That’s “Honest” Debate Part II: Electric Boogaloo

Is there any advice out there about not posting angry? Well, today the actual numbers pertinent to the solar PV projects at Nyngan and Broken Hill were brought to my attention, and I asked myself, on behalf of Australia, “What in heck do we think we’re doing?”


What 102MW of outback solar might look like.

The pair of farms will boast 155 MW of installed capacity, and with a price tag of $450,000,000 this equates to just over $2.9 million per nameplate MW. I suppose this is 375 hectares of sunlit Australia that will at least be harvesting electricity for us.

Olkiluoto unit 3 receives a lot of criticism for being billions over budget and years late. A 1600 MW EPR, at the recent estimate of US$11.1 billion it will eventually cost $6.94 million per MW.

But these are fundamentally different forms of generation. AGL work with a capacity factor of 0.265 when they announce their solar farms will supply 360 GWh/year of electrcity. The entirely reasonable capacity factor of 0.9 for modern nuclear plants will see Olkiluoto 3 contribute 12.6 TWh/year to the Finnish grid.

With that in mind, consider the expected lifetime of PV panels. In 25 to 30 years perhaps all 2 million panels will be replaced by cheaper equivalents, or by something new and more efficient. An EPR is, of course, rated for 60 years of operation, with negligible fuel costs. The million versus billion dollar pricetags aren’t stacking the way you’d expect them to any more.

And if we actually want to limit the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of our low carbon electricity?


Sanmen, China, not long ago.

The pair of Generation III+ Westinghouse AP1000 reactors in Sanmen are approaching their scheduled completion. With a combined capacity of 2234 MW for US$5.88 billion, or US$2.63 million per MW, and a reasonable capacity factor of at least 0.9, China gets an extra 17.6 TWh/year.*

I’m not saying we should halt the expansion of outback solar. Some of these cost estimates may even change with time, and it reamins to be seen how these Chinese costs transfer out of their domestic market. But it is painfully clear that every year Australia excludes modern nuclear terawatt hours, with their reliability and (at worst) competitive or (more representative) starkly superior capacity, we are fiddling during the proverbial conflagration. After all, are coal plants going to close once those PV farms start chipping in their daily contribution?


*Yes. That is almost 50 times as much power, for less $ per MW.


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