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What Major Factors Reduced U.S. Power Sector Carbon Emissions 2007-2017?

John Miller's picture
Owner-Consultant Energy Consulting

During my Corporate career I provided manufacturing with power generation facilities’ technical-operations services and held different technical and administrative management positions.  In order...

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Total U.S. carbon emissions from fossil fuels consumption peaked in 2007.  The Electric Power Sector has been the largest ‘direct’ contributor to Total U.S. carbon emissions since 1977.  Total 2007-17 U.S. carbon emissions declined by 15%, primarily due to reduced Power Section’s emissions.  What have been the major market, government policy and technology based factors that have enabled reduced Power Sector’s carbon emissions 2007-17?

Brief U.S. Carbon Emissions History – During 1990-2007 Total U.S. carbon emissions increased by 19%.  This was primarily due to growth in U.S. Electric Power and Transportation Sectors’ increased fossil fuels consumptions.  Since 2007, the Power Sector’s carbon emissions have declined by 28%.  Refer to Figure 1.

Data Sources: EIA MER tables 12.1-12.6. Note: carbon emissions are from ‘direct consumption’ of primary fuels.  The Industrial and all other End-use Sectors exclude secondary emissions from the Power Sector electricity purchases-consumption.

Due to a number of factors the consumption of fossil fuels has changed in all End-use Sectors.  Some of the largest overall influences begin with increased U.S. Population and overall Economy growth.  During 1990-2017 the U.S. Population grew from about 250 million up to 326 million (+30%), and the Economy or ‘gross domestic product’ (GDP) grew from almost $9,000 Billion up to $17,000 Billion (+89%; 2009 $ basis).   Even with this very large growth in Population and the Economy, the U.S. mitigated-limited Total carbon emissions growth to less than 2%, 1990-2017.

Since Total U.S. carbon emissions peaked in 2007, the Power Sector has clearly been the largest contributor to reduced emissions over the past 10 years.  Reduced Power Sector carbon emissions resulted from primary fossil fuels ‘mix’ and ‘consumption’ changes.  Refer to Figure 2.

Data Source: EIA MER table 12.6.  Note: ‘Other Sources’ includes all other hydrocarbons (petroleum, heavier gases, etc.), and geothermal, wood and waste.

Coal has and continues to be the largest, but fortunately declining, source of Power Sector carbon emissions.  Similar to Coal displacing liquid Petroleum fuels 50 years ago, Coal is increasingly being displaced by cleaner-low carbon Natural Gas since 2007.  Refer to Figure 3.

Data Source: EIA MER table 7.2bNote: ‘Other Sources’ (from Fig. 2) are not shown in this graph, since they are nearly equal to the Solar Power plot, but are included in the ‘Total Net Power’.

Figure 3 shows that the Power Sector’s total net generation from primary energy supply sources have changed very significantly since 1990.  In 2007, the year that both the Power Sector’s carbon emissions and net generation peaked, the increase in Natural Gas (directly) and renewable Wind & Solar power (indirectly) have increasingly reduced the need for and the net generation from Coal Power Plants.  During 2007-17, Coal Power electricity supplies dropped from 50% of the total Power Sector’s net generation, down to 32%.  Individual power generation energy source changes 2007-17 are more clearly illustrated in Figure 4.

Data Source: EIA MER table 12.6.  Note: ‘Other FF’ includes all other ‘fossil fuels’; petroleum, coke and other gases heavier than ‘Nat. (Natural) Gas’.

Figure 4 shows that the largest reductions in required net power generation occurred in ‘Coal’ and ‘Other FF’ (fossil fuels) Power Plants, and, ‘Total’ reduced net generation from reduced overall End-use Sectors’ retail sales/consumptions.  Most of these higher carbon power net generation reductions were replaced by lower carbon Natural Gas and zero carbon Wind, Solar, and Hydropower.  Fortunately, Nuclear Power has been sustained at almost constant net generation levels 2007-17.

Major Factors That Reduced Power Sector’s Carbon Emissions and Net Generation – Since 2007 a number of market, government policy and technology factors have enabled and facilitated the reduction in Power Sector carbon emissions.  Refer to Figure 5.

Data Source: EIA MER tables 7.2b and 12.6.  Note: NG(Natural gas)-to-Wind &Solar Displacement is another form of ‘energy source switching’.  ‘Geo+non-FF’ = Geothermal + Wood &Waste.

The following list covers the primary factors and influences to Power Sector carbon emission reductions 2007-17:

  1. ‘Coal-to-Natural Gas Fuels Switching’ (47% of total carbon emission reduction) – a number of factors have influenced and resulted in displacing Coal Power Plant’s net generation with Natural Gas Power Plant’s electric supplies. The largest factor has been due to the recent substantially increased U.S. domestic Natural Gas production, resulting major market price decreases.  Natural Gas prices peaked in 2008, then dropped by over 60% 2012-17.  This market based factor in addition to aging and less efficient Coal Power Plants, and, growingly expensive EPA regulations (reduced stack Hg, PM, etc. emissions and the Clean Power Plan), have significantly reduced the economics of operating and sustaining older Coal Power Plants.  The development and growth of economically attractive cleaner/higher efficiency ‘combined cycle’ Natural Gas turbine-generator technologies has also further contributed to increased Coal-to-Natural Gas fuels switching.
  2. Reduced Power Sector Net Generation Demand (20% of total) – this second largest factor to reduced Power Sector carbon emissions is fairly complex and will be covered in more detail in the following Figure 6/backup data.
  3. Natural Gas-to-Wind Power Displacement (17%) – variable Wind Power normally only displaces intermediate/peaking Natural Gas Power generation, which can be readily rapped up and down as Wind Power net generation supplies vary with weather conditions; in order to properly/reliably balance Power Grid’s supply-demand. Most Wind Power Farms have been economically supported by fairly generous Federal and State ‘production tax credits’ (PTC) and ‘investment tax credits’ (ITC).  Most of these credits or power generation subsides have lasted for up to 10 years; from original construction-startup time frames.  These subsidies have made Wind Power generation more economically attractive compared to older/lower efficiency Natural Gas Power Plants.  Another factor has been the development of new-larger Wind turbine generator technologies.  These upgrades have significantly increased average Wind Power generation capacity factors (<30% up to 40%+), and, its directional ability to ultimately displace some future baseload power generation.
  4. Increased Hydropower Generation (7%) – increased Hydropower net generation 2007-17 directly displaced ‘baseload’ Coal Power Plant’s generation; another form of fuels/energy switching. Besides Hydropower’s zero carbon and reduced pollution benefits, the recent-current operating economics appear superior to older Coal Power Plants.
  5. Reduced Petroleum and Other Fossil Fuels (5%) – these generally older Power Plants can be displaced/replaced by most other lower/zero carbon Power Plants. Only a fraction of these ‘Other fossil fueled’ plants/operations can generally be displaced by variable Wind & Solar, since these fossil fuels are often used as ‘backup fuels’ to both baseload Coal and Natural Gas fired steam boiler-generators.  Once again, the most likely motive to displacing these Other fossil fuels is their higher fuel prices and possibly some more costly EPA reduced stack emissions regulations (NOx, SOx, etc.).
  6. Natural Gas-to-Solar Displacement (4%) – variable Solar Power normally displaces intermediate/peaking Natural Gas Power, which can be readily rapped up and down as Solar Power net generation supplies vary with weather conditions and time-of-day. The economic advantage is also generally based on PTC/ITC subsides, and other local State economic incentives.
  7. Added Geothermal and NonFossil Fuels (1%) – these lower carbon power sources can displace a combination of baseload Coal Power and Intermediate Natural Gas and/or Other fossil fuels power generation. Some generation PTC subsidies have been available to make Geothermal and Wood/Waste power generation economically attractive over the years.

Reduction in the Power Sector’s Retail Sales/Demand – The second largest factor that has reduced the Power Sector’s 2007-17 carbon emissions has been ‘reduced demand’ for power supplies.  Reduced demand has been largely due to changes in each U.S. End-use Sectors’ retail power consumption requirements and recent Power Grid improvements.  Refer to Figure 6.

Data Sources: EIA MER tables 7.1, 7.6 and 12.1-12.6.  Note: ‘T&D Losses’ = Transmission and Distribution Power Grids’ system losses between the Power Plant’s supply and final End-use metered consumption.  Reduced demand data also includes distributed Solar PV generation consumed directly within most End-use Sectors.

The following covers the primary factors that have led to reduced Power Sector electricity demands:

  1. Industrial Sector (47% of total retail demand reduction) – despite the increases of this Sector’s GDP over the years, electric power demand has declined by 8% 2007-17. This has been due to a combination of increased efficiency of manufacturing & processing facilities-equipment, lower energy intensive production & manufactured products (such as reduced raw & finished metals and major durable goods; major vehicles & appliances), and, shifting to substantially lower energy intensive-modern computer technologies.  Increased installation of distributed Solar power supplies has also directionally reduced the need for retail power purchases.  However, the largest impacting factor since 1990 has been increased U.S. ‘trade deficits’.   This factor has very significantly constrained required U.S. Industrial Sector power consumption and carbon emissions, which unfortunately has indirectly led to substantial increased U.S. ‘carbon leakage’ to Developing Countries such as China.
  2. Residential Sector (22% of total) – despite the increase in U.S. Population, the combination of increased homes’ insulation, more efficient appliances and smart-home utility control technologies, have been major contributors to reduced per capita and total power demand. Another significant factor has been increased distributed Solar PV installations, due to the ‘net-market’ subsidies, and also, related Commercial leased-owned solar panel installations.
  3. Total (U.S. Power) Grids T&D Losses (up to 16%) – EIA data indicates that during 2007-17 overall End-use Sectors’ and regional Power Grids have apparently made significant improvements that have very significantly reduced Transmission & Distribution systems’ power losses; i.e. increased systems’ efficiency and reduced retail power demand.
  4. Net Power Import Supplies (14%) – during 2007-17 U.S. net power imports increased significantly; primarily from Canada.  Since most of these Canadian net imports come from Hydropower, carbon leakage is relatively insignificant in this case.
  5. Transportation Sector (<1%) – EIA data indicates a very small decrease in power demand 2007-17; despite the growing increase of ‘electric vehicles’ (EV’s) in recent years. This change is relative insignificant, and is generally unrelated to charging EV’s batteries within the Transportation Sector.  EV battery recharging is normally accounted for in the Residential & Commercial Sectors’ power consumption-demands.
  6. Commercial Sector (1%) – Commercial facilities power demands apparently grew at a slightly greater rate than increased building & utility systems efficiency upgrades. This Sector’s increased power demand has also been offset directionally by installed distributed Solar PV power generation, 2007-17.

Future Power Sector Carbon Emissions – The U.S. has made fairly decent progress in reducing its Power Sector’s carbon emissions over the past 10 years.  Future projections are highly uncertain, beginning with recent policy changes made by the Trump Administration: 1) withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement (in 2020),  2) repealing the Clean Power Plan, and, 3) plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ by growing the economy.

Growing the U.S. Economy generally includes expanding the Industrial Sector (manufacturing of durable goods) and reducing past-current U.S. trade deficits.  While the recent Administrative action to imposed U.S. import tariffs on Solar PV panels can have mixed results on future expansion of U.S. Solar Power capacity-generation, the growth in the Industrial Sector will very likely reduce U.S. ‘carbon leakage’ from reduced imports and increased domestic manufacturing of many durable goods.  What is often overlooked is the fact that U.S. Manufacturing is significantly more efficient and less carbon intensive than Developed Countries, which reduces overall carbon emissions (or leakage) on a Global basis.

Other uncertainties include clean power technologies developments.  This includes sustaining and possibly growing Advanced Nuclear Power generation, and Industrial-scale Power Storage.  Industrial scale Power Storage is needed to enable variable Solar and Wind Power to eventually and directly displace Coal Baseload Power generation in the future.  Even ‘carbon capture and sequestration’ (CCS) and increased advanced biofuels technologies developments may also become more feasible and economically sustainable in the future.

Will the U.S. eventually comply with past Administration’s pledges, such as the Paris Climate Agreement (reduce U.S. 2005-25 total carbon emissions by 26-28%)?  The answer of course depends on future Administrative and Congressional actions, and, development of truly ‘affordable’ clean power technologies.  Needed government policy actions could include: sustainably supporting domestic cleaner energy production & supplies, possibly extending/increasing future renewable power PTC subsidies, not curtailing existing CAFE standards & increasingly supporting EV’s development-growth, and properly evaluating-ensuring that all future mandated clean energy technologies’ ‘full-lifecycle’ carbon emissions are truly being reduced by at least 50% compared to current fossil fuels energy supplies; in order to truly avoid more hidden global carbon leakage, and little or no reduction in Global carbon emissions.  Other recent carbon leakage examples: Brazil ethanol and Argentina biodiesel imports.

Your thoughts?

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 26, 2018

Gerry, quick brief: you’re wrong. EBR II was a prototype for the IFR, and “advanced liquid metal cooled reactor” is not a more “proper” description of the IFR, but an incomplete and erroneous one. Here is an accurate one, one not derived from a cursory glance at a Wikipedia article but from the laboratory which designed and built it.

The EBR-II reactor was the prototype for the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), a reactor fueled by metal alloy and cooled by liquid sodium…[the IFR] is a fast reactor system developed at Argonne National Laboratory in the decade 1984 to 1994. The IFR project developed the technology for a complete system; the reactor, the entire fuel cycle, and the waste management technologies were all included in the development program. The reactor concept had important features and characteristics that were completely new and fuel cycle and waste management technologies that were entirely new developments.

How do I know the IFR was “ready for prime time”? Roger N. Blomquist, Ph.D., Nuclear Engineer, Information Technology Section Manager, who played a critical role in its development, told me. Face-to-face, sitting in his office at Argonne National Laboratory – that’s how I know.

During our discussion he also described to me how, on a recent visit to Minnesota’s Prairie Island Nuclear Plant, he had encountered enough stored, spent fuel at the site to power an IFR for 900 years.

John Kerry realized and admitted he was wrong. Hopefully one day, all the lesser mortals who rely more on The China Syndrome than science for their knowledge of nuclear power will too – sooner, than later.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 26, 2018

Joe, be sure to let Southern Company know “we will see no new nuclear by 2027.” They’re proceeding in earnest with Vogtle 3 & 4, with the expectation of going online in 2021-2022 – and they will be like, super disappointed.

Plant Vogtle units 3 & 4 will be the first in the industry to use the Westinghouse AP1000 advanced pressurized water reactor technology…Vogtle Units 3 & 4 will be the first new nuclear units built in the U.S. in the last three decades.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 26, 2018

Joe, I can indeed see that skinny little area. I can also see that by presenting it as representative of all areas one would be guilty of the fallacy of exclusion – informally known as “cherry-picking” – to further one’s ideological agenda. That’s how that works.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 26, 2018

Bob, as you are probably aware there are other nuclear reactor-power development options that are feasible, but the U.S. has not made a priority over the years. These include reprocessing/recycling spent conventional uranium fuels and developing thorium fueled reactors. What many politicians and special interests tend to over look is the importance of nuclear power generation to more fully decarbonizing the Power Sector in the future.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 26, 2018

John, years ago Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Harry Reid (D-NV) jointly introduced two bills to fund MSR development in the Senate. Because the MSR would generate 1/100 the waste of a PWR, both Hatch and Reid likely saw MSRs as eliminating the need to build a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, never put them up for votes and they died in committee. Likely, because New Mexico is home to a URENCO, a uranium-processing facility which brings the state hundreds of $millions in revenue – and MSRs require very little uranium.

Ironically, nuclear is suffering in the U.S. not because it generates too much waste, but because it doesn’t generate enough.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 26, 2018

Sounds good Bob. Let’s count Vogtle as a new nuclear project.

I am looking forward to this new nuclear generation coming to GA in the early 20s. Along with the bunch of new solar coming online in that same timeframe. All of this new carbon-free energy will help Southern shutdown over 6GW of coal in GA before 2025.
Hammond – 840 MW
McIntosh – 143 MW
Wansley – 1,744
Bowen – 3,232 MW

That will leave only one major coal plant in GA – Scherer.

Don’t tell your buddies over at the EIA about these coal shutdowns. They are counting on all of these coal plants still running in 2050.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 26, 2018

Hey Bob,
Let’s expand out the cherry-picking a little bit to include data for all of February so far.

Chart below shows CAISO daily numbers broken out by fuel share. As you know, drought has returned with a vengeance to CA so the Hydro numbers are pretty low. You can also see the shutdown at DC – as it began to ramp down on Feb 6th and is now operating with single unit.

Low hydro and nuclear shutdown would imply much higher NG, right? Look at bottom to see how NG is doing – 25.5% share. Renewable share is ahead of NG share! What the heck?

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Feb 26, 2018

During our discussion he also described to me how, on a recent visit to Minnesota’s Prairie Island Nuclear Plant, he had encountered enough stored, spent fuel at the site to power an IFR for 900 years.

I calculated that our existing inventory of SNF could power the country for around 400 years.

http://ergosphere.blogspot.com/2010/10/why-integral-fast-reactor-had-to-...

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Feb 26, 2018

The inherent variability of wind and solar mean that they can directly supply only around 25% of kWh consumed.

Really? I am surprised that you are also espousing this. CAISO, SPP and ERCOT are all about to blow right past 25% wind/solar over the next couple of years.

I’ll stand with 25%. Recall that I said directly supply. I.e., used to meet real time demand, as opposed to being sent to storage.

25% is roughly what you come up with from the following procedure:
1) start with the typical demand curve;
2) overlay with the typical supply curve for a representative mix of wind and solar, scaled so that the area under it approaches the area under the demand curve;
3) integrate under the curve defined by the lesser of wind + solar supply and the demand curve. The result is the maximum direct W+S supply.

25% is a typical ratio for that maximum direct W+S supply to total demand in a region with a high quality mix of wind and solar resources. (“High quality” meaning relatively high CF). California qualifies.

Of course 25% is not a hard and fast number. Over a large region well supplied with long distance transmission, both the demand curve and the W+S supply curve are smoothed (somewhat). That increases maximum direct W+S supply figure. But the region must be *very* large; weather systems span hundreds and even thousands of miles; nighttime covers an entire hemisphere. Transmission crossing multiple time zones between source and end use is costly, and the permitting process can be as drawn out and arduous as it is for new nuclear plants.

A potentially easier way to raise the maximum direct W+S supply percentage is with applications that can reshape the demand curve to better match the W+S supply. I.e., applications that can utilize “as available” power, and are large enough to shift the curve. Pumping water is probably the best example, and California does a lot of that. Charging EVs may eventually become another one, though it will take time, a new regulatory environment, and a lot of new infrastructure to make that happen.

My point in all this is not that high penetration W+S can’t work, but rather that there are high associated costs and investments required to enable it that aren’t typically accounted for by advocates.

That matters, because climate change is a global problem. The threat in the decades ahead is not carbon emissions from California or even the US as a whole. It’s from economic progress in the developing world. Developing nations can’t afford the luxury of dual infrastructures for power generation.

That’s pretty much what high penetration W+S requires: the W+S resources to supply most of the electricity consumed (aided by storage), plus a backup system of similar capacity to fill in when W+S aren’t delivering. The “backup” system must be large enough to handle nearly the entire demand, so why should a country struggling to escape from poverty bother with W+S?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 26, 2018

Brilliant, EP – bookmarked. Except I can’t download the paper from DOE – should I be surprised?

http://www.ne.doe.gov/pdfFiles/inventory_plan_unclassified.pdf (times out)

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Feb 27, 2018

Sorry, I made a thinko.  That’s 400 years with our inventory of depleted uranium; SNF is another 60,000 tons or so and would boost that by something on the order of 10%.

Looks like the DOE paper succumbed to link rot, likely during the previous administration.  (Google is worse, it turned the underscores in the QUOTED file name into spaces and then claimed it couldn’t find it.  That’s bad, but not as bad as refusing to return a result from a Google site with the exact post title as the search string—which Google does.  Go ahead, search it with Google.  You won’t find it.  As Google gets more Politically Correct it also gets increasingly incompetent even in its core products.)

Wayback Machine to the rescue:

https://web.archive.org/web/20090401172223/http://www.ne.doe.gov/pdfFile...

I’ll go edit that post, I think.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 27, 2018

I’ll stand with 25%. Recall that I said directly supply. I.e., used to meet real time demand, as opposed to being sent to storage.

The Annual 2017 report for Southwest Power Pool grid will be out in a couple of months… Meanwhile here is data for previous years as well as quarterly data for 2017.

Based on quarterly data it looks like 2017 wind share will be 21-22%… up 4+% Y-Y.

There are numerous projects in the queue so wind will definitely be past 25% share by 2020. Solar just starting to show up on this grid but no reason that won’t grow past 10%+ over the coming years.

Only thing that could possibly save your argument is that storage will start kicking in within 3-5 years and that will muddy the stats.

ERCOT is a year behind on wind vs. SPP but solar is gaining ground rapidly there. Wind/solar will hit 30% by 2025. By the way wind/solar will pass coal in ERCOT around 2020/2021.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 27, 2018

Those imports look suspicious…if you provided a link, maybe readers could verify it comes from a reputable source, and find out how much mystery NG (and coal) has simply been moved over the California border.

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 27, 2018

Bob. I think accuracy is important here. The program that Kerry had a hand in killing in 1994 was, indeed, EBR II. And EBR II, whether a prototype for “IFR” or not, was an advanced liquid metal cooled fast reactor concept. There’s nothing misleading about that statement. The “liquid metal” aspect is quite important, because, among other things, safe liquid metal cooling was high on the list of many challenges faced by this reactor concept.
I’m afraid your one conversation with a member of the EBR II team, however sincere, does not refute 24 years of research and market activity during which this reactor design has failed any measures of commercial success. It has been my experience that those who are deeply involved in the R&D effort, especially those who invented the concept or design, usually have very unrealistic perspectives about commerical potential and what it takes to bring a technology to a commercial state.
Where Kerry was wrong, and clearly misled by advocates spinning myths, was his belief that 4th generation nuclear designs have made enormous progress. As with the IFR, its current state in the market is testament to this lack of progress.
How do I know this? Not from The China Syndrome, but from 20 years in commercial nuclear power beginning in 1975 and another 20 years following the industry and researching the commercial market, including advanced concepts, 3rd and 4th generation systems. That’s how I know.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 27, 2018

So what. That’s how the market works. Always more investors and money where they came from.

Joe, the price of natural gas at this time of year can double from one month to the next. Though that creates an ideal environment for investors to exploit the vulnerability of captive ratepayers, the ratepayers are screwed.

“That’s how the market works.” Just where is this market, Joe? In the U.S. there hasn’t been a free market in electricity for eighty years. Maybe in Renewables Wonderland, where solar power can “eliminate” coal by shining all night long, customers have a switch on the wall they can use to switch between Utility ABC to Utility DEF when ABC’s prices go through the roof. Or maybe, utility monopolies voluntarily switch to more economical sources of dispatchable energy, like nuclear, to help lower prices for their customers.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 27, 2018

…does not refute 24 years of research and market activity during which this reactor design has failed any measures of commercial success.

Gerry, I wasn’t aware the IFR was certified by the NRC for commercial production. When did that happen? It must have happened at least 24 years ago, or I’m afraid you would have no idea whether “it failed any measures of commercial success” – would you?

There is nothing standing in the way of commercial IFR production in the U.S., other than the objections of fearful antinuclearists and a stubborn bureaucracy financed by entrenched fossil fuel interests. The IFR doesn’t have any significant fuel costs, it’s safe, it’s 100% carbon-free, and most importantly, it’s dispatchable – it generates electricity when people need it, not the other way around. And that drives Royal Dutch Shell, which now derives more revenue from natural gas than gasoline, bonkers.

Would it be as exhorbitantly expensive as some would have us believe? I’ll take the word of Eric Loewen, Ph.D., Chief Consulting Engineer at GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy, who knows a thing or two about marketing nuclear reactors in the U.S.:

This is not to say that PRISM or any other nuclear reactor will be inexpensive when built in the United States. The same GE Hitachi reactors that were built in Japan in the late 90s for about $1,400/kW are estimated to cost several times that much in the USA. Considering that the actual cost of raw materials is an insignificant portion of that price (about $35/kW), and that interest rates are at record low levels, the significantly higher price tags being bandied about by private utility companies reflects a regulatory/corporate/governmental environment that needs fixing. Part of the problem could be solved by a commitment to nuclear power from the federal government, streamlined licensing procedures for standardized designs, and shielding from interminable lawsuits like those that crippled the nuclear power industry in the 70s and 80s.

There is nothing inherently uneconomical about nuclear power. Japan imports virtually all their building materials and has high labor costs. If they can build GE ABWR plants for a very reasonable price, there is no reason why the USA shouldn’t be able to do the same.

(more info at link)
http://skirsch.com/politics/globalwarming/ifrQandA.htm

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 27, 2018

Source doesn’t change – http://www.caiso.com/market/Pages/ReportsBulletins/RenewablesReporting.aspx.

Good catch on the import numbers. They have risen substantially year-year. Less hydro and nuclear – but substantially more renewables and imports. NG down. Amazing what a flexible grid can do.

I’ll put up full Feb numbers in a few days.

Here a new source for you to explore. Look at AC+DC Interties.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 27, 2018

Tough to respond to that comment Bob…

Have absolutely no idea what you are talking about…

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 27, 2018

Joe, the price of natural gas at this time of year can double from one month to the next

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 27, 2018

Good background Gerry.

Won’t hold the Penn State degree against you.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Feb 27, 2018

EBR II, whether a prototype for “IFR” or not, was an advanced liquid metal cooled fast reactor concept. There’s nothing misleading about that statement.

What’s misleading is any assertion that it was specific to Clinch River.  It was an advanced testbed that ran very well for 30 years, 1964-1994.

The “liquid metal” aspect is quite important, because, among other things, safe liquid metal cooling was high on the list of many challenges faced by this reactor concept.

EBR II had one problem with a leak in its steam generator.  It was fixed with a rather innovative patch and soldiered on.

Your repetition of “safe liquid metal cooling” sounds like Green propaganda.  Sodium is one of the least difficult liquids to deal with; it is so innocuous, chalk marks which had been placed inside the EBR II pool vessel when it was built were still there when it was disassembled.

I’m afraid your one conversation with a member of the EBR II team, however sincere, does not refute 24 years of research and market activity during which this reactor design has failed any measures of commercial success.

It’s hard to get any success when your brainchildren are murdered in the dead of night by political skullduggery.  The proof-of-concept IFR was ready to go.  The test program would have cost less to run than the refund to Japan that cancellation required.  There was no reason not to continue except pure enmity against nuclear energy, a desire to kill any success before it could be demonstrated.

It’s not completely dead, though.  The S-PRISM is essentially the IFR, minus the on-site fuel cycle.  GE-Hitachi wants to build a couple of them for the UK to dispose of the unwanted Pu from fuel reprocessing.  Like the EBR II, it is 100% passively safe.  It doesn’t even require a reserve water tank; the emergency cooling is by air.

As with the IFR, its current state in the market is testament to this lack of progress.

As with the IFR, the current state in the west is due to politicians not allowing anyone to try.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 27, 2018

Joe, show me evidence a free “market” in electricity exists – where competition rewards the best product at the best price, and consumers have a choice of electricity providers.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 27, 2018

Sorry, I meant to say “triple”. Was it your impression current low prices and stability would last forever?

https://images.angelpub.com/2012/42/16696/henry-hub-natural-gas-prices-2...

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Feb 27, 2018

Only thing that could possibly save your argument is that storage will start kicking in within 3-5 years and that will muddy the stats.

It’s not an argument, and doesn’t need saving. It’s just an observation about the shape of typical W+S (or VR) supply curves vs typical demand curve. And as I said, 25% isn’t a hard upper limit on what can be achieved. It’s just the typical limit on what can be delivered by VR resources alone, operating under priority dispatch rules for whatever they’re able to produce. Pushing beyond it requires some combination of added long distance transmission, energy storage, and demand-response to reshape the demand curve.

As to storage muddying the stats, it already does. Energy storage isn’t only batteries. Or even mainly. A July 2016 staff paper from the CEC reports that “currently” 98% of energy storage in California is pumped hydro. About 4 GW of rated power capacity, perhaps 40 GWh of storage capacity. That’s enough to enable the stats to show >25% RE share. The stats don’t differentiate between energy supplied directly to customers and energy supplied to pumped storage.

The issue, as I’ve said before, is one of total system costs. Total costs and honest accounting for what those costs really are.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 27, 2018

A new study some of the researchers who opposed Jacobsen’s 100% RE proposal.

The United States could reliably meet about 80 percent of its electricity demand with solar and wind power generation, according to scientists at the University of California, Irvine; the California Institute of Technology; and the Carnegie Institution for Science.

However, meeting 100 percent of electricity demand with only solar and wind energy would require storing several weeks’ worth of electricity to compensate for the natural variability of these two resources, the researchers said.

“The sun sets, and the wind doesn’t always blow,” noted Steven Davis, UCI associate professor of Earth system science and co-author of a renewable energy study published today in the journal Energy & Environmental Science. “If we want a reliable power system based on these resources, how do we deal with their daily and seasonal changes?”

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Feb 27, 2018

Joe, consumers do not buy gas at the Henry hub.  They typically buy it at the end of a long pipeline which has congestion issues at peak demand periods.  That is where the price can double month-to-month.  In the cold snap less than 2 months ago, Massachusetts NG prices went from under $10 to over $90 per mmBTU (see p. 30).

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 27, 2018

Sorry but daily pricing doesn’t sense. Try monthly. What will NG prices be this year Bob? Futures price was $2.64 yesterday.

My worry over the next 10 -15 years is that we export so much LNG that we end up driving up prices here in US.

If we don’t export too much then the growth in Renew generation in US will act as hedge against NG prices rising. They could actually go down some more.

By the way the full EIA 2017 numbers are out. Big drop in NG elec gen for 2017 – over 100 TWh. Plus coal dropped by 33TWh. In the same year, how is that possible?

Fossil based electricity down 477 TWh – or 16% – since 2007.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 27, 2018

Joe, show me evidence a free “market” in electricity exists

Why would I do that Bob? Are you saying that exists?

I certainly don’t see anything like that in the US. If that existed, coal would already be gone in most of US.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 27, 2018

It’s just the typical limit on what can be delivered by VR resources alone, operating under priority dispatch rules for whatever they’re able to produce

I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this. In my mind there is no “typical limit”. The US electricity market has changed dramatically in last 10 years. A few years ago VR resources were 10% or less on US grids. In a few more years they will be 30% or more. I don’t see how you can say typical for a metric that is rapidly changing.

CEC reports that “currently” 98% of energy storage in California is pumped hydro. About 4 GW of rated power capacity, perhaps 40 GWh of storage capacity.

This is something I have been looking into on and off over the last couple of years. Tried to get information from CAISO and PG&E on Helms storage plant but was told that it was confidential. When I look at the daily stats on CAISO – I only see a slight bump from the pumped hydro storage during early evening hours. It appears that this storage is barely being used.

Would love to hear more about this if you have further information. Seems to be something with large wasted potential right now.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 27, 2018

Joe, consumers do not buy gas at the Henry hub

Never said they did. I am using HH as an general reference for NG prices.

I’m also talking about NG used for electricity generation – which is what this entire discussion has been about. If utilities are purchasing NG for their plants on the daily market then somebody should get fired.

If you are talking about NG for heating – then lock-in your NG price before winter starts.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 28, 2018

Joe, let me share some facts as to how Power Plants are actually operated and maintained. The planned shutdown of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear plant definitely affects the economics of maintaining and sustaining maximum power generation. Depending on where they are in the nuclear fuel-spent cycle, the operators/owners are possibly not incentified to spend money on sustaining maximum capacity generation factors prior to shutdown. The business operating motive is to obviously minimize expenses per unit generation prior to the future permanent shutdown.

As far as the droughts and hydropower generation, the lake levels were also at record low levels and often take months-years to restore. Besides restoring ground water levels, based on general rain data, California did not experience record rain levels immediately following the drought years. It was not until last year, when the flooding/landslides were experienced; largely due to the fires/burnt off vegetation. As far as environmentalist’s impacts, they have historically strongly influenced and directionally forced dam release rates that focus primarily on downstream environmental impacts, and not maximizing generation-capacity factors.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 28, 2018

Joe ,let me share some facts as to how Power Plants are actually operated and maintained.

john, sorry but I cannot see a single fact in this “share some facts” comment. Again, all I see are some of your opinions which do not come close to matching the data. You give us absolutely no “facts” to back up these opinions.

You said:

The planned shutdown of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear plant definitely affects the economics of maintaining and sustaining maximum power generation. Depending on where they are in the nuclear fuel-spent cycle, the operators/owners are possibly not incentified to spend money on sustaining maximum capacity generation factors prior to shutdown.

Where are facts in this statement? Zero facts. Diablo Canyon has consistently operated at a high Capacity Factor over the last few years. You could easily disprove this with some simple math.
Let me share how you might do this. Multiple the capacity of DC – 2,240MW by the numbers of hours in a month. Compare this result to the actual data from DC generation. Show us the results. That would be a fact.

As far as the droughts and hydropower generation, the lake levels were also at record low levels and often take months-years to restore. Besides restoring ground water levels, based on general rain data, California did not experience record rain levels immediately following the drought years

No facts here either. You use terms like “levels”, “rain data”, and “drought years” without attaching any data to them. If you actually gave us some levels, rain data or told us the drought years then you would be sharing facts.

As I said in earlier comment all of the hydro generation is available in EIA at plant level. Here is an example of generation data from Bishop Creek 2 Hydro plant. You could take all of this hydro generation data, add it up and show that the CAISO data is incorrect. Would require some grunt work but sometimes you need to do grunt work to actually show facts.

Here are major reservoir levels in CA today.

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 28, 2018

Dear Mr. Poet, CRBR was always intended to become an operating demonstrator at 350 MWe . It was no simple test bed. It was intended to cost 400 million and when finally killed it was at 8 billion, and that’s in 1981. The project was kept alive 10 years beyond when it was clear it was a bust. It NEVER ran. Go ahead and ask Detroit Edison about the simplicity of dealing with liquid sodium. Fortunately real engineers would never make such an irresponsible and arrogant comment, blithely sweeping away the complexity of a huge safety and thermal management problem like liquid metal cooling in such an environment.
Projects don’t die because of “pure enmity.” They die because they are perceived as not likely live up to expectations, whether they are for economic or basic self interest, or they are simply unaffordable or objectives change. No politicians barred any commercial interest in “trying” they simply said “use you own money.” And commercial interest said I ain’t taking that bet.

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 28, 2018

No, Bob, the IFR was never certified for commercial production because, as I said, it never came close to reaching a state where anyone might consider applying for one. That’s what I mean by never becoming a commercial success in the 24 years since EBR II was killed. If it was such a slam dunk, why has there been no progress? If it were so well developed why did it need government money- you would think some commercial firm would make the appropriate investment. It appears GE Hitachi has kept something alive, but after 24 years it is still not ready for prime time.

You’re giving far too much credit to “Antinuclearists”. While disproportionately loud at times, they’ve never succeeded in killing anything.

Finally, as I’ve said elsewhere, the market seems to refute these rosy claims. If Dr. Loewen is such a great marketer of plants in the US, please identify his last sale here, or any pending orders. And I’m not sure how old your quote is, but I am unaware of any GE ABWRs on order or in construction in Japan, so it’s not clear to me what he means when he says they are being built at a reasonable price there. The last one in Japan came on line 12 years ago and it is the only one approved for restart. GEHitachi withdrew its design renewal certification for the ABWR in the US in 2016 because it could not compete in this market.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Feb 28, 2018

CRBR was always intended to become an operating demonstrator at 350 MWe . It was no simple test bed.

We weren’t talking about Clinch River.  We were talking about Experimental Breeder Reactor II, a 65 MW(t) unit built in Idaho, and its follow-on project, the Integral Fast Reactor.

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 28, 2018

My comment was in direct response to your statement:

What’s misleading is any assertion that it was specific to Clinch River. It was an advanced testbed that ran very well for 30 years, 1964-1994.

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 28, 2018

Bob- with all due respect, how did you come up with such a conspiracy theory? Hatch’s Thorium Energy Independence Act of 2008 passed the Senate but was killed in the House. He tried again in 2009 and 2010 and by then no one was interested. Yucca Mountain was cancelled all by itself without the “threat” of a massive MSR program. And MSR was cancelled because it would reduce URENCO revenue? The NM plant did not reach capacity until 2016, and at full capacity it can only supply about 7% of US plant requirements.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 28, 2018

So Gerry, let me get this straight – the NRC refused to certify a nuclear reactor based on 24 years of poor performance in a market that never existed? The Nuclear Regulatory Commission bases certification decisions on market research, so manufacturers won’t waste their resources on something that might not fly? Solar power still requires $billions in non-stop government funding, notwithstanding thousands of commercial firms which have “made the appropriate investment”?

I will conclude my commentary on this topic with what follows.

Fast reactors have only been victims of their own success. They’ve been obstructed through both the coordinated effort of the fossil fuel industry and lawsuits by armies of rabid antinuclearists not when they have problems, but when they are on the verge of succeeding wildly (IFR, Phénix, Superphénix). As others have astutely observed, this phenomenon has its source in irrational, cold-war fear and the atomic bomb. Stanford antinuclear activist Mark Jacobson actually sued Clack et al and the National Academy of Sciences for criticizing one of his uncritical “renewables-can-do-it-all” papers. When it became obvious the suit would be dismissed he withdrew last week, claiming he had “made his point.”

Unintentionally, the lawsuit could be the most influential work Mark ever does. Jacobson vs. Clack et al will stand as an example of the depths human nature will stoop to fight science when it runs up against irrational fear (Jacobson’s filing actually included a prayer).

In 2002 the Generation IV International Forum, a group of 242 respected scientists from 14 countries, set out to answer the question, “Which advanced nuclear technology is most promising?” After comparing 19 different reactor designs using 27 different criteria, the sodium-cooled fast reactor was rated #1. “Why has there been no progress?” Despite this rhetorical antinuke talking point and others, progress continues apace on at least 7 different international design tracks including, without any dedicated funding, the IFR program at Argonne National Laboratory.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 28, 2018

Gerry, you’re confusing conspiracy with simple conflict-of-interest.

Jeff Bingaman killed the Thorium Energy Security Act of 2010 in committee because thorium, an element found in copious quantities in Idaho, Utah, and Nevada, has the potential to replace uranium. And URENCO’s uranium processing facility is worth $billions to a state with a $4 billion annual budget.

I’m eager to hear your explanation of how a nuclear repository project cancels itself – should be interesting!

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 28, 2018

Bob- I think we need to go back to my earlier statement

“…does not refute 24 years of research and market activity during which this reactor design has failed any measures of commercial success.

I never said anything about the NRC. It was you that said:

Gerry, I wasn’t aware the IFR was certified by the NRC for commercial production.

I then said

No, Bob, the IFR was never certified for commercial production because, as I said, it never came close to reaching a state where anyone might consider applying for one.

Note the last phrase in that sentence. The NRC never denied a certificate because no one ever applied for one. And they didn’t apply for one because it is “not ready for prime time.” Not in 1994, or any of the intervening 24 years. It still isn’t.

You might enjoy this journal article: https://www.princeton.edu/sgs/publications/sgs/archive/17-1-Schneider-FB...

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 28, 2018

Sorry, I should have said “Yucca Mountain was cancelled because of its own shortcomings that had nothing to do with whether or not an MSR program existed.” Or perhaps “Linking the cancellation of Yucca Mountain with the ‘threat’ of a MSR program is ludicrous.” Certainly as ludicrous as the notion that a hypothetical reactor design with no commercial promise or funding was a threat to the uranium market.

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