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By Samuel R. Avro on Aug 1, 2010 with 28 responses

Report: Solar Energy Cheaper Than Nuclear Energy

"Solar Energy is Now the Better Buy" after reaching a "Historic Crossover" according to a new study.

The costs for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have fallen steadily while construction costs for new nuclear power plants have been rising over the past decade, which now makes electricity generated from new solar installations cheaper than electricity from proposed new nuclear power plants, according to a new report published by a retired Duke University professor.

Moreover, the report continues, solar costs are projected to continue its decline over the coming decade while nuclear costs are expected to rise further.

The report, “Solar and Nuclear Costs — The Historic Crossover: Solar Energy is Now the Better Buy,” was compiled by John O. Blackburn, Professor Emeritus of Economics and former Chancellor of Duke University, along with a student, Sam Cunningham.

Electricity generated from solar PV is now being sold by commercial developers to the utility companies at 14 cents or less per kilowatt-hour (kWh), while nuclear plants in the planning stages will be incapable of offering electricity cheaper than 14-to-18 cents per kWh, according to the report.

“The delivered price to customers would be somewhat higher for both sources,” the study notes.

Solar photovoltaic resource potential. (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Cost estimates for new nuclear plants have risen dramatically since the much-heralded “nuclear renaissance” began during the past decade, says Blackburn. “Projects first announced with costs in the $2 billion range per reactor have seen several revisions as detailed planning proceeds and numerous design and engineering problems have emerged. The latest price estimates are in the $10 billion range per reactor.”

But Rod Adams, author of the Atomic Insights Blog, rejected the report and criticized the basis of the study, saying that the report’s nuclear cost projections rely on a paper written by a lone researcher with unclear qualifications. Mark Cooper’s “brief biography states that he has a ‘PhD from Yale’ but it does not specify his field of study. It indicates he is an ‘acivist/advocate’ with a rather wide range of interest areas including telecommunications regulations and energy consumer issues,” he writes. Adams also listed a number of papers on the subject which he says were ignored by Blackburn’s report.

“For many years the U.S. nuclear power industry has been allowed to argue that ‘there is no alternative’ to building new nuclear plants,” Blackburn’s report concludes. “This is just not true.”

  1. By Joe Rudkin on August 2, 2010 at 2:15 am

    Solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal power all have potential to be more affordable once the technology starts to get more efficient (with investment). They key is really to get off of fossil fuels (whether foreign or domestic) as quickly as possible.

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  2. By Rod Adams on August 2, 2010 at 4:11 am

    The appendix to the paper mentioned provides the details behind the PRICE for solar electricity that some installers are offering on a when and where available basis (terms and conditions that are not applied to nuclear electricity, since it is available essentially ALL of the time.)

    Specifically, Blackburn and Cunningham demonstrate a calculation for a 3 kwe (max capacity) residential system that has an installed cost of $18,000 and provides electricity at 35 cents per kilowatt hour if financed over a 25 year period with 6% interest.

    The way that the installers are able to offer far cheaper electricity for sale than the COST is that the federal government will pay for 30% of the system while the state government will pay for 35% of the system. According to their numbers, that turns an $18,000 system into one that costs the homeowner just $8,190 and costs taxpayers – some of whom do not even own a home or a roof – $9,810.

    In other words – claiming that solar is cheaper than nuclear ASSUMES that the taxpayers will keep paying more than half of the installation costs AND assumes that the system will work just as well over 25 years as it does when first installed.

    The owner had better pray for no hurricanes, no tree limbs falling in a thunderstorm, and no shade from a neighbor’s tree. He also should make sure he is willing to trudge up to his roof on a regular basis to keep the system clean from leaves, bird droppings and the normal accumulation of dirt and dust.

    Also, the homeowner has to understand that his good deal is dependent upon the grid being ready to supply power whenever his expensive, taxpayer supported toy is not producing power.

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  3. By Paul Obembe on August 2, 2010 at 7:46 am

    This Kind of Hype is truly counter productive.

    1) The high costs of current Nuclear are in part due to regulation and licensing.

    2) New smaller modular Plants were not considered in the Hype.

    3) New Generation 4 Nuclear produce 6-7 times more power for the same fuel used, and these were not factored in.

    4) The Cost of Solar Power should have included Costs from Non-Solar sources that are required in order to supplement the solar power when the Sun isn’t shining, or isn’t shining brightly enough.

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  4. By Kit P on August 2, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Blackburn and
    Rod Adams are examples of anti-s. Blackburn is a retired college
    professor with no commercial electricity generating industry
    experience who is an anti-nuke.

     

    Rod Adams is a
    retired navy four stripper with no commercial electricity generating
    industry experience who is an anti-everything else.

     

    The
    responsibility of electricity generating industry is to provide
    reliable and affordable electricity. This requires a mix of
    generating technologies. In other words there are many good choices.
    However, since solar does not provide a reliable source of base load
    electricity comparing solar and nukes is just plain silly.

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  5. By Kit P on August 2, 2010 at 11:32 am

    The high
    costs of current Nuclear are in part due to regulation and
    licensing.”

     

    This is a myth.
    Current nukes are the lowest base load generating costs. New nukes
    currently under

    regulatory
    review have the lowest estimated base load generating costs for many
    locations. Which is why utilities are spend hundreds of millions to
    get a COL.

     

    All large power
    plants are subject to the high costs regulation and licensing. Since
    I have been interested in environmental law over the last 15 years,
    zero is the number of regulatory battles lost by the nuke industry.
    Other types of generation have not been so fortunate.

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  6. By Kit P on August 2, 2010 at 11:40 am

    New smaller
    modular Plants were not considered in the Hype.

     

    New smaller
    modular Plants are hype. That is what paper reactors are, hype. The
    exception is the Russian reactors being built on a barge. Newport
    News shipyard could do the same thing with the reactor design used
    for aircraft carriers.

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  7. By Kit P on August 2, 2010 at 11:51 am

    New Generation
    4 Nuclear produce 6-7 times more power for the same fuel used, and
    these were not factored in.

     

    More paper
    reactor hype. Fuel cost are a small fraction of the cost of making
    electricity with nukes. Making a small fraction smaller fraction.
    The more important goal of the nuclear industry is producing more
    electricity with the same number of workers.

     

    Size matter, capacity factor matters.

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  8. By Kit P on August 2, 2010 at 11:55 am

    The Cost of
    Solar Power should have included Costs from Non-Solar sources that
    are required in order to supplement the solar power when the Sun
    isn’t shining, or isn’t shining brightly enough.

     

    Generally we
    put the horse in front of the cart. Peaking capacity already exists.
    Wind and solar reduces the amount of NG used in peaking facilities.

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  9. By John Hechtman on August 2, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    My my, look at all the pro nuke trolls come out! Try and understand this point – nuclear energy is just as much of a non-renewable energy source as oil or coal. When you use it up, it’s gone – forever!

    And no one has yet figured out what to do with all the nuclear waste the world is already awash with – tons of it! Oh, sorry – there is one ‘good’ use. You can use it to make DU (depleted uranium) weapons. You know, the kind that contaminate everything around them for a petty 4.5 billion years…

    The TRUE cost of nuke power has to include its destruction of the environment, and its devastating effect on living creatures when being mined and disposed of. Using the fuel in a reactor is one third of the lifecycle of the fuel itself. Nobody ever got cancer, or died of birth defects caused by a windmill or a solar panel…

    But let’s assume that we can build cool mini-nuke reactors, and fantasize that we’ll find a way to dispose of the waste ecologically. For the sake of argument, let’s even imagine that the mining industry can be made to work in a non-polluting way – a likelihood similar to snow in Hell. At the end of that whole process, we’ll use up the uranium, plutonium, etc. and be right back right where we are now – looking for SUSTAINABLE methods of energy generation!

    Sustainable/renewable energy sources are needed. Not because they are cool, or politically correct, but because they are the ONLY way a high tech culture can endure. Any other paradigm degenerates quickly into a “Mad Max’ type of world as the resources are exhausted.

    Finite resources are just that – finite. Draw money out of the bank and not put any in – after awhile you’re bankrupt! Energy works just the same way.

    I don’t see anybody creating oil. Or coal. Or uranium…

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  10. By Kit P on August 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Well John H lots of stuff
    about nukes in your post I just wondered if you have made an effort
    to check the truth of your statements.

     

    “And no one has yet
    figured out what to do with all the nuclear waste the world is
    already awash with – tons of it!”

     

    Well gosh John I have and I
    am not alone there are many solutions. One is undergoing review by
    the NRC.

     

    “Nobody ever got cancer,
    or died of birth defects caused by a windmill or a solar panel…”

     

    You are aware that the sun
    produces radiation that is collected PV panels and converted to
    electricity. Sun radiation has caused many deaths from over
    exposure and skin cancer. For the record, commercial nuclear power
    has resulted in no harm from radiation in the US. Exposure to
    radiation is regulated and closely monitored.

     

    “we’ll use up the uranium,
    plutonium, etc. and be right back right where we are now”

     

    Who is we? If the we
    includes you and me, ‘we’ will be dead for about a million years.

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  11. By Matti Adolfsen on August 3, 2010 at 6:49 am

    Some estimated construction prices for NPP’s can be found from this recent Citigroup report: https://www.citigroupgeo.com/pdf/SEU27102.pdf, pages 3-4. In july 2010 it has been reported the Olkiluoto-3 (Finland) and Flamanville (France) sites will be delayed at least one more year.

    The break-even electricity price is calcluated at 65 euros ($85 / megawatt-hour, or 85 cents / kWh).

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  12. By Kit P on August 3, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    “($85 / megawatt-hour, or 85 cents / kWh)”

     

    That is 8.5 cents/kWh.

     

    “New Nuclear – The Economics Say No”

     

    Let’s put this in context:

     

    “New Nuclear Development – Corporate Risk”

     

    The reason electricity is highly regulated is that the benefits of reliable and affordable electricity to society transcends the corporate interests.  So what is in the best interest of society? 

     

    The lowest investment risk option for base load electricity is NG fired CCGT.  Low capital cost, efficient, does not take many people to run.  The cost of fuel is passed to consumers.

     

    New nuke plants are expensive to build but still produce affordable electricity even at 8.5 cents/kWh.  Both renewable energy and new nukes have high capital cost but low O&M costs.  A typical nuke has costs of 1.5 cents/kWh.

     

    Looking at the US market as a whole when the economy was strong, the average US generating costs were 8.5 cents/kWh which included 20% from nukes at about 2 cents/kWh and 50% coal at 3.5 cents/kWh.

     

    If the weighted average of 70% generation is significantly below average what is the average cost of the 20% from natural gas?

     

    This why a certain amount of high capital cost, low fuel cost generation is needed to mitigate the cost of natural gas.

     

    Like Olkiluoto and Flamanville, the first new nuke plants in the US will be built at sites that already have two operating nukes.  Even if the cost is 8.5 cents/kWh, these operators of existing nuke plants are looking down the road 20 years when the plants they are now operating will close.  At that time, the new nuke will not be new but a paid off low cost source of electricity.  The old nukes will get dismantled and then a new one will come on line 40 years from now.

     

    The fallacy of reports that discuss the cost of making electricity is that they are written by people who have never made electricity or built a power plant.  The target audience will never make any electricity or build any power plants.

     

    The bottom line is that figuring out what is the best choice for society 20 years from now is complex.

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  13. By russ on August 3, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    @ Kit P – It is really irritating to see you putting down Rod Adams. 

    1) He has a history open for all to see – unlike you who only talks

    2) He is for someting – unlike you who is against everything. He is for nukes and more nukes but he is doing something.

    3) Everything he writes he pretty well backs up and owns. Anyone that wishes can visit his blog and see what he has to say at any given time.

    4) Last I checked they didn’t just give you four stripes in the Navy. The useless ones are weeded out before that. There are useless junior officers but they don’t survive.

    5) He accepts climate change and environmental degradation is happening – something you can’t seem to do.

    *********************

    Nukes are the way to go – an important part of the overall mix – no question.

    Rather than back bite someone on your side of the fence why not go after someone who is anti nuke?

    *********************

    Quote from a previous post: The high costs of current Nuclear are in part due to regulation and licensing.

    This is correct in the sense that it takes excessive time for licensing/permitting. All the while project costs do not remain static.

    A common platform or standard plant is needed. If the gas turbine had to be redesigned for every location that would be a mess as well.

    Any delay once a project starts is quite costly – financing charges keep piling on. The Fins have to be suffering from this now on their new plants.

    *********************

    Quote from Kit: You are aware that the sun produces radiation that is collected PV panels and converted to electricity. Sun radiation has caused many deaths from over exposure and skin cancer. For the record, commercial nuclear power has resulted in no harm from radiation in the US. Exposure to radiation is regulated and closely monitored.

    That sets an all time record for being bogus – if solar PV panels are not used there will be less skin cancer?

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  14. By Kit P on August 3, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    In general I have a great respect for navy captains.  One environmental class I took was taught by a reserve navy captain.  

     

    However, generally speaking achieving the rank of navy captain infers that you do not have an expertise in the certain area that Rod writes about.  I do not respect people who speak with authority based on their position of authority who are clueless about what they are writing about.  Rod Adams makes no claims about taking graduate classes in environment engineering or working as an SRO on large commercial reactors.

     

    Russ you seem to get irritated a lot by what I did not write.  For example,

     

    “That sets an all time record for being bogus – if solar PV panels are not used there will be less skin cancer?”

     

    What I said Russ was that solar radiation is hazard we are all exposed to and should take precautions to limit exposure.  In the nuclear industry we take similar precautions to limit exposure to workers and a prevent exposure to people outside the plant.   

     

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  15. By John Healy on August 4, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    It’s good news that the cost of PV solar is competitive (or cheaper than) nuclear power. The true costs of small-scale modular nukes are essentially unknown in this country, and the economic history is not kind to nluclear power. Further, the question of nuclear waste remains, to understate, rather thorny.

    That said, it remains a heck of a lot cheaper to save the energy we already produce than to spend on either solar (utility scale or distributed) or nuclear generating stations. In the Northwest U.S., it costs about half as much for a utlity to save a unit of electricity through conservation programs as it does to generate one through conventional generation. (http://efficiencyworks.org/200…..fficiency/)

    The Northwest Power and Conservation Council updates its 20-year plan for the public power system (BPA) every five years; everybody else in the region follows the Council’s guidance. In the recently released 6th Plan, the Council calls for more than 85 percent of load growth over 20 years to be met with cost-effective efficiency, and the remainder with competitive renewables (wind, followed by solar). New nukes have no role in the plan and do not appear in any meaningful way in any of Northwest’s utility resource plans.

    efficiencyworks.org has more on efficiency as a least cost resource.

    jh

     

     

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  16. By Kit P on August 4, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    From John’s link report:

     

    “Although the closing of most of the region’s aluminum smelters since 2001 slowed load

    growth,”

     

    More often than not this is the kind of conservation we get by making electricity and energy expensive.  I would not call sending jobs to China conservation either since their electricity comes mostly from very inefficient coal plants.

     

    “It’s good news that the cost of PV solar is competitive (or cheaper than) nuclear power.”

     

    I am not sure why John would think that it is either true or a good thing.  Lowering the cost of providing electricity no matter what the source is a good thing for consumers.

     

    “it costs about half as much for a utlity to save a unit of electricity through conservation programs as it does to generate one through conventional generation. (http://efficiencyworks.org/200…..iency/)”

     

    This generality requires some very convoluted logic.  My favorite conservation device is low flow shower nozzles.  Of course these devices have been required by code since 1986.  If you look at the report, the reason for the savings in the high cost of natural gas they use in their model.  

     

    “New nukes have no role in the plan and do not appear in any meaningful way in any of Northwest’s utility resource plans.”

     

    This is true but only because of the low fuel cost of PRB coal.  Here is the actual plant.  Make electricity for local people with low cost coal, sell high cost alternatives to California.  

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  17. By Joe on August 8, 2010 at 8:44 am

    @Rod Adams you say the article assumes 18k for a 3kw PV system. They are already $4kw in my area, before subsidies. I’ve always felt the break even was around $2.5. If you have the right subsidies it makes sense now. BTW, all these nuclear plants are getting heavy subsidies. In fact, they all have to have loan guarantees from the fed since private banks wont touch them.

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  18. By Ken Chicago on August 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Solar has to be backed up by an online fossil plant. Thus, the cost of solar power must include that! The costs must also include land costs! and the environmental problems caused by heat islands! Solar is probably worst than wind power! which has all of the same problems! EU countries have now learned that the alternative electricity sources cost more initially, cost more to maintain, must be backed up with a fossil plane, can be very environmentally unfriendly, and are very non-cost effective!

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  19. By Kit P on August 8, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Ken the fossil plants
    already exist. No new fossil plants will need to be built to backup
    solar.

     

    Joe, just for the record
    nuke plants pay lots of taxes. Applicants for loan guarantees pay a
    fee it is not a subsidy. The government is making money off the
    program.

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  20. By Thomas on August 15, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    “Applicants for loan guarantees pay a
    fee it is not a subsidy. The government is making money off the
    program.”

    Kit, you continually make this ignorant claim. You should take an Econ 101 class and learn about loan risk. The taxpayer will be stuck paying billions of when (not if) a “guaranteed plant” is stopped mid-construction because of regulatory/environmental/local political red tape.

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  21. By Kit P on August 15, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    It
    is not a claim it is a fact. Yes, I did take Econ 101. Nixon was
    POTUS.

     

    The
    taxpayer will be stuck paying billions of when (not if) a “guaranteed
    plant” is stopped mid-construction because of
    regulatory/environmental/local political red tape.

     

    Interesting
    point, who do you think should pay because of inconsistent government
    policy?

     

    Thomas
    lives in California and pays lots more for electricity because
    inconsistent government policy results in almost all new capacity
    being NG fired. I suspect between Thomas and myself I am the only
    one to read California’s Plan.

     

    The
    first loan guarantee for a two unit facility at a site with two units
    already. The community is pronuclear. The state is allowing
    construction work in progress (CWIP) to recover some of part of the
    cost since the existing nukes produce low cost electricity. Obama
    announced the first loan loan guarantee continuing the policy of the
    Bush admin. Finally, there are 104 operating LWR in the US so the
    regulatory process is established. Four reactors of this type are
    under construction in China.

     

    DOE
    carefully analyzed the risk. The risk is low that the plant will not
    be completed. By not making bad loans, the government makes money on
    the program. The risk is shared by the reactor designer, the
    utility, the state, and investors. Nobody benefits by starting and
    not finishing. The federal government and therefore US taxpayers
    are also assuming some of the risk. We all benefit by reducing the
    demand for NG. Econ 101.

     

    Thomas
    looks at loan guarantees as a generality. If the program was handing
    out loan guarantees for a hundred new reactors, I might agree.
    However, each application is accompanied by a big check. To get to
    that point about $100M has been invested by well established
    generators. The purpose of the program is to get a few reactors
    built. Prove the economics and more will get built without loan
    guarantees.

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  22. By Eclipse Now on December 7, 2010 at 1:57 am

    My my, look at all the pro nuke trolls come out! Try and understand this point – nuclear energy is just as much of a non-renewable energy source as oil or coal. When you use it up, it’s gone – forever!

    IFR’s are coming which, when commercialised, will burn nuclear waste. They could run the world for 500 years just on the nuclear waste we already have today!

    Then, depending on how far into the future you want to gaze, there is enough uranium and thorium on earth to run a much higher energy expenditure civilisation for 10′s of millions of years… even hundreds of millions of years!

    So, basically nuclear waste is not the problem but the SOLUTION to global warming and peak fossil fuels! I doubt we’ll need to use up all the uranium. I doubt we’ll really even get to use all today’s nuclear waste! We’ll probably have fusion before 500 years are up: there are a number of approaches. If not that, then finally some super-battery or super-cheap super-capacitor that makes renewables viable. They are simply not right now. Or maybe there will even be some Moon-base shooting space based solar PV power satellites into orbit to provide 24/7 solar power? Who knows? That’s 500 years away. The point is to get from here to there without destroying the climate, and without crashing back to the Stone Age again because we tried renewable technologies before they were ready.

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  23. By Kit P on December 7, 2010 at 8:21 am

    “IFR’s are coming which, when commercialised, will burn nuclear waste.”

    No they aren’t. Replying to absurd claims with absurd claims is just silly. Some nuclear advocates like to talk about paper reactors and fear monger about AGW. The important point is lost.

     

    Using fission to produce energy is an essentially inexhaustible source of energy. The once through process used in the US only uses 5% of the energy in fuel assemblies. The French for example separate the ‘poisons’ that capture neutrons from the uranium and plutonium and make new fuel assemblies. The fission product waste is mixed into glass so that it can be stored safely.

     

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  24. By Renewable Power Spac on December 24, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    It has been the trend that the society is more support of both solar energy and nuclear energy than before, no matter which is cheaper.The reason being both can benefit the environment compared to convential sources, although it may be more challenging for nuclear to address the wastes.

     

    Renewable Power Space

    http://futurepowersystem.blogspot.com/
    [link]      
  25. By Renewable Power Spac on December 24, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    For nuclears, the once-through-cooling issue is also very challenging but it has option to adopt new technologies rather than OTC. For new nuclears, this should be an issue since it can be addressed during the design phase.

     

    Renewable Power Space

    http://futurepowersystem.blogspot.com/
    [link]      
  26. By Kit P on December 24, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    OTC
    is another example of an out of control EPA. Cooling towers or man
    made cooling lakes ares standard at steam plants that are inland with
    out a body of water to cool turbine condenser. Cooling lakes have
    become popular fishing spots. Steam plants along the ocean use water
    taken from the ocean to cool condenser. Since I do not have any
    oceanography experience, I can not comment on the sea urchins but the
    concept of cost benefit seems to be lsot on the EPA.

     

    This
    affects all steam plants not just nukes. One nuke plant has already
    announced that it will shut down 10 years early rather than spend
    $800 million to put up a cooling tower for 10 years. For coal plants
    it is a double whammy with air pollution controls.In the boring world of power generation this is one of the top stories of the year.  

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  27. By Herm on December 26, 2010 at 6:54 am

    A wasted resource, that process heat could be used for something else.. perhaps drying ethanol.

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  28. By Kit P on December 26, 2010 at 8:42 am

    Herm it
    is a wasted resource only because you call it wasted. Better
    utilization of low value heat from power plant was the subject of my
    senior project at Purdue. CHP is only practical for a small
    percentage of generation and you still need cooling water. Some
    places are considering nukes for desalination.

     

    Not all
    BTUs are created. The BTUs in 500 lb steam have the ability to spin
    a turbine which drives a generator that produces high voltage
    electricity. That electricity can power a steel mill, pump clean
    drinking water to my house, and run my heat pump. The BTUs in 100 F
    water makes a nice bath. But Herm you have to live nest to the
    power plant.

     

    Using
    uranium to to produce electricity is only a waste if you know of some
    other use for uranium.

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