Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The LFTR and the Smart Grid

The primary issue for the post carbon electrical system is capital costs. Major Asian economic powers, India and China, will have enormous capital cost advantageous for a long time to come. Conventional power plants in China are and will far lower cost to build now, and for some time to come. There are, however, significant gaps in Chinese technology, and these gaps will help the United States remain competitive. However, careful attention must always be paid to cost.

The Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) continues to show outstanding promise as a future source of low cost electricity. Unlike nuclear fusion, which will require multiple technological breakthroughs, LFTR technology is mature, and for less than the cost of developing a modern jetliner, the LFTR can be made ready for commercial production. LFTR developmental time frames can be shortened to from 5 to 8 years, and LFTR production will be far more scalable than conventional nuclear power, while LFTRs can be brought online at a far lower cost. LFTRs are able to respond to grid electrical demand on a real time basis, thus the LFTR is potentially an important tool in maintaining grid stability. Unlike other reactors, operating some LFTR designs on partial power would actually extend the life of the LFTR core. Thus the LFTR is a real candidate to maintain grid stability in the post carbon era, and would form an excellent match to inherently unstable renewables.

Grid stability could also be maintained, at least in theory, by the use of smart grid tools. These would include installing technology allowing central control on household appliances, which along with centralized grid software would afford grid managers some measure of of control over grid demand. Yet at present the tools an technology for this smart grid management are no where near maturity. For example there is at present no national standard for smart grid technology. National standard setting may still be several years away. Once standards are set, smart grid technology must be developed and deployed, presumably this would include the technology for smart grid appliance management. We should assume that some time will pass between the setting of standards and the development of the control technology, perhaps five years. At that time, appliance manufacturers must redesign their appliances in order to integrate smart grid control technology with them. The design and development of this technological innovation will not happen over night, so we can add 5 years or so for the inclusion of smart grid technology into major household appliances.

Appliances like refrigerators are designed for 20 years service life, and in the past they been replaced in a 14 year cycle, but if real household income in the United States drops between now and 2020, the replacement of refrigerators is likely to extend out to the full 20 year span. Thus it cannot be presumed that significant penetration of smart grid controls into American refrigerators will begin until around 2030, and it will be some time in the 2040's before that penetration will begin to approach 100%.

If renewables reach 20% penetration of the grid sometimes in the 2020's there may well be a significant performance gap between smart grid promise, and actual grid control system capacity. I will assume that the direct cost of smart grid controls on major appliances will not greatly increase the cost of appliances, but there may be significant issues.

Smart grid technology will probably be vulnerable to hacks. Both householders/appliance owners and third parties might have incentives to make such hacks. A malicious hack might shut every refrigerator on the grid down, In addition to hacks, consumer resistance to smart grid features might become a political issue. At present smart grid advocates control communications about the smart grid. People are being discouraged from thinking about what they might not like about the smart grid, This could in the long run backfire on smart grid implementation strategy. Once implemented, wide spread bitter opposition to smart grid features might emerge. Grd management control of appliances could be piggybacked onto other issues.

The LFTR is likely to draw some opposition from anti-nuclear types, but acceptance of nuclear power is growing, and once the LFTR cost advantages become known, its rapid deployment will quickly follow, Given an intense development program during the next ten years, large scale LFTE deployment can begin about 2020. Thus LFTR based grid management will be possible long befor the smart grid reaches maturity. Given that LFTR grid control tools relie on the internal dynamics of the LFTR system, and are not electronic, LFTR grid control will never be subject to an attack via software hacks. Thus LFTR grid control offers superior grid security.


Finrod said...

And if you do get large csale deployment of LFTRs, why would anyone put up with the imposition of "demand management"?

Charles Barton said...

Interesting question, Finrod. Do you think any of the renewables/smart grid advocates would be smart enough to ask it? I don't either. Lets not be to obvious about the question or its answer.


Blog Archive

Some neat videos

Nuclear Advocacy Webring
Ring Owner: Nuclear is Our Future Site: Nuclear is Our Future
Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet Free Site Ring from Bravenet
Get Your Free Web Ring
by Bravenet.com
Dr. Joe Bonometti speaking on thorium/LFTR technology at Georgia Tech David LeBlanc on LFTR/MSR technology Robert Hargraves on AIM High