RMI: Solar saves carbon faster, more effectively than nuclear power

solar saves more than nuclear

Renewable electricity, chiefly from wind and solar power, adds electricity generation and saves carbon faster than nuclear power does or ever has, according to a data-rich new study by Amory Lovins and three colleagues at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI).

The peer-reviewed scientific paper, “Relative deployment rates of renewable and nu-clear power: A cautionary tale of two metrics,” rebuts prior analyses claiming that nuclear power deploys faster than renewable power, and that nuclear growth would be a vital way to protect the climate but renewable growth is inadequate.

The RMI study details how such conclusions result from incorrect methodology and numerous analytic mistakes. The study reveals the need for care in making or interpreting claims about which technologies can and do deploy most quickly, and urges responsible scientists to stop repeating published errors.

RMI report shows path for a 30-GW community solar market by 2020

“Some past literature has asserted that nuclear energy can more quickly displace fossil-fueled electricity generation than modern renewables, but this has been based on a peculiar per-capita metric, perhaps useful for comparing countries but not technologies,” explains Amory Lovins, cofounder and Chief Scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute. His team found that “modern” renewable power (that is, excluding big hydroelectric dams) passed global nuclear output in 2016—and then, say preliminary 2017 data, further accelerated last year, as shown in the graphic above.


“Relative deployment rates of renewable and nuclear power: A cautionary tale of two metrics” was published in Energy Research and Social Science, Volume 38, pp. 819–822, April 2018.

Here’s the full article if you’d like to deep dive into this. A separate peer-reviewed 2017 RMI study showed that closing distressed US nuclear plants and replacing them with efficient use would generally save more carbon than continuing to run them, because their operating cost is so high.

— Solar Builder magazine

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