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Nuclear Energy to Gain Capacity, Maintain Global Share, Says IEA

Nov. 14, 2013—The global expansion of nuclear energy will slow down through 2035, though new construction will allow it to maintain its 12 percent share of the electricity market, a well-regarded annual forecast of global energy markets says. Renewable energy sources will expand to more than 30 percent of the electricity market share by 2035, overtaking natural gas’ share to become the second-largest generator of electricity.

The World Energy Outlook 2013, published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s International Energy Agency, follows the conclusions of the 2011 and 2012 outlooks in projecting more modest growth for nuclear energy. This marks a change from previous years when the IEA saw expansions of nuclear and renewable energy as vehicles for reducing greenhouse gases. The 2012 report showed a slight decrease in 2035 nuclear energy share from 13 to 12 percent—that figure remains stable in the 2013 report.

Still, the report forecasts growth in both nuclear generation and capacity. The latter will rise from 394 gigawatts in 2012 to 578 gigawatts in 2035, an increase of 68 percent. Plant retirements account for a 117-gigawatt reduction, as 302 gigawatts come on line during the same period.

The report sees 80 percent of the increased nuclear capacity occurring in non-OECD countries such as China and India. Among OECD countries, the report notes that its previous conclusion that Japan will abandon nuclear energy or shut down plants will be affected by “Japan’s discussions on a new energy plan,” which is expected to include nuclear energy. All but two of Japan’s 50 operating nuclear facilities are currently idled.

IEA sees carbon dioxide and other emissions as more likely to determine policy than it forecast in 2012. ”Major changes are emerging in the energy world in response to shifts in economic growth, efforts at decarbonization and technological breakthroughs,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement.

Renewable energy sources will become the world’s second-largest source of electricity production by 2015 and almost overtake coal as the primary source by the end of the report’s projections in 2035, IEA says. The report adds that renewable energy sources will have to remain the beneficiary of significant subsidies, which IEA put at more than $100 billion in 2012, expanding to $220 billion annually by 2035.

Despite these moves, the report still contains dire warnings about climate change. Despite efforts by various countries to increase energy efficiency, promote use of clean fuels and put a price on carbon emissions, energy-related CO2 emissions are still set to rise by 20 percent by 2035. “This leaves the world on a trajectory consistent with a long-term average temperature increase of 3.6°C, far above the internationally agreed 2°C target,” the report says.

IEA says that four “pragmatic” factors should slow or reverse the increase of emissions by 2020: improving energy efficiency, limiting the use of the “least-efficient” coal-fired power plants, minimizing methane emissions from oil and gas, and further reforming fossil-fuel subsidies.