This is what might seem a complex exercise on the surface, but it will show in relatively simple terms just what is actually required to even start thinking about replacing those coal fired power plants that we are told are contributing towards anthropogenic global warming, if you actually are prepared to believe that they are a major contributing factor in that process, and that Climate Change is just a cyclical thing that our Planet is evolving through.
My thoughts on that argument are known to those who read my posts, so what I am going to do here is to argue from the point of those who do believe that argument. What I want to do is to show you just what is entailed in a process that people have been led to believe is actually a simple thing to believe, and is in fact an extremely complex thing. What is needed her is Government will to actually go down this path.
Also, for the purpose of the exercise, I’m going to assume that every Authority gives the green light and fast tracks each of the new proposals, something that has never happened yet with any plant of any type at all.
For the purpose of the exercise, I am going to highlight the plant I always have, that of the Bruce Mansfield Plant in Pennsylvania, not for any other purpose than that is the plant I always use as a reference.
This Plant at Shippingport has a nameplate capacity of 2740 MW production, so for the purpose of equivalency, I am going to use that nameplate capacity as the replacement number, so for the plants I mention here, the total power output will have to equal that 2740 MW.
A NEW COAL FIRED PLANT
Let’s replace like with like first, and for the purpose of the exercise, I’ll take you 27 years into the future and have this new plant fitted with Carbon capture and storage (CCS) capability, a process operating nowhere in its entirety on Earth right now, and even if it can be proved, is still a way way long off into the future.
The cost of actually building a new coal fired plant is probably the cheapest for the amount of nameplate power required, but even so the cost now compared to what it once was is a quantum factor higher. Because of that, the new Coal fired plant is around $3 Billion. It has a lifespan of around 50 years. At the end of the cycle the plant and the site will need to be cleaned up, and conservative costs now for cleaning up the site of a former coal fired plant are around $1 Billion. We said we are going to fit CCS to this plant, so that is also conservatively costed at around $1.5 Billion. All up so far comes to $5.5 Billion, and I can see you all now saying that is on the high end, and will still work out cheaper than all the others. However, that is not the end of it. There is the cost of the fuel for the plant itself, the coal that is burned to boil the water to drive the multi stage turbine that drives the generator. The amount of coal used is the most staggering figure of all, and one that people either reject out of hand as being false, or question on other fronts. A plant of this size will burn 6.5 million tons of coal each year. Currently the cost of the steaming coal used for this purpose is around $130 per ton, has been as high as $175 per ton, and for the purpose of the exercise, I will leave it in today’s price. So, 6.5 million tons per year, for the 50 year life cycle at $130 per ton works out to $42.5 Billion. Adding that to the original total, we now find the lifetime cost of the new coal fired plant rounds out to $48 Billion. The plant will come on line approximately 4 years after turning the first sod of dirt.
A NEW NUCLEAR PLANT
This would be the one that people would think would cost the most. There is conjecture as to the cost, so for this exercise, I’m going to split it down the middle between the most pessimistic costing and the most sanguine. That works out to around $3000 per Kilowatt, so for 2740MW that original cost works out to $8.2 Billion. The cost of rehabilitating the site is conservatively costed at around the same as for the construction cost, so the total is now $16.4 Billion. The cost of the fuel itself the rods is not as much as you might think. The cost would be a conservative one of around $1.5 billion over the life of the plant. These plants run at around 95 to 98% efficiency higher than for coal, and more than triple as for solar and wind. The plants also have a life span of 50 years, but have regularly been renewed for a further 25 years. The overall cost of all this for a Nuclear power plant now comes in at just under $18 Billion. The plant will come on line 7 years after planning is completed.
A NEW SOLAR PLANT
Here I am going to use as an example the solar thermal plant at Gila Junction near Phoenix in Arizona. It is the Solana Plant operated by Abengoa. This plant uses the specially constructed concave mirrors focused to a mid point. At that mid point a trough passes along the lines of mirrors. Through that trough is passed a heavy liquid salt compound which is stored in two large vats. The salt becomes molten and the heat during the day from the Sun keeps that salt molten during the period of dark. This molten salt is used to boil water to steam to drive a conventional turbine and generator. The cost for this one plant is just on $1 Billion. However, the nameplate capacity is only 286 MW so for the purpose of equivalency, to produce the 2740 MW reqiured, you would need ten of these plants. So, now the cost of the plants themselves to $10 Billion. The lifespan of the plant is currently a point of conjecture, but some estimates can be as high as 35 years. The fuel is the Sun itself, however, there are the added costs of the salt itself, and currently with these style plants, the mirrors themselves also have a high breakage factor, and those mirrors are not just like what you look into in the bathroom. Considering the 50 year lifespan for the coal plant and the probable 75 year life span of the Nuclear plant, then you would look to be doubling that cost to have time equivalency, so the cost now blows out to $20 Billion, and at a conservative 12% breakage rate the cost would blow out considerably from there when added to the replacement salt to keep that level up. Added to that, you need to construct the infrastructure to get the water to the place where the plants are constructed, and it’s not always the case that a handy river runs by the place where it is always sunny. The cost for the infrastructure might be as much as for half the cost of the plants themselves, considering that the North East in Pennsylvania where Bruce Mansfield is now would be totally unsuitable for solar plants of this scale because of the cold snow covered Winters. The estimated cost now might be a conservative $27.5 to $30 Billion. The time to bring the plant on line is 8 years from planning and that is for the one plant. To build ten of them consecutively would again blow out the construction costs. To build ten of them together would cover an area of around 20 square miles at a conservative estimate.
A NEW WIND POWERED PLANT
For this part of the exercise, I’ll use Cape Wind, and even though it is an offshore plant, the costs would be close to what they might be for this palnt. Cape Wind has 140 wind towers each topped with a 3MW nacelle driven by the huge 3 bladed fans. The power maximum you might think here is 420MW, but because wind is such a variable thing the maximum power output averages out at 30% efficiency, hence 125MW. The cost of Cape Wind is around $800 Million, and again that is conservative. So, replacing like for like, you will need 22 plants of this scale, the total cost now coming in at around $18 Billion. Again, you will need to construct the infrastructure to get that power to the grid from those 3100 large turbines. The area encompassed by Cape Wind is around 200 square miles, so now you are looking for a place of relatively constant wind and an area of around 5000 square miles. You will first need to build the factories to construct the turbines and the towers, and here you might be looking at twenty or more factories because even at best practice, factories are only managing 10 a week, so at that rate ten factories would take 10 years just to make these nacelles alone, not including the towers. The time to come on line at the Cape Wind standard is also around 8 years
A NEW HYDRO PLANT
Dream on. Try and get an approval for a dam anywhere in this day and age. Still, the costs, going on the 3 Gorges Dam in China for a monster project like that which produces ten times the power of Bruce Mansfield. The cost for that will be $30 Billion, and will be completely recovered in ten years just from the sale of the electricity alone, not taking into account the billions saved in flood mitigation and river navigation aspects. Even at that $30 Billion, it is still an attractive prospect.
There are other means, like geothermal power, still in its infancy. There are also natural gas fired plants, but their turbines nature means that they can only provide top up power because they cannot be run consistently for long periods of time. Costs there vary from around $1 Billion for a medium large 500 MW system, then the cost of CCS for that plant, as well as the ongoing cost for the fuel used there.
If, and only if, coal fired plants need to be replaced, then you need to be well aware of the costs involved, and the time needed to actually get the power on line to the grid.
Keep in mind all these calculations are fluid, approximations, even if close, and the main thing is that all of these are to replace ONE PLANT only.
Do the math yourself, and when people make ambit claims about free power from the Sun and the Wind, the only free part is the fuel itself. The plants and the infrastructure cost horrendous amounts of money, and without Government will to subsidise the construction costs for solar and wind plants and then subsidse the consumers for the costs of that electricity, then no private enterprise would even consider starting any project on this sort of scale.
The main thing that this whole exercise shows is that there is no future for this argument unless Nuclear powered plants are included in the argument, because after all is taken into account, they produce the cheapest power on every front.
Look again at the time factors involved. Before anything of this scale comes on line, you are looking at around ten years.
ALL THIS WAS JUST TO REPLACE ONE COAL FIRED POWER PLANT. THERE ARE 650 OF THEM.