Podcast / Audio

Episode #108: 'The Unmatched Possibilities of a Nuclear and Microgrid Pairing' with Jhansi Kandasamy and Kurt Myers of Idaho National Laboratory [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast]

Posted to Energy Central in the Grid Professionals Group
image credit: Energy Central
Energy Central  Podcasts's picture
Voices of The Community, Energy Central

The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. At least twice monthly, we connect with an Energy Central Power Industry...

  • Member since 2020
  • 111 items added with 213,300 views
  • Jan 10, 2023
  • 608 views

When looking to the goal of a net zero future, the power sector has seen an impressive variety and range of technologies seen as the lynchpin innovation. But the reality is that to truly solve our global emissions crisis and to decarbonize the utility industry, we'll need to adopt as many of these solutions as we can in the optimal environment, sector, and region. That said, some of the key technologies will uncover themselves to be natural complements to each other and enable them to achieve more than the sum of their parts. In today's episode of the podcast, we discuss one of the most exciting such pairings: nuclear energy and advanced microgrids.

Your access to Member Features is limited.

Specifically, the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast is joined by two experts from Idaho National Laboratory who are making waves in this space. Podcast host Jason Price and producer Matt Chester chat with Jhansi Kandasamy, INL's Net-Zero Program Director, and Kurt Myers, INL's Project Manager and Staff Engineer specializing in microgrids. Listen in to this episode to understand better the opportunities these two clean energy technologies have to support one another and our country's clean energy future.

Prefer to Read vs. Listening? Scroll Down to Read Transcript.

Thanks to the sponsor of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: West Monroe.  

 

Key Links

 

TRANSCRIPT

Jason Price: 

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast. This is the show that brings leading minds in energy to discuss the latest challenges and trends transforming and modernizing the utility industry of the future. And a quick thank you to West Monroe, our sponsor of today's show. Now let's talk energy.

My name is Jason Price, Energy Central Podcast host and director with West Monroe, coming to you from New York City. And once again, I'm joined by Matt Chester, Energy Central Podcast producer and community manager, dialing in from Orlando, Florida. Matt, today's episode features the marriage of two rapidly advancing and in demand energy technologies: microgrids and nuclear generation. As you watch the conversations taking place on the Energy Central Community platform, how in focus are these topics recently?

 

 

Matt Chester:

You're right about that, Jason, and I think these are two of the hottest topics in recent months, not only on Energy Central, but in the utility industry more widely. As regulators, power companies and consumers all seek out ways to ensure low carbon generation without sacrificing on power quality, grid reliability and energy affordability. Both microgrids and of advancing nuclear tech are two topics that come up again and again, though I'd say more often than not, our community members are discussing these ideas separately. So I'm really eager for today's guests to highlight their intersection.

 

Jason Price: 

That's great, and I appreciate that insight into where the Energy Centrals' collective attention seems to be. And it highlights how this topic is one right for a deep dive with some resident experts. So we're joined today by two industry leaders who work at Idaho National Labs, one of the premier laboratories in the US Department of Energy Systems. And they are the ones who are advancing our idea of how nuclear generation and advanced microgrids are coming together to truly create a net zero grid of tomorrow. First, we're joined by Jhansi Kandasamy INL's net zero program director. She has a career in the world of nuclear energy stretching across utility companies, private commercial manufacturers, and ultimately where she's been the last three and a half years, under the DOE umbrella. Jhansi, welcome to today's episode of Energy Central's Power Perspectives Podcast.

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

Thank you, Jason. Happy to be here.

 

Jason Price: 

And to bring the microgrid expertise to the conversation, we're also fortunate to welcome Kurt Myers, project manager and staff engineer who specializes in INL's work on microgrids. Kurt has been with the lab for over 25 years and has been a key part of various teams working with multiple government and industrial entities with a focus on power transmission and distribution, which now features that focus on microgrids. Thanks for joining us as well, Kurt.

 

Kurt Myers: 

Thank you, Jason. Thanks for having me.

 

Jason Price: 

Certainly. So we've featured National Lab Podcast guests before, including one of your colleagues at Idaho National Labs. So no doubt our audience is familiar with this crown jewel system within the US Department of Energy. But I also know the work being done is quite multifaceted. So I want to start by asking if you could respond to which of the priorities at INL are the ones that you are actively pursuing, and what are the goals and outcomes driving your corner of INL?

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

Sure. There are three goals I'd like to talk about here at INL. Goal number one, achieve net zero and net zero is a lab priority that advances our mission to create clean energy solutions using nuclear.

The second goal is to leverage the talent across the lab. I mean, we have amazing people here from those working on nuclear to homeland security to microgrids and turning waste into usable products to really create a holistic solution.

And goal three is the solutions we demonstrate here will be flexible enough so that can be adapted by cities and towns across the goal.

 

Jason Price: 

Thank you, Jhansi. Kurt, what about you?

 

Kurt Myers: 

Yeah, thanks Jhansi for the lead in there, and just kind of bouncing off of what Jhansi was mentioning, we take that perspective and work with other government agencies to also help them with their net zero and energy security and resiliency goals. And also work with private industry partners to talk with them about some of the future technologies that may be needed and some of the control systems and other aspects that it would take to integrate these various systems together, both within microgrids and within larger bulk grid systems.

 

Jason Price: 

That's great. Thank you for both for that background. So with lots of progress taking place these days, we know that development of advanced nuclear technologies has become somewhat synonymous with INL. But as we note in the introduction, you're identifying the benefits that nuclear can bring to the grid, not only by itself but in strategic alignment with microgrids. So Kurt, let's stay with you. What does that alignment look like?

 

Kurt Myers: 

So yeah, we've been doing work in the microgrid arena for many, many years, heavily in conjunction with Department of Defense and other government agencies. More from the kind of energy security, reliability backup power aspects. But now with more of the technologies becoming more prevalent and available, it's becoming a lot more interesting in that intersection between the localized uses and the behind the meter use cases, and some of the interactions you can have with the bulk grid the other side of the meter, or also connecting with other microgrid systems. And then of course when you bring in nuclear, the other renewables, energy storage and the other clean energy, low carbon resources, just a lot of interesting possibilities there from the controls and interaction between different grid systems.

 

Jason Price: 

And I want to talk more about the transitioning to the clean grid. So one of the criticisms we often hear is that the accelerated energy transition is that it may be sacrificing reliability, particularly as base load generation is replaced with intermittent renewables. Jhansi, over to you, nuclear energy obviously can have big help in plugging in some of those gaps, but what might be missing in that process that this pairing with microgrids is able to address?

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

Jason, thank you for that question. Yeah, I would say the beauty of the microgrids is really the ability to island yourself or be able to connect to the main commercial grid and variable generation is a problem for energy providers who most of them supplement intermittent energies with energy from coal and gas fire plants. Nuclear can absolutely provide that base load energy. The grid really needs to be stable and advanced nuclear nowadays is unique in that it can change output much more quickly than the traditional large light water reactors that we have operating today, and really provide 24/7, reliable, flexible clean power for decades to come.

 

Jason Price: 

Kurt, we recognize that the government backed work at INL is often used as a test case, a living example of what can be possible commercially. So as your teams work on the marriage of microgrid and nuclear generation, what are the types of situations and communities this type of opportunity can most benefit from?

 

Kurt Myers: 

So yeah, Jason, we are really investigating deeply island grid locations, places where you have maybe grid congestion or lack of infrastructure, places where the cost of delivering fuel or providing transmission distribution into those areas is a higher cost area. And then maybe cold weather climates or warm climates as well, where you have challenges with remoteness and access to some of those resources and supply chains. And then kind of expanding from that, once we developed those kind of test cases and first of a kind projects, migrating from there into more energy security, energy resiliency type locations where you have a higher reliability requirement, higher availability needs for a particular customer set, whether it's critical loads for services in cities and counties, or if it's a military base or industrial process where having power go out right in the middle of a process or a response to an event is a big challenge. So really places that have those high supply chain challenges or high resiliency reliability requirements is where we're focusing some of our initial assessment and test cases.

 

Jason Price: 

Yeah, that certainly makes sense. My next question I'd like to hear from both of you. For the past few years, we've seen a lot of federal funding make their ways to new ideas and technologies and pursuit of grid modernization and the clean energy transition overall. Has any of the recent legislation pushing new energy investments made a direct impact on the work you're doing? Kurt, why don't you start and then Jhansi, feel free to follow up.

 

Kurt Myers: 

So yeah, I would say it does show impact. Sometimes it takes a few years to work through the system in terms of lab calls, other FOA or industry calls for proposals. But you're seeing it with some of the new bills that just recently got passed, the infrastructure bill, the IRA bill that just got passed. And we're seeing that start to trickle into programs like long duration energy storage. Of course, preceding that we had grid modernization initiative for several years that came, its starting point was some of those prior bills that were passed several years ago. But yeah, we definitely see impacts from those. And a lot of work that's being driven by that in terms of improving energy storage, improving modernization of grid, some of the new nuclear small modular and micro reactor developments are all kind of resulting from some of that legislation.

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

And to follow on what Kurt was saying, I think funding for hydrogen projects is going to help us demonstrate how we can take nuclear and provide not only carbon-free electricity, but it's also going to be able to fuel for clean transportation. We have a large fleet here at INL, over 600 vehicles and using the funds to generate hydrogen and be able to do research on that is going to be a big huge plus. And also our vision of the net zero city is going to demonstrate how nuclear can be incorporated into a microgrid, produce carbon-free electricity when it's needed most, and generate value added products like hydrogen, and ammonia, and heat for manufacturing when energy demands drop. So I see there's going to be direct impact here with some of the legislation pushes that we've been seeing.

 

Jason Price: 

And certainly when we talk about nuclear, it obviously raises the question for many as the concerns around safety, risk and costs. I'd love to hear from each of you talk about that a bit. Share with us how you see the work at INL is doing in these areas to address these concerns and whether or not they're warranted in the first place? And Jhansi, why don't you start? And certainly Kurt, if you have anything to add, feel free.

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

Sure. Thanks Jason. If you look at the information according to the US Energy Administration, nuclear energy is really the single largest US source of carbon-free around the clock 24/7 electricity. And we really need to incorporate nuclear and we can't reach the climate goals set out by the United Nations without nuclear. I think the biggest hurdle, and you kind of mentioned a little bit, is really making nuclear reality and to address the hurdle of the public concern over safety and waste disposal. So we're looking at all of that here at INL. There's a lot of publicity surrounding events like Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island, which has created concerns. We're not going to skirt around that. So we're starting to look at all the numerous advances since those events that happened around safety. NRC, here in the United States, they actually, from a nuclear power plant, they hold the plants to the highest security standards of any industry that I've seen in my years in this industry.

And not just because I grew up in the nuclear industry, but really every single plant is monitored and they exceed those standards that have been set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And I would say a nuclear power plant is probably one of the safest, not only from a physical, radiological, cybersecurity, from an industrial environment in the United States. They're also designed to withstand earthquakes, extreme weather patterns. And obviously with all this increasingly prevalent change that we're seeing in the climate, being able to weather most of, these designs that were set up years ago that had looked into this.

Regarding waste, the nuclear industry is unique that it is one of the few industries that manages all of its own waste. We don't rely on others to manage our waste for us. For example, the nuclear reactors, they pay for decommissioning the waste handling and disposal all upfront even before the construction starts. And if you look at today in the United States, the waste that's generated by nuclear in comparison to other industries is very, very small. All the used fuel produced by the commercial nuclear industry since the 1950s, since the beginning of the nuclear power generation commercially, it would probably cover a football field to a height of less than 10 yards. And coal plants generate the same amount of waste every hour. So when you look at all of these, the benefits outweighs from a carbon-free electricity to any concerns that might be out there.

 

Jason Price: 

That was very helpful. Thank you for that, Jhansi. So now we have in our show something called the Lightning Round, which is where we get to learn a little bit more about both of you, not the professional, but on a personal level. We have five questions and we ask for either one word response or phrase. So at this point we're going to pivot towards that. And I guess the question to start with is, are you both ready?

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

Ready.

 

Kurt Myers: 

Ready.

 

Jason Price: 

Okay. Jhansi, we'll start with you and then Kurt, you can follow. First question, what's the best meal of the day?

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

I'd say breakfast, waking up to the smell of coffee.

 

Kurt Myers: 

Yeah, my preference would be dinner.

 

Jason Price: 

Second question, what superpower would you choose to have?

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

I'd like to see into the future Jason.

 

Kurt Myers: 

Thank mine would be able to fly.

 

Jason Price: 

Third question. What's your perfect Sunday afternoon?

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

Quietly sitting, painting or reading a book. Just enjoying time for myself.

 

Kurt Myers: 

Yeah, I think for me it would be either relaxing, and watching some sports, or a documentary program, or I wasn't relaxing, being outdoors and rock climbing, or skiing, or whatever time of year it is, just doing an outdoor activity.

 

Jason Price: 

Fourth question, what career path did you envision your for yourself when you were growing up?

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

For me, I thought I was going to be a physician doctor, but after I did my first internship at a nuclear power plant, decided I wanted to be an engineer.

 

Kurt Myers: 

For me, I saw myself in the sciences or engineering or architecture. Actually my first thought was architecture, but moved more into sciences and engineering after getting into college. And I guess working on microgrids and grid systems, there is a lot of architecture aspects involved in that, trying to conceptualize and design those systems.

 

Jason Price: 

Very nice. And fifth question, what are you most motivated by?

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

Success. Winning.

 

Kurt Myers: 

I think I'm most motivated by the possibilities for change and transitioning to cleaner energies and being more environmentally conscious and sustainable.

 

Jason Price: 

Well, nicely done. Thanks for giving us a peek behind the curtains. So we want to give you both the last word to our audience. So what's the takeaway message you hope our utility professional audience retains from today's conversation? Kurt, we'll go to you first.

 

Kurt Myers: 

I think the biggest thing that I would like to focus on is to make sure that people are looking at the design of these clean energy systems in the future, and that it is possible to do a clean energy system. A lot of the resource capabilities are there now. A little bit more needs to be developed, but there's a lot of work to be done and things that can be implemented in the near term to push us to that end goal. So definitely a lot of hope and a lot of good possibilities there.

 

Jason Price: 

And Jhansi?

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

Yeah, I would echo what Kurt said, and I would add that really, I think we need to understand that we're the reason and the activities have really accelerated the climate change, and we absolutely have it in our power and the ability to really take actions with carbon-free electricity and reducing our carbon emissions. And we can correct it. We absolutely can, or slow it down really for our children in the future.

 

Jason Price: 

Well, this was a great conversation and much appreciate both of you for sharing your wisdom today. I certainly know that our audience will appreciate it as well, and they will be able to post questions and comments on the Energy Central platform. So we have an active community that probably has a lot of thoughts to share. So please be on the lookout for some of those on energycentral.com. But for now, thanks so much for joining us today and all the fascinating insight that both of you were able to share.

 

Jhansi Kandasamy: 

Thank you, Jason.

 

Jason Price: 

You can always reach Jhansi and Kurt through the Entry Central platform where they welcome your questions and comments. And we also want to give a shout out of thanks to the podcast sponsors that made today's episode possible. Thanks to West Monroe. West Monroe works with the nation's largest electric, gas, and water utilities in their telecommunication, grid modernization, and digital and workforce transformations. West Monroe brings a multidisciplinary team that blends utility, operations, and technology expertise to address modernizing aging infrastructure, advisory on transportation electrification, ADMS deployments, data and analytics and cybersecurity. And once again, I'm your host Jason Price. So stay plugged in and fully charged in the discussion by hopping into the community at energycentral.com. And we'll see you next time at the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.

 


About Energy Central Podcasts

The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. At least twice monthly, we connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network community member to discuss compelling topics that impact professionals who work in the power industry. Some podcasts may be a continuation of thought-provoking posts or discussions started in the community or with an industry leader that is interested in sharing their expertise and doing a deeper dive into hot topics or issues relevant to the industry.

The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ is the premiere podcast series from Energy Central, a Power Industry Network of Communities built specifically for professionals in the electric power industry and a place where professionals can share, learn, and connect in a collaborative environment. Supported by leading industry organizations, our mission is to help global power industry professionals work better. Since 1995, we’ve been a trusted news and information source for professionals working in the power industry, and today our managed communities are a place for lively discussions, debates, and analysis to take place. If you’re not yet a member, visit www.EnergyCentral.com to register for free and join over 200,000 of your peers working in the power industry.

The Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is hosted by Jason PriceCommunity Ambassador of Energy Central. Jason is a Business Development Executive at West Monroe, working in the East Coast Energy and Utilities Group. Jason is joined in the podcast booth by the producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, who is also the Community Manager of Energy Central and energy analyst/independent consultant in energy policy, markets, and technology.  

If you want to be a guest on a future episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast, let us know! We’ll be pulling guests from our community members who submit engaging content that gets our community talking, and perhaps that next guest will be you! Likewise, if you see an article submitted by a fellow Energy Central community member that you’d like to see broken down in more detail in a conversation, feel free to send us a note to nominate them.  For more information, contact us at community@energycentral.com. Podcast interviews are free for Expert Members and professionals who work for a utility.  We have package offers available for solution providers and vendors. 

Happy listening, and stay tuned for our next episode! Like what you hear, have a suggestion for future episodes, or a question for our guest? Leave a note in the comments below.

All new episodes of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast will be posted to the relevant Energy Central community group, but you can also subscribe to the podcast at all the major podcast outlets, including:

Discussions
Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Jan 14, 2023

The day when this capability becomes main stream can't come soon enough IMO. I wish we could do this now!

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »