The crisis in Japan is forcing nations around the world to reconsider the use of nuclear energy in their renewable/clean energy plans. Germany has taken reactors offline. Switzerland has shelved new nuclear development proposals. But, on the other side of the spectrum, most nuclear countries seem undeterred, especially the US.
President Obama reiterated his administration’s goal of 80 percent of U.S. electricity coming from clean energy by 2035. Besides wind, solar, natural gas and “clean coal” (bullshit), nuclear is still a part of the plan.
I’m no engineer and no expert on energy policy. But it’s disturbingly coincidental to find the clean energy debate now sandwiched between the Libyan and Japanese crisis. On one side we have an oil-producing Arab dictator-then friend-and now dictator again who threatened the world with nuclear proliferation plans less than a decade ago.
On the other side, we have radiation fears emitting from Japan. Massive international aid and patience on international markets will be needed to stabilize the country over the next decade. While the tsunami inflicted most of the damage, these catastrophic nuclear concerns may match it.
So where do we go from here?
Optimistically, it’s an opportunity. The greatest failure of the Bush II presidency was not seizing the chance to ween America of oil starting September 12th, 2001. That moment could have been the catalyst for mobilizing a nation towards a radical change. Instead, we were basically told to hop in our Hummers and drive out to the mall in the ‘burbs. Instead, we regressed.
Now, we find ourselves at another critical junction on the path to a cleaner, sustainable future. The idea of nuclear energy, the investment mechanism, is crippled. It’s going to stay that way. Nobody is going to want a new plant down the street, over the hill, or upstream.
Is this the moment we finally alter our policy towards a radical investment in the expansion of clean energy infrastructure? If not, what are we waiting for? China?
The Middle Kingdom surpassed the US in a number of green-tech categories this last year. But is it’s ability over- or underrated? The optimistic answer, according to the article, lies somewhere in the middle. The Worldwatch Institute blog has a fascinating read on issues affecting the development of wind power in China. Unsurprisingly, one of the main conclusions is the necessity for more investment in smart grids.
Grid capacity presents a huge bottleneck to Chinese wind development, and the issue is not likely to be resolved easily considering the interests involved. This reality is no secret to the Chinese people, especially those in the energy industry who are well aware that grid projects usually take much longer to be approved and built than wind farms… The good news is that the central government is aware of these issues and has begun to take rational steps toward a healthier development path… for the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011–15), a major task of the agency will be to invest heavily in grid infrastructure projects as a way to address the grid-access problem.
One area where China may be underrated:
China is planning to direct the lion’s share of its estimated $100 billion smart grid buildout over the next five years toward massive new transmission systems to connect solar and wind resources in the west to population centers in the east. But at the same time, the country is installing millions of smart meters at a time, Tang said — and in China, unlike the U.S., a million meters can be a pilot project.