For the first time ever, renewable energy provided a greater percentage of power for the US than nuclear.
With all the negativity topping headlines, a piece of earth-shattering good news went virtually unnoticed: For the first time since nuclear power became the energy industry’s duplicitous darling, renewables — wind, solar, biomass, hydroelectric, etc. — has overtaken it in popularity.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, green energy now encompasses a greater share of the market for power than the country’s myriad nuclear plants.
“Renewable energy is now surpassing nuclear power,” observed Tim Judson, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, “a major milestone in the transformation of the U.S. energy sector.”
“For the first third of this year, renewables and nuclear power have been running neck-in-neck with renewables providing 20.20 percent of U.S. net electrical generation during the four-month period (January to April) compared to 20.75 percent for nuclear power. But in March and April, renewables surpassed nuclear power and have taken a growing lead: 21.60 percent (renewables) vs. 20.34 percent (nuclear) in March, and 22.98 percent (renewables) vs. 19.19 percent (nuclear) in April.”
Comparing the first four months this year with the same period in 2016, output from renewable sources jumped 12.1 percent, as power derived from nuclear plants declined by 2.9 percent — part of a four-year slide in the popularity of nuclear power. Together, green and nuclear sources now power around one-fifth of the needs in the United States.
Dilapidated characterizes much of the nation’s nuclear infrastructure, experts have warned, leading many to question whether repair and revamping could alleviate problems or if it would be more cost-effective to consider alternatives.
“From 2013-16, six reactors permanently ceased operation (Crystal River, Kewaunee, San Onofre-2, San Onofre-3, Vermont Yankee, Fort Calhoun), totaling 4,862 MW of generation capacity,” Ecowatch continues. “Last year, one new reactor (Watts Bar-2) was connected to the grid (after a 43-year construction period), adding 1,150 MW, for a net decline of 3,712 MW since 2013. Six more reactors are scheduled to close by 2021, totaling 5,234 MW (5.2 percent of nuclear capacity). Two more reactors totaling 2,240 MW are scheduled to close by 2025.
In addition, nuclear generators are discussing the potential retirements of several more. Against the planned retirement of 7,274 MW of capacity, four new reactors are in construction, totaling 4,468 MW. The completion of these reactors is in doubt, however, due to billions of dollars in cost overruns and the bankruptcy of designer-builder Westinghouse.”
Even with the completion of three reactors — planned to compensate for the retirement of ailing stations — nuclear power will still fall by around 3 percent. Without those, the decline would slide to 7.2 percent.
“This gulf,” between nuclear and renewables, asserted Judson, “will only widen over the next several years, with continued strong growth of renewables and the planned retirement of at least seven percent of nuclear capacity by 2025. The possible completion of four new reactors will not be enough to reverse this trend, with total nuclear capacity falling by 2,806 MW (three percent) through 2025.”
Although nuclear continues its slow descent into possible obscurity, renewables have claimed an insurgence — comparing again the first third of 2016 with that of 2017, solar power skyrocketed by 37.9 percent, wind energy by 14.2 percent, hydropower jumped 9.5 percent, and even geothermal climbed by 5.3 percent. Only biomass — wood, wood fuels, and the like — remained relatively stable, with a decrease of just 0.3 percent.
“In light of their growth rates in recent years, it was inevitable that renewable sources would eventually overtake nuclear power,” Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign — a non-profit project promoting renewable energy since 1992 — told Ecowatch. “The only real surprise is how soon that has happened — years before most analysts ever expected.”
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Bjoern Schwarz.