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Nuking Clean Energy: How Nuclear Power Makes Wind and Solar Harder

Dominion Resources CEO Tom Farrell is famously bullish on nuclear energy as a clean solution in a carbon-constrained economy, but he’s got it wrong. Nuclear is a barrier to a clean-energy future, not a piece of it. That’s only partly because new nuclear is so expensive that there’s little room left in a utility budget to build wind and solar. A more fundamental problem is that when nuclear is part of the energy mix, high levels of wind and solar become harder to achieve.

To understand why, consider the typical demand curve for electricity in the Mid-Atlantic, including Virginia. Demand can be almost twice as high at 5 p.m. as it is at 5 a.m., especially on a hot summer day with air conditioners running.

Average hourly load over a one-week period in January, April and July 2009. Credit B. Posner.

Average hourly load over a one-week period in January, April and July 2009. Credit B. Posner.

The supply of electricity delivered by the grid at any moment has to exactly match the demand: no more and no less. More than any other kind of generating plant, though, the standard nuclear reactor is inflexible in its output. It generates the same amount of electricity day in and day out. This means nuclear can’t be used to supply more than the minimum demand level, known as baseload. In the absence of energy storage, other fuel sources that can be ramped up or down as needed have to fill in above baseload.

Wind and solar have the opposite problem: instead of producing the same amount of electricity 24/7, their output varies with the weather and time of day. If you build a lot of wind turbines and want to use all the electricity they generate (much of it at night), some of it will compete to supply the baseload. Although solar panels produce during daylight when demand is higher, if you build enough solar you will eventually have to cut back on your baseload sources, too.

With enough energy storage, of course, baseload generating sources can be made flexible, and wind and solar made firm. Storage adds to cost and environmental footprint, though, so it is not a panacea. That said, Virginia is lucky enough to have one of the largest pumped storage facilities in the country, located in Bath County. Currently Dominion uses its 1,800 MW share of the facility as a relatively low-cost way to meet some peak demand with baseload sources like coal and nuclear, but it could as easily be used to store electricity from wind and solar, at the same added cost.

Without a lot of storage, it’s much harder to keep wind and solar from competing with nuclear or other baseload sources. You could curtail production of your wind turbines or solar panels, but since these have no fuel cost, you’d be throwing away free energy. Once you’ve built wind farms and solar projects, it makes no sense not to use all the electricity they can produce.

But if nuclear hogs the baseload, by definition there will be times when there is no load left for other sources to meet. Those times will often be at night, when wind turbines produce the most electricity.

The problem of nuclear competing with wind and solar has gotten little or no attention in the U.S., where renewables still make up only a small fraction of most states’ energy mixes. However, at an October 27 workshop about Germany’s experience with large-scale integration of renewable energy into the grid, sponsored by the American Council on Renewable Energy, Patrick Graichen of the German firm Agora Energiewende pointed to this problem in explaining why his organization is not sorry the country is closing nuclear plants at the same time it pursues ambitious renewable energy targets. Nuclear, he said, just makes it harder.

How big a problem is this likely to be in the U.S.? Certainly there is not enough nuclear in the PJM Interconnection grid as a whole to hog all the baseload in the region, and PJM has concluded it can already integrate up to 30% renewable energy without affecting reliability. But the interplay of nuclear and renewables is already shaping utility strategies. Dominion Virginia Power is on a campaign to build out enough generation in Virginia to eliminate its imports of electricity from out of state. And in Virginia, nuclear makes up nearly 40% of Dominion’s generation portfolio.

Now Dominion wants to add a third nuclear reactor at its North Anna site, to bring the number of its reactors in Virginia to five. If the company also succeeds in extending the life of its existing reactors, the combination would leave precious little room for any other energy resource that produces power when demand is low.

That affects coal, which is primarily a baseload resource. It would also impact combined-cycle natural gas plants, which are more flexible than coal or nuclear but still run most efficiently as baseload. But the greatest impact is on our potential for renewables.

This desire to keep high levels of nuclear in its mix explains Dominion’s lack of interest in land-based wind power, which produces mostly at night and therefore competes with nuclear as a baseload source. Dominion’s latest Integrated Resource Plan pretty much dismisses wind, assigning it a low value and a strangely high price tag in an effort to make it look like an unappealing option.

Dominion shows more interest in solar as a daytime source that fills in some of the demand curve above baseload. But given Dominion’s commitment to nuclear, its appetite for Virginia solar is likely to be limited. Already it insists that every bit of solar must be backed up with new natural gas combustion turbines, which are highly flexible but less efficient, more expensive and more polluting than combined-cycle gas, and add both cost and fuel-price risk.

Dominion’s seeming insistence that solar must be paired with gas to turn it into something akin to a baseload source is plainly absurd. It seems to be an effort to increase the cost of solar, part of an attempt to improve the company’s prospects of getting the North Anna 3 nuclear reactor approved in the face of its dismal economics.

Good resource planning would consider all existing and potential sources together, including using the existing pumped storage capacity in the way that makes most sense. We already know that North Anna 3 would be breathtakingly expensive. Evaluating it in the full context of other supply options will show it is even worse than Dominion acknowledges.

Dominion’s campaign to isolate Virginia’s power supply from the larger PJM grid also does a disservice to ratepayers. Keeping generation local benefits grid security when the generation is small-scale and distributed, but not when it’s a huge nuclear reactor sited on a fault line right next to two others. Otherwise, there is nothing wrong with importing power from other states. These are not hostile foreign nations. Pennsylvania is not going to cut us off if we don’t release their political prisoners.

In truth, it seems to be Tom Farrell’s plan to secure Dominion’s profitability for decades to come by walling off Virginia into a corporate fiefdom and controlling the means of production within it, like some retrograde Soviet republic. Utility customers, on the other hand, benefit much more from having our grid interconnected with PJM and the thousands of other power sources that help balance load and ensure reliability. One can only hope that Dominion’s regulators at the State Corporation Commission will see that.

Over the course of the next couple of decades, Virginia, like the rest of the U.S.—and indeed, the rest of the world—has to transition to an electricity supply that is almost entirely emissions-free. Very little planning has gone into making this happen, but several studies have shown it can be done. The Solutions Project offers a broad-brush look at how Virginia can combine onshore wind, offshore wind, solar and small amounts of other sources to reach a 100% clean energy future. Other researchers have done the same for PJM as a whole.

No doubt this will be a long and challenging journey, but the path we start out on should be the one most likely to get us to our goal. Nuclear seems likely to prove a stumbling block along the way, and an expensive one at that. Certainly, we shouldn’t make the problem worse.

Ivy Main's picture

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Paul O's picture
Paul O on Nov 20, 2015 6:24 pm GMT

Dear Ivy, It is more than a little bit ludicrous to punish Nuclear power simply because it is reliable and present 90% of the time.  For some strange reason “renewablers” want to use variable and unreliable, intermittent sources instead of reliable nuclear power.

Moreover, your facts are a little weak too Ivy:

1) Modern nuclear power plants can load follow (ramped up or down).
2) Pumped Storage is just as applicable for storing excess Nuclear Power as it is for wind, should we decide we want to go that route. This pumped storage can then be used to load follow older nuclear power plants.
3) Nuclear Power is not more expensive than solar power and is competitive with wind on a levelized costs basis.
4) Nuclear plants may be spendy up front, but when amortized over 60-80 yrs lifespan, they aren’t that costly.

All this information is widely available online. You may have been listening way to too much anti-nuclear propaganda from renewables propagandists like NRDC.

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on Nov 20, 2015 7:11 pm GMT

> More than any other kind of generating plant, though, the standard nuclear reactor is inflexible in its output. It generates the same amount of electricity day in and day out. This means nuclear can’t be used to supply more than the minimum demand level, known as baseload.

I’m sorry, Ivy, but you’ve been misinformed. Nuclear can indeed load-follow, and it does so routinely in France, where 75% of their electricity generated is nuclear.

Nuclear acts as baseload in the US, but that is an economic decision, not a technological constraint. When you turn down a fossil plant, you save fuel, and since fuel is a major cost component of fossil-generated electricity, fossil becomes the most economical plant to turn down, or turn off, when demand drops. With nuclear, fuel is an insignificant fraction of the cost, so you’re not saving money by turning down a nuclear plant. But that in no way implies that you can’t turn down nuclear, it just means that it’s cheaper to turn down fossil.

So, having started from a false premise, you have argued to a false conclusion. The real question we need to answer is this: Which is better for the climate? To back up intermittant solar and wind with a fossil-fuel generator? Or to back them up with a non-fossil generator?

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Nov 21, 2015 2:37 am GMT

Let me refer you to a particularly useful post by a regular, Nathan Wilson here at TEC:

Pls click down to his post. 

Nuclear Power Economics Requires Believing In ‘Impossible Things’
Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 21, 2015 2:18 am GMT

Aside on the Bath County Pumped Storage Project:  it is not just one of the largest in the US, but is the largest PS facility in the world by power, 3 GW nameplate.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 22, 2015 9:58 pm GMT

The point of the exercise is clean power at low cost.  Virginia’s non-fossil electricity share at 46% is one of the highest in the country per the EIA, and within a couple percent of California’s non-fossil share. If Dominion had a third reactor at North Anna, Virginia’s clean power share would surpass that of California. 

California’s electricity prices for residential and industrial customers are 40% and 90% above the national average respectively. By contrast, Virginia’s electricity prices are all below the national average.  http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=VA#tabs-4

Virginia’s clean generation and cost performance is one to be noted and copied, not cited as an impediment to wind and solar by the like of the Sierra Club.  Virginia’s wind resource is particularly poor and as a result installed wind capacity is zero, as the cost per kWh would necessarily be more than double that of midwest wind.  Mentioning wind in an article on alternative clean power sources in Virginia is particularly unserious.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 21, 2015 3:56 am GMT

TheSolutions Project offers a broad-brush look at how Virginia can combine onshore wind, offshore wind, solar and small amounts of other sources to reach a 100% clean energy future”

That reference proposes a 50% share of load via  offshore wind for Virginia.   EIA calculates offshore wind as the most expensive possible source of electric power (after solar thermal) at 20c/kWh.  Currently there’s not a single commercial wind turbine operating anywhere in hurricane prone US waters.   Such a proposal renders silly any objection to nuclear power based on cost.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 21, 2015 5:58 pm GMT

Ivy, you claim nuclear makes clean energy harder, but your plot of PJM hourly electricity demand can be very closely approximated by a 70/30 capacity combination of nuclear and solar power!

We can make the approximation better by adding 5 hours of energy storage (to extend solar into the evening, or better yet, shift a few hours of night time nuclear to daytime).  In fact, most of the grid-scale energy storage in the world today was built during the first nuclear era (before environmental groups intervened to help the fossil fuel industry withstand the nuclear competition).

Going forward, we can also expect that widespread use of electric vehicles will boost night-time electricity demand, thus boosting baseload demand, and increasing the appeal of nuclear, even without added grid energy storage.

A bigger problem with the nuclear+solar combination is solar’s very poor winter-time performance, and eratic Spring and Fall output.  In most non-desert locations, a higher nuclear fraction is better due to nuclear’s excellent seasonal demand matching (due to the fact that nuclear maintenance and refueling outages are always planned for times of low demand). See this TEC article.

 

We know from real-world experience in France, Sweden, and Switzerland that a grid built around nuclear and hydro (with nuclear load-following and a modest amount of pumped-hydro in the relatively hydro-poor French case) has almost no need for fossil fuel, and provides very affordable electricity.  With today’s technology, wind and solar become more and more difficult as the fossil fuel contribution drops below around 70%.  As Germany increases its use of solar and wind, its pumped-hydro energy storage plants are proving uneconomical, and it has deployed a new generation of fast-throttling coal fired plants to use along-side its renewables (see this Siemens press release and this pumped-hydro article).

We can imagine a grid powered with wind and solar, but we don’t know how to build one affordably.  Today, they guarantee a dominant role for fossil fuel.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 23, 2015 4:42 pm GMT

Ivy, you write, 

“No doubt this will be a long and challenging journey, but the path we start out on should be the one most likely to get us to our goal. Nuclear seems likely to prove a stumbling block along the way, and an expensive one at that. Certainly, we shouldn’t make the problem worse.” 

But neither your goal nor your problem are mine. Your goal is promoting renewable energy at any environmental cost. My goal is finding practical solutions to climate change.

So you’ll have to pardon me for admitting I could sleep well at night should North Anna 3 and my goal prove to be a stumbling block to yours.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Nov 22, 2015 9:57 pm GMT

Nathan,

Ivy is a lawyer, who cannot be expected to know technical details of energy systems.

Hence, what appears to engineers as nonsense, is perfectly reasonable to a lawyer.

 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Nov 22, 2015 10:04 pm GMT

Keith,

You are exactly  right about France. I lived next door, been there many times. 

Nuclear is THE way to go for a low CO2 future, as France has shown for 40 years.

See my latest article US Energy Future

See my comment to Nathan.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 23, 2015 4:19 am GMT

So you think she accidentally plotted the PJM electricity demand without a zero reference?  I assumed she did it on purpose to help conceal the fact that the PJM load profile is 2/3 baseload (which contradicts her thesis). 

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Nov 23, 2015 11:31 am GMT

Keith

Indeed and there are any number of links on a google search to show this*. Even the Germans can do it.

https://www.oecd-nea.org/nea-news/2011/29-2/nea-news-29-2-load-following-e.pdf

But the reality is that Ivy has no interest in honesty. Look at this statement

But if nuclear hogs the baseload, by definition there will be times when there is no load left for other sources to meet. Those times will often be at night, when wind turbines produce the most electricity.”

Wind is not a baseload supplier as there will be nights when it produces nothing. So Ivy wants to ditch the baseload element and go for no electricity.

 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Nov 23, 2015 1:53 pm GMT

Nathan,

She likely cut and pasted it from another source without seeing the implications, as you and I would.

That is what happens when non-technical folks in the RE hyping business display their talents regarding energy issues. 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Nov 23, 2015 1:57 pm GMT

 

Som,

France’s existing, fully paid for, nuclear plants produce energy at a cost of less than 2 c/kWh.

Wind and solar in France would be 12 – 18 c/kWh.

France has about 75% nuclear, exports nuclear energy to Germany and UK, has the lowest electric rates in Europe and the lowest CO2/$ of GDP.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 23, 2015 3:03 pm GMT

We should also consider the increased levels of DNA damage…”

There is no such evidence.  You’re repeating propaganda.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Nov 23, 2015 3:10 pm GMT

Ivy,

Ahhh, ditto.

Also:

To understand why, consider the typical demand curve for electricity in the Mid-Atlantic, including Virginia. Demand can be almost twice as high at 5 p.m. as it is at 5 a.m., especially on a hot summer day with air conditioners running.”

And normally, because that is when air conditioners are running, at precisely the best time for solar incidence. READ YOUR OWN GRAPH and analyze what it would mean for a nuclear / solar mix? 4/6 is from around 22K to about 35K, 1/5 is from around 26K to 42K, its 7/27 that is 25K to 50K … and when, pray tell, would the yield of solar PV be the highest?

And also:

You are assuming away electricity cross-haul … but electricity cross-haul is how we would get to 30%+ renewables in any event. Even if we have the wind, solar PV and storage to meet demands at average load and average yield, there will be days when load is above average, and there will be days when yields are below average … and the smaller the production/consumption region, the more common both of those will be, as both consumption and variable renewables production are more variable over smaller geographic areas.

Which undermines your core thesis, since renewables thrive on long distance cross-haul capabilities, and cross-haul of nuclear power would help pay to install those capabilities.

Running away from the fight against climate suicide coal fired power plants to attack low and no carbon energy sources, which is what this poorly researched piece appears at heart to represent, is shortsighted and foolish.

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 23, 2015 5:53 pm GMT

Mark, all such roads lead to the “Helmholtz Institut”, Bas’s favorite source for antinuclear propaganda.

Has Bas/Darius been re-re-incarnated?

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Nov 23, 2015 5:54 pm GMT

Som Negert = Darius Bentvels = BasM = Bas Gresnigt

He has created yet another new account on TEC so he can rinse and repeat his incessant antinuclear, prorenewables misinformation intended to cause confusion, fear and hatred of nuclear power technology.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 23, 2015 9:29 pm GMT

I’m considering having my own home recognized as The Institute to increase resale value.  Sounds great, but it apparently draws the cranks and crackpots to all drive by and knock on the door. 

Jeffrey Miller's picture
Jeffrey Miller on Nov 23, 2015 11:02 pm GMT

I find this piece incredibly depressing, and not solely because of the many technical and conceptual errors it contains (as noted by many of the commentators below).

What’s most depressing to me is that the author’s priorities are totally out of whack. The big problem we face now is global warming. It is radically changing every eco-system on planet earth and doing so at an incredibly fast rate. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, to avoid mass extinctions (many of which are likely inevitable at this point) and enormous costs to human beings, we need cheap, clean, carbon free power and lots of it.

So the problem is how to avoid the worst of climate change while still powering the world’s economy and providing energy to many who now have little. To solve the problem, we need to avail ourselves of all technically and economically feasible options in our toolbox (and probably then some). 

But the author doesn’t see it that way. For her and for her employer, the Sierra Club, the big goal is not reducing our CO2 emissions quickly and affordably, the big goal is rather “achieving high levels of wind and solar”. Because her main goal is getting lots of wind and solar, nuclear becomes a “fundamental problem”, rather than being part of the solution: “A more fundamental problem is that when nuclear is part of the energy mix, high levels of wind and solar become harder to achieve.”

So what the author has done is taken the natural ordering: we have this huge, hard to solve problem – producing lots of cheap, low carbon power, and we have some possible solutions – nuclear, solar, wind, etc – and inverted it. She starts with a potential solution – solar and wind –  (which very few people who have crunched the numbers believe can reduce carbon emissions to the extent necessary, absent cheap storage) and makes that the primary goal. This inversion allows her to spend her time and energy fighting against other viable, proven technologies like nuclear which can help us solve the real problem.

So, circa 2015, it seems like we still in a world where main stream environmental groups’ priorities are, in descending order:

1. Undermine nuclear.

2. Promote solar and wind.

3. Dramatically reduce carbon emissions while still producing plentiful, affordable power.

If we are to leave the earth in any semblance of the Holocene, these priorities need to be replaced by just one:

1. Dramatically reduce carbon emissions while still producing plentiful, affordable power, using all technologies we have at our disposal. 

Again, very sad, especially because I am certain the author, like most mainstream environmentalists, genuinely wants to do the right thing.

 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 24, 2015 5:10 am GMT

Very sad, yes.  But it’s not just just a mild preference for renewables that keeps green groups from endorsing nuclear.  Part of the reason is likely fossil fuel money (see the Sierra Club Took Millions from the Natural Gas Industry).  

But I think the main reason is, like unscrupulous politicians, they gain public support by claiming to defend us against a make-believe nuclear enemy.  People love when self-proclaimed experts tell us our phobias and prejudices are well founded (even when they aren’t).

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 24, 2015 6:57 am GMT

The French law which seeks to reduce use of nuclear power was passed without consideration of cost or how the missing energy will be provided.  The cheapest way to implement the law might be to close a few nukes and add fossil fuel and renewables in a 70/30 ratio.  The cleaner option would be to keep all the nukes open and curtail their output (i.e. throw away money whenever renewables are producing power).  A better option would be to include efficiency and other credits in with renewables, then add enough “negaWatts”, power-to-fuel, and electric cars so no reduction in nuclear generation is needed (I like nuclear district-heating too).  The politicians involved will likely be out of office before significant money must be spent on the idea.

Note that for France, switching to 80% renewables would mean a doubling of electric power sector air pollution and CO2 emissions compared to their current 74% nuclear, 13% hydro, 4% wind (91% clean energy).  80% renewables would likely mean 20% fossil fuel (which will be expensive if they use oil and LNG, and dirty if they use coal), and 5-10% biomass and waste burning, which are the only energy sources that rival coal for emission of air pollution.

And did you hear the news that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission cancelled a program which was to study cancer rates in populations near nuclear power plants?  The National Academy of sciences told them that since the added radiation exposures involved were so much less than natural background levels that basically the study was pointless.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 24, 2015 5:41 am GMT

Well that explains a lot, Nathan. Ivy was essentially on Aubrey McClendon/Chesapeake Energy’s payroll from 2007-2010.

James Hansen on antinuclear greens: “It is ana­log­ous to cli­mate den­iers. Their minds are made up, facts don’t mat­ter much.” $25 million does seem to matter.

Robert Bryce (National Review): If you are anti–carbon dioxide and anti-nuclear, you are pro-blackout.”

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Nov 24, 2015 10:14 am GMT

“Wind is not a baseload supplier as there will be nights when it produces nothing. So Ivy wants to ditch the baseload element and go for no electricity.”

Note that this is a question of geographic scale and quality of the wind resource. For high quality wind in the northern Great Plains (MISO) and southern Great Plains (ERCOT), given a number of wind farms distributed across the resource, there won’t actually be nights when it produces nothing, but there will be nights when it produces more and nights when it produces less. For an intermittent wind resource like the Pacific Northwest (BPA) used on its own without cross-haul, that would be largely accurate , through adding BPA region wind resources to MISO wind resources has an aggregate that is firmer than the MISO wind resource alone.

However, for the Mid-Atlantic, which is the focus of this piece, it seems that this would mostly be true for off-shore wind rather than on-shore wind, which due to the lower quality wind resource is much more likely to be intermittent. And, of course, off-shore wind is substantially more expensive than on-shore.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 24, 2015 2:54 pm GMT

Bruce – 

Even in high quality resource areas like ERCOT, the variation in wind generation across the entire region is large.  Frequently ERCOT generation falls below 1% of capacity for hours, and for a month or more A(Aug-Sept in ERCOT) can average a third or quarter of the annual average.  BPA has seen an entire week with nearly no wind generation.  Nowhere then can wind by itself be considered baseload power without doing damage to the definition. 

 

Leo Klisch's picture
Leo Klisch on Nov 25, 2015 4:10 am GMT

While I agree we need to be aggressive about carbon emissions, and therefore the “all of the above” solution, a couple of short term and long term uncertainties for North Anna 3.

“Dominion Virginia Power is on a campaign to build out enough generation in Virginia to eliminate its imports of electricity from out of state”

https://energylawprof.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/federal-court-strikes-dow...

Below is an excerpt from the above article

“Second, there is no consensus on whether these state import restrictions are a wise way to make climate policy. Although states have good reason to be concerned about the fossil-fuel industry in their trading partners, other states and countries worry that these import regulations are aimed at burdening out-of-state industry. Canada doesn’t think California should tell it how to produce oil, and is concerned that California’s regulation has been rigged to harm it. Quebec believes that state renewable portfolio standards discriminate by refusing to credit its hydropower exports as renewable. And states like North Dakota have the same concerns about Minnesota’s regulation. These conflicting interests may create conflicting regulations and state-to-state trade wars that would splinter interstate energy markets. In a forthcoming article in Fordham Law Review, titled “Importing Energy, Exporting Regulation,” I argue that the federal government should address this problem by supervising state regulation of imported energy, exempting non-discriminatory regulations from dormant commerce clause review.”

Second, though investment return may be insured by rate payers, there is certainly no guarantee that these same businesses and residents will install there own generation should in the 60 to 80 year future it is to their economic advantage. Dominion could not stop on site generation, but could charge high fees for demand or distribution if the business were grid connected. That said, as emission free energy becomes more valuable in the future, no doubt Anna 3 power could be exported widely if part of the PJM network. Still, as a rate payer or investor, I would be carful about where to invest given the accelerated rate of R&D of which only one small example is given below.

http://www.rdmag.com/news/2015/11/tandem-solar-cells-are-simply-better?e...

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Nov 25, 2015 1:49 pm GMT

Thanks Mark for dispelling this persistent and idiotic myth. Perhaps we will get some honesty now.

Data from Europe confirms a similar story.

http://euanmearns.com/a-big-lull/

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Nov 29, 2015 3:15 pm GMT

Aggregating across distinct regions flattens the duration curve over any individual region:

 

… and there were no hours in 2009 when the four regions produce less than 9% of maximum aggregate yield, or less than 19% of average yield.

As far as the claim that “it is not baseload”, that is a different issue than the claim that it is necessarily the case that there will sometimes be no windpower. It cannot be a baseload power supply, since baseload power supply is a concept for a fueled energy supply system, but when aggregated into a portfolio of variable renewable resources with negatively correlated supplies and with appropriate capacity and supply of firming power ~ where firming supply requirements are far more modest than capacity requirements ~ it can provide a large share of the total energy supply of a system that performs the same function as a baseload and load following fueled energy supply system.

And, of course, all of these values are substantial under-estimates of firm power for currently available technology, since at present penetration levels, there is no need to trade off average energy supply for capacity factor, with taller and larger wind turbines that generate a larger percentage of nameplate capacity at lower wind speeds.

One part of the observations of Fertig (2009) that is especially relevant to the claim of the original piece here: “Frequency-domain analysis shows that fluctuations in wind power are not white noise. Fluctuations in aggregate regional wind power output are between three and five orders of magnitude stronger at daily frequencies than at hourly frequencies (see figure 2 [in original]). The relative strength of low-frequency fluctuations of wind power output yields the important result that wind power can be balanced to a large extent by slow-ramping generators such as coal plants and combined-cycle natural gas plants.”

Since the ramping operation of partially load-following conventional nuclear power plants on the French model is a scheduled operation, it is certainly as well suited for load following against the dominant low-frequency, intra-weekly, day ahead wind power output fluctuations as coal plants and combined-cycle natural gas plants.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Nov 29, 2015 3:32 pm GMT

Bruce,

“Note that this is a question of geographic scale and quality of the wind resource. “

True, if you believe in fables.

Here are some REAL-WORLD facts:

http://www.theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2264202/reducing-us-primary-energy-wind-and-solar-energy-and-energy-efficiency

Example of Wind Energy in Europe: The wind energy output, MW, is less than 10% of total installed capacity over an area from northern Sweden to southern France many times each year, as shown by the published records of simultaneous hourly wind outputs.

For example, during September – October 2015, 60 days, there were four deep regional lulls when the combined output of the 50 GW of installed capacity was less than 5 GW. The lowest combined output was on October 3, at 2074 MW (4.2% of capacity) and the longest lull was October 18, 19, 20, about 72 hours.

What if that area of Europe decided to get 50% of ALL of its energy, not just electrical energy, from wind energy, per the Jacobson Plan? How much extra capacity and storage would be needed, including for peaking, filling-in and balancing?

CSP with at least 10 h of storage in the Sahara Desert (vulnerable to terrorists), and an HVDC overlay grid covering the entire area would be required (the offshore energy systems require energy, even when they are down).

What would be the capacity? How much would it cost? How many years to implement

http://euanmearns.com/a-big-lull/

http://euanmearns.com/wind-blowing-nowhere/

http://www.theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2219181/increased-wind-energy-versus-increased-canadian-hydro-energy-new-england

 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Nov 29, 2015 3:31 pm GMT

You may have noted that the title of your “evidence of genetic damage” was “The human sex odds at birth in France: a provisional geospatial-temporal approach in the vicinity of nuclear facilities”, and is far from definitive evidence.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Nov 29, 2015 3:32 pm GMT

You may have noted that the title of your “evidence of genetic damage” was “The human sex odds at birth in France: a provisional geospatial-temporal approach in the vicinity of nuclear facilities”, and that it is far from definitive evidence.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Nov 29, 2015 3:43 pm GMT

Bruce,

Aggregating load duration curves has no meaning. Only lay people would be fooled by such nonsense.

One has to take the SIMULTANEOUS hour by hour, or 15 minute by 15 minute outputs of many areas and SUM them to determine what happens during wind lulls. Some lulls last quite long!!!

See my above comment which shows what happens if various areas in Europe are SUMMED.

In this case, load duration curves completely ignore such vital information, i.e., the use of them is nonsense.

You would know this, if you ever had constructed a load duration curve.

 

 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Nov 29, 2015 3:55 pm GMT

Paul,

Exactly my opinion as well.

The Jacobson Group issued a report regarding the US getting 50% from wind and 45% from solar for ALL of its energy, not just electrical energy.

The Report is sheer nonsense, yet he gets to present it in Paris, which shows what those folks like to listen to.

Read my critique of the Report and you get an idea of the degree of nonsense.

http://www.theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2264202/reducing-us-primary-energy-wind-and-solar-energy-and-energy-efficiency

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 29, 2015 5:07 pm GMT

Willem, you deserve a medal for following up on this.

After Jacobson attributed to nuclear’s carbon emissions the burning cities from the nuclear war which will inevitably result, it’s amazing anyone would take him seriously.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Nov 29, 2015 7:45 pm GMT

Bob,

Did you read my article?

If you do and like it, please press the “like” button.

I keep making changes to it as people make comments, and as I learn more.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 29, 2015 8:05 pm GMT

Yes, I did and already “liked” it, but I’ll read it again.

Infinitely more interesting than the paper it critiques.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 29, 2015 8:26 pm GMT

Bruce – 

To make aggregation of ISO wind generation a useful exercise, a good sense of the cost and scale of the required transmission is necessary.   Occasionally one region must have the resources to support a large share of all.  That is,  transmission and wind capacity in each region must be equal to a large fraction of expected wind-share in all.  I suspect this result explains the statement towards the end of Fertig et al’s abstract:

“First-order analysis indicates that balancing wind and providing firm power with local natural gas turbines would be more cost-effective than with transmission interconnection”

which is rather blatant negative answer to the question posed in the title, i.e. “effect of long-distance” ISO aggregation. 

Second,  connecting ISOs requires redundancy.  One ISO can not depend for a high share of load from another based on the reliability of one connection.   Fertig fails to address this requirement at all, though it would multiply costs. 

Last, the work done on increasing aggregate capacity through anti-correlation, in Fertig or in your summary, still does not eliminate the occasional period of very low wind output over enormous areas.   See even in Fertig’s figure 3, where the best case aggregate output wind power can still fall to 5%, meaning that 95% of the traditional thermal power fleet, along with its own localized transmission and fuel supplies, must all remain in place essentially forever.  Emissions consequences aside, such a plan (large wind share plus all of the existing thermal fleet) is not economic. 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 30, 2015 2:31 am GMT

Jacobson was also co-author on the California Wind, Water, and Sun energy study from 2009, described in a Scientific American coverstory, which was yet another absurdly & shamelessly misleading renewables promotion.

They claimed that California’s electricity could be supply by in-state solar, wind, and hydro (plus geothermal), at every hour of every day, with no added storage.  Buried deep within the paper (p. 17) was this admission:

Our analysis is performed only for the average day in each month

which is similar to adding 30 days of energy storage to smooth the data.

But I think Jacobson’s nuclear war comment hints at the root cause of the deceptive claims about renewables: debilitating nuclear-phobia.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 30, 2015 4:33 am GMT

“…operation ofconventional nuclear power plants … is certainly as well suited for load following against… wind power output fluctuations as coal plants and combined-cycle natural gas plants.

Yes, but… with the combination of wind and nuclear or coal power you’ve described, adding the wind power makes the cost go up, even when the LCOE (Levelized Cost of Electricity) of wind power is cheaper than other sources!  Using EIA numbers, the average LCOE for new coal is 9.5 ¢/kWh  and that of wind is 7.4¢/kWh, so one might think adding wind power saves money.  In fact, throttling the coal-fired “backup” plant only saves the “variable” portion of the cost, which is only 2.9 ¢/kWh.  So each kWh of wind energy added to the grid effectively costs (7.4-2.9=) 4.5 ¢/kWh more than coal alone.  As wind power penetration grows, the incremental cost gets even higher, due to the need for long distance transmission and eventually energy storage.

So we can realisticly expect that poor nations will never deploy more than token amounts of wind power.  Even in rich countries, if wind power gets widely deployed, there will always be a temptation for future politicians to end the policies that keep wind power going in order to cash-in on the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars of cost savings from not replacing 25 year old wind farms and 10 year old batteries. 

The only way to make wind power (and cold-climate solar) viable in a low-carbon grid is to not design the grid around fossil fuel based “flexible generation” (i.e. do the opposite of what Ivy advises).  In a grid in which wind and solar are supplemented with enough nuclear and hydro so that grid demand can always be met with no fossil backup, a return to coal becomes much less attractive.

The first problem with this scenario is making supply and demand match.  The solution is not curtailment or load following, but dispatchable syn-fuel production using excess electricity. 

The second problem is getting the system built.  Starting with variable renewables just locks-in fossil fuel backup, so deployment must start with nuclear and hydro (the only combination proven to work in the real world at high penetration).  We need enough nuclear to supply all baseload and part of the peaking (thus driving all coal off the grid); then we can add fuel synthesis; only then should we grow our variable renewables.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Nov 30, 2015 9:11 am GMT

Nathan,

Go to the site ENERGY MATTERS. A great site.

http://euanmearns.com/the-wind-in-spain-blows/

Subscribe to get all their new posts and make comments.

 

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 30, 2015 3:24 pm GMT

Also in that CWWS 2009 study, add to the list of the shamelessly misleading: Jacobson et al’s invention of new baseload sources.  

In their 80% renewable and above scenarios, baseload without nuclear and without fossil becomes a pressing need, so the authors invent more.  They multiply California’s existing geothermal capacity by 250% (page 11), an amount greater than the current total geothermal capacity of the US.  Some studies have indeed shown that California does have that much more potential geothermal heat in the ground, but potential resource has never been the limitation.    High drilling costs chasing failed wells, or low power wells, has been the bane of geothermal development, but this reality is no deterence to shameless promotion in CWWS.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Dec 5, 2015 9:13 am GMT

“Yes, but… with the combination of wind and nuclear or coal power you’ve described, adding the wind power makes the cost go up, even when the LCOE (Levelized Cost of Electricity) of wind power is cheaper than other sources!”

Adding wind to existing coal does not make the opportunity cost of the exising coal go up, since the capital expenditure in building the coal plant is a sunk cost. And since on full cost of coal, it is economically inefficient to build more, their long run reproduction price is a moot point … if coal becomes the equivalent of a ghetto, where revenue is below replacement cost, so that the current plant is run down until it is time to abandon it, there is nothing economically wrong with that.

It would make the opportunity cost of coal with CCS go up, as well as the cost of conventional nuclear, but assuming we can take the levelized cost of nuclear at 90%+ capacity factor only works when nuclear is at a relatively low share of total output … at the share of nuclear compatible with a “high nuclear” scenario, 90%+ capacity factor operation is not an option.

If a portfoil of wind, solar PV and run of river hydro is to be charged for grid costs to span the mismatch between its output and consumption, then it would be inconsistent to take nuclear costs using levelized cost at 90% capacity factor for a high nuclear share, since 90% CF output is also a mismatch between output and consumption. To the extent that the nuclear output matches variation in consumption demand, then a share of energy from sustainable resources is equivalent to powering a smaller population country with the same biocapacity footprint from an all-renewable portfolio. And to the extent that it does not, the mismatch between nuclear output and consumption variation should not be charged to renewables.

Better suited to both a high nuclear share scenario and to a scenario with a high share of nuclear combined with a high share of renewables would be a nuclear fuel cycle that works at effective temperatures for molten salt coolant, as that would allow partial decoupling of nuclear heat output capacity and electricity generation capacity, reducing the capital cost of swings in the electricity output of nuclear.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Dec 5, 2015 6:00 pm GMT

Bruce – “Adding wind to existing coal does not make the opportunity cost of the exising coal go up, since the capital expenditure in building the coal plant is a sunk cost.”

That doesn’t follow in the power business.     Its popular in the green community to speak of doomed thermal plants, as if they were the same as old, outdated commercial real-estate being replaced by the new.  But with power there is never complete replacement of thermal by intermittent power.  And so operators of an existing plant demand a base revenue stream for the plant to pay off at least the cap-ex. Thus idling the plant part time to accomodate wind only drives up the per kWh price of the thermal plant. For the addition of wind to lower net utility electricity prices, it must completely *replace* swaths of coat plants and prevent the construction of replacements,  which wind can not do. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 6, 2015 4:12 pm GMT

Bas, please stop this activist nonsense. Your antinuclear nutcases (Scherb etal) are self-appointed “scientists” without a whiff of legit credentials. You should be embarrassed.

Moderators: what antinuclear activism lacks in respectability it makes up for in tenacity. “Som Negert” is the new identity of antinuclear activist Bas Gresnigt / Darius Bentvels who has previously been banned at TEC. Please ban him/her again (an IP number block would be more effective). Thank you.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Dec 7, 2015 1:22 am GMT

And it could well be that an even cleaner alternative would be to cooperate in the development of further reservoir hydro … both conventional reservoir hydro and PHS … in Switzerland with cross-haul transmission capacity to add aditional time-shift capacity to the existing time-shifting and import-export balancing of French nuclear generation.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Dec 7, 2015 1:25 am GMT

Though French nuclear construction is not the only new nuclear construction in the world … if the French nuclear initiative stalls out for a period of time, it is quite possible that Chinese nuclear plant design development could result in a less expensive imported nuclear technology being available.

 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Dec 7, 2015 1:44 am GMT

Example of Wind Energy in Europe: The wind energy output, MW, is less than 10% of total installed capacity over an area from northern Sweden to southern France many times each year, as shown by the published records of simultaneous hourly wind outputs.”

Hence, exactly as I said, there is the question of the quality and geographic scale of the resource. Drawing from northern Sweden to southern France is not drawing from multiple independent wind resource regions, as the US has the opportunity to do … if Europe wanted to replicate the opportunities to connect multiple independent wind resource regions along East-West axes available in North America, it would need to include the Ukraine at least, and ideally European Russia.

And it is a persistently repeated analytical mistake to consider each variable renewable resource in isolation, when the relevant matching problem is between current harvest of all available renewable resources versus consumption. Which raises the oddities of European solar PV roll-out, where the higher solar incidence regions in Spain, Italy and Greece do not get the same intense focus as much lower solar incidence areas in Germany.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 7, 2015 2:56 am GMT

Bruce, there’s less of a difference between Europe and the U.S. than you think.

The Energy Act of 2005 ceded much of the authority formerly exercised by FERC for regulation of interstate energy commerce to state utility commissions, where it is subject to negotiation between the states themselves. The effect has been to increase independence of energy resources (no state wants to be exporting $billions to a neighbor if it’s capable of generating its own electricity and keeping that revenue at home).

Before 2005 we would have had a better chance of constructing the HVDC wind superhighway you envision.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 7, 2015 2:59 am GMT

Yes, certainly more Swiss hydro would help increase sustainable electricity in Europe.  If you believe the environmental scientists or the medical experts, however, that new hydro would be best utilitized to reduce German coal usage.  (see Scientists sign nuclear entreaty or Life-saving case for nuclear).

If one values energy security above all,  then new European hydro  would be best utilized to reduce imports of fossil gas from Russian and the Middle East (see  Europe’s alternatives to Russian gas).

The age of fossil fuel use for electricity and low grade heat needs to die.  This idea that nuclear power is somehow worse that fossil fuel is an unscientific and debilitating neurosis that needs to die with it.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Dec 7, 2015 2:46 am GMT

“”Bruce – “Adding wind to existing coal does not make the opportunity cost of the exising coal go up, since the capital expenditure in building the coal plant is a sunk cost.”

That doesn’t follow in the power business.”

The opportunity cost of using existing coal does not depend on whether or not the operator of a coal plant is able to impose a charge to recover capital costs.

“Its popular in the green community to speak of doomed thermal plants, as if they were the same as old, outdated commercial real-estate being replaced by the new.  But with power there is never complete replacement of thermal by intermittent power.”

Note that you have shifted the goal posts, from what I argued with respect to coal power plants to some stereotypical argument that is “popular in the green community.” Coal is not the only thermal power source. It is the thermal power source that is on the extensive margin as far as its full economic costs go, so in terms of economic costs, it is the thermal power that ought to be shut down first and turned on last. It is, of course, not charged its full economic costs, but that is rate policy, not economic cost.

“And so operators of an existing plant demand a base revenue stream for the plant to pay off at least the cap-ex.”

If existing coal plants were charged their full economic costs, then a rate regulator faced with that demand optimally ought to treat it as special pleading an ignore it, since there would be other thermal sources that would be cheaper on full economic costs. Now, that could result in the owner of the power generation going bankrupt, but that is what is supposed to happen when a company has legacy fixed costs that it can no longer afford under current market conditions. That is, after all, one of the arguments for seperator power generation from transmission, since if they are consolidated, the fact that the natural monopoly transmission capacity is held by the company that ought to face a loss on its coal power generation means that the need to maintain the transmission capacity can be used as a hostage to extract a ransom for the economically destructive power generation.

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