Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Windmills Versus Nukes

After I mentioned in a previous post about the so-called 'deal' that Ontario signed with Samsung to provide electricity at 13.5 cents per kWh, I started to wonder, how much would it cost per kWh if Ontario went with the $26 billion plan for the new nuclear reactors at Darlington? Would it be more or less than the rate at which we will be paying for the windmills?

I could quote some studies that looked at the overall costs for nuclear reactors, but why quote a study when you can do a back of the envelope calculation yourself?

So, there were two reactors to be built, that would produce 1200 MW of electricity each, and are estimated to live for about 40 years, producing electricity 80-90% of the time.

Construction and Operation Costs

The estimated costs were $26 billion. That, I am assuming, includes wages for construction personnel and all materials.

I'm going to go out on a limb and estimate the number of direct employees as something like 1000 being paid at $100 000 / year. I think that is a fair estimate, and easy to work with. That means each year the cost of wages would be $100 million. Over 40 years, that means $4 billion.

The cost of uranium fuel I know is quite low and we'll assume that compared to the $4 billion it is irrelevant. But just to be conservative, lets include a generic 'other costs' as $10 billion over the 40 year period to include other costs such as replacement parts, analysis requests, updates to computer systems and the like as a filler. That means in addition to the $100 million a year the two stations will spend on its employees, it will spend $250 million on equipment every year for 40 years.

That makes the total costs over 40 years as $40 billion. Or $1 billion / year.

Electricity Generation

The two nuclear stations both generate 1200 MW of electricity, 90% of the time.

1200 MW x 2 stations x 24 hours/day x 365 days/year x 0.9

So that means that the amount of electricity generated in a year would be 18.9 billion kWh.

Cost Per kWh

This is easy, if the costs of the plant are $1 billion / year and it produces 18.9 billion kWh every year then dividing one by the other and you get...

5.3 cents per kWh

Even if we estimate that the nuclear power plants only operate 60% of the time, we still end up only costing 7.9 cents per kWh.

Which is still around half of what it is estimated that those windmills are costing you.


One might be tempted to say that my back of the envelope calculation is filled with assumptions, and you'd be right. But there's one reason that I'm reasonably sure my calculation is reasonable, and that is because it is similar to the prices that those other studies I mentioned quoted.

So which would you rather have, a windmill that may or may not be working depending on if the wind blows or not. Or a nuclear power plant that produces electricity consistently 80-90% of the time at half the cost.

I mean, we're just talking at least doubling your electricity bills.

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