Five years from now, can nuclear plants compete with solar power?

A bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan is being rushed for approval in Congress. If the bill passes, the Philippine government will raise up to $1 billion to finance the recommissioning of the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP).

Cojuangco has done no technical, economic or financial feasibility study to support his claims that a recommissioned BNPP can operate safely and economically. The bill’s explanatory notes contains no comparison between the projected cost of BNPP electricity and renewable sources like wind, solar, microhydro, geothermal, etc.

The photovoltaic panels themselves typically comprise about 60% of the total installed cost of a complete photovoltaic system. With solar panel costs approaching $1/watt peak (or $1.7/Wp for complete systems), we are looking at $1.05 billion for 620 MWp). While this is still as expensive as Cojuangco’s unsubstantiated (“supposed”, according to him) $1 billion for the 620 MWe BNPP, the solar power systems can be installed a few hundred peak watts at a time, as needed, and they will start producing electricity immediately, with none of the associated problems of financial risks, nuclear fuel costs, decommissioning costs, nuclear waste disposal problems, various other hidden costs, higher cancer risks around the plant, accident risks, risks from earthquakes or volcanic eruptions

Furthermore, while nuclear costs keep going up, solar and wind generation costs are going down. So any comparison made today will even be more favorable to these renewables five to ten years from now.

Remember that the most expensive parts of a photovoltaic system are the solar panels and the controllers, which are both electronic and made from silicon (which is made from sand). They will therefore show the same economics of scale as computers, LCD projectors, DVD players, and other electronic products, whose prices are steadily going down. With China coming into the picture in as a major producer of photovoltaic panels and controllers, their prices are bound to go down rather fast.

Here’s one industry report about the costs of photovoltaic cells.

Photovoltaic costs to plummet in 2009

11 December 2008 — The cost of photovoltaic electricity is due to plummet in 2009, according to analysts at New Energy Finance. Its quarterly Silicon and Wafer Price Index shows average silicon contract prices falling by over 30 percent in 2009, compared with 2008.

With thin-film PV module manufacturing costs approaching the $1 per watt mark, crystalline silicon-based PV will come under severe competition for larger projects, resulting in margins shrinking throughout the silicon value chain, the company states.

Although the decrease in silicon prices will be good news for silicon-based cell and module-makers, another threat is now looming larger. According to the new report, “Through Thick and Thin,” New Energy Finance forecasts that production of thin-film photovoltaic modules will more than quadruple to 1.9 GW in 2009.

Thin-film PV is less efficient at converting solar energy to electricity, with efficiencies of as much as 11 percent rather than the up to 18 percent displayed by commercial crystalline silicon technology. However, with manufacturing costs approaching $1/watt, it is an attractive option for larger space-constrained applications.

For a ground-mounted plant in a region with good insolation, this could translate into an unsubsidised generation cost of $0.17/kWh for crystalline silicon – competitive with daytime peak electricity prices in many parts of the world. Meanwhile, thin-film manufacturers can achieve unsubsidised costs of $0.13/kWh for the same large project by 2010.

For the full story, see:

http://pepei.pennnet.com/display_article/347606/6/ARTCL/none/HWACS/1/Photovoltaic-costs-to-plummet-in-2009/

4 Comments

  1. Posted February 9, 2009 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    How right you are, there is no contest when you add in the question? Which would you rather live next door to? A nuclear power plant or a wind or solar farm.
    We have even come up with a better solution, produce the power at home by learning how to build a wind generator of your own

  2. Etta Pargas-Rosales
    Posted February 11, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Dear Obet,

    As usual, I am inspired at the rigor and integrity of your studies. I am catching up. But I think our Coalition should come up with a sequel to the Executive Summary of the Feb 2 Panel Presentation we have distributed to the solons entitled: “7 Reasons Against The Revival of the BNPP”.

    Very catchy for popular info and media feature release:

    “WHICH WOULD YOU RATHER LIVE NEXT DOOR TO? A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT OR A WIND OR SOLAR FARM?

    I like that and hope to see you this afternoon at Ferzal. Our Coalition meeting with additional friends.

    Etta

  3. Roberto Verzola
    Posted February 11, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Etta. By the way, Nicanor Perlas has come up with a very powerful argument against recommissioning. I’m not sure if the significance of his argument is appreciated by the others.

    After the Aquino government decided to mothball the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP), they commissioned a technical evaluation by a US company, the NUS Corp., which assembled a team of more than a dozen nuclear experts from several countries. Nicky Perlas was at this time a technical consultant to a Senate ad hoc committee on the BNPP. The final NUS report basically said the BNPP was not safe to operate. Nicky says that Malacanang must have a copy of this report.

    But this is the most important part of Nicky’s argument: he says that according to the NUS report (we should try to get a copy of this report), the BNPP subcontractors made very poor documentation of the BNPP construction process — not enough to prove that the construction process followed the strict international standards required of nuclear plants. So, it cannot be established from the records kept by the subcontractors if the BNPP was safely built or not.

    I’ll give one example of what this means: suppose the specifications said that the reinforced concrete must use steel rebars at least 2 inches in diameter. The use of the 2″ rebars during construction work must be well-documented so that any subsequent review can establish that the design specifications were actually met. Once the construction is done, these steel rebars will be buried or encased in feet of concrete, and what Nickey is saying is that there is no way anymore to check if indeed 2″ rebars were used.

    So this means that after we spend $1 billion to rehabilitate the plant, upgrade all equipment, replace ageing parts, etc. etc., when we then apply to the IAEA and other international bodies for the permission to operate, they will in turn ask us to establish that the specifications were met. Of course, as explained above, this is not possible anymore because of poor documentation.

    So, we will have spent another $1 billion, on top of the $5 billion plus already spent, including interest, for a plant that will most probably not get a permit to operate. Of course, a political decision can be made to allow it, despite lack of documentation.

    However, the IAEA can be expected to be very strict about these things. All it takes is another major accident to trigger a new round of stricter standards for nuclear plants worldwide, which will make the entire global nuclear industry to grind to a halt and spend billions of dollars more just to meet such new standards.

    I can’t imagine the Philippine Congress approving such an astoundingly ill-considered proposal to recommission the BNPP. Unless, perhaps, some members of Congress, browsing quickly at the bill’s title, vote to approve because they understood differently the word “recommissioning”, if you know what I mean.

    Obet Verzola

  4. Posted July 6, 2009 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    really good

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