Guest contribution by Willis Eschenbach
A few months ago I wrote a post called Bright Green Impossibilities. In it, I showed that it is impossible to convert all of global energy into zero-emission fuels by 2050. But what about an easier task? A number of US states have committed to converting only electricity into zero-emission fuels, not all energy, by 2040. How difficult can that be?
First, let me look at the history of US power generation. Figure 1 shows U.S. power generation from 1985 to 2019 by fuel source.
Figure 1. US power generation by fuel source.
That being said, it doesn’t look too difficult. After all, you can see that renewable energies (orange) are increasing.
But if we look at it by percentage of its generation from fossil and zero emission fuels, we find a strange thing:
Figure 2. US production by fuel type, zero emission, and fossil fuels. The emission-free generation takes place through wind, sun, geothermal energy, hydropower and nuclear power.
Doesn’t look that easy now. If we keep the rate of change since 2010, it will be 75 years before we’re zero emissions …
But wait, as they say on TV, there is more. As of 2019, the US was consuming 4,400 terawatt hours of electricity per year.
There is also a big push for electric vehicles … and that will require more electricity. The current US generation capacity is approx. 1,000 gigawatts (GW), of which approx. 675 gigawatts (GW) are operated with fossil fuels. The US Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimates that we will need around 1500 GW of generation capacity by 2040. This means that we need another 500 GW of new generation capacity to reach 1,500 GW, plus 675 GW more to replace the existing fossil fuel capacity. That is 1,175 GW of new generation capacity that will be required by 2040.
As Texas has just proven beyond doubt, we need 100% backup, regardless of whether we supply part of it with wind or sun. Nuclear is not ideal for this, but the new generation of reactors should be able to react quickly enough to balance the load if the wind and sun fail. Either way, we’ll need about 1,175 GW of new nuclear power by 2040 … and it’s about 975 weeks to 2040.
It usually takes about ten years to find a location, obtain the permits and licenses, overcome objections, build a new nuclear power plant, test it, connect it to the grid and get it up and running. Figure 3 shows an overview of this entire process.
Figure 3. Typical nuclear power plant schedule from initial study to final launch. SOURCE.
But we don’t have ten years per nuclear power plant. With just 975 weeks to 2040 and the need for 1,175 GW of new zero carbon generation capacity by 2040, we need to do a feasibility study, find and measure a site, obtain licenses, design, buy, build, excavate, install, test and capture 1.2 gigawatt nuclear power plant in operation every week for 975 consecutive weeks by 2040.
Anyone who thinks that this beautiful green fantasy can actually materialize here in the real world, well, I want some of the green stuff they smoke.
And remember, this is just electricity. It does not contain the large amount of fossil fuels used directly by industry, transportation and space heating.
TL; DR version? 100% CO2-free electricity by 2040? Tilt. Be. Done. Fuggeddaboutit. Not. Possible.
My best to everyone
The usual: When you comment, please quote the exact words you are discussing so we all know exactly what you are referring to.
One expected objection: I suspect some people will say, “We need another 500 gigawatts of generating capacity, even if we are not carbon-free … how will that be possible?”
It will be possible, if difficult, because it is infinitely easier to add another gas-powered generator to an existing power plant than it is to add a new nuclear power plant. First, the approval process is much easier. Second, the site requirements have apparently already been met, as there is already a power plant there. Third, the infrastructure for power lines, switching stations and the like is already in place and only needs to be expanded, not recreated.
This does not mean it will be easy, especially given the stupidity of the proposed bans on fossil-fuel cars and fossil-fueled homes and offices. These unrealistic goals will make even expanding fossil fuel power generation a major challenge.
But it will be doable.