Nuclear weapons are an existential threat to humanity. If they are used in violence it is likely that the planet would enter a period of nuclear winter – meaning that if you don’t die in the initial waves of explosions you’ll die from starvation. Not a good thing to think about.
Thankfully, yesterday 122 members of the United Nations signed a treaty committing them to a ban on nukes. Countries like the USA, France, and other nuke-loving countries didn’t sign it, still it sends a clear message: the rest of the world doesn’t want anybody to use nuclear weapons. The timing of the signing is quite symbolic given what Trump said during his speech at the UN earlier this week.
“The Treaty is an important step towards the universally-held goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. It is my hope that it will reinvigorate global efforts to achieve it,” he added, acknowledging the contributions made by civil society and the hibakusha – the atomic bomb survivors.
At the same time, Mr. Guterres, highlighted the difficult road ahead by recalling that there remain some 15,000 nuclear weapons in existence. “We cannot allow these doomsday weapons to endanger our world and our children’s future,” he said.
One of the worst energy disaster in human history was the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. It has left a giant chunk of land around Pripyat uninhabitable to humans (although the rest of nature has been thriving because humans aren’t there), now the Ukrainian government wants to reuse the land for a new source of electricity. A collection of companies are proposing that the land from the disaster be converted to the world’s largest solar farm!
The development of the 1GWh(!) installation makes a lot of sense considering there is useful land and infrastructure in the area, and Ukraine needs the power.
Because Chernobyl was a site for energy production in its former capacity, transmission lines already exist. “The Chernobyl site has really good potential for renewable energy,” Semerak said. “We already have high-voltage transmission lines that were previously used for the nuclear stations, the land is very cheap and we have many people trained to work at power plants.”
As long as environmental and banking concerns are addressed, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development indicated it would be interested in participating.
The future is looking better and better for renewable energy production and recently the capacity for renewable energy is comparable to nuclear. Nuclear energy saw great progress and governmental support to get it where it is today; without such extensive help renewable energy production is now catching up.
Seeing the success of renewables will hopefully inspire more governments to create policies to support ongoing growth. The logistical issues of storage are still being figured out by utilities and as we’ve recently seen, investors are more interested in this sector than ever before.
Following a rapid rise from its beginnings in the mid-1950s, global nuclear power generating capacity peaked at 375.3 gigawatts (GW) in 2010. Capacity has since declined to 371.8 GW in 2013, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Adverse economics, concern about reactor safety and proliferation, and the unresolved question of what to do with nuclear waste have put the brakes on the industry.
In stark contrast, wind and solar power generating capacities are now on the same soaring trajectory that nuclear power was on in the 1970s and 1980s. Wind capacity of 320 GW in 2013 is equivalent to nuclear capacity in 1990. The 140 GW in solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity is still considerably smaller, but growing rapidly.
A new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance has shown that wind power will keep coming down in price until it becomes cheaper than coal, gas, nuclear, and cheap natural gas power generation. Wind power is already competitive (or even better than traditional energy sources) in the long run when emissions, natural resource mining, and health side effects are taken into consideration but this study suggests that the new price parity expected in 2016 will be independent of externalities.
After analyzing the cost curve for wind projects since the mid-1980s, BNEF researchers showed that the cost of wind-generated electricity has fallen 14 percent for every doubling of installation capacity. These cost reductions are due to a number of factors: more sophisticated manufacturing, better materials, larger turbines, and more experience with plant operations and maintenance. Those improvements, combined with an oversupply of turbines on the global market, will bring the average cost of wind electricity down another 12 percent by 2016.
Read a summary of the Bloomberg report at Grist.org.
We recently reached the point that solar power is cheaper than nuclear power and now some researchers at the University of Toronto have found a way to make solar cells even cheaper by using nickel instead of gold.
One of the major drawbacks of most renewable energy sources is high cost. In order to see a huge rise in the use of renewable energy sources, prices must come down. In the world of solar there have recently been some major breakthroughs in cost advantages and efficiency increases. Scientists at the University of Toronto in Canada have come up with a way to reduce colloidal quantum dot solar cell prices by up to 80%, by swapping out costly conductive gold for cheap nickel.