UC Berkeley study: switch to nuclear from coal in the West

From the University of California – Berkeley while China (and Slovenia if Jim Hansen will shut up) surges ahead with coal power generation, some scholars are fretting over meeting carbon emissions targets. On the plus side, they advocate for nuclear power as part of the solution.

Advanced power-grid research finds low-cost, low-carbon future in West

One possible scenario for the electricity system in the Western US in 2026-29. Pie charts show the proportion of different types of energy sources generating power and flowing between load areas if there were a carbon tax of $70 per ton. According to the SWITCH model, such a tax could allow the West to reach a goal of 54 percent of 1990 emissions by 2030. Credit: Daniel Kammen lab, UC Berkeley

The least expensive way for the Western U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to help prevent the worst consequences of global warming is to replace coal with renewable and other sources of energy that may include nuclear power, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley, researchers.

The experts reached this conclusion using SWITCH, a highly detailed computer model of the electric power grid, to study generation, transmission and storage options for the states west of the Kansas/Colorado border. The model will be an important tool for utilities and government planners.

“Decarbonization of the electric power sector is critical to achieving greenhouse gas reductions that are needed for a sustainable future,” said Daniel Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group. “To meet these carbon goals, coal has to go away from the region.”

One example of low-cost, low-carbon energy generation and transmission around the West by 2030.

One possible scenario for the electricity system in the Western U.S. in 2026-29. Pie charts show the proportion of different types of energy sources generating power and flowing between load areas if there were a carbon tax of $70 per ton. According to the SWITCH model, such a tax could allow the West to reach a goal of 54% of 1990 emissions by 2030.

To achieve this level of decarbonization, policy changes are needed to cap or tax carbon emissions to provide an incentive to move toward low-carbon electricity sources, Kammen and the other study authors said.

While some previous studies have emphasized the high cost of carbon taxes or caps, the new study shows that replacing coal with more gas generation, as well as renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy, would result in only a moderate increase to consumers in the cost of electric power – at most, 20 percent. They estimate a lower ratepayer cost, Kammen said, because the evolution of the electrical grid over the next 20 years – with coordinated construction of new power plants and transmission lines – would substantially reduce the actual consumer cost of meeting carbon emission targets.

“While the carbon price required to induce these deep carbon emission reductions is high – between $59 and $87 per ton of CO2 emitted – the cost of power is predicted to increase by at most 20 percent, because the electricity system will redesign itself around a price or cap on carbon emissions,” said Kammen. “That is a modest cost considering that the future of the planet is at stake.”

Coal hazards

Burning coal, a non-renewable resource, produces about 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, but also releases harmful chemicals into the environment such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfuric acid, responsible in some areas for acid rain and respiratory illness.

California has few coal-fired power plants, but gets about 20 percent of its electricity from coal-burning plants in neighboring states. About 46 percent of the state’s power comes from gas-burning plants, 11 percent from hydroelectric, 14 percent from nuclear and 11 percent from other renewables: geothermal energy, wind and solar.

The study, published in the April issue of the journal Energy Policy, highlights an analysis using the SWITCH electricity planning model. SWITCH, which stands for Solar, Wind, Hydro and Conventional generation and Transmission Investment, uses unprecedented detail that includes generation, transmission and storage of electricity. The model was developed by Matthias Fripp to study California’s renewable energy options while he was a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley. Kammen and his group extended the model’s capabilities and used it to study Western North America.

“We use the SWITCH model to identify low-carbon supply options for the West, and to see how intermittent generation may be deployed in the future,” said first author James Nelson, a UC Berkeley graduate student. “We show that it is possible to reach our goals of reducing carbon emissions using many possible mixes of power, whether natural gas, nuclear, solar, wind, biomass or geothermal.”

“Models like this are eagerly anticipated by many of the agencies involved in planning,” Kammen said, noting that SWITCH is a power-system model that can be fine-tuned for many different types of studies.

Setting targets for 2030 emissions

Mandates called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) currently dominate carbon reduction policy in the United States. These standards require that a certain fraction of electricity generation come from renewable sources. While California has a relatively high RPS target of 33 percent renewable sources by 2020, other Western states have less ambitious targets. Additional policy action throughout Western North America will be required to meet climate targets, Kammen said.

The UC Berkeley study concluded that current RPS targets are not sufficient to put electric power sector emissions on track to limit atmospheric levels of carbon to less than 450 ppm, a climate stabilization target recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That target requires carbon emissions from electricity production in industrialized countries to drop to no more than 54 percent of 1990 emissions by 2030.

However, the study finds that the right mix of renewable energy sources can meet climate goals given stronger carbon policy.

Of all 50 states, California has been the most aggressive in setting goals for reducing carbon emissions, with a target to return to 1990 levels by 2020. The first step along the path of changing the balance of energy sources is the establishment of a carbon trading market in California, which will be up and running in September 2012, said Kammen.

###

Coauthors of the study are Josiah Johnston, Ana Mileva, Ian Hoffman, Autumn Petros-Good and Christian Blanco of UC Berkeley’s RAEL lab and the Energy and Resources Group; and Matthias Fripp of the Environmental Change Group at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

Funding for the Energy Policy study was provided by the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, NextEra Energy Resources, the Karsten Family Foundation, Vestas Wind LLC, the UC Berkeley Class of 1935, the CPV Consortium, the Berkeley Nerds Fellowship and the Link Energy Fellowship.

About these ads

40 thoughts on “UC Berkeley study: switch to nuclear from coal in the West

  1. California is one of the few places where I wouldn’t advocate the construction of conventional nuclear reactors. Maybe liquid salt thorium ones in the future.

  2. Kaboom says: April 4, 2012 at 7:24 am
    [California is one of the few places where I wouldn’t advocate the construction of conventional nuclear reactors.]

    They should only have free-range nuclear reactions that are not imprisoned like a Texas Death Row inmate in a concrete block-house; in California they need nuclear reaction that are able to grow to their full potential in an organic way, as nature intended. In addition, nuclear reactions in California must not be segregated from civil society but instead be encouraged to shine brightly in the centers of political power.

  3. The anti-coal rhetoric is quite heavy in the report.

    Burning coal, a non-renewable resource, produces about 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, but also releases harmful chemicals into the environment such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfuric acid, responsible in some areas for acid rain and respiratory illness.

    The proportion of the world’s greenhouse gases produced is all wrong. Antroprogenic “greenhouse” gas production is about 5%; with nature making 95%.

    Also, unless the EPA, etc have relaxed emissions standards, very little of those “harmful” chemicals are released by coal-fired power stations in the Western world. It’s been known for thousands of years that the poison is in the dose.

  4. “Burning coal, a non-renewable resource, produces about 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases” That is technically not true.
    It produces 20% of the 2% anthropogenic contribution to the overall planetary greenhouse gases (I trust they mean CO2, not counting water vapor). Thus, coal burning produces 0.4% of the overall CO2 emissions.
    If water vapor is the 95% greenhouse gas, then divide the above 0.4% by 100, and the corrected statement should read:
    “Burning coal, a non-renewable resource, produces about 0.004 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases”
    Puts things in perspective, don’t it….

  5. “would result in only a moderate increase to consumers in the cost of electric power – at most, 20 percent”

    20 percent is not moderate.

  6. California actually “imports” electricity from out-of-state in the summer. They don’t have enough base capacity to handle the load during high demand periods. If California is really serious about “decarbonizing” their electric power sector, they should also make it illegal to buy electricity from out-of-state that does not match their clean-energy or sustainability requirements.

  7. “Decarbonization of the electric power sector is critical to achieving greenhouse gas reductions that are needed for a sustainable future,” said Daniel Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.

    Of course all of this is based on the assumption that there is a real danger of significant climate change from burning fossil fuels. If Mr. Kammen really is a ‘distinguished professor’, perhaps he would have the ability to look into the real science of climate change and realize that CO2 emissions are not a threat to the climate system.

    But the real thing that jars my nerves is when ‘distinguished’ professors’ say that we need to do something for a ‘sustainable future’! Is there any phrase less scientific than ‘sustainable future’?
    What is the professor implying…that time will stop and the future will cease to exist if we do not do what he says? Or is he implying that if we do what he says, we will not need to adapt anymore because the ‘future’ will no longer change? Perhaps he is simply talking about the future of humanity in the Western US; implying that we must do as he says or face a ‘stone age’ lifestyle. Sorry professor, but this year we all learned about ‘fracking’, a procedure that has already rendered your study ‘unsustainable’. What does the future hold? Way more than you and I know!

    I have news for all those distinguished professors out there: The only thing that is sustainable in the future is change! Fortunately, we humans, and the environment in general, are particularly well suited to adaptation. It is a key component in maintaining robust species and a vital component in evolution. (He does believe in evolution, doesn’t he?) Environmental change is like exercise for the biosphere. Life is change. The only things that are ever preserved are DEAD!

    From a scientific perspective, the phrase ‘sustainable future’ is oxymoronic. It is an emotional buzz phrase designed, not to enlighten or educate, but to coerce! It should not be in the vocabulary of distinguished professors. If it is, then they are demonstrating that they do not deserve the title ‘professor’, much less ‘distinguished’.

  8. Am I the only one who thinks that $70 a ton carbon tax isn’t really a “low cost” solution? My back of the envelope calculation is that the “wholesale” cost of a megawatt hour or electricity is about $60 plus or minus. If coal produces half a ton per megawatt hour, that’s a $35 tax on a $60 product.

    If the authors think that a net 20% increase in electricity rates is “modest”, they must not read the news when the utilities ask for rate hikes. The torches and pitchforks come out when anything above 5% is requested…

  9. Andrew30…thank you for my morning laugh. “Free-range nuclear reactions…[growing]… in an organic way, as nature intended.” I love it!

  10. That map looks so unrealistic with the solar & wind reliance that who cares what these wind-nerds think. They have NV, AZ & NM combiing for 10 GWe *AVERAGE* power. So far as I understand the ongoing failure of solar, this is not going to be the case.

  11. Stop modeling a guaranteed failure.

    Disconnect the national grid, which was designed solely to allow Wall Street securitization of electricity. Return to the regional/local grids as of 1970 or so. De-privatize electric power and return to city-run systems.

    Look, we have a pretty good controlled experiment. In US, electricity was privatized and gridized while water systems remained local and governmental. In UK both electricity and water were privatized.

    In both countries the electric systems have deteriorated. Water systems are still fairly competent in US, but failing in UK.

    Conclusion: for these two utilities, local and governmental works better than global and private.

  12. Looking at the chart it doesn’t appear that any additional nuclear power plants are included in this scenario. It’s highly doubtful that California will ever approve the construction of a nuclear facility within its borders as a state law prohibits new construction of such plants until a permanent nuclear waste storage facility is available somewhere in the United States, such as Yucca Mountain. Also nuclear power is not an approved carbon-free power source in California and does not count toward the state’s 33% RPS. So even if other states construct nuclear power plants and offer to transmit the power to California, the state will have to continue to construct and obtain at least 33% of its energy from sources such as wind, solar and geothermal.

  13. The dirty little secret is that the west doesn’t have much coal now, so reducing it by a given percentage doesn’t involve removing much.

    Try this on the northeast and see what happens.

  14. Happiness is a Molten Salt Breeder Reactor, transmuting 232-Th.

    Damn skippy. And maybe one day we will start to actually work on this again (abandoned in favor of Uranium back in the days where the government wanted a cheap source of plutonium from reprocessed enriched Uranium plants). Or maybe we’ll just buy our molten salt cores from China, already hard at work there…

    rgb

  15. More Soylent Green said:
    “California actually ‘imports’ electricity from out-of-state in the summer. They don’t have enough base capacity to handle the load during high demand periods. If California is really serious about “decarbonizing” their electric power sector, they should also make it illegal to buy electricity from out-of-state that does not match their clean-energy or sustainability requirements.”

    There exists a law in California, SB 1368, that requires all retail power providers such as SoCal Edison and PG&E to divest themselves either of ownership or a long term contract to purchase energy from sources that produces more than 1100 pounds of CO2 per Mega-watt hour. This essentially will prohibit the importation of coal fired energy into the state. SoCal Edison is already in the midst of selling its share of the ownership of the coal fired Four Corners power plant in New Mexico to Arizona Public Services in order to comply with the law. I wonder what type of approved baseload power SCE will replace this with? Only Geothermal or some kind of BioMass can provide baseload and there isn’t much of either, now or in the future.

  16. If California is really serious about “decarbonizing” their electric power sector, they should also make it illegal to buy electricity from out-of-state that does not match their clean-energy or sustainability requirements.

    Most of the power Cali buys from out of state is either hydropower from the PNW or BC, or nuke from AZ. So this it probably almost met now.

    It’s easy to agree to low carbon when you’re been doing low carbon for the past 50 years.

  17. ChE says:
    April 4, 2012 at 8:32 am

    The dirty little secret is that the west doesn’t have much coal now

    Yep…the 11 most western states have about 35 GW of coal fired generating capacity.(A bit more then 10% of the national total). We also enjoy well below the national average coal prices. :)

  18. ChE said:
    “Most of the power Cali buys from out of state is either hydropower from the PNW or BC, or nuke from AZ. So this it probably almost met now. “

    California actually imports from 5000 to 6000 MWs of coal-fired baseload electricity year-round. This amounts to about 15% of the total electricity consumed or roughly half of the imports as California imports about 30% of its power. Most of the other 15% comes from Hydro and Nuclear facilities as mentioned.

  19. In Oregon and Washington most of our electricity is Hydro-no CO2 issues. But it isn’t counted as being CO2 free or even ‘renewable’ energy. To be counted as helping reduce the ‘carbon footprint’ energy has to be politically correct also-no Hydro or nuclear power welcome! The same people who are screaming in alarm about the ‘dangers’ of CO2 are advocating removing the dams and nuclear plants that we have already.

    Such hypocrisy!

  20. Richard Hanson says:
    April 4, 2012 at 9:10 am

    This will lead to either skyrocketing rates or rolling brownouts/blackouts or both. When does this take effect?

  21. Why does the study require a carbon tax as the driving force? Why not a carbon law, without a tax which sucks money from the utility companies — money which they could use to more quickly build cleaner power plants?

  22. Richard Hanson says:
    April 4, 2012 at 9:10 am

    There exists a law in California, SB 1368, that requires all retail power providers such as SoCal Edison and PG&E to divest themselves either of ownership or a long term contract to purchase energy from sources that produces more than 1100 pounds of CO2 per Mega-watt hour.

    This is rather like two people in the same room drawing a chalk line on the floor and promising to only breathe air from their respective sides of the line. So long as coal-fired power is produced anywhere on the grid, it supports the total demand by everyone.

    I note the language specifies “long term contract”, so I presume spot market purchases are OK if the alternative is shortage? So California will let other states take advantage of lower prices for long-term coal power, but will pay a premium for coal power when there is no other choice. In other words, California residents and businesses pay more all the time.

  23. I think the best way to save on emissions from coal fired plants is to go around turning off power to the homes and offices of those that hate it.

  24. AnonyMoose says:
    April 4, 2012 at 11:16 am
    Why does the study require a carbon tax as the driving force? Why not a carbon law, without a tax which sucks money from the utility companies — money which they could use to more quickly build cleaner power plants?

    I’m not following what you mean by “carbon law.” Would you please explain?

    However, as far as a carbon tax goes, if you want less of something, tax it more. Of course, utility companies and other businesses won’t pay a carbon tax — their customers and shareholders (owners) will.

  25. I should elaborate. If greenie hysteria about ghg gets them to encourage the building of nuclear plants in CA, then let’s let them blather on about it. We used to have a nuke plant here, Rancho Seco, just a bit southeast of Sacramento. The greens had a hissy fit about it and forced SMUD to put it to a vote. Thanks to millions of dollars of deceptive advertising, it was voted down and was decommissioned.

    I’m still pissed about that.

  26. Thomas I was doing the same calculation: how much is $70 per ton of CO2 on top of the current retail price. The 20% increase figure is laughable.

    If California wants to go low carbon, now, meaning tomorrow, they should start building CANDU reactors and feed all their old radioactive leftovers into to. While these are running down their U235 supplies, they should as others suggest, build a Thorium plant. Until it is finished, the Thorium can be fed into the CANDU.

    I have just returned from Cape Town where there were City advisors speaking at the 20th Domestic Use of Energy conference. The greenatics and the decarbonizers were thick as thieves – but I repeat myself. I really feel sorry for the poor who are going to see (and have seen) prices increase by several-fold in real terms. The deepening of energy poverty in order to feed funding to foreign profligateers is depressing. Having sucked the UK, Germany and Spain dry they are floating up on Afric Shores with turbines, ethanol, panels, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. There are here to try their luck, promising a ‘green economy’ with ‘green jobs’ and fat green profits fom selling energy.

    Too bad about the poor. I guess they will just sit quietly by and ‘do without’.

  27. More Soylent Green said:

    “This will lead to either skyrocketing rates or rolling brownouts/blackouts or both. When does this take effect?”

    Replacing any existing power source with a new one, especially solar or wind, will cost much more per kwh. However the plants that will be divested provide mainly baseload power that solar and wind cannot provide. They will have to build baseload Combined cycle natural gas plants to fill the void. California will be able to purchase energy on the spot-market or short contracts as the law only covers contracts that exceed five years. The law is in effect right now but I don’t know the compliance date. The regulations are vague. Perhaps someone who is adept at reading Californian Regulatese could clue us in? The regulations don’t seem to explicity state penalties.

  28. Did someone say “Carbon Tax of $70/ton”?
    I absolutely guranatee you that the money will NEVER go to where it was supposed to.
    Give a new tax to a State or other Gov. Agency and that’s the last you’ll ever see that money.
    You’ll need a fire extinguisher for the checkbook, after they are done splurging on pet projects.
    Absolutley nothing will get done. At least not anything worthwhile towards the very reason for the tax in the 1st place, Even if they did manage to save the pile of green cash, they’d up and do a 180 in a heartbeat, declaring AGW to be a dead stick, thereby exusing them to engage in a fund-feeding frenzy.
    I’m not being mean, that’s just the way these things work.

  29. We NEED all of the CO2 we can get. It’s plant food!

    Keep burring that coal. As the planet cools, the only way we will be able to maintain the food supply will be to maximize food production and the main limiting factor in plant growth his CO2!

    Burn baby, BURN! Decarbonization is a fool’s errand, a waste of time, money and resources, and a political scam!

  30. polistra says:
    April 4, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Stop modeling a guaranteed failure.

    Disconnect the national grid, which was designed solely to allow Wall Street securitization of electricity. Return to the regional/local grids as of 1970 or so. De-privatize electric power and return to city-run systems.

    You don’t know what you’re advocating here; interconnection of generation actually provides additional stabilization of a ‘grid’, where a small part (say 1/100 of present generation) of a much larger ‘whole’ drops out it will hardly be felt … versus a scenario where if 1/5 of the generation kicks off line the entire little grid quite literally ‘goes down’ … it’s not pretty to see a generator’s response to a rather large step-load change … sometimes the created instability (step impulse response) can lead to system oscillation, depending on what went wrong in the first place to cause a loss of generation or a step-load like a line short on one phase of a HV transmission line.

    Please, read a study or two and gain some knowledge on the history of the power industry before making such sweeping proposals …

    .

  31. Thomas says:
    April 4, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Am I the only one who thinks that $70 a ton carbon tax isn’t really a “low cost” solution? My back of the envelope calculation is that the “wholesale” cost of a megawatt hour or electricity is about $60 plus or minus. If coal produces half a ton per megawatt hour, that’s a $35 tax on a $60 product.

    Heh. I think you got your producer and produced reversed. Try, “coal produces a megawatt hour per half ton”.

  32. Until nuclear becomes an economic proposition, I don’t think it has much future, unless their is another nuclear arms race – then buy BIG.

  33. http://enenews.com

    http://fukushima-diary.com

    Any nuclear power questions can easily be answered above.
    If you’d like to watch it in compressed realtime watch:

    http://www.youtube.com/fuku1live

    (each hour compressed into 3 minute videos)

    http://www.youtube.com/fuku1long

    (each hour compressed into 15 minute videos to show more detail)
    Here’s your kids on Nuclear Power:
    [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ujAG_Ofj4M ]
    and the followup:
    [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_FI2alBpBY ]
    Life should never be like this……damn them all.

Comments are closed.