For a half-century nuclear energy has been the silent workhorse for reliable, carbon-free electricity in America. Don’t take my word for it – here’s what the data says.
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), nuclear power accounted for 9% of America’s installed capacity but produced 20% of the energy used in 2020. Over that same year, nuclear power operated at 92% of its full capacity, the highest of any resource. If you use the capacity factor as a reliability metric that makes nuclear power 1.5 times more reliable than natural gas (57%) and 2.5 times more reliable than wind (35%). Nuclear power plants are designed to run 24/7 because they require less maintenance and can go longer between refuelings. All the while being greenhouse gas emissions-free making it the largest domestic source of clean energy.
Currently, four nuclear reactors operate in Texas, providing close to 5,000 MW of clean, reliable power. According to ERCOT this accounts for 4% of its total installed capacity in 2022. It mirrored national trends by providing more energy in 2021 (10%) than its installed capacity. These carbon-free stalwarts will be necessary as we increase the sustainability of our power fleet while maintaining reliability, and limiting the impacts of swings in commodities markets that affect energy prices.
We’ve talked at length about the opportunities in the recently enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. However, the law also recognizes the negative effects that early closure of these nuclear units could have on reliability, as well as any decarbonization goals. Tucked in the over 1,000 pages is the Civil Nuclear Credit program, which was created to help maintain our current fleet. This $6 billion dollar program will provide financial support to existing reactors that are at risk of closing and being replaced by higher-emitting power resources. The Department of Energy (DOE) opened up applications this week.
Nuclear power can help with the production of Hydrogen, which can be energy-intensive.
While no perfect fuel source exists, these assets remain a necessary bridge in the energy expansion conversation as more research and investment is being conducted on advanced reactors that could help with the major inhibitor to new nuclear projects – cost.