Decarbonizing the Electric Sector: Combining Renewable and Nuclear Energy using Thermal Storage

Paul Denholm, Jeffrey C. King, Charles F. Kutcher, Paul P.H. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus Citations


Both renewable and nuclear energy can provide significant contributions to decarbonizing the electric sector. However, a grid employing large amounts of wind and solar energy requires the balance of the system to be highly flexible to respond to the increased variability of the net load. This makes deployment of conventional nuclear power challenging both due to the technical challenges of plant cycling and economic limits of reduced capacity factor. In the United States nuclear power plants generally provide constant, base load power and are most economic when operated at constant power levels. Operating nuclear power plants in load-following modes decreases the plants' annual energy output and increases the levelized cost of energy, decreasing economic competitiveness. One possible solution is to couple thermal energy storage to nuclear power plants. This would enable the reactor to remain at nearly constant output, while cycling the electrical generator in response to the variability of the net load. This paper conceptually explores combinations of wind, solar, and nuclear that can provide a large fraction of a system's electricity, assuming the use of thermal energy storage that would allow nuclear power to provide load following and cycling duty while operating at a constant reactor power output.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)301-311
Number of pages11
JournalEnergy Policy
StatePublished - 2012

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-53118


  • energy storage
  • nuclear power
  • renewable energy


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