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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Energy Sec. Predicts 30-40 Pct. Renewable Energy By 2030

A man rids his bike against the win as giant wind turbines are powered by strong winds at sunset on March 27, 2013 in Palm Springs, California. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says he expects renewables to make up 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. energy mix by 2030. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Ernest Moniz is pictured in Washington, D.C., April 2013, at a hearing on his nomination. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Ernest Moniz is pictured in April 2013. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Four new nuclear reactors are under construction in the U.S., the first plants to be built in 30 years. Yet U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz says when it comes to nuclear power in the U.S., “the long term trajectory remains quite uncertain.”

Moniz speaks to Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson on a wide range of energy issues and says he expects wind, solar and other renewables to make up 30 to 40 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2030.

Interview Highlights: Ernest Moniz

On the importance of nuclear power to the U.S. energy future

“Nuclear power, clearly, is one of the important so-called zero-carbon options. It does not emit carbon dioxide, obviously, as does fossil fuel combustion. So our view remains that A, we need to go to a low-carbon energy system over these next 10, 20 years. The solutions for a low-carbon system will look different in different places. Some countries, including industrial countries, will not have nuclear. Others will continue to grow it because it is one of the low carbon options, and different societies have different public attitudes but they also have frankly just very, very different core energy resources. So it will be multiple solutions in multiple places and nuclear power, I expect, will be part of that mix.”

On whether thorium should be used as a nuclear power source

“Thorium is certainly an alternative. I personally don’t see a strong motivation for the United States to move to thorium at the moment. We certainly are not constrained by a lack of uranium, first of all. Second of all, if we go to thorium we would have to go to what’s called a recycling approach because thorium itself does not produce energy. You have to make uranium 233 out of it. So personally, I believe that right now the issue is to see how these new plants perform, in particular in terms of their cost performance. And we have plenty of uranium to continue with our current cycle.”

On whether the fracking industry got ahead of the regulations

“I think we should not underestimate the strength of the regulations in many states. Clearly it’s been largely state-based. As the number of wells drilled increases dramatically, clearly the regulatory regime is evolving with it. But I don’t think we should overestimate that feature that you referred to. It is true that the production has expanded very very rapidly and it’s had a number of issues. For example, the energy infrastructure has not really been able to quite catch up — that’s developing. It’s largely in the hands of the private sector. But we have to also recognize in this discussion the enormous economic impact that this has had, first of all, not only in terms of having much more modest natural gas prices than we had years ago, for implications for consumers, for industry – it’s driven new manufacturing. And secondly we should also remember that the natural gas revolution, if you like, principally through its substitution for coal in electricity, has accounted for a significant part of our reduced carbon dioxide emissions. So we’ve had environmental benefits, we’ve had economic benefits. We have to, at the same time, continue to work to keep reducing the environmental footprint of production.”

On when solar and wind will represent a significant part of energy production

“The growth has been very dramatic, really. In the last four or five years, we have seen a doubling of wind and solar. We expect another doubling over the next several years. Last year we had 2,300 megawatts of large-scale solar alone put in place. What we are seeing with wind — in particular on-shore wind — and solar, is that costs have come down pretty dramatically, and with that cost reduction is coming rapidly-increased deployment. Now obviously, in both cases, we’re talking with relatively small market share today — a few percent for wind and still less than 1 percent, I believe, for solar. But the rate of growth is very dramatic. I mean, we are looking by 2030 to having a very very large fraction of our capacity in wind, solar and other renewables… 30 percent, 40 percent.”

On the issue of nuclear waste disposal

“With regard to nuclear waste, this clearly remains a major challenge. The administration and I personally continue to think Yucca Mountain is not a usable solution, but rather a consent-based process, as was recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, is the right approach. And that report and the administration’s recommendations are that we start to pursue in parallel, not only geological repositories for very very long-term storage, but also consolidated storage where where we can start moving fuel away from nuclear reactors, presumably under federal control, so that we can have substantial — maybe 50 to 100 years scale — storage prior to implacement in a repository.”


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  • Peter Melzer

    Dear Sir/Madame:

    In respect to the commercial use of nuclear power, perhaps Secretary Moniz would be so kind to elaborate on how the current fleet of reactors is supposed to be decommissioned, what time is allotted for decommissioning, and where the highly radioactive reactor components will be stored.

    Perhaps he could furthermore explain to us where the 50,000 tons of highly radioactive waste, that is the spent fuel, currently stored at the nuclear power stations is going to be transported, reprocessed and end-stored. Will the Yucca Mountain storage site become available of spent nuclear fuel?

    What will happen to the Carlsbad WIPP storage facility for transuranic waste that just had to close down because of a radiological incident involving worker contamination and a release of radioactive material to the environment?

    Why should the American tax and rate payers invest into building new commercial reactors at the cost of roughly 10 billion dollars each, while a national strategy for the safe disposal of all highly radioactive reactor waste seems elusive?

    Lastly, the secretary might be able to inform us how precisely the decommissioning of retired reactors and the disposal of spent fuel are going to be paid for.

    Thank you.

  • John from Rhode Island

    Why are fracking companies allowed to pump undisclosed carginogenic chemicals into the groundwater?

    • dialyn

      See Jasoturner’s reply to BMiller600. Profits. I will add, corporate control of politicians. Thank you, Supreme Court.

  • BMiller600

    Since global warming is increased by carbon emissions from any country, please ask the Secretary why we are exporting coal to be burned in other countries, while saying we are lowering our carbon emissions.

    • Jasoturner

      Profits, the sine qua non of most decisions in America.

  • blueshift

    I am astounded that no discussion with energy experts includes a conversation about the ‘Jevons paradox,’ a phenomenon in which efficiencies in energy resources actually INCREASE energy use. First formlated in the 1800′s, this effect has held true throughout the industrial era. In recent history, Energystar ratings resulted in larger refrigerators, and higher mileage internal combustion engines resulted in (much) larger vehicles. There are many online references; my favorite is on the New Yorker website.

  • Steven Terranova Alario

    Whenever there is a discussion regarding renewable energy everybody seems to forego the topic of a net carbon footprint.

    What I’m talking about is weighing the environmental cost of producing new energy. So the amount of emissions produced by the hundreds of thousands of tons of steel reinforced concrete that will need to be manufactured to build just one plant, plus the emissions from transporting those raw materials (via truck, railway, cargo ship, etc.), the amount of emissions released from mining the materials from whatever country they come from, such a large undertaking will require a huge labor force of men an women who will most likely be communing to the job site, and many other factors.

    The concept is similar to a solar panel. The amount of emissions released from producing a single solar panel: the silicon mining, transporting, & refining process, the huge amount of energy a steel plant uses to melt down the necessary metals to make the base and frame, producing the unique chemical bonds needed to ensure photo voltaic success, then there’s the packaging process and all of the shipping and manufacturing to along with that, etc., etc.

    Basically what it comes down to is that the the solar panel’s functional life cycle is about 3-7 years at best. The amount of emissions released from producing it will NEVER equal the amount of energy it “saves”, making it actually more harmful to the environment than just dumping out toxic sludge in your backyard.

    I’m not saying I don’t agree with renewable energy I’m all for it but it’s quite asinine to just assume it’ll help the environment because the ‘direct’ emissions from producing the energy are less than the current numbers from coal, gas, oil, etc. The ‘indirect’ emissions are staggering when discussing an implementation of several new energy plants. We should first focus on optimizing the current energy infrastructure. Put the R&D into more efficient burning methods, how to better and more widely use recycled methane and oxygen from the combustion process. There are endless improvements we could make before just putting a bunch of new plants to satisfy the voice of the public opinion who doesn’t fully understand what the consequences are.

  • Annie7

    No, we should not be building more nuclear reactors. As we have seen from Fukishima, the danger of nuclear energy is not worth it.
    We don’t know enough about the impact of hydraulic fracturing on air quality, water supply, potential aquifer contamination. We need more information about the impact of natural gas drilling before these wells are built in our communities. In twenty years we may likely regret how quickly the natural gas boom has spread if major aquifers are contaminated and people near natural gas wells have severe health issues.

    Every penny that is put into nuclear or natural gas or oil infrastructure is a penny that is not put into renewable energy. Renewable energy is the only long-term, safe solution that we have, in addition to greater energy conservation. We should be putting all of our energy and resources into building a stronger renewable energy infrastructure.
    Thank you.

    • Arkuy The Great

      If the Fukushima disaster is reason to abandon nuclear power then the Sendai earthquake and tsunami are reason to evacuate the entire country of Japan.

  • Ty Cramer

    Wow. Softball questions about cracking and not a peep about nclear waste.anyone paying attention to WIPP in New Mexico?

  • Ty Cramer


  • Crocks

    The leak at WIPP is a clear indication that nuclear waste storage is a huge problem. Low-level waste is stored there, yes, thank goodness; if it was high-level waste we would have a much bigger problem right now.
    To downplay the issue of the radioactive waste produced by nuclear power cannot be underplayed. It is a massive problem. To brush it aside and not look at it as a major issue in the use of nuclear power is short-sighted and ignorant. To increase our reliance on nuclear power now is to leave future generations with a toxic earth for thousands of years. With all the risk, danger and complication of nuclear waste storage, I am shocked it is still considered a viable option for energy. It’s a disgrace.

  • Paul

    Secretary Moniz missed an opportunity when he was asked about Thorium. The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor is a proven method for generating nuclear energy safely and with an extremely small waste problem. The method was developed and tested at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s. There is a renewed interest in the method today, but the federal government is not funding it adequately at present. It would solve our energy problem.

  • Jechtech

    When will we clean up Hanford???? NO MORE NUCLEAR UNTIL WE’VE FIXED THE PROBLEMS WE HAVE. It is unfair to future humans on Earth to use nuclear with no idea of how to rid ourselves of the radioactive waste. It is not sustainable. We move from creating one catastrophe to the next, leaving behind unsolved, uncleaned up problems. NO NUKES of any type. Let’s work on developing energy that works with the Earth’s magnetic core. Free energy for all!!! Stop the monopoly on energy.

  • Duane Ediger

    Secretary Moniz failed to mention the exemptions from Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, as well as other signature environmental legislation, that were granted to unconventional hydrocarbon exploitation (a.k.a. fracking for gas and oil). The “revolution” could not have occurred without that coups d’etat under the Cheney (er, Bush) administration.

  • Duane Ediger

    In extolling the climate friendliness of gas relative to coal, the Secretary ignored recent findings that (unburned) methane emissions from current fracking and transmission practices make natural gas a WORSE greenhouse gas energy source even than coal, especially in the period of the next three decades, which are crucial to maintaining some ability to stem greenhouse gas-aggravating feedback loops. I wish his rosy outlook for renewables were matched by his policy emphases.

    • Arkuy The Great

      The same studies reported that despite those leaks natgas represented a far lower GHG burden per KWH than coal. Yes, there are improvements to be made but your framing of the information presents a very inaccurate picture.

      • Duane Ediger

        You are probably referring to the 90% fossil fuel-funded EDF/UTA study, involving a statistically inadequate 27 fracking flowback operations on cherry-picked wells that used methane capture technology, which is not standard in the field. If any more than 2% of methane leaks in production and distribution, then natural gas contributes even more to climate change than coal does. Studies by NOAA and other unbiased parties are narrowing the figure to somewhere in the range of 2-7.9% fugitive methane.

  • Concerned Citien

    typical dodging and diverting of questions from a government agency figure head. that was a terrible interview. do you even care about substance or actually getting a real answer to your questions or are you just falling in line with the rest of the laughable “journalists” by basically allowing the secretary to read from a script? you might want to try follow up questions and better yet asking for specifics.

    • Duane Ediger

      This story sponsored by America’s Natural Gas.

  • it_disqus

    Your agenda is showing when you headline this piece to be about “Renewable Energy”. The subject only came up when he was prodded and poked. It is comforting to know that NPR programs like H&N are so enlightened that they feel they should direct our energy programs and not just report.

    • http://diegueno.tumblr.com/ diegueno

      Really? I was listening to this while driving and missed Moniztalking about / being prodded to discuss renewable energy.

      I’m sure that the discussion about natural gas exploration and nuclear energy that I heard would have gratified you.

      • it_disqus

        My comment was about the headline posted here. I agree that the story was not about renewable sources.

  • harrumph

    Secretary Moniz skirted the issue of fracking regulation. The elephant in the room is the fact that fracking does not need to abide by the clean water act. It doesn’t matter how much carbon dioxide is averted from transferring from coal to natural gas or how many jobs are created if we pollute our ground water in the process. This is simply wrong and the industry is completely unregulated by one of our strongest pieces of environmental protection legislation. “Best practices” will not help us, the private natural gas industry does not seem to care about water protection. Fracking must immediately be made to follow the clean water act.

    • Duane Ediger

      Amen. Exemption let’s them pollute land, air and water and living beings with impunity. They also redefined radioactive waste as material of a given level of radioactivity coming from some process other than fracking. They’re dumping it on roads, in streams. Where is the shame?

  • X-Ray

    The Energy Secretary needs to check his sums. What does solar put out during the night or when it is overcast or cloudy? What is wind power’s output when there is no wind, calm or below the threshold? The rated output for these sources are at full sunlight or wind. The realized outputs are much less. Further, they are not suitable for baseload generation and their costs are significantly more than current sources, even when other factors are taken into account.

  • Riffcon

    So sad to hear that energy has been so politicized. Or maybe that it still is so political. CO2 is driving the energy debate when it becomes ever clearer from actual climate that global temperatures are at best only lightly connected to CO2 level. Efforts to develop new technology are overly focused on unreliable and unstable solar and wind. We are pushing the auto industry to spend billions on fuel efficiency goals that are uneconomic and unnecessary. We pass on the opportunity to invest in thorium based reactors that could solve both waste disposal and safety issues with possibly very good economics. We allow uninformed envirofanatics to attack safe fracking practices. When will we ever take a realistic and balanced approach to energy? Maybe next administration.

  • McOregon

    What I would like to know is how they are planning on
    enriching the uranium needed for the reactors. In the past they have used gaseous
    diffusion; a wasteful and dirty process at best. Large scale centrifuges don’t
    work and research into isotope separation, the best option, was scrapped in the nineties.
    It looks they are planning to
    build a mess.

    And then there is the whole question of where they are going to site both the reactors and the enrichment plants to ensure there isn’t another Fukushima. Oh, and the secretary seemed to think there would be sites volunteering to store the waste; find those places first, build they facilities and then start the conversation about building new plants. There isn’t anyplace to store the mess we already have. Lastly, storing nuclear waste is not a 50 to 100 year issue… Civilization has been around about 10,000 years, you need to be planning on storing the waste for a little more than twice than.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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