Recalling a tsunami caused by an earthquake in Japan in March 2011 that caused a catastrophic meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, advocates of nuclear energy have been fighting back for decades. However, the growing demand for new sources of hydrogen has changed, among other changes in the past ten years, according to CleanTechnica.
Some nations, including Saudi Arabia, were not entirely influenced by the Fukushima disaster regarding their need for nuclear energy. In fact, Saudi Arabia predicted just two years after the said meltdown that there would be 17 gigawatts under its belt by 2032. Although the projection did not happen, its plans for 2 new nuclear power plants earlier this summer with capacities of 1.4 gigawatts immediately took place.
On the other hand, US’ demand for new nuclear energy is not as high as the other nations because there are many cheaper alternatives available in the segment of renewable energy, such as wind farms and solar arrays, which are easier to build. US’ Atlantic coast alone is on a course to develop more than 35 gigawatts of offshore wind even without the persisting political obstacles in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
National security is also a source of pressure regarding the demand for new nuclear power plants. The US Department of Energy prefers renewables-fueled microgrids and other distributed energy resources for military and public use instead of nuclear.
The US fleets still hold a 20% share of electricity generation in the country. Considering the luster of nuclear energy in the US, the total capacity of its fleets has managed to increase to 95,492 megawatts in 2021 despite its commercial nuclear reactors dropping to 93 in 2021 from 104 in 2012 at the same time.
The significant growth of the US fleet is caused by certain efficiency upgrades and capacity factors, “the ratio of the electrical energy produced by a generating unit for the period of time considered to the electrical energy that could have been produced at continuous full-power operation during the same period,” as defined by the EIA.
“Capacity factors allow energy buffs to examine the reliability of various power plants. It basically measures how often a plant is running at maximum power. A plant with a capacity factor of 100% means it’s producing power all of the time,” they explain, adding that “Nuclear has the highest capacity factor of any other energy source—producing reliable, carbon-free power more than 92% of the time in 2021.” The Department of Energy explained.
This exceeds intermittent energy sources like wind (34.6%) and solar (24.6%) as well as coal and natural gas by a wide margin (49.3% and 54.4%, respectively).
Aside from the issues on greenhouse gas emissions, general environmental, quality of life, and ongoing public health impacts, the demand for new water resources is also ramping up due to climate change that causes intensive heat and drought worldwide.
Nuclear power plants might more easily adapt to the intermittent wind and solar energy inflow into the grid as they can ramp up and down. Until a few years ago, it would have been impossible to be this flexible.
According to the Energy Department, “The main takeaway is very clear. Nuclear is more flexible than many of us thought and its FULL potential can be realized by teaming up with renewables to create new hybrid energy systems that could ultimately lead to new jobs, thriving economies, and lower emissions.” Technically speaking, research has demonstrated that they are much more flexible than previously believed.
By diverting kilowatts from nuclear power plants to electrolysis facilities, which use electricity to produce hydrogen gas from water, the electricity supply gaps will be filled. “Clean hydrogen,” an emerging combination of nuclear energy and hydrogen production, is now being introduced.
Bloom Energy and Idaho National Laboratory’s partnership in a pilot program last year has come up with recent development studying how “nuclear energy can be a highly efficient input into [a] solid oxide electrolyzer system for carbon-free hydrogen production.”
Early this month, Bloom announced, “With nearly 500 hours of full load operation completed at the laboratory, Bloom’s high-temperature electrolyzer is producing hydrogen more efficiently than other commercially available electrolyzers, including PEM and alkaline.”
“Running at high temperatures and high availability, the pilot results reveal the Bloom Electrolyzer is producing Hydrogen at 37.7 kWh per kilogram of Hydrogen and with 88.5 percent LHV (Lower Heating Value) to DC. Dynamic testing has also been conducted and included ramping the system from 100 percent of rated power to 5 percent in less than 10 minutes without adverse system impacts,” they added.
The future of nuclear energy is still uncertain. However, these recent developments with high-temperature electrolysis systems are an innovative strategy to alter kilowatts from nuclear power plants.