FERC Chairman: baseload outdated; no new nukes needed; go sun and wind

Power companies’ main stated objection to solar or wind is that they are not “capacity” or “baseload” generation because sometimes the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow. And those utilities are required by various state, regional Energy Regulatory Commissions right up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to supply capacity or baseload power. That’s their main excuse for coal and nuclear plants. Well, the Chairman of FERC thinks we may not need baseload, nor any new coal nor nuclear plants, either.

Noelle Straub and Peter Behr wrote for ScientificAmerican 22 April 2009, Will the U.S. Ever Need to Build Another Coal or Nuclear Power Plant? The new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission doesn’t think so

No new nuclear or coal plants may ever be needed in the United States, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said today.

“We may not need any, ever,” Jon Wellinghoff told reporters at a U.S. Energy Association forum.

So what will we need?

Wellinghoff said renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future energy demands. Nuclear and coal plants are too expensive, he added.

“I think baseload capacity is going to become an anachronism,” he said. “Baseload capacity really used to only mean in an economic dispatch, which you dispatch first, what would be the cheapest thing to do. Well, ultimately wind’s going to be the cheapest thing to do, so you’ll dispatch that first.”

He added, “People talk about, ‘Oh, we need baseload.’ It’s like people saying we need more computing power, we need mainframes. We don’t need mainframes, we have distributed computing.”

It wasn’t many years ago Prodigy and CompuServe with their centralized mainframes were the biggest names in computer networking. Most Internet users now have never even heard of those companies. Maybe you remember AOL? Those old centralized systems are already gone the way that baseload power is headed.

Chairman Wellinghoff said shaping outputs from solar and wind can provide the needed energy capacity. And he said this:

And, in fact, most plants running all the time in your system are an impediment because they’re very inflexible. You can’t ramp up and ramp down a nuclear plant. And if you have instead the ability to ramp up and ramp down loads in ways that can shape the entire system, then the old concept of baseload becomes an anachronism.”

I can remember when most computers required fixed time slices per user; you had to sign up for them. That went the way that baseload is headed.

“We are going to have to go to a smart grid to get to this point I’m talking about. But if we don’t go to that digital grid, we’re not going to be able to move these renewables, anyway. So it’s all going to be an integral part of operating that grid efficiently.”

Hm, seems like Dr. Sidney Smith is headed in the right direction with his electric meters to enable a commodity market in solar power.