Friday, July 29, 2016

5 Facts About Electricity and Summer Heat

The past two weeks have seen record temperatures grip the nation as a "heat dome" has descended over most of the continental U.S. While it isn't news that summer is hot, it is when the temperatures are 15-20 degrees higher than average for this time of year.

But life must go on and the electricity must flow. Without the sort of reliable baseload power that nuclear energy provides, our electric grid would be in a tight spot, as grid operators would be forced to juggle intermittent source of energy (like wind and solar) with others that could be vulnerable to supply constraints (like natural gas). In California, the independent system operator recently asked consumers to conserve electricity in the face of high temperatures during a period where the supply of natural gas is constrained due to the Aliso Canyon methane leak.

Put it all together and you could be looking at grid reliability being compromised, prices skyrocketing and electric utilities being forced to use dirtier and less efficient means of generating electricity like coal, oil and even jet fuel. With that in mind, we've put together this short list of facts about Summer heat and electricity.

1. An Extra 20 Degrees of Summer Heat Makes a World of Difference: According to a 2012 study by OPWR, total daily electricity use was 22% higher when Summer temps rose 20 degrees above the seasonal average. In the late afternoon when electricity demand peaked, usage was a whopping 40% higher, which doubled the wholesale price of electricity during that part of the day.

2. Your Air Conditioner Is Your Lifeline: When the heat goes up, people can't help but turn up the air conditioner. That has a significant impact on the electric grid. A Spanish university study found that air conditioning consumes one-third of peak electric consumption in the Summer. This isn't just a matter of convenience, in many cases, it's a matter of life and death. During a 2003 European heat wave, France suffered nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mostly among the elderly who simply couldn't cope with the extreme temperatures.

3. Summer Heat Drives More Extreme Weather Events and Higher Energy Prices: On Monday of this week, the New York Independent System Operator issued a thunderstorm alert at 2:00 p.m. That's not unusual in the middle of the Summer, but when it comes in the midst of a heat wave when the grid is already running at full capacity, fears that a lightning strike could cut the ability to import power from the Upstate to New York City sent a shockwave through the market. Power prices that clocked in at $50 per megawatt-hour earlier in the day rose to $1,000 less than 90 minutes after the thunderstorm alert.

4. Wind is MIA, while Solar Comes on Strong: We asked NEI's Michael Purdie to take a closer look at the performance of renewables on the grid, comparing seasonal performance between Summer and Winter from 2010-2015. Based on data from the ABB Velocity Suite, the capacity factor for wind dropped an average of over 15% from Winter to Summer. In some area, that variability can be problematic, like in Texas last Summer, when ERCOT in Texas reported that the grid's wind turbines dropped to 20% of capacity as the temperature topped 100 degrees all over the state. In August 2006, a late Summer heat wave in California saw the state's wind assets drop to just 4% of capacity. Of course, solar power's capacity factor rises almost 35% in the Summer, but that seasonal increase is more than offset by capacity factors that crater nearly 77% in Winter.

5. Nuclear Performance is High Because Plants Prep in the Spring: Between July 23-28, in the midst of the nationwide heat wave, the average capacity factor of the U.S. nuclear fleet didn't drop lower than 96.6%. That's an incredible performance—99 reactors producing electricity at maximum output nearly every minute of the day and night. That isn’t possible without the dedication of outage workers who descended on plant sites throughout the Spring to perform needed maintenance and repairs to ensure this performance when it is needed most.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Even when the mercury tops 100 degrees, it's good to know that you and your aren't completely at the mercy of extreme weather. Just as is the case in the winter, there are a number of common sense rules you can follow to limit the size of your electric bill. Be sure to check out these tips from PG&E to learn more. And please, when you're outside, pay attention to these guidelines from the Mayo Clinic to keep cool and healthy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks
Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency and streamline many of our processes and practices. Vogtle Unit 3 will be the first fully digital nuclear unit in the country. That affords many innovative approaches to how we operate and maintain the plant. One thing that will never change is that the nuclear industry will always hold paramount the health and safety of the community we serve.

When I was a shift supervisor at Plant Farley, I was often asked exactly what it is that I do every day. My favorite response: "I make clouds for a living." This would generally result in a look of confusion on the face of the person I was talking to, but it would give me an opportunity to explain how a nuclear power plant works. It brings me joy to watch expressions soften as I explain the tremendous amount of electricity that we produce, how we produce it, and that the only impact to the environment is the release of water vapor clouds from the cooling towers.

As I transition to my new role in the Work Management organization, one of my responsibilities will be the implementation of a process to allow our work activities to be carried out completely electronically. Paperless work management is a common practice in other industries and will be a huge step forward in improving efficiency in nuclear power.

Delivering The Nuclear Promise to me means taking a very hard look at the way we do business in this industry and challenging ourselves to think outside the box. The industry has previously been stagnant in the area of leveraging new technology to improve processes. It can be easy to become complacent and settle for "how we've always done it," but for our industry to remain viable, we must evolve. The paperless work management process is a perfect example of this principle in action. Eliminating paper will allow work to be completed more efficiently with less potential for error and fewer resources needed for filing and archiving documents.

The above post was written by Southern Nuclear’s Donell Banks for the Powered by Our People promotion, which aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Share this nuclear ingenuity story with your network or to learn more, go to nei.org/whynuclear.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Germany Gets Realistic about Renewables

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

The German parliament voted on July 8 to slow the growth of renewable energy, by ending lavish subsidies intended to develop as much wind, sun and biomass as quickly as possible. Instead, the government will pick and choose which energy projects make sense for the system based on reliability, cost, and other criteria.

The German electric system is suffering a more extreme version of some of the same problems seen in in the U.S.

In Germany, the burden of aggressive renewable subsidies falls on households, because the government exempted major industrial consumers, to avoid damaging their international competitiveness. Per kilowatt-hour, households pay 29.5 European cents (about 32.6 U.S. cents, roughly triple the average price in the U.S.) The price is 30 percent higher than the European average, according to European Union statistics.

And in Germany, a lot of this energy, especially wind, comes at times of low demand, and is produced in areas far distant from load centers, so it is not useful. We have the same problem here; surplus energy pushes prices to zero or even below, but subsidies make developers profitable anyway.

And subsidized renewables are not always the best way to reduce carbon emissions. The National Academy of Sciences recently found that the cost of Federal subsidies for renewables, for each ton of carbon saved, is a stunning $250. Some states provide added subsidies, or force electricity customers to subsidize renewable energy by setting quotas for utilities, called renewable portfolio standards. Renewable sources of electricity displace electricity from fossil-fired plants, saving fuel and carbon emissions. But they also threaten to displace nuclear generators, which are highly reliable (operating over 90% of the time), and are also emissions free. (Also, U.S. nuclear plants get no compensation for being carbon-free.)

Policies insisting on a high proportion of renewable energy, rather than on simply non-emitting generation, create distorted market conditions that are forcing premature retirement of non-emitting, highly reliable nuclear reactors that are generating electricity at very low costs. Such policies have the unintended consequence of increasing emissions (due to the use of natural gas for replacement power) rather than cutting them.

While the United States hasn’t yet reached the same situation as Germany, the Federal government and the states could avoid some of the same missteps.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What to Watch for in Nuclear Energy Policy at the 2016 Conventions

The 2016 Republican National Convention got underway in Cleveland last night, kicking off a two-week period of non-stop political coverage that typically keeps "inside the Beltway" types like us glued to the television (we will be similarly riveted when the Democrats meet next week in Philadelphia).

Just as is the case with the annual State of the Union address, we pay close attention just in case our industry gets mentioned. So what are we keeping an eye out for? To give you a hand, we've developed the following checklist when it comes to what matters to the nuclear energy industry.

Thanks to Donkey Hotey for the Creative Commons license image.
Feel free to play along at home.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Learning the Wrong Lessons from the Diablo Canyon Closure

Diablo Canyon
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. made national news when it announced last week that it will operate the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant through its original license period and then retire the facility in the mid-2020s. Some parties are suggesting—wrongly—that the agreement is a blueprint for nuclear plant retirements in other states.

Don't buy that argument. To be clear: The convergence of policies and events that drove the Diablo Canyon agreement is not desirable and should not be replicated. California residents now confront a risky experiment based on an unbalanced energy future. As NEI's Revis James wrote yesterday at Real Clear Energy:
The anti-nuclear lobby says that a future primarily powered by renewable sources of energy is upon us. We’ve done the math, and the equation doesn’t balance. Rather, this seems more like a flawed experiment that will put greater pressure on consumers through higher electricity prices while increasing, not decreasing, CO2 emissions. It’s not a gamble that others should try.
Some proponents of the agreement wrongly believe they can replace one carbon-free source of electricity with another instead of working to maximize carbon reduction by seeing all zero-emissions sources work together. But there is no guarantee that the anticipated increase in renewables, energy efficiency and energy storage will fully replace Diablo Canyon—which provides 24 percent of the state's carbon-free electricity—by 2025.

In Wisconsin, greenhouse gas emissions jumped more than 15 percent after the premature closure of the Kewaunee nuclear facility. In 2015, New England's emissions jumped by 7 percent because of the shutdown of Vermont Yankee the year before. Emissions will climb even higher when the Pilgrim reactor in Massachusetts closes in 2019.

A study by IHS Energy found nuclear energy's inclusion in a balanced energy portfolio lowers the cost of generating electricity by more than $93 billion per year compared to an energy portfolio limited to renewables and natural gas.

With that in mind, it's better to think of California as an anomaly rather than template for future energy policy.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Introducing “Generation Swipe”: Nuclear’s Newest Interns

The following is a guest post by Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides, senior manager of strategic workforce planning. 

Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides
Interns this summer will deliver more to the office than their energetic personalities, they will be bringing a new generation into the workforce. This year’s crop of interns includes the first wave of new post-Millennials who were born between the late 1990s through the 2010s. As we will see, these college students have grown up with a significant amount of their socialization being online and in a world where their schools are not always safe. It is now time for companies to understand what this new group of employees will bring to the table.

This generation after the Millennials has yet to be named, but I like to think of them as Generation Swipe. From an early age, these young adults were able to “swipe a finger” and create Minecraft worlds. They swipe to watch videos and they swipe to chat with grandma.

We know less about this new generation than we do about Millennials, but we know enough to have an idea of what Generation Swipe may be like in the workplace. First, let’s consider that technology is even more important to Generation Swipe that it was for Generation X and the Millennials. Generation Swipe grew up with the Internet available to everyone, everywhere. Wifi-enabled devices became common and these students literally grew-up with instant messaging in their cribs.

With Internet readily available, Generation Swipe had access to games, digital arts and education apps designed to give them complete creative control of their worlds. This accessibility will provide two likely outcomes. Generation Swipe may be the most creative generation the world has ever seen, but they are also going to want the most control. Nuclear companies should engage these new employees with cutting edge technology and allow them creative control to solve problems.

I promised I would explain the impact of school violence. Attracting Generation Swipe to nuclear careers will be different from what attracted Millennials and Generation X. School shootings have increased during Generation Swipe’s lifetime. These incidents have led to heightened physical security as a priority.

Generation Swipe has unprecedented cyber-literacy meaning they understand what hacking is and what harm it can cause. We can attract students with opportunities that will resonate with their interest like solving cyber and physical security issues. Nuclear Energy’s considerable focus on physical and cyber security rivals any other industry and is something companies should highlight as part of their recruitment strategies.

What do employers need from Generation Swipe? Eventually, leadership. On the leadership front, Generation Swipe might encounter a learning curve when they come to the office. Some of these challenges will take time and effort, but the industry is already preparing with the extensive work currently underway to address teamwork and leadership attributes.

Generation Swipe has more access to technology than any previous generation and specifically has had more screen time than any previous generation. All of that cyber literacy might have come with a cost as Generation Swipe has less experience with face to face conversations. Generation Swipe’s lack of human interaction may translate into this generation being challenged when transitioning into management. Companies can address this by including leadership training and development opportunities to the youngest of employees.

Change is not new for the nuclear industry. Generation Swipe will bring creativity and innovation to our industry. We should not worry when these bright-eyed teenagers arrive in our offices this summer. Instead, we should remember that every generation is different and the nuclear sector has always been able to adapt. Let’s work together to make this transition as smooth and beneficial as possible.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why Nuclear Cooperation with “Non-Nuclear” Norway is Important for U.S. Industry

Ted Jones
The following is a guest post by Ted Jones, Director of International Supplier Relations for NEI.

This week, the U.S. Congress received for review a renewal agreement for nuclear energy cooperation with Norway. When the pact comes into force, it will restore nuclear cooperation that lapsed when the original agreement expired in July 2014. Commonly known as a Section 123 agreement after the part of the Atomic Energy Act that governs international nuclear energy cooperation, a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement secures nonproliferation guarantees and provides a framework for nuclear energy commerce.

Given that Norway has no plans to operate a commercial nuclear power plant, some may ask, “What is the importance of Norway to the U.S. nuclear industry?”

The answer lies 75 miles southeast of Oslo in the town of Halden, where the United States helped to build a 20 megawatt test reactor in 1958. Now supported by 19 member countries and partly financed by the OECD, the Halden Reactor Project performs a wide variety of unique tests that are important to nuclear power plant safety and reliability. Currently it hosts 30 test rigs in its core. The users of the Halden Reactor Project span the range of the nuclear community, from licensing and regulatory bodies to suppliers, utility industry and research organizations.

For the U.S. nuclear industry, the Halden Reactor Project is a critical asset. As examples:
  • A joint U.S. DOE program with Westinghouse, GE Hitachi and AREVA to research, develop and test accident tolerant fuel (ATF) relies on access to Halden. The program aims to significantly increase the reaction time for a commercial nuclear reactor operator to deal with beyond-design-basis events such as occurred at Three Mile Island and at Fukushima. The ATF program will send test rodlets manufactured in the United States by General Atomics and Argonne National Laboratory to Halden for testing after the program’s first phase ends in September of this year.
  • Virginia-based Lightbridge plans to use the Halden Reactor Project for irradiation testing of advanced metallic nuclear fuel samples. The Lightbridge fuel design aims to provide greater safety and power while lengthening the fuel cycle duration. "These irradiation tests will generate quantifiable data needed to support licensing of Lightbridge fuel by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and ultimate deployment by nuclear utilities in commercial reactors around the world,” said Lightbridge CEO Seth Grae.
  • The Halden facility is favored not just for fuel safety testing. Of special value to the U.S. operating fleet, it offers flexible capabilities for testing the aging and degradation of reactor components. Aging issues under study at Halden include irradiation-assisted stress corrosion cracking, irradiation-enhanced creep and stress relaxation, and pressure vessel integrity.
Without a U.S.-Norway Section 123 agreement in force, U.S. access to testing at Halden is severely limited. That is because items such as fuel assemblies for testing can be exported from the United States only with a Part 110 license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And a Section 123 agreement is a prerequisite for a Part 110 license.

The Halden Reactor Project underscores the importance of broad international collaboration to U.S. industry competitiveness in an increasingly global market. With congressional approval, the U.S.-Norway Section 123 agreement will preserve this important advantage for the whole U.S. nuclear community.