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Another Step Backward for Nuclear and the Environment

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I don’t normally do breaking news, but the recent announcement by PG&E and a coalition of environmental groups on retiring the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California within 8-9 years merits immediate comment.

Given the enormous social and political challenges PG&E faced in undertaking the re-licensing of the facility when its current operating licenses expire in 2024 and 2025, this action is understandable, though regrettable. I lived in California when Diablo Canyon was planned and built. It was sufficiently controversial in the 1970s, and the environment has only become more contentious. Extending the operating licenses of nuclear power plants to 60 years has become typical elsewhere, but the utility’s board must have concluded that it was a non-starter in today’s California.

However, we should not be misled by press-release language about replacing “power produced by two nuclear reactors…with a cost-effective, greenhouse gas free portfolio of energy efficiency, renewables and energy storage.” Under California’s extremely aggressive renewable energy and storage targets, the alternative energy mentioned here was coming, anyway, but it was intended to replace higher-emitting sources like out-of-state coal and in-state natural gas generation. Until there is an overall surplus of zero-emission energy–when?–the energy mix is a zero sum game.

This agreement–perhaps the best deal possible under the circumstances–thus represents the net loss of 18 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year of zero-emission electricity. That’s equivalent to 9% of all utility-scale electricity generated in California last year. The state went through a similar event in 2013 with the permanent shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station between L.A. and San Diego. As I noted at the time:

How much emissions will increase following the shutdown depends on the type of generation that replaces these units. If it all came from renewable sources like wind and solar, emissions wouldn’t go up at all, but that’s impractical for several reasons. Start with the inherent intermittency of these renewables, and then compound the challenge by its scale. Even in sunny California, replacing the annual energy contribution of the SONGS units would require around 7,200 MW of solar generating capacity, equivalent to nearly 2 million 4-kilowatt rooftop photovoltaic (PV) arrays. That’s over and above the state’s ambitious “Million Solar Roofs” target, which was already factored into the state’s emission-reduction plans.

Grid managers from the state’s Independent System Operator indicated that in the near term much of the replacement power for SONGS will be generated from natural gas. Even if it matched the mix of 71% gas and 29% renewables added from June 2012 to April 2013, based on “net qualifying capacity”, each megawatt-hour (MWh) of replacement power would emit at least 560 lb. more CO2 than from SONGS. That’s an extra 4 million metric tons of CO2 per year, or 8% of California’s 2010 emissions from its electric power sector and almost 1% of total state emissions. If gas filled the entire gap, or if the natural gas capacity used was not all high-efficiency combined cycle plants, the figure would be closer to 6 million metric tons, equivalent to the annual emissions from about 1.5 million cars.

So far, the state’s environmental data supports this conclusion. Although offset by larger imports of low-emission power from out-of-state, there was a noticeable uptick in greenhouse gas emissions from in-state generation from 2013 to 2014. (See Figure 8 in the 2016 California GHG Inventory.)

California will get more renewables either way, but shutting down Diablo Canyon when it still has decades of useful life left represents a net loss to California consumers, PG&E shareholders, and to the global environment.

Photo Credit: Doc Searls via Flickr

Original Post

Geoffrey Styles's picture

Thank Geoffrey for the Post!

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Guy Hall's picture
Guy Hall on Jun 22, 2016 5:09 pm GMT

I absolutely believe we should shut down this nuclear plant as soon as possible after we’ve shut down the carbon sourced power plants. Let’s make critical decisionsupport rationally and not based on emotions.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 22, 2016 5:35 pm GMT

Geoffrey,
Could you clarify why you are using rooftop solar as your comparison? As you point out, based upon existing programs about 8GW will go in. But, of course, the renewable energy under development to service CA by time these nuclear plants are retired goes far beyond rooftop solar.

For example, I would have thought that in the interest of objectivity you would have provided data on large projects. In CA over 8 GW are already completed or under construction with an additional 32 GW under development. And that is the current tally (about 5X Songs rather than the 1X that your example suggests). And with PV prices continuing to drop and the ITC and PTC extended, there really is no credible scenario that won’t include far more than that installed by time Diablo shuts down.

It should also be pointed out that there are roughly 5GW of high capacity factor wind projects that are being developed in WY to service CA. One of these includes a substantial storage component.

I do not disagree with your premise that it is important to consider the environmental cost of retiring the nuclear power plants in question. Positioning it as a crisis is an over reaction and your low-balling the the likely renewables contribution is disappointing and gives the appearance of cherry picking in order to promote an agenda.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 22, 2016 5:47 pm GMT

Geoffrey, nice work. I’ve been active in the Save Diablo effort, and will be in Morro Bay on Tuesday to protest the State Lands Commission effort to ramrod through denial of the plant’s operating lease in the middle of the night – literally. Is this happening in America, in 2016?

Needless to say, PG&E’s decision plays a small part in relation to the Sempra Energy juggernaut hellbent on flattening a carbon-free competitor. Fortunately, the story is far from over for either of California’s nuclear plants.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 22, 2016 5:48 pm GMT

Guy, your absolutely emotional belief to avoid emotional decisions is duly noted.

Guy Hall's picture
Guy Hall on Jun 22, 2016 5:58 pm GMT

Actually it’s a rational belief to avoid emotional discussions and a emotional need to engage in rational discussions…

Torrey Beek's picture
Torrey Beek on Jun 22, 2016 6:24 pm GMT

Guy, outside of arguing about semantics, can you expound on why you feel this plant should be shut down “as soon as possible”?

To my mand, and as the author clearly indicates in the text, there is reason to believe that the plan to cover the lost production (and capacity!) of Diablo Canyon will result in increased emissions, in spite of aggressive deployment of RE, EE, and storage. From a climate perspective, this outcome alarms me.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 22, 2016 8:01 pm GMT

Torrey – many are alarmed, and environmental activist Michael Shellenberger explains why in this analysis (which I’ve taken the liberty of pasting verbatim):

“Diablo Canyon will be mostly replaced by natural gas and emissions will increase if the Joint Proposal by PG&E, IBEW 1245, and anti-nuclear groups is approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and upheld by the courts.

Further, the percentage of electricity PG&E derives from low-carbon energy sources will decline from 58 to 55 percent.

The Proposal claims it will replace the 17,660 gigawatt-hours of low-carbon electricity produced by Diablo Canyon with an equal amount of low-carbon electricity, but the details of the Proposal make clear that will not happen. The Proposal’s specifics mandate:

1) 2,000 gigawatt-hours per year of reduced energy consumption through energy efficiency by 2025;

2) Another 2,000 gigawatt-hours per year of “GHG free energy resources or energy efficiency” to come on line by 2025;

3) There is no 3.

That’s it: 4,000 gigawatt-hours per year of (mostly) energy efficiency and (maybe) renewable power to replace 17,660 gigawatt-hours from Diablo Canyon.

Where will the remaining 13,660 gigawatt-hours come from? The Proposal doesn’t say, but the only source it can come from is natural gas.

And with all of that natural gas will come 5.4 million tons of extra carbon dioxide emissions every year.

What about energy storage? The Proposal itself admits, “energy storage, by itself, is not a source of energy,” which may be why it doesn’t bother setting storage targets.

What about the 55 percent (of PG&E sales) Renewable Portfolio Standard by 2031 (to last through 2045)?

That sounds good, but it starts 6 years after Diablo Canyon would close, and it’s actually a stepdown from PG&E’s current GHG free share of generation, which was 58 percent last year.

So all the efficiency and renewables the Proposal mandates—or vaguely promises—would leave PG&E’s energy mix slightly dirtier in 2045 than it was in 2015—no progress at all for 30 years because of Diablo’s closure.

And while it might constitute a nominal replacement (almost) of Diablo Canyon, it would likely come by buying Renewable Energy Certificates from out-of-state renewable plants, leaving California’s in-state generation markedly dirtier. Under that RPS mechanism, California has met its nominal renewables targets even as the GHG free share of in-state electricity generation has fallen by 20 percent over the last decade.

The reason the Proposal doesn’t call for replacing Diablo with renewable energy is simple: California’s grid can’t handle it. The state is already struggling to integrate intermittent renewable power, and is having to curtail mid-day surges of solar to avoid destabilizing the grid.

The Proposal acknowledges that Diablo must be closed to make room for curtailed solar. (Of course, replacing clean nuclear power with clean solar power does nothing for the climate, although its great for the solar industry.)

But it also states that closure will “impact the efficient and reliable balancing of load,” which means blackout risk. That’s why the Proposal is careful not to mandate any more destabilizing solar or wind—and leaves the door wide open for reliable gas generation.

Which leaves load reduction through energy efficiency as the main (though woefully inadequate) green component of both the Proposal and PG&E’s forecasts. But while energy efficiency is great, load reduction is plumb stupid as climate policy.

Grid electricity is the easiest part of the energy supply to decarbonize, so we should be using more electricity—for transport, heating and other purposes—not less; PG&E’s generation should grow mightily to accommodate all the Tesla’s and Volts Californian’s could be driving on electricity from Diablo Canyon. The Proposal’s prescription for grid austerity marks a disastrous wrong turn for California energy policy.

All of this fits a growing pattern. Despite green groups’ claims that nuclear power can be easily replaced by wind, solar and energy efficiency, recently closed plants from Vermont Yankee to California’s San Onofre have been replaced overwhelmingly with fossil-fueled power. With Diablo Canyon, at least they are admitting ahead of time that renewables can’t do the job.”

Torrey Beek's picture
Torrey Beek on Jun 22, 2016 9:26 pm GMT

Full disclosure Bob: I used to work at The Breakthrough Institute!

And, honestly, I am in complete agreement with Michael Shellenberger, Environmental Progress, and others on this issue. Still interested in Guy’s reasoning for wanting it closed “as soon as possible”…

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 22, 2016 10:05 pm GMT

Ha, then you already got Michael’s email.

I’d like to know Guy’s reasoning too, seeing as DCPP has been sitting on the beach, for forty odd years now, without a whimper.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 23, 2016 2:29 am GMT

I absolutely believe we should shut down (the reactors in) this nuclear plant, after we have replaced all of the fossil fuel plants (and imports of fossil fuel generated power) with clean energy (by that time, the initial Diablo Canyon reactors could be 100 years old).

But for now, I believe that California should be leading the world in the development and deployment of new nuclear technology. For example, California would be a great market to deploy Gen IV reactors with thermal energy storage, to compliment their growing solar PV deployments. They could also lead the way in deploying a plant which uses fast reactors to recycle the spent fuel that they claim to be so concerned about.

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Jun 23, 2016 4:27 pm GMT

Clayton,
Please point out the language in which you think I have characterized this as a crisis. To me, a crisis is the lights going out, and that won’t happen, unless even worse decisions are made along the way. However, I feel very secure saying this is a bad decision all around.

As for rooftop vs. utility-scale solar, even if they can replace every MWh lost from Diablo Canyon with utility-scale PV, the timing of the supply changes completely. I saw in the press release from Friends of the Earth that they see the steady output of a nuclear power plant as a “burden on the grid”, but I don’t know many utility people who would agree with that description.

Yes, you can shift some of the PV output with storage and demand response, but the former isn’t free, and it’s certainly not available on the scale required at an acceptable cost. Will it be in 10 years? Who knows. Perhaps there would be more progress on that front if we took the some of the billions going into extending the ITC and PTC and diverted it instead into energy R&D.

Jeffery Surratt's picture
Jeffery Surratt on Jun 23, 2016 7:21 pm GMT

California wants its cake and to eat it too. Enjoy those brown outs in 2030. Just wait until their population is 53.5 million, then they will be saying more power, we do not care the source.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 23, 2016 7:26 pm GMT

I don’t want to get into a distraction over semantics but here is the language I was reacting to:

“I don’t normally do breaking news, but the recent announcement by PG&E and a coalition of environmental groups on retiring the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California within 8-9 years merits immediate comment.”

As for rooftops or no rooftops you have two threads – intermittency and scale. The rooftop thread is a discussion of scale. And my reply showed that scale is a non-issue.

Intermittency is an important topic. But it is important to differentiate between capacity and energy produced. You seem to confuse the two as you refer to energy production and power production as one and the same:

“each megawatt-hour (MWh) of replacement power”

The useful conversation is how much can renewables fill the gap based upon reasonable future projections over the next decade. And what is the difference in emissions for a nuclear vs non-nuclear scenario.

Sean OM's picture
Sean OM on Jun 23, 2016 7:52 pm GMT

But it also states that closure will “impact the efficient and reliable balancing of load,” which means blackout risk. That’s why the Proposal is careful not to mandate any more destabilizing solar or wind—and leaves the door wide open for reliable gas generation.

You don’t use nuclear to load balance. It cycles worse then coal. NG is superior in it’s ability to load follow which adds grid stability, and can adjust to the changing loads which if the rate of installing renewable energy continues to grow, it could be a huge issue in a couple of years, and most likely need to be phased out and they will most likely need to add a NG facility anyway.

Despite green groups’ claims that nuclear power can be easily replaced by wind, solar and energy efficiency, recently closed plants from Vermont Yankee to California’s San Onofre have been replaced overwhelmingly with fossil-fueled power.

Nuclear is more expensive. There is also a possibility there is an issue with the facility that wouldn’t allow it to get an extension. IIRC the Vermont Yankee actually got an extension, but ran out of dry storage space, and needed to fix some leaks.

You are correct the “green groups” claims seem out of bounds, but it is -possible- to do. It just isn’t as easy as people claim it to be. It takes a lot of work and money to get done. However, eliminating an obstacle that doesn’t cycle well, actually puts them in a better position in the long-term for achieving reduced carbon emissions. In the -short- term, it does add to the CO2 problem. The real trick here is figuring out what the exact time frame of the definition of “short term” and “long term” actually are.

What hasn’t been mentioned is what the overall water use and savings are which in California’s case is a far bigger issue then CO2 emissions.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jun 23, 2016 10:33 pm GMT

You don’t use nuclear to load balance. It cycles worse then coal. NG is superior in it’s ability to load follow

Nonsense.  Nuclear can be designed to follow load if that’s what you specify.  Nuclear can simply dump steam directly to the condenser (or feedwater heaters, to keep the same temperature into the steam generators).  If the customer asked for it, a nuclear plant could crank way down without changing the reactor output power one bit.  The latest CANDU design has this.

This would be very good for the grid, because power that can be turned down as fast as a valve can be opened can be turned UP just as fast as it can be closed.  Such nuclear plants could run 100% of the base load and provide their own spinning reserve at night, all emission-free.

which adds grid stability

In other words, fixing what the Greens have quite deliberately broken.

and can adjust to the changing loads which if the rate of installing renewable energy continues to grow, it could be a huge issue in a couple of years, and most likely need to be phased out and they will most likely need to add a NG facility anyway.

Did I mention that the only reason Greens have achieved success in their breakage is because they get massive subsidies, preferences and mandates for their grid-damaging technologies?  Take those away and the revenues from “renewables” collapse.  Once they stop being installed and existing installations close as they become too maintenance-intensive, we can move to nuclear to decarbonize ALL of our base load and most of the rest.  The best we can do with ruinables plus gas is maybe 50%.

Nuclear is more expensive. There is also a possibility there is an issue with the facility that wouldn’t allow it to get an extension. IIRC the Vermont Yankee actually got an extension, but ran out of dry storage space

Nuclear is cheap; drawn-out, punitive hyper-regulation and heaps of mandates for e.g. security are expensive.

VY had some trivial leak of a pipe in a tunnel.  Far worse chemical spills barely make the local news.  The fact that you know about this shows the power of the paranoia machine, of which you are acting as a part.

You are correct the “green groups” claims seem out of bounds, but it is -possible- to do.

No it isn’t.  That is one of the lies of the Greens.  The EROEI of any RE system that can actually handle 24/7 demand is something like 2 or less; industrial society requires a minimum of perhaps 7.  Nuclear is on the order of 100.

eliminating an obstacle that doesn’t cycle well, actually puts them in a better position in the long-term for achieving reduced carbon emissions.

Show us your reduced emissions first, then we’ll think about it.  Saying we should give up our only scalable, carbon-free base-load technology in return for some unknown in the “long term” is fraud.  It’s also ecocide; we have mere years left before we bust the carbon budget for 2°C of warming, and ANY increase in emissions should be viewed as totally unacceptable.  We should be ramping down as fast as possible and worrying about the fine points after establishing some breathing room.

The rank hypocrisy of “environmentalists” who claim that climate change is our worst threat, and then consider the destruction of carbon-free nuclear generation a success, has utterly destroyed the credibility of climate science among vast swaths of the populace.  FoE, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club are viewed as power-grabbers rather than protectors of the biosphere, and rightly so.  These Greens, acting as mouthpieces for whatever interests are signing their checks, are the public face of what is probably the biggest long-term threat to the planet.

You’re one of them too.  Congratulations.  I think.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Jun 23, 2016 11:44 pm GMT

Nuclear is more expensive.

Dubious but arguable for new builds, due to high up front capital costs. Most definitely not true when you’re talking about the shut-down of an existing and perfectly functional plant. It’s the cheapest power there is; about a penny per kilowatt-hour for fuel and operational costs. That’s why the forced shut-down to improve the economic return for already heavily subsidized solar and wind installations is criminal.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 24, 2016 3:06 am GMT

…eliminating an obstacle that doesn’t cycle well, actually puts them in a better position in the long-term for achieving reduced carbon emissions.

No. Perhaps what you meant was that adding more flexible generation will make it cheaper to increase renewables. But that’s only if your goal is maximizing renewables without regard for CO2 and other pollutants.

In all cases, replacing nuclear with a combination of renewables and fossil gas makes emssions of CO2 and air pollution go up. For any nuclear penetration up to about 60%, nuclear’s inflexibility is no problem whatsoever (France achieves 75% nuclear with only a small amount of nuclear load following).

It is also true that all utility scale solar and wind plants can be instantly throttled back electronically. Thus for any nuclear penetration, solar and wind can be added as desired. With high nuclear penetration, it is clear that the solar and wind plants must provide grid flexibility, i.e. they will see increasing curtailment, but given their allegedly low and falling cost, this shouldn’t be too much of an obstacle.

So clearly, contracts and rules which give renewables priority access to the grid are yet another set of tools to help sell fossil fuels at the expense of nuclear generators.

Nuclear is more expensive.

No, for existing medium and large nuclear plants, there is no cheaper source of clean energy than a nuclear life-extension. Typically, adding things like post-Fukushima safety upgrades and even un-needed cooling towers is under $1 per average Watt delivered (note that solar PV at $1.5 per peak Watt is really $5 per average Watt). A more plausible explanation of recent nuclear plant closure announcements is that the closures will help alleviate oversupply (which suppresses prices and thus profits for all generators, to the detriment of consumers).

Also, California has a shortage of freshwater (such as is used to clean solar panels). It has plenty of the seawater which is used to cool coastal nuclear plants.

Sean OM's picture
Sean OM on Jun 24, 2016 4:03 am GMT

about a penny per kilowatt-hour for fuel and operational costs.

I must be reading this chart wrong. It is saying 2.6/kwh for nuclear which is over twice as much as you are saying and i assume it doesn’t have waste disposal costs figured in.
http://www.eia.gov/electricity/annual/html/epa_08_04.html

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 24, 2016 7:06 am GMT

Clayton, then the useful conversation would be avoiding the fact that renewables can’t fill the gap left by DCPP’s 17.7 TWh/yr, and PG&E admits it.

In the bizarre plan they will present to the California Public Utilities Commission for approval, PG&E claims they will be able to provide 2 TWh/yr through “reduced energy consumption through energy efficiency by 2025”, and 2 more TWh through “GHG free energy resources or energy efficiency by 2025” – 4 TWh out of 17.7, using some combination of energy efficiency, more energy efficiency, GHG free energy resources, storage, capability, incongruity, optimism, pixie dust, and other carbon-free ethereal resources.

Guess where the other 13.7 TWh will come from? Burning “natural gas”, like what replaced San Onofre. So the difference in emissions for a nuclear vs. non-nuclear scenario is easy to calculate: 8 million tonnes CO2e/yr.

Three days ago CAISO issued its first capacity-related FlexAlert since the 2001 California Electricity Crisis. It had everything to do with San Onofre being offline and solar/wind being pathetically unable to power Southern California on a hot, clear, summer day. Making me wonder where Geoffrey finds the confidence to predict “the lights won’t go out” once Diablo Canyon is offline too.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Jun 24, 2016 10:31 am GMT

Well the question is, how cheap is nuclear power really in aging plants.
Controllers of the french state calculate that EDF needs about 65 €/MWh to keep the existing fleet running without building new nuclear, due to increasing amounts of mayor repairs and replacements being neccesary in the aging plants. It is always the question in which timescale the variable costs of production are seen. Often just fuel costs are calculated, which is misleading when a close dwon in 10 years is considered, and the other option is to make the plant fit for 10+20 years further operation.
Thhe realistic option for the ioperater in the long term scenario is: should we invest billions now to keep the power plant open for some decades, or should we retire it?

It is obvious the nuclear pwoer plant will have to compete with rising amounts of PV during the day, with variable costs around zero. The Proposal of energy poet was to blow the steam in the condensor for 10 hours per day, thus consuming fuel and causing wear and tear, without producing income. The same most likely at night when the wind blows.

Within 10 hours you can reduce the thermal output a bit to around 60% if the design is good (be aware of Xenon etc….), but this doesn’t help much to economics on the market.

So the plant will have just few hours per years where it can earn money due to high enough market prices. The investment even in existing plants is then high in $/kWp compared to other possible solutions for these times, and the risk is very high, because the investmenst can not be done in small ampounts according demand, but must be done decades ahead.

So obviously nobody wanted to go into the risk, because if someone develops low cost battery, builds a big and stron grid or pumped storage schemes during the next decades would render the newly invested billions in the refurbished nuclear plant worthless. The bad economic performance kills nuclear, new and old plants.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 24, 2016 1:57 pm GMT

Jeff, agree with you on every point, except the “2030” part. I am looking at a flyer which came in the mail yesterday from my local utility. It reads,

“Can We Keep the Lights On? Limited Natural Gas Supply Could Affect Power Plants

“Unfortunately, this year BWP [Burbank Water & Power] and all other electric utilties in Southern California are grappling with a fact beyond our control that could lead to summer power outages. 17 Los Angeles Basin power plants that are powered by natural gas may not get sufficient fuel to generate electricity. If that occurs, rolling blackouts across the Southland could happen.

“BWP is working with many others in the region to reduce the odds of rolling blackouts. However, if across the greater Los Angeles area there isn’t enough electricity available to meet demand, blackouts will become inevitable. We want to stress that this is a regional situation, not something that is happening just in our city, and we are working with the entire region to find solutions.”

Here’s a solution: move all renewables advocates/anti-nuclear nutcases to one city, cut the power, and let them enjoy their Renewable Nirvana alone.

Pissed off beyond belief.

Sean OM's picture
Sean OM on Jun 24, 2016 3:17 pm GMT

No. Perhaps what you meant was that adding more flexible generation will make it cheaper to increase renewables.

Actually their “flexible” generation won’t be NG. It will be a combination of renewable portfolios and storage.
Now that I read their statement. I have a much clearer picture of what they are doing.

No, for existing medium and large nuclear plants, there is no cheaper source of clean energy than a nuclear life-extension.

Solar costs dropped 15% last year, and Palo Alto signed a solar PPA for 37/mwh. PG&E spends over 200M/yr in labor at diablo and labor costs are rising.
Liability, maintenance and decomissioning costs are also going up. They might be okay for another 10 years, but it is pretty easy to project they won’t be competitive before the next renewal would expire in 30 years.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 24, 2016 5:07 pm GMT

Sean, actually you have an extremely muddled picture of what they are doing.

Storage does not equal Energy, just as Bucket does not equal Water.

Please. These are the fundamentals.

And actually, in 30 years after antinuclear zealots are marginalized, decommissioning will never be necessary. Ever.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jun 24, 2016 7:44 pm GMT

I call bullfeathers on Sean:

Actually their “flexible” generation won’t be NG. It will be a combination of renewable portfolios

Those “renewable portfolios” aren’t flexible generation, they’re WHY the other flexible generation is needed.

and storage.

Yes, a few tens of MWh of battery storage in California will replace the lost 24/7 output of Diablo Canyon for perhaps a couple of minutes.

Solar costs dropped 15% last year, and Palo Alto signed a solar PPA for 37/mwh.

And it generates exactly nothing at night.

Sean, you have zero respect for the truth.  You just make up whatever you want.  What you say has no informational value and I suspect that anyone who reads it loses IQ points thereby.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 25, 2016 3:22 pm GMT

Helmut, you’re certainly correct that PV can compete with nuclear during sunny days. However, I think you are being wildly optimistic when you hint that pumped-hydro or batteries will compete with fossil fuel at night, and storage is completely outrageous on cloudy days.

You hint that nuclear alone suffers from high up-front cost. Ignoring the incredibly generous subsidies and favorable policies enjoyed by renewables, all sustain energy systems (including storage) have higher upfront cost than fossil fuel system. Given a free choice, markets will always predominantly choose fossil fuels; the ability to defer most costs (i.e. fuel cost) until the future is an irresistible feature.

Furthermore, when PV is used in non-desert areas, or at penetration above 5% in deserts, or when wind is used anywhere, nearly 100% backup from flexible generation is needed. This backup cost is not apparent in the levelized cost, and as far as markets are concerned, it is a hidden cost that is imposed on society, which makes the combined cost of coal+renewables more than coal alone. So in poor coal-using countries like China and India, which produce nuclear power for about the same levelized cost as coal power, the renewable+coal option places a needless economic burden on the poor.

As a result, a grid that combines baseload nuclear with PV for a daytime boost will be the cleanest option in warm climates*. If PV is allowed to cut into baseload during the day, then that will assure night-time fossil fuel lock-in, thus blocking society from achieving the very low CO2 emissions that climate scientists say we must achieve to protect the environment. The fact that markets will not freely choose such a system (without restrictions on power plant emissions) should guide our environmental policy.

* in cold climates, energy demand peaks in the winter when PV is feeble, so that PV always cuts into load which could be served by clean baseload generation, thus producing fossil fuel lock-in. This is especially environmentally criminal in coal producing countries like Germany.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 25, 2016 5:45 pm GMT

I have seen this argument elsewhere as well – that CA will not be able to add 18TWh in renewables production by 2025- and it is a ridiculous statement.
CA wil be adding 4-5TWh of solar this year. By 2020, there will be more than 20TWh of new solar alone. Replacing the total output of DC with renewables is not a problem.

The primary argument against closing DC should be that it is capable of running and generating zero emission electricity for much further in the future vs. 2025.

Also, here is a link showing all the recent flex alerts. There are usually at least 1-3 of these every year.

One last point – Nat Gas based electricity production will be dropping by at least 10TWh in CA this year. (2016)

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 25, 2016 5:50 pm GMT

Couldn’t agree more. CA has a number of locations that would be perfectly suited for 100-500MW nuclear installations. However, I don’t think this happen until there is success elsewhere.
So, it is important that UAMPS project (or others) meets its goal of 2025. Then I think we could see some work in CA by early 30s.

The Deseret News reports Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) is pushing ahead with the development of a small modular nuclear reactor in partnership with NuScale Power, funded by about $250 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.
However, the energy cooperative must still submit designs to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and UAMPS board of directors must give final approval as well. The advanced reactor could be up and running by 2024.
The cooperative must supply energy to more than 40 communities in the West, and anticipates more stringent emissions standards will require it to replace 320 MW of coal-fired production expected to retire in the next few years.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jun 25, 2016 8:07 pm GMT

CA wil be adding 4-5TWh of solar this year. By 2020, there will be more than 20TWh of new solar alone. Replacing the total output of DC with renewables is not a problem.

Actually, it is.  Peak demand occurs when PV is just about done for the day.  Must-run generators have to stay on-line to provide essential services, so adding more PV past a certain point just means it has to be curtailed.  It will rise to max earlier and start falling a little later, but that’s all.

During the peak PV generation months, the BPA’s dams are full and there’s little A/C demand; there’s nowhere for excess generation to go and no way to store it.  Adding PV will not affect emissions much.

The primary argument against closing DC should be that it is capable of running and generating zero emission electricity for much further in the future vs. 2025.

The primary argument should be that no replacement for DC can provide emissions-free generation when demand is maximum, regardless of the weather.  If the so-called “environmental” organizations gave a damn about the environment, they’d be pushing to renew the licenses to 2064 and 2065.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 25, 2016 8:33 pm GMT

We are nowhere near your “past a certain point”. CA can add 20 more TWh of solar with very little curtailment.

Like I said – an additional 4-5TWh being added this year and 4-5TWh more next year. There will be some curtailment in March/April and October but CAISO expansion will help by sending excess to neighboring states. Imports will time shift.

Below is chart from yesterday for CAISO system. Plenty of more room for solar.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 26, 2016 4:33 am GMT

Joe – your entire argument is ridiculous. California could add 18TWh of solar this year, and everyone will light candles when a cloud front moves in? Pedal a bicycle when the sun goes down?

I’m well aware of every Flex Alert, and First Stage Warning, and Second Stage Warning for CAISO since 1997 (there have been 199 of them, with well over half in 2000-2001). But to argue with someone who can’t tell the difference between a FlexAlert which was the result of a wildfire, or a FlexAlert which was the result of a transformer which failed, and a FlexAlert due to the pathetic inability of renewables and natural gas to meet customer demand has no purpose. The Southern California grid is failing because of binding transmission constraints, the result of SONGS going offline. Your distributed generation playland doesn’t work. Period.

One last point – tedious unsupported predictions, a familiar hymn in the Church of Renewables, are a waste of time. No one really cares.

Robert Cormia's picture
Robert Cormia on Jun 26, 2016 5:31 am GMT

Geoffrey has done a rationale analysis of the choice between emission and non-emission energy. Until we have abundant solar and wind energy, we’ll need to rely on nuclear energy to provide emission free base load. While I’m a big believer in “natural gas firming” of renewable energy, it backs us into a corner on GHG emissions if we depend too much on it.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 26, 2016 2:43 pm GMT

Bob,
Good to see that you are coming over to my side on how easy it will be to get an additional 18GWh of solar. I don’t know about doing it in a single year though. That would be tough.

Looks like you actually read through the regular flex alerts that we get here in CA -whether they be because of gas issues at Aliso(SoCal) this June or capacity issues in the past. Nice. Luckily we have had renewables in CA over 200K MWh on multiple days this June – lowering gas usage.

Also, I know how much you appreciate my predictions. In particular our past discussions on my prediction that the EIA was severely overestimating coal usage. Like these comments from May of last year.

Joe, I really don’t care how confident you feel you can be. I want to know when you say “coal will drop to below 33% in 2016”, or “[coal] should be below 25% of electricity consumption by 2030”: what’s your model? What are the inputs?

Have you been checking up on that coal usage lately? What do you think, was I too pessimistic?

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 26, 2016 3:45 pm GMT

EIA has just released it most recent Electric Power Monthly. Data is through April. So how is CA faring so far in 2016 vs. 2015?

Total Generation up 3.6% 57,453GWh in 2016 vs. 55,465GWh in 2015 – Interesting that total went up in Ca when country as a whole is down almost 4% YTD. More on this later.

Hydro up 123% 8,150 vs. 3,657 – Good recovery for Hydro vs. a very low year in 2015. This probably plays some role in increased CA production as more in-state “free” Hydro means less imports.

Solar up 26% 6,337 vs. 5,086 – Solar up 26%. Steady. Total solar in CA for 2015 was 20,146 GWh. Should be about 25,000GWh in 2016. YTD solar represents about 11% of total CA production.

Nuclear up 2.7% 6,603 vs. 6,429 – Slight increase Y-Y.

Wind up up 35% 3,967 vs. 2,941 – Good year so far for wind after a “dull” year in 2015.

Nat Gas down 12.7% 27,085 vs. 31,023 – Nat Gas down substantially so far in 2016. Data from CAISO shows this trend continuing through May and June. Nat Gas for 2016 could end up being down 10,000 GWh vs 2015. Nat Gas is 47% of total production so far in 2016 vs 56% in same period of 2015.

Net result – substantial decrease in CO2 for CA electricity production for 2016 vs. 2015. Natural gas based electricity production for CA peaked in 2014 and from here on out will be on a downward trend.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 27, 2016 1:19 am GMT

Well, it always made sense that CO2 emissions would go down initially as renewables were added. The question was always how high could renewables go before hitting a wall. NREL assured us that wind piower would replace only fossil fuels until nearly 30% penetration, and diversifying with solar was supposed to be even better.

But now there is bad news: Atomic Insights reports here that PG&E needed to curtail the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant to 50% output in order to support their renewables mandate. This is a problem because it means they are running out of flexibility, and are at or very near the wall already (with only 7% wind and 11% solar with Joe’s part-year numbers).

Will they replace their baseload geothermal and small-dam hydro with fossil gas next? If PG&E has as storage card up its sleeve, it should play it now, rather than loose more clean energy capacity.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jun 27, 2016 3:00 am GMT

Nathan,
Very interesting comment. I don’t know if Rod reads comments on here – but if he does I would love to see any links for the PG&E comments he mentions on his blog. Definitely worth digging some more on this.

Rod also says:

In 2015, PG&E produced about 58% of its power from either qualified renewable, large hydro or nuclear sources, but the new state law is silent about nuclear and large hydro as emission free sources.

I know that PG&E was getting close to meeting their 30% renewables by 2020 goal so if the 58% number is correct that implies that PG&E got about 30% of its electricity from DC and large hydro.
It almost seems as if they are screwed vs. the other IOUs because nuclear is not counted as an emission free source. The other IOUs have plenty of room to grow solar and wind and less inflexible sources.

It is also interesting that just a short time ago- prior to shutdown notice – PG&E was saying that the 50% goal was no problem. Easy. See here.

Finally, in my mind almost equally important as lowering CA CO2 is lowering the CO2 of neighboring states. For example, as of 2013 – AZ had more CO2 from Electric power vs. CA. Eliminating coal imports from these states to CA will help and hopefully so will the expansion of CAISO.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Jul 1, 2016 2:36 pm GMT

I do not ignore any special costs, I take them as they are.
Free markets do not choose fossile fuels any more in wide parts of the world due to too high prices, but this just slowly tickels int many minds, and not at all in some other minds, too.
For the first +/-50% of power supply there is no real need for storage with PV alone, especially in the sun belt of the earth. and for mixtures of wind and PVthis limit is somewhere around 60%.
Lards grids, as they are standard today, average out cloudy areas. you skip this effect completely.
Also there is no backup from flexible power needed, it is just the same “backup” and dynamic load needed which is necesary to make nuclear baseload useable in the grid.
What happens in a grid with a high PV Penetration?
The PV production will start at the eastern end of the grid, so many hours in the night at the western end of the grid, reach some plateau when the sun is high above the eastern end of the grid which will remain roughly constant till the sun is high above the western end of the grid, and then decrease till several hours after the sun is down over the eastern end of the grid the production goes to zero again.
This removes the whole day peak of power consumtion, leaving only the night demand to fossile geneattion (-hydro-wind-biomass…) demand management can move loads from nicht to day, as it is moved today from day to night to make better use of baseload power like nuclear. Undesturbed, peak load during the day is well 2x demand during late night. So the peaker and mid-load plants+ demand shift which are neccesary to accompany nuclear power, are about the same as they are neccesary to fill the night gap of photovoltaics.
In the sun belt of the earth no seasonal balancing is neccesary for PV.
On the othere hand, a small amount of hydro storage – not pumped hydro neccesary – can fill most of the night demand, with addition of pumping especially at existing dams this becomes even more easy.
There is only a tiny storage needed for diurnal storage. E.g. with 1000TWh needed during a year, and a 2:1 relation of Day- demand to night demand, only around 900 GWh of storage is needed for diurnal storage – useable hydro storage capacity in Europe is over 150.000GWh as a example. so more than 150 times the storage needed in such operation. So only turbines and generators need to be added to existing dams for balancing in the sun belt.
Outside the sun belt, so mainly north of it, the back of a envelope calculation becomes more difficult to make things obvious.
Because here wind comes into play to compensate seasonal changes of PV generation outside the sun belt, and he weather pattern of wind is less obvious than the way the sun is going up and down.
But in large grids, wind also averages out, leaving a smaller demand for storage than the size of the already existing storages.
So for nuclear it will have to compete with solar by price very soon, which will result in the economical death of nuclear very fast. The world is changing faster than many opinions about it.

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