Small modular reactors (SMRs) could be in operation in the UK by as soon as the year 2030, according to a new report from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).
The study has looked into the cost impact and technical viability of deploying these as combined heat and power (CHP) plants , instead of simply using them for power generation, highlighting the numerous economic benefits of extracting low carbon heat to supply district heating networks in the country.
SMRs are able to supply cities with low carbon heat via hot water pipelines up to 30km long. Their compact design, compared to traditional units, opens the door for locating them in a wider range of buildings, thereby increasing the potential for decarbonised energy.
Strategy manager with the ETI Mike Middleton said: “UK regulatory assessment through Generic Design Assessment is a big commitment. If SMR designs can combine standardised production in factories with developer options for heat take-off and cooling systems then there are two benefits. Firstly, these options can increase deployment opportunities which can further reduce unit cost; secondly it is not necessary to reassess the design or reconfigure the factory production process to deliver these options and again this reduces downstream deployment costs.”
The report goes on to state that a schedule for integration can be achieved if the government takes action now to bolster investor confidence by developing a policy framework to reduce the risks for an SMR developer. Even if there appears to be little to no strong local demand for district heating networks when SMRs are deployed, these should be made CHP-ready because the additional costs are small, while the potential for revenue in the future is large.
However, in July the newly formed Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS – which replaced the old Department of Energy & Climate Change) was called on by those in the industry to reverse the decision to amend the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) that would see financial support for some CHP systems reduced across the UK.
Biomass CHP plants with a power efficiency below 20 per cent will see their subsidy payments made through the RHI initiative reduced, a move that the BEIS believes will close loopholes in the regulations. However, trade associations were angered by the move because of the lack of formal consultation on the decision.
All plants that applied on or after August 1st 2016 will be affected by the change. James Court, head of policy and external affairs at the Renewable Energy Association (REA), explained that more than £140 million worth of investment will be affected by the change and this “unexpected cut” will actually be damaging to investor confidence.
An REA survey found that 92 per cent of the companies that responded believed the changes would have either a negative or a very negative impact on their various projects, reducing the chances of investors and other companies investing in such low carbon technologies in the future.