📊 EV’s Charts of the Week #69

Nuclear fission, Asia, friends or foes++

Hi, I’m Azeem Azhar. I convene Exponential View to help us understand how our societies and political economy will change under the force of rapidly accelerating technologies.

Today’s edition looks at the future of energy inspired by my conversation with Troels Schönfeldt, CEO and co-founder of Seaborg Technologies, a startup on a mission to deliver a scalable, cheaper-than-coal, dispatchable power source with a new generation of molten salt reactors. My conversation with Troels will be live later today, so subscribe to our podcast to receive it.


The love of power

Almost everyone agrees that energy demand will grow over the next 30 years driven by higher standards of living, especially in poorer countries, and by the decarbonisation of the entire power system. How much growth will we see?

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts a 50% increase in energy consumption, almost all the growth forecast in non-OECD countries.

Forecasts for nuclear’s contribution to this uncertain growth are more fugacious than uranium hexafluoride being spun in a centrifuge. BNEF’s “red scenario” to meet net-zero emissions in 2050 calls for a great deal of nuclear, especially via small modular reactors. McKinsey (below) and the EIA forecast flatline growth in nuclears contribution.  

More bullish, McKinsey & Company predicts a more than doubling in power generation by 2050, and increases in electricity production by a factor of between three and four on 2021 levels. Goldman Sachs, a bank, reckons on a three-fold growth in the same time frame, yes a full 50% above McKinsey’s forecast.

My take: our demand for energy will continue to rise. Electrification will be decarbonisation: by using electricity to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, to replace every process that involves fossil fuels, supports increased living standards, or eenables modern industrial processes that rely on computer simulations, digital networks and, ultimately, biological, new industrial or p2x processes. The Goldman forecast is my low watermark: the EIA forecast, in particular, seem way, way off.

Asia turns to nuclear

The recent growth in nuclear-generated electricity has come from Asia. Source: World Nuclear Association

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