What if Renewable Energy Investment is Diverted to Nuclear Energy?

Amid growing climate change issues and increasingly severe air pollution, efforts to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy are continuing. Of the clean energy modes available, renewable energy gets the biggest attention. Solar panels and wind turbines are considered to be the Messiah for planet Earth.

Germany confidently runs the Energiewende program, which they intend to rely on only renewable energy coupled with leaving nuclear energy altogether by 2022 [1]. Not to forget, Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of Civil Engineering from Stanford University, made a road map to get to the United States with 100% renewable energy [2]. Jacobson’s proposal was even more desperate; do not want to rely on energy storage and rely more on wind variability in various regions of the United States.

How feasible is the concept? I have no idea. The Jacobson concept itself has been questioned by Prof. Barry Brook et al. [3]. Energiewende also tends to be problematic in its implementation. Although the costs incurred reached USD 580 billion, in fact Germany certainly failed to reach the 2020 reduction target [4].

From 2000 to 2016, the renewable energy sector received investments totaling USD 4 trillion, with details of USD 3 trillion for the generation sector and USD 1 trillion for upgrading the electricity grid [5]. The last thing is needed because the intermittent nature of renewable energy requires changes in the electricity network, so it does not collapse. How is the result?

In 2016, renewable energy produced electricity amounting to 1844.6 TWh. This figure includes biomass, which strictly speaking does not fit into the clean energy category. Meanwhile, electricity generation in the world reached 24,930.2 TWh [6]. That is, renewable energy has a mix of 7.4% of global electricity generation. With a total investment value of USD 4 trillion, it means that every billion USD spent since 2000 contributes to the increase of 0.00185% of the world’s electricity mix.

With the renewable energy mix still less than 10% of the world’s electricity mix, the investment value of that size feels not too worth it .

What if, if the investment were diverted to nuclear?

Cattenom nuclear power plant, France (source: Wikipedia)

Although all this time has been successful in providing low-carbon energy available at any time, the perception of nuclear is still not very friendly. There are still many who consider the nuclear weapons unsafe and dangerous, even though the facts say otherwise [7,8]. In addition, the myth that developed also that nuclear energy is expensive, although the fact is not always the case [9].

Back to the question, what if the USD 4 trillion was diverted to nuclear?

Estimates of the cost of building a nuclear power plant vary, from low to high. Here, try to count in two scenarios. First, the United States scenario. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that the overnight cost of nuclear power plants is around USD 5,224 / kW [10]. Second, the South Korean scenario. The Shin Kori NPP Units 3 and 4 project cost a total of up to USD 6.46 billion for 2,700 MW of power, so the overnight cost of this nuclear power plant is around USD 2,400 / kW [11].

Why is the South Korean scenario much lower than the United States scenario? There are many factors, perhaps the most influential is the design standardization. The nuclear power plant built by South Korea was developed with a standardized design, not changing from one place to another. From there, they are able to carry out development efficiently and then lower costs [12].

Using the United States scenario, USD 4 trillion can be converted into a nuclear power plant with a capacity of 765.7 GW. The best practice of nuclear power plants in the United States gives a factor of more than 90% capacity [13]. For conservative assumptions, 85% is taken. From here, the PLTN is known to be able to generate 5,701.38 TWh of power annually, equivalent to 22.87% of the world’s electricity mix.

Even with an expensive nuclear energy scenario, the nuclear mix produced nearly triples renewable energy!

Meanwhile, using the South Korea scenario, the USD 4 trillion fund is converted into a nuclear power plant with an installed capacity of 1,666.7 GW. With the same capacity factor, it can generate 12,410 TWh annually, or 49.78% of the world’s electricity mix. In this scenario, nuclear energy becomes the highest energy mix in electricity generation. In fact, power generation of this size is enough to completely replace the use of coal and petroleum in world electricity generation!

In 2016, nuclear generated 2,612.8 TWh of electricity, or equivalent to 10.48% of the world’s electricity mix [6]. If coupled with the United States scenario, the total electricity mix will rise to 33.35%. Compensating for the loss of renewable energy due to the transfer of investment flows, this figure is enough to replace 68.5% of electricity generation from coal. Meanwhile, in the South Korean scenario, coupled with existing nuclear power plants, the mix will be 60.26%. This figure can replace 86.1% of electricity from coal and natural gas at once!

Baca juga:

From this, it seems clear that, despite using costly scenarios, nuclear energy is more effective and efficient at clearing electricity networks from polluting energy. With a cheap scenario, the NPP can effectively replace almost 90% of electricity generation from coal and natural gas, which incidentally is the biggest contributor to CO 2 emissions and pollution in the electricity sector.

If the investors choose the right technology in the transition to clean energy, then surely the problem of climate change and air pollution will be more easily resolved. Unfortunately, irrational fears of nuclear energy make climate change mitigation and air pollution much more expensive without meaningful results.

Reference:

  1. Germany’s Energiewende – The Easy Guide . Available online at https://www.cleanenergywire.org/easyguide
  2. Mark Z. Jacobson et al. 2017. 100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight All-Sector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World. Joules (1): 108-121.
  3. Ben P. Heard et al. 2017. Burden of proof: A comprehensive review of the feasibility of 100% renewable-electricity systems. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (76): 1122-1133.
  4. Frank Dohmen et al. German Failure on the Road to a Renewable Future . Available online at https://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-failure-on-the-road-to-a-renewable-future-a-1266586.html
  5. Roger Andrews. Worldwide investment in renewable energy reaches US $ 4 trillion – with little to show for it . http://euanmearns.com/worldwide-investment-in-renewable-energy-reaches-us-4-trillion-with-little-to-show-for-it/
  6. British Petroleum. 2018. BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2018 . London: BP.
  7. R Andika Putra Dwijayanto. Chernobyl Accident Is Evidence That Nuclear Energy Survived, Not the contrary . Available online at https://warstek.com/2019/03/16/chernobylnpp/
  8. R Andika Putra Dwijayanto. How to manage nuclear radioactive waste? Available online at https://warstek.com/2018/04/10/limbahpltn/
  9. R Andika Putra Dwijayanto. Is Nuclear Really Expensive? Response to Arcandra Tahar . Available online at https://warstek.com/2018/04/21/listriknuklir/
  10. US EIA. Cost and Performance Characteristics of New Generating Technologies, Annual Energy Outlook 2019 . Available online at https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/assumptions/pdf/table_8.2.pdf
  11. Final decision nearing on ending construction of Shin-Kori 5, 6 reactors . Available online at http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/813938.html
  12. Michel Berthelemy, Lina Escobar Rangel. 2015. Nuclear reactors’ construction costs: The role of lead-time, standardization and technological progress . Energy Policy (82): 118-130.
  13. US EIA. Electric Power Monthly . Available online at: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=epmt_6_07_b
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