Outside of social media and partisan energy commentary, there’s only one, perhaps two, meanings of the term ‘baseload’ which matter to the normal people who pay for electricity each quarter.
It means that it’s there to serve demand when there’s demand.
This is the meaning used by the rational proponents of energy projects which have dispatchability designed-in from the start.
What is “dispatchability?”
Dispatchability means we know we can rely on the resources in the system if we need to ‘dispatch’ or send instructions for them to act in a particular way at any time.
So why does ‘baseload’ get dismissed as a myth?
Predominantly, because it has also long been used to describe nuclear energy. Some people really don’t like to hear anything positive about nuclear energy, and this includes the idea that it’s practically always on, constantly serving demand.
Why is this so important? Because other people can point at nation-size electrical grids and immediately see a) a slab of nuclear ‘baseload’, and b) dramatically low emissions intensities.
We dismiss the success of the past, and the true nature of current changes, at our peril.
This isn’t an intentional effort to entwine the terms ‘baseload’ and ‘dispatchable’ — they already are. It’s certainly not to champion ‘baseload’ as the silver bullet…
The term “baseload” seems to have taken on almost mythical, magical qualities in recent years — representing (to some) all that would serve to fix the current train wreck unfolding in the energy sector, or (to others) representing all that ails the same energy sector.
… or even overwhelmingly necessary in its traditional form.
This isn’t about technical definitions. It’s about semantics, the implication of the regularly-used term. So take care when people police the use of ‘baseload’, and when they tell you what you see with your own two eyes is mythical.
It’s real, and it has helped us immensely.
Oscar Archer holds a PhD in chemistry and has been analysing energy issues for over 13 years, focusing on nuclear technology for 4, with a background in manufacturing and QA. By day he works in energy efficiency research & development. He helps out at Adelaide-based Bright New World as Senior Advisor (we want your support!)and writes for The Fourth Generation. Find him @OskaArcher on Twitter.