The “portfolio myth”
On page 82, Brand states that:
climate change is so serious a matter, we have to do everything simultaneously to head it off as much as we can.
Stewart Brand backs up his statement by citing Princeton’s wedge concept which proposes that a number of different technologies will be needed to avoid CO2 emissions. Lovins, of course, doesn’t buy this (pdf, p. 17):
There is no analytic basis for Brand’s assumption that all energy options are necessary, nor is it sensible.
Lovins goes on to criticize Brand for misinterpreting parts of the Princeton study. As well, Lovins dings Brand for offering only one piece of evidence to back up the concept of a portfolio approach.
Well, there isn’t just one piece of evidence that says we need a portfolio of technologies. The Electric Power Research Institute has been presenting their analysis on how to reduce emissions for three years now (pdf) and below is their chart that shows the amount the US has to build for each technology to help reduce emissions (p. 3):
Each color represents the incremental reduction in emissions projected as feasible for a given technology under a given set of assumptions.
EPRI’s model builds out the maximum amount of capacity that they believe is possible to achieve for each technology. For example, by 2030, they project that the US nuclear industry could feasibly build 64,000 megawatts of new capacity and renewables could build 135,000 MW.
Lovins also argues on page 17 that:
The more urgent you think it is to protect the climate, the more important it is to spend each dollar to best effect by choosing the fastest and cheapest options—those that will displace most carbon soonest.
Here’s what the EPRI analysis found (pdf, p. 16):
The analysis confirms that while the cost of implementing major CO2 emissions reductions is significant, development and deployment of a full portfolio of technologies will reduce the cost to the U.S. economy by more than $1 trillion. Less than half of these savings would be achievable if the future electricity sector generation portfolio does not include advanced coal with CO2 capture and storage or advanced light water nuclear reactors.
EPRI’s results from their economic model conclude that nuclear IS a good buy to reduce emissions, contrary to Lovins’ assertions. If we don’t invest in nuclear, it will cost more for other technologies to reduce emissions. Lovins says that “we have only so much money.” EPRI found that we’ll be saving money if we invest in nuclear.
Further, other economic models from other sources came to many of the same conclusions as EPRI did on nuclear. Below is a table of many more studies that found that nuclear is projected to have a large role to play in a CO2-sensitive world. The table highlights the amount of new nuclear capacity projected to be built by a certain year under various climate change proposals and analyses.
For example, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s economic analysis of the House of Representative’s climate change legislation (Waxman/Markey, H.R. 2454), 187 new reactors are projected to be built by 2050 if we assume all existing nuclear plants retire after 60 years.
According to the Energy Information Administration’s economic analysis of the Waxman/Markey bill, in the shorter term, the United States would need to build 69 new reactors by 2030 to meet the bill’s CO2 reduction goals. This would result in nuclear energy supplying 33 percent of US electricity, more than any other source.
Back to Lovins (p. 18):
Nuclear expansion, [my] papers show, is about the least [cost] effective way to displace carbon (or achieve any of its other professed goals).
That’s just it, only Lovins’ papers show nuclear is the least cost effective way to displace CO2. Everyone else’s economic modeling comes to opposite conclusions. Lovins again on page 18:
These—efficiency and micropower—are the solutions that the global marketplace is overwhelmingly choosing in preference to nuclear power, where allowed to.
For those who weren’t around a year and a half ago when we debunked Lovins’ previous study, we showed that his data for “micropower” was mostly made up of decentralized fossil-fuel plants. As Sovietologist pointed out a few weeks ago, Lovins admitted in his latest post at Grist that he still doesn’t know the carbon intensity of “micropower.” How can Lovins claim “micropower” is a better climate solution than nuclear when he doesn’t even know its CO2 footprint? Stewart Brand sums it up more eloquently (p. 100):
It would be presumptuous to exclude any technology that has the ability to reduce emissions, generate vast quantities of electricity and provide reliable and affordable power. Nuclear already does this. Wind and solar have a foot in the door to possibly make a meaningful contribution. The world, however, has very little experience of successfully integrating high amounts of wind and solar. Wind capacity is booming right now but how do we know if it’ll sufficiently perform in a potentially warmer climate? We already know wind generation declines in the summer (pdf). Thus, it would be a bit foolish of us to put all of our eggs in one basket, especially with technologies dependent on the whims of the sun and wind.
It turns out that [Lovins’] arguments against the economics of nuclear power work only within the narrow commercial boundaries he defines, which increasingly no longer apply, and he focuses mainly on the US. His reasoning has no traction in relatively dirigiste economies like France, Japan, and most developing countries, especially China and India; if those governments want nukes, they build nukes. More important, the loom of climate change has altered everybody’s perspective on costs and risks.