The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement a couple weeks ago to decrease carbon emissions from power generating plants by 30% has kicked up a lot of cheering, but also mudslinging and absurd statements. As an engineer, I am an emotionless number crunching, skeptical coot constantly in search of reality and facts – trying to illuminate others who are swayed by hype, 24/7 news, and the internet. Opinions may change, and should, based on facts that do not.
Friday morning I was stretching in my hotel room and reading The Wall Street Journal on my iPad when I came across this eye popping statement from the President and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. It was a letter to the editor in response to the EPA’s carbon target. He wrote, “The EPA is hedging its bets on largely unproven energy-efficiency programs that pose enormous cost and implementation challenges. The agency’s proposal sets pie-in-the-sky expectations for these programs that, in turn, inflate calculations across the board and set the stage for wholly unrealistic and unachievable standards.”
I thought, “I need to get Marty Kushler from ACEEE on speed dial.” This truly is a flat-earth society statement. Ironically, the very next letter published by the WSJ was from Steve Nadel, Executive Director of ACEEE.
I also spent much of last week analyzing how to possibly integrate large doses of renewable energy with the grid we have – not the grid we wish we had. This was the result of “the duck” post regarding this topic, from back in April (there have been dozens of articles and blog posts by others since). I was invited to write an article for AESP’s monthly Strategies newsletter to members, and that led to the research.
I learned a lot in the process and the conclusion is: Renewable energy in the form of wind and solar photovoltaic has significant limitations with the grid we have, not the grid we wish we had – unless consumers and utilities spend a lot of money to enable load shifting and storage. The limit, as it stands today, is about 20%. When it gets into the 30% range for renewable energy supplied, like California is doing, weird and wasteful things, like curtailing PV generation during peak production times, comes into play. That’s all I’ll say here, like a movie trailer. Read the article later when it comes out, hopefully in July.
At the opposite end of Mr. Clean Coal guy up there, we have the BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything) hempheads who believe we should all pile into megalopolises like Hong Kong and somehow live off solar panels (no sunlight for you) and soylent green.
As ACEEE recently reported, the grid we have and the utilities that use it are not going away, but certainly, changes are in the air – renewables, demand response, combined cycle natural gas plants, electric cars, and so on.
Hey, what about nuclear power? Solar and wind power are space intensive (thus the blackout over Hong Kong), coal is evil, and natural gas should be preserved for better uses as I explained last week.
Nothing comes close to the power density of nuclear power. A single kilogram, 2.2 pounds, of U-235 (an enriched isotope of uranium) will power 20,000 homes for a year. We seem to have lost sight of this. It’s an incredible and safe fuel – carbon free. Some companies, like Southern Company, see the importance of a “full portfolio” – one that includes nuclear, coal, natural gas, renewables, and energy efficiency – and believes the U.S. has the potential to “lead the world in energy.”
The paranoia over nuclear power is spectacular to say the least. I reported on this shortly after the Japanese Tsunami destroyed the Fukushima nuclear plant back in 2011. To summarize, three years later, the tsunami killed 18,500 (includes missing persons) and injured 6,148. It destroyed 127,290 buildings, partially collapsed 272,788 buildings, and damaged another 747,989 buildings.
Yet, get this, the United Nations, that radical right wing arm of The Fox News Channel (that was a joke), stated “that the scientists have found no evidence to support the idea that the nuclear meltdown in Japan in 2011 will lead to an increase in cancer rates or birth defects” and that, “None of the workers at the plant have died from acute radiation poisoning.”
I will repeat that. A complete annihilation of a nuclear power plant, not even a modern one with fully automatic protection systems, resulted in no (nil, zero, none) increase in cancer or birth defects and not a single worker died as a result.
So, I ask, where the heck is nuclear power in the mix for the carbon abatement plan?
And people talk about the development of electric cars will follow that of the cellular phone. Today’s cell phone has more computing power than all the computing power used to put a man on the moon – more computing power than a 1960s computer the size of a house. There are a thousand other barriers that will not allow the development of the electric car to be nearly as successful. But yet there is proven technology to produce nuclear power safely, and likely the technology has advanced to do it inexpensively.
I’m out of space to discuss the technology, but it would follow that of the nuclear Navy, about which I know some things. I will cover this next week, or another time in the future in case something spectacular happens in the meantime.
 European nuclear society – 1kg U235 can generate 24 million kWh