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Jordan Blum, editorial director, Hart Energy: We are here at Hart Energy's America's Natural Gas Conference in Houston and I have Robert Bryce, the author, producer and host of the Power Hungry podcast with me for this Hart Energy LIVE Exclusive interview. Thank you so much for joining us. I just wanted to start out real broad. It's the America's Natural Gas Conference, so is U.S. natural gas more vital than ever and why?
Robert Bryce, host, Power Hungry Podcast: Let's say yes, of course, obviously, but, what a remarkable story, right? Just 15 years ago, the U.S. was looking at prospect of being a massive LNG exporter and then this morning in the presentations I've heard, we are on the cusp of being the world's biggest LNG exporter and massive amounts of gas going from the U.S. into the global market. So it's important for energy security, it's also important for decarbonization but it's also just a remarkable story of how quickly natural gas, which has almost always been, historically, a local commodity or a national commodity, is already trading as an international commodity like Brent or WTI. It's just a remarkable story of how quickly the markets have changed due to the shale boom in the U.S.
JB: So obviously U.S. LNG will keep surging as you mentioned. It looks like domestic demand though, can keep rising even as renewables keep growing. I mean, you talk about the energy transition myth. Can I get you to elaborate on how you see this playing out?
RB: Sure. So I pride myself on my numbers, Jordan. I spent a lot of time studying EIA data, the statistical review of world energy. I almost said bp, it's not the bp review anymore. But we are also inundated now with these claims about the energy transition. And this has been particularly since President Biden came into office. Now I’ll be clear about my politics. I'm not a Republican, I'm not a Democrat. I'm disgusted. But this administration has pushed this idea of the energy transition more than any other administration in history. But the numbers don't show that there's any energy transition underway. We can look back from 2004 to 2022 Bloomberg New Energy Finances, there was $4.1 trillion spent on wind and solar globally over that time period. What happened? Hydrocarbons grew three times faster globally on an absolute basis than wind and solar combined. Here in the U.S., similar story. Just look at 2022, again, statistical review of world energy data. In one year, gas consumption in the U.S. went up 5.4%, and that was last year in the U.S. That's 1.5 exit fuels. That's nearly twice the growth of wind and solar combined just in gas growth alone. So these ideas that we're going to switch over our economy and run solely on wind and solar, it's just true. There is no evidence that it's happening.
JB: Very good. So obviously the IRA law was a pretty big deal last year. The renewable industry loved it, but also there were mixed feelings, but a lot of oil and gas companies like it too because of the support for carbon capture and storage, direct air capture and things that can make oil and gas more sustainable for the long term. Do you have a perspective on the both sides of that?
RB: Well, I could talk for a long time, Jordan, about the Inflation Reduction Act and one point is that this is one of the biggest corporate giveaways in modern history. I mean, the subsidies for solar and wind are just enormous. On my Substack, robertbryce.substack.com, I tabulated this. We could be looking at a bill over the next 30 or so years, 30 or 40 years for solar subsidies alone that approach a trillion dollars. Last year alone, and I just wrote about this on my sub stack, in 2022 the subsidies for solar energy in America were 300 times greater than the subsidies for nuclear on a per unit of energy produced basis. So I think a lot of people talk about the Inflation Reduction Act and what it's going to do, but I see it as a lot of giveaways for a lot of things that aren't going to work over the long term. Particularly some of the money that could be spent on electric vehicles. I wrote a piece on this as well, something like $7 million per job created for EV batteries. This is a GM plant, $3 million a job at an EV battery plant for Ford. I mean, this isn't sustainable. So is the IRA going to stimulate a lot of investment? Yes, of course it will. But is it investment that is the best investment for the U.S.? I don't think so.
JB: Gotcha. Well, you mentioned nuclear. There's a lot of talk about nuclear, but not necessarily a lot of action, whether it's large scale, modular or lots of different opinions. Do you see the talk changing becoming action going forward?
RB: Well, yes. And let me be clear, I'm adamantly pronuclear. If you're anti-nuclear and anti-CO2, you're pro blackout. Well, I'm anti-black out. I lived through winter storm Uri in Austin and we were blacked out for two full days. Nuclear though, we have to think about the rest of the world and what's happening in the U.S. The U.S. I am convinced, will lag the rest of the world in the development of new nuclear for several reasons. One is because gas is at $2.60 today, something like that. Despite massive amounts of gas being used in power burn, it's still dirt cheap. So nuclear has to compete with that cheap natural gas first. Second, we have, it's been 20 years now really since we've started a new reactor, aside from Vogtle Units three and four, which are coming online. Unit three just started commercial operation, unit four will start in the next few months.
So that's positive news, but small modular reactors, the next generation of nuclear, I think it's going to happen in Europe before it happens in the U.S. And one other kind of broader level point is that even if we wanted to jumpstart nuclear in the U.S., we have to be clear about the supply chains. And 47% of all enriched uranium in the world today comes from Russia. 25% of the nuclear fuel used in American reactors today comes from Russia. So the U.S. has ceded. If we look at this from a geostrategic geopolitical standpoint, we've ceded global leadership to the Chinese and to the Russians. And I think that's a big mistake. We need to catch up, but it's going to take years to make that happen because we don't have any enrichment capacity. We're not mining uranium. So if I were going to handicap it, and outside of China, which is now building something like 21 reactors, where will new nuclear be built? I think it's going to be France, Poland, somewhere in Western Europe or Britain. Those will be the countries that build and commercialize the first wave of the new small modular reactors.
JB: Gotcha. Yeah, it's kind of a political hand grenade in the U.S. but I mean, in a perfect world, would the U.S. subsidize nuclear?
RB: Well, see, this is one of the key problems, Jordan, is that we do provide some subsidies, but as I said, they're modest, very modest relative to solar. 300 to one is the subsidy ratio roughly between solar and nuclear. That's absurd given the various values of those forms of generation to the grid. But this is one of the key problems. To answer the question in a way that you didn't and you didn't phrase it this way, but nuclear needs strong government support. And that's a problem in the U.S., because our grid is so diversified, we're diffused, right? We have more than 3,000 electricity providers in America. We have the co-ops, public power entities or the publicly owned utilities, Austin Energy and then you have the investor-owned utilities and the government sponsored entities like TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority].
It's very diffused and it's fractured. So to get them all to agree on one strategy going forward is difficult. But further, you have to have strong bipartisan decadal support for nuclear in Congress. And we don't have that still. The Democrats are making some more positive news on this, but where's President Biden? Why isn't he thumping the podium saying, we need more nuclear power if we're serious about climate change? All the world's leading climate scientists have said and the IEA have said, we need more nuclear energy if we're going to address climate change, why isn't President Biden talking about this, that he's absent without leave? And that's the kind of leadership that is needed if we're going to have a sustained build out of new nuclear in the U.S.
JB: Yeah, that's definitely not a priority for the White House right now.
RB: Certainly they've said not a word about it. They've talked a lot about solar, wind, batteries, EVs, etc. Why not talk about nuclear? If you're serious about climate change, Mr. President, get serious about nuclear like yesterday.
JB: We'll do our best to keep that conversation going.
RB: No calling, would you, Jordan? That'd be great.
JB: Thanks so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
RB: Happy to do it.
JB: Looking forward to seeing you on stage as well. Thank you for this Hart Energy LIVE Exclusive Interview. To read and watch more, please visit hartenergy.com.
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