New IAEA report: Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050

Report cover: Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050
Image: IAEA

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released the 41st edition of RDS-1, containing estimates of energy, electricity and nuclear power trends up to the year 2050. The publication is organized into world and regional subsections, with global and regional nuclear power projections presented as low and high cases, encompassing the uncertainties inherent in projecting trends.

SEPT. 21, 2021 – The underlying fundamentals of population and electricity consumption growth in the developing world, as well as climate change and air quality concerns, security of energy supply and price volatility of other fuels, continue to point to nuclear generating capacity potentially playing an important role in the energy mix in the longer run, provided concerted actions are taken.

By 2050, global final energy consumption is projected to increase by about 30% and electricity production is expected to double. Worldwide, coal remains the dominant energy source for electricity production, at about 37% for 2020. While its share in electricity production has changed little since 1980, that of renewables and natural gas has increased over the past 40 years. Today, nuclear contributes about 10% of global electricity production.

Currently about two thirds of nuclear power reactors have been in operations for over 30 years, highlighting the need for significant new nuclear capacity to offset retirements in the long term. Uncertainty remains regarding the replacement of the large number of reactors scheduled to be retired around 2030 and beyond, particularly in Northern America and Europe. However, ageing management programmes and long-term operation are being implemented for an increasing number of reactors.

Climate change mitigation is a potential driver for maintaining and expanding the use of nuclear power. According to the International Energy Agency, the use of nuclear power has avoided more than 60 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions over the past 50 years. Commitments made under the Paris Agreement and other initiatives could support nuclear power development, provided the necessary energy policies and market designs are established to facilitate investments in dispatchable, low carbon technologies.

As stated by the International Energy Agency, almost half of the CO2 emission reductions needed to reach net zero in 2050 will need to come from technologies that are currently under development but are not yet on the market. This is true for nuclear technologies such as small and medium-sized, modular and other advanced reactors. Accelerating the pace of innovation and demonstration of these technologies will be required if nuclear is to play a role in decarbonization beyond electricity by providing low carbon heat or hydrogen to the industrial and transport sectors.

Compared with the previous year’s global projections, the 2021 projections are higher to reflect growing recognition of climate change issues and the importance of nuclear power in reducing emissions from electricity generation. Furthermore, the contribution of electricity to the global system is expected to increase.

The current pace of nuclear development shows that urgent actions are needed to maintain the existing role of nuclear power in the energy mix. The involvement of a broad range of actors including policy maker, the nuclear industry and international organizations, along with active engagement from the public, is necessary.

Click here to read the full IAEA report.

Summary above adapted from report introduction on page 4.