Vol. 1, Issue 7
he impact of the Waxman-Markey carbon cap-and-trade bill on America’s energy infrastructure and built economy will be both massive and historic, one of the nation’s foremost experts on alternative energy recently told a gathering of economic developers in Nevada.
“The energy problem is and always has been the defining problem of our age,” said Dr. David Hill, deputy laboratory director for science and technology at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls. “Energy is always at odds with amenity. It is never free, and the linkage between energy and the environment will always exist. Transition to a low-carbon economy will take time and significant investment.”
Addressing attendees of the 2009 International Economic Development Council Annual Conference in Reno, Hill said that “climate-change policies cannot be achieved without significant expansion of renewable energy and nuclear energy technologies.”
It is the stated goal of the pending Waxman-Markey bill in Congress “to create clean-energy jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce global-warming pollution and transition to a clean-energy economy.”
Achieving all of those goals by 2050 won’t be cheap or easy, and it will require more compromises and trade-offs than many people are currently willing to accept, the scientist said.
In a special workshop session of IEDC, Hill outlined the goals and anticipated impacts of H.R. 2454 — the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.
“The U.S. is pursuing policies that will transform energy supply and consumption,” Hill said. “The goal of Waxman-Markey is carbon abatement from electricity. If this bill is enacted, energy consumption levels expected in 2015 would not be reached until the middle of the century; and zero and low-carbon technologies would double by 2030 — including nuclear, renewable energy and CCT [clean-coal technologies].”
Moreover, he said, those who argue that the U.S. can somehow accomplish CO2 reduction through conservation or alternative energy alone are fooling themselves.
“There isn’t one answer,” he said. “You can’t renew your way to carbon reduction. You can’t ‘efficiency’ your way. It takes all solutions. In fact, one of the things that we have to admit to ourselves is that the answers aren’t all discovered yet.”
The Nuclear Path:
In a presentation titled “What Should We Do Today to Secure Tomorrow?,” Hill framed the issue by showing a chart of the leading developed nations and their respective contribution to carbon dioxide emissions. The U.S. leads all countries with 20.4 metric tons of carbon output per capita, followed by Australia with 19.0 tons and Canada with 18.5 tons.
France emits only 6.9 metric tons of CO2 per capita, largely because nuclear power supplies 40 percent of the country’s energy, said Hill. “France’s goal is to be fossil-fuel-free by 2050,” he said, noting that Sweden and Switzerland also rely heavily on nuclear power (37 percent and 24 percent, respectively).
The U.S. will not be able to reach the carbon-reduction mandates of Waxman-Markey without substantially increasing its nuclear portfolio
, said Hill. “Nations will have to change how they obtain and use energy in order to significantly reduce carbon emissions.”
Currently, the U.S. receives 86 percent of its energy from fossil fuels, 8 percent from nuclear power and 6 percent from renewable resources.
“Nuclear power can unlock tremendous U.S. energy wealth while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Hill. “Nuclear-assisted hybrid energy systems can speed and increase renewable deployment and enhance integration of renewables on the grid.”
In 2008, nuclear generation in the U.S. reached a record high of 808.97 million megawatt hours and did so at production costs that were lower than any other primary energy source including coal and natural gas, he noted. “Plus, 70 percent of emissions-free electricity produced in this country is nuclear, displacing the equivalent of annual CO2 from U.S. cars.”
More than 30 new nuclear generating stations are under consideration in the U.S., but more will be needed, said Hill. Most of the nuclear projects under development
or being planned are along the East Coast or Gulf Coast.
The Idaho National Laboratory's Materials & Fuels Complex
Also, he noted, “the U.S. is pursuing development of a high-temperature reactor for a suite of energy and petrochemical applications. Westinghouse, AREVA and General Atomics have designs, and INL is developing and testing fuel.”
Hill added that support for transition to a low-carbon economy is coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1), which allocates $37 billion toward a variety of green-economy projects. This includes $11 billion for the Smart Grid; $400 million for electric vehicles
; $2.5 billion for renewable energy projects; $2 billion for advanced battery manufacturing
grants; and $62 million for carbon capture and storage.
Corporate site selectors may want to consider locations in the Western U.S. and Western Canada, he noted, as those regions “have the greatest natural energy resources.”
Oil sands, coal basins, oil shale, uranium deposits and biomass stock can all be found in abundance in the West, Hill said. The “hot” energy cities of the future will include Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon and Regina in Canada, and Boise, Salt Lake City, Denver, Bismarck, Billings, Rapid City, Casper and Helena in the U.S., he added.
“Energy must be addressed through the lens of sustainable development,” said Hill, noting that “public-private partnerships to accelerate technology deployment” will be needed if this is to occur.
“We must emphasize approaches that bring innovation, research and education together
,” he said. “And we must shift our focus to fundamental science issues, enabling the U.S. and other countries to leverage capabilities, share or pursue joint research facilities, and facilitate technical exchanges.”
Finally, he said, the U.S. will have to learn how to produce more with less power. “The best inventions will be in the area of energy efficiency,” he said.
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