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With Policy Help, IPCC Says Renewables Could Dominate Energy in 2050

For the past few decades, whenever the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published a new report, it has largely been a chronicle of bad news. Most of their reports have dealt with climate change impacts — how increasing amounts of atmospheric greenhouse gases (largely coming from the burning of fossil fuels) are changing the climate and environment. Yesterday, however, the IPCC broke the mold, releasing a noticeably more optimistic report on the global potential of renewable energy.

Between 2008 and 2009, global wind energy generating capacity grew by 30 percent. Credit: Wayfinder_73/flickr.

In a summary of the full report, the IPCC says it is possible to meet almost 80 percent of the world’s future energy demands from renewable sources, including biomass, wind, solar and geothermal power. While there are still technical hurdles that each of these alternative technologies needs to overcome, the panel says that public policies supporting renewable energy will be the most important factors in making renewable energy affordable and widespread.

More than 120 international researchers contributed to the new report, which “is intended to provide policy relevant information [on renewable energy] to governments, intergovernmental processes and other interested parties.” The full report, to be released later this month, considers a wide range of ways in which renewable energy might be developed and used during the next 40 years.

The projection that renewable technologies can meet nearly 80 percent of the world’s energy demands comes from an op...

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New England’s Nuclear Future Uncertain as Seabrook Requests Renewal

An interesting article was published this morning by the New Hampshire Business Review, which looks at an application to relicense the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant for 20 more years of service. The fact that NextEra Energy — the utilities company that owns Seabrook — is petitioning to keep its New Hampshire nuclear plant running 20 years longer than what it was originally licensed for isn’t what has drawn attention; most nuclear plants in the U.S. apply for similar extensions and they are often approved.

What’s different about Seabrook’s application is that it comes only about halfway through the plant’s lifetime, and nearly 15 years earlier than most renewal petitions are filed. 

...[Seabrook] is one of the nation's newer plants, and as such still has 20 years left on its license, and didn't have to apply for renewal until 2025. So when NextEra submitted its 2,500-page License Renewal Application and Environmental Report in June, it came as a bit of a surprise.

While the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not supply statistics about such early submissions, "most of them apply later," said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan of other nuclear plants.

In this morning’s story, a NextEra spokesman says that an early renewal will make it easier to plan and budget for the future. Early renewal could also help NextEra secure additional investors that are interested in longer-term returns. On the other hand, some of Seabrook’s critics think the company's mo...

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Heat Waves and Nuclear Power — Part Two

Next week will mark the two month anniversary of the Japanese tsunami and the beginning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear emergency. Since then, there’s been considerable interest in U.S. nuclear power plants and whether nuclear is a safe and reasonable clean energy source for the future. The media's interest in nuclear energy stories has been further buoyed by the recent anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (if you haven’t already seen it, you should take a look at our Chernobyl feature). 

Here at Climate Central, we’re interested in investigating ways in which climate change might affect both the safety and reliability of American power plants.

An image captured by NASA's Aqua satellite on May 3 shows the extent of flooding around Cairo, Ill., just south of where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers merge. Credit: NASA

For example, in light of the immense flooding along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the past few days, several coal-fired power plants were forced to shut down. Floods aren’t exactly a new kind of disaster, and even in the absence of long-term climate change, power plants located near river banks are inevitably threatened by high water at some point. But in the Upper Midwest, where the intensity of extreme rainfall events has been increasing for several decades, floods could become even more common, and some power plants will be at risk of being inundated more frequently.

None of the plants that that were forced to shut down this past week due to flooding were nuclear plants, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing applications for several new power plants that would be locat...

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Washington Eyes a Future Free of Coal Power — Almost

Legislation signed last week in Washington State requires the closure of the state's only coal-burning power plant, which is owned and operated by TransAlta, by 2025. Credit: Robert Ashworth/flickr.

Within the next 15 years, Washington State is going to phase out its only remaining coal-burning power plant, thanks to new legislation signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) late last week.

As reported by local news sources, the coal plant, owned by TransAlta and located in the town of Centralia, is currently the state’s largest greenhouse gas emitter — not to mention mercury polluter. Starting in 2020, the TransAlta plant will shut down one of their two boilers and then, within five years, will cease its operations at the coal-burning power plant entirely.

According to a press release from the governor's office on April 29, the plant’s shut down is part of the state’s commitment to focusing on more clean energy sources, like natural gas and wind power.  

“Coal power was a part of our past,” said Gov. Gregoire last week, after the bill signing. “Our prosperity now depends on our ability to move forward with a clean energy future.”

The closure of TransAlta’s Centralia plant will make Washington one of only three states without a coal-burning power plant — Rhode Island and Vermont are the other two. Eliminating the coal plant will also reduce the state’s total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by about 25 percent, reports say, assuming the facility is replaced by a natural gas-burning power plant, which TransAlta has announced may be a possibility.

It sounds like Washington is making a bold step towards a coal-free future, but closing the Centralia p...

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Interactive Map: All the World’s Nuclear Reactors

By David Kroodsma

To better understand the state of the nuclear power industry, Climate Central has built the following interactive map of nuclear facilities as reported by the World Nuclear Association. This map shows every nuclear reactor that has ever been connected to the electric grid, as well as a number of plants (though not all) that are planned. The table beneath the map — which will fill in once you press “play” — shows how many power plants have been built during each decade.

 
 
How To Use This Map:

Toggle the different categories of power plants (operating, shut down, etc.) on and off by using the check boxes at the bottom right. Multiple reactors are typically co-located, so you might not see them unless you deselect other categories. To learn more about a reactor, click on it to see its vital statistics, as well as a link to the World Nuclear Association, where you can find more facts about each. 

Click “Play” to watch how the global nuclear power industry has changed over time, with reactor startups and retired reactor shutdowns. Note that while the timeline is playing, you cannot check or uncheck the boxes. 

This data was last updated prior to the nuclear crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Since then a number of power plants have been shut down in Japan, and a few in Germany are also temporarily closed. 

How Much Carbon Dioxide Pollution Have Nuclear Power Plants Avoided?

If the few hundred nuclear reactors on...

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Food Waste, Methane and Climate Change Food that ends up in landfills emits methane, a strong greenhouse gas.

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