Realistic Assumptions About Energy Development

The critiques, dismissals and attacks against the the National Association of Manufacturers’ and ACCF’s study on the economic effects of the Waxman-Markey bill will accuse the analysis of using dodgy assumptions, especially of being too conservative in the amount of alternative energy and nuclear power that will be developed.

Here, for example, from The Vine, the environmental blog of The New Republic (our emphasis):

Technically, NAM is using the same economic forecasting model as the Energy Information Administration, but NAM fed its own, very different assumptions into the model. Not all of those assumptions have been disclosed yet, but the ones that have seem a little dubious. For instance, NAM assumes that, under a climate bill, we’d see just 10 to 25 gigawatts of new nuclear power. But the EIA predicts we’d see that many nukes built without a climate bill, and as much as 95 gigawatts under a carbon cap.

The NAM is working hard to see that more nuclear power is developed, recently joining in the establishment of a coalition to link the workforce and energy policy issues.

Unfortunately, this Washington Times story captures the reality of energy production in the United States today, “Bill requires doubling nuke use,” with this discouraging subhead, “Low-cost solution unlikely, unpopular.”

To satisfy House Democrats’ low-cost solution to global warming, Americans would have to double their reliance on nuclear energy by 2030 – a target the nuclear industry says is unlikely and that many environmentalists and Democrats dislike.

That is the conclusion of a new Energy Information Administration report that looked at the House Democrats’ global warming bill. To produce enough clean energy at a reasonable cost would require construction of dozens of new nuclear power plants, even though no new plant has been built in decades.

The article includes comments from environmental activists:

This thing is completely so buried in the 20th century it isn’t even funny,” said Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, which opposes expanded nuclear power. “To assume that nuclear and carbon sequestration are going to be the low-cost sources of electricity in the future are wrong.”

He said EIA underestimated the ability of wind and solar power to expand quickly and cheaply.

The new National Academies of Science study, “America’s Energy Future: Technology and Transformation,” examines the role of alternative energies in the U.S. energy future, and is quite positive about their contributions. Still, as the chart on Page 36 shows, the EIA’s estimates for electricity supply in 2030 are as follows (in terms of terrawatt horus):

Coal: 2,800
Petroleum: 55
Natural Gas: 500
Nuclear Power: 920
Hydropower: 300

Renewables combined (wind, solar photovoltaic, concentrating solar power, geothermals, and biopower) are: 233.

Coal: 2,800
Renewable: 233

And remember, solar power and wind are not suitable for baseload power generation. You could quintuple the renewable energy supply estimated by the EIA for 2030 — and that would be a good thing — and it would be still be only a small contributor to the U.S. energy portfolio.

So who’s being realistic?

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