Looking for more articles on renewable energy? Create your own custom news feed.

Get started
article

Listen Up: Westinghouse Nuclear Energy Killed by Gas, Solar and Wind

Save It Saved

Video killed the radio star — just as natural gas, wind and solar are slowly but surely killing the nuclear power industry (we’re already saying good bye to coal). Unfortunately, the venerable Westinghouse Electric Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 29, 2017, dragged down by huge losses in their nuclear power plant construction business. But the story about the demise of Westinghouse is more nuanced, read on to find out how and why solar killed nuclear.

George Westinghouse founded the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1886. He teamed up with Nikola Tesla to develop and promote AC power, instead of the DC power infrastructure preferred by Thomas Edison. By using transformers to step up voltages for long distance power distribution and then step down voltages again for home use, the economics of AC power turned out to be much more favorable than DC power (the geeky reason is explained by Ohm’s Law and conductor sizes). To this day the world’s electrical system is still almost exclusively based on AC power. Over a 100-year period the Westinghouse Electric Corporation expanded into appliances, locomotives, entertainment — and even solar power (for many years Westinghouse held the record for solar cell efficiency).

Fast forward to the 1990s when the Westinghouse Electric Corporation came to the conclusion that their broadcasting subsidiary — the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) — had the potential to be more profitable than their manufacturing businesses. So they sold off all of their manufacturing operations, renamed the parent company as CBS, and licensed the Westinghouse name to leading companies in related market segments. Their nuclear business, which was named the Westinghouse Electric Company, eventually ended up as a subsidiary of Toshiba.

Toshiba expected to benefit from a renaissance in nuclear power, leveraging less expensive reactor designs and the need for carbon-free electricity. But three developments prevented this nuclear renaissance. First, the actual construction of these new reactor designs ended up being very expensive and time consuming. Second, nuclear power is still plagued by safety (Fukushima), nuclear waste and proliferation issues. And the final nail in the nuclear coffin is economic: electric power plants fueled by natural gas, solar and wind are much less expensive to build and operate, and can be constructed in several years — as opposed to several decades for a new nuclear plant. For more about the fate of the nuclear power industry and how solar killed nuclear energy, Listen Up to the Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

About the Energy Show

As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don't have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally hundreds of products, tricks and techniques that we can use to dramatically reduce these costs — very affordably.

The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is a weekly 20-minute podcast that provides tips and advice to reduce your home and business energy consumption. Every week we'll cover topics that will help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies in plain English, and cut through the hype so that you can make smart and cost-effective energy choices.

About Your Host

Barry Cinnamon is a long-time advocate of renewable energy and is a widely recognized solar power expert. In 2001 he founded Akeena Solar — which grew to become the largest national residential solar installer by the middle of the last decade with over 10,000 rooftop customers coast to coast. He partnered with Westinghouse to create Westinghouse Solar in 2010, and sold the company in 2012.

His pioneering work on reducing costs of rooftop solar power systems include Andalay, the first solar panel with integrated racking, grounding and wiring; the first UL listed AC solar panel; and the first fully “plug and play” AC solar panel. His current efforts are focused on reducing the soft costs for solar power systems, which cause system prices in the U.S. to be double those of Germany.

Although Barry may be known for his outspoken work in the solar industry, he has hands-on experience with a wide range of energy saving technologies.  He's been doing residential energy audits since the punch card days, developed one of the first ground-source heat pumps in the early ‘80s, and always abides by the Laws of Thermodynamics.

This podcast was originally produced by Spice Solar and was presented here with permission.

Lead image credit: Patrick Breitenbach | Flickr