The real costs of wind (and solar) power (and nuclear, too).
I was involved in a blog-based discussion recently where somebody told me this:
But it will take at least 10 years to build a 1GW [nuclear] plant and cost 3-4b dollars.
In this same time frame, you could be installing 1GW of wind power a year, 10GW in the same time frame, for a cost of around 2-3M /MW 66% of the cost, ten times the amount in the same time frame.
Personally, I think that’s rubbish.
The largest wind farm in Australia is the Wattle Point wind farm in South Australia. It took about one year to build, between June 2004 and June 2005.
It cost 180 million dollars, and has a total nameplate capacity of 91 MW. But we’ve got to remember the capacity factor – I don’t know exactly what it is for this wind farm, but I assume it to be somewhere around 20%.
So, the “real” average power output capacity of the wind farm is 18.2 MW – a capital cost of $9.9 Million per MW.
So, to build 1 GW of real energy output capacity might be expected to cost 9.9 billion dollars – maybe a bit less if we can see some economy of scale – and take 55 years – maybe less than that, since you can build more of them at once if you need to.
Of course, a single typical modern nuclear power reactor can easily deliver 1 GW of “real” average power output – say, from an AP1000 with 1117 MWe nameplate capacity and 90% capacity factor, that’s over 1 GWe of average capacity – and capacity factors well over 90% are certainly achievable.
One wind farm just doesn’t compare to one nuclear plant – you’ve got to appreciate the actual amount of energy output being generated.
The actual construction time for a modern nuclear power reactor – say, a Westinghouse AP1000 – is three years. Three years, that’s all. Plus some number of years of approvals, planning and red tape.
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have regulation and oversight of nuclear power – of course we should – but with these figures of 10 years that get waved around, how many of those years are going to be essentially political bickering, greenpeace rubbish and other nonsense that could easily be done away with?
In the Australia-specific context, how many years did it take ARPANSA to approve and licence the OPAL (research) reactor at Lucas Heights? I don’t recall exactly, but it wasn’t 10 years.
Yes, it might cost, say, $2 Billion – quite a bit of money. But the electricity has got to come from somewhere – and where ever it comes from, it costs money to install that capacity. (That’s a high-ish estimate, but let’s make a conservatively high estimate for Australia’s first nuclear power reactor, in Australian dollars) That’s certainly a lot less than the $10 billion (perhaps somewhat less) real-world capital price tag for 1 GW of wind capacity!
There was significant interest and excitement in Australia earlier this year after plans were announced to build what will be the largest solar photovoltaic power station in the world, using advanced concentrating heliostatic photovoltaic solar collectors.
The proposed solar generation facility would cost $420 million, and have a nameplate capacity of 154 MW, with a 20% capacity factor – generating 270 GWh annually. It will take about four years to construct – from 2009 to 2013.
I discussed this solar energy project and how much it will cost for the amount of energy generated in an earlier blog post – but I thought I’d briefly repeat those figures here for the sake of comparison.
So, if we scale that cost up, to the equivalent of a gigawatt of actual average power output capacity, that’s a cost of 13.6 billion dollars to generate the same amount of energy, (assuming no economy of scale comes into it, I admit – we’re talking about quick, imperfect analyses here)
Additionally, assuming you can’t scale up the rate of construction, it could be expected to take 130 years to construct that much solar capacity!
So, to summarise these estimates:
Solar: Probably around 10 billion dollars or more, and perhaps 100 years or more. (For 1 GWe of real, reliable output.)
Nuclear: Perhaps around 2 billion dollars, and perhaps around 4 years.
Wind: 10 billion dollars, possibly a bit less, and 40-50 years.
I deliberately base these estimates on technologies and designs that are around and are ready to be rolled out today – not on technologies or designs that are especially immature.
Comparing apples to oranges is fine – as long as you’re comparing a gigawatt-year of apples to a gigawatt-year of oranges. This is what I think many people out there overlook when getting really optimistic about the costs of these “clean, renewable” energy projects.