Nuclear energy is expected to play an important and growing role in a worldwide net-zero scenario with at least a doubling of installed capacity. Pathways to net zero will further benefit from the development and deployment of near-term innovative nuclear technologies.
The NEA participated in the COP 26 United Nations Climate Change Conference from 31 October to 12 November 2021 for dialogues on the role that nuclear energy could play in achieving the decarbonisation objectives set by the Paris Agreement.
Mobilising climate and development finance to meet the Paris Agreement: Perspectives on nuclear energy
Meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement will require economies to significantly mobilise climate and development finance. Multilateral development banks and international financial institutions will have an important part to play, and will need to focus on financing emissions reductions across a broad range of sectors and activities.
In this context, the NEA organised a side event at the OECD COP26 Virtual Pavilion on 9 November 2021 to explore the role of nuclear energy in net-zero pathways and the availability of climate and development finance to support nuclear innovation to meet climate goals.
Climate Change Targets: The Role of Nuclear Energy
New analysis by the NEA for COP26 reveals the full extent of the potential for nuclear energy and nuclear innovations to play a significant and growing role in pathways to net-zero by 2050:
- The world’s effort to decarbonise is one of the defining challenges for this generation and the window for action is rapidly narrowing.
- Nuclear energy is playing an important role today and can do more to help meet decarbonisation targets.
- Continued operation of the existing fleet, as well as new builds of large-scale and small modular reactors could avoid 87 gigatonnes of cumulative emissions between 2020 and 2050.
- By 2050, nuclear energy could displace 5 gigatonnes of emissions per year, which is more than what the entire US economy emits annually today.
- Energy policymakers have an important role to play to create the enabling conditions for success.
Small Modular Reactors
There has been growing interest by policymakers, nuclear power companies and energy analysts around the world in the potential of small modular reactors (SMRs) as a competitive, low-carbon technology component of future integrated energy systems:
- A wave of near-term innovation in nuclear energy promises to revolutionise nuclear safety and economics and open up new applications in hard-to-abate sectors.
- Small modular reactor (SMR) designs under development offer different value propositions, with a variety of sizes and temperatures intended for different applications.
- SMR reactors are expected to be commercialised within the next decade.
- A rapid SMR uptake could help avoid 15 Gt of carbon emissions by 2050.
System Costs of Electricity
NEA analysis indicates that in certain scenarios an increased share of variable renewable energy can impact the costs of electricity provision. These issues appear as overall system costs, which comprise profile, balancing and connection costs, as well as transmission and distribution costs.
- Limiting the rise of global temperature to less than 2°C represents an enormous challenge for the whole electricity sector.
- Decarbonising the electricity sector in a cost-effective manner while maintaining security of supply requires the rapid deployment of all available low-carbon technologies.
- System costs are not properly recognised by current market structures and are currently borne by the overall electricity system in a manner that makes it difficult – if not impossible – to make well-informed decisions and investments.