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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Breaking the Cycle of Anti-nuclear Indoctrination--The "80% renewables" argument

I highly recommend this excellent presentation by Jesse Jenkins explaining why (assuming it's possible) an 80% wind and solar grid is not likely a good idea. From a Tweet by Joris van Dorp:

I first encountered this argument in an article last year by the anti-nuclear David Roberts writing for Vox. My response:
Above, Dave puts a pair of sentences back-to-back to give you the impression that the dispute is over using nuclear to decarbonize that last 10 to 20 percent. But that isn't really what the dispute comes down to. The idea that the world can reduce emissions 80% with renewables for electrical and especially for all energy use is an untested hypothesis, let alone getting to 100%. The dispute is over how much nuclear and how much wind and solar is going to be needed from start to finish.
Take a few minutes to digest the following two graphics where I tried to summarize the gist of Jenkins' presentation with markups of his original material (keeping in mind that these are my interpretations of his presentation).
Figure 1

Figure 2

I wrote a mild critique/rambling diatribe last year about a version of Jesse's pie chart (see Figure 2 above) titled Wind and solar are Fuel Savers.
Reading between the lines, the only sources on that pie chart that can scale up enough to make a meaningful difference are wind, solar, and nuclear. His presentation bolsters what I've been saying for years now, and more importantly, explains why.
Image of perplexed guy adapted from Flickr Creative Commons

Ever wonder why 80% is the number typically seen as a goal for whatever? It all goes back to a 2009 study published in Nature where the authors concluded that to stay below a two degree temperature rise humanity will have to leave 80% of all fossil fuel reserves in the ground (coal, oil, and gas).

Over the years, people have lost track of where that 80% value came from. It's now used for all kinds of goals. Reducing natural gas use has much less impact on emissions reductions than reducing coal or oil use. If you add enough wind and solar to reduce annual gas use by 80% to a grid that was composed of 50% gas and 50% coal, you will only have reduced total grid emissions by roughly 26% because wind and solar can't generate the steady output needed for the baseload role typically provided by coal and coal is almost twice as carbon intensive as gas. Because of their intermittent nature, wind and solar can only replace natural gas.

If gas, assisted by heavily subsidized wind and solar, replaces nuclear, you will see a significant increase in emissions.

An X% increase in wind and soar has yet to demonstrate an X% reduction in total grid emissions. Read Environmental Progress--The Power to Decarbonize.

For windows Firefox browsers, left click on any image for a higher resolution slide show of images, then right click on any image in that slide show and pick "view image" for an even higher resolution version that you can then left click on again to zoom in further (left click, right click, left click view image, left click). For Edge and Chrome, just left click the image.

See Breaking the Cycle of Anti-nuclear Indoctrination for a list of other articles on the topic.

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