Who’s in the lead for a low carbon future?

After hydro, nuclear power is the second-largest source of zero carbon electricity generation in the world. It’s the number one zero carbon source in OECD countries, providing 61 per cent of clean power in the US (hydro provides 21.6%).

In 2013, nuclear accounted for 11% of total global electricity production. This share has declined since 1996, when it met 18% of global electricity generation.

Globally, it’s estimated (by the International Energy Agency) that nuclear currently generates four times more power than wind, and 18 times more than solar. This gap is expected to narrow, due to rapid global expansion of modern renewables. Ideally, ALL low carbon sources need to grow if we are serious about weaning the world off fossil fuels.

Here is a world map of nuclear power, and where new construction is underway.

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Source: IEA World Energy Outlook 2014

The 450 scenario sets out an energy path that gives us a 50% chance of limiting the long term increase in average global temperatures to 2 degrees, compared with pre-industrial levels. It’s estimated that all low carbon technologies need to double, or even triple their output to keep the world within safe temperatures. This graph shows how much nuclear needs to grow compared to different scenarios.

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In order to have a rational, realistic debate on what is needed to meet the climate change challenge, we have to raise awareness of the numbers involved. Understanding the amounts of energy that need to become low carbon and the available means to do this means we can move on to addressing the practical challenges of delivering this change.

It is notable that in the November 2014 China-US climate accord, China’s target for 2030 is expected to need delivering some 800 to 1,000 GW of low carbon energy. This is equal to the current entire US electricity system. However, as the map above shows, China are more advanced than anywhere else in getting construction of new nuclear delivered, putting them in pole position to lead a clean energy future.