We often hear that wind and solar power are nice, but they can’t deliver the power that we need. So there were probably a few raised eyebrows last week when I was quoted (here and here) saying that “Wind and solar energy are the new Niagara Falls, as they can do a similar job of replacing polluting power from coal or nuclear plants to power a prosperous Ontario in the twenty-first century.”
I was responding to an announcement by the Ontario government that they would be investing in 40 additional wind and solar energy projects, and comparing the green energy investments being made through the Green Energy Act to the decision a century ago to build the generating station at Niagara Falls. That decisions is now universally viewed as a good idea because it powered Ontario’s industrial base through much of the 20th century, but it was very controversial when it was being build due to its high cost (almost four times over budget and at an inflation-adjusted cost per kilowatt hour roughly 50 per cent higher than what we are now paying for wind).
Fast forward a century, and the main debate in Ontario is how green energy may make for nice add-on, but nuclear power should remain the backbone of the system. Greenpeace has argued that green energy is a much better investment than nuclear, but I think it’s interesting to compare the global figures for how much nuclear, wind and solar power have been added over the last few years during what has been billed as a “nuclear renaissance.”
Whether you look at it in terms of how much capacity (maximum output) is added:
Or how much power will be generated over the year:
The short answer is that wind and solar have been kicking some nuclear butt. And this doesn’t account for all the reactors going off-line due to age, so that total nuclear output has been dropping for the last few years.
So the next time a politician tries to tell you that we can’t live without nuclear, tell them we can’t afford to live with it.
Sources for the graphs above: nuclear, wind, and solar.