TEPCO, the Japanese power company who own the Fukushima nuclear power plant, are in an unenviable position. Their Fukushima nuclear power plant is the site of one of the world’s worst industrial accidents, they have been accused of not just incompetence but of falsifying safety records and yet they have to continue to supply power to Japan.
Japan itself is facing some significant challenges – only 17 of its 54 nuclear power reactors are operational heading into August, traditionally its month of peak demand. Japan needs to try to avoid rolling blackouts, and TEPCO has stepped up to helping out.
TEPCO energy message
On TEPCO’s home page they give top line data for the maximum demand for the day, as well as the maximum amount that will be able to be supplied. As long as the demand doesn’t exceed the supply, no blackouts.
TEPCO have gone further though with a realtime chart of energy demand (updated every five minutes) versus maximum supply and also graphed against the demand on the same day in 2010 (see the chart at the top of this post). We have long argued here on GreenMonk that giving people access to information will help change behaviour. This campaign is a great example of realtime energy information in action and it appears to be helping because electricity consumption is down around 15% on last year.
This information is certainly not the only thing helping people reduce their electricity consumption – TEPCO and others also have energy reduction tips on their website and the tragedy of the Earthquake, followed by …
The electricity grid may not need “baseload” generation sources like coal and nuclear to backup the variability of supply from renewables.
Jon Wellinghof is the Chairman of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC is an independent agency that amongst other things, regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil – for more on FERC’s responsibilities see their About page. Chairman Wellinghoff has been involved in the energy industry for 30 years and appointed to the FERC as a commissioner by then president Bush in 2006.
Last year, shortly after being appointed as Chairman of the FERC, Mr Wellinghoff announced that:
No new nuclear or coal plants may ever be needed in the United States….
Wellinghoff said renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future energy demands. Nuclear and coal plants are too expensive, he added.
“I think baseload capacity is going to become an anachronism,” he said. “Baseload capacity really used to only mean in an economic dispatch, which you dispatch first, what would be the cheapest thing to do. Well, ultimately wind’s going to be the cheapest thing to do, so you’ll dispatch that first.”…
“What you have to do, is you have to be able to shape it,” he added. “And if you can shape wind and you can effectively get capacity available for you for all your loads.
“So if you can shape your renewables, you don’t need fossil fuel or nuclear plants to run all the time. And, in fact, most plants running all the time in your system are an impediment because they’re very inflexible. You can’t ramp up and ramp down a nuclear plant. And if you have instead the ability to ramp up and ramp down loads in ways that can shape the entire system, then the old concept of baseload becomes an anachronism.”
This was quite an unusual contention at the time (and still is) and despite the Chairman’s many years working in the sector it was, by and large, ignored – even by the administration who had appointed him to the Chairmanship. In fact, the Obama administration has since announced financial backing for new nuclear power plants.
However, a study published last week by the Maryland-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research backs Chairman Wellinghoff’s assertion. In a study of North Carolina’s electricity needs it concluded backup generation requirements would be modest for a system based largely on solar and wind power, combined with efficiency, hydroelectric power, and other renewable sources like landfill gas:
“Even though the wind does not blow nor the sun shine all the time, careful management, readily available storage and other renewable sources, can produce nearly all the electricity North Carolinians consume,” explained Dr. John Blackburn, the study’s author. Dr. Blackburn is Professor Emeritus of Economics and former Chancellor at Duke University.
“Critics of renewable power point out that solar and wind sources are intermittent,” Dr. Blackburn continued. “The truth is that solar and wind are complementary in North Carolina. Wind speeds are usually higher at night than in the daytime. They also blow faster in winter than summer. Solar generation, on the other hand, takes place in the daytime. Sunlight is only half as strong in winter as in summertime. Drawing wind power from different areas — the coast, mountains, the sounds or the ocean — reduces variations in generation. Using wind and solar in tandem is even more reliable. Together, they can generate three-fourths of the state’s electricity. When hydroelectric and other renewable sources are added, the gap to be filled is surprisingly small. Only six percent of North Carolina’s electricity would have to come from conventional power plants or from other systems.”
With larger and more inter-connected electricity grids, the requirement for baseload falls even further because the greater the geographical spread of your grid, the greater the chances that the wind will be blowing or the sun shining in some parts of it.
So, is there really any need for baseload power any more, or is this now just a myth perpetuated by those with vested interests?
Temperatures in Tibet rose last year to the highest level since records began for the remote Himalayan country, which scientists say is particularly vulnerable to global warming, state media reported on Friday.
The Associated Press recently reported that at least 27 of 104 nuclear reactors across the United States are leaking potentially dangerous levels of tritium into the groundwater around the plants.
The scope of the problem surfaced after the recent discovery of a leak at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. According to the AP, new tests have shown that the levels of tritium in the wells at the Vernon, Vermont site are more than three-and-a-half times the federal safety standard.
“We’ve heard this one before; Obama threatening to sever subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. He called for ending the subsidies during his SOTU, and was doing so even before that. Now, he’s proposing that $36 billion worth of those subsidies for oil and $2.3 billion for coal (both get $70 billion a year in total) get stripped from the budget–which would be great. Too bad special interests will almost certainly keep this from happening.