When it comes to modernizing our energy systems, we’re often forced to wait on new technology to mature (Think: nuclear fusion or energy storage). But sometimes, technologies already exist, yet aren’t always used to their full potential. Some examples include nuclear power, hydroelectric dams, long-distance transmission line. Why aren’t these technologies more widespread?
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A closer look at each of the topics
Why doesn’t the U.S. convert more non-powered dams into powered dams?
Most dams in the United States don’t generate electricity – but many of them could. A Department of Energy study identified more than 50,000 non-powered dams that could contribute 12 GW of generating capacity. (For comparison, the U.S. has about 80 GW of installed hydro capacity total.) As Inside Energy reported, some are pushing for micro-hydropower and retrofitting existing dams to generate electricity. But there’s also been momentum for the removal of dams. In this landscape, what’s the outlook for hydro?
Would transmission losses be too high to sustain an international grid?
Imagine sending electricity from solar panels in Australia to Singapore, or from wind turbines in Alberta to New York. This dream could be achieved with a supergrid: a massive system spanning continents that could quickly move electricity from where it’s being generated to where it’s being used. Is this dream on its way to becoming a reality, or are the costs – and political hurdles – too high?
Why is nuclear power not part of the current conversation on energy?
In 2016, Watts Bars 2 came online in Tennessee, the first new nuclear reactor in two decades. Nuclear energy has been struggling, facing competition from cheaper, newer gas-fired plants. But there have been hints that the Trump administration could be favorable for the nuclear power sector. Why did nuclear power leave the energy conversation in the first place, and might it be making a comeback?
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