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Shortage of Electricity

September 29, 2010

There will be a shortage of electricity if a price is put on carbon or if cap and trade legislation is passed, and this will hurt homeowners and result in lost jobs.

This outcome is certain unless we build over 300 new nuclear power plants or IGCC power plants. It’s more likely we will build only around 20 nuclear plants and possibly the same number of IGCC plants. There is too much opposition to nuclear and the cost of IGCC plants is too exorbitant to assume that large numbers of either will be built.

Here is why there will be a large shortage of electricity.

Today we emit around 1,049 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 from the generation of electricity. Approximately 83%, or 1,894 MMT, are from coal-fired power plants.

All proposed legislation requires that we cut our emissions 80% below 2004 levels and emit no more than 361 MMT of CO2 from generating electricity in 2050.

For comparison, we emit 296 MMT from existing natural gas power plants, or nearly the total of CO2 emissions allowed in 2050. Because of this, we won’t be able to build very many new natural gas power plants.

A 1% growth rate in demand for electricity will require 609,258 MW of additional generating capacity by 2050. A one percent growth rate is about the same as the population growth rate. The Energy Information Administration estimates a 1% growth rate at least through 2030. Conservation won’t affect this growth by any significant amount.

Now let’s examine how much generating capacity we will lose from retrofitting coal-fired power plants to capture CO2. If we retrofit all existing coal-fired power plants with carbon capture technology, it will reduce their output by 30%, which is approximately 211,500 MW of capacity.

Next let’s examine the maximum amount of wind and solar that can be built. All experts agree that total electricity production from intermittent sources, such as wind and solar, cannot exceed 20% of total generation. Based on this reality, 331,775 MW of wind and solar will have to be built.

This will require building 663,549 new wind turbines, based on a capacity factor of 30% and units rated 1.5 MW, which is the average size being built today.

This forecast for new wind turbines seems very unrealistic since we have only been building around 2,000 wind turbines per year. It’s doubtful we can build 663,549 new wind turbines by 2050. This would increase the shortfall in electricity production.

Growth in demand requires 609,260 MW of new generating capacity while we can only build 331,775 MW of new wind and solar capacity, which means there will be a shortfall of 277,485 MW.

Adding this shortfall to the loss in generating capacity from retrofitting all existing coal-fired power plants, results in a total shortfall of approximately 489,000 MW. Since a few new nuclear power plants may be built we can say the total shortfall will be approximately 465,000 MW.

A shortfall of 465,000 MW will result in an electricity shortage of 28% for the country.

A shortfall of this magnitude will be an economic disaster.

A graph at www.carbonfolly.com makes it easier to understand why there will be a shortage.

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