Monday, October 18, 2010

Nuclear v/s Wind Debate


Occasionally, I get a really well informed and well thought out comment into this blog. The following ticks all boxes and I want to thank "Craig" for the time and effort taken in writing this interesting piece. I am a declared anti-nuclear person, and would disagree on a few issues raised by Craig. That said, debate is what leads to balanced outcomes, and again thank you Craig so much for the excellent input.

craig has left a new comment on your post "Wind Energy v/s Nuclear Reactors":

First of all, let me declare that I am an engineer who has worked on technical issues associated with nuclear plant, wind turbines, wave power and other fluid machinery.

At the risk of seeming patronising, the issue of nuclear vs "any other power source" is very complex. I do not claim total expertise, but rather a lot of informed opinion.

And before somebody tries to pigeonhole me as “pro” or “anti” anything, I am pro a highly developed society with the benefits of abundant and reliable, high grade power supply. (i.e. I prefer the idea that most of us should live in the 21st century, and not the 18th).

Some points:

1) Nuclear and wind have very similar investment profiles, per MWe: fuel costs are small, up front capital costs high, and O&M costs are similar. You seem to be talking exclusively about the installed (i.e. capital) cost. This is nonsensical, as this accounts for only about half the cost of electricity supplied by either technology and ignores grid supply issues.

2) Wind has the huge advantage of being modular (a couple of actual MWe is the incremental unit). Nuclear comes in big chunks (~1600MWe for most modern). Nuclear has the huge advantage of being reliable base-load, with no real “security of supply” issues, at least in the short/medium term.

3) Wind has an energy density of about 2W/m^2, nuclear has a density 1000 times that. So the red herring question at the head of the post ("Really enhances the Natural Landscape?" under a pic of a nuclear plant) could be answered, "well yes, it does enhance the landscape, actually, as it confines the necessary developed zone to an area about 1km x 1km rather than 50km x 50km for equivalent wind power").

4) The cost of nuclear power is a hotly contested issue. I can quote from 6 reputable sources all at odds, which estimate nuclear wholesale power costs in the range 10-84 £STG/MWe. Onshore wind has a smaller spread in the range 25-60 £STG/MWe. (apologies for the currency). As for there being no reliable figures to depend on because there has been no new build in the USA recently, this is total crap (not that there has been no new build in the states, but that there are no reliable data). For example, China is building several. And incidentally is also building a lot of wind, so it isn’t necessarily and either/or proposition.

5) On the issue of technological development, while modern wind power is younger than nuclear (i.e. turbines which can reasonably by called modern designs), wind power has borrowed heavily from the aerospace industry (design, materials and manufacturing), and has had many iterations, precisely because wind is more modular. Nuclear plant on the other hand, while mature and reliable now, is only on the 3rd or 4th generation. As a result, from a technical viewpoint, I am not convinced that wind has any great technological leaps to make to achieve dramatically lower unit costs.

The bottom line is that like it or not, nuclear is definitely part of the global and regional energy mix for the foreseeable future. The real question is do we build a plant in Ireland. My feeling is that for technical reasons we should not at this point, but we will absolutely still depend on nuclear through our interconnects to UK and France, so we should be a little more reasonable about nuclear power generally.


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