While progress is being made on renewable energy, most clean energy technologies are not being deployed quickly enough, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Wednesday in an annual progress report presented to ministers and representatives of nations that together account for four-fifths of global energy demand.
The report, Tracking Clean Energy Progress, highlighted the rapid progress made in some renewable technologies, notably the solar panels easily installed by households and businesses (solar PV) and in onshore wind technologies. In fact, onshore wind has seen 27% average annual growth over the past decade, and solar PV has grown at 42%, albeit from a small base. Even more impressive is the 75% reduction in system costs for solar PV in as little as three years in some countries. This serves as evidence that rapid technology change is possible.
Unfortunately, however, the report concludes that most clean energy technologies are not on track to make their required contribution to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and thereby provide a more secure energy system.
“We have a responsibility and a golden opportunity to act,” said IEA Deputy Executive Director Ambassador Richard H Jones. “Energy-related CO2 emissions are at historic highs; under current policies, we estimate that energy use and CO2 emissions would increase by a third by 2020, and almost double by 2050. This would likely send global temperatures at least 6°C higher. Such an outcome would confront future generations with significant economic, environmental and energy security hardships – a legacy that I know none of us wishes to leave behind.”
The report, which Ambassador Jones presented at the third Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) in London, urges aggressive policy action to take full advantage of the benefits offered by clean energy technologies. In sounding the alarm over the report’s findings, Ambassador Jones stressed the positive role the CEM can play in improving the situation.
“The ministers meeting this week in London have an incredible opportunity before them,” he said. “It is my hope that they heed our warning of insufficient progress, and act to seize the security, economic and environmental benefits that a clean-energy transition can bring.”
The report notes that many technologies with great potential for energy and emissions savings are making halting progress at best. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is not seeing the necessary rates of investment to develop full-scale demonstration projects, and nearly half of new coal-fired power plants are still being built with inefficient technology. Vehicle fuel-efficiency improvement is slow, and significant untapped energy-efficiency potential remains in the building and industry sectors.
In addition, while government targets for electric vehicles (20 million by 2020) are ambitious, as are continued nuclear expansion plans in many countries, translating plans into reality is easier said than done. Manufacturers’ production targets for electric vehicles after 2014 are highly uncertain; and increasing public opposition to nuclear power is proving challenging to address.
The report offers three over-arching policy recommendations for changing this status quo and moving clean-energy technologies to the mainstream market:
- First, level the playing field for clean energy technologies. This means ensuring that energy prices reflect the “true cost” of energy – accounting for the positive and negative impacts of energy production and consumption;
- Second, unlock the potential of energy efficiency, the “hidden fuel” of the future. Making sure that energy is not wasted and that it is used in the best possible way is the most cost-effective action and must be the first step of any policy aimed at building a sustainable energy mix’
- Finally, accelerate energy innovation and public support for research, development and demonstration. This will help lay the groundwork for private sector innovation, and speed technologies to market.