[Note: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that nuclear power is a low-carbon sources of energy — contrary to the what I believed when I wrote the post below in 2009. My belated thanks to David Walters who blogs at Left Atomics, whose comments below were spot on. And now, I think I’ll have a nice big helping of crow pie.]
Renewable energy is becoming as American as apple pie, and as any good chef knows, the quality of the finished products depends largely upon the ingredients used. So, what do Americans want in their energy pie this year? Well, in October, the Nielsen Company did a survey to find out. The results are interesting, partly because things look very different depending on how you slice the pie.
The study grouped a variety of energy sources under the heading, “Renewable and Carbon Neutral Sources.” [Emphasis added]
I don’t know why the phrase “carbon neutral” was included, but it appears to give nuclear power a chance to be included in the pie. Nuclear fuel isn’t renewable,
but it also isn’t carbon neutral — unless you ignore carbon emissions that come from mining, transporting, and processing the uranium fuel, and disposing of the radioactive waste (for which there is currently no viable plan — but that’s another story).
Using all the Nielsen study data, here are the results presented in (what else?) a pie chart.
Fine. Looks good.
But, as I argued above, I really don’t think nuclear belongs in this pie under a reasonable definition of “carbon neutral.” Here’s what our pie would look like with the radioactive ingredient removed.
Not that much of a difference, given that only 6 percent of respondents said they preferred nuclear power in the first place. Still, the configuration has changed slightly.
But, I wondered: What is “no preference” doing in a list of energy pie ingredients? It’s a non-ingredient. If we yank it from our pie, here’s what we get:
Now, this pie looks very different from the first one. It began as a kind of mish-mash of choices, with nothing in particular standing out. But in chart #3, solar power is the clear favorite. The solar portion of the pie is bigger than all the other choices combined.
Some will argue that I’ve cherry-picked (apple-picked?) my data to produce the final pie.
I picked which data to use. But then so did the Nielsen Company when they gathered it. My defense is simple: Every pie chart reflects the bias of the chef. I don’t believe that nuclear power is
either renewable or carbon neutral, so out it went. I also think that we can learn more about the energy preferences of Americans if we remove from consideration those who don’t actually have a preference. Or, at least, have the two charts side-by-side.
That’s it from the Phoenix Sun kitchen. Have a happy Thanksgiving.