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The Moltex Stable Salt Reactor is designed to provide reliable, safe, low-carbon, on-demand electricity cheaper than fossil fuels.

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The need for reliable low-carbon electricity in addressing climate change

Presentation from Harvard fellow Jesse Jenkins

This presentation entitled Getting to Zero, explains how the price of electricity to consumers rises as the market share penetration of renewables into electricity grids rises. It makes a strong case for the need for ‘firm’ power sources, i.e. baseload power that can relied upon when needed:

UT Energy Symposium – February 21, 2019


Skimmable Slides

Most slides from the above video are presented below with a brief explanatory comment. Timings are approximate.

4:32 To address climate change successfully all decarbonisation scenarios involve increased generation of electricity, and it must all be low carbon by 2050: 


6:00 Wind, Solar and Battery costs have plummeted:


7:40 Nuclear and Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) are falling behind:


9:00 Some environmental groups want to exclude nuclear and biomass:


10:20 If wind and solar are cheapest, why not? Solar now beats fossil fuels on levelised cost:


12:25 However, the two sources of electricity are not comparable:


13:40 Renewables’ marginal value declines with grid penetration. E.g. solar becomes uneconomic at 25% market share, best case (California):


15:00 Today’s storage technologies also become uneconomic when their capacity reaches around 10 – 20% peak demand:

15:50 Why does renewables’ marginal value decline? Three mechanisms dominate:(Electricity grid companies pay for: 1. Energy Value, 2. Capacity Value = a ‘retainer’ paid for reliable power.)


18:36 A simplified example follows, with nuclear five times more expensive than Wind, Solar and Gas:


19:30 What if 20% of electricity came from wind and solar, excluding the expensive nuclear?


21:30 During periods of highest demand, firm Gas capacity is reduced by only 4%:


21:35 If 40% of total electricity comes from wind and solar:Risk of too much solar overgeneration makes it more economic to have some wind in the mix, even though wind is more expensive.


23:00 What if 60% of total electricity comes from wind and solar?More wind than solar is needed because it matches daily demand variations better. 100 GW wind and solar capacity is needed to displace only 4GW firm gas capacity.


23:55 What if 80% of total electricity comes from wind and solar?Overgeneration reaches 28% of energy produced, because so much wind and solar power is generated at periods of low demand.


25:15 What if 80% clean energy includes the expensive nuclear?20% Nuclear share is economic because it displaces so much wind and solar overgeneration, and displaces firm Gas capacity 1:1.


26:40 There is an irreplaceable need for firm low-carbon electricity, despite the availability of lithium ion batteries and demand-response potential:


28:48 The average cost of electricity is much higher without firm capacity:


31:07 With firm capacity included the need for fast-burst resources is moderate:


32:05 Without firm capacity the need for fast-burst resources is doubled, and at least a fifth of generated electricity is still wasted (grey areas):


33:50 Zero carbon electricity will require replacing both gas and retiring nuclear plants:


34:20 Hydropower needs very large reservoirs, which are of limited availability:


34:40 Large-scale nuclear builds have not been going well. The big hope is currently small modular reactors:


35:35 Geothermal is under development, but is not expected to be cheap:


36:15 Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) does not look likely to be cheap either:


36:45 Current battery technology does not substitute long-term firm capacity:


37:40 Long duration battery storage is being researched:


What if renewables penetration is pushed to the limit?

38:19 A doubling of continent-scale transmission would enable the market share of renewables to increase to 50% wind and solar.


39:30 Demand flexibility would need to be increased, as would overcoming today’s energy efficiency market failures:


41:10 Renewables and storage would need to get even cheaper.


40:52 Firm energy storage would be needed: Heat storage/hydrogen? These are currently prohibitively expensive.


42:20 Betting strategies to reduce risk – the right-hand strategy provides much better odds:


47:00 Green New Deal – what works and what doesn’t:


52:00 Conclusion: Make clean energy cheap for the whole world.