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Are We Decarbonizing Yet?

US Energy Consumption Sankey Chart For 2022 From The Lawrence Livermore National Lab

The latest US energy consumption chart from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) is out.  That’s it above.  (Click here to download a high resolution version.)  As always, it’s full of interesting data.  You can learn a lot about how we use energy in different sectors, where the energy comes from, and how much ends up as unuseable.  But I think one of the best uses for these charts is to see how things change over time.  And with that in mind, I’m going to focus on this question:  Are we decarbonizing?

Solar & wind

Solar and wind production are still growing rapidly.  From next to nothing only 15 years ago, they’re now contributing 14 percent of the energy that goes into US electricity.  The chart below is from my book but updated with the 2022 data point.

Solar and wind contributions to US electricity generation 1978 to 2022. Are we decarbonizing? [data from Lawrence Livermore National Lab, LLNL]
Solar and wind contributions to US electricity generation 1978 to 2022 [data from Lawrence Livermore National Lab, LLNL]
Solar and wind are pretty much carbon-free, at least on the operational side.  There’s some upfront carbon (also called embodied carbon), of course, but generally, the more solar and wind generated electricity we use, the cleaner our electricity is.  (And the lower our rejected energy, but we’ll talk about that in a bit.)

Fossil fuels

The following two graphs are also from my book and updated with 2022 data.  First is the graph showing what percent of the fuels going into US electricity generation come from fossil fuels.  Those would be petroleum, coal, and gas.  See the LLNL chart above for the non-fossil fuels.

Fossil fuel contributions to US electricity generation 1978 to 2022 [data from Lawrence Livermore National Lab, LLNL]
Fossil fuel contributions to US electricity generation 1978 to 2022 [data from Lawrence Livermore National Lab, LLNL]
As you can see, the general trend has been downward for fossil fuels.  But from 2020 to 2022, it stagnated.  The fossil fuel contribution stayed at 57 percent.  But let’s see what happened with the individual fossil fuels on an absolute scale.  That’s in this next graph.

Petroleum, coal, & gas contributions to US electricity generation, 1978 to 2022 [data from Lawrence Livermore National Lab, LLNL]
Petroleum, coal, & gas contributions to US electricity generation, 1978 to 2022 [data from Lawrence Livermore National Lab, LLNL]
Petroleum is still down to almost nothing (0.24 quads* in 2022).  Coal and gas are both up a bit.  Gas has been trending up for a long time, but notice the change in coal.  From 2008 to 2019, it dropped by 50%.  It was down another 19 percent from 2019 to 2020.  And now it’s heading back up.  Hmmm.  Coal is one of the dirtiest fuels, so that can’t be good for decarbonization.

Rejected energy

Looking at the contribution of fossil fuels is the main way to answer the question about if we are decarbonizing.  But rejected energy is another.  The chart below shows how it has changed in the same years in those charts above.

The amount of rejected energy in US electricity generation, 1978-2022. Are we decarbonizing? [data from Lawrence Livermore National Lab, LLNL]
The amount of rejected energy in US electricity generation, 1978-2022 [data from Lawrence Livermore National Lab, LLNL]
Rejected energy is unavoidable when you’re burning fuels to make electricity.  There’s a theoretical limit on how much useful work you can extract from a given amount of energy, and it depends on the temperature difference.

You can read more about that in my article on rejected energy, but for now, let me just reiterate an important point I made there:  Efficiency isn’t the solution to rejected energy.  As long as we keep burning fuels, we’ll have to burn about three units of energy for each unit of electricity we get.

Are we decarbonizing?

So, what’s the answer to the question?  From 2020 to 2022, it would have to be no, we are not decarbonizing.  Yes, electricity is getting cleaner.  But fossil fuel contributions to electricity generation have gone up on an absolute scale (quads of fuels burned) during this period.  And that means the decline in their percent contributions has bottomed out.  We were at 57 percent in 2020, and we were at 57 percent in 2022.

We are increasing our carbon emissions according to these data.


Allison A. Bailes III, PhD is a speaker, writer, building science consultant, and the founder of Energy Vanguard in Decatur, Georgia.  He has a doctorate in physics and is the author of a bestselling book on building science.  He also writes the Energy Vanguard Blog.  For more updates, you can subscribe to Energy Vanguard’s weekly newsletter and follow him on LinkedIn.


Related Articles

What Happens to Your Used Electricity?

The Meaning of Rejected Energy

Preparing an Old House for Electrification, Part 1


* A quad equals a quadrillion BTUs.  A BTU is a British Thermal Unit, a very small unit of energy, about the same as you get from burning a match.


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This Post Has 56 Comments

    1. Mark: Sorry for the confusion created by not showing all the details. The percentage I calculated is from the solar and wind contributions to electricity generation. Since solar contributed 1.28 quads and wind 3.84 quads, they totaled 5.12 quads. The total going into electricity generation was 37.7 quads. Divide the first number by the second, and that gives 13.6 percent.

      The numbers in the chart are given in quads, not percent, with a quad being equal to 1 quadrillion BTU.

      1. Hmm, I am not sure where the 1.28Q solar came from. In 2022 it was 1.87Q from the LLL chart. In 2020 it was 1.25Q.
        1.87 + 3.84 = 5.71Q which would be 15%.
        I would also argue that 2020 was an extreme outlier year and that probably even 2022 is not a representative year with solar panel shortages. I think in 9m when LLL publishes the 2023 it will be interesting. EIA data is saying the U.S. is about 40% non-carbon electric generation for the year. Coal is ~16%. Solar+wind generation will be greater than coal in 2024.

  1. I remember a meeting with TVA, EPRI and assorted TVA distributors where they displayed a similar chart, maybe 2010. Coal was at least 2/3rd of the total source. Gas was less. Solar and wind were tiny and hydro maybe a 10th. So this looks much better than that. Gas was supposed to replace coal and bridge the development time needed for renewables to catch up. I Had asked during Q&A about distributed power and was told, “Not worth the effort.” We are behind their predictions in some ways but this chart shows a lot of positive improvements. Looks like progress to me but, we need to hurry up!!

    1. According to 3DFS in a blog post from 2015, ““Electrical System Energy Losses” were tracked until 2002, when they were merged into the “Rejected Energy” category which includes both waste and losses.” So switching and line losses should count as rejected energy.

  2. Thank you, Allison, for keeping us grounded. If I was an alien who just landed on earth and looked at the 2023 LLNL chart, I’d probably say, “ah, looks a like a civilization entrenched in fossil fuels.”

  3. Does the 14% number attributed to renewables represent their actual electrical output, or their installed nameplate capacity? Wind and solar are intermittent sources of power. Unlike thermal power plants fueled by gas and coal, the sun does not shine, and the wind does not blow 24/7. Far from it. And when they don’t, thermal plants are there to carry the load, AND ALWAYS WILL BE! Forget about grid scale battery storage of renewable power. It does not exist, nor will it, because of the costs involved.

    It’s time to wake up from our green delusions. $3.9 trillion dollars have been spent on renewables world wide in the last decade, yet total fossil fuel consumption only dropped from 83% to 82%. These investments in renewables happened in an era of zero interest rates. Those days are gone, and renewable projects are getting cancelled left and right because the cost to construct them have gone through the roof.

    1. The 14% is actual electrical output. You’re right that the impact of renewables has not yet been felt. The next decade will be very different from all previous ones in terms of the relative contribution of fossil fuel and renewable power to total energy consumption. Solar has just surpassed hydropower for United States electrical generation, and the number of solar installations in the planning stages is eye opening. The solar projects planned for Maine, for example, will double the amount of electricity produced in that state. It’s hard to imagine that all of the grid-scale battery storage technologies will fail. Hard to predict the winners, but not hard to predict that there will be some winners. We will need better ways to buffer all the solar power being added to the grid.

    2. Daniel, it’s possible that “thermal” power plants will carry the load. Nuclear plants are thermal. Concentrated solar plants are thermal. Some other technology that is still in research labs may end up being coupled with thermal. Thermal, so far, has provided a manageable buffer in the conversion of “unwieldy” forms of energy to electrical energy. “For ever”? I doubt it.

      “Renewable projects cancelled left and right”? Big Bertha type examples are often effective in showing the trends. Here is one:

    3. Important to remember that trillions are spent annually subsidizing fossil fuels. I read recently that approximately 2 trillion dollars in direct subsidies are provided annually to fossil fuel producers globally. The indirect global costs of pollution and health care are estimated to be upwards of 5 trillion annually with some estimates much higher.
      In addition to batteries, there are other firming electricity suppliers including hydro, pumped hydro, nuclear, and geothermal, all of which are expanding.

  4. I wonder why LLNL doesn’t complete the chart and show that the 33 quads that goes to “Energy Services” then ends up as “Rejected Energy”? In other words, all of the Energy Services energy ends up in the environment. This may not seem important, but it helps to point out that we can further reduce energy needs by improving the efficiency of our buildings, cars, industrial processes, etc.

    1. That is an interesting idea, but maybe needs to be more than just showing the universe tends toward entropy. Perhaps a line inside the Energy Services box could indicate what efficiency gains are possible. Although from personal experience I know how hard it is to model theoretical gains. For example, transportation. It’s possible for people to complete most trips by bicycle, which would drastically reduce the energy services required for transportation. It’s also possible to keep tires properly inflated, which would have a much smaller positive impact. But still, we don’t really need all the energy in that Energy Services box to provide all the useful services in our economy.

    2. Roy, I recall a seminar at GaTech some 7-8 years ago with a big wig from the energy sector (can’t remember the name), who presented data that showed our global electrical energy consumption flat lining in the near future, and then in fact declining.

      One would hope that in the year 2050 it will take a lot less source energy to move a 10,000-ton train a thousand miles, compared to the same cargo train in 1850.

      1. We have had electric passenger trains (trollies?) in cities for a long time. They get the power directly from power lines and do not need batteries. I wonder why we are not looking at doing this for freight trains. As a matter of fact, I believe that most train engines are diesel-electric which means that the electric motors are already there. We would just need to replace the diesel turbine and generator with a connection to an external power line like we do with the current urban electric trollies. This would eliminate the need for batteries which is the main cost and weight issue with any electric transportation vehicles.

        1. The main reason that freight rail in the United States is not electrified is that tracks are privately owned. If rail track were owned by the government, it would be easier to electrify. Technically, freight rail could be fully electrified. India and China, for example, are electrifying their heavy rail. High-speed passenger rail, such as Japan’s Shinkansen and France’s TGV, is fully electric, but the US doesn’t have any high-speed (300 km/h or higher) passenger train service (the best we have is medium speed Acela, 240 km/h).

          1. The government doesn’t seem to have any problem regulating other “privately owned” property. I still think that this would have more bang for the buck in terms of carbon reduction than electrifying cars and trucks with batteries and then adding all of the necessary charging infrastructure.

        2. Roy, source energy to move a 10,000-ton train a thousand miles matters, and I suspect locomotive designers are weighing all these factors and more: cost of installing electrical lines along rails, transmission losses over long distances, battery cost and weight, etc…

          I have no idea about locomotive design, but would imagine that removal of the diesel generator makes up, at least in part, for the added weight of a battery.

          1. My point here is that with direct electrification of trains, you don’t have batteries, or at least you only need just enough to get from one electrified track to another. The source energy is probably less since you don’t have the losses associated with charging and discharging batteries as well as the additional load due to the weight of the batteries. The electrical load would also be more continuous and result in less downtime for the train locomotives.

  5. That line going from electricity to transportation (0.02 quads) is almost impossible to see on this figure. Is it worth it? The 3000 car dealers who can’t sell their existing inventory of electric cars have signed a petition that says otherwise.

  6. Thanks for the article. I’ve been following these LLL charts for some time. To me they demonstrate the logical fallacy in using very high quality electricity as a fuel for low temperature, low quality applications like space and water heating – heat pumps operating at 2:1 not with standing. Even gas fired electricity generated and delivered with ~35-40%% efficiency and then fed to a heat pump operating at 2:1 – 3:1 will put far more heat and CO2 into the atmosphere than would a condensing gas boiler over the life of the equipment.
    Rejected energy IS a big deal and the production of electricity produces waste heat no matter how it’s done. Solar electric panels work at ~12% -20% efficient at best where thermal panels can make use of more of the solar spectrum and produce thermal energy at efficiencies of 70% or better. The waste heat is also what is responsible for the rather rapid loss of efficiency and the ultimate performance degradation of solar cells themselves.
    It has been said that we could heat entire cities of buildings with the energy we lose generating and distributing electricity. Where CO2 traps the heat, the lost heat from electricity generation, (and transportation) makes up a great of the thermal energy that actually heats the atmosphere.

    1. Dale, PV panel efficiency is climbing, now in the low 20’s%, albeit not fast enough.

      The amount of yearly heat energy produced by humans as rejected energy is minuscule compared to solar energy falling on earth daily.

      An increasingly distributed grid (i.e. containing more renewable nodes) comes with reduced distribution losses.

  7. The title of this article is “Are we decarbonizing yet?” I guess it depends on what your definition of who “we” is. In 2022, North America produced 960 Terrwatt-hours of electricity from coal. This is roughly half of what we produced a decade prior. Bravo! Unfortunately, Asia led by China, produced 8,120 Terrwatt-hours of power from coal. If fact, China consumes 8 times the amount of coal as the US, and is adding coal plant capacity equivalent to the total US output every year for the next 5 years. Oops, so much for going green! Sorry to be blunt, but if the Chinese and Indians are adding coal plants at such a clip, it really doesn’t matter what we in the West do.
    @Fred Horch- Fred, I went to college in the great state of Maine. As I recall, it was overcast and cold most of the year. Hardly an ideal climate for solar installations. Sure, solar might be somewhat viable in sunny climes such as Southern California, Arizona, Nevada. But Maine! The third coldest state in the nation. What a waste of money. If it wasn’t for the tax breaks, government subsidies, and hand outs associated with this “green rift”, these installations would never be built.

  8. Daniel, the keyboard or the device on which you typed your comment was most likely made in Asia. That’s all I’ll say about our common responsibility for this planet.

    Regarding Maine and weather patterns, personal perception can be deceiving. Let me give you an example with numbers. NREL’s PV output simulator, PVWATTS, tells me that my modest 4.72kW rooftop system (in Atlanta area) should be producing 6614 kWh per year, under ideal assumptions, such as tilt angle and azimuth of the array. To validate the simulation (based on hourly data from the typical meteorological year table for a given area), I compared it to my actual output, averaging 6450kWh/year for the past 5 years. I would say this confirms that PVWATTS results come with high certainty. (My rooftop system is also not perfectly aligned to 180deg azimuth, its tilt angle is not ideal, and it has slight shading issues in the late afternoon).

    Then I took the identical input (only modifying tilt angle) and ran a simulation for Bangor, ME: 6064kWh per year, about 10% penalty vs Atlanta. Looks like “cold” has not much to do with it, or does it? Actually, cold temperatures help PV panels.

    1. I just took a look at PVWATTS to see what assumptions it uses. There is no mention in the on-line documentation that it takes typical cloud cover into account. In fact, it assumes a solar irradiance of 1000 W/m2 which sounds about right on a clear day. If I were going to use this tool, I would first check to see if it does take local variations in average cloud cover into account.

      1. RoyC, PVWatts makes assumptions when calculating results, including uncertainties in weather. It uses 8,760 data points of hourly typical meteorological year (TMY) data. This data includes:
        – Direct normal irradiance (DNI)
        – Diffuse horizontal irradiance (DHI)
        – Ambient dry bulb temperature
        – Wind speed at 10m above the ground
        Those first two values are affected by cloud cover.
        PVWatts V8 uses weather data from the National Solar Radiation Database (NSRDB). The data is from 2020 TMY.
        By the way, Brunswick, Maine, where I live and where Bowdoin College has invested heavily in solar for its campus, is at the same latitude as the Riviera along the Mediterranean coast. No lack of sun at that latitude on the Earth’s surface.

      2. Roy, here:

        You’ll see references to TMY (typical meteorological year, which is hourly data, and includes much more than just cloud cover). TMY tables are location based. You’ll find at least several locations for each state.

        It does not assume any fixed values for the solar irradiance. Where did you find it? Please see this from PVWATTS help file:

        “PVWatts calculates the monthly and annual values from the hourly plane-of-array irradiance values, which it calculates from hourly diffuse horizontal irradiance (DHI) and direct normal irradiance (DNI) data in the weather file for the location, taking into consideration the position of the sun and the orientation of photovoltaic modules in the array.”

        Hence, you can download monthly or hourly results of your simulation.

        1. Thanks for educating me on this. I am familiar with TMY but didn’t realize it was used here. This tool is definitely worth looking in to.

  9. Paul,
    No doubt the solar panels on your roof were made in Asia also! By the way, did you know that solar panels are made from coal? Two parts pulverized quartz to one part coal heated in a blast furnace to purify the silicon. So even when you go green, your burning fossil fuels to get there! Those solar panels then only produce electricity for at most 20 years. After that they end up in a landfill, as they can’t be recycled. Trust me, Maine is cloudy most of the time. It’s also at a much higher latitude than Atlanta. In the winter the sun sets at about 4:40pm. You don’t produce much solar power in the dark. You state that “Actually cold temperatures help PV panels”. What happens to the output of your solar panels when they’re buried in snow a foot deep? In northern Maine, the first snowfall is usually in late Oct/early Nov.. Once the ground freezes solid, the snow can linger until May. I doubt they’re working at 100% capacity under those conditions, if at all! Of course, as I stated if you live in a sunny clime like Atlanta, then by all means go solar. Just don’t expect the same output to be achieved up North.
    It doesn’t matter if we in this country eliminate all of our fossil fuel usage. China, India, and other counties are going full tilt in the opposite direction. We all share a common atmosphere, and the wind blows that air all around the world. So clearly the global “We” are not decarbonizing.

    Daniel Anthony

    1. Daniel, I get it. Science has no place in our understanding of the world. Our beliefs follow what is convenient and easy to grasp. No, we’re not decarbonizing, and no, we’re not taking a global responsibility for it.

  10. Paul, thermal plants (gas and coal fired plus nuclear) are carrying the load. When a dark cloud obstructs a solar panel connected to the grid, it’s electrical output drops. A thermal plant is there to pick up the load shed by the solar panel, keeping the grid stable. Production and consumption of electricity must always be balanced by the grid operator. He increases and decreases the output of the coal and gas plants (nuclear plants are always base load, operating at 100% output) to match the constantly changing demand for electricity. That’s why I stated that the thermal plants will always be there. They have to be when it’s dark or calm.
    I’m glad you mentioned nuclear, although it won’t be our savior (although it could have been!). I worked as an operator for 14 years at the last nuclear plant built in the 1980’s, Seabrook Station in NH. It was commissioned in 1990 and is still running to this day. It took ten years to build, and drove the owner, PSNH, into bankruptcy. Mainly due to the endless law suits from the environmentalists and the NIMBY’s which delayed permitting, and the change orders from the design revisions after the Three Mile Island partial meltdown. But worst of all was the delay caused by a grandstanding politician named Mike Ducakass from Massachusetts. When construction was completed in 1985, eager to show off his “green” credentials, he refused to sign off on the plant’s evacuation plan, a necessary requirement for licensing.
    Since the plant was built, the bond holders who paid for the construction demanded to be paid, but unable to start producing power, the utility was forced to file bankruptcy. Once Ducakass ran for president in 1989 his replacement as governor finally signed off on the evacuation plan, and the plant received it’s operating license. Too late for PSNH, as it was required to sell the plant as part of it’s bankruptcy recovery.
    Another nuclear plant wasn’t built in this country for 30 years, when Vogtle Units 3 & 4 were completed last year. Why did it take 30 years to build another nuclear plant in America? Well, imagine that you’re an electric utility executive. You need to add additional generating plants to meet the growing electrical demand in your service area. You also want to keep your job ( the CEO of PSNH did not!) Do you A. Build a nuclear plant, knowing what PSNH went through, or B. build a natural gas fired plant, which takes 18 months? Tough decision, I know!
    How ironic that the same people who did everything they could to kill nuclear power in America by driving up the cost through frivolous lawsuits -the environmentalists, the greens, the NIMBY’s are now clamoring for the only zero carbon, dispatchable source of electricity- nuclear! The hypocrisy sickens me.

    1. Daniel, the amount of solar projects coming online exceeds the ability of thermal power plants to ensure grid stability. And as you know, the existing fleet of nuclear power plants in the United States are extremely poorly positioned to respond quickly to changes in generating capacity or demand. Our thermal nuclear power plants are lumbering dinosaurs that other facilities must work around because once you fire up a reactor and its steam plant, you want to run it at 100% capacity until the next scheduled shut down for refueling and inspections. What’s keeping the AC signal clean is peaking gas power plants and an increasing number of large-scale battery energy storage systems. So far in 2023, 4.5 GW of battery power with 13 GWh of battery storage has been added to public power grids in the United States. Those battery energy storage systems can be planned and added even faster than natural gas power plants, and do a much better job responding to the types of intermittent fluctuations in power output from solar and wind farms.

      1. Battery storage is no where near prime time. There’s insufficient capacity and their safety record is abysmal. There is zero room for battery fires. Zero.

        1. JC, your opinion that battery storage is “no where near prime time” is a minority view. The money guys believe it is ready, and so do the regulators. That’s why so many grid-scale battery projects are being built, not just in the United States, but around the world. As far as fires at large battery installations, there is room for them and they are happening. Among the lithium chemistries, LFP cells have a better track record than NMC. But there are also a couple iron flow chemistries that in theory should reduce fire risk significantly. You’re certainly welcome to your opinion, but I just wanted to share the actual facts for anyone following this thread.

          1. The amount of money being spent is a clear indicator that it’s not ready. Grid scale projects are being built because govt’s are throwing money at it under the premise that they “hope” it works out in the end. When free money is involved people will find a way to spend it. It’s pie in the sky thinking by policy pundits rather than people who actually work in the field of power generation. The only reason why batteries are getting play is because some think you can use them to reduce the size of the duck curve which is exacerbated by renewables like solar/wind.

            Battery storage must be as stable and reliable as thermal generation.

          2. Sorry, I can’t reply to JC since it is too deep.
            JC: “Battery storage must be as stable and reliable as thermal generation.”
            As stable and reliable as thermal is during a Texas winter storm event?

    2. Daniel, interesting story. The 1979 Three Mile Island and the 1986 Chernobyl disasters didn’t help (both happening during construction of Seabrook).

      This article distributes the emphasis on the different events during its construction a bit differently from your version of the story.

      If we are to talk about hypocrisy in the context of decarbonizing, isn’t it the US that cumulatively contributed the bulk of CO2 emissions over time? China (a distant 2nd) may catch up before they themselves start decarbonizing enough to reverse the trend, but until then we’re holding the baton.

  11. Can’t decarbonize when demand continues to outpace supply.

    Take BEV’s as an example. The current fleet of BEV’s is out of reach for the majority of Americans, but they’re not allowed to buy cheaper EV’s because they’re made in China and subject to a 25% import tariff.

  12. Fred, I misspoke when I said there is no grid scale battery storage. I should have said there is no “meaningful” grid scale battery storage of renewable energy. Wow, 13 GWh’s in the entire country, I’m impressed! As I stated, in 2022 we got 960 TWh’s from coal alone. If renewables are to displace the CO2 from both coal and gas, you’ve got a loooong way to go. Will the financing be there? Orsted just cancelled the big NJ wind farm project. The UK just held a lease auction for offshore wind sites-and didn’t receive a single bid! Why? Because as I stated, interest rates went from zero to 7%, making the cost of capital prohibitive. How many other renewable projects will get cancelled for the same reason?
    As for nuclear plants not being load following, that’s the whole point! They’re base load plants. They run at 100% power output for 18 months straight, 24/7. Then they’re offline for 50 days for refueling and maintenance. When I was at Seabrook, we produced power for 2.5c/KWh. The gas and coal plants were the swing producers, following the daily load demand fluctuations, at 3-4c/KWh. Utilities make their cheapest source the base load plant to maximize profits.
    BTY- China isn’t just adding coal plants, they’re adding nuclear plants as well. So is Sweden, India, the UAE and other countries. Just don’t count on it saving us in America. As Winston Churchill said, “Americans always do the right thing- after they’ve exhausted all other possibilities.”

    1. Daniel, sounds like we can agree to disagree about how the grid today works. You wrote that “thermal plants (gas and coal fired plus nuclear) are carrying the load. When a dark cloud obstructs a solar panel connected to the grid, it’s electrical output drops. A thermal plant is there to pick up the load shed by the solar panel, keeping the grid stable.”

      That was the thinking twenty years ago, but the modern grid is actually building so much solar so quickly that we need batteries, which can respond more precisely. By joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance a few days ago, the United States government just acknowledged what industry insiders have been planning for years, which is that we will be shutting down all our coal power plants. Since 2019, coal has provided less than 25% of the electricity we generate in the United States. Solar is just starting to be a significant player, having surpassed the amount of electricity from hydropower for 2023 to date. Going forward, the grid will need more battery storage to deal with the very rapid swings in power output that happen with wind and solar. It’s really just a question of how quickly we can build solar. New thermal power plants (and new wind, too, for that matter) can’t compete with new solar, no matter what happens with interest rates.

      I think we might also disagree about nuclear power. Unless we give up our weapons program, we’ll probably never shut down all of our nuclear power plants; we’ll continue to subsidize them even though they never made economic sense. Before I went to law school in the 1990s I thought nuclear power was necessary to make the transition away from fossil fuel, but I got a real education working for Pacific Gas & Electric as a summer legal clerk. It was fun to tour a nuclear power plant and talk to the engineers running it. Nuclear plants were amazing feats of engineering. But really not a great use of resources, especially fresh water. I expect we’ve seen the last thermal fission nuclear power plant built in the United States. Perhaps fusion will work out — Sam Altman seems to think so.

    2. In 2022 coal produced 831.5TWh of electricity according to the EIA, not 960TWh. In 2019 coal produced 961TWh, but that was a few years ago. In 2023 coal generation will be right around 700TWh.
      The first coal electric generation was installed in the U.S. in 1882. The first utility scale battery was installed 3-4 years ago. Of course, batteries aren’t at the same scale as coal.
      ERCOT is the largest grid in the U.S. They have 7GW of batteries currently and another 17.5GW of battery projects that have an interconnect agreement.
      Coal capacity is dropping so fast and batteries are rising so fast that battery capacity will far outstrip coal capacity by 2030.

  13. Paul, I wanted to keep my response brief, so I didn’t go into the depth that Wikipedia does. Trust me, I could go into a lot of details that they didn’t mention. When Three Mile Island happened, the NRC halted all construction of nuclear plants to do a safety review. They then required the under construction plants to add additional emergency core cooling pumps. Well, there’s nothing a general contractor loves more than a change order. It drives the cost (and their profits) up. None of that mattered in the long run though. Had the plant been able to start in 1985 when construction was complete, the bond holders would have been paid. When you can’t sell power, you can’t generate revenue to pay your debts. Politics got in the way. The sad reality is that today’s nuclear designs have a much greater margin of safety than the plants built in the 80’s- they just won’t be built in this country.
    As to the hypocrisy of the West on carbon emissions, I completely agree. Last month, the EU threatened sanctions against South Africa if they developed their abundant coal resources. Yet Germany last year tore down a wind farm to get at the lignite coal underneath because they were desperate for power after we destroyed the Nordstream gas pipeline. “We in the West burned fossil fuels to get our high standard of living, but you in the developing world can’t!” Hypocritical indeed!

  14. Fred, I wouldn’t place my hopes on fusion energy. My brother’s father in law, a brilliant man, was a grad student at Princeton under Albert Einstein. He then when on to get his doctorate from Princeton and worked there running the fusion lab for the rest of his career. He had a running joke that he loved to tell, “Fusion energy is the power of the future, and always will be!” Sorry, but I’ve been hearing that “fusion is about to be a reality” for the past 60 years, and it hasn’t happened yet. So I wouldn’t hold my breath. Not that that wouldn’t be a great thing- nothing would make me happier if it were to come about. Hope, however, is not a strategy.
    I do agree with you that you probably won’t see another fission plant built in this country. Thanks to fracking, natural gas is cheap and plentiful. No utility executive is going to take on the risk of building a fission plant (in this country anyway). Sweden just decided to build 10 new reactors. Wind didn’t live up to the hype, and solar doesn’t work so great when you live closer to the Arctic Circle. By the way, I have no great love for nuclear power. As an engineer, I can operate any thermal plant- gas, coal, or nuclear. Nuclear just paid the best!
    As to battery storage of solar and wind, I have to wonder where the Lithium will come from for all these batteries? Maine has a very large deposit, but the people there recent voted against mining it because it’s too close to the Sunday River ski resort (wouldn’t want to spoil the view for the rich yuppies from Boston skiing there). Nevada also has a large deposit, but environmentalists sued under the Endangered Species Act to prevent mining there because, get this, there is an endangered species of buckwheat that only grows where the deposit is located! NIMBY’s and environmentalists-they helped kill nuclear power, and now they’re coming for your batteries. How delicious!

    1. Interesting discussion here on the future of nuclear energy. Here is what happened at COP28 yesterday:
      “John Kerry, US special presidential envoy for climate, has introduced at the COP28 climate conference a 35-country engagement plan to bolster fusion that focuses on research and development, supply chain issues, safety and regulation. Fusion could produce unlimited energy without long-lasting radioactive waste, but building a fleet of power plants to replace part of the energy system comes with regulatory, siting and construction challenges.”

      1. Siting is a huge issue as NIMBY runs strong within communities. I mean as it stands now the US has around 100 reactors which produce around 20 percent of total power generation. Using these figures alone imagine how many more reactors the US would have to build to reach 80 percent. Where in the US would you site these additional reactors? How much would it cost? I mean the two new units at Vogtle were $17B over budget and 7 yrs behind schedule. Sure a lack of construction expertise was part of that, but the legal hurdles of doubling or tripling the current fleet would be astronomical.

  15. JC-I have no doubt you are correct. But what the lawsuit will do is add legal costs and delays to the project. That’s the objective of the environmental lobby. Use the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act to stall and hamper any development. Quite successfully I might add. Since the 1970’s when these well intentioned laws were enacted, dozens of projects have been cancelled as a result. They don’t want any progress, and they won’t be happy until you are living in a cave.

    RoyC- John Kerry, the pompous hypocrite who flies around the world in a private jet, yet tells us peons that we have to walk to keep our carbon footprint low. He is now telling you that he has plan for fusion energy! Wonderful! I didn’t know scientific breakthroughs follow the announcement of some cheap politicians’ plans. You’ll forgive my sarcasm, but I’m old. I’ve heard this bullshit my whole life. Trust me, nothing would make me happier than if fusion was to become a reality. It would be a true advancement for mankind. After 60 years of effort, finally last year at one lab, they were able to produce more power than it consumed for a very brief time. You have to heat the deuterium plasm up to something like 5 million degrees F (crazy, I know) to get the reaction to work. Then you have to control it. Another big challenge. It’s one thing to have a lab experiment prove proof of concept, quite another to scale it up to obtain grid scale power. I wouldn’t place any bets on it happening anytime soon. It is nice to dream though!

    1. Daniel, COP28 is not just after fusion, they are also pushing conventional nuclear:

      “DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — During the World Climate Action Summit of the 28th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change today, more than 20 countries from four continents launched the Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy. The Declaration recognizes the key role of nuclear energy in achieving global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and keeping the 1.5-degree goal within reach. Core elements of the declaration include working together to advance a goal of tripling nuclear energy capacity globally by 2050 and inviting shareholders of international financial institutions to encourage the inclusion of nuclear energy in energy lending policies. Endorsing countries include the United States, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Ghana, Hungary, Japan, Republic of Korea, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, and United Kingdom. ”

      I am getting the feeling that they will push for the U.S. to fund nuclear projects in the third-world countries.

      1. I know the U.S. has already given Poland (I think it was Poland) several million $$ to study the feasibility of a nuclear reactor. What a waste. They could have given them a wind farm instead.

        1. John, it’s $2million for Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Poland combined, to study feasibility of coal-to-SMR conversions (Small Modular Reactor). Given how coal plants are embedded in that region’s grid, this looks like it might make sense.

          Poland doesn’t need to be “given” wind farms. There are at least 35 wind farms there, with over 6GW capacity, and new capacity, including off-shore coming online continually. Yes, wind potential is there:

          One site, erected in 2012, used to be the tallest wind turbines in the world (now surpassed by a site in Denmark). There are several wind turbine manufacturers in Poland, and two wind two turbine tower manufacturers slated to start production in 2024.

          Opinions are fine, incomplete and manipulated data is not.

  16. A significant percentage of the lost electricity generated is lost in transmission. So if we can integrate more solar into our communities (which should be easier than building nuclear or natural gas plants in our neighborhoods) that could cut down on some of those losses, right?

    1. An estimate I’ve seen is 2% loss in transmission (voltages 230 kV and above) and 4% in distribution (voltages from 7.2 to 34.5 kV). You’re right; it is far easier to build solar generation in neighborhoods than any type of thermal power plant (nuclear, natural gas, coal, biomass, etc.), but what’s happening is that big solar farms are being built where there is transmission or distribution capacity. We’ll see if solar ends up being more centralized in these big farms or distributed as it was envisioned by most planners before solar became the cheapest energy option. What would really make a difference for efficiency (avoiding losses between generation and consumption) is standardizing on 48V DC for lighting and motors. Then we could go solar to battery to device without having to invert the signal to AC. I believe there are a few car manufacturers who are building vehicles with a 48V DC low-voltage bus and an 800V DC high-voltage bus. No reason those two voltages couldn’t be used for residential and small commercial properties. If that happens, then distributed solar might be able to take on solar farms that have to play nice with the AC power grid. For most solar arrays, you’ve got losses of about 3% inverting the DC module output to AC, and then you’ve got additional losses rectifying the AC to DC to run LEDs, computers, and electronically commutated motors. I believe you’d be in the 10% or greater range of savings comparing a remote solar PV module that sends power over the grid versus a local solar PV module that can power DC loads.

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