Former Secretary Chu Criticizes Clean Energy Plan

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Former Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu came out during a debate at the Silicon Valley Energy Summit criticizing President Obama’s Clean Energy Plan, because of its lack of support for nuclear power. Chu said he didn’t think energy storage could solve the reliability problems of wind and solar quickly enough. Said Chu at the Stanford University event, “We should make a Clean Power Plan that’s based on clean energy, not renewable energy.”

At issue, claimed Chu, is the question of baseload power, the core supply of reliable, round the clock electricity that is there whenever you need it.

Most critics claim that the only way to have renewables carrying a bigger share of the electricity load, is through the use of energy storage. Says Chu, “I don’t see storage coming in for more than maybe peak load shifting, maybe day and night. I don’t see seasonal storage. I don’t see all of those things you need for steady clean power.”

Berkeley professor Dan Kammen, debated back that storage was already economically viable in some areas, something that new nuclear is not. Said Kammen, “The dramatic ramp up in solar resulted in the dramatic realization that a diverse, decentralized system can provide the same critical features that we think about with a baseload highly centralized system. Not tomorrow, but in the time frame that we need it, it’s absolutely there.”

Kammen recited a litany of available storage options including not only utility-scale batteries, but compressed air, flywheels, and on a more distributed scale, the use of parked electric vehicles in a V2G (vehicle-to-grid) configuration.

Chu has long been bullish on nuclear power. He came out in March of 2011 and insisted that the occurrence of the Fukushima disaster should not cause Federal regulators to delay issuing permits for new nuclear reactors.

Beyond that, though, there are numerous experts, including Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins, who have put forth scenarios in which, a smart grid can dispatch resources from diverse sources, “choreographed” in such a way as to keep up with demand, without any storage beyond that provided by plugged-in vehicles and thermal storage systems used to address peak air conditioning loads.

Says Lovins, “Bulk electricity storage and fossil fuel backup are the costliest ways to make the grid flexible, so we would use them last, not first.”

Lovins also weighs in on the question of the role of nuclear power. He claims that investors are generally turning up their noses at nuclear projects, despite massive government subsidies. “Capitalists instead favor climate-protecting competitors with less cost, construction time, and financial risk. The nuclear industry claims it has no serious rivals, let alone those competitors—which, however, already outproduce nuclear power worldwide and are growing enormously faster.”

As if to underscore the point, just this week, PG&E announced the closing of their Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, saying it will replace the 2.24 GW plant with renewables, efficiency, and storage. In doing so, they are committing to produce a full 55% of its power from renewables by 2031.

Former Secretary Chu has been out of office for nearly four years now and apparently he has not been paying attention to the phenomenal growth of renewables, the high levels of utilization around the world and the commitment being made to deploy it as fully as possible.

Image credit: National Archives: Flickr Creative Commons