Thursday, October 3, 2013

Steel, Land, Concrete and Vermont Yankee: Guest Post by Timothy Maloney

Timothy Maloney
Replacing Vermont Yankee

You’re celebrating the shutdown of Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Presumably you intend to replace its 620 megawatts with wind and solar, thereby improving the condition of the biosphere.

Here’s the rub: the condition of the biosphere doesn’t respond to good intentions expressed in words; it responds to technical ideas expressed in numbers.

Let’s look at five numbers that accompany wind and solar replacement of Vermont Yankee.
  1. Amount of steel required to build that wind and solar; 
  2. Concrete requirement; 
  3. CO2 emitted in making that steel and concrete; 
  4. Money spent; 
  5. Amount of land taken out of crop production or wildlife habitat.
Let us suppose a 50/50 split between wind and solar, and for the solar a 50/50 split between photovoltaic – PV, and concentrated thermal solar – CSP.

To make up Vermont Yankee’s 620 MW then, we’ll need:
  • 310 MW(average) for wind 
  • 155 MW(avg) for PV solar
  • 155 MW(avg) for CSP.

The North America wind capacity factor is about 24%. That is, a wind turbine produces an annual average of 24% of its peak capacity – what it can produce when the wind is blowing nicely. So to obtain 310 MWavg we must build

310 MW ÷ 24% (0.24) = about 1290 MW peak capacity

Selecting the General Electric model 2.5xl wind turbine (Shepherd’s Flat farm in Oregon), with 2.5 MW peak capacity, we will need this many turbines: 1290 MW ÷ 2.5 MW = 515 turbines.

Each model 2.5xl uses 390 tonnes of steel and 1080 tonnes of concrete. Its installed cost is about 4.7 Million dollars for erection of the tower and connection to a neighboring transmission line. That $4.7 M does not include the cost of the land, bought or leased; nor does it include the cost of a branch transmission line, if needed, to make connection to an existing line.

With land costs and branch connecting costs included, let us say about $5 Million per turbine.

Steel production emits about 1.8 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of steel; concrete production emits about 1.1 tonnes CO2.

So each turbine, in manufacture, produces this much CO2: Steel: 390 x 1.8 = 700 t CO2; Concrete: 1080 x 1.1 = 1190 t CO2; Combined: 700 + 1190 = 1890 tonnes CO2 per turbine.

Each such turbine needs land area of about 0.3 square kilometer – about 500 x 500 meters.

So for 515 turbines, here’s the tally:
  • Steel: 515 x 390 t = 200 thousand tonnes
  • Concrete: 515 x 1080 t = 560 thousand tonnes
  • CO2 emitted: 515 x 1890 t = 970 thousand tonnes
  • Cost: 515 x $5 M = 2.6 Billion dollars
  • Land: 515 x 0.3 km2 = 155 square kilometers (12×12 km, 7×8 miles)
PV Solar 

The North America solar capacity factor is about 17%. It’s worse in the northeast, but let’s say 17% anyway.
To obtain 155 MWavg we must build 155 MW ÷ 0.17 = 910 MW peak capacity.

Working from the Aqua Caliente PV project near Yuma Arizona, here are the numbers:
  • Steel: 110 tonnes per megawatt of peak capacity. 110 t x 910 MW = 100 thousand tonnes of steel
  • Concrete: negligible
  • CO2 emitted: From steel:100 e3 t x 1.8 t CO2 = 180 thousand tonnes;
  • From panel manufacture (at 130 tonnes CO2 equivalent per megawatt peak): 910 MW peak x 130 t /MW = 120 thousand tonnes CO2eq; Total: 180 + 120 = 300 thousand tonnes CO2eq
  • Cost: Aqua Caliente is costing $4.5 M per MW peak . So $4.5 M x 910 MWpk = about $4 Billion.
  • Land: PV solar needs about 0.025 km2 per megawatt peak. 910 MW x 0.025 km2 = 23 km2 (4.8×4.8 km, 3×3 miles)
CSP Solar

Again 155 MWavg at 17% = 910 MW peak
Working from the Andalusia Spain plant that connected to the grid in 2009, called ANDUSOL1, here are the numbers.
  • Steel: 170 tonnes per MW peak. 170 t x 910 MW =150 thousand tonnes
  • Concrete: 870 tonnes per MW peak. 870 t x 910 MW= 800 thousand tonnes
  • CO2 emitted: 150 e3 t steel x 1.8 t CO2 + 800 e3 t concrete x 1.1 t = 1.2 million tonnes CO2
  • Cost: Removing from the tally the cost for 7.5 hours of molten-salt energy storage, the generation equipment itself at ANDUSOL1 cost about $7 M per megawatt peak.
  • So for our CSP needs, 910 MW x $7 M = about 6 Billion dollars.
  • Land: CSP solar needs about 0.012 km2 per megawatt peak. 910 MW x 0.012 km2 = 11 km2 (3.3 x 3.3 km, 2 x 2 miles)
Adding It All Together
  • Steel: 450 thousand tonnes; that’s 0.6% of our U.S. total annual production, JUST TO REPLACE ONE SMALLISH PLANT.
  • Concrete: 1.4 million tonnes; about 0.2% of our annual production
  • CO2: 2.5 million tonnes
  • Cost: about 12 Billion dollars
  • Land: about 190 square kilometers (14 x 14 km); that’s 73 square miles, larger than the District of Columbia, JUST TO REPLACE ONE SMALLISH PLANT.
But the thing that really gets my goat is that the only reason the wind and solar option can even be proposed is because of the already existing electric grid structure of rock-solid, baseload, fossil-fueled, undeviating 3600 rpm, steam turbine-driven, generators.

Sure it’s easy to piggyback on those baseload generators with your intermittent, poor quality, non sine-shaped, non 60-Hertz, electrical energy. The transmission circuit (voltage between wires) is sine-wave stable only due to the low-resistance thick copper wires in the ac alternators that are attached to those steam turbines. Which work 24/7.

With a stable transmission circuit like that, anybody can assert his little bit of extra energy into the mix without causing much disruption. But don’t try that without a stable baseload – it won’t work.

Other Alternatives: Generation 3+ PWR

Well, if we want to shut down a 40-year-old Generation2 boiling water reactor, we could replace it with a Generation3+ pressurized water reactor, the Westinghouse /Toshiba model AP1000.

It produces 1070 MW baseload, nearly twice the output of Vermont Yankee. Normalizing 1070 MW to Vermont Yankee’s 620 MW, the AP1000 uses:
  • Steel: 5800 tonnes – about 1% as much as wind + solar.
  • Concrete: 93,000 tonnes – about 7% as much.
  • CO2 emitted: 115 thousand tonnes – about 5% as much
  • Cost: We won’t know until the Chinese finish their four units now abuilding. But it will sure be less than our “levelized” cost because you can betcherbippy the Chinese State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation isn’t really paying any bank interest or insurance premiums or licensing and inspection fees.
They’re going to find out what it actually costs just to build one. That will be the meaningful number. Why should we let the banks and insurance companies stick their noses into our energy supply? The lifeblood of our society.
  • Land: The AP1000 needs about 0.04 km2 for the entire plant site. (200 x 200 meters). Smaller than CSP by a factor of 2000. Smaller than PV by a factor of 4000. Smaller than wind by a factor of 13,000.
Other Alternatives: Thorium Molten Salt

Or, we could all get on board the thorium molten salt energy bandwagon. We at the Thorium Energy Alliance are morally certain that our idea will beat even the Generation3+ model AP1000 by wide margins in all 5 aspects – steel, concrete, CO2, dollar cost, and land.

See or or
About Timothy Maloney

Timothy Maloney is a retired community college professor, in the fields of electronics and machine control. He is inventor of "A Digital Method for DC Motor Speed Control"  (1974).  IEEE Transactions on Industrial Electronics and Control Instrumentation, February 1976,  Volume IECI-23.  He is the author of Modern Industrial Electronics (now in its fifth edition) and other books.

He is an advocate for advanced thorium reactors, especially the Liquid-Fuel Thorium Reactor (LFTR) technology.  Maloney is available for speaking or slideshows to any interested group.

Maloney wrote a rebuttal to someone who was celebrating the demise of Vermont Yankee and expecting to replace it with wind and solar energy.  He sent his rebuttal to a few people (including me) by email.  I asked him if I could use that email as a blog post, and he graciously gave me permission.


Simon Filiatrault said...

Very good article... But you missed some stuff.

People killed by power source/kWh
1. Wind 150 (~ 1% global electricity)
2. Solar rooftop 440 (< 1% global electricity)
3. Nuclear – global average 90 (17% global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)

So more deaths from renewable with less electricity produced. Maybe they need more regulation like nuclear, but the cost would rise for those already very costly sources.

Price per source/kWh
1. In Quebec, we pay under contact around 11 to 14c/kWh for wind farm producers
2. In Ontario, the FIT price for Solar groundmount is 35cents/kWh for large installation.
3. Nuclear, if we take the now closed Gentilly, the cost would have been 9.7 cents/kWh, even after the contested renewal price of 4.3 billion. Operation cost was closer to 3 cents before the PQ went in power. Chinese can build faster/larger/less costly nukes for a production close to 3 cents also.

So more costly for an intermittent source. On top of this price, when Hydro Quebec need to buy for an incoming cold front that would cause more demand, this is done hours/days in advance, they cannot buy from the wind farms producers, because they don't know if they will produce, so they buy from other sources, often fossil sources.

Rare earth and other metals and construction materials
And what about the rare earth metals and others highly refined metals needed for the magnets of wind mills or construction of solar panels. There's also all the resins and carbon fibers for the wind mill blades.

Backup power when no wind or sun
You touched a bit on this, but I would go further. Let's assume that you only have wind and solar in your system. What would be the cost and environmental impact of storage. One example adds another 6 cents/kWh on top of the cost of the source.

So in your example,
50% is wind at 15 cents + 6 cents/ kWh for storage = 21 cents/kWh.
50% is solar at 35 cents + 6 cents / kWh for storage = 41 cents/kWh.

This give an average of 31 cents/kWh. In Quebec, I pay around 7 cents/kWh. Therefore more than 4 times the price, for a complex system, costly, not saving any CO2, large foot print on the environment.

NO THANKS ;-) I will stick with nuclear.

I know this is still yet an incomplete picture, but we have enough to prove our points.

You can find more of those on my blog and my twitter feed:

Have a nice day under the sun and wind ;-)

Rick Maltese said...

People like James Conca on Forbes more recently Steve Aplin explains how Germany is learning the hard way and should be an example to learn from for Vermont. German electricity and the IPCC Report A dire example of what road to not take

Anonymous said...

Wind generation requires more area for high capacity factor.

Placing them at only 500 metres apart means that they are perhaps 3 to 5 characteristic diameters from each other. That means that turbulence from one will interfere with the operation of others downwind. The spacing is far too close.

The rule of thumb in fluid mechanics for pipe flow is that turbulence will be dissipated 20 critical diameters downstream. In the open plains, you might be able to get away with as few as 10.

Of course not all that land between the turbines is useless for anything else. But use is still restricted and the turbulence from the turbines at the very least alter the precipitation and evaporation patterns near and at the surface. Tapping some of the wind's energy will also have larger climate consequences for the region; a local assessment would be necessary to have anything better than a 50:50 guess; other than saying that it will change things.

For safety reasons (thrown blades and ice), the 500 metre radius must exclude human habitation and where people remain for a substantial time. Vibration effects may carry further, depending on local conditions.

There are other, somewhat plausible reasons relating to vibration transmitted by the ground and the air that could make the immediate proximity "dead ground". Germany's noticing that not only are the windmills directly killing raptor bird species, their rodent prey also seems to be disappearing.

Anonymous said...

My state has the Blue Creek wind farm and it takes up a huge area of otherwise productive farmland and is ugly as hell. But what is really bad is the low frequency noise. I have stood at the site boundary and you can literally feel the pressure waves when those windmills are cranking. After a few minutes I couldn't stand it. There is something about low frequency sound that is very unsettling. It made me very "antsy" and I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

Anonymous said...

Your arguments don't go far enough.
Wind power is typically backed up by Open Cycle Gas Turbine generators because they are the fastest , but still twice the power output capacity of the wind being backed up are required. I'm surprised you don't know the cost of the AP100 (or the caapcity - it's 1117 MWe). The cost of the four being built in South Carolina and Georgia are $5 billion each (fixed price contract)and have a 60 year plus lifespan and are infinitely less likely to have a significant accident than the current crop of reactors. Safety is simply not a concern. It's easy to calculate the cost of power over a 60 year lifespan and it comes to less than 4 cents per kilowatthour, which includes more than enough to pay for decommissioning, and "nuclear waste" disposal, in the unlikely event that the nuclear wastes will not be salable to fast reactors during its lifespan. Build costs amount to one cent per kilowatthour, about the same as fuel costs. Nuclear fuel is inexhaustible when fast reactors are available. Nuclear is every bit as sustainable as solar or wind, actually more so, to be precise, if anyone is silly enough to worry about energy more than several million years down the road.
And your assumption concerning the amount of solar andwind required to replace Vermont Yamkee is not correct. One simply cannot replace
reliable power capacity with unreliable capacity as they are totally different animals. Inevitably power from unreliable sources will not be nice enough to
be available when needed and not excessive when not needed. That means renewable power is often dumped on the ground. Unreliable power has nowhere near the value of reliable power. Thus paying wind and solar operators the same price as one pays Vermont Yankee is obscenely stupid. Wind power is dying everyhere that it once was eagerly sought. Britain is going all nuclear and China has a very ambitious nuclear program - 600 reactors by mid century and 1600 by the turn of the century. Wind also is suspected of destroying the endangered Whooping Crane population and our eagle and hawk populations. My estimate shows that 80,000 acreas of solar panels are required to produce the same as a modern 1500 MW nuclear reactor. Wind turbines have an enormous environmental footprint. Neither solar nor wind make any sense, no matter how one measures cost and/or environmental benefit.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Yesterday I spent a number of hours trying to determine just how sustainable wind power is. I'm still not sure as it seems everyone likes to cherry-pick their figures, but it's interesting to compare the nuclear waste of nuclear versus wind. Yeah, it seems wind does produce nuclear waste.

A 1GW nuclear power plant I've read produces around 60 tons of waste a year. I'm assuming for a 620 MW plant it would be 60 * 0.62 = 37.2 tons a year.

Wind uses rare earth elements. Around 600 kg per 3.5 MW turbine. How much for a 2.5 MW turbine? I'm not sure, but an estimate would be 2.5/3.5 * 600 = 428 kg. So 515 such turbines would need 220,714 kg of rare earth elements.

But rare earth elements when mined and refined generate low level nuclear waste on a 1 to 1 basis, so that means those 515 turbines would require approximately 221 tons of low level nuclear waste, mostly in China. I doubt any of that waste is being monitored. And while it's low level nuclear waste there would still be plenty of other toxic metals such as arsenic mixed in with it.

From my brief reading it seems wind isn't so clean after all, and even has a nuclear waste footprint to deal with.