Wind, Solar Generation Capacity Catching Up with Nuclear Power

Michael Renner | Sep 30, 2014


Advocates of nuclear energy have long been predicting a renaissance, yet this mode of producing electricity has been stalled for years.Renewable energy, by contrast, continues to expand rapidly, even if it still has a long way to go to catch up with fossil fuel power plants, which account for roughly two thirds of world electricity production.2

Nuclear’s share of global power production has declined steadily from a peak of 17.6 percent in 1996 to 10.8 percent in 2013.3 Renewables increased their share from 18.7 percent in 2000 to 22.7 percent in 2012.4  Hydropower was the leading source of renewable electricity (16.5 percent of global power in 2012), while wind contributed 3.4 percent and solar, 0.6 percent.5  But wind and solar energy are the fastest growing electricity technologies worldwide. Between 2000 and 2012, wind power grew nearly 16-fold and solar jumped 49-fold.6

From its beginnings in the mid-1950s, global nuclear power generating capacity rose rapidly and reached 298 gigawatts (GW) in 1987, an average annual growth of 9.3 percent.7  In the following 23 years, however, only 77 GW of capacity were added to reach 375.3 GW, at a rate of 3.4 percent per year.8 From this 2010 peak, capacity declined to 371.8 GW in 2013, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).9 Adverse economics, concern about reactor safety and proliferation, and the unresolved question of what to do with nuclear waste have put the brakes on the industry.

Nuclear Renewable Figure 1

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