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Uneven progress on clean energy technologies faces further pressure from the Covid-19 crisis

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The International Energy Agency’s latest and most comprehensive assessment of clean energy transitions finds that a majority of technologies and sectors are failing to keep pace with long-term climate, air pollution and energy access goals. The Covid-19 crisis could further impede clean energy progress, underscoring the urgent need for ambitious government action to meet sustainability goals.

The latest Tracking Clean Energy Progress report assesses a full range of energy technologies and sectors to provide a definitive snapshot of clean energy progress in 2019. Only 6 out of 46 technologies and sectors were “on track” with the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, which maps out pathway to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, deliver universal energy access and significantly reduce air pollution. Another 24 technologies showed some progress while 16 technologies were “off track.”

Examples of technologies that remained “on track” by the end of 2019 include electric vehicles, lighting and data centres, but these account for only a small share of potential emissions reductions in the Sustainable Development Scenario.

Two technology areas have been downgraded in this year’s update, and not a single technology or sector has been upgraded. Nuclear power is now “off track” as new nuclear capacity brought online in 2019 was only half the amount added in 2018. Energy storage – previously “on track” – has been downgraded as annual installations fell for the first time in nearly a decade.

Many of the largest sources of global emissions remain “off track.” The power sector accounts for around 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions but remains “off track” for the third year in a row. Power sector emissions fell by only 1.3% in 2019, well short of the 4% annual average reduction through 2030 that is envisaged in the Sustainable Development Scenario. The buildings sector also remains off track, with emissions rising again in 2019 to an all-time high. Another concerning development was the slowdown in fuel economy improvements around the world as car buyers continued to purchase bigger vehicles.

The Covid-19 crisis is disrupting important progress that has been achieved in key areas in recent years while also stunting advances in a wider range of technologies whose growth was already facing challenges. For example, a prolonged period of economic weakness and low fossil fuel prices may delay some clean energy investments. Sustainability and climate issues may slip down political agendas. Cash-strapped societies may continue to use their existing stock of vehicles, buildings, appliances, energy infrastructure and industrial facilities rather than replacing them with less carbon-intensive alternatives.

“There were warning signs even before the crisis, which is now threatening to further slow the development of clean energy technologies,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “This is not the time to take our foot off the pedal. Our latest findings make clear the urgent need for governments to do more to foster the growth of these technologies, which can create jobs, stimulate economic growth and also help us accelerate transitions to cleaner energy systems.”

This year’s release of updated figures comes with a sector-by-sector summary of Covid-19 impacts, which will be followed in the coming days by an article examining key emerging issues that the crisis is creating for clean energy technologies. In the autumn, a major report will review all relevant data from the first half of 2020 more comprehensively.

In the coming weeks, the IEA will also publish two important reports focused on accelerating clean energy transitions. On 18 June, the World Energy Outlook Special Report on Sustainable Recovery will provide actionable recommendations on how governments’ stimulus packages and policy plans can boost employment and economic activity while building more modern, resilient and clean energy systems. This will be followed on 2 July by a special report under the Energy Technology Perspectives series that will identify ways policy makers can drive the innovation in clean energy technologies that will be needed to meet long-term decarbonisation objectives.

The Tracking Clean Energy Progress report provides a comprehensive, rigorous and up-to-date analysis of clean energy transitions across a full range of technologies and sectors. It makes use of the IEA’s unique understanding of markets, modelling and energy statistics to track and assess technology progress in terms of deployment, performance, investment, policies and innovation. The report highlights recommended actions for governments, industry and other key actors in the global energy system. It also draws on the IEA’s extensive global technology network, which includes 6,000 researchers across nearly 40 Technology Collaboration Programmes.

Tracking Clean Energy Progress is part of the IEA’s broader efforts to track energy transitions in order to help inform decision-makers as they consider where to focus innovation, investment and policy attention with the aim of achieving climate and sustainable development goals.

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Deloitte: Energy Management – Paused by Pandemic, but Poised to Prevail

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Since Deloitte began conducting its annual survey tracking clean energy attitudes and actions a decade ago, the percentage of residential consumers concerned about climate change and personal carbon footprints has risen steadily from about half to a consistent 68%, putting increasing pressure on businesses to do more. The year 2020 appeared to be the tipping point, but when COVID-19 hit, many questioned whether the momentum had been derailed as companies focused on survival.

Deloitte’s 2020 Resources Study, “Energy Management: Paused by Pandemic, but Poised to Prevail,” found that despite the pandemic — and maybe in part because of it — progress in efforts to manage energy use, reduce carbon emissions and address climate change will likely continue and even potentially accelerate in the longer term. The study is based on survey data collected from 1,531 residential consumers and 602 business decision-makers.

Consumer concern about climate change is rising, but looking to others to solve
Consumer sentiment about climate change has steadily increased over the past decade. Sixty-eight percent of residential consumers surveyed said they were “extremely or very concerned” about climate change and their personal carbon footprint and 65% said they saw greater renewable energy development as boosting the national economy, the highest level since 2014. While the benefits of clean energy are clear, most consumers (80%) surveyed expect others, such as the government and corporations, to address climate change issues. And about a third of respondents expect action from their employers.

Millennials are a driving force for corporate sustainability
Further emphasizing the corporate role, more than a third of respondents who identified as full- or part-time employees, students and/or job seekers said it’s extremely or very important to work for a company with sustainability and/or climate-risk goals, and this sentiment rose to nearly 50% among millennials. “Employee motivations” has consistently been one of the top three drivers of corporate energy management programs, selected by at least a quarter of business respondents each year. But in 2020, that rose to a third, the highest level ever in our surveys. Employees are becoming more vocal about climate change, and this may be due to the growing influence of millennials in the workplace.

Businesses are feeling increasing stakeholder pressure to address climate risk
In line with rising consumer sentiment, nearly 60% of businesses surveyed feel increased pressure from stakeholders to develop and disclose plans to demonstrate how they’re addressing climate risk. The stakeholders seen as most active are employees (49%), followed by board members (42%), customers (41%) and shareholders (37%). Of those businesses feeling increased pressure, nearly 90% have reviewed or changed their climate-risk disclosure procedures and developed plans to address climate-related risks.

Importantly, although businesses are feeling pressure, they also increasingly see procuring clean energy as doing the “right thing.” In fact, 75% of those surveyed said recent global climate change reports have caused them to focus more on energy management. And almost 90% of respondents now see energy procurement as “not simply a cost to the company, but an opportunity to reduce risk, improve resilience, and create new value.”

Convergence of cost and clean means more green
Over the past 10 years, the “cost” versus “clean” motivations for utilizing cleaner energy resources have been steadily converging as renewable energy costs have declined. This greater affordability is allowing businesses and residential consumers to prioritize clean energy without making bottom-line sacrifices.

Businesses are procuring more renewables through more channels:

  • Sixty-three percent of businesses surveyed have increased emission reduction goals.
  • Three-quarters of business respondents said customers are asking them to procure renewable energy.
  • More than half (51%) of businesses said they’re working to procure more electricity from renewables.
  • Of the 60% of businesses citing having onsite generation, the highest share of electricity supply was generated with cogeneration (15%) and renewables (13%).
  • Microgrids also appear to be growing in popularity with 44% of business respondents saying they’ve considered a microgrid, a spike of 9 points over 2019.

Residential consumers still cost-conscious but putting environment first:

  • For the first time in five years, “utilizing clean energy sources to be better stewards of the environment” was cited ahead of “keeping my total energy bills affordable” as one of the top three most important energy issues to residential consumers.
  • More than half (53%) of respondents said it’s “extremely” or “very” important that part of their electricity supply comes from renewable energy.
  • Thirty-two percent of respondents said they were “very” or “extremely” interested in installing solar panels and 51% of those who don’t already have them on their primary residence, expressed interest if combined with battery storage.
  • Among respondents who had already installed rooftop solar, “clean” beat out saving money for the first time as the primary motivator.
  • Renewables are gaining ground as a reason for respondents to switch providers versus lower electricity costs as renewables rose 3 points in 2020 to take second place from “better service,” while “lower electricity costs” stayed steady in first place.

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ADB, IEA Renew Agreement to Collaborate on Energy Sector Sustainability and Resilience

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has renewed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the International Energy Agency (IEA) to scale up collaboration and advance progress on sustainability with increased focus on energy sector resilience in Asia and the Pacific.

“The energy sector is a key driver of growth and human development, especially during recovery from the impacts of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic,” said ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa. “We are pleased to renew our agreement with IEA, which builds on our successful collaboration to date, and we look forward to advancing our shared objective of achieving a more sustainable and resilient energy future in Asia and the Pacific.”

Under the 3-year agreement, the two organizations will share knowledge and best practice in energy sector data and analysis, on-the-ground engagement, capacity building, technology, and innovation, among other areas. This will help to overcome critical knowledge and experience gaps blocking the development of sustainable energy systems in ADB’s developing member countries and enhance IEA’s data collection and capacity building efforts in Asia and the Pacific.

ADB first signed a 3-year MOU with IEA in March 2017 to facilitate knowledge and analytical work to advance clean energy development in ADB’s developing member countries. As part of this, ADB worked with IEA to study power system flexibility in India to integrate more solar and wind energy in the grids.

The renewal agreement was signed on the occasion of IEA’s Clean Energy Transitions Summit, where Mr. Asakawa gave a speech at the plenary session to an audience of over 50 energy ministers and energy sector leaders. Last month, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol delivered the keynote address at ADB’s 15th Asia Clean Energy Forum 2020. IEA is a knowledge partner of ADB’s leading annual energy forum.

ADB invested more than $23 billion in clean energy, including both sovereign and nonsovereign initiatives from 2008 to 2019. Last year, ADB’s climate financing reached a record $6.56 billion, meeting its target of doubling its annual climate investments from 2014 one year ahead of schedule.

Under Strategy 2030, ADB is targeting $80 billion in cumulative climate financing from its own resources by 2030 and for at least 75% of its country operations to feature climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives.

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40 Ministers from around the world gather to address the world’s energy and climate challenges

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Ministers from dozens of countries accounting for over 80% of the world economy today took part in the International Energy Agency’s first Clean Energy Transitions Summit, discussing how to bring about a sustainable and resilient recovery from the Covid-19 crisis and achieve a definitive peak in global carbon emissions.

Ministers participating in the Summit included those from the world’s largest energy consumers: Minister Zhang Jinhua of China, Secretary Dan Brouillette of the United States, Commissioner Kadri Simson of the European Union, Minister R.K. Singh of India, Minister Kajiyama Hiroshi of Japan, Minister Kwasi Kwarteng of the United Kingdom, Minister Bento Albuquerque of Brazil, Minister Seamus O’Regan of Canada, Minister Sergio Costa of Italy, Minister Gwede Mantashe of South Africa, Secretary Rocío Nahle of Mexico, Minister Arifin Tasrif of Indonesia, and Deputy Prime Minister Ribera of Spain.

Speakers also included United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, CEOs from across the energy sector, top investors, heads of regional development banks and other key international organisations, past and present COP Presidents – including Secretary of State Alok Sharma of the United Kingdom – and leaders from civil society. The full list of participants is available below.

Participants highlighted the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on their energy systems, underscoring the importance of finding ways to support clean energy transitions despite the current challenges. Key themes includes the need for greater innovation in areas such as hydrogen, the importance of inclusive and equitable recoveries, and how to make the electricity sector more resilient and sustainable.

“This Summit proves that international dialogue and collaboration can bring great value. It was an opportunity to inform, support and inspire each other. Now, it is time for all of us to get to work – building back our economies, bringing our citizens back to work, ensuring that 2019 was the definitive peak in emissions and building towards the resilient and sustainable energy systems of the future,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director who chaired the Summit. “What I see clearly is momentum – momentum behind sustainable recovery and momentum behind clean energy transitions.”

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