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Mathematical conundrum 

Dropping nuclear power for solar isn't going to be cheap

For some time now I have been standing up for the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, despite the fact that the environmental community (and apparently most of our community) is against it. Therefore, severely outnumbered, I have to face the fact that I must be wrong and I apologize for the error of my ways. From here on out I am getting right with solar.

But words are not enough and some form of action is needed.

Right now, the Powerball is approaching $500 million. I plan to win it, and after keeping a few million dollars in spending money, I am going to dedicate the rest to building a photovoltaic solar array that will put the dreaded Diablo Canyon menace out of business once and for all.

Go solar! You guys can chip in if you want.

The first thing we have to do is determine the load we have to replace. In this case, the load would be the capacity of Diablo Canyon times 24 hours, since it operates around the clock. The capacity of Diablo Canyon is 2,240 megawatts or 2,240,000 kilowatts (kW). So the load that we have to replace is 2,240,000 kW multiplied by 24 hours or 53,760,000 kW hours (kWh) per day. Easy enough.

The next thing we have to do is determine the system size, which means dividing the load by the local insolation rate—the amount of solar irradiation per square meter per day. Naturally, this depends on the time of year. Since Diablo Canyon operates year-round and, since we want to completely replace it with solar, we have to use the lowest annual insolation rate for this area, which occurs in December. According to NASA, the insolation rate for our area in December is 2.48.

So, our system size would be: 53,760,000 kWh divided by 2.48, which equals 21,677,419 kW. Wow!

Now we have to figure out how many solar panels we need. A decent solar panel these days has a capacity of about 250 watts or 0.250 kW. So the number of 250-watt solar panels we would need would be: 21,677,419 kW divided by 0.250 kW, which equals 86,709,677 solar panels. Holy Moley!

Now, we need to figure out how much this is going to cost and pray like hell for a serious quantity discount. A 2012 article from the Berkeley Lawrence Lab regarding the cost of solar arrays stated: "Utility-scale systems installed in 2012 registered even lower prices, with prices for systems larger than 10,000 kW generally ranging from $2.50/W to $4.00/W."

Since the article is dated and indicated that prices were dropping like a rock we will use the lowest $2.50 per watt figure: 21,677,419 kilowatts equals 21,677,419,000 watts. Multiply that by $2.50, and we get a grand total of $55 billion dollars!!!

Say what? OMFG!!! That's enough to build half a dozen nuclear plants, easy. We would need more than a hundred $500-million Powerballs to do that. Even if we used the average insolation rate for the year, we would still have a cost of more than $25 billion.

Who the hell said solar power is cheap? Solar capacity is cheap, but solar production is extremely expensive. Ask the Germans.

Worse yet, the $55 billion is only part of the cost. Because the sun only shines for part of the day, we would have to have storage for most of the production to make it through the rest of the day, and God knows how much that will cost because they have yet to come up with a practical design. It could easily be two or three times the cost of the panels. Then, we would need even more solar panels and storage to save up for days when the sun doesn't shine. No effing way we can afford all that.

The moral of story is: The fantasy that intermittent sources of power can completely replace base sources of power is a good example of the eco group-think, shoot-yourself-in-the-foot logic that the fossil-fuel guys love, and they are laughing all the way to the bank. Go for it and toss Diablo Canyon into the briar patch: Nuclear bad. Solar good. Go ahead and do it. Dump nuclear and go solar. Germany fell for it, so why shouldn't we. We are easily as stupid as they are—just look at who we elected as president. Get real people. Δ

Mark Henry spends his free time doing math in San Luis Obispo. Send comments through the editor at [email protected] or counter with your own version of math at [email protected].

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