Innovation gaps in power
The transition in the power sector calls a combination of scaling up innovations that facilitate the integration of new clean generation technologies at scale, as well as expanding and improving designs of older ones to make them compatible with the SDS. Solar PV will need smarter inverters to reduce grid integration costs, large volumes of small-scale PV will require innovation to manage and integrate and wind power will need to reach more remote and off-shore locations more cost-effectively. The success of other technologies in the SDS also hinges on accelerating innovation: CCUS requires end-to-end innovations to reduce cost penalties and demonstrate advanced power cycles, while new nuclear power plant designs like small modular reactors remain to be validated.
Coupling reactors with non-electric applications
Non-electric applications for reactors Readiness level:
Demonstrating supercritical CO2 power cycles at scale
Closed-loop sCO2 cycles Readiness level:
Semi-closed SCO2 cycles Readiness level:
Allam Cycle Readiness level:
Need for higher combustion temperatures and efficiencies for pulverised coal-fired power plants
Materials for AUSC Readiness level:
Reduce the energy penalty and cost of CCUS capture
Hydrogen separation membranes Readiness level:
Sorption enhanced water gas shift Readiness level:
Membrane separation routes Readiness level:
Small Modular Reactors and advanced reactor demonstration
Small modular reactors: NuScale design (US) Readiness level:
CAREM reactor (Argentina) Readiness level:
KTL-40S floating nuclear power plant Readiness level:
Advanced reactors: HTR-PM (China, helium coolant) Readiness level:
While industry is confident that the overnight costs of today’s Gen III/III+ Light Water Reactors can be reduced significantly as series are being developed, there is some uncertainty as to whether these large reactors can compete in a cost-effective manner in future low carbon energy markets, with increasing shares of variable and distributed generation.
More disruptive innovations may be required for nuclear to secure its role as a flexible, reliable and dispatchable source of energy.
Three types of innovations are being pursued. The development of smaller reactors, which could have higher operational flexibility. The development of innovative fuels that could ensure higher performance at lower cost. And finally, the development of non-electric applications, such as process heat, hydrogen production and desalination, which could displace fossil-based processes.
CCUS in power
Innovation, in combination with targeted policy measures for deployment, is crucially needed to stimulate CCUS development and bring it into line with the SDS.
Innovation for CCUS in power generation needs to target cost reductions, improve the efficiency of CO2 capture, and expand the portfolio of available CCUS technologies. Approaches like supercritical CO2 power cycles have gained public attention recently for their potential of lowering cost and high capture rates.
Innovation efforts should focus on boosting overall full-load efficiency and plant flexibility, for example by increasing ramping speed (the pace at which generation can be increased to meet demand) and part-load efficiencies. Flexibility improvements to plants will be crucial to integrate a growing share of variable renewable generation into the grid system.
Reducing local air pollution from coal plants continues to be a priority, and the importance of improving CCUS for coal to conform with carbon constraints is increasingly being recognised.
Several innovative approaches are being explored, such as integrated gasification fuel cells, direct coal fuel cells and supercritical CO2 power cycles. These technologies, which promise ultra-high efficiencies, are at different stages of development, with several technical and engineering challenges that still need to be overcome.
Natural gas-fired power
Improving flexibility and increasing full- and part-load efficiency will continue to be research priorities for gas-fired power generation.
Generator flexibility is particularly important to integrate growing shares of variable renewables into the grid. Boosting flexibility and encouraging its use requires that power plant technology be improved, as well as system operations, market design, the granularity of pricing and access to revenue streams for system services.
With ample, affordable gas becoming available in certain regions and countries (for instance the United States), full-load efficiency remains an important plant parameter.
RD&D should also be directed towards CCUS for gas-fired power generation. Like unabated coal, unabated gas is likely to be too carbon-intensive to reach ambitious climate targets beyond 2040.