The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Problems with the power grid

Smokestacks from the Greenridge Generation power plant tower above the surrounding landscape in in Dresden, N.Y., on Oct. 15.
Smokestacks from the Greenridge Generation power plant tower above the surrounding landscape in in Dresden, N.Y., on Oct. 15. (Julie Jacobson/AP)
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The Oct. 25 front-page article “Power grid buckles amid failures to act on warming” didn’t mention two challenges to the grid: electric cars and bitcoin. The grid is only part of our energy problem. The majority of our electricity will be fossil-fuel-derived for many years to come. Renewables and nuclear power can help in solving the climate crisis, but they will not soon replace fossil fuels.

Renewables cannot reliably produce power on demand and typically do not produce power where it is consumed. Solving the former will require low-cost, efficient energy storage or a backup. The latter puts additional stress on the grid.

Nuclear power could help, but it is highly inefficient, using less than 5 percent of the energy potential of uranium, leaving the radioactive, used nuclear fuel as waste. Solving this will require a breeder reactor: one that can extract the energy of the major component of uranium, its isotope U-238. Such a reactor is within the realm of possibility if we invest in it rather than wasting billions of dollars on fusion reactors. 

 Of course, one of the cheapest and most effective approaches is conservation: using less energy and dealing with the massive amounts of methane being released into the atmosphere. Are we doomed? Only if we fail to take the key, dramatic steps needed to address our energy crises.

Carl E. Nash, Washington

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