Microsoft to buy power from Helion fusion plant

11 May 2023

Global technology company Microsoft has signed an agreement with fusion energy developer Helion Energy for the provision of electricity from its first fusion power plant. Constellation Energy will serve as the power marketer and will manage transmission for the project.

Assembled electromagnetic coils that will be used in Helion’s 7th fusion prototype, Polaris (Image: Helion)

Helion is developing a cost-effective, zero-carbon electrical power plant using its patented pulsed, non-ignition fusion technology. Helion says its fusion power plant will provide "flexible, scalable, baseload power that is affordable, providing the world a new path to full decarbonisation of electricity generation".

It says its first power plant is expected to be online by 2028 and will target power generation of 50 MWe or greater after a one-year ramp up period.

The company noted the planned operational date for this first of its kind facility is "significantly sooner than typical projections for deployment of commercial fusion power".

Helion says its approach to fusion energy differs in three main ways from other approaches. Firstly, it uses a pulsed fusion system, which helps overcome the hardest physics challenges, keeps its fusion device smaller than other approaches, and allows it to adjust the power output based on need. Secondly, its system is built to directly recover electricity, while other fusion systems heat water to create steam to turn a turbine which loses a lot of energy in the process. Thirdly, it uses deuterium and helium-3 as fuel, which helps keep its system small and efficient.

The company has previously built six working prototypes and in June 2021 became the first private fusion company to reach 100-million-degree plasma temperatures with its sixth fusion generator prototype, Trenta. Helion is currently building its seventh prototype, Polaris, in Everett, Washington, which it expects will demonstrate the ability to produce electricity in 2024.

"This collaboration represents a significant milestone for Helion and the fusion industry as a whole," said Helion CEO David Kirtley. "We are grateful for the support of a visionary company like Microsoft. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are confident in our ability to deliver the world's first fusion power facility."

"We are optimistic that fusion energy can be an important technology to help the world transition to clean energy," said Brad Smith, Vice Chair and President at Microsoft, which aims to be carbon-negative by 2030. "Helion's announcement supports our own long-term clean energy goals and will advance the market to establish a new, efficient method for bringing more clean energy to the grid, faster."

"Constellation is committed to innovation and supporting next-generation clean energy technologies to combat the climate crisis, and fusion would be a game-changer," said Constellation Chief Commercial Officer Jim McHugh. "Combined with our hourly carbon-free energy matching solution, Helion and Microsoft are helping to build a future where carbon-free energy is the standard."

In March 2022, Constellation announced a five-year collaboration with Microsoft on the development of an energy matching technology to match a customer's power needs with local carbon-free energy sources. The real-time, data-driven carbon accounting solution will use hour-by-hour regional tracking giving customers clearer and more accurate data on their emissions impact and help to achieve zero-carbon goals, the company said. In addition, Microsoft will purchase a portion of its clean energy supply from Constellation over five years.

In September last year, Microsoft Canada said it would procure Clean Energy Credits sourced from Ontario Power Generation's carbon-free hydro and nuclear assets as part of Microsoft's efforts to power its datacentres with carbon-free energy. The strategic partnership, which is aimed at tackling climate change and driving sustainable growth across Ontario, will see the two companies work together on a series of initiatives focused on delivering innovative clean energy solutions and digital skilling programmes.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News