US power industry sees nuclear future

18 February 2010

A survey of US electric power industry leaders by Black & Veatch (B&V) shows that nuclear energy is widely considered best suited to meet the country's environmental standards while meeting increased electricity demand.


In its fourth annual Strategic Directions in the Electric Utility Industry Survey, engineering, consulting and construction company B&V questioned 329 industry participants, including professionals from public sector (municipal, state and federally owned) and investor-owned utilities. The company said that the survey, conducted in September 2009, is therefore "broadly representative of the entire US power industry."


According to B&V, "Contrary to many 'experts' who talk about the utility industry today, most insiders still view nuclear energy as the best way to achieve environmental improvement while meeting the capacity and energy needs of the future."


Respondents to the survey "continue to believe that the industry should place its emphasis on nuclear power as the most environmentally friendly technology for the future." The scores for wind, natural gas, solar, hydro, coal gasification and biomass, while behind nuclear, were very close to each other. "The most important goal should be to educate the public on the safety and reliability of nuclear energy," one respondent wrote.


However, while supporting nuclear energy, the respondents "showed a keen awareness of the complexity and time required to bring a significant amount of new nuclear power into the nation's energy mix, with 45% of respondents believing that we will not have more than the current 20% contribution from nuclear by 2015."


B&V said that this outlook was consistent with its own projections of 18% in 2015 and only 21% by 2030. The company said that its projections recognize that while nuclear output will increase in both the 2015 and 2030 timeframes, so will the overall energy production figure, keeping nuclear's relative contribution at nearly the same level.


"Survey respondents were considerably more bullish on the percentage contribution they believe could come from nuclear energy by 2050 with 15% believing it could be 50% or higher, and a full 35% believing it will at least double to 40% or greater in that timeframe," B&V said. It added, "Clearly energy industry insiders believe that nuclear energy represents an environmentally acceptable way to produce the needed base load capacity in the future."


BlackandVeatch nuclear


The survey found that reliability of the electric grid, regulatory issues and long-term investment were the main concerns of the industry. However, B&V said that environmental issues "remained high on the list of concerns due to the continued attention being given to global warming by the media and legislative bodies."


On environmental issues, carbon emissions were again the leading concern to the industry, followed by water supply.  However, when ask if they believed there was a future for coal-fired generation, more than 75% of those questioned responded "Yes, when fiscal realities are fully considered."


"The exact form of potential cap and trade legislation for carbon still isn't known, and many other public policy issues remain unsolved," B&V noted. While the majority of respondents expect some form of carbon legislation to be in place by 2012, more than 70% do not favour the cap and trade systems embedded in current legislative proposals. Some 52% of the respondents believed that the USA cannot afford carbon legislation.


Many utilities' industrial and commercial sales have been severely or seriously eroded by the recession, the survey showed. Less than one-quarter of respondents think electricity usage in their area will grow by more than 1.5% annually in the next ten years.


"The times are tough, so the industry is returning to its Job One: maintaining reliable service and preserving financial health," commented William Kemp, practice leader of B&V's management consulting division's Strategy and Sustainability services. He added, "Reliability and regulation popped back to the top of the major issues of concern for industry managers."


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News