Proiecte energetice majore de stat, între viziune și pragmatism / O certitudine: Vor fi investiți mulți bani în analize de fezabilitate

In Valea Jiului, the energy sector has become a major attraction for innovative projects. The Ministry of Energy has recently announced two such projects, one involving „gravitational” energy storage and another aiming to replace coal with biomass for energy production. However, these are not the only energy projects, innovative or not, that the state is currently showcasing. There is also the mini-reactor project in Doicești, under the patronage of the Ministry of Energy, as well as another one involving small nuclear reactors, supported by the Presidency. Additionally, there is the underground High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cable project with a capacity of 5000 MW.

While there have been grand projects in the past, many of them have failed after considerable funds were spent on feasibility studies. It remains to be seen how many of the current projects will withstand the feasibility study phase and how many will be carried through to completion. Each of these projects requires a feasibility study that can cost millions of euros, and for some of them, project companies need to be established, complete with the associated cushy jobs.

One of the projects in Valea Jiului, announced by the Ministry of Energy, „aims to explore the possibility of applying the innovative Green Gravity energy storage technology in 17 mine shafts in the four mining operations in Valea Jiului in Romania.” The Ministry of Energy claims that this project, using gravitational energy, will reinvent the state-owned company Complexul Energetic Valea Jiului. The Green Gravity energy storage system moves large weights vertically in the inherited mine shafts to capture and release the gravitational potential energy of these weights. Using proven mechanical parts and unused mine shafts, the Green Gravity energy storage technology is cost-effective, has a long service life, and is environmentally friendly, according to the Ministry of Energy. An Agreement Framework of Cooperation has been signed between the Ministry of Energy and an Australian investor, Green Gravity, for this project.

Another recent project involves replacing coal at the Paroșeni thermal power plant with biomass. Essentially, the power plant will burn biomass instead of traditional coal to produce energy. On Monday, a memorandum was signed between the Ministry of Energy and an American company, American Bio-Carbon Delaware LLC, for this purpose. The project aims to transform the Paroșeni thermal power plant, located in Valea Jiului, by using the biofuel produced by American Bio-Carbon from Romanian biomass. The Minister of Energy, Sebastian Burduja, claims that agricultural residues will be used for this project.

One innovative project that Romania has been involved in is the NuScale project for the construction of small modular reactors (SMR). However, this project has recently suffered a major setback, as it was canceled in the US on November 8. The mini-reactors were planned to be built in Utah, USA, alongside the ones in Doicești, Romania, by the end of this decade. However, NuScale and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems agreed to cancel the project in the US, citing a 53% increase in costs.

Signs of a possible failure had emerged as early as October when NuScale was accused of signing a false contract. NuScale Power Corp’s CEO defended the business of small modular nuclear reactors, stating that work is continuing in the US and two other countries, including Romania, even after the company canceled the SMR construction in Utah. NuScale’s partner in Romania is Nuclearelectrica, which, together with a private firm called Nova Power & Gas, has set up a project company called RoPower. Since January 2023, this project company has been conducting a Front-End Engineering Design (FEED) study, which includes a series of initial engineering and design activities, technical analyses of the former Doiceşti power plant site, and cost and scheduling estimates specific to the Romanian project.

However, these are not the only mini-reactors that the state authorities are considering. On November 8, the same day the NuScale project was canceled in the US, President Klaus Iohannis announced that he had signed a Memorandum of Understanding on nuclear reactor technology with fast lead-cooled neutron (LFR) in Belgium.

This LFR project is based on an older project from 2011 called ALFRED (Advanced Lead Fast Reactor Demonstrator), in which ANSALDO (Italy), the Institute for Nuclear Research (Romania), and ENEA (Italy) were involved. The project aimed to build a 100 MWh Generation IV reactor, cooled with lead, on the Mioveni platform. For this new project, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between RATEN (Autonomous Authority for Nuclear Energy Technologies – in Mioveni, Argeș), ANSALDO NUCLEARE S.P.A. (in Genoa, Italy), ENEA (Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development), SCK CEN (Centre for Nuclear Energy Studies – in Mol, Belgium), and WESTINGHOUSE ELECTRIC COMPANY LLC (in Delaware, USA). Naturally, a project company will be established, followed by a feasibility study.

Another project that is currently being considered is the ambitious Green Corridor project. Recently, Energy Minister Sebastian Burduja signed a memorandum of understanding with ministers from Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Hungary in Budapest. The project entails the creation of a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cable that would run from Azerbaijan to Hungary, passing through Romania. Operators from the four countries will form a project company, and the feasibility study will be awarded soon, according to the Ministry of Energy. In Romania, the cable is planned to