Number Crunch: Low Carbon 2040

The International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook report is a kind of oracle for future energy and climate forecasting. This year, the report looks ahead to our prospects through to 2040.

Here are some highlights for renewable and nuclear power.

World Energy Outlook 2014
World Energy Outlook 2014

Low carbon renewable energy

  1. Renewable energy, a critical element of low-carbon global energy supply, is rapidly gaining ground, helped by global subsidies amounting to $120 billion in 2013, up 15% on 2012.
  2. Renewable subsidies will expand to nearly  $230 billion in 2030, before falling to $205 billionin 2040.
  3. In 2013, almost 70%of subsidies to renewables for power were provided in just five countries: Germany ($22 billion), the US ($15 billion), Italy ($14 billion), Spain ($8 billion) and China ($7 billion).
  4. The share of renewables in total power generation rises from 21% in 2012 to 33%in 2040, as they supply nearly half of the growth in global electricity generation.

Low carbon nuclear energy

  1. Global nuclear power capacity will increase by almost 60% by 2040 (from 392 GW in 2013 to over 620 GW).
  2. Nuclear power is one of the few options available at scale to reduce CO2 whilst providing “baseload” power. “Baseload” means always on, around the clock, whatever the weather. 
  3. Nuclear avoided the release of an estimated 56g/t of CO2 since 1971, or almost two years of total global emissions at current rates.
  4. Of the growth in nuclear generation to 2040, China accounts for 45% while India, Korea and Russia collectively make up a further 30%.
  5. Generation increases by 16% in the United States, rebounds in Japan and falls by 10% in the European Union.
  6. Almost 200 reactors (of the 434 operational at the end of 2013) are retired in the period to 2040, with the vast majority in Europe, the United States, Russia and Japan.
  7. IEA estimate the cost of decommissioning nuclear plants that are retired in the period to 2040 at more than $100 billionIt’s worth noting that this is less than a quarter of global subsidies given to fossil fuels during a single year.
  8. Annual emissions avoided in 2040 due to nuclear power (as a share of projected emissions at that time) reach almost 50%in Korea, 12% in Japan, 10% in the US, 9% in the EU and 8% in China.
  9. The average cost of avoiding emissions through new nuclear depends on the cost of the fuel it displaces, so ranges from very low levels to over $80/tonne.
  10. Safety is the dominant public concern about nuclear, particularly in relation to operating reactors, managing radioactive waste and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.


Further reading:

IEA Fact sheet on nuclear

IEA World Energy Outlook Executive Summary