There is a reason for our title being “Clean Energy,” not the commonly used term “Renewable Energy.”
The current public drive to save the planet centers around the expanded use of “Renewal Energies,” mainly Wind and Solar, and to a lesser degree, Biomass, Geothermal, Tide, and Wave. (Conservation is just as important but here our topic is energy production.) Renewal energy proponents’ propaganda notwithstanding, Wind and Solar energies cannot replace the round the clock availability provided by nuclear and fossil fuel plants. We need to focus our efforts on Clean Energy sources that can provide energy when customers need it. Being renewalble is secondary if the Clean Energy source has fuel for hundreds of years.
The best clean energy source is Hydroelectric. It is clean, renewable, and storable. The Northwest is blessed to have an extensive supply but we have developed most of available dam sites. Hydroelectric has the drawback of upsetting the natural flow of rivers, which can affect fish migration and river transportation. It is available 24 hours a day, but it is dependent on annual variations in rain and snowfall, and how fast the snow pack melts. Because of these year-to-year variations, northwest hydroelectric power can vary by almost a hundred percent from a dry year to a wet one.
The currently popular energy sources, Wind and Solar, are clean and renewable, however they are not around the clock energy sources that can be dispatched to energy consumers when needed. To make them so requires some type of energy storage, which at this time makes them more expensive than fossil fuels. We have developed complete pages on Wind Energy and Solar Energy.
Nuclear Energy is clean and dependable but not renewable. However, the Earth’s crust has an enormous supply of Uranium and Thorium available for fuel. Nuclear opponents quote all sorts of data on the limited availability of Uranium, but they are only talking about the known, easily recovered, deposits. Fuel costs for a nuclear plant represents only about 10% of its energy production costs. For fossil fuel plants, fuel costs range from 30% to 40%. If it becomes twice as expensive to mine Uranium, it would add less than one cent to the price of a kilowatt-hour of electricity.
It is hard say exactly how much nuclear fuel is available. However, the availability of any mineral resource depends on how much you are willing to pay to extract it. Reports differ, but it is safe to say that we have over a hundred year supply of nuclear fuel at today’s prices, and thousands of years of supply as the extraction costs rise. Keep in mind that the Uranium in the ash from a coal power plant contains more nuclear energy than was generated by burning the coal. The Scientific American article Coal Ash Is More Radioactive Than Nuclear Waste document this. We consider this article a must read as it documents that radiation exposure around coal power plants is much higher than the radiation exposure around nuclear power plants.
Biomass is an odd energy. It is renewable but producing it may cause more pollution that it eliminates. Burning it does produce CO2 but its CO2 comes from the air and not from some hydrocarbon trapped in the earth so it has a zero carbon footprint. The proof that Biomass does not increase atmospheric CO2 is that we have had forest and prairie fires since the invention of fire, and the percent of CO2 in the atmosphere has remained fairly constant for thousands of years prior to the twentieth century. A plus for Biomass is that it is a fuel and its energy can be stored. In time we will add a page on Biomass.
Likewise, Geothermal is unique. It is not really renewable as it depends on the continued natural decay of radioactive elements in the earth. So far, its production has been limited to certain hot spots on the earth crust. Recent efforts to increase production have been met with mild earthquakes and declining energy output as the energy withdrawn exceeds the earth’s ability to reheat the hot spot. We will be adding a whole page on Geothermal but for now, here is a link to a Scientific American article on Geothermal Earthquakes.
Tide and Wave energies are often mentioned as renewal energy options but they have rarely been successfully implemented. Like Solar and Wind, they have the inherited limitations of being cyclic and/or weather dependent.