Renewable Energy in Perspective: The Carbon Gap
In the aftermath of yesterday’s announcement by EPA of its Affordable Clean Energy plan, which is proposed as a replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, it’s worth taking a look at the global carbon picture in order to maintain the appropriate perspective for global climate. The emphasis here being that it’s global climate, not just U.S. climate, and the deployment of renewable energy in the U.S. isn’t where our carbon-reduction focus should be confined. This brief analysis points to the need for large-scale deployments of nuclear power in order to offset the continued expansion of fossil fuel-fired power generation as renewable energy alone is not standing up to the challenge of carbon emissions at the global scale of billions of people and trillions of dollars in economic activity. The greatest impact the U.S. can have on reducing global carbon emissions is working with other countries in the deployment of nuclear power.
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Regulated vs. Deregulated Markets
Figure 1. Residential rates for top 10 GDP states.
Georgia’s regulated, vertically-integrated market structure has consistently delivered some of the lowest residential rates among top 10 GDP states (Figure 1). Of these top 10 GDP states, only Georgia, Florida and North Carolina have regulated electricity markets—the others are deregulated. Continue reading “Residential Rates: Regulated vs. Deregulated Markets”
Global CO2 and Coal:
We Won’t Do This Without Substantial Nuclear Power Capacity
Just a quick post of three graphs illustrating global CO2 emissions and electricity generated by coal. China, India and the U.S. remain the three countries of concern as they represent the two largest economies in the world (U.S. and China), the two largest populations in the world (China and India), the two countries undergoing the greatest increases in economic growth and energy consumption (China and India) and the country (the U.S.) with enough industrial and economic maturity to direct its attention and technological heft toward helping the rest of the world meet its energy and economic objectives while also meeting climate goals.
If we are to have any realistic hope of moderating CO2 emissions at the global scale while meeting our national security objectives, we need something along the lines of a 21st century nuclear power Marshall Plan where the U.S. nuclear industry is engaged throughout the world. We’ve done it before—we can do it again. We certainly need it.
Electricity Generated from Coal
- Global coal consumption for power generation increased 2.9% from 2016-2017;
- From 2016-2017, consumption of coal for power generation increased 4.7% in both China and India, continuing a 30-year trend for China and a 20-year trend for India as both countries continue economic growth;
- China’s once-anticipated plateauing of coal consumption, from 2013-2015, seems to have been premature;
- From 2016-2017, U.S. consumption of coal for power generation decreased 2.4%, continuing a decade-long decline as the U.S. electric power sector continues shifting from coal to natural gas.
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Total U.S. Nuclear Power Generation
Of the 99 nuclear reactors currently in operation in the U.S., Oyster Creek is the oldest and was connected to the grid back in December of 1969. Since then, U.S. nuclear plants have operated for a total of 26,369,130 hours and generated almost 24 billion MWhrs of electricity. This is enough electricity to meet U.S. demand, at a 2017 consumption level, for about six years.
Moreover, since 1969, had it not been for nuclear power the U.S. likely would have been building baseload coal plants to meet increasing electricity demand. Instead, because of nuclear power, the U.S. avoided CO2 emissions equivalent to over 8 years of CO2 emissions from the U.S. power sector.
We’re fooling ourselves if we think that without nuclear power we can meet carbon-reduction goals and maintain a reliable grid at the global scale of trillions of dollars in economic activity and billions of people in emerging economies needing more electricity.
It won’t happen.
What nuclear power has done for the U.S. is what nuclear power can do for the world.
Georgia’s Shifting Power Generation Portfolio:
The Need for Vogtle
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) recently released its 2018 Summer Reliability Assessment that focuses on issues related to the U.S. electric power system’s ability to respond to peak demand, which typically occurs during the summer. Central to this assessment is the evaluation of a system’s reserve margins, which is the amount of unused available capacity of a power system, at peak load, as a percentage of total capacity. This unused capacity is to be held in reserve to meet demand during exceptional periods when the peak period may also be compounded by a typical generator outage. While the electric power sector is a unique industry where supply meets demand exactly and just-in-time, that same sector must have in reserve enough capacity to maintain that exact, just-in-time delivery—capacity that must be callable at any moment. Otherwise, power outages ensue, which in the middle of summer are life-threatening. This raises important issues regarding not only reserve margins, but also the age of a power generation fleet and the planning efforts for ensuring reserve margins can be sustained over the long-term.
This is a quick, brief overview/profile of the power generation fleet for select utilities and IPP non-CHP providers in the state of Georgia.
Figure 1. The power generation fleet for select utilities and IPP non-CHP providers in the state of Georgia by age range, resource and capacity.
Continue reading “Georgia’s Shifting Power Generation Portfolio: The Need for Vogtle”
Nuclear Power Generation in Georgia
and Avoided Emissions
The first nuclear reactor in Georgia, Plant Hatch Unit 1, came online at the end of 1975. This was followed by Plant Hatch Unit 2 in mid-1979, Vogtle Unit 1 in mid-1987 and Vogtle Unit 2 in mid-1989.
Figure 1. Nuclear power generation in Georgia and avoided emissions.
Combined, these four units have generated over 1 billion MWhrs of zero-emission electricity, which is equal to the electricity consumed by Georgia over the past nine years total. Moreover, the emissions these nuclear plants allowed Georgia to avoid total to 1,009,174,666 mtons of CO2 and 6,416,696 mtons of SO2 if coal had been the alternative, and 413,761,613 mtons of CO2 if natural gas had been the alternative. The CO2 emissions avoided is equivalent to thirteen years of CO2 emissions while the SO2 emissions avoided is equivalent to nine years of SO2 emissions. This has been quite the deal for Georgia—avoiding environmental emissions with reliable baseload power while keeping rates affordable. Continue reading “Nuclear Power in Georgia and Avoided Emissions”
Georgia & California:
Two States, Two Completely Different Ideologies on Energy Policy
(Full Op-ed is in The Hill )
California’s recent decision to mandate solar PV on all new home construction and Georgia’s commitment to completing construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle represent two completely opposite approaches to investing in zero-carbon energy resources. Solar and renewable advocates will no doubt applaud California for taking such unprecedented action to battle global climate change by way of its solar mandate and other renewable energy efforts. However, if California is applauded, Georgia certainly deserves applause for fighting that same battle, yet also making critical contributions to national security with new nuclear power construction at Vogtle.
This reflects the right of individual states to govern their energy policy under the auspices of their respective state leadership. It also reflects the reality that the U.S. remains locked in a battle of ideas among various states as to how the nation’s electric power sector should be organized in order to meet the multiple objectives of reliability, affordability, safety, carbon reduction and national security.
While this battle may be inevitable due to divergent ideologies across state lines, it is imprudent and altogether unnecessary for U.S. nuclear power to become a casualty in that battle because the prospect of an America without nuclear power not only calls into question whether the U.S. can meet low-carbon objectives reliably and affordably, it also represents national security risks with which America should never experiment.
U.S. EIA Nuclear Power Outlook 2018, Vogtle
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (U.S. EIA) just released its Nuclear Power Outlook 2018. Here are a few quick comments to highlight some of the conclusions of this report particularly as they relate to Georgia and the Vogtle construction project. I’ll preface this with a recap of my position on Vogtle.
In November of 2017, I had the privilege of testifying to the Georgia Public Service Commission on matters pertaining to the construction of Vogtle Units 3&4. For those who may not know, this is the only nuclear power project currently under construction in the U.S. My testimony (Summary Statement) focused on the non-monetized benefits of nuclear power that support a decision to move forward with the construction of these reactors. These benefits being: 1) Energy diversity for the state of Georgia; 2) Energy policy resiliency; and 3) National security. Some who testified in opposition to continuing with the Vogtle project pointed to solar and natural gas as better options than nuclear. In the interest of brevity, I’ll only briefly comment here on the natural gas option, since it’s included in the U.S. EIA Nuclear Outlook.
Figure 1. Trends in Georgia’s energy portfolio.
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Georgia: Doing Its Part for Nuclear, Solar and National Security–While Keeping Rates Low
The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently released new data for 2017, so I compiled a few statistics for some of the top GDPs in the U.S. In particular, average residential rates since 1990 (Figure 1) and the energy portfolios for those states (Figure 2). Since my home state is Georgia and we’re working toward the completion of the only nuclear reactors under construction in the U.S., I have highlighted Georgia in green in Table 1.
As most in the U.S. may know, Georgia operates in a regulated market and, in my opinion, this provides fundamental benefits that deregulated markets can’t offer. One being the capacity to look out over the long-term and take into account the policy constraints that are likely to be imposed on the utility industry–in particular, carbon constraints. In addition, our existing coal fleet will eventually shut down and the Georgia PSC, along with Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power and the MEAGs of Georgia, are working to position the state for a continuation of reliable, baseload power generation. Consequently, we are in a position to leverage that long-term perspective in the construction of Vogtle Units 3&4, where this new generation capacity will be not only reliable baseload–it will also be zero-carbon.
Georgia has a good track record for reliability and low rates. Here, in Figure 1, the trends indicate that since 1990 Georgia has consistently ranked below the U.S. average in residential rates (cents/kWhr) and well below the rates in some of the deregulated markets to the north (e.g., New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Maryland). This is not to imply causation–it is only an observation. I’ve also inserted a box indicating rates for February 2018.
Figure 1. Average residential rates for leading U.S. state GDPs. Rates for February, 2018 are inserted for most recent comparisons.
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Georgia and California:
Different States, Different Energy Strategies
The states of Georgia and California are headed in opposite directions on nuclear power. On December 21, 2017, the Georgia Public Service Commission (GA PSC) gave approval to Georgia Power Company to proceed with the construction of Plant Vogtle—the country’s lone nuclear power plant construction project. About one month later, on January 11, 2018, the California Public Utilities Commission voted to approve Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s request to close the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, the state’s lone remaining nuclear power plant. CPUC Commissioner Liane M. Randolph was quoted as saying that the decision “moves California away from the era of nuclear power and toward the era of zero-carbon renewable energy.”
Each state has its own rationale for its energy policy decisions. California is approaching energy policy from a strong climate-centric perspective with its Governor Jerry being hailed as the “anti-Trump” of U.S. climate change action. California is convinced that high levels of renewable energy are possible, with legislation having already been proposed to pursue a 100% renewable energy policy—no fossil fuels and no nuclear power. It’s worth noting that of California’s total electricity consumption, about 68% is generated within state with the remaining 32% coming from out-of-state generation (Table 1). Georgia is taking a different approach with the construction of Plant Vogtle, a 2.2 GW nuclear power plant, along with a steady-paced, measured approach to the incorporation of solar power. Continue reading “Georgia & California: Different States, Different Energy Strategies”