From Bob’s Desk: Time to reconsider nuclear power?

By Bob Bacon

When I was in school long ago, I remember seeing a film (there were no videos) that projected nuclear power would be so cheap you wouldn’t need to meter it. It was a utopian idea that seemed in the 60’s and 70’s to be totally feasible. For many reasons, interest in nuclear power waned and the country moved away from nuclear and coal toward oil and gas.

As of 2022, about 60% of electricity in the U.S. came from fossil fuels and 40% came from renewable energy sources, including nuclear.

Our 2022 Energy Breakdown:

Natural Gas (39.9%)
Coal (19.7%)
Nuclear (18.2%)
Wind (10.3%)
Hydropower (6.0%)
Solar (3.4%)
Other (2.5%)

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Since our business is connecting things that generate, transform, move, store and use electricity, I thought I would share these recent observations with you.

Should we reconsider nuclear power?

I was traveling recently and decided to watch the documentary “Nuclear Now” on the plane. I had just assumed that nuclear power was not part of our energy solution, but the film makes a pretty compelling case that we should take another look at nuclear power. Having spent much of my career in the controls business, I will say what control systems could do in the 70’s is microscopic compared to what systems are capable of today. This would seem to make risk of a meltdown much less likely and new reactor designs make one almost impossible.

Progress has been made relative to nuclear waste, too. Check out this Department of Energy piece with “5 Facts about Spent Nuclear Fuel.

England is completing a brand new nuclear plant. France generates and has generated, for years, nearly 80% of its electricity from nuclear and the US Navy has operated its submarines and aircraft carriers with reactors since the 60’s. I think since we are a pretty thoughtful rational group we should learn more about it.

The grid will get bigger and more distributed?

My company truck is a Ford Lightning and it is 100% electric. It’s pretty awesome to drive. It has great pickup and systems that are quite luxurious. It also creates an affliction called “range anxiety.” The operating range varies greatly with weather and speed, making you occasionally anxious about completing your trip. While electric vehicles are not perfect, they are the future. They will likely even allow you to sell power back to the grid at a profit to offset peak demand. A recent article in Barron’s predicted EV’s could require the grid to be 15% larger to handle the expected load.

It goes on to predict:

“In the past, coal- or gas-fired power plants would be cranked up as needed to deliver electricity. For the most part, it has worked. But that’s about to change. New capacity is desperately needed—the Department of Energy sees capacity expanding by 2.6% annually over the next 20 years, about double the rate since 1990—making the grid 70% larger. Roughly 70% of that will be renewable, a source of energy that is more dependent on climate conditions than fossil fuels.”

As the grid becomes larger and more distributed, our services will continue to be valued and more and more in need. As regional governmental policy seems obsessed with the rapid elimination of natural gas as an industrial manufacturing and heating energy source, it will require electrical costs to decline if our industrial clients are to remain competitive. I hope we all can be a rational source of information as our region confronts these energy challenges.

Final thoughts

The holiday party feedback was very positive. Especially popular was Deana’s unknown acumen as comic. Some folks thought Deanna should be writing my jokes for me! Ouch! We have plenty of the “Elm Van” scale models and would be happy to have your help getting them out to customers and other interested folks. See Holly or Deanna if you can help out.