As the founder of Emergency Preparedness Partnerships, I have a keen interest in the role of grid reliability as it relates to emergency planning. Simply put, as reliability increases, the frequency and severity of emergency outage situations decreases. Even beyond the grid, there are many systems that impact the efficacy of emergency restoration – for example, the reliability of things like wireless communication networks, payment interchanges, and natural gas infrastructure, to name a few, can have a dramatic impact on the magnitude and duration of an emergency response effort.
Does Nuclear Power Boost Grid Reliability?
For electric utilities, nuclear power has helped the grid be more reliable. Approximately 20% of the nation’s electricity is generated by nuclear plants, and according to nuclearmatters.com, their average 92% capacity factor far exceeds any other source of electricity (for comparison sake, coal is 61% and gas is only 48%). Nuclear plants have minimal downtime because they can run for up to 2 years without having to refuel, and the highly efficient uranium fuel pellets, which are about the size of a pencil eraser, deliver the same amount of energy as 1 ton of coal.
Nukes are also a source of clean energy, accounting for a whopping 63% of the nation’s clean energy in 2014 (hydro is 20% and solar + wind is 17%). This means that nuclear power is critical for the U.S. to meet its clean energy goals. The tertiary impact of this is that nuclear energy, by being used in lieu of ‘dirty’ fuel sources, helps slow the onslaught of climate change, which in and of itself helps grid reliability.
The answer is yes, nuclear energy definitely has a positive impact on grid reliability. I hate to come off like a mouthpiece for the nuclear industry, but I have to call it like I see it – although nothing is perfect, in my opinion nuclear power has more pros than cons.