The International Energy Agency’s latest publication sets out a roadmap to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
According to the agency, this objective hinges on the clean technology push to 2030 and requires the immediate and massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies.
The pathway calls for solar and wind to scale up rapidly to reach annual additions of 630GW and 390GW respectively by 2030. This is four times the record levels set in 2020. This equates to the equivalent of installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day.
At the same time electric vehicles (EVs) increase from around 5% of global car sales to more than 60% by 2030.
This push requires a massive increase in clean energy investment. For example, annual investment in transmission and distribution grids should expand from $260 billion today to $820 billion in 2030.
The number of public charging points for EVs should rise from around one million today to 40 million in 2030, requiring an annual investment of almost $90 billion by then. Annual battery production for EVs should increase from 160GWh today to 6,600GWh in 2030 – the equivalent of adding almost 20 gigafactories each year for the next ten years.
2050 energy sector
The IEA’s publication is the third to present an achievable 2050 net zero plan in recent weeks, after earlier reports from IRENA and the industry constituted Energy Transitions Commission, although any comparisons are outside the scope of this first overview.
IEA’s 2050 pathway envisages a global energy demand around 8% smaller than today but serving an economy more than twice as big and a population with two billion more people.
The 2050 energy sector is based largely on renewable energy, with two-thirds of the total supply from wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydro. Solar becomes the largest source, accounting for about one-fifth of energy supplies.
Fossil fuel use, similarly near one-fifth of total supply, remains in goods where the carbon is embodied in the product such as plastics, in facilities fitted with carbon capture and storage and in sectors where low emissions technology options are scarce.
Electricity accounts for almost half of the total energy consumption in 2050, playing a key role across all sectors from transport and buildings to industry. To achieve this, total electricity generation increases over two-and-a-half-times by 2050 with almost 90% coming from renewable sources. Wind and solar PV together account for nearly 70%. Most of the remainder is from nuclear.
Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director describes the opportunity for net zero emissions by 2050 as “narrow but still achievable” and says the roadmap shows the priority actions that are needed to ensure it is not lost.
“The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal – our best chance of tackling climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5oC – make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced,” he says.
Net zero by 2050: Priority actions
Among other priorities in the report is the need to boost innovation, with increased government R&D spending. The technologies needed to achieve the necessary cuts in emissions by 2030 already exist. But in 2050, almost half the reductions come from technologies that are currently at the demonstration or prototype phase.
Around $90 billion of public money needs to be mobilised globally as soon as possible to complete a portfolio of demonstration projects before 2030. Currently, only roughly $25 billion is budgeted for that period.
Emerging energy security risks also should be addressed. Governments need to create markets for investment in batteries, digital solutions and electricity grids that reward flexibility and enable adequate and reliable supplies of electricity.
The growing dependence on critical minerals required for key clean energy technologies calls for new international mechanisms to ensure both the timely availability of supplies and sustainable production.
Another priority indicated is the impact on individuals and communities. The pathway anticipates the creation of 14 million jobs by 2030, but around 5 million jobs are expected to be lost as fossil fuels decline. Policy attention will be required to address the social and economic impacts and to ensure jobs are widely spread.
International cooperation also needs to be heightened. Governments must work together in an effective and mutually beneficial manner to implement coherent measures that cross borders. This includes managing domestic job creation and local commercial advantages with the collective global need for clean energy technology deployment.