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Project team at a round table

Small really could be beautiful

Supporters of small
modular nuclear reactor
(SMR) technology claim
it could offer a range of
benefits to the future
energy system, particularly
the reliable provision of
low-carbon electricity and
heat.

ClientThe Energy Technologies
Institute (ETI)
ExpertiseTechnical and economic assessment

Opportunity

There could also be economic benefits for countries that establish themselves at the forefront of SMR technology development and export. But there are significant uncertainties around the costs and performance of SMR technologies and the suitability of different designs.

Solution

The ETI appointed us to define and explore the technical and economic issues affecting the potential value of SMRs, including if they could be used to decarbonise heat and power production. We used economic modelling to understand the future commercial potential of SMR power plants, and engineering and cost modelling to investigate the possibility of extracting heat from SMR power plant steam cycles.

Outcome

Our research showed that – if they can achieve various cost and performance targets – SMRs could make a valuable contribution to the UK’s future energy system. In addition to providing baseload electricity, they could operate as combined heat and power plants delivering low-carbon heat for city-scale district heating networks.

Their relatively small size offers scope to open up a diverse range of sites to deliver more capacity than would be available from large plants alone and, potentially, integrate with new power-storage technologies to provide flexible ‘load-following’ electricity for the grid. We also highlighted the high-level functional, economic and strategic issues and options for overcoming challenges associated with UK SMR deployment. Our findings were published in two reports, which are available on the ETI website. They form part of the evidence base for the government’s SMR competition.

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