Recently I was searching for the most up-to-date presentation of the ongoing research study “California’s Energy Future – The View to 2050″. This study was funded by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), staffed by about forty energy experts. The original report was published in May 2011(Summary Report [PDF]). This CCST study is one of the few examinations of regional decarbonization that “adds up” in the David MacKay sense. For an introduction to this systematic study I will recommend chairperson Jane Long’s 2013 keynote [Youtube] presented at the Travers Conference at UC Berkeley. Her talk is about 40 minutes – a clear presentation of the reality that we know how to do about only half of what’s required to achieve California’s S-3-05 requiring 80% reduction of CO2 below 1990 by 2050. Jane’s slide deck is itself a valuable resource for explaining energy realities to others. The announcement of the 2013 Travers Conference includes the following hint that California isn’t going to get where it says it is going.
The state of California has embraced an ambitious goal of meeting its future energy needs while increasing its use of renewable energy. But a recent Little Hoover Commission report finds that the state has failed to develop a comprehensive energy strategy that confronts the difficult tradeoffs it faces. The 16th Annual Travers Conference on Ethics & Accountability in Government will investigate the tradeoffs represented by reliance on different energy sources, including oil, natural gas, nuclear energy, biofuels, and wind and solar power.
The fact that nuclear physicist, former director of SLAC and Nobel laureate Burton Richter was selected as one of the six lead authors indicates to me that CCST assembled a team of serious people. You can assess for yourself in Dr. Richter’s July 2011 summary presented at the release event “CCST Report on Nuclear Power in California’s 2050 Energy Mix”. The presentation begins with this:
The report assumes 67% of California’s electricity will come from nuclear while the rest is renewables as called for in AB-32. This would require 44 Gigawatts of nuclear capacity or about 30 large reactors. While reactor technology is certain to evolve over the period of interest, we assumed that they will be similar to the new generation of large, advanced, light-water reactors (LWR), known as GEN III+ that are now under review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This allows us to say something about costs since these are under construction in Asia and Europe, and a larger number of similar systems have been built in Asia recently. Our main conclusions on technical issues are as follows:
- While there are no technical barriers to large-scale deployment of nuclear power in California, there are legislative and public acceptance barriers that have to be overcome to deploy new nuclear reactors.
- The cost of electricity from new nuclear power plants is uncertain in the United States because no new ones have been built in decades. Our conclusion is that six to eight cents per KW-hr is the best estimate today.
- Loan guarantees for nuclear power will be required until the financial sector is convinced that the days of large delays and construction cost overruns are over. Continuation of the Price-Anderson act is assumed.
- Nuclear electricity costs will be much lower than solar for some time. There is insufficient information on wind costs yet to allow a comparison, particularly when costs to back up wind power are included.
- Cooling water availability in California is not a problem. Reactors can be cooled with reclaimed water or with forced air, though air cooling is less efficient and would increase nuclear electricity prices by 5% to 10%.
- There should be no problem with uranium availability for the foreseeable future and even large increases in uranium costs have only a small effect on nuclear power costs.
- While there are manufacturing bottlenecks now, these should disappear over the next 10 to 15 years if nuclear power facilities world-wide grow as expected.
- There are benefits to the localities where nuclear plants are sited. Property taxes would amount to $50 million per year per gigawatt of electrical capacity (GWe) in addition to about 500 permanent jobs.
The full report discusses all these issues in more detail including weapons proliferation issues in a world with many more nuclear plants, spent fuel issues, and future options (including fusion).
Dr. Richter ends with this
In Summary: There are no barriers to nuclear expansion in California except legislative and public acceptance ones. The lessons of Fukushima are still being learned and will result in some new regulations. The repository problem is entirely political rather than technical.