FuturePundit on CO2 Emissions Reductions

Lynne Kiesling

I’m late to the party, but check out this post from Randall Parker at FuturePundit about using nuclear and wind power to meet most of our electricity demand:

Most drastically, we could halt all carbon dioxide emissions from electric generation (cutting out a third of US CO2 emissions) by switching to only non-fossil fuels for electric power generation. For example, in the United States we could switch to nuclear where we now use coal and natural gas. In 2005 nuclear power accounted for 19.3% of total electric power generated. The United States had 104 nuclear reactors operating in 2005 with a total capacity of 97 gigawatts (almost 1 gigawatt per plant). So as a rough first approximation if we built 400 nuclear power plants or 4 times as much as we already have we could shut down all the fossil-fuels burning plants. Though that would not provide enough electric power during the peak afternoon demand periods.

Not surprisingly, I particularly like the way Randall talked about dynamic pricing in the comment thread:

Dynamic pricing could flatten out the demand for electricity. This would reduce the need for natural gas peak electric generation.

Really cheap electricity at night could be used for many purposes:

– Light for enclosed plant nurseries. Give the plants light when it is cheap.

– Recharge pluggable hybrid car batteries.

– Super heat or cool salts or other materials and then blow air over them to cool or heat buildings during the day.

– Pump drinking water at night. e.g. run the California aqueduct more at night than during the day.

– Do more heavy computing tasks at night when the electric is cheaper. Shut down some processors during the day. e.g. recalculate database indexes at night or do design simulations at night.

– Do more aluminum smelting at night when electric is cheap. Ditto for other electric-intense heavy industry processes.

Currently peak electricity use is subsidized by those who use more off-peak electricity. The same average price all day and all night effectively subsidizes peak users. Dynamic pricing would raise peak prices and lower off-peak prices. Capital and business processes would be reconfigured to do more work at night.

Yeah, what he said.


6 thoughts on “FuturePundit on CO2 Emissions Reductions

  1. Annual global production of uranium currently amounts to around 40,000 tonnes. Consumption comes to around 67,000 tonnes, the difference being made up by reductions of stocks and use of redundant military-grade material, which the IEA calculates will be used up by 2015. Identified resources at $130/kgU come to around 4.75m tonnes, or enough for 71 years at current levels of consumption.

    The USA currently produces around 30% of all the nuclear power in the world. So we can producing 19.3% of the USA’s current demand from nuclear consumes around 20,000 tonnes of uranium annually. So if you quintuple nuclear’s contribution (i.e. add four-times as much capacity to the existing capacity), you will need around 100,000 tonnes of uranium annually, or increase total global demand by 80,000 tonnes to 147,000 tonnes of uranium, assuming no other countries increase their nuclear output, as the Chinese and Indians are planning to do. At that rate, the known, recoverable uranium will last barely 30 years. Yet nuclear power stations need to be run for 40 years to recover their costs, and to maximise their carbon contribution (as building and decommissioning nuclear power stations are very carbon-intensive).

    Let’s assume you embarked down this road, what would you have achieved? The USA’s consumption of roughly 4,200 TWh of electricity annually compares with its total consumption of primary energy of over 27,000 TWh. Allowing an average conversion efficiency of around 40% for the fossil-fuels used to produce the electricity, switching to nuclear power for your electricity addresses only around one-third of your energy-use. And though America undoubtedly is a gas-guzzling nation par excellence, your energy consumption is less than one-quarter of global consumption. Going fully nuclear-electric in the USA would only address around 8% of global energy consumption, and would be a very temporary and marginal solution unless significant additional volumes of recoverable uranium are discovered.

    For evidence of tightness in the uranium market (often denied or ignored by nuclear proponents), you need look no further than prices, which have increased eightfold in the past 3 years. That is not a sign of a fuel in adequate supply. Go ahead and bankrupt yourselves if you like, it won’t solve the problem.

  2. I submitted two comments on this post, and the second one seems to have borked the first one, and got lost in the process. At least, I assume that’s where the “So we can” comes from in the second paragraph, which doesn’t make any sense. Or it could just be a really bad typo (can’t think what I was trying to say, if so) and the second comment just got lost. Hopefully the point is still comprehensible, ignoring this bit of illiteracy. The second comment was simply to point out that people’s grand plans for how to deal with energy and the environment are irrelevant – externalities should be internalised, and then choices left to the market, which will almost always make a better choice than any externally-imposed scheme.

  3. I submitted two comments on this post, and the second one seems to have borked the first one, and got lost in the process. At least, I assume that’s where the “So we can” comes from in the second paragraph, which doesn’t make any sense. Or it could just be a really bad typo (can’t think what I was trying to say, if so) and the second comment just got lost. Hopefully the point is still comprehensible, ignoring this bit of illiteracy. The second comment was simply to point out that people’s grand plans for how to deal with energy and the environment are irrelevant – externalities should be internalised, and then choices left to the market, which will almost always make a better choice than any externally-imposed scheme.

  4. Well, when it comes to wind power, we have a problem. It is not a continuous source of power and rather unpredictable. This makes for a bad source (unlike water power), because it may or may not be available during extreme peak situations.
    This is one of the problems that make wind power expensive in Germany.

    Another possible option would be catching the CO2 emissions of coal plants where they are generated. However, this is very expensive at the moment and you could clearly make a million if you got a cheap method.

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