Suppose the leaders of this country were wise enough to put a moratorium on traditional coal (the most urgent climate policy needed, as discussed in Part 4)? How will we meet our steadily growing demand for carbon-free power over the next decade? And to get on the 450 ppm path, we don’t just need to stop U.S. emissions from rising — we should return to 1990 levels (or lower) by 2020.
NUCLEAR: Nuclear is an obvious possibility, beloved of conservative Francophiles like McCain and Gingrich, but energy realists understand that it is very unlikely new nuclear plants could deliver many kilowatt-hours of electricity by 2018, let alone affordable kWhs. Indeed, back in August, Tulsa World reported (here):
American Electric Power Co. isn’t planning to build any new nuclear power plants because delays will push operational starts to 2020, CEO Michael Morris said Tuesday….
Builders would also have to queue for certain parts and face “realistic” costs of about $4,000 a kilowatt, he said….
“I’m not convinced we’ll see a new nuclear station before probably the 2020 timeline,” Morris said.
And that in spite of the amazing subsidies and huge loan guarantees for nuclear power in the 2005 energy bill (see here).
As for the $4,000 a kw capital cost — and the related electricity price of about 10 cents per kwh — mid-2007 has already turned into the “good old days” for nukes. Utilities are now telling regulators that nukes will cost 50% to 100% more than the AEP estimate, as I’ll report in a couple of weeks.
One very good source of apples-to-apples comparisons of different types of low- and zero-carbon electricity generation is the modeling work done for the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) on how to comply with the AB32 law (California’s Global Warming Solutions Act), online here. AB32 requires a reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The most valuable document is probably the “Generation Costs,” although the slides for the recent May 6th presentation are fascinating.
The research for the CPUC puts the cost of power from new nuclear plants at 15.2 cents per kWh. It also puts the cost of coal gasification with carbon capture and storage at 16.9 cents per kWh. In any case, given its immature state and the mismanaged federal effort (see “In seeming flipflop, Bush drops mismanaged ‘NeverGen’ clean coal project“), coal with CCS won’t be providing much power by 2020. At this point, it would even be pure speculation to say that coal with CCS will be one of the low-cost options in the 2020s.
So what do we do in the near term to meet the projected 1% annual increase in demand over the next decade while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions? There are only three plausible options, and we’ll need them all: