Nuclear plant
(Photo credit: Ebyabe / Wikimedia)

Across the country, nuclear power plants are shutting down. More than a third of them are unprofitable or scheduled to close, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But taking nuclear offline has trade-offs for the climate. Nuclear is currently the largest source of low-carbon electricity in the U.S., so when a reactor shuts down, another power source must replace it.

“That’s why some states get concerned about replacing a nuclear generator with natural gas, for example, because now I’m increasing the carbon footprint. It’s a relative gain,” says Jeff Perkins of Energy and Resource Solutions, a consulting company.

He says energy efficiency is part of the solution. Reducing the overall demand for electricity makes it easier for renewables like solar and wind to fill the gap, and targeted projects can reduce demand on the grid at peak times.

Perkins says the approach requires thorough planning to ensure that projects deliver enough energy savings.

“It just requires rigor. It requires the rigor that you would do when you go to design and build a power plant,” he says: “Extensive measurement and verification … dotting the Is and crossing the Ts.”

But with careful planning, energy efficiency can help replace nuclear power.

“I do think this is the future,” Perkins says.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

Editor’s note: This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.