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Why Coal and Nuclear (Baseload) Are Not Compatible with a Renewable Future

| Written by John Farrell | 2 Comments | Updated on Oct 16, 2013 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/coal-nuclear-baseload-compatible-renewable-future/

placeholderA terrific video explains why utility investments in “baseload” coal and nuclear power plants are acting against increasing renewable energy.  Credit to EnergyShouldBe, a website created by one of the technical analysts helping Boulder, CO, pursue a more local, renewable energy system.

My one caveat is that flexibility of a utility system varies by utility.  Some utilities already have a lot of flexible natural gas generation and don’t need more to accommodate renewable energy.  Others will need to replace baseload power plants with more flexible ones.

Delve deeper at EnergyShouldBe.org, read more about Boulder’s fight for a clean energy future, or read more about how the Germans (with over 20% renewable energy) are facing down the conflict between baseload and renewables.

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About John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. More

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  • nsm44

    Disregarding the possible methane emission issues with natural gas, it is clear that natural gas produces a lot less CO2 emissions than coal. Because of that fact it is clear that using renewable energies with peaking power plants (natural gas) would generate less CO2 emissions than a baseload coal plant. However, I am not convinced that the alternative model of energy production produces fewer CO2 emissions to a nuclear baseload plant. It appears that the nuclear baseload plant model uses less natural gas, which means fewer CO2 emissions. How much natural gas is used when generating from a nuclear baseload (I realize it is variable and based on models), and how much natural gas is used when producing power from a certain percentage of renewables (please use a percentage that is attainable today or in the next 2-5 years)?

    To be perfectly honest, I may be biased towards nuclear energy, I believe that nuclear energy is under-utilized, under-researched, and passed over as a possible alternative because of it ties to irrational fear and the cold war. However, if there is no need for nuclear energy to sustainably produce energy then I won’t insist on its use, but the same standard should be applied to coal, natural gas, and renewable sources of energy if there is a better way to produce sustainable energy.

  • Zobeid

    Looking at the video, the devil is in the assumptions. The charts assume that: wind and solar will be a huge portion of our future energy mix (and wind much bigger than solar!!), that there is no significant role for grid power storage, that power generation continues to be centralized (with no role for rooftop solar??). None of these are assumptions I would make, and I could just as easily draw up charts based on my own assumptions, and they would probably show a much more significant role for baseload power (which really should be nuclear or geothermal, since coal needs to go for a long list of reasons.)

    Also… Future nuclear fission reactors will have new (and in many cases smaller) designs and may be more practical to throttle up or down than our existing 1960s-era behemoths. Nuclear fusion is also somewhere out there on the horizon, perhaps not as far away as many assume — but since we don’t really know the details of how they will operate, it’s hard to predict how they’ll fit into the mix.