Everyone knows that more electricity is needed in developed nations and electrical needs in developing nations are skyrocketing. No problem there — everyone deserves to live a good lifestyle and enjoy our modern technology to the fullest.
The problem occurs in the means used to generate that electricity. Some kinds of electrical power generation cause huge billowing clouds of pollution 24-hours per day every day of the year.
All of this adds up to astronomically high costs for electrical power producers and users, which can be measured in several different ways.
For instance, new conventional nuclear power plants can cost up to $20 billion dollars each. Added to that cost, is the cost incurred to store thousands of tons of (so-called) spent nuclear fuel. Some spent fuels must be stored in air-conditioned bunkers for up to 20,000 years, with never more than 36 hours of A/C interruption. The costs of that are so high they can’t even be calculated.
New coal plants cost about $250 million dollars/per hundred megawatts. A hundred megawatts isn’t much, by the way – enough to power 16,000 power-hungry A/C homes in the US or about 29,000 homes in China. Some coal-fired power plants cost upwards of $1 billion dollars. The cost of the coal must be added to the equation from day one – the price of which rises and falls typically between $80 and $160 per ton, plus the significant transportation costs to deliver the coal to the coal-fired burner.
It may interest you to know that China burned 3 billion tons of coal last year, emitting 7.2 billion tons of CO2 and other toxic gasses. Approximately 410,000 Chinese people die every year as a result of pollution-related deaths.
Natural gas power plants are clean, they cost a little more than comparable coal plants and the only real drawback is they emit huge volumes of CO2. Unlike coal, they emit little in the way of other toxic gasses or soot. Again, a costly and continuous and supply of natural gas must be available every day of the year.
No matter which choice is made, the construction of electrical generation power plants incurs high costs to nations — and the cheapest options come with the highest fuel and health-care costs. To illustrate, I will use the United States for this discussion as there is high-quality information available on these topics.
In the United States, nuclear power receives significant subsidies on the order of $3.50 billion per year on average and oil and gas receive $4.86 billion subsidy dollars per year on average.
We can see from the chart above that in the United States most forms of electrical power generation are heavily subsidized. Who could afford electricity otherwise?
If solar, wind and geothermal energy were subsidized at the same per kilowatt rate as oil and gas, coal, or nuclear — total US emission levels would drop dramatically and Americans would breathe much cleaner air.
National health-care costs would drop, acid rain damage would decrease to near zero, crop damage from power plants would become a thing of the past and meeting international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol would become boringly simple.
To enjoy breathing clean air along with the other benefits listed above, governments should calculate the highest subsidy they pay per kilowatt hour and then begin paying ALL electricity providers that same per kilowatt hour subsidy.
Solar power, wind power and geothermal would then become ultra-competitive with coal, N-power and oil and gas. Every large rooftop area, such as big box retail outlets like IKEA stores for one good example of a company already doing this, could assist national power production and air-quality goals by lowering demand on the grid and add power to it.
One nation has already begun such a program and is right on schedule. Denmark has decided that all energy, including transportation energy will come from renewable sources by 2050 and they have made substantial progress in only a few short years.
Even with the patchwork and grossly unlevel subsidy regimes in place in the United States, this transition is already occurring. Organizations from the US Navy, to IKEA and WalMart, some cities and towns, the big three auto manufacturers and many more businesses and organizations, are converting their unused rooftop spaces and vacant land into clean power stations — thereby tapering the need for behemoth, pollution-spewing power plants.
If governments standardized the subsidies they already pay for oil and gas, coal and nuclear power (instead of paying billions of dollars to some power providers — whilst paying pennies to others) we would all breathe a lot easier.
We need oil and gas, coal and nuclear power to feed our grids — what I’m advocating for is directly comparable subsidies for all electricity providers, including green energy, and there are no real reasons why such subsidy levelization couldn’t soon happen in every country.