Green Energy Partners, a US data center and energy developer, plans to use nuclear reactors to power 30 new data centers in Virginia and provide Virginia with green hydrogen for data center backup.

Green Energy Partners (GEP) has proposed 30 new data centers on land next to the 1.6GW Surry Nuclear Power Plant in southeastern Virginia. While building the new facilities, GEP plans to also build multiple small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), which will power green hydrogen production plants. The site, midway between the Northern Virginia data center hub and the Virginia Beach cable landing station, would enable Virginia to expand its data centers beyond the highly developed Loudoun County area, where data centers are reported to use around 20 percent of available power, and power distribution issues have limited development.

dominion power surry nuclear power station.jpg
– Dominion Energy

GEP has bought 641 acres of land next to Dominion Energy's Surry Nuclear Power Plant, which houses two 800MW pressurized water reactors (PWRs) built in 1972 and 1973. These have had their original operating licenses extended from 40 to 80 years, and are due to continue providing power until 2052 and 2053. Another two PWRs had originally been planned for the site.

Green Energy Partners says it will begin building data centers at the Surry Green Energy Center (SGEC) in 2024, once permits are issued, placing up to 30 facilities on three-to-five-acre plots. These will initially be powered by the available grid power. Using revenue from the data centers, GEP plans to develop its own on-site nuclear power with up to six 250MW small modular reactors (SMRs).

Combining nuclear with hydrogen

SMRs are nuclear power plants that use the same PWR technology as Surry's old generating stations but are produced on a smaller scale with modern manufacturing methods, making them more cost-effective and economic than giant nuclear power stations which have tended to get bogged down during the planning phase.

The SMRs will require more stringent permitting, but GEP's VP of strategic development Bill Puckett told Virginia Business that GEP expects, within the next 10 to 15 years, to have SMRs producing carbon-free energy, and also to be producing green hydrogen on-site.

– Green Energy Partners

In a combined system which GEP calls a "green energy machine" or GEM, The SMRs will create zero-carbon electricity, as well as enough heat to provide hot water to electrolyzers powered by some of the green electricity, which will produce green hydrogen. This can be used on-site for backup, sold to other customers, or else blended with natural gas and shipped by existing pipelines, GEP says.

The SMRs are expected to take up some 35 acres, alongside 20 acres of hydrogen production equipment.

GEP has not said which SMRs it will use, with Puckett saying the company is "in conversation with SMR vendors." However, GEP is working with the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory, which is also partnering with NuScale whose Voygr design is built from 50MW modules and is one of the leading US SMR contenders, having received federal approval in January. NuScale has also been partnering with Shell to demonstrate a system combining SMRs with green hydrogen production.

NuScale has also had setbacks, however. The cost of electricity from Voygr has increased from the originally planned $55 per MWh to around $90/MWh. This means that NuScale's electricity is now more expensive than that from renewable sources such as solar and wind.

GEP says it is working with state and federal stakeholders. but the presence of existing nuclear plants at the site should make approvals easier.

"The SGEC exhibits the ideal combination of clean hydrogen production, hydrogen consumers, and energy-intensive customers (the data centers) all in proximity with a connective infrastructure," says the GEP release. "These green data centers can ultimately benefit not only from on-site SMR electricity production but also hydrogen-fueled generator backup power."

GEP has previous experience with data centers and energy, having built the 778MW Panda Stonewall natural gas power plant in Leesburg, Virginia, as well as the Spring Park Technology Center in Fairfax, and InterGate Company which has developed projects in Northern Virginia around Dulles Airport Ashburn and Loudoun.

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