OECD Observer
Power to burn

The efficiency of power grids may be in the spotlight now, but the availability of energy resources is also a burning and divisive question. Renewables Information 2003, from the International Energy Agency, shows that in the past decade, renewable energy sources, such as solar power, hydro, wind and combustible biomass resources have been gaining ground.

Renewables have grown annually at 1.7%, a slightly higher growth figure than that for gas, oil, coal and nuclear, at 1.4%. Solar, wind and tide have shown especially high growth, at 19.1% per year, although their contribution to energy supply still represents less than 0.1% of total world energy supply. Hydro power provides 2.2% of world supply, while the largest renewable energy source comes from solid biomass, at 10.4%, due to its widespread domestic use in developing countries.

Furthermore, Renewables Information reports that, in non-OECD regions, renewable electricity has kept pace with growth in total electricity generation, whereas in OECD countries, the growth of renewables was much lower than the increase in total electricity generation. Renewables Information 2003 explains that population growth is much higher in developing countries than in OECD countries, and as income increases, people switch from fuel wood and charcoal to kerosene and propane for cooking, and start to have access to electricity, for instance, through rural electrification programmes. As a result, future electricity growth, including that of renewable electricity, is expected to be higher in non-OECD countries than in their OECD counterparts.

So, what of the outlook for nuclear energy? According to Nuclear Energy Data 2003, from the Nuclear Energy Agency, nuclear share in total electricity generation decreased slightly from 2001 to 2002, and is projected to decrease even more in 2005 and 2010, going from 24.2% of total supply in 2001 to 22% in 2010. Yet generating capacity at existing plants has increased, and is expected to increase by 8% in 2010. At the end of 2002, there were 362 nuclear units in operation in OECD countries, and seven units under construction.

©OECD Observer No 239, September 2003