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Utilities Eye Nuclear Power to Meet Data Center Power Demand

A growing number of U.S. electric utilities are eyeing the potential of utilizing nuclear power to meet the data center power demand needs.

In a recent earnings conference call with investors, Ralph LaRossa, President and CEO of New Jersey-based IOU Public Service Energy Group, noted that there has been “discussion lately about the potential for direct power sales” to data centers from the company’s Artificial Island nuclear power site.

“We have had discussions related to both sides of the meter in recent months in the form of new business inquiries” at PSE&G, a PSEG subsidiary, for mid-size data center construction of approximately 50 to 100 megawatts and behind the meter inquiries for co-located facilities “that prioritize highly reliable, carbon-free baseload power from existing facilities, all without the challenges faced by non-dispatchable generation.”

PSEG subsidiary PSEG Nuclear in April notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of its intent to seek subsequent license renewal for the Salem Generating Station, Units 1 and 2, and Hope Creek Generating Station, which collectively produce nearly half of New Jersey’s electricity and 85% of the state’s carbon-free generation.

The three generating stations are co-located on one site on the Artificial Island in Lower Alloways Creek Township, Salem County, N.J.

Utility Says Nuclear Fleet, Data Economy Go Together “Like Peanut Butter and Jelly”

On May 9, Constellation Energy Corp. CEO Joseph Dominguez told investors on the investor-owned utility’s first quarter earnings call that “the data economy and Constellation’s nuclear energy go together like peanut butter and jelly and as such we’re in advanced conversations with multiple clients – large, well-known companies that you all know – about powering their needs.”

He said that “speed to execution is important to them as it is to us, but these are large and complicated transactions that require diligence and time to finalize and while we’re not done yet, I do expect that we will finalize agreements that will have long term and transformational value.”

Idaho National Laboratory

In a Q&A with Public Power Current, Chris Lohse, Innovation and Technology Manager, Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear at the Idaho National Laboratory, was asked to describe what the selling points an existing U.S. nuclear power plant operator could make to data centers looking for power supplies.

“I can’t speak for the nuclear plant owners themselves and a lot of this will vary by what is allowed in the market that it operates in,” he said.

“Our current fleet of nuclear power plants operate very well with capacity factors that average ~93%. They also generate large amounts of power with zero emissions. So in the end they provide baseload power with zero carbon, so for companies looking to reduce carbon emissions with large power demands, it’s a pretty good match,” he said.

Lohse noted that the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear “did a small study to look at the costs to run a data center using 100% renewables plus battery or 100% nuclear and ranges of nuclear/renewables. This was assumed to be off the grid as the discussion about load growth has people looking at various options.”

As far as big takeaways, “when building off the grid with needs for large loads the run 100% of the time, clean firm power wins out. This is because there is a huge overbuild of renewables/batteries required to manage through the night or when the wind doesn’t blow. So for bringing your own power, firm/dispatchable power generation is key.”

This work was presented at Data Center World in April “and we will have a white paper out here soon.”

When asked if small modular reactors are a potential partner for data centers looking for power suppliers, Lohse said, “In short yes, there’s a potential partner there.”

For building anything new, “the challenge at this point is aligning timelines. In the United States, the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program reactors are looking to come online by/near 2030,” he said.

“So, if someone wants power tomorrow that will be a challenge for SMRs. There is a reactor demonstration/commercial timeline that INL has that can show when some of the demonstrations and commercial operations will start,” he added.

The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear initiative is a public-private partnership established by the Department of Energy and operates out of Idaho National Laboratory. 

It facilitates access to the technical, regulatory and financial support needed to accelerate the commercialization of advanced nuclear technologies. As technologies move closer to commercialization, GAIN is also evolving to support organizations (states, utilities, communities) that are new to nuclear and interested in learning more. 

Amazon Web Services Buys Data Center Campus to be Supplied by Nuclear Plant

Earlier this year, Talen Energy announced that it had entered into a $650 million agreement with Amazon Web Services for the sale of a data center campus to AWS that will be powered by the Susquehanna nuclear power plant located in Pennsylvania.

Under the agreement, Talen will supply long-term power to the campus from Susquehanna through fixed-price power commitments.

Each step-up in capacity commitment has a fixed price for an initial 10-year term, after which it reprices based on a fixed margin above PJM energy and capacity prices.

Also under the agreement, AWS will develop up to a 960 MW data center campus. AWS has minimum contractual power commitments that ramp up in 120 MW increments over several years. AWS has a one-time option to cap commitments at 480 MW and has two 10-year extension options, tied to nuclear license renewals.

Standard Power Chooses Small Modular Reactor Technology for Data Centers

And in 2023, Standard Power, a provider of infrastructure as a service to advanced data processing companies, announced plans to develop two small modular reactor-powered facilities that will together produce nearly 2 gigawatts of energy and has chosen to work with NuScale Power and ENTRA1 Energy to support Standard Power’s two projects.

The facilities will be located in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Standard Power aims to use the carbon-free energy to power nearby data centers.

As the technology provider, NuScale will provide its approved NuScale SMR technology for these projects, the only SMR technology that has received design approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Company Unveiled Plans to Develop Data Center in Conn. Powered by Nuclear Plant

Meanwhile, NE Edge previously unveiled plans to develop a data center in Connecticut that would be powered by electricity provided directly from the adjacent dual-reactor Dominion Millstone Power Station in Waterford, Conn., which is owned by investor-owned Dominion Energy.

The Connecticut Senate Energy and Technology Committee on March 21 passed a bill that would require the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to evaluate the impact of large data centers on grid reliability.

Under the bill, (Senate Bill 299) introduced by Connecticut State Sen. Norm Needleman, the PURA would need to initiate a related proceeding on or before July 1, 2024, in consultation with the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the regional independent system operator, ISO New England.

SMRs Could Create New Opportunities for Colocation Data Centers

In a November 2023 blog, Hana Chabinsky, a content strategist for Last Energy, wrote that the push towards small modular reactors “could especially benefit colocation data centers, which consume more energy to meet the needs of multiple clients.” 

She notes in her blog that a colocation data center “provides space for businesses to host computing hardware and servers offsite. These facilities are ideal for companies that lack space for an on-site enterprise center or an IT team to manage one.”

Like other types of data centers, “colocation data centers would benefit from the primary benefits of nuclear power, which uniquely addresses all three dimensions of the energy “trilemma”: affordability, sustainability, and reliability,” she writes in the blog. 

By colocating existing reactors with their facilities, “data centers benefit from the carbon and cost savings of nuclear power. While this could be a viable strategy for some data center customers, SMRs expand their possibilities by eliminating the need to locate their facilities near existing power plants.” 

Last Energy is “creating a new system for the development and delivery of micro modular nuclear power plants. Combining proven reactor technology with a first-of-its-kind delivery model and fully modular plant design, Last Energy aims to decarbonize energy production and increase access to clean, affordable power,” it states on its website.



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