Why the Atom Is the Answer
May 11 2009 by JP Donlon
SlovakiaIn response to Ron Bailey’s feature (CE March-April 2009) on electric cars and the battery technology that will be needed to make them commercially appealing economically viable, Marc Goldberg, principal of SuMa Partners in
Many business leaders are right to be concerned. Affordable energy is the life source for economic growth and a nation’s standard of living. The
Going forward fuel diversity would seem to make sense. We will need multiple and redundant energy options. Electrification of transportation may represent a pathway out of dependence on foreign oil but it represents other challenges. Do we have enough electric generation capacity and what is going to fuel it once the demand for electricity goes up?
The hostility towards fossil fuels such as coal which supplies 48.5 percent of
Renewable energy, by contrast, is on all the right dance cards. It is always welcome on “The View,” and is featured routinely on YouTube. It is a wonderful thing until one drills down to the realities of making it work. People who have had operational experience have proven what experts have known for some time: renewables are not only expensive they are also unreliable making them unfit as sources for base load power. Solar power almost never converts more than fourth of the energy it captures into electricity. Wind’s load factor-the electricity it produces per installed capacity rarely exceeds 20 percent. The fact that the sun doesn’t always shine and that the wind doesn’t always blow renders these darlings of the back-to-the-earth movement intermittent sources at best. In most cases plants that use these sources also maintain traditional power generators as back-up which sort of defeats the purpose of having green alternatives in the first place. According to the EIA, wind represents 1.3 percent of electricity generated in the
Solar contributes less than one percent to the country’s power. The problem with solar is best summed up by “Terrestrial Energy” author William Tucker. Writing in “The American Spectator” he reckons “Sunup to sundown, the sun’s rays shed about 400 watts per square meter of ground in the
The only way to make up for the low density of solar energy flow is to use more land. Tucker points to a 2007
So where does this leave us?
The one source that has sufficient energy density to provide generous baseline power for electric generation is one that our President studiously avoids mentioning: Nuclear. Against all odds and invincible media prejudice it is undergoing a worldwide revival. There are 104 nuclear power plants in the
And the best part is that reliability has greatly improved. Nuclear reactors now run close to two years without interruption. They are the ultimate base-load source operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months a year. In 2007, the industry set an all-time capacity milestone-91.8 percent with 807 billion kilowatt-hours produced, while achieving an all-time low in production cost at 1.68 cents per kwh, besting the previous record of 1.72 cents in 2005. (The typical residential homeowner would pay 1.8 to 2.0 cents in a non peak season.)
And here’s the beauty of it; the level of CO2 emissions from a nuclear facility are exactly zero.
The only problem is that we have an administration that appears to be dogmatically betrothed to green energy sources that have already proved a failure in the marketplace. All the TARP money at Obama’s disposal cannot put the renewable energy Humpty Dumpty back together. Eventually he may have to yield to an energy choice already embraced by the world. (See table, “World Nuclear Power Generation and Capacity”)
World Nuclear Power Generation and Capacity
As of February 2009
Number of Nuclear Units
Nuclear Capacity (MW)
Nuclear Generation (BkWh)
Nuclear Fuel Share (Percent)
* IAEA nuclear capacity and generation figures are slightly higher than EIA nuclear figures.
Source: International Atomic Energy Agency and World Nuclear Association