How nuclear energy can decarbonize the world’s top producer of carbon
As countries inch toward a shared objective for net-zero carbon emissions, heavy industry looms in the background.
While it might seem like a faraway concept, heavy industry plays a pivotal role in our daily lives. Its definition is expansive, encompassing any manufacturers in the industrial sector that produce large, heavy materials – usually in bulk. True to its name, heavy industry is also the heftiest producer of carbon in the world.
Major examples of heavy industry include:
In the UK alone, heavy industry accounts for 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions. And among members of the international Group of Seven (G7), heavy industry sectors are responsible for more than 15% of coal use and about 10% of oil and gas use, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Globally, heavy industry sectors emit about 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year: more than one-sixth of total CO2 emissions from the global energy system.
Regardless of which industrial sector you begin with, nuclear energy is the best carbon-free solution for the decarbonization of heavy industry. No other option has the power to achieve the amount of energy that industrial sites need for their daily functions.
Within heavy industry, nuclear promotes economic revitalization and energy independence – and it will also generate more heat. In addition to low-carbon electricity, nuclear plants naturally produce heat: an important product for customers in heavy industry, as heat can be used for both industrial applications and nuclear waste management.
The key to nuclear is in its construction. With the right design, we can scale nuclear plants to meet the energy and heat demands of heavy industry.
Historically, nuclear energy projects have been plagued by technical complexity. The design of nuclear plants is often too large and costly, resulting in projects that consistently run over budget and over-schedule.
At Last Energy, we acknowledge this history and reframe nuclear plants as products, not over-complicated projects. Within this business model, we produce, own, and operate cost-effective nuclear facilities, using proven reactor technology and a full-service delivery model.
With history as our guide, Last Energy sells Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs): long-term contracts over a set number of years. Manufacturers are already accustomed to PPAs, in which third-party sellers agree to build, maintain, and operate energy systems either on-site or off-site. PPAs have driven the development of independent power projects around the world, enabling industrial customers to define the cash flow structure of their energy projects.
By relying on the existing PPA model, Last Energy maintains its commitment to simplifying and selling nuclear energy – not the plants themselves – so that customers can focus on what they do best, fueled by consistent, low-carbon power.
Most customers in heavy industry need power 24/7, 365 days a year. Their energy sources can’t go down, or else global customers – like you and I – won’t have the materials we need to commute to work, perform our jobs, and maintain our current lifestyles. Electricity, coal, cars, cement, and surgical supplies: these represent just a smattering of everyday things, made by heavy industries, that we can’t risk losing on account of an unreliable energy supplier.
In terms of energy production, nuclear is notoriously reliable. With just a small amount of uranium, a single nuclear plant can produce about one gigawatt of nuclear power: enough for a city with one million people. Nuclear plants are designed to operate for longer with less refueling, compared to factories run by natural gas and coal.
For customers in heavy industry, nuclear plants that generate 20 megawatts (MW) of power are ideal. Using Last Energy’s business model, we can scale the number of plants up or down to meet the needs of the industry, and there is no grid instability: our private wire, baseload solution allows customers to maintain operations at all hours. Most heavy energy users won’t need more than 200 MW of power, which can be supplied by 10 of our plants.
As part of its transition to clean energy, the UK has identified 76 “industrial clusters”: concentrations of related industries, or several industrial sites grouped within proximity to one another.
Within these clusters, governments and energy suppliers are able to specialize services to support industrial customers, which boosts productivity and innovation. From an environmental lens, governments can also develop roadmaps for the decarbonization of heavy industry by focusing their efforts, cluster by cluster.
Last Energy focuses on decentralized, on-demand nuclear power, especially for dispersed industrial sites beyond these clusters. Our SMRs can be built close to freeports and other industrial facilities to supply direct, round-the-clock, and carbon-free power, or plugged into the electric grid whenever customers need more clean baseload power.
In the UK, where Last Energy plans to sell nuclear energy, climate advocates are focusing their efforts on decarbonizing and renewing “freeports.” Freeports are industrial zones that increase international trade and serve as hubs for innovation – and they also create jobs. These critical operations demand energy, which Last Energy is already prepared to provide.
Last Energy models its design on the same manufacturing techniques used in the oil and gas industries, so “dirty energy” jobs are transformed into complementary positions in the clean energy sector. At Last Energy, this business model is key: it’s customer-driven and replicable, and its SMRs can be sold commercially to customers of any size, in the UK and beyond.
By introducing nuclear energy to industrial spaces, we aren’t asking people to make a career shift, learn a new trade, or move to a new factory. Alternatively, and in keeping with UK’s Levelling Up initiative, we’re inviting communities to participate in the transition to clean energy while increasing job security.
In the UK, the Levelling Up campaign includes the opening of 7 freeports and the signing of 6 devolution deals, which transfer decision-making power to the local level. These deals give locally-elected leaders more autonomy to create and sustain jobs, drive economic growth, and restore pride in their communities.
The UK government’s stance toward nuclear offers hope and direction for the decarbonization of heavy industry. Their industrial freeports provide opportunities to focus regional decarbonization efforts with the simplest nuclear technology, and to fund the jobs that will sustain these plants.
Seven industrial clusters in the UK have already announced net-zero carbon goals, with deadlines of either 2030 or 2040. The UK government recognizes the pivotal role of nuclear in achieving these goals, aided by SMRs like those produced by Last Energy.
The power and promise of nuclear are evidenced by the UK’s stated investment in proven nuclear technology: to deploy the first commercial SMRs by the early 2030s, the country plans to invest up to £215 million, and it already operates six generating stations across England and Scotland.
One plant and one industry at a time, nuclear has the power to decarbonize heavy industry; and to provide a model for low-carbon, low-cost, and high-reward energy solutions for other global players.
As the world seeks to meet its growing energy demands while minimizing the negative impacts on the environment, addressing the issue of energy sprawl becomes crucial.
Nuclear energy can provide clean, reliable heat for industrial processes.