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December 15, 2022

CNL’s proprietary Hybrid Energy System Optimization (HESO) model transforms the way we look at the future of energy

As the investment in hydrogen, nuclear, and renewable energy sources continues globally in support of climate change action plans, it’s critical we know the cost and viability of transitioning to cleaner technologies. CNL, via a proprietary techno-economic assessment tool – the Hybrid Energy System Optimization (HESO) model, has been supporting government and industry with understanding the key factors and opportunities in energy transition. The HESO model determines the best energy mix for a select community, geographical area or industry in a technology neutral way by minimizing system cost while also achieving performance requirements and greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

What Makes the HESO Model Different?

While a number of energy models already exist, the majority of these energy models were not developed to include advanced nuclear power plants, including small modular reactors or SMRs –reliable zero carbon emission baseload generating technology. Both in Canada, and globally, nuclear energy has been recognized as an important tool in tackling climate change as well in meeting the expected rise in electricity. Many estimates have as high as double to triple current electricity generation needed by 2050 to reach net-zero.

The HESO model examines diverse energy systems, and users are able to model scenarios which include a large number of pre-programmed technologies – 13 generating technologies and four storage technologies.  Several other features make it stand out:

  • Enhanced functionality: HESO provides the optimal mix of energy generation and storage types and capacities for the user without the need to select technologies and sizes of inputs (where there is no way of knowing the optimal mix).
  • Unique features: With the addition of advanced nuclear, the model includes high temperature heat for industrial applications and integrated hydrogen production to support hydrogen as an energy carrier.
  • More accuracy in system-level cost calculations and implications of energy mix: For example, if a high percentage of renewable energy technologies is deployed, the model will automatically deploy larger amounts of energy storage to account for the mismatch in supply and demand. This allows for direct comparison of different energy mixes at a system level. This model includes a more realistic analysis pertaining to maintenance planning, failure analysis and back-up requirements as well.
  • Easy to add custom technologies: Although HESO has a large list of pre-programmed options – it has the flexibility for users to define custom technologies in as much detail as the existing pre-programmed options.

How Has HESO Helped?

Since its development, the HESO model has been used to demonstrate the feasibility of several clean energy transition scenarios, including studies for government agencies and industry.  Most importantly, the model is proving:

  • Nuclear, renewables, energy storage, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies are important elements in supporting the transition into the low carbon economy.
  • Electrification can play a key role in realizing a clean economy provided the resulting increase in electricity generation is met with low emissions technologies, but electrifying space heating is more challenging due to significant seasonal variation.
  • Supplying clean heat directly through district and process heating networks can be an alternative solution for thermal demand, avoiding the high conversion losses associated with electricity generation in thermal power plants (e.g. SMR, natural gas with CCS).

Work on the HESO model first began in 2018 through Atomic Energy of Canada Limited’s Federal Nuclear Science & Technology Work Plan. It continues to be refined to allow wider application. Some of these refinements include addressing the cost of power transmission lines and hot water network, improving the modelling of nuclear combined heat and power, thermal energy storage and hydrogen production, allowing a longer time period and life cycle cost, and improving the nuclear economic input library.

For more information on the HESO model and its role in the Clean Energy Demonstration, Innovation, and Research (CEDIR) initiative, visit:

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