Low-carbon electricity must be fit-for-service (and nuclear power is).
A lengthy piece from The Conversation, by Professor Barry Brooks, relatively famous participant in the energy debate and nuclear power advocate. I disagree with much of what Barry says but value his rigorous input and passion.
This piece is true to type; the initial assumptions about our electricity supply needs are not questioned and yes if you follow the status quo, nuclear looks like the only option.
Two things to think about here; first, everything you need to know about nuclear power in Australia is contained in the UMPNER report, the thrust of which are summarised in these two passages. “Australia’s greenhouse challenge requires a full spectrum of initiatives and its goals cannot be met by nuclear power alone. The greenhouse gas emission reductions from nuclear power could reach 8 to 17 per cent of national emissions in 2050.”
“The earliest that nuclear electricity could be delivered to the grid would be 10 years, with 15 years more probable.”
So it won’t happen quickly, and it will make at most about 20% difference to our emissions in 40 years. As a comparison, the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target looks set to deliver about 5% between 2001 and 2020.
Secondly, it is really time for electricity consumers to properly consider whether or not they need “baseload”. Somehow voters, residential consumers, have been convinced that they need the same amount of electricity all the time. Another way of looking at it is that if you don’t require baseload generation, and it is installed, you are subsidising the cost for people who want it. Why not let industries that want baseload supply pay for it and allow consumers to buy electricity when they want it?
Separately, the discussion in Barry’s piece, and the related report, of Levelised Cost of Electricity is worth reading. LCOE is the main way to compare the costs of competing technologies. It attempts to add the costs of construction, fuel and operation over the lifetime of the asset, divided by the amount of electricity produced over that same lifetime. It’s an okay rule of thumb metric, but I’ve got some problems with its application in a policy sense. Have a read and I’ll come back to the topic later.