In a recently released study, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research examines the technical and economic feasibility of achieving a U.S. economy with zero-CO2 emissions without nuclear power. In fact, the study asserts that we could have a zero-CO2 economy as early as 2040. The major results of the study are below:
The overarching finding of this study is that a zero-CO2 U.S. economy can be achieved within the next thirty to fifty years without the use of nuclear power and without acquiring carbon credits from other countries. In other words, actual physical emissions of CO2 from the energy sector can be eliminated with technologies that are now available or foreseeable. This can be done at reasonable cost while creating a much more secure energy supply than at present. Net U.S. oil imports can be eliminated in about 25 years. All three insecurities – severe climate disruption, oil supply and price insecurity, and nuclear proliferation via commercial nuclear energy – will thereby be addressed. In addition, there will be large ancillary health benefits from the elimination of most regional and local air pollution, such as high ozone and particulate levels in cities, which is due to fossil fuel combustion.
The study promotes the combination of wind and solar on a regional basis to provide stability in electricity generation, combined with baseload power from geothermal, biomass and hydropower. It promotes the concept of using plug-in electric hybrid cars to recharge batteries which can then be hooked up to the grid and provide additional electricity (Vehicle-to-grid or V2G).
The study recognizes that some of the technologies it supports are not ready today and may not develop as hoped for, so it promotes a back-up strategy which calls for integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) and potentially carbon capture and sequestration. The study also highly touts biofuels, particularly those produced by microalgae. It recognizes that the most prominent biofuels from corn and soy, and those from Indonesian palm oil are not going to help us reduce our emissions and may infact increase emissions.
The study poses an interesting roadmap for how to reduce our carbon emissions, though as of yet only this summary has been published, with the complete study to be released in October. The study’s main point however, is that we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to nearly zero without using any nuclear energy.
Another study, released in January 2007 by the American Solar Energy Association, presents the reductions in emissions that can be made through efficiency and renewable energy alone.
Although some of the technologies put forth in the IEER study are not yet operational, the ASES study worked with currently available technologies to achieve it’s results. Both are interesting and present different angles for achieving major carbon reductions within the timeframe necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.