I agree with those promoting a Green New Deal that climate change is a problem, and that a solution can have economic benefits. However, we will not solve climate change unless we avoid or reduce carbon while balancing supply and demand.
Several communities now desire to be “100 percent renewable” by some point in the 2030s. But the proverbial cart has been placed before the horse. Simply building more renewables without having a viable method of large-scale energy storage means one must import fossil fuel energy when demand exceeds supply, and export excess electricity when supply exceeds demand. So carbon still gets emitted, just not in those communities.
Utilities are investing in wind power, efficiency, natural gas and solar. These are relatively cheap to build and reduce carbon as long as we replace coal plants and our energy consumption stays flat. Yet despite the recent gains in efficiency and renewables, our carbon emissions have begun to rise as economic growth returns. We inevitably will emit even more carbon as we consume more natural gas in this approach.
The current status of a 100 percent renewable energy grid becomes clear every time we shut down a nuclear plant. Instead of substituting carbon-free nuclear energy with renewables and energy storage, we largely replace the bulk baseload power with natural gas and no carbon capture. It is thus no surprise that several states are keeping their nuclear plants operational to avoid the extra carbon and meet their emissions targets.
Simply going 100 percent renewable will not magically force us to solve our energy storage and carbon capture problems. The intent is to mimic Kennedy throwing his hat over the wall to push the space program, but the real fun begins if these approaches never work well enough and we keep emitting carbon.
A safer approach is to implement what energy storage and carbon capture are ready to offer while generating more carbon-free nuclear energy in both a baseload capacity and a flexible manner to complement renewables. Then we can avoid several decades (or more) of unnecessary carbon.
The good news is that Congress and the president have just approved a very rare bipartisan measure called the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) to support the development of advanced reactors. Plus the upcoming Accident Tolerant Fuels funded by the Department of Energy will enhance the safety, performance and economics of both current and future nuclear power plants.
We really need a “New Green Deal” that values nuclear energy and renewables as partners along with other carbon-reducing and carbon-avoiding methods.