Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 12

A Discussion on the Future of the Worlds Energy Generation Techniques

Jordan Wolfe
University of Kentucky

Abstract:
Energy is one of the key developments that has made modern life possible, without it we would
still be in an 1800s type world. However, we have bet our future on an energy source that is going to run
out, whether it is in 50 years or 200 years its lifespan is very limited. (EIA, 2019) There is much debate
on how to feasibly provide energy for the entire world in a way that isn’t slowly killing our planet. This
has led to energy being labeled as one of the most pressing issues we have to deal with right now.
Unfortunately, there is large amounts of misinformation out there about all the energy sources we
have available to us. There are also strong ties to certain energy sources in certain regions of the world,
such as: geothermal in Iceland, coal in the Ohio Valley, and nuclear in France. Between the
misinformation and the strong public opinions that are held it is becoming increasingly challenging to
have discussions on what our next steps should be. It is hard to find unbiased information regarding all
energy sources, and that is something that this paper plans to tackle. The intention is to use a combination
of scientific papers, journals, and studies to put together a comparison between most promising energy
sources. With the result being a clear and easy to read graphic that shows these comparisons, along with
that will be a recommendation based off this.

1
Table of Contents
Abstract………………………………………………………………………………………..… 1
Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………..…. 3
Methods……………………………………………………………………………………..…… 3
Methods of Study…………………………………………………………………………..…….. 3
Methods of Comparison…………………………………………………………………….……. 3
Results………………………………………………………………………………………….... 3
Discussion…………………………………………………………………………………….…. 6
Coal…………………………………………………………………………………………..…... 6
Natural Gas……………………………………………………………………………….……… 6
Solar……………………………………………………………………………………………… 7
Wind……………………………………………………………………………………………... 7
Hydroelectric…………………………………………………………………………………….. 8
Nuclear…………………………………………………………………………………………… 8
Conclusion………………………………………………………………………………………. 9
Recommendation……………………………………………………………………………….. 9
Sources…………………………………………………………………………………………. 10

2
Introduction:
The world currently uses 14 terawatts of energy, and this energy comes from a wide
range of sources. Where our energy is derived from varies greatly by country and even by region
within countries. Some countries get their energy from mainly renewable energy, or non-fossil
fuel sources. Other countries get most of their energy from fossil fuels such as coal or natural
gas. However, many of these resources are finite such as: coal, oil, and natural gas. The world’s
population continues to grow at an exponential rate as does its energy use. The question of how
to fuel our future has been something scientists have been working on for years, and have
developed many viable energy production methods, but the best way to uses them has been a
point of debate for just as long. This has become one of the reasons that energy security coupled
with environmental hazards make up two of the fifteen great challenges that humanity faces in
the 21st Century and beyond. Solving these two problems are key to not just the continued
thriving of humanity but its very survival.
Methods:
There are two factors that will be discussed in this section: methods of study and methods
of comparison. Methods of study refers to how information was gathered and what criteria were
used to judge sources. Methods of comparison refers to how each technique will be graded and
compared with a discussion of limitations with these criteria.
Methods of Study: The overwhelming majority of research done for this report was a
study of scientific journals, government websites, and private sector websites which were used
with discretion. There were several polls that were used, but they were from a third-party source
which makes the reliability hard to ensure. All research was meant to be as unbiased as possible
and all information that was going to be used was crossed referenced with another source to
ensure accuracy.
Methods of Comparison: When looking to compare six different energy generation
technologies it was key to find a like-to-like comparison. This was to make sure that it is easy to
look at the data and see how they all compared to each other. There were four different
categories chosen to use: land use, instillation cost, operating cost, and carbon dioxide emissions.
These four were chosen to cover the key areas of concern when it comes to electricity
generation: cost, land use, and greenhouse gas emissions (or clean energy). Each technology was
then rated 1-6 with one being the best and six being the worst. Then for the comparison those
rating values were multiplied by 1-4 showing the order of importance of the four sections with
one being the least and four being the most. The lower the value the better the technology fits
with the goals of the comparison. However, these aren’t all inclusive and there are factors that
were not considered. The biggest of these being sustainability of the energy source. This topic
will be looked at in the overview sections but proved to be a challenge to compare on a like-to-
like basis.
Results:

3
Below are the four metrics that were used to compare each energy source: acre/megawatt,
million dollars/megawatt install cost, dollar/megawatt/year operating cost, tonCO2/gigawatt-
hour. The values came from a variety of sources and were converted into similar units to allow
for an easy comparison between the six energy sources. As previously stated, bias was attempted
to minimize as much as possible, this includes my own.

Acre/megawatt for Electricity Generation


350
315.22
300
Acre per Megawatt

250

200

150

100 70.64
43.5
50
12.21 12.41 12.71
0
Coal Natural Gas Solar Wind Hydroelectric Nulear
Technology

The first set of data looked at was land use, which takes the form of acre/megawatt.
(Stevens, 2017) In this data there is clear trend that develops, the large traditional power
generation stations take up significantly less land than the renewable energy sources. The amount
of land use for the renewables can come down if strategically placed i.e. solar panels in the
Mojave Desert, but even then, it is a challenge to get solar, wind, and hydroelectric down to a
comparable amount of land use. (Denholm, 2016)

$/megawatt/year Operating Cost


80000 72000
70000
60000
50000
$/Mw/year

50000 42500
40000
31250
30000 24000
20000 14600
10000
0
Coal Natural Gas Solar Wind Hydroelectric Nulear
Technology

4
This data set is looking at the operating cost per year for one megawatt of energy. This
data doesn’t really have many trends to it but nuclear has the largest operating cost of any of the
options. (Salvatore, 2013) This data set doesn’t provide too much insight, it does imply that with
current markets and technology that natural gas and wind provide the cheapest energy and
nuclear, hydroelectric, and solar provide the most expensive.

m$/megawatt Install Cost


6
4.8
5

4
$ in millions

3.2
3 2.6

1.77 1.83
2
0.98
1

0
Coal Natural Gas Solar Wind Hydroelectric Nulear
Technology

Here we are looking at the installation cost to build a new generation facility. (Salvatore,
2013) Four of the six are close in price, however coal and nuclear are the most expensive by a
significant margin. These prices do change with improvements in technology or with changing
environmental regulations; which happens to be the reason that the prices of a new coal plant
have risen dramatically in the last 10 or so years. (EIA, 2019)

tonCO2/gigawatt-hour Generated
1000
888
900
800
700
tonCO2/GWh

600 499
500
400
300
200
85
100 26 26 29
0
Coal Natural Gas Solar Wind Hydroelectric Nulear
Technology

Lastly there are CO2 emissions in units of tons CO2 emitted per gigawatt-hour power
generated. As expected, fossil fuels release the most CO2 gases by a hefty margin, while wind,
5
hydroelectric, and nuclear are the lowest with mid-twenties. (WNA, 2011) The reason that even
renewable energy sources have emissions is that these are lifetime emissions which considers
transportation of materials, construction, and all other steps in the process.
Discussion:
Here a more detailed view into each of the technologies will be provided; specifically
looking into the strengths of each but more importantly looking into the weaknesses. The
reasoning behind this is that they all have comparable strengths, their weaknesses are what set
the technologies apart. Economical, social, environmental, and sustainable factors will all be
looked in the discussion with each factor getting varying amounts focus depending on the
applicability of that factor. For example, the sustainable and environmental impacts of coal will
receive more focus than the social factors of hydroelectric power.
Coal: For many parts of the world, including the US, coal is the most prominent energy
source. Coal has been the main energy source since the industrial revolution. The reason for this
is that it was comparatively cheap to mine and releases a large amount of energy when it is
burned. However, in 2017 coal was overtaken as the majority energy source in the US for the
first time. (EIA, 2019) This has been a trend across much of the world; coal production has been
dropping and the price to generate electricity with coal has been increasing. The reasoning
behind this is two-fold: we are running out of low-sulfur, high energy coal and increasing
environmental concerns are putting more regulations on the coal industry. Because of this many
coal fired power plants are scheduled to close in the next 25 years. (EIA, 2019) This can be seen
in the increasing price to build a new coal fired power plant. The current price is $3.2 million
dollars per megawatt to build a new coal plant which is the second highest price per megawatt.
(Salvatore, 2013) Also, coal plants have the largest CO2 emissions with 888 tons of CO2 per
gigawatt-hour of power generated. (WNA, 2019) These two reason seem to be the driving factor
behind the world cutting its reliance on coal. It does not seem overly likely that these trends will
continue, even if the environmental regulations were to be lifted as the economics would still not
be in favor of increased coal production.
Natural gas: Electricity production from natural gas has increased drastically in the last
10 years. This rapid increase in is response the improvements in the ability to drill for natural
gas, otherwise known as fracking. Natural gas is both cheaper to drill and releases less CO2 than
coal, making it a more attractive option. (EIA, 2019) It is also less land intensive than all the
renewable options; it is comparable to nuclear and coal fired. (Stevens, 2017) Many projections
show continued growth over the next 30 years due to the amount that is present in easily
accessible deposits. The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) has projected
2,000 billion kilowatt-hours of natural gas by the year 2050. (EIA, 2019) This is over twice the
projection for the same year of both coal and nuclear and is ~500 billion kilowatt-hours more
than combined renewables.
There are issues with natural gas which prevent it from truly being a fuel of the future.
The first is that there is less of it available than any other energy source. According to the CIA
“there is 196.1 trillion cubic meters of proven reserves of natural gas worldwide.” (CIA, 2016)

6
This is compared to 3.5 trillion cubic meters of annual consumption based on the same year.
With some simple division this comes to 56 years of proven reserves of natural gas. This is likely
a conservative estimate as an increase in power generation from natural gas will lead to an
increase in consumption which will led to a decrease in the 56 years. This is in direct contrast to
the EIA report because, if we nearly double our current natural gas consumption by 2050 (30
years) then we are likely to be nearly out of natural gas by that same point in time. This isn’t to
say we should abandon natural gas electricity plants, but it should caution us that this isn’t
something we can bet our future on.
Solar: Solar power is often touted as the energy source of the future and for good reason
when you look at certain aspects of solar power. In 2011 the US Department of Energy launched
an initiative and study called SunShot. The goal of this program was to make solar energy in the
form of photovoltaic cells more economically feasible. However, in the report one fact was
brought to light which is not commonly mentioned; powering all the US, let alone the world is
not possible. “The study projected that achieving the SunShot price-reduction targets could result
in solar meeting roughly 14% of U.S. electricity demand by 2030 and 27% by 2050”. (Denholm,
2016) Solar power has never promised to solve the energy crisis but many people want to claim
that solar should have a major part in any new energy plan, but the price that is required for that
27% is even more controversial. According to a study done by STRATA, a nonprofit research
center that focuses on economical and environmental issues, to power the US by solely solar
power over 16 million acres of land would be required which equates to 4.2 million acres for the
27% claimed by the Department of Energy. (Stevens, 2017) This would be equivalent to roughly
the state of New Jersey. The problem is that there isn’t that much open land in the US to sacrifice
to solar panels. Ironically the best places for solar panels happens to be in areas such as
farmland, cities, or protected government land. Are these places that the country is willing to
sacrifice to build solar panels, that is the question we must ask.
The other issue with solar power is that it generates DC (Direct Current) power and the
transmission lines that are present are built for 3-phase AC (Alternating Current) power. This is
briefly discussed on page 23 of the SunShot report. This issue places severe limitations on solar
power; we can only transmit ~60% of the generated energy after it is converted to AC power.
(Denholm, 2016) I’m not going to go into the details of why this occurs because it is rather
confusing and would require a whole paper to properly explain. Moreover, it is not overly
important to have a great understanding of this issue to know that this places severe limitations
on the ability to integrate large amounts of solar power.
Wind: Solar powers oft ignored and forgotten about younger brother. Wind energy is
similar to solar in terms of land use and costs. (Stevens, 2017) Wind does have some distinct
advantages to solar especially in terms of land use. While the amount of land is similar, there is
more flexibility in where wind turbines can be placed. While solar panels must go in places when
the sun is shining more often than not, wind turbines must go where the wind is blowing.
Locations such as the coast and in mountain ranges are very common places for wind turbines to
end up. This is good news for farmers and many urban regions as they won’t have to displaced
by wind turbines. Countries such as China and Germany have already embraced wind power and

7
have a decent amount of the worlds’ total production. The US also has a decent chunk of energy
from wind power, and it is continuing to grow worldwide. (Holban, 2013) Wind energy has
shown great promise in many regions of the world, even with its’ drawbacks.
These drawbacks are fairly similar to solar power and are also technical in nature,
because of that they are beyond the scope of this paper and will only be briefly mentioned.
Storage and transportation are the largest issues facing wind energy. Just like solar power the
wind is not always blowing so storing the energy generated when it is blowing to distribute
constantly as needed is paramount. The other issue is identical to solar power, the turbines
generate DC current and it must be in AC for our current transportation system to use it. These
are two problems that currently have placed very large limitations on how much wind energy can
be used and have been a very discouraging factor in its increased integration.
Hydroelectric: Water power has been around for hundreds of years making it one of the
oldest forms of renewable energy. Since then there have been many improvements, with some of
the more notable power stations being Hoover Dam and the Three Gorges Dam in China. The
general concept of a is that water falls down a height and spins a turbine that generates
electricity. A more recent form is called run-of-the-river dams which are much smaller but don’t
pose as much of an environmental impact. The environmental impact is a major concern with
hydroelectric power. In order to build the dams required, there is major damage done to the local
environment: habitats can be destroyed, fish migrations are impacted, and the overall water
quality of the entire river can be changed. (UCS, 2019) Environmental concerns are the one of
the biggest problems that plague hydro power, the land and other environmental impacts are the
largest of any power source. The land use for a typical hydroelectric power plant is 315 acres per
megawatt. (Stevens, 2017) “In order to completely power the Us with traditional hydropower it
would require the same amount of land as Utah, Idaho, and Maryland. However, there is only
enough installed and potential locations to power ~47% of the US with hydropower.” (Stevens,
2017) Outside of these issues though hydropower is very clean, and it is very sustainable. This
leads to many projections having a decent amount of hydropower being present, it is just not
possible to plant o power the entire planet with hydropower because there just isn’t enough
available sources or land.
Nuclear: The last energy source is the most controversial, depending on who you ask
nuclear power is either going to be the reason humanity is erased or the saving grace of
humanity. The fear of nuclear power stems from disasters such as Fukushima, Three Mile Island,
and Chernobyl. (de Groot, 2012) While nuclear disasters are rare, when they do happen there is
catastrophic fallout. The land become uninhabitable, humans and animals die, the fallout can
cause mass evacuations, and radiation poisoning can have effects that last for years. However,
nuclear disasters are not common, and when they do occur there is a direct correlation to human
mismanagement or a natural disaster that is impossible to plan for. There is also the concern that
nuclear plants would become targets in a future war, but I would argue that they would be no
larger target than a current natural gas plant. Another concern with nuclear energy is unavoidable
creation of nuclear waste. To date we have been unable to come with a solution to nuclear waste
other than burying it deep inside the Earth, which can pose a threat in the future.

8
The positives of nuclear energy are enormous: one of the lowest lifetime CO2 emissions
of any fuel source (WNA, 2019), large scale energy production at a small land investment
(Stevens, 2017), and the potential to generate power well into the future. While there are
substantial concerns with nuclear energy, few sources show as much potential as nuclear energy
does.
Conclusion:
As we have seen this is one of the most complex yet pressing issues in the history of
mankind. There isn’t going to be a silver bullet that will solve this crisis, but rather a
combination of solutions and comprehensive changes to how we think about electricity.
Electricity generation has not undergone massive changes since the industrial revolution. It is
past time that discussions on how to proceed into the future took place, but rather most of the
country albeit the world is willing to just sit around until the oil and natural gas run out, the
waters are uninhabitable, coastal cities are flooded, and the sky is poisoned.
These discussions cannot happen with knowledge and that is something that many people
are lacking. Everyone has an opinion but very few are rooted in facts and even less are viable in
the world we live in. Realistic solutions need be made and there will have to be buy in from a
tremendous amount of people. However, we do have technology that can power the planet into
the future it has just not been utilized like it should. As much as many people may dislike it
nuclear power has to have a place in the future, I cannot see a way to generate the required
energy without utilizing the cleanest large-scale energy plants we have. If I had to bet my future
on either humanities ability to solve the problem of nuclear waste or try to force energy sources
that were never designed to power the planet into overload, I would bet on the nuclear waste
every time.
Recommendation:
I will provide three recommendations that place the emphasis on different areas. I will
provide an economic recommendation, an environmental recommendation, and a general
recommendation that doesn’t place the emphasis on a singular issue rather it will attempt to deal
with the entire complex issue. (WNA, 2011), (Salvatore, 2013), (Stevens, 2017) The economic
recommendation will focus mainly on the monetary side and the ability to continue to provide
cheap energy at whatever cost. This is likely to mirror the path that will be taken without any
form of government intervention. The environmental recommendation will focus mainly on land
impact and CO2 emissions, as well as consider any other issues that got brought up. It is likely to
mirror a path taken if strong government intervention takes place and forces the market in a
certain direction through legislation, tax credits, and subsidies. The general recommendation will
attempt to balance the previous two and is likely to mirror low to moderate government action
and a willingness to allow the market to drive production in whatever way it will.

9
Comparison of Power Generation Technologies
50 45
44
45 40 40
40 38 38
36 36 35
34 33
35
30 26 26 26 25
24
25 21
20 18
15
10
5
0
Coal Natural Gas Solar Wind Hydroelectric Nulear

Economical Environmental General

Economical Recommendation: When looking at the problem from a purely economical


viewpoint there are two technologies that jump out: Natural gas and wind. These are the two
cheapest by far, with natural gas being the cheaper but more volatile and wind being slightly
more expensive but more stable. Since natural gas is very dependent on the market and future
trading its’ price is going to fluctuate more especially on the operating side. If an economical
route is going to be followed, I would recommend 50% wind, 30% natural gas. 20% a mix of the
other sources that are the cheapest on a site-specific basis. The rationale behind this is that the
majority should come from the stable cheap source, then natural gas should make up a chunk, but
it is limited in nature which is why it should be limited in use. The last 20% is to ensure that
there is a mixed portfolio and any changes in demand can be covered without harming the
system.
Environmental Recommendation: If a more environmental approach is going to be
taken, then nuclear, wind, and hydroelectric are the ones that jump out. Even though natural gas
could be in here from the numbers I am not going to recommend it since it is very limited in
reserves and is not sustainable in the long term. It can be a good stepping stone to get away from
coal though. In this scenario I would recommend 60% nuclear, 25% wind, 10% hydroelectric,
and 5% a mix of the others. Nuclear scored the best on the environmental test, it has a low land
use and low CO2 emissions, so it should make up a very large chunk of the energy source. Wind
and hydroelectric were both about the same, and there are severe land limitations on
hydroelectric power which is why its’ percent is kept low. Wind is a good option is this scenario
but due to the uncontrollable nature and the land use requirements it has a lower percent. Again
the 5% is to allow for a healthy mix and to control for uncertainties.
General Recommendation: This course sees a large amount of overlap from the
previous two plans, with nuclear, wind, and natural gas playing a big part. Then solar, coal, and
hydroelectric making up a smaller percentage. I would recommend 40% nuclear, 35% wind, 20%
natural gas, 5% mix. This is in between the previous two with natural gas taking over much of

10
the production of hydroelectric. Again, as previously mentioned this is good until the natural gas
runs out and that production must be made up else ware.
Sources:
Annual Energy Outlook 2019. (2019, January 24). Retrieved April 5, 2019, from
https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/aeo2019.pdf
Environmental Impacts of Hydroelectric Power. (2019). Retrieved March 31, 2019, from
https://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-
energy/environmental-impacts-hydroelectric-power.html
De Groot J. & Steg L. & Poortinga W. (2012, May 12) Values, Perceived Risks and Benefits,
and Acceptability of Nuclear Energy. Risk Analysis 33(2) 307-317. Retrieved April 17,
2019, from https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.uky.edu/doi/full/10.1111/j.1539-
6924.2012.01845.x
Denholm P. & Clark K. & O’Connell M. (2016, May). Emerging Issues and Challenges in
Integration High Levels of Solar into the Electrical Generation and Transition System.
Retrieved March 31, 2019, from https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy16osti/65800.pdf
Holban E. D. & Micu E. A. & Sorici C. (2013). Economic Issues in the Wind Energy
Development at World and European Level. Fascicle I. Economics and Applied
Informatics. Retrieved March 31, 2019, from
http://www.eia.feaa.ugal.ro/images/eia/2013_2/Holban.pdf
Mika J. & Farkas A. (2017). On Synergies and Conflicts Between the Sustainable Development
Goals (2016-2030) and Renewable Energy Sources for Education of and by
Sustainability. Problems of Education in the 21st Century, 75(2), 182-194. Retrieved from
http://www.scientiasocialis.lt/pec/node/files/pdf/vol75/182-193.Mika_Vol.75-2_PEC.pdf
Salvatore J. (2013). World Energy Perspective Cost of Energy Technologies. Retrieved April 1,
2019 from https://www.worldenergy.org/wp-
content/uploads/2013/09/WEC_J1143_CostofTECHNOLOGIES_021013_WEB_Final.p
df
Stevens L. (2017, June). The Footprints of Energy: Land use of US Electricity Production.
Retrieved April 3, 2019 from https://www.strata.org/pdf/2017/footprints-full.pdf
Taylor M. (2015). Energy: How to Solve the Greatest Challenge of Our Time. Retrieved March
31, 2019, from https://search-proquest-
com.ezproxy.uky.edu/docview/1777466184?accountid=11836&rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsi
d%3Aprimo
The World Factbook: World. (2018, February 01). Retrieved March 31, 2019, from
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/xx.html
World Nuclear Association. (2011, July). Comparison of Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions
of Various Electricity Generation Sources. Retrieved April 17, 2019, from

11
http://www.world-
nuclear.org/uploadedFiles/org/WNA/Publications/Working_Group_Reports/comparison_
of_lifecycle.pdf

12