Solar to “surpass” nuclear by end 2017

Another tweet that grabbed my attention this week:

The text of the tweet:

Speed of energy transition every day more jaw dropping. Solar to surpass nuclear by end 2017.

That seems odd. In previous post I looked at the share of the different energy sources in worldwide primary energy use in 2006 and found that 11.6% was generated by nuclear and only 1.5% by solar in the EU. When I look at the BP figures for energy use worldwide (1,3276.3 Mtoe), then nuclear (592.1 Mtoe) has a share of 4.5% and solar (75.4 Mtoe) has a share of 0.6%.

Yet now we get to hear that solar will somehow surpass nuclear by the end of 2017

The tweet linked to the slightly more nuanced article “Solar energy will surpass nuclear by the end of the year” and the included summary gives a glimpse of what is really meant by “solar that surpasses nuclear” (my emphasis):

New data from GTM Research suggests that rapid adoption of solar power could mean that its global gigawatt capacity rivals that of nuclear power by the end of 2017.

Apparently, the tweet is about the (installed) capacity of solar compared to nuclear. In (giga)watt, so it is not about primary energy use, but electricity use. Which is a subset of primary energy use and will be a bit more favorable for solar energy (the share of solar in electricity use is 1.8% compared to a share of 0.6% in primary energy use).

This article in turn links to Global Solar Capacity Set to Surpass Nuclear for the First Time, That “GTM” is the abbreviation of greentechmedia, so this article describes the original research and even has the “global solar capacity” in its title.

When I look at the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017 Renewable Energy. report, I find that the global solar installed capacity is 301,473 MW.

The capacity of nuclear power plants, world-wide in 2016 was 391,915 MW and there is an additional 59.917 MW under construction.

Solar just needs 90,000 MW installed capacity in 2017 to surpass nuclear.

But installed capacity is something different from production. To illustrate that, I will look at the example of Germany. This is the net installed electricity generation capacity in Germany in 2016 for nuclear compared to solar.

and this is the generation of both sources in 2016:

It is clear that although the installed capacity of solar is almost four times bigger, the production is less than half.

In summary, the installed capacity of nuclear energy in 2016 is 10.80 GW and there was a production of 80.40 TWh. Meaning a capacity factor of 85%.

The installed capacity of solar is 40.85 GW and there was a production of 37.53 TWh. Meaning a capacity factor of just 10%

Although the claim is obviously correct (it is plausible that solar will surpass nuclear when it comes to installed capacity), I struggle with its significance. Nuclear and solar energy are fundamentally different power sources and not directly comparable. Comparing the installed capacity of solar versus nuclear is next to meaningless and may even be misleading for those who don’t know the difference between capacity and production.

Figueres might not know the difference, GreenTechMedia did. They admitted that “Nuclear energy is still well ahead of solar in terms of electricity generated” and even gave some numbers to back that up. But those readers who just look at the tweet might well understand from this claim that production of solar will surpass that of nuclear. Especially with the claim that “the speed of the energy transition is every day more jaw dropping”.

The tweet and its two underlying articles reminded me of the game of Chinese Whispers. The greentechmedia article was rather nuanced, although very optimistic for the future. The weforum article about that greentechmedia article lost somewhat of that nuance and focused on the optimism. It then culminates in the cheering, not so nuanced, maybe even ignorant, tweet of Figueres. Luckily, the reactions showed that most of the readers of that tweet didn’t bought into that message.

2 thoughts on “Solar to “surpass” nuclear by end 2017

  1. manicbeancounter

    Christiana Figueres has form making misleading statements. As UNFCCC Executive Secretary a couple of months before COP21 Paris in December 2015 she said in an interview.

    The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7C by 2100, by no means enough but a lot lower than the estimated four, five, or more degrees of warming projected by many prior to the INDCs.

    This was quite untrue. The estimates of 2.7C was by taking the INDCs for the period up to 2030, then assuming far more stringent policies would be adopted after that. Instead of up the 2.0C of difference from the policy proposals, the true difference was nearer 0.2C subject to all the vague proposals being fully implemented. It took a lot of to get to the 2.7C estimate.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s