Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Nuclear vs Renewables Debate in South Africa

I wrote this when I heard that the new South African Nuclear Power Station has been put on hold:

The cost of the stopped nuclear power station was going to be R100 Billion (R100,000,000,000) and for this amount we could take more than 200,000 houses completely off the grid, paid for by the government and with minimal running costs and almost zero decommissioning costs. This at R500,000 per house (*1)

The R100 Billion nuclear plant would have produced 3,400 MW. So the cost is R29 per watt. The biggest wind turbines are 6MW. This would need 567 wind turbines plus a factor of 20% for wind free days = 681 turbines. Large Wind Turbines cost in 2002 was R20 per watt (*6) which means that a 6MW turbine costs R120m Rand. Multiplied by 681 = R80,720,000,000 (R80 billion). Meaning we have money left over if compared with R100 for a Nuclear Power Station. This R19.3 Billion could possibly be used to add more wind turbines giving us a spare capacity of close to 50% which is more than adequate for wind energy. Plus if one or two wind turbines fail or are out of action we lose 12MW. If the nuclear power station is down, we lose 3,400MW. Spare wind energy can be used to pump water from the bottom dam to the top dam free of charge, for example in the Steenbras Dam system, so that the water can run down when there isn't enough wind energy. The wind turbines would also be placed in the most likely places around South Africa where there is a high chance of there being wind. If it isn't windy in one place, then it will be windy in another place. Wind energy can be predicted, so if there will be a shortfall Eskom could tell us well before it happens, whereas when a base load power station goes down, it usually does so without warning. A base load power station is down somewhere between 8 and 20% of its available time, which is why one needs the 15% reserve margin with base load power station planning.

Alternatively for the government to pay to take 200,000 houses off the grid, the government doesn't need to pay anything up front at all. They could simply provide us their public with worthwhile feed in tariffs (FIT). If they provided FIT of say R2.28 (current proposal by the parliament feed in tariff committee (*5)) per kwh which includes the reduction in one's normal bill, eg if I reduce my bill from 1500kwh to 500kwh per month, then I should still get the FIT on the 1000KWH saved, then at R2.28 per kwh, I get R2280 per month x 12 x 10 because it takes 10 years to build a nuclear power station = R273,600. Divided into R100,000,000,000 equals 365,000 houses. Note that in order to get a 10 year pay back on my system, I would need R4.20 per kwh excluding interest charges. R4.20 per kwh is 200,000 houses off the grid. This could be done in as quickly as 2 to 5 years. (*1) Note these numbers are for micro-generation at an installed cost of R200 per watt. As you have seen above, large costs renewable systems can be as low as R20 per watt.

Germany adopted FIT in 1990 and 214,000 people are employed in their renewables sector (*3). I understand that they have 800,000 houses off grid so far.

To make money on the long investment in nuclear requires the power station cost to be (US) 30c/kwh plus delivery costs (*2). This is R3 per kwh. Add the cost of delivery and we are very quickly at R4.20 per kwh or more. If I am being charged 57c per kwh for my electricity, then assuming it is all from nuclear, the government is currently already paying R3.63 per kwh incentive (tariff) to the nuclear power station! The FIT's should be at least R3.63, not R2.28! Plus in many cases the cost of storage of the nuclear waste and decommissioning the power station are not included in these costs.

Plus I read that cement manufacture lets off as much carbon dioxide every year as all the passenger cars on the planet (*4). Remove the massive concrete and steel requirements needed by a nuclear power station and the carbon credits will add up quickly. Plus we have to wait 10 years for a nuclear plant to become operational! Renewable plants can become operational in weeks and be ramped up to the nuclear capacity in long under 10 years with the right will power and statutory environment. With nuclear or other base load such as coal or hydro we need to wait for the power station to be complete or the dam to be full before we start getting electricity.

Lastly an element that seems to have been ignored the people (staffing) issue. Nuclear engineers and nuclear workers are few and far between. 40% of those at US plants are eligible for retirement within the next 5 years, and only 8% are younger than 32. 40% of France's nuclear reactor operation and maintenance staff will retire by 2015. Meanwhile since 1980, US nuclear engineering university programs declined from 65 to ~29 and have trouble attracting new students. In 2002, the UK had no undergraduate course in nuclear engineering. The number of German academic institutions with nuclear courses is expected to drop from 22 in 2000 to 10 in 2005 to 5 in 2010. (*2)

Some of the stats above from:
(*1) These are calculations done by the author of this letter, DH Lipschitz;
(*2) "The Nuclear Illusion" by AB Lovins and Imran Sheikh, 27 May 2008;
(*3) "Feed-In Tariffs - Boosting Energy for our future" by World Future Council;
(*4) Cape Times Business Times "A Collection of facts and figures by The Globalist" - Monday 8th December 2008;
(*5) Suggested "Feed In Tariff Bill" presented by Dr Ruth Rabinowitz (IFP), Gareth Morgan (DA), Lance Greyling (ID), Judy Chalmers (ANC). Section 9.2 (b). I have used Wind Power as the base. My electricity cost is 57cents per kwh. So 4*57c is R2.28. The Solar Power feed in tariff is 5*57c = R2.85. Note that everyone's cost per kwh is slightly different, so each person's feed in tariff would be different.
(*6) See

Documents labelled (*2) and (*3) were handed out at the Feed In Tariff meeting at Cape Town parliament on 19th November 2008.


Earth said...

Hi David! Glad I found your blog. Thanks for the interesting and important information.


David Lipschitz said...

Dear Becca. You are very welcome.