Nuclear power ceased to be a serious option for world’s energy needs in 2011

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In 2011, nuclear power ceased to be a serious option for meeting the world’s energy needs, and solar photovoltaics (PV) finally became an option worth noting.  The Europeans, who were reconsidering nuclear power, have moved decisively in the other direction. Even China has scaled back its targets for nuclear construction and extended the timescale, effectively halving the proposed rate of construction.

The “solar vs. nuclear” dispute had been largely symbolic for several decades. After rapid growth in the 1960s and 1970s, new installations of nuclear power came to a grinding halt. This was partly a result of safety fears created by the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

Economic factors were even more significant. Far from being too cheap to meter, nuclear power turned out to be far more expensive than its main rival, coal, primarily because of unpredictable capital costs and generally high interest rates.

Meanwhile, the cost of PV has already fallen well below that of nuclear and is set to fall further. The average retail price of solar cells as monitored by the Solarbuzz group fell from $3.50/watt to $2.43/watt over the course of the year, and a decline to prices below $2.00/watt seems inevitable. For large-scale installations, prices below $1.00/watt are now common. In some locations, PV has reached grid parity, the cost at which it is competitive with coal or gas-fired generation. More generally, it is now evident that, given a carbon price of $50/ton, which would raise the price of coal-fired power by 5c/kWh, solar PV will be cost-competitive in most locations.

Source: National Interest

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