Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Idaho Nat’l Lab: “Transforming The Energy Infrastructure”

by Andrew Hart November 15th, 2010

SUMMARY: In a July, 2010 report the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory advanced a five point strategy for the country to meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals in a way that best serves U.S. economic and security objectives. Key recommendations include: reduce energy consumption fractionally each year; cut gasoline and diesel consumption 70 percent from 2009 levels by 2050; continue to replace coal-fired electric power with that produced from renewable energy sources; increase use of nuclear power to produce electricity; and if technically feasible, deploy carbon-capture and sequestration technology for “clean coal”-derived electricity. The cost of the comprehensive plan detailed in the INL report would be about $3.85 trillion over forty years and would entail a 54 percent increase in the cost of energy by 2050. However, the INL report posits that the costs are justifiable because the strategy would comprise a self-sufficient, predictable and secure approach to meeting our nation’s future energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction needs, versus the current unsustainable approach.

Figure E-2, Emissions Reductions Required To Meet Objectives

BACKGROUND: Accessible, economical, and effective, the energy infrastructure of the United States is one of the most advanced in the world. Still there is room for improvement. Among the inefficiencies in U.S. energy infrastructure are: a reliance on foreign sources, volatility in the price of energy, consumption of natural resources better used for other purposes, and the massive amount of CO2 emitted by the burning of coal for electricity. The report addresses these insecurities by outlining a multi-faceted technology based strategy for overhauling the U.S. energy infrastructure.

KEY LINK: “Transforming the U.S. Energy Infrastructure,” L. E. Demic, July, 2010, Idaho National Laboratory. Prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy.


  • “The [Obama/Biden] Administration and Congress have proposed national initiatives for significant reductions in GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions over the next four decades.” These goals include: reducing GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, increasing the use of renewable energy by 2025, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 20% of 1990 levels by 2050.
  • Based on annual reports issued by the Department of Energy detailing the energy production and consumption in the U.S., the INL report projects that current trends indicate the nation will not meet the greenhouse gas emission reduction objectives of the Administration and Congress (Figure 2-2).
  • Currently the U.S. is among one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG), accounting for one-third of world emissions. 84% of these emissions are from the energy sector.

The report advocates a five point technology based strategy to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Take advantage of improving efficiency in energy production, consumption and conservation to reduce energy consumption at an annual rate of about one-quarter of one percent.
  • Support continued adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles in place of conventional vehicles and bio-diesel in place of conventional diesel; continue to improve standards for vehicle mileage and vehicle tailpipe emissions; by 2050 reduce consumption of gasoline and diesel by 6.5 million barrels per day, or about 70% of 2009 consumption of imported crude oil.
  • For electricity production, increase the use of renewable energy sources such as hydro-electric, wind, solar, and biomass, in place of coal plants.
  • Employ nuclear energy, in the form of high temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) technology, to replace the burning of fossil fuels in commercial and industrial settings and to provide a GHG emission-free source of energy for production of synthetic fuels from coal and biomass. About 260 2,400-megawatt thermal HTGR plants supplying energy to a wide range of industrial processes and about 25 13,200 megawatt thermal HTGR plants would need to be deployed by 2050.
  • Increase the use of nuclear power and, if technically viable, coal and gas-fired plants with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), as replacements for conventional coal fired and natural gas plants for the production of electricity, making substantial inroads by 2050.

The reports concludes:

  • To implement this strategy would cost approximately $3.85 trillion over four decades, yielding an increase of approximately 54% in the cost of energy by 2050. The report maintains that the technology based strategy would prove more effective and economical than other legislative proposals. In addition to addressing current energy infrastucture vulnerabilities, the technology based strategy would NOT result in a flow of capital out of the country, unlike current Congressional legislation being considered. The strategy would promote job growth in the energy and associated sectors, and create predictable and gradual energy cost increases.

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