US electricity : more nuclear and less coal

Things are slowly but irresistibly changing in the United States. Wind power added ten gigawatts of capacity to the grids last year alone and coal is less and less used to generate electricity.

Meanwhile, a nuclear renaissance may be under way in America as last month President Obama announced a $8.3 billion (6 billion euros) loan to build in Georgia the first reactors in 30 years.

I dream of America being powered with 40 percent nuclear, 40 percent renewables and only 20 percent thermal. There is a long way to go but could this become a reality ?

By doing so, the country would join the few developed nations to have below 100 grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh. Current levels are above 600 as the United States rely on around 70 percent thermal, 20 percent nuclear and only ten percent renewables.

America doesn’t have to choose between renewable energy sources like solar or wind and nuclear as it needs both.

While nuclear plants are being built and as renewable energies capacity is slowly increasing,  natural gas can replace coal in thermal plants, thus pushing even faster the transition to a low carbon America.

On coal, Lester Brown notes on TreeHugger :

” The past two years have witnessed the emergence of a powerful movement opposing the construction of new coal-fired power plants in the United States. Initially led by environmental groups, both national and local, it has since been joined by prominent national political leaders and many state governors.

The principal reason for opposing coal plants is that they are changing the earth’s climate. There is also the effect of mercury emissions on health and the 23,600 U.S. deaths each year from power plant air pollution.

Over the last few years the coal industry has suffered one setback after another. The Sierra Club, which has kept a tally of proposed coal-fired power plants and their fates since 2000, reports that 123 plants have been defeated, with another 51 facing opposition in the courts.

Of the 231 plants being tracked, only 25 currently have a chance at gaining the permits necessary to begin construction and eventually come online. Building a coal plant may soon be impossible.”

On a sidenote, President Obama is also fully aware that one of the best solutions at his disposal is energy efficiency. His government could soon start a $6 billion efficient housing program called Homestar (aka Cash for Caulkers).

This is really welcomed as Americans consume twice as much energy as Europeans and Japaneses. (250 kWh per day per person versus 125 kWh, cf. Sustainable Energy – without the hot air).

Be sure I will keep you posted on all these topics, so stay tuned !

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