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Multiple Technologies Key To Meeting CO2 Targets

August 3, 2009

To meet aggressive climate objectives, the U.S. should construct an additional 45 nuclear power reactors, reduce electricity consumption by 8 percent and produce cleaner coal power plants, says a new report released Monday by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

The study shows that a full portfolio of new technologies could simultaneously address the challenge of growing demand while meeting carbon constraints and controlling increases in the cost of electricity. 

The analysis highlights how the power industry will need to respond to lofty emissions cutting mandates, such as those contained in the Waxman-Markey climate bill recently passed by the House of Representatives.

The Senate is expected to vote on its version of climate legislation in October. The House version of the bill sets a target of an 83-percent reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2050 from 2005 levels.

The EPRI study is based on the goal of an 80-percent reduction by 2050 reductions.

“The research shows that the (electricity) sector could potentially reduce annual CO2 emissions by 2030 by 41 percent relative to 2005 emissions.”

But this will require new advances in technology and associated applications, the EPRI said.

The report also assumes that 100 million plug-in electric vehicles will be on U.S. roads by 2030, and recommends a four-fold increase in solar and wind power generation within the next 20 years.

Although electricity costs will rise, the increase will be limited if a full range of power generation and efficiency options are employed, the EPRI said.

“Deployment of the full portfolio could result in an 80 percent increase in the real wholesale cost of electricity by 2050 relative to current costs, compared with a projected increase of more than 210 percent with a limited portfolio,” the EPRI said.

That estimate is based on the assumption that the full portfolio could reduce the costs of emissions cuts by more than  $1 trillion by 2050.

If spent today, that would represent an average of $16,000 per household in the full portfolio scenario, compared with $28,400 per household in a limited portfolio that excludes new nuclear generation or carbon capture and storage.

Roughly half the power in the U.S. today comes from coal plants, with another 20 percent coming from nuclear plants and 20 percent from natural gas plants.

There are currently 104 working nuclear power reactors within the U.S. Objections by environmentalists and concerns of increased costs of carbon emissions have thwarted most plans for coal power plants in recent years.

But power industry advocates hope that carbon capture and sequestration plants, although unproven and costly, will lessen pressure on developers of coal power plant developers.

“Our analyses clearly show the imperative for the electricity sector to move aggressively to deploy a full portfolio of technologies that will lead to low-carbon energy future while limiting costs to the nation’s economy,” said Steve Specker, EPRI president and chief executive officer.

The latest EPRI study is an updated version of its 2007 “Prism and Merge” analyses, which described the U.S. electricity industry’s potential for reducing CO2 emissions and an economically optimum technology portfolio that could meet demand growth and carbon emissions constraints.

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