UK report highlights benefits of nuclear cogeneration

8th October 2020 | Commercial Energy

Nuclear energy could help the UK achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, not only through the generation of low-carbon electricity but also by fully utilising the generated heat, according to a policy briefing published yesterday by the Royal Society. This heat could be used to heat homes, produce hydrogen and decarbonise industry, it says. The policy briefing – titled “Nuclear cogeneration: Civil nuclear energy in a low-carbon future” – says the introduction of more intermittent renewable generation, coupled with the need to reduce gas-fired generation, demands greater flexibility from nuclear generation if it is to remain an important part of the UK’s energy mix. Cogeneration – where the heat generated by a nuclear power plant is used not only to generate – electricity could be the answer, according to the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science.

“When domestic energy demand is being met by wind, solar, or other sources, cogeneration allows a nuclear plant to switch from electricity generation to cogeneration applications,” the report says. While there are no other current nuclear cogeneration projects in the UK, a few nuclear cogeneration facilities already exist in several countries, the paper notes.

Nuclear cogeneration

The introduction of small modular reactors (SMRs) should mean lower investment costs and economies of scale in construction. It also gives greater flexibility in locating plants, and allows them to be tailored to the energy needs of regional or industrial clusters.

A range of options for cogeneration exist, using either low or high-temperature heat, it adds. For low-temperature heat, space heating notably via district heating, holds potential. Desalination of water is also of interest, “thought not currently in great demand in the UK.” High-temperature heat from advanced reactors would introduce “an interesting set of decarbonising strategies,” not least in the production of low-carbon hydrogen. “Whilst this would represent an untested approach to hydrogen productions, the practicality, synergy and costs appear to be attractive.”

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