Al Gore has put forward an energy challenge, which has very few details. The challenge is for the United States to get to zero carbon electricity generation within 10 years. Al Gore also spoke with Katie Couric of CBS News about his challenge
His primary policy recommendation related to this goal is to cut the payroll tax and replace it with carbon taxes to motivate the change.
The United States generates 6 billion tons of CO2 each year So a CO2 tax would generate whatever dollars per ton times 6 billion. A $60/ton of CO2 tax would generate $360 billion/year. A complete replacement of all federal payroll tax would be about $120/ton of CO2.
Note: it is not clear if the carbon tax proposed would be against all CO2 which would effect transportation and industry and not just electric generation. Also, if the de-carbonization of electricity was starting to be successful then payroll taxes would have to be re-raised to replace any reduced carbon taxes because you still have to pay for Social security and medicare.
First the choice of the goal
The goal of complete de-carbonizing of United States electrical generation seems like an excessive focus on electrical generation. This is separate from the carbon tax proposal which would make sense. The carbon tax proposal is a good one (just as certain versions of Cap and trade can be made to work as well), it just that if the carbon tax is the only policy the result will be some de-carbonization but not complete de-carbonization and more nuclear power and for quite some time more natural gas power as well as more renewables. [See the next section on the carbon tax effect]
It would seem that a more balanced overall approach which addressed the other segments of transportation, industrial, residential and commercial sources would make more economic sense. The Gore challenge also mostly sidesteps the most pressing issue for Americans which is the price of oil and foreign oil dependence. He also does not address air pollution which this site feels is the most important issue. The proposal would address air pollution as a byproduct of achieving the first goal. Air pollution kills 60,000 Americans per year and (indoor and outdoor) air pollution kills 5 million people per year worldwide. (World Health Organization statistics)
Very little oil is used for electricity (313,000 barrels/day) and only some is used for heating which could be displaced with electricity. However, displacing oil with electricity for heating would be raising the bar on the amount of clean electricity that is needed. However, this site believes it is the better strategy.
This site is all for eliminating coal power for electricity as this would also help reduce pollution from transportation to move over 1 billion tons of coal per year.
The overall sources of US energy which includes all uses transportation, industrial, electricity.
Carbon tax effect
An EIA analysis of the McCain Lieberman climate change bill indicated the effect of a growing cost per ton of carbon from $14-58/ton. The $58 high end would be about half of a complete federal payroll tax replacing carbon tax. Which would still increase natural gas and not eliminate coal by 2030 based on the EIA projection of similar carbon cost increases with a Cap and trade as opposed to carbon tax method. So the de-carbonizing goal would not be achieved although the situation would be improved.
It shows that with no allowance for letting international offsetting of the climate rules, that the economics would drive by 2020 about a 33% reduction in coal usage but an increase in natural gas. There would be substantially more nuclear power and renewable power but even in 2030 there would not be complete elimination of coal and natural gas usage would continue to grow.
So Gore would have to be pushing a far larger carbon tax and other policies to generate his desired effect.
Oil: According to the EIA, emissions total about 20 pounds of CO2 per gallon of petroleum (2.4 kilograms per litre, 2.4 kg/L), so a tax of $100 per ton of CO2 ($110 per tonne of CO2) would translate to a tax of about $1.00 per gallon ($0.26 per litre). To be precise: Emissions are 19.564 pounds of CO2 per gallon of motor gasoline, 22.384 pounds of CO2 per gallon of diesel fuel, and 21.095 pounds of CO2 per gallon of jet fuel (2344.3 g CO2 per L of motor gasoline, 2682.2 g CO2 per L of diesel fuel, and 2527.7 g CO2 per L of jet fuel). So a tax of $100 per ton of CO2 translates to a tax of $0.978 per gallon of motor gasoline, $1.119 per gallon of diesel fuel, and $1.055 per gallon of jet fuel ($0.258 per litre of motor gasoline, $0.296 per litre of diesel fuel, and $0.279 per litre of jet fuel). At a price between $2.50 and $5.00 per gallon, a tax of $100 per ton of CO2 would raise fuel prices by 40–20%.
Natural Gas: A tax of $100 per ton of CO2 translates to a tax of $6.03 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas. At a price of between $4 and $10 per thousand cubic feet, a tax of $100 per ton of CO2 would raise natural gas prices by 60–150%.
Coal: A tax of $100 per ton of CO2 means a price increase of 500–1,000% depending on the type (512% for lignite, 680% for sub bituminous, 903% for bituminous, and 1039% for anthracite).
Electricity: a tax of $100 per ton of CO2 translates into a tax of $0.05854 per kW·h for natural gas, about $0.0775 per kW·h for petroleum, and between $0.1027 and $0.1137 per kW·h for coal. Current electricity prices are in the neighborhood of $0.08 per kW·h.
Why you could still have coal power even with a high carbon tax ? The coal plants could sequester CO2 to save the carbon tax. They could still make money which exceeds variable costs of efficient existing plants.
Emissions trading systems have differences from carbon taxes. Cap and trade systems allow an overall level of pollution and then put a price on the carbon. Companies and counties that have high costs for reducing carbon can then pay another company or country to reduce who can do it for lower cost.
A high carbon tax that was high enough to put coal plants out of business too soon before replacement power can be built would create power shortage situations.
The carbon tax could make it worth billions to put out underground coal fires. Only if some companies can be made responsible for the coal fires or if credits are given for those who reduce the CO2 levels regardless of source.
Energy Technology Plan
This site has proposed an energy plan with a greater focus on applying better energy technology. The plan is not solely focused on CO2 emissions.
Efficiency and drilling for regular and enhanced recovery, policy that discourages coal and fossil fuel and encourages nuclear and renewables. Try to reduce fuel usage 2-4% per year and try to increase oil from drilling and biofuels by 3-6% per year.
Accelerate the development and deployment of inflatable electric cars and adapting cars like the $2500 Tata nano to be plug in electric vehicles.
Accelerate the development and deployment of new building technology like Calera cement which removes one ton of CO2 for each ton of cement instead of adding one ton of CO2 to the air. If all cement worldwide were able to use this then instead of adding 2.35 billion tons of CO2/year there would be a removal of 2.35 billion tons.
Encourage the adoption of electric bikes and scooters. China has 80 million and is building 21 million per year. Electric scooters can reach highway speeds and folding e-bikes can be rolled onto public transit.
Build the factory mass producible meltdown proof high temperature nuclear reactors. Accelerate the factory mass producible Hyperion power Uranium hydride reactor. [currently targeting 2012 deployment]
Big nuclear buildup and thermoelectric and transmission efficiency Triple nuclear power by 2020 by using new (MIT annular nuclear fuel can increase power by 50% for existing reactors) uprate technology and advanced thermoelectrics and some new plants. (25% of all energy from nuclear instead of 8.2% and 17% less fossil fuel. First reduce coal first – 30,000 deaths from coal air pollution, 60,000 deaths from combined coal [over 13 times all US forces deaths from the current Iraq war] and fossil fuel air pollution in the USA. Plus moving 1.2 billion tons of coal is 40% of freight rail traffic and 10% of diesel fuel usage.) Can get up to six times more nuclear by 2030. Displace all coal and a lot of oil.
Very advanced nuclear fission and nuclear fusion and better renewables (geothermal, wind [kitegen, superconducting wind turbines], solar [concentrated solar in municipal or rural power configurations. My favorite is CoolEarth’s solar balloons], genetically modified organisms for biofuel)
Also part of the near term steps, but which would not likely have impact until the mid-term is to fully fund the best nuclear fusion power generation possibilities. Create policies to accelerate research and deployment.
Time to Small Cost to Achieve Large scale chance
Concept Description Scale net energy Net Energy after small success Funded?
Plasma Focus 6 years $1M+ Sales X-scan 80% Y, $1.9m
Focus fusion website
Focus fusion US patent application
Working on a funded experiment with Chile 2006-2010
Bussard IEC Fusion 3-5 years $200 million 90% Y, $2m
My intro to Bussard fusion and update on prototype work
Tri-alpha Energy aka 8 years $75 million 60% Y, $50m
Colliding Beam fusion aka
Field Reversed Configuration
My review of the academic research before the funded stealth project
General Fusion aka 3-6 years $10-30 million 60% Y, $15 m
Magnetized target fusion
Steam generated shock wave into spinning liquid metal
Multi-pole Ion beam
version of Bussard IEC 3-5 years $200 million 90% N
FP generation MIX IEC fusion
Koloc Spherical Plasma 10 years $25 million 80% N (self)
Attempt to create stable ball lightning plasma balls
In 2004, trying to generate 30-40cm plasma spheres
There should be a Darpa of energy created to fund high risk and high return energy technology.
Gore spoke with Katie Couric and expanded upon his plan. In the interview, he discusses the value or lack thereof of clean coal, nuclear power, and natural gas. For nuclear, Al states that the keeping the current nuclear is OK but that more nuclear power is too expensive and that there are no small reactors. There are small nuclear reactors that are being developed now. High Temperature reactors are in the 200MW range. China is starting production in 2009 and after the first success will step up to mass production.
The United States and other countries have micro and small nuclear reactors designs and pilot projects but have not stepped up to production
Mass production of small reactors allows for cost reductions similar to those from scaling to large sizes. Plus one can place say eight 200 MW modules in one place and use one control center and generate the same power as a 1.6 GW reactor. This is one of the Chinese plans. China also plans to order 100 large AP1000 reactors [1.25-1.7GW] to have built or being built by 2020.
The question of is nuclear essential is based on some energy decisions and policy going forward. It is only a question of whether more nuclear will be added along with other power additions. Energy policy does not change that fast. so this would only be a meaningful question for projects starting or in early progress in 2010. It is also not much of a meaningful question for China and several other countries they are already committed to nuclear power for other reasons.
Other countries who will be building more power will use nuclear
The EIA forecast is 86 Quad BTU being added to the world 2010-2020.[reference case 2008]
Currently about 480 Quad BTU in use in the world.
The US uses 100 Quad BTU.
China is forecast to add 33.3 Quad BTU. 110GW of hydroelectric being added by China 2010-2020. 50+GW of nuclear power is being added. So about 6 Quad from hydro and 4+ quad from nuclear.
As noted, China is talking about 100 AP1000 (1.25 GW-1.7GW) instead of 40 built or being built by 2020. And the mass production of high temperature reactors.
Russia adding 40GW of nuclear and India and other countries have firm nuclear power plans. So it looks like 10+ quads based on current plans from nuclear.
At the end of 2006 the US had 11.6GW of wind. This had generated 0.258 quads of energy in 2006. So almost one hundred times that amount to displace coal usage. 1TW of wind power. Also, coal used for industrial processes probably could not be displaced by wind. High temperature nuclear reactors could supply the right thermal energy for those industrial processes.
So how much will some OECD countries adjust their mix of 25% of the world new power build ? Will there be an actual programs to shift the already installed power mix in the OECD ?
No Opportunity cost for Nuclear Power
Greenpeace claims that there is an opportunity cost of nuclear power. The choice to develop nuclear power is being made by business and government interests in many countries. Some of those companies such as GE also are major developers of wind power. If wind power would make GE more money then GE would develop more wind power. Many of utilities and companies involved develop a range of power generation sources.
The nuclear industries track record is not as bad as projects cherry picked for high prices and overruns would indicate. Many of recent nuclear construction in China, Japan and south Korea have been on time and budget and the budgets have been far lower than the Florida quote. The Florida quote is also a budget that includes everything including extra grid and not just the power plant. Wind power costs: 1.5 billion euro for 500MW. Which generates the equivalent of 150MW of nuclear. So 15 billion euro to make equivalent of a 1.5GW nuclear reactor.
Cost: The analysis made by the countries and companies investing in nuclear indicates that they believe costs for nuclear are low enough. With accelerating orders and build.
Safety: Externe (swiss) analysis of deaths per TWH for nuclear compare very favorably to other power sources. Especially good compared to coal and oil which remain the dominant energy sources now and in every forecast of actual energy development. So if wind and solar cannot replace all of the coal and oil by X years then nuclear should be developed along side to displace the far more deadly coal and oil. Air pollution (indoor and outdoor) kills 5 million worldwide (World Health Organization).
Here is a description of the struggle that two chinese coal miners endured to live when 179 did not. Many of the 179 probably also struggled to live but failed.
Security: No meaningful security breaches have been made. On proliferation : are we going in time to stop Pakistan’s Khan from giving Iran and North Korea nuclear secrets?) In terms of terrorist action, there are plenty of targets (hydro dams, water supplies, oil refineries etc…) layers of nuclear plants is sufficient and pro-actively eliminating or reducing terrorism at the source is the more cost effective option (and more effective in general)
Waste: What about the billions of tons of air pollution particulates ? What is the halflife of mercury or arsenic ? How about the twenty thousand tons of uranium and thorium going into the air from burning coal. Did a Greenpeace plan address that in 7 years ? Nuclear can be kept in barrels or pools onsite. Better reactors like molten salt reactors (Japan, Fuji molten salt)or accelerator driven reactors (EU) or high temperature reactors that can burn the waste from current reactors can be developed. Waste which is mostly unburned nuclear fuel. Molten salt reactors were built in the sixties and seventies by the USA so they are not fairy tale reactors. Warren Buffet did not invest in Google or Microsoft either. Warren makes his money where he is comfortable, if he does not invest it does not automatically mean that investment is bad.
Scaling up clean energy faster
The Greenpeace and RMI claims that renewables like solar and wind can be scaled up faster. This has been stated for decades and not been proven to be true. Many billions per year have been spent in Germany, Spain and other places to subsidize wind and solar but in spite of many years of subsidized build up wind is at 194 TWh globally and 50 Twh in Germany. The Global wind energy council forecasts that if Germany has optimal wind friendly policies then Germany could have 55 GW of wind by 2020 generating 150 Twh. Yes France in the 1980s built its 60GW of nuclear power which generate 420 Twh. So the wind and solar build up faster line is bunch of BS. Greenpeace quote RMI and Lovins. Lovins has claimed that nuclear power is a dieing industry since his Foreign Affair article in 1976. Since then global nuclear power has increased by over 400% and is now over 2600 Twh. A lot of the increase was from operational improvements and uprating existing plants (increasing power from existing plants).
Further uprates are possible. MIT has piloted annular fuel which could increase power generation by 50% for existing PWR and there is other work for increasing BWR by 30+%. Westinghouse is working on commercialization. There is still room for standard uprates as well. Applying 50% power uprates would increase nuclear power from 20% now to 30% power generation even if no new plants were built.
China is increasing its nuclear power build. Official target for 2020 now 6086 GWe and discussing have 100 AP1000 reactors built or being built by 2020. (1.25GW-1.7GW sizes). China starting in Sept, 2009 the construction of a 200MW high temperature nuclear reactor which would have 40% thermal efficiency and would be meltdown proof. Meltdown was shown in 10MW pilot reactor when cooling systems were turned off. The high temperature reactors are designed for factory mass production.
Nuclear proliferation: to which countries ? Most countries already have actual weapons or the means to produce them. Canada and many other countries choose not to produce nuclear weapons. Countries have historically gotten nuclear weapons first and then commercial nuclear power. North Korea, nuclear weapons but no commercial nuclear power.
Plus the nuclear build will primarily be in places that already have nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
Business as usual nuclear power is on track to increase 200GW and 1400 Twh by 2020. With an accelerated build effort and with 50% uprating this can go to an increase of 600GW and 5200Twh. Wind, solar, geothermal power should be built up as well but there is no reason to not build up the nuclear power. Plus a lot of the build action will be in China and Asia where Greenpeace sentiment is meaningless.
Supply Chain bottlenecks being removed
Not all nuclear reactors need the big containment dome forgings. Candu reactors don’t. Areva, France nuclear/the world’s biggest reactor builder, is considering modifying its newest design to be able to make the central reactor-vessel part from a 350-ton ingot instead of more than 500 tons as required today. Russia also makes their own forgings. South Korea’s large forging capacity is coming online and is already taking orders. Britain and China are also building up large forging capacity. China is willing to weld two half size forgings together (this was a procedure done earlier in the nuclear industry).
Japan steel can turn out four of the steel forgings that contain the radioactivity in a nuclear reactor. They will double capacity in the next two years. Another alternative is to turn back the technological clock and weld together two smaller forgings, said John Fees, CEO of McDermott International Inc.’s Babcock & Wilcox Co. That technique was used over the past 40 years in the U.S. and France and is still applied in China. China High temp reactors do not need large forgings either. Neither would Hyperion Power Generations Uranium hydride reactors.
Proliferate to which country or group? North Korea already has the tech. Iran has all the know-how and is working on getting the material. Pakistan has the bomb. What is the differential risk? Countries get the bomb first then they get nuclear power. If China has 11 reactors and 300 nuclear bombs or if China has 500 nuclear reactors and 300 nuclear bombs then what is the differential risk? Proliferation already has happened slowly over the last 6 decades. Proliferation has killed no one. No new country that has gotten nuclear weapons has killed anyone with nuclear weapons. Meanwhile over 200 million people have died from air pollution and over 300,000 have died from coal mining. Conventional weapons have killed over 150 million since the end of WW2. Why not concentrate on things that are actually killing people every year in very large numbers instead of theories of greater risk which are not correct. Should not more dangerous or deadly actually kill more people?
A permit auction system is identical to a carbon tax as long as the marginal abatement reduction cost is known with certainty by the Federal Government. If the target reduction is specified, as in this analysis, then there is one true price, which represents the marginal cost of abatement, and this also becomes the appropriate tax rate. In the face of uncertainty, however, the actual tax rate applied may over- or undershoot the carbon reduction target. Auctioning of the permits by the Federal Government is evaluated in this report. To investigate a system of allocated permits would require an energy and macroeconomic modeling structure with a highly detailed sectoral breakout beyond those represented in the NEMS and DRI models. For a comparison of emissions taxes and marketable permit systems, see R. Perman, Y. Ma, and J. McGilvray, Natural Resources and Environmental Economics (New York, NY: Longman Publishing, 1996), pp. 231-233.
Finland enacted a carbon tax in 1990, the first country to do so. While originally based only on carbon content, it was subsequently changed to a combination carbon/energy tax (U.S.EPA National Center for Environmental Economics). The current tax is €18.05 per tonne of CO2 (€66.2 per tonne of carbon) or $24.39 per tonne of CO2 ($89.39 per tonne of carbon) in U.S. dollars (using the August 17, 2007 exchange rate of USD 1.00= Euro 0.7405).
Last year, combined heat and power generation (CHP) covered 29 percent of electricity consumption, nuclear power 25 percent, hydropower 15 percent, and coal and other conventional condensing power 16 percent. The share of wind power was 0.2 percent. Net electricity imports rose by ten percent, now accounting for 14 percent of electricity consumption.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.