Nuclear and Photovoltaic Energies: Comparison for Large Scale Plants

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Nuclear power plant.

Many countries use nuclear power. Image by Garthhh.

Researchers from Middle East Technical University (Turkey) have performed a comparison of two large scale power plants, a nuclear plant and a solar photovoltaic plant.

Results showed that the nuclear plant produces more energy (9 times more) and requires less land (about a quarter of the land needed for the photovoltaic plant). The nuclear plant has, however, a much longer decommissioning time (30 years vs. 1) and a worse payback time (more than 30 years vs. 15).

Nuclear Energy and Energy from Renewable Sources

The production of increasing amounts of energy is one of the challenges of our modern society. Although fossil fuels are still the most common energy source, we still use other sources.

Nuclear energy, for instance, is quite common in many countries, which include the US and France. There is, however, growing concern associated with nuclear energy, due to the dangers of nuclear contamination in case of accidents. The long term impact on the environment is also a concern, especially for the decommissioning of plants and the disposal of the wastes.

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the production of energy from renewable sources, such as the sun and wind. Although the idea is very appealing, some people are not in favor of this; critics say that these sources are not sustainable, as we will never be capable of producing enough energy only using renewable sources.

Photovoltaic panels.

Photovoltaic plants use sun as energy source. Image by blickpixel.

Nuclear-Photovoltaics Comparisons

Researchers from Middle East Technical University (Ankara, Turkey) did a study to compare nuclear energy and energy from a solar photovoltaic plant. The results were published in Energy, in April 2015.

Decoded Science spoke to Mr. Abdullah Bugrahan Karaveli, the leading scientist in the study. He told us,

“Various researchers published studies comparing different forms of producing energy. In the majority of cases, however, the studies consider power plants with relatively small energy production potential. Moreover, none of these studies were made for a country like Turkey, which is an emerging economy.

We chose to compare nuclear and photovoltaic plants, as these are both present in Turkey, and in the future there will be greater investment in both fields.”

Nuclear and Photovoltaic Plants

Mr. Karaveli and his coworkers considered a nuclear and a photovoltaic power plant (NE-PP and PV-PP respectively).

“As NE-PP, we chose a plant which is already under construction in Mersin-Akkuyu (southern part of Turkey), with an installed power of 4800 MW. For the PV-PP, on the other hand, we considered a plant which will be built in Karapinar (southern part of Turkey); the plant will produce a 1 MW of energy. For our study, however, we simulated its enlargement, to have power capability of 4800 MW; we did this to make a proper comparison with the NE-PP.”

Various Indicators

To assess both the efficiency and the impact on the environment, Mr. Karaveli and his coworkers considered several indicators.

They evaluated, for instance, the amount of electricity generated by each plant. For the PV-PP they did this considering the number of hours of sunshine in Karapinar, using meteorological data.

They also assessed the area needed for each plant, the costs for both land use and construction, the Net Present Value (NPV) for the electricity, the decommissioning time and the CO2-saving potentials.

Nuclear symbol

Nuclear power plants have a long decommissioning time. Image by Rfc1394

Solar vs. Nuclear: Interesting Results

According to Mr. Karaveli, the results were very interesting.

“Our results confirmed that these two systems are very different, in terms of efficiency, duration and requirements.

A NE-PP plant produces much more electricity than PV-PP (about 9 times more), and requires a land which is about 4 times smaller. PV-PP, on the other hand, is cheaper to build than NE-PV, even taking into account the higher cost for the land.

NE-PV has a longer working lifetime than PV-PP – 60 years instead of 30 – but it also has a very long decommissioning time – 30 years. This time is only 1 year for the PV-PP. The payback time is also much higher for the NE-PP, more than 30 years. For the PV-PP it depends a lot on the cost of the land, but is never higher than 15 years.

PV-PP has a higher CO2-saving potential; if we take into account the higher electricity production of NE-PP, on the other hand, the nuclear plant is the one with greater CO2 savings.”

Comparing Power Sources: A Complex Topic

These results show the complexity of the topic and how difficult it is to assess which plant has better performance.

Mr. Karaveli commented on this:

“This is just a preliminary study, which gave us some initial ideas on the subject; there are, however, many more parameters which should be included to have a more complete assessment.

Regarding the PV plant, for instance, choosing a different location with more hours of sunshine could lead to a higher electricity production. Also, as more land is required, choosing an area with lower land prices could make a difference too.

In our study we did not consider the pollution and CO2 emissions associated with the construction of neither of the plants, or how keen the public will be to accept these installations.

These are all features that we would like to explore in future work.”

Energy in the Future

Considering the increasing demand of energy, it is likely that we will need to explore and use more alternative energy sources.

Studies like this are essential to understanding which are the best choices, both for the production of energy, and for the impact on the environment.

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