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Study: Solar Power Officially Cheaper Than Nuclear in North Carolina

Aided by subsidies, some utilities are purchasing commercial-scale solar for up to 30% less than nuclear, Duke University researchers say

By Guest Writer

Aug 10, 2010

By Olivia Boyd, China Dialogue

The sunshine of North Carolina, a state on America's Atlantic seaboard, has long been a draw for tourists seeking a little southern warmth on the region's beaches. But holiday companies are not the only ones trumpeting a good local deal. The price of the state's solar-generated electricity has fallen so far that it is now cheaper than new nuclear power, according to a report published in July by researchers at the state's Duke University.

The authors say their figures indicate a "historic crossover" that significantly strengthens the case for investment in renewable energy – and weakens the arguments for large-scale, international nuclear development.

Solar power is usually branded as a clean but expensive energy source, incapable of competing on economic grounds with more established alternatives, such as nuclear. The outspoken pro-nuclear stance adopted by a raft of iconic environmental figures – James Lovelock, Stewart Brand, Patrick Moore – has helped to instill in policymaking circles the sense that this is the only power source that can restructure our energy supply at the pace, scale and price required by the pressures of rapid climate change.

This study, which was co-authored by former chair of Duke University's economics department John Blackburn and commissioned by NC Warn, a clean-energy NGO with a firm anti-nuclear bent, challenges that view.

"This report should end the argument for risking billions of public dollars on new nuclear projects," says Jim Warren, NC Warn director.

The paper states that commercial-scale solar developers in North Carolina are already offering utilities electricity at 14 cents or less per kilowatt hour. Meanwhile, two power companies – Duke Energy and Progress Energy – are pushing ahead with plans for local nuclear plants that, at current estimates, would generate electricity at the higher rate of 14 to 18 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Grid Parity in 10 Years

The "crossover" is largely thanks to a marked decline in the costs of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems seen over the past decade. The study cites figures from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicating that the cost of solar PV fell from US$12 (81 yuan) per installed watt in 1998 to US$8 (54 yuan) in 2008, on average – a one third drop in 10 years. In 2008 and 2009, costs fell even more rapidly, bringing the 12-year fall to 50 percent. Meanwhile, the expense of nuclear has ballooned. The estimated cost of construction in the United States at the start of the nuclear renaissance was around US$2 billion (13.6 billion yuan) per reactor. It now stands at around US$10 billion (67.8 billion yuan).

Article better than the headline

I am not sure if the headline for this article was chosen to attract readers instead of accurately portraying the information that readers should take away from the article, but that is what appears to have happened. I must congratulate you on putting together a fairly balanced piece that lays out some of the real complexities associated with predicting the price of power from various energy sources while comparing the VALUE of the power from those energy sources.

Perhaps I am only prejudiced because of my 29 years of energy production experience and education to be in favor of nuclear generated electricity that can be made available whenever and wherever it is needed. Perhaps it is unfair for me to use the fact that 800 billion kilowatt hours of nuclear generated electricity is profitably sold into the US grid every year for an average wholesale PRICE of less than 7 cents per kilowatt hour without any financial subsidies to totally discount the conclusions of a retired economics professor and a masters degree candidate in Environmental Management.

That pair of highly "qualified" researchers, while working for a tax exempt activist group specifically organized to fight nuclear energy AND to promote wind and solar energy have somehow managed to promote a paper purporting to "prove" that solar electricity available only when the sun is shining and priced at 15.9 cents per kilowatt hour AFTER including a 65% taxpayer provided subsidy is OFFICIALLY cheaper than nuclear.

That is some amazingly creative work. I have to take my hat off to them for their ability to get attention while being unconstrained by integrity or reality.

You made an interesting point when you noted that nuclear plants are not suitable for being cycled to enable the deployment of expensive, unreliable and intermittent sources. Perhaps that is why Chinese solar panel manufacturers are selling 90% of their products to other countries while Chinese nuclear companies are almost completely focused on providing equipment to the domestic market. I recognize that Chinese leaders are savvy enough to keep the best stuff for themselves while making lots of money from taxpayer subsidized renewable energy promotion schemes in other countries.

I just wish that the leaders in my country had studied more math, science and engineering instead of studying to become lawyers and snake oil salesmen.

If your readers want another view of the paper sponsored by NC Warn and written by two people who only happen to have some association with Duke University they can find it at:

http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com/2010/07/gullible-reporting-by-new-yor...

7 cents/kwh from nuclear has no subsidies?????

Nice response pointing out the flaws in this article.

Although not too pro nuclear.

But I am pro-truth!

Sp my hat is off to your thoughts here.

My only question is how much government subsidies were spent building, planning, designing, redesigning and invisioning solutions to problem?

What is the grand total and how many years were needed to pay this off and then produce electricity at 7cents per kwh?

I would suspect that the if the 15 cents per kwh were used to amortorize the cost of nuclear we would still be paying off the nuclear build up cost paid by the government.

it always surprises me that so many people sucking off the breast of othe government start to rattle their sabors when someone else wants their turn at the breast.

and how and why the medai and general public just accept this crap as truth.

But you are still correct about the lie in the headline.

My only question is: Who is lieing more now the nuclear industry or the solar industry.

 

The only officail answer to what is cheaper is to include the subsidies to each industry in the ananlisys period, end of story, that its folks, fact are facts...

Remember it was all the lieing that killed the solar industry in the 80's. with the death punch coming from republican government eliminating subsidies.

 

This has the effect of both killing the industry but also reducing the value to the country of all the subsidies to ZERO, nata, zippo...

Again government throwing away our money.

perhaps we need to get rid of both the republicans and the democrats ruining this country because of the uncertainty they are creating for capitalism.

The communists cant even do the damage to us that our own government is doing to us with this unstable oscilating policy crazyness.

 

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