Energy Watch Group releases PV graphics to again highlight IEA’s unrealistic renewable scenarios

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Following two scathing reports released in September, criticizing the IEA’s projections for consistently undermining the role of solar PV and wind, EWG has crunched the numbers to produce graphics highlighting just how far out the IEA’s projections for solar PV have been.

The group says that on the back of outdated data, the IEA, in its WEO2015 issued in November, failed to see solar’s market growth in 2014, and the newly added capacity record for this year, which it says was already apparent back in September.

"In particular, the IEA makes the highly unlikely assumption that the market growth for PV drops in 2014 and the annual added capacity remains lower than in 2013 for the next decades," states EWG. "For a still young world market, these are highly unlikely assumptions, which could only be conceivable if political decisions would regulate solar power as undesirable worldwide."

The first figure shows the annual market volume for solar PV. According to market analysts, between 55 and 60 GW are expected to be added this year, which was not mentioned by the IEA in its WEO, while forecasts are that growth will continue into the foreseeable future.

"At least until 2035, the annual added capacity rate of WEO 2015 ‘New Policies Scenario’ remains below the level of 2013," says EWG. It adds, "The required increased added capacity rate of the last five-year interval against the trend of previous years is implausible. This leads to the assumption that the IEA has not taken into account the need for repowering."

Meanwhile, the second figure shows the IEA’s solar PV added capacity scenario from its WEO2015, together with energy [r]evolution 2015, published by Greenpeace, GWEC and SPE, and the forecasts of Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), also published in 2015.

While the energy [r]evolution and BNEF scenarios forecast continued growth – the decline seen in the energy [r]evolution scenario from 2040 is based on the assumption the world has reached 100% renewables – the IEA projects flat lining added capacities, under those seen in 2014 and 2015. This is despite the continuation of decreasing solar PV and energy storage costs; and an expected divestment by financial investors away from traditional fossil fuels.

"This [the divestmnet] is partly because political blockades in Europe hinder a fundamental reform of the electricity market design, therefore only poor financial returns can be expected. Moreover in many parts of the world climate change is finally being taken seriously by an increasing number of financial investors and private investors concerned about the incalculable risk of nuclear power," states EWG.

"This liberated capital is increasingly being invested in renewable energies. Particularly in view of this very dynamic development for years, the IEA forecast for PV and other renewable energy sources appear incomprehensible."

Consistently unrealistic

On September 13, EWG released a report on the IEA, stating that the agency – influential with global energy policy makers – has consistently released unrealistic energy projections in its World Energy Outlook (WEO), particularly for solar PV and wind.

"The latest EWG study has proven that the IEA has been continuously publishing misleading projections on solar PV and wind energy in the past 10 years," it stated at the time, adding that "the decline in the expansion of wind and solar energy, projected by the WEO2015, is not correct."

Around a week later, on September 22, EWG released another study, completed together with Lappeenranta University of Technology, which concluded that between 1994 and 2014, the IEA has published "misleading" solar PV and wind projections. The study found that the 180 GW of solar PV which WEO 2010 projected would be installed in 2024, was already achieved in January 2015.

"The IEA has been holding back the global energy transition for years. The false WEO predictions lead to high investments in fossil and nuclear sector, hinder global development of renewable energy and undermine the global fight against climate change," president of EWG and former Member of the German Parliament, Hans-Josef Fell said following the release of the second report.

Wide criticism

EWG is not the only source of criticism against the IEA. Commenting on its low projections following the release of the WEO2015, author and technologist Ramez Naam told pv magazine, "This is another in a long run of extremely and unrealistically conservative reports from the IEA. IEA has a long history of drastically underestimating solar and wind. Every year, IEA’s finds that their previous forecasts were too low, and raises their new forecasts slightly, but not meaningfully. This year is nothing new."

Meanwhile, another report, Lost in Transition: How the energy sector is missing potential demand destruction, released in October, the Carbon Tracker Initiative also released information plotting just how inaccurate the IEA’s renewables projections have been, while its projections for fossil fuels remain strong going forward.

Speaking of fossil fuels, a report released by the IEA on the benefits of new coal-burning technology was, according to the Guardian, "heavily criticized by experts." The Socioeconomic Impacts of Advanced Technology Coal-Fuelled Power Stations, produced by the IEA’s Coal Industry Advisory Board (CIAB), is "’deeply confused and deeply misleading’ and a ‘litany of errors and false assumptions, clearly written ultimately as a disinformation tool’," reported the media outlet.

Response to criticism

In response to questions posed on the criticism, a spokesperson for the IEA today pointed pv magazine to a Q&A held between the press and the IEA on the WOE2015 on November 10, where a Guardian journalist asked about the low projections.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, responded by saying that 95% of their renewable projections, for hydropower and wind, have been "on the dot". "With the solar – and by the way I should remind you the share of solar in the global energy mix is not 10% not 5% not 1%, it 0.1% [of the global energy mix] we in our scenarios, what we are doing is on the day we make the projections, [the IEA considers] what is the support of the government?," Birol said.

"If the next year, if the support of the government increases, we increase our projections. We have other scenario, which is a climate driven scenario. In that scenario, our solar numbers are on the dot. Completely right, because it is assumed a strong support for the solar … the day we make the projections, we say these are the policies. If the policies change, the numbers do change as well … they may need to be revised next year, which I hope so, if from Paris, we get a strong signal for a sustainable development investment pattern."

As has been widely reported recently, however, the political will to implement renewables on a large scale is "shockingly" absent.