Replace Limerick Nuclear with Solar Energy? No.

Alternative energy has its place, but it should be oversold.

In a opinion piece posted in the Pottstown Mercury, a letter to the editor states: "Close Limerick nuclear plant, switch to solar energy."  Sounds simple, right?  As one who takes a lot of interest in energy and technical topics, I read the piece to understand the intentions of the author, whose name is missing from the piece. 

The article begins with mention of Chernobly, TMI, and Fukushima.  It was quickly evident that the opinion piece was written by an anti-nuclear activist; I could take a guess it was another anti-nuclear post by the ACE campaign.  But let's drill down and look deeper into the piece, correct the claims, and look at what it would take to switch Limerick from nuclear to solar.

Where activists go wrong, as I've said before, is not being factual.  For example, the statement "demand for nuclear is down" is factually incorrect.  Demand for nuclear power is not down.  In fact, because demand for electric power is forecast to double by 2030, the demand for nuclear power has increased and will continue to do so.

Let's examine the headline which is to close Limerick nuclear and switch to solar power. 

I always find it amusing how people can sit on a laptop, pen a report simply saying to switch to wind or solar, ignore the basic math – and yet it gets picked up in the local paper by newsroom editors.

Limerick generates 2.2 MW of power – enough for 2 million homes.  The power is very reliable.  How often has anyone in the area lose power because the sun was not shining or the wind was not blowing? 

In the power industry, there is a term known as 'energy sprawl' – the amount of land required for each energy source.  For example, Limerick nuclear plant is built on a 600-acre site.  Simple math can determine the energy sprawl of Limerick:  2.2MW of power / 600 acres = 3.66kW per acre.  This means for each acre of land, Limerick generates 3,666 watts of power. 

Now let's replace Limerick with photo-voltaic (PV) solar panels. NREL estimates that 6.4 acres of land is required to generate 1 megawatt of electricity.  This means to replace the reactors in Limerick with solar panels would be 6.4 acres * 2.2MW = 14 million acres or 21,000 square miles!  That equates to 621 Manhattans – or nearly the entire size of West Virginia.   

It is not only the amount of acreage to replace the two reactors in Limerick, but also the cost.  Using the LEC (Levelized Energy Cost) calculations, nuclear power is very economical.  $112 per MWh (MegaWatt hour).  Solar PV is $156.9 per MWh – a 40 percent increase. 

Can we replace the Limerick nuclear plant with green solar energy?  Of course.  It would only require leveling millions of homes for a 21,000 square mile 'green' solar farm.  And don't forget the increase in your energy bill, the additional new coal plants required during peak demand, and the reduced reliability.

Alternative energy has its place, but it should not be aggressively oversold.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mike Shortall Sr December 10, 2012 at 02:45 PM
The soundest approach - in my opinion - for limiting our dependency on oil (We'll never break it totally.) and coal is to use a mixture of all other reasonable alternatives. None of the alternatives seems to offer The Solution by itself. So a combination of solar, nuclear, wind, geothermal, natural gas, etc should be the approach. We cannot afford to put all our energy eggs in one basket.
Eileen Faust December 10, 2012 at 05:51 PM
To clarify an innaccuracy in this opinion piece: The Mercury does not "pick up" letters to the editor. The opinion piece referred to in Mr. Bartman's editorial above was a letter sent in to the newspaper. All letters sent in to The Mercury are published in print, unless they contain libelous statements. Mr. Bartman is free to submit his counter opinion to our paper. Letters to The Mercury can be submitted electronically (letters@pottsmerc.com) or through the mail, 24 N. Hanover St., Pottstown, PA 19464. Letters to the editor do not represent the views of the paper or its employees, but the views of the person writing them. Every member of the community is free to submit a letter to our paper and we do not discriminate in publishing a letter because of its content (unless the content is libelous in nature). -- Eileen Faust, online editor, The Mercury
Tom Bartman December 10, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Let me clarify. The 'opinion' piece was on the main page (where people go for 'news') and has inaccuracies. Is that good journalism? Is a piece on the main page that contains inaccuracies a good practice? The piece got 'picked up' whether by a person, a perl script, or whatever aggregator and placed -- on the main page. If all letters to the editor were published, the content of a letter I submitted regarding a specific online security topic would not have been ignored. I'll leave it at that. Here is an example of tying to bring awareness of important factual information - and I notified the editor directly being it affects many local viewers. Nothing came of it. In addition, I've submitted several comments which have never been posted. There have been several comments on Patch regarding this as well. My article on crime in Pottstown had over 400 comments on Patch. The Mercury is an outstanding paper and you all work very hard. It shows. This is a tough area to cover and yet you do it well. All I am saying is, the headlines on the main page are highly visible and some readers may not perceive them as an opinion or op-ed.
Stephen Eickhoff December 10, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Please replace "2.2 MW" with "2.2 GW". That had me scratching my head. It also resulted in a confusingly inaccurate calculation of the acreage for an equivalent solar array! It would really need just over 14,000 acres. Regardless, people who act like we could plop an array in place of Limerick-- I'm not sure how we're supposed to replace the supply while the plant is decommissioned and this array is built-- are delusional. Our solar panels would need to be over four times as efficient as they are now, which is near the theoretical optimum. I don't think we want to give up all our homes, farms, and open spaces for inefficient solar arrays. Perhaps it's possible to supply small communities in low-density areas with lots of sun-- like New Mexico or Arizona.
Joe The Nerd Ferraro December 13, 2012 at 02:29 PM
I have a couple of knocks on Nukes - waste disposal (takes a long time to get those half-lives down.) - the immense amount of funding it is taking from the government to keep this stuff going. - knowing if we had an 'incident' at Limerick most of us would get less radiation driving in front of the facility to get out of here rather than waiting in a snarled traffic system. Why not develop a hybrid series of systems? We do have wind here - the advantage of PA's rolling hills. Why not start really developing geo-thermal? If the government put the same subsidies into alternative energies as it has to Nukes and Coal...


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