The study will look at both electricity and non-electric markets. For electricity markets, some experts anticipate that due to large penetrations of variable renewables, other sources of power generation will need to be much more flexible than today, capable of load-following with high ramp up/down rates. Others believe that due to demand smoothing and increased energy storage capacities, only limited load-following capabilities will be needed. Today, nuclear power plants have the capability to load follow, though the ramp up/down rates are much less than for peaking technologies such as gas. More advanced generation III reactor designs have greater flexibility than previous generations, and utility requirements actually specify flexibility capabilities. It is not clear today what will be the flexibility capabilities of more innovative reactor designs such as those of Generation IV reactors which could be deployed in the 2030-2040 time frame.
If the whole energy sector needs to be decarbonised, technologies that can produce low carbon heat will be required to substitute fossil-based heat. Nuclear power plants can provide both low carbon electricity and heat. The study will investigate what are the cogeneration capabilities of various advanced reactor designs, as well as the flexibility they may have to switch from electricity generation to heat production depending on electricity market conditions. Therefore, that part of the study can be considered as a follow-up to the nuclear cogeneration study (from the 2015-2016 NDC Programme of Work) and to the SMR market study. The concept of hybrid energy systems is an example of how future electricity and heat markets could operate – and the question addressed in the study will be to assess the most appropriate nuclear reactor technologies that can fit into such systems.