The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to roll out a carbon-reduction regulation tomorrow, a move that may have major ramifications in how states manage energy policy and develop the electricity grid of the future.
This new regulation will likely prompt companies to shift to nuclear energy, renewables, hydropower and other lower-carbon emitting energy sources, as the new regulation will impose yet more strict regulations on carbon emissions.
As the only large-scale electricity producer, “…[P]olicy makers should not be spooked into shutting down [nuclear energy as] a vital source of clean energy in a warming world,” the New York Times points out in an editorial.
Last year, nuclear energy accounted for more than 60 percent of America’s carbon-free sources of electricity, with hydropower accounting for around 20 percent; wind an estimated 13 percent; and geothermal and solar at about 1 percent each.
Many environmentalists and energy and environmental policy organizations have already assessed nuclear energy’s essential role in a carbon-constrained energy portfolio. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions notes in a recent report that, “Without nuclear power…U.S. emissions would be 289 million-439 million metric tons higher in 2014, and 4-6 billion metric tons higher over the period of 2012 to 2025.”
All carbon-free energy technologies will be needed in this transition to a lower carbon electricity portfolio, but nuclear energy’s scale sets it apart from other sources. One hundred reactors in 31 states produced 789 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and sector-leading reliability. When compared to wind, nuclear energy prevents more than 4.5 times the carbon emissions as wind.
Despite global events such as the Fukushima reactor accident in 2011, “[I]t…would be wrong to rule out a near-carbon-free technology that produces a fifth of the country’s electricity,” a Washington Post editorial notes.
The International Energy Agency predicts that global energy demand will increase one-third by 2035. In addition, they estimate that low-carbon energy sources (renewables and nuclear) will account for 40 percent of the growth in “primary energy demand.”
Steps to expand nuclear energy are in the works, with the Energy Department issuing a $6.5 billion loan guarantee to Southern Co. for its Vogtle 3-4 project in Georgia, two of the five reactors under construction in the Southeast. Two other reactors are being developed by South Carolina-based SCANA. By the time this additional 2,200 megawatts of nuclear energy comes online, the company’s electric generation mix will include 62% non-emitting sources.
The EPA regulation is an opportunity for U.S. policymakers to prompt serious discussion on how to harness nuclear energy most safely and effectively, while maintaining the reliability and diversity of the grid.