“The question is not what energy is the best, but the question is which balance we should have,” said Agnate Rising, director-general of the World Nuclear Association.
The experts acknowledged that the world must be committed to the COP21 goal to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Renewables are being explored in a big way to reduce emissions. However, they say, renewable energy cannot be totally depended on given its drawbacks in reliability.
According to a UN-backed report released in March, renewables have unique advantages. Wind farms can be built in nine months or so, solar parks in three-to-six months, whereas coal and gas plants take several years, and nuclear even longer. That explains why developing countries in a hurry for new capacity may opt for speed.
In 2015, a total of US$266 billion (Bt9.4 trillion) was invested in new renewable power-generating capacity globally, excluding large hydro (with 50 megawatts or more in capacity), driven mainly by China and India.
In the year, the developing world invested $156 billion, some 19 per cent up on 2014 and a remarkable 17 times the equivalent figure for 2004, of $9 billion. Developed countries invested $130 billion in 2015, down 8 per cent and their lowest tally since 2009.
Renewables accounted for 10.3 per cent of global electricity generation last year, meaning that they prevented the emission of 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent.
More investment is expected in the years ahead as countries like China, India, Japan and Germany increase the share of renewables in their energy mix. Russia, the producer of oil, gas and nuclear technology, also plans to raise the share from 1-1.5 per cent to 4 per cent in 2020.
Encouraging this is also a decrease in investment costs. Capital costs for photovoltaic projects [converting solar energy into direct current electricity] in India have fallen to among the cheapest in the world, at around $1.1 million per megawatts last year.
At the Atomexpo, V F Vekselberg, president of Skolkovo Fund, however noted renewables were still costly, aside from their low efficiency. While the investment cost of renewables has been cut twofold in five years, it remains expensive. Meanwhile, though their efficiency can be increased, investors need to take into account the lifecycle of the projects when estimating the cost.
There are calls for optimisation of power balance, taking into account the environmental and economic aspects, as well as atomic and renewable power engineering.
The share of renewables in China’s energy mix is projected to reach 30 per cent by 2030 compared to 13 per cent in 2010. Yet, China is also expanding nuclear capacity.
Last year, China installed a world record 32.5 gigawatts (GW) of wind power and a world record 18.3 GW of solar power. Coal consumption fell 3.7 per cent but nuclear power grew 30 per cent and natural gas 3.3 per cent.
As of 2015, China’s 28 nuclear reactors in operation have an installed capacity of about 25.5GW. China is planning to have at least 110 nuclear reactors running by 2030, to increase nuclear power share in the energy mix from 2 per cent to 10 per cent.
Other countries are expected to follow suit.
Representatives of various nations were at the expo to share reasons why their countries embrace nuclear energy.
Ali Zurkarneyn, chairman of Bangladesh’s Atomic Energy Commission, said in a quest to increase power and obtain the right energy mix, nuclear power would contribute 10 per cent of the country’s energy mix in 2030, while the rest would come from natural gas and coal.
Ahmad Hiyasat, general director of the Jordan Company for Atomic Energy, said nuclear power was in the picture as the country had to import 90 per cent of its energy. While 500MW of power would come from renewables this year with additional 500MW next year, gas-fired and nuclear power plants would ensure a right energy mix and also reduce energy imports. In Jordan, students are now studying nuclear degrees in Jordan and Russia, while the country prepares the legal and regulatory framework ahead for the erection of a nuclear power plant.
Franklin Osaisai, general director of Nigeria’s Atomic Energy Commission, said that 2025 was the hopeful deadline for the first nuclear power plant in his country. It was highlighted as part of Nigeria’s striving to boost carbon-free energy to 50 per cent of consumption.
According to representatives from Belarus, the country relies heavily on natural gas in electricity generation and a large portion is imported. It thus needs to diversify energy sources, and nuclear power is a cheap choice.
A nuclear power plant is being constructed with the first generating unit expected to be commissioned in 2018 and the second in 2020. The representative said preparation was thorough as safety was the core demand of nuclear power plants.
A committee was set up in 2007 under the supervision of the deputy prime minister. This committee supervised progress in 19 safety areas and reviewed the progress every month. Training programmes have been launched and the system of state control of supply and services established. The representative also highlighted full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other governments to ensure full compliance with safety standards.
“No matter how experienced the operators are and no matter how reliable the design is, humans play a key role,” he said.
The World Nuclear Association targets global nuclear energy to increase to 25 per cent of electricity generation, from 11 per cent in 2014. That requires new capacity of about 1,000 GWh per year from below 400 GWh in 2014.
Low access to electricity and demand for clean and reliable energy will be the key drivers of growth, said World Nuclear Association director-general Rising.