Monthly Archives: February 2013

Energy vs. Electricity and why we care

We’ve noticed that many people talk a great deal about energy, but really are talking about electricity generation. Electricity is a form of energy, but it is only one part of the total picture. The figure below comes from Lawrence Livermore National Labs and presents a more holistic picture of energy.

Let’s take this picture apart a bit and understand what we at the NGNP Alliance are trying to change.

The orange block in the top center is electricity, which is used in roughly equal shares by residential, commercial, and industrial customers. Very little is applied to transportation. Nuclear, Hydro, Wind, Solar all pretty much generate electricity. (OK, a little solar is used for heating in homes) When we talk about these options together or separately we are talking almost exclusively about electricity.

But electricity is only about 40% of our total energy consumption. Look at petroleum (also known as oil) and natural gas on the chart above. Virtually no oil is used for generating electricity. Only one third of natural gas produced is used to generate electricity, the remainder is used primarily in industrial and transportation applications.

If we moved our electricity production to 100% carbon free sources, like nuclear, hydro, and renewables, we would reduce the use of carbon fuels by only 25%. Basically cutting most coal consumption and reducing natural gas by 30%. But we would still be left huge amounts of petroleum and natural gas being used for industrial and transportation purposes.

The NGNP Alliance is looking at a new kind of reactor, called a High Temperature Gas Reactor (HGTR) that can generate high temperature, high quality heat and do it with true inherent safety.  That heat could replace coal, natural gas, and petroleum in many industrial processes including chemical and fertilizer manufacture and hydrogen and synthetic fuel production.  If you look at the industrial block on the chart above, it represents nearly as much carbon based energy as the entire electricity sector. By converting even one quarter of the natural gas and oil use in this sector to nuclear energy, HTGRs can make a very substantial reduction to the nation’s carbon emissions and preserve natural and gas for more valuable purposes in transportation and industry.

This is something that our existing reactor technology cannot do and it constitutes and exciting and important contribution to our nation’s energy equation.