On May 19, 2022, The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions hosted a webinar titled: Climate Solutions: Unleashing the Potential of Fusion Energy. The event was moderated by C2ES Director of Energy Analysis, Doug Vine.
FIA CEO Andrew Holland spoke alongside Deputy Director for Energy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Dr. Sally Benson, and Chief Movement Builder at FIA member company Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Jennifer Ganten.
Watch the webinar in full here:
The event cited recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where they stated the global climate response must peak carbon dioxide emissions as quickly as possible and turn sharply downward to net-zero by 2050 to limit the worsening impacts of climate change.
Achieving that goal requires deploying as many solutions as possible. Developments in fusion energy are accelerating, and the technology is rapidly approaching its “Kitty Hawk” moment when this technology takes off and the fusion reaction releases more energy than is required to control it.
With the right support, fusion energy can be a global climate solution.
The panel of experts discussed the latest developments in fusion energy, its potential role in future comprehensive decarbonization strategies, and overcoming technical barriers, as well as the near and long-term policies necessary to facilitate commercialization and deployment.
After opening remarks, FIA CEO Andrew Holland opened his presentation by emphasizing the benefits of fusion energy as an energy source that is uniquely suited to the rapid scale-up necessary to address climate change and offer affordable energy to the globe. Fusion energy is reliable, firm power that will replace fossil energy sources such as coal and gas while acting as an excellent complement to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
An important aspect of fusion energy that has recently been underlined is how fusion will break the geopolitics of energy where a country’s destiny is not determined by the size of its hydrocarbon deposits. Andrew cited Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as one example, stating that Putin would not have invaded unless he felt confident in his energy dominance over Europe. More on this in Andrew's recently published OP-ED in the Washington Examiner.
Andrew also stressed the acceleration of the fusion energy timeframe. Fusion energy research has increased due to investment schedules and the increasingly pressing needs of the climate issue. As a result of decades of scientific research into fusion energy, private fusion energy firms are designing and constructing ground-breaking experiments. By the mid-2020s, fusion technologies will have established a scientific proof of concept scientific breakeven, or equivalent evidence. If these companies succeed, they will build and operate prototype plants before commencing a rapid global deployment of fusion energy by the middle of the next decade.
This time scale is aggressive but it is doable. Since fusion innovation is both a function of time and money, private investment is vital to its continued development. Without this investment, fusion innovation development will remain several decades away.
Andrew offered that the FIA has twenty-seven partner companies, meaning there are at least twenty-seven distinct opportunities for successfully developing fusion energy.
Andrew concluded his remarks by offering three comprehensive policy solutions to accelerate fusion energy innovation:
Build a partnership with the DOE
The U.S Fusion Program must have a comprehensive energy mission.
Direct Federal Support for Private Fusion
Pilot plants are built by and for private industry. New public-private partnerships will enable acceleration toward the fusion-powered future.
Ensure Regulatory Certainty
Fusion is safe. Ensuring that fusion power plants are subject to appropriate, risk-informed regulation will accelerate investment and development.
Andrew's remarks were followed up by Jennifer Ganten, the Chief Movement Builder for Commonwealth Fusion Systems, one of the FIA’s member companies.
Ganten concurred with Andrew that fusion industry development is occurring on a fast timeline, but one that is relevant to climate change. She emphasized that to reach the International Energy Agency (IEA) 2050 energy goals of zero emissions, an energy source that can be easily replicated and is power dense is required.
Enter Fusion Energy.
Fusion energy is one of the key sustainable energies that meets the criteria set by the IEA. Fusion energy is a dispatchable source of high-quality heat, but it can also power sustainable energy sources other than electricity and re-power existing power plants.
Ganten further argued that fusion energy remains a viable source of renewable energy since it has zero emission, but is also intrinsically safe, where there is no risk of a meltdown, long-lived nuclear waste, or nuclear proliferation. Most importantly, fusion energy is scalable energy that can be constructed anywhere with an inexhaustible fuel supply.
Commonwealth Fusion Systems recently built the most powerful large magnet in history. This new novel high-temperature superconductor magnet will enable stronger magnetic fields allowing fusion systems to be built faster, less expensive, and with higher confidence.
Dr. Sally Benson, OSTP Deputy Director for Energy, concluded the presentations by reaffirming fusion energy as a potentially unlimited source of clean, reliable electricity. Dr. Benson indicated that fusion energy could enable the Biden-Harris Administration to achieve its objective of zero net emissions by 2050.
Dr. Benson noted that there is broad U.S Government support for fusion that includes U.S Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, and Head of the OSTP Alondra Nelson. Further, the DOE launched an initiative to accelerate commercial fusion energy in coordination with the private sector. The DOE has also announced two funding opportunities to invest $50 million to support foundational science and technology development for a fusion power plant.
When asked what the US needed to do for U.S energy companies to the premier leaders of the commercialization process, Dr. Benson stressed the importance of private sector interest, established regulations, and the availability of resources to build factories and create needed supply chains.
The panel closed out the discussion by discussing commercialization efforts through successfully harvesting public-private partnerships that will allow private companies to receive government funding based on merit to accelerate the development process.