Friday, March 30, 2018

Post #113 – Are Current U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Grid Resilience Assets?

A brazen plug for my most recent publication on nuclear power and electric Grid resilience…

The issue of electric Grid resilience exploded on the scene in late September 2017, when the Secretary of Energy Rick Perry directed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to consider a rule to “accurately price generation resources necessary to maintain the reliability and resilience of our Nation’s electric grid.  Specifically, the rule allows for the recovery of costs of fuel-secure generation units that make our grid reliable and resilient.  Such resources provide reliable capacity, resilient generation, frequency and voltage support, on-site fuel inventory – in addition to providing power for our basic needs, quality of life, and robust economy… Eligible units must also be able to provide essential energy and ancillary reliability services and have a 90-day fuel supply on site in the event of supply disruptions caused by emergencies, extreme weather, or natural or man-made disasters…” (See Sec. Perry’s letter HERE.)  The letter directed FERC to consider and complete final action on the proposed rule by December 11, 2017.  At the request of FERC’s new Chairman, Kevin McIntyre, Sec. Perry later extended that deadline to January 10, 2018. 

On January 8, FERC responded to Secretary Perry’s order by terminating the rule making proceedings order by Secretary Perry, and launching a new proceeding (Docket No. AD18-7-000) to “address resilience in a broader context…”  FERC directed  “RTOs/ISOs to provide information... that will inform us as to whether additional actions by the Commission and the ISOs/RTOs are warranted with regard to resilience issues.”   The new FERC action has three goals: (1) to develop a common understanding among the Commission, industry, and others of what resilience of the bulk power system means and requires; (2) to understand how each RTO and ISO assesses resilience in its geographical footprint; and (3) to use this information to evaluate whether additional Commission action regarding resilience is appropriate at this time.”  ISOs/RTOs and other interested parties have until May 9 to file their comments on AT18-7.

The very public dialog between the Trump Administration and FERC over the subject of “grid resilience” and “fuel security” shined a welcomed spotlight on these issues.  The dialog spawned by DOE and FERC actions has become highly politicized, with advocates from diverse corners of the pro/anti coal and pro/anti nuclear power spectrum using it as a stage to trumpet their views.  But the issues raised by Secretary Perry and FERC in the communications cited above are very real and urgent concerns to our nation.

Power plant fuel security is an important consideration, and fuel-secure (90 days or more of on-site fuel) electric generating stations would be of extreme value in many scenarios involving widespread impairment of our nation’s electric Grid – provided these fuel-secure power plants could otherwise operate and serve the Grid during such eventsBut, fuel security, power plant resilience, and Grid resilience are distinct issues.  A power plant can have a secure fuel supply and still not be a resilient power plant.  Resilient power plants are a necessary, but not sufficient, requirement for resilient Grids.  (I’ll be dealing with these issues in future posts.) 

In the mean time, those of you interested in the question of whether current U.S. nuclear power plants are major Grid resilience assets might want to read my most recent publication, “Are Current U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Grid Resilience Assets?” in the April 2018 of the American Nuclear Society’s journal, Nuclear Technology.  You can freely download the entire Open Access paper HERE.  

Here’s the Abstract of the paper:

This paper examines the concept of Grid resilience in the context of the North American electricity supply system and the role existing (Generation II) light water– cooled nuclear power plants(NPPs) play in enabling and enhancing Grid resilience. (Because of similarities in technology and plant design, it is likely that most of the discussion in the paper is also relevant to Generation III and Generation III+light water NPP designs. The applicability of the analysis to Canadian CANDU and Russian VVER technology has not been assessed.) The paper asks and answers three compound questions: (1) what is Grid resilience, and what is a resilient Grid? (2) what is a resilient nuclear power plant (rNPP), and what are the basic functional requirements of rNPPs? and in light of the answers to these questions, (3) are today’s U.S. NPPs significant Grid resilience assets? The conclusion reached is that existing U.S. commercial NPPs are safe and efficient capacity, energy, and reliability assets and they have demonstrated some Grid resilience benefit during regional weather events. However, today’ s NPPs do not deliver the Grid resilience benefits nuclear power can and should provide the nation. The author argues that nuclear power’s unique fuel security (an attribute that could allow NPPs to energize the Grid during extended periods in which fuel could not be delivered to other types of power plants) is a compelling reason to develop future rNPPs that  would  deliver strategic Grid resilience benefits in the face of evolving hazards and threats to the U.S. Grid.

I would be interested to hear your feedback once you’ve read the article.  A companion paper to be published soon will more fully discuss the definition, attributes, and functional requirements of rNPPs; some enabling design features of rNPPs; and some transformational Grid resilience-enhancing applications of rNPPs.  

I believe the "value proposition" of nuclear energy must be expanded if nuclear power is to remain a viable global energy option in the 21st century.  Efficient generation of baseload electricity simply is no longer a compelling argument for nuclear. rNPPs, are a win-win option – both for those whose primary concern is societal resilience, and those who are advocates for nuclear power.

What do you think?

Just thinking,