The Changing Energy Climate (Part 1)

As we discussed in our first blog post, there are many challenges facing the nuclear industry. One of the greatest is the current energy climate.  There are many contributing factors to the general state of flux in energy production, which we would like to explore today.  These challenges don’t just impact the nuclear industry, but also affect energy producers across generation types.


Energy Demand

It may surprise you, but US energy consumption has effectively plateaued over the last 15 years.  Below is a plot generated with the US Energy Information Administration Open Data Embedded Visualization Library.  The EIA provides a wide range of information and data products covering energy production, stocks, demand, imports, exports, and prices; and prepares analyses and special reports on topics of current interest.

There are four sectors that are included when looking at total energy consumption.  These include Residential, Commercial, Industrial, and Transportation, all of which are shown in the figure.  As you can see, starting around the year 2000 the Total Energy Consumption has plateaued.  The largest changes in trends  have been experienced by the Industrial Sector, showinga significant decrease in consumption over that time.  This is likely most attributable to a major focus on energy efficiency, which is improving consistently.  There are still challenges, however, outlined in this US Department of Energy Report, which provides information on barriers to industrial energy efficiency.

Energy Supply

The way energy is produced in the United States has changed dramatically over the last 15 years.  Another plot from the EIA is provided showing the change in net generation for coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric and renewables.  Each supply type is zeroed relative to its 2001 value for comparison.

It is obvious from this plot that while nuclear and hydroelectric production has remained relatively constant on an absolute basis, coal has suffered significantly while natural gas and renewables rise.

Solar Growth/Capacity Issues


Utility scale solar is the fastest growing renewable power generation source in the US on a percentage basis, as shown below.  The figure shows the growth of various renewables as a percentage change from 2001.

The growth of solar, particularly in the Alden headquarters home state of Massachusetts, has been significant.  Below is a plot from ISO New England showing the Projected Cumulative Growth in New England Solar Power.  Starting in January of 2010, there was a minor amount of PV capacity in New England, however by 2025 they predict 3.27 Gigawatts of PV capacity.

Projected Cumulative Growth in New England Solar Power

The impact of solar in New England will be most felt during the spring where solar production is high yet system load is low from the lack of heating and air conditioning loads.  As you can see in the plot below, when PV generation exceeds 3 GW in 2023, the time corresponding to the minimum daily load (excluding solar) will actually shift from 4AM to near the middle of the afternoon at 3PM.  If the solar capacity continues to grow, there is potential that PV would displace generation from other power resources that help regulate power flows, frequency, and voltage.  There could even be emergency requests for plants to cut output or shut down to prevent high grid voltage issues.  Baseload plants will likely be impacted due to overproduction of solar power.Solar Power’s Impact Varies by Season

Next week, we will continue this thread with a discussion of power prices and power storage, and how these effect the changing energy climate.

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