Skip to main content

How Nuclear Energy Keeps the Grid Up in Extreme Weather

Matt Wald
The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Over the past ten years, two of the power grid’s worst ten days were during the polar vortex of January 2014, and for 2014 alone, four of the top ten were caused by the vortex, according to a new report by the group that enforces reliability standards on the high-voltage grid.

Weather-related challenges to the grid can be divided into two categories: the ones that disrupt load and the ones that disrupt generation. Thunderstorms, snowstorms, derechos and similar events that tear down local power lines are in the first category, and extreme temperatures are in the second. The distinction is important because if the power line in your neighborhood is taken out by a snow-covered tree, then it doesn't matter if the power plant is still running, and the system can get by on many fewer power plants as load disappears. But in a polar vortex, transmission and distribution is intact and it is the performance of the generators that is crucial.

With the grid up and demand rising, nuclear energy did its job in 2014.
The report, “The State of Reliability 2015,” pointed out that in the vortex, temperatures dropped 20 to 30 degrees below normal, and 49 cities set new low temperature records. “Key factors during the event included fuel deliverability issues, natural gas pipeline outages, gas service interruptions, frozen electricity and gas equipment, and other extreme cold weather operating challenges,’’ the report said.

And the wholesale price of electricity shot through the roof – which this report didn't mention, because the group that prepared it, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, is concerned with the engineering details of keeping the lights on, not the financial details of what happens when the gas transmission system can’t feed the power plants, factories and home heating systems.

The system mostly scraped through the challenge, largely because of the generators that ran without difficulty, nuclear reactors, which had their fuel already on site, and thus did not suffer from gas pipeline constraints or frozen coal piles, or the inability of barges to bring fuel over ice-choked rivers. Their performance was an example, mostly unappreciated, of the strength that the grid draws from its diversity.

Comments

Excellent post!

Marcel

Popular posts from this blog

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

New Home for Our Blog: Join Us on NEI.org

On February 27, NEI launched the new NEI.org. We overhauled the public site, framing all of our content around the National Nuclear Energy Strategy.

So, what's changed?

Our top priority was to put you, the user, first. Now you can quickly get the information you need. You'll enjoy visiting the site with its intuitive navigation, social media integration and compelling and shareable visuals. We've added a feature called Nuclear Now, which showcases the latest industry news and resources like fact sheets and reports. It's one of the first sections you'll see on our home page and it can be accessed anywhere throughout the site by clicking on the atom symbol in the top right corner of the page.
Most importantly for you, our loyal NEI Nuclear Notes readers, is that we've migrated the blog to the new site. Moving forward, all blog posts will be published in the News section, along with our press releases, Nuclear Energy Overview stories and more. Just look for the &qu…

Hurricane Harvey Couldn't Stop the South Texas Project

As Hurricane Harvey battered southeast Texas over the past week, the devastation and loss of life in its wake have kept our attention and been a cause of grief.

Through the tragedy, many stories of heroics and sacrifice have emerged. Among those who have sacrificed are nearly 250 workers who have been hunkered down at the South Texas Project (STP) nuclear plant in Matagorda County, Texas.

STP’s priorities were always the safety of their employees and the communities they serve. We are proud that STP continued to operate at full power throughout the storm. It is a true testament to the reliability and resiliency of not only the operators but of our industry.

The world is starting to notice what a feat it is to have maintained operations through the catastrophic event. Forbes’ Rod Adams did an excellent job describing the contribution of these men and women:

“STP storm crew members deserve to be proud of the work that they are doing. Their families should take comfort in the fact that…