In August, President Joe Biden enacted the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes a wide array of provisions impacting varied topics such as Medicare, prescription drug prices, the Affordable Care Act, IRS funding, corporate tax law, electric vehicles, and renewable energies. So what doesn’t the Inflation Reduction Act do? Well, for one thing, it doesn’t lower inflation. According to a study by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, “The impact on inflation is statistically indistinguishable from zero.”
In fact, the Inflation Reduction Act was not initially drafted as a response to rising inflation but is actually a slimmed-down version of the Build Back Better bill. This means that while the bill has no teeth in the inflation reduction department, it packs a serious wallop in terms of boosting the domestic renewable energy sector. Already, the photovoltaics company First Solar has announced that it will build its next solar panel manufacturing facility in the United States instead of overseas, citing the Inflation Reduction Act as the key motivation for doing so. The Arizona-based company will invest as much as $1 billion in the new facility and has said that it will also expand existing facilities in Ohio.
Like its predecessor the Build Back Better bill, the Inflation Reduction Act includes money specifically earmarked for the Department of Energy for use in nuclear fusion research and development. While the new Act allocates just $280 million “to carry out activities for fusion energy science construction and major items of equipment projects,”-- as compared to the $885 million that would have been granted through the Build Back Better bill – the inclusion of fusion in the legislature marks a major step forward for the emerging technology.
For decades, human-made nuclear fusion has been dismissed as the stuff of science fiction. Achieving the process that powers our own sun in a lab seemed all but impossible. Any “breakthroughs” in the technology were so far from achieving anything close to net energy production that it spurred the joke that achieving nuclear fusion is “always 30 years away.” But just in the past months, the science around nuclear fusion has advanced so much that even the skeptics are watching the developments closely.
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Just this month, data analysis unequivocally confirmed that a 2021 experiment at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility in California really did achieve “ignition,” an incredible breakthrough in which fusion sustains itself in a chain reaction instead of fizzling out. In order for nuclear fusion to be a viable fuel source that produces more energy than it consumes, ignition is all-important. The only problem is that scientists haven’t yet been able to replicate the experiment that unlocked this incredible achievement. But the hope is that with increased support from investors and policymakers, not only will ignition be achieved again, it will become well within reach and even commercially viable and scalable.
Commercial nuclear fusion would change everything. It would essentially give humans an unlimited source of clean energy with several times the potency and none of the nuclear waste that’s created through fission. The promise of fusion is so great that over the past 100 years scientists have persevered to make the impossible possible, and slowly but surely have made it clear that it is feasible, after all.
Now, it’s just a race to the finish line. The world’s biggest fusion experiments are already well underway in Europe and China, and the breakthrough in California has shown that the U.S. is not far behind. The first nation to achieve nuclear fusion will change the entire global energy landscape at an unprecedented level – and the new provisions under the Inflation Reduction Act have pushed the United States just a little bit closer to that holy grail.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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