Electricity Base Load Generation: Do We Need It?

Discussion in 'Architecture & Engineering' started by exchemist, Jun 24, 2021.

  1. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Recent correspondence in the Financial Times about UK nuclear generation capacity has led me to question the argument that nuclear is needed for something called "base load generation". There seems to be an idea that because renewables are variable in what they can supply, you also need something that is constant. But surely, if you have variable renewables, what you need is something else that you can vary, as needed, to take up the slack?

    I've never heard it argued that nuclear generation is well suited to being ramped up and down to fit the gaps left by renewable generation. I should have thought things like hydro or gas turbines would be what one would use for that (to the extent that batteries can't fill the gap, of course).

    So what is the role for nuclear, really? Is it just to get a more diverse non-fossil fuel generation portfolio? Or is there some logic behind this "base load" idea that I have missed?
     
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  3. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    It's not.

    The idea is that base load is the load that never goes away. 24/7/365 that power has to come from somewhere - and it's always the same. (Well, it grows slowly with time.) You supply that with nuclear.

    Renewables generate the bulk of the energy you use, and it is mostly load synchronous (i.e. load is highest on hot, sunny days.) When it's not you use battery storage (for short term shortfalls) and pumped storage/natural gas (for longer shortfalls.)

    We had a large nuclear power plant here that shut down about ten years ago. But while it was running they had to jump through some crazy hoops to ramp power up and down - like dissolving more boron in the water and then filtering it out later in the day when the load changed.
     
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  5. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Thanks, that's what I thought. What I interpret from this is that nuclear is suitable for supplying base load, but not that you need nuclear to do that, if you have a combination of renewables plus some compensating source of generation that you can ramp up and down to fill the gaps when renewables are not generating enough.

    So in that case, I suppose the extent to which you need nuclear in the mix is determined by the limitations of the compensating sources available to you: the better your compensating sources, the less nuclear you require. But I have never seen the argument for nuclear expressed in these terms.
     
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  7. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Agreed. The nice thing about nuclear is that it generates a lot less carbon than those "compensating sources" like coal or natural gas.
     
  8. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Indeed. So the key to maximising renewables (and thereby minimising nuclear) is the capacity of the compensating sources you provide. These would be hydro I suppose, including pumped storage, tidal perhaps, and batteries.
     

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