While renewable energy is growing steadily in popularity across the globe, it is still challenging to expect a widespread shift to reduced emission rates and more clean energy on a federal level. While the United States is competing with big energy players like China and India, the states have more flexibility in how they provide clean energy options for their customer base. The truth is that renewables are no longer an idealistic but unavailable (or cost-prohibiting) energy source. Clean energy is expected to grow at a rapid rate which will ideally help reduce greenhouse gas and carbon emissions significantly. Wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric facilities are being developed and permitted at the fastest rate in recent years. And demand is only expected to continue to rise as major political pressure is placed on the growth of renewable and clean energy. A key player in that strategic shift taking place at the state level is, in fact, nuclear energy.
A recent joint report states that nuclear energy is key in the fight against climate change in the United States. That same report urges states to adopt Clean Energy Standards (CES) which include nuclear power as a clean energy option instead of the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) which do not. It’s clear why clean energy options are so important to the overall consumer portfolio, and the sticking point is that additional clean energy options would support achieving the goal of cleaner energy production compared to less. By including nuclear energy options, most states would be able to set more ambitious and more achievable targets for emissions reduction.
The current popularity of the RPS has a less than helpful impact of requiring a certain amount of electricity sold within their borders to come from carbon-free renewable sources like wind and solar. The difference the report states is that by broadening the policies to include a wider set of carbon-free technologies, such as nuclear energy, states would be better equipped to cut carbon emissions more affordably, rapidly and reliably.
Nuclear energy is noted as the largest carbon-free contributor to the power grid in the U.S. To date it has struggled when competing with low-priced natural gas and without the support of RPS programs, especially compared to other renewable energy sources. Nuclear power provides balancing and reliability benefits that other technologies (including solar and wind power) often struggle with. To exclude nuclear power from a clean energy strategy is a quick way to hamper the effectiveness of the initiative, as the complexities of a fully solar and wind-powered grid are difficult to overcome.
The report states that as nuclear has consistently acted as a cornerstone of current clean energy, the exclusion of it from future programs is counterproductive. Nuclear power’s contribution to decarbonization is actually diminishing as plants struggle to compete with cheap natural gas and unable to benefit from state and federal policies that boost renewables. The remedy it seems is for states to swap their RPS programs for CES programs that include nuclear and other carbon-free technologies. Currently, 27 states and the nation’s capital have an RPS in place, with an average requirement of 26 percent renewables and an average target year of 2022. That’s only just over half the country, and considering the critical nature of the issue at hand, a lot more investment from state lawmakers is required to move the needle.
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