Energy and Cost Problems With Senator Sander’s Green New Deal

Energy and Cost Problems With Senator Sander’s Green New Deal

I am only going to comment on the energy aspects of the plan, not the employment and social justice parts, which are separate choices to make.

The speedy goal is to achieve 100% renewables by 2030 for both electricity and transportation.  In the second article back on CARB web conferences, we presented two tech talks by experts about the costs of achieving California’s similar goals.  The talks were on the costs of the variability of solar and wind on hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal scales.  Even to achieve 60% renewables raised the cost by 1.5 times.  To go to 80% increased the cost by a factor of 6.  Achieving 100% raised costs by a factor of 20.  And this is in California where we have high solar exposure and lots of desert areas for it.  Sander’s report does not mention the network reliability problem in the summary, nor how much extra cost is included to try to overcome it.  That can only be considered a non-scientific approach.

Their cost estimate for renewable energy is $1.52 trillion.  But then they have to throw in another $0.852 trillion, or another 56%, for energy storage to smooth out the fluctuating renewables, but not to generate another kiloWatt-hour.  The California estimate, was that even that would only get you to 60% renewables.  The total cost of both is then $2.37 trillion.  That is $7,250 per person, or $21,750 per average household of three.  Four hour batteries are not the only storage needed, but also seasonal reservoirs and those that can handle two week lulls.  

In 2018, natural gas generated 35% of US electricity.  Coal was down to 27%.  Nuclear was 19%.  Renewables were 17% of US electricity in 2018.  Wind energy was 39% of renewables, and 7% of US electricity.  Hydro was 7% of US electricity.  Solar was 2% of US electricity.  Biomass was also 2% of US electricity.  Geothermal was less than 1%.

While they throw in geothermal power, it only occurs in a limited number of places.  California is already exploiting half of its available geothermal power.  Remember the last time you walked across a volcanic area?  It stank of Sulfur.  The vents also bring up dangerous heavy metals.  It is not really renewable, since you have to keep drilling new wells.

Nuclear power is being thrown out, but without valid reasons.  The simple reason could have been, is that it is now relatively costly.  Other countries are continuing with it.  We could have a workable disposal site in Nevada.  Sander’s plan would forbid any new nuclear plants.  They would also refuse all license renewals, which allow for economical extensions for 20 years.  Nuclear is 19% of our power in 2018, and is clean energy.  The plan incorrectly equates nuclear waste disposal with the earthquake-tsunami disaster at Fukushima, and the old carbon reactor fire at Chernobyl.  Nobody was hurt at the US Three Mile Island, all of those faults have been corrected, and the next generation of reactors are even safer.  Nuclear can certainly back up the solar network at night, and keep up reliability.  Extra costs are thereby incurred by getting rid of nuclear.  The US produces 30% of world nuclear power with about 100 nuclear reactors.  Only two new reactors are under construction.

They do not include large hydro in their renewables, which is also clean power.  It is dropped by the Sierra Club, which opposes all dams.  Dams actually are often used to manage water, and power is secondary.  Hydro was 41% of renewables in 2018, and 7% of US electricity.

To achieve the rapid 2030 total conversion of transportation, they build all new cars and subsidize them for those that cannot afford them.  US cars are usually replaced by 15 years or shorter, so if you just waited until 2035 for 100% electric, it would fit into a normal replacement schedule.  Poorer people will eventually be able to buy used electric cars, as they now do gasoline cars.  We also have to build a nationwide road charging system for longer trips.  

But wait, they also want to spend $4.5 trillion to modernize the power grid.  That is probably a requirement to get near 100% renewables, to acquire long range power to make up for local fluctuations again.  They make that even more costly by converting to High Voltage DC, and undergrounding the power lines.  High voltage means less current for the same power, and it is the current and resistance that results in transmission power losses.  AC won out historically since it is easy to step up voltage in transformers, and step it down again when the power gets to the endpoints.  It also syncs with electric generators and motors.  High Voltage DC could be okay in some long distance lines, but it seems like a very costly and unnecessary expense for the entire grid.  The grid does have to be upgraded to account for less reliable sources, and charging requirements of electric vehicles, but in less costly ways.

Their support of research on energy storage and electric vehicles is good, but the rapid conversion would not allow for much of it to be accomplished or developed into practicality.

My own view is that we have to evolve into clean power, but should plan to do so in the most economical way.  Otherwise, we risk that it will be rejected as too costly, and just provide ammunition to the climate change deniers.  The economical way is still fast, since you don’t doctrinairily get rid of nuclear and hydro, which together make up 26% of electric power.   Also, a minimum of highly efficient natural gas balancing plants can smooth out fluctuating renewables.  These plants often heat or cool water as well.   Getting rid of coal plants, of course, is the crucial greenhouse gas emissions first goal.

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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