The concept of energy transition is very popular these days. In general terms, it refers to the shift away from fossil fuels to more environmentally friendly and sustainable energy sources. This transition is motivated by a desire to abate climate change, which is viewed as an existential crisis, and stems from increasing demand for non-CO2 producing energy sources. This transition is well under way.

There is also another dimension of the energy transition that relates to the overall trend in technology, which requires an ever-increasing amount of electricity. Three key examples of this are electric vehicles (EV), cryptocurrencies, and especially artificial intelligence (AI). These technologies not only desire environmentally friendly energy sources, but also ones that can supply a continuous and, in some cases, decentralized source of electricity to support their operations.

This increasing demand for electricity in the United States was highlighted in a recent article in The Washington Post entitled “Amid Explosive Demand, America is Running Out of Power,” which notes that previous projections of electricity use have fallen far short of what is anticipated now. For example, the article states that the energy demand projection for the state of Georgia over the next decade is now 17 times greater than what it was a short time ago.

A major driver of this increased electricity use is the rise of AI, with its huge electricity demands stemming from massive computer use. This has greatly increased the need for computing power associated with traditional data centers. In addition, this electricity demand must compete with the demand stemming from the push for new manufacturing associated with clean energy projects such as solar panels and EVs. In some ways, this confluence of factors is setting the stage for the perfect storm when it comes to electricity demand.

Nuclear power is the obvious choice to meet this growing demand because it is both environmentally friendly and can provide the continuous electricity supply needed for these applications. As evidence of this, earlier this month, Amazon Web Services purchased a data center campus, which is powered by the Susquehanna Nuclear Plant in Pennsylvania operated by Talen Energy. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are looking more and more to nuclear energy to supply their operations, even to the point of becoming vertically integrated by investing in the development and construction of small nuclear reactors.

Crypto mining is another area that requires massive computer use and seeks to use clean energy to avoid the stigma of being associated with fossil-fuel generated electricity. We have previously written about the potential for crypto to impact the demand for nuclear power (see “Bitcoin + Nuclear = Atomcoin?,” Ux Weekly, Nov. 1, 2021).

At the same time as these other technological innovations, nuclear energy has been evolving, with new technology focused on smaller and more advanced reactors with more accident-tolerant fuel to enhance safety. Whether or not small, advanced, and micro reactors (SAMRs) were consciously designed to satisfy these other technology trends, the technological arc of nuclear power is syncing up nicely the evolving demand for electricity. Microreactors can be used as an electricity source for EV charging stations, SAMRs can be used to power cryptocurrency data centers and, most importantly, computer farms for AI.

There is even a synergistic effect between these evolving technologies. Besides being a beneficiary of nuclear, AI can be used to streamline the licensing process for small reactors, which in turn could result in these reactors coming online more quickly to provide the electricity needed to drive AI and for other purposes. Additionally, AI can be used to improve operations of existing nuclear power plants.

Energy transition is thus more than simply moving away from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy. It involves developing energy sources that do a better job matching the specifics of future energy demands, which are constantly evolving. Here, nuclear power, with its environmentally friendly and continuous electricity output, is an ideal choice. In addition to meeting high-tech needs, SAMRs can supply electricity to areas where demand is high, but grid systems are not well developed, like in Africa. Whether meeting these new high-tech challenges or supplying electricity to developing areas, nuclear power is in a unique position to contribute to future economic growth and clean energy supply security.

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Jeff Combs is founder, owner, and Chairman of UxC, LLC (UxC) and is a leading expert in the nuclear fuel market, with over 45 years of experience providing economic analysis and forecasting for the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle. He has extensive and varied expertise, overseeing UxC market reports, providing strategic consulting to major commercial companies in the nuclear fuel industry, and advising governments and international organizations on market and policy issues. Under his management, UxC has grown to become the world’s pre-eminent nuclear fuel market information and analysis company, issuing reports and publishing prices for all front-end nuclear fuel markets. In 2007, UxC teamed with CME/NYMEX to introduce the world’s first uranium futures contract. That same year UxC began reporting on the backend of the fuel cycle. In 2018, Mr. Combs created the atompeace.org website to advance understanding of peaceful uses of the atom in today’s world. During his career, Mr. Combs has presented papers at a variety of nuclear industry and energy economics conferences throughout the world. In addition, he has had his work published in academic and public policy journals. Mr. Combs earned a bachelor's degree in Economics at the University of Virginia, where he also completed his doctoral course work in economics. He is a charter member of the International Association of Energy Economics and is a member of the American Nuclear Society.