On Friday and Saturday Germany generated the equivalent electricity output of 20 nuclear power plants from their domestic solar power capacity. The bulk of Germany’s solar power is installed on residential buildings or in open areas. On Saturday this solar power met 50 percent of Germany’s total midday power needs. On Friday solar met 1/3 of Germany’s total need on a work day. Solar works on a bell curve, adding power to the grid during the times of peak use that happen to be middle of the day.
Germany’s current power mix is about 20% renewable sources (mostly wind and solar). Germany also still plans to lower carbon emissions 40% by 2020. On low demand days Germany can produce 120% of their power needs and Spain can produce 72% of theirs. Germans pay a 2 cent per kWh for feed in tariff to support solar power on top of the normal kWh fee for electricity. This adds up to about 5 billion USD a year. Germany’s energy rates are highly fluctuating, from as low as zero euro per 1000 kWh (1 MWh), to more than 150 euros per MWh during winter weekdays.
All of these factors and the unique power programs in EU countries has made the need for an improved grid even more important. Some have called for a high cost European super grid while others suggest a set of national or micro grids to help get power where it is needed so none is wasted. Currently inter-country transport lines are lacking capacity to effectively move power around. MarketOracle made this comment about the past hopes for nuclear power and the future of renewables:
“Back in the days of EURATOM (the late 1950s) the Soviet-inspired quest of Europe’s elites was to “convert everything to electricity”, using clean and safe nuclear power, delivering electricity too cheap to meter. That boast of the nuclear lobby went disastrously wrong, and never happened – but is happening today, every day that national demand is low, with windpower and solar power in Europe”
The current cost for creating a power source is in favor of solar installations. A new nuclear power plant costs $4694.25 per KW to build vs. $1000 per Kw for solar(1). The nuclear costs could be even more based on the escalating cost over runs at every new nuclear plant being built in the US or EU. These costs don’t include the nuclear fuel needed to run the plant or the wide scale nuclear fuel cycle that has yet to be solved and the costs involved with that. The solar generation equipment needs no fuel and can be added or removed as needed. Solar or wind generation is modular, addition or removal from the grid only takes that individual bit of capacity on or out of the grid.
So why is the US so far behind? The oil and gas industry spend huge sums of money to influence energy policy by paying for lawmakers and lobbyists. These industry sponsored efforts have tried to paint renewables as somehow anti-American. They claim that renewables can’t meet our energy needs even though both renewables and fossil production are at all time highs. The other misinformation being spread is that renewables support is causing high gas prices. The US is looking at LNG as an export product and new projects like the Keystone XL pipeline are intended as energy export projects that will do nothing to improve energy prices in the US. On the issue of US petroleum, more drilling won’t lower prices. Natural gas is being exported and the fracking involved has a considerable set of issues.
Whomever solves the energy puzzle is likely to be the next super power.
Olkiluoto is estimated at 6 billion euros to build with 1600 MW capacity. This does not include any costs for nuclear fuel.
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