World has stalled on clean energy

17 April 2013

The world's governments are failing on almost every level to clean up their energy systems and must intervene to support nuclear power, said the IEA, noting that only renewables and electric vehicles are 'on track'. 

A report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) contains recommendations to reduce the carbon footprint of all aspects of energy generation. It was launched today at the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting taking place in New Delhi and is directed at the IEA's member governments, which are responsible for 75% of global energy use.

The stern message from IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven was that "the carbon intensity of the global energy supply has barely changed in 20 years, despite successful efforts in deploying renewable energy." She complained that progress towards clean energy "has stalled" and that "market failures are preventing the adoption of clean energy solutions."

One of those market failures relates to nuclear power, which IEA said needs to provide 16% of generation by 2025 in order to match its scenario where global warming is limited to 2ºC (known as the 2DS). But to achieve this, the sector has to expand at a rate of at least 16 GWe capacity per year to 2020 and 20 GWe per year after that - or even more if current units cannot operate as long as expected. In reality the nuclear sector has only achieved 3.6 GWe net growth on average over the last three years, taking into account the losses of the Fukushima accident and subsequent shutdowns in Germany.

The Fukushima accident also badly hit new build progress: Some 16 new nuclear projects were started in 2010 but in 2012 the figure was only seven. "Meeting 2DS goals will require far more significant construction rates," said the IEA. Another issue for nuclear is a scarcity of active political support.


IEA recommendations on nuclear power

More favourable electricity market mechanisms and investment conditions are needed to ensure that new reactors can be constructed at the necessary rate. 

In liberalised markets where feed-in tariffs have been used to promote the deployment of renewable technologies, the profitability of dispatchable technologies has been degraded to the point where new investments are unlikely.

A more equitable system that favours all low-carbon technologies, such as the Contract for Difference mechanism of the UK Electricity Market Reform, would make investments in nuclear technologies more attractive.

Governments that have decided to move ahead with nuclear power should work to improve electricity market mechanisms to boost prospects for investment.

To improve public acceptance of nuclear power, governments should work with all stakeholders to ensure that factual, reliable and scientifically credible information is available on the advantages and risks of nuclear power, and to emphasise the role of nuclear power in meeting energy and environmental policy objectives.


An overall report card from the IEA said that only the deployment of renewables and electric vehicles were 'on track' for 2DS goals, while global policies on nuclear, coal usage, carbon capture and storage, biofuels and building efficiency were all said to be failing.

Carbon market failure

Yesterday, the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) served to illustrate the lack of drive for low-carbon energy.

The ETS is designed around a capped market for the trade of CO2 emission allowances. This allows companies that reduce their emissions to benefit by avoiding the cost of purchasing allowances, or to sell unused allowances at a profit. Despite setting a cost efficient path for a 21% emissions reduction between 2005 and 2020, the scheme lost relevance when recession led to a surplus of allowances. An average price last year of only €7.10 per tonne of CO2 (tCO2), has not been enough to influence emitters.

Yesterday the European Parliament voted against a proposal to 'backload' the ETS and postpone the auction of some 900 million allowances from the current trading period. This would have stabilised the market by raising prices in the short term and easing pressure later on. But with backloading rejected in parliament and these allowances now sure to exacerbate the current surplus, the carbon market saw an immediate 40% collapse in price to trade at only €3.10/tCO2.

Today's IEA report states that prices of €20/tCO2 are required to make companies plan a long-term fuel switch from coal to gas, while some €50/tCO2 per tonne would be required for instant behavioural change from emitters.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News