Siemens announced this week that it has completed testing of a combined-cycle, natural gas generating plant near Ingolstadt, in Bavaria. Rated at 340 MW in gas-only mode, the test run was so successful, the plant now is expected to achieve a rated output of 370 MW, running in that limited way. When the second steam turbine is connected, the plant will have a capacity of 570 MW and an efficiency of 60 percent--two percentage points higher than the most efficient gas combined cycle plant currently operating.
A decade or two ago, such efficiencies in a thermal power plant would have been considered unthinkable and unachievable. They help explain why, on balance, natural gas is still the technology of choice for electricity generation almost everywhere in the world. That is to say, if enough gas is expected to be available in the long run at acceptable prices, there's really no better way of making electricity.
Such considerations prompted me to wonder, in a recent blog, why the U.S. natural gas industry feels called upon to run big ads telling readers how good gas is. Since that post provoked some ire and aroused some misunderstandings, please permit this humble blogger to clarify a few points:
--though I have written critically about nuclear technology and the nuclear industry for 35 years, I am not anti-nuclear; in fact, I have argued elsewhere that nuclear energy will be essential in any concerted U.S. effort to sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions
--however, there are numerous well-known safety issues associated with nuclear energy, including the danger of explosions in nuclear reactors: during the Three Mile Island partial melt-down, there was acute concern about the possibility of a hydrogen explosion; the Chernobyl reactor blew up as the result of a runaway self-escalating nuclear chain reaction; in fast breeder reactors, full-fledged nuclear explosions can occur; and steam explosions are possible in any standard water-cooled, water-moderated reactor
--in the case of the catastrophic Chernobyl accident, a great deal of radiation did of course escape; the first evidence we had of the accident in the West was the detection of atmospheric radiation in Sweden
--while it's most improbable that any terrorist group would be able to extract plutonium from highly radioactive spent reactor fuel, if the fuel is reprocessed and the recovered plutonium is transported, the plutonium could be stolen and used to make an atomic bomb
--the estimate of the number of Americans who die annually from exposure to coal power plant pollution--30,000---is discussed extensively and documented in the third chapter of my book, Kicking the Carbon Habit: The Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy
--my post is a critique of the way climate policy is formulated in the United States and, to a great extent, Europe as well, not of any particular person or party