The Tokyo Olympics, assuming they go ahead later this month, will be powered by a fuel with ambition – hydrogen. The Olympic flame is already burning it. The Olympic village will be powered by hydrogen made at a solar power plant in the exclusion zone created after the Fukushima nuclear accident a decade ago. Toyota’s Mirai cars, which run on hydrogen-fuel cells, will provide most of the Games’ official transport.
“The 1964 Tokyo Olympics left the Shinkansen high-speed train system as its legacy. The upcoming Olympics will leave a hydrogen society as its legacy,” Yoichi Masuzoe, then governor of Tokyo, declared in 2016.
Japan, once a passionate advocate of nuclear energy, now has serious hydrogen ambitions. The country has the world’s largest network of hydrogen filling stations. It is planning to replace fossil fuels with hydrogen in heavy industries such as steel-making. And it has a head start in organising imports of the fuel. In 2019, Kawasaki Heavy Industries launched the Suiso Frontier, the world’s first ship designed to carry liquefied hydrogen. It aims to tap promised Australian hydrogen production. https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/6665561/embed
Neighbouring South Korea has similar plans. In March this year, car-maker Hyundai, the SK Group conglomerate and others announced a US$38-billion project to develop a hydrogen-based economy in the coming decade.
Wide-spread use of hydrogen, it if really happens, will have been a long time coming. The first hydrogen-powered engine was working as long ago as 1807, and people were proposing making hydrogen by electrolysing water, to replace coal as early as the 1860s. But coal and oil were always cheaper. And the Hindenburg disaster, when a hydrogen-filled airship exploded in 1937, gave the fuel a reputation as unsafe.
There is talk that a global “hydrogen economy” can emerge to save the climate from carbon emissions. Hydrogen could power trucks, ships and planes and be used to produce everything from cement to steel and fertiliser. Saehoon Kim, the head of Hyundai’s fuel cell division told a British trade association webinar last year: “In the past, our technology and industry was all about collecting oil, delivering oil and using oil. And now, in the future, it will be collecting sunshine, delivering sunshine and using sunshine – and what will make that possible is hydrogen.”
Others are much more sceptical. “It is only ever going to be a niche energy source,” said Tom Baxter, a chemical engineer at the University of Aberdeen.
With current technology, hydrogen has an advantage for fuelling industrial processes where temperatures above 400C are required, Baxter added. But otherwise, green hydrogen will usually lose out to electricity where the latter can do the job. “Green hydrogen can never be cheaper than the green electricity needed to make it,” he said.
Grey, green or blue?
Hydrogen is rarely burned directly as a fuel source. Instead it is used as a carrier of energy, made where cheap energy is available for manufacture and shipping round the world to where it is needed. Usually that means in a fuel cell inside a vehicle engine, where the gas is mixed with oxygen, releasing its energy and emitting only water vapour.
In the past two years, electric cars have stolen a march on hydrogen, with most major car makers bringing out models and some, like General Motors, promising to manufacture only electric vehicles within 15 years. They have government backing too, with heavy spending on recharging networks. But for other fossil-fuel guzzling transport systems which cannot easily plug into the mains, such as long-distance shipping and aviation, hydrogen may turn out to be the key to lowering carbon emissions.
The gas contains more energy for every tonne than any fossil fuel, and avoids the need for batteries. But manufacturing it takes a lot of electricity. So it is only as climate friendly as the energy used to produce it. Engineers thus distinguish between grey, blue and green hydrogen. Grey is made from natural gas or coal, and has a large carbon footprint. Blue is also made from fossil fuels but the carbon dioxide emissions are captured or re-used. Green is from renewable electricity and need have no carbon footprint at all.
Right now, grey hydrogen is cheapest and the predominant type for industrial uses. China produces around a third of the world’s hydrogen, largely from lignite coal. Russia is working on plans to use its abundant gas reserves to produce grey and blue hydrogen. To be a viable climate-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, manufacturers would have to capture the CO2 generated during production and bury it out of harm’s way. However, carbon capture and storage (CCS) is still very much work in progress.
Baxter, of the University of Aberdeen, said fossil fuel companies are behind the push to promote hydrogen as an alternative to electricity for everything from vehicle fuel to home heating. Oil giant BP is considering plans for a blue hydrogen plant on Teesside in England that it says would capture and store the resulting CO2 emissions underground.
In their long-term plans, major oil companies are looking at hydrogen as a potential source of income, once demand for petrol and diesel starts petering out. Their move towards alternative fuels has been painfully slow. BP will make a final investment decision on Teeside only in three years’ time and it doesn’t expect to start actual construction before 2027 – three years before all new cars in the UK are expected to be electric.
“For the moment, fossil fuels are cheaper and much more widely available than hydrogen. This comes in part because of large government subsidies across the globe which amount to US$400 billion. If those subsidies were removed, alternative fuels like hydrogen would stand a better chance of becoming widely adopted,” said Seifi Ghasemi, chief executive of US industrial gas company Air Products at a BNEF conference in New York this year.
The real prize, if the world is serious about developing a low-carbon hydrogen economy, would have to be the mass production of green hydrogen. Some countries already see themselves as potentially the “Saudi Arabia of hydrogen”, mass producing the fuel using cheap renewable energy. Among them are Canada and Iceland, which both have abundant hydroelectricity that could help manufacture it. Iceland also has geothermal energy. Morocco is rapidly developing solar power in the Sahara desert and has designs on hydrogen production.
Saudi Arabia has its own plans. The country recently announced that, with Air Products, it is building a US$5-billion green hydrogen plant along the shore of the Red Sea. A vast estate of solar panels and wind turbines will eventually cover a patch of desert the size of Belgium, powering what would be the world’s biggest hydrogen factory. Production is set to begin in 2025.
The project would be part of the proposed eco-city of Neom, a scheme of the country’s de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman. Besides supplying the eco-city, the hydrogen would be exported, one day replacing Saudi oil with Saudi hydrogen on world markets.
Neighbouring Oman has plans to go even bigger. Its proposed US$30-billion hydrogen plant on the shores of the Arabian Sea would export both green hydrogen and “green ammonia”, to replace fossil-fuel produced chemical fertilisers.
Australia has similarly ambitious plans for five giant “hydrogen hubs”. Last year it said it would turn an area of desert more than twice the size of Luxembourg in Western Australia into a green hydrogen production facility, with 10 million solar panels and 1,500 wind turbines.
The project is currently on hold after blueprints were rejected by ministers in June because of threats to biodiversity, but may ultimately go ahead. Meanwhile, there are plans for another green-hydrogen hub in Hunter Valley, a region of coal fields in New South Wales, as well as a grey hydrogen scheme, using lignite in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria. All aim at exporting to Japan and elsewhere in Asia.
Who will create the Tesla of the skies?
Aviation may be the biggest prize. Airbus, the world’s second largest plane maker, last year unveiled plans for three different zero-emission “concept” hydrogen planes that it says could be in service by 2035. Meanwhile, California start-up ZeroAvia has a six-seater research plane already running on hydrogen. It took off for the first time from the UK’s Cranfield airport last autumn. The plane crashed in a field in April, but nobody was hurt, and it could yet become the Tesla of the skies. “A substantial reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is almost impossible without hydrogen,” says Christian Bauer of the Paul Scherrer Institute, a Swiss engineering research centre. “I’d say that within the next ten years, we will see substantial developments here.”
Other deals between potential suppliers and major markets are proliferating. Danish wind-power company Orsted has signed a deal with Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping carrier, and Scandinavian Airlines to use offshore wind generated in the North Sea to produce green hydrogen for buses and trucks in the Copenhagen area from 2023, with ships and aircraft to follow.
Will all this happen? Sceptics say creating global supply chains to manufacture, ship and deliver hydrogen is too cumbersome and inefficient, especially when the infrastructure would have to be built from scratch. By some counts, around two-thirds of the energy would be lost along the way.
“Efficiency losses happen both on the supply side, in the production process of the hydrogen-based fuels, and on the demand side – a combustion engine wastes a lot more energy than an electrical one,” said Romain Sacchi, a colleague of Christian Bauer at the Paul Scherrer Institute. Even so, hydrogen could work for freight transport over long distances, Bauer told China Dialogue: “A large truck today would need to be equipped with a battery weighing a few tonnes to travel more than a hundred kilometres.”
Hydrogen’s availability is “too uncertain to broadly replace fossil fuels, for instance in cars or heating houses,” according to Falko Ueckerdt of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The world should instead prioritise applications for which hydrogen is indispensable as a source of low-carbon energy, he says. Hydrogen could be used to remove the hardest 10% or so of carbon emissions, as the world targets zero emissions.
“Primary steel and ammonia production are sensible entry points for green hydrogen,” he says. In both cases, the hydrogen can replace fossil fuels as an essential part of the process, as well as providing energy.
But he warns that rising demand for hydrogen in areas such as heating buildings could give an advantage to cheap blue hydrogen and create a “fossil-fuel lock-in that endangers climate targets.”
Fuels based on hydrogen as a universal climate solution might be a bit of false promise. “While they’re wonderfully versatile, it should not be expected that they broadly replace fossil fuels,” argued Ueckerdt.
“The hydrogen economy can establish itself only if it makes sense energetically. Otherwise, better solutions will conquer the market. Infrastructures exist for almost any synthetic liquid hydrocarbon, while hydrogen requires a totally new distribution network,” argued Ulf Bossel, a fuel cell consultant and Baldur Eliasson, researcher for ABB Switzerland, in a white paper on the hydrogen economy.
Hydrogen-based fuels will likely be scarce and not competitive for at least another decade.
From our partner China dialogue
The Nuclear State without Nuclear: Nuclear Energy Tragedy pertaining Indian Regional Development
India’s national energy policy is heavily dependent on fossil fuel consumption to attain its energy demands; around 70 percent of the energy requirements are overwhelmingly met by coal, where the share of nuclear power is below 3 percent. Coal is essential for baseload in electrification, and the production of steel and significant industries thrive on coal consumption alone. In the year 2020-21, India produced 716 million tons of coal, nearly two times higher compared to 2011-12, when India produced 431 million tons to supply the ever-growing demand for power. Despite such enormous production, India is one of the largest coal importers. Not alone, the coal simultaneously India dependence on oil imports, according to reports, stood at 76 percent, which is predicted to surge up to severe levels by 2040.
Despite the heavy reliance on fossil fuels and the fact that India maintained its carbon emissions level below (” emissions per capita, total or kWh produced”) the Paris agreement 2015 levels, meticulous analysis reveals that the carbon emission level of India has risen by 200 percent since 1990. Climate change affects the agrarian sector, which makes up about 42 percent of India’s workforce, pushing it under the blade of job cuts if the water scarcity gets severe; it also threatens the inhabitants of hilly areas whose employment is dependent on the mesmeric mountains tourism. The scope of development of any region in this modern world significantly relies on the consumption of power to run factories, lighten up houses, and fast irrigation systems in farms for large quantities of production.
India’s current electricity distribution has 371.054 GW GRIDs, divided into five regions Northern, Eastern, Western, North Eastern, and Southern; seventeen percent of this electric GRID is exercised by the agriculture sector, where the commercial agencies use 48 percent. With the emerging depletion of fossil fuels, nuclear power adoption, along with other clean energy power sources, is considered one of the priorities of the Indian government.
However, reports depicted that those policies’ effects are not present on the ground, where nuclear energy contributes merely three percent to the total energy production. The nuclear proportion in China’s energy production is four times greater than India’s; India must adapt to the nuclearization of India’s rural area, paving the way for future growth. The recent enclosure of twenty-five-year-old coal plants in India reflects a minor contribution concerning carbon emissions reduction. At the same time, the consequence brought India into the coal crisis in the northern region.
Rural backwardness constitutes the majority due to the low electricity consumption, whose reasons are ample, sometimes due to geographical limitations and atmospheric restrictions, especially in hilly areas. The electric GRID distribution and maintenance could be better, where the electricity surplus is concentrated in a few sectors based in metro cities. During the Covid Preventive lockdown, seventy percent of power consumption drop in rural India has been noticed; this development questions India’s energy policies which heavily relied upon fossil fuels for energy production. Four states, named Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Madhya Pradesh, comprise 550 million tons of coal, equivalent to 75-80 percent of coal consumption. The argument in favor of coal is due to its cost-effectiveness and availability.
Another reason for low rural development is the GRID-electrification system, being the primary source of power supply in the rural household, reported monthly energy consumption of 39 kWh, half of India’s national energy consumption average, which is a significant obstacle to the adoption of modern technology for overall growth in rural areas. The reason is not alone political but mismanagement of electricity distribution. As the question of this paper addressed, Why Nuclear? Why not other sources of non-Fossil fuels energy?
For example, the number of atoms of Uranium 235 per kilogram is 2.564×1024 releasing the energy per gram is around 2.29×104 kWh. [Dr S.N Ghosal, Nuclear Physics]. Thermal plants produce the same energy after running for 229 hours at the capacity of 1 MW. When one kilogram of coal burns, it generates 8.926 kWh after exhausting the total mass of 2.56×103 kg. The above estimates demonstrate the advantage of using uranium for power generation.
However, the nuclear economic constraint unrevealed the enormous cost comes alongside Nuclear Power Plant projects, especially the cost of 1000 megawatts generation is around 5500 dollars, whereas natural gas provides the same quantity of energy for under 1000 dollars; the construction durations refrain policymakers to entertain the nuclear reactor as a feasible power generation source where it takes around seven years to complete and 15-16 years to breakeven.
Nuclear dependency globally was now 10 percent, peaked at 17.7 in 1996, and this is the second obstacle for nuclear energy globally. However, India’s view, contrary to the other nations, being the largest reserve of Thorium, gives an upper hand to maximize energy production by establishing thorium reactors which are undergoing the three-stage plan. Besides thorium reactors, SMRs are in consideration, especially the recent development in the USA where private firm Nu Scale advanced to develop the Small Modular Nuclear Reactor with the capacity of generating 50 Megawatts, which is not par to the level of traditional reactors but corresponds to the resilience it could provide electrifying those lands where electric GRIDs yet not connected. The rural area primarily benefits from such development as such modules are self-sustainable, where the reliance will be on water recycling, limiting water misuse.
The case of Jadugoda was an infamous case where Uranium plant radiation contributed to severe health deterioration, highlighted by Kyoto university research. Radiation is one of the critical issues alongside nuclear waste, which hinders nuclear energy’s ability to obtain massive consent, especially in rural areas.
Other Renewable sources talking about Hydropower, India has 18 pressurized heavy water reactors in operation, with another four projects launched totaling 2.8 GW capacity. India 2019 took over Japan, becoming the fifth-largest hydropower producer generating 162.10 TWh from 50 TWH installed capacity. Close to 100 hydropower currents are used, contributing around twelve percent to the total power generation. The procedure of hydropower generation emphasizes water flow tremendously; without the fast running, the water plant will be defunct and fail to produce power. This forces the policymakers to ignore the natural effects on the regions of the water flow is adequate.
Climate change models are clear about the cascading impacts of global warming trends on the glaciers of the Himalayas, the primary source of water in the region that sustains the drainage network within the mountain chain. The current hydro onslaught in the Himalayas deliberately ignores contentious externalities such as social displacement, ecological impacts, and environmental and technological risks. In the rural areas, if the regions do not have such a large flow of water, it will discourage the policy marker from implementing it even if one state possesses water, it will obstruct the construction of such projects because of shortage of water and possibly drainage hindering to fulfill the critical water needs, especially in the Punjab region.
Wind energy mechanical power through wind turbines as of 28 February 2021, India installed wind power capacity was 38.789 GW, the world’s fourth largest installed wind power capacity. Like hydropower, nature requires to perform its task where the wind flow determines the total power production. If a region is not naturally gifted, then feasibility is under question.
The last alternative Fossil fuel, which is heavily praised by the young generation, is solar energy. The country currently has 44.3 GW installed capacity as of 31 August 2021, where solar energy has the potential to generate electricity for rural areas and simultaneously reduce Fossil fuels consumption. The New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) expected “the total investment for upgrading to 100 GW solar power capacity cost around $94 billion. The cost-efficiency factor is a plus point of solar energy. However, the pace still needs to catch up in the quest to replace conventional sources of energy.
The fossil fuels burned by the factories in the urban areas are the primary power contributor supplying power to the rural areas. This system heavily depends on the GRIDs vulnerable to atmospheric shifts such as storms.
Moreover, even a minor breakdown might defuse the electricity power supply GRIDs for days, if not weeks. To tackle these issues, Portable Nuclear plants could be set up to give the villagers access to electricity without interruption. The reduction of size assists the government official in planning the safety strategy more swiftly simultaneously; cost efficiency is another factor where a policymaker can cut factory expenses.
Figure 1 GRID-level system costs for dispatch able and renewable technologies Materials requirement for various electricity generation technologies (source: US Department of Energy)
Figure 1 deciphers the cost relationship enabling us to comprehend the long-term financial cost when the connection cost among other eco-friendly energy sources is too high compared to fossil fuels. Nuclear energy outperforms all existing energy sources considered eco-friendly in connection cost and balancing cost. This development also illustrates that the factories lean more towards fossil fuels because of the low cost. However, economically speaking, the employment of such industries could be more sustainable in the long term.
The Photovoltaic, Hydro, and onshore alternatives, well-established sources of energy production, are not that reliable, and variation in power generation discourages them from being considered a superior replacement.
Solar is affordable but unreliable because intermittency issues require storing backup, and the production depends mainly upon the sun, like the wind, for turbine energy. In contrast, coal requires man labor to extract from the mines and ignite it to produce energy if we consider the process in abstraction. The case of nuclear is different nuclear energy do rely on 239 Uranium and 242 Plutonium, in some cases 232 Thorium to attain the level where power could be generated, and uranium, to be precise, is scared in quantity to solve the enormous issue Enrico Fermi already in the 1940s, stated that nuclear reactors operating with ‘fast’ neutron are capable to fission not only the rare isotope U-235 which indicates towards A fast-neutron reactor.
The Covid and Rural development
During the lockdown, seventy percent of the power consumption drop in rural India has been noticed; this development questions India’s energy policies which heavily relied upon fossil fuels for energy production. The GRID-electrification, the primary source of power supply in the rural household, reported monthly energy consumption of 39 kWh half of India’s national energy consumption average, which is a significant obstacle to the adoption of modern technology for overall growth in rural areas. A significant downfall has been noticed in the employment sector, tabled whether it could replace fossil fuel, which constitutes a significant number in employing rural workers.
Deloitte’s study of the European nuclear industry suggested that nuclear provides more jobs per TWh of electricity generated than any other clean energy source. According to the report, the nuclear industry sustains more than 1.1 million jobs in the European Union. Aggressive promotion of nuclear energy will impact all other fields, such as education, the health sector, and employment. Running a conventional reactor requires a team who can resolve the complex task; however, if the reactor is small and portable, the operation fixations reduce significantly.
Providing adequate function training will become the source of employment while reducing fissile fuel dependency. At the same time, nuclear reactors require sophisticated hands to run the function, which could reduce the unemployment created by fossil fuel industries in response to a carbon tax or depletion of fuels, more precisely, a severe rise in fuel prices.
Although the enormous potential for nuclear energy possesses few areas that are still vulnerable whose exploitation might invite catastrophic such as the illegal transfer of nuclear energy by non-state actors, one of the critical issues India is facing is news of uranium confiscations currently haunts the world that India security vulnerability enabled the private persons to have a hand over fissile materials, the other issue that should be considered is the maintenance of nuclear plants Chornobyl is an excellent example of what extend of potential a nuclear disaster possesses still in several regions in Ukraine radiation exist. [Barry W. Brook, “Why nuclear energy is sustainable and has to be part of the energy mix”].
India needs to accelerate the nuclear problem while strictly abiding by the security norms of the nuclear policy widely accepted as a nuclear safety benchmark. Meltdown, Hazardous nuclear waste and maintenance predominated the circle of nuclear crisis (except France and Sweden, as a significant proportion of electricity generation depends on nuclear plants); currently, SMR is echoing to minimize such externalities; however, the effectiveness of such small module reactors must be scrutinized under tests before it could be considered as a genuine alternative to traditional reactors.
Nuclear energy is far superior to other fossil fuel energy alternatives. However, the low adaption is one of the critical issues that require tackling by incentivizing the research to develop several small scales portable nuclear reactor modules that stand on the international security parameters and simultaneously ensure a low probability of accidents. The employment prospect from nuclear reactors is enormous, and as the depletion of fossil fuel takes place could become the most employment service-providing sector.
Two types of reactors are mainly highlighted first is a conventional nuclear reactor, and the second is portable nuclear reactors; government, in the long term, must concentrate on building small-scale reactors so cost efficiency will favor the rural people. Nuclear energy is a multi-sectoral project where the industries and the household will have greater access to electricity, but the complexity of reactor management advances specialization in education. Such problems are vital if India has any dream of total nuclearization.
Azerbaijan seeks to become the green energy supplier of the EU
Recently, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Hungary and Romania signed an agreement to build a strategic partnership regarding green energy. According to the document of the text, these four countries will be working together to develop a 1,195 kilometer submarine power cable underneath the Black Sea, thus effectively creating an energy transmission corridor from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Romania and Hungary. For Europe, this is a golden opportunity that must be seized upon.
According to the International Monetary Fund, “Europe’s energy systems face an unprecedented crisis. Supplies of Russian gas—critical for heating, industrial processes and power—have been cut by more than 80 percent this year. Wholesale prices of electricity and gas have surged as much as 15-fold since early 2021, with severe effects for households and businesses. The problem could well worsen.”
For this reason, Europe should switch as soon as possible to green energy supplies, so that they will rely less upon Russian gas and oil in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. This will enable Europe to be energy independent and to fulfill its energy needs by relying upon better strategic partners, such as Azerbaijan, who are not hostile to Europe’s national security and the West more generally.
By having this submarine power cable underneath the Black Sea, Azerbaijan can supply not only Hungary and Romania with green energy, but the rest of Europe as well if the project is expanded. Israel, as a world leader in renewable energy, can also play a role in helping Azerbaijan become the green energy supplier of the EU, as the whole project requires Azerbaijan to obtain increased energy transmission infrastructure. Israel can help Azerbaijan obtain this energy transmission infrastructure, so that Azerbaijan can become Europe’s green energy supplier.
According to the Arava Institute of the Environment, “Israel, with its abundant renewable energy potential, in particular wind and solar, has excellent preconditions to embark on the pathway towards a 100% renewable energy system. Accordingly, Israel has already made considerable progress with regard to the development of renewable energy capacities.” The Israeli government has been pushing hard for a clean Israeli energy sector by 2030. Thus, Israel has the technical know-how needed to help Azerbaijan obtain the infrastructure that it needs to become the green energy supplier of Europe following the crisis in the Ukraine.
Given the environmental conditions present in Azerbaijan, which has an abundance of access to both solar and wind power, with Israeli technical assistance, Azerbaijan can help green energy be transported through pipelines and tankers throughout all of Europe, thus helping to end the energy crisis in the continent. In recent years, Europe has sought to shift away from oil and gas towards more sustainable energy.
With this recent agreement alongside other European policies, these efforts are starting to bear fruits. In 2021, more than 22% of the gross final energy consumed in Europe came from renewable energy. However, different parts of Europe have varying levels of success. For example, Sweden meets 60% of its energy needs via renewable energy, but Hungary only manages to utilize renewable energy between 10% and 15% of the time. Nevertheless, it is hoped that with this new submarine power cable underneath the Black Sea, these statistics will start to improve across the European Union and this will enable Europe to obtain true energy independence, free of Russian hegemony.
Energy Technology Perspectives 2023: Opportunities and emerging risks
The energy world is at the dawn of a new industrial age – the age of clean energy technology manufacturing – that is creating major new markets and millions of jobs but also raising new risks, prompting countries across the globe to devise industrial strategies to secure their place in the new global energy economy, according to a major new IEA report.
Energy Technology Perspectives 2023, the latest instalment in one of the IEA’s flagship series, serves as the world’s first global guidebook for the clean technology industries of the future. It provides a comprehensive analysis of global manufacturing of clean energy technologies today – such as solar panels, wind turbines, EV batteries, electrolysers for hydrogen and heat pumps – and their supply chains around the world, as well as mapping out how they are likely to evolve as the clean energy transition advances in the years ahead.
The analysis shows the global market for key mass-manufactured clean energy technologies will be worth around USD 650 billion a year by 2030 – more than three times today’s level – if countries worldwide fully implement their announced energy and climate pledges. The related clean energy manufacturing jobs would more than double from 6 million today to nearly 14 million by 2030 – and further rapid industrial and employment growth is expected in the following decades as transitions progress.
At the same time, the current supply chains of clean energy technologies present risks in the form of high geographic concentrations of resource mining and processing as well as technology manufacturing. For technologies like solar panels, wind, EV batteries, electrolysers and heat pumps, the three largest producer countries account for at least 70% of manufacturing capacity for each technology – with China dominant in all of them. Meanwhile, a great deal of the mining for critical minerals is concentrated in a small number of countries. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo produces over 70% of the world’s cobalt, and just three countries – Australia, Chile and China – account for more than 90% of global lithium production.
The world is already seeing the risks of tight supply chains, which have pushed up clean energy technology prices in recent years, making countries’ clean energy transitions more difficult and costly. Increasing prices for cobalt, lithium and nickel led to the first ever rise in EV battery prices, which jumped by nearly 10% globally in 2022. The cost of wind turbines outside China has also been rising after years of declines, and similar trends can be seen in solar PV.
“The IEA highlighted almost two years ago that a new global energy economy was emerging rapidly. Today, it has become a central pillar of economic strategy and every country needs to identify how it can benefit from the opportunities and navigate the challenges. We’re talking about new clean energy technology markets worth hundreds of billions of dollars as well as millions of new jobs,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “The encouraging news is the global project pipeline for clean energy technology manufacturing is large and growing. If everything announced as of today gets built, the investment flowing into manufacturing clean energy technologies would provide two-thirds of what is needed in a pathway to net zero emissions. The current momentum is moving us closer to meeting our international energy and climate goals – and there is almost certainly more to come.”
“At the same time, the world would benefit from more diversified clean technology supply chains,” Dr Birol added. “As we have seen with Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, when you depend too much on one company, one country or one trade route – you risk paying a heavy price if there is disruption. So, I’m pleased to see many economies around the world competing today to be leaders in the new energy economy and drive an expansion of clean technology manufacturing in the race to net zero. It’s important, though, that this competition is fair – and that there is a healthy degree of international collaboration, since no country is an energy island and energy transitions will be more costly and slow if countries do not work together.”
The report notes that major economies are acting to combine their climate, energy security and industrial policies into broader strategies for their economies. The Inflation Reduction Act in the United States is a clear example of this, but there is also the Fit for 55 package and REPowerEU plan in the European Union, Japan’s Green Transformation programme, and the Production Linked Incentive scheme in India that encourages manufacturing of solar PV and batteries – and China is working to meet and even exceed the goals of its latest Five-Year Plan.
Meanwhile, clean energy project developers and investors are watching closely for the policies that can give them a competitive edge. Relatively short lead times of around 1-3 years on average to bring manufacturing facilities online mean that the project pipeline can expand rapidly in an environment that is conducive to investment. Only 25% of the announced manufacturing projects globally for solar PV are under construction or beginning construction imminently, according to the report. The number is around 35% for EV batteries and less than 10% for electrolysers. Government policies and market developments can have a significant effect on where the rest of these projects end up.
Amid the regional ambitions for scaling up manufacturing, ETP-2023 underscores the important role of international trade in clean energy technology supply chains. It shows that nearly 60% of solar PV modules produced worldwide are traded across borders. Trade is also important for EV batteries and wind turbine components, despite their bulkiness, with China the main net exporter today.
The report also highlights the specific challenges related to the critical minerals needed for many clean energy technologies, noting the long lead times for developing new mines and the need for strong environmental, social and governance standards. Given the uneven geographic distribution of critical mineral resources, international collaboration and strategic partnerships will be crucial for ensuring security of supply.
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