By: Donald Jones, P.Eng.
There is a widely held belief that commercial nuclear-electric plants are only capable of baseload operation when in fact they can be more flexible than a natural gas-fired generating station. This belief has led the Ontario government to restrict nuclear generation to 50 percent of total demand, in its Long-Term Energy Plan, to avoid more surplus baseload generation (SBG). It may also have provided some of the rationale for the expansion of wind/gas generation. In France nuclear meets nearly 80 percent of the electricity demand so the output of nuclear units has to be changed throughout the day to match the load on the grid, load-following. In Ontario the nuclear units operate baseload but units at Bruce B can be held at reduced output overnight when demand on the grid is low, load-cycling.
The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) has stated that in general coal-fired units can be dispatched down to 20 percent of full output, and combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) units down to 70 percent even though they can operate at lower power outputs. Generating units are dispatched by the IESO, that is, sent instructions to raise or lower electrical output, at five minute intervals day and night.
If units are operating below their dispatchable power range they will not be able to respond to the dispatch instruction in the time allowed. This means that a hot coal-fired unit is more flexible than a CCGT unit in meeting a variable demand on the grid. Hydro is technically very flexible but suffers from water management regulatory restrictions. New nuclear build in Ontario will be highly manoeuvrable with a dispatchable power range wider than gas or coal and could even have dispatching preference over hydro. See Appendix which describes the operation of the Ontario grid.
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