Study rates nuclear a cheap source of energy

Nuclear energy is among the cheapest power sources available to Australia under a carbon price, rating alongside solar and wind as one of the least expensive options, says a world-first study.

The study by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics found both nuclear and solar photovoltaics would be more cost-competitive than previously thought.

Nuclear power came in on par with solar photovoltaics and just a little more expensive than wind power in a comparison of low carbon technologies in 2020.

At about $50 to $100 a megawatt hour, nuclear was found to be the second cheapest low carbon technology now and remains one of the cheapest low emission technologies until 2030.

Neither major political party formally backs domestic nuclear power, but the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, has said it should remain an option and the Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, has insisted it is still ”a live debate in Australia, despite the best efforts of the Greens and non-government organisations to demonise the discussion”.

The Coalition leader, Tony Abbott, has said ”the Coalition has no policy for promoting nuclear power” but his deputy, Julie Bishop, has said it should be considered ”in the mix”.

The study will feed into the government’s energy white paper to be released later in the year. It finds the cheapest low emission power available now is generated from methane escaping from landfill, along with power generated from biomass, onshore wind farms and combined cycle gas.

The director of the ANU energy change institute, Professor Ken Baldwin, said the study had ”thrown up a few surprises”.

“It indicates that a number of technologies - notably nuclear and wind power - are already competitive, with other renewable technologies like commercial solar-cell farms joining the mix in the very near future,” he said. ”It shows nuclear is in fact no more expensive than other technologies.”

Politicians and energy experts have made assertions, assumptions and best-guesses about the relative cost of various technologies in the energy policy debate in the past but the new study is the first to provide them with specific, long term projections, with a model that can be varied as government policy or global circumstances change.

Huge falls in the cost of solar cells is one reason for the differences in the relative rankings.

Biogas and biomass electricity generation, while attracting relatively little attention in the Australian debate, remain some of the most cost competitive forms of electricity generation to 2050.

The Clean Energy Council said the study showed renewables were ”winning the race” and were both clean and cost-effective.

“While the recent public debate often oversimplifies Australia’s energy choice as ‘clean vs cheap’, this report shows the argument is now desperately out of date. Renewables are rapidly becoming the cheapest source of energy,” said the council’s deputy chief executive, Kane Thornton.

The study, done with consultants WorleyParsons, found carbon capture and storage on coal-fired power plants will not be cost competitive until 2030.

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