High cost Solar thermal plants same ballpark as nuclear?

by Ginosar  

We must replace our CO2 generating plants with low emission plants to fight GW. I am fully for wide use of alternative energies wherever possible and reasonably economical. First we need to be factual in our numbers; otherwise we are misleading ourselves towards the wrong approaches. Our California government and the Federal too listen too much to environmental SENTIMENTS and do not check the reality when they give financial support to the wrong technologies. These financial support have to be repaid, they are not free! And we do not have them in abundance.

Again: We must be realistic - we do not have money to waste in the fight against Global Warming. It will cost many trillions and they should be directed to those who cut GHG the most and the fastest.

A few days ago US Today had an article: California solar projects rush to beat deadline for subsidies,  By Julie Schmit 4/1/10 USA TODAY (link below)

It seems to me that when writing about electrical systems one should know some basics about the subject. Not the case in this article: Julie Schmit writes the wrong information below that is misleading to most readers. This is the kind of confusing information that sways good people ideas in the wrong direction. Let's look at the numbers she put down:

"Promise of power, jobs

If all are built, the 49 projects seeking stimulus funding would generate 11,000 megawatts of electricity a year. That's enough to supply 7 million California homes and give California utilities a big boost in meeting mandates to get 33% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The projects also would drive 10,000 construction jobs, 2,200 operational jobs and up to $30 billion in investment, including up to $10 billion in federal stimulus dollars, says Michael Picker, Schwarzenegger's renewable-energy adviser. Twenty-two of the 49 projects account for 83% of the power"

First you do not generate 11,000 megawatt, this is the peak potential power, when the solar plants are operating at peak capacity-- which is only around noon. The average power potential for solar is one quarter of that! The sun shines typically 8 hours every 24 hours. Natural gas, coal and nuclear plants are operating between 80% to 92% of the time, up to four times the potential of solar. So we need to look at the total cost and benefits to remain factual.


She also wrote: The energy Supply 7 million homes? That is 60% of all the homes in California! Actually if all are working well the plants may supply electricity to some 1.5 million homes. Her numbers were five times too high!

But they would supply electricity only during sunny days and sun hours. If they use storage, some of their output goes to storage and therefore the peak output and average outputs would be lower!

These solar thermal plants are quite costly now, so a friend and I did some ballpark estimates to get a more realistic picture of what these plants may supply and compare them to nuclear power plants. Many environmentalists do not like nuclear, and for good reasons, and point to their high cost as a major reason they are out of the cost-range we should use. The result show that the cost of electricity of solar-thermal plants could be in the same range as nuclear!

Ballpark Results:

Solar Thermal:

Capital costs $30B less $10B federal Stimulus subsidy, equals net $20B: 14 cents/kWh if the 11,000 MW of We use 15%/year as the annualization of the capital cost, and add nothing for O&M.

The $20B/11GW is $1818/kW. This is for that 2000 kWh/y per kW.

If no federal Stimulus support, the capital cost is $30B, the price would be 20 cents/kWh.

If $40B,  28 cents/kWh.)

For nuclear: at $12,000/kW capital cost, no subsidies, and 92% annual capacity factor (achieved in the last decades in the US), with the same 15%/y to annualize, and the zero O&M cost, as above, it is some  22 cents/kWh.

Natural gas power plants can range from 5 to 8 cents in comparable generation costs. Coal less: 3 to 4c.

Some additional points: Solar plants would not produce electricity at night and cloudy days, even with storage. Nuclear is human-controlled and could be highly available. See my thoughts on nuclear power elsewhere on this site.  

Note: These are just gross estimates to get a feel. Considerable more data is needed and calculations must be done to be closer to reality. The cost of nuclear power is for today's prevailing 1000 MW, US technology. Lower costs are projected for standardized, smaller size plants, less than 500 MW.

The costs for solar thermal plant used here are close to the ones obtained elsewhere from models developed by federal energy labs:


USA Today article:






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