LEDs vs. the entire U.S. nuclear fleet (and gas pipeline)

All U.S. nuclear power reactors could be replaced by LED lighting with a few clever on-off controls. More evidence Plant Vogtle is a boondoggle good for nothing but propping up profits for Georgia Power and Southern Company.

Michael Kanellos wrote for Forbes 28 October 2013, Can LED Bulbs Make Nuclear Plants Obsolete?

One $7 billion nuclear plant like one of Georgia Power’s 1.2 GW units would add a little over 1 percent of capacity. The bulb solution would cost $60 billion, and around $36 billion two years from now, and require only that consumers know how to screw in a light bulb. Nuclear would cost $105 billion, probably more, and take decades.

So maybe it’s not just weather that’s pushing down your demand, Southern Company: maybe people are switching to LEDs already (plus rooftop solar).

…if you could install these anticipated LED lighting systems overnight—and the only impediment to that would be finding enough bulbs—you could mothball 44 reactors by the end of the year and/or postpone any new plants for decades.

Even more aggressive measures could further reduce the need for nuclear. Case studies that show that networked controls combined with LEDs can cut power by 80 to 90 percent, or another 35 to 45 power plants. With smart lights and a computerized Clapper, we’ve already whacked out nearly the entire reactor fleet.

Would lighting be more cost-effective? Yes, by a wide margin. Georgia Power is in the midst of trying to bring two nuclear power reactors online. The estimated budget is currently $14 billion, or $900 million over earlier estimates, and the project has been delayed to 2017 or 2018. Earlier this month, Westinghouse, which is building the reactor, filed a lawsuit against Georgia Power.

Finland’s Olkiluoto, a 1.6 gigawatt plant originally slated for completion in 2009, won’t likely go live until 2016.

Compare that to lighting. The cost of the primary component package for making LED bulbs fell from $13 per kilolumens to $6 per kilolumen from 2010 to 2011. In 2012, Lux Research predicted LED bulb prices would drop by 50% to hit $11 by 2020. But, oops, it’s already happened. Several vendors sell 60 watt equivalent bulbs for $12 to $10.

We don’t have to wait for Georgia Power. And cities and counties can take the lead:

And note that residential LEDs provide the least bang for the buck. The 2.4 billion commercial lighting systems consume half the total light power. In commercial markets, vendors have come up with programs to finance lighting upgrades through utility bill savings, reducing the cost of new lights to zero or close to it. New York, London, Paris, Buenos Aires and other cities have already launched LED streetlight programs. Fun fact: there are 2.4 billion commercial, industrial and outdoor lights in the U.S.

Kanellos’ other data comes from the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) for energy sources, from U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) for lighting market, and from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) for nuclear power plants.

It’s not just economy, either.

And finally, there is the issue of safety. Is anyone really afraid of Iran getting its hands on a dimmer switch?

Is anyone afraid of LEDs corroding and leaking methane or PCBs like natural gas pipelines? Or of their drinking water being permanently contaminated like in fracking?

And is anyone afraid of LEDs blowing up like that pipeline in Oklahoma or melting down like Chernobyl or Fukushima?

-jsq

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