Flexible Nuclear Energy for Clean Energy Systems

Nuclear energy is an important part of the global clean energy supply, providing nearly one-third of the world’s non-emitting electricity and complementing and enabling other clean energy sources, including renewables. Recognizing this current and future potential for nuclear energy, the Nuclear Innovation: Clean Energy Future (NICE Future) initiative was launched in 2018 at the Ninth CEM in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) 2019 World Energy Outlook forecasts that electricity generation from variable renewables could range from 36% to 67% by 2040. As more renewables connect to the grid, many countries are developing innovative options to employ more flexible operation of traditional and base load energy sources, like nuclear, to produce electricity and heat to meet demand.

This report brought together experts from around the globe to share expertise and study opportunities for innovative and advanced nuclear systems to operate flexibly and work in tandem with renewables, contributing to clean energy systems of the future.

As demonstrated in technical analyses summarized in this report, nuclear energy offers flexibility in certain electricity markets around the world, and new nuclear technologies could extend the versatility of nuclear energy systems further. At its most basic, nuclear energy can operate flexibly by ramping power output up or down to match grid demand; however, nuclear energy’s services extend beyond just electricity generation. Around the world, research is underway to explore how nuclear systems can use generated thermal energy directly to heat households, drive industrial processes, or produce nonelectric commoditiessuch as purified water.

In some instances, hydrogen produced by nuclear systems can be used to store energy for later electricity production or used as a feedstock to produce a variety of products, from fertilizers and steel to new synthetic fuels. Additionally, by operating alongside chemical plants and renewables, current and future nuclear energy systems can be used to generate a host of alternative revenue streams and help lower emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and particulates that cause smog across the energy, transportation, and industrial sectors.

With new smaller reactors currently under development and anticipated for near-term deployment, nuclear can bring this versatility virtually anywhere at almost any scale by matching a community’s energy needs with a specific reactor technology.

Read more in “Flexible Nuclear Energy for Clean Energy Systems” from September 2020.