Tag Archives: baseload power

The verdict is in: solar and wind have won the technology race

SonnenschiffgermanyWe continue to hear the same old arguments over and over again–in comments in these pages, in blogs and newspaper op-eds, in press releases and out of the mouths of those utility execs trying to hold on to the 20th century model of electricity generation and distribution, and, most depressingly, in the U.S. Senate which passed by a resounding 87-4 vote legislation to encourage new nuclear power development.

The arguments go like this: Germany’s Energiewende energy transition is failing; renewables are fine, but they can’t provide baseload power and thus can’t reliably power a modern industrial society; renewables are still too expensive without subsidies; we need an all-of-the-above energy strategy to combat climate change; new generation reactors will be safer, cheaper and also effectively deal with radioactive waste, and so on. Continue reading


Renewables as baseload power? Yes.


Some specifications of Chile’s upcoming Copiapo 24/7 solar power plant.

As pointed out in the article itself, some environmentalists and clean energy advocates remain skeptical that a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system is attainable; and we’ve had a few strong and interesting responses to my recent post The archaic nature of baseload power–or why electricity will become like long-distance.  Check out the comments to that piece and add your own.

In that article, I laid out the obsolete nature of the 20th century electricity system, which relied on large “baseload” nuclear and fossil fuel plants located far from the largest electricity consumers sending (and wasting) electricity over long high-voltage transmission lines. Such a system simply makes no sense anymore given the cheaper, cleaner, generally smaller-scale, and more sustainable energy technologies of the 21st century. Continue reading

UBS: Solar will be the default technology, and will replace nukes and coal

Global solar growth as projected by UBS. Solar has barely even begun its growth spurt...

Global solar growth as projected by UBS. Solar has barely even begun its growth spurt…

A key factor in our belief that a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system is not only inevitable but will be here sooner than nearly everyone currently believes, is not just the factual evidence of its mind-boggling, rocketing growth. Renewables are growing from a very small percentage of generating capacity–it would take many years of expansion at even their present staggering rate for them to play a major role in providing the world’s electricity. But that well-documented growth is the necessary starting point.

The more compelling rationale for our belief is, as we’ve reported in these pages numerous times, the world’s major investment banks have bought into the clean energy future–both rhetorically and with their resources–and have largely abandoned new investment in nuclear power and fossil fuels. Continue reading

Clean energy vs nuclear: the battle intensifies

Former top Obama aide Rahm Emanuel is now Mayor of Chicago. And he's joined forces with clean energy advocates who have a different vision of the state's energy future than Exelon. Photo from Wikipedia.

Former top Obama aide Rahm Emanuel is now Mayor of Chicago. And he’s joined forces with clean energy advocates who have a different vision of the state’s energy future than Exelon. Photo from Wikipedia.

In theory, the “all of the above” energy policy has a certain amount of appeal: why should government pick winners and losers? Why not–since no one knows the future–as a matter of policy pursue all energy sources?

One obvious issue is the availability of sufficient resources to effectively support all energy sources.

But there is a much more fundamental problem that makes “all of the above” a PR tagline, not a real energy policy: some energy sources are simply incompatible with others.

Specifically, as we’ve pointed out in these pages many times, the 20th century “baseload” power approach of electricity generation and distribution–reliant on large nuclear and coal plants–does not work in a 21st century energy system based on clean, distributed generation, energy efficiency, and a smart grid.

Using Minnesota’s Monticello reactor, which recently underwent an uprating that cost twice as much as planned, as the example, John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance this week explained the issue in a post titled Big, Expensive Power Plants Undermine a Clean Energy Future.

That’s a problem, especially for those who want to end fossil fuels and view both nuclear power and renewables as having a role to play in fighting climate change. The choice isn’t clean energy versus coal; it’s clean energy versus fossil fuels and nuclear because the baseload power model–which is the only model in which nuclear works–prevents the integration of all but a small percentage of renewables into the grid.

Germany and some other European countries already have reached that point. And some U.S. states are getting there rapidly.

Naive nuclear backers may not understand this reality, but the nuclear utilities (which are the same, by the way, as the fossil fuel utilities) do understand it. That’s why the nuclear industry isn’t going after natural gas, which is its main competitor in many locations at the moment. Instead, as this long and well-done article, titled Why the nuclear industry targets renewables instead of gas, from Midwest Energy News points out, the nuclear industry is going after renewables–and in a big way.

Others, focused more on fossil fuels, have noticed the same trend from the flip side. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) this week points out that while the media has been obsessed with the notion of a “war on coal,” the real war going on is the war on solar power.  While IEEFA takes on the issue from the viewpoint of the fossil fuel industry going after solar, remember: the nuclear and fossil fuel utilities are one and the same.

This chart from Institute for Local Self Reliance explains how large baseload power plants do not work in a clean energy system.

This chart from Institute for Local Self Reliance explains how large baseload power plants do not work in a clean energy system. Click to enlarge.

The war on solar, which is real, is really a war over what kind of energy system we will have in the 21st century. Will it be the 21st century model we at GreenWorld and NIRS advocate, based on clean renewable energy, distributed generation and the rest? Or will it be a continuation of the 20th century model of large baseload power plants, whether they be coal or nuclear? That’s the fundamental issue and how it is resolved may well determine the future of our planet.

For those who think nuclear power is a climate solution even disregarding its enormous financial costs and inability to be built quickly enough to make a difference in reducing carbon emissions, there is more bad news: a new analysis of nuclear’s carbon footprint, published yesterday in the Ecologist, finds that nuclear power–at least new nuclear power–cannot even lay claim to being a low-carbon energy resource.

All of this, of course, has serious practical implications–especially as it is beginning to become more widely understood. If we want a clean energy, carbon-free future, we’re going to have to implement a system based on clean energy.

That reality became stunningly evident in Illinois this week, where Chicago Mayor and former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel joined with clean energy advocates and environmentalists in announcing a new coalition to push for clean energy in the Illinois. The Clean Jobs Coalition wants Illinois’ Renewable Energy Standard improved, from 25% by 2025 to 35% by 2030.

Some have in the past criticized Emanuel, and much of the Obama White House, as being too cozy with Exelon, the state’s largest utility and the nation’s largest nuclear utility. But as Crain’s Chicago Business reported, “Emanuel’s unusual participation in the group potentially sets up the mayor as a political foe of Exelon, which in the past has counted on Chicago politicians, notably Emanuel’s predecessor, Richard M. Daley, for political support at the state level.”

Exelon, it probably goes without saying, did not join in with the Clean Jobs Coalition. And the coalition recognizes that Exelon’s nuclear ambitions conflict with the coalition’s goals,

At the press conference, one of the group’s members scoffed at the notion that nuclear should be considered green the way wind and solar power are.

“Everybody knows what (clean power) is,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, a frequent Exelon critic.

Exelon has been pushing hard for a year now for some sort of bailout from Illinois, to the tune of around $580 million/year, to prop up six of its aging, uneconomic reactors and thus avoid their threatened shutdown. Exelon has been hoping the state legislature would take action to support its position this year. But now, with one of the state’s most powerful politicians joining the clean energy forces, their goal may have been pushed out of reach. After all, state agency reports intended to support Exelon’s position didn’t do so, instead concluding that Illinois would get by just fine if all six reactors were closed, and that their shutdown would spur new clean energy jobs and investment in the state.

The practical reality is that Illinois, like every other state, cannot get to 35% renewables with a grid designed to accommodate Exelon’s behemoth baseload nuclear reactors. To reach the 35% goal, those uneconomic reactors will have to close.

While a few states, well, only Ohio and West Virginia, have backtracked on their renewable energy standards, most states are sticking to them and even, as proposed in Illinois and Maryland at the moment, are working to increase them. And as renewable energy grows, nuclear power and coal are going to have to move over and make way. That’s the battle before us now and it’s why the nuclear industry’s battle against renewables is intensifying. They understand the real world, even if many of their backers don’t.

Michael Mariotte

February 6, 2015

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2015/02/06/clean-energy-vs-nuclear/

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The nuclear industry’s fightback strategies: Baseload, climate, reducing safety regs

The nation's largest nuclear facility, at Palo Verde in sunny Arizona, where solar power could--and should--rule the day.

The nation’s largest nuclear facility, at Palo Verde in sunny Arizona, where solar power could–and should–rule the day. Photo from Wikipedia.

In any battle, it’s important to know, understand, and keep current on what the other side wants–what its objectives are, how it intends to get there. For clean energy advocates, that means keeping up with the nuclear industry’s strategies and tactics, and we try to keep you informed and updated on those.

This week brought some new information on the nuclear industry’s efforts to save itself from its current path to oblivion.

But as Scott Denman, former executive director of the Safe Energy Communication Council, put it this week, certain truths remain constant:

Nuclear industry maxims:
(1) The problem is always something other than the obvious.
(2) Whatever the question, the answer is always the most convoluted and complex.
(3) Regardless of the specific need, nuclear is always the way to meet it.
(4) Make up your own self-justifying paradigm & be just like the nuclear utility industry!

Continue reading

Nuclear boosters scramble to protect industry as EIA predicts reactor shutdowns

Yesterday was a telling day to contemplate the future of nuclear power, renewables, and the future of energy generally, as I did while moderating an excellent webinar on nuclear power and climate change for some key NIRS supporters, featuring Dr. Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Mark Cooper of the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment, and Tim Judson, Acting Executive Director of NIRS. An edited, digestible version of the two-hour event will be available on NIRS website as soon as we can do the editing…

The webinar offered convincing and well-documented assertions that a) nuclear power cannot possibly be a useful means of addressing climate change; indeed, it only makes the problem worse; b) in fact, the entire antiquated concept of “baseload” power makes the problem still worse by preventing the full implementation of 21st century energy technologies; c) even if nuclear power–including existing reactors–were able to address climate, it would be too expensive to do so and that expense crowds out better alternatives; and d) the nuclear industry’s efforts to save its existing reactors (forget about building new ones) is beginning to look like an all-out war on renewables and ratepayers alike.

Continue reading

Why we’re writing so much about the changing nature of the electricity business–everybody else is. Oh, and because it’s important.

If how much is written about a topic is an indication of how important or perhaps timely the topic is, then the issues of distributed generation, the changing nature of how Americans will obtain their electricity, and the effects of both on electric utilities, are of both extreme importance and timeliness. We have been reporting on these issues almost daily, citing articles and adding to the conversation, but today the plethora of articles, opinions, predictions and information–and good ones at that–is almost overwhelming.

That major changes are coming should be obvious to anyone without blinders on–or perhaps anyone who hasn’t overinvested in nuclear power and fossil fuels. The only questions now are how fast those changes will be implemented and how extensive they’ll be.

If you haven’t been following the issue, here’s the brief (and simplified) synopsis: Distributed generation–for the most part small-scale rooftop solar (from your local Wal-Mart to your own house) and wind farms, coupled with increased availability and affordability of electricity storage (primarily batteries) coupled with increased energy efficiency in both buildings and appliances and smart electric grids are completely changing the nature of the electric utility business.

In the 20th century, that business model–designed to bring reliable and relatively affordable (if not often safe or clean) electricity to the entire nation–achieved its goals. Utilities built large “baseload” power plants, typically fossil fuel or nuclear powered plants that run 24/7, and an accompanying transmission grid to take the power from those plants to cities and towns all across the country. Regulators ensured they earned a profit on every step of that process. And the nation was indeed electrified.

But as we entered the 21st century, that business model began to fall apart. Most states chose to deregulate their electric utilities, and separated the jobs of power production from electricity transmission. Instead of regulators setting rates and ensuring profits, utilities began to be forced to compete with each other to sell electricity at the lowest rates to consumers. Inefficient and overly costly power plants began to close–a process that accelerated in 2013 with the unexpected shutdown announcements of five nuclear reactors. More shutdowns–in many cases aided by anti-nuclear campaigns–are likely this year and next. And dozens of dirty coal plants have closed in the past few years as well.

Meanwhile, technological advances, especially the plummeting costs of small-scale solar power and the advent of leasing arrangements which mean that consumers–both businesses and homeowners–can get solar installed on their rooftops without the high upfront costs, have made it possible for millions to produce their own electric power and sometimes even more than they need, which policies called net metering allow for them to sell back to the grid at market, and sometimes above-market prices.

As energy efficiency programs have begun to work, the average household and business is using less electricity than they used to. It now looks like peak electricity use in the U.S. was reached in 2007, and even with population growth we may never again reach that peak.

Wind power costs also have fallen over the years, and in many parts of the country are cheaper than their older competition: nuclear and fossil fuel plants. Smart grids, which are still in their infancy, make it possible for grid operators to more efficiently move between the intermittent power sources like wind and solar farms as their power is produced and wanes, providing more reliable access to renewable energy.

That’s where we are now. Where we’re going, sometimes called Utility 2.0, is what’s really exciting. The “internet of things,” where our devices, soon to include our entire homes and places of work, are connected to the internet, are enabling the smart grid to become really smart–to provide power to where it’s actually needed when it’s actually needed (and not at other times) from where it’s being produced (and in a somewhat similar fashion to the local food movement, that will more often than not be locally).

Electricity storage means that those big baseload plants will become obsolete. At the household level, who needs them when your rooftop solar panels provide all your electricity when the sun is up, and when it’s down you just shift to the batteries that have stored the excess power. Solar power 24/7. On the macro level (after all, most big city downtowns don’t have enough rooftop space to power themselves), larger batteries and other types of storage now in the early stages of commercialization mean that the power from wind, offshore and onshore, and large solar plants such as those sprouting up in California and Nevada (and even New York City’s Fishkills landfill), will also become 24/7. Add in some geothermal power where available, even more increased energy efficiency, the ability for cars to not only run on electricity but to generate electricity, and other technological advances on the horizon, and that old utility model has bitten the dust.

As we noted here on Wednesday, February 26, Rocky Mountain Institute has just released a report on when it will be cost-effective for the average household to just completely leave the grid if it wants–it’s sooner than you think. But whether we will end up with millions of micro-grids or will keep some form of regional grids as we have now is one issue for discussion; the reality staring all in the face is that we won’t have the kind of electric system we have now, and that’s coming sooner than most people think as well.

Traditional utilities are fighting this, of course, the same way all obsolete industries fight to remain relevant until they no longer are. And the nuclear power industry is fighting this too–that’s behind what for it is the absolute necessity of rigging the power markets to favor nuclear power over cheaper (and cleaner) energy sources. Without a rigged market, it can’t survive even in the current reality, much less the one on the way. Clean energy advocates should be actively championing and working towards the future–because it is the pathway to a nuclear-free carbon-free energy system.

Everything that has been said here has been documented in the past two months of GreenWorld, thus I haven’t put up links to each sentence–although I could have. Just scroll through the last two months, as I did yesterday sitting in a hospital room after a minor procedure, and you’ll see that. Even I was amazed at how this has been documented here.

But here are a few more posts I found just this morning that provide some new context and perspective:

Among the most ardent champions of the new system are Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk and his cousin, Solar City’s Lyndon Rive, who appeared yesterday at the California Public Utilities Commission to talk about our energy future.

Said Rive: Storage is a game-changing product. Those in the game don’t want to change the game. Utilities are trying to delay the game from changing.

Musk added that Tesla is working to create stationary battery packs that will last long, be safe and compact enough for houses. In other words, Musk’s vision is not just for Tesla to eventually become one of the world’s major auto manufacturers, it’s larger that that: it’s to bring Tesla into every household.

Musk also endorsed a carbon tax: The right move is a broad carbon tax. Our taxes for gas are very low compared to the EU. We should tax the things that are bad over the things that are good. Like we tax cigarettes and alcohol more than bread. It seems like common sense. It’s time for us to get serious on a carbon tax on a national basis. It’s economics 101. It’s so obviously the right move, but politicians are afraid of it.

commercial_installed_solar_pv_costsStephen Lacey is one of the better-informed writers on energy issues. He too sees solar power coupled with battery storage as an existential threat to utilities and in this article explains more about that, while also explaining in greater detail the Rocky Mountain Institute report mentioned above.

John Farrell at the Institute for Local Self Reliance is another who has been writing extensively on these issues. In this article, he asks: Is utility 2.0 a forecast or a post-mortem? And he concludes that for many utilities, it’s the latter–it may already be too late for them to jump on board–although some commenters disagree. Snippet:

Look at Georgia Power. They’re struggling to complete new reactors at their Vogtle nuclear power plant, and costs are rising despite over $8 billion in federal loan guarantees. But thanks to a coalition of environmentalists and the Georgia Tea Party, the state’s public utilities commission has required the utility to invest in distributed solar power. The utility will get 525 MW of new clean power generation, years before either new reactor will generate a single kilowatt-hour. And by 2017, the earliest the reactors could come online, it will cost less for Georgia Power customers to get solar energy from their own rooftop than to buy it from the utility.

Finally, David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, which owns 53,000 MW of power plants, most of it fossil fuels, but also some nuclear and some renewables, has been outspoken on the need for utilities to adapt to the new model. In this article, he says it is “shockingly stupid…to build a 21st-century electric system based on 120 million wooden poles….” Crane has famously said he believes the new system will take about as long as it has taken smartphones to supplant landlines (though obviously that remains a work-in-progress), and that rooftop solar is the future. Here he even admits that NRG’s own power plants could become a liability for the company in the not-so-distant future. Crane is no anti-nuclear advocate, in fact he remains a supporter of nuclear power, but adds that there is no support in either the political arena nor private sector for traditional reactors or small modular reactors. The article goes on: Beyond nuclear, Crane said that the public’s perception of renewable energy technologies is vastly more positive than it was even a few years ago. “Green doesn’t mean a compromise of capability and price,” he said, adding that consumer products like Tesla S are “kicking ass.”

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/02/28/why-were-writing-so-much-about-the-changing-nature-of-the-electricity-business-everybody-else-is-oh-and-because-its-important/ ‎

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