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On Robert F. Kennedy Jr. tells the Colorado Oil and Gas Association that Wind and Solar Plants will rely on Gas Plants

Surprise, surprise - nuclear power plants also rely heavily upon natural gas to fill the spaces in power demand cycles not provided by their own generation.  Nuclear plants are far too expensive to cycle on and off with fluctuating power demands, so they also rely upon a significant amount of power supplied to the grid from natural gas turbines.

It is nothing but a clever rhetorical strategy to pretend that somehow an expansion of nuclear power can ever lead to an extremely-low-carbon grid, without energy storage.  Highly significant GHG reductions won't happen without energy storage -- nuclear power or no nuclear power -- because of the demand fluctuation cycles. 

If we are ever to achieve 80% or greater carbon-free power grids economically, we will need energy storage technologies such as compressed-air energy storage, pumped hydro, and some (smaller) amounts of batteries and/or flywheel technologies fully integrated as modulators of all power flows. 

Of course, once you have the storage technologies in place, you can then reduce the reliance upon natural gas, and also the intermittency of solar and wind are no longer a disadvantage. 

November 30, 2010    View Comment    

On Climate Hope in a Prison of Despair

As is often the case, nuclear advocates are promoting their favorite technology at every turn, strengthening my case that nuclear is acting as a distraction from the real solutions.

Here are some resources to decide if any arguments are drawn from "thin air":

I recommend actually reading my January 2009 study, and the CP article about that study "Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power". There was immediate and extensive discussion, with private and NEI nuclear bloggers having their say, at that link and continuing with further postings here and here.

Another resource is my May 2009 article in Electricity Journal "Business Risks to Utilities as New Nuclear Power Costs Escalate" (fee reqd), and my most recent talk, presented at the March 2010 Brookings Institution/Global Public Policy Institute Potsdam conference on nuclear power, "Due Diligence on the Economics and Business Risks of New Nuclear Power".

There have been several lively discussions going into all the points raised by the nuclear industry, all of which can be seen at my Nuclear Power column here.

That column includes a discussion of, and a link to the video of the San Antonio, TX debate between Dr. Arjun Makhijani and myself versus Patrick Moore and then-CPS-utility-manager Steve Bartley regarding the South Texas Project.  Prior to that, there was my debate with the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington D.C., and something of a "blog war" with Nuclear Energy Institute which ensued afterward.

Enjoy reading about nuclear power economics, if you wish.

In the meantime, let’s try to work together on real climate solutions we can accomplish now, which was the point of this Post.  The planet deserves it.

August 6, 2010    View Comment    

On Reid Says Broader Climate and Energy Bill Isn’t Dead Yet

Another Related Post is my recent post here "Climate Hope in a Prison of Despair" as it talks about how Congress has clearly rejected  the Economic Method but we can still accomplish much the same goals with the Direct Method -- direct requirements for efficiency and renewables. 

This would include of course a National RES (Renewable Energy Standard), or REES (Renewable Energy and Efficiency Standard) .

These technical achievement goals have much greater public support, including from some Republicans.

Related posts:

Plus this February 2010 post on what might now be achievable:  



August 5, 2010    View Comment    

On Study: Solar power is cheaper than nuclear

It is quite useful to pencil this out for a real solar PV system. I routinely do this for my clients both residential and commercial, for real solar proposals. When you do this, you will see how viable solar PV already is at today’s prices for retail small-system customers (the highest cost PV as volume customers would be lower).

Remember, solar PV is a distributed power source so it must only compete with retail electric rates (when there is net metering, common in many states today). It need not compete with the incompletel-cost busbar electricity cost (without any transmission & distribution costs added) at the power station.

The key to determining the viability for a retail customer is the Cash Flow Analysis. If the customer finances the system, which is likely, they have converted an up-front cost into a monthly payment, similar to their monthly savings on their electric bills.

For a sample 9.8 KW system in my location – Grand Junction, CO – the customer can expect net production of about 17,000 kWh/yr, from my own experience with an identical system. At a very conservative 11 cents/kWh retail electric rate, this saves $1,870 on their electric bills the first year. These savings will go up every year as electric rates rise, say at 8%/yr which is also pretty conservative given recent history.

If they finance the cost of say $5,000/kW, as I said a pretty high cost for today because this is for small customers, as part of a 30-yr refinanced home mortgage at 6.5% interest rate (also high today), the addition to their monthly mortgage payments is about $3,492/year. Initially, electric savings aren’t quite enough to make the extra mortgage payments, but with electric rate increases the cross-over occurs by Year 9, after which the project cash flows positive every year just on electric bill savings.

Yet we mustn’t forget the 30% Federal Tax Credit, which the customer gets in Year 1.  Even with no utility help whatsoever, this is cash in their pocket of $14,700 in Year 1 – enough to make those mortgage payments for several years.

Pencil it out and you will see that the customer – even at today’s PV prices – is never out a single penny, and they have positive cash flow in their pocket, after making the loan payments, from Year 1 forward. (They can cut their Federal WH to make sure of this since they won’t owe the taxes.) This Positive Cash Flow never goes below $12,000 positive balance to their bank account in any year.

It’s even better for businesses – as they can depreciate the equipment over five years.

Progressive utilities like Xcel Energy are actively promoting solar PV because it has become a cheap way for them to meet daytime peak and intermediate loads, and the customers actually pay part of the costs of doing so.

Utilities who ignore these facts, however, do so at their peril as more customers are "walking away" daily as seen by the explosive growth of the solar PV market.

This is no academic or think tank study -- look into this yourself, and you will see that central utility shareholders should be concerned about their ability to continue to sell their product.

August 3, 2010    View Comment    

On Study: Solar power is cheaper than nuclear

Everyone till now who has discussed this post has come at it from a "utility-centric" world view – as if the only decision makers were utility executives. Customers, however, are now important players.

The existence of a competitive and distributed power source such as rooftop PV which can compete with grid pricing changes everything! That is the real message of this article.

Utility central planning only works when consumers are willing (and able) to pay whatever the electric utility charges. Customers, however, can now walk away.

With nuclear’s very long lead time and very high capital costs, a utility must bet tens of billions on a new power station that won’t come on line for ten years.

What will be the cost of PV ten years from now?  How easy will it be for customers to shave their electricity demand through PV and efficiency? Will high cost central power compete?

If not, nuclear’s "Bet the Farm" risk (Moody’s term for nuclear) will go sour. Loan guarantees only protect lenders. Ask a utility shareholder if their stock value is guaranteed. 

With solar now competing for the high-value kWh’s in the daytime, and wind competing with very cheap power for low night time rates, what niche is left for a power plant that runs all the time? The "anachronism" of base load power (Chairman Wellinghoff’s term) can only compete if it is cheap. If instead you need to sell kWh’s 90% of the time at a high rate, does this work?

Business risks are at least as important as cost projections. We know what distributed power and efficiency measures cost, as we are already doing them. Their costs look to go even lower.  No one knows what a new nuclear plant will cost – except that it will be more than today.  

The "crossover" is the death knell point for high cost central power. "X" marks the spot as clearly as the mark on a condemned man facing a firing squad.

July 29, 2010    View Comment    

On With Seconds on the Clock, Democrats May Waste Last Chance for Clean Energy Win


An excellent post, we share many of the same ideas about what may be practical to achieve right now to still accomplish significant emissions reductions. I would add a few key observations:

1.  Market Failure Points:  

It is crucial to fix the decision points in the economy, where a "carbon price" will not reduce energy consumption but instead only place a higher cost burden. For instance, builders make the decisions on building designs, yet occupants (especially tenants) must live with high energy costs. Similar market failure points include machinery and appliances, and even vehicles. (You correctly note carbon prices alone are unlikely to improve fleet economies.) Mandatory requirements to "stop building things wrong" are the only way to address these market failure points.

2.  There is No Money

Many of the measures you propose require significant funding, yet there is no money raised. Perhaps a few billion/year could be raised by eliminating tax breaks for oil companies – what better time than now?

3.  There is No Need to Use Federal Subsidies to Pick Winners

A lot of the monies that would have been raised with more ambitious proposals were simply being handed out to powerful lobby groups such as the nuclear and CCS lobbies. Yet, if utilities are under a mandate to reduce carbon emissions, a guaranteed market for low-carbon electricity generation will have been created. Why then would any low-carbon technology purchased by utilities need a Federal subsidy or loan guarantee? The utilities have to buy – so let the bidding start and let the best technologies win. No pork required.

4.  "Simply Tell Us What We Need to Do"

With no "market based" approach and no money raised, instead of trying to be Santa Claus, the government should simply lead, by setting new mandatory carbon and energy standards for buildings, appliances, vehicles, machinery, and utilities. If some limited amount of funds do become available, they should go to advanced R&D, which is a legitimate function of government leadership.

5.  If You Get to Strip Out What Your Supporters Hate, So Do I

Republicans are stripping out what is most hated by their right wing base – cap and trade. Yet, Democrats have been willing to poison the bill for their own base by including very onerous provisions hated by environmentalists, such as a Christmas Tree of presents specifically for nuclear power. These onerous provisions should be replaced with technology-neutral language. Spitting in the face of your own supporters does not bring out your base at election time.

July 2, 2010    View Comment    

On The Gulf disaster, and the future of coal

Yes, it is "hard to know what new nukes will cost". The nuclear industry itself has projected $/kW overnight costs in the ~$4,100/kW range (2007$) before being exposed to cost escalations that would occur over a very long construction time frame, and before costs of financing during this same extended construction period.

If nuclear construction costs increase at only half the rate CERA estimates they did during 2002-2007, you will easily get to over $10,000/kW "all-in" nominal $ completed costs. See study here:

These great uncertainties have given pause to investment banks, who won't finance nuclear. Citi labeled new nuclear plants "Corporate Killers":

All of us in the TEC community passionately desire for something to take hold, and soon, that will solve these crises. We must have something acceptable to the public. A graduated approach such as Colorado's maximum 2%/yr rate increase to fund its RPS, above conventional new generation, has found strong public acceptance and is on track to cut utility GHG emissions 30% by 2020.

In constrast, new nuclear is running head-on into ratepayer revolts over its drastic rate increases, jeopardizing new nukes in Florida and San Antonio after hundreds of millions (and more importantly, years of planning counting on new nuclear as the low carbon solution) were wasted.

As for the Chinese, they are doing everything. They, too, do not know what new nuclear will cost. Much like the U.S. utility industry in its "bandwagon" first wave of nuclear plants, a great many orders are underway at once. In the U.S., American utilities canceled over half the new nuclear orders they originally placed, after costs became apparent. We will see the success rate in China.

New nuclear is not the "sure thing" its promoters would have you believe. More mundane hydro, geothermal or wind powered turbines fit that description much better.

June 21, 2010    View Comment    

On The Gulf disaster, and the future of coal

Base load power is not the most valuable type of power, if one means by base load a power source whose technical design and/or capital cost requires that power source be operated nearly constantly.


power sources are far more flexible and valuable. If we really intend to add intermittent solar and wind into the generation mix in large proportions due to their economics and benign impacts, it will be necessary to have flexible dispatchable power sources that work well with renewables. Expensive nuclear, or coal-with-CCS plants that cannot afford to cut their Capacity Factor to make room for renewables, do not work well in this mix.

Examples of dispatchable power sources with very significant potential include micro hydro (Navigant projects 400 GW U.S. potential), geothermal, solar thermal with either natural gas or thermal storage backup, and wind and PV coupled with compressed air energy storage. The economics of all of these will generally be cheaper than new nuclear power.

The idea that we have few if any choices except nuclear power is nothing more than a rhetorical Myth promoted by a very sophisticated PR campaign.

June 21, 2010    View Comment    

On Cap and Trade -- Dismissed

Now that  consensus has been reached cap-and-trade will not be in any Senate bill that can pass this year, it may be time to revisit this February article that explored the most effective measures that could be enacted without a cap-and-trade or carbon tax (i.e. without a lot of money being raised):

June 21, 2010    View Comment    

On How We Can End Our Addiction to Oil

I do not find it at all surprising Rod & I agree we must move away from oil.   In fact, I would bet Rod also agrees humans are causing climate change.   I have overall found nuclear promoters to be reasonable folks.    However, Rod’s remarks illustrate what I call “the Captain Nemo Syndrome” – the Myth (rhetorical framework) this wondrous energy source can save the world.  Though the world at the time of Jules Verne’s novel of a mad submarine captain was “not ready” for nuclear power, the dream of using this power source to solve the world’s problems must not be allowed to die.  

Rather than the world, however, it is nuclear power that is still not ready.  I have spent a good deal of my professional life tearing apart business proposals.  The knack is to look for loose ends, the things promoters don’t want to talk about.  After 60 years, nuclear power’s “loose end” is still nuclear waste.

 The latest gambit is to store spent fuel rods in dry casks for 100 years and hope a solution is found in the meantime.  This is similar to eccentric millionaires putting their heads in cryogenic storage hoping future generations will resurrect them, and it has about as much chance of success.

I have also served for a regulatory agency concerned with controlling ratepayer costs.   As Rod notes, I have on numerous occasions demonstrated the staggeringly expensive cost of new nuclear power.

Since we agree on goals, our task is to begin to adopt energy efficiency and energy supply technologies to reduce fossil fuel use.  With a limited budget, and working in priority order based on cost-effectiveness, let me know when (or if) you ever get to nuclear power.   The extreme cost of nuclear power compared to more cost-effective measures is why Amory Lovins has noted every nuclear plant built will actually make global warming worse.   

We must clearly develop carbon-free electricity.   However, we have other options such as new small hydro (400 GW U.S. potential), geothermal, and wind and solar coupled with Compressed Air Energy Storage.

June 6, 2010    View Comment