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article imageGlobal nuclear power getting hammered by pandemic, green energy

By Karen Graham     May 4, 2020 in Environment
Generating power without harmful carbon emissions has never been more urgent, yet one of the biggest sources of clean power is struggling to turn a profit.
For decades, across the world, nuclear power plants lived in harmony with coal-fired power plants - churning out electricity, and there was enough power to go around for everyone. Most of the nuclear plants were built in the 1970s and 1980s, so utility companies had paid for them already. That meant low operating costs.
As for sun and wind power, the impact was barely felt, at first. That all changed about 20 years ago when German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched the so-called Energiewende - a planned transition by Germany to a low carbon, environmentally sound, reliable, and affordable energy supply.
However, with climate change becoming a more acute problem, Germany's move to clean energy inspired other countries across the globe to also expand into renewables. This shift has rewritten energy economics and given solar and wind a major role in the economies of many nations, according to Bloomberg.
 The number of people working in the renewables sector could reach 24 million by 2030  more than off...
"The number of people working in the renewables sector could reach 24 million by 2030, more than offsetting fossil-fuel job losses and becoming a major economic driver around the world.," says the IRENA report.
EDF Report
Renewables and the pandemic
It is now well-known that coal-fired power plants are on the way out across the globe. Coal is a dirty fossil fuel that has been proven to be a major cause of pollution. However, nuclear power plants generate clean power without generating harmful carbon emissions.
The nuclear industry feels they would be the perfect partner for renewables, and they have been struggling to make their voice heard - citing nuclear's role as a stable source of emissions-free power.
But the wind and solar power industry has been generating record outputs, frequently creating an oversupply that can push prices below where reactors are no longer profitable, or even to rates where utilities have to hand out power for free.
Some normally crammed roads have been deserted during the UK lockdown
Some normally crammed roads have been deserted during the UK lockdown
And then came the coronavirus pandemic at the start of the year. The pandemic literally gutted the demand for electrical power because of factory and plant closures. Generators from France to Sweden, Germany and China have been forced to turn stations off or curb output.
“We need to work on being more flexible in nuclear,” Magnus Hall, the chief executive officer of Swedish utility Vattenfall AB said in an interview. “It’s a new way of learning how to run the plants and this is the mode we are in.”
It is such a huge problem that Electricite de France SA (EDF), the world’s biggest nuclear operator, with 57 domestic nuclear reactors expects output from its stations in the country to fall by more than a fifth this year.
“The current period foreshadows an energy mix with a more important role for renewables,” Etienne Dutheil, director of nuclear production at EDF, said in an interview. “It shows the necessity for other production means, and for nuclear in particular, to be flexible, which is the case for the French fleet.”
Hope Creek Nuclear Power Plant (USA).
Hope Creek Nuclear Power Plant (USA).
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
In the United States, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) has long underestimated the growth trajectory of renewables in the energy mix - only forecasting that coal generation will fall from 24 percent in 2019 to 13 percent in 2050, while nuclear's generation will fall from 20 percent to 12 percent over the same time period.
Finally, in 2020, the EIA did concede that renewables will eventually overtake natural gas as the country's largest source of power. This means there will be no competition for renewables from fossil fuels. But crowding out nuclear energy may be shooting ourselves in the foot.
“The industry position would be that governments should support the continued operation of existing reactors and new build as part of an overall policy to transition to a sustainable clean energy system,” said Jonathan Cobb, senior communication manager at the World Nuclear Association.
More about Green power, Pandemic, coalfired power plants, 'nuclear power plants, Layoffs
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