Mid to late-August brings extreme summer heat, and this year, it also brought a thinning of the heard of the current field of Democratic Presidential contenders. With this, Bernie Sanders is attempting to take sole ownership of environmental issues in order to make him stand out from the rest of the pack. His approach: the “Green New Deal”……on steroids.
Now, I won’t entirely dismiss this plan. There are some aspects of it that make sense. For example, nationalizing the electric grid makes perfect sense. When the electric grid was deregulated in the 1990s, the thought was that it would enhance reliability while reducing costs. Neither of those have happened. In fact, the exact opposite has happened. Private companies neglected maintenance, operated assets well beyond their designated maintenance intervals, and now we’re paying for it. Having a reliable, low-cost national power grid is in the national economic and security interest of the United States; so much so, that it must have the backing of the U.S. government.
While this part is a great idea, the Green New Deal is far from perfect. For example, the current plan aims to largely decarbonize the electric grid using wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and energy storage. While some of those energy sources might offer some assistance in the race to decarbonize, they are not, nor will they ever be the primary solution. The problem that each one of them has can be summed up in one word: reliability. In engineering space, “reliability” is the ability for something to perform a required task when called upon, consistently. If we say a car is 99 percent reliable, it means it will start and run 99 key turns out of 100. In electricity space, we measure this by capacity factor and availability factor. Capacity factor is the ability for an electrical generator to perform at its nameplate capacity over a period of time. So, if I have a 2000 watt gas-powered generator and its label says it can run at 1000 watts for eight hours before running out of fuel, its capacity factor in that sense would be 50 percent. For nuclear plants, this number is around 90 percent. For coal-fired power plants, this number is around 70 percent. For modern combined cycle natural gas plants, this number is around 40 percent. For all renewables, this number is around 25 percent.
Bernie & Company’s Green New Deal says that a generating source that is there 25 percent of the time will adequately replace generating sources that are there 70-90 percent of the time. You don’t have to be an engineer or particularly good at math to know that’s just not true. You don’t replace a car that consistently runs five to six days of the week with a car that may run one or two days. If you still expect your car to start the way your old one did, you’d quickly be taking that new model back to the dealer.
That’s the problem with the current Green New Deal. It largely ignores scientific and engineering facts to cater to a dialogue and ideology that's just not true. Anyone is entitled to their own opinions, but as it relates to science, we’re not entitled to our own facts. Bernie Sanders cannot assume sole ownership of science while ignoring some fundamental laws that govern it. His campaign chastises those that disagree with his plan, saying they are “wrong” and “ignorant.” You simply cannot make that assertion when your hallmark energy plan ignores basic laws of physics and science. It’s disingenuous and wrong.
The scientific community agrees that global climate change is a serious problem and is the biggest existential threat to the human species over the next 50 years. The laws of physics (i.e. science) say that nuclear power is the only viable solution to having a chance at mitigating some of the most severe effects of climate change. You’re either in total agreement with this or you hold the same effective validity as those who deny climate change as even being a problem. There is no in between. It's science.
A real “Green New Deal” prioritizes nuclear and makes it and a truly resilient, nationalized electric grid a priority. This will be how we power our electric cars, our homes, our businesses, our factories, our water desalinization plants, and our society to not mitigate climate change, but beat it.
If you like Bernie’s plan, great. I’m happy for you. But you do not get to claim sole ownership as the party of “science” when you largely ignore some glaring fundamentals that are staring you right in the face. You can change this though. You can change how history gets written. Demand more form the Green New Deal. Demand something that works. Demand something that your kids and grandkids will be able to write about in the same way we write about the moon mission of 1969….something that worked.
Revise the Green New Deal to include nuclear, and win.