Why solar is nuclear’s best friend February 19, 2013Posted by Maury Markowitz in nuclear, solar.
Tags: nuclear power, solar power
For reasons I’ve never fully understood, the energy world is filled with one-size-fits-all claims. You know, “we can supply all the power we need from X” or Y, all we need is some unobtainium.
But those sources that don’t enjoy widespread public support often go further; their “boosters” often actively dismiss any criticism, including any support for alternate solutions. This is most notable in the nuclear arena, where it is trivially easy to find supporters who dismiss any and all other power sources for one reason or another.
This is a bit odd, because when the obvious problems building out any sort of “nuclear economy” comes up, these arguments come back to haunt them. Having dissed their erstwhile allies, it’s almost always nuclear that ends up being dismissed by the public.
A teeny problem…
Daily demand in Ontario varies by about 50% from the night time low to the daytime peak. Last night, for instance, the province was drawing about 16 GW of power at 3 AM, and is expected to hit about 22 GW at 6 PM later today. This graph is active, so I’m not sure what it will say when you look at it, but the pattern will remain the same.
So here’s the problem: nuclear reactors simply cannot follow this load. CANDU, in particular, has a very limited capability for “throttling”, on the order of 20%. As I write this, Pickering and Darlington are putting out 3.54 GW, about 20% below their peak 6.6 GW capability.
So that means that in order to meet peak demand, Ontario needs lots of other power. In the past we got a good chunk of that power from coal plants, but right now there’s a massive effort underway to switch over to natural gas to supply this demand, a move I’m totally in favour of.
With friends like these
As I mentioned in the lead, supporters of nuclear power – not those actually running it, just posers like myself – are largely dismissive of any and all other forms of power. Hydro is “tapped out”, solar useless, and wind bad.
Why bad? Well you see, wind and solar can’t be relied on to produce power when you need it, so you need to build some other form of power to back it up. It’s a very common argument to claim that the cost of backup isn’t factored in, so the real price of renewables is much higher than what it looks like on paper. Every watt of wind needs a watt of gas.
But wait a second, the gas plants are being built to offset nuclear’s inability to throttle down enough for night time loads. I don’t see anyone factoring that into the cost projections for Darlington B. In fact, we’ve already installed enough gas production to back up CANDU to back up all the renewables we could possibly deploy.
Can’t we all be friends?
Now here’s the irony – solar PV and nuclear are a match made in heaven (get it?). PV peaks in the day, and when you layer that on top of a flat base load, you get something that looks a whole lot like the demand curve. Here, check it out…
What you’re looking at is one week of power use in Germany, in the summer, admittedly. Notice how the peak is basically the same pattern as here in Ontario? Also notice the effect of business and industry on the power use – the weekend numbers are much smaller.
But the really obvious thing that jumps right off this graph is how perfectly solar would work with nuclear. Looking at the demand for “conventional” plants, you can see how it now varies between about 30 GW and 40 GW after the wide scale introduction of PV. This is right in the sort of scale nuclear can handle.
So why all the fussin’ and a fuedin?
It looks like bunker mentality to me.