Skip to content

As we enter 2024, sustainability is at the top of the political and economic agenda so I thought it would be relevant to take a look at the energy equation. Why does it seem we are using more fossil fuels and how do you make that decision at a grid level?

  1. First thing I would note from the graph above is that Gas, Coal, and Oil demand continues to increase at similar rates as it has in history namely because as humans develop, their consumption of energy increases. Underdeveloped economies going through the process of developing takes energy, and typically that energy is from traditional sources.
  2. Second, the addition of new renewables and other technologies like Biofuels and Solar have increased in recent years, but still make up a very small percentage of the energy mix. The increase of energy use in the world has to do with this, not a transition to renewables.
  3. Why can't we just wave a magic wand and make everything renewable? Put simply, it's cost and lack of reliability for baseload power. Baseload power is the minimum amount of continuous energy that's always needed to meet the constant part of electricity demand, essentially the energy we need no matter what, 24/7. It needs to be reliable because our society depends on a steady and uninterrupted supply of power for homes, hospitals, industries, and more. Without a stable baseload, we might face frequent blackouts or power shortages. Wind and solar aren't typically considered good forms of baseload power because they are variable or intermittent; they depend on the weather. The wind isn't always blowing, and the sun isn't always shining, which means they can't consistently provide the steady power that baseload requires. If that energy was stored in batteries in a more efficient way this could be a path forward, but this type of battery technology at scale is still in its nascent stages. While they are excellent sources of renewable energy, their variability needs to be balanced with more constant and controllable energy sources to maintain a reliable power supply.

People well say, "Well we need to reduce our energy use so that we don't need as much." While that may sound good at a cocktail party, but humans have thrived over time by harnessing and using energy. Using energy isn't inherently "bad." The fact that people are even able to have that view at a cocktail party is because of our capture, transformation, and use of energy to extend lifespans, have medicine, and develop economies. Put simply, through this energy transition, we need to identify reliable, cost-effective forms of baseload power to take the place of fossil fuels like coal and oil. Plugging your electric car into a grid that is still using coal as a primary source of power is not helping the cause.

image.png

By simply "turning off" the switch to some of these traditional forms of baseload power, people simply do not survive in the modern age. As nice as building new solar and wind farms sounds, it's reliability at scale is not a realistic path in the future. It certainly will be a part of the energy mix, but not the primary source of baseload power. And what do you say to economies like India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam? You cannot use cheap power to develop? You have to remain poor? Diplomatically that won't work. The solution is identifying and building infrastructure for clean, reliable, cost-effective baseload power. And if you talk to most energy experts, that leads us to nuclear.

Going Nuclear

When it comes to addressing the need for clean, reliable, and cost-effective baseload power, nuclear energy emerges as a compelling solution. Nuclear power plants use the process of nuclear fission to generate electricity, and they have several advantages that make them a viable choice for the future energy mix.

  1. Low Greenhouse Gas Emissions: One of the significant benefits of nuclear energy is its low greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear power does not release carbon dioxide (CO2) during electricity generation. This makes it a vital tool in the global effort to combat climate change and reduce our carbon footprint.
  2. Reliable Baseload Power: Nuclear power plants can provide a consistent and stable supply of electricity, making them ideal for meeting baseload power requirements. They operate 24/7, regardless of weather conditions, making them highly reliable sources of energy.
  3. Long Operating Life: Nuclear power plants have long operating lifespans, often exceeding 40 years with the possibility of extending their operational life further through upgrades and maintenance. This longevity contributes to their cost-effectiveness over time.
  4. Energy Independence: Nuclear energy reduces a country's dependence on imported fossil fuels, enhancing energy security. It's a valuable asset for nations looking to diversify their energy sources and reduce vulnerability to fuel price fluctuations.
  5. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs): A promising development in nuclear technology is the advent of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). These are compact, scalable, and more flexible than traditional large reactors. SMRs can be deployed in various locations, including remote areas, providing a localized and efficient energy source.

Misconceptions about Nuclear Energy:

Despite its advantages, nuclear energy has faced misconceptions and concerns that need clarification:

  1. Safety: One common misconception is that nuclear power plants are inherently unsafe due to incidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima. However, modern nuclear facilities incorporate advanced safety features and stringent regulations to minimize the risk of accidents. Safety standards have significantly improved over the years.
  2. Radioactive Waste: Critics often raise concerns about radioactive waste disposal. While nuclear power does produce radioactive waste, it is carefully managed and stored in secure facilities. Ongoing research aims to develop advanced waste management and recycling technologies.
  3. Cost: Nuclear power plant construction can be expensive and time-consuming. However, the long-term operational efficiency and low fuel costs can offset these initial investments. Furthermore, innovations like SMRs offer cost-effective alternatives.

The word "nuclear" seems to be challenging for some folks as we think nuclear warfare or directly think of the nuclear disasters from above. If we take the premise that we need reliable, clean, baseload power, SMR technology may be the path forward.


Comments