E2T: You’re well known for having big macro views as to how these things have to change. What do you think is the single biggest failure of American environmental policy that we could actually do something about?
VK: For every nuclear plant that environmentalists avoided, they ended up causing two coal plants to be built. That’s the history of the last 20 years. Most new power plants in this country are coal, because the environmentalists opposed nuclear. When you ask someone like the NRDC, ‘Do you prefer nuclear or coal?’ They’ll say ‘We prefer nuclear to coal, but we don’t want either.’ It doesn’t work that way; we need power.
I admit it, I am trying to attract just a bit of attention with the title. It is encouraging, however, to find that someone with Khosla’s experience in a wide range of technology industries has come to a similar conclusion as many nuclear advocates who also happen to care deeply about the state of the environment.
Khosla is an important thought leader in the investment world; with people like him beginning to think and talk about nuclear power’s benefits, new plants cannot be far off. The only real thing slowing progress now is investment – the regulatory process will take some time, and the infrastructure needs work, but with investment the ultimate goal of substantial new construction is attainable and sustainable.
(Aside: Technically speaking, Khosla’s comment is not accurate for the US, but might be for certain other countries. In the US, we have not built much coal capacity in the last 20 years; more new power production has come from natural gas fired combined cycle plants. We have increased gas powered electricity by about 250% in the past 20 years.
We have also run existing coal plants at higher capacity factors and increased overall coal consumption by about 44% during the past 20 years. Production from “renewable” energy sources has only increased by 18% since 1988!
Even with all of the opposition and the lack of new plants, nuclear electricity production has increased by 45% compared to 1988 and the increase in the number of nuclear kilowatt hours is 4 times as high as the number of new kilowatt hours from renewable sources. Facts are stubborn things – Electricity net generation (US) 1949-2006)