Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant to Close – Are We Ready?

On Tuesday June 21, 2016, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., one of the U.S.’s largest utilities announced the very bold step that they would be shuttering California’s last operating nuclear plant, the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant.

 For those not familiar this plant, it is located on Avila Beach, almost equidistant between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Diablo Canyon is located just 3 miles from the Hosgri Fault, a major earthquake fault line, discovered three years after Diablo Canyon’s completion. The rancor to decommission Diablo Canyon increased significantly in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant disaster in Japan in 2011 which was triggered by a massive earthquake.

Diablo Canyon has the capacity to generate 2,160 MW of power.  To put that number in perspective, that’s enough to power over 1.7 million homes and represents almost 9% of California’s energy capacity.  

9% of a state’s energy capacity is a lot.  The idea is that the gap in capacity left by Diablo Canyon’s shuttering will be breached by renewables such as solar and wind as California pushes aggressively toward achieving the mandate that 50% of California’s electricity generation come from renewable energy sources by 2030. 

Today, California is estimated to have 4,527 MW of solar generation, by far the nation’s leader in this regard. A significant amount of that capacity is represented by plants that 500 KW or more built with assistance under the federal government’s 1603 program, which provided aggressive government rebates for building alternative energy plants such as solar plants.
The issue here is that many of these plants were built hastily and with technology that is now obsolete. Many have key technology from vendors that are no longer in the PV business.  Of course, with this many megawatts of solar already installed, one would have to think that many of the best sites for solar have already been taken. As such, it would seem there is a major opportunity to help move California toward its goals and breach the void left by Diablo Canyon’s shuttering by getting more from these existing facilities.  

Here at Alencon, we offer one very inexpensive, and easy to implement solution for doing just that. Our DC-DC optimizers can allow an existing PV plant to increase its capacity by capacity by anywhere from 5% to 7% by offering more granular maximum power point tracking (MPPT) which mitigates for various panel mismatch issues such as panel degradation, soiling and cloud cover, among others.  Additionally, our DC-DC optimizers, a product called the SPOT, step up voltage to a central inverter. This offers the added benefit of reducing conduction losses and while feeding the inverter its preferred voltage to operate at its peak, nameplate efficiency.  Feeding an inverter its fixed, preferred voltage, versus the variable voltage it would otherwise draw from a panel, can increase its efficiency by 2%.