What kinds of renewable energy technologies are poised to grow to meet energy demands if nuclear power becomes a diminished option?

With nuclear power plants under scrutiny across the US, thoughts turn toward renewable energy as a potential replacement. Even Germany is beginning to phase out its nuclear power plants in favor of renewable energy as an alternative to nuclear. But is this possible in the US?

According to a study of US energy consumption in 2009, use of renewable energy and nuclear electric power ran nearly equal. But, that does not necessarily mean that one can replace the other quickly, if at all.

United States Energy Information Administration, “Annual Energy Review 2009,” Table 1.3, “Primary Energy Consumption by Source, 1949-2009.

A-E-Resources-Inc, an expert in commercializing energy efficiencies and alternative energy solutions for commercial and industrial clients, says that one of the obstacles for renewable or alternative energy technologies remains the lack of infrastructure to transmit power from point A to point B. A-E-Resources-Inc points out that to generate the amount of power equivalent of a nuclear or traditional power plant from renewable sources requires a larger infrastructure footprint. And, the availability of renewable sources of energy is governed by geographic and demographic considerations.

A-E-Resources-Inc says that news media has helped to draw attention and interest to renewable energy because of the Fukushima Daiichi crisis, but until infrastructure is in place to allow the transmission of power from large renewable projects, or end users embrace point of use generation like solar panels and wind turbines, renewable energy technologies will only see a marginal increase in interest.

Jamey-Hadden an expert in biofuels, says that the nuclear crisis does not change the equation for operating for profitability. “Feed-in tariffs, subsidies, loan guarantees, and so on are the determinants for growth in alternative energies, not the nuclear energy industry’s implosion,” he says.

Alternative energies that are poised to take off are the ones that can beat coal on price, which are few, or have subsidies or tax breaks associated with them to make up the difference in price to make it an affordable and real alternative. Hadden thinks that renewable energy will continue to be at a disadvantage because there is no serious tax on carbon, which would make it a viable and desirable alternative.

Arik-Ring a renewable power expert with advanced degrees in mechanical, industrial, and nuclear engineering, says the issue is really about base load. “Nuclear power is used only for base load. The only renewable power technologies that can be used for base load are hybrid solar thermal, geothermal, hydro, and biomass/biofuel,” he says Wind, which is currently growing rapidly because it is very cost effective, cannot be used for base load. Photovoltaic (PV) technology cannot be used for base load either; however, as PV is the most rapidly deployed technology available, it may benefit from the current nuclear crisis in Japan and the current unrest and predicted long-term instability in the Middle East.

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