February 28, 2012

Levelized Current and Future Costs of Nuclear, Solar and Fossil Fuels

There is a lengthy analysis at solar cell central of how projected costs of solar power could get to the range of costs for coal and natural gas. Two thirds of the cost of coal energy is the whatever the future cost of coal is. So future coal and fossil fuel energy prices will be determined by future commodity prices. Nuclear and solar power are dominated by the construction costs and financing so future energy costs are not tied to consumables. Although the materials used for construction are a factor.

Nextbigfuture has looked at detailed comparisons of energy costs many times.

In South Korea and China with 5% financing costs, nuclear power can get down to a price of $29-32 per MWh or 2.9 to 3.2 cents per KWh.

China, India, and other countries with high GDP growth and development are where the vast majority of new power is being built. For solar or any new power to displace an established power plant then the cost would have be below the operating costs.

Coal and natural gas can get to about $40 per MWh or 4.0 cents per KWh.

Advanced nuclear power that has fast factory module construction, laser enrichment or a reactor that does not need enriched fuel could have costs that are 1.3 to 1.7 cents per KWH

0.2 c/kwh instead of 0.5 cents for the fuel

The world nuclear link also factors in building a lot more units to get learning curve reductions in costs and the effect of 60 year life instead of 40 year (the 50% longer life reduces kwh costs by 1 penny when combined with 5 year instead of 7
year construction)

More units allow first of kind costs to be amortized.
$1200/kw capital costs, 5 year construction, 60 year life is 3.4 cents/kwh

$1000/kw capital costs, 2 year construction, 80 year life, reduced fuel costs 2 cents/kwh for new construction, plus less waste handling with deep burn.

Operation and maintenance can be reduced with more automation and design efficiency.

Volume Improved Nuclear estimate
1   Fuel                                 2.0  (laser enrichment, 50% uprate)        
2   Operating & Maint - Labor&Materials  2.0  (automation, improved designs)
3   Pensions, Insurance, Taxes           1.0  
4   Regulatory Fees                      1.0 
5   Property Taxes                       2.0
6   Capital                              7.0 (loan guarantees,factories, high volume, longer 80 year operation so more amortization)
7   Decommissioning & DOE waste costs    1.0 (Deep burn the waste, more time until decommissioning with longer life,more time for interest to build for decommissioning fund)
8   Administrative / overheads           1.0    
Total                                   17.0  equal to 1.7 cents per kwh

China could get labor costs down with lower salaries and capital costs could be reduced because of lower construction costs. China could get to 1.3-1.5 cents per kwh.
Most cost analyses are run over a 20 year period. Ken Zweibel of George Washington University says that is not the correct way to evaluate long life assets like PV systems, nuclear plants, or other large long lasting utilities. PV systems can last maybe up to a 100 years. There is only a small degradation of performance - about a half of one percent per year. So a PV system after 50 years will still produce electricity at 75% of its original performance. 50 years is perhaps a better time frame over which to evaluate the cost of this type of asset. So the numbers at the bottom are years. Solar at $1.25 per watt beating the high price of a new coal plant in North America after about 25 years.

This analysis of full solar costs (not just solar modules) but installed and connected and maintained at $1.25 per watt to get cheaper than coal power. The coal power cost is for new build in North America. However, the coal in North America are legacy plants that have been fully amortized. So the running costs are about $30 per MWh or about 3 cents per KWh. The running costs for a nuclear power plant in north america are about $15 per MWh or 1.5 cents per KWh.

To displace new coal construction in China it would take similar costs of about 3 cents per KWh. This will require the complete costs of solar to get down to 40 to 50 cents per watt.

Solar power is getting to 80 to 96 cents per KWh for the modules. Those costs and the balance of plant have to come down and the total production capacity has to increase to hundreds of gigawatts per year. To replace a coal plant the solar has to have 3 times as much wattage because of the lower capacity factor.

Coal power is still being built in the USA. A lot more coal power is built in China.

About 200 Gigawatts of solar power would be needed to displace new coal power build in China.
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