Principal Frank Graves and Associate Dr. Travis Carless recently prepared a presentation on the role of nuclear power in US electricity markets for the MIT and Clean Air Task Force’s annual “Nuclear Energy in a Low-Carbon Future: Key Facts and Issues” seminar on August 1.
The experts identified several clean energy needs and difficulties that affect the value of nuclear power:
- Clean Energy Needs
- Huge amounts of clean power will be needed to decarbonize the economy
- Using all renewables and storage is an unattractive way of fully decarbonizing
- The last 20% of decarbonization is often estimated to cost about as much as the first 80%, making “clean dispatchable power” or very long-duration storage attractive, even if it costs more per MWh than renewables
- There is a further poorly understood but potential acute need for clean dispatchable power to cover “renewable droughts” when the wind and solar conditions may be poor for protracted periods (e.g., a few days) over large areas
- Nuclear-generated hydrogen may be an additional application for nuclear plants, as the electric load to produce H2 by electrolysis is huge, and nuclear provides a year-round, clean, steady supply
- Clean Energy Power Market Difficulties
- Power systems have extremely sophisticated and complex pricing and scheduling, with a great deal of volatility — which makes financial planning and forecasting correspondingly difficult for power plants
- The short-run variable costs of nuclear plants are extremely low, so they are run essentially all the time when available, but their high fixed costs and long lead times to be built make them risky for investors unless/until small modular reactors (SMRs) can improve on these difficulties
The presentation deck is available below.