There is a clash between the role of nuclear and natural gas in Europe’s future electricity system

2022-05-09 0 By

Gas and nuclear power today account for 42% of Europe’s electricity mix and gas and nuclear power play a key role in Europe’s current electricity system.They each provide about a fifth of annual generation and together now account for 42 per cent of Europe’s power mix.The future role of gas and nuclear depends to a large extent on political choices about Europe’s electricity system.Nuclear plants are usually very large and capital-intensive projects that take years to develop and build.To a certain extent, this also applies to large gas-fired power plants.Therefore, these projects can only be realized with strong political support.Three scenarios for the future of Europe’s electricity system Bloomberg New Energy Finance makes this point clear in its New Energy Outlook 2021.Three Scenarios for Europe are defined based on the different political choices of generation technologies in the global grid.All three scenarios would reach zero emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to the Paris climate agreement goal of nearly 1.5 degrees Celsius.Scenario 1: Gas-fired power plants with carbon capture and storage Technology In this scenario, power generation will continue to rely on fossil fuel plants, especially gas-fired plants, as most coal-fired plants are being phased out.Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is used to reduce emissions from gas-fired power plants.Under this scenario, the number of gas-fired power plants around the world would quadruple and the number of nuclear plants would remain the same, as gas-fired plants provide base-load power and serve as back-up for when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.Scenario 2: Nuclear Power Plants In this scenario, most power generation would come from carbon-free nuclear plants, which would require a 14-fold increase in the installed capacity of nuclear plants.In this case, gas-fired power plants serve as a transitional fuel.To meet growing demand for electricity, the world’s gas-fired power plants are set to more than double in capacity by 2035, a demand that nuclear power cannot currently meet because of the time it takes to build out nuclear power units.After 2035, nuclear will become the main source of energy, while gas-fired capacity will remain unchanged for several years before starting to decline.Scenario 3: Renewable energy and Synthetic Fuels Renewable energy becomes the main energy source.When renewable energy cannot generate electricity because there is no wind or sunlight, synthetic fuels such as hydrogen or methanol provide backup energy.As with the gas and CCS scheme, there is no need for more nuclear power stations when renewables fail to provide the power, because synfuels can.Of course, these three scenes depict extreme worlds.In practice, the transition to a net-zero economy is likely to involve a mix of renewables, synthetic fuels, CCS(carbon capture and storage) and nuclear power.However, these scenarios clearly show that the development of nuclear and gas-fired plants that meet the classification criteria is highly dependent on policy and technology development.Political choices play a crucial role.Think of long-term policy goals for future power and energy systems, capex subsidy programs for building nuclear plants or operating costs covering the entire life cycle, RESEARCH and development budgets to promote CCS innovation, small nuclear reactors and fusion, and public co-financing of CCS infrastructure.In Europe, the focus is now on increasing the share of renewable energy in the grid and paving the way for synthetic fuels to be used as a backup power source from 2030.Renewables now account for 41 per cent of Europe’s electricity mix, up from 24 per cent in 2010, according to the International Energy Agency.If this trend continues, the role of natural gas and nuclear power in the future may be limited.Whether renewables and synthetic fuels can become the main sources of energy for a net-zero economy is a subject of intense debate.The fact is that member states themselves design the policies that shape their future power systems.They are also far from agreement on the role of nuclear and gas-fired plants.In 2000, Germany reached an agreement with four nuclear plant operators to shut down the country’s nuclear plants after they generated a certain amount of electricity.However, in 2011, shortly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, decided to shut down eight nuclear power plants quickly and the remaining nine at a specific time.The last three are due to close by the end of 2022.The new alliance has a goal of closing all coal-fired power plants from 2038 to 2030.Gas-fired plants may be needed in the process of phasing out coal and nuclear power plants and establishing renewable energy generation capacity and a hydrogen economy.In the long term, gas-fired power plants also need to be phased out to achieve a net-zero economy.Or emissions-reduction technologies such as CCS should be installed.France has taken a very different position.This month, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a “Renaissance” and “rebirth” of France’s nuclear industry to move to a net-zero economy.His goal is to start building six nuclear plants by 2028, and he has called for the option of building eight more.France is a nuclear power.So far, 56 nuclear power plants provide about 70 percent of France’s electricity.But those plants are old, with 10 plants currently closed for maintenance, up from 17 in 2021.A new reactor is under construction in the north-western town of Flamanville, but it faces serious setbacks.The project was supposed to be completed in 2012 at a cost of €3bn, but will not open until at least 2023, and the bill has ballooned to almost €13bn.Belgium and the UK also have a significant amount of nuclear power in their power mix.Belgium wants to shut down its two remaining old nuclear plants by 2025.Like France, Britain is considering expanding its nuclear plants.Here we discuss the first standard relating to life cycle emissions from gas-fired power plants.This means that new gas-fired plants can only be built with state-of-the-art CCS technology.From the technical screening criteria, life cycle emissions from gas-fired plants must be less than 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour) to qualify.Life cycle emissions provide good insights into the environmental impact of gas-fired power plants and other energy sources.Bringing nuclear and gas-fired plants into the EU has kept many people busy.This will be possible as long as the government’s role in the transition to a clean economy takes a different position on the role of nuclear and gas-fired power plants.