America’s Energy Future: A New Report

The National Research Council has released a new report (available for purchase here) on America’s energy future.  Here are some key take away points:

Use of existing energy-efficiency technologies is the nearest-term and lowest-cost option for moderating our nation’s demand for energy, especially over the next decade. The potential energy savings available from theaccelerated deployment of existing energy-efficiency technologies in the buildings, industry, and transportation sectors could more than offset the Energy Information Administration’s projected increases in energy consumption through 2030.

Renewable energy sources could provide about an additional 500 TWh (500 trillion kilowatt-hours) of electricity per year by 2020 and about an additional 1100 TWh per year by 2035 through new deployments in favorable resource locations (total U.S. electricity consumption at present is about 4000 TWh per year).

Coal-fired plants with carbon capture and storage (CSS) could provide as much as 1200 TWh of electricity per year by 2035 through repower- ing and retrofits of existing plants and as much as 1800 TWh per year by 2035 through new plant construction. In combination, the entire existing coal power fleet could be replaced by CCS coal power by 2035.

If you do the math, this means we can hold power needs at the current 4000 TwH  in the early 2030s and supply a total of about 3000 TwH through a combination of CCS coal-fired plants and renewables, meaning something like at 75% reduction in carbon. Expanded use of nuclear might mean further reductions.

The NRC also points out the need for legal and policy advances (as well as technological advances) to make this happen:

A number of current barriers are likely to delay or even prevent the accelerated deployment of the energy-supply and end-use technologies described in this report. Policy and regulatory actions, as well as other incen- tives, will be required to overcome these barriers.

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Reader Comments

2 Replies to “America’s Energy Future: A New Report”

  1. Why isn’t CCS ever mentioned for natural gas power plants? The fuel has about half the carbon for the same amount of energy, and the plants are already much more efficient. Think of it this way, we could have power from zero GHG emission sources with just half the CCS–half the infrastructure and capital cost, half the energy consumption. If CCS is really promising, and not just coal-industry hype, shouldn’t it work for other fuels?

    Keep in mind, you burn a ton of coal, you get nearly three tons of CO2. (Plus at least a ton or more of ash and other by-products like SO2) In other words, for every ton of coal mined, we have to compress and bury three tons of CO2. Right now that would take an estimated 1/3 of a power plant’s output. To get back to the original level of electrical generation, you need 50% more capacity. As in 50% more power plants. [1.5 x 1/(1-.333) = 1]

    Where are we gonna get that power?

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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