Energy Futures – Riyadh, London and Austin
Different countries and cities select different energy solutions for myriad reasons and examining these can help us understand why different options are being selected. There is news from various capitals around the world which i want to examine briefly.
Austin, Texas: As reported in SafeEnergy.Org, the city of Austin has just locked in 600 MW of solar power for under $0.04/kwh. Utilities have not been able to buy power at these prices since the 1960s, even without correcting for inflation (which makes it an even better deal). They asked electricity suppliers for solar power specifically and got over 8000 MW of bids (this is the equivalent, after reducing for capacity factor, of 2 or 3 full size nuclear reactors).
Before you start harping on the intermittency (or as the nuclear boosters like to call it “unreliability”) of solar power, please get your facts straight. It is no longer 2005. Inexpensive utility scale battery technology, like those offered by Tesla Energy, is bringing the cost of storage in at around 2 US cents/kwh. What this means for Austin and other cities with reasonable sunshine is that “base load” solar power is going to be cheaper than almost anything else.
In a reasonable world, this would mean the end of new nuclear power construction, because it is much slower to build, far more expensive and fraught with problems from waste handling, to proliferation issues, to liability nightmares, to decommissioning costs to lack of private investors. Sadly, we live in nothing like a reasonable world.
London, England: Austria is challenging the EUs approval of 108 billion British pound (US$166 billion) in subsidies for the UK’s plan to build two new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point. This legal challenge has been joined by a collection of German and other renewable energy providers. Austria is objecting to both the price of power from these reactors being set at twice the current wholesale price for power for 35 years and insuring profits for the constructing company even in the event that the reactor is closed early.
While it is unlikely the Austrian challenge alone will stop this ill advised project, it might be one of many factors which scuttles the deal. The other reactors of this design in France and Finland are over a decade late in construction. The French reactor had almost tripled in price, before this expensive failure was reported. The pressure vessel for Hinkley had already been forged, by the same plant which forged the pressure vessel for the French reactor which just failed its safety tests. This one will now be used for destructive tests, adding more hundreds of millions in cost presumably to the French reactor company.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: In the last few months Saudi Arabia has inked deals for new nuclear power plants with South Korea, France, China, Argentina and Russia. The Saudis are hoping to build 16 reactors by 2032. The French deal (which is really an agreement to investigate possibilities) has a price tag of US$12 billion on it. Saudi Arabia seems to be living in the dream world in which they think they can build reactors for US$ 2 billion each. The west is looking at prices 3 to 5 times this high.
It should be recognized as a triumph of money over politics. And that in fact nuclear power is secondary, what Riyadh really wants is nuclear weapons, and they are unapologetic about it. Especially in the case of Russia, Saudi Arabia is making a deal with a political opponent (on support for Iran and Syria particularly) so that it can have access to weapons fabrication technology. Saudi Arabia (unlike Iran) is making no effort to hide it’s nuclear weapons ambitions, in fact it is celebrating them in what they call the “nuclear defense doctrine“. There is already talk of an accelerated Middle Eastern arms race between Saudi Arabia and Iran. What could go wrong?
And since there is no sun in Iran or Saudi Arabia, there is clearly no alternative to nuclear power.