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Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Welcome Vinod Chugh, New Expert in the Clean Power Community

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When it comes to the next few decades in the power generation sector, few topics have received as intense and dedicated focus as clean power. The demand is very steadily rising and the urgency of decarbonizing is becoming more dire. Those competing ideas mean that adding carbon-neutral generation wherever possible is critical, but doing so still requires expertise across the industry to achieve.

One such expert who we’re thrilled at Energy Central to welcome to fold is Vinod Chugh, Principal at Power Generation Integrated Consulting Limited (PGICL). Vinod is knee-deep in one of the hottest generation technologies today, small modular reactor (SMRs). SMRs have long-promised to allow for the deployment of nuclear generation on a more accessible, smaller-footprint size across regions that previously didn’t have access to the carbon-free power source. With his front-row seat to these developments, Vinod is a valuable member of the Network of Experts in the Clean Power Group.

To introduce his expertise to the community, Vinod was kind enough to join me in our Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.

 

 

Matt Chester: Can you start by giving our community a sense of your background? How did you get involved in the utility sector and what responsibilities do you have in your role today?

Vinod Chugh: I graduated as Chemical Engineer from world-known school IIT, Delhi. I bring 30 years of global, and cross-functional civil nuclear industry experience. This includes New Build in India, Engineering Services for operating units in Canada, and an SMR development in the United States. I built and led teams in the areas of design, engineering, product, quality system, aging, and business management.

Currently, I’m involved in development of ASME standards for plant systems design and reliability & integrity management. These technology-inclusive standards will support SMRs’ design, licensing, and construction. My current focus is on system engineering, design methodologies, new materials, remote inspections, and additive manufacturing applications. This is a rare multi-disciplinary plant life cycle leadership experience in North America with another 8 to 10 years of active contribution to the clean energy industry.

 

MC: You’re working with SMRs which is, to say the least, a very hot topic these days in the energy industry in the efforts to get more carbon-free generation. What’s been your upfront experience with SMRs, how long do you think before they start to make a dent in the energy mix, and do you think they’ll live up to the hype?

VC: My fundamental reason for moving to Canada and the United States was to explore new nuclear technologies. I have been a strong believer in nuclear energy as baseload to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals. SMRs give us a great opportunity to re-invigorate the nuclear generation. Based on my understanding of various SMRs, there are three or four technologies that have sufficiently matured in design and licensing. Canada has already picked up a micro power reactor for remote applications, three grid size candidates for further evaluation, and two other promising technologies for longer term development. Other countries also need to follow suit. I am confident that we can collaborate and bring a couple of these technologies to realization by late 2020s.

 

MC: Conversely, SMRs—like all new nuclear—certainly have their detractors. What are the main criticisms you’ve heard of the technology and the approach to implement, and how would you respond to those who have these doubts?

VC: There are three major criticisms to new nuclear a) used fuel management (UFM), b) regulation, and c) cost competiveness.

UFM will have to be addressed as a part of the successful new nuclear package. SMR developers should collaborate with the public authorities to address long-term used fuel storage during design process.

Regulatory regimes have to accommodate the alternative licensing approaches in an efficient manner. It’s a learning curve for first of kind and first in a while product but worth the effort to establish SMRs growth. The majority of SMRs are extremely safe by design. Work is needed to establish the degree of the projected safety margins including reliability and integrity management programs.

Carbon pricing should be built into the business models to create level playing field for nuclear business. SMR developers need to be cost conscious within the safety and socio-economic benefits. Time is ripe for new nuclear. The technologies ready with a competitive design in a carbon conscious jurisdiction will make a head start.

MC: Aside from SMRs, are there other exciting opportunities in nuclear generation that you’d want to highlight? What types of opportunities are on the horizon that you don’t think people are aware enough of yet?

VC: There are lots of great initiative happening within the nuclear generation. To name a few a) cost optimization within the existing design configuration without compromising on safety margins, b) risk-informed and performance-based decision making for operation & maintenance, aging management, power uprates and life extension of the plants, and c) automation and remote inspections to save on outage durations. Fusion energy is another enormous potential which I believe will take over as major clean energy source in next three to four decades. Hydrogen can be an excellent byproduct of high temperature reactors.

 

MC: Can you share what it is about Energy Central that compelled you to get involved and integrated with the community? And what should community members look forward to you bringing to the table as our newest expert?

VC: Energy Central is a great forum to bring variety of experts to promote collaboration and constructive criticism. This results in effective knowledge sharing and contribution to the community awareness. I am pro clean energy and in particularly strongly believe in nuclear energy as a panacea to create clean environment.

 

MC: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

VC: I just want to emphasize that it’s important to create some momentum in new nuclear by selecting technologies that have a pedigree and have good maturity level.  Efforts should be made to fast track the deployment while other promising clean energy technologies are being developed. Work continues to make new nuclear a leaner, more agile source of energy that can better operate as baseload alongside renewables. North America is quickly losing the opportunity and leadership to build new reactors. We need to put our head down to create and implement carbon-neutral energy programs and policies. It’s prime time to generate clean energy to protect the environment.

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Thanks so much to Vinod Chugh for participating in this conversation and for bringing value as a Clean Power Expert for Energy Central. Please give him a warm welcome when you see him around the community and be sure to ask his perspective, comment on his contributions, and make him feel welcome.

 

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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