The US, Europe and Japan have been slow growing economies. With less than 2.5% GDP growth there is almost no new reactors other than replacing broken ones and shifting some power to where people are moving. 1% is from gains in efficiency.
This is why China (and other emerging countries like India) where the fast growth is building most of the new power generation of all types. 70 nuclear reactors are being built worldwide. China is making 30 of them and at about $2 billion per GWe and completing them in 5 years time.
China will have double the US power generation by 2030. China will already be about 30% more than the US next year. China will spin up a lot more nuclear power as part of its energy mix. China trying to push coal to less than 50%. Then using hydro, natural gas, nuclear, wind and solar.
The US has fracking and cheap natural gas. They are half as polluting as the coal.
If the US had massive conversion to electric cars, then new electricity generation would be needed.
Tesla Model S electric cars have 60 KWh in batteries. If there were 200 million electric cars (like the Tesla and future electric SUVs. The assumption is that people will not want weaker cars to replace existing cars. Although nearly perfectly safe robotic cars could remove a lot of the weight of extra physical safety systems, which would make lighter and more efficient cars.) with heavy usage (50-100 miles per day) then 2000 TWh of power generation would be needed. This would 50% more than the current power generation needs of the USA.
Night time charging would reduce and possibly eliminate the need for new power generators to be produced. There is less electricity usage at night. This would still require more natural gas and coal, which could still be constrained or more costly.
It is conceivable that electric and plug in hybrids could become the dominant car preference in the 2030s and be the main types of cars on the road in the 2040s.
Even fracking and increased natural gas could be strained to bring on that much electrical power for the USA without significant price increases. This would make alternatives more affordable and a bigger part of the energy mix.
300 TWh for uprating and annular fuel for existing nuclear reactors
Annular fuel (different shape with more surface area) is being developed by a company called Lightbridge. It will be able to boost the power from existing reactors by 17% at about $20-30 per MWh. South Korea is also developing this MIT innovation for its commercial reactors. Testing and certification should allow deployment in the early 2020s. The switch can be done during regular maintenance. Existing technology for uprates (increased power) can also boost power by up to 20%. This involves changing the turbines and other equipment.
The US could go from about 100GWe to 130 GWe if both of those approaches were pushed and it would be done by 2025ish.
Lightbridge has an investor presentation which describes the economic case and technical details of annular metallic fuel for uprating the power in nuclear reactors.
* Testing, design and validation of the metallic fuel is from 2013-2018
* Regulatory approval will be in the 2014-2018+ timeframe
* First commercial installation will be 1-2 years after regulatory approval
* The increased power generation will have a levelized cost of 20-30$ per MWH which is less than half the cost coal and natural gas and the regular nuclear construction
Also, existing coal plants have a similar layout and configuration and land area as nuclear plants and are already connected to the grid. If the coal burners were swapped for a nuclear reactor that produced the same temperature of heat then the cost and speed of conversion to nuclear would be faster.
Cost of exported nuclear plants brought down by mass production in China
By the 2030s, China will likely have built out hundreds of nuclear reactors. They will also have factory mass produced one piece reactors like their 200 MWe HTR-PM (High temperature pebble bed reactor). Those reactors could be built in Chinese factories and shipped for installation overseas. This would enable the China price for nuclear power which is currently about $1.5 to 2 billion per GWe. This is 2-3 times cheaper than current prices in the US and Europe. Each nuclear reactor module would likely be buildable in 2 years or so by that the 2030s.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.