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More than 94% of net new electricity capacity in the USA from renewables in 2017 (electrek.co)
95 points by jasoncartwright 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments

No money going towards nuclear....

If people were serious about ACTUALLY reducing carbon emissions, then baseload power production would be nuclear.

Please look at France as an example.

France: 5.0 metric tons per capita (2013)

US: 16.4 metric tons per capita (2013)


Nuclear power is the largest source of electricity in the country, with a generation of 416.8 TWh, or 76.3%[2] of the country's total production of 546 TWh, the highest percentage in the world.


With the staggering drop in the cost of renewables and grid-battery storage I just don't see how nuclear has a bright future in any regard.

They're unbelievably capital intensive and have a mean construction time of 7.5 years [0]. I'm from the UK so it's easy to point to Hinkley Point C as an example of this. It's been in planning for a decade and certainly won't be in operation for a similar amount of time, and the currently proposed strike price is around £90/MWh, compared to the ~£60/MWh we've seen from offshore wind projects. Let alone mentioning those have the advantage of being independently deployable with how developers can generate income on a per-turbine basis rather than waiting for the entire farm to be constructed.

And while nuclear is certainly much less CO2 intensive than any fossil-fuel source even a pro-nuclear body's publication shows that wind produces approximately as much CO2/GWh over an installations lifetime as nuclear does [1].

[0] http://euanmearns.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-build-a-nucle... [1] http://www.world-nuclear.org/uploadedFiles/org/WNA/Publicati... section 4

Friend of mine's dad is a retired college professor that taught nuclear engineering for a couple of decades. Last time I saw him he mentioned natural gas killed nuclear and coal fired plants and he's glad he retired when he did. And also solar and wind are going to kill natural gas fired plants.

> I just don't see how nuclear has a bright future in any regard.

How about in space or on other planets?

> And while nuclear is certainly much less CO2 intensive than any fossil-fuel source even a pro-nuclear body's publication shows that wind produces approximately as much CO2/GWh over an installations lifetime as nuclear does.

And what if it's not windy?


Keep in mind, almost ALL the nuclear power plants built are based on 1950-1960s technology (designed for naval applications). That would be like comparing solar panels from that era with the panels designed/produced today. There is no comparison.

The seas around the British Isles, which the poster is talking about, are _always_ windy. Plus this can be mitigated with the battery storage the post you replied to mentioned and solar - it's unlikely to be both still and overcast.

Offshore wind farms around the UK have capacity factors around 40%; the seas are certainly not always windy.

Solar struggles to provide a significant amount of energy in winter. Wind tends to blow or not for a few days or more at a time - meaning you need much more storage than just to carry you from one day to the next as you might in places with consistent solar.

I can't find any good source of UK historical generation data, but from looking at gridwatch the UK patterns tend to be similar to those in Germany, the data for which are available here: https://www.energy-charts.de/power.htm?source=solar-wind&mon...

There's a slight inverse correlation between solar and wind, but not that much.

I'd love to see a lot more renewable capacity installed as soon as possible, but I don't see how we can move away from needing a lot of backup conventional capacity in the near future. This is okay by me; let's halve our emissions and then see what we can do next.

But how high is the cost of generating the energy _plus_ the cost of storing it? And does the wind always have the same strength or do you need to build additional wind farms for times when the wind is weaker?

> With the staggering drop in the cost of renewables and grid-battery storage I just don't see how nuclear has a bright future in any regard.

Exactly. Nuclear plants are done, at least for the next 50 years.

People don't want nuclear plants, whatever the reason. I can see the case for continued nuke research, but the negative PR and scare factor is pretty insurmountable.

The coal industry had decades to invest in technology to make clean coal happen, and decided margins were more important.

Fracking will be the next victim, as more communities start to ban it and understanding of the negatives grows.

Same with hydro, at least in the US. We're only starting to understand the long-term effects of large dams.

I know there are tradeoffs with solar and wind. The eco cost of solar isn't zero from a production standpoint. There are downsides to living directly under a wind turbine. But the decreased cost and increased adoption of solar and wind give me hope that we have a chance at staving off cataclysmic climate change.

Nuclear is unpopular but is still extremely important to a low-carbon future. I recently wrote a fairly extensive primer on the current energy situation [1]. Key points are that battery backup of renewables is extremely challenging (even Stanford's 100% renewable superstar Jacobsen does not include them in his plan) and that the standard go-to plan with pumped hydro is potentially very flawed due to only-recently-understood biogenic methane emissions from reservoirs [2].

Also, this past December, the entire Pacific Northwest experienced a 10-day total wind lull and the 4GWe of capacity in the Bonneville Power Administration generated ~0 kWh. Backing that up alone would require a battery facility covering a football field 100 stories high and costing $90B that has to be replaced every dozen years. Now scale that by a few thousand and see how it looks. Baseload carbon-free energy from nukes is very valuable.

[1] https://partofthething.com/thoughts/a-medium-length-primer-o...

[2] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal....

Do you have any thoughts on the benefits of decreasing the fragmentation of the US grid? Presently it's some 3000 utilities who don't have much of an incentive to work together, but you could imagine a future where regions of the US with excess generation transmit to areas at a deficit to diversify the energy supply of any region. This is roughly what's happening in China with their single public utility and usage of HVDC to source renewables from provinces with surplus generation to those operating at a deficit (i.e. the most populous).

HVDC interconnects are a reasonable way to help with regional intermittency. The cost of any necessary interconnects should be considered in the total cost evaluations going into our low-carbon system plans.

There are billions upon billions of dollars spent on nuclear, it just doesn't produce any new capacity.

Look at the failure of VC Summer, and what seems to be the imminent failure of Vogtle.

Since no private company is willing to take on the financial risk of building nuclear power, the federal government provides massive loan guarantees. For the "nuclear renaissance" to take place, state governments passed special laws so that the utility's rate payers took on all the risk of the failed builds. And the failed VC Summer build in South Carolina accounts for double digit percentages of current electricity bills for the utility's customers.

If somebody can figure out how to do project management, engineering, and the logistics of construction, there are lots of communities eager to welcome nuclear. But the industry has failed to deliver capacity even when given every opportunity to build.

Today's Russia and South Korea, and 1970s France all figured out how to do serial nuclear construction. The key is to standardize the design. Here are some numbers [1].

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030142151...

The two financial disasters I mentioned were the US's attempt at standardized design, and it failed miserably.

The best bet for nuclear in the US seems to be to have South Korea take over entirely. But they will then have to manage a US construction force, with all those risks. I really don't see how the industry is ever going to build a new big reactor ever again in the US. That's why nuclear fans are looking towards small modular reactors, an idea that in the past was considered less economical than the big ones.

The other risk of putting all your eggs in one basket by large deploys is the same design is what's happening right now in France with the "carbon segregation" problem:


20 plants are down, on the suspicion of a potential problem in the future. These types of problems are expected for any technology, but by having a very little variety in generation, any such small problem gets hugely amplified.

In general I have not found anybody who sees a path to building new nuclear in the US that does not simultaneously require a huge advancement in new tech. Solving the construction problem and the bad management problem is something that's swept under the rug and ignored in order to promote a favored tech.

Nuclear may be a good idea but that comparison with France is misleading. Electricity accounts for only 29% of US greenhouse gas emissions. [1] We could make our entire electrical generation carbon neutral and still have twice the per capita footprint of France.

[1] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emis...

No one wants to put up the money. Inevitably it's governments that are on the hook, because they're the insurer of last resort. The builder and operator insist upon that. And then for some reason in the U.S. we see the same kind of explosion in cost during construction that we see with NYC's 2nd Ave subway line, and that turns people off even more.

The only plant being constructed in the U.S. right now is fraught with cost overruns; the builder, Toshiba, nearly went out of business. A plant that came online in Tennessee in 2016 was started in 1976.


According to the World Nuclear Association, there is approximately 5.7M tons of recoverable uranium globally. [0]

The Minerals Council of Australia shows that the current worldwide uranium usage is increasing by about 4.8% p.a., projected to hit 97,900 tons in 2020. [1]

This will give us a little over 60 years until almost all of the economical sources of uranium are consumed, assuming conventional reactors.

Considering that timeframe along with the fact that plants take 7-15 years to bring online if they're started now, and the fact that they have dismal returns on investment, means there's little appetite for nuclear for economic reasons.

[0] http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fue... [1] http://www.minerals.org.au/resources/uranium/uranium_nuclear...

It's unclear if decommissioning costs are properly priced.

Also there hasn't been a lot of success with building any modern plants (technical issues and massive cost overrun, check the "Technical overview" section of the wiki page).

> France: 5.0 metric tons per capita (2013)

There's a lot of irrational fear about nuclear energy. An example is Germany (9.2 metric ton per capita) which decided to shutdown their nuclear facilities.

> An example is Germany (9.2 metric ton per capita) which decided to shutdown their nuclear facilities.

Yes, they replaced it with coal plants...


Nuclear isn't the only option for replacing base load production. Natural gas and renewables+pumped hydro are also good options. Though none of them are popular.

(1) Nat. Gas causes much more deaths per PWh produced (5 vs 0.1 for the US) and still produces quite a lot of CO2.

(2) Renewable + pumped hydro is much more expensive that just producing electricity directly from nuclear. The environmental impact of dam failures is also bigger than that of an nuclear accident.

For example the Banqiao+Shimantan dam failure killed 110,000, displaced 6,000,000. For comparison Chernobyl killed 9,000 to 93,000 (probably closer to the lower end) and displaced ~130,000.

Pumped hydro may be associated with surprisingly large biogenic methane emissions [1] which potentially might take the option off the table for a low carbon future.

[1] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal....

I use to be a Rad worker and have even cleaned up a few "spills". Nuclear accident fears are based on accidents that occurred in plants that were designed with primitive nuclear technology by people who were just starting to understand the technology. Innovations like pebble bed reactors make release of fission particles highly unlikely. Just like rocket technology though nuclear technology has advanced leaps and bounds. It's also the only power source that could get us to Mars.

Nuclears problem is not accidents but irrational fear. For comparison here are the deaths per PWh produced¹.

  Coal       100,000 (US: 10,000)
  Nat. Gas     4,000
  Hydro        1,400 (US: 5)
  Solar          440
  Wind           150
  Nuclear         90 (US: 0.1)
Nuclear is the safest option available and at the same time the only energy source that is stable and scalable. [1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_accidents

Accidents occur but this needs to be compared with alternative sources of energy. Even dams cause much more environmental issues and casualties than nuclear [1]. And let's not even talk about coal.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dam_failure

If I understood it correctly, the title is very misleading. It's trying to compute percentage of values where the total sum can be either negative or positive.

Imagine a hypothetical scenario: California added 90 GW worth of new power plants, Texas added another 360 GW, and New York decommissioned old power plants totaling 350 GW. Assuming all other states remained the same, the national power capacity increased by 90+360-350=100 GW.

But if I say "California added 90% of net new electricity capacity," it gives a very misleading impression. The fact that this is silly is clear when we consider Texas: it added 360% of net new electricity capacity!

More fun happens if Iowa decommissioned additional 110 GW of power plants. Now the national net increase is -10 GW, and California contributed -900% of that.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not an electricity expert. Please correct me if I misunderstood anything.

The article is misleading.

Here's the EIA article it references:


Here's another EIA article that suggests that electricity derived from natural gas is on the rise in the US:


I'm all for renewables, but twisting the facts does not help skeptics take renewables more seriously.


Your second link cites 11.2 GW of new NG capacity for 2017, which is less than the 11.8 GW of retired fossil-fuel capacity over the same time (per the original article).

Besides which, saying that the vast majority of net capacity increase is in renewables doesn't mean that fossil sources aren't also going up. In fact, unless it's 100% of new capacity, fossil fuel sources are definitely going up, by definition. There's no real conflict or twisting the facts there.

Keep in mind capacity does not equal generation.

A solar facility with 1MW of capacity will generate 1MW at it it’s peak moment, maybe, on a good day. Given the lat, weather and season, maybe you will get 8MW hours total for the day. Whereas a 1MW gas plant could produce 24MW hours for the day.

In other words you could have 100MW of renewable capacity and have 0 generation if it is too cold, dark or calm.

Other plants don't operate at 100% capacity either due to variable demand, the cost of spinning them up and down, river water being too warm for cooling, cost of fuels, being displaced by renewables etc.

Sure, nighttime imposes a hard cap on the capacity factor of solar, but solar is not the only renewable power source. Natural gas plants may have a much higher theoretical limit, but in practice they are limited by more expensive fuel.

Because it's less expensive. And it isn't exposed to forward price volatility of fuel.

" . . . forward price volatility of fuel."

This is more important to most companies than cheapest price. It enables them to plan with more certainty.

Less expensive to some. But heavily subsidised by the taxpayer

no more than coal or oil.

Probably, far less than coal or oil.

For coal we should look at all the health costs cause by mining and burning coal.

For oil we should not only look at the tax breaks the companies get but also how much of the military (percentage wise) exists to protect oil interests.

The health costs of the renewables are a lot less.

> military

Although, the USA is about 90% energy independent


It's not about where the oil physically comes from so much as managing the global oil market. We might not get much oil physically from the middle East anymore but volatility there affects the price here. Oil is a global market.

Foreign volatility could still effect prices in the US.


>However, on one front they're incredibly bad. Renewables are usually just that : a piece of infrastructure that needs to be built and needs no fuel beyond it's environment.

> In other words it's capital investment taking out operational expenses. It's capital investment reducing the size of the economy.

I didn't know that coal or oil now produce pure energy by their mere existence, with no need for extraction, refining, transportation and combustion equipment and infrastructure. This is wonderful news and really changes everything. We should tell everybody.

Does it come as a replacement of old coal plants or does it add to existing plants?

This headline is such clickbait. Netting out all fossil fuels is silly. Natural gas is alive and well and growing quite quickly, while coal is suffering.

Why would you call it silly? The headline basically implies "total fossil fuel generation has stopped growing, while renewables have grown substantially," which is both accurate and interesting. The fact that the coal/gas mix has shifted toward gas doesn't change the fact that total fossil-based generation capacity has basically leveled off.

> "The headline basically implies "total fossil fuel generation has stopped growing, while renewables have grown substantially," which is both accurate and interesting."

It's not accurate, it's bullshit. Look at the graph here, which is based on the official US government figures:


Does it look like fossil fuel usage is slowing down to you?

According to your own link, "In 2016, fossil fuels accounted for 81% of total U.S. energy consumption, the lowest fossil fuel share in the past century." Of course you'd need additional data to show that the absolute amount of electricity generated from fossils, and not just its share of the pie, had declined.

Here is that additional data:


The sums of the fossil fueled columns (1-5), by yearly GWh, are:

2007 2992238

2008 2926731

2009 2726451

2010 2883361

2011 2788867

2012 2775025

2013 2745968

2014 2750572

2015 2727246

2016 2654468

Total fossil fueled generation is well below where it was a decade ago. The rapid rise of natural gas generation has been more than offset by an even faster decline in generation from other fossil fuels, coal in particular.

> "Total fossil fueled generation is well below where it was a decade ago. The rapid rise of natural gas generation has been more than offset by an even faster decline in generation from other fossil fuels, coal in particular."

That's the problem I'm trying to highlight. The decline of coal is the ideal opportunity for renewables to rise to become a greater portion of the energy mix. Instead, we see natural gas taking its place. Natural gas is abundant and cheap, and causes less pollution than coal, but is still a polluting source of energy. Renewables now have to fight against a new, stronger incumbent, rather than taking the place of a dying one.

You originally said that the claim "total fossil fuel generation has stopped growing" was bullshit. Those numbers show it's not bullshit.

Renewables have been rising. See the same table I linked before. Maybe you'd prefer if all that declining coal generation had been replaced by non-combustion sources instead of mostly gas. So would I, but global solar manufacturing capacity in particular has grown so rapidly and recently that it wasn't even theoretically feasible until just a few years ago.

Gas plants are cheap to build and currently have low fuel costs too. But even at today's low fuel costs, most of their operating expenses come from fuel. As renewable and storage construction costs continue to decline, their very low marginal costs provide ample opportunity to steal more share from gas, even if gas prices stay low. It's already happening in California.




Fossil fuels and renewables are just categories. If you take away those categories you'll see that the growth in solar, wind and other sources that are classed as "renewables" are not significantly outpacing the growth of natural gas. The reason this is significant is because the growth of natural gas is as a result of those who see it as a long term investment. The new natural gas power plants/generators were almost certainly built to return a multi-year profit to their investors. Don't let the drop in coal distract you from the growth in natural gas, it represents a long term shift in the energy mix of the US, and will be almost certainly harder to shift than the coal industry.

What you should be asking is, why are individuals investing more in natural gas rather than renewables? If we were being honest with ourselves, the problem is still battery technology. Investment in electricity storage is costly, and the batteries we have today become less effective the more they get used, resulting in regular replacements being required to maintain storage capacity. There are groups working on the grid storage problem, but it's far from resolved. Without it being resolved, there's a ceiling beyond which solar and wind are not likely to grow, as the most important factor in grid electricity is reliability, and storage is the only way to make a grid with the majority of energy coming from wind and solar to be reliable.

Yes, actually. It looks like the increase in petroleum and gas in the last 5 years is more or less nullified by the drop in coal, while renewables is steadily increasing. What do you see?

I see that the drop off in coal is masking the growth in other fossil fuel sources. It should be renewables that take the place of coal, not natural gas and petroleum.

Natural gas is ~1/2 as carbon intense as coal. It's a good thing when it displaces coal.


Of course renewables are much lower, as that table shows. But meeting current demand with new natural gas generation is still a big improvement over old coal generation.

I don't disagree, but it does mean that the original claim is accurate.

You appear to have mistaken generation capacity (discussed in the Electrek article) with usage (cited by you).

How do you think we get additional usage of fuel types? By growing the generation capacity.

The point is, there's no sign of the expansion of natural gas usage slowing down. Install base of power plants/generators running off natural gas is growing.

I haven't got all the figures to hand, but consider this report, which covers changes in electricity production in the southern states of the US:


In particular, look at this graph:


Can you at least admit that, in 2017, natural gas capacity grew faster than renewable capacity in southern US states?

Because it's a lie. A lot of natural gas plants came online in 2017, which makes it a lie.

Your objection is that natural gas shouldn't be considered non-renewable?

Or that the comparison happens at too high a level?

If you'd like to write about the shift from coal to natural gas, that's probably worth drilling down to one level below this comparison, but that doesn't make this comparison invalid or misleading.

When you define "new" in such a way that you can only count renewables then it's really not "new" is it?

Unless you can come up with some stats that prove that all of the non-renewable production that was added was directly replacing old non-renewable production, and all of the renewable production was added just to meet new needs, then you have no case.

Last year I ate 100 pounds of food. This year I ate 120 pounds of food. Last year I ate 50 pounds of vegetables and 50 pounds of meat. This yea, I ate 50 pounds of vegetables and 70 pounds of meat.

Is it fair to say that my meat consumption has increased by 20 pounds? Or is it unfair on the grounds that I've not mentioned a big shift from potatoes to carrots within the 50 pounds of vegetables? I mean, my potato consumption is way down, but my carrot consumption is way, way, way up. My carrot consumption has gone up by a bigger percentage than my pork consumption, for sure. Except... it doesn't matter.

My meat consumption went up, and my vegetable consumption remained flat. That's new meat consumption. Shifts from potatoes to carrots and pork to beef are irrelevant to the subject at hand.

Agreed. Link should be changed to reflect this.

This is a misleading headline. The article speaks of "net new," which is not the same as "new."

In point of fact, as the article says, slightly less than half of new utility scale power production came from renewables (12321 out of 25041 MW).

Here is a better article, which is referenced in the original article: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=34472#

It is titled "Nearly half of utility-scale capacity installed in 2017 came from renewables"

Also of interest, total renewable additions are down in 2017, compared to 2016 (dropped from 17 to 12 GW), as is the percent of the additions (dropped from 62% to 49%).

I disagree that it's misleading. Net new seems equivalent to "new capacity" to me.

The new non-renewable electric producers are mostly replacing retired fossil sources. I suspect a lot of the churn in fossil-based plants is from age as well as newer regulations.

I do hope they subtracted out whatever amount of renewables were turned down, but I suspect it likely wasn't much (but I lack data).

Thanks, we've reverted the submitted headline to that of the article.

Submitter here. Thanks. I regret editing the headline.

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