Baseload Nuclear Plants

Utilities, and the anti wind crowd often like to talk about the importance of “baseload” generation to an electricity system. Baseload generation is generation that is supposed to run 24/7, and provides level output. The anti wind crowd also like to talk about the need to build back up generation for when the wind doesn’t blow. But what about nuclear? How is it at providing baseload, and what sort of backup does it need?

Today is one of the coldest days of the so called polar vortex we have all been surviving. It was -23C at my place at 8 AM this morning. The sun has come out in most of the province, and the temperature where I live is all the way up to -10C. That is still cold. So demand in the province for electricity is high for electric heating, furnace fans etc.

But today, 5 out of 16 of the nuclear plants are off line (source: Sygration ). That is 27% of our nuclear capacity, or 3400 MW. The nuclear units that are off line are 50% more than the total installed wind capacity in the province. And of course the system has to back up this intermittent nuclear electricity supply. The gas plants have been supplying as much as 6000 MW, way more than normal, and waterpower has provided over 5000 MW. And net imports are currently 800 MW, at high prices (currently 12.5 cents/kWh, and predicted to be as high as 30 cents/kWh this evening by the IESO). Our baseload nuclear, on which we spent billions, and plan to spend billions more, has cost us dearly today.

But the electricity is still on.

It turns out that long before we built any wind, we knew we needed backup for nuclear units. And so we built it. We built excess nuclear units. We built waterpower, which handles fluctuating demand and supply superbly. And we built gas plants.

The same back up we use for nuclear can of course be used for wind, or any other electricity source.

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