Steven Chu Criticizes Clean Power Plan For Neglecting Nuclear

Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu doesn't think energy storage can solve the reliability problems of wind and solar quickly enough, he said Friday, which led him to criticize the Environmental Protection Agency for neglecting nuclear power in its Clean Power Plan.
"Even though the Clean Power Plan says we need nuclear and maintains the same ratio, they give no credit for it," Chu said during a debate at the Silicon Valley Energy Summit hosted by Stanford University. “We should make a Clean Power Plan that’s based on clean energy, not renewable energy.”
The Clean Power Plan allows states to count new nuclear plants and uprates at existing plants toward their clean energy mandates, but it does not give extra credit to existing plants, as the nuclear industry wanted, to help them compete with cheaper energy.
With nuclear operators threatening to close plants, energy-storage is the clean technology remaining to back up intermittent renewables.
"I don’t see storage coming in for more than maybe peak load shifting, maybe day and night," Chu said. "I don’t see seasonal storage. I don’t see all of those things you need for steady clean power."
But Berkeley Energy Professor Daniel Kammen ably defended energy storage, gently accusing Chu of outdated thinking, even as he credited him for making the transformation possible.
"It’s largely because of opportunities put in place when Steve was secretary that I think we can all be so bullish," Kammen said.
"He’s not so bullish," replied Jeffrey Ball, the debate's moderator.
"He should be more bullish because he launched a wonderful process," said Kammen, "and I would say we’re so far along, the avalanche has begun. It’s too late for the pebbles to vote."
Energy storage is cost competitive already in some markets—unlike new nuclear, Kammen said, and its price is dropping on a steeper curve than the dramatic reductions seen in solar costs. Storage will be more effective in the decentralized energy grid that's emerging, he continued, than nuclear could be.
"The dramatic ramp up in solar resulted in the dramatic realization that a diverse, decentralized system can provide the same critical features that we think about with a baseload highly centralized system," said Kammen. "Not tomorrow, but in the time frame that we need it, it's absolutely there."
As Kammen made this point, Chu smiled and nodded in seeming agreement. Ball summarized: "So the argument is that rather than having yesterday’s no-carbon technology, which is a very centralized big generation technology, you think the world now has tomorrow’s no-carbon technology, which looks like a ballet of lots of different sources ready to go."
In addition to batteries, compressed air storage is cost competitive, Kammen said, and flywheel storage can deliver power in sub-milliseconds. And in time, electric cars, buses and other vehicles will be used as a storage resource, he said. That's a strategy China is pursuing and that Kammen has suggested the rest of the world consider, not in the next five years, but a bit later as these technologies develop and proliferate.
Meanwhile, small modular nuclear reactors won't be ready in time to meet the grid's needs, he said, and conventional reactors are too expensive.
"If you want to bet on a robust-basic-research to an applied-research-deployment category," Kammen said, "that far favors the storage revolution than it does the nuclear revolution."
In the debate, Chu and fellow Nobel-winning physicist Burt Richter advocated nuclear power. Kammen and Ralph Cavanagh, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, argued nuclear is unneeded. Except for the exchange above, the debate repeated well-rehearsed arguments about reliability, safety and cost—albeit at a highly informed level.
In an informal poll of the audience, Ball declared that Kammen and Cavanagh won. They changed nine minds in the audience, while the nuclear advocates changed eight. "This result was clearly within the margin of error," Andrew Revkin wrote soon after on The New York Times Dot-Earth blog, "and the unswayed majority demonstrates how positions on this issue, particularly among those most engaged, are deeply rooted and not open to suasion." You can watch the full debate below.
Before it ended, Chu insisted that he is bullish on clean energy, and that he expects the energy sector to be 100 percent clean by 2100.
"By 2100 lots of great things will happen," he said. "It's the 50-year period before that that I'm worried about. I think we can get 50-60 percent renewables, maybe even higher, by the mid century. I don’t want to debate whether it’s 60 percent or 80 percent. What I want to debate is, what do you do with the last 20 percent?"

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