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Thursday, May 19, 2016

The "Does Nuclear Really Help The Integration Of Renewables?" Strawman Argument

Photo courtesy of tracie7779 via Flickr
Cross posted at Energy Trends Insider

What's with the green parrots you may be asking? A parrot repeats what it hears without understanding what it's saying. And by "green" I'm referring to people who, like myself, consider themselves to be environmentalists (whatever exactly that means). To the left of the green parrots is a screenshot of the "shares" from a guest post on the Clean Technica website, which has at least 99 parrots sitting on their wire.

It all started when an apparent shale gas enthusiast (Nick Grealy) wrote a 1,100 word article at his blog about the use of shale gas in France which contained the following rather cryptic throwaway sentence:
French nuclear exports help Germany, the UK, Italy and Spain accelerate their renewable uptake.
The above sentence was latched upon by a renewable energy enthusiast (Craig Morris) who used it to create a strawman argument that he then wrapped an article around at his blog, which, in turn, was posted at Clean Technica as an "expert" guest contribution:
The narrative that Grealy falls prey to is that nuclear can be ramped up as need be. This alleged flexibility is held to be crucial in backing up solar and wind power.
Riiight, the narrative. I don't know what the shale gas enthusiast meant with that one sentence, assuming he knew what it meant, but he certainly did not say "that nuclear can be ramped up as need be" to back up solar and wind power, and if that's what he meant, then it's likely that's what he would have said.

The renewable energy/antinuclear enthusiast then proceeds to present a bunch of snapshots of French and German energy flow charts to support his "French nuclear therefore does not facilitate the integration of wind and solar in neighboring countries" strawman argument.

He notices a clear pattern for the one day he chose to analyze, which is that France tends to export in the middle of the night and late evening. He then draws the following conclusions:

First, France clearly prefers to sell electricity at low prices at times of low demand rather than ramp down its nuclear plants.

That's a very common practice for baseload power stations, not just nuclear (Germany also uses baseload, see graph below), although some French reactors are capable of operating in load-following mode. Importing French nuclear is not a bad low carbon option for grid partners which still need power at night when solar output is zip, and depending on weather, may also have little wind.

Second, the German power fleet has enough flexibility in comparison to ramp down rather than sell at low prices – and then ramp up again as prices increase at times of high demand.

Now, raise your hand if you're wondering how Germany gets its wind and solar to ramp up and down. That's right, even the Germans don't claim they can control when the wind blows and the sun shines. They have two primary methods to match demand; vary fossil fuel output and do like France--export. See curves below.

He also notes that he could not find daily output from Germany. Unlike France, which allows downloads of years worth of energy data at fine increments, Germany limits data to monthly or weekly snapshots and no ability to download it to spreadsheets for analysis. Reminds me a little of the Volkswagen emissions reduction strategy.

From Bloomberg:
To adapt to volatile supply and demand, RWE invested as much as $735 million on technology for its lignite plants that allow the units to change output by 30 megawatts within a minute. The coal-fired generators were originally built to run 24 hours a day.

RWE’s lignite generators, which have a total capacity of 10,291 megawatts, are flexible enough to cut or increase output by 5,000 megawatts on a sunny day, when power from solar panels floods the grid or supply vanishes as skies turn cloudy, according to Ulrich Hartmann, an executive board member at RWE’s generation unit.

“Back in the days, our lignite plants were inflexible, produced power around the clock and were always earning money,” Hartmann in Bergheim, Germany, said in a July 9 interview. “Now they are as flexible as gas plants.”
And finally, he concluded that French nuclear "clogs up the grid and reduces flexibility."  Look at the chart below. Germany also uses baseload, mostly from brown coal (the worst kind). And to make matters worse, note that this flexibility needed to balance wind and solar is coming almost entirely from hard coal and natural gas.
Which also explains why Germany hasn't reduced emissions for the last five or so years when they began taking their nuclear offline. Imagine if the brown coal were replaced with nuclear. He next notes that Germany was a net exporter of electricity for 23 out of 24 hours:
Without the 9 GW of exports, the German conventional power fleet would be pushed down to 30 GW – hence the tremendous exports.
 In other words, rather than further reduce fossil fuel combustion, they export its emissions to their neighbors. And look at who they imported the most electricity from that week:
 The "narrative" often used by renewable energy/antinuclear enthusiasts is that France and Germany are at war again, but this time it's an energy war-- nuclear verses renewables. In reality, they are closely cooperating grid partners sharing their strengths and weaknesses for mutual benefit.

I don't advise anyone dropping in to comment at Clean Technica. If a bunch of pronuclear comments appear they assume it's a coordinated attack from the nuclear industry and start banning people. There's a "Moderator" who, instead of having the "Mod" identifier next to his name, has the "Top Commenter" identifier. Appearing to be just another renewable energy enthusiast, he patrols comments under antinuclear energy posts, engages, bates, and and then "surprise," bans pronuclear commenters like myself.
I can only imagine how many pronuclear commenters have been banned over the years. In fact, their official comment policy makes it clear that pronuclear comment is not welcome. Censorship is their prerogative of course, but maybe they should stick to promoting renewable energy and stop posting antinuclear energy gibberish like this if they don't want to hear feedback.

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