IEA warns nuclear may miss long-term target

23 May 2018

The target of achieving global nuclear generating capacity of 438 GWe by 2020 under the International Energy Agency's (IEA's) Sustainable Development Scenario appears to be on track, the agency said today. However, it said the prospects of meeting the target of 490 GWe by 2025 remains uncertain.

Nuclear construction must accelerate (Image: Fujian Fuqing Nuclear Power Co)

The IEA's Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), introduced in the World Energy Outlook 2017, depicts a rapid but achievable transformation of the energy sector. It outlines a path to limiting the rise of average global temperatures to "well below 2°C", as specified in the Paris Agreement, as well as increasing energy access around the world and reducing air pollution. However, global energy-related CO2 emissions increased 1.4% last year.

The IEA said that, in the SDS scenario, "meeting long-term sustainability goals requires an ambitious combination of more energy efficient buildings, industry and transport, and more renewables and flexibility in power".

In its latest Tracking Clean Energy Progress, the IEA's analysis of the clean-energy transition found that only four out of 38 energy technologies and sectors were on track to meet long-term climate, energy access and air pollution goals in 2017. A total of 11 of 38 technologies surveyed by the IEA were significantly not on track. Two technologies - onshore wind and energy storage - were downgraded this year, as their progress slowed. This brought the number of technologies "in need of improvement" to a total of 23.

Over the past five years, 33 GWe of new capacity was connected to the grid, while 18 GWe of capacity was permanently shut down. Last year, 3.6 GWe of new nuclear generating capacity came online, while construction started on 4 GWe of new capacity, bring total global nuclear capacity under construction to 56 GWe.

"Nuclear power is likely to be on track for the 2020 SDS target of 438 GWe installed capacity, as construction of 40 GWe is completed," the IEA said. "However, it will be increasingly unlikely that nuclear power will be on track for the 2025 target of 490 GWe installed capacity, as phase-outs counter any progress." It added that without additional licence extensions, more than 55 GWe would be retired by 2030 making it even more challenging to reach the target of a 185 GWe net increase in capacity by 2030. "These retirements increase to almost 200 GWe by 2040 under current licences and policies but would reach only 2.6 GWe if 80-year operation were possible for all existing reactors."

It also said that "looming construction decisions" by China, India and Russia in 2018-2020 will play a major role in whether nuclear power will meet the SDS targets in 2030 and beyond.

The agency noted that several major efforts aim to reduce barriers to increased deployment of nuclear power by "reducing investment risk, expanding applications to smaller grids or non-electricity products, or increasing safety features". These include the development of small modular reactors and accident-tolerant fuels.

"There is a critical need for more vigorous action by governments, industry, and other stakeholders to drive advances in energy technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director. "The world doesn't have an energy problem but an emissions problem, and this is where we should focus our efforts."

The nuclear industry has set the Harmony goal for nuclear energy to provide 25% of global electricity by 2050. This will require a tripling of nuclear generation from its present level. Some 1000 GWe of new nuclear generating capacity will need to be constructed by then to achieve that goal. World Nuclear Association has identified three areas for action to achieve this: establishing a level playing field in electricity markets, building harmonised regulatory processes, and an effective safety paradigm.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News