Balancing Nuclear and Renewable Energy
Nuclear power plants typically run either at full capacity or not at all. Yet the plants have the technical ability to adjust to the changing demand for power and thus better accommodate sources of renewable energy such as wind or solar power.
Researchers from the
* The new study "gives us tools to further explore potential benefits of flexible nuclear operations to work in tandem with greater shares of variable sources of renewable power generation ..." --
The team explored technical constraints on flexible operations at nuclear power plants and introduced a new way to model how those challenges affect how power systems operate. "Flexible nuclear power operations are a 'win-win-win,' lowering power system operating costs, increasing revenues for nuclear plant owners and significantly reducing curtailment of renewable energy," wrote the team in an
The study helps to dispel long-held views that nuclear power plants must operate in "baseload" mode, producing power at maximum rated capacity whenever they are online. Nuclear plants can even respond dynamically to hourly electricity market prices and second-to-second frequency regulation needs, the team found. Power systems that include renewable energy must be more flexible to balance supply and demand at all times. Nuclear operators in
The researchers developed a mathematical representation of the physics-induced operational constraints arising from nuclear reactor dynamics and the fuel irradiation cycle in the
"Nuclear power plants are governed by a different set of principles compared to other generators, and our approach enables the representation of these relationships in the analysis of power systems and electricity markets," said
By being flexible, plant operators can lower overall operating costs in the power system. For example, operators could generate less nuclear power whenever renewable energy is widely available. Nuclear plants could then exploit their spare capacity to sell valuable "operating reserves," or the ability to quickly change power output to help grid operators rebalance supply and demand when unexpected events occur, such as power plant failures or errors in demand forecasts.
This flexibility could increase the profitability of nuclear plants by increasing revenues from electricity markets and reducing variable operating and maintenance costs. Overall, nuclear plant flexibility can also help integrate more wind and solar resources and reduce production of fossil fuel-fired energy and related carbon dioxide emissions.