Clean energy technology global investment, mostly focussed on renewables, has been running at around $350 bn p.a. for the last few years. For nuclear it fell to $17 bn last year. In 2018, global renewable generation capacity saw the largest annual increase ever, with new solar outstripping additions in coal, natural gas and nuclear. The bottom line is that, quite apart from all its other problems, as renewable costs have fallen, nuclear has become less and less economically attractive. So you can see why the nuclear industry is keen to look for new openings. It’s having trouble competing in the electricity market, but could it make some headway in the heat and transport markets- or as a way to balance the variable electrical output of renewables? The industry is stuck at present with large mostly old very inflexible nuclear plants, usually run 24/7 to recoup their large construction costs. They may not be able to compete in the power market with renewables or even new flexible gas plans, but their generation costs are relatively low compared with old fossil plants, with their much higher fuel costs. So could the nuclear plants be partly repurposed to try to compete in other markets? In theory, some of the surplus power output from the existing plants, produced at night when demand is low, could be used then to make hydrogen gas for heating or vehicle fuel. Indeed, some old uneconomic nuclear plants could be switched over to that full time, as a last stage in their careers. But that would only make sense if there was a market for the gas and if it was lucrative enough to justify spending money on building Power to Gas (P2G) conversion units for use just perhaps for their few remaining years. That’s unlikely. Moreover, while old nuclear plants may run at marginal costs (most of their construction cost having long since been paid off, which is why they are kept running as long as possible), they may need refurbishment to try to keep them safe, and that can cost a lot. So for old plants there will be diminishing returns.
Renew Extra 1st Nov 2019 read more »