Saturday, July 22, 2017

US Renewables Output Exceeds Nuclear Plant Output

Subtitle:  Renewables Output Grows While Nuclear Slows

The US electrical grid is going through massive changes as several things happen.  This article shows EIA data for the past few years, with combined monthly renewable energy (electricity) output exceeding the combined output of all the nuclear plants in the US. 
source:  EIA, "Today In Energy" website

The data and chart are from US Energy Information Agency, EIA, covering the years 1980 through first half 2017.  see link

The significance of this chart is how much wind energy (the green area of the chart) has grown since approximately 2008.  In only just under 10 years (2008-2017 inclusive), wind has grown from not visibly noticeable on the chart to approximately one-half the total renewable energy generated in the US.  Many authoritative sources have been saying this for years, of course.  There are, though, many nay-sayers who simply cannot fathom how airplane wings twirling in the wind can produce electrical power into a grid.  And yet, the chart above shows this clearly.   The amount at the far right-hand part of the chart shows approximately 30 billion kWh for the month, just for wind energy.    That is approximately the same output as all the hydroelectric plants produced.  The hydroelectric plants are having a banner year, with the El Nino rains placing an above-average amount of water in the combined reservoirs that feed the hydroelectric plants.  

Meanwhile, the other big trend in the US shows up as a tiny step-change in 2012 in the top line, the line for nuclear plant output.  That downward blip represents the closing of the SONGS nuclear plant in California, San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.  SONGS had a major leak in the new steam generators they purchased and installed, and elected to shut down the plant rather than investigate the cause of the leaks and report on that cause to the NRC.  The NRC determined that the leaks were from an unknown cause, not seen in all the hundreds of reactor-years in more than 400 nuclear plants world-wide.  

Now that SONGS is shut down, more nuclear plants are also shutting down but for slightly different reasons.  The main reason is they are losing money with each month they operate.  The Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska shut down for exactly that reason at the end of 2016.  More nuclear plants have disclosed they are losing money at a horrendous rate and will also close if they do not receive adequate subsidies from the state governments.   The nuclear plant fleet in the US is rapidly approaching an average age of 40 years.  Almost every nuclear power plant in the US has already closed by the age of 40 years from startup. 

The next decade in the US will no doubt see at least one-half of the nuclear plants shut down.  With 99 still running, that is approximately 50 shutdowns.  

Meanwhile, wind turbines are being built in record numbers and enjoying profitability with power sales prices below 5 cents per kWh.  The design improvements, larger sizes, and taller support towers all combine to make wind energy extremely efficient and economic.  

Thus, when such a graph is created again in 5 years, and 10 years from now, the top line for nuclear power will be substantially lower.  I expect that by 2027, nuclear output per month will be no more than half that of today, or 32 billion kWh per month.   In sharp contrast, wind energy output will likely be 70 billion kWh per month or more.   At that rate of output, 70 billion kWh per month, wind energy would represent only 20 percent of the total US electricity production.  That, 20 percent, is well below the level that any grid stability problems are predicted to occur.  

The long-term business opportunity in the US lies in decommissioning nuclear plants, with an average of 5 per year shutting down over the next decade.   Another long-term opportunity is in the construction and installation of large wind turbines.  The next generation of wind turbines will be the 4 MW, 6 MW, and 8 MW per turbine output.  

A famous singer said it well:  "The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind."

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

Topics and general links:

Nuclear Power
Climate  and here
Fresh  and here
Free Speech.................... here

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