The next time somebody tells you that we can replace nuclear energy with renewables, you might want to pass along this article from Energy Pulse by David Dixon of the Department of Energy. He took a look at the performance of California's 2,500 MWe of wind capacity during this Summer's heat wave.
The results? Well, I'll let Dixon tell you himself:
So what happened in California during the mid-July heat storm when that electric grid was put to the test, and California avoided rolling blackouts amid a Level 1 Emergency in which Californian’s were asked to raise their thermostats to 77 and many manufactures and business voluntarily shutdown? By most people’s analysis, wind’s performance was disappointing. Specifically during this period of peak demand, statewide wind often operated at only 5% of capacity, or less. The specific data is plotted in the attached graph. The upper line shows the peak daily electric demand as recorded by the California Independent System Operator, CASIO, during the heat storm. Daily peak power usage increased fairly steadily in mid July, reaching its peak on July 24 at 50,270 MW. Wind’s availability during this same period is presented in the lower line. Specifically this is the percent of the CASIO available wind capacity, 2,500MW, which was actually putting electricity into the CASIO grid at the time of peak demand on each day plotted.Disappointing? How about disastrous? More often than not, we quote the rated capacity of wind in the U.S. at 33%. That's compared to nuclear industry's average industry-wide capacity factor of 90%.
By most measures these numbers are disappointing. On the day of peak demand, August 24, 2006, wind power produced at 254.6 MW at the time of peak demand. 254.6 MW represents only 10.2% of wind’s rated capacity of 2,500MW. Another perspective on the data, over the preceding seven days, August 17 to 23, wind produced at 89.4 to 113.0 MW, averaging only 99.1 MW at the time of peak demand or just 4% of rated capacity.
Want more? Take a look at this graph that Dixon included with his article:
That's right, as demand grew during the heat wave, wind's performance slid off a cliff. If the state's nuclear reactors at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon had slid to 4% of capacity during the heat wave, I don't want to think about what would have happened to the electrical grid. But for wind power, that sort of performance is just another day at the office.
Does this mean that wind doesn't have a place on the electrical grid? No, and we've said that over and over again. But what it does mean is that wind can't hope to replace baseload capacity, and the presence of baseload supply from nuclear and coal are the only things that make wind's existence on the grid possible in the first place.
One more time: Wind has a place on the electric grid, both today and tomorrow. But suggesting that wind can replace baseload capacity on the grid is irresponsible and dangerous.
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