When it comes to energy production, renewables such as solar, wind and wave generation are all great and should be part of the energy equation. However, environmentalists have to face reality and that is they can’t do it alone. There is a reason why we need base load power plants and wind, solar and other renewables with the exception of hydropower, can not supply base load demand.
It is true, that this has been brought up time and time again and each time the environmental sector counters with the nonsense that both wind and solar can provide plenty of energy and that the base load system is archaic. They could not be more wrong!
Base load generation is essential the minimum demand averaged over a twenty-four hour period. This includes the peaks in the morning and evenings and it is grid wide. So, if the average base load, say for the electrical grid is 55,000 gigawatts, this means there needs to be a minimum of 55,000Gw at any one time, plus some capacity. Certainly, you could build enough wind generators and solar plants to supply 55,000Gw? Sure, you can but on one day you get 55,000Gw and the next 45,000Gw and then the next 65,000Gw and so on and so forth. Since there are no means of large scale electrical storage, anything over goes to waste and it can’t be used to fill in the deficits at other times. To combat this, most environmentalists recommend over building to a much larger capacity. Yeah, well… that won’t work either.
You can build a large, renewable system such as say a 75,000Gw wind/solar system but that still doesn’t mean that you will get that amount at any given time on any given day. Common sense says that the wind might not be blowing that day or that some generators get plenty of wind while others in the system do not. It might be overcast. Some generators could be down for maintenance while others are only getting a little wind but not enough for full generation. In addition, there is no guarantee that the functional areas of the grid can supply other areas because of transmission issues. For example, Texas has a large wind generation capability but the transmission system is still lagging behind. Thereby preventing the system from full supply. Base load power is not just about having plenty of energy, it is also there to eliminate uncertainty.
Supporters of getting rid of this base/peak system like to talk about capacity but the truth is, capacity doesn’t do any good if you can’t deliver and while solar and wind can be used to increase capacity they can not support the base load.
Moving from base load, there is also the issue of peak load. Peak load is a high energy demand at any given time. Often peaks occur in the morning when everyone is getting ready for work, and the evenings, when people get home and start their evening routine. However, they can occur at any time for a variety of reasons. Plant maintenance that reduces supply can create a problem or the demand because of other conditions such as a heat wave can create serious problems. Solar and wind generation are great for peak conditions because it is basically, (in super simplistic terms) a flip of a switch and extra power flows to the grid. (Assuming it can get there.) So, what can we do? We got to accept climate change as a reality and this means no fossil fuels, so what now?
Germany: Learning The Hard Way
Before explaining how to address the problem, let’s look at a situation in Germany. Germany has started to shutter all its nuclear power plants and eliminate coal generation by thirty plants by 2019. They have added solar and wind generation as fast as possible with the goal of eventually going all renewable. That is until Jan. 2017. Due to various factors, including a temperature increase, supply from solar and wind could only generate five percent of the demand with weather being the primary factor. The situation was so dire, they have to activate the last of the reserve plants just to meet the load. If one plant had failed there would have been massive blackouts and brownouts. This would have affected everyone including businesses, industries and mom’s trying to cook dinner.
To make matters worse, this was not an isolated incident and the continual reliance on reserve plants to fill in the gaps has actually caused Germany’s carbon emissions to increase over the last year. (Source and Source, you will need Google Translate) In addition, the price Germans pay for electricity far exceeds that of the U.S. per kilowatt hour because of this problem.
It is time for the environmentalists to embrace nuclear power generation. (When you are done hyperventilating, keep reading.) Nuclear power plants are perfect for base load generation. They produce no carbon output, they are among the greenest of technologies (Keep reading) and they can be scaled to supply tremendous amounts of energy. However, they do have two downsides, they are expensive and they freak people out. They freak people out because people are freaked out because “radiation”. (Imagine I said it in a spooky voice.) When it is nothing more than an overreaction to sensationalism.
Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima Et Al.
Let’s start with the facts. Fact: All three plants used outdated technology and control systems. Fact: Two were caused by human error. Fact: We have new technology and systems and a better understanding of how these plants should be built and maintained. Still, let’s talk about those three.
Chernobyl, by far the worst of the three, was caused by human error and stupidity. Before and since no reactor has exploded with the same “enthusiasm” as Chernobyl did. The technology and procedures that were used in Chernobyl were outdated when it was built. Those types of reactors were being phased out in the West and the safety procedures were far more advanced in the West. Not to mention, no one would have tried to use slowing turbines to produce electricity to maintain the pumps with a hot reactor. Moving on…
Three Mile Island
Three Mile Island is really more of the disaster that could have been. Had the hydrogen bubble exploded, yes, it would have been like Chernobyl. Again, it was because of outdated technology that the incident occurred in the first place, along with human error. Still, the systems did work and while the reactor was damaged beyond repair, there was no explosion and no massive release of radiation.
This one really gets me, because it shows how little people understand radiation and nuclear energy in general. First off, stop reading facebook for facts. That picture that shows all the radiation spreading out into the ocean. It’s false. Seriously, look it up yourself. It isn’t real. Like with the other incidents, this reactor and reactors used outdated technology. Also, the reactor system failed because they could not supply outside power to the facility. A similar plant only a few hours away suffered a similar swamping concern on the same day but because the diesel backup generators were sited better, they were able to cool the reactors. In other words, it was really a case of severely bad luck.
Still, regardless of what you read in the main news, the radiation for the surrounding area has significantly dropped. One village that was part of the zone has been keeping track for years. The ground level radiation is fifteen times less than the radiation found from flight testing. These people live and work there every day with no ill effects because they aren’t being exposed because the calculations were wrong. Only at the main site is there still a problem and while it is true that the levels seem to be increasing in the main damaged reactor, they can’t tell if it is because of better equipment or there is really and increase. However, the fact remains that sensationalism aside, the problem is not as bad as advertised. Often, it is used as an agenda by the activists to paint a negative picture when the reality is different.
Modern nuclear technologies present none of these potential problems. There are modern reactors that can not melt down. Molten salt reactors can’t melt down because the source is a liquid only at high temperatures and should cooling stop, it won’t keep heating but will turn back into metal, a solid. It won’t go through the containment vessel into the ground water, aka China Syndrome. In addition, it is fueled by all that nuclear waste that we have already created and can’t get rid of. These new technologies do not produce near the level of waste as the ones currently in use and best of all you can’t make nuclear weapons from them. (Source)
New, modern, nuclear plants that are properly constructed, used in mass and sited in the right areas can easily meet base load demands. When combined with solar, wind and tidal generation, it would be possible to eliminate all fossil fuel generation. When you consider that the demand for energy is only going to go up, even with conservation programs, and that developing nations are going to clamor for cheap energy, we had better fully develop these systems NOW! Also, with climate change being a reality and quickly becoming a very visible issue for many, solutions have to be found quickly and wind and solar and tidal alone won’t cut it. IF environmentalists are serious about reducing the effects of climate change, and potentially avoiding future resource wars and the future problems of society, it would be a good idea to get on the nuclear bandwagon. Even a leading scientist, if you check the source above, has come out in favor of nuclear generation. (Background) Nuclear power generation is and should be part of the solution, realistically speaking.