Nuclear power losing more ground to renewables

As we have been forecasting, centralized nuclear power plants are fast becoming relics of history, left behind by the combination of ever-cheaper renewable energy and in-house storage batteries.

Now, according to the US Energy Information Administration, renewable sources of energy accounted for as much electricity generation as nuclear power plants during the first five months of 2017. Both made about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity supply.

In identifying “Dominant Energy” as one of our Top Trends for 2016, the Trends Research Institute forecast that various new and decentralized energy sources would create a “multi-dimensional spectrum of energy sources and delivery systems that will redefine how energy is marketed, priced, delivered and used.”

The latest data show the trend evolving as forecast. During the first half of 2017, renewable power accounted for almost 17 percent more of the nation’s electricity supply than during the first half of 2016. Nuclear production dropped by more than 3 percent during that time.

Nuclear’s share will continue to fall for the foreseeable future.

In August, Santee Cooper and SCANA Corp. walked away from their partly built nuclear power plant in South Carolina when they calculated the project would cost $11 billion more than they thought.

Duke Energy scrapped the idea of building two new reactors when Westinghouse, the contractor, went bankrupt. In Georgia, the new Vogtle nuclear plant also is far past budget. The owners may abandon it unless government agencies or corporate backers subsidize completion.

TRENDPOST: New nuclear plants can cost hundreds of billions of dollars at a time when utility companies themselves predict the end of centralized electricity generation. A recent Bloomberg study figured that more than half of all of today’s nuclear power plants are cash suckers, running annual deficits that average $2.9 billion. Many nuclear stations are nearing the end of their useful lives, leaving their owners with massive shutdown costs.

If nuclear-electricity generation has a future, it lies in small or even portable reactors – many using alternative fuels such as thorium – now being developed by companies such as NuScale and General Atomics and by governments in China, India and elsewhere. While these may succeed, the technology’s widespread adoption is well over a decade away.

Skip to content