Nuclear Industry Must Pursue Efficiencies to Remain a Key Green Power Resource

January 17, 2019 | 3 minute read
Geoff Roberts
Director of Energy Industry Strategy
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The nuclear industry is facing unprecedented pressures from regulators, environmental groups, and sustainability initiatives such as renewables, solar and distributed generation.

As such financial and operational challenges grow, there is an ever greater need for better project portfolio management to offset their impact to the greatest extent possible.

The challenges for utilities

Let’s look at the landscape and what it means for the U.S. nuclear industry – and the larger world.

  • A recent article in Utility Dive notes that 35% of the U.S. nuclear fleet could be prematurely retired within the next decade, which could have the unintended consequence of significant growth in carbon emissions – by up to 6% by 2035.
  • Of the 21 at-risk plants that currently deliver 22GW across the United States, operating costs are likely to exceed revenues for the period 2018-2022. Nuclear is too costly compared to other generation sources, and CO2 is free, based on the current pricing structures in place.
  • There currently are no national carbon price policies. As a result, utilities are closing plants at an unprecedented rate due to KwH cost being significantly more than renewables based on the current rate of return.
  • Utilities considering subsequent license renewals (SLRs) on their plants must attempt to balance future carbon policy considerations and plant efficiencies when making such decisions.

Amid these challenges and absent a fundamental review of carbon price policies with respect to nuclear – whose likelihood is uncertain – it is imperative for nuclear owners to explore operational changes across the full lifecycle of their assets.

Making improvements in that area can drive efficiency from all parts of the organization that generate power at these facilities and improve management of data.

There is a broad drive for efficiency in the nuclear industry. For example, the “Nuclear Promise” policy outlines how organizations that operate America’s nuclear energy facilities have partnered on a multiyear strategy to transform the industry and ensure its viability for consumers, as well as its essential role in protecting the environment.

Such efforts strengthen the industry’s commitment to excellence in safety and reliability and assure future viability through efficiency improvements. In addition, they drive regulatory and market changes to make sure that nuclear energy facilities are fully recognized for their value.

A key focus is to generate continued significant savings opportunities in the most efficient manner possible.

With respect to plants deemed safe from closure, there is a desire to extend the life of the asset to 60 years and beyond, though the need to meet current and future compliance and cost considerations is salient. Such utilities need to ensure that any SLR is cost effective.

In addition, there is a need to ensure that when these plants eventually are retired, they can be safely decommissioned at the lowest achievable cost. This burden to support early retirements is a significant headache to a utility, which must manage funding across both operational and non-operational assets.

Toward a solution

The ability to effectively capture, control, and manage a utility’s full portfolio of initiatives is critical. Every department needs to be engaged in a common collaborative environment where there are no silos.

This will allow clear visibility into what can and cannot be achieved across time within funding and other parameters.

The objectivity emerging from such a collaborative and visible approach will ensure initiatives are all valued on a common basis. The goal is eliminating subjectivity which creates significant problems and impacts value. “Pet projects” can no longer be part of any future model.

Also critical is the ability to share effective initiatives (as highlighted in the Nuclear Promise) with other plants - and to ensure that those from other facilities are included and adopted where appropriate within a portfolio approach.

In addition, where decommissioning activities are undertaken in house, utilities should ensure that they are managed against the time-based funding available and that clarity and visibility can be provided to all stakeholders, both internal and external.

If a plant is looking to apply for an SLR, a key component of that application is a clear understanding of the scope to be undertaken to allow continued usage, taking account of how that will be funded over time.

Scope capture, development, optimization, and control are therefore critical factors ensuring data is easily captured and stored in a common data environment.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspections are fundamental to keeping plant safety at the highest level. The ability to capture inspection issues easily in real time and then work them through a completion process, whist also engaging all relevant stakeholders and the regulator, helps ensure compliance is efficiently achieved.

Technology is key to implementing these best practices. Oracle has supported the nuclear industry for many years and now delivers an even broader asset life cycle solution that allows utilities to achieve operational efficiency and significant savings.

Read our white paper and visit to learn more about how we can help deliver on the promise of the nuclear industry.

Geoff Roberts

Director of Energy Industry Strategy

Geoff Roberts is director of energy industry strategy for Oracle Construction and Engineering.

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