(Source: NC Warn)

  (Source: NC Warn)
Financial crossover occurred in North Carolina, bringing new opportunities

Duke University has reported that solar energy costs are now cheaper than nuclear energy costs after a "historic crossover" in North Carolina. 

The paper on this topic was written by John O. Blackburn, professor of economics at Duke University in North Carolina, and Sam Cunningham, a graduate student at Duke. The paper is titled "Solar and Nuclear Costs - The Historic Crossover," and shows that change in costs on both solar and nuclear energy has finally forced them to meet, and then solar stole the show by becoming the new low-in-price renewable energy resource.

Solar energy is a clean renewable energy resource that doesn't present much risk, but the problem has been that it's too expensive for everyone to implement. On the other hand, there is nuclear energy, which has several risks associated with using it such as damage to the environment from uranium mining, the possible creation of nuclear weapons and issues with the transportation and storage of nuclear waste. But until now, nuclear energy has always been cheaper to use. 

Over the past decade or so, nuclear energy costs have been rising while solar energy costs have been falling. According to Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and Environment, costs for nuclear energy have increased dramatically from $3 billion per reactor in 2002 to $10 billion per reactor in 2010. What's worse is that these prices are expected to climb, and U.S. taxpayers could end up paying hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars "more than needed to achieve our low carbon goals" if the government helps push the use of nuclear energy, which is exactly what it's doing. 

While nuclear power companies are obviously pushing for nuclear energy use in the U.S. hoping for loan guarantees, tax credits and subsidies, it looks as though government on both the federal and state levels are pushing for it as well, according to Diana Powers of The New York Times.

"From 1943 to 1999, the U.S. government paid nearly $151 billion, in 1999 dollars, in subsidies for wind, solar and nuclear power, Marshall Goldberg of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, a research organization in Washington, wrote in a July 2000 report," wrote Powers. "Of this total, 96.3 percent went to nuclear power.

"At the state level, the industry has also pressed the case for 'construction work in progress,' a financing system that requires electricity users to pay for the cost of new reactors during their construction and sometimes before construction starts. With long construction periods and frequent delays, this can mean that electricity users start to pay higher prices as much as 12 years before the plants produce electricity."

But now that Blackburn and Cunningham have showed that solar energy costs have met nuclear energy costs, which occurred at 16 cents per kilowatt hour, then fell below nuclear costs, there is hope that the push for nuclear will slow down and that the government may look to a combination of solar and other renewable energy resources that are low carbon and low cost. 

"Everyone should understand that both new solar and new nuclear power will cost more than present electricity generation costs," Blackburn and Cunningham's paper states. "That is, electricity costs will rise in any case for most customers, especially those who do not institute substantial energy efficiency upgrades. Power bills will rise much less with solar generation than with increased reliance on new nuclear generation."

Blackburn and Cunningham see great opportunity for North Carolina - and eventually other U.S. states - with these new findings, and hope that lower costs of solar, which is much less hazardous than nuclear, will be implemented. According to their paper, commercial-scale solar companies are already "offering utilities electricity at 14 cents or less per kWh" while nuclear plants would generate electricity at 14 to 18 cents per kWh. 

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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