Skip to main content

Nuclear Up, Emissions Down: The EIA Outlook

The U.S. Energy Information Administration sees incremental growth in nuclear energy capacity through 2035 in its Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (AEO 2012) reference case, which has just been released.

Nuclear generating capacity in the reference case increases from 101 gigawatts in 2011 to 112 gigawatts in 2035, with 10 gigawatts of new capacity due to 5 new plants, 7 gigawatts of uprates at existing plants and 6 gigawatts of retirements, according to the report. This is one gigawatt more than projected in the AEO 2011 reference case.

generation

At the same time, it forecasts CO2 emissions rising 0.2 percent per year during this period, or about 4.9 percent in total. While the rise in nuclear capacity is good news, the news about carbon emissions is a little disturbing, at least at first glance. A forecast – and there are a bunch of them, though this is the most prominent for U.S. policy makers - can be a little confusing the first time you tackle it.

carbonemissions

That’s because, as these charts show, the Energy Outlook is not as useful in any given year as it is in aggregation. Seen as one in a series, the reports show the year-to-year variations in whatever metric you want to follow.

The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer expresses it this way:

Carbon-dioxide emissions plummeted after the financial crisis in 2008, and the EIA expects that greenhouse-gas pollution from the energy sector won’t recover back to 2005 levels anytime soon, as the chart [above] shows. The reasons? New vehicle fuel-economy standards; cheap natural gas that’s displacing dirtier coal-fired places; state-level laws that mandate renewable energy; and new environmental regulations on power plants from the EPA.

That’s about right, though EIA doesn’t use terms like “dirtier coal-fired plants” and it really doesn’t “expect” anything. The EIA, in its reference scenario, is interested only in taking account of legislation and regulation that has been passed and/or implemented, so it “expects,” if anything, that there will be no more legislation and regulation going forward and this is how things will look as a result. But of course, there will be more and that will be reflected in the 2013 forecast – and so on into the future. The EIA isn’t Nostradamus (heck, Nostradamus wasn’t all that good a Nostradamus.)

So if you look at a series of the forecasts, you can see whether some metrics are pointing upwards over time (in our case, nuclear energy capacity, of course, and renewables) and whether some are pointing downwards (carbon emissions, coal capacity). If they are – and, let me hasten to add, they indeed are – then we’re going in the right direction. How speedily we’re going in the right direction is something else again.

For example, though the report (and the above chart) shows CO2 emissions in the electric sector growing by 0.2 percent per year from 2010 to 2035, this is less than in previous years. The AEO 2011 reference case forecasts CO2 emissions rising by an average of 0.3 percent per year between 2010 and 2035. So the rise has been cut by a third by policy making, the activity of industry and other factors over the last year. That’s a significant number, especially in light of a recovering economy and concomitant recovering electricity market.

Are improvements in a given set of metrics moving too slowly over time or not getting us where we want to go 25 years hence? Maybe, maybe not, but if you think it is, it argues for more aggressive policies to encourage nuclear and renewable energy and discourage carbon emissions. And that’s usually the result of the EIA’s AEO. It provides information that can be used to show  - well, a number of things – that can sharpen arguments for, say, new nuclear energy capacity.

Perhaps increasing nuclear capacity will bend that carbon emission curve downward and more quickly than the 2012 forecast shows – perhaps nuclear energy can do a quicker job on that curve than its renewable cousins can do – and so on. Pick your favorite energy source, poke through a few EIA reports to see if they support your view, then go to town. It’s a gold mine for energy wonks.

The full EIA report, due in April, will include a number of scenarios that do take account of potential policy changes and what they will mean for carbon emission reduction. So consider this a sneak preview.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Knowing What You’ve Got Before It’s Gone in Nuclear Energy

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Nuclear energy is by far the largest source of carbon prevention in the United States, but this is a rough time to be in the business of selling electricity due to cheap natural gas and a flood of subsidized renewable energy. Some nuclear plants have closed prematurely, and others likely will follow.
In recent weeks, Exelon and the Omaha Public Power District said that they might close the Clinton, Quad Cities and Fort Calhoun nuclear reactors. As Joni Mitchell’s famous song says, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
More than 100 energy and policy experts will gather in a U.S. Senate meeting room on May 19 to talk about how to improve the viability of existing nuclear plants. The event will be webcast, and a link will be available here.
Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power plants get no specia…

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…