Offshore Renewable. Small-scale Fissile.
Nuclear vs Renewables… is there anything more boring
In the obstinate effort to perpetuate the harmful and imaginary preclusion of all necessary clean energy sources, arguments of cost and time are the favourite tools of trade.
But how exactly is nuclear energy made to look bad enough to deserve this dismissal?
Firstly, Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) is chronically abused despite clear guidance from experts like EPRI:
Levelized-cost metrics are incomplete for evaluating the relative competitiveness of system resources. Comparing traditional levelized-cost metrics between different resources with dissimilar characteristics… ignores differences in the value of the resources to the system.
Thus, when Bloomberg notes the UK’s “huge push into renewable energy, particularly offshore wind, with a target to add 50 gigawatts to the current 14 gigawatts by 2050” the differences between LCOE and strike price values for offshore wind and nuclear power are unimportant next to the dissimilarity of their value to the overall system:
That will need stable backup generation for days when it’s not windy and the government wants low-carbon nuclear to take that role.
Secondly, comparisons of project timeframes have to be carefully and critically examined, and if nuclear doesn’t meet arbitrary demands, what other energy sources also miss out? Offshore wind, just because the London Array took twelve years from project birth to completion?
The answer is of course not. But contrasting nuclear and offshore wind in the UK is still particularly enlightening.
The second stage of the Hornsea project began operation last week, and it’s currently the Earth’s largest such windfarm. But that still took ten years.
- 1,320 MW
- 5.47 billion kWh annually
- £2,370 per kilowatt installed
That last figure is a UK estimate of the overnight capital cost, a way of normalising the price tag without including project size or other costs due to financing or delays. Hornsea 2’s total project cost (often very roughly double the ‘OCC’) hasn’t been reported but the figure in earlier news is consistent with the estimate.
In 2017 a consortium of UK companies launched the Rolls-Royce small modular reactor. Momentum for the project has been building ever since, with pressure to expedite government approvals and national licensing for first operation in 2029.
- 470 MW (electric)
- 3.91 billion kWh annually
- £3,830 per kilowatt installed
£3,830/kW is based on the targeted overnight unit cost of £1.8 billion per power plant by the fifth of sixteen intended units, along with further potential exports to The Netherlands or Japan or the Czech Republic. The first-of-a-kind Rolls-Royce reactor, ideally connected just twelve years after project inception, is expected to be £4,680/kW — rather similar to how the capital cost of turbines was around 25% higher a decade ago.
Offshore wind was supported then, to start delivering today. Refusing the same to new nuclear, especially as it rapidly innovates to deliver faster and more efficiently — just like critics challenged it to — isn’t a good look.
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.