Clean Power

Published on May 6th, 2014 | by U.S. Energy Information Administration


CO2 Emissions From Electric Power Sector Vary With Coal & Nuclear Retirements

May 6th, 2014 by  

Originally published on EIA.


Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2014, Issues in Focus

Significant retirements of nuclear and coal power plants in the United States could change the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by the electric power sector. EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (AEO2014) features several accelerated retirements cases that represent conditions leading to additional coal and nuclear plant retirements in order to examine the potential energy market and emissions effects of the loss of this capacity. CO2 emissions are significantly reduced when compared to the Reference case in side cases with accelerated coal retirements. CO2 emissions increase slightly in the Accelerated Nuclear Retirements case. Natural gas and renewables are the primary replacements for lost capacity in each scenario.

How does EIA project nuclear retirements?

The AEO2014 Accelerated Nuclear Retirements case reflects uncertainty regarding continued operation of the existing nuclear fleet. While the Reference case assumes that all nuclear plants will continue to operate if they are economic through 2040, the Accelerated Nuclear Retirements case assumes that they will retire after their 60th year of operation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the authority to issue initial operating licenses for commercial nuclear power plants for a period of 40 years, after which 20-year incremental renewals are possible. Approximately 75% of the U.S. generating fleet has already received an initial 20-year license extension, and AEO2014 assumes that the remaining plants also receive extensions. Operators are preparing applications for license renewals that would allow operation beyond 60 years.

Coal (74%) and natural gas (24%) power plants accounted for almost all of the CO2 emitted by the electric power sector in 2012. Nuclear power and renewables do not emit CO2.

The Accelerated Nuclear Retirements case projects CO2 emissions that are 4% higher compared with the Reference case in 2040. In this side case, natural gas-fired generation is projected to be 13% higher than in the Reference case. However, renewables generation in the Accelerated Nuclear Retirements case increases 5% relative to the Reference case, which moderates the emissions impact. Coal generation does not differ significantly between the two cases.

Like in the Accelerated Nuclear Retirements case, natural gas generation makes up for most of the lost capacity in the Accelerated Coal Retirements case, resulting in a 19% increase in natural gas generation relative to the Reference case in 2040. However, because generation using natural gas emits less CO2 than coal, emissions decrease by 20% relative to the Reference case over that period. A 10% increase in renewable generation relative to the Reference case also serves to lower overall emissions.

Emissions are slightly higher in the combined Accelerated Coal and Nuclear Retirements case than in the Accelerated Coal Retirements case, because natural gas-fired generation replaces some nuclear power generation. However, the effect of the coal-fired capacity retirements keeps emissions 14% below the Reference case level in 2040.


Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2014, Issues in Focus
Note: MATS is Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

The coal and nuclear retirements resulting from each case examined are shown in the graphs above. Natural gas-fired combined-cycle units are favored sources of new capacity in all cases examined because of competitive fuel prices and relatively moderate capital costs. Renewable capacity is also added, primarily as a result of state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and federal tax incentives early in the projection and increased economic competitiveness towards the end of the projection in all cases.

The AEO2014 Issues in Focus article includes a description of the underlying assumptions driving the cases discussed, and an examination of the resulting effects on the electricity generation mix, electric generating capacity additions, natural gas prices, and retail electricity prices.

Principal contributor: Michael Leff

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-- the EIA collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.

  • mwpncookeville

    ” … Nuclear power and renewables do not emit CO2. … ”

    Exactly why we need both of these technologies expanding in the future. There is no CO2 emissions free power solution without nuclear to carry the base load that intermittent renewables cannot…

    Nuclear = small foot print, and huge amounts of continuous energy. Newer generations are very safe and actually consume the old waste reducing both volume of the waste as well as its radioactivity half life.

    • Bob_Wallace

      If you would take a little time off from campaigning for nuclear and read some of the papers linked in the “100% Renewable…” section (top right) you would understand that what you have just posted is incorrect.

      • LookingForward

        Storage is gonna destroy any nuclear support left in a few years!
        But what he said about new generation nuclear consuming old waste sounds interresting enough, we might need a couple of new generation plants to consume the old waste and a couple of decades after that, a couple more. to consume the waste from them. Untill there is virtually no waste left. Could solve the problem of leaving waste for future generations?

        • Bob_Wallace

          I like to use the “Is anyone spending their own money on it yet? test when it comes to reactors eating radioactive waste and all the other golly, gee whiz nuclear stuff.

          Let’s say it was possible to build a reactor that ate the waste from other reactors and created electricity. And turned a profit.

          Now that would be a wonderful thing, wouldn’t it? You’d think a company would take a few billion out petty cash would be all over that.

          All those countries with nuclear waste that is costing them serious money to store would be glad to pay this new site to take the problem off their hands.

          Look at what has been spent on Yucca Mountain. We were looking at spending $97 billion there. A new reactor should cost a small fraction of that amount. You’d think the US nuclear industry would be glad to kick in $10 to 20 billion.

          Gosh, at the minimum, the nuclear industry would have gotten its friends in Congress to kick out some funds to front this project with the promise of earning back the taxpayer investment.

          They could take away to problem that all the nuclear countries have with radioactive waste and reawaken the nuclear industry. If it’s truly a workable idea one has to scratch their head and wonder why big nuclear doesn’t have one up and running already.

          • LookingForward

            Because it would cost to much upfront. Plus the image of nukes. Plus most waste have been buried so deep, it would probably cost to much to get it back out. Plus transporting waste sometimes 1000s of miles also not good.
            But still, should be done, for futures sack…

          • mwpncookeville

            You might want to checkout some very smart, and very rich people are working on next generation nuclear technology- including Bill Gates who is in fact spending his own money on it. Additionally, GE and Hitachi are currently building a slightly different version than Terrapower is working on, but there are multiple nuclear projects in countries that haven’t been paralyzed by the media hype and fear.

            I should clarify something, that was apparently misleading in my previous post- you cannot consume nuclear waste completely. Yes, the volume and the level of radioactivity of the nuclear waste is reduced, but there will still be nuclear waste remaining. The beauty of the newer generation technology is the efficiency that they consume the material, and how little waste is generated compared to the old light water reactors.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yeah, there’s some ongoing research into better nuclear. Recently Gates moved his investment from standing wave reactors (was that what that idea was called) to something else.

            The research may lead to nothing. The research may lead to cheaper nuclear. That’s not something we will know for several years. And then it would take a decade or more to build a plant and demonstrate its reliability and cost.

            “Affordable nuclear”, if it’s possible, is a decade or many decades away. That’s why we don’t spend time spinning nuclear dreams here. We’re concentrating on what works, what might work soon, and how to put what works to work.

            Now, how about dropping this nuclear fantasy stuff? You can find other places on the web to talk about that stuff.

          • mwpncookeville

            You going to “categorize me” or something- you apparently don’t want to hear differing opinions.
            Decades my petunia. Try less than 4 years.

            ” … Four ABWRs have been built in less than 45 months each, and there are four more under construction. … Gen III reactor design. …”
            They are economical and relatively quick to build for industrial scale facilities just no new ones are being built in the USA.

          • Bob_Wallace

            When we finish build Vogtle and Summer we can get back to how long it takes in the US.

            Until then, let’s stick with renewable energy discussions, please. This is not a nuclear speculation site.

          • mwpncookeville

            Nuclear power works, and has worked for over 50 years and makes 19% of USA production, 80% in France- solar is what’s speculative. If this site is about clean energy discussions- then nuclear is totally appropriate.

            Sorry, but there will be no global CO2 emissions free power solution without nuclear. If you are serious about climate change and discount nuclear as part of the solution, then you are as much of “the problem” as the so called deniers.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Please learn more. Read the “100% Renewable….” section.

            Do that and you won’t post uninformed comments such as “There will be no global solution to CO2 emissions in power generation without nuclear.”

            Perhaps the death knell for nuclear will not ring forth over our plains and through our hollers, but that will happen only if nuclear can compete financially.

            Present nuclear technology cannot compete financially.

            Perhaps sometime in the future someone will invent affordable nuclear. That is not a discussion topic for this site.

          • mwpncookeville

            “Present nuclear technology cannot compete financially.”

            Perhaps you should do further research before making such uninformed comments.


            ” … China drives to nearly quadruple its nuclear energy capacity by 2020. …”

            It’s not only appropriate to discuss this topic in a clean energy forum it’s absolutely imperative!

          • Bob_Wallace

            We can’t build in the US at China prices.

            China can’t build in the UK at China prices.

          • mwpncookeville

            Nuclear energy must be an important contributor to this increase, said Eileen Claussen, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “We need to keep ramping up renewables, but they can’t meet our need for reliable power 24/7.”

            Read more:

          • Bob_Wallace

            Show me Eileen’s numbers where she proves we can’t build a 100% grid.

            Then show me Eileen’s numbers where she proves that including nuclear on the grid would make electricity cheaper than not including it.

          • mwpncookeville

            In an open letter to the environmental community, Dr. James Hansen urged all to reconsider nuclear power as part of the solution to address climate change, saying, “While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.”

          • Bob_Wallace

            Show me James’s numbers that prove that we much include nuclear in order to avoid the worst of climate change.

          • mwpncookeville

            The experience of California, Germany and Japan is clear, the author argues: Close nuclear plants and CO2 emissions soar as other power sources fill the gap.


          • Bob_Wallace

            Sure. Close nuclear plants before you have low carbon substitutes in place, causing more use of fossil fuels, and CO2 levels will rise.


            That doesn’t make nuclear affordable. We put no price on carbon.

            Do try to remember. The issue is not so much about the price of existing reactors. It’s the price of yet-to-be-built reactors that is killing nuclear. (About 25% of the US reactor fleet is in financial trouble. The other 75% will probably be OK until it’s refurbishing/major repair time.)

          • eveee

            Compare apples to apples. In the developed countries, nuclear is more expensive than coal, gas, wind, and solar. Try finding references to Chinese wind costs to compare with Chinese nuclear costs. We probably will not have any reliable costs coming from China, because the economy is controlled.

          • mwpncookeville

            Try these apples to apples:
            EIA levelized cost projections for 2019 – just released last month show photovoltaic solar will still be 60% higher costs than nuclear. So much for all the claims about cheap solar.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Solar is selling right now, early 2014, for 5c/kWh, That’s about 6.1c/kWh without subsidies.

            Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

            “Utility-Scale Solar 2012: An Empirical Analysis of Project Cost, Performance, and Pricing Trends in the United States”


            The EIA says that PV solar will cost 13c/kWh in 2019.

            Which do you believe, signed sales agreements or projections?

          • eveee

            If it works so well, why is it in decline and why do you need new technology reactors? Show some references to real world data, not fantasy from the industries. Refer to how long it takes to build the latest and greatest new generation nuclear reactors at Vogtle, Summer, and in Finland. They are behind schedule and over budget. After you research that, get back to us.

          • mwpncookeville

            I guess you missed it the first time:

            ” … Four ABWRs have been built in less than 45 months each, and there are four more under construction. … Gen III reactor design. …”

          • eveee

            I guess you forgot to continue some quoting on this. Your blurb came from GE. Here is another source,

            So-called Generation III (and 3+) are the Advanced Reactors discussed in this paper, though the distinction from Generation II is arbitrary. The first are in operation in Japan and others are under construction or ready to be ordered. Generation IV designs are still on the drawing board and will not be operational before 2020 at the earliest.

            GenIV are not here yet. The Gen3 distinction from 2 is arbitrary?


            Those Gen 3 reactors were built in Japan. Japan is not so keen on nuclear at the moment. Last heard, the subject of earthquakes and tsunamis and NPP shut downs.

          • mwpncookeville

            Japan is restarting their nuclear plants in case you haven’t heard.

        • mwpncookeville

          I should clarify something, that was apparently misleading in my previous post- you cannot consume nuclear waste completely. Yes, the volume and the level of radioactivity of the nuclear waste is reduced, but there will still be nuclear waste remaining. The beauty of the newer generation technology is the efficiency that they consume the material, and how little waste is generated compared to the old light water reactors- and the fact that the waste from the older systems can be used as feed stock for the new.

          • LookingForward

            I know that, but it’s better to have a situation where 1 square mile is uninhabitable then 100 or 1000, better to have 750 metric tons of depleted uranium then 750,000 metric tons, right?

            I partly agree with you, mwpncookeville and with Bob, to explain what I mean by that, I think nuclear will be the future bridge fuel (what gas is supposed to be right now).
            To curb climate change, we need an “all of the above” sollution not just against coal and partly oil, but all fossil fuels. And part of that sollution in my mind, for the next 50 years, includes new nuclear. During the transition, there will be enough advanced renewables and storage to cover all energy use and start fasing out all nuclear when all fossil fuel plants are gone.
            I’m shure new/next generation nuclear will be more price competative. And even if it takes 1 GW nuclear plant 10 years to be build, I am shure that will be shorter too, it will still force 1 GW of fossil fuel plants to retire, maybe more since fossil fuel plants work less production and time wise.
            And since coal and nuclear are both base load and none of the fast growing renewables are without storage, we need new nuclear to fase out all coal for now

          • Bob_Wallace

            “I’m shure new/next generation nuclear will be more price competative.”

            That’s a faith-based statement. There’s nothing of substance to base it on. We could switch to thorium for fuel but the cost of uranium is only 0.0025/kWh. There’s no appreciable fuel costs decrease costs available.

            A new nuclear reactor will still mean building a “furnace” and a “steam turbine”. The manner of transferring heat from furnace to turbine won’t make much of a price difference.

            We could build safer reactors, but the cost of liability insurance is not now included in the cost of nuclear electricity (except for a token amount of liability assumption).

            But let’s play the nuclear gets cheaper game. Let’s fantasize that nuclear drops 25%, from the 11c/kWh best price from Vogtle to 8c/kWh.

            Here’s what nuclear has to compete with.

            Wind is now being produced for about 3c. (No subsidies.)

            Before this ‘8c’ reactor could come on line solar will almost certainly be 4c or less.

            Storage is possible for around 5c in pump-up hydro facilities.

            40% direct from 3c wind. 30% direct from 4c solar. 30% from 8.5c stored W/S.

            That’s 5c/kWh “baseload”, “always-on” wind/solar electricity.


          • Bob_Wallace

            And rather than argue the cost of storage let me give you some options…

            PuHS at 5c = 5c baseload
            Vanadium flow at 8c = 5.9c baseload.
            EOS Systems air zinc at 10c = 6.5c baseload.

            Storage would have to reach 15c/kWh in order for baseload wind/solar to equal the hypothetical 8c price of future nuclear.

            Storage would have to reach 25c/kWh in order for baseload wind/solar to equal the hoped for 11c price of Vogtle.

          • mwpncookeville

            I prefer EIA projections to your idealistic fantasy- unfortunately the real world cannot wait for solar to become cheaper than nuclear.

            The most recent production data shows that solar produces a whopping 0.5% of US production- that’s real production, as installed capacity means squat. Actual production is what matters.

            2019 levelized projections just released last month by the EIA show that solar will cost 60% more than advanced nuclear- so much for that cheap solar you’ve been claiming.

          • A Real Libertarian

            EIA projections are blatantly wrong.

          • mwpncookeville

            Maybe they are wrong regarding projections, but I see no reason to doubt there percentage of solar production data is also- as that is in retrospect. The solar contribution is negligible now and will remain so for another decade. In that time we could build a dozen nuclear plants that would make a huge contribution to lowering CO2 if we retired as many coal plants.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Take a look at how rapidly solar is growing in the US.

            We can’t build a dozen nuclear plants in the next decade. We don’t have the trained/experienced people needed to build that many at one time.

          • Bob_Wallace

            That’s fine. If you want to use EIA projections go right ahead and wander down that path. It will lead you further into the valley of misinformation

            Did you happen to notice that the EIA is predicting onshore wind will cost 8.6 cents/kWh in 2019?

            Do you know that the average PPA for wind in 2014 was 2.1 cents/kWh. Adding back in the PTC and that makes wind 3.23 cents right now. 37.5% the 2019 prediction.

            Solar is selling right now in the SW US for 5 cents/kWh. 6.1 cents after the subsidy is added back in.

            The EIA is predicting that PV solar will cost 13 cents/kWh in 2019. Solar is selling for 47% that price right now.

            If you want to take the EIA’s predictions over actual documented prices then have a ball….

          • eveee

            EIA projections? You mean like these?


            EIA is comedically inept at projections, sorry. Better find another source.

            As for nuclear proponents of future reactor economics,

            Flamanville, Olkiluoto, Vogtle, Summer, …

            All cost over runs.

            Wind and Solar half the cost of nuclear.


            Have you heard the news?

          • mwpncookeville

            One or two sweat heart deals do not pull the average cost of PV solar down all that much.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sweat heart?

            Count the number. Look at the trend. These are not sweetheart deals. This is what has happened to the cost of solar in the US.

            Do make an attempt to not fight reality….

          • LookingForward

            “That’s a faith-based statement. There’s nothing of substance to base it on”
            You don’t think it’s faith-based that we can stop climate change in time before it’s to late (what was it, before 2030?) with just wind solar and storage?!?
            You have account for limits in production capacity too when it comes to solar panels wind turbines and bateries and storage facilities, I don’t think it will grow fast enough, unless everyone including government and utilities change there way of thinking today.
            So if some people wanna build nuclear, even if it’s more expensive, let them, it helps.
            Like I read in another article that came out today.
            Climate change is way more dangerous, then a (small?)change of another chernobil or fukushima (how much time was in between those 2? 30 years?
            Besides your cost comparisons don’t count for the entire planet.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let’s separate “can” and “will”.

            We can go back to Jacobson and Delucci (2009) where they did the math for converting almost all our energy (electricity, transportation and heating) to renewables in 20 years. Now, five years later, the job would be easier with the improvements we’ve made in turbines and panels.

            The data seems to be showing that we are already experiencing some hurt from climate change. And that we have a reasonable window for avoiding “too late” – extreme climate change.

            “A leaked draft of the report sent to governments in December suggests that in order to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) by the end of the century — the stated goal of international climate talks — emissions need to fall by 40-70 percent by 2050.”
            I think we will reduce CO2 by at least 40% by 2050 due simply to economic forces. That’s 35 years of fossil plants dying of old age and needing to be replaced. Renewables are simply becoming too inexpensive to ignore.
            That doesn’t mean that I think we can kick back and coast. Climate change is too dangerous to ‘go for the bronze’. We need, IMO, to push toward almost 100% by 2050.

          • mwpncookeville

            I couldn’t agree more. If some decades in the future nuclear can be retired when renewables alone can carry the load, I’ll be all for it. We aren’t there now, and won’t be for the foreseeable future per the EIA. The 2019 projections just released last month show solar costs 60% more than advanced nuclear.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Reality tells us that solar is selling right now for less than half the EIA projected 2019 price.

            For the EIA to be correct the price of solar would have to more than double over the next five years. Are you willing to assume the price of solar will double? And, if so, please explain why you think it will.

          • eveee

            Then what do you do about the fact that most of the US NPP are old and will be retired in the next 20 years? How can those be replaced at the anemic build rate? As much as we might want to use it, it is not happening.

            ” The nuclear share in the world’s power generation declined steadily from a historic peak of 17 percent in 1993 to about 10 percent in 2012.”


          • mwpncookeville

            Nuclear is in decline largely due to a huge misinformation campaign. Only at Chernobyl have their been deaths from radiation released due to an accident at a nuclear power plant- no where else. Not Three Mile Island and not even at Fukushima.

            In England, in the year 2011 there were 163 wind turbine accidents that killed 14 people. I’ll bet you didn’t know that. Is anyone screaming that we should stop all wind projects? No, of course not. Nuclear is safer than wind.

          • A Real Libertarian

            Kyshtym, SL-1, Tokaimura, Mihama…

            Do those “wind turbine accidents” include a drunken snowmobiler running into a fence?

            Or a guy sneaking on to a wind farm to kill himself?

          • mwpncookeville

            I don’t know, but even if they do the other 12 count. How many people died from nuclear power accidents in the same time period—- zero.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Are you restricting your body count to only workers killed by radiation? Do you not count the two people killed in the last year from falls in North American reactors?

            How about deaths like the workers scaled to death in Rancho Seco? Do they not count?

            How about traffic accident deaths within sight of reactors? Not countable? The wind death database includes traffic deaths within sight of wind turbines.

          • mwpncookeville

            If that’s true its ridiculous. It would be ridiculous to include near by traffic deaths in either case.

            The majority of the deaths to workers in the wind industry are not surprisingly related to falls from heights, or being crushed by falling debris. The injury rate for workers installing PV on roof tops is similar to roofers, which is actually a quite dangerous profession, as they don’t usually take the sort of fall restraint measures required in other industries.

            Radiation is the boogey man that brings fear to the public, and is very, very rarely a problem with nuclear power. Deaths or illness from radiation exposure either to the plant workers or to the public are rarer still. Nuclear power is statistically very, very safe- especially when considered against the number of KW’s generated per injury. No other power generating industry is safer when compared in this way- even including the Chernobyl accident.

            What is “scaled to death”?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Why don’t you read through the wind industry database that is used when people talk about all the industry deaths? See for yourself what has been included.


            Just scan down the left hand side for “Fatalities” and see how many you would classify as legitimate death claims and how many stretch credibility.

            Then ask yourself if you’ve ever seen a listing of all the people killed while constructing or operating nuclear reactors. Not just radiation deaths but falls, getting crushed by equipment, electrocuted, etc. I’ve never seen that reported.

            It makes no sense to count deaths for people backed over by delivery trucks/whatever in one case and ignore them in the other.

            (Scalded – steam pipe erupted.)

            “as they don’t usually take the sort of fall restraint measures required in other industries”

            If a company gets caught working on roof, replacing the roof or installing solar panels, there’s a hefty OSHA fine and a likely loss of insurance.

            Nuclear is quite safe when compared to coal, in terms of worker deaths. However nuclear brings a danger, unlike any other energy source, to non-workers.

            Since nuclear is so expensive there’s no need to create additional dangers for anyone. Let’s put nuclear to sleep and get on with building cheaper, safer generation.

  • spec9

    People should install LEDs and solar PV furiously (and push for more big wind) in order to reduce demand and increase distributed generation in order to prevent replacement centralized power plants from being built.

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