Clean Energy: How To Get There From Here!

by John Brian Shannon

Everyone knows more electricity is needed in developed nations and electrical needs in developing nations are skyrocketing. No problem there — everyone deserves to live a good lifestyle and enjoy our modern technology to the fullest.

The problem occurs in the means used to generate that electricity. Some kinds of electrical power generation cause huge billowing clouds of pollution 24-hours per day, every day of the year.

All of this adds up to astronomically high costs for electrical power producers and users, which can be measured in several different ways.

For instance, new conventional nuclear  power plants can cost up to $20 billion dollars each. Added to that cost, is the cost incurred to store thousands of tons of (so-called) spent nuclear fuel. Some spent fuels must be stored in air-conditioned bunkers for up to 20,000 years, with never more than 36 hours of A/C interruption. The costs of that are so high, they can’t even be calculated.

New coal plants cost about $250 million dollars/per hundred megawatts. A hundred megawatts isn’t much, by the way – enough to power 16,000 power-hungry A/C homes in the U.S. or about 29,000 homes in China. Some coal-fired power plants cost upwards of $1 billion dollars. The cost of the coal must be added to the equation from day one – the price of which rises and falls typically between $80.00 and $160.00 per ton, plus the significant transportation costs. It may interest you to know that China burned 3 billion tons of coal last year, emitting 7.2 billion tons of CO2 and other toxic gasses. Approximately 410,000 Chinese people die every year as a result of pollution-related deaths.

Natural gas power plants are clean, they cost a little more than comparable coal plants and the only real drawback is they emit huge volumes of CO2. Unlike coal, they emit little in the way of other toxic gasses or soot. Again, a costly and continuous and supply of natural gas must be available every day of the year.

No matter which choice is made, the construction of electrical generation power plants incurs high costs to nations — and the cheapest options come with the highest fuel and health-care costs.

In the United States, nuclear power receives significant subsidies on the order of $3.50 billion per year on average and oil and gas receive $4.86 billion subsidy dollars per year on average.

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We can see from the chart above that in the United States most forms of electrical power generation are heavily subsidized. Who could afford electricity otherwise?

If solar, wind and geothermal energy were subsidized at the same per kilowatt rate as Oil & Gas, Coal, or Nuclear — total U.S. emission levels would drop dramatically and Americans would be breathing much cleaner air.

National health-care costs would drop, acid rain damage would decrease to near zero, crop damage from power plants would become a thing of the past and meeting international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol would become boringly simple.

To have the enjoyment of breathing clean air and the other benefits listed above, all governments should calculate the highest subsidy they pay per kilowatt hour and then begin paying ALL electricity providers that same per kilowatt hour subsidy.

Solar power, wind power and geothermal would then become ultra-competitive with coal, N-power and Oil & Gas. Every large rooftop area, such as big box retail outlets like IKEA stores for one good example, could assist national power production and air-quality goals by lowering demand on the grid and potentially adding power to it, while helping to enhance the health of citizens.

One nation has already begun such a program and is right on schedule. Denmark has decided that all energy, including transportation energy(!) will come from renewable sources by 2050 and they have made substantial progress in only a few short years.

Even with the patchwork and grossly unlevel subsidy regimes in place in the United States, this transition is already occurring. Organizations from the U.S. Navy, to IKEA and WalMart, some cities and towns, the Big Three auto manufacturers and many more businesses and organizations, are converting their unused rooftop spaces and vacant land into clean power stations — thereby tapering the need for behemoth, pollution-spewing power plants.

If governments standardized the subsidies they already pay for Oil & Gas, Coal and Nuclear power (instead of paying billions of dollars to some power providers — whilst paying pennies to others) we would all breathe a lot easier.

We need oil & gas, coal, natural gas and conventional nuclear power to feed our grids, what I’m  advocating for is directly comparable subsidies for all electricity providers, including green energy — and there are no real reasons why such subsidy levelization couldn’t soon happen in every country.

ABOUT JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

I write about green energy, sustainable development and economics. My blogs appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, United Nations Development Programme, WACSI — and other quality publications.

“It is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.”

Green Energy blog: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Economics blog: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JBSCanada

The Economics of Green Energy

by John Brian Shannon

Back in the old days of sustainable energy, circa 2000, the cost of switching to solar or wind was so expensive that only the well-intentioned considered it — and only the wealthy could afford it.

How times have changed!

Nowadays, utility-scale solar power and wind power are cost-competitive with utility-scale coal-fired and nuclear electrical power generation.

And obviously, solar and wind are much better for the environment.

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That’s not to knock coal, which has provided reliable power for decades and still has a great future in Coal to Liquid fuels — that is, coal processed into extremely pure transportation fuels. Gasoline for your car, diesel for cars, trucks and ships and jet fuel are all created from coal using CTL technology.

South Africa’s SASOL have been using CTL technology successfully since 1955 and 30% of all the transportation fuels in that country are made from domestically-sourced coal. No alterations to vehicle engines or aircraft turbine engines are required to use fuels which are made from coal — as the CTL technology produces almost laboratory-quality fuels when using the Fisher-Tropsch catalytic process.

However, electrical power generation which burns raw coal releases billions of tons of CO2 and carbon monoxide, along with huge amounts of hydrogen sulfide, arsenic, lead, cyanide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and other toxins into the atmosphere every year — all of which easily cross state lines, national boundaries and even the oceans before settling in both populated areas and farmland.

One brand new coal-fired plant per week is completed and goes into service in China these days and this has been the case since late 2008.

In 2010 for example, China operated 620 coal-fired power plants which burned over 3 billion tons of coal per year. Just the CO2 emissions alone from coal-fired electrical generation in China surpassed 7.2 billion tons in 2010.

Which leads to higher health care costs in both the developing world and the developed world. According to CLPmag.org

“China faces a number of serious environmental issues caused by overpopulation and rapid industrial growth. Water pollution and a resulting shortage of drinking water is one such issue, as is air pollution caused by an over-reliance on coal as fuel. It has been estimated that 410,000 Chinese die as a result of pollution each year.”

In addition to being cost-competitive with coal, solar and wind are also cost-competitive with nuclear. In the case of solar and wind power there is no need for very costly nuclear spent-fuel storage — as some types of nuclear fuel rods must be stored in terrorist-proof bunkers and be constantly-cooled 24 hours per day/365 days per year for up to 20,000 years — without any interruption lasting longer than 36 hours. The cost of just one failure here would be catastrophic.

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Nuclear power has been statistically safe – with only one serious incident about every ten years on average. However, we have seen deaths caused by exposure to radioactive emissions from nuclear power plant accidents and indirect adverse health effects on population centres near nuclear disaster sites. Some particles remain radioactive at toxic levels for many decades.

Which leads to higher health care costs in many nations as the wind can carry radioactive particulate thousands of miles — just as it can carry toxic gasses and soot from coal-fired power generation for thousands of miles.

For the most recent example of the cost to clean up nuclear accidents, the Fukushima disaster had been estimated at between $15 – 45 billion dollars, but more recently a $50 – 100 billion dollar price-tag has appeared and full decommissioning may take until 2030 to complete. The Japanese government is covering all the costs of decommissioning the Fukushima nuclear site — which means Japanese citizens will end up paying the full cost through taxation.

From the perspective of taxpayers everywhere who bear the brunt of health care costs and disaster mitigation, the full cost of a given kind of fuel must include the costs of all adverse health effects, deaths, damages and lost productivity caused by each kind of fuel.

Which is why solar, wind and biomass are still the better deal by far – even at the same per-gigawatt price.

John Brian Shannon writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics from British Columbia, Canada. His articles appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint Asia, EnergyBoom, the Huffington Post, the United Nations Development Programme – and other quality publications.

John believes it is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.

Check out his green energy blog at: http://johnbrianshannon.com

Check out his economics blog at: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com

Follow John on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada