August 10, 2010

Amory Lovins on Energy in 1976 Versus Today

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Amory Lovins wrote the Energy Strategy : The Road not Taken? in 1976 for Foreign Affairs and now is promoting Reinventing Fire. The Energy Strategy from 1976 and Reinventing Fire are very similar.

Cogeneration at in 1976 was 4% of the energy of the United States. It is now 18%, and Amory now calls it micropower. Amory talked then of coal, conservation and soft technologies (wind and solar) reducing energy demand and squeezing oil and gas usage. He also called for the elimination of nuclear energy. He also indicated that there would be reduced use of some capital intensive energy sources. He has repeated the mostly the same points in his new Reinventing Fire proposal to eliminate oil and coal usage by 2050.

Here is what actually happened with US energy. The US energy usage is 7-11 quadrillion BTU lower because of imports from China of energy intensive manufacturing.

65,900 Twh of nuclear power has been generated around the world. Soft Technologies failed to displace oil, gas and coal. The US has generated about 17,000 TWh of nuclear energy. Nuclear has saved 3 million lives from reduced fossil fuel air pollution around the world and about 500,000 lives in the United States. The US has only completed or turned on 6 nuclear reactors since 1990.

The US has also not built many more coal plants but has run the existing plants harder so that they generated more power and used more coal. Coal waste and fossil fuel air pollution are very deadly. They have been and continue to kill, make people sick and cause property and other damage. Mercury and toxic metals stay deadly forever and have no halflife. Radioactive material in dry casks has not killed anyone and the actinides can be used as fuel in new types of reactors. The US has also built a lot of natural gas power. Amory Lovins was wrong about would happen in energy from 1976-2010 and wrong about what is and what is not dangerous and deadly. Worldwide energy consumption and demand will increase. The EIA is still projecting increased usage of coal power and oil. Nuclear, renewables and efficiency are all needed to blunt the growth of fossil fuel usage. The world will spend over $13 trillion on energy infrastructure over this decade. The world will spend another $6 trillion on fossil fuel subsidies which are not included in that $13 trillion. the world can afford nuclear power. 75% of the new nuclear construction is outside the OECD. Look at the costs in China, India, Russia where most of the build is going. In those places the costs are $1400-2000 per KW. Russia uprated reactors for $200 per KW. (added 311 MWe). They will add another 300 MWe with another set of reactor uprates. Not the equivalent of a full large reactor from those uprates but the point is the cost without western style regulation was ten times less.

Note : all of the reactors. Even the ones in Russia, China etc... now all have containment domes and upgraded safety and other features. I am thus confident in their safety, especially when compared the deadliness of fossil fuels.

Modern generation 3.5 reactors are made out of about 300 factory produced modules which can be built in 4 years from the point that the physical build begins. Annular fuel, pebble bed reactors from China, nuclear power uprates and factory mass produced small reactors will enable nuclear power to contribute more to the worlds growing energy needs.

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