Nuclear power just doesn’t stack up against firmed renewables – already at price parity with new-build coal and gas and “well and truly” on track to becoming the lowest cost generation form. France halts plans to build costly sodium-cooled nuclear reactor

“Unfirmed renewables are effectively the cheapest form of energy production today,” said Alex Wonhas, the chief system design and engineering officer at the Australian Energy Market Operator.

Nuclear power, meanwhile, was around four times more expensive – $16,000/kW for the still mainly conceptual Small Modular Reactor technology – and not fit for purpose on a rapidly changing Australian grid.

RenewEconomy, Sophie Vorrath 29 August 2019 Nuclear inquiry told “firmed renewables” cheapest and best option for future

A mix of distributed renewable energy generation and firming technologies including battery storage and pumped hydro remains the best path forward for Australia’s future grid, experts have told the federal government’s inquiry into nuclear power.

A panel including representatives from Australia’s energy market regulator (AER), rule maker (AEMC) and operator (AEMO) faced questions on Thursday from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia.

Established by the federal Coalition and chaired by Queensland LNP MP Ted O’Brien, the Committee aims – according to O’Brien – to answer the three main questions of whether nuclear is “feasible, suitable and palatable” in the Australian context.

But in a hearing in Sydney on Thursday morning, it heard that nuclear power just doesn’t stack up against firmed renewables – already at price parity with new-build coal and gas and “well and truly” on track to becoming the lowest cost generation form for the National Electricity Market.

Nuclear power, meanwhile, was around four times more expensive – $16,000/kW for the still mainly conceptual Small Modular Reactor technology – and not fit for purpose on a rapidly changing Australian grid.

“Unfirmed renewables are effectively the cheapest form of energy production today,” said Alex Wonhas, the chief system design and engineering officer at the Australian Energy Market Operator.

“If we look at firmed renewables, that current cost is roughly comparable to new-build gas and new-build coal, but given the learning rate, this will well and truly become the lowest cost generation form for the NEM.

“There is a certain amount of energy that we expect renewables to deliver,” Wonhas added. “But we will need dispatchable resources, and generators that can respond quickly.

“I don’t think we want many more plants that have a very stable output profile. We’re looking for plant that can increase and decrease rapidly and respond to market.”

Pushed on the challenges to the grid of “intermittent renewables” by O’Brien, Wonhas was upbeat in his outlook.

“There’s actually a whole suite of different technologies that we can draw upon, in the case of firmed renewables,” he told the Committee.

Gas is an effective firming option, but there’s a whole range of other technologies out there – such as solar thermal, that are dispatchable.” He also added pumped hydro and battery storage.

“We are quite fortunate that we have many different technology options available that we can use to build Australia’s future generation system.”

And nuclear, it is becoming blindingly clear, is not one of them.

Even Ziggy Switkowski, who headed up the Coalition’s last big excursion into nuclear power, was unequivocal on that.

“The window (in Australia) is now closed for gigawatt-scale nuclear,” he told the Committee on Thursday, noting that current large-scale versions of the technology had failed to find anywhere near the same economies of scale that had been enjoyed by solar and wind.

“Nuclear power has got more expensive, rather than less expensive,” he added, while also noting that the time required to develop new nuclear projects could cover at least five political cycles.

“There is no business case, and no investor appetite.”

Switkowski told the Committee that the only hope for nuclear in Australia hinged on the future of Small Modular Reactors – which, as Jim Green explains here, are currently “non-existent, overhyped, and obscenely expensive.”

Current costs for SMR generation, as modelled by the AEMO and CSIRO, are estimated at $16,000/kW, which as Committee member and Labor MP Josh Wilson pointed out, is more expensive than large-scale nuclear by at least 50 per cent, and four or five times higher than capital cost of new solar wind. And while other technologies are modelled to see a decrease in their cost over time – solar thermal and storage, for example, at $7,000/kW is expected to fall to around half that in 2050 – SMR nuclear costs stay flat in AEMO/CSIRO modelling out to 2050.

Sophie is editor of One Step Off The Grid and deputy editor of its sister site, Renew Economy. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.

By RFI Issued on 31-08-2019


The Marcoule nuclear site in the south of France where the fourth generation ASTRID nuclear reactor would have been builtREUTERS/Sebastien Nogier

France’s nuclear agency has announced it has dropped plans to build a prototype sodium-cooled nuclear reactor after hundreds of millions of euros were spent on its research and development.

As reported in Le Monde newspaper, the Atomic & Alternative Energies Commission (CEA) said it would suspend research in so-called fourth generation reactors in the ASTRID project this year, and is no longer planning to build a prototype in the short or medium term.

“In the current energy market situation, the industrial development of fourth-generation reactors is not planned before the second half of this century,” the CEA said.

In November last year the CEA had already said it was considering reducing the Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration‘s capacity to a 100-200 megawatt research model from the originally planned 600 MW commercial size.

Le Monde quoted a CEA source as saying that “the project is dead and that the agency is spending no more time or money on it.”


The announcement confirms reports in the Japanese press dating back to November 2018 when the French government informed Japan it would halt their joint development of the advanced nuclear reactor. CEA did not confirm this at the time.

Japan cancelled its own 7.8 billion euro Monju prototype fast-breeder project in 2016 due to heavy costs and viewed ASTRID as central to its plans to recycle spent nuclear fuel.

Tokyo had been expecting to cooperate with France on the project to be able to continue its own research into fast-breeder reactors.

Safety concerns

Sodium-cooled fast-breeder reactors are one of several new designs that could follow pressurized water reactors (PWR) which drive most of the world’s nuclear plants today.

Fast-breeder reactors could turn nuclear waste into fuel and make France self-sufficient in energy for decades. However, uranium prices have been going down for a decade, undermining the economic rationale for fast-breeder technology.

There are also safety concerns about using sodium instead of water to cool reactors.

Since sodium remains liquid at high temperatures instead of turning into steam so sodium reactors do not need the heavy pressurized hulls of PWRs. But sodium burns on contact with air and explodes when plunged into water.

An earlier French model was scrapped in the 1980s after running into technical problems.

In 2010, the ASTRID project was granted a €652-million budget. By the end of 2017 investment in the project had reached €738 million euros, according to public auditor data in Le Monde’s report.

The CEA said that by the end of the year, a revised research programme would begin looking into fourth-generation reactors beyond 2020, in line with the government’s long-term energy strategy.

(with Reuters)


PV Mag

A household-scale virtual power plant has arrived

Aiming for 70% clean energy by 2030, Colorado’s Holy Cross Energy is piloting a household-scale virtual power plant technology that will help integrate more rooftop solar and storage. A device in each home optimizes provision of power to the grid, as well as grid services.AUGUST 15, 2019 WILLIAM DRISCOLL

Image: Holy Cross Energy


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Four Colorado homes with solar plus storage are now operating as virtual power plants.  In each home, a controller device is managing solar, storage, an electric vehicle charger, and heat pumps for hot water and space heating.

The controller in each home has an embedded algorithm that receives information from the grid on voltage, frequency, and power flows, and uses that information to direct the operation of the five distributed devices.  In the near future, price signals will also be sent to the controller to help guide its decision-making, reports Holy Cross Energy, the electric cooperative in northwest Colorado that is field-testing the technology.

Although field testing is still underway, the utility’s President and CEO Bryan J. Hannegan told pv magazine that

… based on the work to date, Holy Cross Energy is very encouraged by the capability of distributed energy resources to provide important grid services that help increase the deployment of renewable energy resources, manage grid variability, and improve the overall resilience of the electric system.”

The project will help Holy Cross Energy (HCE) accommodate the deployment of rooftop solar systems, including newer systems that include storage, and “modulate when a PV system injects power into the grid,” said HCE Research Engineer Chris Bilby, in a pv magazine interview.

The technology being tested will also help HCE advance towards its goal of reaching 70% clean power by 2030, Mr. Bilby said.   HCE’s power mix currently includes 37% wind, solar, hydropower and biomass.

HCE’s distributed control capabilities may become a talking point in a debate that’s brewingover the best architecture for controlling distributed energy resources—centralized or distributed.  Either way, the ability to control distributed solar and storage is enabling increased levels of these resources on the grid.

Hardware, software, and communications

Holy Cross Energy provided the following diagram to show the flow of information into and out of each household’s controller:

As indicated at the top of the diagram, the utility’s advanced distribution management system uses the Multispeak protocol to send data to the upstream communications module of the Heila EDGE controller, made by Heila Technologies.  The bottom of the diagram shows that the Heila EDGE controller also communicates with other Heila EDGE controllers in other households, using the Modbus protocol or DNP3 protocol.  The Heila EDGE controller also takes readings from the household’s “field devices”—in HCE’s case, the five devices each Heila EDGE unit controls in each household.

All of this information is fed into an algorithm—shown in the diagram as “NREL Code”—which sends back directions, indicated by Greek letters, for the Heila EDGE controller to control the household’s devices.  The Heila EDGE controller then communicates those directions to the household devices.  (In the diagram, NREL stands for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the three Greek letters designate different “setpoints” on the household’s devices.)

In Mr. Hannegan’s words, “the algorithm determines the optimal local power flow” among the household’s devices, “and sends start/stop commands, or modifies real/reactive power set points” in each device “to deliver the level of grid services demanded, in the most optimal way.”

For a solar or storage device to work on this system, Mr. Hannegan said, it must be interoperable with other devices, “ideally through the Multispeak protocol.”

NREL’s role, and what’s next for Holy Cross Energy

Mr. Bilby reports that the control algorithms “were originally developed by NREL and were tailored to fit this project based on HCE’s system data and NREL system modeling that was performed in the early stages of this project.”

Prior to HCE launching the field-testing stage of this project, Mr. Hannegan noted that the ADMS provider Survalent “worked with NREL to install its new ADMS at NREL’s testbed for ADMS systems located at the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) on NREL’s Golden, Colorado campus.  This allowed HCE to ‘test drive’ the Survalent ADMS before fully implementing it operationally at HCE, in coordination with the distributed energy resources and Heila controllers.”

During the laboratory phase at NREL, the algorithms were tested against more than 100 distributed energy resources, Mr. Hannegan said.  NREL researchers also “faithfully represented the dynamic behavior of the feeder on which the [test homes] were to be built,” he said.  Next, in the laboratory phase, experiments  demonstrated the capability of the Heila controllers to successfully manage the sets of household devices through specified ADMS-driven use cases.  “The success of these laboratory phase experiments gave HCE confidence,” Mr. Hannegan said, to install the devices and Heila controllers in the field.

Holy Cross Energy plans to report its findings “in scientific papers and presentations once the project is complete in early 2020,” said Mr. Hannegan.