Nuclear power generation could help achieve zero carbon emissions


According to a new study by Lei Duan and Ken Caldeira from the University’s Department of Global Ecology Carnegie Institution for the Sciences, nuclear power generation could play a vital role in helping the world achieve the key goal of zero carbon emissions by mid-century. This could be done specifically in countries with low wind resources.

Nuclear power cooling towers. Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The study was published in the journal natural energy. Human activity is responsible for releasing carbon pollution into the air, which tends to impact the global carbon cycle, causing warming and changing precipitation patterns.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to reduce catastrophic climate impacts, it is crucial that humanity strives to keep the average global temperature increase below 1.5°C per year. compared to pre-industrial levels.

To achieve this goal, the panel said carbon emissions from the entire energy system would need to reach zero by the middle of this century.

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are ideal for reducing carbon emissions. However, wind and sun have a natural variation in their availability from day to day, as well as from geographic region to geographic region, which creates complications for total emission reduction..

Lei Duan, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science

Currently, the gaps in wind and solar power generation could be filled by generating electricity from natural gas. But in a zero-emission power system, another method is needed to provide power when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.

Previous studies have shown that it would be possible to prevent 80% of carbon emissions by strengthening solar and wind energy harvesting facilities. But the supply-demand gaps created by this variability in natural resources would require massive infrastructure changes – huge expansions in energy storage and transmission capacity, as well as power generation infrastructure – to achieve a 100% reduction.

To master the last 10 or 20% of decarbonization, we need to have more tools in our toolbox, not just wind and solar.

Ken Caldeira, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science

To assess nuclear power’s chances of meeting this requirement, Duan and Caldeira, in collaboration with Robert Petroski of Terra Power LLC and Lowell Wood of Gates Ventures LLC, examined the solar and wind resources of 42 countries and used these data to assess the potential of nuclear energy. provide affordable energy and replace natural gas as a backup power source.

Their analysis focused on determining which countries would benefit from considering nuclear power as an option for their energy suite sooner rather than later.

They found that in countries like the United States, which have favorable geographic and climatic conditions for abundant wind power generation, nuclear would not be deployed until it was necessary to clear the last remaining hurdles. of decarbonization.

However, in countries with poorer wind resources, such as Brazil, the strategic use of nuclear power could allow for a faster transition away from carbon.

Under strict greenhouse gas emission controls, the reliable electricity generation provided by nuclear power has much potential value in the electricity grid of most countries.. Places with low wind resources may benefit from nuclear earlier on the path to zero emissions, while places with very good wind resources would only need it to get rid of the last traces of carbon emissions.

Lei Duan, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science

Caldera added:Our analysis looked at the cheapest way to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions assuming current prices. We have found that at current prices, nuclear is the cheapest way to eliminate all carbon emissions from the electrical system almost anywhere. However, if energy storage technologies become very cheap, wind and solar could potentially be the cheapest route to a zero-emission electricity system..”

This study was supported by a gift from Gates Ventures LLC to the Carnegie Institution for Science.

Journal reference:

Duan, L. et al. (2022) Stylized Least Cost Analysis of Flexible Nuclear Power in Deeply Decarbonized Power Systems Considering Wind and Solar Resources Worldwide. natural energy.


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