Summer Quarterly 2018
England’s and Germany’s Renewables Producing More than Nuclear
In the first quarter of 2018, England’s wind industry produced a record 15,560 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity, surpassing nuclear production for the first time (by 30 GWh). Germany also hit a milestone by providing 100 percent of its electric power consumption with renewable energy for one hour on New Year’s Day, and two years ahead of schedule, Germany reached its (2020) target of increasing renewable’s share of power production to 36%.
German Reactor Phase-out: Ten Down, Seven to Go
Germany’s phase-out of nuclear power is moving ahead. The Dec. 31, 2017 shutdown of the Grundremmingen Unit B reactor was the 10th out of a total of 17 that will be retired with the last seven to power down by 2022. Grundremmingen and its still-operating twin Unit C are General Electric Mark I models identical to the three destroyed Fukushima-Daiichi reactors in Japan. Unit A shutdown in 1975.
Six More US Reactors Shutting Down
In its article “The 60-Year Downfall of Nuclear Power in the US Has Left a Huge Mess,” The Atlantic reported May 28: “Oyster Creek in New Jersey disconnects from the grid [this coming] October with 11 years left on its license. Indian Point in New York State is to shut by 2021 due to falling revenues and rising costs. In California, Diablo Canyon is being closed by state regulators in 2025. The reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania that survived the 1979 accident will finally shut in 2019.” FirstEnergy Solutions has filed deactivation notices for three of its nuclear stations putting them on track for retirement: Davis-Besse and Perry in Ohio, in 2020 and 2021 respectively, and Beaver Valley in Shippingport, Penn. in 2021. However, such notices are often just a tactic used to garner sympathy from lawmakers who have secured taxpayer bailouts for the money-losing reactors.
Investments in Solar Power Outstrip Coal, Nuclear and Gas Combined
According to a new report from the United Nations Environment Program, more money was invested in photovoltaic or solar power in 2017 than in coal, gas and nuclear power combined. In addition, the world’s solar power capacity exceeded nuclear capacity for the first time—reaching 402 gigawatts, compared to 353 GW of nuclear. Electricity from wind power, which far exceeds solar/photovoltaic generation, outstripped nuclear powered electricity back in 2014, and by the end of 2017 amounted to 539 GW.
California’s New Houses Must Have Solar Electric, Hawaii’s Solar Hot Water
California is set to become the first state to require solar panels on all newly built single-family houses. The mandate is expected to save buyers money in the long run but also raise their upfront costs. The rules were adopted May 8 by state’s Energy Commission and are scheduled to take effect in 2020. The Commission said it expects the solar power initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.4 million metric tons in the first three years. Back in 2008, Hawaii became the first US state to impose energy-saving rules in new house construction requiring them to have solar water heaters starting in 2010. Solar water heaters typically cost home buyers about $5,000 extra on their mortgage, but supporters said that island residents would save thousands of dollars on their electric bills in the long run.
Electric power generated in 2017 by wind turbines in Germany exceeded the amount from hard coal and nuclear reactors for the first time, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems reports. Wind power in Germany has an installed capacity of about 54 gigawatts, outstripping all other main sources of electric power. On Nov. 23, about 46% of Germany’s electrical generation came from wind farms, according to WindEurope.org.
The financial firm Lazard reports that the life-cycle cost of nuclear power ranges from $112 to $183 per megawatt hour, while wind power ranges from $30 to $60. And the cost of utility-scale solar photovoltaic generation is $43 to $53 per megawatt hour. Adding storage, solar photovoltaic comes in at $82 per megawatt hour, down from $92 just a year ago.
— Brian Parkin, Bloomberg, Nov. 24, 2017; Philip Warburg, Institute for Sustainable Energy, Boston University.
Fall Quarterly 2017
By Lauren Tyler
The latest issue of the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Electric Power Monthly (with data through April 30) reveals that renewable energy sources—including wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower—are now providing a greater share of the nation’s electrical generation than nuclear power, according to a new analysis from nonprofit SUN DAY Campaign.
For the first third of this year, renewables and nuclear power have been running neck-in-neck, with renewables providing 20.20% of U.S. net electrical generation during the four-month period (from January through April) compared to 20.75% for nuclear power. Yet, SUN DAY says that in March and April, renewables surpassed nuclear power for the first time and have taken a growing lead: 21.60% (renewables) versus 20.34% (nuclear) in March and 22.98% (renewables) versus 19.19% (nuclear) in April.
Although renewables and nuclear are each likely to continue to provide roughly one-fifth of the nation’s electricity generation in the near-term, SUN DAY claims the trend line clearly favors a rapidly expanding market share by renewables: Electrical output by renewables during the first third of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016 has increased by 12.1%, whereas nuclear output has dropped by 2.9%.
In fact, the nonprofit says nuclear capacity has declined over the last four years—a trend which is projected to continue, regardless of planned new reactor startups. On the other hand, almost all renewable energy sources are experiencing strong growth rates, new records being set virtually every month. Comparing the first four months of 2017 to the same period in 2016, solar has grown by 37.9%, wind by 14.2%, hydropower by 9.5% and geothermal by 5.3%. Biomass has remained essentially unchanged—slipping by just 0.3%.
For the second month in a row, wind and solar combined provided more than 10% of the nation’s electrical generation. In March, those sources provided 10.04% of the nation’s electrical generation. That record was eclipsed in April, when wind and solar reached nearly 11% (10.92%) of total generation. And, for the first time, wind and solar combined have provided more electricity year-to-date—113,971 thousand megawatt-hours—than has hydropower—111,750 thousand megawatt-hours— according to SUN DAY.
As renewables’ share of electrical generation has grown, that of fossil fuels has declined. SUN DAY says electrical generation by fossil fuels (i.e., coal, natural gas, petroleum liquids and petroleum coke) dropped by 5.2% during the first third of 2017 compared to 2016.
“In light of their growth rates in recent years, it was inevitable that renewable sources would eventually overtake nuclear power,” notes Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “The only real surprise is how soon that has happened—years before most analysts ever expected.”
“Renewable energy is now surpassing nuclear power,” adds Tim Judson, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “This gulf will only widen over the next several years, with continued strong growth of renewables and the planned retirement of at least seven percent of nuclear capacity by 2025.”
Summer Quarterly 2017
On May 21, over 58% of voters in a Swiss referendum chose renewable energy over new nuclear power production. The vote paves the way for the country to move ahead with its clean power plan—focused on solar, wind, and hydro electricity—starting in January 2018. Regula Rytz, president of Switzerland’s Green party, called the May vote a “moment of historic change,” and “absolutely magnificent.” The Swiss government first proposed the phase-out of nuclear in favor of renewable energy sources in 2011, following Fukushima’s three-reactor disaster in Japan. Earlier in May, the Swiss government also drafted a law that would increase provisions for protecting the population in the event of a reactor accident.
—BBC, May 21; The Local (Switzerland), June 2, 2017