In its Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario, the IEA is increasingly bullish about solar and nuclear, less so wind.
In its stated policy scenario, the IEA views government policies as increasingly supportive of wind, solar, and nuclear. This dynamic has long been the case for wind and solar, but is new for nuclear.
This Radiant Energy Group report analyses how the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook’s (WEO) long-term electricity generation forecasts have changed since previous reports, and what this implies about political and expert opinion on the need for the world’s largest clean energy sources.
The IEA released its latest annual WEO on the 27th of October 2022. The report forecasts electricity generation by energy source in a Stated Policies (STEPS) scenario that accounts for today’s policy settings and a Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) scenario that maps out a way to achieve a 1.5°C stabilisation in the rise in global average temperatures, alongside universal access to modern energy by 2030.
Net zero emissions by 2050 scenario
The IEA is increasingly bullish about solar and nuclear energy’s role in reaching net zero emissions by 2050, while still important, wind energy’s role has been diminished.
To reach net zero by 2050, nuclear generation is modeled to need to grow at 152 TWh per year between 2030-2040, 17% faster than its fastest historic growth rate in 1979-1989.
Stated policy scenario
The IEA views government policies as increasingly supportive of the use of wind, solar, and nuclear energies.
The United States and South Korea have seen the largest increase in policy support for nuclear energy.
China andIndia have in place policies that will support the largest and fastest forecast increase in nuclear generation.
Where solar and wind have seen ever-increasing policy support over the past 8 years it is a new trend for nuclear.
Since last year, forecast short-term (2020-2030) nuclear generation growth has increased by 60%, from +42 TWh/yr to +68 TWh/yr.
Net zero emissions by 2050 scenario
1A. Changing clean energy forecasts since WEO21
Since its 2021 WEO report, the IEA has increased its NZE forecast for total global electricity generation needed in 2050 by 3%, from 71,164 TWh to 73,231 TWh. This increase is largely accounted for by a 15% increase in the need for solar generation (+3,537 TWh) offset by a 5% decline in the need for wind generation (-1,299 TWh). The 2050 NZE scenario need for nuclear generation has increased by 6% (+313 TWh) to 5,810 TWh.
In the IEA’s 2050 NZE forecast nuclear remains the third largest source of electricity, behind 27,006 TWh of solar and 23,486 TWh of wind.
1B. Forecast nuclear growth
The IEA has increased its 2040 NZE scenario need for nuclear generation by 11%, from 4,855 TWh to 5,413 TWh. To meet net zero emissions by 2050, the 2030-2040 period is now forecast to require the nuclear industry’s fastest growth in generation with an average of 152 TWh added per year, faster than the previous record 129 TWh/yr between 1979 and 1989.
2. STEPS – Stated policy scenario
2A. Changing clean energy forecasts since WEO21
Since its 2021 WEO report, the IEA has increased its STEPS forecast for total global electricity generation in 2050 by 7%, from 46,703 TWh to 49,845 TWh. This increase is largely accounted for by increases in forecast electricity generation from solar (+2,451 TWh), wind (+1,886 TWh), and nuclear (+549 TWh).
The IEA has increased its 2050 nuclear generation STEPS forecast by +549 TWh given increasingly positive government policy from the United States (+238 TWh), the European Union (+51 TWh), and Asia Pacific (+232 TWh).
The +232 TWh increase in Asia Pacific’s 2050 STEPS nuclear generation forecast is accounted for by +45 TWh from India, +13 TWh from Japan, +1 TWh from Southeast Asia, and a 13 TWh decline from China. The remaining +187 TWh increase is likely accounted for by South Korea, the world’s current 5th largest generator of nuclear energy.
2B. Changing clean energy forecasts since WEO14
Since the IEA began its STEPS 2040 scenario forecast in 2014, the wind and solar industries have seen ever-increasing policy support. Where the 2014 WEO STEPS scenario forecasted 1,291 TWh of solar and 4,644 TWh of wind generation in 2040, the latest WEO forecast has increased to 8,356 TWh and 8,107 TWh respectively.
By contrast, the IEA has long observed ever-declining policy support for nuclear energy since 2014. Only in the last two WEO STEP scenarios have 2040 nuclear generation forecasts increased, by 2% in WEO21 and by 11% in WEO22.
2C. Forecast nuclear growth
The IEA has increased its 2030 STEPS forecast generation for nuclear by 8%, from 3,115 TWh to 3,351 TWh. The 2020-2030 period is now forecast to see the nuclear industry grow electricity generation by an average of 68 TWh per year, 60% faster than its 2021 WEO forecast growth rate of 42 TWh/yr over the same period.
2D. Forecast nuclear growth, by region
Since its 2021 WEO report, the IEA has increased its STEPS forecast for global nuclear generation in 2050 by 15%, from 3,711 TWh to 4,260 TWh. This increase is largely accounted for by slower declines in nuclear generation in North America (+243 TWh) and faster deployment of nuclear generation in the Asia Pacific region (+232 TWh).
2E. Forecast nuclear growth, by sub-region/country
The latest STEPS scenario forecasts global nuclear generation growth of an average +68 TWh per year between 2020-2030. This growth is primarily accounted for by China’s (+28 TWh/yr) and India’s (+8 TWh/yr) nuclear new builds and Japan’s (+15 TWh/yr) nuclear restarts. These forecast growth rates are slower than the historic 10-year peak growth rates experienced in the European Union (+57 TWh/yr) and the United States (+36 TWh/yr) in the 1980s-1990s.