“Clean energy is rapidly rising on the Texas power grid, but regulators in the Lone Star State are now considering a plan that could give fossil fuels a boost.
The zero greenhouse gas emissions trio — wind, solar, and nuclear energy — provided more than 40 percent of electricity in the state in 2022. It was a year when several Texas cities experienced their hottest summers on record, driving electricity demand to its highest levels ever as fans and air conditioners switched on. Winter proved stressful too, with freezing temperatures last month pushing winter electricity peaks to record-high levels, narrowly avoiding outages.”
“Texas leads the US in oil and natural gas production, but it’s also number one in wind power. Solar production in the state has almost tripled in the past three years. Part of the reason is that Texas is particularly suited to renewable energy on its grid. Wind turbines and solar panels in Texas have a high degree of “complementarity,” so shortfalls in one source are often matched by increases in another, smoothing out power production and reducing the need for other generators to step in. That has eased the integration of intermittent energy sources on the grid.
Coal, meanwhile, has lost more than half of its share in Texas since 2006. For a long time and across much of the country, the story was that cheap natural gas from hydraulic fracturing was eating coal’s lunch on the power grid. Coal was also facing tougher environmental regulations like stricter limits on mercury, requiring coal power plants to upgrade their equipment, and raising electricity production costs.”
“in Texas, natural gas’s share of the electricity mix has been holding around 40 percent for more than a decade. On the other hand, renewable energy has surged as coal withered. Wind alone started beating out coal in 2019 and is now the second-largest source of electricity behind natural gas in the state.
An important factor is that the state has its own internal power grid, serving 26 million customers and meeting 90 percent of its electricity demand. It’s managed by the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. In the freewheeling Texas energy market, the cheapest sources of electricity become dominant, and wind and solar — with low construction costs, rapid build times, and zero fuel expenses — have emerged as winners.”
“Some lawmakers are now working to tilt the balance toward fossil fuels. “There are different political figures who are trying to incentivize gas power plants or deny, prohibit, or inhibit renewables,” Webber said.
Last year, the Texas legislature passed a law that would prevent the state’s retirement and investment funds from doing business with companies that “boycott” fossil fuels.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said one of his legislative priorities for this year is to secure more support for natural gas-fired generation. “We have to level the playing field so that we attract investment in natural gas plants,” Patrick said during a press conference last November. “We can’t leave here next spring unless we have a plan for more natural gas power.””
“While wind and solar power are ascendant, they are intermittent, and regulators want to make sure there is enough dispatchable power like natural gas to ramp up on still, cloudy days. The new proposal would create a credit scheme that would encourage more of these dispatchable plants to come online and extend a lifeline to some existing generators that are struggling to compete. But it would also raise the costs of electricity production.
Environmental groups like the Sierra Club noted that the proposal leaves the door open for other tactics for balancing electricity supply and demand, like energy storage, increasing energy efficiency, and demand response.”
“In the face of impending power blackouts, the California State Assembly and Senate did abrupt turns toward sanity and voted to extend the operating life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. “This is a victory of pro-civilization values, including love of humanity and reason, over the forces of pro-scarcity nihilism,” tweeted Michael Shellenberger, founder of the pro-nuclear power activist group Environmental Progress.
Due to pressure from anti-nuclear activists, California’s Public Utility Commission voted 5-0 in 2018 to shut down both of the Diablo Canyon reactors by 2025. The new legislation reverses this ill-advised decision and extends their operating life by at least another five years. The Diablo Canyon reactors generate enough electricity to supply power for 3 million of the Golden State’s 13 million households.
Growing dependence on unreliable wind and solar power generation led not only to rolling blackouts in California in 2020 but also increased the price of electricity for California’s consumers. Shutting down Diablo Canyon’s reactors is counterproductive for those people who are concerned about the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change. A point made, according to the New York Times, by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a letter sent to California state legislators: “The alternative to the closure of the reactors at Diablo Canyon will most likely be additional natural gas generation, which would reverse progress on emissions reductions and worsen air quality,” she wrote.”
“Speaking of Fukushima, according to the Financial Times, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced that the government plans to allow the restart of at least 10 more of the nuclear power plants it shuttered after the 2011 disaster. In addition, Kishida is pushing for research on and the construction of new safer nuclear plants as a way to protect Japanese consumers from erratic global fossil fuel markets and reduce his country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Kishida foresees Japan becoming a major exporter of nuclear generation technology to power hungry developing countries around the world.”
“”In 2000, Germany launched a deliberately targeted program to decarbonize its primary energy supply, a plan more ambitious than anything seen anywhere else,” Vaclav Smil wrote in 2020 for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ IEEE Spectrum. “The policy, called the Energiewende, is rooted in Germany’s naturalistic and romantic tradition, reflected in the rise of the Green Party and, more recently, in public opposition to nuclear electricity generation.”
The problem, as Smil noted, is that government-favored and subsidized solar and wind are intermittent. Wind doesn’t generate electricity when the air is still, and solar is of little use at night and on cloudy days. That means old-school generating capacity has to be maintained in parallel to the new systems.
“It costs Germany a great deal to maintain such an excess of installed power,” Smil added. “The average cost of electricity for German households has doubled since 2000. By 2019, households had to pay 34 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 22 cents per kilowatt-hour in France and 13 cents in the United States.”
The German news magazine Der Spiegel came to a similar conclusion in 2019.
“The state has redistributed gigantic sums of money, with the [Renewable Energy Sources Act] directing more than 25 billion euros each year to the operators of renewable energy facilities,” the authors observed. “But without the subsidies, operating wind turbines and solar parks will hardly be worth it anymore. As is so often the case with such subsidies: They trigger an artificial boom that burns fast and leaves nothing but scorched earth in their wake.”
Making the matter worse is the extent to which Europe has sourced its fossil fuels from Russia. That’s a dependency partly based on easy accessibility by land to Russia’s resources. It’s also an artifact of economic diplomacy from the Cold War era intended to build trade ties to reduce the risk of conflict. But what was supposed to give the West leverage over the old Soviet Union has instead handed modern Russia enormous clout.
Comparatively clean nuclear energy might have made the difference, but the 2011 Fukushima disaster spooked Germans more, perhaps, than people anywhere else, and the country resolved to abandon nuclear power, leaving it dependent on unreliable solar and wind and, especially, imported fossil fuels. Only now, with Russia throttling the supply of natural gas to 20 percent of capacity, is the governing coalition considering extending the life of the last two nuclear power plants past the end of the year.”
“The 2015 nuclear deal, struck during Barack Obama’s presidency, lifted an array of U.S. sanctions on Iran in exchange for major restraints on its nuclear program. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, saying it was too weak and too narrow and he reimposed the sanctions while adding new ones. After about a year, Iran began violating the terms of the deal, including by enriching uranium to high levels and shutting out inspectors.
President Joe Biden has sought to rejoin the deal — he and his aides argued that it remains the best vehicle to contain an Iranian nuclear threat. Over nearly a year and a half, a period that included some long pauses, Biden’s emissaries have engaged in indirect talks with Iranian officials about reviving the agreement.
The two sides, whose discussions have been mediated primarily by European officials, have tangled on a variety of thorny topics. Those include: whether the U.S. will rescind Trump’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; the fate of a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency into traces of nuclear materials at various Iranian sites; and Iranian demands for certain guarantees that the lifting of sanctions will lead to economic benefits — and that the U.S. won’t pull out of the deal under a different president.
Biden has said he will not rescind the IRGC’s terrorism designation, and the IAEA has indicated it will not give up on the probe.
Iran recently responded to a European draft proposal on reviving the deal with comments mostly focused on sanctions and economic guarantees. U.S. officials have been looking at the Iranian demands and preparing their own response, which may be sent to European negotiators later this week.
The U.S. has been consulting allies, among them Israel, before sending its response, though it wasn’t immediately clear if it would wait until after Gantz’s meeting with Sullivan.
“At every step of the process, we have been in touch with our Israeli partners to update them on where we are, to compare notes on the state of Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.
The Israeli officials are making their push at a sensitive time: the country, currently being overseen by a caretaker government, will soon hold its fifth election in less than four years.
The main internal debate among U.S. negotiators has been about the economic guarantees sought by Iran, said Ali Vaez, a top Iran analyst with the International Crisis Group. Those guarantees deal in part with Iran’s concerns that even if the 2015 deal is revived, foreign companies will consider it too risky to invest in the country. Even when the deal was in full force, many foreign firms were hesitant to do business in Iran.
For Israel’s political leaders, an Iran whose economy is stronger is an Iran that is a bigger threat to their country’s existence. Iran’s rulers consider Israel an illegitimate state, and some have predicted its eventual doom.
Israeli political leaders’ argument against the nuclear deal often boils down to concerns that, if the U.S. lifts sanctions on Iran, the regime will use the incoming cash to engage even more in an array of unsavory activities, including funding and arming terrorist groups that target Israel.”
“some Israelis in the security establishment — often retired officers with more freedom to speak out — have broken with their political leaders on this issue. They argue that, as imperfect as the nuclear deal may be, it’s better than having no restraints on or surveillance of Iran’s program.”
“At present, Iran’s breakout time — the amount of time needed to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon — is believed to be a few weeks. Under a restored deal, it would likely be around six months. Under the original 2015 agreement, it was estimated at around a year.”
“While there are many things that could go wrong at Zaporizhzhia, “the likelihood of an intentional attack on the [plant] that leads to a major nuclear disaster is low,” Ivanka Barzashka, founder and co-director of the King’s Wargaming Network at King’s College London, told Vox via email. “Moscow would have a lot to lose and nothing to gain from such an outcome, given the reactor’s proximity to Russian forces and population.” Furthermore, the plant is built to withstand direct attacks, as it’s constructed with reinforced concrete.
The real risks to the facility would more likely be due to human error, accidental shelling, or a lack of electricity to cool the nuclear material, according to Matthew Bunn, the James R. Schlesinger professor of the practice of energy, national security, and foreign policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
“The biggest concern is [the] cooling of a nuclear power plant,” Bunn told Vox. “In general, to avoid an accident at a nuclear power plant, you need to keep the reactor core under water, and the spent fuel and the spent fuel pool under water so they’re continuously cooled.” That cooling process requires electricity, which now comes from Ukraine’s external power grid. The Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan, for example, occurred because of a tsunami which cut off-site electricity to the plant and destroyed the generators, making it impossible to cool the facility even though the reactor had undergone emergency shutdown.
However, as Bunn told Vox, a number of those lines have already been cut, increasing the possibility that Zaporizhzhia might have to rely on diesel-powered generators to support the cooling process. It’s unclear how much fuel those generators have, given that Russian forces have reportedly been siphoning off the fuel for their own purposes, Bunn said. “Diesel’s a highly sought commodity in any war zone,” he said. “There are supposed to be days of diesel at the site; we don’t know whether that’s still true or not.” The Ukrainian nuclear agency Energoatom said on Friday that Russian forces were seeking diesel to fuel the generators in case of power loss, according to Reuters.
In a worst-case scenario, the plant could lose power and the pumps circulating water to cool the reactor core and spent fuel pool would shut down. The heat that the reactor core and the spent material generate would then boil the surrounding water until it evaporates, exposing the reactor core “within hours,” Bunn said. “The fuel would then start to melt. Even if you shut the reactor down, some people refer to it as ‘the fire that doesn’t go out’ — the fuel still generates a lot of heat from the radioactive decay of the split atoms, what are called the fission products, in the fuel.”
However, a spent fuel fire — what Bunn referred to as the “very very worst case” — is unlikely given that there’s just not as much of it at Zaporizhzhia as there are at other sites; that’s because Zaporizhzhia used to send spent fuel to Russia for storage and reprocessing there. “That really only happens when you have fuel that’s pretty closely packed and really hot, having been released from the reactor fairly recently,” he said.
Even if the electricity supply holds, shelling could damage the facility, causing water to leak out of the plant and upsetting the cooling process. Alarmingly, the ongoing shelling has already done damage to the plant — including near a substation which prompted one of only two operating power lines to shut down on August 5.
As Bunn told Vox, the human element is critical in maintaining the plant’s safety. “The Ukrainian operators have been operating essentially at Russian gunpoint for months,” Bunn said. “[They are under] enormous psychological stress; many of them have sent their families away, they’re exhausted. Under those conditions, the possibility of human error in operating the plant is ever-present. They have been doing a heroic job, but people under stress make mistakes.”
Operators at the plant who have been able to speak to outside sources paint a harrowing picture. “What is happening is horrific and beyond common sense and morality,” plant staff wrote in a Telegram channel, according to the BBC. “The psychological situation is difficult,” a worker called Svitlana told the BBC. “Soldiers are walking everywhere with weapons and everyone is actually kept at gunpoint.””
“Global known reserves of natural gas would last nearly 50 years at current rates of consumption. Burning natural gas to generate electricity emits about half of the carbon dioxide that coal does. This is why many environmental activist groups a little more than a decade ago hailed natural gas as “the bridge to the clean energy future.”
In fact, the mostly market-driven switch from coal to natural gas to generate electricity in the U.S. has served as a bridge to a cleaner energy future. The replacement in the U.S. of coal-fired power plants by those fueled by natural gas is responsible for a 32 percent reduction since 2005 in carbon dioxide emissions from that sector. Overall, annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by around 23 percent since 2005. Despite the undeniable role that the switch from coal to natural gas has played in significantly reducing U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, many environmental activists now perplexingly denounce natural gas as a “bridge to nowhere.””
“What about nuclear power? The fact that splitting atoms to generate electricity produces no greenhouse gas emissions should be enough to establish nuclear power as a “climate-friendly” energy technology. Last week, the International Energy Agency released a report arguing that global nuclear power capacity needs to double from 413 gigawatts now to 812 gigawatts by 2050 in order to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets set in international agreements addressing the problem of man-made climate change. Meanwhile, in response to pressure from environmental activists, Germany is going in the opposite direction, shutting down perfectly good nuclear power plants while firing up electricity generation fueled by coal.
The ecomodernist Breakthrough Institute has just released a new study setting out various scenarios of how the development and deployment of advanced nuclear reactors in the U.S. could unfold over the next 30 years. In the optimistic scenario, U.S. nuclear power generation capacity would rise from 95 gigawatts from conventional nuclear plants today to as much as 470 gigawatts generated by advanced reactors in 2050. Expanding nuclear power production would both help smooth out the intermittency of wind and solar generation and further cut climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.”
“Somehow, Germany, a country where the government is firmly committed to “green” energy, is preparing to fire up coal-burning power plants. The move is even more remarkable given that officials stubbornly refuse to restart mothballed nuclear facilities, or even reconsider the timeline for retiring those that remain online. It’s an astonishing situation for a country that very recently boasted that it would soon satisfy all its energy needs with sunshine and cool summer breezes.”
“Germany’s problems predate the war in Ukraine and are closely linked to the goals the country’s political class made about their energy future in the absence of a realistic plan for getting there. In 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami triggered a disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the German government recommitted itself to closing all of its nuclear plants and getting its electricity from solar and wind. The decision was motivated by public fears of nuclear power, but also by loud insistence that the energy source had no place in a sustainable future.”
“But “nuclear power is very close to the same shade of green as that of most renewables” when you compare mining and manufacturing inputs to each approach, energy expert Gail H. Marcus wrote for Physics World in 2017. And nuclear is reliable—the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow, which means electricity produced by those sources ebbs and flows. That’s a big problem for electrical grids that require steady supplies of energy.
“Large amounts of intermittent electricity create huge swings in supply which the grid has to be able to cope with,” Bloomberg reported in January 2021.”
“Germany’s plight is disturbing testimony of where you can end up if you commit yourself to a vision of a “green” future that has no place in it for the most reliable source of clean-ish electricity. By contrast, neighboring France plans to build as many as 14 new nuclear reactors because of, not despite, its environmental goals. That attitude reflects energy analyst Marcus’s assessment and is shared by the inter-governmental International Energy Agency (IEA). “Long-term operation of the existing nuclear fleet and a near-doubling of the annual rate of capacity additions are required” to meet clean-energy goals by 2050, the organization specifies.
Visons of a cleaner future based on technologies that are more efficient and less polluting are praiseworthy and shared by just about everybody. But to get from here to there requires planning and realistic decisions. Unfortunately for the German people, most of their political leaders relied on strongly held wishes and pixie dust to bring a green utopia and are instead delivering literal lumps of coal.”