What's the Word for Nuclear?
Last Tuesday, the DOE Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its 2010 International Energy Outlook (IEO). I was fortunate to be in an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC that morning, where Deputy Adminstrator Howard Gruenspecht of the EIA gave a briefing on the IEO.
Some of the key findings have already been reported by the press. Most notably, worldwide, the EIA is forecasting an increase in energy consumption of 49% between 2007 and 2035. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming fraction of the increases (84%) will be in the non-OECD countries. Also of interest is the confirmation that the recession has dampened energy demand in the near term. As the world (hopefully) moves out of this recession period, the EIA is seeing that the pace of recovery in China and India exceeds that of Japan and European Union member countries.
Much of the study discusses the conventional fossil fuel resources (coal, oil and gas) as well as unconventional fossil fuels (coal to liquid, gas to liquid, oil sands and oil shale). However, news that has not been as widely reported is the IEO findings on nuclear. Most noteworthy is that the projection for nuclear electricity generation in 2030 is 9% higher than the projection published in last year's IEO.
As many long-term watchers of the EIA will recall, it has long had a reputation of being skeptical, at best, when it came to assessing the prospects of nuclear power. I can well recall, during my tenure in DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, meeting with the top management of EIA (at that time) to tell them why we thought their assessment of nuclear power was unduly negative. Although they listened politely, I'm not sure we ever changed their thinking. It is therefore very encouraging to me to see a 9% increase in their projections in just one year.
I should point out what most readers of this post will know, or will guess--that most of this increase is in Asia.
It is important to keep in mind that EIA makes its projections based on existing laws and regulations, not on projected ones. Thus, even President Obama's recent call for higher fuel efficiencies of heavy vehicles would not be incorporated into this study. (In addition, that particular announcement also probably came as the study was being completed.)
For those who are interested in reading and understanding the details of the study, the whole report is available for downloading from the EIA website.
Isn't it also true that the EIA makes its projections based on announced construction plans? I have spoken with several EIA employees and former employees over the years; one of the reasons that they continually offer low projections for nuclear energy growth is that many of the projects under development are still considered to be speculative, even by the companies that are developing them.
Until firm orders are placed and commitments made, I am pretty sure that the EIA does not count the possibility of future developments.