This is my final post (and the longest) in the series that discredits Amory Lovins’ and the Rocky Mountain Institute’s “Nuclear Illusion” paper (pdf). Hopefully this series has opened many eyes to the flaws and inconsistencies of RMI’s claims. Let me briefly summarize the previous posts.
Part One found that “micropower” is primarily made up of decentralized coal and gas plants, the generation from “non-biomass decentralized co-generation plants” (RMI’s main plants for “micropower”) was grossly exaggerated, and the “stunning performance” of nuclear’s “true competitors” was not backed up by RMI’s own sources.
Part Two showed that RMI’s “micropower” data don’t fit their own definition of “micropower”. Not only that, small plants aren’t the only way to go especially since bigger power plants in general yield greater efficiencies and economies of scale.
Part Three explained that energy efficiency and “negawatts” will not necessarily reduce demand and in fact strong evidence suggests it will most likely increase demand.
Part Four proved that RMI cherry-picks cost components in their paper and, as the anonymous commenter stated, “[RMI] is leaving the territory of cherry-picking to bravely enter the la-la-land of making things up.” Part Four also showed that planned new nuclear plants have become economically competitive (or superior in one case) versus other generating technologies.
And Part Five demonstrated that nuclear plants are a reliable source of electricity, contrary to RMI’s claims.
I have a few more issues I would like to address before I conclude this series such as the current contribution from nuclear energy, world electricity demand now and projections for the future, studies that show nuclear has to be a part of the mix, and final criticisms of RMI’s work.
What’s the Current State of the Nuclear Industry?
Here’s what RMI believes on page 1 in their paper:
nuclear power is continuing its decades-long collapse in the global marketplace…This quote is hilarious. Mr. Lovins began making these claims in the 1970s (pdf), yet according to the data below from the World Nuclear Association, world nuclear generation has increased substantially since the 1970s (hat tip to advancednano and bw).The share of world electricity produced from nuclear energy has remained around 16 percent for two decades. According to many studies that I discuss further down, though, nuclear generation is projected to have a greater role if the world wants to reduce emissions while meeting demand.
The World’s Demand for Electricity
If one is going to dismiss a particular technology, they should at least provide some perspective as to what our electricity situation will look like with and without the particular technology. RMI is so focused on dismissing nuclear energy that they completely fail to explain the big picture of our electricity consumption.
Right now, hydro and nuclear are the only emission-free sources of electricity that provide a meaningful contribution to the world’s electricity demand - 16 and 15 percent each in 2005. If nuclear wasn’t generating electricity, fossil-fuels simply would be filling the gap which means an additional two billion metric tons of CO2 would be emitted each year.
According to EIA’s International Energy Outlook 2008, world electricity consumption “nearly doubles” over the 2005 to 2030 period. As well, total installed electric capacity increases from about 3,900 GW in 2005 to 7,000 GW in 2030. The graph and table below show that world electricity generation will continue to be met by coal and gas.Here’s a table of each fuels’ capacity (GW) in 2005 and projected for 2030.Also, total world CO2 emissions (EIA did not breakout emissions by sector) are projected to increase from 28 billion metric tons in 2005 to 42 billion metric tons in 2030 – the increase comes mainly from non-OECD countries like China and India. Nuclear and hydro, the largest emission-free sources of electricity as stated above, only avoid four billion MT of CO2 each year.
So what do these projections tell us? First and foremost, our demand for electricity is huge and is rapidly increasing. And second, enormous amounts of capacity are needed from nuclear and renewables (and sequestration if possible) if we want to curb emissions.
The nuclear critics laugh, saying that the world won’t be able to build a lot of nuclear capacity to make a difference. Well, according to the data above, the power plant capacity is going to be built no matter what. So it all depends on which fuel source is chosen. More and more studies are showing that if the world really wants to reduce emissions while continuing to meet growing demand, nuclear has to be a part of that mix.
Which Studies Show that Nuclear has to be Part of the Mix for the Future?
Nuclear power plants have two particular attributes that make them stand out from most other energy sources. They can generate a large supply of reliable electricity and can do so without emitting significant pollutants. Over the past few years, many studies have come to recognize these two attributes and have stated that nuclear will therefore have an important role to play in the future. Below are summaries of several such studies.
The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2007 reference scenario shows that world nuclear capacity will increase to 415 GW by 2030 from today’s 368 gigawatts – not much. IEA, however, also produced an Alternative Policy Scenario where nuclear increases to 525 GW by 2030. Not only that, IEA developed a “450 Stabilization Scenario” that shows world nuclear capacity more than doubling to 833 gigawatts by 2030 if the world were to attempt to stabilize the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Under the 450 Stabilization Scenario, nuclear’s electricity fuel share increases to 22 percent by 2030 from today’s 16 percent (pages 211-213).
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL) Joint Global Change Research Institute has conducted climate change research and analysis for nine years, and is one of the few analyses that look beyond 2030 - out to 2100. The Global Energy Technology Strategy Program (pdf) identified nuclear energy as one of six energy technologies and technology systems with the potential to play a major role in a climate-constrained world. Without any CO2 constraints, nuclear energy is projected to increase seven-fold by 2100 from today’s levels. In a world where CO2 is constrained, nuclear power deployment increases thirteen-fold by the end of the century (page 78).
Last year, McKinsey & Company (pdf) published an assessment that “analyzed more than 250 options, encompassing efficiency gains, shifts to lower carbon energy sources, and expanded carbon sinks” that would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear energy was one of the options and McKinsey found in their model that by 2030, nuclear increases by 13 gigawatts in their low GHG abatement case, 29 GW in their mid abatement case, and 53 GW in their high abatement case (page 19).
Since January 2007, EIA has conducted six analyses of various legislative proposals that seek to control CO2 emissions in the U.S. In virtually all cases, nuclear plant construction speeds up in a carbon-constrained world. In some cases, like the analysis of the Lieberman-McCain Climate Stewardship Act (S. 280) and the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2007 (S. 2191), the model forecasts more new nuclear capacity than could realistically be built in the U.S. (145 GW and 268 GW by 2030, respectively).
The Electric Power Research Institute’s PRISM-MERGE analysis (pdf) found that U.S. nuclear capacity increased by 64 GW in their Full Portfolio scenario in order to reduce CO2 emissions. The Full portfolio includes an aggressive implementation of carbon capture and sequestration, nuclear, renewables, coal plant thermal efficiencies, plug-in hybrids and end-use efficiency. In EPRI’s alternative scenario (Limited Portfolio), nuclear capacity does not expand significantly. Instead, emissions reductions require large reductions in electricity demand, which places severe constraints on economic growth. The Limited Portfolio scenario also requires a significant amount of fuel-switching to natural gas to meet emissions targets. This drives up the price of natural gas and the cost of electricity.
What’s also implied in all of the studies mentioned above is that there’s no single energy source that’s a “silver bullet.” They all found, however, that nuclear energy has a significant role to play if the world wants to reduce emissions while meeting growing demand.
Everyone Who’s a Proponent of Nuclear Energy is Deceived – At Least According to RMI
Page 1 from RMI’s paper accuses the nuclear industry of misleading everyone about the benefits of nuclear power, “including four well-known individuals with long environmental histories.”
Professor James Lovelock CH CBE FRS (the venerable 88-year-old ecologist who proposed the Gaia hypothesis), Dr. Patrick Moore (a prominent Greenpeace organizer and officer in the 1970s), Peter Schwartz (once head of Shell Group Planning and a former Trustee of Rocky Mountain Institute), and his Global Business Network cofounder and colleague Stewart Brand (creator of Whole Earth Catalog and CoEvolution Quarterly). All are good people and the latter two are my longtime friends. Schwartz has been an energy expert. Regrettably, all four seem unaware of, or unable to deal analytically with, the realities described here…RMI’s second rebuttal to my posts also claims that Robert Bryce, myself, and Dr. Peter Huber and Mr. Mark Mills (authors of the Bottomless Well) are all wrong when it comes to the Jevons Paradox and energy efficiency. RMI should also add Bill Gates, the Wall Street Journal, LA Times and Business Week to that list because they all thought Huber and Mills’ Bottomless Well was brilliant (as stated on the cover of the book). And RMI should also include the IEA, EIA, EPRI, McKinsey & Company and PNNL to their list because, as demonstrated above, they all find that nuclear capacity will likely have to increase in the future.
So what does that say about RMI’s work when prominent writers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and institutions all disagree with RMI’s conclusions? Also, how ridiculous is it to accuse the nuclear industry of coordinating an “intensive global campaign” to “spin” the benefits of nuclear energy? RMI is basically assuming that people can’t think for themselves. How insulting is that?
RMI, Welcome to the New World of the Internet and Blogging
RMI’s first rebuttal to my posts made this interesting statement:
Prof. Tufte coined the pejorative term "chartjunk" to refer to ink that conveys no news. Mr. Bradish misapplies it to a clean and clear graph conveying news he finds unwelcome. That's blogjunk.Unwelcome news is not “blogjunk.” Blogjunk is writing disorganized, confused and rambling responses to your critics and then not even sticking around to defend them in the comments section.
I’ve clearly shown that RMI’s claims don’t stand up to scrutiny. I hardly expect, though, for RMI to change their conclusions. What I do expect and already see happening, is that more and more bloggers will continue to call out RMI on the flaws in their analyses. What starts in the blog world will then become mainstream as more and more readers, pundits, journalists, politicians and so on begin to realize the flaws in RMI’s work.
The Internet has tremendously opened up our knowledge capacity. I’m sure most everyone reading this will attest that bloggers keep everyone honest. Why? Because nearly every bit of information is now at our fingertips. When a blogger is incorrect, other bloggers will jump on that person’s postings to make sure they get it right. This is the new reality and RMI is going to have to face this and defend their work.
The energy market has changed dramatically in favor of nuclear energy this decade. Oil and gas prices have increased substantially; the U.S. and world are increasing their energy and electricity appetites; and the need for emission-free, reliable sources of power is greater than ever. RMI and Amory Lovins continue to say the same old thing and have failed to keep up with the changing times. It’s not that the rest of the world sees an illusion in nuclear power; it’s that RMI holds fast to the illusion of their claims from the 1970s.
NEI has always said that nuclear energy is not the be-all, end-all solution to our energy woes. Nuclear, however, provides one tremendous amount of energy that is reliable, affordable, and emission-free.
To all who have been reading this, thanks for the support and comments. This has definitely generated a lot of discussion and debate and I hope you all enjoyed the series!
For further reading, here are some recent critiques from other bloggers on Amory Lovins and RMI’s latest work. If I missed any, let me know.
Что такое АТЭЦ?
Why Gas Is Not Our Future
The Misadventures of Amory Lovins, Fossil Fuel Apologist
Nuclear Green (Charles Barton):
Amory Lovins, Fount of Disinformation
Amory Lovins' business
Don't Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain
Atomic Insights (Rod Adams):
Amory Lovins, the "Chief Scientist" who could not complete a degree program, is at it again
Lovins and His Nuclear Blindness
Non-Combustion Energy Source Growth
Next Big Future (bw):
Amory Lovins distorts nuclear energy and promotes air pollution
Physical Insights (Luke Weston):
Nuclear discussion quote of the day.
Economics of Nuclear Energy
Using Excel to Kneecap Nuclear Power