Renewable Energy Passed Up Nuclear in 2010
May 11, 2011 - Zachary Shahan - cleantechnica.com
It seems that total cumulative installed power capacity from renewable sources passed up nuclear for the first time in 2010, according to the draft version of a new report coming out soon by the Worldwatch Institute, The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010-2011.
“In 2010, for the first time, worldwide cumulated installed capacity of wind turbines, biomass and waste-to-energy plants, and solar power reached 381 gigawatts, outpacing the installed nuclear capacity of 375 gigawatts,” the draft report says.
Nuclear Renaissance is Hype — Nuclear Declining
While there has been much hype of a nuclear renaissance and I have seen a number of nuclear proponents even try to turn the scenario in Japan into an argument for nuclear, the bottom line is that nuclear has been sliding for awhile. According to the report:
From everything I’ve read, that last sentence nails it, despite the fact that the nuclear industry has received several times more subsidies historically than renewable resources. Renewable energy just makes more sense (I was inclined to write “cents” instead, but thought that might be a little too cheesy).
Nuclear power has been declining for a number of obvious reasons. It is too risky, costs too much, and as such, can’t garner necessary private capital. Even with tremendously unbalanced government support (compared to renewable energy), it is declining while renewable energy is rising.
Nuclear vs Renewable Energy
With nuclear declining and renewable popping onto the scene and growing fast, renewables had been approaching this historic crossover for years:
The natural disasters and nuclear catastrophe in Japan occurred very coincidentally right around the time of this crossover, and it is likely to speed renewable past nuclear much faster:
Is nuclear going to bounce back? I don’ think so. It may inch back for a short time, but I don’t think it will ever bounce back and regain its relative position in the world energy market, even with coal on the decline as well.
Going back to the unbalanced government support for nuclear versus renewables, the report includes this fact:
“In the United States, even though nuclear and wind technologies produced a comparable amount of energy during their first 15 years (2.6 billion kWh for nuclear versus 1.9 billion kWh for wind), the subsidy to nuclear outweighed that to wind by a factor of over 40 ($39.4 billion versus $900 million).”
Wow, imagine if we subsidized wind (or solar) as much as we subsidized nuclear.
Unfortunately, governments around the world seem addicted to nuclear. Despite the numerous downsides, they seem to have an ongoing hope that some miracle breakthrough will occur (or they are just bought):
Will governments change course on this subsidy imbalance? I certainly hope so.
Nuclear-Solar Cost Crossover
As I reported last year, some analysts have found that nuclear and solar have also gone through a historic crossover on real-term prices.
And beyond cost (but surely related to it), it should be noted that nuclear power plants take tremendously longer to get planned, approved, and built than renewable energy projects, and they are less viable in many places. “According to the Global Wind Energy Council, some 50 countries are home to more than 10 MW of installed wind power capacity, compared to 30 countries operating commercial nuclear reactors.”
But nuclear is needed in order to provide baseload power for renewables, right? In response to that, this is a great quote from Siegmar Gabriel, then-Federal Environment Minister of German:
“If someone declares publicly that nuclear power would be needed in the baseload because of fluctuating energy from wind or sun in the grid, he has either not understood how an electricity grid or a nuclear power plant operates, or he consciously lies to the public. Nuclear energy and renewable energies cannot be combined.”
Now, this general renewable energy topic — baseload — is one I will have to get into in another post, because this post seems to have gotten long enough as is. But you can read a thorough explanation of why nuclear and renewables don’t actually jive in Worldwatch’s report.
What the Worldwatch Institute Report Includes
The report goes on to discuss in detail how and why the nuclear industry has been declining and how it is clear that there is no nuclear renaissance on the horizon. In particular, it is divided into the following sections (beyond the executive summary and introduction):
The report a tremendous summary of the nuclear situation today and the likely situation tomorrow. I highly recommend reading more. View the draft version here: Nuclear Power in a Post-Fukushima World: 25 Years After the Chernobyl Accident