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Do we really need base-load power stations?

The electricity industry is being transformed. In 2017, global investment in renewable energy – mostly wind, solar and hydro – was equivalent to US$310 billion, more than double global investment in fossil-fuelled and nuclear electricity combined. Numerous detailed scenario studies suggest that 100-per-cent renewable electricity is technically and economically feasible.

Coal and nuclear  producers  spread false claims that  we can’t reach 100-per-cent renewable and reliable energy.

Coal and nuclear producers spread false claims that we can’t reach 100-per-cent renewable and reliable energy.Credit:Jessica Shapiro

The rapid growth in wind and solar photovoltaics (PV) has triggered a reaction from incumbents – especially the supporters of coal and nuclear power – who are disseminating the incorrect claim that 100-per-cent renewable electricity is impossible and that base-load power stations will always be needed. In the absence of base-load power stations, they claim that vast amounts of expensive storage would be needed to balance the variability of wind and solar.

Base-load power stations can operate at full rated power 24/7, except when they break down or undergo planned maintenance. They are mostly coal-fired in Australia, nuclear in France and a mix of nuclear and coal in the UK.
While base-load power stations can offer nearly continuous operation at rated power and can supply the majority of annual electricity generation in a traditional system, they are inflexible.

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