'Immediate, massive renewables roll-out needed for net zero'

The International Energy Agency sees a need for annual wind capacity additions hitting 390GW within a decade if the world is to reach net zero

Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, called for governments to act decisively to accelerate the clean energy transformation

Annual wind capacity additions should reach about 390GW in 2030 and settle at about 370GW in 2050, according to a new roadmap from the International Energy Agency (IEA) laying out a “narrow but achievable” route for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. 

This would come as part of an “immediate and massive” build-out of renewable energy capacity, which would in turn contrast with an immediate end to new oil and gas projects, according to the IEA’s vision.

“The world has a huge challenge ahead of it to move net zero by 2050 from a narrow possibility to a practical reality,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA.  

“Global carbon dioxide emissions are already rebounding sharply as economies recover from last year’s pandemic‐induced shock. It is past time for governments to act, and act decisively to accelerate the clean energy transformation. “

As part of an “immediate and massive” deployment of clean energy sources called for by the IEA in its report, Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, offshore wind would be expected to contribute about 80GW to annual capacity additions in 2030. Annual offshore wind capacity additions would stand at about 70GW in 2050. 

The IEA roadmap shows solar becoming the largest single energy source, accounting for one-fifth of all energy supplies in 2050.  Solar PV capacity additions are seen jumping to 630GW by 2030 and remaining at that level in 2050, up from 134GW last year.  

Wind and solar PV together are seen accounting for about 70% of electricity generation in 2050, the lion’s share of the 88% of all electricity generation expected to come from renewable sources. Renewable energy accounted for 29% of global electricity generation last year. 

As electrification expands its role in transport, building and other sectors, the IEA’s net zero pathway shows electricity consumption increasing by two-and-a-half times between now and 2050, representing nearly 50% of all energy consumption that year.  

A major push in energy efficiency is also seen as essential, with the global rate of energy efficiency improvements seen increasing by 4% a year through 2030 – about three times the average over the last two decades. 

Despite the sharp increase in electricity use, a global economy twice as big as the current one and a population with 2 billion more people, the IEA envisages global energy demand that is about 8% smaller than it is today. 

Commitments fall short 

The agency warns, however, that most global emissions reductions commitments made by governments to date are not backed up by near-term policies and measures.  In any case, even if current targets are achieved, the IEA noted that there will still be around 22 billion tonnes of C02 emissions worldwide by 2050. 

It stresses the economic benefits from a net zero pathway,  with total annual energy investment seen surging to $5 trillion by 2030, adding an extra 0.4 percentage point to annual global gross domestic product (GDP) growth.  

While most technologies needed to reach the emissions cuts required for 2030 already exist, the IEA stressed that about half global emissions reductions in 2050 will come from technologies that are now in the demonstration or prototype phase.  It highlighted innovation opportunities in advanced batteries, hydrogen electrolysers and direct air capture and storage. 

No new fossil fuels 

Besides projects already committed as of this year, the IEA sees no new oil and gas fields approved for development in its pipeline. In 2050, unabated coal demand declines by 90% to just 1% of total energy use, while gas demand declines by 55% to 1,750 billion cubic meters and oil decreases by 75% to 24 million barrels per day (mb/d). 

Remaining fossil fuels in 2050 are expected to be found in goods where carbon is embodied in products such as plastics, in facilities with carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) and in sectors lacking low-emissions technology options.