Fossil fuel companies know the days of oil and gas are numbered, and a blue Senate will not help them. In a world that needs more energy than ever before, the big question is: which alternative will prevail?
One of the most popular options for environmentally-minded individuals has traditionally been solar energy. But there is one aspect they may not have considered. After about 30 years, solar panels are useless and often end up in landfills.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, by 2050, 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have completed their useful life, and we will be generating 6 million metric tons of new solar panel waste per year. Though they feature valuable materials, solar panels are hard to recycle, and unless laws are enacted to mandate recycling, their toxic materials will end up polluting vast expanses of land.
Wind and wave energy also pose numerous problems. In fact, most renewable energy sources involve high costs, problematic waste, or both.
Especially after the HBO show Chernobyl, nuclear is even less popular than it was before. The public perceives it as dangerous, associating it with deadly radioactivity, the Fukushima disaster, and the atomic bomb. In reality, nuclear plants are silently powering many regions worldwide, and they are safe and efficient.
Oregon-based NuScale Power has proposed a new type of highly efficient nuclear reactor that could soon change the public’s negative perception. The company has developed a prototype for a revolutionary small modular reactor (SMR). These eight-meter-tall cylinders can generate 60 megawatts, and a large power plant can be built by setting up several SMRs side by side.
According to NuScale, its reactors will be meltdown-proof. If one fails, it can be disconnected without affecting the other units in a modular plant. They are also cost-efficient. Building a traditional plant that generates one gigawatt costs up to $9 million, while a NuScale reactor with the same output could be built for only $3 million.
The outlook for NuScale, and investments in nuclear, seems bright. The company has just announced it will partner with Shearwater Energy to produce 6.6 million pounds of green hydrogen per year for use in the UK’s transportation sector.
Shearwater and NuScale are set to collaborate on a hybrid project that will combine wind energy and SMRs. Shearwater said in a statement that the new partnership “will generally explore opportunities for the combined generation of nuclear power based on NuScale’s leading SMR technology, offshore wind energy, and hydrogen production at sites in the UK.”
A hybrid SMR-wind plant will be built in Wales. It will “provide 3 GW of reliable, zero-carbon electricity at a fraction of the cost of a conventional nuclear power station with surplus energy generation focused on the production of hydrogen to support the transport sector’s transition to low-carbon fuels. Power generation at Wylfa could begin as early as 2027,” Shearwater’s CEO said.
SMRs are not only being developed in the U.S. Russia has already launched an SMR in the Arctic Ocean, China plans to have one in operation by 2025, and Canada and the U.K. are also working on their own SMR projects.
NuScale projects that its first modular reactor will be fully functional, in Idaho, in 2026.
Early investors in modular nuclear fission plants are likely to make billions. Meanwhile, those who bet on fusion may have to wait a little longer but will be rewarded for their patience. Prominent investors in fusion, the holy grail of renewable energy, include Jeff Bezos, Charles Schwab, Canadian oil and gas company Cenovus Energy, Temasek, GIC, Chevron Technology Ventures, former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, New Enterprise Associates, and Alphabet.