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Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

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Solar-NuclearGraph.jpgWhile the price of solar photovoltaic systems has been falling for decades, the cost of new nuclear plants has been climbing -- and a historic crossover point has been reached in North Carolina, where solar power is now cheaper than nuclear.

That's the finding of a report by the former chair of Duke University's economics department that was released yesterday by the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network.

"North Carolina should be leading, not lagging, in the transition to clean energy," author Dr. John Blackburn said during a press briefing yesterday. "We call on Gov. Perdue and state agencies to see that a very important turning point has been reached, and act accordingly."

The report, titled "Solar and Nuclear Costs -- The Historic Crossover," finds that states with open competition for electricity sales are rejecting new nuclear plants for solar, wind, cogeneration and energy efficiency. But states with monopoly power markets like North Carolina are still pushing to build new nuclear reactors -- at a cost of billions to the public.

"This state should place a cost cap on new nuclear power -- and remove the one on solar," said Blackburn, referring to 2007 N.C. legislation restricting rate increases for solar energy while requiring that only 0.2% of all utility sales be from solar power.

Solar energy advocates in North Carolina have long complained that the utilities are reluctant to embrace renewables and energy efficiency so they can continue to press for new nuclear plants.

The report points out that both new solar and new nuclear power sources will cost more than present electricity generation. However, power bills will rise less with solar generation than with new nuclear.

Duke Energy and Progress Energy, North Carolina's largest utilities, estimate that proposed new nuclear plants would generate power at a cost of 14 to 18 cents per kilowatt-hour. But commercial-scale solar developers are already offering utilities electricity at 14 cents or less per kWh.

Today an average North Carolina homeowner can have a solar electricity system installed for a net cost between $8,200 and $20,000 or more, depending on generation capacity.

"We're urging people who are financially able to invest in rooftop solar -- PV and/or hot water -- to do so right away," said N.C. WARN Executive Director Jim Warren, noting this would boost the solar market as well as reduce pollution. "This report should end the argument for risking billions of public dollars on new nuclear projects."

(Image from "Solar and Nuclear Costs -- The Historic Crossover."

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re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

No commercial solar power is being built for 14 cents/khwr that will deliver 24 hours/day. Solar electricty is being subsidized by the federal government, i.e. all American taxpayers, for about $3/kw, or about 1/2 the cost of a nuclear power plant. The land requirements are incredibly huge compared to the footprint of a nuclear unit, and the resulting impact on the environment has yet to be studied particularly in a vegetated area like North Carolina vs the vast southwest deserts. Finally, what power is used at night or on cloudy days that can last for weeks? What are consumers supposed to do - stop cooling their houses, shut down industries, close hospitals?

The problems of solar energy are difficult enough in areas where the sun shines all year, but vastly more complicated in areas like the East Coast. Here in Nevada due to a law that requires "renewables", our electric rate has gone from 6 cents in 1998 to 12 cents today, and probably closer to 20 cents by 2016 when the requirements are fully invoked.

Solar can certainly be utilized for a small portion of the grid, but not with the reliability of a base loaded nuclear power plant.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

BTW, if you do the math, a home PV system breaks even after about 20 years assuming 0% interest. With normal interest rates of 12 to 15% for such a system, it never breaks even. Both of these assume that the governments are giving subsidies - which if everyone did it then there is no subsidy!!

Additionally, very few families even have the $15k to $25k after all of the tax breaks that is needed to install a system that will power a complete home, i.e. about 5kw.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

Meant to state the solar subsidy is $3/watt, not per kw.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

One of the real puzzlers about people who advocate for solar energy and the subsidies that inevitably must be included to encourage individuals to purchase the systems is that these are truly a take from the poor and give to the rich kind of investment.

In order to put a rooftop solar system into place, you need to own a roof, preferably one that is large and in good condition. You also need adequate credit or upfront cash to pay for the system.

In contrast the subsidies are either taken from all ratepayers by forcing utilities to assist in the purchase or from all taxpayers by providing such assistance as a 30% grant at the time of system purchase.

Why do people who consider themselves to be liberals support such a reverse Robin Hood kind of scheme? Is it because they want to encourage the development of an industry so that tiny little companies like Sharp, Kyocera and BP (yes, the very same BP that is doing such a slick job in the Gulf of Mexico) can make a profit by selling enough systems to pay for the initial cost of building the manufacturing capacity?

BTW - just in case you have a short memory, many of the people who are making predictions about the future cost of nuclear energy also stated for years that the current generation of nuclear plants were too expensive. How is that prediction working out?

Last year, those expensive and largely fully amortized plants produced electricity for an average of 2.03 cents per kilowatt hour and operated at more than 90% capacity factor. In contrast, cheap coal had a production cost of 2.75 cents per kilowatt hour while clean natural gas dropped all the way down to 5 cents per kilowatt hour from its 2008 cost of nearly 8 cents per kilowatt hour.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

I don't know why ignorant people like davelv have to post before doing rudimentary research on a subject or even closely reading the article they're commenting on!

The study suggested rooftop PV and solar water heating, which does not require any new land at all! The solar panels and water heaters are built on top of existing or newly-built structures.

Also, it's already been demonstrated long, long ago, that solar generates enough electricity with battery storage to provide electricity through the night and throughout the year even in countries at high latitudes with short days in the winter. Of course, some areas like the Arctic Circle would have to be excluded.

In fact, in North Carolina a person would not only be able to produce enough power 24/7 year around, but would have surplus to sell back to the power company through the grid!

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

The true cost of nuclear or coal is also high if we include the impact on environment and health. The price of energy will and should increase, otherwise we will never conserve energy. Once true cost is enforced by policy and market incentives, then solar and wind would be most cost effective. It will create new jobs too.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

First comparing solar collectors to nuclear energy plants is an apples to giraffes comparison. Solar isn't even in the same league as nuclear for generating significant amounts of clean energy. When it comes to making a difference the old adage, "every little bit helps" does not apply with solar energy. Our electricity demands generally increase from 1-3% per year, way more than enough to negate any gains for clean energy that added solar energy provides so it ends up as a complete wash, a drop in the ocean.

Putting solar on every rooftop still would not be enough to power anything significant as we all don't live in Arizona and many would not like the idea of having to scrape snow off their rooftop to have power. Residential energy is only about 22-25% of the energy demand anyways. And let's get real, in these days of plummeting home prices, who is going to throw 10's of thousands into a depreciating solar system that will not increase the value of the home? People with money to burn I suppose.

This study has the anti-nuclear group "Beyond Nuclear" fingerprints all over it, of course they are going to come out with these pseudo studies to promote their point of view.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

I think I would question any report that listed as a 'per reactor cost estimate', the cost estimate for a pair of reactors.

The other point to consider is plant 'lifetime'. Solar Panels are good for 20 years. A nuclear plant is good for 60 years.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

How do the subsidies for nuclear compare to those for solar? I heard that if there were no subsidies for nuclear, power companies wouldn't build them.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

If you are not, as the article mentions, "financially able to invest in rooftop solar" yourself, you may list your building's rooftop as available to host a solar energy project and receive compensation for the use of your rooftop space. The website to do this is http://www.seglet.com. There are third party investor owned solar energy providers who want your roof space for their projects! 10,000 sq. foot of available space on your rooftop and up is the most in demand, although we have seen 1000 sq. foot rooftop spaces also requested as sites to host solar projects. Make money from your buildings rooftop space by being a solar host. It is free to list your building's roof space.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

Nuclear is not only the most subsidized energy ever, it's indemnified. If any US nuclear facilities go up for any reason and destroys nearby property or person, the Price-Anderson Act caps liabilities. A sweeter deal than the oil industry has with their spill cost caps, as the nuke harm cap is under a $1 billion. Try buying a few states of real estate--and all the future worth and lives and livelihoods with that. So, obviously it's not so good and safe or it wouldn't need such a socialist-like sponsorship.

As for the forever-toxic wastes, I was opposed to Yucca Mountain, but with Sharon Angle and Jan Brewer and their like, maybe this is the place. Drill there, and bury there. And those tarballs, too.

Solar doesn't kill like this, and if it makes a little less energy, maybe we should learn how to live on a little less energy. It's the least harmful thing to blow federal tax credits on, not deep water drilling or nuclear boondoggles or starwars fantasies--local, home-scale power.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

Solar vs. Nuclear? There's No Contest.


100 Square Miles of Solar could power the whole of the US.
- No Uranium Mining needed.

Nuclear Has Real Disadvantages.
- 30,000 Year Radioactive Waste
- Terrorist Target: That would cause Millions of lives
- And destroy Billions of Dollars of businesses, and put that state and the surrounding states into a depression, and create a Clean Up Nightmare.
- Genetic Damage for Generations.

When do we get a class of CEO that knows the least bit of "Risk Management"!

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

Naomi - your post once again illustrates my point about solar projects often being a take from the poor and give to the not poor. How many homes in the US have 10,000 square feet of useful roof space? That would cover a VERY large home considering that the average size of a home in the US is less than 2,000 square feet of floor space and many homes only approach that size with two or more stories.

Even the 1,000 square foot number is a bit on the high side when you consider home orientation and roof slopes that have purposes other than maximizing solar insolation.

Finally, only people who actually have a roof of their own can even consider participating in the program that you mention. That leaves out most city dwellers, people who rent, people who live in condominiums or apartments.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

@SandiaSolarTech - well, actually, the liability limitation under Price Anderson is $10 Billion, not one billion. Additionally, even though we have been operating nuclear power plants in the US for 50 years, no accident has ever come even close to causing damage that approaches the limit.

That is not because we have not had any accidents or problems. It is not a streak of good fortune, but a design and operating philosophy that assumes that if something bad can happen, it will happen. With that assumption as the basis, we include layers of defense and mitigations with back-up systems that limit the potential impact of an accident, even when there are multiple failures. We imbue operators with a sense of personal accountability so that they work hard not to make mistakes and they work hard to back each other up, knowing that all humans have the potential for making errors.

The system demonstrated its value at Three Mile Island where there were a whole series of mistakes made, equipment that failed, and procedures that were not properly followed due to confusing indications and misinterpretations. The plant was destroyed and about 25% of the core melted, but no one was hurt. That includes both the plant operating staff and the general public. No one received a radiation dose greater than the allowable annual limit. The pressure vessel where the core resides held the melted fuel - it only penetrated that 7-8 inch thick steel vessel to a maximum depth of about 5/8th of an inch.

I feel safe around nuclear plants. I used to seal myself up inside a ship with an operating nuclear plant no more than 200 feet away. I encouraged my son-in-law to become a nuke. I want nuclear plants in my backyard. I would even be willing to volunteer a portion of my backyard as a long term storage site for used fuel in a proper container. What more can I say? Nuclear is safe, reliable, affordable and very clean.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

Unfortunately, nuclear industry booster Rod Adams' claim that "no one was hurt" at Three Mile Island is not true. Following the disaster, there were numerous reports of erythema, hair loss, vomiting, organ damage and pet deaths in downwind areas near the plant, and epidemiologists documented an increase in cancer rates among populations exposed to radioactive emissions released by the meltdown. At the same time, the plant's owners, co-defendants and insurers have paid out millions of dollars in claims related to the disaster, including claims for children born with birth defects. I invite anyone interested in learning more about what really happened at TMI to read my 2009 Facing South investigation: http://www.southernstudies.org/2009/04/post-4.html

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

I would like to point out that solar is not a totally environmentally friendly venture, even if placed only on rooftops. It requires the mining of different metals (such as cadmium) which can be eco-hazards on their own.) At the end of their lifecycle they will only sit in a landfill someplace or have to go through more eco-hazard recycling. Reguardless we are better off now than when people burned wood or coal 24/7 365.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

There is no doubt that solar electricity system is much cheaper than other electricity system. You can actually use this life time as you just use the device properly. It will give you life long benefits. This will save you more money. This must be promoted to other communities so that they will use this kind of technology.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

Am from Malaysia, to me Solar energy is real good, on fairly good sunny day am able
to generate 5000Wh daily out of 1620Wp Sharp PV modules. Powering 55" LCD TV, 400L inverter refrigerator, and 27" Apple Desktop computer no problem at all.

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

Where is a 60 year old nuke plant? What is the average length of operation of a nuke plant? How much does nuke power cost, when you take into consideration the cost of decommissioning? What about the $3.2 billion value of the Price-Anderson act? Will Japan be able to fix their problem with $10 billion per reactor, as Price-Anderson would pay?

re: Solar power now cheaper than nuclear in North Carolina

It has always been cheaper .. try to find one Nuke plant that has private insurance .. only governments put up that kind of money. Without the public spending money to protect the nuke industry, it wouldn’t exist.