Fact File: Cost

The Cost of Electricity

Is nuclear too expensive? Well, yes.

The real problem is that coal is abundant and cheap.

Our main goal as 21st century environmentalists should be to replace coal. To achieve that, along with renewables and efficiency, we need simpler, cheaper nuclear designs that use waste (or weapons) as fuel & can compete with coal. All over the world, including in the US and the UK, innovative, potentially world saving technology is emerging. But public support & political will are needed to get them off the starting blocks and into the global race.

Is nuclear too expensive? Well, yes. It’s very difficult to make future cost estimates, but many studies show nuclear is the most cost-effective way to cut carbon from large scale electricity generation, for example, see the graphic above using data from UK Energy Research Council report: Presenting the Future: an assessment of future costs estimation methodologies in the electricity generation sector. The graphic above combines data from a range of sources, including: Mott MacDonald 2010, Arup 2011, Mott MacDonald 2011, Parsons Brinckerhoff 2011, DECC 2012a, DECC 2013b, Poyry 2013.

Another study, analysed for the Brookings Institute report, ‘Net benefits of low and no-carbon electricity technologies’ by Charles Frank show the cost implications of different energy sources deployed to cut carbon emissions. If all the costs and benefits are totted up, solar power is by far the most expensive way of reducing carbon emissions. It costs $189,000 to replace 1MW per year of power from coal. Wind is the next most expensive. Hydropower provides a modest net benefit. But the most cost-effective zero-emission technology is nuclear power. The pattern is similar if 1MW of gas-fired capacity is displaced instead of coal. And all this assumes a carbon price of $50 a tonne. Using actual carbon prices (below $10 in Europe) makes solar and wind look even worse. The carbon price would have to rise to $185 a tonne before solar power shows a net benefit.

A summary of the findings in The Economist also displays the relative costs of each energy source.

This analysis is an important part of the evidence base emerging to support the development of future energy policy in light of climate change.