Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Bill Gates has joined the growing list of Greens who think renewables alone cannot replace fossil fuels.
What I learned at work this year
By Bill Gates
December 29, 2018
Global emissions of greenhouse gases went up in 2018. For me, that just reinforces the fact that the only way to prevent the worst climate-change scenarios is to get some breakthroughs in clean energy.
Some people think we have all the tools we need, and that driving down the cost of renewables like solar and wind solves the problem. I am glad to see solar and wind getting cheaper and we should be deploying them wherever it makes sense.
But solar and wind are intermittent sources of energy, and we are unlikely to have super-cheap batteries anytime soon that would allow us to store sufficient energy for when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. Besides, electricity accounts for only 25% of all emissions. We need to solve the other 75% too.
This year Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the clean-energy investment fund I’m involved with, announced the first companies we’re putting money into. You can see the list at http://www.b-t.energy/ventures/our-investment-portfolio/. We are looking at all the major drivers of climate change. The companies we chose are run by brilliant people and show a lot of promise for taking innovative clean-energy ideas out of the lab and getting them to market.
Next year I will speak out more about how the U.S. needs to regain its leading role in nuclear power research. (This is unrelated to my work with the foundation.)
Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day. The problems with today’s reactors, such as the risk of accidents, can be solved through innovation.
The United States is uniquely suited to create these advances with its world-class scientists, entrepreneurs, and investment capital.
Unfortunately, America is no longer the global leader on nuclear energy that it was 50 years ago. To regain this position, it will need to commit new funding, update regulations, and show investors that it’s serious.
There are several promising ideas in advanced nuclear that should be explored if we get over these obstacles. TerraPower, the company I started 10 years ago, uses an approach called a traveling wave reactor that is safe, prevents proliferation, and produces very little waste. We had hoped to build a pilot project in China, but recent policy changes here in the U.S. have made that unlikely. We may be able to build it in the United States if the funding and regulatory changes that I mentioned earlier happen.
The world needs to be working on lots of solutions to stop climate change. Advanced nuclear is one, and I hope to persuade U.S. leaders to get into the game.
Anthony, myself, many others at WUWT have repeatedly said we have no problem with policies which encourage nuclear power, though we oppose carbon pricing because it imposes unnecessary hardship.
The evidence is unequivocal that the world could rapidly decarbonise the global economy by embracing nuclear power, without reducing consumption or making radical lifestyle changes.
France switched from coal to nuclear power in the 1970s without breaking their economy. They kept costs down by mass producing standardised reactor components, reprocessing waste fuel, and by reducing bureaucratic impediments by designating nuclear power a strategic national priority. France still generates 71% of their electricity from nuclear reactors, though lately President Macron is attempting to undo this achievement.
If nuclear power is such an obviously solution, why hasn’t it happened?
The main obstacle to going full nuclear in the West is the green movement.
When leading climate scientists beg the world to consider embracing nuclear power to decarbonise the economy, greens respond by calling them names.
Greens tell us we all must have the utmost respect for the global warming concerns of their favourite climate scientists, but that respect goes out the window whenever those same climate scientists say something which contradicts green policy objectives.
Next time a green asks you to make personal lifestyle sacrifices to reduce your carbon footprint, ask them why opposing nuclear power, the only large scale zero carbon energy source likely to receive bipartisan support, is more important to the green movement than reducing CO2. If you get an answer which makes sense let me know – because green excuses that nuclear is too expensive (not in France), or too dangerous (more dangerous than the end of the world?!) simply don’t make sense.
Update (EW): h/t Duncan Smith – Congress appears to be taking advanced nuclear power seriously, they recently passed the bipartisan S.97 – Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017.