There are ample sites for nuclear and “clean” coal plants, CSP solar power plants and compressed air energy storage in the U.S., according to a new study from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

The Oak Ridge Siting Analysis for power Generation Expansion (OR-SAGE) tool assimilated “industry-accepted approaches and/or develop appropriate criteria” and applied “an array of geographic information systems (GIS) data sources.” The result was a database of “candidate areas” for power generation technologies.

The study was undertaken to identify sites for nuclear energy facilities. In conjunction with staff from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a similar database was built for advanced coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS), concentrating solar power (CSP) plants, and compressed air energy storage (CAES). Wind generation was not included, perhaps because the wind industry’s American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) is creating its own very similar tool.

The tool divided the continental U.S. into 700 million 100-meter by 100-meter (one hectare) squares (cells). Environmental, regulatory, and land-use constraints and proximity to hazardous operations were primary factors in the site selection and evaluation criteria (SSEC) that eliminated cells from consideration as potential power generation sites.

Other key assumptions in the assessment addressed adequate cooling water supplies, especially for thermoelectric power plants. Water for power plant cooling is a rising concern, as indicated by California’s mandate requiring the closing of gas-fired power plants that use environmentally sensitive water sources for power plant cooling by 2017.

The study found sites for the placement of an estimated 515 gigawatts of large nuclear reactors. “The OR-SAGE plant capacity estimate indicates that states in a significant portion of the country can support siting at least 10 gigawatts (estimated) in large reactor facilities with no siting challenges.”

There are also sites available to support:

  • An estimated 201 gigawatts of small nuclear reactors
  • An estimated gross capacity of 216 gigawatts for CCS, and the report added that “with a parasitic load for scrubbing and carbon capture, this represents a net capacity of approximately 158 gigawatts”
  • An estimated 18 gigawatts of water-cooled concentrating solar power (CSP) and at least 60 gigawatts of dry-cooled CSP
  • An estimated 645 million acres of CAES plant siting opportunities, “based on all geological storage methods”

Those estimates total 958 gigawatts. The nameplate electricity generation capacity of the U.S. is generally estimated to be around 1,000GW.