The European energy transition successfully empowers energy consumers to stimulate the deployment of renewables. In some countries, consumers are also empowered to support an alternative way to decarbonise the energy industry. They take a stand for nuclear energy, writes Patrick Bauduin.
In Europe, public opinion towards nuclear energy seems to be shifting. The UK is one of the countries that has included nuclear energy in the strategy for their future energy mix and has also actively supported the development of small modular reactors.
In Eastern Europe, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are planning to ramp up their nuclear capacity and in Finland and in the Netherlands public opinion is turning in favour of nuclear energy. In the Netherlands, nuclear energy even became a big theme during the recent national elections as it becomes painfully clear that the decarbonisation of the energy industry by renewables only is more difficult than expected. Large scale renewable energy projects on land are meeting growing resistance from local residents.
Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, Jacopo Buongiorno summarises the Dutch situation as following: “The Netherlands is a small country and it’s already packed. If you are going to use land for your energy infrastructure, you better use energy sources that don’t take a lot of land”.
Buongiorno explains: “Nuclear energy has the lowest land usage and the highest capacity factor of all energy sources”. Furthermore, he says “it has one of the lowest lifecycle greenhouse gas footprints of all energy sources and the volumes of waste produced are hundreds of times less than for solar or wind”.
Choosing 100% nuclear energy
More consumers actively want to support nuclear energy. In the Netherlands, this resulted in the creation of the “Atoom Alliantie” (Atom Alliance), the only energy retailer in the country that sells 100% nuclear power. The company started last year and enables energy consumers to support nuclear energy by using it. A large portion of its profit is donated to scientific research into the next generation of nuclear technology.
Also in Sweden, several energy retailers enable consumers to choose 100% nuclear energy. Kärnfull energy was the first one in Sweden. Its Co-Founder, John Ahlberg, said to ENLIT Europe: “nuclear is the cleanest electricity in the world over its life cycle”. He was wondering why no one was selling it.
“We said, Okay, let’s start a company that has the cleanest electricity in Sweden and see what happens (…) And it just took off like crazy.” Denmark will soon join the select list of countries of empowered nuclear energy consumers. Kärnfull Energi is currently launching its concept in its neighbouring country as well.
How do consumers get the guarantee that they are using 100% nuclear power?
In order to keep track of the origin of the electricity in our power grid, generators need to prove the origin of all electricity they physically supply, so-called Full Disclosure. They issue Guarantees of origin (GoOs) for renewables and certificates of Origin (CoOs) for nuclear and fossil fuels.
For every MW that consumers use, the energy retailers buy one MW of power from a nuclear power plant via CoOs. This mechanism is exactly the same as what is currently already common practice with enabling consumers to buy 100% renewable energy.
Whether more energy retailers will follow this trend remains to be seen. The current debate whether the European Union should label nuclear power as a green investment will definitely encourage a new way of thinking towards nuclear energy.