By Bret Kugelmass
At the Energy Impact Center (EIC) we are committed to finding accelerated pathways to decarbonize the global economy by 2040. It is not enough to clean the electricity sector; future energy production must produce industrial heat, clean fuels, and power the direct air capture of legacy emissions as well.
Nuclear energy is the only technology capable of generating the quantities of low-carbon electricity needed to meet the world’s growing energy demand while accounting for its own lifecycle carbon emissions.
But we need far more nuclear power than currently exists to achieve our climate goals — one hundred times more. Achieving this vision will require the construction of nuclear plants that are more affordable and competitive. Despite being the single largest source of low-carbon electricity generation in the United States, over time the trend toward building ever larger and more complex reactors has made nuclear energy uncompetitive.
Complexity drives cost
To address these challenges, the EIC team conducted a critical review of the nuclear industry, conducting over 1,500 interviews with experts across technology, industry, economics, policy, and more. Contrary to popular rhetoric, we didn’t find an industry lacking in advanced technology or restrained by public opinion, but rather a sector marred by cost overruns — driven by escalating size and unnecessary complexity.
Instead of building bigger or more complex projects, cost reductions will be achieved by going back to a simpler, more streamlined process and adopting today’s best practices in construction — focusing on standardization and speed of delivery. Simply put, we can course-correct the nuclear industry’s downfall by taking what worked in the beginning and right-sizing it to fit today’s capital, infrastructure, and supply-chain constraints.
Over the past six months, the EIC engineering team has built upon the success of its initial technical-economic analysis of the sector to create an open-source template for designing and constructing a nuclear power plant. This blueprint for future development includes no technological enhancements or scientific breakthroughs but rather focuses exclusively on construction methodology. It prioritizes plant economics and assembly time.
A new platform for energy innovation
Launching today, OPEN100 offers developers around the world three ingredients for a successful project: engineering schematics, construction schedule, and detailed economic analysis. This standardized pressurized water reactor (PWR) power plant is sized at 100MWe output to fit within project finance and timetable constraints. It is detailed enough for any utility to begin early site studies with +/- 20% cost predictability. It is abstract enough to allow for site-specific engineering details to be added, with a 50M dollar budget allocated per plant for such efforts.
Going forward, the model will be continually refined and pressure tested through EIC’s collaborations with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Laboratories and other international and industry partners.
The OPEN100 model caters towards these key stakeholders:
- Utilities can conduct feasibility studies and issue request-for-proposals.
- Equipment vendors can upload pre-integrated components accessing a new sales channel.
- Reactor designers can leverage balance-of-plant engineering work.
- Investors can evaluate project economics.
- And governments can pre-certify a license to streamline development.
The OPEN100 project serves as a common foundation for future nuclear power deployment innovating on the financing, planning, and construction aspects to deliver low-carbon electricity generation at a revolutionary pace and price point.
Connecting developers to capital
There’s one more problem EIC has identified constraining new nuclear development: access to capital. The old model of financing projects through government-regulated utilities has created an adverse incentive structure, putting the risk on the ratepayer instead of the developer. To this end, EIC is simultaneously launching a for-profit spin-off, Last Energy, to connect private capital with development opportunities around the world. Last Energy is backed with $3 million in venture funding led by First Round Capital.
We will show the world there’s a bright future for nuclear energy. Not only can we address climate change, but energy poverty, clean air, and clean water, too. With OPEN100, achieving a zero-carbon future can now be a truly global effort.
Visit www.open-100.com to learn more.
The Energy Impact Center is a Washington-DC based research institute focused on nuclear energy deployment as a means to rapidly decarbonize global energy production & increase access to clean, affordable power.