At the recent ASPO conference in Washington, DC I found myself in a lunchtime conversation discussing the contributions Nuclear and Hydro were making to world energy supply. It’s worth noting that Hydropower did experience an uptick in global use in the past five years. Nuclear meanwhile, which has seen a slowing rate of consumption since the 1980’s, leveled off and fell during the same period. While these two energy sources are worth discussing, they pale in comparison to oil and coal use globally, as the second chart shows.
In a post earlier this year, I showed similar graphics as below for global energy use by source for two distinct years: 1998, and 2008. With updated data, it’s worth juxtaposing the latest information (for 2009) with the close-up of Hydro and Nuclear to give a sense of proportion.
The prospects for any future growth from nuclear power are now very dim, at least, if one was hoping to extract a meaningful contribution from that energy source. The reasons are myriad, but, in the developed world because of societal concerns and the pricing of risk it’s not even possible for the nuclear industry to function without government support–from financing to insurance. Meanwhile wind power, with its relatively fast construction times and consequent return on investment at moderately attractive levels, is now more competitive by comparison. Yes, wind is a different kind (and different quality) of energy. But we are already witnessing wind power construction globally pulling way, way ahead of the nuclear industry.
Unfortunately, the entire discussion of Wind, Solar, and Nuclear power is marginal when considering how the world powers itself, in the main. The title of my ASPO conference talk, Return to Coal, addressed the coming crossover point when coal once again becomes the primary energy source of the world. When we consider these energy sources, and their actual use in perspective, we can see that the politics of Climate Change legislation for example is actually just a parlour game played in the developed world: and one that offers no practical solutions. Most proposals have been very light and mostly symbolic, regardless, and even these failed to pass as most leaders recognize them as lose-lose propositions for their political careers. Meanwhile, it’s the five billion people in the developing world, industrializing, who are now in the drivers seat of the world economy, and world energy usage. They have adopted coal as their primary energy source while the OECD countries, overly indebted and losing power on the world stage, delude themselves into thinking they have some say in the matter. (We) don’t.