Guest post by Jeff Walther
I think the most immediate threat to clean nuclear electricity generation, right now, is not anti-nuke protests, nor corporate indifference, but state “Renewable” Energy Mandates. The clause in the states’ RE mandates which require that “RE” be taken on the grid in preference to other energy sources is the greatest danger to affordable base load generators, and to the whole institution of reliable, affordable electricity for the consumer.
This is how it works. When wind or solar generation start supplying 10% – 15% of total electricity, their theoretical generating capacity is much higher because they have capacity factors of about 20%. So wind installations which supply 15% of the energy needed in a year, have a name-place generating capacity of 75% of the power needed at any given time. They don’t generate 75% of the energy because the wind mostly doesn’t blow.
But, fairly frequently, for brief periods, those wind installations, which can only supply 15% of yearly energy needs, will all get good wind, and then, they’ll generate 75% of the power the grid needs. When that happens, for that brief period, the RE Mandate requires that steady, constant, reliable generators, such as nuclear shut down or otherwise stop generating.
The Base Load Generators Suffer
Shutting down and starting up again are expensive and even damaging for base load generators. Now, this might be an okay situation: why not drive the inflexible base load off the grid? But the grid cannot do without the base load. Because, most of the time, the wind isn’t supplying 75% of the power. A lot of the time, it’s not even supplying 15%. That’s just what it averages out to over the year.
So the grid cannot do without steady, reliable, affordable generators, but it could do quite nicely without expensive intermittent wind and solar.
Yet, state legislated RE Mandates are pushing the necessary and affordable base-load off the grid.
I cannot think of a single piece of legislation better designed to drive up the cost of electricity and drive away grid reliability, even if I was legislating from scratch. “RE” Mandates are the enemy of the consumer.
The problem is that the connection is subtle and the public still believes that RE Mandates exist to benefit them and the environment. The truth is, that RE Mandates, combined with the recent “privatizing” of grids and generating capacity, are designed to drive out grid reliability and drive up energy costs for all consumers.
Renewable Energy "Maturity"
Given public perception, the goal should be to modify RE Mandates, so that “RE” does not receive priority on the grid; sell this as “proving” RE maturity, and get nuclear electricity generation included in the definition of “Renewable Energy”. Repealing them entirely is probably impossible.
The true opponent in the near and short term is the requirement in RE Mandates that intermittent sources be given priority on the grid. Changing that should be the single most immediate target of pro-nuclear activists. Public opinion about nuclear, and the NRC regulatory framework matter almost not at all, when existing nuclear generation can be driven off the grid by this single point of legislation and a small percentage of Unreliables penetration.
|Amateur Rocket Launch|
Late last month, I wrote about my sorrow at Vermont Yankee closing in the post We are not Spock: Emotion and Nuclear Power, published at ANS Nuclear Cafe. There were very insightful comments on that post. I obtained permission to use some of these comments as guest posts on my own blog.
Jeff Walther possesses two B.S. degrees in engineering: aerospace and electrical. He also holds a J.D. degree and is licensed to practice law in Texas. All his degrees are from the University of Texas at Austin. He used to work as an aerospace engineer, and currently is an electrical engineer at a medium-size start-up.
Walther describes his leisure activities as follows: "On the weekends, when I'm not coaching one of my son's baseball games, I try to make it out to Hutto, TX for one of the Austin Area Rocketry Group's rocket launches."