Kerry Lieberman American Power Act – New Power Comparison

Posted on Mon 05/31/2010 by


The American Power Act sponsored by Senators Kerry and Lieberman bears some further looking at for some of things it proposes in respect of ‘new’ electrical power.

The Peterson Institute for International Economics carried out what was termed as an ‘independent’ analysis of the proposed legislation, basically backing up the intent of the legislation.

In some earlier posts I detailed some of the things from the legislation itself, but one thing is well worth looking at from the legislation that I haven’t considered until now, and that is just what levels of ‘new’ electrical power have been proposed.

What the legislation, and the report from the Peterson Group have concentrated on is the totals for the amount of power with respect to the Nameplate Capacity of the installed plants.

As I have frequently explained in so many earlier posts, that Nameplate Capacity number, while seeming to be quite high is actually an erroneous figure to be looking at, let alone quoting. The actual figures that should be looked at are those with respect to the actual amount of power those plants will be supplying to the grids across the U.S. which is the actual power available for consumers.

Let’s then dissect those amounts of new power that have been proposed, and see just how much power will be made available to the grids for consumers.

The bill would mean there would be 68 gigawatts of new nuclear power production due to $36 billion in loan guarantees and a 10 percent investment tax credit for plants that are in operation by 2025. That means nuclear power would account for 15 percent of power generation capacity by 2030, compared to 10 percent today.

Here I just want to look at that figure of 68 gigawatts, which in terms of the plants themselves is 68,000MW. (MegaWatts) The average size for a large Nuclear power plant is around 2,000MW, some a little more, and this entails two reactors, each one providing steam for a large multi stage turbine driving a large generator, so that’s 2 generators in all per plant. This effectively means we are looking at 23 new large nuclear power plants across the U.S.

This Senate proposal would prompt 24 gigawatts of new renewable power generation over the next 20 years, with the majority in wind (58 percent), followed by biomass (23 percent) and solar (13 percent). By 2030, the report said renewables would account for 18 percent of all power generation capacity, up from 12 percent today, and 21 percent of all electricity production, up from 10 percent today.

Here I just want to look at that total Nameplate Capacity of 24 gigawatts, or 24,000MW. Here, this number is broken down into the three sectors, Wind, Biomass, and Solar. Those percentages mean that Wind power will make up 14,000MW of this new power, and Solar Power will make up 3,000MW of new power.

In total, for these two, that level of new power amounts to 17,000MW, and when compared to the amount of new power for the nuclear power sector of 68,000MW, then the Nuclear sector will be providing four times as much when those Nameplate totals are taken into account.

However, as I mentioned the figures for actual power supplied to the grids are the only figures that should be considered here.

To find that level of power, the calculation is quite a simple one, even though it looks complex.

NP X 24 X 365.25 X 1000 X ER.

For this formula, NP is the plants Nameplate Capacity. 24 is the hours in a day. 365.25 is the days in a year, accounting for the leap year. The figure of 1000 converts the nameplate capacity expressed in MegaWatts (MW) to the consumed figure expressed in KiloWattHours. (KWH) That last thing ER stands for the Efficiency Rating of power delivered, which is actual power delivered to the grid versus the theoretical total it could deliver over the year. This ER takes into account the down time during the year for maintenance, and also times when the plant is not delivering power to the grid.

Those Nuclear power plants, once actually up and running will be providing their power to the grids on a 24/7/365 basis. The only down time will be for maintenance, and refuelling. During this refuelling process, the rod assemblies that have become depleted are replaced with new assemblies that have those rods enriched to what is required for the electrical generation process, at around a 3% level of enrichment. Typically, those rods are at the end of their lives when that level of enrichment falls to around 0.75%. The use of these rods in the reactors is carefully calculated so that at the refuelling time they can change as many as possible. This effectively translates to one refulling period every 18 months or so. General maintenance to the turbines and generators is also carried out during this time as well, so that means the plants can effectively run at their maximum for most of that time.

This means that for those nuclear plants, they have an Efficiency Rate of around 92.5%, over their lifetime.

So then, now we can work out the total power delivered to the grids by those new nuclear power plants, and that figure comes to 550 Billion KWH (KiloWattHours)per year.

Now, when it comes to Wind Power and Solar Power, those Efficiency Rates are totally different, not only from Nuclear power but also differing between Wind and Solar.

Currently, the U.S. produces the largest amount of power from Wind generation on Earth, and that amount comes in at 38,000MW. That ER currently stands at 20%, which is fairly close to the Worldwide average. The reason it is low is because they are only in operation while the wind is actually blowing enough to turn the large blades, which then drive the generator. Some plants might be able to provide the hoped for 30 to 35% delivery ER, often quoted by those who propose these types of plant, but averaged out across any 12 month period, that average comes it at only 20%.

So, using that same ER, then this new New Wind Power Nameplate Capacity of 14,000MW will deliver to the grids for consumers an amount of 24 Billion KWH per year.

When it comes to Solar Power, that ER is even lower than for Wind. There are two forms of Solar power, Solar Photovoltaic which uses panels to generate electricity, and Concentrating Solar, also called Solar Thermal, which uses focused mirrors to heat a compound to a molten state and this compound then boils water to steam to drive a conventional turbine/generator. Both forms have a low ER. Some will say that Concentrating Solar can produce its power for the full 24 hours, but this can only be accomplished with the use of a backup driving turbine when the compound is not molten enough to generate steam. This backup is driven by a Natural Gas fired turbine, and can be in use for anything up to 12 hours a day.

So, when it comes to Solar Power that ER is typically in the range of 10 to 15%. So, the thinking being that these Solar Plants will be made up of a combination of both, I’ll split the difference and call it 12.5%

So the actual power delivered to the grids for consumers from these ‘new’ levels of Solar Power will amount to 3.3 Billion KWH.

Add this amount now to the total for Wind, and that total comes to 27.3 Billion KWH of ‘new’ power actually available for consumers to use.

When compared to the amount delivered by the nuclear plants of 550 Billion KWH, it now paints an entirely different picture of those levels.

Those Nuclear plants will deliver more than 20 times as much power to the grids as those ‘new’ renewables.

So while the Nameplate Capacity is only a factor 4 times greater, the actual power comes in at a factor 20 times greater.

That is not the only comparison that bears looking at in respect to these same three forms of power.

The point that is quite often stressed when referring to renewable power is that the power is ‘free from the Sun’, and ‘free from the wind that blows’. The Sun and the Wind provide the source for the actual generation of power, but these plants still have to be constructed.

Those construction costs are often misconstrued, and the emphasis is always on the huge construction costs for a nuclear power plant. However, what is quite often glossed over is the construction costs for wind and both forms of solar power, and when everything is taken into account, those nuclear power plants now appear in an entirely favourable light by comparison. So then, let’s look at that as well.

The cost for a new Nuclear plant varies.The two types most commonly in use are the PWR (Pressurised Water Reactor) and the BWR. (Boiling Water Reactor) There have been advances in these in recent years and some of the newer type plants in operation or in planning are better in numerous ways than these older style plants, which are the ones in use in the U.S. at the moment.

The cost structure for PWR comes in at around $1,500 per KW or around $3 Billion for a large scale plant around 2,000MW which is the typical size. For a BWR, that cost structure comes in at around $2,000 per KW or around $4 Billion. That is current figures for these types, so to show I’m not going on the cheap side to make my point, let’s actually say that a new Nuclear power plant will cost even more again, and I’ll use the figure of $5 Billion, keeping in mind that those figures are in today’s dollars, so even though the price will obviously rise over the years, that cost will still have an equivalence.

What this effectively means is that for 23 of these ‘new’ Nuclear power plants, that total cost will come in at $115 Billion.

With respect to Wind power, an easy reference might be Cape Wind. For a total power of 390MW the cost comes in at around $1.2 Billion. So, using that as an example, then that new power total of 14,000MW, the cost comes in around $40 Billion.

For Solar power, there are two types as I have mentioned, so let’s then split that total down the middle, meaning 1,600MW from each of the two types.

An example for Concentrating Solar would be the Abengoa Solana plant at Gila Bend in Arizona, which has a Nameplate Capacity of 250MW, and the cost for that is $1 Billion. So at 1600MW of Concentrating Solar, we will need 6 of them, coming in with a total of $6 Billion.

For Solar PV, an example would be the Arcadia plant in DeSoto County in Florida, recently opened by President Obama. This produces 25MW and comes in at a cost of $150 Million. So now, for 1600MW, we will need 64 of these and the total cost now comes to $9.6 Billion.

So, adding together the totals for the Wind, and both forms of Solar Power, the total comes in at $56 Billion.

New Nuclear power plants – $115 Billion.

New Wind and Solar Plants – $56 Billion.

The Nuclear power plants will supply 20 times as much power to grids for consumers as those renewable plants, while only costing only just more than twice as much.

Another thing that needs to be taken into account is the life span of the respective plants.

A nuclear power plant can be licensed for 50 years and extended out to 75 years.

All three of those renewable plants named here have a life span of 25 years, not licensed, but actual life.

So, the nuclear power plants will last three times longer.

Facts like these are what should be highlighted in bold print, and not those other facts so often quoted, clean and green, free power, renewable.

Even when all considerations are accounted for, the cost of the fuel for those 75 years, the clean up when the plants are decommissioned, those nuclear power plants are far and away the best option when compared to renewable power.

With respect to the percentage level increases, here it must be realised that those Nuclear Power plants, because of their ability to provide their power on a 24/7/365 basis, then they actually can replace those coal fired power plants, so with 23 new ones coming on line, then that effectively means that 23 large coal fired plants can be closed down. That will leave approximately the same amount of power available for consumers on the grids as currently exists. That being so, then the percentage of power provided from Nuclear generation now comes in at 34%, compared to an existing 20% now, an increase of 14%, and in fact considerably more than double what this legislation hopes it will reach at 15%, their calculations based erroneously on that Nameplate Capacity.

When looking also at the percentage increase for power from these renewable sources, then, because they cannot supply their power on that same all year round basis, then they cannot replace coal fired power. The increase in power they deliver will rise from the current level of 1.82% (Wind and Solar) to barely 2.49%, positively nowhere near the 18% this legislation hopes for, based solely on those figures for Nameplate Capacity.

President Obama said that he wanted to see a doubling of power generated from renewable sources by the end of his first term. The legislation that his own Senators have proposed cannot even do this within the proposed date of 2030.

However the real killer in all this is that those Nuclear power plants can actually deliver their power to the grids on a 24/7/365 basis, and none of those renewable power plants can do this.

After reading this, the choice is as stark as it is obvious.

The worst case scenario for nuclear power plants in this comparison is infinitely better than the best case scenario for renewable power.

If this is the best that Senators Kerry and Lieberman can come up with, then I’m telling you, we need for them to get out of the way.

This is madness on a huge scale, and just another of those Epic Fails when it comes to deciding the future for electrical power.

These people have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Our future is in their hands, and they haven’t got a clue.

For those of you who are not sure about using the Nuclear process to generate electrical power, or if you believe the hype spread by some parts of the environmentalist lobby about how bad it is, late last year I posted a series on the whole process, and if you wish to see the facts about Nuclear electrical power generation, the links to those posts in that series are as follows:

Part 1 An introduction to Nuclear Power.

Part 2 The Importance of Base Load Power.

Part 3 Current Power supply from nuclear power for the U.S.

Part 4 Some Common Misconceptions about Nuclear power generation.

Part 5 From the ground to the nuclear fuel, and the assemblies.

Part 6 The nuclear generating process, reaction, and power generation.

Part 7 Existing U.S. Plants and existing plants around the World and planned future Plants.

Part 8 Costing structures for Nuclear plants and costing comparisons with Renewable power plants.

Part 9 The perceived problem of the Nuclear Waste.

Part 10 The perceived problem associated with Nuclear power plant accidents.

Part 11 What future for Nuclear electrical power generation.