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USA Climate Priorities 2

Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
Aug 27, 2019 at 6:00 AM
Energy Policy, Climate Change

The previous commentary on USA Climate Priorities discussed priorities regarding climate science, specifically regarding: accurate temperature measurement; establishment of specific values for climate sensitivity and feedbacks; and, verifying a climate model. Addressing these priorities is essential to understanding the potential future challenges which might be presented by climate change.

This commentary focuses on priorities regarding energy production. The extent to which US and global energy production must move toward zero CO2 emissions is a function of the results of the climate science research discussed above and in the previous commentary. Results confirming low sensitivity and minimal or negative feedbacks would suggest a modest progression toward increased renewable energy production. Results which confirmed high sensitivity and positive feedbacks would suggest a more aggressive progression toward zero emissions technologies for energy production.

There is growing recognition that a sole focus on wind, solar and battery storage to replace the current global energy infrastructure would represent a high cost, low reliability approach which would ultimately prove unacceptable or unachievable, absent some major scientific breakthroughs.

There are three reliable and dispatchable zero emissions technologies employed in the current global energy economy: nuclear, hydroelectric and geothermal steam. There are three additional potentially reliable and dispatchable technologies which have been identified but remain to be developed and implemented: wave energy, ocean thermal energy conversion and dry hot rock geothermal.

Several US thought leaders, including Bill Gates and James Hansen, are convinced that the dramatic reductions in global CO2 emissions envisioned by environmental and climate activists are unachievable without a significant increase in nuclear energy production. Nuclear technology is proven and is capable of significant expansion to meet current and future needs, as are hydroelectric and geothermal generation, though to a lesser extent.

Research priorities for nuclear generation include: inherently safe reactors; modular reactors; reactors capable of using a higher percentage of the energy available from the nuclear materials; and, reactors capable of being fueled with the spent fuel currently stored at nuclear generating facilities. Some research has already been conducted in each of these areas, but these efforts could easily be expanded and accelerated.

Hydroelectric development is currently underway in several countries, including China and India. Attempts to expand  US hydroelectric capacity have met with fierce resistance from environmental activists, many of whom argue for removal of existing hydro facilities. Some environmental organizations do not even include hydro in their lists of renewable technologies.

Geothermal steam generation is currently limited to areas where there are currently steam vents. Dry hot rock geothermal could be far more widely available, since dry hot rock could be accessed globally. However, limited experiments in Europe have triggered earthquakes, resulting in suspension of the research efforts.

Wave energy and ocean thermal energy conversion are also in their infancy but have very significant generation potential if successfully developed and deployed.

Major energy technology research efforts to advance these technologies could result in lower cost, reliable energy supplies; and, in major new industries to build, manage and maintain them. These research efforts could offer the potential to provide reliable electricity to developing and not-yet-developing countries as an alternative to expanded fossil fuel generation.