Battery Storage Steals The Spotlight At Nuclear Power’s Birthday Party
It was nuclear power’s birthday bash, but Exelon CEO Chris Crane, head of the nation’s largest nuclear operator, named energy storage the most promising technology of the future, one that could render nuclear power unnecessary.
“In our view the long-term viable technology that will drive a cleaner future is economic storage,” Crane said at “Reactions: New Perspectives on Our Nuclear Legacy,” the University of Chicago’s commemoration of the first manmade nuclear reaction 75 years ago under the stands of its abandoned football stadium.
Crane’s comments departed from those of former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who, delivering the event’s closing keynote, insisted the United States must continue to pursue nuclear energy for reasons of both climate and national security.
Crane, who was Exelon’s chief nuclear officer before he became CEO, still defended his company’s 24 existing nuclear plants, because he contends energy storage hasn’t arrived yet.
“Why can’t we just do without it?” asked moderator Gretchen Helfrich, the “it” referring to nuclear power. “Why not just put solar panels everywhere and do without it?”
“Well, when we have an economic storage mechanism we might be able to go to that, but today the reliability, the resiliency and the environmental benefits of these central station baseload plants are not replaceable economically.”
Even though the cost of lithium-ion batteries has dropped precipitously and promises to continue to do so, Crane contends storage hasn’t arrived because lithium-ion does not provide all the features the energy market needs.
“Storage is becoming much more economic, but those are one-hour and four-hour discharges, and they only have a life cycle of so long,” he said. “We need days of discharges.”
So Crane is betting on whatever the national labs develop for next-generation energy storage.
“What we need to do is continue with the labs and continue the research that’s going on: what is life beyond lithium ion, what is the storage mechanism that we can harness more renewable energy in that form?” he said. In the meantime, existing nuclear plants should be kept open, with license renewals and fairer financial terms, he said, but with the understanding that they are “transition assets.”
Both Crane and Moniz concede new nuclear plants are unlikely to be built, at least new nuclear plants that resemble the ones Exelon operates today.
Economist Michael Greenstone described calculations in which he removed all the “interferences” in the electricity market caused by subsidies and policies that favor one energy source or another. With the playing field thus leveled, new nuclear power costs about 10.5¢ per kilowatt hour, said Greenstone, director of the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago, not accounting for the kind of cost overruns that have been lately occurring in construction. A new natural gas plant can offer electricity at 5¢-6¢/kWh.