As a result of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe in the Soviet Union of 1986 and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011, public opinion remains reluctant to endorse nuclear technology in both the civilian and military sectors. Nevertheless, such energy remains the most ecological and realistic method of production to curb global warming, which explains the commitment of environmental parties, such as the Swedish Miljöpartiet de gröna, to nuclear power until renewable energies have more potential for electricity generation.
The debated civilian nuclear power supplied 2,586 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity in 2021, equivalent to about 10 per cent of global production, and represented only the second-largest low-carbon power source after hydroelectricity. With over 442 civilian fission reactors in the world (392 gigawatt), combined to 53 nuclear power reactors under construction (60 GW) and 98 reactors planned (103 GW), nuclear energy remains of interest, especially in the emerging economies.
While some argue nuclear production is a dangerous path, the main challenge, however, remains the sustainability of countries for maintaining and upgrading reactors.
At the time of the collapse of the USSR, many post-Soviet countries had to reduce or even shut down their nuclear capabilities due to a lack of economic resources and technical skills to maintain the production facilities. Financial issues also help explain the wish to transfer nuclear weapons to (post-Soviet) Russia, with Moscow having sufficient logistical means to ensure the maintenance.
In the end, the main concern when building a nuclear power plant or developing a nuclear arsenal is less about its completion than about its long-run sustainability. Indeed, nothing suggests that a country will remain politically and economically stable in the upcoming years, decades or even centuries.
Let us take the example of France and the United Kingdom, two countries which at the time of the development of their nuclear arsenals (1952 and 1960 respectively) and their civilian power plants were global powers able to counterweight Washington and Moscow (e.g. France withdrawal from NATO command structures in 1966).
Nowadays, these two countries—France and the United Kingdom—do not have the same maritime or land surface, and their international presence and financial weight have been greatly reduced, which for the time being has not led to problems related to the maintenance of nuclear power plants, but could one day occur in case of an unexpected crisis. In the same manner, a country could—due to political change, resurgence of radicalism or institutional crisis—turn into a hostile force while keeping its nuclear military capabilities, leading to greater instability on the international scene.
Leaving the military aspects aside, nuclear power is fundamental to the efforts to tackle global warming, at least for the time being, and this energy appears to be the gateway to space colonization. While there is still a lot of research to be done in this area, it will undoubtedly enable the travel to the Moon, Mars and exoplanets as well as the production of the much-needed electricity for colonization (e.g. 3D printing systems to build large-scale facilities).
Nuclear-powered robots are commonplace when it comes to space conquest, and a number of spacecraft—Cassini-Huygens, Curiosity (rover), Galileo, Kosmos 954, Lincoln Experimental Satellite, New Horizons, Viking 1 and 2, Voyager 1 and 2—already rely on this type of energy to operate.
Nuclear energy thus represents an opportunity as well as a responsibility, as shown by the Finnish case with the Onkalo deep geological repository, based on the KBS-3 technology for disposal of high-level radioactive waste developed by the Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB (SKB).
Considering the emergency related to global warming and the increasing tensions in international relations (e.g. growing U.S.-China competition in the Pacific and in space), we will have to learn to cope with civil and military nuclear power: as a matter of pragmatism until we have a better option, if one exists.
Therefore, this article explores solutions for the future by addressing the example of French management in this area, a country with a production of 379.5 TWh (70.6% of the national electricity), the highest percentage in the world.
The Russian floating nuclear power station may also provide an adequate answer for countries that do not have the financial and technological resources to build their own nuclear power stations, providing a solution without forcing governments in least developed countries into significant commitments. The Rosatom project deserves to be mentioned because it might inspire other states, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, France and China, to develop their own floating nuclear power stations, which might lead to the possibility of seeing nuclear-powered container ships appearing, avoiding over-consumption of fossil fuel energy in the supply chain.
In general, nuclear power also seems necessary as the banking sector transitions from traditional banking to blockchain and will consume more energy in the future, which will require an increase in the low environmental impact energy production.
Finally, nuclear power is necessary to ensure the success of the colonization of space, thus preventing humanity from relying on a single solar system, as the chances of survival on two planets are considerably greater than on one.
French nuclear paradise: France’s successful management of its nuclear assets
As mentioned above, France has a nuclear power output of 537.7 TWh providing 70.6% of the total electricity, the highest percentage in the world. This is due to several historical factors and motives, the main one being De Gaulle’s policy in the 1960s to ensure that France would remain a great power capable of competing with the United States and the Soviet Union.
Although it may seem difficult to imagine nowadays, in the 1950-1960s France was an Empire covering several continents (e.g. Indochina and Algeria) and as such was by demography, territorial holdings and GDP capable of representing an alternative to the two superpowers. After the collapse of the French Empire in the second half of the 20th century, France became a “middle” power even if it remains the largest maritime territory in the world and possesses land in Africa, Latin America (French Guiana), and in distant territories such as French Polynesia.
De Gaulle’s desire to develop nuclear research, albeit for military purposes, led to the parallel development of French civil nuclear energy, which was necessary to produce large quantities of radioactive components for the future nuclear arsenal. While France has not been able to match the United States and remains behind Russia and China today, the civilian aspects have succeeded in making the country a nuclear paradise with clean and affordable energy.
Largely owned by the French government (85% of the company’s shares), Électricité de France (EDF) is the country’s main electricity generation and distribution company in charge of its nuclear power plants. While looking at the French management, EDF remains heavily indebted. Its profitability has suffered from the recession that started in 2008 and made a profit of €3.9 billion in 2009, which fell to €1.02 billion in 2010, with provisions amounting to €2.9 billion. Overall, the main problem in France remains the government, and as long as the state is in charge of nuclear production (EDF), the company does not need to strongly increase its efficiency to survive.
As such, an interesting option for the future of French nuclear production would be privatization, as large companies would increase nuclear capacity and optimize production costs while reducing the number of people in the administration. Public opinion and the French government are opposed to this idea, as it would give the private sector more flexibility and could lead to safety concerns, while the reality is probably the opposite, as government management is the main problem and the reason why the services are less efficient than the private sector, as can be seen in almost every aspect in which public administration is involved (e.g. NASA as opposed to SpaceX).
The French administration could privatize nuclear power generation, while setting laws and ensuring compliance by the private sector, which would mean that the French government would guarantee the safety of production standards, while nuclear power providers would optimize production efficiency, as has already been done with airlines and telecommunications.
Although France has successfully managed civil nuclear power at the national level, the lack of privatization has led to missed business opportunities in the nuclear field. We might have expected France to create more nuclear facilities in French Guyana to sell electricity to the neighboring Latin American nations, thereby increasing profits in a continent that demands more. The same is true in Europe, as with German nuclear facilities closed, France could have increased domestic production to become the nuclear powerhouse of Europe, a fruitful business given French expertise in this area and the high demand for electricity in Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland, to name a few.
In this sense, Russia has been able to innovate more quickly and is now offering the floating nuclear power plant, which has enormous potential in the developing countries, with a prospect to emerge as a world leader in this growing sector.
The bright future of Russian floating nuclear power plants
Floating nuclear power plants are vessels designed by Rosatom—the Russian state-owned nuclear energy company—and are self-contained, low-capacity floating nuclear power plants able to move around the world. Rosatom plans to mass-produce these plants in shipbuilding facilities to tow them to ports near places where electricity is in great demand, which can increase access to nuclear energy in some parts of the world.
The concept dates back to the MH-1A in the United States, which was built in the 1960s in the hull of a World War II Liberty Ship; however, the Rosatom project is the first floating nuclear power plant for mass production.
When it comes to the technology itself, a large part remains classified, though we know that floating plants must be refueled every three years, nevertheless saving up to 200,000 tons of coal and 100,000 tons of oil per year. The reactors are expected to have a 40-year life span and are designed around the reactor itself, successive physical protection and containment systems, active and passive self-activating safety systems, automatic self-diagnosis systems, reliable diagnostics of the condition of equipment and systems, and planned accident control methods. In addition, the on-board safety systems operate independently of the plant’s power supply.
According to Rosatom, 15 countries, including China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Algeria, Sudan, Namibia, Cape Verde and Argentina, have expressed interest in leasing such a device. It is estimated that 75% of the world’s population lives within 100 miles of a port city, the fact turning Rosatom’s device into a typical example of Blue Ocean strategy in the nuclear energy sector.
The Russian floating nuclear power plant is an attractive alternative for developing countries, as it offers the technical expertise of Russian engineers, while it does not require a state to provide the uranium and can only be used when needed.
African and Latin American countries will need more electricity in the near future, especially when it comes to transitioning from central banks and gasoline-powered vehicles to blockchain-based digital currencies and electric cars. As such, the Russian project is one of the first of its kind that should provide a temporary solution in emerging countries. Market liberalization in this area is to be expected, with competition from China, the United States, and perhaps countries such as France, depending on how Rosatom manages to sell this business model versus its competitors.
Space conquest and safety of humanity can almost only be achieved through nuclear power
While it can be perceived as a threat on Earth, nuclear energy is essential in space, and nuclear decay processes are used in niche applications such as radioisotope thermoelectric generators in space probes like Voyager 2.
Moreover, the production of electricity from fusion energy remains the focus of international research. Because nuclear power systems can have a lower mass than solar cells of equivalent power, this allows for more compact spacecraft that are easier to steer and direct in space. In the case of manned spaceflight, nuclear power concepts that can power both life support and propulsion systems can reduce both the cost and duration of flights.
NASA in the United-States
In 2001, the safe affordable fission engine was under development, with a tested 30kW nuclear heat source to lead to the development of a 400kW thermal reactor with Brayton cycle gas turbines to generate electrical power. Waste heat rejection was to be provided by low mass heat pipe technology. Safety was to be ensured by a robust design.
A concert example is the project Prometheus, a NASA study of nuclear-powered spacecraft from the early 2000s, while Kilopower—preliminary concepts and technologies that could be used for an affordable fission nuclear power system to enable long-duration stays on planetary surfaces—is NASA’s latest reactor development programme.
American interests in space technology are also connected with classified project regarding the 6th generation fighter jet, and it is possible the Northrop TR-3 Black Manta (temporary name) will require more energy to sustain the consumption of energy for non-gravitational field on the edges and the middle of the triangle.
In Russia, TEM (nuclear propulsion)
The TEM project started in 2009 with the aim of powering a Mars engine, with Russia declaring to have completed the first tests of the water droplet radiator system in March 2016.
On 19 March 2021, the M.V. Lomonosov Research Centre in Keldysh plans to conduct flight tests of ion engines in 2025-2030. According to the press service, the Keldysh Centre has already created products with a capacity of 200W to 35 kW. At the moment, the characteristics of their resources are confirmed and the creation of a 100kW engine is in the preliminary stages.
While details of declassified nuclear space applications are sometimes available in the United States and Russia, China has been more secretive about the current state of knowledge in this area. In addition to space conquest, nuclear research can be applied to hypersonic missiles, as nuclear technology applied to space remains the only solution for space exploration until another propulsion source of equivalent power is developed.
Overall, a nuclear renaissance would be much appreciated, not only to secure the future of our planet by protecting the environment but also to ensure humanity will survive around our universe, with the conquest of the Moon, Mars and exoplanets relying on nuclear-powered spacecraft.
While nuclear power has suffered from Chernobyl and Fukushima, even in some countries where it has shown positive results, such as France, ambitious projects like the Russian floating nuclear power plant have proved to be a valuable solution for advanced countries to provide clean and affordable energy to the rest of the world.
Future disasters are a possibility that cannot be ruled out, and while they are a tragedy, we must weigh the invisible costs of other means of electricity generation on the environment (e.g. coal), bearing in mind that civil nuclear power plants have improved and will hopefully continue to do so with nuclear fusion.
In the long term, this does not mean that renewables should not be improved, but nuclear will nevertheless remain complementary, until and if renewables are able to take over on Earth, with the nuclear mainly used for space purposes thereafter.
From our partner RIAC
Gas doom hanging over Ukraine
The long history of gas transit across independent Ukraine began with Kiev’s initial failure to pay anything for Russian natural gas, both intended for transit to Europe and for domestic consumption, on the pretext of fraternal relations between the former Soviet republics. Later it cost the Ukrainians a meager $25 for 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas, and that ridiculously small sum remained unchanged for quite some time. The sizeable amount of Russian gas provided at a discount price, plus domestically available oil resources, were distributed by the country’s greedy elite the following way: domestically produced gas was used on utilities, proceeds from the transit of Russian gas went to the state budget (minus the money that lined bureaucratic pockets), and Russian gas – to the industry (plus the corruption component).
Then came the Ukrainian revolutions and Kiev’s desire to join “Euro-Atlantic structures” and the desire to “get off the Russian gas needle and prevent the Kremlin from using energy as a weapon.” Ukraine has tried and is still trying to believe in all this by playing up to the collective West and hoping that the West will compensate Kiev for the losses caused by its revolutionary endeavors and anti-Russian antics. As a result, we see gas prices going through the roof, an energy crisis in Europe, and the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
Those in power in Kiev hoped for the very last moment that the West valued their country more than it did the energy security of European countries. Much to their surprise (and only theirs), this is not so. It looks like the Europeans are interested in Russian gas supplies and are not so eager to keep Ukraine as the main transit country. Moreover, having “democratized Ukraine” to the state of an openly anti-Russian country, the West turned it into a country, whose leadership the Kremlin does not really want to talk to simply because it does not see any point in doing this. This is the reason why third countries care (or rather pretend to care) about Ukraine. Thus, in July of this year, there came out the “Joint Statement of the United States and Germany on Support for Ukraine, European Energy Security and Our Climate Goals.” According to it, Germany pledged to do everything in its power to make sure that the agreement between Moscow and Kiev on the transit of Russian gas across Ukrainian territory was extended for up to ten years. The statement came when it was already obvious that the construction of Nord Stream 2 would be completed, Germany resisted US pressure on this issue, Moscow paid no attention and Washington, exhausted by the battles of the presidential elections and the search for new strategies in the Old World, was trying to pit America’s European friends against Russia.
It has never been a secret that the West needs reliable transit, and this is something that Ukraine also insists on. However, Kiev has officially labelled Russia as an “aggressor country,” which means that this very “aggressor” must ensure this transit and bring billions of dollars in revenues to the Ukrainian budget. This looks like a kind of “Euro-schizophrenia” where Ukraine is an anti-Russian country and simultaneously serves as a reliable transit country for Russian gas. Things do not work this way, however, and it looks like Europeans are beginning to realize this. Therefore, most of the European consumers support Nord Stream 2 even though they do not show this in public. Suffice it to mention the recent conclusion of a years-long contract for gas supplies to Hungary.
Vladimir Putin’s statement, made amid soaring gas prices and growing threats to European industry, came as an energy lifeline for all Europeans.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin supported the initiative of Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak to increase gas supply on the market amid rising energy prices in Europe… Novak said that Russia can stabilize the situation with prices by providing additional volumes of gas on the exchange, adding that this country’s main priority is to accommodate domestic demand,” Lenta.ru reported.
Commenting on the possibility of increasing gas supplies via Ukraine, President Putin recalled that Ukraine’s gas transport system had not been repaired “for decades” and that “something could burst” there any time if gas pressure goes up.
“At the same time, it is more profitable and safer for Gazprom to operate new pipeline systems,” he added. Putin thus confirmed what is already clear to all that Ukraine is an unreliable and, in fact, an extra link, and that Europe can get gas bypassing technically and politically unreliable Ukrainian pipes. He also pointed out that Gazprom would suffer losses from an increase in gas transit via Ukrainian territory, while new gas pipelines offer cheaper transit options. He added that Gazprom is saving about $3 billion a year by using new pipelines and that Russia was ready to increase gas supplies and make them cheaper for European consumers.
Gas shortages have already forced the Ukrainian government to freeze gas prices for household consumers, but prices for gas for industrial enterprises are rising along with those on European exchanges, where on October 6, they reached a very impressive $ 2,000 per thousand cubic meters and went down only after Putin’s statement came out.
Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine’s Federation of Glass Industry Employers, Dmitry Oleinik, said that this [rise in gas prices – D.B.] would lead to an inevitable rise in prices. However, producers will not be able to jack up prices indefinitely, because at some point buyers simply will not be able to cover production costs.
“The Ukrainian consumer will not even be able to cover the cost of production. Plants and factories will slowly shut down and people will lose their jobs – this is already very serious. Budget revenues will “plummet,” and expenses will skyrocket… The issue of bankruptcies is just a matter of time,” Oleinik warned.
If Ukraine continues to follow the chosen course, it will face de-industrialization. By the way, this will suit the West, but certainly not the Ukrainian industrial oligarchs, who have long been eyeing agriculture, including the prospect of turning themselves into land barons. However, the farming sector will not be happy about the high prices on gas that bakeries, sugar factories and greenhouses run on. There will be nowhere to run.
Apart from purely practical realities, the conclusions I can draw from the current energy situation in the world and Vladimir Putin’s statements regarding the Ukrainian transit, are as follows:
- Gas supplies through Ukraine and to Ukraine are not solely an economic issue, given Kiev’s endless anti-Russian escapades;
- This problem affects the energy security of Europe;
- Since there are several angles to this problem, it must be solved in a comprehensive manner;
- At the same time, this cannot be done exclusively in the interests of the West and Ukraine to the detriment of the interests of Russia.
As you can see, it is once again up to Kiev and its shadow patrons to decide. And winter is just around the corner…
From our partner International Affairs
Russian Energy Week: Is the world ready to give up hydrocarbons?
In an official message to mark the opening of the Russian Energy Week international forum on 13-15 October in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that there are numerous issues on the agenda related to current trends in the global energy market, including improvements to industry infrastructure and the introduction of modern digital technologies into its operation.
“The efficiency of energy production and consumption is the most important factor in the growth of national economies and has a significant impact on people’s quality of life. Many countries have already adopted policies to accelerate the development of clean energy technologies,” he wrote in the message to guest and participants.
“The forum business programme is therefore set to look in detail at the possibility of developing green energy based on renewable sources and the transition to new, more environmentally friendly fuels. I am confident that the events of the Russian Energy Week will allow you to learn more about the achievements of the country’s fuel and energy sector, and that your initiatives will be put into practice,” Putin said.
Leaders of foreign states have also sent greetings to the participants and guests. For instance, President of the Republic of Angola João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, Prime Minister of Vietnam Pham Minh Chinh, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Armed Forces Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and Vice Premier of the State Council of China Han Zheng.
In their greetings, it generally noted the importance of the topics to be discussed at the forum as well as the need to build an international dialogue and consolidate efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals, including as regards climate change.
The programme covers a wide range of issues of transformation and development in the global energy market. In the context of energy transition, the issues of energy development are inextricably linked with the introduction of new technologies, and the transformation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Climate protection is a task that cannot be solved by one country; it is a global goal, which can be achieved through building dialogue and cooperation between countries.
The participants in the discussion will answer the question: Is the world ready to give up hydrocarbons? In addition, during the panel session, the participants will discuss whether oil, gas and coal are really losing ground in the global energy sector; whether the infrastructure will have time to readjust for new energy sources; how long will there be enough hydrocarbons from the field projects that are being implemented; and whether an energy transition using fossil fuels is possible.
The international climate agenda is forcing many countries to reform their carbon-based energy systems. For Russia, which holds a leading position in the global hydrocarbon markets, the transition to development with low greenhouse gas emissions presents a serious challenge, but at the same time it opens up new opportunities for economic growth based on renewable energy, hydrogen technologies, advanced processing of raw materials and implementing green projects.
The Climate Agenda included sessions dedicated to the operation of the Russian fuel and energy sector in the context of energy transition, the impact of the European green pivot on the cooperation between Russia and Europe, as well as the session titled ‘The Future of Coal in a World Shaped by the Climate Agenda: The End, or a New Beginning?’
Sessions of the ‘New Scenarios for the Economy and the Market’ track are dedicated to the global challenges and opportunities of the electric power industry; the impact of ESG on the Russian fuel and energy sector; the potential for the renewable energy sources; and other issues of the future of energy.
The Russian Energy Agency under the Ministry of Energy brings together experts from key international analytical organizations to discuss the future of world energy during the session titled International Energy Organization Dialogue: Predicting the Development of Energy and Global Markets.
The Human Resource Potential of the Fuel and Energy Sector, participating experts will discuss the prospects for developing the professional qualification system, and a session titled Bringing the Woman’s Dimension to the Fuel and Energy Sector. Optimizing regulation in the energy sector and organizing the certification and exchange of carbon credits in Russia are the basis of the Regulatory Advances in Energy.
Anton Kobyakov, Advisor to the Russian President and Executive Secretary of the Russian Energy Week 2021 Organizing Committee, said “the level of various formats of international participation testifies to the importance of the agenda and Russia’s significant role in the global energy sector. We are a reliable strategic partner that advocates for building international cooperation based on the principles of transparency and openness. With the period of major changes in the industry, it is particularly important to engage in a dialogue and work together to achieve both national and global goals.”
The forum, organized by the Roscongress Foundation, the Russian Ministry of Energy, and the Moscow Government, brought together many local and foreign energy and energy-related enterprises. The speakers attending included Exxon Mobil Corporation Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO Darren Woods, Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG Chairman of the Board Ola Kallenius, BP CEO Bernard Looney, and TotalEnergies Chairman and CEO Patrick Pouyanné.
World Energy Outlook 2021 shows a new energy economy is emerging
A new energy economy is emerging around the world as solar, wind, electric vehicles and other low-carbon technologies flourish. But as the pivotal moment of COP26 approaches, the IEA’s new World Energy Outlook makes it clear that this clean energy progress is still far too slow to put global emissions into sustained decline towards net zero, highlighting the need for an unmistakeable signal of ambition and action from governments in Glasgow.
At a time when policy makers are contending with the impacts of both climate change and volatile energy markets, the World Energy Outlook 2021 (WEO-2021) is designed as a handbook for the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, which offers a critical opportunity to accelerate climate action and the clean energy transition. The new analysis – which the IEA is making available for free online – delivers stark warnings about the direction in which today’s policy settings are taking the world. But it also provides clear-headed analysis of how to move in a well-managed way towards a pathway that would have a good chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C and avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
The WEO-2021, the IEA’s annual flagship publication, shows that even as deployments of solar and wind go from strength to strength, the world’s consumption of coal is growing strongly this year, pushing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions towards their second largest annual increase in history.
“The world’s hugely encouraging clean energy momentum is running up against the stubborn incumbency of fossil fuels in our energy systems,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “Governments need to resolve this at COP26 by giving a clear and unmistakeable signal that they are committed to rapidly scaling up the clean and resilient technologies of the future. The social and economic benefits of accelerating clean energy transitions are huge, and the costs of inaction are immense.”
The WEO-2021 spells out clearly what is at stake: what the pledges to reduce emissions made by governments so far mean for the energy sector and the climate. And it sets out what needs to be done to move beyond these announced pledges towards a trajectory that would reach net zero emissions globally by mid-century – the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario from the landmark IEA report published in May, which is consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 °C.
As well as the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, the WEO-2021 explores two other scenarios to gain insights into how the global energy sector may develop over the next three decades – and what the implications would be. The Stated Policies Scenario represents a path based on the energy and climate measures governments have actually put in place to date, as well as specific policy initiatives that are under development. In this scenario, almost all of the net growth in energy demand through 2050 is met by low emissions sources, but that leaves annual emissions still around today’s levels. As a result, global average temperatures are still rising when they hit 2.6 °C above pre-industrial levels in 2100.
The Announced Pledges Scenario maps out a path in which the net zero emissions pledges announced by governments so far are implemented in time and in full. In this scenario, demand for fossil fuels peaks by 2025, and global CO2 emissions fall by 40% by 2050. All sectors see a decline, with the electricity sector delivering by far the largest. The global average temperature rise in 2100 is held to around 2.1 °C.
For the first time in a WEO, oil demand goes into eventual decline in all the scenarios examined, although the timing and speed of the drop vary widely. If all today’s announced climate pledges are met, the world would still be consuming 75 million oil barrels per day by 2050 – down from around 100 million today – but that plummets to 25 million in the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario. Natural gas demand increases in all scenarios over the next five years, but there are sharp divergences after this.
After decades of growth, the prospects for coal power go downhill in the Announced Pledges Scenario – a decline that could be accelerated further by China’s recent announcement of an end to its support for building coal plants abroad. That move may result in the cancellation of planned projects that would save some 20 billion tonnes in cumulative CO2 emissions through 2050 – an amount similar to the total emissions savings from the European Union reaching net zero by 2050.
The differences between the outcomes in the Announced Pledges Scenario and the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario are stark, highlighting the need for more ambitious commitments if the world is to reach net zero by mid-century.
“Today’s climate pledges would result in only 20% of the emissions reductions by 2030 that are necessary to put the world on a path towards net zero by 2050,” Dr Birol said. “Reaching that path requires investment in clean energy projects and infrastructure to more than triple over the next decade. Some 70% of that additional spending needs to happen in emerging and developing economies, where financing is scarce and capital remains up to seven times more expensive than in advanced economies.”
Insufficient investment is contributing to uncertainty over the future. Spending on oil and natural gas has been depressed by price collapses in 2014-15 and again in 2020. As a result, it is geared towards a world of stagnant or even falling demand. At the same time, spending on clean energy transitions is far below what would be required to meet future needs in a sustainable way.
“There is a looming risk of more turbulence for global energy markets,” Dr Birol said. “We are not investing enough to meet future energy needs, and the uncertainties are setting the stage for a volatile period ahead. The way to address this mismatch is clear – a major boost in clean energy investment, across all technologies and all markets. But this needs to happen quickly.”
The report stresses that the extra investment to reach net zero by 2050 is less burdensome than it might appear. More than 40% of the required emissions reductions would come from measures that pay for themselves, such as improving efficiency, limiting gas leakage, or installing wind or solar in places where they are now the most competitive electricity generation technologies.
These investments also create huge economic opportunities. Successfully pursuing net zero would create a market for wind turbines, solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, electrolysers and fuel cells of well over USD 1 trillion a year by 2050, comparable in size to the current oil market. Even in a much more electrified energy system, major opportunities remain for fuel suppliers to produce and deliver low-carbon gases. Just in the Announced Pledges Scenario, an additional 13 million workers would be employed in clean energy and related sectors by 2030, while that number doubles in the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario.
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