Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Truth About Nuclear Power - Part Seven

Subtitle: All Nuclear Grid Will Sell Less Power
In an all-nuclear-powered grid, self-generation systems become much more attractive because the grid prices go up very high.  Part Two in this series on nuclear power showed that power prices with an all-nuclear-grid will increase by 5 to 8 times their current rates.   The reason for discussing an all-nuclear grid is the oft-made statement that the entire world must shift, someday, to nuclear power because fossil fuels will eventually run out.  This series on nuclear power is, in part, a response to those who believe nuclear power is the best option forward.  Nuclear is probably the worst of all options for the long term.  Future articles in this series will discuss viable alternatives for future power generation, alternatives that do not include nuclear power.  
However, if such an all-nuclear-grid were to be built, and when prices escalate dramatically as they will, power customers can then afford to self-generate because doing so will be much cheaper than purchasing power from the grid.  They can afford to install solar or wind power, even with storage; time-shifting usage systems such as make ice at night, or hot water depending on the season on off-peak power; cogeneration or tri-generation systems that burn natural gas and make electricity, ice water for cooling, and hot water for domestic use; install new items or retrofit buildings and houses to be much more energy efficient such as insulation, triple glazed windows, seal air leaks, heat recovery heat exchangers for hot water leaving the house.  Businesses can also afford expensive conservation measures: insulation, more efficient motors, modern equipment of more efficient designs, time-shifting power consumption.  Industry can then install much more self-generation or cogeneration to remove load from the grid as was done along the US Gulf Coast in the 1970s and 80s.   
Cogeneration, or combined heat and power (CHP), has grown dramatically in the US since
CHP Capacity Growth in US
source: DOE
1983.  See photo at right.   Total installed capacity has grown from about 25,000 MW to more than 90,000 MW today.  The rapid increase in electricity prices stimulated that growth, as nuclear power plants came on-line.   If and when an all-nuclear-grid is built, much more CHP will be installed.  In some circles, removing load from the grid by self-generation is known by the clever name of “nega-watts.” 
Currently in the US, a new twin-reactor nuclear power plant is under construction in Georgia at the Vogtle power plant.  This will be an opportunity for customers in that area to produce nega-watts and generate a portion or all of their power for themselves.   The southeast states do not have substantial wind onshore, so wind generation is probably not an option. However, off-shore wind along the coast is fairly good.  Wind from that resource can certainly beat the power prices from an all-nuclear grid. Also, the frequent cloud cover and rain make solar power generation unfeasible.  However, small generators powered by natural gas are certainly an attractive option.   For commercial or industrial operations, burning bio-mass from the forest product industries will be even more attractive than it is today. 
Removing load from the grid by self-generation, or by alternative generation from off-shore windturbines, will create a serious problem for the utility that builds nuclear power.   Ideally, for customers, but problematically for the utility, such self-generation would occur at night and be stored in storage systems for use the next day.   Removing load from the grid at night will reduce the baseload, and force the nuclear power plants to reduce rates or stop generating.  Stopping a nuclear power plant is not what utility operators want to do.    The interesting consequence of reducing power output from a nuclear plant is the plant’s owners receive less money, yet their fixed costs from building the plant must be paid.  Their only alternative is to seek a rate increase from their public utility commission.  This further increases prices to customers, which gives them more incentive to install CHP.
As stated just above, rapid growth in CHP occurred after 1983.  This was primarily accomplished by industrial users who built gas-fired cogeneration systems to produce power and steam for their industries.   I had a hand in building just such a plant (see photo) at my
CCGT Plant in LaPorte, TX
Cooling tower at the bottom left
Turbine Building at upper right
employer at that time, Diamond Shamrock Corporation, at their chlorine-caustic plant in LaPorte, Texas, near Houston.   This plant is still in operation, although it has a different owner now.  The plant suffered a few price increases for electric power in the late 1970s, and determined that it was attractive to build our own combined-cycle gas turbine plant, or CCGT.   The CCGT plant has two gas turbine-generators, each of which feeds the exhaust gas into a separate heat recovery steam generator, HRSG.  Steam from the HRSGs is let into a steam turbine that drives a third generator.   The steam turbine has steam extraction for supplying the chlorine plant, so the existing boilers were shut down.  Exhaust steam from the turbine is condensed in a condenser, which is cooled by a new cooling tower. 
In contrast to the 1980s, today there are more alternatives for self-generation or CHP.  As mentioned above, wind and solar are commercially available.  Also, for commercial and small home-use, gas-powered generation systems with heat recovery for hot water are available. 
Customers will very likely never pay the preposterous power prices that would result from an all-nuclear-grid.  Instead, they will install and operate various forms of CHP, or cogeneration plants and remove all or a part of their demand from the grid.   The all-nuclear-grid will sell less power.  The utility will see its revenues shrink, and be left with an installed asset base with little way of producing revenue to pay for it. 

Update: 4/6/2014, Germany also is installing CHP in response to their increased power prices.  see link   (end update)

Update: 8/21/2014, Goldman Sachs installed a water freezing system in their huge skyscraper in Wall Street.  This avoids purchasing power the next day for running air conditioning.  see link  (end update) 

Previous articles in The Truth About Nuclear Power series can be found at the following links.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

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