Insight and inspiration

Energy flexibility and the war in Ukraine – the UK’s wake-up call?

It’s no surprise that over the past eight months, the invasion of Ukraine has significantly impacted global energy security. As gas supplies have become constrained, energy prices have skyrocketed. As a result, the UK has entered an energy crisis, with the head of National Grid warning that the coming winter will be “financially very, very hard” for many British households. 

The Government has sought to establish policies such as the Energy Price Guarantee to limit the impact of high household energy costs this winter. But even with these subsidies, the average household heating and electricity bill is expected to amount to around £2,500 – double what it was last year. On top of this, the UK is bracing itself for potential blackouts during the coldest months of the year if energy supplies run low. 

This presents a dual challenge: we must continue to transition to zero-emission generation while ensuring our energy system is resilient to economic shocks and provides security of supply.  

Several steps are being taken that address elements of this challenge, but   few of them address all the elements. 

For example, while the UK has made, and continues to make, great progress with renewable energy, the intermittency of wind and solar will negatively affect security of supply. This means we need more dispatchable generation sources to fill the gaps when the wind doesn’t blow, and the sun doesn’t shine.  

Conventional nuclear is a reliable, low-carbon source of energy that can provide the necessary baseload to the UK grid, and the Government’s aim of having nuclear power make up 25% of our energy mix by 2050 is laudable. But conventional nuclear is often expensive and lacks flexibility.  

Clearly, a key part of the solution is missing – a low-carbon energy source that is dispatchable and economic enough to support renewables and other zero-emission generation.  

That is why MoltexFLEX is creating the FLEX reactor – a molten salt reactor that will be able to store energy and dispatch it to the grid to meet shifting demands. The FLEX reactor’s ability to react swiftly to grid demand, increasing or decreasing energy output as needed, enables the further deployment of renewables. 

And while there is no doubt that the UK needs more flexible, low-carbon national power generation, there is also a question of affordability. Since the FLEX reactor was designed with simplicity in mind, its components can be factory-produced and are readily transportable. This reduces on-site work, increases speed of construction and minimises overall costs.  

The cost benefits don’t stop at construction.  Each FLEX reactor will produce 40 MW of thermal energy – enough to power around 40,000 homes. The reactor will be able to produce electricity and heat at around $40 per MWh and $10 per MWh respectively. This is a much lower cost than other nuclear reactors can achieve, and when financed at commercial rates, is comparable to offshore wind costs.  

 The International Energy Agency has called the crisis in Ukraine a “historic turning point towards a cleaner and more secure energy system.” There is undoubtedly an urgency to act now, and we have a huge opportunity in the UK to drive forward a cleaner and more secure energy supply. MoltexFLEX looks forward to playing a significant role in this transition. 

 Written by David Landon, MoltexFLEX CEO

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