US grid study calls for nuclear, coal support; GE Hitachi deploys equipment to ARC SMR

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The Department of Energy's proposals include price support mechanisms to improve grid reliability amid rising renewable energy capacity. (Image credit: dszc)

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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced a range of proposals to support nuclear and coal plant economics and lower regulatory costs for new build, following a new study into the U.S. electricity network.

In April, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered a 60-day study to assess the reliability and resilience of the U.S. electric grid and evaluate how regulation, subsidies, and tax policies were impacting electricity markets and plant profitability.

The report, published August 23, recommends a range of initiatives to support conventional power generation and improve the security of the grid in the context of low gas prices and rising wind and solar capacity.

"We must utilize the most effective combination of energy sources with an “all of the above” approach to achieve long-term, reliable American energy security," U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in an accompanying statement. 

The DOE recommends the reduction of licensing and permitting costs for nuclear, coal, hydro and advanced-generation plants, and the removal of regulatory burdens for plant siting and operations.

Specifically, the report recommends the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) removes regulation which unnecessarily raises nuclear plant operating costs and recommends NRC reviews nuclear safety rules under a "risk-based approach."

In parallel, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should allow coal-fired power plants to improve efficiency and reliability "without triggering new regulatory approvals and associated costs," the report said.

The report also calls for an acceleration in the implementation of Essential Reliability Services (ERS) mechanisms to create "fuel-neutral markets and/or regulatory mechanisms that compensate grid participants for services that are necessary to support reliable grid operations."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and transmission service operators should also move forward with efforts to reform energy price formation in wholesale electricity markets, it said.

Reforms could take the form of proposals laid out by the PJM market operator and should look to mitigate negative price formation "to the broadest extent possible," the report said.

The DOE also recommended new research into "under-recognized contributions from baseload power plants," by using fuel-neutral metrics to compare the contribution to the grid of different generation types.

In addition, new research is required into future price trends in the context of limited load growth, it said.

"With significant amounts of near-zero marginal cost generation available, security-constrained economic dispatch of [Bulk Power System (BPS)] based on marginal costs may not sufficiently compensate resources for all fixed and variable costs," the report said.

    Monthly average wholesale power prices at US trading hubs

Next-generation grid

The DOE also called on new research and development (R&D) into "21st-century" grid reliability and resilience tools to enhance system reliability and resilience.

New technologies should be developed to support BPS reliability in the context of rising renewable energy capacity, it said.

R&D should focus on innovations in sensors and controls, storage technology, and advanced power electronics, to increase the flexibility of grid operations, the report said.

"The Grid Modernization Initiative should also consider additional applications of high-performance computing for grid-modeling to advance grid resilience," it said.

The DOE's proposals come in the wake of President Trump's executive order Executive Order 13783, "Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth," which rolls back U.S. climate-related policies and reduces regulation in the oil and gas industry.

GE Hitachi commits engineering resources to ARC-100 SMR project

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) has agreed to provide engineering and design expertise to ARC Nuclear to advance the development and licensing of the ARC-100 advanced small modular reactor (aSMR), the companies said in a joint statement August 28.

In March, GEH and ARC nuclear announced they would jointly develop and license an aSMR based on their sodium-cooled reactor technologies.

Under a suite of new agreements, GE Hitachi nuclear energy will license to ARC Nuclear the intellectual property associated with its PRISM advanced reactor design and provide ARC Nuclear access to tools and resources covering nuclear power quality, safety and training.

"Our work to date with the GEH team has validated our expectation of the synergy of combining ARC Nuclear’s senior engineers — with their deep sodium fast reactor operational and design experience as key members of EBR-II prototype program — with GEH’s next generation of nuclear engineers and designers with their proven competence in modern nuclear design,” said Don Wolf, Chairman and CEO, ARC Nuclear, said.

“We are clearly seeing how the power of this engineering collaboration and GEH’s infrastructure can give us a leap forward in reducing both time to market and development costs," Wolf said.

The ARC-100 is a 100 MWe aSMR designed for efficient and flexible electricity generation and can operate for up to 20 years without refuelling. GEH's PRISM reactor is designed to refuel every 12 to 24 months and has primarily been focused on closing the fuel cycle by, among other things, consuming transuranics.

Both these technologies are capable of ‘load following’ to complement renewable energy, the partners said in March.

GEH and ARC Nuclear are currently working towards submitting the ARC-100 to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission's Vendor Design Review process.

A number of advanced nuclear reactor developers are targeting the Canadian market, where the risk-informed regulatory framework is considered more supportive for licensing new designs than in the U.S.

"GEH and ARC Nuclear have agreed to re-examine their relationship upon completion of the Canadian Vendor Design Review and give consideration to focus for the ARC-100 beyond Canada," the partners said.

Nuclear Energy Insider