Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks
Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency and streamline many of our processes and practices. Vogtle Unit 3 will be the first fully digital nuclear unit in the country. That affords many innovative approaches to how we operate and maintain the plant. One thing that will never change is that the nuclear industry will always hold paramount the health and safety of the community we serve.

When I was a shift supervisor at Plant Farley, I was often asked exactly what it is that I do every day. My favorite response: "I make clouds for a living." This would generally result in a look of confusion on the face of the person I was talking to, but it would give me an opportunity to explain how a nuclear power plant works. It brings me joy to watch expressions soften as I explain the tremendous amount of electricity that we produce, how we produce it, and that the only impact to the environment is the release of water vapor clouds from the cooling towers.

As I transition to my new role in the Work Management organization, one of my responsibilities will be the implementation of a process to allow our work activities to be carried out completely electronically. Paperless work management is a common practice in other industries and will be a huge step forward in improving efficiency in nuclear power.

Delivering The Nuclear Promise to me means taking a very hard look at the way we do business in this industry and challenging ourselves to think outside the box. The industry has previously been stagnant in the area of leveraging new technology to improve processes. It can be easy to become complacent and settle for "how we've always done it," but for our industry to remain viable, we must evolve. The paperless work management process is a perfect example of this principle in action. Eliminating paper will allow work to be completed more efficiently with less potential for error and fewer resources needed for filing and archiving documents.

The above post was written by Southern Nuclear’s Donell Banks for the Powered by Our People promotion, which aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Share this nuclear ingenuity story with your network or to learn more, go to nei.org/whynuclear.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Germany Gets Realistic about Renewables

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.

The German parliament voted on July 8 to slow the growth of renewable energy, by ending lavish subsidies intended to develop as much wind, sun and biomass as quickly as possible. Instead, the government will pick and choose which energy projects make sense for the system based on reliability, cost, and other criteria.

The German electric system is suffering a more extreme version of some of the same problems seen in in the U.S.

In Germany, the burden of aggressive renewable subsidies falls on households, because the government exempted major industrial consumers, to avoid damaging their international competitiveness. Per kilowatt-hour, households pay 29.5 European cents (about 32.6 U.S. cents, roughly triple the average price in the U.S.) The price is 30 percent higher than the European average, according to European Union statistics.

And in Germany, a lot of this energy, especially wind, comes at times of low demand, and is produced in areas far distant from load centers, so it is not useful. We have the same problem here; surplus energy pushes prices to zero or even below, but subsidies make developers profitable anyway.

And subsidized renewables are not always the best way to reduce carbon emissions. The National Academy of Sciences recently found that the cost of Federal subsidies for renewables, for each ton of carbon saved, is a stunning $250. Some states provide added subsidies, or force electricity customers to subsidize renewable energy by setting quotas for utilities, called renewable portfolio standards. Renewable sources of electricity displace electricity from fossil-fired plants, saving fuel and carbon emissions. But they also threaten to displace nuclear generators, which are highly reliable (operating over 90% of the time), and are also emissions free. (Also, U.S. nuclear plants get no compensation for being carbon-free.)

Policies insisting on a high proportion of renewable energy, rather than on simply non-emitting generation, create distorted market conditions that are forcing premature retirement of non-emitting, highly reliable nuclear reactors that are generating electricity at very low costs. Such policies have the unintended consequence of increasing emissions (due to the use of natural gas for replacement power) rather than cutting them.

While the United States hasn’t yet reached the same situation as Germany, the Federal government and the states could avoid some of the same missteps.

UPDATE: On August 1, when the New York Public Service Commission approved a plan to recognize nuclear power’s contribution to carbon emissions reductions, and to keep several reactors running, the Commission took note of Germany’s situation. The order, available here, said in part, “New York can look to another leader in renewable power – Germany – for a lesson in the unintended consequences of losing zero-emissions attributes from all its nuclear plants. Germany’s abrupt closure of all its nuclear plants resulted in a large increase in the use of coal, causing total carbon emissions to rise despite an aggressive increase in solar generation.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What to Watch for in Nuclear Energy Policy at the 2016 Conventions

The 2016 Republican National Convention got underway in Cleveland last night, kicking off a two-week period of non-stop political coverage that typically keeps "inside the Beltway" types like us glued to the television (we will be similarly riveted when the Democrats meet next week in Philadelphia).

Just as is the case with the annual State of the Union address, we pay close attention just in case our industry gets mentioned. So what are we keeping an eye out for? To give you a hand, we've developed the following checklist when it comes to what matters to the nuclear energy industry.

Thanks to Donkey Hotey for the Creative Commons license image.
Feel free to play along at home.