At the same time, we must address our energy challenges without turning to nuclear power and adding to our state’s already heavy nuclear burden. For decades, Utah has borne the brunt of a nuclear industry that has extracted uranium from our soils only to return it in the form of nuclear waste and the radioactive fallout from nuclear testing.
Now with the threat of nuclear power development in our state and nation, an expanding nuclear waste company with global ambitions, and a state energy policy in need of leadership, HEAL began the eUtah Renewable Energy Project to point us in a better direction.
Many people believe that renewable energy– resources such as solar power, wind energy, and geothermal– deserve a bigger piece of our state’s energy pie. The question is: Just how much energy can they realistically contribute? What happens when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing?
The eUtah Project sets out to methodically answer these questions by assessing the technical and economic feasibility of generating all of Utah’s electricity through renewable energy sources. Read more here.
HEAL Utah is working with Dr. Arjun Makhijani from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) in Washington, D.C., who is the lead researcher on the project. The eUtah Study is modeled after Dr. Makhijani’s landmark 2007 study, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, which lays out a 50-year plan for transitioning our country away from both nuclear and fossil fuels without impacting our standard of living.
We believe there is a better way to develop our energy and economic resources than relying on nuclear and coal-based fuels, and sound science and concrete policy recommendations should be established to point the way forward.
Purpose and Approach
Instead of handicapping our efforts to address Utah’s energy problems by throwing more taxpayer dollars at the most heavily subsidized source of electricity in U.S. history– the nuclear industry– we believe the full potential of renewables must be thoroughly assessed.
Our purpose through the eUtah Project is to promote increased understanding of the different ways we can produce renewable energy practically and economically. We are working with scientists, policy makers, regulators, and key energy stakeholders in this effort. (See below for links.)
The eUtah Project will produce a roadmap showing how we can couple efficiency measures with new ways of integrating intermittent and baseload renewable resources to reliably meet Utah’s electricity demands in the coming decades.
When the study is complete, it will:
* Examine the economic and technical potential of renewable energy to power our economy, compared to fossil fuel and nuclear power. This includes the study of concentrated and photovoltaic solar, geothermal, wind power, and compressed air energy storage.
* Assess the energy savings that can be achieved from efficiency measures using available technology
* Assess the potential for transitioning Utah’s coal-dependent communities to renewable sector industries, and the policies necessary to accomplish this.
* Develop and promote overall renewable energy policies out of the Study’s recommendations, which our state leaders can use in planning for Utah’s energy future.
Who is Involved
To ensure that our work does not remain an ivory tower activity, but is informed and supported by energy stakeholders, we created an Advisory Board of individuals involved in key energy, regulatory, political, and financial fields. Our research team includes researchers from BYU and Utah State.
HEAL Utah’s role is to manage the workflow and innumerable "moving parts" of this project; to assist in research activities; to educate and organize regulatory, political, and municipal leaders on our findings; and to spearhead the grassroots outreach and education on the Project’s ultimate recommendations.
Phase 1 of the eUtah Project comprises the economic and technical analysis on the potential for renewable energy to power Utah’s economy. This began in early 2009. We expect Phase 1 to be complete in mid-2010
Phase 2 of the eUtah Project will begin immediately after Phase 1, and involves formulating policy recommendations on the study’s findings, educating the general public and key state leaders, and building widespread support for implementation of the resulting policies.
Different Energy Reliance Scenarios
Although the eUtah study is unique because it evaluates a 100% renewable energy supply for Utah, there are certainly other approaches to meeting Utah’s energy needs over the next century. Consequently, the eUtah study examines five different scenarios for meeting Utah’s growing electricity needs through the middle of the 21st century; they are:
The eUtah 100% renewable scenario: This scenario relies almost totally on renewable energy sources by 2050, comprised of geothermal, solar, and wind energy, complemented with energy storage in the form of compressed air. Minimal natural gas is used to support generation from compressed air energy storage, resulting in carbon dioxide reductions of 95 percent relative to 2010. High efficiency improvements are assumed here, with demand rising to about 37 million MWh by the year 2050.
Renewables + natural gas: In this scenario, CO2 reductions of around 70% are achieved relative to 2010 using solar, wind, and geothermal generation, supplemented by a significant amount of combined cycle power plants fueled by natural gas. The high efficiency demand scenario is used here. Demand rises to about 37 million MWh by the year 2050 in this scenario. Interestingly, annual natural gas consumption for electricity would only rise by about 13% relative to today.
Renewables + natural gas and carbon capture: This is the same as the Renewables/Natural Gas scenario, except that carbon capture and storage has been added to natural gas combined cycle power plants in order to achieved CO2 emission reductions relative to 2010 of 93 percent by the years 2050. The high efficiency demand scenario is used here. Demand rises to about 37 million MWh by the year 2050 in this scenario.
Nuclear plus coal with carbon capture: This scenario provides an example of a conventional approach to CO2 reduction and assumes that the structure of the present electricity sector, which is dominated by thermal plants, will continue, but with carbon reductions as an added goal. Natural gas plays a supporting role to coal with CCS and nuclear power, both in the form of combined cycle plants and single-stage gas turbines. The scenario results in approximately 70 percent CO2 emission reductions relative to emissions in 2010 and 80 percent relative to the emissions in 2050 in the BAU scenario. A medium level of efficiency improvements, extending present utility planning for demand side management, is used with this scenario. Demand rises to about 42 million MWh by the year 2050 in this scenario. A "nuclear only" variant is also included to show the unique financial risk of adopting nuclear as the sole solution for Utah’s growing energy needs through mid-century.
Business-as-Usual (BAU): This is a reference scenario that assumes the continued dominance of coal in the supply system. Existing plants are assumed to retire at 60 years, and are assumed to be replaced by new coal-fired power plants. A coal-to-coal scenario is useful because it allows us to compare the cost of the other scenarios as low-carbon alternatives. It also allows a calculation of the cost of limiting carbon emissions using different approaches. Finally it allows an estimation of the financial risk of sticking with coal and assuming no carbon constraints, in the event that such constraints are applied at various levels of carbon price or tax. No new efficiency or DSM measures are assumed. In this case, electricity generation grows to about 52 million MWh by 2050.
These scenarios are evaluated against each other for a variety of criteria, including cost, investment risk, and water consumption, through the middle of this century.