District energy systems can efficiently provide heating and cooling to large groups of buildings. These systems use equipment such as boilers and chillers to produce steam, hot water, and chilled water. By centralizing production equipment, they benefit from economies of scale, reducing costs while freeing up space in buildings for other uses.
Typically, district energy systems employ a combination of boilers, chillers, and generators, powered by fossil fuels. Lower emission options are being considered including nuclear microreactors, which can be tailored to occupy less than an acre and produce less than 50 megawatts of energy. The Nuclear in District Energy Applications (NuIDEA) Action Plan, released in February, outlines the requirements for enabling nuclear energy as a carbon-free option for district energy systems by 2026.
Making large-scale changes to existing infrastructure to assist with achieving decarbonization has significant technical and financial challenges. To address these challenges, more than twenty organizations came together in the spring of 2022 to form the NuIDEA initiative. The participants include Burns & McDonnell, CenTrio, Constellation Energy, Duke Energy, International District Energy Association, North Carolina State University, Nuclear Energy Agency, Nuclear Energy Institute, Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited, Sargent & Lundy, University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The recently released action plan represents the group’s work to identify and address the challenges. The North American market its initial focus, but other international markets may be explored in the future. The plan identifies actions and owners in eleven areas that may be necessary to enable nuclear power as an option for district energy systems including project development and execution, permitting, technical guidance, operations and maintenance, security, and ownership models. Consistent with its societal mission, EPRI will provide an open forum for organizations and individuals interested in NuIDEA and will contribute independent and objective insights in areas of EPRI’s expertise.