Large-scale nuclear included for first time in GenCost report

Nuclear power plant chimneys reflected in lake at sunset (debate)
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The 2023-24 edition of CSIRO’s annual GenCost report features a range of changes in response to stakeholder feedback, most significantly, the inclusion of large-scale nuclear for the first time.

GenCost is a leading economic report by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, in collaboration with the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) on the cost of building future electricity generation, storage and hydrogen production in Australia.

The decision to include costings of large-scale nuclear for the first time was prompted by increased stakeholder interest in nuclear following updated costings for small modular reactors (SMRs) in the 2023-24 consultation draft.

Related article: Nuclear six times more expensive than renewables

GenCost assessed submissions regarding the suitability of large-scale nuclear power generation in Australia’s electricity system and found that, while generation units of that scale are unprecedented in Australia, there are no known technical barriers.

It also determined that nuclear power was more expensive than renewables and would take at least 15 years to develop, including construction. This reflects the absence of a development pipeline, the additional legal, safety and security steps required, and weighing the evidence provided by stakeholders.

Wind power is recovering the slowest from global inflationary pressures and cost projections for both onshore and offshore wind have been revised upwards in the next decade.

Despite this, updated modelling found that renewables—including costs associated with additional storage and transmission—remain the lowest cost, new build technology.

This competitive position reflects the decade of cost reductions experienced by wind, solar photovoltaics (PV) and batteries prior to the pandemic, while costs of their more mature competitors have remained flat.

Infographic showing the annual change in capital costs and levelised cost of electricity (LCOE)
Infographic showing the annual change in capital costs and levelised cost of electricity (LCOE)

CSIRO chief energy economist and GenCost lead author Paul Graham said, “GenCost is flexible to adjusting assumptions, scope and methodology in response to constructive feedback received during the formal consultation period and throughout the year.

“For example, our approach to the inclusion of large-scale nuclear technology provides a logical, transparent and policy-neutral method of costing a potential deployment scenario in Australia.”

GenCost based its large-scale nuclear cost estimations on South Korea’s successful nuclear program and adjusted for differences by studying the ratio of the costs of new coal generation in each country.

The costs estimated in the report can only be achieved if Australia commits to a continuous nuclear building program, requiring an initial investment in a higher cost unit. Similar ‘first-of-a-kind’ costs in Australia also apply to other technologies such as offshore wind, solar thermal and carbon capture and storage (CCS) but have not been reflected in the final GenCost report due to their project specific nature.

Related article: Report says renewables require less maintenance

The report revised its approach to estimating solar thermal power generation costs to align with other bulk supply technologies. The new cost data indicates solar thermal is competitive with nuclear and other non-renewables that combine CCS technologies.

Additional findings

  • Inflationary pressures have considerably eased, but the impact is inconsistent across technologies
  • Onshore wind costs increased by 8%, while large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) fell by the same proportion
  • Gas turbine costs increased by up to 14%
  • Capital costs of other technologies were relatively steady.
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