NEWS Nuclear Plant ‘Doesn’t Fit’ In The Future Grid, Utility Executive Says

From Forbes Mag­a­zine, Decem­ber 7, 2016

Arti­cle link.

Pacific Gas & Elec­tric Co. decided to close its Dia­blo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant because its base­load power—often cited as nuclear’s best asset—doesn’t fit into the dynamic grid Cal­i­for­nia is devel­op­ing, a PG&E exec­u­tive said today at the U.S. Energy Stor­age Sum­mit in San Francisco.

Steve Mal­night, PG&E’s senior vice pres­i­dent for reg­u­la­tory affairs, was speak­ing specif­i­cally of mar­ket con­di­tions in Cal­i­for­nia, but many con­sider Cal­i­for­nia a trail­blazer for the nation on energy and cli­mate issues, so his com­ments will res­onate in the ongo­ing debate over nuclear’s role in a clean-​​energy future.

Con­sid­er­ing a shut­down was a dif­fi­cult deci­sion for us,” Mal­night said, “but as we really looked at the chang­ing dynam­ics in Cal­i­for­nia, given the choices we’ve made in Cal­i­for­nia, and the pol­icy direc­tion in Cal­i­for­nia, there was a clear recog­ni­tion that Dia­blo was not going to be a good fit for the future needs of the system.”

Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 4.53.12 PM

Fig­ure cap­tion: Aer­ial view of the Dia­blo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, which sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean at Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County, Cal­i­for­nia. (Photo by MARK RALSTON/​AFP/​Getty Images)

Nuclear advo­cates argue that nuclear plants can pro­vide reli­able power to bal­ance the vari­abil­ity of renew­ables, but base­load power turned out to be Diablo’s Achilles’ heel.

With 50 per­cent renew­ables on the sys­tem, the idea of a large base­load gen­er­a­tor that runs pretty much all the time, every day, 24 hours a day, just doesn’t have as good a fit to the mar­ket con­di­tions we expect to see,” Mal­night said.

PG&E announced this sum­mer it would close Diablo’s two reac­tors after their oper­at­ing licenses expire in Novem­ber 2024 and August 2025, replac­ing the plant with a suite of greenhouse-​​gas-​​free tech­nolo­gies, includ­ing renew­ables, energy effi­ciency, and energy stor­age. Today, Mal­night said half that job is already done.

“When we looked for­ward, what we really saw is that only about half of Dia­blo Canyon in terms of the gen­er­a­tion that came out of that facil­ity was even going to be needed. In other words, half is already effec­tively being replaced with the poli­cies we’re march­ing down on clean energy and on dif­fer­ent energy choices that our cus­tomers are mak­ing,” Mal­night said.

When you looked at the other half that needed to be replaced, base­load gen­er­a­tion just wasn’t a good fit. The plant would be turn­ing on and turn­ing off all the time. And in a mar­ket­place with really abun­dant resources in the mid­dle of the day, that’s not a good way to run a nuclear plant.”

PG&E intends to “buy” the renew­ables, effi­ciency, and stor­age that will replace the plant soon, so that they’re in place before it closes. He told the audi­ence of energy-​​storage inter­ests that the stor­age pur­chase would have been nec­es­sary even if Dia­blo stayed open.

We antic­i­pate we’re going to need to bring on more stor­age onto the sys­tem to help inte­grate those diverse resources. Which, by the way we would have needed if we kept Dia­blo run­ning, too.”

Mal­night did acknowl­edge the seem­ing irony of clos­ing a nuclear plant dur­ing a fran­tic quest to develop an energy sys­tem free of car­bon emissions.

As a com­pany we’re really com­mit­ted to achiev­ing the state’s—and hope­fully the world’s—ambition for car­bon reduc­tion, and Dia­blo is a vital resource for us today in our exist­ing fleet for how we are able to deliver as much clean energy as we do.” But, he said, it proved too awk­ward a piece of the puz­zle in an energy future based on a diverse, dynamic, decen­tral­ized set of resources.

PG&E’s deci­sion sup­ports an argu­ment artic­u­lated by Berke­ley Energy Pro­fes­sor Daniel Kam­men in a debate this sum­mer [to watch the debate, click here] with for­mer Energy Sec­re­tary Steven Chu: “The dra­matic ramp up in solar resulted in the dra­matic real­iza­tion that a diverse, decen­tral­ized sys­tem can pro­vide the same crit­i­cal fea­tures that we think about with a base­load highly cen­tral­ized sys­tem,” said Kammen.

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