Dec 6, 2023Liked by Roger Pielke Jr.

Did you see this about the pledge to triple nuclear energy by 2050, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/02/climate/cop28-nuclear-power.html ?

Here is the news release from DOE,


Sounds encouraging.

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Dec 5, 2023Liked by Roger Pielke Jr.

I have done an independent and similar analysis but have come to very different conclusions based on numbers and sources that I believe reflect the right numbers to replace coal with nuclear and numbers from the latest analysis of the IRA by Bistline et al.

Bottom line up front:

• I believe your numbers for coal replacement (Gt of CO2) are 10x too high.

• The IRA option costs slightly less than the nuclear replacement option for even the worst coal plants in the world.

• When doing a replacement comparison in the U.S. the comparison favors the option even more, the IRA option costs $400 billion less than using nuclear. This is mainly because coal generation in the U.S. emits 60% less CO2 per unit of energy than the worst coal plants in the world and therefore you must replace more generation (MWh).

This IEA source claims the total global CO2 emissions for power generation from coal in 2021 was 10.5 Gt, https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-co2-emissions-in-2021-2 .

This corresponds to a total energy generation of 10,156 TWh. Ref. https://www.iea.org/reports/coal-2022 . That number agrees will with the number from Ember of 10,042 TWh. Ref. https://ember-climate.org/insights/research/global-electricity-review-2022/

Dividing the 10.5 Gt by 10,156 TWh yields the carbon intensity of global power generation from coal, 1,033 kg/MWh, which agrees very well with the carbon intensity of U.S. power generation from coal of 1,031 kg/MWh, https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=53819

There is variation depending on the type of coal used and the efficiency of the power plant but not to the degree suggested by Grant et al. A survey conducted by Oberschelp et al. found that eliminating the worst 10% of coal plant would reduce emissions by 16%, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-019-0221-6 . This factor of 1.6 is consistent with the average relative intensities suggested in Grant’s table. Therefore, eliminating the worst 5% by capacity, i.e. 5% of 10156 TWh, 508TWh, would reduce emissions by 8%, i.e. .08*10.5 = 0.84 Gt.

To replace 508 TWh / yr. with nuclear that has an average capacity factor of .9 would require, 64.4 GW. Vogtle 3 and 4 cost about 30 billion so your number of 15 billion per reactor or plant for costs is about right. They each produce about 1.2 GW, so we need 53 of them at a total cost of $795 billion. Cost per Gt = 795 /.84 = $ 946 B / Gt.

This latest paper from Bistline et al. talks directly to the issue of how much emissions reduction benefit will be derived from the IRA and the associated estimated cost, https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ad0d3b/pdf . Figure 3 compares the reduction expected with and without the IRA as well historical power emissions dating back to 2005. Note that the emissions associated with U.S. power generation has already dropped almost 40% since 2005. This is due to replacing coal with natural gas and renewables. The exact numbers for Fig. 3 can be found to a linked Excel file for “IRA Power Comparison – Emissions” listed at his data availability site, https://zenodo.org/records/8322973 - see sheet labeled Em_t_power_abs.

The average model emissions for 2035 without the IRA is 1141 MtCO2/yr. and 539 with the IRA, a difference of .602 Gt. In the text, Bistline states that the average cumulative cost up to 2035 is $530 B. Cost per Gt = $530 B / .602 = $ 880 B / Gt.

To compare eliminating this amount of CO2 in the U.S. we need to consider the fact coal plants cleaner in the U.S. than the worst plants in the world – search for “CO2 emissions U.S. power sector 2022.” According to the EIA, coal emissions for the U.S. power sector in 2022 was .851 Gt. To estimate the amount of coal energy generation we need to replace with nuclear, we simply divide the .602Gt by specific intensity of 1031 kg/MWh. This yields 584 TWh of energy. Using a similar analysis to that outlined above, would require 62 Vogtle equivalent plants at a cost of $930 billion. Based on this comparison, the nuclear option would cost $400 B (76%) more than the IRA option.

Let me be clear, I support the use of nuclear power in the U.S. and in the world to eliminate CO2 emissions. To me, it is not a question of either or. When it comes to reducing emissions, I believe we should be using every tool available, including nuclear. I was very disappointed to see that the NuScale project in Utah was cancelled. I feel we should do what is necessary to help advanced nuclear energy get off the ground in the U.S., e.g., subsidize the first 10 – 20 small modular reactor projects to the level necessary for them to be competitive.

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How do you get to 9gt? It implies 60mt from each of the 150 plants, but the Grant-list shows the biggest emitters around half that?

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Thank you for this analysis - exactly right! Another important benefit of the nuclear energy alternative is the massive amount of landscape (often natural habitat and prime farm land) that would not need to be carpeted with windmills and/or solar panels. The 2021 Princeton Net Zero report's numbers show that in the 100% U.S. renewable scenario (which is of course looney and unworkable) 262 million acres of land (9 states of Ohio worth) would be required. Further, to wire everything together for "green transition", the linear miles of landscape destroying transmission lines would need to be increased from something like 250K miles to over 1 million miles. In the east particularly, the amount of forests (FORESTS for heaven's sake!) currently being leveled for grid scale solar is shocking. It's a testament to power of misinformation that many (most?) people that consider themselves to be environmentalists give this a pass. Depending on what source you believe, there is currently something like 200 to 300 shuttered coal plants in the U.S.. These are existing sites with obvious access to the grid that could be converted to nuclear - no new land needed and no new transmission lines required.

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There's a great George Carlin routine years ago--available on YouTube with a quick search--in which he responds to envirofreaks yelling about hurting the earth. Wisdom and great laughs.

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One should also combine "best case" with "worst case" either way, no?

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The assumption underlying this entire billionaire enriching revolution...

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Nuclear is great, cheap and safe. A good example of forward thinking. Wind and solar are crap, good examples of government thinking. Oil and gas are here, now and efficient. Work to eliminate windmills and solar, increase Nuclear and sustain Fossil. Solved

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Why do I think that all of this, on all sides is just chasing a problem that doesn’t exist. The Climate will change and we humans just need to deal with the change, not try to stop the change.

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Apologies, fat fingers made 600 million, 6500 million!

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I rather wonder about the need to reduce CO2, though support coal emissioon reductions. The reason is that we are in one of the two lowest periods of CO2/temperature in the last 6500 million years. It seems much of the research has yet to be done as natural sources appear to be underestimated - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0377027313001443

and the discovery of 19,000 undersea volcanoes - https://www.science.org/content/article/it-s-just-mind-boggling-more-19-000-undersea-volcanoes-discovered (I think the IPCC monitors 10) - all emitting CO2

In horticulture governments recommend CO2 levels of c 1000 - 1,200 ppm for increased crop growth compared to the 400 ppm atmospheric now - https://horticulture.ahdb.org.uk/knowledge-library/co2-best-practice-guide-background#:~:text=Increased%20CO2%20levels%20will,leaf%20size%20and%20leaf%20thickness.

It does seem CO2 has substantial benefits e.g. + 40% yield - in helping to feed the world, so some research on all natural emissions vis-a-vis industrial would help

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Low hanging fruit is not tempting to the cult of anti fossil fuel. Saying coal is better is just nonsense, but look it up on Google and you will get 15 articles from leftist publications. These people are a tiny minority, but get their way. Why? Because we aren't making enough noise. Make some noise!

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thanks Roger, we have discussed this in our conversation. i simply cannot agree to go after coal... as you are limiting your analysis on CO2, and not CO2eq

i have explained here why "No matter what your view on climate change, pricing CO2 is harmful... Why?" https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/matter-what-your-view-climate-change-pricing-co2-why-lars-schernikau-1f

the fact that LNG and much (not all) of gas is "worse for the climate" than coal has been discussed in detail including by myself

so i suggest to review your conclusion ;)

be well, Lars


our 2022 paper Schernikau and Smith 2022 https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3968359

the more recent Howarth 2023 paper https://www.research.howarthlab.org/publications/Howarth_LNG_assessment_preprint_archived_2023-1103.pdf

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Why not consider a faster return by replacing the coal fired plants with natural gas? The cost would be less and it would be a much faster way to shut down the coal fired plants.

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As a reminder, global GHG emissions from livestock production = 6.3 Gt CO2e (11% of emissions)...

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Not clear on what the investments are in $/We (or M$/MWe)

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