Global renewable energy capacity surpassed nukes in 2010

Report makes the argument that further nuclear development is unnecessary
Date: 
April 28, 2011
Nuclear power vs renewables
A new report from the Worldwatch Institute says that the installed capacity of renewable power generation, excluding large hydro, surpassed the global installed capacity of nuclear energy generation last year. The cross-over point on output is expected in a few years.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010-2011, published to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, provides quantitative and qualitative facts about nuclear power plants in operation, under construction, and in planning phases throughout the world. It assesses the economic performance of past and current nuclear projects and compares their development to that of leading renewable energy sources.

In 2010 the worldwide cumulated installed capacity of wind turbines (193 gigawatts), biomass and waste-to-energy plants (65 GW), and solar power (43 GW) reached 381 GW, topping the installed nuclear capacity of 375 GW prior to the Fukushima disaster.

According to the report annual renewable capacity additions have been out-pacing nuclear start-ups for 15 years. In the United States, the share of renewables in new capacity additions rose from 2 percent in 2004 to 55 percent in 2009, with no new nuclear coming on line.

Total investment in renewable energy technologies is estimated to have been USD243 billion in 2010, which - outside of large hydro-power developments - has come almost entirely from private sources. The nuclear industry, by comparison, continues to receive high levels of public subsidy with all current nuclear plants under construction the result of central planning.

In 2009, nuclear power plants generated 2,558 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, about 2 percent less than the previous year and the fourth year in a row of output decline. In 2008, for the first time since the beginning of the nuclear age, no new unit was started up, while two were added in 2009, five in 2010, and two in the first three months of 2011. During the same time period, 11 reactors were shut down - a figure that includes the reactors at Fukushima Daichi but not the seven units that the German government ordered to be shut down after the Fukushima crisis started and that are unlikely to come back on line after a three-month moratorium expires.

According to the report's analysis, given the average age of the existing nuclear reactor fleet, the industry will not be able to replace existing capacity let alone expand capacity over the coming years. Mycale Schneider, lead author of the new report says the industry was "arguably on life support before Fukushima" and that "Fukushima is likely to begin its final chapter".

Writing in the foreword to the report Amory Lovins, chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, says: "Just new solar power that is buildable sooner than one new reactor would out-produce and out-compete all 64 reactors that are currently under construction."