Renewables running, nuclear power panting


The comparison between renewables and nuclear power saw the former outstripping the atom in the last five years, not only for power installed, but also for electricity production. Nonetheless, investing in nuclear power may halt the expansion of wind or solar systems, not only for economic and financial reasons. Editorial by Gianni Silvestrini, scientific director of QualEnergia.


Which is the respective weight of green energies and nuclear power today in the world? Renewables can generate 3,900 TWh per year, exceeding the 2,600 TWh/year of nuclear power by 50%. If we then consider the wind and solar electric power installed in the world in the last 5 years, it was 14 times higher than the nuclear power on the grid (see the graph below showing the Increase in wind, solar and photovoltaic power in the world in the last five year period, in thousands of MW – GW).


On the other hand, in terms of electricity production, renewable sources beat nuclear power 3 to 1 over the last five years. If we also include the nuclear power plants dismantled between 2005 and 2009, the gap between renewables and nuclear power becomes even wider. And this gap is bound to get bigger.

As regards nuclear power it will be difficult to maintain the current share of electricity. On the whole, about fifty reactors are being built. The recent willingness of some Countries to insist on the role of nuclear power has lead the International Atomic Energy Agency to raise 2020 and 2030 forecasts. But even with these new and quite optimistic figures, the percentage of electricity requirements covered by nuclear power would remain slightly below the 14-16% share of the last few years (13.5-14.6% in 2020; 12.6-15.9 % in 2030).

As for renewables, the targets set by Europe, China, Usa and Russia will imply a dramatic growth. The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) envisages a 160% increase of total wind power with an increase from today’s 158 GW to more than 400 GW in 2014.

As regards photovoltaic power, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) believes that with the application of extreme policies the solar industry may cover up to 12% of European electricity requirements in 2020.

Still, the growth of renewable energies is risking to be hindered by nuclear power. And it is not just a question of taking away economic resources, but also that the inflexible operation mode of nuclear power plants risks halting the expansion of wind or solar systems. Just consider that similar problems already occurred in Spain at the beginning of the year, when, during the night, wind power covered 54% of electricity requirements, compelling the authority to block 600 MW of wind power.

Gianni Silvestrini


22nd April 2010


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