Envisioning 21st Century Mixed-Initiative Operations for Energy Systems
Authors: Roger Lew, Ronald Boring, Thomas Ulrich
Abstract: Despite a slow pace, Nuclear Power is undergoing a global renaissance. Small modular reactors (SMR) and microreactors are in various design and commissioning phases. These are designed to be built in factories and installed onsite, providing a means to rapidly deploy nuclear power while controlling for uncertain capital expenditures and cost overruns. The OECD (2016) is projecting that by 2035 we could have 21 GWe of new nuclear electricity capacity installed globally with 3.5 GWe in the United States.Simultaneously, renewables such as wind and solar are growing exponentially and battery electric vehicles are gaining traction in the energy sector. If vehicles transition to battery electric vehicles (BEV) our electricity consumption would roughly double. The energy grid as a whole is evolving as numerous point source generators come online and smarter grids enable better resource management and dynamic pricing. The result will be a distributed energy market where individuals and utilities both buy and sell resources in a fast-paced, brokered market. Or perhaps more accurately, autonomous agents will buy and sell resources on behalf of utilities, individuals, and intermediaries.The pertinent question then becomes how do we have human oversight of resources to maintain safe, secure, and reliable operation?A reasonable approach is to examine assets as three general classes. The first class comprises commodity consumer-oriented devices such as home solar, battery storage, and BEVs represented distributed nano-scale devices. The capital expenditures of any single device or installation are relatively small, and the potential consequences of a single installation failing are relatively small. Minimal regulatory oversight is required for individual installations. The second class comprises distributed micro-scale devices like nuclear micro-reactors and small modular reactors. These will have substantial automation compared to existing Generation II reactors. They could incorporate remote operations and monitoring at the fleet scale, with the ability to shut down systems locally. Disruptions would have costly impacts to an organization or municipality.Lastly, at the other end of the spectrum are high-value assets with the potential for low-probability high consequence events. These would include gigawatt-scale nuclear/solar/hydro plants that might also have flexible operations to support onsite data centers, hydrogen production, or cryptomining. These assets would be high-value targets and distruptions would have the potential for severe economic, environmental, and functional consequences at large geographic scales. When we start thinking about human oversight, participation, and decision making, the first class is consumer-oriented. Consumers will be enabled to become prosumers (producers and consumers) sell excess or optimize energy usage and storage based on dynamic rates.The third class of high-value assets resembles how critical infrastructure is managed today. These high-value assets are conservative and slow to evolve through the adoption of automation and operational changes. They would still need to maintain high degrees of human vigilance compared to the other systems for regulatory adherence and maintaining cyber-physical security and reliability.The second class still has high regulatory requirements. However, it is a bit of a clean slate to conceptualize operations and monitoring from first principles with high levels of automation and mixed-initiative monitoring and control (AI/human teaming). In this paper we explore those possibilities.New SMR and microreactors incorporate passive safety and modern engineering modeling and analysis that wasn't available during the design and commisioning of Generation II reactors. The result is reactors that have significantly reduced risks of catastrophic melt-down events like Fukishima. This dramatically expands the possibilities for how they can be monitored and controlled. When we ponder what modern nuclear control rooms should look like we envision multiple operators monitoring dozens of screens to maintain situational awareness and readiness to respond at a moments notice. However, this is unlikely and perhaps even undersired. Once reactors, in particular microreactors, have the demonstrated capability of operating hands-free with minimal oversight it becomes misguided to install humans to maintain constant vigilance (e.g. Level 4 to 5 self-driving). The key performance indicator should be system performance not situational awareness. Having "operators" permanently installed in a control room when no action is required 99.9% of the time becomes a superficial level of vigilance. Take system administration as a corollary. System administrator's primary responsibility is to maintain the availability of infrastructure, but their primary tasking is not to sit idly by and actively monitor.
Keywords: Nuclear Power, microreactor, small modular reactor, control room, operations
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