Category Archives: Business & Industry

Nuclear power – unaffordable, or lowest cost energy available?

Fin24, Anthonie Cilliers, 9 November, 2017

Nuclear expert Dr Anthonie Cilliers has calculated estimates for the cost of building nuclear power in SA and believes the high costs being punted may not be accurate. 

THE persistent mentions in the media by energy experts that nuclear electricity is expensive and unaffordable has become all too frequent.

These claims can be nothing more than speculations without South Africa being able to issue request for proposals (RFPs), and in most cases I have found it baseless and echoing an ongoing narrative.

Recently we have also heard conflicting statements made by politicians and experts on the affordability of nuclear which in my view confused the public as much as it did the media. Pressure groups then like to cry foul and jump on the statement they prefer, ridiculing the other.

As an academic, I prefer to look at numbers and calculations. The result may be surprising, but as we will see, both statements could be right.

Countries like China, Russia and India are building nuclear power plants at an enormous pace at the moment, more countries are signing contracts to join them, whilst in the US, France and the UK we find costs escalating and construction even being stopped.

Of course, depending on the side of the fence you are on, you ignore the ones that don’t fit the narrative.

(Ed. note: We are probably all guilty of confirmation bias in our research and reading, I certainly am! Reading this article with a pro-RE bias, I would question some of the assumptions made in this analysis:
– Having said that the funding model is critical, one can’t then compare the IRP bid prices against Russian-funded nuclear LCOE prices. The Russian funding is assumed at 3% p.a. whereas the IPPs are presumably getting a market-rated return on their investments, perhaps 10%?
– The REIPPPP Bid Window 4 prices are lower than assumed here: PV R 0.62/kWh, Wind R 0.62/kWh, CSP R 2.02/kWh, and not PV: R 0.91/kWh, Wind: R 0.75/kWh, CSP R 1.80/kWh. See
– The figures quoted on budget overruns are much more optimistic than what has been experienced in recent times (e.g. Olkiluotoa: Budget GBP 3.2 billion to GBP 8.5 billion, timeline: completion was going to be 2009, now 2018. )
– The anaylsis left out some externalities, such as health and safety, insurable risks, carbon footprint, flexibility in reacting to demand changes, permanent waste disposal, etc. All these would count against nuclear except perhaps for the carbon footprint.)
The secret, as I have found, is in the funding model. I have also realised that the energy debate has very little to do with nuclear, or renewable energy, or even coal. The energy debate is a proxy debate about ideologies. One will always result in expensive energy (even the “cheap” ones) as a commodity, the other will use energy as a driver for economic growth.

To unpack this, I will use a few real-world examples (I find models to be dishonest on the best of days, designed to fit a certain narrative – but that is a personal view).

Here is the full article

The Grid Needs a Symphony, Not a Shouting Match

Rocky Mountain Institute, Mark Dyson and Amory Lovins, 12 June, 2017

We Cannot Afford to Stifle Innovation by Enforcing Outdated Notions of “Baseload” Power

For more detail on the topics covered in this article, readers should see Amory Lovins’ FERC comments, a recent article on Forbes, and a forthcoming article in The Electricity Journal.

In April, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced a 60-day study on electricity market design and grid reliability, meant to assess to what extent current market designs fail to adequately compensate “baseload” (i.e., coal- and nuclear-fired) power plants.

The memo commissioning the study presents as “fact” a curious claim: “baseload power is necessary to a well-functioning electric grid.” This notion has been thoroughly disproven by a diverse community of utilities, system operators, economists, and other experts that moved on from this topic years ago. To these practitioners, this premise seems as backward as if President Eisenhower, instead of launching the interstate highway system, had called for restudy of the virtues of horse-drawn carriages.

Today, the grid needs flexibility from diverse resources, not baseload power plants. Leveraging market forces to help us decide between options offers the best chance of avoiding the multitrillion-dollar mistake—and gigatons of carbon emissions—of blindly reinvesting in the past century’s technologies.

Modern Grids Don’t Need Baseload

Here is the full article

This is how Big Oil will die

Seth Miller, The Medium, 24 May, 2017.

It’s 2025, and 800,000 tons of used high strength steel is coming up for auction.

The steel made up the Keystone XL pipeline, finally completed in 2019, two years after the project launched with great fanfare after approval by the Trump administration. The pipeline was built at a cost of about $7 billion, bringing oil from the Canadian tar sands to the US, with a pit stop in the town of Baker, Montana, to pick up US crude from the Bakken formation. At its peak, it carried over 500,000 barrels a day for processing at refineries in Texas and Louisiana.

But in 2025, no one wants the oil.

Let’s bring this back to today: Big Oil is perhaps the most feared and respected industry in history. Oil is warming the planet — cars and trucks contribute about 15% of global fossil fuels emissions — yet this fact barely dents its use. Oil fuels the most politically volatile regions in the world, yet we’ve decided to send military aid to unstable and untrustworthy dictators, because their oil is critical to our own security. For the last century, oil has dominated our economics and our politics. Oil is power.

Yet I argue here that technology is about to undo a century of political and economic dominance by oil. Big Oil will be cut down in the next decade by a combination of smartphone apps, long-life batteries, and simpler gearing. And as is always the case with new technology, the undoing will occur far faster than anyone thought possible.

And here is what is disruptive for Big Oil: Self-driving vehicles get to combine the capital savings from the improved lifetime of EVs, with the savings from eliminating the driver.

The costs of electric self-driving cars will be so low, it will be cheaper to hail a ride than to drive the car you already own.

Here is the full article

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Analysis: South Africa is stuck in a failing second industrial revolution – Let’s move beyond it

Daily Maverick, dirk de Vos, 24 May, 2017

Last week, another busy news week in South Africa, saw two significant events. The one was the announcement by General Motors (GM) that after 90 years, it was pulling out of South Africa. The other was the presentation by the new Minister of Energy of her department’s budget speech. Both events elicited strong debate. GM’s decision has been variously ascribed to South Africa’s poor governance and the country’s newly acquired “junk credit status”. The Minister of Energy’s speech confirmed a long-standing commitment to the development of the oil sector, renewed an effort to get a gas economy going and to get nuclear procurement back on track. Renewable energy procurement, the one outstanding success of her department, gets to be moved under the very poorly performing Central Energy Fund and the whole programme gets to be reviewed. Both events highlight the continual failure of South Africa’s industrial policy and a singular failure of even imagining anything better. By DIRK DE VOS.

Here is the full article







Warning issued that nuclear ruling may pose risk to legality of IPP programmes

Engineering News, 11 May, 2017

The recent nuclear ruling, which set aside the Ministerial determinations designed to facilitate the procurement of nuclear power stations, may also carry risks for the legality of the various independent power producer (IPP) procurement programmes, which are proceeding on the basis of determinations that were likewise not subjected to public consultations.

This view is expressed in a risk assessment drafted by Craig Morkel for discussion by the South African Independent Power Producer Procurement Association (SAIPPA). Morkel, who is projects director at iKapa Energy, wrote the piece in his personal capacity.

… “The nuclear ruling made it clear that Nersa cannot simply rubberstamp a determination written by the Minister and is required to, independently, apply its mind before offering its concurrence. It also indicated that such consultations need not be exhaustive,” Morkel said in an interview with Engineering News Online.

He also argued that the judgment provided a genuine opportunity for introspection and review so that future processes were not only fully in line with the Constitution, but also far more transparent and accessible to all stakeholders, not only large industry participants.

“We can’t allow the IPP baby to be thrown out with the nuclear bathwater,” Morkel quipped. …

Here is the full article