Hyperion Power Generation has been making some waves recently. They, like Toshiba, have designed a micro-nuclear plant. When I say 'micro' think "powers a small town", not "fits in your back yard.
I first heard about Hyperions device on SGU, where one of the group said something like: "well if it can power a town for 7 years, then it can power my bunker for 100 years!".
Sorry, it doesnt work like that. The reaction takes place whether you use the power or not. The fuel is hot, and as it gets expended, it cools, which is why the life time is limited.
Edit: Rod Adams corrected my original contention that this was not how these reactors worked. They in fact should last longer if they are used less. This is not due to a control mechanism within the nuclear reactor. The fuel itself is designed such that if the temperature starts getting too hot, then the reaction dies down. It self regulates. It is the act of extracting heat (either by diverting it and using it, or by boiling water into steam for a turbine) that controls the reaction. Its a very safe way of doing the reaction, and further the fuel should last longer with less use. However, I'll note that Hyperion still has not claimed any life longer than 10 years, I'm not sure if this is due to the expectation that the load will always be there, or if there is another decay mechanism, related or unrelated to the actual nuclear reaction. More info and thoughts here.
No where do they say exactly what the fuel is, but I wonder if they are not taking waste from a normal nuclear plant and instead of planting it in a cooling pool, they are simply encasing it in concrete and providing a path for heat to get out.
Edit: In fact they do say what the fuel is. Its uranium hydride.
Anyway, this comment and the one on their website got me thinking. Here is their claim:
"Hyperion’s innovative energy technology is even more affordable than many developing “alternative” energy technologies."Well on a $/watt basis this is 100% true. Checking current solar module prices, we have 3-4 dollars per watt. Non-utility installation will double this price (these prices are the #1 reason why solar is not more ubiquitous). If you convert the heat to power you get about 25 megawatts, they claim. So we are really talking about 1 dollar per watt. This is supposed to include security, installation and so forth. I dont know if it includes the turbine and water system required to get the power, but lets assume not.
But what about the energy capable of being created over the life of the product?
Well the lifespan of the hyperion device is about 5 to 7 years (lets give it the upper end). 25mW*7 years*365 days/year*24hours/day*.001 kW/W = 1.5x10e9 kWh= $0.016/kWh.
Wow, that is pretty good. Industrial electricity costs about 5 cents/kWh, and residential can be 2x to 3x higher than that!
What about solar? For 25 million dollars at 4$/W, you can get about 6.25 MW. But the life of a solar panel is very very long. The general thining is that solar panels last 20-25 years. Some companies are claiming 35 years. For for our 25 million dollar investment, we get:
6.25 MWe *25 years*365 days/year*24 hours/day*.001 kW/W = 1.37x10e9KWh= $0.018/kWh
Yeah that is a bit more expensive, but that looks like a wash to me, because we have not gone over the fine details of each of these, mostly because this data is not available from Hyperion. these details include:
- Installation: Does the price tag include the turbine and new water system? Does it include the water routing? Does include the tie in to the grid?
- Maintenance: Does this price include the security guard? The upkeep of the turbine? The upkeep of the power switching and load ballancing hardware (less lectricity is used at night).
- End of Life: Does it include waste disposal? Digging the unit back up?
Solar thermal, which provides energy storage, and therefore does not suffer from the cyclic power generation of photovoltaic solar systems, is a far more likely substitute. Costs for a ST system show that a kWh can be had for as litle as $0.10, in a single year, not as analyzed above over the life of the plant! Geothermal is another system that may be more applicable for comparison.
All that being said, Im am totally for the deployment of the Hyperion systems for the following reasons:
- They do not emit greenhouse gasses
- They are inherently safe and can not melt dowm
- They are a simple device with few mechanics involved for its operation (besides the turbine)
- They are clearly cost effective
- They provide a decentralized power system. this is beneficial with regard to loading on the power grid, i.e. a blackout need not effect large areas. But also they make terrible targets for enemies as damage from an attack would be very minimal.
- They are economically feasable now, they do not need government sponsorship (something the republicans call socialism) to make them financially effective. Solar, wind, geothermal, biodiesel and other forms of alternaive energy do not share this feature right now.
So I say, if your community wants to invest in this system, Go For it! You could provide cheap power to your residents which may in turn boost your local economy.
But as a national plan, we need to get to the far harder to do "alternatives". We need to get a carbon capturing system in place. Algae to oil methods are the only viable method, but we are suffering from the current inability to convert the algae into oil in a financially viable (read: energy positive) way. We know how to grow it and what species to grow, we know what methods work to convert the oil to fuel. But we are stuck and the actual oil extraction part.
Similar problems abound with solar, right now the energy it takes to make a panel is only 1/7th of the energy is produces over its lifetime. This is a crappy ratio and is one of the things that leads to the high cost of the PV modules.
My moral of the story is here, endorse the local installation of decentralized, passive nuclear power, but ask your politicians to fund the alternatives, nuclear is not a long term solution. Oil and natural gas are not a long term solutions. Solar (including solar thermal and wind), geothermal, and algae are the long term solutions we need to figure out how to make financially competitive to excel forward.
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