I was recently having coffee with a friend and we began talking about the role of nuclear energy, specifically whether Indian Point nuclear power facility, which you can see from my parents’ front yard, should be shut down.
My answer is: No. Now before yelling and opinion starts, let’s take a few minutes to investigate this issue a little more logically.
Ever-Increasing Demand for Power
We, as a society, demand ever increasing amounts of electricity. Every electronic device draws power, from your refrigerator to your cell phone, to the little green light on light switches that stays on all the time. None of this comes free of charge. Even the industries that draw huge amounts of electricity do so at our demand because ultimately industry supplies things we use from food to online banking to the server hosting this website. I realize it’s generally considered poor grammar to use demand twice in the same paragraph but it’s important to realize electricity and power are produced according to demand, the demand you and I put on the industry. Electricity producers don’t produce power willy-nilly and cause us to become addicted to it. It’s precisely the other way around, we demand more and the industry builds and produces in response.
In this series of articles I’ll begin discussing how power is made and distributed. Then I’ll compare “green” options such as wind power and solar power as alternatives to coal, gas and nuclear power and conservation. As will be seen there’s a startling disconnect between what people believe and what can actually be delivered in terms of electricity. We’ll always find electricity to meet demand, the problem arises in that Americans do not tend to want to use less or build (and pay for) more capacity to produce. It reminds of children who demand candy when they’re presented with spinach or broccoli with their dinner. It simply isn’t doable and eventually will land the child in bed early for the night. In our case this obstinance will simply give us higher energy costs. Suppose we live in an overly permissive household where the child gets candy for dinner every night. The child will get fat. In our demand for more power, we’ll experience ever increasing environmental damage and damage to human health.
The grid sounds a lot like The Matrix or the name of some other sci-fi movie. However it’s simply the network of power lines connecting power plants and electricity users together. On a map it looks like a big messy net of connections, and in fact it is. The electrical grid is a non-linear network of electrical transmission lines and power plants existing at points all over this grid. This system has grown in an organic fashion since the early 20th century and exploded in size after WWII.