By - Jim Vess

Renewable and nuclear generation each set records in 2018

Energize Weekly, March 27, 2019

Renewable and nuclear generation—which combined account for about 37 percent of the nation’s electricity—both set records in the U.S. in 2018, according the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Renewables generated a record 742 million megawatt-hours (MWh) in 2018, almost double the production in 2008 and accounted for 17.6 percent of electricity production for the year.

U.S nuclear power plant generation tallied 807.1 million MWh for the year, slightly more than the previous record of 807 million MWh set in 2010, even as several nuclear power plants have closed.

Wind and solar accounted for 90 percent of the increase in renewable electricity between 2008 and 2018, as wind generation rose fivefold to 275 million MWh in 2018, and solar rose to 96 million MWh from 2 million MWh in 2008.

Wind was 6.5 percent of total generation in 2018, and solar was 2.3 percent, with 69 percent of the 2018 solar additions utility-scale facilities. Conventional hydropower was 6.9 percent of total generation, providing 292 million MWh.

There was a total of 94 gigawatts (GW) of wind capacity by the end of 2018 and 51 GW of solar capacity, with 30 GW in utility-scale installations.

“Growth in renewable technologies in the United States, particularly in wind and solar, has been driven by federal and state policies and declining costs,” the EIA said. “Federal policies such as the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 and the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credits for wind and solar have spurred project development.”

Nuclear generation improved its performance, even as seven nuclear plants with 5.3 GW have closed since 2013. Since 2008, only one new nuclear plant came online, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s 1.2-GW Watts Bar Unit 2, in 2016.

At the start of 2019, the U.S. had 60 nuclear plants with 98 reactors. Two of those plants—Pilgrim, Massachusetts’s only nuclear plant, and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania—are expected to close this year.

 In 2020, another three plant closures have been announced and four more have been set for 2021. By 2025, nuclear-generating capacity is projected to fall by 10.5 GW, as 12 plants close.

Performance levels were kept high as 2 GW in “uprates” had been made between 2010 and 2018 to increase generating capacity by modifying plants—the equivalent of two new reactors.

Nuclear power plants have also shortened the time they are down for refueling, which has to be done every 18 to 24 months, or maintenance. “Nearly all of the recent reduction in outage duration is attributed to shorter outages for refueling operations,” the EIA said. The average nuclear reactor refueling outage was about 25 days in 2018.

“The combination of uprates, shorter outage durations, and balance-of-plant thermal efficiency improvements led the U.S. nuclear power fleet in 2018 to see its highest capacity factor on record, at 92.6 percent,” the EIA said.

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