Nuclear power or Wind power by 2040?

By 2040, Sweden’s nuclear power will most likely be replaced by (mainly) wind power, according to the report “Systemutvecklingsplan 2018-2027” from Svenska kraftnät, the Swedish national grid authority.

Do you believe we can replace all nuclear power with wind power by 2040? 

Lennart Söder, Professor in Electric Power Systems, KTH 

Yes. 

But the question is way more complex since we will probably also see a substantial increase in electricity consumption from electric cars and the electrification of steel production (Hybrit project), among others. The question is really if we can both replace nuclear power with 100% renewables AND increase electricity consumption! The answer is still YES. Among other sources, I refer to the Svenska kraftnät’s long-term market analysis published in January 2018. 

Reference: https://www.svk.se/siteassets/om-oss/rapporter/2019/langsiktig-marknadsanalys-2018.pdf 

 

More questions:

1.    Can we make this change without problems of power shortage? 

Yes, we can. Flexibility will come from the charging of electric cars, electric heating, hydrogen storage, backup systems in data centers, imports, gas turbines running on biofuels, and increased power (not energy) from existing hydropower stations.

2. Can we make this change without the import of energy from fossil sources? 

Here we have several scenarios: A) Avoid import altogether, since the electricity might contain some CO2. In practice, we would be banning import in a free market. Since short-term balance in the electricity grid regulates import and export, the cables to Finland, Denmark, and Norway would have to be cut. This is, of course, possible, but highly unrealistic. Besides, we are importing fossil electricity today, and have done so even more in the past, when we also had more nuclear power in the system. B) Allow import, but aim at power independence by e.g. building many gas turbines running on biofuel. This would require a large investment (although not so much per kWh) that would make the import of electricity even cheaper. C) Allow import from fossil sources as long as we export at least the same amount of renewable electricity. In this case, import would decrease CO2 emissions. D) If Europe shifts to fossil-free electricity in the future, then import will not be a problem.  

3. What emits fewer greenhouse gases: Installing new reactors in existing nuclear power plants or replacing nuclear power with wind power, including the CO2 emission from the construction of potential energy storage?

Here too, the question is more complex than just “replacing nuclear with wind”. The future system will also contain e.g. solar energy, stored energy from car batteries, data centers, hydrogen, as well as more grid connections to other countries. Possible CO2 emissions may originate from the production of cement or the production of steel for uranium mines, nuclear power plants, wind power generators, etc. For each of these sources of CO2 one can always compensate with more wind/nuclear power. So you can get the answer you like. 

 4. What is more expensive: Installing new reactors in existing nuclear power plants by 2040 or replacing nuclear power with wind power, including grid reinforcement?

New reactors are incredibly expensive! In the order of 1 SEK/kWh for the UK Hinkley power plant. Wind power, including grid reinforcement, is substantially cheaper! 

Mattias Lantz, Researcher in Applied Nuclear Physics, Uppsala University 

No. 

We cannot make this shift without considerable consequences for society, and today there is no discussion about how such a society would look like. A high-technological and climate-smart, welfare society requires a reliable energy supply and more electrification. The alternative is a poorer Sweden. It seems strange that concepts like “demand flexibility”, which means that society and individuals refrain from light and heat at certain times, are not questioned more often. Has anyone explained to people what it entails? 

 

More questions:

1.    Can we make this change without power shortage problems? 

No, we cannot. There are times when wind delivers no power, often when electricity is needed the most. In Sweden, due to our hydropower, we are privileged compared to other countries, but the margins decrease drastically if nuclear power is removed. And nothing would have been won for the climate, so it seems odd to set this as a goal.

2. Can we make this change without the import of energy from fossil sources? 

No, we cannot. Some days we will have to import electricity from fossil sources. Perhaps not many days, but anybody that aims at avoiding fossil energy for the sake of climate should see every such occasion as a failure. If you care about climate, you should make sure that nuclear power is present as long as possible, instead of assuming that it must be removed. I would prefer a discussion about the best way to help other countries cut back on their fossil dependence. Sweden can contribute with expertise on renewables, energy storage, and nuclear energy.

3. What emits fewer greenhouse gases: Installing new reactors in existing nuclear power plants or replacing nuclear power with wind power, including the CO2 emission from the construction of potential energy storage?

In serious life-cycle analyses, nuclear power has the same – or lower– climate impact as wind power, so new reactors will always have lower emissions than wind power and energy storage alone. But one should focus on another issue, namely, that fossil energy must be removed from the system at all costs. Removing nuclear power –or wind power plus energy storage– would be wrong, if you care about climate. 

4. What is more expensive: Installing new reactors in existing nuclear power plants by 2040 or replacing nuclear power with wind power, including grid reinforcement?

Several studies, including an extensive study from MIT in 2018, show that in different scenarios all fossilfree alternatives that do not include nuclear power give higher system costs. So, why choose a worse alternative when a combination of renewables and nuclear is both cheaper and smarter for the climate? 

Reference: http://energy.mit.edu/research/future-nuclear-energy-carbon-constrained-world/

We encourage a constructive discussion on this theme!

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