Friday, December 04, 2009

Stormy Weather and Energy Myopia

myopia After receiving flowers and surviving a hail of flash bulbs, new IAEA chief Yukiya Amano officially began his four year term and made a short statement (there’s a video there, too, and Amano speaks in English):

"The situation surrounding the Agency is stormy now. We have a lot of difficult challenges, but I would like to do my best. I would like to address the global issues that include non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, enhancing nuclear security, addressing the energy need, providing good health care, and water management, among others. I will try to be an impartial, reliable, and professional Director General."

He isn’t kidding about stormy, but for now let’s allow Amano his flowers and photo ops. Plenty of time for the storms.


We found this op-ed at the Wall Street Journal by Richard Lester, head of the department of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, interesting and a little troubling.

Despite his title, his interest here is in determining what it might take to achieve the greenhouse gas emission reductions envisioned by President Obama and expected to be reiterated by him at the U.N. Climate Change conference in Copenhagen. That would be 83% by 2050. Here’s Lester’s calculation:

Here is a recipe that would work: Add 30,000 megawatts of new wind turbines every year between now and 2050 (this is nearly four times what was added in 2008, a record year). Add another 35,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity annually (more than 100 times what was added last year—a record year for solar, too).

That's just the beginning. Now multiply the nuclear reactor fleet fivefold by midcentury. Retrofit all existing coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and storage technology. And build twice as many new plants, also with carbon capture. Natural gas could substitute for coal, but only with carbon capture too. By 2050, the electric power system would be four times bigger than today. Two-thirds of the car and truck fleet would be powered by electricity, and the rest would run on advanced biofuels.

The argument seems to zero in on doing nothing since doing this much is unrealistic, but he does not say any such thing directly. There is this:

Yet falling short on any of these decarbonization measures would require even more of the others, or even greater energy efficiency gains. Failing that, the only way to reach the 83% reduction goal would be through slower or even negative economic growth, i.e., lower living standards. This is a matter of arithmetic; it cannot be wished away.

Which seems to raise the power of impossibility to infinity. But we don’t want to be unfair to Lester. We just don’t know – read it and see what you think.


Yesterday, we took a swipe at the Los Angeles Times for an editorial we thought ill-argued. We’re not alone:

But the paper’s stance on nuclear power is of a piece with the myopia of America’s most influential environmental activists.

This is from Energy Tribune’s Robert Bryce. To be fair, Bryce is using the Times’ editorial primarily as a jumping off point to ding environmental activists, Amory Lovins and “The Left” for their energy myopia.

We’re not sure we’d blow the editorial out to rope in an entire political class – liberal lawmakers and even some environmental activists are finding nuclear more and more to their taste – but we like Bryce’s take-no-prisoners approach and good research. Even when you disagree with him, he argues his positions well. Visit his home page while you’re there – lots of interesting energy blog posts.

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