A University of Colorado professor says it’s possible to reach net-zero U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, as sought by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, as long as you bring on one new nuclear power plant every other day.
Roger A. Pielke Jr., who teaches in the environmental studies program at the Boulder campus, ran the numbers on Democratic proposals to achieve carbon neutrality, which range from the New York Democrat’s 2030 goal to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s 2050 target.
To reach net-zero emissions by 2030, or in 3,746 days from now, would mean deploying about four nuclear power plants per day globally, and “for the United States, the deployment of a new nuclear plant about every other day.”
“We don’t often see these numbers for obvious reasons,” Mr. Pielke said in a Monday op-ed in Forbes. “The scale — no matter what assumptions one begins with — is absolutely, mind-bogglingly huge.”
Achieving net-zero carbon emissions worldwide by 2050 would mean firing up three nuclear power plants every two days the size of the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station in Homestead, Florida, which produces about 1 mtoe [millions of tons of oil equivalent] in a year.
Of course, Democrats are split on nuclear power. The Ocasio-Cortez Green New Deal resolution calls for solar and wind energy, but says nothing about nuclear, although the congresswoman has said her plan “leaves the door open for nuclear so that we can have that conversation.”
Among the 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidates, Sen. Cory Booker and Andrew Yang have expressed support for building new-generation nuclear power plants, while Sen. Bernie Sanders is leery, calling it a “false solution.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has committed to achieving 100% carbon neutrality on electricity emissions by 2030 — and 100% renewable, zero-emission energy by 2035 — while phasing out nuclear power by 2035.
“We’re not going to build any nuclear power plants and we’re going to start weaning ourselves off nuclear energy and replacing it with renewable fuels,” she said at last month’s CNN town hall on the “climate crisis.”
What that means: lots of windmills. Using wind energy instead of nuclear to achieve net-zero global emissions by 2050 would require deploying about 1,500 wind turbines over about 300 square miles “every day starting tomorrow and continuing to 2050,” Mr. Pielke said.
He pointed out that the world is actually moving away from net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions, adding last year “more than 280 mtoe of fossil fuel consumption and 106 mtoe of carbon-free consumption,” he said, citing figures provided by the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
“In a round number, the deployment rate of carbon-free energy would need to increase by about 800%,” Mr. Pielke said. “Make no mistake, these numbers are sobering. They indicate in readily understandable terms that the world, and the United States, are not moving towards net-zero carbon dioxide emissions and in fact, every day, we are moving in the opposite direction.”
Reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 may require an enormous undertaking, he said, but is not impossible as long as policymakers and others understand the scale of the challenge.
“Auctions of promises for emissions reductions don’t actually reduce emissions,” he said. “Technology reduces emissions.”