Nuclear innovation needed for decarbonization: webinar: Energy and the environment
May 27, 2021
Failure to include a role for nuclear heat in the traditional scenarios proposed to achieve net zero by 2050 is a lost opportunity, participants in a webinar hosted by the World Nuclear Association, The role of nuclear power beyond electricity, said yesterday.
Webinar participants (clockwise from top left corner) Ingersoll, Bilbao y León, Gorman and Sawyer
Nuclear power is the only zero-carbon energy source capable of producing both electricity and heat, which opens up very interesting opportunities to decarbonize sectors that are difficult to reduce such as industry, heavy transport and many other sectors beyond electricity, Sama, managing director of the World Nuclear Association. Bilbao y León said in his introduction to the webinar.
“Unfortunately, this very large potential is currently not very well taken into account – or not at all – in any of the traditional scenarios proposed to reach net zero by 2050,” she said. “The IPCC has developed over 90 scenarios, and last week the International Energy Agency released a very important report… which provides a practical guide for global policymakers to reach the 1.5 target. ° C. This ratio has been tagged as one of the most technically feasible, cost effective, and socially acceptable pathways to net zero.
“While most scenarios include a contribution from nuclear energy for power generation – or even doubling the contribution from nuclear power to power generation – none of these scenarios actually include any role for heat. nuclear.
“In our opinion, this is a great opportunity that is lost,” she said. “Given the urgency and enormity of the climate change challenge we face, it is very unfortunate that a tool such as carbon-free nuclear heat, readily available at this time, is not being used.”
The webinar highlighted two recent studies assessing the role nuclear can play beyond decarbonizing power systems: EnviroEconomics and Navius Research’s Emissions and economic implications for Canada of the use of small modular reactors in heavy industry, commissioned by the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA); and the TerraPraxis report, Missing link to a liveable climate: how synthetic hydrogen fuels can help meet the Paris goals, published in September 2020.
There are several markets for small reactors in Canada, both on the network of existing licensed nuclear sites and in applications such as mining, process heat and remote communities, said President and CEO from CNA, John Gorman. Research has found that in all scenarios, SMRs have reduced emissions at low cost, thus lowering the cost of reaching net zero as a nation.
On average, the study found that SMRs can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 14 million tonnes per year, said Dave Sawyer of EnviroEconomics. Over the period 2035 to 2050, PMSs could reduce Canadian emissions by 216 megatonnes from the heavy industry sector alone. At the same time, the use of SMRs could also unleash low-emission, but still scarce energy carriers, such as hydrogen and renewable natural gas, for use in sectors where they are needed most, thus opening up cheaper routes in Canada to reach the net. -zero by 2050.
Sawyer described the reduction technologies in the study scenarios as “safe bets” – technologies that already exist today and compete with, such as energy efficiency and renewables, and “wild cards”. with multiple possible avenues for reducing emissions, such as hydrogen, electrification and SMR. The potential impacts of wild cards, especially in “hard to mitigate” areas, are “really important” to achieving net zero, he said. “We can only go so far [in carbon reductions] safe bets, but it’s those wilds that really come into play in the future. Choosing “one-time winners” from these technologies now could be problematic in the longer term. “There’s a reason we need to think about all of these technologies and develop them, not get locked into technological choices that lead to dead ends,” he said.
To do list
The list of things to do to achieve net zero by 2050 will include restarting all coal-fired power plants with a new heat source, converting all liquid fuel use to carbon neutral use and replacing of the use of natural gas by hydrogen or ammonia at the same time as massively increasing production capacity in parts of the world and electrifying as much as possible, said Eric Ingersoll, co-founder and CEO of TerraPraxis.
“Each of these tasks is a huge task, and we have to accomplish them all, and more – very, very quickly,” he said.
For decarbonization to work, solutions should be inexpensive, scalable, and quickly deployable. the Missing link The report studies the use of advanced heat sources – SMRs – and the exploitation of the existing infrastructure of the oil and gas industry for the production of hydrogen and synthetic fuels at competitive prices relative to the range. normal oil prices.
“If you can make fuels that are both competitive and carbon neutral, policymakers and consumers will have an easier time decarbonising,” Ingersoll said.
Action beyond words
Asked by Bilbao y León about the perception of SMR, Gorman said nuclear is now recognized at the government level in Canada as “clean and necessary” for a net zero future. This has involved a “concerted and focused effort requiring patience and understanding from all sides,” he said, but it is now understood that SMRs will be necessary, and stakeholders recognize that SMRs complement each other. , rather than compete with other sources of electricity. .
Many countries and organizations are pledging to achieve net zero, but the United Nations Framework Commission on Climate Change synthesis report on Nationally Determined Contributions – which outlines each country’s planned climate actions – suggests that the world is on the right track for far less than emissions. the reductions to be achieved, noted Bilbao y León. “In reality, we are not getting there – what do we need to do to act beyond words?” she asked the panelists.
“We have to convince the world that we cannot achieve a net zero future without nuclear power – and not just with nuclear electricity, but for all its uses,” replied Gorman. “We need to demonstrate that SMRs are a catalyst for some existing technologies and will create opportunities.” Carbon-free economies will need an increase in generation capacity two to three times greater than current levels, but the political emphasis is on cleaning up the existing grid rather than expanding capacity. “We have to go much further,” he said.
Sawyer called for long-term policy packages to support and encourage investments in innovation and enabling technologies. “Governments have to show that they really mean it,” he said. “Innovators must believe [their technology] will be deployed and companies must believe that they need to trade their capital for ultra-low emissions technologies. “
“We need to move from advocacy… to planning how we’re going to get these things done on time,” Ingersoll said. “We need to move from ‘we have a goal’ to ‘this is how we’re going to do these things’, which would also lead to recognition of the different risks presented through multiple pathways. He called for general strategies, and “We have to start making concrete plans,” he said. “We don’t have time to figure it out as we go along.”
Research and writing by World Nuclear News