The value of nuclear power’s reliability and resiliency are getting a closer look. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently issued a grid study calling for FERC to better value essential reliability and resiliency services performed by baseload generation, including nuclear. Recent natural disasters have also reemphasized the real value of resilience, and the role advanced reactors can play in this regard.
The recent hurricane activity has highlighted the frailty of current power grids. As a result of Hurricane Irma, over half of Florida lost power. More than a week after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is still largely without power, potentially for months. While there are a number of factors that contribute to power loss and restoration, it is noteworthy that while Hurricane Harvey dropped torrential rainfall down onto Texas–leading to the curtailment of many of the region’s generation sources–the area’s two nuclear power reactors continued to provide essential power, due to a strong design and good training.
In a changing environment, recent weather patterns may become more common. Especially in remote areas such as islands, reliable power for health care, airports, and basic services is going to be increasingly valued, as well as reliable heat for desalination capacity. Modern reactors are designed to handle extreme circumstances, including aircraft crashes, which most generation sources do not have to consider. Advanced reactors, many of which are being designed to operate underground or in a portable manner, are likely going to be even more protected from environmental challenges and responsive to environmental disasters. This should help put governments and utility operators at ease when an extreme weather event arises. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry recently stated in fact: “Wouldn’t it make abundant good sense if we had small modular reactors that literally you could put in the back of C-17 aircraft, transport it to an area like Puerto Rico, and push it out the back end, crank it up and plug it in? . . . That’s the type of innovation that’s going on at our national labs. Hopefully, we can expedite that.”
The question then becomes: how can next-generation reactors effectively market and achieve market compensation for these benefits? This is a question that is hinted at in the DOE’s grid study, and may become a bigger part of the market compensation discussion in the future.
For more on the topic of advanced nuclear reactors and resiliency benefits, please contact the authors.