Electricity Generation

Electricity generation and distribution has been described as the most important technology development in human history. Electricity is an essential part of today's society and culture and plays a role in almost every human activity and advancement.

The technologies used to generate electricity today derive their energy from three groups of resources – fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas and oil; nuclear materials; and renewable sources, including solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal and biomass energy.

Fossil fuels have been an integral component of the power generation portfolio since commercial electricity's inception in the late nineteenth century. Today, fossil fuel plants account for more than 60 percent of the world's electricity production and are a reliable source of power with low operating costs. Research and development efforts can help utilities reduce emissions from current assets and build new and increasingly efficient and operationally flexible generating units with advanced emissions control technologies.

The commercial use of nuclear energy to generate electricity began in the 1950s and currently accounts for about 14% of the world's electricity production. More than 400 nuclear reactors operate around the world in 30 countries, and several more countries are pursuing nuclear power. Nuclear power plants are reliable generation sources, often operating for 18-24 months without shutting down. Further, because the energy is derived from the fission of a nucleus and not from chemical combustion, emissions are minimal. Research and technology can help address the key challenges of high capital costs, management of radioactive waste, and the aging of plant components and materials.

Evolving energy policies, changes in power markets and rapid technology improvements make it ever more important for electricity generators to include and expand renewable generation resources in their asset mix. As these renewable resources become increasingly integrated with the grid, environmental impacts relative to land use, vegetation management, species and ecosystem interaction and human health and safety must be considered. EPRI is assessing the status, performance, and cost of renewable generating technologies and providing a variety of critical information for the comparison, selection, operation and maintenance of these resources.

 Contact

For more information please contact:

Jeff Brehm
Communications Manager, Fossil Fuels and Renewables
Phone: 704-595-2521
Email: jbrehm@epri.com

Renita Crawford
Communications Manager, Nuclear
Phone: 704-595-2888
Email: rcrawford@epri.com

 ‭(Hidden)‬ Content Editor

Fossil Fuels Nuclear Renewables
Fossil Fuels
Advanced Coal; Carbon Capture and Storage:
EPRI's research in advanced coal plants helps to accelerate the development and commercial application of future coal-based power generation that includes carbon capture technologies. New plant concepts and designs address the challenges of deploying these technologies, including technical risks and economic and environmental performance.
Combustion Turbines:
Power generation from natural-gas-powered combustion turbine plants is growing rapidly, especially in the U.S. due to the increased worldwide supply of natural gas fuel and from the continued pressure to limit the use of coal-based power plants. They also benefit from their greater ability to operate in cycling duty to accommodate the growing deployments of variable power sources such as wind and solar. EPRI research addresses critical issues affecting combustion turbines such as life-cycle costs, premature wear, failure risks and environmental impacts. This allows the owners and operators of these complex and increasingly important assets to effectively managing their risks, costs and availability.
Environmental Controls:
EPRI helps develop technology solutions to curb nitrous oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SOx), particulates, mercury, and other organic and inorganic hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) emitted from fossil fuel plants. Our research aims to reduce CO2 emissions by optimizing fossil fuel combustion in a manner that minimizes impacts on power plant operations and performances. Predictive tools, databases, monitoring technologies, guidelines, and best practices help the industry reduce risks and objectively evaluate and implement technology options to achieve environmental performance goals that are cost effective
Plant Reliability:
Safety and availability loss due to mechanical failures are two key issues driving research and development on major fossil power plant components. EPRI provides data that measures material degradation on these critical plant components and further informs materials-related research and development for advanced generation technologies. These efforts help utilities balance the risks and costs of the largest, most costly equipment and focuses on using proven technologies to create solutions.
Operations and Maintenance:
Plant operators must continuously improve operations performance and shift from a reactive to proactive approach to maintenance to achieve reliability goals. EPRI's operations and maintenance research addresses the need to improve operational effectiveness and safety while reducing costs and providing technical support for the next generation of plant employees. These efforts offer integrated solutions that address the need for meaningful processes, technologies, and skilled individuals.
Materials and Chemistry:
Today's fossil power plants increasingly are adopting market-driven operating strategies such as cycling, pushing for maximum output during peak price periods, and frequent fuel switching to take advantage of spot market opportunities. These practices can accelerate m​​aterial damage in major power block components. Safety and availability loss due to failures are two key issues driving EPRI's research and development efforts, which include flow-accelerated corrosion (FAC) mechanisms, materials selection guidance, corrosion mitigation methods, and repair and welding technologies needed to improve equipment performance and reliability, as well as advanced materials for new plants.
Power Plant Water Management:
As a limited resource with competing demands, water is becoming more strategically important to the electric power industry. Thermal electric power generation uses substantial amounts of water to provide cooling for power plants, and also discharges wastewater, which can be contaminated with metals and other dissolved and suspended solids. EPRI's Power Plant Water Management research is focused on ensuring the continued ability to generate electricity under increasing challenges to reduce water use and contamination.​
Nuclear Technology
Water Use:
Advanced cooling, water treatment, and other innovations can help reduce freshwater use, enhance regulatory compliance, and support the siting of new generation capacity. Dew-point and thermosyphon cooling technologies, for example, could significantly reduce evaporative losses and makeup water requirements for plants with wet recirculating cooling towers.
Acoustic Mouse:
EPRI is developing a state-of-the-art handheld tool that could revolutionize the inspection of nuclear plant components. The acoustic mouse can deliver real-time ultrasonic images matching or exceeding the precision achieved by conventional techniques, at lower cost.
Concrete Inspection:
Improved inspection and asset management technologies are needed to address potential degradation of concrete structures. For example, the concrete crawler robot could provide fast, safe, and in-depth inspection of large, mission-critical structures.
Powder Metallurgy:
A manufacturing innovation being developed by EPRI can produce valve bodies and other complex components in near-final-shape form, accelerating fabrication, improving inspectability, and reducing life-cycle costs.
Sensors and Operations:
Existing sensors used in nuclear power plants are effective, but some have characteristics that can challenge reliability and performance. Hydrogen sensors, for example, are time-consuming to calibrate, and pressure sensors have many moving parts and require electricity in containment to operate. EPRI is investigating advanced technologies such as solid state hydrogen sensors and fiber-optic Bragg gate sensors that could avoid these limitations.
Fuel and Waste
Fuel Reliability:
Safe, economic nuclear plant operation depends on the reliability of the nuclear fuel assemblies that are comprised of thousands of individual fuel rods. While rare, nuclear fuel failures can result in unplanned plant outages and tens of millions of dollars in replacement costs. EPRI conducts research aimed at identifying the underlying causes of fuel failures and developing guidelines that will ensure nuclear fuel assemblies function as intended. EPRI also investigates advanced fuel concepts that may enhance a nuclear plant's ability to cope during situations that challenge safety.
Used Fuel Storage and Disposal:
After powering a nuclear reactor for several years, used nuclear fuel must be carefully stored and managed prior to ultimate disposal. Because final disposal facilities are not yet operational around the world, nuclear plants must safely store used fuel on-site for many years. EPRI research examines the technical issues that may impact used fuel storage, transportation, and disposal, informing operational and regulatory decisions regarding such high-level waste management.
Nuclear Waste Management:
Nuclear plants generate "low-level" waste materials that have been contaminated with minor amounts of radioactive material or have become radioactive through exposure to neutron radiation. These materials – which include protective shoe covers and clothing, rags, filters, reactor water treatment residues, and other equipment and tools – must be handled and disposed of in a safe and cost-effective manner. EPRI research activities focus on minimizing the generation of low-level waste, developing guidance for on-site storage, and examining safe and effective alternatives to existing regulations.
Accident-Tolerant Fuels:
The Fukushima Daiichi event has raised interest in fuel designs with greater resistance to accident conditions. EPRI is investigating several fuel concepts that could replace some of the zirconium used in current designs with materials that melt at higher temperatures, potentially giving plant operators more time to take actions during an accident.
Radiation and Safety
Radiation Protection:

To protect worker and public health, regulations establish limits on the amount of radiation that individuals can be exposed to in and around nuclear plants. Technologies and work practices can be employed to reduce how much radiation is produced from a given source and how much is transmitted to a given individual. EPRI research develops guidance, technologies, and operational practices to more aggressively reduce radiation fields at the source and to minimize worker dose to as low as reasonably achievable levels.

Safety Assessment:

An important element of safe nuclear plant operation involves the lowering of risks to certain events and scenarios. Opportunities to improve plant safety can occur via physical plant changes that directly reduce risks and through less tangible measures such as enhanced safety focus. EPRI research enables nuclear plants to perform rigorous safety assessments that can inform plant design and operation. EPRI's accident analysis code, for example, can be used to understand how an accident might progress, facilitating planning, training, and heightened emphasis on safe plant operation.

Health Effects:

Radiation, whether it's from the sun, from medical equipment, or from nuclear power plants, can have human health effects. Differences in radiation type, exposure time, time between exposures, and other factors can impact the degree of damage from radiation. EPRI conducts health effects research in targeted areas, such as the health effects associated with low-dose radiation and cancer in populations living near nuclear facilities.

New Plant Deployment:

More than 60 new nuclear plants are under construction around the world. Many more are in development. These plants must overcome a number of regulatory, economic, technical, and social challenges prior to licensing, construction and successful startup. Through its Advanced Nuclear Technology Program, EPRI focuses on developing the technologies and tools to support the safe, economic, and reliable deployment of advanced nuclear plants in the near term, while pursuing research to inform decisions regarding nuclear sustainability and growth in the long term.

Advanced Light Water Reactors:
The foreseeable future for nuclear power will be tied predominantly to advanced light water reactor designs. EPRI research helps accelerate activities aimed at building confidence in these newer designs, including optimized fabrication and construction practices.
Small Modular Reactors:
Commercial interest is building in small modular reactors as an alternative to conventional large-scale nuclear plants. Small modular reactors could offer opportunities for enhanced safety, improved economics, quicker construction, and greater quality control. EPRI research addresses an array of issues that could impact the ability to license, construct, start up and efficiently operate these plants worldwide.
Advanced Plant Designs:
A number of advanced plant designs have been proposed that could further enhance safety, accommodate a more diverse fuel supply, and enable more effective management of used fuel and waste. EPRI conducts exploratory research supporting design and demonstration of next-generation nuclear plants, including various fusion designs and high-temperature gas reactors.
Operations and Maintenance
Equipment Reliability:
Nuclear plants rely on a large number of pumps, valves, cables, circuit breakers, and other mechanical, electrical, and instrumentation and control equipment to operate safely, reliably and cost-effectively. Keeping this equipment operating at high reliability depends on the successful implementation of carefully designed operations, maintenance, repair, and replacement practices by properly trained plant personnel. EPRI's equipment reliability research develops various tools and techniques that nuclear plant and engineering personnel can apply to increase overall plant reliability and safety.
Inspection Techniques:
A variety of techniques are employed in the nuclear power industry to inspect materials for potential indications of cracking or degradation. For example, the same basic ultrasound technologies that are used to monitor a baby's health during pregnancy are deployed in the nuclear power industry by experienced practitioners to assess the health of plant components and welds. EPRI develops, tests, and evaluates new inspection technologies and practices for use in challenging applications, such as underground piping and complex geometries. Information from these inspections is then used to inform strategic decisions on whether and when to replace components, repair them, or continue their operation.
Mobile Work Management:
Competitive pressures are driving nuclear plant owners to evaluate new technologies and techniques that can optimize operations and maintenance and help keep electricity production costs as low as possible. Mobile work management encompasses a suite of tools – from electronic work packages to virtual reality "apps" – that EPRI is developing to support more effective plant maintenance.
Materials:
The materials used in an operating power plant are exposed to conditions that can potentially impact their structural integrity, particularly as the plant ages. Understanding how such degradation may occur in various materials – at what rate and under what conditions – helps inform nuclear plant design and operation. EPRI develops inspection and evaluation guidelines for identifying potential degradation, assesses mitigation technologies for preventing further degradation, and conducts fundamental research on new materials with enhanced properties for maximizing useful plant life.
Risk Management:
An informed, rational assessment of risk can contribute to safer and more cost-effective nuclear plant operation. By focusing attention on those plant systems and equipment with the highest risk to plant and personnel safety, nuclear plant operators can fully incorporate the relevant technical factors into decisions about plant maintenance, modifications and procedures. EPRI risk and safety research helps quantify risks from within the plant's systems and from external hazards, including earthquakes, floods, fires, tornadoes, and security threats. Continuous refinement of the models used to analyze risk is necessary to ensure that decisions based on these models reflect industry operating experience and current computational advances.
Renewables
Wind:

As electricity demand continues to increase worldwide and in the United States, the attraction of zero fuel requirements, low carbon footprints, regional on and off-shore potential, as well as mounting political and regulatory pressures, makes wind power an expected major player in future electricity production. While wind power technologies have advanced significantly in recent years, major obstacles continue to stand in the way of widespread deployment, effective integration within the electric grid, and sustainable long-term performance.

EPRI's targeted research can improve the cost of electricity from wind turbines through analyses that detail essential components of turbine development projects, such as operation and maintenance costs. Increases in capacity factors, an understanding of grid integration with existing and future infrastructures, reliability performance and evaluations and reductions in environmental costs are part of EPRI's efforts to offer insight on wind technologies' expansion.

Solar:

The large gap between society's current use of solar energy and its underdeveloped potential represents a significant technical and economic challenge. Despite meaningful industry growth and technological progress, there remains a need for advanced solar technologies that will provide cost-competitive power. Steady improvements in materials, manufacturing processes, and scientific understanding are producing incremental cost reductions while solar innovations are anticipated.

EPRI's research helps electricity generators understand key factors for photovoltaic plants to deliver high-value power and effectively integrate with electricity infrastructure as penetration levels increase. In addition, EPRI research allows for the development of innovative, concentrated solar power technologies and configurations that offer firm and dispatchable power at lower costs.

Waterpower:

A focus on renewable and noncarbon-emitting energy sources presents new opportunities for waterpower development, including conventional hydropower, pumped storage, and emerging hydrokinetic energy from oceanic, tidal, and in-stream sources. Waterpower is challenged, however, by technology development and concerns related to fish passage restrictions, turbine mortality on downstream migrating fish, and other environmental and aquatic species impacts.

EPRI's waterpower research assesses the generation potential, status, environmental performance, and cost of conventional hydropower and hydrokinetic technologies. Research includes national and international waterpower industry issues such as technology development and optimization, operations and maintenance, life extension and modernization, resource assessment, fish passage and protection, and environmental impact assessment and stewardship.

Biomass:

Power produced from biomass offers a renewable, low carbon option for dispatchable energy. Additionally, biomass can provide local economic support, co-product opportunities, and environmental benefits. Despite these advantages, overall development of biomass-based power is hindered by two critical issues: developing a reliable, sustainable supply chain and producing cost-effective power with high efficiency.

EPRI's biomass research provides ongoing insight into the technical feasibility of biomass options, detailing the costs of those options, and examining the carbon footprint of biomass power.

Geothermal:

Geothermal promises to underpin a robust renewable energy-based electricity portfolio for the future due to its potential as a base load generation source. Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) can remove current geographic limitations of geothermal by engineering the necessary conditions for geothermal power generation in vast areas where the full set of sub-surface requirements do not initially exist.

EPRI's geothermal research addresses many facets of geothermal power generation including resource exploration and assessment, power generation technologies and environmental considerations surrounding traditional and EGS systems. The broad R&D focus of EPRI allows for an understanding of the art and science of geothermal power generation and the value and potential risks of this resource for sound investment and planning decisions.