For decades, the nuclear energy sector has been regarded as the black sheep of the alternative energy market, thanks to a series of high-profile disasters such as Chernobyl, Fukushima and Three Miles Island accidents. But recently, the sector has received the backing of the Trump administration which has sought a $1.5B bailout of America’s flagging uranium industry in a bid to create sufficient federal stockpiles for national security purposes.
Trump isn’t its only friend of late, though. Nuclear power has also been receiving fresh endorsement from an unexpected source: the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ongoing energy crisis has been helping to highlight nuclear energy’s billing as the most reliable energy source, which ostensibly gives it a serious edge over other renewable energy sources such as wind and solar which exist at the lower end of the reliability spectrum.
Notably, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, has backed the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) call for massive nuclear investments by saying that comprehensive investment in the nuclear industry will be necessary to kick-start the UK’s post-pandemic economy, while also fulfilling the EU’s goal to decarbonize all its industries by 2050.
Last year, EU leaders recognized nuclear energy as a way to fight climate change but have mainly touted a hydrogen economy in their latest topline targets.
Supply Chain Disruptions
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), nuclear power generation has the highest capacity factor of any energy source at 93.5%. What this means in layman’s language is that a typical nuclear plant provides a highly stable and predictable flow of electricity with nuclear reactors requiring less maintenance and taking 12-18 months between refueling. Related: Renewable Energy Is Seizing Market Share During The Pandemic
This gives nuclear plants a distinct advantage over renewable energy sources which have been experiencing supply chain disruptions due to factory shutdowns during the ongoing pandemic. EIA estimates that nuclear power plants have a capacity factor 2.5x higher than wind energy and nearly 4x that by solar PV plants.
As the World Nuclear Association has noted, there has been no enforced shutdown of any of the world’s 440 nuclear plants either due to workforce or supply chain disruptions since Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic though plants have been idling capacity due to low power demand.
Renewables are the Future
The EIA points at another advantage: the average nuclear power plant generating 1GW would need 4GW of solar power capacity to fully replace it as a power source.
The implication here is that it would be cheaper to build new nuclear plants than attempt to replace them with wind and solar power. This assumption, however, might have rang true a decade ago but is no longer valid because the cost of renewable energy has been coming down dramatically. Since 2009, solar PV module prices have fallen by ~80% while those by wind turbines have declined 30–40%.
In fact, looking at the localized cost of electricity generation, or LCOE , of different energy sources, onshore wind and utility-scale solar currently are the cheapest sources of electricity. LCOE is a metric that takes capacity factors into consideration.
Nuclear energy has its inherent strengths, reliability being top on the list. This makes it an invaluable power source that is likely to continue playing a big role in our energy grids for decades to come.
Nuclear currently supplies about 20% of the electricity consumed in the United States and 10% of the global electricity generation mix--the IEA estimates that percentage will remain unchanged through 2040. About 55 power reactors are currently being constructed in 15 countries, notably in China, Russia, India and the United Arab Emirates.
Unfortunately, the nuclear sector including uranium mining is likely to continue facing a huge global backlash as we pointed here.
Source: Power Mag
According to IRENA, renewable energy accounted for 72% of new capacity additions in 2019.
Last year, the IEA predicted that renewable generation could nearly double, from 26% in 2019 to 44% in 2040.
The Covid-19 pandemic and ESG momentum only appear to be accelerating that trend, with renewable energy the only energy sector that has continued to grow amid the pandemic: During the first quarter, renewables’ share in the global electricity generation mix jumped from 26% to 28%, mainly at the expense of coal and natural gas.
Conventional renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are the future of electricity generation.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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