Power plants exist to make electricity, but most also produce a lot of heat. What if they could use that heat for other processes that require thermal energy? Today, roughly 40% of all energy is wasted. More efficient energy use would be better for the environment and for the plant owner. A power plant being used for both electricity and heat is called an integrated energy system. Integrated energy systems could couple nuclear, renewable and fossil energy sources. Such systems offer efficiencies that can lead to energy independence, economic competitiveness, job creation and smarter use of resources.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy supports a national laboratory Integrated Energy Systems (IES) Program. The program conducts research, development, and deployment activities to expand the role of nuclear energy beyond supporting the electricity grid. Expanded roles include supplying energy to various industrial, transportation and energy storage applications. Development of integrated energy systems may include multiple energy inputs (e.g., nuclear, renewable, and fossil with carbon capture), multiple energy users (e.g., grid consumers, industrial heat or electricity users, transportation fuel users), and multiple energy storage options (e.g., thermal, electrical and chemical). Focusing IES development on enhanced utilization of low- or non-emitting energy generation options within IES will help the U.S. to achieve the bold goals that have been established by the Biden administration to achieve a 100% clean energy economy (link) and net-zero emissions by 2050 (link).
Nuclear and renewables are the two principal options for low [carbon] emission energy generation,” points out the call document, which is entitled ‘Technical Evaluation and Optimisation of Nuclear-Renewable Hybrid Energy Systems’.
Bloom on Tuesday said the electricity generated by nuclear facilities could produce “cost-effective hydrogen,” including during periods when the power grid has an ample supply of electricity.
To achieve zero carbon emissions by 2035, we’ll need to deploy a variety of technologies and innovations to decarbonize our entire economy, not just where we get our electricity. Among the innovations being researched and demonstrated are new ways to produce hydrogen without carbon emissions.
Under the right conditions, hydrogen production could offer a lifeline that may prevent some aging U.S. nuclear reactors from retiring early, according to some industry experts.
For carbon-free hydrogen to play a significant role in decarbonization, it will need to be produced in large quantities at low cost to compete with hydrocarbons. In a future power system heavily dependent on intermittent renewables, hydrogen will likely find economical use in power storage for grid balancing.