What are the most viable global pathways for a major expansion of zero-carbon emissions electricity sources given the diversity of regional technical, socio-political and economic constraints? We modelled a range of zero-emissions energy scenarios across nations that were designed to meet projected final energy demand in 2060, and optimised to derive the best globally aggregated results in terms of minimising costs and land use (a surrogate for environmental impacts). We found that a delayed energy transition to a zero-emissions pathway will decrease investment costs (−$3,431 billion), but increase cumulative CO2 emissions (additional 696 Gt). A renewable-only scenario would convert >7.4% of the global land area to energy production, whereas a maximum nuclear scenario would affect <0.4% of land area, including mining, spent-fuel storage, and buffer zones. Moreover, a nuclear-free pathway would involve up to a 50% greater cumulative capital investment compared to a high nuclear penetration scenario ($73.7 trillion). However, for some nations with a high current share of renewables and a low projected future energy demand (e.g., Norway), pursuit of a higher nuclear share is suboptimal. In terms of the time frame for replacement of fossil fuels, achieving a global nuclear share of about 50% by 2060 would be a technically and economically plausible target if progressing at a pace of the average historical growth of nuclear power penetration in France from 1970 to 1986 (0.28 MWh person−1 year-1). For effective climate-change mitigation, a high penetration of nuclear in association with a nationally appropriate mix of renewables achieves far superior cost and land effectiveness compared to a renewables-only future to reduce emissions.
decarbonisation, energy systems, sustainable energy, energy scenarios