Biden administration releases road map to increase nuclear, hydrogen and energy storage
Last week, the Department of Energy, or DOE, released a road map for scaling up three emerging technologies that could make or break the American energy transition. According to the agency, advanced nuclear, clean hydrogen and long-term energy storage are critical to reaching net-zero emissions. The problem is that self-sustaining markets for these technologies do not yet exist.
The department’s new “Pathways to Commercial Liftoff” report identifies key challenges and potential solutions to getting these industries off the ground. They provide concrete numbers for the first time on how much additional energy capacity is needed from each of the three new technologies to reach US climate goals. They also outline how much money private and government actors will need to invest in research and development, and what challenges stand in the way of commercializing these areas.
The Biden administration aims to cut emissions in half by 2030 and hit net-zero emissions by 2050. The fast-approaching deadline means the next few years are crucial for reshaping the energy landscape.
“It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation, but it’s also an all-technology-on-deck situation,” Vanessa Chan, DOE’s chief commercialization officer, said in a webinar last week presenting the new report. “We want to make sure we’re looking at all the technologies that can help toward the president’s ambitious climate goals.”
The “Liftoff” report is one of the first concrete steps taken by the Biden administration to address how the government will spend billions in recent clean energy funding. As a result of legislation including the 2021 bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the 2022 Inflation Mitigation Act, and the CHIPS and SCIENCE Act, which provides energy investments and boosts US semiconductor manufacturing, the DOE has tens of billions in climate investment to spend next. decade.
This huge pot of money means the agency could help “de-risk” companies and private investors who are hesitant to venture into the new energy sector, according to Chan. The new report highlights the federal government’s plans to help start three new industries.
“Advanced nuclear” is a catch-all term for new nuclear reactor models that improve on the safety and efficiency of conventional reactor designs. Advanced nuclear can help provide stable, reliable electricity that is complementary to renewables such as solar and wind, which fluctuate throughout the day. But according to the Department of Nuclear Industry is at “impasse”. Recent nuclear projects have had a tendency to go over budget and be delayed, causing both project developers and utilities to be wary about investing in new reactors.
The DOE says the US will need an additional 200 gigawatts of advanced nuclear power to reach its climate goals, which is enough to power about 160 million homes. Getting there will require $35 billion to $40 billion in private and public investment by 2030 and a total of $700 billion by 2050. Importantly, the report says that at least five to 10 new reactors need to be developed across the country by 2025. To achieve its goal, the U.S.
Like nuclear, the purpose of long-term energy storage is to provide a stable source of power. The technology includes batteries and other grid-connected systems that can store energy from renewables and then send it out for 10 hours or more when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. The DOE report says that about 225 to 460 gigawatts of long-term energy storage could be online by 2050 — but first, capital costs need to be halved. And reaching market viability will require an investment of $330 billion by 2050.
A view of the green-tech “RefHein” hydrogen production plant in Wesseling, Germany. Andreas Rentz / Getty Images
Clean hydrogen, a fuel produced using renewable energy, has the potential to replace traditional fossil fuels in industries that cannot easily run directly on clean electricity. Today, hydrogen is produced almost exclusively from fossil fuels, and is mainly used for oil refining and chemical fertilizers. But if clean hydrogen can achieve commercial scale, the DOE estimates that hydrogen alone could reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 10 percent by 2050 by replacing fossil fuels in aviation, shipping and industries, which currently exceed ammonia and methanol. Production uses hydrogen as a feedstock. ,
Sasan Sadat, a senior research and policy analyst at Earthjustice, emphasized the importance of first displacing today’s use of hydrogen derived from fossil fuels before moving into novel sectors such as road transport and aviation. “It would be unwise to invest in creating new demand before eliminating the existing footprint of hydrogen,” he told Grist.
He commends the “Liftoff” report for highlighting this near-term goal. But as the agency moves forward with public investment, Sadat said it will need to provide clear guidance on end-uses to prioritize. Otherwise, “we could end up with a situation where we use scarce green hydrogen to do things that electricity could do more easily.”
Some industry experts have also raised concerns about the lack of options for safe transportation and storage of hydrogen fuel. The DOE has already set aside $8 billion in funding for up to 10 regional “hydrogen hubs” in hopes of creating a network of infrastructure to address transportation concerns. Overall, the public and private sectors would need to commit $85 billion to $215 billion to hydrogen by 2030 to align with US climate goals.
DOE officials emphasized that the reports, prepared after dozens of conversations with companies, investors and technical experts, are not prescriptive. As a “living, breathing document”, the report will be updated regularly in accordance with the most up-to-date information and ongoing consultation with relevant industries.
“The introduction of any new energy technology on a large scale is not a linear path,” said David Crane, director of the Energy Department’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations. “It’s a winding road with speed bumps all the way.”