Nuclear power predicted to ‘virtually disappear’ in the US

/  Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy have released a report detailing nuclear power’s dwindling significance in the US, stating that it is unlikely to make any noteworthy contributions to the country’s decarbonised energy system over the next few decades.

The report, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, examined the potential contribution of large, light water nuclear reactors (LWRs) to the US energy system over the next three or four decades.

Findings showed LWRs were responsible for around 20% of the country’s power generation over the past thirty years, though high maintenance costs means people are increasingly turning to the cheaper and more attractive alternative of natural gas.

The researchers also examined whether advanced reactor designs and factory-manufactured smaller light water reactors (known as small modular reactors or SMRs) would play a significant role in US energy markets, being the only other option for the large-scale deployment of nuclear power. The study took several scenarios into account, such as using SMRs as wind or solar back-ups, to desalinate water, produce heat for industrial processes, or serve military bases.

Such scenarios were, however, deemed unlikely by researchers without “dramatic change in the policy environment” or current domestic market.

In their conclusion, the researchers voiced concern over the implications of their findings for the country’s climate targets, saying it should be “a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.”

Currently, the US has 99 nuclear power reactors across 30 states, operated by 30 separate energy companies. Growth in the industry has stalled however, with only two new reactors under construction as of September last year. In addition, 34 reactors have been permanently closed due to their reaching the end of their lifespans.

The Trump administration is attempting to save the coal and nuclear sector, with President Trump issuing an order in early June to use federal funds to keep unstable nuclear plants open. A statement from the White House said the decline was negatively “impacting the resilience of our power grid”.

The move was criticised by a range of industry members, including energy groups and environmentalists. One such criticism came from transmission organisation PJM-Interconnection, which operates the grid in all or part of 13 states, with the firm saying it did not perceive the plant closures as having a direct impact on its grid, and warned that the measure could in fact cause power prices to rise.

Debate continues over the ecological benefits of nuclear power, with some arguing efforts should be focussed on the cleaner options of wind or solar, while others claim nuclear is beneficial in its ability to generate power without producing harmful emissions.  /


Critics respond to Japan’s "­lamentable" renewable energy target

/  The Japanese Government has pledged to boost the amount of energy coming from renewable sources to 22%-24% by 2030 from current level of 15%, an energy target described as ‘unambitious’ by critics.

The government has reportedly done very little to promote the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono said the objective was “significantly low” and described the commitment as “lamentable”. In comparison, the European Union agreed last month to raise its energy target to 32% by 2030.

Japan currently generates most of its energy needs from fossil fuels. The plan estimates that figure to fall to just over 50% by 2030, reinforced by energy efficiency policies to reduce demand.

Reliance on coal increased after the 2011 Fukushima disaster when public outrage resulted in all nuclear reactors in the country being taken offline temporarily. Of these, six reactors are back in operation, but activating others faces public opposition.

Last year the International Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) said in a report that Japan was in a position to reach an energy target of 35% renewables use by 2030. The projection would require a policy objective to increase solar and offshore wind generation and a potential electricity demand reduction nationwide.

IEEFA director of energy finance studies Tim Buckley told Power Technology: “Japan has been making some solid progress in developing its renewable energy industry. Japan was the second largest installer of solar in the world over 2014-2016. Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has been working in joint venture with Vestas to build the world’s newest, largest floating wind turbines for installation offshore Japan for the last four years.

“So there is progress, but Japan is still providing massive government subsidised export finance to support expensive polluting coal-fired power generation across Asia. Japan is a global laggard when it comes to real and sufficient action on climate change.”

Also, the government said nuclear power would be providing more than one-fifth of national energy needs by 2030, reflecting the government’s commitment to the sector. According to the plan, nuclear is still beneficial to the country’s climate change commitments as an emissions-free energy source, despite proposals to reduce reliance on the nuclear power industry.

Nuclear energy company Tepco chief executive Tomoaki Kobayakawa said: “While we have strong obligations resulting from the Fukushima accident, we believe that it is our duty to ensure sufficient electricity supplies to avoid cuts.”

Economy, Trade, and Interior Minister Hiroshige Seko said: “The energy plan makes clearer our commitment to reducing the amount [of plutonium]. The government will actively work to appropriately manage, use and reduce the plutonium.”

The government originally planned to generate energy from plutonium, but despite decades of research not resulting in an effective and viable method, Japan has been criticised by the international community for continuing production and possession of this amount.  /


As levies loom, US-China nuclear plant supplies first electricity

/  The Sanmen nuclear power plant has delivered electricity to the Chinese grid, representing the first fruits of an $8bn US-Chinese technology transfer agreement. This comes at a time when a looming trade war could potentially derail future cooperation between the two nations.

US manufacturing company Westinghouse designed the plant, which is the first in a series of AP1000 nuclear reactors China agreed to licence and build in 2006.

Westinghouse president and CEO José Gutiérrez said: “Today we witness our first AP1000 plant, Sanmen 1, began its process of generating electricity and providing our customers in China with safe, reliable and clean energy. This milestone would not have been possible without the constant collaboration and partnership with our China customer.”

Under the agreement, Chinese state nuclear group SNPTC received permission to build various-sized reactors they could export as Chinese technology.  This deal would theoretically allow the country to build up its nuclear power export industry.

China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration said in a comment: “The technical indicators met the design requirements and the reactor status was well-controlled, indicating the unit’s construction formally entered the grid-connected commissioning phase for subsequent operation at various power levels. The milestone has laid a solid foundation for transient testing and scheduled commercial operation.”

Looming trade war

The potential US-China trade war could deal a significant blow to the partnership, as the US Government has included nuclear reactor parts on the list of Chinese exports to be levied.

This, in addition to project delays, has created concern that China will not be able to meet its brief and build the 30 AP1000 reactors.

American Society of Mechanical Engineers chief representative in Beijing Zhang Qiang said: “It’s a double-edged sword. US tariffs can hurt Chinese manufacturing and also itself.”

China’s two established nuclear power conglomerates – CNNC and CGN – have proposed using their own models to fill the gap caused by delays in constructing four pilot plants based on Westinghouse’s design.

These alternate designs have since been integrated into the Hualong 2 reactor design, described by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as a ‘calling card’ for the country’s manufacturing prowess. They have yet to win any competitive international tenders.

Further works on two US reactors have been postponed with Toshiba – Westinghouse’s parent group – recording losses of around $9bn related to the projects. The deal was originally designed to revive US nuclear reactor construction, which has declined since the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979.  /


New president likely to curb Mexico’s energy reform

/  Mexico’s electorate voted in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the Juntos Haremos Historia coalition on Sunday with a 53% majority. During the election race, AMLO spoke of energy reform, parking new oil and gas investment acreage, building Mexico’s capacity for refining, and developing national gas supplies.

GlobalData senior oil and gas analyst Will Scargill told Power Technology: “AMLO has been a fierce critic of the 2014 energy reform, but his tone has moderated somewhat in the run-up to the elections. It is now unclear whether he will hold a referendum on reversing the reforms, as previously promised, but it is likely that the pace and scale of new licensing will be reined in.”

The Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center Advisory Group chair David L Goldwyn agreed, writing: “Changes in Mexico’s energy framework will likely be incremental, but there is much that industry, think tanks, and even the US Government can do to address the concerns raised by the president-elect during the campaign.”

The Mexico election came as the US is threatening to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement, eliminate investor protections and curb illegal and legal migration; adding to the president’s desire for greater energy self-sufficiency to counter its dependence on US supplies.

According to Reuters, a top aide of AMLO has said that the president will support pension and cost-cutting reforms at state-owned oil firm Pemex as part of more prudent economic management. AMLO has been a considerable ally to national labour unions and has supported a strong Pemex throughout his political career.

Scargill said: “The president-elect has stated that he will ask outgoing President Peña Nieto to halt the two onshore bid rounds planned for September, before his term starts on 1 December. Once in office, he may limit the new opportunities available to investors, seeking to maintain the dominance of Pemex in its onshore and shallow-water heartlands or tighten the terms for new contracts in favour of the state.

“However, he has stated that a proposed review of existing contracts will be to check for potential corruption and investment protection provisions will limit his ability to roll-back licensing.”

Mexico’s energy reforms in 2013 were written into the constitution and have since been reinforced by Congress. AMLO stated that he will respect existing contracts – the build-out of the national gas pipeline system and national grid, the $200bn foreign investment, and the opening of more than 1,700 gas stations by 30 new private operators.

Scargill added: “After nine bid rounds the Mexican upstream landscape looks very different, with a variety of companies from major IOCs to small independents holding acreage. However, production is still declining and the outgoing government overpromised on the timeline for the reforms to have an impact on the output. We expect that the first new field development resulting from the process will start production in 2019. The sector may, in fact, see the fruits of Peña Nieto’s reforms during AMLO’s tenure as work progresses in existing contracts, even if new licensing slows.”

Much of Mexico’s energy reform under AMLO will allow for government discretion over exactly how Pemex partners with private operators.

Goldwyn wrote: “As the new administration evaluates its options, it may suspend offerings of new areas for oil and gas investment, and assess whether it can or should push Pemex into projects like new refinery construction, deep-water exploration and unconventional gas development – areas the designers of the energy reform were certain that Pemex lacked the capital or expertise to pursue.”

”  /


First stage of Mohammed Bin Rashid solar park completed in Dubai

/  Acciona Industrial, Grupo Gransolar and Ghella have completed the first stage of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park III in Dubai. The first stage includes 200MW of the total 800MW of nominal power that the project will have upon completion.

Acciona Industrial Middle East director David de Lara said: “This is a very important milestone for us. We trust that this project will become a reference in the region and that other countries and private customers will turn to renewable energies.”

The contract for the Mohammed Bin Rashid solar park was awarded to the consortium formed by ACCIONA Industrial, Grupo Gransolar and Ghella in December 2016.

It includes 800MWAC of installed power, carried out under the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) model for a consortium comprising the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), Masdar and EDF.

The first stage of the Mohammed Bin Rashid solar park construction has seen the installation of 806,992 photovoltaic panels and 198 inverters, as well as the 132kV grid connection substation that uses innovative GIS technology.

Grupo Gransolar United Arab Emirates manager Javier de la Cruz said: “This project requires an enormous effort in work and coordination, both because of its size and because of its location in the desert. We are very satisfied with the work done during this first stage. We are aware that this plant will be an example of photovoltaic power to be emulated, and we are proud to be a part of it.”

Mohammed Bin Rashid solar park is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2020, prior to the opening of the Dubai EXPO.  /


Horizon Nuclear’s plan for Wylfa Newydd project formally accepted

/  Last month, Horizon submitted its 41,000-page Development Consent Order (DCO) to the Planning Inspectorate. A statutory 28-day period of review was carried out by the authority to ensure it met the standards required.

Horizon Nuclear Power CEO Duncan Hawthorne said: “This is a significant milestone for Horizon and an important step on the path to having all the permissions we need to build Wylfa Newydd.

“The power station will not only deliver huge benefits for Anglesey, where it will provide top-quality employment for local people and significant opportunities for local businesses, but it will also play a key role in the UK’s energy future, delivering much-needed low carbon, safe and secure power for decades to come.”

Following acceptance, the DCO process now formally starts with the pre-examination phase. The process also includes the appointment of an examining authority during the pre-examination stage. All interested parties are invited to attend the preliminary meeting.

Horizon’s application includes a marine licence, operations combustion permit, operations water discharge permit and construction water discharge permit. They were ‘duly made’ by NRW and have now progressed to the next stage of their respective determination processes.  /


Green campaigners warn against £400m solar park on wildlife habitat

/  Environmental campaigners from across the UK are trying to stop the construction of a solar park on the Kent marshlands in an attempt to protect rare wildlife that inhabits the area.

Cleve Hill Solar Park is located outside Graveney, near Kent, parts of which are designated as a Biodiversity Operational Area. The area is home to rare birds, such as the marsh harrier.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England Kent division marketing and office manager Vicky Ellis said: “We support renewable energy in the right place – such as on roofs, industrial and farm buildings. We don’t support trashing the countryside and losing productive farmland for the sake of chasing a profit.

“This is one of the most protected and fragile landscapes in Kent, of international importance, with some of the best and rarest biodiversity in Europe, and it will be impossible to mitigate the loss of tranquillity and unique habitat. It is quite simply the industrialisation of rural Kent, depriving future generations of the chance to enjoy this wonderful and unique landscape.”

Tim Valentine of the Swale Green Party agreed that his party is in favour of renewable energy at industrial scale, but it does not condone the proposals to cover a two and a half mile long stretch of rare wildlife habitat in solar panels.

Energy storage for PV

Counter Context associate director Emily Marshall, who handles PR for Cleve Hill Solar Park, told Power Technology: “Cleve Hill Solar Park is proposing to include battery storage technology in addition to the PV array in their Development Consent Order (DCO) application.

Whilst the type and final number of batteries for the project is unknown, a range of scenarios will be presented in the application for the project.

“Battery storage technology will be part of the solution to help the grid shift from fossils fuels to renewable energy. By acting to smooth the supply of renewable energy to the grid, battery storage will play a key role in enabling an integrated low carbon energy supply. 

Battery storage technology forms an intrinsic part of the proposal for the Cleve Hill Solar Park and is an exciting part of the future of renewable energy generation.

Marshall added that the technology is a key part of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy and can be used in a number of ways to support renewable energy generation, such as time shifting output and balancing frequency response.

The developers, a collaboration between the UK’s Hive Energy and German firm Wirsol, say that the solar park could ‘provide enough affordable and clean electricity to power over 100,000 homes’, at a time where one quarter of the UK’s energy generating capacity is due to close and the UK needs renewable energy to reach its target of reducing carbon emissions by 80%.

At the size of around 600 football pitches, the £400m Cleve Hill Solar Park would incorporate 989,000 solar panels in total. The solar panels would be mounted on 12ft frames in a zig-zag formation, facing east and west instead of south – the traditional direction for solar panels in the UK.  /


EDF Renewables sells £701m stake in 24 UK windfarms

/  EDF Renewables has announced a new £701m partnership with Dalmore Capital and Pensions Infrastructure Platform (PiP) to sell a 49% minority stake in 24 of its UK windfarms, which generate 550MW of electricity in total.

The deal will enable EDF Renewables to develop further projects in the renewable energy sector, in order to achieve its CAP 2030 strategy. This would see the company double its renewable energy generation by that year.

EDF Energies Nouvelles CEO and vice-president in charge of renewable energies Bruno Bensasson said: “Through its CAP 2030 strategy, the EDF group aims at doubling its renewable energy generation by 2030 to contribute to energy transition. In this high growth renewables sector, such partnerships are important to allow investment in new projects such as our recent acquisition of the 450MW Neart Na Gaoithe offshore windfarm project in the Firth of Forth. This collaboration underlines the appeal of our business to investment partners.”

EDF Renewables will retain a 51% share in the windfarms and continue to run the sites, providing operations, maintenance, and asset management services. It will also continue to buy all of the electricity and Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) produced by the UK windfarms.

EDF Energy CEO Simone Rossi said: “This is a positive step for the UK’s low-carbon ambitions and energy resilience. It helps us to continue to invest in more renewables capacity and to extend our operating expertise. With onshore wind, offshore wind and battery projects – including our newly inaugurated offshore windfarm off the Northumberland coast and battery storage plant in Nottinghamshire – we are very pleased to play a major role in this growing part of the UK energy landscape.”

Of the 24 UK windfarms, 22 are located onshore while the two most productive wind farms are situated on the North Sea. The largest is the Dorenell offshore windfarm off the coast of Moray in Scotland, which has a production capacity of 177MW, followed by the Teesside offshore windfarm, which produces 62.1MW. The largest onshore windfarm is Corriemoillie in the Scottish Highlands, at 47.5MW.

PiP CEO Mike Weston told Power Technology: “Since 2016, PiP has invested in a number of renewable energy assets on behalf of UK pension scheme investors, both wind and solar. This latest partnership adds to the long-term, inflation-linked cash flows that appeal to these pension schemes and which PiP is mandated to source for them.”

Dalmore Capital CIO Alistair Ray said of the acquisition: “Dalmore, on behalf of its investors, which include over two million UK pensioners, is very pleased to have led this acquisition to become a partner with EDF, a leading global utility, in this asset which makes a significant contribution to the UK’s clean energy supply. We look forward to working in partnership with EDF in delivering clean energy for the UK.”  /