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Nuclear vs. Renewable EnergyPrint this page
Nuclear power development is not carried out to ostracize the development of renewable energy (RE). Previously in the Ninth Malaysian Plan (2006-2010), RE was set to achieve 300MW by 2010. RE development is carried out through Small Renewable Energy Program (SREP), as highlighted in the previous article. However the target was not achieved due to poor implementation. Nevertheless, Malaysia is highly committed to developing renewable energy as RE Act and Action Plan will be rolled out by the Malaysian government in 2012. This new initiative is expected to help grow the RE development further.
It is imperative to state that apple-to-apple comparison between nuclear plants and RE plants is not a fair practice. Energy generated from inexhaustible sources like solar, wind and biomass does not function in a similar manner to energy generated from nuclear plants. Nuclear plants are designed to generate power continuously at constant output and would normally run at capacity factor of 80% or higher. Unlike other plants, output from nuclear plants is not to be adjusted correspondingly to the daily demand due to sophisticated component designs. Nuclear plants will be shut down only during fuel loading. The fuel loading for PWR type reactors is done once in every 15 – 18 months for about a month. Until the next fuel loading, these nuclear plants would be running at full operation. During fuel loading, fuel refilling and major inspections on plant components are carried out. Given these characteristics, nuclear plants are suitable for serving the base load requirements in Peninsular Malaysia. Currently, minimum demand stands at approximately 10,000 MW. As shown in the figure below, this minimum demand has to be satisfied by base load plants, which include coal and gas. Nuclear plants will add to list of plants operating as base load. The graph shown below is the load profile of a particular day.
This base load requirement would not be met by RE utilisation as challenges remain in low capacity production. Going worldwide, typical solar PV stations have capacities ranging from 10-60 MW with the biggest solar PV plant installed in Spain (60MW). On the other hand, typical nuclear plants provide capacity between 600-1000MW per unit. This huge disparity of capacity makes RE unpalatable to work similarly as nuclear plants in providing the base load requirements. RE is done in small scale and thus can only supplement to supplying the demand. Relying on RE alone is impossible.
There are other caveats with relying on RE alone. Solar and wind power is subject to intermittency. Peninsular Malaysia is blessed with sunlight as it sits on equatorial region with an average radiation of 4,500 kWh/m2. Malaysia receives 4 to 6 hours of sunshine everyday. Based on these facts, solar PV development provides bright future.
However, besides highly capital intensive, another major drawback of solar power is requirement of vast area to produce reasonable amount of electricity. The table below shows the comparison of area needed to produce 1000MWe between various sources.
With regards to wind power in Peninsular Malaysia, there is limitation to untapped wind potentials. Several studies and research were carried out by various parties on viability of harnessing wind energy in several regions located in Peninsular Malaysia. It has been concluded that wind potentials are low in Peninsular Malaysia. In addition, wind energy also suffers intermittency which requires electrical compensation and storage. The figure below shows the map of wind speed and potentials in South East Asia.
Biomass, solid waste and biogas plants are among other RE sources that are rigorously being developed. To date, a total of 88 MW of RE projects were signed under SREP. Out of this figure, 40.35 MW comes from biomass and biogas plants. Unlike solar PV and wind, these sources do not face intermittency problem. It can generate electricity at any time because combustion of fuels is needed to produce electricity. However, the challenge remains with possible competition with other industry which uses the same input sources. Furthermore, these sources are not completely clean technology since burning of input sources is involved to generate electricity.
Another great barrier suffocating RE development is high capital costs. Nevertheless, this may be addressed via Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) mechanism that will be launched in conjunction with RE Act and Action Plan in 2012. FiT are legally guaranteed payments for electricity produced by green energies such as solar, wind, biomass or small hydro power plants that is being fed into the national electricity grid. Through FiT, in which the concept of willing buyer and willing seller is established between developers and the utility company, the energy produced will be purchased at a premium price. This mechanism has been drafted and utilized in countries such as Germany, Spain and USA and it has successfully proven in increasing the growth of renewable energy.
To conclude, in comparison with RE, nuclear plant is necessary to come on stream in order to serve the base load requirements due to its constant output production. RE does not provide security of supply. However its development is without a doubt vital in providing clean energy in order to combat climate change and global warming as well as fuel diversification purposes.