IEA: Nuclear acceleration makes 'climate goals more achievable'

02 June 2016

Global climate goals are "more achievable than previously thought" because of progress in nuclear power plant construction, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which also called for electricity markets to favour all low-carbon technologies.

In its annual report, Energy Technology Perspectives 2016, the IEA's main scenario - the 2 Degree Scenario (2DS) - is in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's analysis and demonstrates the actions needed in the energy sector to limit the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2°C.

The report notes that connections of new nuclear power units doubled in 2015 to ten new reactors each year compared to five in 2014 and similar numbers in previous years. "Progress and construction times in 2015 show the long-term 2DS targets to be more achievable than previously thought," the IEA said. However, several policy matters have the potential to impede the deployment of new nuclear power plants.

"The realisation that swift action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from fossil-based generation has highlighted again the potential of nuclear power to help meet these challenges", the report says. In a reference to some US and European markets where financial support only for renewables has made existing nuclear plants unprofitable, the IEA said, "This awareness has yet to be translated into policy support for long-term operation of the existing fleet to prevent early closures of safe, reliable low-carbon baseload power plants, and facilitate construction of new units." The IEA suggests, "Market incentives - in the form of carbon taxes or electricity market arrangements, or both - are needed to favour all low-carbon technologies."

"Several nations, including China, have announced ambitious nuclear power expansion plans as part of their clean energy goals, which will be needed to meet the 2DS targets," the IEA said.

"In the 2DS, with the right support for low-carbon technologies in conversion processes and end uses, primary energy demand can be reduced by 30% and carbon emissions in the energy system by 70% (and by one-half relative to current levels) by 2050," the IEA said. The organization estimates the investment needed to decarbonize the power sector in the 2DS would be some $9 trillion between 2016 and 2050.

The IEA noted there have been positive developments on some energy technologies, in particular with installed renewable energy capacity now providing some 23% of global electricity production. "This is an encouraging trend in line with the 2°C goal of having in excess of two-thirds of electricity generated by renewables in 2050," it said. In the 2DS, the share of fossil fuels in global primary energy supply drops by almost half - from 80% in 2011 to just over 40% in 2050. In the scenario, some 22 GWe of new nuclear generating capacity must be added annually by 2050 to make up about 17% of electricity supply and provide 7% of cumulative emissions reductions.

"The agreement reached at COP21 in Paris could prove to be a historic turning point for reversing the currently unsustainable trends in the global energy system, provided that this heightened low-carbon ambition is translated into fast, radical and effective policy action," the IEA said. It added, "Even in the context of low fossil fuel prices, policy support for low-carbon technologies should mobilise all levers available to accelerate research, development, demonstration and deployment to make decarbonization the preferred development path."

"A low fossil fuel price outlook poses both unique opportunities and threats for low-carbon technology deployment," the IEA suggests. "While low fossil fuel prices might slow down clean energy technology deployment, they also present opportunities to better align policies with decarbonization targets, for instance, by accelerating the roll-out of carbon pricing mechanisms and dismantling costly fossil fuel subsidy programs."

IEA executive director Fatih Birol said, "Today's energy market conditions will be a litmus test for governments to show how dedicated they are at turning their Paris commitments into concrete actions for a low-carbon future."

Agneta Rising, director general of the World Nuclear Association, said: "Nuclear energy, working in harmony with other low carbon energy sources, can make a significant contribution to a future energy mix that meets our needs and protects our environment. That means decarbonizing existing electricity supplies and also ensuring clean and reliable electricity is provided to developing countries still lacking secure supplies."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News