EPRI: invest in low-carbon technology immediately

15 August 2007

The USA could save $1 trillion in its fight against carbon emissions if it 'aggressively' deployed advanced technologies - including nuclear power.

That was the conclusion of a discussion document written by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and to which Idaho National Laboratory contributed nuclear expertise.

The study, entitled The Power to Reduce CO2 Emissions, considered seven carbon saving technologies for which a development path was known (renewables, nuclear, advanced coal, carbon capture and storage, plug-in hybrid vehicles, distributed energy sources and efficiency). It said: "The strategy for reducing sector emissions will be technology-based."

Relative to the base case put forward in the Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Outlook 2007, EPRI proposed that by 2030 nuclear power could grow by 64 GWe instead of EIA's conservative 12.5 GWe projection. Currently, applications to build around 38 GWe in new nuclear capacity are under development by utilities.

EPRI also proposed that: Renewables could grow by 70 GWe instead of 30 GWe; Efficiency could reduce load growth by 0.4% to 1.1% per year; And distributed energy could account for 5% of baseload instead of less than 0.1%. The EIA's figures on advanced coal and plug-in hybrid vehicles were also optimistically revised while carbon capture and storage (CCS) was proposed to be widely deployed after 2020 whereas did did not appear at all in the EIA's base case.

But much research, development and demonstration work would be required to achieve those improved deployment rates, and that would incur significant advance costs. For nuclear power, EPRI's goals foresaw only the use of light water reactors (LWRs) as in widespread use today, and advanced LWRs such as a few that have been built and are currently commercially available, which would also need construction optimization over the years. All existing US plants would have to be relicensed for a total lifetime of 60 years by 2016 and higher burnup nuclear fuel would be developed by 2030.

That nuclear research program would cost the US commercial nuclear industry $430 million per year, of a total required for all technologies of $1.4 billion per year shouldered mainly by the private electricity sector.

However, if all segments of EPRI's plan were carried out, the combined effect would be to remove $1 trillion from the cost of the USA's possible climate policy. That compares to the $1.5 trillion cost of a less comprehensive plan, which EPRI said could require large reductions in electricity demand and place severe constraints on economic growth.

If strong action were
taken to promote large-scale low-carbon electricity supply, such as increased nuclear power and CCS, EPRI said the electricity market would be preserved and growth constraints limited. As a consequence, EPRI said, the future price of electricity could be reduced from $160 to $65 per MWh.

However, given lead times of 20-30 years, EPRI emphasised, serious investment in all low-emissions technologies must begin immediately. The body will produce an action plan to achieve substantial CO2 cuts in the electricity sector following its 2007 Summer Seminar.

Further information

Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI): The Power to Reduce CO2 Emissions
Energy Information Administration: 2007 Annual Outlook

WNA's US Nuclear Power Industry information paper
WNA's Global Warming - Policy Responses information paper