James Conca writes at Forbes Bitter Cold Stops Coal, While Nuclear Power Excels. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.
As I woke up to Thanksgiving yesterday, I realized we in the Pacific Northwest had been cyclone bombed for the holiday.A Bomb Cyclone is when the barometric pressure drops by at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. The winds were wicked last night and kept us awake a good part of the time.
But looking out over the snow, I was thankful for the comforting plume of pure water vapor rising beyond from our nearby nuclear power plant. Judith and the kitties were, too.
Through thick and thin, extreme hot or extreme cold, the nuclear plant never seems to stop producing over 9 billion kWhs of energy every year, enough to power Seattle. The same with all other nuclear plants in America.
Whether it’s coal, gas or renewables, cold weather seems to hurt them like grandpa with a bum knee. And it doesn’t help that our aging energy infrastructure keeps getting a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Most generation systems suffer outages during extreme weather, but most of those involved fossil fuel systems. Coal stacks are frozen and diesel generators simply can’t function in such low temperatures. Gas chokes up – its pipelines can’t keep up with demand – and prices skyrocket.
Wind also suffers because the hottest and coldest months are usually the least windy.
This was seen again last week, when record-breaking cold engulfed Illinois. But Exelon Generation’s 10 operating nuclear plants kept putting out their maximum power without a hitch. Coal and gas struggled.
“Even during this unseasonably cold weather, our Illinois fleet’s performance further demonstrates the reliability and resiliency of nuclear power in any kind of weather,” Bryan Hanson, Exelon’s Chief Nuclear Officer, said. “We are dedicated to being online when customers need us most, no matter what Mother Nature throws at us at any time of year.”
The problem with widespread cold or heat starts because there is a spike in electricity and gas demand, since everyone is re-adjusting their thermostats and it takes a lot more energy to keep us at comfortable temperatures during these extremes.
Interestingly, nuclear prices do not go up – the reactors just keep running. They don’t have to worry about fuel supply – they have enough on hand for years – and they don’t have to do anything special to deal with the extreme weather.
In recent years, the cost of electricity from the nearby Columbia Generating Station has fallen to 4.2¢/kWh, regardless of weather. Many gas plants increase their prices during bad weather, as much as ten-fold in New York and New England.
A diverse energy mix is really, really important. Whether it’s massive liquid-gel batteries that would maximize renewable capacity, small modular nuclear reactors, keeping and uprating existing nuclear, better pipeline technology and monitoring, better coordination among renewables – in the coming decades, whatever we can do, we should do.
But nuclear is clearly the big guy you want to walk down the street with on a cold winter’s night.