IEA’s first Electricity Market Report sees demand falling due to COVID-19

17 December 2020

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) first Electric Market Report published mid-December shows that global electricity demand in 2020 is projected to fall by around 2%.

“This is the biggest annual decline since the mid-20th century and far larger than what followed the global financial crisis, which resulted in a drop in electricity demand of 0.6% in 2009,” the 100-page report notes. “The contraction this year is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on economic activity.”

As well as its global analysis, the IEA looks in detail at five regions - Europe, the Americas, Asia Pacific, Southeast Asia and Africa. However, its global analysis is somewhat flawed by the total exclusion of any consideration of the Russian Federation, which, although not an IEA member, is the world’s fourth largest electricity producer.

IEA says China will be the only major economy to see higher electricity demand in 2020, although the projected demand growth of around 2% is still significantly below its average since 2015 of 6.5%. While demand recovered in many economies during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer and autumn, major consumers including the USA, India, Europe, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia are all set to experience declines for the year as a whole.

Renewable electricity generation is projected to grow by almost 7% in 2020, squeezing conventional generation. The decline in electricity demand combined with a rise in renewable supply has accelerated the squeeze on coal, gas and nuclear power. Nuclear power generation is set to decline by around 4% in 2020, affected both by the pandemic and lower capacity availability, especially in the first half of the year. China was the main exception with nuclear output increasing by about 6% due to new capacity coming into service.

Electricity output from renewables, particularly wind and solar PV, is expected to continue to set new records in 2021, expanding their market share to 29% from 28% in 2020. Nuclear power is also set for growth of 2.5% owing to a rebound in France and Japan and new plants in China and the UAE.

In advanced economies, the growth of renewables and nuclear will continue to shrink the space remaining for fossil fuel generation. However, in emerging and developing economies, demand growth is projected to outpace increases in renewables and nuclear, leaving some room for coal and gas generation to expand, leading to a rise in CO2 emissions from the power sector of around 2% in 2021.

IEA says nuclear power saw "significant growth in new capacity in 2020", with new units in China, India, Russia, Belarus, Korea, Slovakia (delayed to early next year) and the UAE adding more than 8GW of new capacity. This more than offset closures in France, Sweden and the USA, which removed some 5GW from service.

European nuclear power generation fell by close to 12% (or 86TWh) year-on-year in the first eleven months of 2020, to its lowest output in at least 20 years. This was driven by optimisation of fuel usage amid reduced electricity demand, plant retirement, rescheduling of maintenance work and unexpected outages caused by low river levels.

France alone accounted for over half of the net drop, with nuclear generation decreasing by 16% (or 45TWh). In addition to the closure of Fessenheim 1&2, the maintenance schedule of multiple reactors was rescheduled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Belgian nuclear fleet also faced extended outages resulting in Belgian nuclear output falling by 22% (or 8TWh).

Nuclear generation in Sweden decreased by over 27% (or 16 TWh) partly due to the decommissioning of Ringhals 2 at the end of 2019.

In the UK several outages were extended over the summer and output from Sizewell B was reduced. As a result nuclear power output fell by 10% (close to 4TWh) during the first eleven month of the year. In Germany nuclear output was down by 15% (almost 10TWh) during the same period, primarily due to the closure of Phillipsburg 2 at the end of 2019.

European nuclear power generation started to recover in October, with the decrease moderating in November to a fall of 3% on rising nuclear availability.

In 2021, around 13GW of nuclear power units are scheduled to start operating, Of the 13 units, three are in China and two in India. The second unit of the UAE’s Barakah power plant is scheduled for 2021 with two more units planned for the two subsequent years. Also, after lengthy delays, the Olkiluoto 3 EPR in Finland is expected to be connected to the grid at the end of 2021, with commercial operation starting early in 2022.

In the USA 5.5GW of nuclear capacity is expected to retire in 2021, while in Germany three out of the remaining six units are due to be decommissioned at the end of next year – the remaining three will follow at the end of 2022.



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