It’s not now going to happen in Helsinki, but should cities be making more use, in district heating networks, of the vast quantities of ‘waste’ (and low carbon) heat produced at nuclear power stations? A proposal to build the Loviisa 3 nuclear power station close to Helsinki has been turned down by the Finnish government – but Fortum had proposed to pipe hot water 80–100 km from the proposed plant into the existing district heating network serving the Helsinki area. See the article beginning on page 30.
Nuclear power is the archetypal centralized energy technology – enormous plants, usually sited well away from built-up areas and therefore nowhere heat loads that could be served. However, nuclear stations also discard enormous quantities of heat, around the clock and almost continuously, that almost cry out to be used in a combined heat and power model. And, although there is precious little evidence of this on the ground yet, we are told that we are on the cusp of a renaissance in nuclear new-build, both in Europe and North America.
If some new nuclear plants are to be built, and if some of these are to be sited reasonably close to cites (Fortum engineers were looking at 80–100 km) then I wonder whether studies have been made to create nuclear CHP plants, with the ‘waste’ heat being put to use in a way that would significantly increase the thermal efficiency of the plants. It’s already being done in Russia and a few East European countries, apparently. If only there were credible designs for smaller-scale nuclear plants, that could be built on the edge of cities.
At the other end of the size scale, could we be about to see the transformation of stationary fuel cell technology from something exotic to the first ‘zero-emission’ on-site heat and power generation technology to really take off? We report on page 16 the findings of a study by Frost & Sullivan that suggests the market for stationary fuel cells is transitioning from a validation to a pre-commercial stage in Europe, particularly in Germany, the UK, Italy and France.
Meanwhile, the flow of new CHP projects based on fuel cells in California continues, albeit supported by funding from various public sector organizations. A report by Fuel Cells 2000 adds Connecticut, New York, Ohio and South Carolina to the list of states giving significant volumes of support to the technology, and a previous Frost & Sullivan report forecasts a ten-fold increase in the size of the stationary fuel cell market in the Asia Pacific region by 2015.
Bullish predictions for all three major regions – could it be that our long wait for fuel cells to join the mainstream is coming to a close? This is perhaps a more likely scenario than the widespread use of waste heat from nuclear power stations.