We Shouldn’t Be Surprised


The Green Party’s success in last weekend’s European elections will likely result in demands to expand and extend decades-old subsidies to renewables.

Like a lot of people, I used to think that subsidies to promote the switch from fossil fuels to solar and wind would be a one-time thing.

Once a solar or wind farm was built, I thought, it would produce electricity forever, without further subsidy, because sunlight and wind are free.

Renewables would thus allow a “sustainable” and even “circular” economy without waste or mining because everything would be recycled.

But it turns out that only nuclear can produce sufficient clean energy to power a circular economy.

That’s partly because nuclear plants have seen their efficiency increase dramatically. Nuclear plants used to operate for just 50% of the year. Now, thanks to greater experience in operations and maintenance, they operate 93% of the year.

Nuclear plants were expected to run for 40 years, but thanks to greater experience, they’re expected to run for 80. And simple changes to equipment allowed the amount of power produced by existing nuclear plants in the US to increase the equivalent of adding eight full-sized reactors.