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bmac251 t1_irwrm9d wrote

While I’m happy to see renewables becoming increasingly cost effective year over year I take a bunch of issue with this commonly cited Lazard study.

First, it doesn’t address one of the biggest downsides of solar and wind: the downtime of energy generation. Nuclear runs 24/7 (assuming rotational maintenance scheduling). Renewables might offer alternatives during their peak generation times but with battery technology currently where it is, storing the residual energy for use during non generating times is difficult. Not to mention how this would require a change to the electrical grid (in USA, can’t speak to Europe).

Second, the subsidies that Lazard is “discounting” is for subsidies in electricity generation. They do not include heavy subsidies given to solar panel production. This is a bigger issue than most people realize because China is currently the biggest producer of solar panels and they are notorious for “dumping” (subsidizing panel production to the point where they are effectively selling it at a loss) which makes them cost competitive. Seeing as current solar panels (and wind turbines, though the turbines to my knowledge don’t have this dumping problem) have a lifespan that is a fraction of nuclear plants, this effect is magnified each time new panels are purchased.

Third, solar panels production is dirty. The utility scale, cost-effective version of solar panels cited in this study are almost exclusively made in China. With coal plants generating most of the energy to make them. To be fair this could also be said for materials used to make nuclear plants. However, the minerals used to make many solar panels (and more specifically, the batteries they need to store energy) are typically sourced from third world countries (eg: DRC) with poor track records on human rights. Often these minerals are called “conflict minerals” (similar to “blood diamonds”) for this reason. To be fair, the Congo (both countries) also sits on some of the largest known uranium deposits in the world. If nuclear were to be scaled to the point solar has been promoted to, it is reasonable to assume that the uranium would be sourced in a similarly unethical manner. This would necessitate recycling of spent nuclear rods, which is currently only done in France to my knowledge, and this would increase costs to generate nuclear energy.

Fourth, current nuclear plants can exist for 80 years. Admittedly I didn’t see how they accounted for this in the study so perhaps I’m ignorant here but often this isn’t accounted for when comparing the cost of a new nuclear plant and the energy it would generate versus a solar/wind alternative that would generate similar levels of energy.

Ultimately, I’m all for green energy. But I think it’s important to read through these studies diligently and do your own research to understand externalities that each source of energy has. The future should be a combination of solar, wind AND nuclear.

Edit: I am biased in favor of nuclear


DM_me_ur_tacos t1_irx8uli wrote

These are very reasonable points of contention.

It would indeed be interesting to include the cost of sufficient battery storage with PV/wind so that they can deliver closer to base load. But fast forward a decade and I suspect that the combination of variable pricing (market mechanism woo!) and people owning beefy EV batteries will shape demand to match variations in supply. Some utility scale smoothing will also help.

My impression is that the lackluster grid infrastructure and PV manufacturing in the US are strategic blunders that should and will be remedied. Even if utility power generation weren't to change, the transition to EVs and proliferation of residential solar are going to necessitate a modern grid. In my opinion, invoking the grid as a reason to hold back on renewables is like saying that cars aren't useful because we can't be bothered to pave our roads, so let's stick with horse buggies.

Also, something that I suspect isn't in the lazard study is that PV panels are increasingly recyclable. This is in big contrast to fuel supplies from a shady sources that are single use (uranium, petro). The scarce materials in PVs are catalysts that can and should be recovered and reused.

Edit: I'm biased towards renewables, but not a nuclear alarmist


bmac251 t1_irxbg2u wrote

Thanks for your insightful and level headed response. Like I said, I think the future is brighter with a combination of the renewables you prefer and nuclear I prefer. We can both agree fossil fuels should be phased out.

I’m inclined to agree with you about the future of battery storage will fundamentally change how renewables are marketed across the country and world. I only see their adoption increasing (and even more so as battery technology develops).

My point to the grid, and even more so US PV manufacturing, wasn’t meant to imply we shouldn’t be changing to these forms of energy. We will need a more modern grid one way or the other and there’s no doubt solar and wind will become bigger and bigger parts of this. We shouldn’t discount them now because of how things are. Rather, the point I was trying to make was that many studies I see that portray wind and solar as the future because of their “green-ness” or “cost competitiveness” with other forms of energy aren’t really apples to apples comparisons. I think this is usually due to the fact that accounting for all the little factors that go into building an entire nations energy supply is - unsurprisingly - a hugely difficult undertaking (I also try not to infer bad motives on people when a lack of understanding could also explain the result). My gripe is that I often see solar and wind studies like the one you listed used to promote policy when the study isn’t showing many of the important downsides. Oil and gas do the same thing when they always ignore favorable subsidies and accounting policies they use so as to skew their cost effectiveness. Again, I’m biased here, but I don’t see that same benefit of the doubt given to nuclear and often it seems like that’s due to some pathological fear of nuclear.

As for recycling PV, this is huge! I’m very happy to see this and I want to read up on it. I don’t think many people understand this is possible with solar or nuclear for that matter but I hope to spread the word on this.


FrozenIceman t1_irxyi4y wrote

You don't think Solar Panels and Lithium come from Shady sources in China?


DM_me_ur_tacos t1_iry74xz wrote

Like I said, it was a strategic blunder to allow China to get the headstart on PV manufacturing. But if their panels are cost effective it's not like energy investors are going to abort projects because they are Chinese.

In terms if lithium, some quick googling suggests that Chile and Australia have reserves and production that dwarf China's. So while I wouldn't want to depend entirely on Chinese lithium, that doesn't seem to be a problem or a reason to abandon renewables


FrozenIceman t1_iry7l53 wrote

I am not suggesting abandoning renewables.

I am suggesting that sketchy or immoral production chains are so common to every day life that it shouldn't even be considered.

But if you are considering changing production chains, it is easy enough to reopen Uranium mines around the globe or even more fun separate the Uranium in Desalination plants (It is like 300 tons of Uranium can be separated per year from our existing desalination plans).


routerg0d t1_irwuvn6 wrote

What happens to the area around a nuclear plant when it melts down vs what happens to a wind turbine that falls over? The risk/reward is not worth it period. Quit pretending that there’s zero ecological cost to nuclear they also use rare earth elements and carbon intensive construction methods. You also never seem to account for ten thousand years of storage costs of the material.


bmac251 t1_irx0djn wrote

What nuclear reactors are you talking about, exactly? Current generation nuclear reactors are practically impossible to melt down. Heck, even the three mile island and Fukushima reactors couldn’t melt down via a positive feedback loop like Chernobyl did. But even if you don’t buy that, I wouldn’t advocate for building nuclear reactors along a massive fault line or any other area prone to extreme natural disasters. Those seem like perfect places for wind/solar/geothermal/etc.

As for the rare earth metals: sure nuclear uses them too. But the scale is not even comparable. Every single solar panel uses them, whereas every nuclear reactor also uses other REMs. The difference? Nuclear is orders of magnitude more energy dense. The need for as many REMs to produce comparable energy at scale is not even close. Nobody is, or should, claim that any energy source is 100% clean and free of external costs. But each one needs to be compared based on its comparative merits and costs. There isn’t a one size fits all policy to meeting global energy needs. Yet for whatever reason, the solar and wind proponents seem to think that’s all we need.

And finally, for storage. Currently we throw the spent nuclear waste into a mine built kilometers underground below a mountain. There is literally no human health risk related to this storage solution. Each American would require roughly one soda cans worth of nuclear fuel to power their entire lifetimes worth of energy. To put that into perspective that’s a couple fully filled football fields worth of spent fuel we would need for all of America to store which is currently feasible with existing mines we have. We could even take the entire planets waste, store it in this way, and still barely make a dent in our storage potential for this waste. Or we can recycle most of it, using the process the French employ.

I’m not pretending anything. I try to live in reality and not convince myself that a bunch of windmills and solar panels will solve an increasingly electrified worlds problems.