Future Nuclear Power and the Thermal Storage Option
Despite opposition to nuclear power generation across much of Western Europe and also across the United States, other nations that include China, India, South Africa, Japan and several Middle Eastern nations are actively planning for future nuclear power generation. India and China have access to the ores that contain thorium hence their growing interest in future thorium based nuclear power generation. Growing concern about storage of spent uranium-based nuclear fuel rods has prompted the Gates Foundation to fund research into making future productive use of the remaining energy.
While electrical power consumption may remain constant throughout the year in some nations, other nations and power markets experience seasonal peak power demands. South Africa and Quebec, Canada experience peak demand for electric power during winter, the result of customers operation electrically powered interior heating technologies. The Middle East, regions of Western Europe as well as regions across North America experience peak demand for electric power during the hot summer months, mainly to operate air conditioning systems. To assure reliable and economic operation of their technology, power companies choose to operate nuclear power stations at steady output.
North America’ largest power utility, Ontario Hydro pays outside power companies to take delivery of their winter excess nuclear generating capacity, having found it cheaper that fluctuating nuclear output and covering repair costs that result from thermal stresses causing components to malfunction. Across the river from Ontario, the State of Michigan is home to the 2200MW Ludington pumped hydroelectric storage installation that can take delivery of an outside power utility’s excess overnight output. It operates at 75% to 81% recovery efficiency while receiving power from installations that operate at 30% to 35% efficiency.
While it may appear feasible to recharge the batteries of battery-electric transportation vehicles during the overnight off-peak period, electro-chemical batteries generate and dissipate heat during both the recharge cycle and discharge cycle. Depending on the technology, storage efficiency below 75% efficiency may be the norm, with hydrogen fuel cell technology recording a very low efficiency when sourcing electric power from a thermal power station. While the power station operates at 40% efficiency, electrolysis operates at 70% efficiency while the fuel cell can convert hydrogen to electric power at 50% efficiency, yielding an overall efficiency of 14% from point of generation.
Seasonal Stationary Power:
A research team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology explored the possibility of seasonal, high-temperature geothermal storage of energy. Seasonal low-temperature geothermal energy storage is well-proven and involves deep level, water-saturated porous rock being heated during the summer months, usually using concentrated solar thermal energy. At some locations, it is heated to just below the boiling point of water at atmospheric pressure and applied to provide interior heating to building during the frigid winter months. At several locations across the Middle East, seawater is pumped deep underground to displace natural gas and oil.