The state of California, once home to three major nuclear power plants, weathered an early July heat wave in good shape despite having only one operating reactor, Unit 2 at Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Unit 1 at Diablo Canyon was forced to shut down for about a week on June 27 after a minor leak was discovered in the residual heat removal system. The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station north of San Diego, out of service since early 2012, was officially retired earlier this summer by its owners.
Despite the lost capacity, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) only needed to ask customers in Northern California to conserve power during the heat wave. Reserve margins remained within safe territory.
The reason is in part the substantial amount of gas-fired capacity that has been added to the CAISO grid in the past few years. The newest plant to come online is NRG’s 720-MW Marsh Landing Generating Station, near Antioch on the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. The four-unit simple cycle plant entered commercial operation on May 1, replacing the 1950s-era Contra Costa Power Plant on the same site.
Large Scale Renewable Energy
A thebreakthrough.org post debunks the idea that renewable energy is better positioned than nuclear energy to replace coal. It was written by Jessica Lovering who created a graduate course in nuclear energy, which she co-taught in the Spring of 2012 with a nuclear physics professor.
Nuclear provided America with about 180 times more energy than solar last year, and is one of our cheapest, safest baseload sources of zero-carbon energy.
* New nuclear plants are being built around the world including in the United States. Bittman incorrectly suggests that nuclear energy is going away. In fact, there are 69 nuclear power plants under construction around the world right now, dozens of which will come online in the next year. China has 28 plants under construction, Russia has 11, and there’s even a small handful in Europe
* Renewables require a massive expansion of the grid, not its. In Germany, for instance, the government is currently spending $25 billion on 2300 miles of new high-voltage transmission lines, and when the sun doesn’t shine (which is often the case in Germany) the country relies on the interconnected European grid to import electricity from other countries (like nuclear-powered France). Renewables, on the other hand, are far from ready to replace fossil fuels in any country. Germany, in fact, is building new coal plants.
* Nuclear receives far less subsidies than renewables. Bittman attacks nuclear subsidies, but they are far smaller than renewables subsidies. Since 1950, nuclear power has received $3.60 in federal subsidies for every megawatt-hour of electricity it has produced, compared to $1.50 for coal, $5.70 for gas, $6 for hydro, and over $100 for solar and wind. Germany has committed over $130 billion to solar subsidies since 2000, yet only receives 5 percent of its annual electricity from solar.
Capacity factor does matter because low capacity factor power requires either a lot of overbuild of capacity and an improved electrical grid or natural gas or some other form of backup or a lot of energy storage.
Some nuclear power is closing because of low natural gas prices and the political difficulty of arranging low term contracts. But markets and policy vary by state and country. Usually natural gas is used instead of storage and the levels of renewables have been low enough that they have not altered the grid or storage.
China, India, Russia, South Korea other parts of Asia and the middle east are where the energy growth will occur and where a lot more nuclear power will be built. China’s air pollution problem will require a lot more nuclear power and it will be ramped up to hundreds of gigawatts in the 2020s and beyond.
France has a big money political battle between nuclear energy and natural gas
France may reduced the percentage of electricity that they get from nuclear energy. This is still an undecided political battle. EDF (France’s nuclear company) is bolstering safety after the ASN tightened regulations following the 2011 Fukushima meltdown in Japan. The utility has estimated it will have to spend 55 billion euros ($71 billion) through 2025 on safety and equipment upgrades, which may also allow it to operate the plants for as long as 60 years, Chief Executive Officer Henri Proglio has said. President Francois Hollande, who has pledged to lower dependence on atomic energy, said in September that the oldest reactor at Fessenheim must shut in 2016.
France must accelerate a decision on its future energy mix before aging nuclear plants are halted permanently, according to the country’s atomic-power regulator. France’s national energy debate is likely to result in a new law governing electricity production, which may be put to parliament at the start of 2014. Atomic power is central to the deliberations as reactors provide three-quarters of the nation’s energy output, making it the most nuclear-dependent country.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.