U.S. nuclear fleet records capacity factor of almost 92% in 2014

Although it saw another U.S. nuclear unit retire prematurely at the end of the year, the U.S. nuclear power industry generated electricity at a record high level of efficiency in in 2014.

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) announced Jan. 22 that 100 nuclear power plants operating in 31 states posted an estimated average capacity factor of 91.9%, based on preliminary 2014 data compiled by NEI. That surpasses the industry’s prior record set in 2007 by one-tenth of a percentage point.

Capacity factor measures total electricity generated as a percentage of year-round potential generation.

Actual electricity production from nuclear energy facilities last year was the sixth-highest ever, at an estimated 798.4 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh). The industry’s record high electricity generation came in 2010, when the 104 reactors then operating produced 806.9 billion kwh of electricity while posting an industry average capacity factor of 90.9%.

The number of actively operating nuclear units in the United States fell from 100 to 99 when Entergy (NYSE:ETR) retired its Vermont Yankee facility Dec. 29 because of market factors. The total number of active U.S. reactors could hit 100 again by the end of 2015, however. Late this year, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) hopes to begin commercial operation of the Watts Bar 2 nuclear facility in Spring City, Tenn.

“The 2014 numbers show unequivocally how important well-performing nuclear energy is to America’s energy security, the economy and our quality of life,” said NEI President and Chief Executive Officer Marvin Fertel.

During periods of extreme weather, nuclear energy facilities’ value is even greater, NEI said in a statement. Because their fuel is loaded into the reactor, nuclear plants often operate during extreme weather when other generators might not be available, NEI said.

The average estimated capacity factor for December 2014 was 98.9% compared to 96.7% in December 2013. Estimated U.S. nuclear generation in December 2014 was 73.0 billion kWh compared to 71.3 billion kWh in December 2013. 2014 nuclear generation was 1.2 percent higher than 2013, 798.4 billion kWh versus 789.0 bkWh, respectively.

The average refueling outage duration in 2014 was 37.2 days compared to 41 days in 2013 and 46 days in 2012.

Generation estimates are based on Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Monthly Operating Reports obtained through the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and Energy Information Administration (EIA) 923 Form, NEI said.

Outage duration and start and end dates are only estimates based on publicly available data from the NRC, NEI said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.