Energy efficiency is getting a lot of attention with the rise of public concern over environmental concerns such as global climate change and renewable energy. You may wonder what it means to be efficient in the world of nuclear power. As it turns out, nuclear power is one of the most efficient forms of alternative energy available to the public today. Here’s what you should know about it.
Nuclear Power Compared to Other Types of Energy
Nuclear power is already one of the most efficient types of energy available today. An average capacity factor of 91 percent beats other energy forms by a substantial margin. Natural gas produces an average of 50 percent while coal produces energy at almost 59 percent. Wind power operates with a low 32 percent efficiency. Nuclear power offers a number of benefits to users, but first and foremost is that high efficiency.
Impacts on Efficiency
Outages are the single biggest impact on the efficiency of a nuclear power plant. Downtime, though regularly needed for routine maintenance and refueling, invariably counts against the overall efficiency of a plant. Power plants generate electricity at a certain pace, based on factors such as the size of the plant and local demand. New technologies, new fuels, and facility innovations are all designed to increase the total energy output of an individual plant, and of the industry across the board.
The U.S. is experiencing a surge of interest in building new, highly efficient power plants all over the country. These new plants will be designed to produce electricity in highly efficient ways to meet increasing demand for clean, reliable electricity. New technology has focused on ways to avoid wasted heat (and thus energy), reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce downtime and keep pace with rising demand for energy in the U.S.
It was reported earlier this year that U.S. nuclear power plants had an average capacity factor of almost 92 percent in 2014. That’s the highest level ever recorded. U.S. nuclear power plants have benefited from fewer and shorter refueling and maintenance outages over recent years. Overall performance was boosted by a notably strong output in December where the capacity factor reached 98.9 percent. 2013 saw a capacity factor of 90.9 percent and 87 percent the year before that. This upward trend of increased efficiency is very promising for the coming years as many more power plants are set to begin construction in the U.S.
The impact of shorter outages meant a balanced effect on the multiple refueling outages scheduled in 2014. The average outage length dropped from 41 days in 2013 to 37.2 days. Considering that electricity generation on U.S. power plants was almost 800 million MWh (which is the sixth highest on record) these numbers show that the power plants in the U.S. are highly competitive and very efficient.
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