By the Fairewinds Crew
Technology may be on the verge of solving two of the world’s biggest issues related to solar energy: storage and space.
The remaining challenges, bringing infrastructure upgrades online to efficiently handle solar contributions, is primarily a matter of marshaling the political will to make solar power a priority over other energy sources that have received years of public indulgences and subsidies.
If the question asked is simply: “Can solar replace nuclear energy in the marketplace right now?” The answer is: “Almost.”
But if the question is rephrased slightly: “Can solar be part of a renewables system replacing nuclear in our energy portfolio?” The answer is “Absolutely!”
It can and it must.
For all its other environmental baggage, even according to FORBES Magazine, nuclear has failed to fulfill its promise as an economically viable energy source.
While the nuclear industry continues to complain of “unfair” treatment by the marketplace, these complaints carry less and less credibility as people awaken to the enormous taxpayer supported advantages radioactive energy has received for decades vis-à-vis any support for truly clean energy options.
The significant subsidy advantages created for nuclear power were intended to smooth the way to commercial acceptance, so that the public might be preempted from drawing a conscious connection between nuclear energy and weapons of mass destruction.
The “clean and reliable” conceit has been used throughout the years to mask a truly sinister truth: since its inception, nuclear power generation has served as an essential adjunct to Defense Department. interests.
It was worth a try, I suppose, during the Eisenhower era; but the charade is nearing its end, as we have come no closer to solving the long-term waste abandonment problem or rendering the system “fool-proof.”
Despite every effort to prevent other alternatives to fossil fuels from advancing in viability, nuclear energy providers have found themselves unable to deliver on the promises of “cheap, clean and reliable” energy, even as the first generation of reactors approaches the end of their design life.
When that first tier of defense fails, nuclear power advocates claim that solar only works when the sun is shining, so the energy provided is only intermittently available.
Let’s put nuclear power in perspective by looking dispassionately at the data: 20% of the electricity in the US and 10% of the worldwide electricity are currently generated by nuclear power, and those percentages are declining rapidly. Worldwide the shift is very evident, as wind and solar are now growing much faster than nuclear power and equal nuclear power’s contribution, up from nearly zero % only fifteen years ago.
Setting aside the enormous burden of nuclear waste abandonment, and decommissioning nuclear reactors when they ultimately must be pensioned-off, replacing them is cost-prohibitive for our energy economy, leading to elaborate schemes that have shifted the cost to consumers through direct billing, even before a new nuke is built.
Some solar opponents claim that cloudy days remain and therefore make solar worthless, but new industrial battery storage created by Elon Musk, the Founder of PayPal, SpaceX, Solar City, and the Tesla car company, will produce industrial scale storage batteries that cost about two cents per kilowatt-hr.
Including storage, wind and solar are still almost half the price a new nuclear plant is estimated to cost.
But even before we create the ideal storage and transport system for solar energy, the short-term solution is almost too obvious. When the sun doesn’t shine, the wind usually blows, thus enabling wind power to take up the slack.
Some thought has even been given to making those rooftop solar installations productive through variations in available sunlight. A Dutch company has recently developed a small wind energy generator, “Liam 1,” whose compact blade configuration draws from the natural design of a nautilus shell, and has a noise- dampening effect to address one of wind powers chief drawbacks. It is intended to be roof-mounted in conjunction with solar arrays, and its developers expect it to produce up to 50% of a household’s energy needs.
Changing the way we consume energy is the second area that can be implemented immediately. Conserving one kilowatt-hour costs less than 4 cents.
- Most experts acknowledge that between 20 to 40% of overall energy needs would be eliminated by conservation and efficiency improvements costing 4 cents per KWH, compared to 16 cents per KWH for nuclear power that will take at least 15 years to produce.
- For example, recent retrofits of the Empire State building reduced overall energy consumption by 40% and yielded a payback time of less than three years.
Thus, conservation can be implemented immediately at a significant savings compared to nuclear power that would cost 4 times more and 15+ years to produce.
There are thousands of other ways to reduce our energy consumption. Fairewinds simply refers you to two books: Reinventing Fire by energy economist Amory Lovins and Carbon Free Nuclear Free by 2050 by nuclear physicist Dr. Arjun Makajani.
Which would you choose?
- Build thousands of new nukes that won’t make a dent in climate change for at least 10 years or more, or
- Spend less money to cut our consumption of energy by at least 20% in 10 years,
- And increase production of renewable wind and solar by 20 % in ten years?
These solutions would make a 40% dent in CO2 gases before that first nuke ever goes on line!
The 21st-century energy production will be created by thousands of distributed small power sources throughout the towns and cities that make up our country. Dozens of cities, including our office location of Burlington Vermont, are already completely powered by renewable electricity from distributed sources.
The 20th Century paradigm for the large power station is like a tree with several very large leaves generating all its power. The 21st century is a much more natural and holistic paradigm resembling a tree with thousands of small leaves generating the same amount of power more in harmony with nature.
Americans are less than 4% of the world’s population yet they create more than 20% of world’s CO2. The solution to global climate change begins with changes by each of us. Federal subsidies should not be invested in coal, or oil, or gas or in small modular nuclear reactors, but instead those funds should be invested in energy efficiency and small modular renewables!