Sustainability efficiency factor : measuring sustainability in advanced energy systems through exergy, exergoeconomic, life cycle, and economic analyses

Boldon, Lauren
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Liu, Li (Emily)
Sabharwall, Piyush
Lian, Jie
Malaviya, B. K.
Gupta, Aparna
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Nuclear engineering and science
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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States
This electronic version is a licensed copy owned by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. Copyright of original work retained by author.
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Sustainability is achieved by balancing environmental, economic, and social considerations, such that energy is produced without detriment to future generations through loss of resources, harm to the environment, etcetera. In essence, the goal is to provide future generations with the same opportunities to produce energy that the current generation has. This research explores sustainability metrics as they apply to a small modular reactor (SMR)-hydrogen production plant coupled with wind energy and storage technologies to develop a new quantitative sustainability metric, the Sustainability Efficiency Factor (SEF), for comparison of energy systems. The SEF incorporates the three fundamental aspects of sustainability and provides SMR or nuclear hybrid energy system (NHES) reference case studies to (1) introduce sustainability metrics, such as life cycle assessment, (2) demonstrate the methods behind exergy and exergoeconomic analyses, (3) provide an economic analysis of the potential for SMR development from first-of-a-kind (FOAK) to nth-of-a-kind (NOAK), thereby illustrating possible cost reductions and deployment flexibility for SMRs over large conventional nuclear reactors, (4) assess the competitive potential for incorporation of storage and hydrogen production in NHES and in regulated and deregulated electricity markets, (5) compare an SMR-hydrogen production plant to a natural gas steam methane reforming plant using the SEF, and (6) identify and review the social considerations which would support future nuclear development domestically and abroad, such as public and political/regulatory needs and challenges.
Utilizing all the methodology and results obtained and presented in this thesis, the SEF may be calculated. The NHES SEF was determined to be 18.3% higher than that of natural gas steam methane reforming, illustrating a higher level of sustainability. The SEF quantitatively uses the exergoeconomic cost and irreversibilities obtained from the exergy analysis, the GWP obtained from the life cycle assessment and costs/fees associated with emissions and pollutants, and relevant economic data obtained from an economic analysis. This reflects the environmental, socio-political, and economic pillars of sustainability.
An NHES case with hydrogen production and storage was performed, illustrating how the profit share of revenue is improved with the addition of hydrogen production. Although the costs are increased with the addition, 78% of the hydrogen revenue is profit, while only 50% of the electricity generation revenue is profit. A second NHES case study was analyzed to assess the NPV, LCOE, and payback differences in deregulated and regulated electricity markets. For a 60 year lifetime, Case C (with nuclear, wind, and hydrogen production) is economical in the deregulated market with an NPV of ~$66.3 million and a payback period of 10 years, but not in the regulated one with an NPV of approximately -$115.3 million and a payback period of 11 years. With either market type, the plants levelized costs remain $82.82/MWh, which is still reasonable with respect to prior LCOE values determined for SMR and large reactor sites.
As part of the SMR economic analysis, specific capital and total capital investment costs (TCIC) were determined in addition to conditional effects on the net present value (NPV), levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), and payback periods. For a 1260 MWe FOAK multi-module SMR site with 7 modules, the specific capital costs were 27-38% higher than that of a 1260 MWe single large reactor site. A NOAK site, on the other hand, may be 19% lower to 18% higher than the large reactor site, demonstrating that it may break even or be even more economical in average or favorable market conditions. The NOAK TCIC for single and multi-module SMR sites were determined to be $914-$1,230 million and $660-$967 million per module, respectively, reflecting the substantial savings incurred with sites designed for and deployed with multiple modules. For the same NOAK 7-unit multi-module site, the LCOE was calculated as $67-$84/MWh, which is slightly less than that of the conventional large reactor LCOE of $89/MWh with a weighted average cost of capital of 10%, a 50%-50% share of debt and equity, and a corporate tax rate of 35%. The payback period for the SMR site, however, is 4 years longer. Construction delays were also analyzed to compare the SMR and large reactor sites, demonstrating the SMR NPV and LCOE are less sensitive to delays. For a 3 year delay, the SMR NPV decreased by 22%, while the large reactor NPV decreased by 34.1%. Similarly the SMR and large reactor LCOEs increased by 7.8% and 8.1%, respectively.
The Global Warming Potential (GWP) for the SMR (300 MWth)-wind (60 MWe)-high temperature steam electrolysis (200 tons Hydrogen per day) system was calculated as approximately 874 g CO2-equivalent as part of the life cycle assessment. This is 92.6% less than the GWP estimated for steam methane reforming production of hydrogen by Spath and Mann. The unit exergetic and exergoeconomic costs were determined for each flow within the NHES system as part of the exergy/exergoeconomic cost analyses. The unit exergetic cost is lower for components yielding more meaningful work like the one exiting the SMR with a unit exergetic cost of 1.075 MW/MW. In comparison, the flow exiting the turbine has a very high unit exergetic cost of 15.31, as most of the useful work was already removed through the turning of the generator/compressor shaft. In a similar manner, the high unit exergoeconomic cost of $12.45/MW*sec is observed for the return flow to the reactors, because there is very little exergy present. The first and second law efficiencies and the exergoeconomic factors were also determined over several cases. For the first or base SMR case, first and second law efficiencies of 81.5% and 93.3% were observed respectively. With an increase in reactor outlet temperature of only 20°C, both the SMR efficiencies increased, while the exergoeconomic factor decreased by 0.2%.
The Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems defines sustainability or industrial ecology as “the wise use of resources through critical attention to policy, social, economic, technological, and ecological management of natural and human engineered capital so as to promote innovations that assure a higher degree of human needs fulfilment, or life support, across all regions of the world, while at the same time ensuring intergenerational equity” (Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems 1998). Developing and integrating sustainable energy systems to meet growing energy demands is a daunting task. Although the technology to utilize renewable energies is well understood, there are limited locations which are ideally suited for renewable energy development. Even in areas with significant wind or solar availability, backup or redundant energy supplies are still required during periods of low renewable generation. This is precisely why it would be difficult to make the switch directly from fossil fuel to renewable energy generation. A transition period in which a base-load generation supports renewables is required, and nuclear energy suits this need well with its limited life cycle emissions and fuel price stability.
December 2015
School of Engineering
Dept. of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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