A global power crisis creates strong tailwinds for nuclear
An increasing number of governments, experts, and captains of industry like Bill Gates and Elon Musk believe zero carbon-emitting nuclear – once maligned – will be crucial in efforts to decarbonise the world and avert the kind of energy crisis currently crippling the globe.
Because wind and solar resources aren’t constantly available and predictable, they’re referred to as ‘intermittent’ energy resources.
A ‘dispatchable’ power station – usually coal or nuclear — is one that can supply power on demand.
The global energy crisis, blamed by some on intermittent power generation, has brought these conversations around reliable, emissions free nuclear to the fore.
⚛️#Nuclear power plants produce no #greenhouse gas emissions during operation, and over the course of its life-cycle, nuclear energy produces about the same amount of #CO2-equivalent emissions per unit of electricity as wind. 👩🎓⚛️https://t.co/Zo7PEjFWF6#netzeroneedsnuclear pic.twitter.com/wFZxTLoAyh
— World Nuclear Association (@WorldNuclear) September 29, 2021
In July, the International Energy Agency warned that rising demand for electricity was overwhelming global efforts to boost intermittent renewables, like solar and wind.
China, for example, is in the grip of a severe power shortage. In Europe, COVID-19 recovery related energy spikes have prompted an astonishing 280% increase in wholesale gas prices.
The easy answer to addressing those shortages is likely to be carbon-based power, but that has emissions implications.
It seems that way.
Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is now in favour of restarting safe nuclear reactors and considering replacing ageing reactors to push ahead with the country’s 2050 carbon-neutral goal.
President Joe Biden’s administration has acknowledged that nuclear will play a role in the US efforts to cut down on carbon emissions. The US still has the world largest nuclear fleet, but it is aging.
In late September, Exelon Generation Co. reversed a decision to close its Illinois-based Byron and Dresden plants after the State passed an energy bill to support their continued operation.
The Byron reactors are now licensed to operate until 2044 and 2046, and the Dresden reactors until 2029 and 2031.
In the UK, the government plans to legislate as soon as next month for a funding mechanism to stimulate construction of new nuclear power plants to replace its aging fleet of reactors.
“The U.K. is likely to need low-carbon power from nuclear to meet its net-zero targets as well as help avert the kind of energy crisis that’s currently crippling the country,” Bloomberg says.
The fact that nuclear has, until recently, been largely excluded from the decarbonisation discussions in the Western World is a sad inditement on the ideological elements of that debate, says Sam Berridge, Portfolio Manager and Resources Analyst at Perennial Partners.
“Nuclear should be considered as part of the solution,” he says.
“I think one of the outcomes of this energy crisis – and it remains to be seen how long it goes for – should be that nuclear is given a fairer hearing and assessed on its merits.
While coal, oil and gas may be required in the short term to keep the wheels of industry spinning, the world doesn’t want to go back to a largely carbon-based system, Berridge says.
“It will take a while, because there must be a huge shift in sentiment globally to reembrace nuclear power as a legitimate part of the decarbonisation push,” he says.
“If what we are seeing now continues for any period of time – 3, 6 months or even a year or more – the shortcomings of intermittent power generation will also become more and more apparent.
“The value of dispatchable power will also become apparent. Within that framework nuclear power deserves a second hearing.”