Wind and solar far outdoing nuclear

Joshua S Hill | CleanTechnica

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013 (WNISR) was published last Thursday and revealed a measly growth of over 1.2 GW during 2012 globally, compared to 32 GW of solar growth in the same time. In fact, the nuclear industry seems to be in decline in every category and in every country across the face of the planet, and many are laying the blame equally at the feet of the Fukushima disaster and the growth of the renewable energy sector.

wind-solar-nuclearThe report us subsequently proclaiming the end of the “nuclear renaissance.”

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report bill themselves as “the Independent Assessment of Nuclear Developments in the World,” and are headed up by lead authors Mycle Schneider and Anthony Patrick Froggat, with support from Steve Thomas, Dough Koplow, and Julie Hazemann. The report “provides a reality check of the current situation and trends of an industry in great difficulties”, as well as this year providing “an essential status report on the complex situation that arose from the triple meltdowns in Fukushima” in 2011.

Coming in at 140 pages long, the WNISR outlines the decline and fall of nuclear as a viable future alternative to fossil fuel energy sources.

On 29 June 2013, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declared at the Ministerial Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia that “nuclear power will make a significant and growing contribution to sustainable development in the coming decades.” The figures, however, do not bear this out. Annual nuclear electricity generation reached a peak of 2,660 TWh in 2006, before dropping to 2,346 TWh in 2012, a 7% decrease compared to 2011, and a 12% decrease compared to its 2006 peak. The report points out that approximately three-quarters of this decline can be placed at the feet of Japanese insecurity following the Fukushima disaster, but 16 other countries — including the top five nuclear generators — all decreased their nuclear generation to some extent as well.

Nuclear’s share in the world’s power generation mix has declined steadily over the past two decades, after it reached its peak of 17% in 1993. It has since dropped to approximately 10% in 2012, while nuclear’s share of global commercial primary energy production dropped dramatically to 4.5%, a figure last seen in 1984. Given that the average age of nuclear energy plants is 28 years old — which includes 190 units over the age of 30, of which 44 are over the age of 40 — it is no surprise that nuclear is in decline.

However the increase of renewable energy in the global energy generation mix has also played its part.

The WNISR split their analysis of the fight between nuclear and renewable energies into three categories; investment levels, installed capacity, and electricity generation.

According to the WNISR global investment in renewable energy during 2012 totalled $268 billion, a drop from the $300 billion seen in 2011. These figures were derived from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reports, figures which were recently confirmed by second quarter 2013 figures released by BNEF. 2013 Q2 investment in global clean energy was up, reaching $53.1 billion, and again we saw that the greatest investment was directed towards utility-scale renewable energy projects such as wind farms and solar parks, just as was the case for 2012′s figures.

“These figures are a mixture of sweet and sour,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“On the sour side, 2013 globally is still running below 2012, which was itself down on the 2011 investment record. And European investment is clearly being hit by cuts in support for renewable energy and by policy uncertainty, notably ahead of the German election in September.

“On the sweet side, the US is back in business following the hiatus that resulted from fears about the possible expiry of the Production Tax Credit for wind at the end of 2012. And the 50% rally in clean energy share prices since their lows last summer, with rises of 200% or more for Tesla Motors and a clutch of major wind and solar manufacturers, is rekindling – at least for the moment – the appetite of stock market investors for equity raisings.”

Unsurprisingly, given the relative danger and cost of nuclear power when compared to renewable energies like solar and wind, three of the world’s four largest economies — China, Germany, and Japan — as well as India are now generating more power from renewables than from nuclear power.

In fact, since 2000, the annual growth rates for onshore wind and solar photovoltaics have grown 27% and 42% respectively, resulting in 45 GW of wind and 32 GW of solar being installed during 2012, compared to only 1.2 GW of net addition to the nuclear industry. This is played out in the level of electricity generated as well, with wind producing almost 500 TWh more than it did in 2000, and solar another 100 TWh over what it did in the same year. On the other side, nuclear power generated 100 TWh less than it did in 2000.

The full report can be read here (PDF), and includes 40 pages of detailed country-by-country information, as well as an update on the challenges triggered by the Fukushima disaster.

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