The Obama administration cannot achieve either an ‘all of the above’ energy policy or succeed with its Clean Power Plan to reduce electric sector carbon dioxide (CO2) without nuclear power, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) said in comments filed recently.
In comments filed July 1 with the Department of Energy (DOE) for the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), NEI calls for steps to preserve existing nuclear units; capitalizing on “lessons learned” at plants being built in Georgia and South Carolina; developing a “roadmap” for small modular reactors (SMRs) and setting up an advanced nuclear program for financing, demonstrating and deploying new technology.
During 2016, DOE is gathering information for a second installment of its QER.
The Obama administration has embraced two signature initiatives – an “all of the above” energy policy and a commitment to reduce carbon emissions from the electric power sector, as evidenced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Power Plan regulations to reduce CO2 from new and existing sources, NEI said.
Neither of these initiatives can succeed without preserving and expanding America’s existing nuclear energy infrastructure, NEI said.
“Stated another way, both of these initiatives are at serious risk, to the extent the United States continues to shut down operating nuclear power plants, and fails to make provision for the new nuclear generating capacity that will be needed starting in the next decade,” NEI said.
“Without nuclear plants, the economy would rely more heavily on existing and new natural gas-fired generating plants, and to a lesser extent, additional generation from existing coal-fired plants,” NEI said.
Nuclear energy is America’s largest source of low-carbon electricity. In 2015, nuclear energy produced 19% of U.S. electricity supply (797 billion kilowatt-hours) and prevented 564 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. Nuclear accounted for 62% of U.S. non-carbon electricity in 2015.
“NEI believes energy policy and environmental policy are inextricably intertwined,” the trade group said.
“This industry invests in power plants and other infrastructure that will operate for 40 to 80 years. It can take decades for the consequences of policy decisions to play out. Once those consequences are recognized, it can take decades more to implement course corrections,” NEI said.
The electric power business today is a product of decisions made 20 to 25 years ago – when the 1992 Energy Policy Act opened access to the transmission system and turned electricity generation into a competitive business, NEI said. That’s when roughly one-half of the states decided to restructure the electricity business and create competitive markets, when states began to establish renewable portfolio standards (RPS), the trade group added.
By around 2050, electricity consumption will be 25-30 percent higher than today. Virtually all of the generating capacity operating today will have been retired.
By mid-century it is safe to say that the United States will have implemented some type of carbon regime; be burning much less coal and relying on more renewables and assigning a high premium to energy sources with a small environmental footprint, NEI said.
It’s also safe to assume that the nation will be “increasingly electrified,” continuing a trend that has been growing for decades, according to NEI. The trade group says that a high value could be placed on technology that has many attributes: Potential production of electricity, process heat, hydrogen and clean water while minimizing process heat.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s 2016 International Energy Outlook forecasts a 69%t increase in world electricity generation by 2040, from 21.6 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2012 to 25.8 trillion kWh in 2020 and 36.5 trillion kWh in 2040.
Electricity generation worldwide rises by 1.9-% per year on average from 2012 to 2040, with the strongest growth in the less-developed countries, according to EIA data.
The 2016 International Energy Outlook forecasts electricity generation from nuclear power worldwide roughly doubling – from 2.3 trillion kWh in 2012 to 3.1 trillion kWh in 2020 and to 4.5 trillion kWh in 2040, “as concerns about energy security and greenhouse gas emissions support the development of new nuclear generating capacity,” NEI said.
“If America wishes to retain its position as a world leader, it must lead this transition to a clean energy future that includes a growing contribution from nuclear energy, not follow it.”
U.S. could swap reliance on coal to reliance on natural gas
NEI said in the comments that the United States currently seems to be swapping its reliance on coal-fired energy in exchange for reliance on gas-fired power.
The U.S. has about 280,000 MW of coal-fired capacity, and the consensus is that about 60,000 MW of that will shut down by 2021 because of escalating environmental requirements.
Natural gas-fired generating capacity is growing dramatically. Since 1995, the United States has built approximately 367,000 MW of gas-fired capacity, approximately 73% of all capacity additions.
“Coal and nuclear, the two sources of electricity that can produce electricity around-the-clock at stable prices, represent a scant six percent of the generating capacity added,” during recent years, NEI said.
Renewable units, as intermittent sources, cannot displace the need for baseload generating capacity, absent dramatic advances in energy storage, NEI said.