Concept of ‘baseload’ energy quickly becoming a relic of the past

A new US report argues that the concept of “baseload” energy generation is an artefact of an old fossil fuelled industry, and should not be confused with reliability.

The Brattle Group report was commissioned by US-based NGO NDRC, as part of America’s own battle over the future of “baseload” in a rapidly changing energy market.As in Australia, conservatives in the US are fighting back against renewables – and variable sources like wind and solar in particular – on the basis that baseload power should be protected at all costs.

It is a coal industry marketing point. But it’s a lousy argument that makes no sense in a world full of technology alternatives.

The Brattle Report, like a similar analyses by the Climate Policy Initiative and others before it, notes that because a coal generator is big, and can go for 24 hours uninterrupted, does not make it reliable.They can and do have unexplained outages, and the need for maintenance means that system planners have had to build in significant system upgrades, back-up and transmission infrastructure to spread generation over a larger region.

And it argues that system reliability is achieved through a mix of resources, not by any single unit.

“There is no special need for continuous power supply to come from a single unit (when available and not on outage) rather than a mix of resources,” the report notes.“It is a misconception that “baseload” plants (or any plants, for that matter) are 100% reliable,” it says. “Coal and nuclear plants periodically go on outage, and when they do, their outages tend to be long.”

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Giles Parkinson