Nuclear energy grows throughout the Outlook in all three scenarios, as strong growth in China offsets weak or falling nuclear power generation in the developed world.
Nuclear generation grows robustly in Rapid and Net Zero, increasing by around 100% and 160% respectively by 2050. China accounts for around 60% of this growth in Rapid – and 40% in Net Zero – as China continues to diversify away from coal towards a lower carbon fuel mix in the power sector. The share of nuclear power in China’s power generation increases from around 4% in 2018 to more than 15% by 2050 in both scenarios. Nuclear power generation also increases in India, Other Asia and Africa.
Nuclear power in the developed economies falls slightly in Rapid and edges higher in Net Zero. In both scenarios, the pressure to decarbonize the power sector more quickly than other zero-carbon energy sources and balancing technologies can be deployed is partially met by extending the operating lifetimes of nuclear power plants in the US and Europe, many to 60 years or more.
The pace of build out of new capacity additions in Rapid is comparable to that seen in the heyday of nuclear power in the 1980s – and even quicker in Net Zero – with the pace of construction in Rapid increasing more than two-fold relative to recent rates of expansion.
The growth of nuclear generation is slower in BAU, increasing by around 40% by 2050, with its share in primary energy edging lower. The pattern of growth in BAU is even more lopsided, with China accounting for more than the entire growth of nuclear power generation, partially offset by declines in the US and Europe as aging nuclear plants are retired and a combination of economic and political factors means they are not replaced by new capacity. The level of nuclear generation in China by 2050 in BAU is around twice that of the entire developed world.
Hydroelectricity expands throughout the Outlook, but the pace of growth slows in the second half of all three scenarios as the availability of the most advantaged sites gradually wanes.
The greater pressure to decarbonize the energy system in Rapid and Net Zero helps to support stronger growth of hydro energy than in BAU, even so the growth of hydro power in all three scenarios over the Outlook – ranging from 1.3% to 1.6% p.a. – is slower than the past 20 years (2.6 p.a.). The share of hydro in global power generation is broadly stable in all three scenarios at around 15%.
The slowing in hydroelectricity relative to past trends is dominated by China, where the robust build out of hydro facilities over the past 20 years accounted for around three-quarters of global growth in hydroelectricity. But as the most productive and advantaged sites in China are exploited, the growth of Chinese hydro power slows, averaging between 1.3-1.7% p.a. in the three scenarios, down from an average annual rate of almost 10% over the past 20 years.
Some of this slowing in the growth of Chinese hydro power generation is offset by an acceleration in Other Asia, Latin America, and Africa, where growing economic prosperity and accelerating power demand increase the economic viability of developing the abundant geographical sites available in these regions.