Thursday, March 10, 2011

Looking to the Future

metropolis-02 Over at the National Journal's Energy and Environment blog, Amy Harder asks how the energy mix will differ 30 years from now - in 2042, in other words.

What long-term market dynamics -- if any -- will shift the nation's energy from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy? What environmental concerns should the country consider? What role do the federal and state governments play in shaping and sustaining the energy mix?

And why try to answer whopping big questions like that when you have access to some leaders in industry and elsewhere to help out?

Former Energy Secretary Spencer Abrahams has a book (Amazon link - no benefit to me - but it's a pretty interesting book anyway) that asks a similar questions and he's got it sorted:

I  call my plan the 30—30—30 by 2030 strategy. It calls for us to produce 30% of our power from nuclear and 30% from natural gas and clean coal by the target date. It also calls for us to generate another 30% from a combination of renewable energy and reductions in demand as a result of energy efficiency improvements during this timeframe.

And he goes further into how to bring about this result. A completely different outlook is provided by Thomas Pyle over at the Institute for Energy Research:

Thirty years from now, the American economy will still be dependent on the most affordable, efficient fuel sources available – oil, coal, and natural gas. Given present energy technologies, we should expect to see these energy sources to continue to dominate the American energy portfolio.

Really? Well, the idea here is not to agree with everyone, but to weigh the various arguments and see which have some heft. No one can predict the future, of course, but the fun is to see if one can marshal enough facts to make one's argument compelling and thus provide a workable way forward. That's how the future gets built.

NEI's President and CEO Marvin Fertel has an exceptionally good run at it:

Federal government forecasts conclude that the U.S. would need approximately 70 new nuclear reactors just by 2030. EPA’s forecast to 2050 under the Kerry-Lieberman bill was as high as 180 reactors in one scenario. All mainstream analyses of climate change by independent organizations have concluded that reducing carbon dioxide emissions will require a portfolio of technologies, that nuclear energy must be part of the portfolio and that a major expansion of nuclear energy over the next few decades is essential.

What works here is the use of facts to make the case - and he happens to be right. If the U.S. is to get where it wants to go, nuclear energy has to be in the mix.

But just for fun - and to demonstrate how predictions work - consider:

Small-scale reactors can complement large nuclear plant projects by expanding potential markets in the United States and abroad for carbon-free energy production. Small reactors can be manufactured in North America to meet growing domestic and export demand—creating high-tech U.S. jobs and improving our global competitiveness.

This is true - legislation (that I'll write about later) was just introduced in the Senate to foster development of small reactors - but these little powerhouses weren't even on the radar five years ago. So it's unlikely Fertel would have referenced them then. The future is always with us and always surpassing our expectations - and in this case, small reactors make a compelling case for producing emission free energy in a number of scenarios where a full-scale reactor isn't needed. Five years from now, who knows what any of the writers at the National Journal will have to add to their arsenal of ideas?

Do read the whole thing. Lots of other voices there - and they're all worth reading fully.

Too early for the future? The city of tomorrow, as seen in Metropolis (1926).

1 comment:

DocForesight said...

On the 30-30-30 by 2030 plan, what leaps in technology or weather control (sun and wind) will need to occur in order to expand from 2% to nearly 30%? Hydro is 8% or so now, will it expand much by 2030?

The development and deployment of SMRs makes the most sense in every respect but the NRC will need to be adjusted in order to foster that expansion. Will Congress take the lead on directing the NRC to do so?