Costs key to commercialisation of advanced reactors, says LucidCatalyst

14 July 2020

Advanced reactors that have a capital cost of less than USD3000 per kilowatt will be attractive investments and create the most value for plant owners, a study by international consultancy LucidCatalyst has concluded. The report found flexible advanced reactors complement wind and solar in markets with high penetrations of renewables.

(Image: LucidCatalyst)

The report was produced as part of the ARPA-E MEITNER (Modelling-Enhanced Innovations Trailblazing Nuclear Energy Reinvigoration) Programme, which aims to identify and develop innovative technologies that can enable designs for lower cost, more flexible advanced nuclear reactors.

The study examines two future scenarios in 2034 - when advanced reactors are expected to be commercially available - across four of the principal power markets in the USA: ISO-New England (ISO-NE); Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland Power Pool (PJM); Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO); and California ISO (CAISO). The scenarios are: a 'low renewables' baseline scenario, assuming continuation of existing renewables policy, and current renewables build rates; and, a 'high renewables' scenario based on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Regional Energy Deployment System low renewables costs and low natural gas costs scenario. Three additional scenarios and potential market conditions were examined in PJM in order to determine the effects of a CO2 price, fleet deployment, and increased operating and maintenance costs and fuel costs.

By modelling high penetrations of renewables in the mid-2030s, following NREL scenarios, the study shows how advanced reactors can complement wind and solar. Together, these technologies drive down costs, reduce emissions, and improve performance in future US electricity grids. In each of the markets modelled, the addition of advanced reactors lowered the overall system cost.

LucidCatalyst concluded that only by designing to clear cost and performance targets will reactor developers be successful in delivering large-scale market transformation. Flexibility (without storage) may be good for the grid but it does not necessarily benefit a plant's revenue. Nuclear plants inherently want to run at their maximum rated output. Making flexibility economic for nuclear producers will require either the inclusion of a thermal energy storage system, or major market reforms, it said.

Delivering plants for less than USD3000/kW requires "meaningful cost reduction in all systems and components, and all aspects of the delivery process", the report says. Key strategies include standardisation and reuse of designs, and separation of the heat source (nuclear island) safety case from the rest of the plant to enable use of off-the-shelf balance of plant. Advanced nuclear plants can supply a large fraction of dispatchable power without raising the overall cost of electricity.

"Advanced reactors can supply clean dispatchable power without raising the overall cost of electricity," said LucidCatalyst Managing Director Eric Ingersoll. "This conclusion should motivate ISO operators, public utility commissioners, policymakers, utilities and other stakeholders to investigate the role that these products could play in the grids of the future. And in particular to continue and increase their support for acceleration of advanced reactor commercialisation efforts."

Rachel Slaybaugh, director of the ARPA-E MEITNER Programme, said: "Advanced reactor developers are at various stages of commercialising new products, with an opportunity now to integrate identified future market requirements into early stages of their designs. Studies like this can provide these reactor design teams with information allowing them to make evidence-based decisions with a realistic understanding of future requirements in large markets, helping demonstrate the compelling growth potential for the future of advanced reactor technology."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News