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Solar farm providing only intermittent power? Add a small nuke!

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Small talk. Grizz Deal outlines benefits of small reactors. Among them: cohabitation on renewable energy sites, to provide 'baseload' power.

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WARSAW - Many energy experts believe there's a big future for small nuclear reactors. By shrinking today's behemoths, manufacturers could inexpensively produce them in assembly line style and transport them on trucks. Utilities could add capacity in smaller, affordable fragments. Remote areas could deploy them in place of CO2-intense diesel generators. Industry could use them as carbon-free industrial heat sources.

At a nuclear conference in Warsaw this week, Colorado-based small modular reactor (SMR) proponent John Grizz Deal added another benefit: SMRs could cohabit on renewable energy farms where they would provide steady round-the-clock electricity, filling the supply gaps associated with intermittent wind and solar power.

"I think that small reactors can provide baseload for so-called renewables," Deal said in a presentation at the World Nuclear Power Briefing Europe 2012, noting that at least two U.S. utilities are investigating the possibility of putting small reactor on renewable energy sites.

SUNSHINE AND NUCLEAR

"There's actually a couple studies being done, one by Pacific Gas and Electric in California, and one by Florida Power & Light, as a way to beef up their renewable program," said Deal, who is the co-founder of Denver-based SMR pioneer Hyperion Power Generation - now called Gen4 Energy -  which is developing an SMR based on technology from the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Conventional, large nuclear power plants have a capacity of over 1,000 megawatts. Small reactors in principle have a wide range from around 10 megawatts to around 300. Solar farms range from tens of megawatts to hundreds; a few are planned at over 1,000 megawatts.

"Obviously, putting a smaller, modular reactor on an existing nuclear site makes a lot more sense than starting from scratch. We'll have to see how that goes."

Deal left Hyperion about two years ago and is now CEO of IX Power, a Denver-based clean water company. While at Hyperion, he advocated using SMRs to help power water desalination.

The U.S. DOE is providing $450 million in matching funds to SMR developers. It recently made its first grant in that program, to a consortium led by Babcock & Wilcox.

Nuclear combined with renewables could offer a potent low-carbon energy tandem. Leaders of the nuclear and renewables industries recently joined forces (along with the head of a carbon capture and storage group) in the UK to encourage Energy Secretary Ed Davey to legislate low carbon measures.

Photo of Grizz Deal by Mark Halper.

Story updated around 7:20 p.m. PST to add information about British nuclear/renewable team.

More from the small world of nuclear, on SmartPlanet:

Another nuclear/renewable combo:

— By on December 12, 2012, 8:30 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure