Guest "No energy transition for you!" by David Middleton
SEPTEMBER 25, 2020
In 2019, 9 of the 10 highest generating U.S. power plants were nuclear power plants
According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) on power plant operations, 9 of the 10 U.S. power plants that generated the most electricity in 2019 were nuclear. These 10 plants together generated 230 million megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity in 2019, which is 5.6% of total electricity generation in the US. The makeup of power plants that generate the most electricity has shifted over the past 10 years from a mix of nuclear and coal-fired power plants to almost all nuclear power plants in 2019.
In 2010, the ten largest power plants in the US were a mix of nuclear and coal-fired power plants. In 2010, coal accounted for 45% of US electricity generation, up from 23% in 2019. Lower cost competitiveness compared to other electricity resources, particularly natural gas, has made coal less economical to generate electricity. Coal power plants also operate at lower levels due to stricter air emissions standards, which is the main reason coal power plants have fallen out of the top 10.
The Palo Verde, Browns Ferry, and Oconee Nuclear Power Plants are consistently among the top 10 largest generators of electricity in the United States as they are the only nuclear power plants with three reactor units, which gives them more generating capacity. A facility's refueling and maintenance schedules can also affect annual electricity generation capacity. For example, Comanche Peak was one of the top ten most powerful power plants in 2010, but not in 2019 as planned availability and maintenance reduced the availability of the plants in 2019.
Electric power plants with relatively large power generation capacities generally also work with high capacity factors or usage rates. The capacity (the maximum amount of electricity a power plant can produce) of the ten largest power plants in 2019 ranged from 2,300 megawatts (MW) (Byron) to 3,937 MW (Palo Verde). Although these plants have a smaller capacity than the Grand Coulee hydropower plant (6,809 MW) in Washington, they generate more electricity each year. Grand Coulee worked with a lower load and generated 16.6 million MWh of electricity in 2019.
Nuclear power plants have the highest capacity factor of all energy sources in the US at 94% fleet-wide in 2019, as nuclear power plants usually operate around the clock until they are taken out of service for maintenance or refueling. The capacity factors for the nine nuclear power plants in the top 10 range from 89% (Browns Ferry) to 99% (Byron and Peach Bottom). Natural gas combined cycle power plants had the second-highest capacity factor in the USA with 57% fleet-wide in 2019. The natural gas plant, which was among the top ten largest generating plants in 2019, West County Energy Center, operates at a capacity factor of 65%, slightly higher than the fleet-wide capacity factor.
Almost all of the US power plants that generated the most electricity in 2019 were located in the eastern half of the country and were usually located near areas with high electricity demands, such as major cities or industrial production centers.
For more information on the US power plant fleet, see the latest Annual Power Generators Report published on September 15, 2020.
Main person responsible: Paul McArdle
Keywords: Nuclear power plants, power plants, electricity, generation
Natural gas combined cycle power plants can actually deliver 85% or better capacity factors, but generally do not operate at full capacity around the clock.
During the same period, the generation of renewable energies in the USA doubled due to "massive" solar and wind capacity expansions. Despite all of this and the lack of additional capacity for nuclear energy …
Top ten power plants in 2008
Figure 1. 6 nuclear power plants and 4 coal power plants.
Top ten power plants 2018
Figure 2. 9 nuclear power plants and 1 natural gas power plant.
To paraphrase the soup Nazi from Seinfeld:
No energy transition for you!
Figure 3. Can you see the wind and the sun on this map?Figure 3. Too fun to frack! US EIA