Solutions Project: Just Add Nuclear
Rezwan Razani - February 25, 2014
The League is calling for a national Race to be the first Zero Carbon State. We are now looking for plans that can help each state win. It turns out there are many vague ideas, but few specific plans. The shining exception - the Solutions Project! Can their plan be accelerated with a few tweaks (like, say, adding nuclear?) Which plan will appeal the most to consumers and taxpayers? Which will inspire the quickest action? What’s your plan?
The Solutions Project is Born
The Solutions Project started in June of 2011 when
...a scientist, an actor, a banker and a filmmaker were sitting around a table talking about their opposition to extreme energy [see sidebar] extraction. Their conversation sparked an important realization - it wasn’t enough for them to be against something. They needed to be part of the solution. That day, Mark Jacobson, Mark Ruffalo, Marco Krapels and Josh Fox created The Solutions Project. Our Mission: Use the powerful combination of science + business + culture to accelerate the transition to 100% clean, renewable energy.
To this end, the site features 50 plans, one for each of the States. Find yours on the interactive map! Most of them are in the form of a handy infographic. Their New York State plan (pdf) includes a more detailed report for those who want to see the data and analysis.
The project is as inspiring, ambitious and urgent as a 100% renewable plan can be.
In keeping with the “50” theme (50 plans, 50 states), they are aiming for 100% renewable energy by 2050. That is 35 years away. Will I live to see it?
Imagine this plan with nuclear energy integrated. Let’s look at my home state of New Jersey.
New Jersey Plan
Here is the Solutions Project’s NJ plan. Fabulous infographic! Check it out.
The main drivers of the NJ Solutions Project plan are:
1) Efficiency: It calls for a 44.8% reduction in energy demand by 2050.
2) Wind power: 55% offshore wind; 10% onshore by 2050.
NJ Solutions Project + Nuclear
OK, now let’s add nuclear. First, consider that with the efficiency goals above, a reduction of 44.8% demand (let’s round to 45%) means that with the Solutions Project, by 2050, we only have to produce 55% of the energy we produce now.
Fun fact: New Jersey gets 48% of its electricity today from nuclear power, via 4 power plants. That is carbon free electricity. If we embrace those plants, extend their licenses, refurbish or replace them - well, we’re already almost at the mark they want to be at in 2050 (55%-48% = 7% to go), today! Rather than installing offshore wind, just keep the nukes going and add some unobtrusive solar panels.
Or keep the nuclear power, add the full renewables package and start exporting clean energy to the interior for the slacker states.
The Stone the Builders Rejected
When you think about integrating nuclear energy into the renewables strategy, it’s like adding a booster rocket. Don’t subtract nuclear and then add renewables. Just add.
The NJ State Energy Master Plan subtracts as well. As noted, in New Jersey, we get 48% of our electricity from 4 nuclear power plants. The Renewable portfolio goal in the State’s Energy Master Plan is 22%. If we rephrase our goals as a “carbon free electricity goal” we’re already well past the 22% goal. Adding 22% more renewables to the 48% nuclear gets us to 70% carbon free.
At that point, going for 100% Carbon Free electricity for New Jersey isn’t such a stretch. Going beyond, into electrified transportation (to phase out liquid fuel for transport) also starts to look simple.
Once you see nuclear as an asset, everything becomes much simpler and quicker. Don’t suffer from “Nuclear (Pride and) Prejudice”.
I would love to see the Solutions Project take a leadership role in reducing energy tribalism, getting nuclear power into the mix and accelerating our transition to a carbon free economy.
Mark, Mark, Marco and Josh, let’s do it! Or at least have a Living Room Conversation about integrating nuclear into the Solutions Project. We’re standing by.
And let’s cut that time down to a decade, max.
So excited! I got my first tweet from Mark Ruffalo! Alas, Mark only tweeted to say that nuclear is not an option.
The NIMBY Bell Tolls
I wonder when he will come around. Perhaps after getting NIMBY backlash as they promote the Solutions Project throughout the States. Until then, renewables will continue to dismiss nuclear, as James Hansen laments (on page 11) and as Mark Jacobson demonstrates in the TED debate below.
Thanks to Robert Steinhaus for sharing the link to the TED talk in which Mark Jacobson debates Stewart Brand with us in the comments below.
In the debate, Jacobson dismisses wind NIMBY, saying the footprint of wind is limited to the point at which the windmill touches the ground (at minute 11:30+ he makes a distinction between “footprint” and “spacing”.)
I don’t think the American consumer would make that distinction. To put it another way, our Cinderella Energy Project takes a more holistic view of “footprint”, wondering about the entire shoe, where all the parts come from and were made, if anyone was exploited to make the shoe, how it matches your wardrobe, and how well you can dance in it. Metaphorically.
Mark finished the debate with the handy mushroom cloud image, kryptonite for nuclear proponents. That brings us to proliferation fears. Here’s a post on “Atomic Obsession” which offers perspective on those fears. We need to get as accurate a picture of the actual dangers as possible, and determine what path of nuclear development is best for eliminating it entirely. And we need to be aware of the opportunity cost of being in thrall to those fears.
The remaining issue is then cost and scalability - what energy supply would cost the least and scale the fastest? In the TED Talk, Jacobson says that nuclear power would take too long to scale compared to renewables. The Breakthrough Institute says the opposite based on this study. As to cost, the real competition is natural gas. When you compare nuclear with renewables, nuclear is subsidized, but at a fraction of the subsidy of renewables per unit of energy produced:
Nuclear receives far less subsidies than renewables. Bittman attacks nuclear subsidies, but they are far smaller than renewables subsidies. Since 1950, nuclear power has received $3.60 in federal subsidies for every megawatt-hour of electricity it has produced, compared to $1.50 for coal, $5.70 for gas, $6 for hydro, and over $100 for solar and wind. Germany has committed over $130 billion to solar subsidies since 2000, yet only receives 5 percent of its annual electricity from solar.
It’s Your Money, Your Back Yard
Ultimately, this decision is for citizens and consumers to make. The job of everyone providing energy solutions is to clear up the information signal, to get the noise out and help everyone see the options with all due clarity. In his book, “Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air” (free download), David MacKay says,
In a climate where people don’t understand the numbers, newspapers, campaigners, companies, and politicians can get away with murder.
We need simple numbers, and we need the numbers to be comprehensible, comparable, and memorable.
RT to remind the Solutions Project architects that energy is your choice, and you want the best options available.