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The retirement of old nuclear power plants in the coming years could compromise the international effort to arrest the rise in global temperatures and result in an increase in carbon emissions instead, the International Energy Agency has warned in a new report.
Nuclear is one of the lowest-emissions sources of energy but it has a bad reputation, which has prompted Germany, for example, to greatly reduce its operating nuclear capacity and replace it with renewables and, mostly, natural gas. France also had an idea to start phasing out the nuclear plants that supply more than two-thirds of its electricity but it seems common sense has temporarily prevailed. The start of the phase-out that should bring the share of nuclear in its energy mix from 75 percent to 50 percent was moved from 2025 to 2035.
Even so, the IEA says, “Without policy changes, advanced economies could lose 25% of their nuclear capacity by 2025 and as much as two-thirds of it by 2040.” This comes at a time when coal capacity is also being reduced fast because of emission concerns while wind and solar additions are stalling. If the share of nuclear drops as much as the IEA estimates based on the current situation, the planet could suffer as much as 4 billion tons of carbon dioxide in additional emissions.
Related: Renewables Investment To Overtake Oil & Gas In Asia
Interestingly enough, the authority believes that extending the life of existing nuclear power plants is a good way to prevent these additional emissions from materializing. Although cost-intensive, this extension is actually competitive with the addition of more solar and wind generation capacity. This would certainly come as a surprise to some energy industry insiders in the United States where the nuclear industry has been struggling to keep afloat in the face of cheap natural gas.
The alternative to life extension and construction of new nuclear power plants is, of course solar and wind. However, it won’t be as easy as some would like to believe.
As per the IEA, “If other low-carbon sources, namely wind and solar PV, are to fill the shortfall in nuclear, their deployment would have to accelerate to an unprecedented level. In the past 20 years, wind and solar PV capacity has increased by about 580 gigawatts in advanced economies. But over the next 20 years, nearly five times that amount would need to be added. Such a drastic increase in renewable power generation would create serious challenges in integrating the new sources into the broader energy system.”
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.