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Insights from the World’s Fastest Build-outs of Clean Electricity

To reach Net Zero Emissions by 2050 the world needs to add over 200 kWh/capita of clean electricity annually.
Nuclear has proven itself as core to the rapid and sustained addition of clean electricity.

To reach Net Zero by 2050 more nuclear needs to be built by more countries, in doing so following the UAE’s world-leading example.

Executive summary


The target

  • Global clean electricity generation needs to 7x to reach Net Zero In the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario the need to both decarbonize electricity and electrify energy requires clean electricity generation to grow from its 2022 base of 10,595 TWh to 73,030 TWh

  • Adding over 200 kWh/capita of clean electricity annually, from now until 2050, is required to reach Net Zero globally

The scale of the challenge

  • Historically, few countries have maintained pace with this target 23 countries have previously maintained the target for a five-year period, and only 8 have done so for a twenty-year period

  • Currently, only four countries are maintaining pace


Nuclear’s undervalued importance

  • Historically, nuclear has been core to maintaining pace with the target For 70% of countries nuclear additions were pivotal to maintaining the target for five years or longer

  • Nuclear new builds have declined since their 1980s highs Where over 200 reactors were being built in the 1980s, fewer than 30 were being built in the mid-2000s

  • Going forward, nuclear has the most proven potential to underpin rapid growth in clean electricity generation When excluding geographically-constrained hydro, nuclear accounts for 15 of the world’s 20 fastest clean electricity build-outs


Wind and solar’s prominence

  • Wind and solar have accounted for 93% of net clean electricity additions globally since 2012


World leaders

  • The UAE leads the world in its build-out of clean electricity Over the past five years, the UAE has added 557 kWh/capita of nuclear and solar annually, 12x faster than the world average of 44 kWh/capita

  • China has added clean electricity at a rate 3x faster than the G7 Driving the G7’s low and slowing rate of net clean electricity additions is its shutting down and underperformance of nuclearand hydro


 

The need for rapid growth in clean electricity generation


In the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario, countries need to both shift electricity generation to clean sources and replace fossil fuel use in the likes of heating and transport with electricity. This combination of decarbonizing electricity and electrifying energy will require clean electricity generation to grow from its current base of 10,595 TWh to 73,030 TWh by 2050.

In 2022, the world generated 3,652 kWh/capita of electricity, of which 1,333 kWh/capita was from clean sources. To achieve the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario, 7,544 kWh/capita of clean electricity will be needed in 2050, equivalent to the addition of 222 kWh/capita of clean electricity generation every year from now until 2050.



The need to increase clean electricity generation by over 200 kWh/capita to reach Net Zero Emissions by 2050 is not evenly split across countries. While not explicitly stated by the IEA, the growth needed in clean electricity generation by country can be inferred by analyzing the IEA’s other scenarios. The need to increase clean electricity generation varies in proportion to the fossil fuel share of the electricity mix and total electricity demand within a country. North America, Europe, and the Middle East are expected to require the addition of over 300 kWh/capita of clean electricity annually in the IEA’s Net Zero scenario; whereas the figure is 100-300 kWh/capita in Asia Pacific and South and Central America; and <100 kWh/capita in Eurasia and Africa.



The 200 kWh/capita figure can be put into context by considering the rate of infrastructure construction required for a region of ten million people such as that of countries: UAE, Austria, and Greece, or cities: Greater London, and Chicago Metropolitan Area. A region of ten million population would require the addition of 2 TWh in clean electricity generation annually, equivalent to the construction of one Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant every 20 years, or the construction of at least 5 of Austria’s largest wind farms or Greece’s largest solar farm every year. Of course, a combination of these technologies is possible.



While wind and solar farms are usually quicker to construct, nuclear plants can make up for their longer construction time with proportionately higher generation output for the number of years they took to construct. In the UK, the construction of Hinkley Point C will make available 2.1 TWh of electricity for every year it took to construct, more than the UK’s largest wind farm Hornsea Two (1.0 TWh/yr) or the UK’s largest solar farm Shotwick (0.07 TWh/yr).



 

The scale of the challenge


Over the past five years, only four countries have maintained pace with the need to add a net of over 200 kWh/capita of clean electricity annually.

Since 2017, only the UAE, Australia, Finland, and the Netherlands have added at least 1,000 kWh/capita of clean electricity generation. The UAE averaged 557 kWh/capita annually, Australia 380, Finland 317, and The Netherlands 301.


The importance of maintaining a mix of clean and secure electricity sources is highlighted by the past five years of net clean electricity additions in Norway and Sweden. Both countries added over 200 kWh/capita of wind. However, Norway suffered from reduced hydro output, and Sweden from the closure of some of its nuclear reactors before the end of their operational life. As such, since 2017, Norway has reduced its per capita clean electricity generation while Sweden saw only a marginal increase. Given hydro’s large share of Norway’s clean electricity mix and heavy rainfall/snowfall this past year, Norway’s position is expected to improve considerably.



Historically, few countries have maintained pace with the target of adding a net 200 kWh/capita in electricity generation annually. Since 1965 when electricity generation data started being widely reported, 23 countries have maintained this target for a five-year period, and only 8 have done so for a twenty-year period.


There are a limited number of options for the universal construction of clean electricity generation. Only nuclear, wind, and solar are proven to be clean and scalable energy sources, attributes needed to meet the need for more clean electricity generation in every country of the world. Hydro, geothermal, tidal, and wave are clean energy sources but with location-based constraints have limited ability to grow on a global scale. Nonetheless, where relevant they should be built. For this report, ‘clean’ is defined as having average lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of less than 100g/kWh, and ‘scalable’ is defined as being able to be built at TWh-scale in the majority of countries.


Biomass is well recognized as being environmentally harmful and has lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions above 100g/kWh, 20 times higher than nuclear, the cleanest energy source. While there is the potential for biomass, as well as fossil fuels, to be joined with Carbon Capture and Storage systems, these solutions are unproven at scale with less than 1% of global electricity being made in such a way.


 

Nuclear’s undervalued importance


The foundation for growing a mix of clean electricity sources


Historically, nuclear has been core to maintaining pace with the target. For 70% of countries nuclear additions were pivotal to maintaining the 200 kWh/capita target for five years or longer.

Of the 23 countries that have maintained the target for five years, 16 have done so through the construction, uprating, and better operation of nuclear power plants. For these 16 countries, nuclear additions accounted for 75% of total clean electricity generation added.


Hydro played a similarly important role in maintaining the target rate for five years, with 17 of the 23 countries doing so through the use of hydro. The two largest build-outs of clean electricity were done in Iceland and Norway on a predominantly hydro-based build-out. Only Australia, The Netherlands, and Denmark have maintained the target rate for five years with a predominantly wind and solar based build out of clean electricity.



The need for more countries to build nuclear


Nuclear new builds have declined since their 1980s highs. Where over 200 reactors were being built in the 1980s, fewer than 30 were being built in the mid-2000s.

The decline in nuclear new builds has been driven by both a reduction in the number of countries building nuclear reactors and the number of reactors each country builds. Driving the post-1980 decline in nuclear builds was a slowdown in the growth of electricity demand, inflationary cost pressures, labor shortages, and a rapidly changing regulatory environment.


Since its low point in the mid-2000s nuclear new build numbers have increased driven primarily by rapid electricity demand growth in Asia. In 2010, electricity demand grew in China, India, and South Korea by 13%, 7%, and 9% respectively. At the time, these three countries accounted for two-thirds of nuclear builds globally.


Historically growth in electricity demand has driven nuclear new builds. In the future, growing demand for clean electricity may also drive nuclear new builds.



The ability for nuclear to outpace other energies


Going forward, nuclear has the most proven potential to underpin rapid growth in clean electricity generation. When excluding geographically-constrained hydro, nuclear accounts for 15 of the world’s 20 fastest clean electricity build-outs.

Sweden was home to the world’s fastest build-out of clean and scalable electricity. In the five years after 1980, it added 3,793 kWh/capita of clean electricity following the grid connections of Forsmark I-III, Oskarshamn III, and Ringhals III and the improved operation of its existing reactors.


Nuclear appears to have experienced three waves of construction. In the 1970s-90s, a first wave of nuclear builds occurred in Europe and the USA, a second wave occurred across East European countries in the years surrounding the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and finally, a third wave of nuclear build-outs is occurring in the Middle East and Asia. In addition to the UAE’s prominent recent rise in nuclear, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Pakistan, and Turkey have all started construction of nuclear reactors since the turn of the Century.


Nuclear generation profiles tend to show a relatively steady growth phase as nuclear plants are built and operational procedures improved. For some countries, the nuclear generation profile has a secondary phase of relative volatility (Sweden, France, Belgium) or even a drop to zero (Lithuania, Japan, Germany) in generation. Volatility in annual generation can be caused by periods of prolonged nuclear outages due to delayed refueling cycles or in-parallel multi- reactor maintenance schedules. Volatility in generation can be heightened in countries with fewer nuclear reactors. Drop-offs in nuclear generation were caused by, often government policy-driven, reactor closures. Variations in wind and solar generation are primarily caused by annual variation in weather patterns, for example the 2021 European wind drought saw some of the lowest annual average wind speeds since at least 1979.


Most large-scale wind and solar build-outs started in the 2010s with peaks reached in the most recent five years. The exception to this is Denmark where wind generation has grown since the late 1980s with a peak build-out in the early 2010s. Being more nascent technologies, wind and solar have had a shorter period of large-scale build-out than nuclear and therefore have not had the same time to prove their ability to significantly grow generation for many countries over sustained periods.



 

Wind and solar’s prominence


Over the past ten years, wind and solar have added 342 kWh/capita, accounting for over 93% of clean electricity additions globally.

Wind and solar’s prominence in recent years is a reflection of both a growth in wind and solar generation and a drop in nuclear and hydrogeneration. The growth in wind and solar is driven by a combined acceleration in wind and solar builds in existing countries and a growing number of countries building wind and solar at scale. The drop in nuclear and hydrogeneration is driven by government policy-driven nuclear phaseouts, nuclear operational underperformance, and droughts leading to hydro underperformance across Europe and Canada.



 

World leaders


The United Arab Emirates leads the world


Over the past five years, the UAE has added 557 kWh/capita of nuclear and solar annually, 12x faster than the world average of 44 kWh/capita.

The UAE added the most clean electricity of any country in the world adding 2,784 kWh/capita, equivalent to the annual addition of 557 kWh/capita. The UAE achieved this feat primarily through its grid connection of two nuclear reactors at its Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, and Noor Abu Dhabi Solar Power Plant.


The UAE can be expected to maintain its world-leading position as two more nuclear reactors are connected to the grid, nuclear operational improvements materialize, and further solar facilities are brought online, such as the world’s largest single-site solar plant Al Dhafra Solar.


China out-builds the G7


In 2022, China added clean electricity at a rate 3x faster than the G7. Relative to China, the G7 has a low and slowing rate of net clean electricity additions driven by its shutting down and underperformance of nuclear and hydro.


 

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