IEA: Solar a leader, but clean energy progress has "stalled"

Overall, the IEA finds that the "drive to clean up the world’s energy system has stalled." At the Clean Energy Ministerial held in New Delhi today, IEA executive director, Maria van der Hoeven stated, "Despite much talk by world leaders, and despite a boom in renewable energy over the last decade, the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago."

In its progress report, the IEA goes on to say that the average unit of energy produced today is "basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago." At 2.37 tons of CO2 per ton of oil equivalent (tCO2/toe), the IEA’s new Energy Sector Carbon Intensity Index (ESCII) – which aims to show how much carbon dioxide is emitted, on average, to provide a given unit of energy – is said to have "barely moved" since 1990, which, estimates the ESCII, stood at 2.39 tCO2/toe.

Despite this, the agency says that both renewable energy and emerging country efforts are "lights in the dark as progress on clean energy remains far below a 2°C pathway." The report’s authors go on to note that photovoltaics supplied 42% of the new renewables capacity added worldwide in 2012, ahead of wind, which supplied 19%.

And, although global investment in renewables in 2012, an estimated US$270 billion, fell 11% on a record-breaking 2011, the IEA says the level of investment is still in line with the estimates of their 2 degree temperature rise scenario.

The 2 degree benchmark requires renewables to supply 20% of the world’s electricity generation by 2010, 28% by 2020 and 57% by 2050. Of that, solar is predicted to supply only 2%, lagging behind hydro (17%), wind (6%), and biomass and waste (3%).

Recommendations

In its recommendations to government, the IEA report calls for more investment in smart grids, transmission, flexible generation and storage infrastructure and technologies. The clean energy tracker report says regional action in this respect is more effective than national policy, but cites Ireland as possibly "the best current example of an integrated approach for providing the flexibility needed to support ambitious deployment targets of variable renewables."

The report’s authors also call for governments across the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and south east Asia to do more to drive the uptake of renewables.

Electric-hybrid and fully electric vehicles were the only other area the IEA says is meeting 2 degree targets, with more than 1.2 million hybrid vehicles sold in 2012 and electric vehicle (EV) sales topping 100,000.

The IEA report adds that government must do more to support EV and hybrid uptake through policies, such as dedicated lanes and priority parking, as well as adding recharging infrastructure, investing in R&D to reduce battery costs and purchasing public and private EV and hybrid fleets.

The smart grids segment was rated amber, indicating progress. However, the IEA says more needs to be done to meet 2 degree targets. Data and the processing of the vast amounts generated in smart grid systems is critical to their implementation, states the report, which calls for policies to allay privacy and data security fears among users. It goes on to cite Korea and Italy as good examples of efforts to introduce the practical sharing of smart grids.

The other amber areas looked at by the report are gas-fired power, industry and fuel economy. According to the IEA, the rise of coal-fired power means it is an area that is falling short of 2 degree targets along with nuclear power, CCS, biofuels and energy efficient buildings.

Across the board the IEA called for a much higher proportion of governmental R&D.

Edited by Becky Beetz.