This is a simplified exercise to visualize what would be required to convert 50% of the world’s electricity to nuclear, the premier low carbon source.
According to the EIA (Energy Information Administration) latest report, the global generation of electricity in 2010 was 20.2 trillion kWh, and they project that by 2040 total global generation will reach 39.0 trillion kWh.
So, if we decide to generate 50% of our electrical energy with nuclear (at, say, an average 80% capacity factor), we would require this number of 1 GWe reactors:
50% of 39.0 trillion kWh is 19.5.
Let’s convert trillion kWh to GWh by multiplying it by one million:
We now have 19,500,000 GWh.
A 1 GWe nuclear plant at 80% capacity factor (CF) produces, on an annual basis:
1GWe x 0.80CF x 24 hrs x 365 days = 7,008 GWh.
Thus, we would need this number of reactors by 2040:
19,500,000 / 7,008 = 2,783.
Simplifying thing a little, let’s consider that half of the current nuclear plants will still be in operation by 2040. According to the EIA, nuclear supplied 2.6 trillion kWh in 2010. This would correspond to the equivalent of 371 1 GWe reactors at 80% CF. If half of these are in operation by 2040, we can subtract 186 from the number calculated above, thus we get:
2,783 – 186 = 2,597 new nuclear reactors.
If we have 30 years to build them, it would require the commissioning of:
2,597 / 30 = 87 nuclear reactors EVERY year for 30 CONSECUTIVE years.
And again, let’s remember that the above effort would only yield 50% of our global electricity and around 25% of our total energy consumption by 2040.
At the end of the day we have to differentiate what is possible, from what is probable.
The probability of this nuclear build up taking place by 2040 is, in my humble opinion, less than zero.
Feel free to add to the conversation.
EIA electricity projections from their latest report:
1. By 2040, only ~50% of our energy consumption will be electricity.
2. There is no such thing as a global grid, so the real life implementation would be more complicated than pictured above.
3. Sure, many questions need to be answered, starting with determining if we even have the manufacturing capacity required to make such a ramp up.
4. Nuclear has a serious advantage over RE (sun and wind): it is baseload, reliable power.
5. Of the renewable power in 2040, fully 65% is estimated to be hydro.
6. Yes, there are reactors bigger and smaller than 1 GWe, we are considering all of them at 1 GWe to simplify.