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.
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.