Saturday, June 11, 2016

US Electricity Generating Plant Costs - 2013

Subtitle: Wind and Natural Gas Form an Unbeatable Combination

Figure 1.
A report from US Energy Information Agency, EIA, provides the average installed cost of new electrical power generating plants in 2013, grouped by type of fuel or energy input where no fuel is consumed.  The capacity installed is also shown in the length of the blue bars.  See chart, Figure 1.  A few things are notable on this chart, especially what is not shown.  No data are present for nuclear power, and none for coal 
power.  No nuclear plants started up in 2013, and coal power plants are on the decline as they are closing, not opening.   Also, Figure 1 shows the types of fuel or energy input in decreasing order of capacity installed.   

Figure 2.   Nuclear cost based on AP-1000 under construction at Vogtle
chart by R. Sowell 

A different version of the chart, using the same data but including the US cost to build nuclear, is shown as Figure 2.  This shows the different fuel, or motive energy type, in order by increasing cost per kW.   

An interesting result from Figure 2 is the combined cost of wind power, $1895 plus natural gas power, $965.  The total is $2,860 per kW, less than one-third the cost of nuclear power at $9,000 per kW.    The net operating cost of the combination, wind plus natural gas, is also quite interesting.  With natural gas at approximately $2 per million Btu, and the combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) technology, fuel costs amount to approximately $0.012 per kWh.  Or, $12 per MWh for those who prefer
Figure 3.   Updated costs for 2015 per EIA
Wind, Solar, and Natural Gas much lower than in 2013
that unit of measurement.   The wind, of course, costs nothing per kWh, although there are small operating costs for labor and parts.  If one takes the case of 33 percent wind and 67 percent natural gas for the power provided from the two forms, the average cost of fuel then is only two-thirds of $12 per MWh, or $8 per MWh.   That provides a fuel bill for generation that is far less than from a nuclear power plant.  The total installed cost, as above, is less than one-third that of a nuclear plant.  Even if one accounts for wind power providing approximately 33 percent output on average compared to the nameplate capacity, the combined cost remains at one-third less than nuclear.  The best benefits, though, are no danger of nuclear radiation, and the combined plants easily follow the grid load.   There is also a substantial reduction in cooling water used.  

UPDATE 7/23/2017:  Added Fig. 3 with updated costs for 2015 for various power generation types.  Note the continued decline in costs to construct.  Data from same source, EIA.   - end update

Nuclear proponents, or cheerleaders as they are known here at SLB, will try to point out that nuclear plants last for 60 years.  They do not, however, as the world data clearly shows.   The nuclear plants are shut down at or barely over the 40 year age.   

The natural gas plants last 40 years with proper maintenance and care, and wind power plants last about 20 to 25 years before requiring major repairs.  Even with wind turbines rebuilt to like-new condition after 20 years, the cost per kW is steadily declining and the total cost over 40 years is still far below that of nuclear plants. 

The future is quite clear: coal plants are shutting down, nuclear plants are shutting down as uneconomic, while natural gas and wind are being built in great quantities.   

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyright © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved. 

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