It’s not like this will come as startling news to most readers–most of us already have a strong sense that renewables are far better than either nuclear power or carbon capture/storage (CCS) at addressing our climate crisis.
After all, that’s the main message the Nuclear-Free, Carbon-Free Contingent is taking to the People’s Climate March in New York City September 21.
But it’s nice to see others take the same position, especially when bolstered with facts. That’s what Mike Barnard did yesterday in CleanTechnica.com with his article Wind Energy Beats Nuclear & Carbon Capture For Global Warming Mitigation.
Barnard begins with the simple reality that the James Hansen’s of the world just can’t seem to grasp:
“There’s an enduring myth related to wind energy and nuclear energy that needs to be put to bed. That myth is that only nuclear can be scaled to sufficient capacity to reduce the impacts of global warming, and that wind energy is much less scalable so it should be ignored.”
The article focuses on China because:
“China is the true test bed for maximum scalability of nuclear vs wind. It has a tremendous gap between demand and generation. It can mostly ignore lack of social license for nuclear. It is building both wind and nuclear as rapidly as possible. It has been on a crash course for both for about the same period of time. It has bypassed most of the regulatory red tape for nuclear which sensibly exists elsewhere given concerns about economic fallout of Fukushima-scale disasters, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. And in four years it has built significantly less nuclear generation capacity than it built of wind generation capacity in 2013 alone.”
That’s where reality comes in. In 2013 alone, China installed more than 16 GW of new wind capacity, while in the four years 2010-2014 it managed to put only 4.7 GW of new nuclear into operation. Even accounting for nuclear’s higher capacity factor than wind (and Barnard uses a generous 90.9% capacity factor for nuclear), Barnard finds:
“Running the math, that’s about 6.5 GW of real capacity of wind energy in one year vs 4.3 GW of real capacity for nuclear over four years. That’s roughly six times more real wind energy capacity than nuclear per year.”
Barnard isn’t anti-nuclear, by the way. He thinks nuclear is actually a good choice for power generation where it makes economic sense. The problem is–that’s nowhere. He also thinks CCS is worthwhile, but will play only a limited role in the future, while we don’t think it’s even worth the bother.
He points out that nuclear power generation worldwide is dropping. It reached its high point in 2006 and we’ll argue it likely will never reach that point again.
2006, by the way, was also the high point in electricity generation generally for the U.S. Then along came the Great Recession, which caused a drop in electricity demand that–because of the success of state-level energy efficiency programs and rooftop solar (which usually isn’t counted as generation, but rather is counted as a drop in demand), may never recover in the U.S. even with continued economic growth.
While Barnard focuses on wind, the same argument holds true for solar power, although so far to a lesser extent in terms of global deployment. But solar is now growing just as rapidly, if not more so, than wind, and thus the key argument–that renewables can and will scale up much more rapidly than nuclear could–holds true for solar as well.
As Barnard concludes:
“Nuclear isn’t more scalable than wind or other renewables, in fact it’s going in reverse while renewables are being expanded rapidly. And CCS won’t dodge more climate change than renewables because wind and solar are being built in production rapidly and CCS isn’t and won’t be in comparable scales because the economics don’t support it. Both are busted myths.”
July 30, 2014
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