Out of 26 clean energy technologies being monitored by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to meet the outcomes of the Paris agreement, only three are on track toward a sustainable energy transition, according to the latest Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2017.
These are more mature variable renewables, i.e. onshore wind and solar, electric vehicles (EVs), and energy storage.
These technologies currently represent only a small share of the total energy system, but they are rapidly scaling up and continue to strengthen their position as mainstream energy solutions, says the IEA.
Clean energy technologies
Both solar PV and onshore wind showed continued strong annual capacity growth in 2016, with record low long-term contract prices in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Prospects are bright over the medium term, driven by cost reductions and policy improvements in key markets.
A new historic record was reached in the electrification of passenger transportation, with over 750,000 electric vehicles (EVs) sold in 2016, raising the global stock to two million. Nevertheless, a slowdown in market growth of 40% in 2016 from 70% in 2015 raises risks toward the 2025 goal.
Storage technologies continued rapid scale-up in deployment, reaching almost 1GW in 2016. These advances were driven by favourable policy environments and reductions in battery prices. However, further policy action will be required to meet the projected 2DS level of a cumulative 21GW by 2025.
The IEA’s best guess for meeting the Paris agreement – given the difficulty in modelling something as complex as global temperature change – is what it calls its 2oC scenario (2DS). This “lays out an energy system pathway and a CO2 emissions trajectory consistent with at least a 50% chance of limiting the average global temperature increase to 2oC by 2100.”
Under the 2DS, annual energy-related CO2 emissions are reduced by 70% from today’s levels by 2060, with cumulative emissions of around 1,170Gt CO2 between 2015 and 2100 (including industrial process emissions).
The 2DS relies on the development and deployment of lower carbon and energy efficient technologies across the power generation, industry, transport and buildings sectors.
According to the IEA, the 2DS represents “a highly ambitious and challenging transformation of the global energy sector that relies on a substantially strengthened response compared to today’s efforts.”
Current progress of the technologies is monitored against interim 2025 benchmarks.
In most of the other 23 technologies, sufficient progress is not being delivered, according to the IEA.
Fifteen of the technologies are showing advances, with 10 of these recent improvements. Among technologies in this group are lighting appliances and equipment, natural gas-fired power, nuclear power, offshore wind and hydropower and renewable power.
However, the remaining eight are significantly off track, with only three of them showing recent improvements. Technologies in this group include bioenergy, ocean energy and geothermal, buildings, carbon capture and storage, coal-fired power and renewable heat.
According to the report, the ‘on track’ status of the three technologies, mature renewables, EVs and storage, depends on all other technologies also playing their part in the transition. If progress in the other technologies does not accelerate, these technologies may have to progress
even more ambitiously to overcompensate for lagging technology areas to ensure the overall energy transition is on track.
Clean energy innovation
Alongside monitoring of clean energy technologies, the report also assesses progress of clean energy innovation.
In 2015 the total investment in clean energy RD&D is estimated to have been $27bn but is not yet rising globally. However, this needs to pick up to be on track toward a sustainable energy transition, says the IEA.
With two-thirds of the clean energy research, development and demonstration funding from public sources, significantly higher than the combined corporate expenditure and investment by venture capital funds into start-ups, implementation of complementary public and private pledges could serve as a springboard to boost innovation.