Sunday, June 26, 2005

Amory Lovins on the "Nuclear Revival"

From Green Car Congress, Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder and CEO Amory Lovins responds to the growing consideration of nuclear power as the best way to address energy needs and climate change:
...Lovins charges that not only do new nuclear plants deliver electricity at far higher cost than distributed co-generation and many renewables (not to mention plain end-use efficiency), but that co-generation and renewables have more installed capacity than nuclear, produce 92% as much electricity, and are growing 5.9 times faster and accelerating.
Lovins, as one might expect of a physicist, has numbers to support his position:
By the end of 2004, these decentralized, non-nuclear competitors’ global installed capacity totaled ~411 GW—12% more capacity than global nuclear plants’ 366 GW...Thus the “minor” alternative sources actually overtook nuclear’s global capacity in 2003, rivaled its 2004 and will match its 2005 output, and should exceed its 2010 output by 43%. They already dwarf its annual growth.

Official and industry forecasts indicate they’ll add 177 times as much capacity in 2010 as dwindling nuclear power will... So the big question about nuclear “revival” isn’t just who’d pay for such a turkey, but also...why bother? Why keep on distorting markets and biasing choices to divert scarce resources from the winners to the loser—a far slower, costlier, harder, and riskier niche product—and paying a premium to incur its many problems? Nuclear advocates try to reverse the burden of proof by claiming it's the portfolio of non-nuclear alternatives that has an unacceptably greater risk of non-adoption, but actual market behavior suggests otherwise.
GCC's Mike points out some elements in Lovins' analysis that are problematic, particularly the percentage of "mostly gas-fired decentralized co-generation" in his analysis. I think Lovins' strongest point is the inability of nuclear power to compete in the market:
The world’s nuclear plant vendors have never made money, and their few billion dollars’ dwindling annual revenue hardly qualifies them any more as a serious global business. In contrast, the renewable power industry earns ~$23 billion a year by adding ~12 GW of capacity every year: in 2004, 8 GW of wind, 3 GW of geothermal/small hydro/biomass/wastes, and 1 GW of photovoltaics (69% of nuclear’s 2004 new construction starts, which PVs should surpass this year).

PV and windpower markets, respectively doubling about every two and three years, are expected to make renewable power a $35-billion business within eight years. And distributed fossil-fueled co-generation of heat and power added a further 15 GW in 2004; it does release carbon, but ~30% less than the separate boilers and power plants it replaces, or up to ~80% less with fuel-switching.
As we've come to expect from Lovins, no holds barred here. I'll be interested to see how (and if) the nuclear power industry responds to these figures.

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