The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects nuclear generation to more than double by 2050, with at least 30 countries increasing their use of nuclear power under the Net Zero Emissions 2050 scenario presented in the latest World Energy Outlook (WEO). The IEA said the global energy crisis could mark a historic turning point towards a greener and safer future.

The global energy crisis caused by Russia's special military operation in Ukraine is causing profound and long-term changes that could accelerate the transition to a more sustainable and secure energy system, the IEA says.

"Today's energy crisis is creating a shock of unprecedented breadth and complexity," it said.

“Energy markets and policies have changed as a result of Russia’s sting operation in Ukraine, not only temporarily, but for decades to come,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “Even with today’s political attitudes, the energy world is changing dramatically before our eyes. Governments are responding to promise to the world to make this historic and definitive turn towards a cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy system."

The World Energy Review's Net Zero Emissions 2050 scenario sets out what needs to be done to go beyond stated promises and onto a trajectory that will achieve net zero emissions globally by 2050. In addition to this scenario, the WEO 2022 review considers two others: the Stated Policy Scenario (STEPS), which is a path based on the energy and climate actions governments have actually taken to date, as well as specific policy initiatives under development; and the Announced Commitment Scenario (APS), which charts a path in which government commitments to date to reduce emissions to zero are met on time and in full.

"For the first time in history, a WEO scenario based on today's prevailing policy settings - in this case, the stated policy scenario - predicts that global demand for all fossil fuels will peak or plateau," the IEA said. Under this scenario, coal use would decline over the next few years, natural gas demand would plateau by the end of the decade, and rising sales of electric vehicles would cause oil demand to plateau in the mid-2030s, and then slightly by mid-century. will decrease. The share of fossil fuels in the global energy mix in STEPS falls from around 80% to just over 60% by 2050. In more climate-focused WEO scenarios, the decline is much faster and more pronounced.

Growth of nuclear generation

In the STEPS scenario, global nuclear energy production increases from 2,776 TWh in 2021 to 3,351 TWh in 2030 and to 4,260 TWh in 2050. At the same time, the share of nuclear power plants in the total volume of electricity production remains at about 10%. This scenario requires the commissioning of 120 GW of new nuclear capacity by 2030, and the addition of a further 300 GW of nuclear capacity between 2030 and 2050 in more than 30 countries.

In the APS scenario, about 18 GW of new nuclear capacity is added annually during the forecast period, a quarter more than in STEPS, but the higher level of electricity demand in this scenario means that the share of nuclear power plants in the electricity mix remains around 10%. In the APS, nuclear generation increases to 3547 TWh in 2030 and to 5103 TWh in 2050.

In the NZE scenario, life extensions in the 2020s help limit global emissions, and adding an average of 24 GW of capacity each year between 2022 and 2050 would more than double nuclear power capacity by 2050. In this scenario, nuclear generation increases to 3896 TWh in 2030 and to 5810 TWh in 2050. However, the share of nuclear power plants in the electricity mix declines to 8% in 2050 due to very strong growth in electricity demand in the NZE scenario.

The IEA notes that while STEPS would see clean energy investment exceed US$2 trillion by 2030, the NZE scenario would see it exceed US$4 trillion by the same date.

“Significant international efforts continue to be required to reduce the alarming gap in clean energy investment levels between advanced and emerging and developing economies,” the report adds. “The continued role of nuclear in the electricity sector depends on decisions on extending the life of existing reactors and the success of programs to build new ones."

However, the IEA noted that nuclear power investment is "coming back into fashion" in some countries:

"Announcements have been made about extending the life of existing reactors, often as part of a response to the current crisis. There is also growing interest in the potential of small modular reactors to contribute to emissions reduction and grid reliability."

Commenting on the latest edition of WEO, World Nuclear Association Director General Sama Bilbao-y-Leon said:

"Nuclear power is a cornerstone of the IEA's vision for a clean energy future. But nuclear can do much more than what the IEA envisages. A larger contribution from nuclear power will be needed, given its ability to supply both the electricity and heat that will be vital to achieving complete decarbonization in all sectors.

Nuclear energy is a proven technology with many economic, social and environmental benefits. A smart and sustainable clean energy future will require much greater use of its benefits."

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