Sustainable Sunday: Energy usage, and the nuclear water hog

Posted: March 27, 2011 in economy, environment, renewable energy, solar energy, Sustainable Sundays
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The availability of clean water is fast becoming a major global problem as well as becoming an issue for the United States.  A recent report by the CBS Evening news indicated that several states could face severe water shortages within the next three years.

Given this information we need to pay more attention to the way we use water.  The average household in California uses between 160,000 and 320,000 gallons of water each year!  We need to find ways in which we reduce water usage and this includes the way in which we generate our energy.

The three major forms of electrical energy generation in California are Natural Gas (23%), Nuclear Energy (15%) and Coal (16%).  When using natural gas to generate electricity you need 3 gallons of water for every BTU generated, for coal that number rises to at least 40 gallons of water and for nuclear power a minimum of 2,400 gallons of water per BTU produced.  We often hear the propaganda that nuclear energy is clean and cheap, but I’m not sure the waste issues or water usage back up that claim.  As water becomes more scarce and precious I’m not sure we can afford nuclear energy any longer.

When we examine photovoltaic (PV) electric energy production we find that PV only uses about 3 gallons of water per BTU, in the same range as natural gas.  Given that PV doesn’t produce carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases when generating energy, doesn’t have the waste problems of nuclear energy, and uses significantly less water, when are we in a water scarce state start to consider swapping out new PV for old nuclear?

Growth in solar energy is imperative in California if we are to develop the amount of clean energy needed by this state.  So let’s start incentivizing solar energy in the same way we have traditionally subsidized nuclear energy.


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