Renewables Catching Up With Nuclear

Nuclear activists point out that reactors do not generate greenhouse gasses and that decommissioning them leads to electricity being generated by fossil fuels (some nuclear opponents claim that reactor technology is polluting; I looked into this several years ago and was not impressed by the quality of the research).

Renewable-energy supporters claim that sufficient wind energy is being installed each year to offset the loss of reactors (averaging about one decommissioning per year [1]).  Surprisingly output from reactors has remained steady. Improved efficiency must be the reason, since there have not been any new reactors for many years [2].

Generation by renewables have strongly increased from about half of nuclear in 2008 to about two thirds today. Since hydropower has remained steady, the increase is due to wind.

So far so good. Since nuclear production has been steady, wind has helped to take up the slack due to coal plant retirement.

References

[1] EIA, Today in Energy, June 13, 2017

[2] Data in the figure from EIA, Electricity Data Browse,  accessed July 1, 2017

Greenhouse Gas LTE & Comment

LTE: Cynthia Allen recently stated the people are unwilling to make the kind of sacrifices that are needed to combat climate change (Dispatch, 12 June). Her column shows a limited understanding of greenhouse gas production.

Ms. Allen is wrong when she implies that home heating and cooling are a major source of energy wastage. Actually, homes and businesses together generate a small fraction of greenhouse gasses. The three largest sources are electric power plants, motor vehicles, and industry.   Together they account for over three-quarters of greenhouse gasses.

But there is good news on all fronts. Emissions from power plants have been dropping sharply. Bloomberg recently predicted that electric cars with efficient motors will become cheaper than gas autos within ten years.  And industry has been saving energy. All in all carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 14 percent in the last ten years.

We are living in an era of great technological change. There are many opportunities for people to save money by saving energy. But we need to realize that the big changes will come from outside the home.

Alan R. Rosenfield

Columbus

Comment: Electricity generating is the largest user of energy in the U.S., and the largest source of greenhouse gasses.  The basic problem is that generation is extremely inefficient – almost two-thirds of the energy supplied goes up the smokestack as heat.

There are two ways to improve this situation:

  1. Consumers can use less energy.
  2. Electricity can be produced more efficiently.

In my LTE, I suggested that the second approach should be more effective. Generating electricity produces about two and a half times as much greenhouse gasses as residential and commercial users combined.

The technology for reducing generation-caused greenhouse gasses is available. Natural gas is better than coal, while renewable energy emits no greenhouse gasses at all.

To reiterate, if we are going to reduce greenhouse gasses, electricity generation will play a major role.

Soources:

EPA “Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions” http://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions, accessed 27 June 2017

EIA “Electricity Data Browser”

http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser/#/topic/7?agg=0,1&geo=vvvvvvvvvvvvo&endsec=vg&freq=A&start=2008&end=2014&ctype=linechart&ltype=pin&rtype=s&maptype=0&rse=0&pin=

Accessed 26 June 2017

 

LLNL “Energy Flow Charts” flowcharts.llnl.gov, Accessed 26 June 2017

Why Less Coal

I have been assuming that gains in electricity generation by natural gas were the reason for loss in generation by coal. This is not quite true. In 2016 coal generation was down by about 750 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) from its 2006-2008 average, a 38 percent drop. About two-thirds of the drop was due to natural gas and about one-third to renewables.

Source EIA Electric Data Browser, accessed 21 June 2017

Renewable Energy Does Not Harm Stock Performance

There are still office holders who cling to the notion of expensive renewable energy, buttressed by questionable web sites.

There is a line of argument that I have not seen used: companies, such as Google and Amazon, have made major commitments to renewable energy. These are publically-traded firms. If renewable energy was so expensive, Wall Street would be shouting loudly and hammering their stock down. This has not happened.

Price of Conventional Fuels

Revised 31 March 2017

As is well known, natural gas has become cheaper than other conventional fuels. The price estimates below show that gas is less expensive than the competition. However all of the cost estimates are high compared with the actual price, which is given in the bottom row.

Cost/Price of Electricity from Conventional Sources, $/MWh

Coal Natural Gas Nuclear Ref.
60-143 47-78 97-136 (1)
N.A. 45-57 100-108 (2)
80-98 66-73 93-96 (3)
N.A. 50-70 N.A. (4)
N.A. 41-56 (a) N.A. (5)
34 (b) N.A. (6)

Notes:

(a) Increases linearly with gas price. Range shown is for $2.5 to $5 per 1000 cu.ft. Gas price on 16 Dec. 2016 was $3.43, giving a price of  $48 per MWh

(b) Unknown mix of gas and coal; April 2017 future

References:

(1) Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis – Version 10.0, December 2016

(2) EIA, Annual Energy Outlook, August 2016

(3) T.F. Stacy & G. S. Taylor, The Levilized Cost of Electricity from Existing Generation Resources, June 2015 http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/ier_lcoe_2015.pdf

(4) ”Solar going big: large-scale installations now outpacing small ones”, Toledo Blade, 22 July 2016

(5) Al Rosenfield, “Natural Gas vs. Wind Background” <alanpeg.blogspot.com>, 30 Jan. 2013

(6) PJM AEP Dayton Hub 5MW Peak Calendar-Month Real-Time LMP Futures Quotes

http://www.cmegroup.com/trading/energy/electricity/pjm-ad-hub-5-mw-peak-real-time-lmp-swap-futures.html, accessed 30 March 2017