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January 22, 2011

Cost to convert to all nuclear powered economy

Brave new climate has a calculation for the cost of all-nuclear powered, fossil-carbon-free future.

An average American directly and indirectly uses about 10.8 kW of primary energy of which about 1.3 kW is electricity.



How much does energy cost now ?
The average wholesale electricity price across the US is about 5c/kWh, so the all-in costs of providing the electrical component is currently ~$570/person/year or 1.2% of GDP. The electric power industry including all distribution, billing, residential services, etc is $1,120/person/year or 2.4% of GDP. The rest of this energy comes from Natural gas, Coal, Petroleum, and Biomass, to the tune of 6.36 kW/person.

Some Assumptions

* 8% for cost of capital. Many utilities operate with a higher guaranteed return than this (e.g. 10.4%) but the economy historically provides more like 2–5% overall, so 8% seems quite generous.
* Assume 50 year life for nuclear power plants. They seem to be lasting longer than this, but building for more than 50 years seems wasteful as technologies advance and you probably want to replace them with better stuff sooner than that.
* Current project costs are estimated at about $2.95/watt (Areva EPR). Current projects in China are ~$1.70/watt. If regulatory risks were controlled and incentives were aligned, we could probably build plants today for lower than the 1970′s prices, but I’ll pessimistically assume the current estimates of $3/watt. Back in the 1970′s we built nuclear power plants for about $0.80–0.90/watt (2009 dollars).
* zero GDP growth

Result
In this future, we need 7.7 kW per person, provided by $3/watt capitalized sources with 8% cost of capital and 35% surcharge for O&M. The cost of this infrastructure: $2,550/person/year or 5% of GDP.

Alternate assumptions:

* Chinese nuclear plant costs of $1.70/watt
* Higher efficiency in an electric future were most processes take about 1/2 as much energy from electricity as they used to take from combustion. 1.3 kW from old electricity demands (unchanged) + 3.2 kW from new electricity demands (half of 6.4 kW). And fuels (where still needed) are produced using nuclear heat-driven synthesis approaches.

Alternative result: $844/person/year or 2% of GDP.

Conclusion: Saving the environment using nuclear power could be cheap and worth doing.

Numbers*:
YEAR 2008                         FIGURES UNITS           EXPANDED FIGURES UNITS
GDP                               $14,590 billions     $14,590,000,000,000 per y
Population                            306 millions             306,000,000 people
Electricity                         12.68 quads          3,720,000,000,000 kWh
Non-electricity fuels               58.25 quads         17,070,000,000,000 kWh
Natural gas                         16.33 quads          4,790,000,000,000 kWh
Coal                                 1.79 quads            520,000,000,000 kWh
Biomass                              3.46 quads          1,010,000,000,000 kWh
Petroleum                           36.67 quads         10,750,000,000,000 kWh
Average retail electricity price  $0.0914 per kWh                  $0.0914 per kWh
Electric power industry              $343 billion/y       $343,000,000,000 per y
Electricity transmission industry    $7.8 billion/y         $7,800,000,000 per y

Per person statistics:
GDP                                                             $47,700.00 per person/y
Electricy per person                 1.39 kW mean rate              12,200 kWh/y
Fuels                                6.37 kW mean rate              55,800 kWh/y


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