advances | large-scale renewable energy
Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Are Intermittent, Too
By RoBERT uKEIlEY
robert ukeiley (rukeiley
@ igc.org) is a lawyer
who represents environmental nonprofits in
Clean Air Act litigation
affecting energy issues.
The fossil fuel power plant industry likes to spread the myth that fossil fuel plants work 24/7, 365 days a year, while solar and wind are intermittent. This is
meant to discount the reliability and cost-effectiveness of
renewable energy, relative to polluting generators.
The reality is all electric generating plants are intermittent. Coal-fired power plants break down all the time. For
example, one huge coal-fired power plant in the Midwest
had an availability factor of around 65 percent for a decade
after it started up. That means 35 percent of the time, if the
utility company wanted to turn this plant on, it couldn’t.
There have been times when coal plants have reduced power
production because they couldn’t get enough coal (because
it was frozen), and when nuclear plants have throttled down
because there wasn’t enough water for cooling.
As Chuck Kutscher noted in his “Tackling Climate
Change” column last issue, the utility industry deals with
the intermittent nature of fossil fuel plants fairly well and
manages to keep the lights on. Utilities maintain about a 15
percent reserve margin of generating sources. That means, if
they have a peak demand of 100 megawatts, the utility will
have 115 megawatts of generating capacity. They don’t have
to own that 115 megawatts of generating capacity. They can
enter into agreements with neighboring utilities or mer-
chant power providers to meet their reserve margins.
A Return to ASES’ Birthplace
mom won’t be waiting to do our laundry, but when the American Solar Energy
Society (ASES) hosts its national Solar Conference in Phoenix next month, it will be a
homecoming of sorts.
The society has its roots in Arizona, where,
in 1954, Farrington Daniels, henry Sargent,
Walter Bimson and Frank Snell organized the
Association for Applied Solar Energy (AFASE).
its purpose: To encourage solar research by
hosting conferences and publishing research-related articles. AFASE eventually became the
Solar Energy Society and then the international Solar Energy Society, which spawned
an American branch — ASES — in 1970.
Today, AFASE’s mission is carried on through
ASES programs, including SOLAR TODA Y and
the conference, SolAr 2010.
For more information about the conference, which takes place may 17-22 — or if you
know of any Phoenix-based moms who like to
do laundry — contact firstname.lastname@example.org or
visit SolAr2010.org. — COREY DAHL
Color ADo STATE univErSi Ty
colorado state opens 2-MW solar Farm
colorado state university in January commissioned a 2-megawatt
(MW) photovoltaic array at its Foothills campus in Fort collins.
The system is owned by Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (renew
ableventures.com), which will sell the power — about 3. 5 million
kilowatt-hours annually — to Xcel Energy ( xcelenergy.com), offsetting about 10 percent of the campus electrical load and saving the
university about $2 million over the 20-year contract. The 15-acre
plant comprises more than 8,000 Trina modules. The university
opened its first solar farm, a 1.2-MW system, at its Pueblo campus