Enhancing the Economics of Nuclear Power Through Heat Storage

W. Neal Mann, Sheldon Landsberger, Michael E. Webber, November 2018 (Citation)

Abstract

Since 2013, at least thirteen nuclear power plants in the U.S. have closed or publicly announced that they intend to close. There are various reasons for these closures, but in many cases, current and projected electricity market conditions have been the most important. Electricity markets in the U.S. have seen average prices drop in recent years, led by the boom in domestic natural gas production, and in some cases exacerbated by zero-marginal-cost wind and solar PV generation. In competitive wholesale electricity markets like ERCOT, CAISO, and PJM, the cost-optimal way to operate nuclear power plants is to maximize output, and the U.S. nuclear fleet now leads the world in average capacity factor. Unfortunately, this may not be enough to counter the effects of other markets forces, and if current trends continue, more nuclear power plants will be forced to adapt or retire.

Despite these challenges, nuclear power plants provide extremely reliable electricity to most of the U.S. and provide almost two-thirds of carbon-free electricity generation. Existing nuclear power plants need to continue operating to provide a backstop against increasing carbon emissions. They also need to become more flexible to help integrate more nondispatchable carbon-free generation from wind and solar energy. Thus, the challenge is to minimize costs to ratepayers while supporting nuclear power as a climate change mitigation option.

Adding heat storage to a nuclear power plant would allow the reactor to maintain constant output while redirecting steam in various ways as needed. The investment in a heat storage system will be justified by its expected performance across a range of market conditions. However, it is not obvious under what conditions an energy storage system might be needed for syste

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