Solar vs. Nuclear Power

By: Connor Herring

The world today is constantly looking for new sources of cheap, reliable energy to fuel our daily habits.  In this search, one of the foremost debates is the battle between solar and nuclear power. Nuclear power has particularly come under scrutiny after Japan’s nuclear incident last year.  However, while many “green” politicians use Fukushima as a reason to move away from nuclear plants, it may just be a reminder of the precautions we need to take when dealing with nuclear energy.  No one was harmed during the incident and nuclear power is still one of the cheapest and cleanest forms of energy, especially compared to fossil fuels. Thus despite its drawbacks, numerous organizations are claiming solar power needs to be the new norm, as it both safer, cleaner, and cheaper than other sources of energy. The case for solar energy is often billed in a similar manner. The claims are that it is safer, cleaner, and cheaper.  However, a little research and will prove to anyone who is curious that these claims about solar energy are completely falsified. A study gaining significant public
attention is one by North Carolina’s own Waste Awareness Network (NC WARN), which claims that solar power costs less than nuclear power today.  In response, the John Locke Foundation wrote a report about how many of their points were found to need more research or were just outright incorrect.  The most glaring mistake in NC WARN’S report was the improper application of subsidies to each source of energy.  They made it seem like solar power was made cheaper through subsidies but failed to give nuclear power the same benefit.
Furthermore, while subsidies make the cost of production cheaper for consumers, they do not reduce the cost of generating electricity.  “It is true that electricity customers may pay less as a result of the subsidies, but that is only in their capacity as electricity customers. They will still pay for those costs as taxpayers through the taxes required to provide those subsidies to solar power providers. This fact may have undesirable wealth-transfer consequences; for example, considering that the well-off usually have larger houses (and larger roofs), the installation of rooftop solar panels (explicitly promoted by NC WARN) is likely to result in a wealth transfer from the poor to the rich.”

Another one of NC WARN’s blunders was their exaggeration of solar power’s capacity factor, which is “a measure of how much electricity is actually produced in a given time period compared with what could have been produced if the electricity source were generating electricity 100 percent of the time.”  According to Progress Energy, the capacity factor of solar energy is only 16%, compared to nuclear energy’s 90%.  However, WARN claimed solar energy had a capacity factor of 18%, with no explanation of why they used a higher number.  While a comparatively small change, this sort of questionable scholarly work seems to be a pattern throughout the study and indeed the entire Green Movement. If all of these points were not enough to prove that solar energy might not be the most cost-effective method to power our planet, think about why utility companies haven’t been chomping at the bit to install solar power to the electricity grid.  If solar power really was the most efficient, North Carolina would not need a mandate that states companies must generate 0.2 percent of their resources from solar power and utility companies would be happy to use more than just 0.2 percent.  The fact is, solar power is too expensive to allocate more than a small fraction of our expenses to.  Furthermore, one of their own studies finds that solar power is not cost competitive, and is as much as two to five times more expensive than nuclear power, yet they argue the complete opposite in their debate for solar power.  Finally, NC WARN implies solar and nuclear energy are interchangeable.  However, common sense tells us this is simply not correct.  The sun is a good source of energy, but it is not reliable.  There are about 10 hours of the day where it is not even out.  And what about days when it is rainy?  The sun just does not compare nuclear energy for powering our cities and homes constantly and on demand.  Sure, solar power may be the safer, less-risky solution, but we have to think in terms of cost and convenience when trying to provide energy to the entire world, and solar power just does not compare to nuclear power in those terms.

Maybe one day solar energy will be a viable solution, but the Environmentalists should wait until facts support that conclusion before they assert it. Butchering statistics cannot help anyone in this debate. Moreover, with regards to subsidies, “Policymakers should not try to pick winners and losers among various technologies. Maybe some day solar power will be cost competitive with nuclear power and have real value for electricity customers. Until that day, however, policymakers should not force solar power into the electricity mix at the expense of low-cost and reliable electricity.”