The world needs nuclear and renewables

6 October 2016

Belgium will only achieve stable energy prices, guarantee its security of electric supply and meet climate objectives if it combines renewable energy sources and long-term nuclear in its energy mix, according to a study by PwC Enterprise Advisory (PwC) published by the Belgian Nuclear Forum (BNF). It says the only scenario that allows for a maximum reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050 is one under which renewable energy is combined with Belgium’s existing 6 GW of nuclear capacity.

The study focuses on Belgium’s energy transition policy towards 2030 and beyond. By 2050, without nuclear energy, Belgium will face a significant increase in CO2 emissions despite the expected “massive” development of renewable energy capacity, it says. The cost and competiveness of electricity produced locally will be impacted by the eventual nuclear phaseout, the study concludes. Stability of the power supply will then require Belgium to either start importing energy or invest in “expensive” thermal power stations, the study notes.

PwC developed three scenarios, based on three key criteria: the state of power supply, the competitiveness and stability of electricity prices, and climate objectives. The first scenario sees a phaseout of nuclear energy from 2025 in line with current government policy. The second examines a transitional situation with half of the current annual nuclear generation, about 3GWe, remaining in commercial operation until 2050. The third assumes all Belgium’s nuclear capacity of about 6GWe will remain commercially operational until 2050. All scenarios assume growth of renewable energy between 2016 and 2050, from about 16% today to 44% in 2030 and 67% in 2050.

In terms of CO2 emissions, PwC’s estimates show that in the event of a complete nuclear phaseout, total CO2 emissions will be 31% higher in 2030 and 17% higher in 2050 compared with present levels of about 30m tonnes of CO2. Under the second scenario, cutting Belgium’s nuclear capacities in half will mean finding 14% (16.5TWh) of electricity demand through imports or conventional thermal generation. In the phaseout scenario, this will increase to about 32% (37.6TWh).

The third scenario, in which renewable energy is combined with current nuclear capacity, is the only one that achieves maximum reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050. While increasing the share of renewable energy is in line with targets to create a low-carbon economy, without nuclear power, it will not improve the economy’s carbon balance, the study says. It concludes that a mix of renewable and nuclear energy sources “seems to be the most appropriate” way to meet domestic demand.

Belgium has seven reactor units in commercial operation, four at Doel NPP and three at Tihange NPP, which together, generate about 46% of the total electricity. In December 2011, the previous government confirmed that it would close all Belgium’s commercial reactors in line with a phaseout law of 2003. Doel-3 and Tihange-2 are both scheduled to close at the end of their 40-year lives in 2022 and 2023, while Doel-4, Tihange-1 and -3 are closing in 2025. The government has extended the operation of Doel-1 and Doel-2 from 2015 to 2025.

A similar view was recently expressed by Kirill Komarov, Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom’s first deputy chief executive officer for corporate development and international business. He said the dilemma of whether to choose nuclear or renewables “makes no sense” because the essential question is not which power source is better, but what share each source will have in a country’s energy mix. “We need to support renewable energy, yet realise that the non-carbon energy mix should be based on nuclear power”, he said.

He noted that NPPs have prevented more than 50 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere globally over the past 45 years.

Secondly, there is no alternative to NPPs as base load power sources. Power consumption peaks do not coincide with sunny days. NPPs do not depend on the power of rivers, number of sunny days a year, or wind rose patterns. Thirdly, renewable sources need large areas to generate much power. He said: “Both renewable and nuclear power sources are more eco-friendly than hydrocarbons and are applicable in different spheres, which turns them into allies rather than rivals.” 

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