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David Hone
Climate Change Adviser, Shell Group

David Hone

David Hone is the climate change adviser for the Shell Group and vice chairman of the International Emissions Trading Association. He also works closely with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. ALL POSTS

A big job to do in just 10 years

Q: Are Obama's proposed $36 billion loan guarantees for nuclear plants a smart option?

Answering this question requires some thinking about the task at hand. What does the USA have to do between now and 2020 to meet the goal it has tabled under the Copenhagen Accord (a 17 percent reduction between 2005 and 2020). First of all some assumptions and data:

  • Population increases from 300 to 340 million (US Census Bureau projection)

  • Use a lowish GDP improvement, say 2% p.a. from 2005 to 2020, given the recent deep recession.

  • Equivalent reductions in energy, agricultural and land use sectors.

To achieve the target the US has 10 years to do the following in the energy sector (as an illustration - but also recognizing that if international carbon offsets play a role then less will be required domestically):

  • Increase the energy efficiency of the economy such that total primary energy use drops by some 3 percent in absolute terms. This is delivered by a 6 mpg jump in on-the-road vehicle efficiency (i.e. all vehicles, not just the new ones), a 10% drop in total residential energy demand despite a >10% rise in population and a similar drop in commercial energy use. Power generation efficiency must also improve.

  • Reinvigorate the nuclear industry and achieve a net increase in capacity of about 10 GW - i.e. no drop off in capacity as older stations are retired.

  • Install ~20,000 5 MW wind turbines, that's about 5 every day. Each of these turbines is over 100 meters high.

  • Fit (or build new) nearly 50 big coal fired power stations with carbon dioxide capture and storage. Not one large scale commercial plant exists today. It means the first round of demonstration facilities (say 10-20 units) must be agreed on in 2010 so that construction can start.

  • Close some 40 coal fired power stations but build nearly 90 new efficient gas fired facilities.

  • Install 20 GW of large scale solar, both photovoltaic and solar-thermal.

  • Shift the vehicle fuel pool to 10% advanced biofuels with a near-zero carbon footprint.

This is quite a list, but possibly not beyond the capacity of the USA to implement. What is important is that all of the above elements of the illustration are required - if one is dropped then something else has to fill the gap. So nuclear will also have to play its part given that it is a near zero carbon electricity source and that today there are over 100 big nuclear plants in the USA supplying some 20 percent of the electricity. By 2020 nearly half of these will be about 40 years old.

Whilst other options do exist for generating zero carbon electricity, it will be hard to walk away from nuclear and fill the gap. There are also a range of policy options available to reinvigorate the sector, but loan guarantees seems a viable proposal. The scale of the offer appears commensurate with the task at hand, particularly given the age of the existing infrastructure.

I intend to explore the job facing the USA in more depth on my own blog in the coming weeks.

By David Hone  |  February 11, 2010; 10:06 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Cap and trade is the best pathway for clean energy future | Next: Smart option - or smart gesture?


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People do not seem to comprehend the magnitude and scope of the energy problem here. Population growth projections indicate the world population will grow from 6 to 9 billion people between now and 2050. Even with strenuous conservation measures, thousands of GigaWatts will have to be added somehow to meet this demand.
China is already building a coal plant or two every week, and our projections of future demand show the west too will need to add a GigaWatt a week or so soon ourselves.

The options for meeting this escalation in energy demand seem to be: Limit population, an unsavory, unpopular idea at best; Resource wars, genocide, equally distasteful, except to some I should hope; or attempting to meet that demand by adding energy from every source possible. Solar, nuclear, wind, all the conservation possible, and even as much fossil fuel as we can manage to produce will ultimately perhaps be required. It is not a competition between one energy source or the other. We ultimately need them all.

Add to that, the question of whether the planet can continue to absorb the emissions produced from burning fossil fuel and the magnitude of the problem becomes even greater. To some, this is snake oil being sold to torpedo big oil, and raise the cost of energy to everyone. To others, this is the most pressing question as to the future we will leave our children.

However, co2 problem or not, it has been a mistake to go after pollution one chemical at a time. EPA can regulate sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and now even co2, but plenty of bad stuff will still remain unseen, unknown, and unregulated.

Releases in 1982 from worldwide combustion of 2800 million tons of coal totaled 3640 tons of uranium (containing 51,700 pounds of uranium-235) and 8960 tons of thorium. The population gets 100 times more radiation from a coal plant than from a nuclear plant. So in 2004 by burning 4.6 billions tons of coal, we released 5980 tons of uranium into the air and 14720 tons of Thorium. This is like 80 truck size dirty nuclear bombs releasing 1 ton of radioactive material every day.

How does everyone like their current exposure to radiation from coal burning? How would it compare to exposure from full scale nuclear power replacing coal?

Posted by: fabco | February 14, 2010 4:22 PM
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When will we start thinking outside the box? Nuclear waste is only waste because our current antique model T reactors burn barely 1% of their fuel leaving the other 99% as waste.

There are other types of reactor designs that can burn up all the fuel, not just 1%.

Burning Uranium always leads to Plutonium which always leads to problems.

There is another fuel cycle besides uranium/plutonium.

It is called the Thorium cycle.
More information can be found here:
And here: see the archives

Posted by: fabco | February 14, 2010 10:37 AM
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thanks for your comments. As you are an adviser for Big Oil, i expected less of you, and i apologize. I like that you published the list of things we have to do to get from here (2010) to there (2020).

Altho i really, really dislike nukes for the reason you mention (garbage disposal .. or rather, lack thereof), i see it as the only viable (damn it) way to producing a large amount of electricity to get us from where we are to where we are almost all sustainable non-polluting energy.

Unfortunately, the US energy policies have been held captive by big energy producers that found they could make their executives rich and powerful ... more than if they invested millions in solar, wind, geothermal, wave action, and the rest. And Shell was one of the leaders of the feet draggers.

What would it take for Shell group to become a leader in long term sustainable, low-pollution energy production? Their track record so far is less than stellar but i guess that's expected when large corporations such as Shell and Shell group (and all the rest) are "best" led by greedheads and their sycophant stockholders.

Also, is Shell (and Shell group) willing to put the long-term, sustainable future of our world above the immediate profits the corporations? If so, there is hope. If not, then we are currently living in the corporate dream world ... and we, the people of the world think that sucks.

Posted by: thetravelingmasseur | February 13, 2010 10:21 AM
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again, you are a loser. apply for another job. stop being an activist for this scam. bye

Posted by: Senator_Salesman | February 12, 2010 7:00 PM
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Can you at least admit that u lost. The global warming scam has been exposed.. Find a new job.

Posted by: Senator_Salesman | February 12, 2010 12:24 PM
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