify a taxpayer backed loan for a nuclear plant that is all but certain to be a money loser from the moment it is turned on, assuming that ever even happens. “Let it be written that environmentalists didn’t kill the nuclear power industry, economics did,” explains Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson in a piece headlined, “Nuclear Power As We Know It Is Finished.”
Solar Power Projections
Greentech Media draws a bright line under Trump’s lie about nuclear energy. It says by the end of 2017, solar power from photovoltaic panels could equal global nuclear capacity. That’s a major milestone. By 2022, global capacity will likely reach 871 gigawatts — more than double today’s nuclear capacity.
The latest edition of GTM’s “Global Solar Demand Monitor,” which closely tracks market-moving and market-dooming developments in countries around the world, predicts that installed solar this year will total 81 gigawatts. That’s double the amount installed in 2014 and 32 times more solar than was installed a decade ago.
Why is solar power so dramatically outperforming nuclear? Much of it is simply about the money, of course. New solar power is vastly cheaper than new nuclear power. Solar also has a better brand. Much cheaper plus a better brand tends to lead to sales.
Data and second chart via Lazard
Painting The Full Picture
All statistics need to be fully understood to paint a true picture, of course. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, there are 391.5 gigawatts of nuclear power plants operating around the world. When this year ends, there will be about 390 gigawatts of solar power around the globe, says GTM Research.
But nuclear still has a strong lead in total gigawatt-hours. Nuclear generates 2,476,671 gigawatt-hours of electricity every year, or roughly 11% of global generation. Solar only accounts for 375,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity yearly, or about 1.8% of global generation. But solar is catching up.
In 2014, the International Energy Agency looked at solar growth rates through the middle of the century. Under a high growth scenario, which is in line with current real-world numbers, the IEA found that the world could get 16% of its electricity from solar PV by 2050 and another 11% from concentrating solar power (CSP). The combination of the two would make solar the dominant energy source globally.
The trend is clear. Nuclear is the past. Solar is the future.
Source: Think Progress