Barry Smitherman – Electricity Generation Mix

Barry Smitherman – Electricity Generation Mix


What are the different fuels that we use to
make electricity? In America, 50% of the electricity comes from
coal, 20% comes from Natural Gas, 20% from Nuclear, and about 6% or 7% from Hydro,
and then 1% or 2% from Sun and Wind. Unfortunately Solar and Wind are rounding
errors today when it comes to the total composition of how we produce electricity. Is 50% coal, is that our capacity or what
we actually use every year? Well the Coal runs almost 24/7. That is one of our baseloads. That and Nuclear. So when you say “baseload”, what is that mean? That means that is the resource that is running
all the time, even when we’re using a minimum amount. The units that will not run all the time are
going to be the gas plants and the wind and the sun. And why do we pick Coal and Nuclear to run
all the time? I think a couple things: One, historically
Coal has been really cheap, so it makes sense to run the cheapest commodity the most time. Secondly, once you’ve got a Caol plant up
and running, they’re not really designed to turn down. They’re designed to run flat out. That’s the way they work the best. That’s the same with a Nuclear plant. They’re designed to turn on, and run, and
that’s what they do. Now a gas plant is a lot easier. You can turn it up. you can bring it back down with relative ease
and that’s the kind of role that it plays. And it’s just more flexible that way? Is it part of the design? It is more flexible. Plus, just the nature of natural gas gives
you the ability to add more to it quickly, get the water up hotter, bring on another
unit. Many of the Natural Gas plants are a series
of small units put next to each other. Right. So you could be running two of them and add
two more fairly quickly and bring the full capacity of that plant up.

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