First of a Kind
A little consistency goes a long way.
At least, it would.
The Ivanpah solar complex began operating in 2014 to considerable fanfare, including endorsement by anti-nuclear environmental group NRDC. It’s an imposing 3-unit power station on the California side of the desert border with Nevada, to the south of Las Vegas.
- Capacity: 377 megawatts
- Project cost: $2.34 billion (2020USD)
- Average annual solar generation 2017–2021: 741,876 megawatt hours
In 2020 Ivanpah produced a record 815,817 megawatt hours of solar energy, according to the EIA.
The Carbon Free Power Project is a set of six NuScale power modules planned for a site at Idaho National Labs, to service customers of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems located across California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming, as well as Utah.
- Capacity: 441 megawatts (electrical, net of house load)
- Project cost: $5.3 billion (2022USD)
- Annual generation at 92% availability: 3,554,000 megawatt hours
So if delivered on time at NuScale’s target price — roughly double Ivanpah’s — UAMPS could be making almost five times the low emissions electricity.
Some may say the example of Ivanpah is a bad choice given no further power stations quite like it are planned. It’s design was called obsolete even at the time. Yet it was held aloft as the shining proof that solar would crush nuclear energy on cost — never mind the arithmetic being out by three orders of magnitude.
Both first-of-a-kind projects enjoyed government support. But only the nuclear project is systematically targeted by activists for its price tag. All other anti-nuclear concerns are apparently minor (if not quietly, entirely forgotten) next to cost. Naturally, no pro-nuclear organisations were calling Ivanpah’s economics into question with analysis and reports prior to its construction.
Yes, there was skepticism, but nuclear advocacy also insisted on keeping Ivanpah operating when its future looked uncertain.
So let it run. Let it succeed or fail in the clear light of day.
Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect everyone who wants action on climate and the replacement of fossil fuels to get on board with this decade’s demonstration of small modular reactors. But just a little consistency shouldn’t be too much to hope for.
Oscar Archer holds a PhD in chemistry and has been analysing energy issues for over 15 years, focusing on nuclear technology for nine, with a background in manufacturing and QA. He also writes for The Fourth Generation and The Kernel. Find him @OskaArcher on Twitter.