Although the $28 billion Sizewell C nuclear station is hailed as a key component in the United Kingdom’s transition to net-zero emissions, its reactors will compete with wind farms on the horizon of the North Sea. What happens to the excess power generated by the plant on windy days? Towards the production of hydrogen.
In order to maximize revenue from one of the most expensive energy assets on the planet, nuclear developers in Europe, North America, and Russia are looking at clean gas as an outlet for their low-carbon power. They also want to take advantage of the more than $70 billion in funding pledged by governments to assist in the development of the industry as a means of meeting climate change objectives.
On days when wind, solar, and hydropower generate enough electricity, the low-carbon electricity generated by Sizewell C would be diverted to an electrolyzer, which would produce clean hydrogen on the spot. According to EDF, the waste heat generated by the atomic plant can also be used to increase the efficiency of the process by 10%. If the company is successful in obtaining planning approval as well as the necessary financing, the facility is expected to be operational in the early 2030s.
The United Kingdom’s long-awaited hydrogen strategy is expected to be technology neutral, allowing for the possibility of nuclear power. The blueprint for the project could be released in the coming days.
The plans of EDF have been jeopardized following reports that the United Kingdom wants to exclude China’s state-owned nuclear energy company from all future power projects. The Chinese own a 20 percent stake in Sizewell C, but the United Kingdom government has stated that the project will proceed with alternative financing sources instead.
Among those working in the industry, hydrogen produced from nuclear fuel is referred to as “pink hydrogen.” For the first time this year, the grid operator in the United Kingdom, National Grid Plc, included a model of the fuel’s production in its long-term report. By 2050, it is possible that as much as 28 terawatt-hours of electricity generated by nuclear reactors will be diverted to the production of clean gas, which is the equivalent of approximately 14 percent of the nation’s total electricity production.
Testing of these technologies in conjunction with one another is also taking place in North America. To assist nuclear plants in switching between electricity generation and hydrogen production when necessary, the United States Department of Energy has awarded $26.2 million to two projects run by Xcel Energy Inc. and Fuel Cell Energy Inc.
In April, EDF signed a cooperation agreement with the Russian nuclear power company Rosatom, which operates 38 nuclear reactors across 11 sites. Rosatom has stated that developing hydrogen production is a top priority, and that it intends to export the fuel to Europe in the near future. Both the United Kingdom government and the Russian nuclear power company, Rosatom, are considering the same type of smaller reactor, which is specifically designed to produce hydrogen.
United Kingdom has set a target of 5 gigatonnes of hydrogen production by 2030, with the intention of using it for transportation, home heating, and ship propulsion in the future. EDF currently operates 27 power plants in the United Kingdom and France, with two more under construction. Sizewell C would be the company’s 30th anniversary.