IEA urges for a technology revolution

The International Energy Agency released today an interesting report urging once again its members to work on technologies that might solve the energy-climate equation.

Stating that it is now or never, the experts believe that if nothing was done CO2 emissions would soar by 130 percent by mid century when in the opposite, they need to be halved.

To solve this equation would require to dedicate one percent of global GDP. The issue is complex, but the IEA provides both solutions and data.

As the press release states :

The world faces the daunting combination of surging energy demand, rising greenhouse gas emissions and tightening resources. A global energy technology revolution is both necessary and achievable; but it will be a tough challenge”, said Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) today in Tokyo, at the launch of the latest edition of Energy technology Perspectives (ETP).

The Agency’s leading biennial publication responds to the G8 call on the IEA for guidance on how to achieve a clean, clever and competitive energy future. The book is built around three sets of global energy technology scenarios. These are a Baseline (business-as-usual Scenario), a range of ACT Scenarios showing how CO2 emissions could be brought back to current levels by 2050, and a set of BLUE Scenarios outlining how they could be reduced to 50% below current levels. ETP 2008 also contains global roadmaps showing how each of 17 key advanced energy technologies would need to be developed and deployed to deliver the ACT or the BLUE outcomes.

Our current path is not sustainable

If governments around the world continue with policies in place to date – the underlying premise in the ETP Baseline scenario to 2050 – CO2 emissions will rise by 130% and oil demand will rise by 70%. This expansion in oil equals five times today’s production of Saudi Arabia. “Such growth of oil demand raises major concerns regarding energy supply access and investment needs”, said Mr. Tanaka. In the Baseline scenario, the power generation sector accounts for 44% of total global emissions in 2050, followed by industry, transport, the fuel transformation sector and buildings.

“We are very far from sustainable development, despite the widespread recognition of the long-term problem. In fact, CO2 emissions growth has accelerated considerably in recent years”, Mr. Tanaka said. “Higher oil and gas prices result in a rapid switch to coal. Moreover rapid growth in China and India, both coal-based economies, has also contributed to this deteriorating outlook.”

Step one into a brave new world

“ETP 2008 demonstrates the extent of the challenge to reverse these trends. To bring CO2 emissions back to current levels in 2050, all options are needed at a cost of up to USD 50/t CO2”, Mr. Tanaka said. No single form of energy or technology can provide the full solution. Improving energy efficiency is the first step and is very attractive as it results in immediate cost savings. Significantly reducing emissions from power generation is also a key component of emissions stabilization. But even this is not enough.

Step two: weaning the world off oil

The BLUE Scenarios would provide even deeper cuts. “Emissions halving implies that all options up to a cost of USD 200/t CO2 will be needed. This is based on a set of optimistic assumptions for technology development. Under less optimistic assumptions, options that would cost up to USD 500/t CO2 may be needed. Total additional investment needs in technology and deployment between now and 2050 would amount to USD 45 trillion, or 1.1% of average annual global GDP over the period”, Mr. Tanaka stressed.

We would need a virtual decarbonisation of the power sector. Given the growing demand for electricity, this would mean that on average per year 35 coal and 20 gas-fired power plants would have to be fitted with CO2 capture and storage (CCS) technology, between 2010 and 2050 at a cost of USD 1.5 billion each. Furthermore, we would have to build an additional 32 new nuclear plants each year and wind capacity would have to increase by approximately 17.500 turbines each year.

This also implies numerous issues that would need to be overcome, such as the NIMBY-attitude (not in my backyard), the need to boost the numbers of engineering and technical graduates, and to resolve the questions on the availability of sufficient geological formations for captured CO2 or geologically stable sites for nuclear reactors or waste storage. In addition to all this, we would also have to make an eightfold reduction of the carbon intensity of the transport sector. This represents the most difficult and costly step due to the ongoing rapid demand growth and limited potential based on existing technology.

“There should be no doubt – meeting the target of a 50% cut in emissions represents a formidable challenge. We would require immediate policy action and technological transition on an unprecedented scale. It will essentially require a new global energy revolution which would completely transform the way we produce and use energy”, Mr. Tanaka stressed. “The energy security benefits of such a development, however, would be tremendous. Oil demand by 2050 would be 27% below the level of 2005. Yet massive investments in remaining reserves will be needed to make up for the shortfall as low-reserve provinces are exhausted.”

CO2 capture and storage, renewables, nuclear energy and energy efficiency – all must play a much more important role. New insights from this study include recognition of the important role for CO2 capture in industry, the potential for electrification of end-use sectors in combination with CO2-free electricity, the need for further development of solar electricity, and the importance of second generation biodiesel.

“We need to act now. We need roadmaps that accelerate international technology development and implementation, but that leave room for flexible responses on a country level”, Mr. Tanaka said. This implies additional funds in the order of USD 100-200 billion per year in the coming decade, rising to USD 1-2 trillion in the coming decades. “The IEA and its technology collaboration network are ready to support this change.”

To conclude, as the IEA states, we can’t afford to dismiss any solution as the trend of both greenhouse gases emissions and energy consumption are on the increase if nothing was done to reverse the situation.

This is most worrying as we have to cut both of them in dramatic ways. I hope this report will be heard soon and that true leaders will emerge and take up this huge challenge.

To learn out more, please refer to the executive summary or buy the report’s full version.

I edit this article to mention that the IEA already launched at least three calls on energy efficiency:

None of these calls to my knowledge were heard… I am quite pessimistic and thinks that this one won’t be heard either.

And you, what do you think ?

Edit on June 7th : 1 percent of the global GDP is $45 trillion. Please refer to the two articles below for more :

10 thoughts on “IEA urges for a technology revolution”

  1. I say: Everybody is starting to sing to the same tune. It’s important to show the public the agreement/alignment of big institutes on this matter. Then, it needs to be framed not as something costly, but as something exciting to do. It’s all psychology.

  2. I too am pessimistic. We will talk and squabble about what to do for many more years to come. Until the perceived benefit exceeds the cost companies and governments won’t make the necessary changes. As a world we haven’t figured out how to feed everyone let alone reduce our carbon impact.

  3. Well, Daryl, I am a bit pessimistic as well since the previous calls for action were just ignored.

    And the IEA isn’t alone in issuing warning calls, the OECD and the IPCC also did that kind of things. Without much progress or actions. 🙁

    Here, a famous environmentalist – Nicolas Hulot – said yesterday on TV that the Grenelle wasn’t working and that progress were very low, much too low and that the objectives were reduced.

    I am really disappointed but still hope the government we elected will do what it was appointed for…

    In any case, thank you both for your comments and enjoy your weekend ! 😀

  4. The Grenelle de l’Environnement (and not the 1968 one) is similar to your Polder Model as it associated companies, trade unions, the government but also NGOs.

    As you can imagine, NGOs really were important in such topics as they have been quite in advance of the majority of people.

    Most fortunately for you, the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Energy has a page in English on how the Grenelle works.

    Wish you a good weekend, here the weather is awful… 🙁

  5. This gives some good perspective on the cost estimates:

    “If we take the report’s marginal cost estimate of $200 to $500 per ton for mitigating carbon dioxide, then a simple estimate of the full costs from a frozen technology baseline would be an additional $210 to $530 trillion above the $45 trillion cited in the report. Yes, you read that right.

    What if the assumption of automatic decarbonization was off by only 10%? Then the additional cost would be an additional $21 to $53 billion, or about the same magnitude of the IEA’s total cost estimate of mitigation (i.e., of moving from the BASELINE to the BLUE trajectory) .”

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