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Reaching energy and climate goals demands a dramatic scaling up of clean energy technologies

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A major effort to develop and deploy clean energy technologies worldwide is urgently needed to meet international energy and climate goals, particularly in order to reduce carbon emissions from areas beyond the power sector such as transport, buildings and industry, according to a new IEA report released today.

With global carbon emissions at unacceptably high levels, structural changes to the energy system are required to achieve the rapid and lasting decline in emissions called for by the world’s shared climate targets. The IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2020 – the first core ETP report for three years following a revamp of the series – analyses more than 800 different technology options to assess what would need to happen to reach net-zero emissions by 2070 while ensuring a resilient and secure energy system.

It finds that transitioning just the power sector to clean energy would get the world only one-third of the way to net-zero emissions. Completing the journey will require devoting far more attention to the transport, industry and buildings sectors, which today account for about 55% of CO2 emissions from the energy system. Much greater use of electricity in these sectors – for powering electric vehicles, recycling metals, heating buildings and many other tasks – can make the single largest contribution to reaching net-zero emissions, according to the report, although many more technologies will be needed.

“Despite the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 crisis, several recent developments give us grounds for increasing optimism about the world’s ability to accelerate clean energy transitions and reach its energy and climate goals. Still, major issues remain. This new IEA report not only shows the scale of the challenge but also offers vital guidance for overcoming it,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director.

“Solar is leading renewables to new heights in markets across the globe, ultralow interest rates can help finance a growing number of clean energy projects, more governments and companies are throwing their weight behind these critical technologies, and all-important energy innovation may be about to take off,” Dr Birol said. “However, we need even more countries and businesses to get on board, we need to redouble efforts to bring energy access to all those who currently lack it, and we need to tackle emissions from the vast amounts of existing energy infrastructure in use worldwide that threaten to put our shared goals out of reach.”

Energy Technology Perspectives 2020 (ETP 2020) examines how to address the challenge of long-lasting energy assets already operating around the world – including inefficient coal power plants, steel mills and cement kilns, most of which were recently built in emerging Asian economies and could operate for decades to come. It finds that the power sector and heavy industry sectors together account for about 60% of emissions today from existing energy infrastructure. That share climbs to nearly 100% in 2050 if no action is taken to manage the existing assets’ emissions, underscoring the need for the rapid development of technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture.

Ensuring that new clean energy technologies are available in time for key investment decisions will be critical. In heavy industries, for example, strategically timed investments could help avoid around 40% of cumulative emissions from existing infrastructure in these sectors. Accelerated innovation is crucial for this – and for scaling up the clean energy technologies needed across the energy system.

Hydrogen is expected to play a large and varied role in helping the world reach net-zero emissions by forming a bridge between the power sector and industries where the direct use of electricity would be challenging, such as steel and shipping. In the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario – a pathway for reaching international energy and climate goals – the global capacity of electrolysers, which produce hydrogen from water and electricity, expands to 3 300 gigawatts in 2070, from 0.2 gigawatts today. In 2070, these electrolysers consume twice the amount of electricity that China generates today. Carbon capture is also employed across a range of sectors in the Sustainable Development Scenario, including the production of synthetic fuels and some low-carbon hydrogen. And modern bioenergy directly replaces fossil fuels in areas like transport and offsets emissions indirectly through its combined use with carbon capture.

The blistering pace of technological transformation that would be necessary for the world to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 is explored in the report’s Faster Innovation Case. It finds that to meet the huge increase in demand for electricity, additions of renewable power capacity would need to average around four times the current annual record, which was reached in 2019.

Governments need to play an outsized role in accelerating clean energy transitions towards meeting international goals, according to ETP 2020. The report highlights core areas that policy makers need to make sure they address. And it notes that economic stimulus measures in response to the Covid-19 crisis offer a key opportunity to take urgent action that could boost the economy while supporting clean energy and climate goals.

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IEA holds talks with China on a roadmap for reaching its 2060 carbon-neutrality goal

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IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol held a productive meeting on 19 November with Mr Huang Runqiu, Minister of Ecology and Environment of China to discuss how the IEA can support China achieve its energy and climate ambitions, including the goal of reaching carbon neutrality before 2060.

The IEA welcomes the opportunity to support China in its development of an ambitious and realistic roadmap and policies for achieving a peak in emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060. The IEA input is expected to draw on its policy expertise on emissions trading system implementation and critical technologies such as renewables and carbon capture, utilisation and storage.

The Chinese government is currently developing its 14th Five Year Plan, which will shape its economic policies over the first half of the coming decade, which will be a critical period for global efforts to tackle climate change. The new Five Year Plan is set to strengthen previous policies to further reduce CO2 emissions in line with China’s aim of achieving a peak in emissions before 2030. Measures are expected to include accelerating the implementation of a national emissions trading system, ramping up innovation in low-carbon technologies and increasing climate change capacity building.

At the bilateral meeting, Dr Birol underscored that a key challenge for China is to design a roadmap and energy policies that simultaneously put it on a path towards its carbon neutrality goal while also supporting the country’s continued economic development. He noted that the 14th Five Year Plan will be very important not just for China, but also for the world.

Minister Huang highlighted President Xi Jinping of China’s emphasis on the need for green, low-carbon industries, which he views as a necessary component of the high quality economic development that China is pursuing.

The IEA and the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment signed their first Memorandum of Understing on Climate Change Cooperation on July 2018, laying solid foundations for future colloboration. Both organisations have agreed to continue under this framework and work on a wide-range of areas spanning energy development, clean energy transitions and climate change. 

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Boosting Offshore Renewable Energy for a Climate Neutral Europe

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To help meet the EU’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050, the European Commission today presents the EU Strategy on Offshore Renewable Energy. The Strategy proposes to increase Europe’s offshore wind capacity from its current level of 12 GW to at least 60 GW by 2030 and to 300 GW by 2050. The Commission aims to complement this with 40 GW of ocean energy and other emerging technologies such as floating wind and solar by 2050.

This ambitious growth will be based on the vast potential across all of Europe’s sea basins and on the global leadership position of EU companies in the sector. It will create new opportunities for industry, generate green jobs across the continent, and strengthen the EU’s global leadership in offshore energy technologies. It will also ensure the protection of our environment, biodiversity and fisheries.

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans said: “Today’s strategy shows the urgency and opportunity of ramping up our investment in offshore renewables. With our vast sea basins and industrial leadership, the European Union has all that it needs to rise up to the challenge. Already, offshore renewable energy is a true European success story. We aim to turn it into an even greater opportunity for clean energy, high quality jobs, sustainable growth, and international competitiveness.”

Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, said: “Europe is a world leader in offshore renewable energy and can become a powerhouse for its global development. We must step up our game by harnessing all the potential of offshore wind and by advancing other technologies such as wave, tidal and floating solar. This Strategy sets a clear direction and establishes a stable framework, which are crucial for public authorities, investors and developers in this sector. We need to boost the EU’s domestic production to achieve our climate targets, feed the growing electricity demand and support the economy in its post-Covid recovery.

Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: “Today’s strategy outlines how we can develop offshore renewable energy in combination with other human activities, such as fisheries, aquaculture or shipping, and in harmony with nature. The proposals will also allow us to protect biodiversity and to address possible socio-economic consequences for sectors relying on good health of marine ecosystems, thus promoting a sound coexistence within the maritime space.”

To promote the scale-up of offshore energy capacity, the Commission will encourage cross-border cooperation between Member States on long term planning and deployment. This will require integrating offshore renewable energy development objectives in the National Maritime Spatial Plans which coastal states are due to submit to the Commission by March 2021. The Commission will also propose a framework under the revised TEN-E Regulation for long-term offshore grid planning, involving regulators and the Member States in each sea basin.

The Commission estimates that investment of nearly €800 billion will be needed between now and 2050 to meet its proposed objectives. To help generate and unleash this investment, the Commission will:

  • Provide a clear and supportive legal framework. To this end, the Commission today also clarified the electricity market rules in an accompanying Staff Working Document and will assess whether more specific and targeted rules are needed. The Commission will ensure that the revisions of the State aid guidelines on energy and environmental protection and of the Renewable Energy Directive will facilitate cost-effective deployment of renewable offshore energy.
  • Help mobilise all relevant funds to support the sector’s development. The Commission encourages Member States to use the Recovery and Resilience Facility and work together with the European Investment Bank and other financial institutions to support investments in offshore energy through InvestEU. Horizon Europe funds will be mobilised to support research and development, particularly in less mature technologies.
  • Ensure a strengthened supply chain. The Strategy underlines the need to improve manufacturing capacity and port infrastructure and to increase the appropriately skilled workforce to sustain higher installation rates. The Commission plans to establish a dedicated platform on offshore renewables within the Clean Energy Industrial Forum to bring together all actors and address supply chain development.

Offshore renewable energy is a rapidly growing global market, notably in Asia and the United States, and provides opportunities for EU industry around the world. Through its Green Deal diplomacy, trade policy and the EU’s energy dialogues with partner countries, the Commission will support global uptake of these technologies.

To analyse and monitor the environmental, social and economic impacts of offshore renewable energy on the marine environment and the economic activities that depend on it, the Commission will regularly consult a community of experts from public authorities, stakeholders and scientists. Today, the Commission has also adopted a new guidance document on wind energy development and EU nature legislation.

Background

Offshore wind produces clean electricity that competes with, and sometimes is cheaper than, existing fossil fuel-based technology. European industries are fast developing a range of other technologies to harness the power of our seas for producing green electricity. From floating offshore wind, to ocean energy technologies such as wave and tidal, floating photovoltaic installations and the use of algae to produce biofuels, European companies and laboratories are currently at the forefront. 

The Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy sets the highest deployment ambition for offshore wind turbines (both fixed-bottom and floating), where commercial activity is well advanced. In these sectors, Europe has already gained unrivalled technological, scientific and industrial experience and strong capacity already exists across the supply chain, from manufacturing to installation.

While the Strategy underlines the opportunities across all of the EU’s sea basins – the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic – and for certain coastal and island communities, the benefits of these technologies are not limited to coastal regions. The Strategy highlights a broad range of inland areas where manufacturing and research is already supporting offshore energy development.

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The East African Rift: Realising the Region’s Geothermal Potential

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photo: IRENA

The East African Rift System (EARS) is one of the largest rifts in the world. Characterised by a spreading crust, the tectonically active region spans 6,400 kilometres in length and up to 64 kilometres in width and runs through several countries in Eastern Africa.

The geological attributes of the EARS make it so rich in geothermal energy resources that – if harnessed – could provide a reliable, affordable and indigenous source of renewable energy to help meet the electricity requirements and direct use needs of several countries in the region.

Harnessing these resources by overcoming the challenges faced by the geothermal sector across the region can improve energy access substantially and help governments meet the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the climate objectives set out by the Paris Agreement.

A new report published by IRENA, Geothermal Energy Development in Eastern Africa, finds that the geothermal potential of the East African Rift has been largely unrealised due to various challenges that have contributed to the slow development of projects in the region for decades. The report identifies a need for adequate policies and regulatory regimes to increase the flow of geothermal investments into the region.

The new report highlights that the limited awareness about the region’s geothermal resource potential and the associated benefits, especially about direct use applications, such as in agriculture and food processing, may be contributing to slow development. In addition, current risk mitigation instruments and incentives fail to cover direct use projects.

Furthermore, the report identifies the lack of adequately skilled, local geothermal workforce in most of the countries of the EARS and limited understanding of the Western branch’s geology (until recently) as barriers to the industry’s development.

The EARS consist of two branches – an eastern branch and western branch. The eastern branch extends from the main Ethiopian Rift (Djibouti, Ethiopia and Eritrea) through Kenya into northern Tanzania. In contrast, the western branch extends from northern Uganda through Rwanda, DRC, Burundi, southern Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique.

Currently, only about 900 MW of installed geothermal electricity capacity exists in the region, with power plants in Ethiopia and Kenya while other countries are either at the surface exploration stage or exploration drilling stage. Developers in countries of the EARS have been predominantly focused on electricity generation from high-temperature fields. However, the high-temperature resources occur only in isolated places with central volcanos and within only a few countries of the eastern branch of EARS.

On the other hand, low to medium temperature resources (<150 degrees Celsius) are more common, occurring mainly in the western branch and within large sections of the rift floor between the central volcanoes. Thanks to the development of binary cycle technology, in which geothermal fluid is used via heat exchangers to heat a process fluid in a closed loop, medium temperature fields can be used for electricity generation or for combined heat and power. The direct use of these geothermal sources could support industrialisation and transform the region’s countries from a socio-economic development perspective.

Building on the analysis of experiences in Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, IRENA’s report offers recommendations that can fast-track the deployment of geothermal energy in the region for power and direct use, including through:

  • Improving Policies and regulatory framework through transparent, clear, and predictable licensing and administrative procedures to attract geothermal developers and investors.
  • Developing new and innovative financing schemes to support the existing financing and risk mitigation instruments.
  • Creating awareness on the potential for direct use and associated benefits among decision-makers, communities, and industries.
  • Developing geothermal heat roadmaps with clear targets, as well as financial incentives to support the development of direct use projects.
  • Applying appropriate exploration techniques for geothermal resources in the Western branch of the East African Rift with a focus on discovering geothermal reservoirs along fault planes and shallow depth.
  • Focusing training and capacity building for public institutions more on mentoring support through on-the-job training to impart technical skills and commercial knowledge and support decision-making.

Read the Geothermal Energy Development in Eastern Africa report.

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