Achieving Carbon Neutrality

To achieve Carbon Neutrality, we must replace all the fossil fuel energy we are using with non-polluting energy.
This is a major undertaking, but it is doable!

We can illustrate the feasibility of reaching our goal using this graph and data from the State Commerce Office’s Washington State’s 2013 Biennial Energy Report with Indicators. (a 105 page pdf)

Washington’s Primary Energy Consumption by Source

Figure 5-3: Total Primary energy consumption by source, 1970-2010.

This graph shows the breakdown of the total energy consumed in Washington State by source type. The energy indicated by the Coal and Nuclear bands represents the output of each of our coal and nuclear plants plus coal generated electricity purchased from out of state. The Biomass band represents energy produced from waste burned by lumber, pulp, and paper mills.

To achieve Carbon Neutrality, or Net Zero Carbon Footprint (NZCF), we need to replace all of the energy indicated above by the Petroleum, Natural Gas, and Coal bands with energy from sources that do not emit carbon dioxide. Most of our regions Hydroelectric potential has been developed. Wind and Solar are just starting to show at the top right of the graph as Other Renewables.  Both are growing but cannot, and never will, provide energy 24 hours a day. Nuclear Power is the only presently available nonpolluting energy source that could provide enough affordable energy to offset all of our fossil fuel consumption. We are not summarily dismissing wind and solar but lately these sources have been greatly oversold and their shortcomings underplayed. We analyze the positives and negatives of Wind Energy and Solar Energy on their respective pages.

Using Washington State data for 2013, we could replace all the energy we consume from carbon emitting sources with 12 nuclear plants the size of our existing one at Hanford.

From 2013 Biennial Energy Report, page B-2, indicator 2, in trillions of Btus (tBtu).
Coal 95 + Natural Gas 295 + Petroleum 744  = 1134 tBtu.

Divide by the 96.6 tBtu output of our one nuclear plant.
1134 / 96.6 = 11.74 = 12 nuclear plants.


Twelve seems like a huge number of power plants, but keep in mind that Hanford has had 10 reactors operating at one time or another.  Idaho has had 37 and 4 are still operational, although most of Idaho’s were smaller units used for testing new designs and concepts.

Twelve Nuclear Power Plants!  Are We Nuts?

NO! Construction of twelve nuclear power plants is not outrageous when you compare that to the two states that decided to embrace nuclear power in the 1980s. Today Illinois has the most operating reactors with 11 and Pennsylvania has nine. Both states are somewhat smaller than Washington with about double our population. Today their retail electricity rates are noticeable lower (up to half) than the rates of other states which did not build as many nuclear power plants. In addition, both states sell electrical energy to other nearby states.

Besides it would only be eight, as the new nuclear plants are about 50% more powerful than the decades old plants we compared above.

France is the world’s nuclear energy success story. Their 58 reactors produce over 75% of the country’s electrical energy. France is an example of how embracing nuclear power can generate income for a region.  France exports over $3 billion dollars of electricity to other European countries that have not developed nuclear power as extensively. (To Nuclear Fearmongers: Have you ever heard someone say that they will not vacation in France because France has 58 nuclear power plants?)

This link to the World Nuclear Association’s (WNA) website will direct you to their data on France. We will be using the WNA for much of our international data. (If you want to explore just how far the United States lags behind the rest of the world in nuclear power just spend some time browsing through WNA’s website.)

We are not specifically advocating the construction of eight nuclear plants. We advocate energy conservation as well as new cost-effective generation of clean energy. We are just saying that the power output of eight new nuclear plants would generate enough power to offset ALL of Washington State’s fossil fuel usage. So achieving Carbon Neutrality, or NZCF, is not an unreachable dream but a reality that can be achieved with a construction effort on par with what the states of Illinois and Pennsylvania did three decades ago. 

Each non-carbon emitting energy source has its own strengths and weaknesses.  Like Coal and Natural Gas, Nuclear plants work most efficiently and economically at full power. Hydroelectric power can be easily adjusted from zero to maximum with a turn of a valve (abet a large valve).  Its shortcoming is its dependence on stream flow.  For example, in 2001 Washington state’s hydroelectric generation dropped to its lowest level in 35 years, 32 percent below the 30-year average. This compares to the peak year of 1997 when generation was 29 percent above average.

Solar and Wind power are obviously dependent on sunlight and wind which cause these sources’ energy output to vary from zero to their maximum. A recent Standford University study says that batteries may be a cost effective method of energy storage for solar farms but not for wind power. Until there are more cost-effective batteries or other energy storage devices, the leveling energy is best supplied by water stored behind a dam.

Below are several quotes from the article by Mark Shwartz, in the September 9, 2013, Stanford Report. To read the whole article click here.

“We looked at batteries and other promising technologies for storing solar and wind energy on the electrical grid,” said Charles Barnhart, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP).

“Our primary goal was to calculate their overall energetic cost – that is, the total amount of fuel and electricity required to build and operate these storage technologies. We found that when you factor in the energetic costs, grid-scale batteries make sense for storing surplus solar energy, but not for wind.”

“Pumped hydro is used in 99 percent of grid storage today,” Barnhart said. “It works fantastically from an energetic perspective for both wind and solar. Its energy return on investment is 10 times better than conventional batteries.”

Considering the characteristics of these energy sources , we propose the building of additional nuclear plants at Hanford to supply the base load and the building of as many wind and solar projects that make economic and environmental sense. Additionally, we propose upgrading our existing hydroelectric plants to better cover demand variations and provide the power needed to compensate for the intermittency of wind and solar.

Your proposal sounds great!  Let’s Go Energize the Northwest!

If you still have any doubts about Global Warming and that burning fossil fuels causes it, read our Global Warming page.

Hold it now!  Your proposal is centered on the construction and operation of additional nuclear power plants. There are all sorts of perils with nuclear power and you will have to convince me that this is a safe and viable way to increase our production of clean energy. 

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