IEA highlights nuclear's key role in coming years

09 February 2023

Renewables together with nuclear power are expected to meet the vast majority of the increase in global electricity demand over the next three years, making significant rises in the power sector's carbon emissions unlikely, according to a new International Energy Agency (IEA) report.

(Image: IEA)

After slowing slightly in 2022 to 2% due to the global energy crisis and exceptional weather conditions in some regions, the growth in world electricity demand is expected to accelerate to an average of 3% through to 2025, the IEA's Electricity Market Report 2023 finds.

More than 70% of the increase in global electricity demand over the next three years is expected to come from China, India and Southeast Asia. China's share of global electricity consumption is currently forecast to rise to a new record of one-third by 2025, up from one-quarter in 2015. At the same time, advanced economies are seeking to expand electricity use to displace fossil fuels in sectors such as transport, heating and industry.

While natural gas-fired power generation in the European Union is forecast to fall in the coming years, based on current trends, significant growth in the Middle East is set to partly offset this decrease, the report says. Meanwhile, expected declines in coal-fired generation in Europe and the Americas are likely to be matched by a rise in the Asia-Pacific region, despite increases in nuclear power deployment and restarts of plants in some countries, such as Japan.

The IEA says renewables and nuclear energy will dominate the growth of global electricity supply over the next three years, together meeting on average more than 90% of the additional demand.

Renewable power generation is set to increase more than all other sources combined over the 2023-2025 period, with an annualised growth of over 9%. The strong growth of renewables means their share of the global power generation mix is forecast to rise from 29% in 2022 to 35% in 2025.

Nuclear output declined 4.3% in 2022 due to maintenance outages at a large number of French plants, decommissioning of units in Germany and Belgium, and reduced Ukrainian output. However, output is expected to grow by 3.6% per year on average between 2023 and 2025, mainly due to the increase in Asia Pacific, plus French generation returning to normal. More than half of the growth in global nuclear generation to 2025 comes from just four countries: China, India, Japan and Korea. Outside Asia, the French nuclear fleet provides more than one-third of the absolute growth in global nuclear generation to 2025 as it gradually recovers.

"The energy crisis has renewed interest in the role of nuclear power in contributing to energy security and reducing the CO2 intensity of power generation," the report says. "In Europe and the United States, discussions on the future role of nuclear in the energy mix have resurfaced. At the same time, other parts of the world are already seeing an accelerated deployment of nuclear plants.

"As a result, global nuclear power generation is set to grow on average by almost 4% over 2023-2025, a significantly higher growth rate than the 2% over 2015-2019. This means that in every year to 2025, about 100 TWh of additional electricity is set to be produced by nuclear power, the equivalent of about one-eighth of US nuclear power generation today."

The report notes that electricity demand and supply worldwide are becoming increasingly weather dependent, with extreme conditions a recurring theme in 2022. This highlights the need for faster decarbonisation and accelerated deployment of clean energy technologies, it says. At the same time, as the clean energy transition gathers pace, the impact of weather events on electricity demand will intensify due to the increased electrification of heating, while the share of weather-dependent renewables will continue to grow in the generation mix.

"The world's growing demand for electricity is set to accelerate, adding more than double Japan's current electricity consumption over the next three years," said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. "The good news is that renewables and nuclear power are growing quickly enough to meet almost all this additional appetite, suggesting we are close to a tipping point for power sector emissions. Governments now need to enable low-emissions sources to grow even faster and drive down emissions so that the world can ensure secure electricity supplies while reaching climate goals."

World Nuclear Association Director General Sama Bilbao y León commented: "The IEA’s report demonstrates the very important role that nuclear energy currently has and will play over the next few years in meeting energy security goals and emissions targets, with global nuclear generation reaching a record high in 2025. We hope this reality will result in greater recognition by the IEA of the contribution nuclear energy should make in their projections and net-zero scenarios.“

Researched and written by World Nuclear News