by Will Davis, from the 2019 ANS Winter Meeting
It’s no secret that public will and a great deal of marketing have combined to legislate large amounts of renewable energy onto parts of the US grid (and indeed grids around the world.)  The challenges that this brings are particularly severe for nuclear energy, which is commonly threatened when expected to operate in an environment where everything else has to “get out of the way” for renewables.  The question is:  Can nuclear play a role if it’s coupled with some kind of energy storage?  The early answers seem to be well into the “yes” range, as was explained today during an excellent technical session featuring a number of speakers.
A Tough Environment
“The problem is,” said Dr. Charles Forsberg today, “that when large amounts of renewable energy come onto the grid driving the price of electricity near zero or negative, nuclear simply cannot compete.”  Forsberg showed graphs depicting trends in California’s costs of electricity that demonstrated the change in daily electricity pricing; in 2012, before large amounts of solar PV (photovoltaic) power were on the grid the price was relatively stable throughout the day, but nowadays the price peaks right before and right after the solar PV flood onto the grid happens.  Worse, while the PV is gorging the grid with electricity no one needs, the price of electricity bottoms out or even goes negative.  Forsberg referred to this phenomenon as “price collapse,” and it’s directly tied to the solar PV phenomenon on the West coast.
Further, Forsberg pointed out that the actual overall wholesale cost of electricity in Europe has done nothing but climb as renewables have crowded onto the grid.  Crowded, that is, in nameplate capacity only – they still underperform at some times and at night, meaning that fossil backup has to

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