The age of clean energy is already here while ongoing pandemic has severely affected global economy and energy markets. Fossil fuel industry and coal-based generation that holds more than 80% share in global energy supplies and electricity generation, suffers to operate at low capacity with decreased energy demand.
Global restrictions on travel caused the biggest drop in oil demand in last 25 years while drop in coal demands is estimated to be 8-10% compared with last year that shows largest decline since second world war. The plunge in energy demands and collapsing prices are becoming a major hurdle for global economic recovery in coming years. This scenario promotes the reliance on renewable and clean energy resources for coming decades. It has also underlined the importance of electricity reliability and resilience during major disruptions. While governments are overwhelmed to secure long-term energy availability and market requirements, the post-pandemic sustainable energy systems have become the immediate need.
The energy industry that would emerge out of this crisis would certainly be distinct than the one existed before the pandemic. The fossil fuel industry is exposed to have been lagging two-dimensionally i.e. first, not being an environment friendly way of producing energy and second, unable to sustain such crisis scenarios where the demand drops and market collapses. Besides many renewable energy resources, nuclear energy stands as the most environment friendly and cost-effective energy resource.
European countries are among top nuclear power dependent countries for their energy mix. Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Germany, South Korea are among the countries having more than 20% of nuclear power role in their total electricity production. Thus, there energy markets seem to be able to withstand the ongoing energy and economic recession. France, having the largest nuclear fleet that produces 74.8% of total electricity, is one of the most Covid-19 affected countries yet one of the biggest reasons of its continual sustenance is its largely nuclear dependent energy sector.
The recent policy briefs of Nuclear Energy Agency NEA highlights that the investment in nuclear energy and power plants is proven to create a larger amount of highly skilled and valued jobs, deliver widespread growth along with energy independence and security of supply, and helps build resilience against geopolitical shocks as well as speeding up the post-pandemic recovery. Thus, strengthening the case of energy shift to nuclear power with increase in the construction of nuclear power plants across the globe.
The race in nuclear power generation is expected to be another dilemma globally in times ahead. Besides increasing nuclear capacity via upgrading existing plants within countries, nuclear power capacity is increasing worldwide with 55 new reactors under construction. Most of these nuclear reactors are planned to be placed in Asian region i.e. China, Russia and India. Asian region is already under the action-reaction mode in terms of economic and military competition between countries with hegemonic postures. China, along with its other priorities of health and economic recoveries, is going to enhance its nuclear power capacity at a faster pace.
The case of India is nonetheless distinct. Currently, there are seven under construction nuclear reactors in India. India already has the waiver to acquire civil nuclear technology and fuel from other states. This exemption and post-pandemic cautions predict Indian inclination towards greater nuclear power supply. It is here to examine what this nuclear sector competition would bring to the already volatile region and what repercussions it would bring along.
Post-pandemic new normal seems to have paced up the global move towards clean, sustainable and manageable energy means to secure the market. Additionally, nuclear power reliance is going to accelerate in next half century for early preparedness and resilience against future global crises and economic shortfalls like the one currently crippling the world.
*The author is a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan.