All 7.8 billion people on this planet want affordable, scalable, reliable electricity. And for countries like the United States, China, India, most of Africa and the European Union, the cheapest way to produce electrons is by burning coal.
Carbon dioxide emissions are rising because the world will need more energy in the decades ahead in order to raise the living standard for the 1.3 billion people living in energy poverty, according to the International Energy Agency. This poverty is particularly acute in Africa; the above-mentioned nations and continents are using coal to escape this crippling poverty.
Though coal surely deserves much of the criticism it gets, it has become the de facto standard for electricity generation. The reality is that coal – even with its many negative attributes – continues being the fuel of choice because it is abundant, low-cost and the more than 1,600 coal-fired power plants currently being built globally generate tremendous economic activity.
Turning to oil, nothing powers economies the way refined oil does; oil can be turned into an array of products: cosmetics, athletic equipment, shoelaces, bowling balls, milk jugs, medications and, most importantly, aviation, diesel and gasoline fuels. In short, oil may be the single most flexible substance ever discovered since more than 6,000 products come from petroleum.
The two prime movers that have done more for the cause of globalization are the diesel engine and the jet turbine. Both get their fuels from oil and without this fuel, transportation and commerce would return to the pre-Industrial Revolution age.
Renewables, such as solar, wind and biofuels require taxpayer financial subsidies, need significant fossil fuel resources because of their intermittent nature and require countryside-devouring land to produce significant power, i.e., precious land that will be required to feed the billions on this earth. On a planet where a child under age 10 dies of hunger every five minutes, to hijack land used to grow crops constitutes a crime against humanity.
Basic math tells us that intermittent electricity from the huge land mass requirements of wind and solar are driving up the cost of electricity. California households are already paying about 40 percent more than the national average for electricity, according to 2016 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
With all the world’s efforts to protect life and endangered species, U.S. wind farms are killing hundreds of thousands of birds, eagles, hawks, and bats every year, and it’s appalling that society has given the wind industry a free get-out-of-jail card!
There’s no question that other sources of energy – particularly natural gas and nuclear – can provide large amounts of electrical power without putting pollutants into the atmosphere. The International Energy Agency has estimated that at current global rates of consumption, there’s enough gas to last 250 years. Gas is not only abundant, it is super abundant (more than 90 years’ worth of natural gas in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration), clean, flexible and creates more than 3 million jobs and billions in tax revenues yearly. However, regarding nuclear, the antinuclear Left wants to kill it. When looking at energy production, nuclear is superior to other forms of energy because of its unsurpassed power density, i.e., the most energy on the least land.
Today there are about 450 nuclear reactors operating in 30 countries. Additionally, there are 140 nuclear powered ships that have accumulated 12,000 reactor years of “safe” marine operation.
While California has chosen to have no zero-emission nuclear power capacity, the world is increasing steadily its nuclear power generating capacity with more than 50 reactors currently under construction. China has launched the most aggressive nuclear program on the planet, with plans to add about 150 nuclear reactors to its fleet, and about 300 more are proposed.
Nationwide, nuclear accounts for about 20 percent of generated electricity. But California is eliminating its only remaining nuclear power plant by shutting down Diablo Canyon in 2024, which will eliminate 9 percent of today’s electricity from the grid. Thus, California ratepayers’ electrical needs will more heavily rely on unreliable, intermittent electricity from solar and wind to meet energy requirements.
The government has financed the U.S. space program ever since President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to go to the moon. Initiating the program was too expensive for private industry, thus the requirement for governmental financial help to develop the technologies that were the basis for the future. NASA’s achievements have been extremely successful – not only for man’s technical achievements – but for mankind in general. That success has also gone through many trials and failures – and in some cases – fatalities during that learning process.
Like the space program, the staggering upfront price tag for nuclear reactors would necessitate significant need for government involvement to provide the scale of energy we demand at prices we can afford. Our future prosperity depends on low-cost, abundant, scalable supplies of electricity. Nuclear’s power-density advantages and life span simply cannot be denied.
Policies that promote low-density, expensive energy are destined to fail because they ignore both physics and economics. Promoting these subsidy-dependent sources, crusaders have given momentum to landscape-destroying energy projects that can supply only a tiny fraction of the U.S. and world energy needs, as reported by the International Energy Agency.
Ronald Stein is founder of PTS Advance, a staffing and consulting firm in Irvine. Todd Royal is an independent public policy consultant in Los Angeles focusing on energy’s geopolitical implications.