Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Nuclear Power Costs SOAR and Kill New U.S. Plant Projects

Today, the Wall Street Journal reports a decision by utility Scana Corp. to abandon construction of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. It was one of only two projects under construction in the U.S., the other similar one being owned by Southern Company and now under review for a new "cost to complete" calculation.

The V.C. Summer plant was initially supposed to cost $11 BILLION DOLLARS, when proposed in 2008. 

That estimate had gone to $15 BILLION DOLLARS as of this year. 

Now, after it drove Westinghouse into bankruptcy, the cost is estimated at OVER $25 BILLION DOLLARS.  227% of the original cost.

And, with a track record like that, who knows how much it would actually cost by the time it started generating power.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Business Risk of New Coal Plants in Japan

Chinese coal plant
Japan is one of the few major OECD countries where there are plans to build lots of new coal power plants. Of course, these plants will largely replace older, dirtier and less efficient coal plants. But still, they will lock Japan into coal-fired power for the next 50+ years, just as many other advanced countries are not building ANY new coal plants, and are shutting down the existing ones as quickly as practical ... and much faster than anticipated only a few years ago.

Japan's Renewable Energy Institute ("REI", not to be confused with REI Corporation, the famous outdoor goods cooperative based in Seattle) has released a Japanese language report entitled, roughly translated, "The Business Risk of Building New Coal Plants in Japan".
The article points out, in some careful detail, what I have been arguing based on rest-of-world knowledge and seat-of-the-pants common sense these past few years: a new coal plant planned in 2017 will be a big money-loser, and may even be a stranded asset shortly after completion.
According to REI, the government already has plans showing that utilization for coal fired power will fall from 80% in 2015 to 69% in 2026. Assuming for 2030 that (1) nuclear restarts result in 10% of Japan's power supply coming from nuclear power (only half of the governments 20-22% target), (2) that solar PV ends up somewhere around 82GW--much lower than likely or possible, and (3) the various coal plants now under development/construction are completed, REI's report indicates that:
  • the facility utilization rate of coal-fired power plants will decline considerably below 69%, should be about 56%.
  • Coal-fired facility utilization rate will be 62% if the restart of nuclear power plants does not proceed and nuclear is limited to 5% of the electricity supply amount.
  • But if energy efficiency has improved resulting in a 5% decline in demand for electricity, coal utilization will be around 49%.
  • The new coal plants are all planned around an unrealistic assumption of 70% facility utilization and 40 year operation, which is not feasible. The investments will be unprofitable.
Moreover, coal power production will face stiffer and stiffer headwinds, as many major users (including, recently, some Japanese companies) are adopting 100% renewable targets, and the Paris Agreement has led Japan to adopt, in March 2017, a "long-term low carbon vision" of the country, under which 90% of energy supply is covered by low-carbon power supply in 2050. That vision is not consistent with 40 years of continuing use of coal fired power.

The report (in Japanese) is available here. 

A summary (try Google Translate on it) is available here.

Update: An English summary is NOW available here.

And the full report will be translated into English, so check back here soon.

Friday, June 30, 2017

U.S. "Clean Coal" Flagship Project Killed - Instead will burn Natural Gas

This is the end of the effort at "clean coal", at least in the short term. Billions in cost overruns in an effort to get CO2 recapture (carbon capture and sequestration - CCS) to work. Reports from the MIT Technology Review and, originator of the story, the NY Times.

It costs much, much less ,and creates less CO2, if the project ... just keeps burning natural gas!


Update, July 2017 -- I just heard a podcast interview with Mark Jacobson of Stanford, one of the authors of a much-discussed 100% renewables scenario paper. His comment on CCS:

1. Takes 25% more energy to run the CCS project, so you burn a lot more coal than a normal project.
2. 1/3 of the pollution and CO2 associated with coal is "upstream" - mining, transport. That remains despite CCS. In fact, it increases by 25% since you need more coal!
3. CCS does not reduce the OTHER, awful pollutants associated with coal, which do not exist with renewables.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Solar for off grid in Africa - No brainer!

Nice piece in the New Yorker about how solar is electrifying off-grid Africa.

We can debate how quickly and completely solar and wind will replace coal and gas in the developed world ... but there is no debate about its substantial role in the off-grid developing world. A lot is needed -- financing model, installation in remote areas -- but solar PV + storage has no serious competition in such roles.

"In 2009, a radio, a mobile-phone charger, and a solar system big enough to provide four hours of light and television a day would have cost a Kenyan a thousand dollars; now it’s three hundred and fifty dollars."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cheap Natural Gas, Wind and, increasingly, Solar, are Killing Coal, not Regulation

This NY Times opinion piece has a state-by-state look at the decline of coal, growth of gas, wind and solar, and why Trump's withdrawal from Paris is little more than a symbol within the U.S. The article focuses on the positive economic impact (or at least correlation) of clean energy and CO2 reduction.

This is another example of the NY Times using graphics effectively to drive home a point -- much more impact than with words. Co-authorship of the article is credited the "graphics director" of the NY Times opinion section, Stuart A. Thompson.

Snapshots of a few of the charts below -- but please go to the article to see how they really tell the story!

This round to the NY Times.

John Oliver sends up Coal

Friday, June 16, 2017

Trump Cannot Bring Back Coal

It cannot be said often enough. Coal is not coming back in the U.S.

First cheap gas, now wind, and eventually solar, will taken it all the way to zero in coming years.

Here is an article from Bloomberg on the theme.

And Bloomberg does not even show solar "on the radar screen". That is changing very rapidly.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Decommissioning - big business ahead

A story in the WSJ today about the more than $100 billion of decommissioning work ahead to shut down many of Europe's aging nuclear plants. Each plant requires an average of around $1.5 billion, and often the plant designs do not offer any roadmap for disassembly.

Likewise, Japan has decades of work ahead. Can Japan get this done "on time and under budget", or will it drag out and increase in cost like most things nuclear energy-related? A crucial question.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Future of Nuclear Power - Switzerland Bans New Plants

News that a direct vote in Switzerland (using its famous system of binding national referenda) has agreed to ban construction of any new nuclear plants.

Nuclear currently provides roughly one third of Switzerland's electric power, so this is a big shift, for a country that is not an obvious place for solar or wind, and that already uses a lot of hydro power.

Nuclear power SHOULD play a big role in the transition away from fossil fuels around the world, but the set backs keep coming.  One might support a major role for nuclear in Switzerland and the U.S. midwest, but oppose it in earthquake/tsunami prone zones such as Japan and California. One might support shutting down older reactors, but still want to encourage construction of newer, safer models, repleat with "passive safety" features that would prevent a Fukushima-type or Chernobyl-type disaster. Environmentalists still see a crucial role for nuclear power in transition to a low carbon dioxide emission future and in keeping global warming below 2 degrees celsius (or, if that is impossible, at least as close as possible).

But economics seem to be dooming the nuclear business.

-- Areva, the major French player, has had a financial disaster in Finland, with a decade long delay and an increase in cost of over 300% (so far -- not done yet).

-- Toshiba, the largest Japanese player, has had a disaster in the U.S., with its subsidiary Westinghouse, likely to drag the entire company into or near insolvency, with its life turning on whether it can get an attractive price for its flash memory business.

Of course, the Japanese domestic market is dead, post-Fukushima

The U.S. market is dead because of cheap natural gas and wind.

The French have decided to shift away from nuclear. The Germans are winding it down.

The U.K. is going forward with the new Hinkley Point C plant, at a cost of 18 billion pound Sterling (!), but only with massive government support.

And still, there is no real long-term waste storage solution, 60 years after the industry has started to operate commercial plants!

Developing countries such as China and India must be watching and learning from these developments.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

USA - Past Peak Electricity Consumption

Nice article in Bloomberg explaining another reason why coal is not coming back. U.S. electricity demand is flat and heading down, even with economic growth. Lots of reasons for this.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Clean Coal? Bad Joke!

How clean is "clean coal"? Well, if by "clean coal" you mean anything other than carbon capture and storage (CCS), the answer is "dirtier than everything else except older, even worse coal."

As this nice summary of Credit Suisse research at Macrobusiness points out, even "advanced ultra super critical" technologies involve more twice the CO2 of gas combined cycle. Of course, other gas combined heat and power solutions can do better yet!

And carbon capture and storage is not advancing toward commercialization and seems to have a number of significant issues.

And it is absolute folly to invest in new ultra super-critical plants today, since they only achieve very modest CO2 reductions over old plans, and they will be around for the next 50 years or more once built.

See:  https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2017/04/clean-coal-bad-joke/

Heck, even the Kentucky "coal mining museum" is adding solar.

So remember:  coal belongs IN the museum: and solar belongs ON the roof!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Trump Administration vs. Science

Miscalculating the social cost of carbon -- coming soon to the U.S.A. to justify the result the climate change deniers want.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Coal in the USA - plants to close despite Trump

Some more about coal in the USA?

Reuters reports 2 more coal plant closings announced this week, for mid-2018 (3000MW).

"U.S. power companies retired or converted over 14,000 MW of coal-fired plants in 2016 after shutting a record of over 17,000 MW in 2015, according to Thomson Reuters data."  


Coal Power Plants Frozen in India and China - Japan is the Odd Man Out

As the Japanese government looks to expand coal's share over the next 15 years (and reduce gas), Japan looks increasingly like a global outlier. Of course, even with President Trump's cheerleading for coal, it is not likely any new coal plants will be built in the U.S.A.  And China and India have recently "frozen" construction of over 100 new plants, according to the Financial Times.

The global pipeline for new coal power plants is shrinking dramatically, giving hope that at least the COP21 Paris climate commitments can be met.

Of course, as the article also notes, Japan has lots of new coal plants on the drawing board. And Vietnam and Indonesia continue to push development/construction of new coal plants. Who is supplying, financing and building those plants?