A British company announced it is joining with U.S.-based NuScale Power to develop a hybrid project using wind energy and small modular reactor (SMR) technology to produce power and green hydrogen.
Shearwater Energy, a global energy services company, on Jan. 15 said it and NuScale have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to collaborate on an initial project, which could be sited at the now-decommissioned Wylfa nuclear power station on the island of Anglesey, off the northwestern coast of Wales, although no land agreements have been reached. Shearwater said the project could produce more than 3 million kilograms of green hydrogen annually for use in the UK’s transportation sector.
Shearwater on Friday said that under the MOU, the company and NuScale “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.” Shearwater has submitted an outline proposal to the UK government, along with the devolved governments of Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. The company said all those regions “stand to derive considerable economic benefits in connection with the proposed project.”
“Combining low-carbon generating technologies enables us to achieve similar performance characteristics to large thermal plants without the high cost, long construction time and environmental legacy,” said Simon Forster, CEO of Shearwater. “When fully developed, an SMR-wind plant at Wylfa 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.”
“With deep knowledge and expertise in the clean energy sector of the United Kingdom, Shearwater Energy understands the unique challenges facing the energy needs of the region,” said John Hopkins, chairman and CEO of NuScale. “NuScale looks forward to demonstrating the innovative features of our SMR design, and how our load-following capability is a perfect complement to Shearwater’s offshore wind project as the country seeks to meet its clean energy goals.”
Baseload and Load-Following Power
The hybrid project could provide both baseload and load-following power, with the excess electricity produced used to create green hydrogen, which is hydrogen produced using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. Wind power producers in particular have touted hydrogen production as a value-add for their installations.
Tom Parks, a spokesperson for Shearwater, on Friday told POWER that the collaboration with NuScale “is a multi-phase project and if everything moves as quickly as it can do, 2027 is the earliest we would be able to bring a NuScale SMR online at the site.
“This project is at an initial conceptual/deal-making stage,” Parks said. “We are evaluating sites at and around the existing Wylfa Horizon Magnox sites,” where the Wylfa nuclear power plant operated from 1971 to 2015. Parks, though, said “Several people have joined the dots following our release incorrectly—we have not reached any agreements regarding land—particularly with Horizon.”
NuScale’s SMR in August of last year became the first such technology to receive design approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. NuScale touts its SMR as an “innovative, modular design [that] has unparalleled safety and reliability features and is flexible, economic, faster to build, and readily integrated into existing power supply systems.” The company on Jan. 11 said that it, along with Fluor Corp.—NuScale’s lead investor—and power customer Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), had executed agreements to prepare for licensing of the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP).
The CFPP is a planned 720-MWe NuScale power plant, comprising 12 NuScale power modules, that would be located at the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls. The agreements announced earlier this week are part of the process to manage and de-risk the CFPP project, as the parties prepare for licensing. The project already has experienced some hurdles as cities that UAMPS originally lined up to participate have pulled their support.
Undisclosed Project Budget
Parks, who said he could not disclose the budget for the UK project, told POWER the hybrid Shearwater/NuScale installation “would be a multi-phase project consisting of a mix of SMR and wind. We’re not ready to share the proportion of SMRs to wind at this time. The first phase would be generating [at the] earliest [in] 2027-28 with 1.4-GW nameplate capacity, with phase 1.5 expanding to 2-GW nameplate capacity by 2030. Phase 2 would then expand the project to deliver 3 GWe by 2036. 3 GWe is the forecast annual production of phases 1+2 in 2036.”
NuScale will also specifically support Shearwater as it continues to develop the project, including conducting project-specific engineering, planning, and licensing activities for their SMR technology. NuScale’s assessment of the UK supply chain concluded that more than 75% of the content of a NuScale plant could be sourced within the UK. Both companies on Friday said they are committed to further exploring British companies’ capabilities to participate in maximizing the UK content of this project.
Parks said the project has a multi-prong focus. “It’s about the UK’s long-term energy security without resorting to fossil fuels, it’s about jobs for Northern Ireland and northwest England, it’s about kick-starting West Coast wind to diversify production away from blockage events in the North Sea,” he said, adding it’s also about “the UK becoming a first mover in large-scale SMR deployment with potential for the UK to become a production center for Europe. Hydrogen is an important byproduct. Again, the project is at the deal-making stage and negotiations for all the above are not concluded.”
The UK has announced plans to rapidly expand offshore wind capacity by 2030 and invest in SMR development to meet net-zero carbon emissions goals by 2050. Shearwater and NuScale in Friday’s announcement said hybrid wind-nuclear energy systems not only would provide reliable power, but also would help the power grid overcome intermittency and grid stability issues.
The companies said green hydrogen produced by such a system will support industry, including the transportation sector, and provide another opportunity for decarbonization.
—Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).