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Thursday, December 18, 2014
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- The technologies exist and are in use today that could make it possible to replace nuclear power with renewable sources while saving money.
Today there are 442 nuclear power stations operating in 30 countries and generating 375 GW of energy. There are 16 nations currently constructing 65 nuclear plants to produce an additional 63 GW. The United States operates the largest number of nuclear energy generators (104), more than France (58) and Japan (48). Some 212 of the plants in operation are more than 30 years old and while there is no absolute science on how long they are safe to operate, German Chancellor Angela Merkel set the stage by ordering all nuclear plants older than 30 years closed indefinitely.
The relative decline of nuclear had been certain well before the Fukushima disaster. In 2010 the European Union operated 143 plants, down from its peak of 177 in 1989. It is said that nuclear plants will be capable of providing base load energy at 5.9 cents per kWh. The real cost, after you factor in all subsidies, depreciation advantages, insurance protection, financing support and waste disposal arrangements, is closer to 25-30 cents kWh. In spite of massive subsidies and legal protection, nuclear produced less energy globally in 2010 than renewables. Now that the Pacific and Indian Oceans are off-limits for new nuclear power projects, the question is how will the world generate renewable and affordable energy?
The Blue Economy proposes that we use what we have and study the competitiveness of innovations without expecting subsidies. A handful of sources of heat and electricity could redraw and improve the present landscape of renewable energies. The three key innovations are: (1) vertical wind turbines placed inside existing high-voltage transmissions masts, (2) redesigning existing municipal waste water treatment (MWWT) plants to combine water treatment with organic municipal solid waste to produce biogas, and (3) combined heat and power generation with double-sided photovoltaic wafers placed inside a recycled container equipped with tracking optics eliminating all moving parts.
If Germany were to complement 500 of its 9,600 MWWT with highly- efficient biogas generators based on the Scandinavian Biogas know-how now operating in Ulsan, Korea, the potential base load supply from gas could reach as much as 5 GW. Biogas is a secure and predictable form of generation -no one doubts that organic waste and waste water will be in permanent supply- and therefore provides stability to the grid.
By installing vertical turbines designed by Wind-it (France) inside one-third of its 150,000 high-voltage transmission masts, Germany could generate up to 5 GW, at a fraction of the cost of nuclear. Plus, if only 100 hectares at 100 of the defunct portions of Germany’s 1900 landfills were covered with combined heat and power generators from Solarus AB (Sweden), generating per hectare 1,830 kWt and 610kWe, the potential energy supply would increase by another 6.1 GWe and 18.3 GWt. This heat can be used to reduce demand for water heating, the largest consumer of household electricity.
The daily demand for electricity in Germany is approximately 70 GWh; nuclear energy represents about 20 percent, or 15 GWh. The calculations above indicate that with only a fraction of the existing infrastructure it is possible to replace all nuclear (5+5+6.1GWh). The cost of production for each of the three alternatives is at or below 2 cents per kWh. The present transfer cost for nuclear to the grid is 5.6 cents per kWh.
The obvious additional benefit is jobs. Germany, which is already a world leader in the export of green technologies, could now even position itself as the world’s largest exporter of green energy. However, the most powerful element in the design of an exit strategy for nuclear is that the price difference -3.6 cents per kWh- for the 15 GW now supplied by nuclear will generate a yearly windfall of 4.7 billion euros. This cash flow, produced by efficiencies of simple technologies, could finance the exit of nuclear over a 10 year period.
Thus today a consensus could emerge whereby energy companies would be provided an exit package based on the value of their assets and paid for discontinuing nuclear energy. While the forced closure of the oldest plants has already knocked 25 percent off their value and present uncertainties are likely to cause a further decline in share value, it would not be difficult for financial engineers to come up with a solution that permits the exit from nuclear through a win-win strategy, broadening the benefits for all and reducing risks.
Germany could become the world’s financial hub, financing the exit of nuclear based on cash and consensus. This is the ultimate objective of the Blue Economy: to respond to the basic needs of all with what we have, offer the necessary products and services that are good for your health and the environment at a lower cost, while building up social capital. It seems like this can be achieved, and quicker than we ever thought. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)
(*) Gunter Pauli, author of the Blue Economy and entrepreneur.