The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) and the Nuclear Policy Research Institute (Dr. Helen Caldicott’s organization) just released an Executive Summary of Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy. It is a book that will be published in October 2007 detailing recommendations on how the
The joint project sets out to answer three questions:
Is it possible to physically eliminate CO2 emissions from the
energy sector without resort to nuclear power, which has serious security and other vulnerabilities? U.S.
Is a zero-CO2 economy possible without purchasing offsets from other countries – that is, without purchasing from other countries the right to continue emitting CO2 in the
? United States
Is it possible to accomplish the above at reasonable cost?
My answers are yes, yes and no.
To the first question, it is possible to eliminate CO2 and nuclear from the energy sector -- all we need to do is quit consuming energy. With current technology, there is no way CO2 and nuclear will be eliminated at the same time. It will have to be one or the other. The executive summary, however, suggests otherwise. More further down.
To the second question, why would we purchase offsets from other countries in the first place? The goal is to reduce and stop emitting carbon. We shouldn’t need to justify emitting CO2 by purchasing offsets. Just do it.
The third: Is it possible to accomplish the above at a reasonable cost? I guess that depends on your definition of reasonable. Does reasonable mean doubling or tripling electricity prices? According to the solutions presented, I don’t believe reasonable is even close to what's actually practicable.
Figure 2 on page 9 of the summary details how the electric grid will be configured by 2050 without coal or nuclear power. Solar PV and solar thermal are assumed to generate 40-45% of the electricity supply. Since solar is the fuel source to provide the most electricity, let’s start out by determining how much solar would be needed to provide 40-45% at today’s demand (to keep it simple).
In 2006, total U.S. electricity net generation was 4,053 bkWh. Forty five percent of this is 1,824 bkWh. In 2006, solar generation was only 0.5 bkWh with a total capacity of 0.4 GW and a capacity factor of 19%.
If solar is to provide 1,824 bkWh to meet today’s demands it would need 1,095 GW (1,824,000 mkWh / (8,760 hours in a year * 19% capacity factor) = 1,095 GW). Total U.S. electrical generating capacity is nearing 1,000 GW.
So we would need to build more solar capacity than the total current capacity of all the generating capacity in the
The demand by 2050 could be twice as much.
Taking aside growth in electricity demand, let us calculate what 1,095 GW of solar would mean. We have about 42 years left until 2050 which means the U.S. will need to build roughly 26 GW of solar each year or 2 GW each month or 1 GW every two weeks. And this is just for the
What’s interesting about the executive summary is it hasn't so far shown how much capacity would be needed from any of their alternatives. You would think that would be the first data presented as IEER always points to it for nuclear, but it is not. Hopefully the book will provide a quantitative analysis of this sort.
My little exercise actually applies to all fuels including nuclear so I don’t want it to sound like I’m picking on solar. But since the book’s main supply of electricity is solar then we of course need to analyze its task ahead. In reality, these calculations will always come out to show that a lot of everything will be needed to mitigate climate change because a lot of everything will be needed just to meet new demand.
If the reader looks at Table 2 on page 17 of the study, they will find that IEER’s reference scenario by 2050 is projected to be cheaper to the consumer then the business as usual scenario. Considering that solar right now is the most expensive technology (Table 39, p. 77, pdf) and it is a main crux to IEER’s electricity supply, we need some major, major cost breakthroughs with solar to occur if that is to happen. I'm very interested to see how the project calculated this scenario because the assumptions are very optimistic to say the least.
If the reader moves to page 18, they will find a table listing all the technologies included in the project's plan. When I look at the table, I see many of the solutions still in the R&D stage, a few demonstration plants needing more development and major cost reductions required before full scale commercial implementation can happen. Reads like a wish list to me.
Well let me throw out some stats of another source which is readily available, proven and is already making a dent in carbon reductions. Nuclear power in the
I'm getting ahead of myself of course because I'm sure there are some great ideas in the book to consider. So I'll hold off final remarks until it is released. Stay tuned.