World re­new­ables blow nukes up

Mail & Guardian - - Business -

of wind power ca­pac­ity, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. This took its to­tal re­new­able ca­pac­ity up to just un­der 150GW, more than all of Europe com­bined.

China also added 4.6GW of nu­clear ca­pac­ity in the same year to reach a to­tal of 32GW. The coun­try pro­duced 241 ter­awatt-hours of elec­tric­ity from wind, com­pared to 198TWh of nu­clear power.

India is see­ing the same phe­nom­e­non, the re­port said, where wind pro­duced 45TWh of elec­tric­ity, out­strip­ping nu­clear at 35TWh.

Glob­ally nu­clear power gen­er­a­tion in­creased by 1.4% in 2016, al­though its share of to­tal power pro­duc­tion stag­nated at 10.5%, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

The growth of wind power out­put was 16% and so­lar was 30%, with re­new­ables rep­re­sent­ing 62% of new power gen­er­a­tion ca­pac­ity.

“While no en­ergy source comes with­out eco­nomic costs and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts, what has been seen clearly over the past decade, and par­tic­u­larly in the past few years, is that choos­ing to de­car­bonise with nu­clear turns out to be an ex­pen­sive, slow, risky and po­ten­tially haz­ardous path­way that few coun­tries are pur­su­ing,” the lead au­thors, My­cle Sch­nei­der and Antony Frog­gatt, said in the re­port.

“In con­trast, some re­new­able en­ergy sources, par­tic­u­larly wind and so­lar pho­to­voltaics (PV), are be­ing de­ployed at rates sig­nif­i­cantly in ex­cess of those fore­cast even in re­cent years, caus­ing pro­duc­tion and in­stal­la­tion costs to fall even faster than ex­pected.”

The over­all amount of money in­vested in re­new­able en­ergy hit a peak of $310-bil­lion in 2015, drop­ping to $240-bil­lion in 2016. But the de­cline re­flected the sharp de­creases in pro­duc­tion costs per GW of re­new­ables.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, to­tal re­new­able ca­pac­ity in­stalled in 2016, ex­clud­ing large hy­dropower, was 138.5GW, up from 127.5GW the year be­fore.

Strug­gling fi­nan­cially

Nu­clear en­ergy com­pa­nies and util­i­ties are also fac­ing a tougher fi­nan­cial cli­mate than ever be­fore, with his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant nu­clear vend­ing com­pa­nies find­ing them­selves in dire straits.

The re­port re­ferred to the bank­ruptcy in March this year of erst­while nu­clear heavy­weight West­ing­house, owned by Ja­pan’s Toshiba group.

This came af­ter West­ing­house bought a nu­clear con­struc­tion firm, CB&I Stone & Web­ster, in 2015, which was re­spon­si­ble for two nu­clear builds in the United States.

But cost over­runs and de­lays on the re­ac­tors sank West­ing­house and saw Toshiba write off $9-bil­lion, threat­en­ing its own vi­a­bil­ity.

Mean­while, the French gov­ern­ment pro­vided a $5.3-bil­lion bailout to res­cue the nu­clear giant Areva and is in the process of break­ing it up, with the state util­ity EDF tak­ing over its nu­clear build­ing and ser­vices sub­sidiaries.

But the res­cue plan is in trou­ble. This week, news agency AFP re­ported that the Fin­nish util­ity TVO is chal­leng­ing the Euro­pean Union Com­mis­sion’s ap­proval of the bailout, be­cause it did not pro­vide ad­e­quate guar­an­tees that Areva would be able to com­plete the con­struc­tion of a re­ac­tor in Fin­land. It is nine years be­hind dead­line and three times over bud­get, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Areva delisted from the Paris stock mar­ket in Au­gust, the re­port noted, and is also fac­ing a qual­i­ty­con­trol scan­dal, which led to the pro­vi­sional shut­down of a dozen French re­ac­tors.

The re­port also high­lighted that many of the tra­di­tional nu­clear and fos­sil fuel-based util­i­ties con­tinue to strug­gle with “low whole­sale power prices, a shrink­ing client base, de­clin­ing power con­sump­tion, high debt loads, in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion costs at ag­ing fa­cil­i­ties and stiff com­pe­ti­tion, es­pe­cially from re­new­ables”.

Euro­pean en­ergy util­i­ties — Cen­tric in the UK, EDF and Engie in France, and Ger­many’s E.ON and RWE — have been down­graded by credit rat­ing agen­cies in the past year, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. The share prices of RWE, E.ON, EDF and Engie have lost most of their value when com­pared with their peak in the past 10 years, shrink­ing by 82%, 87%, 89% and 75% re­spec­tively.

In Asia, there are sim­i­lar con­cerns, the re­port noted. Be­sides the trou­bles faced by Toshiba, the Chi­nese util­ity CGN, which listed on the Hong Kong stock ex­change in 2014, has not re­cov­ered from a 60% de­cline in share value af­ter peak­ing in June 2015.

South Korean util­ity Kepco’s share price has de­clined by 37% fol­low­ing tar­iff cuts, in­creased op­er­at­ing ex­penses and the tem­po­rary shut­down of four re­ac­tors. The elec­tion of a new pres­i­dent, who closed one plant and halted the con­struc­tion of another two, has added to its dif­fi­cul­ties, the re­port noted.

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