Clean energy progress completely stalled: IEA

THE findings of the third annual International Energy Agency tracking report on clean energy progress will be a big reality check as it shows progress in clean energy development is disturbing and has completely stalled.
Clean energy progress completely stalled: IEA Clean energy progress completely stalled: IEA Clean energy progress completely stalled: IEA Clean energy progress completely stalled: IEA Clean energy progress completely stalled: IEA


Max Pichon

The IEA findings are grim as they show that coal-fired power continues to be the dominant energy force worldwide, with dependence on coal particularly worrying among emerging economies.

In addition, carbon capture and storage has not lived up to expectations, energy efficiency which offers untapped potential is also lagging and clean energy policy has stalled as governments put clean energy development on hold.

IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven was clear in her message: “Progress is not fast enough; glaring market failures are preventing adoption of clean energy solutions; considerable energy efficiency potential remains untapped; policies must better address the energy system as a whole; and energy-related research, development and demonstration all need to accelerate.”

This year the IEA launched the energy sector carbon intensity index, which shows the carbon emitted for each unit of energy used and provides a cumulative overview of progress in the energy sector.

But here the findings are also worrying.

The ESCII shows that the carbon intensity of the global energy supply has barely changed in 20 years, despite successful efforts in deploying renewable energy.

“The world needs to spend $US5 trillion on additional investment but it is spending $19 trillion on business as usual,” the report says.

“It is handing out $523 billion in fossil fuel subsidies but only $88 billion in renewable energy subsidies. It needs a carbon price of €50 a tonne but the European Union only has one worth €7/t. And the price of imported thermal coal is dropping."

“I am particularly worried about the lack of progress in developing policies to drive carbon capture and storage deployment,” van der Hoeven added.

“Without CCS, the world will have to abandon its reliance on fossil fuels much sooner – and that will come at a cost.

“There is a danger, however, in focusing on individual technologies without considering the larger picture.

“We must invest heavily in infrastructure that improves the system as a whole.”

There was some good news. Progress in some renewable technologies was going according to the IEA’s plan to limit global warming at 2 degrees Celsius – its so-called “2D scenario”, with solar photovoltaic and onshore wind tracking well on technology costs.

The report looked at 11 key sectors and benchmarked them against the IEA’s “2DS” objective, with only two sectors getting an "on track but sustained deployment and policies required” – these are renewable energy and electric and hybrid vehicle deployment.

Four sectors received an "improvement but more effort needed" – these were: gas fired power, industry, fuel economy and smart grids.

While five sectors are "not on track" – these are: nuclear power, coal fired power, CCS, biofuels and buildings.

However, van der Hoeven cited some good news:

  • Solar PV continues on a record pace;
  • Sales of hybrid electric vehicles passed the one million mark;
  • Energy efficiency regulations are being strengthened around the world; and
  • Developing countries are beginning to promote clean energy.

A clear example in the report is smart grids, saying that 2012 investment in advanced metering infrastructure, distribution automation and other smart grid applications was nearly $14 billion – up fourfold from 2008's $3.4 billion.

Meanwhile, global smart meter deployment increased by 500% between 2008 and 2012 – from 46 million to 285 million.

The report projects the world will hit nearly 1 billion smart meters by the end of 2018.

But despite this progress, cumulative smart grid investment must reach $594-738 billion by 2020 if the world wants to limit average global temperature increase to 2C.

The report notes that the integration of individual smart grid technologies is the biggest challenge ahead.

It calls for improved knowledge sharing and asks governments to accelerate their national data collection and coordination with international efforts.

It also calls on governments to proactively address privacy in cybersecurity issues so as not to delay collection of the data necessary to optimise our smart grids.