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  • Nuclear Dreams in the UK and the US // China Blocks Renewables to Spare Food Supply // The States: Roadblocks for Biden's IRA

Nuclear Dreams in the UK and the US // China Blocks Renewables to Spare Food Supply // The States: Roadblocks for Biden's IRA

Nuclear Dreams in the UK and the US

As the UK plans to build 8 new nuclear reactors, American utilities are giving nuclear a second look.

The UK government just announced a new energy plan. Among other ambitions, it will involve the creation of Great British Nuclear, which will be tasked with expanding the UK's nuclear capacity. The government hopes that by 2050 it will have 24 GW of nuclear serving 25% of its projected electricity demand.

"The focus on nuclear could deliver up to eight new reactors to be built on existing sites," reports BBC News. "The government hopes to have a new reactor approved each year until 2030 with the aim to have them up and running by 2050."

Meanwhile, in America, the Nuclear Energy Institute has completed a new survey that "suggests U.S. utility members expect to add up to 90 GW of new nuclear generation by the 2050s, including more than 300 new small modular reactors (SMRs) in the U.S. over the next 25 years," reports Power Magazine.

Still, the American context remains tough for nuclear, as its regulator, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, remains incredibly enthusiastic about its stranglehold on the atom.

China Blocks Renewables to Spare Food Supply

China faces a dilemma: the government wants to build renewables, but it also wants to spare its farmland. Floods, droughts, and other food-supply issues have put the country in a bind. It's not erring on the side of food security over green policy.

"The shift in priorities has put some provincial governments – especially those in the highly urbanized east – in a bind," reports Bloomberg. "While they’ve been tasked with decarbonizing rapidly under China’s national climate pledge, they also face a central government 'red line' to protect farmland."

To square the circle, China has three potential moves it can make: integrating land-hungry renewables with land-hungry agriculture; build out in the West where the population is sparse; build on brownfield sites. "While those solutions are good in theory," reports Bloomberg, "in practice local authorities know they can get much higher revenue from energy generators than from cropland and many violate or bend the rules."

As it is in America, the struggles over rural land between farmers and renewables developers can get intense. Earlier in the year, a fight broke out between local farmers in the northern province of Hebei and solar company workers. "The local government had leased farmland for a 200 megawatt 'agricultural solar farm,' and farmers became incensed after the company bulldozed 6.7 hectares (16.6 acres) of wheat that was almost ripe." The tussle made the national news.

The States: Roadblocks for Biden's IRA

While many have celebrated the Inflation Reduction Act as a watershed moment in climate policy, the road ahead is far from untroubled.

"The 19 gigawatts of solar panels the U.S. installed last year brought the country’s total capacity to about 93 gigawatts," reports The Huffington Post. "But to achieve the IRA’s goals, the U.S. needs to add at least 117 gigawatts per year between 2029 and 2032, when the bill’s tax credits expire."

The states, especially red states home to the fossil fuel industry, pose a staggering obstacle to the IRA's execution. HuffPo points out that to reach the IRA's solar goals, growth in the sector would require all fifty states to add 2.3 GW per year. "Just two states – Texas and California – are currently hitting those numbers. Solar panels need a lot of space and blue-sky weather, something not every state has. So many states will need to build far more than that to compensate for others."

And that's one of the fundamental flaws in this policy: it hinges on two kinds of energy generation, wind and solar, which have an average capacity factor of 35.5% and 24.5%, respectively. "Overbuilding" won't do much to overcome these physical limitations. Building long stretches of transmission will prove difficult, costly, and fragile.

As Isaac Orr points out, the IRA does extend subsidies for renewables for the next ten years. That's about $126 billion in new tax credits, but when added to the existing credits, the renewables sector will see about $240 billion total between now and 2031. Advocates think this will coax utilities and others who've used the potential disappearance of subsidies as a reason for not investing in renewables into changing their minds. But it will also create new tensions between those who want to take advantage of the subsidies and those who'd like their land--private or common--left alone.

We can expect a flowering of conflict between states, the federal government, and local communities.

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Conversation Starters

  • Britain's solar farms keep failing because of the heat wave. Solar farms work best around 77 degrees Fahrenheit, but in the UK temperatures have hit 104 degrees, dropping the solar fleet's efficiency by as much as 7.5%.

  • Drought has drained Germany's Rhine River, putting 400,000 barrels per day of oil at risk. "The water level at Kaub, west of Frankfurt, is forecast to drop below a critical 40-centimeter mark (under 16 inches) on Friday, and to 33 centimeters on Monday. At that point, it becomes uneconomical for many barges to carry goods through the waypoint, limiting supplies to parts of Germany and Switzerland," reports Bloomberg.

  • Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been exerting control over what the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas shares with the public. "Eight sources from across the power industry who spoke to The Texas Tribune say Gov. Greg Abbott — who has no formal role in the process — has" also "put a stranglehold" on the search for a new ERCOT CEO, reports the Texas Tribune.

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