Lawrence Solomon: Renewables now bigger than nuclear

(May 18, 2011) The world now has more renewable electricity capacity than nuclear capacity, according to a recent report from the Worldwatch Institute.  According to its World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010–2011, just four types of renewables — wind, small-scale hydro, solar, and biomass – accounted for 381 gigawatts (GW) of capacity at the end of 2010, edging past nuclear power’s 375 GW of capacity.

The renewables have supplanted nuclear in another way, too – they have become a bigger recipient of government favours than nuclear, formerly #1 among those on the dole. Without government subsidies, the world would have virtually no electricity generation capacity from either of these renewables or from nuclear –neither meet the test of a competitive free market.

Nuclear power, now on the outs in most parts of the world, accounts for just 8% of world capacity, a figure unlikely to grow much in future, despite a much advertised nuclear renaissance.  The renewables, which like nuclear have met much opposition around the world, is showing some signs of stalled growth, as can be seen from this chart.  It also may peak at around 8% of world capacity.

The powerhouse of the world has long been, and will long continue to be, fossil fuel generation. Fossil fuel generation is not only cheap and plentiful but, unlike nuclear and the renewables, fossil fuel plants can be turned on or off at will, making them responsive to human needs. And, fossil fuel plants arouse less local opposition that do nuclear plants and land-grabbing industrial wind farms, making the fossils more politically acceptable.

To read the Worldwatch study, click here.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute.

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