Energy & Technology

C2ES: Losing nuclear power makes it harder to meet U.S. climate goals

Press release

April 28, 2014

Contact: Laura Rehrmann, rehrmannl@c2es.org, 703-516-0621

 

C2ES: Losing nuclear power makes it harder to meet U.S. climate goals

WASHINGTON – Further closures of U.S. nuclear power plants will make it harder for the United States to reduce carbon emissions and meet its climate goals, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) says in a new policy brief.

The brief, "Climate Solutions: The Role of Nuclear Power,” examines the role of the existing U.S. nuclear fleet as a zero-carbon energy source, and why power companies have announced the unexpected retirement of five nuclear plants.

Nuclear power currently supplies the lion’s share -- more than 60 percent -- of zero-carbon electricity in the United States. Unlike other zero-carbon sources such as wind and solar, which are intermittent, nuclear provides “baseload” power available 24 hours a day.

“Losing more of our existing nuclear fleet will make it that much tougher to meet our carbon reduction goals,” said C2ES President Eileen Claussen. “We need to keep ramping up renewables, but they can’t meet our need for reliable power 24/7. Nuclear is a baseload source and it’s carbon-free – two things we need.”

The new brief was released today at a C2ES event with government, industry, and policy leaders at the National Press Club.

According to the C2ES brief, replacing the generation being lost from the five announced nuclear shutdowns would require 16 (400 MW) natural gas combined cycle power plants, which would provide baseload power but emit 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Replacing the same capacity with renewables would require about 7,600 (1.5 MW) wind turbines or about 3.7 million (5kW) solar rooftop panels, which are carbon-free but can’t currently provide baseload power.

The United States has set a goal of reducing its total greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Although emissions had declined about 7 percent, they have begun rising again, and additional policies are needed to meet the 2020 goal. Electricity accounts for about a third U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

“These plants are shutting down early for a variety of reasons, including lower power prices, higher operating costs, and the way our regional power markets work,” said C2ES Senior Energy Fellow Doug Vine, who co-authored the brief.

Lower natural gas prices and increased wind power generation – which both have climate benefits – are contributing to lower wholesale electricity prices. At the same time, maintenance activities and mandated post-Fukushima safety enhancements are adding to nuclear power plant costs. Wholesale power markets operate strictly on price – and don’t value zero-carbon or baseload sources more than their alternatives – and some nuclear facilities are finding it harder to remain competitive.

“The best way to advance low-carbon solutions, including nuclear power, is to put a price on carbon,’’ Claussen said. “A comprehensive national approach is unlikely any time soon. But if well designed, the carbon standards EPA will soon propose for existing power plants could drive market-based programs at the state and regional level that could help maintain the existing nuclear fleet.”

Speakers at today’s C2ES event included Peter Lyons, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy; Carol Browner, Center for American Progress Distinguished Senior Fellow and former EPA Administrator; Bill Mohl, President of Entergy Wholesale Commodities; David Brown, Senior Vice President of Federal Government Affairs at Exelon Corporation; Kimberly Clark, Chief Commercial Officer, North America, AREVA; and Susan Tierney, Senior Advisor at the Analysis Group.

Read the brief at: http://bit.ly/C2esnclr

An infographic is available for publication at: http://bit.ly/C2esinfo

About C2ES
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address the twin challenges of energy and climate change. Launched in 2011, C2ES is the successor to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Learn more at www.c2es.org.

Replacing Lost Nuclear

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Nuclear power supplies more than 60 percent of the nation’s zero-carbon electricity. The planned retirement of five nuclear reactors could make it tougher to meet U.S. climate goals. A C2ES brief examines the pressures on the nation’s nuclear fleet and possible climate implications of future retirements.
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Natural gas power plant with CCS is a positive step for the climate

The increased availability of natural gas is leading to its expanded use worldwide. Substituting natural gas for coal as a fuel for generating electricity helps reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change because burning natural gas emits only about half as much carbon as burning coal.

But half isn’t zero.

That’s why it’s important to note the recent announcement in the United Kingdom of the next step in building the first full-scale commercial natural gas power plant using carbon capture and storage (CCS).

In the Peterhead CCS project, international oil company Shell and British utility Scottish and Southern Energy Company are teaming up to retrofit a 385 MW natural gas power plant to capture post-combustion carbon dioxide (CO2). Pipelines will take the CO2 to permanent storage in a depleted hydrocarbon reservoir two kilometers under the North Sea. When the project, which received U.K. government incentives, comes online in 2018, it will be able to capture and store 1 million tons of CO2 each year for 10 years.

Water for Energy and Energy for Water: Challenges and Opportunities for Utilities

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
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2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.Webinar 1: An overview of water/energy issues from national and federal perspectivesSee video here. View slides here.

Webinar 1: An overview of water/energy issues from national and federal perspectives

May 8, 2014

2 p.m. – 3 p.m. ET

Dr. Craig Zamuda from the Department of Energy (DOE) will present key findings from DOE’s recently released water/energy nexus report, attempting to distill some of the key issues and risks of which water and electric utilities should be aware. Dr. Kristen Averyt, Associate Director for Science for the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and Director of the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, will present her research regarding water-energy challenges that exist currently and are on the horizon.

See video here. View slides here.

Energy in the News

Each week, C2ES provides a roundup of top energy news. Each headline below links to the full story at the original news outlet, which is solely responsible for its content.  Additional links to relevant C2ES resources are also provided.

Week of January 25, 2015

  • Canada’s carbon cap may crimp oil giants’ new reserves (Wall Street Journal)
    Alberta’s plan to curb the oil sands industry’s emissions to 100 million metric tons a year may prevent oil majors from tapping growing reserves. The industry currently emits 70 million metric tons of greenhouse gas a year—about a quarter of the province’s overall emissions.
    More from C2ES on oil
  • Natural gas prices expected to rise over next two years (Energy Information Administration)
    The U.S. Energy Information Administration's latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) expects natural gas prices to rise, averaging $2.65/MMBtu in 2016 and $3.22/MMBtu in 2017. Expected price increases reflect consumption growth, mainly from the industrial sector, that outpaces near-term production growth.
  • America's using the least coal ever to keep the lights on (Bloomberg)
    The U.S. is using the least amount of coal ever to make electricity as cheap natural gas establishes itself as the nation’s favorite power-plant fuel. Coal’s share of total electricity generation fell in November to a record 29 percent. Natural gas was the dominant fuel for a fifth straight month, making up 34 percent of the U.S. power mix, according to the EIA.
    More from C2ES on natural gas
  • U.S. wind industry posts huge gains for Q4 2015: more to come (Forbes)
    According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), which just released its fourth quarter report, the U.S. wind industry had its second best quarter ever, with 5,001 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity. This brings the 2015 annual total to 8,598 MW and the cumulative installed total to 74,472 MW (with over 52,000 operating turbines).
    More from C2ES on wind power

Week of January 18, 2015

  • China's coal-burning in significant decline, figures show (The Guardian)
    China’s coal use has fallen in 2015 across a wide range of measures and its national carbon emissions are likely to have fallen by about 3 percent as a result. There was a 3.5 percent drop in coal production, coal-fired electricity generation fell 2.8 percent and overall power generation dropped 0.2 percent, the first fall in 50 years. There were similar decreases in coal-intensive heavy industry such as iron, steel and cement.
    More from C2ES on coal
  •  Solar surges past wind, hydro as California’s no. 1 renewable energy source (KQED News)
    In 2015, solar became the No. 1 source of renewable energy in California, producing 6.7 percent of the state’s total electricity (doesn’t include smaller, privately-owned distributed (rooftop) solar). Not only did solar beat wind power for the first time, but it also topped drought-depleted hydropower, the long-standing leader in California electricity generation outside fossil fuels and nuclear.
  • China now the largest installer of clean energy, report says (The Globe and Mail)
    China was the largest developer of renewable energy projects in 2015, accounting for almost 40 percent of all the wind, solar, biopower and small hydro installations around the world.
    More from C2ES on renewables
  • DOE Funds Advanced Pebble-Bed and Molten-Salt Nuclear Reactor Development (Green Tech Media)
    The Department of Energy (DOE) announced the selection of two companies, X-energy and Southern Company, "to further develop advanced nuclear reactor designs." These awards originate from the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program.
    More from C2ES on nuclear
  • PSC issues permit for Dakota Access Pipeline (Bismarck Tribune)
    North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) members approved the siting permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would transport as many as 450,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude with a future capacity of 570,000 barrels per day. The 1,168-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline begins in western North Dakota near Stanley and would end near Patoka, Illinois.
    More from C2ES on oil

Week of January 11, 2015

  • Shell-led gas export project in Canada granted 40-year export license (Wall Street Journal)
    The Canadian National Energy Board approved a 40-year export license for a liquefied-natural-gas plant proposed for Canada’s Pacific coast by a consortium led by Royal Dutch Shell PLC. The permit allows for annual export (to Asian markets) of up to 1.34 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which is the equivalent of 3.7 billion cubic feet a day, and requires LNG Canada to start exports by 2022.
  • Wholesale power prices decrease across the country in 2015 (Energy Information Administration)
    Wholesale electricity prices at major trading hubs on a monthly average basis for on-peak (daytime) hours were down 27 -37 percent across the nation in 2015 compared with 2014, driven largely by lower natural gas prices. Because natural gas-fired generation sets the marginal price in many markets, wholesale electricity prices are sensitive to changes in natural gas prices.
  • Australia LNG Exports First LNG Cargo (Rigzone)
    Australia Pacific LNG Pty Ltd. Announced Monday that it had commenced operations with its first liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargo departing from its LNG facility on Curtis Island, near Gladstone, Australia.
    More from C2ES on natural gas
  • As oil crashed, renewables attracted record $329 Billion (Bloomberg)
    The slump in oil prices that’s brought upheaval and cost-cutting to the traditional energy industry spared renewables such as solar and wind, which raked in a record $329.3 billion of global investment last year (up 4 percent from 2014). Wind and solar added about 121 GW of worldwide capacity in 2015.
    More from C2ES on renewables
  • Crude oil prices to remain relatively low through 2016 and 2017 (Energy Information Administration)
    The Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) released on January 12, which is the first STEO to include projections for 2017, forecasts Brent crude oil (the global benchmark) prices will average $40 per barrel in 2016 and $50 barrel in 2017.
    More from C2ES on oil
  • NY governor aims to phase out coal by 2020 (The Hill)
    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday he aims to phase out coal-fired power plants in the state by 2020. New York only gets about 1.3 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the Energy Information Administration. Greens and Democrats welcomed his Wednesday pledge to zero that figure out.
    More from C2ES on coal

Week of January 4, 2015

  • Oil prices hover near multi-decade lows (Wall Street Journal)
    Oil prices slid to levels not seen in more than a decade Thursday, hammered by continuing market turmoil in China, the world’s second-biggest oil consumer.
    More from C2ES on oil
  • Tax credit extensions can be a big opportunity (Utility Dive)
    The federal investment tax credit (ITC) extension will add an additional 25 GW of solar installed capacity by 2020, a 54 percent increase over what would have been deployed without the extension, according to GTM Research. The production tax credit (PTC) extension will result in as much as 19 GW of additional wind, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimates.
    More from C2ES on renewables
  • India closing in on Westinghouse deal to build six nuclear reactors (Reuters)
    India expects to seal a contract with Westinghouse Electric Co LLC to build six nuclear reactors in the first half of 2016, a senior government official said, in a sign its $150 billion dollar nuclear power program is getting off the ground.
  • China to build 40 nuclear power plants over the next five years (Independent)
    The People’s Republic of China is set to build around 40 domestic nuclear power plants over the next five years, the country’s Government has said. The country’s 13th five year plan period, running from 2016 to 2020, includes provisions for building six to eight new nuclear power plants a year. If all goes according to plan, the country will aim to increase its output to ten plants a year past 2020.
    More from C2ES on nuclear
  • China to halt new coal mine approvals amid pollution fight (Bloomberg)
    China will stop approving new coal mines for the next three years and continue to trim production capacity as the world’s biggest energy consumer tries to shift away from the fuel as it grapples with pollution.
  • Alberta's quitting coal, for better and worse (CBC News)
    Alberta's new climate change plan calls for the province to shutter its fleet of coal-fired power plants (around 6,300 MW) by 2030.
    More from C2ES on coal

Older Stories

Electric vehicle consumers - beyond early adopters

Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) in the United States nearly doubled last year—and with consumer acceptance broadening, sticker prices dropping, new models on the way, and policy support growing, the outlook is even better for 2014.  

In 2013, EVs increased their market share by 70 percent from 2012 levels, while all-vehicle sales grew 8 percent to reach a six-year high. Still, EV sales continue to lag forecasts made when these cars hit the market in late 2010, accounting for less than 1 percent of new light-duty vehicle sales. The strong growth in vehicle sales is mostly due to rising sales of gas-guzzling pickup trucks.

Optimism for EV market expansion is warranted, however, not only due to steady sales growth but also due to three key developments in 2013.

'60 Minutes' story on clean tech omits climate change

A recent "60 Minutes" story highlighted the demise of a few high-profile clean-tech companies that received federal funding. The story neglected to report why clean technology is vital to the future of our economy and environment in the first place, and therefore why it makes sense for the government to promote the development of wind and solar energy, electric vehicles, and other clean tech. Simply put, the goal is to transform our economy from one based on fossil fuels that emit heat-trapping gases to one based on clean energy that won't contribute to global climate change.

Meeting our energy needs

The United States is moving toward meeting all of its energy needs from domestic resources even faster than was predicted just a year ago.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said last year that the U.S. would become the world’s largest oil producer, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia, by 2017. Its new World Energy Outlook moves that up to 2015. The U.S. is already the world’s top producer of natural gas, a position it reached in 2012 thanks to an expanding supply of shale gas. The IEA sees the United States holding both top spots at least until the early 2030s and being energy self-sufficient by 2035.

This huge shift didn’t happen by accident, and it will have implications for both the economy and the environment.

The opportunities of distributed generation

When the vast majority of Americans turn on the lights, the electricity is coming from a centralized, fossil fuel power plant.

However, there is a big change on the horizon that will alter that - distributed (also called decentralized) generation. This is when power is produced much closer to where it is used, such as with rooftop solar panels or natural gas-fired combined heat and power systems, including fuel cells and microturbines.

Currently, less than 7 percent of U.S. electricity is generated outside a centrally located power plant. Expanding distributed generation will bring exciting opportunities to increase efficiency, improve our resilience to extreme weather, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It will also bring challenges for our existing grid on which we must continue to depend.

These opportunities and challenges were the focus of a discussion I participated in this week at the World Alliance for Decentralized Energy annual conference with WADE Executive Director David Sweet, Duke Energy Chairman James Rogers, and PSEG President Ralph LaRossa.

Efforts to limit aviation emissions advance at ICAO

The United Nations’ body that oversees civil aviation has reached an important milestone in international efforts to craft effective and equitable solutions to climate change from this fast-growing sector. And this success last week in Montreal should send a hopeful signal to other UN organizations as they grapple with the challenges of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

At the 38th General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), governments endorsed a comprehensive set of actions aimed at achieving an aspirational mid-term goal of zero carbon emissions growth for the aviation industry beginning in 2020. The October 4 accord brings together a number of measures being developed by ICAO, including: a certification requirement for a global CO2 efficiency standard for aircraft; support for an updated, more efficient air traffic control regime; continued development of sustainable biofuels; and updating national action plans laying out country strategies to reduce emissions.

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