How Building More Nuclear Power Plants Can Help the Renewable Energy Transition
The world is undergoing a major transition in how we generate electricity. Many countries are moving away from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas and towards renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. This transition is necessary to combat climate change. However, renewable sources alone may not be enough to meet all our energy needs as they can be intermittent. This is where nuclear power comes in. Nuclear energy is a reliable, low-carbon energy source that can complement renewables and help ensure a smooth transition to a clean energy future. In this article, I will explain how building more nuclear plants can aid the renewable energy transition.
Nuclear Provides Reliable Baseload Power
One major challenge with renewable sources is their intermittent nature. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. This means solar and wind farms don’t produce a steady output. They need to be complemented by energy sources that can provide consistent power. Nuclear plants are ideal for this as they run at full capacity over 90% of the time, rain or shine. They give grid operators a reliable baseload to integrate variable renewables.
Having nuclear in the mix helps avoid blackouts when renewables underperform. It also reduces the need for fossil fuel plants to ramp up when wind and solar slump. More nuclear builds will provide the always-on power needed to stabilize grids with high renewables.
Nuclear Can Replace Retiring Fossil Fuel Plants
Many countries plan to retire coal and natural gas plants in coming years to meet climate goals. For example, the UK aims to shut all coal plants by 2025. However, simply closing fossil fuel plants could jeopardize energy security. Renewables may not be ready in time to replace all the lost capacity.
This is where nuclear comes in. Constructing new nuclear reactors allows countries to decommission fossil fuel plants while still meeting electricity demand. France and Finland have already done this successfully. With nuclear filling the gap, countries can phase out coal and gas plants faster while expanding wind and solar at a measured pace.
More nuclear builds will enable the retirement of emitters essential for the energy transition.
Nuclear Supports Growth in Renewables
Critics argue renewable sources like wind and solar are enough to decarbonize the power sector. However, many studies show that reaching 100% renewables will be difficult without firm capacity like nuclear. Power systems need a mix of sources.
Having nuclear in the generation mix actually aids the growth of renewables. It provides the reliable base that variable sources rely on. It allows grid operators to integrate more wind and solar without compromising stability.
For example, France gets over 70% of its electricity from nuclear. This enables it to also have one of the highest renewable shares in Europe. More nuclear builds provide the support structure for rapidly scaling up renewables worldwide.
Nuclear Offers Valuable Grid Services
Beyond baseload power, nuclear also offers valuable grid services to support renewable growth. These include:
Load following – Nuclear plants can ramp power up and down to complement renewables’ variable output. This helps match supply with demand.
Frequency regulation – Nuclear helps maintain grid frequency stability, which is essential for reliability.
Inertia – Nuclear provides rotational inertia that keeps the grid functioning during disturbances. Variable renewables connected by inverters lack this.
Voltage support – Nuclear helps maintain proper voltage levels on transmission lines as more renewables come online.
New advanced and small modular nuclear reactors will provide these grid services even more flexibly. More nuclear will be critical for grids with high shares of renewables.
Nuclear Can Produce Clean Hydrogen
Beyond electricity, clean hydrogen will be vital for decarbonizing sectors like transportation. The most common method of producing hydrogen today uses natural gas. However, nuclear reactors can also produce large volumes of clean hydrogen through electrolysis.
Several plants are demonstrating this already. More new builds could be dedicated hydrogen producers. France plans to make low-carbon hydrogen a pillar of its energy transition. This is only possible due to its existing nuclear fleet. More nuclear can enable clean hydrogen at scale to aid the broader energy transition.
The renewable revolution is well underway, but nuclear has an essential role to play in displacing fossil fuels. Constructing more nuclear power plants will provide reliable always-on power, replace retiring emitters, support growing renewables, supply valuable grid services, and enable clean hydrogen. Nuclear and renewables are complementary partners, not competitors. Investing in new nuclear builds will pave the way for a robust carbon-free grid dominated by wind, solar, and other renewables. With coordinated deployment of all low-carbon sources, a full-scale renewable energy transition is within reach.