In the above clip titled Is nuclear power good for our planet Andrew Birch, the co-founder and CEO of Sungevity says that the main reason that he does not like nuclear energy is that it “costs too much”. However, he reveals the shallow nature of his energy production understanding and his financially driven bias by making demonstrably false statements about the costs associated with nuclear energy, a power source that he considers to be a competitor to the product his company sells.
Birch states that nuclear energy costs twice as much as solar energy. He said that his home country, the United Kingdom, had recently agreed to pay 20 cents per kilowatt hour for the power that its new nuclear plant (Hinkley Point C will produce. Both statements are false.
The agreed upon strike price for the power from Hinkley Point C is 92.50 pounds per MW-hr. At the current exchange rate of $1.60 per UK pound, that works out to 14.8 US dollar cents per kilowatt hour, not 20 cents. The strike price will start being paid only when the plant is completed; the per unit cost for customers is not scheduled to rise with inflation.
According to an excerpt from US Energy Information Agency’s 2013 Annual Energy Outlook titled Levelized Cost of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2013, the levelized cost of advanced nuclear, which EIA classifies as dispatchable (EIA’s term for power that is controllable by operators), is 10.8 cents per kilowatt hour, while solar photovoltaic is 14.4 cents and solar thermal is 26.1 cents per kilowatt hour. The EIA does not classify either of those sources as “dispatchable” so their power is less valuable to any grid operator that must maintain a reliable power supply.
Birch also makes a statement that is not as easy to show as being wrong; he says that over the years, society has spent about a hundred billion dollars trying to make nuclear energy cheaper. Anyone who has ever worked in the nuclear industry, however, will recognize that the money invested into R & D has rarely, if ever, been focused on the kinds of improvements that reduce cost. In fact, nearly all of the investments have resulted in additional rules, regulations, and requirements that have increased cost, since the industry is regulated by an entity that demands near perfection, “no matter the cost”.
Aside: The phrase in quotes in the previous sentence is from a talk that I heard NRC Chairman Macfarlane give this afternoon at the ANS Winter Meeting. End Aside.
Robert Stone, the director of Pandora’s Promise, states that he likes wind and solar and always has. However, he was motivated to make his film when he realized that those sources were simply not working to substantially reduce fossil fuel consumption or related emissions of climate changing gases. While taking the film around the world, Stone has recognized that young people are not afraid of technology; they see it as a solution to problems. Many older people, who grew up with “duck and cover” drills in school are often reflexively fearful of nuclear technology, but even some of them are starting to question their previous positions on the topic.