Solar cheaper option than nuclear, new study finds

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Solar and wind power should lead the global push for a cleaner energy future, says a recent study that found both renewable energy technologies are able to deliver cheaper low-carbon electricity than even the most modern nuclear reactors.

The study by consultant Prognos AG – commissioned by Agora Energiewende, which is a think-tank owned by the Mercator Foundation and European Climate Foundation – has concluded that newly built solar and wind plants with natural gas as a backup can deliver power that is one-fifth cheaper than nuclear backed by gas.

"New wind and solar power systems can generate electricity up to 50% cheaper than new nuclear power plants," said Agora Energiewende’s executive director, Patrick Graichen. "Wind and solar systems will dominate the power system in increasingly more countries. The battle for the cheapest CO2-free power mix is decided."

The study, which is published today, examined the feed-in tariffs (FIT) for new nuclear power plants constructed in the U.K., while also looking at the FIT for green power provided under Germany’s Renewable Energy Act. With a near 80% fall in the FIT rate for PV alone in Germany, the study concluded that solar and wind can drastically undercut nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CSS) techniques when it comes to low-cost, low-carbon electricity.

The analysis of specific power generation costs was embellished in the study by an estimation of the overall costs of a power production system that utilizes natural gas as a back-up for when weather-dependent sources – such as solar and wind – deliver a power shortfall. Even in this scenario, a reliable power system rooted in either solar PV or wind, backed up by natural gas, would be 20% cheaper than a nuclear-led alternative.

As a Berlin-based think-tank, Agora Energiewende based its study around German renewable subsidies, and the results are likely to make interesting reading for German energy consumers – many of whom have complained in recent years about paying the second-highest power costs in the EU.

Renewable subsidy costs are partly to blame for Germany’s expensive energy bills, but the study has found that these costs are rooted in old renewable energy systems. If more modern solar and wind plants were adopted, says the study, costs could fall dramatically. According to the findings, a system based on an advanced, gas-backed, solar- or wind-led power supply would cost just €679 million ($939 million) a year to run, compared to €857 million for a nuclear-led supply.