Fusion energy could be the most cost-effective solution for clean baseload power, four times cheaper than conventional nuclear and complementing the need to continue developing renewable energy technologies to achieve a zero-carbon global energy system by 2050. A modeling analysis indicates that inertial fusion may be able to compete directly with renewables in terms of cost.

The technology must first reach a price point of $100/MWh to compete directly with nuclear and mature sufficiently for future plants to reach $60/MWh and displace gas generation. Inertial confinement fusion could deliver a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) as low as $25/MWh when the technology has advanced. This compares with approximately $100/MWh for conventional nuclear energy and up to $50/MWh for onshore wind.A pulsed power machine designed for fusion energy research. Source: First Light Fusion LtdA pulsed power machine designed for fusion energy research. Source: First Light Fusion Ltd

Previous research had estimated inertial confinement fusion could deliver a LCOE of about $80/MWh. This was based on a cost and engineering analysis that assumed the need for a pulse – firing a projectile at a target at massive speed to create the conditions required for fusion to take place – every five seconds. A recent study from First Light Fusion Ltd, U.K., published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, identifies new designs with higher fusion energy yield per shot, which reduces the number of pulses required for the same amount of energy generated.

An optimized pant design works at lower frequency with a pulse every 60 seconds and can demonstrate economic viability with a smaller power output of 150 MW. The solution offers both lower cost and reduced engineering risk due to a smaller plant size and low shot frequency.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com