Right-sizing a power plant

The average electrical powerplant in the US has a name plate capacity of 120 MWe and delivered capacity of 46 MWe when averaged over the year. These are not massive power plants!

The average US process heat facility in petroleum, chemical, paper, and food industries has a heat demand of 77 MWth. The figures below show the distribution of electrical power plants according to their delivered power rating. Over half the power supplied comes from power plants less than 500 MWe. Lower power ratings are even greater contributors when we consider other energy generation devices like automobiles, ships, and aircraft. One should also consider transmission and distribution costs which can vary widely depending on the degree of centralization and the specific location, but generally can be on the order of half the delivered cost of power and in the range 1-15 cents per kWhe.

A single 1GWth reactor is unable to supply heat to 10 dispersed 100MWth users, but a 100MWth reactor can be replicated to serve a gigawatt user. From a business perspective, large reactors sacrifice the ability to serve a wide range of geographically distributed and smaller end-users.

It has been proposed that nuclear continue to try multi-gigawatt scale deployments in the form of nuclear hubs - megaproject facilities where massive power plants are collocated with large power users. This can often make sense if there is already an industrial zone, ready to receive a large central power plant. But the reality is that most power generation is at a much smaller scale and geographically distributed, by physical requirement of the end-user or the shear impracticality of centralized power projects.

We have existing infrastructure that has evolved over centuries with influence from waterways, roads, cities, and the resources at hand. We should consider matching new solutions to the existing infrastructure. Creating new gigawatt scale hubs could devolve into the usual predicament of the central planner: underutilized and unwanted infrastructure.

Power plant Counts by Delivered Power Rating for US Powerplants using 2021 data
Total Delivered Energy by Delivered Power Rating for US Powerplants using 2021 EPA data.