Research—Dupreeh

Carbon-Free Power Grid With Nuclear and Renewable Energy Sources

As time goes by the issue of global warming becomes more and more of a reality. Global warming is caused by carbon dioxide or “greenhouse gases” being released in the atmosphere. Of course, gas powered cars release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere helping global warming. But, a large majority of carbon emissions are produced by power sources like coal plants that release carbon into the atmosphere. These coal plants produce the most amount of carbon dioxide in the air than any other sources. The cheap price and the easiness of producing power with coal is a makes them extremely attractive in the power production industry. But According to the article “Coal Plants Lock in 300 Billion Tons of CO2 Emissions” written by Bobby Magill. Magill explains “Coal-fired power plants are the largest contributors to the atmospheric CO2 concentrations, which last year reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history.” To counter this many are suggesting switching to carbon-free sources of power. Carbon free sources would be able to produce the same amount of energy as coal power plants but at the same time being environmentally conscious. For example, wind, solar, and nuclear are carbon-free sources of power can prove to be great counters to produce clean carbon free energy.

To better understand carbon free energy society needs to first understand what they are currently putting in their atmosphere. Currently the largest source of power in the United States is burning coal. Coal plants heat up coal to produce steam and turn a turbine to power a generator. Even though this process of burning coal is extremely cheap, doing this releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide or greenhouse gasses is the main cause of global warming. Amanda MacMillan in her article “Global Warming 101” MacMillan puts global warming in perspective by describing, “Over the past 50 years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history.” Basically, global warming is the overall average temperature increasing from the increase levels of carbon dioxide that we are currently putting into the atmosphere. This increase in temperature can become extremely damaging to our environment. Carbon free refers to absolutely zero power plants operating in a way the produces carbon dioxide. Meaning if carbon free would take full effect all carbon-based power plants would need to be shut down and replaced with carbon free alternatives that are good for the environment.

Renewable sources like wind and solar are great renewable sources to produce clean energy. Renewable sources operate by taking in zero one use materials like coal. Instead renewable sources use resources like wind and sunlight to operate and produce energy, releasing zero carbon into the atmosphere. Wind power plants operate like how a sail on a sailboat operates. A sailboat uses wind to move itself in the direction of the wind. But unlike sailboats wind turbines harness the power of the wind to turn larges blades that move a rotor powering a generator to produce energy. From the article “How Do Wind Turbines Work” from the office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy they state, “A wind turbine turns wind energy into electricity using the aerodynamic force from the rotor blades, which work like an airplane wing or helicopter rotor blade.” ­Another viable renewable energy source that has been gaining large amounts of popularity is solar power. From Live Science in their article “How Do Solar Panels Work?” the author explains “a solar panel works by allowing photons, or particles of light, to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity.” Solar panels do have an advantage over wind turbines, instead of needed a large space almost anyone can install solar panels. A popular trend currently is to install solar panels on the roofs of houses. This makes solar panels extremely desirable to average homeowners making solar panels a great addition to a network of carbon free energy sources.

When society first thinks about clean carbon free energy sources most will just think of renewable sources like wind and solar. But nuclear power in another great energy source that is completely carbon free. In the article “How a Nuclear Reactor Works” From Nei, the author states, “Coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear energy use their fuel to turn water into steam and use that steam to turn the turbine.” But where nuclear differs from coal plants is, they do not heat anything to create steam to turn turbines. The uranium atoms do all the work and create fission that turns the turbines to create energy.  Most concern around nuclear power is the safety issue but, reactors have become extremely safe with new technological advancements. The high upfront price of building nuclear reactors have turned many away, but nuclear power plants produce a large amount of energy and can operate for a large period. This makes nuclear power plants extremely efficient in the carbon free energy system,

Carbon free refers to power plants that can operate and generate energy in a clean way that does not emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.  In the article “Going ‘Zero Carbon’ Is All the Rage. But Will It Slow Climate Change?” Nathan Rott describes Carbon free as, “A state would be getting all of its electricity from renewable or clean sources like solar, wind or nuclear.” Essentially carbon free is releasing zero carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. To stop the rapid growing problem of global warming and the average temperature growing carbon free energy is by far the best counter. Even though society relies on coal plants and other sources of energy that release carbon it is possible to go completely carbon free with clean sources of energy. Instead of just using complete renewable energy systems like wind and solar to produce clean carbon free energy society should be looking to expand. Utilizing more of nuclear power with the use of renewable sources can push society into a complete carbon free power grid.

To avoid problems, renewable sources like wind and solar should be utilized alongside nuclear power plants. If we rely strictly on renewable sources large amounts of land will have to be dedicated to power fields, and conditions are not always optimal for power production. A large portion nuclear power protester believe that nuclear power is unsafe and should not be used because of this. But contrary to popular belief nuclear power is extremely safe, especially with new technological advancements. When using nuclear power and renewable sources together we can create an efficient power grid that utilizes both power sources strengths and eliminates their weaknesses.

When renewable sources are strictly used for all of power production large amounts of land will have to be dedicated for strictly power production. From the Tedx Talk “Why renewables can’t save the planet” the speaker environmentalist Michael Schellenberger explains, “Building a solar farm is a lot like building any other kind of farm, you have to clear the whole area of wildlife.” Shallenberger goes onto explain this process is extremely expensive and invasive in terms of removing wildlife from their natural habitats. To solely use renewable sources of power to produce the worlds energy we would need to clear large amounts of land to sufficiently produce enough energy for society’s needs. In doing this we would be destroying a large amount of wildlife. This process seems counterintuitive if we are building solar fields and wind fields to save the environment. But, in the process we are destroying wildlife and the environment. To counter this, nuclear power can be utilized to produce a percentage of power. The production of solar fields can be reduced and focused on just installing solar panels on top of Roofs.

Another major problem with using strictly renewable sources of energy is conditions are not always optimal to produce energy. The two largest renewable sources of energy wind and solar require perfect conditions to produce energy efficiently. In the article, “Hybrid nuclear-renewable energy systems” the author, Author Siddharth Suman explains, “Renewable energy sources are not continuous, dependent upon geographical location as well as climatic conditions, and require a very large land footprint.” Suman not only talks about the large amount of land needed for renewable sources. But also explains how climate conditions play a huge role in how effective renewable sources are in producing energy. The problem with this is the wind does not also blow perfectly and the sun does not always shine. During bad conditions renewable sources will not be suitable to keep up with our large demand of energy. Considering our use of energy increases every day only using renewable sources will become a major issue.

Contrary to popular belief nuclear power is extremely safe. For example, France has been using nuclear power as their main power source since 1964 and have not had any major disasters that have threatened people lives. But, when looking at the process of burning coal to produce energy, society can conclude nuclear energy is far safer and burning fossil fuels threatens people’s lives every day. From the article “Every Day 10,000 People Die Due to Air Pollution From Fossil Fuels” written by Roger Pielke, the author can take away that over ten thousand people die by burning fossil fuels every day, making it far more unsafe then nuclear power production. Not only that but with nuclear power plants have made huge technological advancements to make them even more safe. From Applied Energy article “The benefits of nuclear flexibility in power system operations with renewable energy” the author states, “nuclear power plants are technically capable of flexible operation, including changing power output over time (ramping or load following) and providing frequency regulation and operating reserves.” This means that nuclear power plants do not have to operate at maximum power. Instead they can operate at lower levels of production making them far safer. Not only this but From the Nuclear Energy Institute in their article “Is Nuclear Energy Safe” the author Kelly McPharlin explains why nuclear reactors are safe in the modern world. McPharlin explains how nuclear reactors have many layers of safety systems. The layers of safety are used to prevent any issue the reactor might have. The people working in the reactor now are extremely trained to handle any situation the reactor might go through. Nuclear reactors are proving to be far safer than coal plants. Coal plants cause far more deaths, and will continue to cause even more from the carbon being released into the air causing global warming

The most efficient carbon free based power grid would be utilizing nuclear power alongside of renewable sources. Since renewable sources cannot always operate at maximum capacity due to climate conditions nuclear power would be needed in times where renewable sources cannot produce a large amount of energy. Going back to the Applied Energy article “The benefits of nuclear flexibility in power system operations with renewable energy” when the author explains, how nuclear power plants can operate at different levels or production. From this statement we can infer that when renewable sources are producing at maximum capacity because conditions are good, we can lower production for nuclear power plants. This goes for the same when renewable sources are not operating well due to climate issues, we can ramp up production for nuclear plants to make up for the renewable sources not producing at maximum capacity. Using renewable sources alongside nuclear energy also solves the issue of large amounts of land being used up from renewable sources. Some solar and wind fields will have to be used even if renewable sources and paired with nuclear energy, but a lot less land will be needed for solar and wind fields. Since nuclear will be utilized we can focus of using less solar fields and focus on installing solar panels are more roofs. To completely remove the use of carbon-based power plants and stop global warming, society needs to start utilizing a power grid that contains nuclear power and renewable sources working together.

Even though to create a complete carbon-free power grid society must utilize both nuclear power and renewable sources, Climate deniers have argued we can complete this power grid with just renewables. Climate deniers have also argued that this carbon-free way of power is too expensive to prove to be reasonable. With the largest contributor of global warming being carbon-based energy sources, these climate deniers must realize that in order to create a complete carbon-free power grid we must remove the burning of fossil fuels and utilize renewables and nuclear power side by side.

Some climate deniers believe that we can create a completely carbon-free power grid with only using renewable sources and making nuclear power obsolete. While renewable sources of energy are a great way to produce clean energy, they are not always reliable, and they cannot keep up with the energy demand. From “Perspectives on The Environment” in their article “Renewable Energy: Why Don’t We Use It More If It’s So Great?” the author explains, “Renewable energy is also not completely reliable even though it is sustainable. We cannot control when we receive it and how much we receive. It often relies on weather like the sun or water.” Every day our energy consumption increases, and if we don’t have completely reliable sources of power that would become a huge problem. The fact that the wind doesn’t blow as strong every day or some days it is not that sunny renewable sources will struggle to produce optimal power for society. According to the he National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in their article “Electrification & Decarbonization: Exploring U.S. Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Scenarios with Widespread Electrification and Power Sector Decarbonization” they explain, “Under our reference case, total U.S. electricity consumption grows from approximately 3,860 TWh in 2016 to 5,260 TWh in 2050. Consistent with results from other analyses of electrification impacts on electricity demand…” Knowing that power usage increases every day, unreliable sources like renewables will not be able to solely keep up with the growing demand of power.

The combination of renewable sources alongside nuclear power, will be able to obtain optimal power production for societies growing need for power. When renewable sources are not able to produce at a maximum capacity due to weather issues, nuclear power can always produce energy. Unlike renewables, nuclear power does not rely on optimal weather conditions. In bad weather conditions nuclear power can still operate at maximum capacity. Nuclear power plants can make up for the lack of productions renewables may encounter when conditions are not optimal for max production of power.

Another major argument is the issue with price. Many climate deniers argue that renewables and nuclear are too expensive and are not worth it because of the high prices. Burning fossil fuels is attractive in the energy production industry because of the low price. But what many people do not realize with renewables and nuclear energy is the only expensive part of them is the upfront cost. While it is expensive to build a nuclear power plant, solar field, or wind farm they are sustainable for a long period of time. The energy nuclear power plants and renewable plants produce will eventually pay for themselves. They are all able to produce energy with no raw material added, unlike popular coal plants.

Continuing the argument with the concern of high price, when we think of the high price of these nuclear power plants or renewable plants, many forget we are also paying a higher cost to save lives. From the article “Every Day 10,000 People Die Due To Air Pollution From Fossil Fuels” the author Roger Pielke explains, “A study published last week in the journal Cardiovascular Research estimated that in 2015, the deaths of more than 3.6 million people worldwide could have been avoided if air pollution from fossil fuels were reduced to zero.” 3.6 million seems like of people dying from climate change at first but when you put that number into perspective it seems like an even larger amount of deaths, every year around 3.6 million people die because of climate change. While some people may say nuclear is just as dangerous or more dangerous then burning fossil fuels, the deaths from nuclear do not even come close to the deaths from climate change or burning fossil fuels. To put this in perspective we can look at the largest user of nuclear power, France. They generate almost all their power from nuclear power plants. From the article “France: A Study of French Nuclear Policy After Fukushima” the author makes the claim, “France has the largest percent of nuclear in total domestic electricity generation according to the International Energy Association and exports about 44.91 billion kWh of electrical energy per year. With 58 nuclear reactors, France has now depended on nuclear energy for many years without ever having a serious accident.” With having very few incidents France has only had one death from nuclear since they started utilizing nuclear power in 1964. If society could stop using carbon-based energy production and switch over to a power grid that utilizes nuclear and renewables, we can save 3.6 million lives every year. Even if the upfront price is higher than burning fossil fuels.

A power grid that utilizes both nuclear power and renewable sources is essential to create a fully carbon-free power system. This is necessary to reduce greenhouse gasses in our environment to eventually stop global warming. If we do not do this the death rate from global warming and releasing carbon dioxide will continue to rise. The argument of the high cost of renewable sources will pay themselves off in time. The high price should also be justified to save millions of people’s lives every year. Even though some climate deniers want to solely use renewable sources. Nuclear is necessary to produce optimal power and create a complete carbon-free power grid.

References

Magill, B., & @bobbymagill, F. (2014, August 28). Coal Plants Lock in 300 Billion Tons ofCO2 Emissions.

MacMillan, A. (2020, March 9). Global Warming 101.

How“How Do Wind Turbines Work?” Energy.gov,

Dhar, Michael. “How Do Solar Panels Work?” LiveScience, Purch, 6 Dec. 2017,

“How a Nuclear Reactor Works.” Nuclear Energy Institute

Jenkins, J. D., Zhou, Z., Ponciroli, R., Vilim, R. B., Ganda, F., Sisternes, F. de, & Botterud, A. (2018, April 24). The benefits of nuclear flexibility in power system operations with renewable energy.

McPharlin, K. (2019, November 22). Is Nuclear Energy Safe?

Shellenberger, M. (n.d.). Why renewables can’t save the planet: Michael Shellenberger:TEDxDanubia.

Suman, S. (2018, February 1). Hybrid nuclear-renewable energy systems: A review.

Renewable Energy: Why Don’t We Use It More If It’s So Great? (2015, February 13).

Pielke, R. (2020, March 10). Every Day 10,000 People Die Due To Air Pollution From Fossil Fuels.

France: A Study of French Nuclear Policy After Fukushima. (2012, July 17).

Steinberg, D., Bielen, D., Eichman, J., Eurek, K., Logan, J., Mai, T., … Wilson, E. (2017). Electrification and Decarbonization: Exploring U.S. Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Scenarios with Widespread Electrification and Power Sector Decarbonization. doi: 10.2172/1372620

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1 Response to Research—Dupreeh

  1. davidbdale says:

    “How Do Wind Turbines Work?” comes from energy.gov, but a reader would never know that from reading your References citation. The link is good, but the citation isn’t compliant with AP citation standards. Others are good. The 3 “How” entries need work.

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