Friday Factoids: California Nuclear vs. Renewables

September 23, 2011 | Alex Trembath,

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A new ballot proposal is circulating around California to shut down the state's two remaining nuclear power plants in San Onofre and Diablo Canyon. The players and circumstances of this campaign are reminiscent of the 1989 closure of the Rancho Seco nuclear plant in Sacramento, California.

The Rancho Seco nuclear power plant, shuttered in 1989, had the capacity to provide power to 916,000 homes. This is 3000 times as much electricity as is provided by the 2-MW solar power plant that has replaced it, which occupies approximately the same footprint by area.

Total solar power capacity in the state of California is 967 MW. Total installed wind power capacity in the state of California is 3177 MW. Assuming average industry capacity factors, the two nuclear power plants at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon provide roughly 28 times as much power as total state solar capacity, and 3.5 times as much power as all of California's wind and solar capacity combined.

The San Onofre nuclear power plant has the capacity to provide power for approximately 2.1 million households.

The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant has the capacity to provide power for approximately 2 million households.

Total installed solar and wind capacity in the state of California has the capacity to provide power for approximately 1.1 million households.

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These figures assume a 90% capacity factor for nuclear, 15% capacity factor for solar, and 33% capacity factor for wind. They also assume 1 kW average capacity per household.