A fascinating argument from Richard Lester on what it would take to meet our Copenhagen goals for the US, and in the process dramatically almost eliminate US dependence on foreign power… notably, it would include multiplying the US nuclear power infrastructure “five-fold.” Here are snippets:
When President Obama goes to the Copenhagen climate change summit next week, he is expected to once again declare that the U.S. will reduce its carbon emissions 83% by 2050….
Most anthropogenic CO2 emissions come from fossil fuels, so there are two main routes to achieving the president’s goal. First, the U.S. must reduce the share of fossil fuels—currently 85%—in the energy supply system, which includes everything from electricity generation and transportation to industrial uses. And second, Americans must use energy more efficiently…
Here is a recipe that would work: Add 30,000 megawatts of new wind turbines every year between now and 2050 (this is nearly four times what was added in 2008, a record year). Add another 35,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity annually (more than 100 times what was added last year—a record year for solar, too).
That’s just the beginning. Now multiply the nuclear reactor fleet fivefold by midcentury. Retrofit all existing coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and storage technology. And build twice as many new plants, also with carbon capture. Natural gas could substitute for coal, but only with carbon capture too. By 2050, the electric power system would be four times bigger than today. Two-thirds of the car and truck fleet would be powered by electricity, and the rest would run on advanced biofuels…
All of this would indeed reduce carbon emissions by 83%. It would also practically eliminate America’s dependence on oil imports. But could it be done?
Perhaps, though not without enormous effort. Operating a power grid reliably and economically with intermittent solar and wind resources generating 40% of the electricity cannot be done today. Carbon capture and storage has yet to be demonstrated on a large scale. Meanwhile, a still vocal group of environmentalists remains adamantly opposed to nuclear energy—even though it is the only low-carbon energy source that is both scaleable and already generating large amounts of electricity…. Yet falling short on any of these decarbonization measures would require even more of the others, or even greater energy efficiency gains…
This is a matter of arithmetic; it cannot be wished away.
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