Thursday, April 23, 2009

Energy Summit - the second part (until 3 pm)

This is the second post on the contents of the Energy Summit held at the University of Missouri this week. The first post covered the keynote address by T. Boone Pickens, and that can now be seen, together with Chancellor Carney’s opening remarks, and those of Senators Bond and McCaskill as a video. (Warning it is a 1 hr 30 min video and some 219 MB). Mr. Pickens remarks were also picked up by the local Missourian. (The school of journalism was also holding briefings and interviews that ran concurrent with the summit). After the keynote, the Summit got underway with a brief review, by the chief research officers of the four campuses of the University of Missouri system, of the energy related research that each was carrying out. This was a fairly top level skim through a project range that covered fuel cells, hydrogen, a new way of storing gas on carbon bricks, and studies on a wide range of pathways to generate transportation fuels, and also prefaced a number of the papers, poster presentations and displays, the latter two of which were going on outside the main auditorium.

The first invited Speakers then came to the podium with Dale Klein, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission leading off the presentations.

Mr Kein noted that his agency is a regulator, not an advocate, and that he is currently looking at 17 applications for 26 new nuclear plants, with another 3 applications for 5 plants being anticipated. (However this is likely to include the AmerenUE application for a second plant at their Fulton site. The company indefinitely suspended that request this morning, just after getting word that a bill that would allow it to charge for construction before it was finished was not going to happen).

Mr Klein walked us through the process of getting a permit, noting that it would take 30 months to review the application, 12 months to get public comment, and then it might take some 44 months to get the plant built. The current costs are in the range of $5 - $7 billion per plant, and they are licensed for 40 years initially, with a possible 20-year extension. (For comparison he noted that the USS Enterprise, the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, was commissioned in 1960, and is coming to the end of its service life –within 3 – 5 years. He felt that the public needs more education on the benefits of nuclear power, and what not to be afraid of.

Coming next to the podium, Dr. Joan Woodard ( executive vice president at Sandia National Labs) mentioned her last visit to town, some 35 years ago as she drove out to Sandia to take up her first job there. She talked of nations climbing the energy ladder which takes nations from no power, through burning dung, and then to carbon fuels and to higher levels of consumption as society advances. However she noted that the US curve was flattening as is that of the European Union, and it is other nations, from Korea and Australia to China and India that are growing and seeing increased levels of energy demand as that growth continues. This is, in time, bound to strain the system, due to the demographics of a growing world population combined with growing standards of living, and thus individual energy demands.

She felt that Secretary Chu does a “wonderful job” in explaining the coming mandate that is Climate Change, and she noted the ever-shrinking condition of the Arctic ice cap. (Obviously she has not seen the latest ice data from the Arctic, which shows that the coverage is returning to the seasonal normal for the past 28 years, since she commented that the rate of shrinkage of the ice cap was accelerating, when, if you look at the plot, it obviously isn’t.) Nevertheless, in light of the mandate she felt that the energy enterprise must change to encompass not only the desire for economic prosperity (the ladder) and the regional environment, but also national security issues. In this she felt that while Global Trade can be good, it also creates tensions over such concerns as Russia, and now China buying up large quantities of the world reserves of a number of commodities. And in that regard we must consider that Chinese companies that are doing the purchasing are an extension of the state.

Droughts in Africa will drive migrations, leading to further conflict. Further the US is vulnerable to national disasters. Both of which threaten our security, although she then went on to mention more conventional threats. These include attacks by hackers into the control systems for our energy networks and the threats posed by global proliferation of nuclear knowledge. To protect against these threats we need a system that will, if it does fail, does so “gracefully” but which has high reliability and resilience against attack.

Daniel Cole senior vice president of Ameren then talked about his early job as a “pirate” down at Branson, MO. Here as part of the “tourist” entertainment he would regularly be pelted with bags filled with rock, but simulating gold. That job was excellent training for his current one with the utility. The company has 2.4 million electric customers, and a million natural gas customers. They produce some 16,600 MW which is nominally 61% coal, 30% natural gas fired. However because coal provides baseload and natural gas is for peaking demand supply, it turns out that 85% of actual production is coal-fired. It is also cheaper. But in the process last year, for example, it produced 70 million tons of carbon dioxide.

The nation produced some 6 billion tons. Now if the system goes to a cap and trade system and one might project growth to 6.2 billion tons generated in a couple of years, the cap might instead mandate total production is held to 5.5 billion tons. This amount would then be parceled out as a series of allocations. Each allocation would either be designated to a company at a price or subject to auction. The company could also offset some of its production with some alternate activity (such as paying for no-till farming for example).

They priced the cost that the company would face after the Lieberman Warner bill was proposed. It set a price of $50/allowance (1 ton of carbon) in 2015, rising to $100 by 2030. With the production of the company being 70 million tons, this will give an additional bill of $3.5 billion in 2015. This will mean, according to Mr Cole, the rapid disappearance of existing coal plants, but Missouri currently has the lowest electricity rates in the nation, and such a burden on their carbon production would have to be passed on as a very rapid increase in power costs per kWh to the customer to more than double that of today. The results when the requirements of the Waxman Markey bill were evaluated were even more severe.

Ameren is part of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) which has examined different technologies (pdf) to see if, in fact, these targets are attainable, anticipating increases in efficiency of use, and a 0.1 to 0.7% growth in demand.

Their conclusion was that renewable sources will only act to stabilize carbon dioxide levels, and that while increased use of nuclear power can initiate a drop in levels, it will be a switch to advanced coal generation that will be required to make significant reductions. But to have a real impact the focus must look at coal, focus on adoption of new technology, and be international in application. But the answers will come as silver buckshot not as a silver bullet.

This is the third post on the Energy Summit
The second post covered the Keynote, and the first described the program.

The final speeches of the first day will be covered next.


  1. Nice summary of the first sessions. I missed much of Joan Woodard's presentation so am glad to see your rundown here.

    Also, for those interested, a full transcript of NRC Chair dale Klein's speech is now online.

  2. Thanks, I almost put in the remark about the "standard Banana" but felt I was running on too long, now interested folk can find it.

  3. That data ends in 2005, in the post I am now writing I will put up the latest data - something that AGW proponents seem a little shy about revealing.

  4. The link I posted above is said to cover the period 1900-2007. Though 2008 ended colder than '07, the Arctic sea ice extent in Sep 08 was the second lowest on record. The NSIDC shows a continued decline through March '09 here.

  5. For some reason, and I have now tried several times, I can't get into the NSIDC site.