If we want to arrest climate change, all we need are more renewables like wind and solar, right? Not exactly, according to a newly published Canadian report from Hatch Ltd. on lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions (“GHG”). The report was commissioned by the Canadian Nuclear Association and compares lifecycle GHG emissions from nuclear power, natural gas-fired power, and wind power, all the way from fuel extraction through to plant construction, operation, and decommissioning.
On average, emissions from wind and nuclear are similar within the accuracy of the study for all emissions except GHG emissions, where wind produces distinctly less GHG emissions on average than the combination of nuclear technologies considered.
No surprise there. But wind is an intermittent power source so it needs a back up. Hatch says that in a typical wind-natural gas hybrid, wind makes up 20% of the generation mix, with natural gas generation the other 80%. According to Hatch, the per kilowatt-hour GHG emissions from the wind/gas mix are 385 grams versus nuclear at 18.5 grams. That’s 20 times more GHGs for the wind backed by natural gas scenario.
The Hatch report has been criticized for focusing only on one power generation scenario: wind and natural gas in tandem. But the data is very relevant to us here in the U.S., especially in light of the Obama Climate Action Plan and the pending draft Clean Power Plan. If we have any hope at achieving success in reducing GHG emissions, all renewables and clean energy sources have a role to play, including nuclear power, and we have to get that right by treating them equally.
The Clean Power Plan calls for a near 20% reduction in U.S. carbon emissions from 2012 baseline levels by 2030. But here’s how the Clean Power Plan works—or doesn’t work, in the case of nuclear power. The draft rule sets forth an emissions rate baseline of carbon dioxide (“CO2”) emitted per megawatt-hour of fossil fuel generation. Each state can then lower that rate using the various so-called building blocks provided in the draft rule, which include: (1) tweaking fossil plants to be more efficient; (2) changing dispatch patterns of power sources so lower GHG plants are used more frequently; (3) using more zero and low-emitting sources like renewables (wind, solar, and geothermal) and nuclear; and (4) implementing energy efficiency measures. The draft rule allows for a 100% credit for all existing wind, solar, and geothermal sources, but only a 6% credit for nuclear. There’s no room at the inn for the other 94% of nuclear.
It’s puzzling why the Clean Power Plan is drafted this way given the key role that experts say nuclear will need to play in getting us anywhere close to the goal set forth in the Plan itself. In fact, the Energy Department has scenarios that project the retirement rate of nuclear as high as 33%. Even the Clean Power Plan’s own 6% figure for retirement would increase atmospheric emissions from 200 million to 300 million tons in the next ten years.
Nuclear power is the work-horse of power supply and of zero-carbon generation. Nuclear plants operate around the clock in all weather, providing nearly 20% of the nation’s electricity supply and comprising about 63.3% of all clean (zero-carbon emissions) energy, which is more than all other clean energy sources put together.
In formulating the final rule, the Environmental Protection Agency would do well to take a look at the Hatch Report, seriously consider its findings, and put nuclear on par with other zero-carbon generating sources.
To read more on this topic by Mr. Krancer, please click here to read his full article published in Forbes on October 27, 2014.