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article imageOp-Ed: Beyond Trump — Investment needed in non-carbon energy sources

By Karen Graham     Aug 10, 2017 in Technology
Between climate change, the clean energy revolution and the Trump administration's distaste for environmentally-friendly forms of electrical power, with the exception of coal, a lot is riding on which power sources we invest in over the next few years.
As we all know, when utility companies make a decision to build a new nuclear power plant, they anticipate spending millions or even billions of dollars, depending on the size of the facility. But they also figure into the cost the lifetime of that power plant, which should last at least 40 years.
As Phys.Org reminds us, 40 years is 10 presidential terms, and in that time, policies have a way of changing. And one of the issues that plague utility companies today is predicting how much stricter greenhouse gas emissions guidelines may be as the planet continues to warm.
President Donald Trump has said Washington will not be bound by the targets on reducing emissions of...
President Donald Trump has said Washington will not be bound by the targets on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases set down in Paris, and will cut funding for developing countries affected by climate change
Businesses and investors know full well that future policies will affect the profitability of today's investments. For example, if the U.S. were to adopt a carbon tax 10 years down the road, it would probably usher in the end of fossil fuel burning power plants.
And while we are talking about businesses, consumers will also be affected by choices made by utility companies. If utility companies continue to rely on coal-fired power plants to produce electricity, instead of renewable energy sources like wind, solar and, yes, nuclear energy, it will be harder for utilities to meet emission standards, costing them more money that will be passed on to the consumer in higher electricity rates.
The future of the clean energy mix
As I wrote in Digital Journal earlier this week, to advance our aims on mitigating the impacts of climate change, nuclear energy is needed just as much as efforts to reduce carbon emissions. And with the surge in innovations and technologies in renewables, the technology is in place for a new generation of nuclear reactors.
Westinghouse Electric constructed Plant Vogtle  located in Waynesboro  Ga. The plant contains the fi...
Westinghouse Electric constructed Plant Vogtle, located in Waynesboro, Ga. The plant contains the first new nuclear units in the US in 30 years.
Westinghouse Electric Co.
And with the technology in place and available, America's nuclear industry has almost come to a halt. Keep in mind that to convert to wind and solar energy, we will still need a reliable backup source of clean energy - and this means nuclear power. Interestingly, if we look at the Department of Energy's (DOE) latest report, the government paints a slightly different picture on nuclear power in the U.S.
According to the DOE, of the 99 nuclear power plants left in the U.S., Five plants have closed prior to their license expiration date, and six plants have announced plans to retire prior to their license expiration date. One plant, Dominion Power’s Millstone plant in Waterford, Connecticut, is considering shutting down altogether, citing economic woes in deregulated markets.
Unlike other clean energy resources, nuclear power plants are not subsidized by the federal or state governments, so the economic woes confronting nuclear energy in this country are real, and this is also hurting our standing at the international level. The funding and focus required to develop and deploy new nuclear technology that will be needed by the middle of this century is just not in the picture, according to a study released on August 10, 2017.
China has been investing billions in clean energy infrastructure as its leaders seek to clear up the...
China has been investing billions in clean energy infrastructure as its leaders seek to clear up the notorious choking pollution enveloping its biggest cities
Patrik Stollarz, AFP/File
Saving technology and innovation
Economic factors are just one of the issues holding back new technology and innovation in nuclear energy. There are also public and political obstacles to overcome, and these are important issues needing to be resolved if we are going to toward a carbon neutral economy in the future.
At this time, other countries have taken the lead in new nuclear technologies. Russia and China are actively exporting nuclear energy technology outside their borders to developing nations, taking advantage of the growing global energy demand, and all this is being done without American know-how.
G7 energy ministers failed to reach agreement on a joint statement on climate change on Monday becau...
G7 energy ministers failed to reach agreement on a joint statement on climate change on Monday because of US reservations, an Italian minister said
The whole point is this - Looking at the shale boom in the United States, it didn't happen because of a fluke but had its roots in national labs. The Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E), the DOE’s seven-year-old, $300 million-per-year breakthrough research agency has been trashed by the Trump administration.
Either bringing back ARPA-E or reviving it through new legislation will be needed to kick-start research and development in new nuclear generation technologies, and this will require investment in the future. And with the current administration seemingly flailing at windmills, the incentives for leadership in R&D are not as robust as they once were.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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