The Department of Energy (DoE) site at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) (if I read right, funded by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)) has undertaken a massive brute force Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis of the lower 48 states of the United States of America (USA), regarding siting of electric power plants.
The methodology was to divide the entire territory of the continental US into seven hundred million sites (100 meters square), and check each of them (using a computer, obviously) against some objective criteria of plant siting. The Times reports
The study, carried out by the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, found locations for 515 gigawatts’ worth of new nuclear plants — nearly five times what exists now — based on considerations like the availability of cooling water and relatively low population density. There is also space for 168 gigawatts of “advanced coal” plants. Should the plants be designed to sequester the carbon dioxide they produce rather than emit it, however, the study did not factor in how far the carbon would have to be piped.
But potential locations for solar thermal plants, which use the sun’s heat to make steam and then electricity, are far more limited; if the plants are cooled by water, there is space for only about 18 gigawatts, the study said. If the plants are cooled by air, which reduces their efficiency, there would be space for 60 gigawatts, the authors found.
This would be more useful if calibrated, so I dug a bit. Current peak demand is about 800 GW. The 60 GW of solar thermal can’t do what we need even if it’s off by an order of magnitude. At least if the Times summary is correct and the Oak Ridge study is correct this is very bad news.
I would imagine that if these issues are at the margin in America they would be insurmountable in Europe, though. I think that when push comes to shove siting issues can be overcome. The report (which after all does come from coal country) foresees a major role for coal with CCS. But even so, it’s hard to see how decarbonization can be achieved with these constraints.
It’s important to note, though, that while DoE reports are presumably less prejudiced than, say, think tank reports, they are not actually peer reviewed. I have a suspicion of “inevitable research” here. Not that this approach isn’t useful, but perhaps the implementation shouldn’t be taken entirely at face value.
Still, I’m getting a picture that sheer siting issues will be a problem, and that nuclear and CCS are BOTH going to be needed.
The research did not include wind siting. But the siting problems with wind, and its poor match to demand cycles, are well-known. The latter can be ameliorated with a combination smart grid/electric vehicle fleet strategy, or with new compressed air energy storage, whose siting issues are discussed in the report.
The report is, just the same, of some considerable entertainment value to a map geek.