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'Time to ponder': Wind, solar energy costs drop by 59, 88%, coal, nuclear up by 9, 23%

By Shankar Sharma* 

A recent report from Australia's CSIRO has detailed the cost of nuclear power with regards to various other well-established sources of electricity, and the same should be seen as a highly relevant one to India's power sector scenario.
That report in "The Guardian" highlights:
"Electricity from nuclear power would cost Australia significantly more than generating it from solar and wind, according to the CSIRO. Nuclear power from either large-scale reactors or small modular reactors (SMR) is far more expensive than electricity generated with renewables, according to the report. This is true even when factoring in the the cost of building transmission and storage infrastructure to support large scale wind and solar."
There have been similar cost comparison of electricity from many parts across the world for different sources of electricity.
(1) The Energy Information Administration (EIA), of the US says: “Capital Cost Estimates for Utility Scale Electricity Generating Plants”, 2016, has listed the capital cost of the advanced nuclear power plant as much higher than any other technology power plants.
(2) A study by Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT), Finland and the Energy Watch Group (EWG), Germany, under the title “Comparing electricity production costs of renewables to fossil and nuclear power plants in G20 countries”, have established that the cost of nuclear power technology, as in 2017, was the highest of all the known technologies, with solar and wind power technologies being the lowest in life cycle cost.
(3) Lazard’s annual Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) analysis (version 11.0) has reported that the solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind costs have dropped an extraordinary 88% and 69% since 2009, respectively. Meanwhile, coal and nuclear costs have increased by 9% and 23%, respectively. Even without accounting for current subsidies, renewable energy costs can be considerably lower than the marginal cost of conventional energy technologies. When we also objectively consider the traditional and ongoing subsidies of various kinds to the nuclear power technology all over the world, the clear cost disadvantage of nuclear power should become crystal clear.
(4) The Australian Power Generation Technology Report (Nov. 2015) – a collaborative effort from more than 40 organisations, including the CSIRO, ARENA, the federal government’s Department of Industry and Science and the Office of the Chief Economist – has demonstrated that solar and wind will be the cheapest low carbon technologies in Australia ahead of nuclear and coal even though it has large coal and nuclear fuel reserves.
(5) As per a Stanford University study of 2009 referred to in an article titled “A path to Sustainable energy by 2030”, in "Scientific American" in November 2009, the authors have referred to a ranked energy systems according to their impacts on global warming, pollution, water supply, land use, wildlife and other concerns. The very best options were wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and hydroelectric power — all of which are driven by wind, water or sunlight. It was found in this analysis that the nuclear power and coal with carbon capture were all poorer options.
It is hard to imagine that these cost comparisons can be vastly different in Indian scenario. Because of the huge potential for solar and wind power in India, and the associated nuclear fuel and technology import costs, it is most likely that the solar and wind power will be a lot more attractive and hugely relevant to our our people.
Our people too deserve such detailed and objective cost comparison of electricity from various sources of relevance to India, before massive amount of our resources are invested in each of the high cost sources as compared to the lowest cost sources, which in most scenarios can be solar and wild power.
Without such diligent and objective cost comparison, and without taking into account the associated social and environmental costs (especially, the nuclear accident costs of massive displacement of impacted people), to continue to divert our meager resources (financial as well as natural resources) in order to build more of conventional technology power plants such as coal, nuclear and dam based hydro power plants, will be against the true interest of our country, and may also be construed as letting down our people?
*Power & Climate Policy Analyst. This article is based on the author's representation to the Atomic Energy Commission chairperson, NITI Aayog vice chairperson, chairperson 



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