This past summer, Green Tech Media published an interesting article about solar power. In August of 2017, the worldwide installed electric generation capacity of solar caught up to that of nuclear, with each having achieved 391 gigawatts (GW). On the surface, that seemed to mean that the planet was about to get as much electricity from the sun as from the atom.
But there was a caveat. That 391 GW of solar produces 375,000 GW hours of electricity, while the same 391 GW of nuclear generation produces 2.5 million GW hours of usable electricity. Nuclear generation produces 85 percent more electricity than solar, and about 70 percent more than wind. This higher output results in large measure from nuclear power’s ability to deliver electricity 24/7.
Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that worldwide investment in renewable energy has reached a total of $2 trillion. That investment has achieved just a 4 percent reduction in the carbon intensity (amount of CO2 produced per KW of power consumed) of electricity generation; that implies that to get to a 40 percent reduction, the world would need to invest $20 trillion. The article concluded, “In a nutshell: Perhaps renewables are not the answer.”
The Times article also included a chart that showed that some countries (Norway, Sweden, France, Canada, and others) combine hydroelectric generation with nuclear energy to provide most of their electricity, while producing very low levels of emissions.
Here in New Hampshire, opponents of proposed hydroelectric transmission lines object to the viewscape degradation of a hundred or so transmission towers. But incongruously, you seldom hear objections to the thousands of 500-foot wind turbine towers or the dozens of square miles of solar panels that would be needed for a 100 percent renewable future.
This sobering reality check about the limitations of renewable energy means that global communities need to continue to look for ways to use less electricity. Fortunately, technological innovation moves us closer to that goal each year.
For example, Scientific American magazine published an article in 2013 that estimated worldwide residential electricity use of 5 percent to 8 percent to power our television sets. That usage amounted to 168 terawatts (TW) of electricity that emitted 27 megatons of carbon. Before 2000, most television sets used cathode ray tubes (CRTs) to display an image. By 2015, most televisions used plasma, liquid crystal displays (LCDs) or light emitting diode (LED) displays, all of which use about 50 percent of the power of the older CRT displays. This one technological improvement lowered worldwide power consumption by as much as 82 TW.
LED light bulbs have become ubiquitous saving as much as 80% on lighting for our homes, businesses, and even our city streets.
Another technological advance, hydraulic fracking, has opened up huge reserves of natural gas. Robert Bryce in his 2010 book, “Power Hungry”, detailed the case that natural gas is the bridge fuel to a lower carbon future that relies more on small-scale distributed nuclear generation.
We can get to a low carbon future. To do so, we need to promote innovation by keeping levels of regulation and taxation as low as possible, and by focusing on solutions that will work.
Rep. Michael Vose of Epping serves on the House Science, Technology, and Energy committee.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding