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Stylized least-cost analysis of flexible nuclear power in deeply decarbonized electricity systems considering wind and solar resources worldwide

Abstract

New designs of advanced nuclear power plants have been proposed that may allow nuclear power to be less expensive and more flexible than conventional nuclear. It is unclear how and whether such a system would complement variable renewables in decarbonized electricity systems. Here we modelled stylized electricity systems under a least-cost optimization framework taking into account technoeconomic factors only, considering electricity demand and renewable potential in 42 country-level regions. In our model, in moderate decarbonization scenarios, solar and wind can provide less costly electricity when competing against nuclear at near-current US Energy Information Administration (US$6,317 per kilowatt-electric (kWe)) and at US$4,000 kWe−1 cost levels. In contrast, in deeply decarbonized systems (for example, beyond ~80% emissions reduction) and in the absence of low-cost grid-flexibility mechanisms, nuclear can be competitive with solar and wind. High-quality wind resources can make it difficult for nuclear to compete. Thermal heat storage coupled to nuclear power can, in some cases, promote wind and solar.

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Fig. 1: Schematic diagram showing the configuration of MEM used in central cases.
Fig. 2: Contributions of different technologies to system costs.
Fig. 3: Correlations between nuclear competitiveness and wind quality.
Fig. 4: Daily average and hourly electricity dispatches from different technologies.
Fig. 5: Multiple-year average optimized installed capacities of nuclear reactors and storage.

Data availability

Key model outputs that support the findings of this study are openly available at the following URL: https://github.com/LDuan3008/Advanced_nuclear_2021. The original model outputs are not deposited online because their total sizes are too large. Please contact the corresponding author for the original model outputs.

Code availability

Both model codes and post-process scripts written in Python are openly available at the following URL: https://github.com/LDuan3008/Advanced_nuclear_2021.

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Acknowledgements

This work is supported by a gift from Gates Ventures LLC to the Carnegie Institution for Science. We thank D. Tong of Tsinghua University for providing the country-level hourly electricity demand data used in this analysis.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

L.D. conducted simulations and drafted the manuscript. L.D., R.P., L.W. and K.C. contributed to simulation designs, data analysis and editing of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lei Duan.

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Competing interests

The authors declare the following competing interests: Robert Petroski is an employee in TerraPower LLC, which is a ‘nuclear innovation company dedicated to developing advanced nuclear reactorsʼ, and Lowell Wood is an employee in Gates Ventures LLC. Bill Gates has invested in TerraPower LLC.

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Nature Energy thanks John Bistline, Mark Ho, Vikram Linga and Chenyang Lu for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Note 1, Figs. 1–25 and Tables 1–4.

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Duan, L., Petroski, R., Wood, L. et al. Stylized least-cost analysis of flexible nuclear power in deeply decarbonized electricity systems considering wind and solar resources worldwide. Nat Energy 7, 260–269 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-022-00979-x

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