Utilities Middle East
NUCLEAR AS A PATH TO FASTER DECARBONISATION
As several countries set their sights on carbon-free nuclear power generation as part of their energy mix to ensure a dependable source of cleaner power with the highest level of reliability, while supporting their own energy security, the urgency of the climate challenge should ensure
nuclear energy is included in the discussion
As the most dependable source of carbon-free power generation providing around-the-clock energy supply without interruption, nuclear energy is an important part of the power generation landscape, and it is a critical pillar in the transformation to a carbonfree future.
Countries of all sizes are setting their sights on carbon-free nuclear power generation as part of their energy mix to ensure a
34 dependable source of cleaner power with the highest level of reliability, while supporting their own energy security.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), nuclear already accounts for 10% of the world’s total global power generation and 25% of all carbon-free power generation today with the United States, France, China, Russia and South Korea generating the most nuclear power.
Over the past 50 years nuclear power generation has avoided CO2 emissions by over 60 gigatons globally—nearly two years’ worth of global energy-related emissions.
In the MENA region, the first phase of the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in the UAE has generated over 2,100 GWh of cleaner electricity, and cut emissions of over 950,000 kilotons of CO2.
Saudi Arabia plans to build two large nuclear power plants (NPPs) with the goal of achieving 17GWe of nuclear capacity by 2040
that will meet 15 percent of the Kingdom’s needs.
In Egypt, GE’s Arabelle nuclear steam turbine, the world’s largest, will be installed in Egypt’s El Dabaa NPP to provide 4,800 MW of carbon-free power generation for millions of homes.
Iraq has also announced plans to build nuclear reactors that can produce about 11 GW. Further afield, Pakistan has 2,332 MW operating nuclear capacity and another 1,100 MW under construction while Turkey is currently building the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, which will use GE’s Arabelle steam turbine and generate up to 4,800 MW. GE has just delivered the first equipment for Akkuyu in January this year.
“As new technologies come online, it is critical to maintain existing carbon-free nuclear power generation as part of the cleaner energy mix,” according to a recent GE whitepaper on the role of nuclear energy in achieving a carbon-free future.
“With some 450 nuclear reactors in the world, one of the most effective and economical solutions will be to extend operating licenses to support the shift to a zero-carbon economy. Market recognition of nuclear power as an emissions-free generation source is key to extending these licenses and keeping nuclear plants operating.”
The whitepaper titled, Nuclear Energy: A Critical Pillar of a Carbon-Free Future, provides an overview of the current energy landscape and the efforts for decarbonisation as well as recommendations on how to achieve these goals by drawing on nuclear power as a dependable emissions-free generation option.
The whitepaper adds that, streamlining regulatory requirements and increasing investment to incorporate new technologies, including digital solutions, will further support efforts to reach carbon-free energy sector goals.
Industry leaders are expected to continue to develop new offerings to help customers service their equipment, as well as improve efficiency, lower operating costs and extend the lifetime of their plants.
GE estimates increasing the thermal power rating and retrofitting a typical steam turbine and generator can achieve up to 20% or more additional gross power output.
Today, GE’s steam turbine technology operates in 50% of the world’s nuclear power plants, producing 200 gigawatts (GW) for the global grid.
“There is need to build new nuclear plants with best-in-class technology, with a focus on innovating the next generation of nuclear technology and accelerating new large-scale projects. Continued innovation across the industry is expected to deliver world-class technology to reduce construction costs and schedule, as well as ensure operational reliability and safety,” according to the whitepaper.
Small modular reactors (SMRs) have the potential to drive down investment cost per megawatt (MW). SMR deployment can be accelerated with government support, it adds.
Nuclear industry leaders like GE, along with industry partners, are developing patented breakthrough reactor technology innovations to reduce cost and complexity. GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), an alliance created by GE and Hitachi Ltd. to serve the global
commercial nuclear power industry, has developed the BWRX-300 SMR, which GEH projects can be deployed by as early as 2028.
The Natrium™ sodium fast reactor, in co-development by TerraPower and GEH, includes thermal energy storage and is well suited to support electricity grids with high levels of renewable generation sources.
With respect to large- scale projects, while there are plans to phase out nuclear power plants in some countries, GE forecasts about 10 GW per year of demand for new nuclear power plants over the coming decade which is in line with the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) forecast.
Beyond 2030, nuclear deployment is only expected to accelerate in an increasingly carbon-constrained world. IEA’s NZE forecasts an average increase of over 20 GW per year in net nuclear capacity between 2030 and 2040.
With a global fleet of 53 GW, 99.96% reliability, and capable of generating 2% more power output than a previous turbine configuration, GE’s industry leading Arabelle™ steam turbine is compatible with all large-size reactors.
The discussion around increased CO2 in the atmosphere and its impact on higher global average temperatures continues to intensify.
Although other greenhouse gases such as methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases contribute to increased global temperatures, CO2 is the largest single contributor largely driven by transportation and electricity production.
Rising to the challenge of achieving a carbon-free energy future will require all available sources of cleaner energy, including nuclear, with urgent support and action from governments, companies, non-government organizations and other stakeholders.
“With the world preparing for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in October, the focus on decarbonisation has assumed even more significance,” says Frederic Wiscart, Global Managing Director, Nuclear Projects, at GE Steam Power.
As governments plan how to achieve their carbon reduction goals and determine their future energy mix, they will need to consider the risks and interdependencies of their own energy systems.
The future of the global energy system should be more interconnected and integrated to share gains and efficiencies across economies. Policymakers and industry leaders must consider the whole energy system across multiple carriers, infrastructures and consumption sectors when making decisions, according the GE whitepaper.
A net zero-emissions energy system will also require power generation from a variety of cleaner technologies, including nuclear, renewables, energy storage, combined cycle gas turbines with carbon capture, and hydrogen.
Low-carbon power generation, combined with system balancing such as interconnectors, demand-side response, storage, batteries, and hydrogen, will create the opportunity to decarbonize the power sector.
The energy system as a whole must be addressed to significantly reduce carbon emissions, especially in energy-intensive uses like heating, transportation, and industrial manufacturing.
“Investing in nuclear energy is a long-term investment decision that will benefit generations to come and requires significant government support,” says Wiscart.
“While the initial investment to construct a nuclear power plant is considerable, its lifecycle can run up to 80 years. Throughout its entire lifecycle, it can produce enormous uninterrupted amounts of electricity over long periods of time with affordable and stable cost of electricity largely independent from fuel market price fluctuations with long-term availability.”
As countries consider “green recovery” from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity to rebuild the economy by embracing technologies that reduce our carbon impact, Wiscart points out.
He adds that the nuclear industry should be considered a part of this recovery plan for creating cleaner energy jobs and contributing to gross domestic product (GDP).
“The nuclear industry brings a wide range of jobs and presents a country with the opportunity to invest in its future workforce as it plans for long-term plant operations with highly skilled technical jobs,” says Wiscart.
“In the MENA region, governments have set remarkable roadmaps to transition to a cleaner energy future by diversifying the energy mix. These efforts at decarbonisation can be amplified by considering nuclear power as a key pillar in the energy transition strategy.
“With our proven track-record in nuclear power generation since the 1950s, we recommend urgent investment in a combination of nuclear, renewables, energy storage, combined cycle gas turbines with carbon capture and hydrogen to secure cleaner future energy systems.”
GE has two businesses involved in nuclear power: GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, a Joint Venture that provides nuclear reactor technology, fuel and nuclear services and has installed more than 65 reactors in 10 countries to date; and GE Steam Power, which provides technology and services for steam turbines and generators.
GE supports nuclear power plants over the lifecycle, regularly servicing around 200 units with both GE and other original equipment manufacturer (other OEM) technology across the globe.
“Today, GE’s steam turbine technology operates in 50% of the world’s nuclear power plants, producing 200 GW for the global grid. We are currently installing 26 GW of new capacity with the Arabelle, the most powerful nuclear steam turbine available. The Arabelle can generate 2 percent more power output than a previous turbine configuration with 99.96% reliability,” says Wiscart.
Safety and proper management of spent nuclear fuel are critical issues that the industry continues to focus on and improve in order to increase public support for nuclear energy. The IEA recognizes nuclear energy as the safest energy source in the world, but more needs to be done to educate the public about the protocols and regulations in place to ensure nuclear safety and proper management of spent nuclear fuel, says Wiscart.
When it comes to safety, reactors are designed to the industry’s highest standards with the strictest protocols among the power generation fuels. Similarly, spent nuclear fuel must be carefully managed and is subject to extensive regulation by governmental authorities.
At the same time, nuclear utilities are facing increasing pressure to reduce their operation and maintenance (O&M) costs to better compete with low natural gas costs and subsidies for renewables.
Reducing O&M costs with digital solutions, extending lifetime plant operating licenses, increasing technology investments, and innovating more efficient and reliable fuels will be required to maintain the existing nuclear fleet, helping countries reach their decarbonisation goals.
“Software solutions for predictive plant health and maintenance, such as GE’s Asset Performance Management (APM) solution, can help nuclear plant operators detect potential issues and maintenance needs earlier, enabling better outage planning,” says Wiscart.
“Outage Planning and Analytics (OPA) software, developed by GEH and GE Digital, maximizes the outcome of the entire nuclear refuelling outage process, including planning, scheduling and execution. Using comprehensive data analytics and tools, it allows crossfunctional teams to build and execute programs that minimize outage costs, duration and revenue loss.”
According to Wiscart, nuclear power, as the largest source of carbon-free electricity generation, today, should continue to be a pillar in the energy transition to a carbonfree future and in helping countries achieve energy security.