Friday, January 04, 2013

Good Nuclear News by the Numbers

beauty-shotSometimes, among the little controversies and tidbits of news, it’s nice to have a reminder now and then as to what we’re getting newsy about. Nuclear energy is a really strong provider of electricity – “really strong” because it delivers 24/7, often runs at or near 100 percent capacity (take that, renewable slackers) and is very inexpensive to operate.

And in a way, facilities can run higher than 100 percent capacity. Operators achieve uprates by swapping in new equipment or modifying existing equipment (along with maximizing efficiency) with the goal to increase capacity. The NRC determines if a potential uprate might compromised safety, but it’s generally a incidental function of how long lived a facility can be. Uprates are common enough.

I don’t have the number right in front of me, but I believe the capacity increase over the years due to uprates is about the equivalent of six new nuclear reactors. Pretty good for not having to break ground with spade.

Bloomberg spends a whole article talking about recent nuclear energy capacity, using the restart of Minnesota’s Prairie Island (down for refueling) as a jumping off point.

Generation nationwide advanced by 1.1 percent to 93,254 megawatts, or 91 percent of capacity, the most since Sept. 9, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission data compiled by Bloomberg.

The number in 2011 was over 95 percent, but it’s still pretty good given the plants down for refueling or for other reasons. Bloomberg notes that Michigan’s Fermi 2 and Mississippi’s Grand Gulf 1 ramped up output (neither to full capacity) and Watts Bar 1 in Tennessee went to 100 percent capacity.

A little more:

The Northeast increased 0.6 percent to 24,899 megawatts, or 100 percent of capacity, while production in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast states advanced 0.5 percent to 28,891, or 91 percent of capacity. Western U.S. generation increased 0.9 percent to 19,126 megawatts, or 80 percent of capacity.

The western droop likely has to do with San Onofre’s extended outage in California, though the story does not say.

Nuclear energy is very good at maintaining capacity and allows for surer planning. I’ve read some pieces complaining that nuclear energy does not ramp down fast enough to accommodate the intermittent nature of wind and solar power, to which one can only say, Boo-hoo, may all your problems involve abundance.

Seriously, this is something a smart grid could more easily accommodate and, if the will (and money) materialize to build out a smart grid, the issue of renewable intermittence and nuclear energy’s usefulness as a full throttle energy source will reconcile. The Department of Energy has a good introductory paper on the subject – take a look at the environmental improvement section starting on page 14 for more information about renewable energy sources and the smart grid.

But that’s down the road a piece. On our section of highway, the news is generally good. I thought the capacity would go down a bit due to the wild weather and some extended outages, but this is much better than expected.


Russ said...

Nice post.

A little off topic, but I recently visited Wikipedia for some information and realized that the article was intensely biased against nuclear.

Why isn't there a paid writer/engineer funded by some pro-nuclear organization to ride herd on Wikipedia articles to keep them more balanced?

Most lay people turn to Wikipedia for info and it seems that one badly biased Wiki page may nullify ten times over, efforts to educate with your excellent blog posts.

Just a thought.

jimwg said...

I'd long been concerned about this myself, but was told on Wiki and Google that only people with "field credentials" can be considered authorities enough to perm post on the subject. Kind of strikes me out, regrettably.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's not all that tough to get hard numbers on uprates:

The total approaches 7 new plants (1 GW equiv.), it seems.