Fusion Power Economic Impact: An Overview

In summary: The fuel efficiency of thermal power plants has been increasing over time. The average thermal power plant has an efficiency of around 33%.
  • #1
Stephanus
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Dear PF Forum,
Can anyone give an idea.
Supposed fusion power is available. With its limitless fuel source from the ocean. What would happen?
How much would this energy cost in term of money compared to gasoline and electricity?
In fission, the fuel is expensive (uranium).
 
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  • #2
That is the (possible) trillion-dollar question ITER and DEMO are supposed to answer. There are multiple estimates, but without a demo power plant it is impossible to get a reliable number.
Stephanus said:
In fission, the fuel is expensive (uranium).
Per kilogram, but not per kWh. Fuel is just a few percent of the total cost of fission.
 
  • #3
mfb said:
That is the (possible) trillion-dollar question ITER and DEMO are supposed to answer. There are multiple estimates, but without a demo power plant it is impossible to get a reliable number.
Per kilogram, but not per kWh. Fuel is just a few percent of the total cost of fission.
I mean comparing 1 Kg U235 vs (3250 * 18+1) / 2 Kg of sea water. Plus 1.5 Kg Litium or Tritium. Perhaps Litium, it is much cheaper.
 
  • #4
Stephanus said:
I mean comparing 1 Kg U235 vs (3250 * 18+1) / 2 Kg of sea water. Plus 1.5 Kg Litium or Tritium. Perhaps Litium, it is much cheaper.

The US Nuclear Energy Institute suggests that for a coal-fired plant 78% of the cost is the fuel, for a gas-fired plant the figure is 89%, and for nuclear the uranium is about 14%
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Economic-Aspects/Economics-of-Nuclear-Power/
(different estimates in the article, also one with less than 10%)

Assuming that powerplants cost per kwh would be the same (looks as more complicated and more expensive, though maybe there would be some economics of scale) the result is similar like cutting nuclear energy cost by 14%. Does itsound like impending revolution? ;)
 
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  • #5
Czcibor said:
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Economic-Aspects/Economics-of-Nuclear-Power/
(different estimates in the article, also one with less than 10%)

Assuming that powerplants cost per kwh would be the same (looks as more complicated and more expensive, though maybe there would be some economics of scale) the result is similar like cutting nuclear energy cost by 14%. Does itsound like impending revolution? ;)
That's an interesting link that you give.
I mean the fuel cost of fission power plant (uranium) vs the fuel cost of fusion power plant (sea water, or just water, where we get deuterium)
 
  • #6
Stephanus said:
That's an interesting link that you give.
I mean the fuel cost of fission power plant (uranium) vs the fuel cost of fusion power plant (sea water, or just water, where we get deuterium)

My point is (mfb tried to say that too ;) ) that fuel cost for nuclear energy production is a small part of bill. The main part is capital cost (read: construction cost and paying off the mortgage ;) ).

In most calculation it leads to nuclear energy being already quite cheap source. (there is a tricky part of how high interest rates and how many decades the power station would work, which is a bit guessing incoming safety regulations).
 
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  • #7
Czcibor said:
My point is (mfb tried to say that too ;) ) that fuel cost for nuclear energy production is a small part of bill. The main part is capital cost (read: construction cost and paying off the mortgage ;) ).

In most calculation it leads to nuclear energy being already quite cheap source. (there is a tricky part of how high interest rates and how many decades the power station would work, which is a bit guessing incoming safety regulations).
Yes, I think you're right in that point. Reading from your link, fuel cost is relatively small compared to construction and operating cost.
 
  • #8
Stephanus said:
Yes, I think you're right in that point. Reading from your link, fuel cost is relatively small compared to construction and operating cost.
So is your question, concerning result of a bit cheaper nuclear (assuming no longer any phobias related) valid? Because I see a few results, but not sure whether it would be interesting for you.
 
  • #9
Czcibor said:
So is your question, concerning result of a bit cheaper nuclear (assuming no longer any phobias related) valid? Because I see a few results, but not sure whether it would be interesting for you.
I don't know about the cost of power plant. But if I remember back then in 1990's. The price of Intel 486 processor is $400 to $500. Now it cost nothing ($400 if you consider it antique :smile:). Perhaps the cost of power plant will dramatically decrease? Or it's not the case with power plant.
 
  • #10
Stephanus said:
I don't know about the cost of power plant. But if I remember back then in 1990's. The price of Intel 486 processor is $400 to $500. Now it cost nothing ($400 if you consider it antique :smile:). Perhaps the cost of power plant will dramatically decrease? Or it's not the case with power plant.

I'd say it's not the case for anything except electronics.

Progress more realistically:
Fuel efficiency:
US-fuel-efficiency-trends-for-new-vehicles.png
Thermal power plants:
001e.jpg


(I picked up those indicators, because I could easily found data)
 
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  • #12
Czcibor said:
I'd say it's not the case for anything except electronics.
Except electronics! Yes, yes, it's clear now for me!
Thanks.
Okay, can I ask a personal opinion?. I'm dreaming about a bright future in human civilization. One of the important key is the energy.
A Russian scientist, I think, I forgot the name that once set the level of civilization.
The level of civilization is determined by how the civilization uses/consumes energy.
Level 0, just like on us, now.
Level 1, just like at Star Trek
Level 2, just like Star Wars
Level 3, ...?
It seems that energy plays a very important role in civilization.
What do you think of the future of fusion power for human civilization in the NEAR future? Is it going to be cheap if in operation at all?
 
  • #13
1 kg of deuterium is much more expensive than 7000 kg of sea water as you have to separate it from protium ("regular hydrogen"). Still negligible compared to the cost of fusion reactors.

Power plants are not semiconductors, their price does not go down like that. You can make a billion transistors in parallel (scaled up from a million a while ago), but not a billion power plants.

Kardashev scale
 
  • #14
mfb said:
[..]Power plants are not semiconductors, their price does not go down like that. You can make a billion transistors in parallel (scaled up from a million a while ago), but not a billion power plants.
A billion power plants parallel production!
LOL, Okay, okay I've got the point.
 
  • #15
Stephanus said:
I don't know about the cost of power plant. But if I remember back then in 1990's. The price of Intel 486 processor is $400 to $500. Now it cost nothing ($400 if you consider it antique :smile:). Perhaps the cost of power plant will dramatically decrease? Or it's not the case with power plant.
No. A computer chip is a piece of technology, not a building. The cost of buildings and non-technology products do not follow Moore's Law, never have and never will. The materials and labor that go into them always get more expensive over time, not less.

Fundamentally, I see no reason why a fusion plant should be less expensive than a fission plant, especially since fusion is proving to so difficult to make happen (unlike fission, which was immediately commercially deployable). So the economics works like this:

1. If the fuel for fusion power were free and the plant cost the same to build, fusion power would cost 14% less than fission power.

That's not a very compelling promise for something we've been waiting for decades for and spending enormous sums of money for without success.
What do you think of the future of fusion power for human civilization in the NEAR future? Is it going to be cheap if in operation at all?
For the above reasons, I think fusion power is near totally irrelevant for the near and long term future of civilization. And if it ever gets in operation at all will not be any cheaper than fission power.

Remember: pretty much the only thing we know for sure about fusion power is that it is a lot more difficult to do than fission power.
 
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  • #16
russ_watters said:
[..]Remember: pretty much the only thing we know for sure about fusion power is that it is a lot more difficult to do than fission power.
I couldn't agree more.
 
  • #17
Quick additional explanation and caveat to this:
russ_watters said:
No. A computer chip is a piece of technology, not a building. The cost of buildings and non-technology products do not follow Moore's Law, never have and never will. The materials and labor that go into them always get more expensive over time, not less.
A nuclear plant is somewhat of a piece of technology and the first fusion plants will be technological marvels as well. But the vast majority of the of the construction will be mundane: men pouring concrete and welding or bolting-together steel.

That said, the first plant will be unique, so at leaste the second, third and fourth should be less expensive. But after a few, the price will level off and go back up.
 
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  • #18
You meant:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale
It seems that energy plays a very important role in civilization.

Enerrgy-use-PerCapita.png

20110122_WOC032.gif


I'd just say, that in last years development looked in the following way:
-you use roughly the same amount of energy;
-thanks to using it more efficiently you produce higher GDP.

What do you think of the future of fusion power for human civilization in the NEAR future? Is it going to be cheap if in operation at all?
I've heard that is joked that nuclear fusion is that is supposed to be workable in next 20 years, and that was being said for over last 30 years ;)

I see 3 realistic scenarios:
a) still unworkable at reasonable price
b) works fine but free neutrons produced by fusion irradiate the reactor, which means that nuclear waste has to be stored. Technically - no big deal, politically - same Greens/Luddites protesting as usual.
c) Works fine - energy might be a bit cheaper.

Why?
- roughly counting 1/3 of energy bill in the USA is cost of energy distribution (building and maintaining cables), that would be unchanged;
(source: http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/electricity-distribution/ )
-those power plants are going to be really expensive, so one would build them only if expecting to get money from his investment back. And he would only get it back if the energy price would not be drastically lower...

So my hopes in near future are somewhat limited.
 
  • #19
russ_watters said:
That said, the first plant will be unique, so at leaste the second, third and fourth should be less expensive. But after a few, the price will level off and go back up.
Okay, okay. Electronics are much different than buildings.:smile:
 
  • #20
russ_watters said:
Quick additional explanation and caveat to this:
A nuclear plant is somewhat of a piece of technology and the first fusion plants will be technological marvels as well. But the vast majority of the of the construction will be mundane: men pouring concrete and welding or bolting-together steel.

That said, the first plant will be unique, so at leaste the second, third and fourth should be less expensive. But after a few, the price will level off and go back up.
The first one will certainly be more expensive than the 10th one and that more expensive than the 100th (in case we build 100), because you don't have benefits from mass production, you want larger safety margins everywhere and you don't know many clever ways to save money yet.
 
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  • #21
Wow, what a nice graph you send me. Thanks.
Czcibor said:
Yes, yes. I just remember that the name sounds like Kim Kardashian, but forget the actual name is.

There's a peak in US graph in 1970's for oil needs but descends later. Why is that? Fission plant?
They say France is 100% fission dependent, yet the oil needs do not descend. Why is that? Transportation?

Czcibor said:
I've heard that is joked that nuclear fusion is that is supposed to be workable in next 20 years, and that was being said for over last 30 years ;)
Yeah, fusion is the energy of the future! And in the future, fusion is STILL the energy of the future :frown:

Czcibor said:
b) works fine but free neutrons produced by fusion irradiate the reactor, which means that nuclear waste has to be stored. Technically - no big deal, politically - same Greens/Luddites protesting as usual.
I have this from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power#Waste_management
It looks like the waste is much less dangerous then fission power plant.

Waste management
The large flux of high-energy neutrons in a reactor will make the structural materials radioactive. The radioactive inventory at shut-down may be comparable to that of a fission reactor, but there are important differences.

The half-life of the radioisotopes produced by fusion tends to be less than those from fission, so that the inventory decreases more rapidly. Unlike fission reactors, whose waste remains radioactive for thousands of years, most of the radioactive material in a fusion reactor would be the reactor core itself, which would be dangerous for about 50 years, and low-level waste another 100. Although this waste will be considerably more radioactive during those 50 years than fission waste, the very short half-life makes the process very attractive, as the waste management is fairly straightforward. By 500 years the material would have the same radiotoxidity as coal ash

Additionally, the choice of materials used in a fusion reactor is less constrained than in a fission design, where many materials are required for their specific neutron cross-sections. This allows a fusion reactor to be designed using materials that are selected specifically to be "low activation", materials that do not easily become radioactive.Vanadium, for example, would become much less radioactive than stainless steel. Carbon fiber materials are also low-activation, as well as being strong and light, and are a promising area of study for laser-inertial reactors where a magnetic field is not required.

In general terms, fusion reactors would create far less radioactive material than a fission reactor, the material it would create is less damaging biologically, and the radioactivity "burns off" within a time period that is well within existing engineering capabilities for safe long-term waste storage.

Czcibor said:
So my hopes in near future are somewhat limited.
Hmhh...
 
  • #22
Stephanus said:
There's a peak in US graph in 1970's for oil needs but descends later. Why is that? Fission plant?
They say France is 100% fission dependent, yet the oil needs do not descend. Why is that? Transportation?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis

USA supported (saved?) Israel during Yom Kippur War, so Arab countries retaliated by slashing production to increase prices.

Later - better technologies and regulations intended to stop CO2 emissions.

My guess is that anyway, regardless of politics the economy would become more fuel efficient, just the demand for energy would not be just flat.

France? Political decision. Plus I think that they had their own nuclear program that was dreamt to stop communist single-handed helped to provide technology and enough engineers.

It looks like the waste is much less dangerous then fission power plant.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking here about technological factors, but about psychological ones. In case of fission that was the problem. People who protest against nuclear energy are not good enough at math, to appreciate that according to wiki page that you quoted, nuclear garbage would have shorter half lives.One more thing - concerning of potential impact on economy of nuclear fussion, you may look about a different one that's now happening in the USA:
politics:
http://business.financialpost.com/n...-the-altered-balance-of-power?__lsa=ae89-a392
business:
http://chemistrytoenergy.com/sites/chemistrytoenergy.com/files/shale-gas-full-study.pdfYes, shale gas. So it might give you rough idea, how such energy driven tech revolution may look like.
 
  • #23
Czcibor said:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis

USA supported (saved?) Israel during Yom Kippur War, so Arab countries retaliated by slashing production to increase prices.
oOo, that's why. Yes, I remember something about oil crisis, and OPEC and Henry Kissinger all in the 70's. The 80's belonged to Reagan, Berlin Wall, Gulf War. I didn't know that Kissinger was the negotiator. So it was all started by "Yom Kippur". Just didn't realize that the peak and drop was caused by this.

Czcibor said:
Shale gas? Wow that's new, at least for me. Thanks for your article.
 
  • #24
russ_watters said:
So the economics works like this:

1. If the fuel for fusion power were free and the plant cost the same to build, fusion power would cost 14% less than fission power.

That's not a very compelling promise for something we've been waiting for decades for and spending enormous sums of money for without success.

For the above reasons, I think fusion power is near totally irrelevant for the near and long term future of civilization. And if it ever gets in operation at all will not be any cheaper than fission power.

Remember: pretty much the only thing we know for sure about fusion power is that it is a lot more difficult to do than fission power.

Russ a question: I have read that the Chinese are going to mine the Moon for Helium 3 for fusion energy. Why are they doing this? Why don't they just built a bunch of nuclear reactors? Are there other goals to this project?
 
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  • #25
lavinia said:
I have read that the Chinese are going to mine the Moon for Helium 3 for fusion energy.
Where did you read that?
That might be a concept, but I doubt they'll do that in the next decades. There are not even the fusion reactors available that could use the helium.

Related discussion
 
  • #26
lavinia said:
Russ a question: I have read that the Chinese are going to mine the Moon for Helium 3 for fusion energy. Why are they doing this? Why don't they just built a bunch of nuclear reactors? Are there other goals to this project?
An interesting puzzle. D-T haven't worked yet, and I hear D-T is the "easiest" way to produce fusion power.
 
  • #27
mfb said:
Where did you read that?
That might be a concept, but I doubt they'll do that in the next decades. There are not even the fusion reactors available that could use the helium.

Related discussion
I agree that there are no fusion reactors today which makes the whole thing even more perplexing. Why even plan for it?

here are some stories, maybe apochryphal.

http://www.bbc.com/news/25141597
http://thediplomat.com/2014/06/moon-power-chinas-pursuit-of-lunar-helium-3/
http://www.technologyreview.com/news/408558/mining-the-moon/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs...dacious-plan-to-mine-the-surface-of-the-moon/
http://www.mining.com/china-is-taking-lunar-mining-seriously-65595/
http://phys.org/news/2013-12-moon-pie-sky-china-experts.html
 
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  • #28
given that 150K TwH of sunlight hits the Earth every day and PV cells are a semiconductor technology that has a Moore's law dynamic there will likely not be much of a need for fusion power in a couple of decades (when it will still be a decade or two away)

fusion is the energy source of the future and always will be. Its a complete waste spending significant resources on it
 
  • #29
It's not that fusion can't be done, the problem is getting it to be economically viable.
In the end this translates into a problem of scale, we just didn't build a big enough reactor yet.
Plans exist that will try address that problem of scale and which don't need any new physics.
https://www.iter.org/
This is actually under construction btw, more than just a plan.
 
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  • #30
Just corporate welfare for physicists. More fruitful to harness the big fusion reactor we are orbiting
 
  • #31
BWV said:
Just corporate welfare for physicists. More fruitful to harness the big fusion reactor we are orbiting
I agree that ITER might not produce the desired result, and that improved methods of solar energy collection could well be more economically realistic.
However I don't agree with the idea of it being some kind of corporate vanity project, I doubt that the Chinese would be a major player if this were the case.
 
  • #32
BWV said:
given that 150K TwH of sunlight hits the Earth every day and PV cells are a semiconductor technology that has a Moore's law dynamic there will likely not be much of a need for fusion power in a couple of decades (when it will still be a decade or two away)

fusion is the energy source of the future and always will be. Its a complete waste spending significant resources on it
But, does Moore's law still have effect on PV cells. For the price perhaps, but not for the energy intake. No matter how much you Moore-ing PV cell, the input energy is still the same as the energy that is received by 1 metre x 1 metre square of rectangular area on soil. While in fossil fuel, it's the concentration of millions of years sun light that is focussed on a single molecule hydrocarbon.
 
  • #33
yes but the efficiency of converting that light is still very low

http://www.nrel.gov/ncpv/images/efficiency_chart.jpg
 
  • #34
BWV said:
yes but the efficiency of converting that light is still very low

http://www.nrel.gov/ncpv/images/efficiency_chart.jpg
True -- but it isn't improving with a Moore's law like rate. In fact, it is pretty stagnant.

Furthermore, the cost of the panels themselves is not anymore the largest cost of the solar installation. Other costs, like physical construction, electrical wiring and inverters/switchgear are a greater cost and are mature (not changing much at all).
 
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  • #35
Photovoltaics has 100% efficiency as natural absolute upper limit. A more realistic limit is something like 50% for large-scale use - that is a factor 3 compared to current commercial devices. There is still room for improvement, but not that much. Moore's law would help to include more structure into the cells, this is not relevant for solar cells.

Dismissing a possible source of cheap power completely based on incorrect assumptions about photovoltaics is ... questionable.
 
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