Friday, July 25, 2014

Why the CERES Study on Clean Energy is Fatally Flawed

Vogtle: the nuclear plant that wasn't there.
Yesterday Ceres, a non-profit organization that advocates for "sustainability leadership," issued a study called, "Benchmarking Utility Clean Energy Deployment: 2014 - Ranking 32 of the Largest U.S. Investor-Owned Electric Utilities on Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency."

While we're happy to see some of our member companies get credit for their efforts in these areas, we were puzzled when four utilities with significant nuclear generating assets - Entergy, Dominion Resources, SCANA and Southern Company - were listed near the bottom of the rankings. After all, these are companies with balanced portfolios that use zero-emission nuclear energy to help bolster both grid reliability as well as hedge against price volatility and potential supply disruptions.

Yesterday afternoon we put the question directly to Ceres on Twitter:
This was their response:
So I grabbed the report and turned to page 14. Here's what I found (emphasis mine):
Utility-scale hydroelectric and nuclear power are important energy resources that contribute about a quarter of U.S. electricity generation; however, we do not include them in this report because nearly all of the country’s large hydro and nuclear generation was built prior to 1980, and neither resource is widely expected to constitute a large portion of the nation’s newly built carbon-free energy portfolio going forward.
Let's consider these assertions one at a time. While I can't speak to the first assertion when it comes to large scale hydropower, when it comes to nuclear it's manifestly false. Currently, there are 99 nuclear reactors operating in the U.S. Forty-nine came into service in 1980 or later.

According to my calculations, that's more than 55,000 MWe of emission-free generation that Ceres refused to consider in its study. And that also fails to take into account the four AP-1000 reactors that SCE&G and Southern Company are currently building at the V.C. Summer site in South Carolina and Plant Vogtle in Georgia, as well as the 1,180 MWe reactor under construction at Watts Bar in Tennessee. And I guess I shouldn't forget that after a speech here in Washington earlier this week, Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning told reporters that he'd like to announce plans to build two more AP-1000 reactors somewhere in the Southeast before the end of the year.

As for the second, every credible analysis (EPA, EIA, OECD) concludes that carbon reductions are impossible without major nuclear expansion. So what we have here isn't just a difference over methodology, we have a study that makes a pair of assertions that are false on their face. 

To finish up, I'll write it again: failing to credit utilities with nuclear assets for keeping air clean is deliberately misleading and a disservice to honest public debate. Please keep this in mind the next time CERES, or their partner in this study, CleanEdge. has anything to say about clean energy.

Energy Scalability and Carbon Reduction

Scott Peterson
The following is a guest post from Scott Peterson, NEI's Senior Vice President of Communications.

The New York Times, in an April editorial, wrote that “given new regulations on power-plant emissions of mercury and other pollutants, and the urgent need to reduce global warming emissions, the future clearly lies with renewable energy.” (The Times also supports the use of nuclear energy in a low-carbon energy portfolio.)

A new report by IHS CERA on the value of diversity of sources in the electric sector demonstrates why we cannot pin the future of America’s energy on any single fuel or technology. As with many things in life, diversity is vital and all no- or low-carbon power sources are essential as we move into a carbon-constrained energy future.

The U.S. Department of Energy projects that U.S. electricity demand will rise 28 percent by 2040. That means our nation will need hundreds of new power plants to provide electricity for our homes and continued economic growth. Maintaining nuclear energy's current 19 percent share of electric generation would require building one reactor every year starting in 2016, or 20 to 25 new reactors by 2040, based on DOE forecasts.

A study published by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions earlier this year pointed out that the existing nuclear energy facilities is an overlooked, yet critical element in the transition to a low-carbon future. Without 100 reactors in 31 states, U.S. carbon emissions would be 289 million to 439 million metric tons higher in 2014, and 4 billion to 6 billion metric tons higher over the period of 2012 to 2025.

The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP), a collaborative initiative by Columbia University Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs and others to understand and show how individual countries can transition to a low-carbon economy, recently released a study that calls for a profound transformation of energy systems by mid-century through steep declines in carbon intensity in all sectors of the economy—a transition called “deep decarbonization.” Nuclear energy is an important pathway toward global reduction of greenhouse gases.

The nuclear imperative has come full circle since the first commercial reactor was built in Shippingport, PA in 1957—a response to the tainted air quality in the Pittsburgh region. Today, reactors in the Northeast are a key factor in a nine-state compact to reduce carbon in the electric sector and will be essential to meet national standards being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant
When the Kewaunee nuclear plant south of Green Bay, WI closed in 2013, the state lost roughly 5% of its power supply. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported last month: “More importantly, the state lost an even bigger share of the power generation sources that produce no greenhouse gas emissions.”
The closure of the reactor has had "a definite impact on emissions from the state's electricity sector," said Paul Meier, an energy computer modeling expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Wisconsin Energy Institute.

The carbon dioxide emissions reductions the state achieved from building wind farms over the past eight years have largely been offset by the fossil fuels used to replace the power generated by Kewaunee, he estimates.
Maintaining operation of existing reactors and completing five reactors under construction in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee are an important complement to other low-carbon electricity sources, and a critical economic driver in the mostly rural communities where the facilities operate. The sheer scale of electricity production—and therefore emissions prevention—from nuclear energy sets it apart from other low-carbon choices. In Illinois, nuclear power plants displace 20 times more carbon emissions than wind, according to the Illinois Clean Energy Coalition.

Similarly, research and commercial demonstration of the next generation of reactors, including smaller factory-built designs, must continue for the future application of nuclear energy technology here and abroad. “We are developing a new type of new reactor that can run entirely on used nuclear fuel. It consumes the fuel and reduces its radioactive lifetime while producing an enormous amount of electricity,” says Leslie Dewan, chief scientist at Cambridge, MA-based Transatomic Power.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

5 Surprising Facts About Nuclear Energy

In putting together our new website section on nuclear energy's unmatched reliability, we uncovered some facts that the folks who aren't familiar with our industry might find surprising. Feel free to share them, and the below infographic, on social media.

1. Nuclear power plants are the most efficient source of electricity, operating 24/7 at a 90 percent average capacity factor.

2. A nuclear plant refuels once every 18 months, in spring or fall, replacing one-third of the fuel each time—so just-in-time fuel deliveries are never an issue.


3. One uranium fuel pellet creates as much energy as one ton of coal or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas.

4. A typical nuclear plant generates enough electricity for 690,000 homes without creating air emissions.

5. Nuclear energy generates more electricity than any other source in Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dominion’s Lisa Hilbert: Why a Fresh Perspective Keeps Nuclear Safe and Reliable

Lisa Hilbert
The following post was sent to us by Dominion’s Lisa Hilbert for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of the Future of Energy campaign that NEI launched earlier this year

This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities in the voices of the people working at them. 

For more on this promotion, take a look at the featured content on our website and follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels.

Lisa Hilbert has worked in the nuclear energy industry for 24 years. She is currently the manager for nuclear outages and planning at Dominion’s Surry nuclear power station 17 miles from Newport News, Va. She began her career in the company’s mechanical engineering department, and held positions in operations, corrective action and nuclear oversight before joining the company’s Outage & Planning team.

What I do and why I enjoy doing it
Outage & Planning coordinates the preparation and execution of all scheduled work—including nuclear outages, when the reactors are shut down to replace used fuel and conduct scheduled maintenance. Although each outage only lasts a few weeks, planning for them begins more than a year in advance to ensure that all activities are performed safely and efficiently. My work is challenging and dynamic—never boring. I’m constantly learning, which I love!

Why I think nuclear energy is important to America’s energy future
Nuclear plants are the workhorses of America’s electricity generation system, and are an important component of a diverse mix of energy sources. Nuclear facilities operate safely, cleanly and dependably day in and day out. I believe that letting ourselves become overly dependent on any single fuel source would leave us vulnerable to swings in availability and cost, which could impact our ability to provide the electricity our society has come to depend on every minute of every day.

How I bring innovation into the nuclear energy industry
I am convinced that diversity in the workplace results in better decisions. I seek out input from people who are outside the mainstream of the nuclear industry. A fresh perspective, one not colored by “how we’ve always done it,” can open our eyes to creative alternatives.

What a typical nuclear plant employee thinks when he or she hears the word “reliability”
Equipment reliability is a key concept for those who work in nuclear power plants, which typically run at 100 percent power to provide reliable base load electricity to our customers. Plant equipment must not only be well maintained but kept up-to-date, to ensure that our plants can run for long periods of time. The preventive maintenance we perform during scheduled outages improves our equipment reliability and performance and helps decrease the need for unexpected repairs.

Some of the most significant projects I’ve helped implement to improve plant reliability include inspecting and coating the plant’s service water lines that ensure availability of cooling water for the facility’s nuclear safety systems.

We’ve also made modifications to the plant’s switchyard and safety systems in support of a planned high-voltage transmission line to enhance the reliable delivery of power to our customers.

For more on nuclear outage workers, check out the @nukeroadie’s article, "Nuclear Power Plant Outages ‘No Place for Cowboys.’"

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Nuclear Energy’s Unmatched Reliability

The following is a guest blog post by NEI’s Mitch Singer. Today, tomorrow and Thursday, we’ll be taking a closer look at how nuclear energy facilities function as the backbone of the electric grid, operating at full power when demand is at its highest in summer and winter. Click here to see why nuclear energy’s reliability is unmatched in the electric business. Later, take some time to better understand the value of "Always On Power," and then see "How Nuclear Power Plants Prep," for times when demands is at its height.

As we enter the height of the summer season when sweltering heat waves challenge utilities to keep pace with hundreds of millions of air conditioners running at full blast, it’s comforting for Americans to know that relief from stifling heat will be there when they need it.

The system is so reliable that we take for granted that, when we step inside our homes or workplaces, we’ll be met with a refreshing flow of cool air. Until it isn’t there. Some don’t have that luxury. In India, more than 300 million people – equal to the entire U.S. population – don’t have any electricity at all.


One reason Americans are able to maintain their comfortable lifestyle is that many utilities have invested in creating a diverse generating mix – one where nuclear energy provides the foundation to keep the grid up and running when demand is at its highest. It is no exaggeration to say the nuclear plants that provide 20 percent of America’s electricity are “always on.” They operate more than 90 percent of the time which helps mitigate disruptions when other types of plants fall off the grid; 96 percent of the time in July and August.

Why are nuclear plants so reliable? Plant reliability is directly tied to highly trained technicians and programs. Preventive and predictive maintenance is carried out daily during refueling outages. Workers tear down, inspect and replace equipment before it fails. Refueling outages bring in over a 1,000 workers and spend between $30 million-$60 million dollars during a typical 30-day outage. Nuclear plant operators undertake their month-long refueling and maintenance in the spring and fall when demand is low.

Thus when crunch time hits in the summer and winter the plants are ready to meet these peak periods.

Gabriel Verespej works on an Emergency Diesel Generator at Fermi 2. 
Reliable supplies of electricity are critical to the industries that drive the American economy. The manufacturing sector accounts for 18 percent of the American economy and uses the equivalent of the entire annual production of 100 large-scale (1,000 MWe) power plants. Just one of these plants can power a mid-size city like Boston or Seattle.

Ross Eisenberg, vice president, Energy and Resources Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers said,“Energy is the lifeblood of manufacturing. As consumers of one-third of the nation’s energy, manufacturers depend on a steady flow of electricity to power our plants and equipment. Even short interruptions of electricity service can be incredibly costly as production lines halt, batches are scrapped and equipment is damaged.”

An excerpt from a recent annual report of the Century Aluminum Company echoes many of the same day-to-day concerns:
“We use large amounts of electricity to produce primary aluminum. Any loss of power which reduces the amperage to our equipment or causes an equipment shutdown would result in a reduction in the volume of molten aluminum produced, and prolonged losses of power may result in the hardening or “freezing” of molten aluminum in the pots where it is produced, which could require an expensive and time consuming restart process.”

“We operate our plants at close to peak amperage. Accordingly, even partial failures of high voltage equipment could affect our production.”

“Electricity represents our single largest operating cost. As a result, the availability of electricity at economic prices is critical to the profitability of our operations.”
Food and beverage processors also need reliable power to stay online. Power outages can be expensive. Much like oil, hot chocolate is piped over long distances. If power is lost, chocolate congeals within 3-5 minutes. A plant could be down for 2 hours, or entire pipelines may have to be discarded at great cost.

We’ve all become used to getting information with the click of a mouse. And we get frustrated when websites are down or take too long to load. More and more information is being stored in “the cloud.”

On a yearly basis the computer and electronic products industries use the equivalent of the annual production of four nuclear plants. And it will only increase with the continued growth in cloud technologies and mobile computing.

Let’s take Google as an example.

Google products launch more than 100 billion searches every month, map information for more than 1 billion monthly users and host over 5 million businesses in the cloud. In 2012, Google’s electricity consumption totaled 3 million MWh, more than one-third of the total annual output of a nuclear plant (click here for all the details).

If Google doesn’t have reliable electricity, just take a look at Twitter whenever Gmail suffers an unexpected service interruption. We’ve come to rely on these services so heavily, that we simply can’t live without them anymore – which means we can’t afford to live without reliable, affordable nuclear energy either.

Photo Credit: Interior shot of Google logo inside Building 43 on their Silicon Valley Campus by Robert Scoble. Photo used under Creative Commons license.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Higher and Higher: EEI Uncovers The Cost of Electricity in Germany

Here’s the bottom line on Germany’s drive to switch from nuclear energy to renewables:

[T]he lessons learned in Europe prove that the large-scale integration of renewable power does not provide net savings to consumers, but rather a net increase in costs to consumers and other stakeholders.

There’s more:

Moreover, when not properly assessed in advance, large-scale integration of renewables into the power system ultimately leads to disequilibrium in the power markets, as well as value destruction to both renewable companies and utilities, and their respective investors.

This is from a report prepared by energy consulting firm Finadvice (a Finnish company, though its web site and the report are in English) for the Edison Electric Institute and Finadvice’s European clients.

Neither EEI nor Finadvice have any particular brief for nuclear energy (in this context) and are interested in studying the transition primarily as a case study in quickly ramping up renewable energy sources. Nuclear energy is incidental to the analysis; this provides an interesting focus, though it also causes the report to miss a step here and there.

For example:

Household electricity prices in Germany have more than doubled, increasing from €0.14/kilowatt hour (kWh) ($0.18) in 2000 to more than €0.29/kWh ($0.38) in 2013.

This outcome has occurred with many of the nuclear plants still operating, so these costs presumably will only go higher after the plants close in 2021. (The cost for household electricity in the U.S. is about $0.13/kWh , for comparison).

The rapid introduction of renewable energy sources has other consequences, too:

As a result, wholesale prices in Germany for baseload have fallen dramatically from €90-95/megawatt hour (MWh) in 2008 to €37/MWh in 2013. This has created a large amount of load and margin destruction for utilities that built and financed thermal plants. Many new gas-fired power plants have been rendered uneconomical, leaving owners to shore up their balance sheets by undertaking large divestitures of some of their holdings, as well as by reducing their operational costs.

Wait – shouldn’t household prices go down if wholesale costs decline? You’d think so, but there are other forces at work.

One is subsidies granted to renewable energy sources. A second is a provision of Germany’s renewable energy law that mandates electric companies buy renewable energy ahead of thermal-powered energy regardless of need.

These actions, which the government intends as a way to prop up renewable energy until it can support itself, warps the cost of electricity tremendously, because it means that companies must  ramp down non-renewable plants, even when the electricity generated by them is less expensive.

Natural gas facilities takes most of the hit here, according to the report, and it’s rendering some of them unprofitable. Yet they and nuclear plants are still needed when renewable energy sources are not supplying electricity – at night and when the wind isn’t blowing.

Another factor is that Germany cannot allow electric companies to charge the full cost of electricity to industry – Germany is the largest exporter in Europe and it must remain competitive in world markets. This means that all the cost is pushed down to households. 

There’s a lot more to the report – it’s the most comprehensive (and most objective) view of the German situation I’ve seen. It also reconfirms every heavily biased view a nuclear advocate could possibly devise – but that’s just gravy. What it really confirms is that Germans are getting a raw deal.

Germany’s experience with renewables has often been portrayed as a success story. It undoubtedly met one of the objectives set by the EEG: the promotion of renewable generation. It remains unclear, however, how successful Germany has been in meeting the other stated goals of its renewable energy policy: mainly climate change mitigation, energy independence, reduction of fuel costs, conservation of fossil fuels, local economic development, and  expansion of the  domestic manufacturing base.

If you start promoting renewable energy by fiat, that’s going to succeed by definition. But all the rest of it? – the stuff that really empowers people and ensures a viable future? At best, the jury’s out and at worst, the jury foreman is looking at you with sad, sad eyes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

5 Myths About the Export-Import Bank

Later today, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) will be holding a briefing for House members on the Ex-Im Bank. Recently, the majority staff at Hensarling's committee published their list of "5 Things to Know About the Export-Import Bank." We think the title of the blog is something of a misnomer. Instead, the piece should have been titled, "5 Myths About the Export-Import Bank."

Here's our point-by-point rebuttal:

1. The Ex-Im Bank doesn’t create jobs.

Why this is wrong: The Ex-Im Bank supports just 2 percent of all U.S. exports, which from 2007 to 2014 amounted to $240 billion of export assistance. In terms of jobs, that’s support for 1.5 million U.S. employees.

According to the Bank, every $1 billion in export assistance supports 6,390 U.S. jobs. Countless testimonials by large, medium, and small businesses state that their ability to export would simply not occur without the Bank's assistance.

2. The Ex-Im Bank doesn’t return money to the taxpayers.

Why this is wrong: The Ex-Im Bank sent roughly $1 billion in profit to the U.S. Treasury in 2013. Those who argue against this point base their talking point on an alternative accounting method – fair value accounting – which for many reasons is not appropriate and is therefore not used. One reason is because comparable private rates do not exist for many of the loans given; therefore, fair-value accounting artificially assigns higher rates, causing the bank to appear to operate at a loss.

3. The Ex-Im Bank fails to help small businesses, even though it is required by law to do so.

Why this is wrong: Almost 90 percent of the Ex-Im Bank's customers in 2013 were small businesses. Businesses like Precision Custom Components of York, Pennsylvania.


And it’s also worth mentioning that the Bank’s overall default rate is currently at a historic low of 0.237 percent.

4. The Ex-Im Bank uses American taxpayers’ money to help foreign corporations, including businesses that are owned by the governments of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Why this is wrong: The Ex-Im Bank provides loans, insurance, and guarantees so that U.S. businesses can export. As a part of this, the Ex-Im bank will make a loan to a foreign borrower if it allows a U.S. firm to export. In the UAE, Ex-Im Bank loans supported a Korean-led nuclear construction project where IP and other services from Westinghouse were critical to the project. Ex-Im Bank also helped enable Westinghouse win a contract to build four advanced reactors in China. Ex-Im did not, in the end, make a loan or loan guarantee for the China transaction, but ECA support was a bidding requirement that enabled Westinghouse to compete for the tender.

Here's what NEI's Marv Fertel wrote yesterday in the National Journal::
Consider Russia’s negotiations last week with Argentina, during which Vladimir Putin signed a nuclear energy cooperation deal with to bolster trade ties and strengthen Russia's influence in Latin America. Rosatom, the state atomic energy corporation, has made an offer for the construction of two reactors in Argentina, including what Russia’s energy minister called "comfortable" financial terms to Argentina.

More than 60 percent of the world’s 435 operating reactors are based on technology developed in the United States. With the world’s largest civilian nuclear energy program, the U.S. industry is recognized for reliability, safety and operational excellence. However, new supplier nations have entered the growing global nuclear market, and multi-national partnerships and consortia have been formed to develop nuclear energy facilities. Many U.S. competitors are backstopped with government financing and other incentives.

To compete globally and drive domestic economic growth, the Ex-Im bank fills the gaps, offering loans, loan guarantees and insurance that leverage private finance in pursuit of U.S. commercial and strategic interests.
The following is from a letter sent by NEI's Alex Flint to Chairman Hensarling and HFSC Ranking Member Maxine Waters:
U.S. nuclear energy suppliers can compete and win on a level playing field. Advanced U.S. reactor technology, world-leading U.S. operational expertise, and broader partnerships with the United States in nuclear energy hold strong appeal to international nuclear energy customers.

However, a global market free of government influence is not the one that U.S. nuclear energy companies compete in today. U.S. companies compete against a growing number of foreign firms – many of which are state-owned and benefit from various forms of state support. All foreign nuclear energy competitors are backed by national export credit agencies (ECAs) or other state financing.

Export credit agencies play an essential role in financing nuclear power projects. ECA support is almost always a bidding requirement for international nuclear power plant tenders. In the emerging markets where commercial nuclear energy opportunities are concentrated, financing is often the most critical factor. Although risk in nuclear power projects is typically low, commercial lenders are unwilling to participate in financing nuclear power plants without an export credit agency’s playing a role as a result of higher capital requirements mandated under the Basel III accord.

Beyond their substantial benefits to U.S. exports and job creation, U.S. commercial nuclear exports provide the United States with substantial influence over other nations’ nonproliferation policies and practices, and help to ensure the highest possible levels of nuclear power plant safety and reliability around the world. U.S. commercial nuclear exports also maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear energy technology and support the U.S. manufacturing base.
5. The Ex-Im Bank financed only 1.6% of total U.S. exports in 2013.

Why this is wrong: This statement further proves the point that the Bank is a finely targeted program intended to address specific market failures that the private sector cannot serve.

For a closer look at all of the reasons why the nuclear industry supports the reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank, see our blog post from June 24, 2014.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Idaho National Labs: Taking Nuclear Energy into the Digital Age

The following blog post was submitted by Idaho National Laboratory’s Caleb Robison for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of NEI’s campaign called Future of Energy, which NEI launched earlier this year. This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities—in the voices of their workforces.

Caleb Robison is an experiment system engineer who has worked at the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory for the past nine years. He also mentors the next generation of nuclear professionals by participating in INL’s internship program.

We can’t wait to highlight your facility’s innovators and their part in the #futureofenergy across our digital channels from July to September. Take a look at the featured content on our website.


Caleb Robison of the Idaho National Laboratory
Caleb Robison works at the lab's Advanced Test Reactor (ATR), where he prepares safety documentation for new experiments, coordinates experiment schedules with reactor operations cycles and provides system engineer support for a hydraulically-operated experiment system that can be loaded while the reactor is operating.

The job provides constant challenges and allows him to think outside the box to find solutions. Working with a research tool as versatile and powerful as the ATR, he says, is exciting. He’s excited to be part of helping develop new technology that takes nuclear to the next level. In short, he feels like he's contributing to "moving nuclear energy technology from the '70s to the digital age." 

"One of the reasons America is so powerful is that we have the energy to fuel our economy," Caleb says. "To continue this into the future we need cheap, reliable, diverse and environmentally responsible energy sources. No one source provides all the solutions to all of the country’s energy needs. I believe that any national energy portfolio that doesn’t include nuclear is unsustainable and will eventually fail."

The one-of-a-kind research conducted at ATR and the collaborative atmosphere created by its DOE National Scientific User Facility provides significant potential success for the nuclear industry worldwide. ATR research also helps extend the life of current reactors and better understand reactor aging phenomena. Caleb relishes being part of that contribution.

"I’m bringing innovation to the nuclear industry by supporting research and development of new materials and fuels for use by the United States Navy and by helping other researchers — international industry, universities and reactor vendors — push the envelope on reactor performance while increasing safety." Caleb especially enjoys opportunities to contribute to nuclear advancement by participating in public outreach opportunities, such as tours and other public forums.