The pairing of nuclear power supporters with renewable energy advocates might have until recently struck most people as a case of “strange bedfellows.”
But more and more, the combination is looking like a logical match of kindred spirits intent on moving the world off of CO2-spewing fossil fuel energy sources. We noted last autumn how the nuclear and renewables industries were joining hands in the UK, for instance.
Now, a couple of new cases in point: Two utilities in the United States are contemplating co-locating small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) at solar power stations, as a way to assure round-the-clock power – which intermittent solar cannot provide.
That’s according to Grizz Deal, the co-founder a Denver-based SMR company formerly called Hyperion Power Generation and now called Gen4 Energy.
“There’s actually a couple studies being done, one by Pacific Gas and Electric in California, and one by Florida Power & Light, as a way to beef up their renewable program,” Deal said in an address to the World Nuclear Power Briefing Europe 2012 conference in Warsaw last month.
GOOD THINGS IN SMALL PACKAGES
An SMR, as its name suggests, is smaller than the gigawatt-plus sized conventional reactors. Its size can vary widely, from a range of around 10 megawatt electricity capacity to around 300. Several companies like Gen4 are developing SMRs with the intention of selling them as both electricity and heat sources to utilities, industry and governments and as power sources in remote areas. When Deal was with Gen4 (he left about two years ago and now runs a Denver-based clean water firm called IX Power), he was targeting the water purification market.
Developers are also applying different designs, including conventional water-cooled uranium fueled mini conventional reactors, as well as liquid molten salt reactors (MSRs), pebble bed reactors, and others.
Kirk Sorensen, co-founder of Huntsville, Ala.-based Flibe Energy, hopes to sell small MSRs fueled by liquid thorium (rather than uranium) to the U.S. military bases, which would allow them to disconnect from unreliable public electricity grids.
Another company, South Africa’s Steenkampskraal Thorium Ltd., is developing a 35-megawatt (electric) thorium fueled pebble bed reactor that it hopes to sell as a source of industrial heat and for other purposes.
The U.S. Department of Energy last year announced that it would help fund a uranium-fueled SMR under development by Charlotte, N.C.-based Babcock & Wilcox, for use by utility Tennessee Valley Authority.
DOE is expected to soon award funding to at least one more SMR developer. To hear Deal talk, it sounds as though the solar and wind industry might want to play close attention.
Photo of Grizz Deal by Mark Halper.