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IEA chief economist says nuclear vital to climate objective

The International Energy Agency’s chief economist says the Paris agreement will be ‘very difficult to achieve without an increase in nuclear power capacity.

Làƒ¡szlàƒ³ Varràƒ³ told the Budapest Energy Summit on Tuesday that renewables were flourishing but their deployment wasn’t happening quickly enough.
Lazlo Varro
“Some NGOs love to hate nuclear, but even with the nuclear renaissance, you’d have to push wind and solar to the limit,” he said. “If you want to do it without nuclear, it’s technically possible, but incredibly ambitious.” There are “unanswered questions” about how a 100 per cent renewable system would work, he added. These include whether large-scale transmission development would have social acceptance and to what extent flexible demand response is scalable to a high level.”

Varro pointed to the data collected for the World Energy Outlook’s 450 Scenario shows global nuclear generation output increasing by almost two-and-a-half times by 2040, compared to the present day – from 2535 TWh to 6101 TWh, in order for the overall 2à‚°C to be achieved.

In this 450 scenario, low-carbon energy sources dominate the generation mix. Hydro generates 20 per cent, nuclear 18 per cent, wind 18 per cent and solar PV 9 per cent. Fossil fuel generation declines sharply, with gas supplying 16 per cent, coal 9 per cent and oil 1 per cent. The remaining 9 per cent is supplied by a range of other low-carbon sources.

Varro noted that China was putting a new nuclear reactor online once every quarter, on average, while Russia has signed contracts for the development of 36 nuclear power plants. The radical decarbonisation that will be needed in the coming decades is far more than what is being presently done, he added.

“Over the last 25 years, we’ve had the Rio Earth Summit, the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Agreement, books, films, Hollywood stars dedicated to climate change and sustainability and yet the average carbon intensity of the energy system has increased.”

“Stabilising emissions is like driving towards a cliff at full speed and taking your foot off the accelerator. You have slowed down, but you are still heading towards the cliff.”

“By 2030, 14 years from now, we’ll need to find more than ten billion tonnes of additional emissions reductions on top of the Paris Agreement submissions,” he said.

“In other words, we will need to find ten European climate energy packages. Whether it is the United States or Europe that is going to lead is a meaningless question, given the scale of the challenge. Everybody has to lead and that’s for the 2 degrees scenario.”

“The 2 degrees target is just at the borderline of what might be achieved while maintaining consumerist capitalism – and that’s only if we do it really smartly.”