I attended the 1st International Generation IV and Small Modular Reactors conference Wednesday and Thursday, November 7 & 8, 2018 in Ottawa, ON, Canada, presented by Canadian Nuclear Society and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. The conference also included a workshop on Tuesday, November 6, involving small modular nuclear reactor vendors interacting with supply chain vendors, which I did not attend.
Marie Curie, physicist (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934) once stated “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less”.
Much of Marie Curie’s career was spent studying radiation. Radiation is not well understood by the general public today. For example, most likely don’t know one “can’t even eat a simple banana without getting exposed to radiation”. This article from University of California compares various radiation exposure situations such as dental x-rays, airplane flights, CT scan, cigarette smoking, etc via the “banana equivelant dose”.
Electricity is a critical source of energy for today’s modern societies. With global population set to grow to close to 10 billion by mid-century (from about 7.5 billion as of this writing), increasing urbanization and billions needing more electricity access to climb out of poverty, the global demand for electricity is projected to only increase. Electricity grids around the world will need to grow and increase, while at the same time, continue to provide reliable, on-demand services.
This post will discuss three requirements for reliable, on-demand electricity services and also address the topic of deep decarbonization of electricity generation (climate scientists tell us we need to reduce carbon dioxide [CO2] emissions quickly). Electricity generation sources that can meet at least two of these three requirements will then be examined. For deep decarbonization, the International Energy Agency recommends CO2 emissions to not exceed 100 grams CO2 emitted per kilowatt-hour (CO2ge/kWh). Each electricity generation CO2ge/kWh number is taken from the median here.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) publishes monthly electricity production statistics, cumulative for the current year and comparison for the same time period of the previous two years. The particular report up to the end of December 2016 does of course show the most recent three complete years of statistics, therefore, it is the one that was used for this post. It contains data for mostly OECD countries and therefore, does not include China and India (The USA Energy Information Administration has published detailed energy posts of these two countries, which the links point to).
The IEA also publishes grams of CO2 emitted per kilo-watt hour (averaged out on an annual basis). This detailed report created by Bernard Chabot is the best source I have found for this number (page 135 is data from an IEA 2014 edition, which is likely 2012 data). The IEA states that in order to meet Paris climate change agreements, electricity generation must be below 100 CO2 grams emitted per kilo-watt hour.
Data for several countries follows, with a brief discussion for some. As stated, these stats are accumulated electricity production for last three complete years (The category “combustible fuels” includes coal, oil, natural gas and biomass). This of course is not the full story about electricity production and operations because, for example, on electricity grids, output must match demand at all times and this point will be touched on at the end.
Most climate scientists tell us we need to greatly reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and fossil fuel use. Many traditional environmentalists tell us Germany is an example to follow to reduce CO2 emissions and fossil fuel use with their “Energiewende” or “energy transition” program. Its goal is to deploy renewable energy (which includes any or all of wind, solar, geothermal, hydro and biomass [which can be more CO2 emitting intensive than coal]), decommission nuclear power plants and reduce CO2 emissions and fossil fuel use (amongst other goals).
It is therefore worth examining how Germany has changed their electricity system. They have a great site that keeps details statistics since 2002, is interactive and is what was used for most of the graphics below.
We start with 2016 electricity generation stats, we can see that black and brown coal are the dominant source of electricity, followed by nuclear.
A critique of the paper 100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for the 50 united States, by Mark Jacobson et al
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it 20 times. “Jacobson has shown that we can power the electric grid totally with renewables”, or words to that effect.
That idea comes up at every conference, Sierra Club meeting, Q&A session after a presentation, or what have you. It’s reassuring to people who are concerned about the environment, so they cling to it. “Jacobson says…”
Jacobson has now gone them one better – that we can run our entire society, not just the present electric portion of it, totally with renewables. I’m not sure that conceptual leap has sunk in with the environmental community. It’s not just lights, TVs and toasters anymore. Now it’s cars and trucks, space heating /cooling, and all commercial /industrial activity including heavy manufacturing – our entire Primary Energy consumption.
The catch-phrase is “100% Renewable Energy Vision” and the scholarly paper is titled “100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) All-Sector Energy Roadmaps For the 50 United States”, published in 2015. The scholarly paper’s shorthand designation is the 100% WWS Plan.
I’ve gone through the 100% WWS Plan at some length, and here’s my critique of it. Spoiler alert: The amount of land that it needs is vast; the amounts of money and material are enormous beyond your wildest dreams; and it won’t work.
This post was inspired by a tweet by Chris Nelder of the Rocky Mountain Institute (paraphrasing) “at this point we’re not even sure if we need nuclear power”. Lets examine this comment.
This graph below was taken from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy (reviews 2015 data).
We can see that energy use steadily increases over the years and oil is the top supplier of energy.