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Case Studies in Decarbed Electricity

By November 20, 2023Energy Rant

A colleague recommended a podcast, The Diary of a CEO, with Steven Bartlett. I especially resonated with the message from the “Savings Expert” episode dated November 6, 2023. The guest is an author who said, “I write for an audience of one, and that is me.” He calls it selfish writing. “I don’t write for this person or that person or group. I write what I’m interested in and in a way that I think is interesting. I try to solve my own problems[1]. If it will help me, maybe it will help somebody else.” He said the traditional writing style is to know your audience. “Knowing your audience very quickly turns into pandering to your audience.” Boom! The Energy Rant is the no-pander zone.

Declining Renewable Energy Costs Hit Buzzsaw

Per last week’s Rant, Freeze on Nuclear Power is Thawing, I noted lawmakers, Miss America, utilities, the UN, and even the federal government realize we need nuclear power to succeed in decarbonizing the electricity supply. Even John Kerry, egad, has concluded that solar and wind will be insufficient and that we must have nuclear power.

One indicator of insufficiency is offshore wind projects being canceled left and right because of dead whales and potential fishing harm (which I think are bogus claims), public protests, and soaring costs. The cost of offshore wind has increased thirty-six percent, count em, 36%, since 2019, reports The Wall Street Journal. It’s too bad because offshore wind is substantially more consistent with higher capacity factors than onshore wind. Wind giants Orstad, Siemens, Shell, Avangrid, and Vestas are all taking beatings in the financial markets.


Here is where analyzing and writing what interests me may interest you. And, per recommendations of some readers, law and policymakers might also want to check this out. Per the Climate Apocalypse Rant, the baseload, the minimum load in the major balancing authority regions of the United States, is about 55% of the peak on average. Here are the load curves by season and region, FYI.

I used the central region for two reasons. First, I live here, and second, because the load shape curves look average for the country, right?

I considered three cases.

  • The baseload is met with zero-emission nuclear power, and the remaining variable load is met with 40% nuclear, 40% natural gas, and 20% efficiency, storage, and other load management (demand response, load flex,).
  • Same, except variable load met by 20% nuclear, 60% natural gas, and 20% efficiency and load management.
  • Same, except variable load met by 0% nuclear, 80% natural gas, and 20% efficiency and load management.

As you can see from the central chart above, the variable load is about 65 GW, which equals the gap between the wee hours of the morning on an October day (88 GW) and the peak cooling load on a July or August day (150 GW). The results shown below are in order of the descriptive bullets above. Energy produced in GWh is provided on the left, and installed capacity in GW is shown on the right. Since nuclear runs 24/7 of the baseload, its share of GWh produced is substantially larger than its share of installed GW capacity.

Nuclear at 40% of Variable Load

Nuclear at 20% of Variable Load

Nuclear at 0% of Variable Load

Carbon Impacts

Here’s what you’re not going to find anywhere else – the carbon impacts of these options versus historic levels, including where we are today. Net carbon intensity from 1996, 2005 (peak coal), and 2021 are calculated from the EPA’s eGRID database[2]. For the chart, “net,” as in “2005 Net,” simply divides all CO2 emissions by all kWh produced for the entire country.


Since 1996, the average carbon emitted through the production of electrons flowing from the three United States electricity grids has declined by 42%. If the baseload power were met by nuclear, it would be reduced by 88%, and so on, as shown. You can see that baseload nuclear power is incredibly effective for taking carbon out of electricity.


The Northeast quadrant of the country, defined by drawing a line along the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers down to Kentucky, straight east to the Atlantic, and north to New Brunswick, represents about 40% of the electric load and consumption. It is also poor for renewable resource capacity factors, especially when offshore wind is not part of the mix. The wind doesn’t blow, and the sun doesn’t shine sufficiently in that region, especially in wintertime.

Charts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory back my assertion.

Solar Potential

Wind Potential

Michigan Case Study

For instance, Michigan lawmakers just passed legislation to commit to 60% renewable supply by 2035, up from eight percent (8%!) today[3]! Are you sure you want to do that when utilities in the state are already being pounded for high electricity prices? It’s a great state, but it isn’t blessed with sunshine like the Southwest or wind like the plains. Michigan isn’t Iowa, which sits at 41% non-hydro renewable for June 2023[4].

An amazing and ironic twist: Michigan was 50 years ahead of its time when the Ludington pumped hydro storage facility was built. Its purpose was to store excess electricity (i.e., avoid curtailment) generated by Michigan’s nuclear power plants for use during peak loads. The engineering marvel can ramp to a full capacity of 2.3 gigawatts with a storage capacity of 16 gigawatt hours. It could pair well with east-coast (of Lake Michigan) wind resources. Construction of those resources depends on the type of folks that live there. Are they like Iowans or Martha’s Vineyardites?


Hire load profile and resource experts before committing generation requirements into law. Consider electrification pushes, which will shift peak loads to winter. Consider energy supply and availability concurrent with peak loads. For example, electrified heating in cold climates reliant on solar and wind where the wind doesn’t blow (the Northeast quadrant) will be more than susceptible, bordering on doomed, to rolling outages and very high electricity prices. In other words, consider nuclear power.

[1] The Rant is my library of information.

[2] The most recent data available from eGRID are from 2021.



Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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