Fusion energy might power the grid by 2030s, sector survey says
Image credit: Siarhei Yurchanka | Dreamstime.com
Investment in commercial fusion projects has accelerated significantly over the last year, leading the sector's main players to predict fusion power will be on the grid by the 2030s in a new industry report.
Funding for commercial fusion projects has more than doubled in the last 12 months, according to a recently published report by the Fusion Industry Association, The Global Fusion Industry in 2022.
In the past year, fusion companies have raised more than $2.83bn (£2.39bn) in funding, an increase of 139 per cent from the 2021 report. This figure has taken all-time investment into the technology to a record $4.8bn (£4bn).
The increase is explained by the fact that eight new fusion companies have entered the market in the last 12 months, each raising over $200m (£169m) in total, a sign of the industry’s rapid growth and investor confidence.
"The last 12 months will be seen as the turning point when it became clear that fusion would move out of the laboratories and into the marketplace," Andrew Holland, chief executive officer of the Fusion Industry Association, writes in the report's foreword.
Most of the funding declared is from private sources, with just over $117m (£99m) coming from grants and other types of government support. Some of the most significant investments into commercial fusion include $1.8bn (£1.52bn) for Commonwealth Fusion Systems and $500m (£422m) for Helion Energy.
The acceleration of fusion funding is expected to push the industry towards building pilot plants that will "provide fusion energy is ready for the marketplace," the report states, providing statistics that reflected growing sector confidence about the feasibility of commercial fusion initiatives.
More than 93 per cent of the survey's respondents believed that fusion power will be on the grid by the 2030s, while 84 per cent thought a fusion plant will demonstrate a low enough cost and high enough efficiency to be considered commercially viable in the same timeframe.
Amid rising energy prices and a cost-of-living crisis, the report presents fusion energy as a safe and clean alternative source of energy that might become available in the not-too-distant future.
“The results of this report show that fusion is on a pathway towards commercial relevance, at a time when the world desperately needs new clean energy options,” Holland said.
“We’ve seen too many reminders in the last year of why fusion investment is so important. In the fight against climate change, countries are still not meeting their pledged emissions reduction goals, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reminds us of the importance of energy security, as well as the ability of dictators to use their energy resources as a weapon against peaceful nations.”
Currently, organisations in the fusion sector are focused on electricity generation, considered as the primary market by 85 per cent of the survey's respondents. However, 27 per cent of the fusion players named off-grid energy, as well as hydrogen and 'clean' fuels, as attractive markets.
The industry-wide survey, supported by Trinomics, is part of a European Commission-funded study on fusion energy development worldwide. This year, 33 private companies developing commercial fusion took part - up from 23 last year - including all of the industry’s most established players.
In 2020, the UK government committed £220m for the conceptual design of a fusion power station as part of efforts to move the UK towards a zero-carbon energy network, and last year a Fusion Green Paper proposed governing nuclear fusion through an “innovation-friendly” approach different to that used for mature civil nuclear technology.
Within the next two decades, the Fusion Industry Association expects fusion to not only ease energy costs and promote the global economy's journey to net-zero but also to provide the basis for "prosperity, safety and security" in the long term.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.