Visions, plans and dreams are easy. We all have them. You have heard, “Follow your dreams,” “What is your vision?” and “Do you have a plan?” Visions, plans and dreams have given civilization so many advances and conveniences. However, few visions, plans or dreams become reality.
I dreamed of being a professional baseball player from the time I was six years old. I worked hard, training and practicing for thousands of hours. I was committed to my dream. I followed the dream, playing baseball through college. However, reality finally set in. Eventually, I recognized there was no demand in professional baseball for an undersized, light-hitting, sore-armed infielder.
Accepting personal reality was difficult. It took a while. Values and personal goals had to change. Luckily, my baseball dreams provided a college education that led to a different career that has proven to be very satisfying and in a totally different direction than I had envisioned.
Net-zero greenhouse visions and zero-carbon plans and dreams face the same realities as young shortstops with bad arms.
Many industries have committed to net-zero carbon emissions for their energy supplies into the future. A number of electric utilities have also made public commitments to reduce carbon emissions or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from their operations. The Southern Company, Duke Energy, Pacific Gas & Electric, Exelon, AEP, and National Grid have committed to being 50-80% below their 2005 emission baselines by 2030 and net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has committed to be 80% below their 2005 emissions baseline by 2035 and net-zero carbon by 2050. NextEra (Florida Power & Light) has committed to achieving zero carbon by 2045. Grand visions, big dreams.
The visions and dreams of zero-carbon electric emissions face a number of obstacles. The Biden Administration is pressing to change the transportation fleet from gasoline-powered, internal combustion engines to all-electric vehicles. New York and California have already passed legislation or regulations that prohibit the sale of new internal combustion powered automobiles by 2035. The energy from the transportation fleet will shift to an electric sector in California already struggling to meet its own low-carbon initiatives. Other states are likely to adopt challenging carbon emission limits in the near future. Reality sets in as smart people, instead of dreamers and politicians, consider the U.S energy future and what will have to be done to achieve it.
Jeff Lyash, President & CEO of TVA, stated in an October 25, 2022 interview that TVA would need to build 20 nuclear units to meet its commitment to decarbonize its generation fleet by 2050. He said even with the planned addition of 10 gigawatts of solar capacity, new pumped storage facilities, and battery storage, there does not appear to be a way to decarbonize the TVA generation fleet without adding significant nuclear capacity.
TVA’s nuclear deployment plans are initially focused on a 300 MW boiling water reactor at the Clinch River Nuclear site near Oak Ridge, TN. However, Mr. Lyash cautioned that risks such as regulatory approval, preliminary funding, and additional innovation in the GE-Hitachi nuclear design need to be mitigated before TVA can move forward with definitive plans.
Mr. Lyash stated small modular reactors (SMRs) could boost TVA’s transition away from fossil fuels. SMRs are smaller and simpler, more flexible to operate, should require less construction time and should be cheaper to build than traditional, large nuclear plants. If the SMR design is successful, Lyash said, TVA will build a fleet of them at sites across its service territory.
Nuclear generators have powered nuclear submarines and ships for decades. SMRs have been a vision for non-carbon emitting electric generation for years but are still transformational and face regulatory and anti-nuclear public sentiment.
PowerSouth owns a 20-year, 5% interest in the 2,034 MW, Vogtle 3&4 Nuclear Power Plant expansion being constructed in Georgia. That nuclear project has been in process for more than 18 years, and hopefully, Unit 3 will come online early next year. We understand the difficulty and cost of fulfilling nuclear dreams. Having 20 new TVA nuclear generators online in just 28 years seems more dream than reality.
Mr. Lyash and TVA admit the fulfillment of a carbon-constrained world -and even more so a Net Zero Carbon world – will require new nuclear generation. Net Zero dreams cannot be fulfilled by solar generation, wind generation, and batteries alone. Even with new nuclear generation, Net Zero will be very challenging, if it can be done at all. It will be much more expensive than the cost of electricity we have become accustomed to seeing. Transitioning will take time, patience, money, and public will – not merely political dreams.
Reality can be a very harsh god. The fulfillment of Net Zero dreams by 2050 appears less likely than a weak-hitting, sore armed shortstop making a Major League Baseball roster. Sometimes plans have to change to more realistic goals.
I hope you have a good month.