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Published on May 15th, 2014 | by Giles Parkinson


IEA Says World’s Electricity Supply Needs To Be Flipped From Fossil Fuels To Renewables

May 15th, 2014 by  

Originally published on RenewEconomy.

As Tony Abbott prepares to wipe out the remaining institutions supporting the deployment of renewable energy technologies in Australia, the International Energy Association has urged countries to act quickly in the opposite direction, and seek to reverse the respective share of fossil fuels and renewable energy sources by 2050.

In its biannual Energy Technology Perspective report, the traditionally conservative IEA (of which Australia is a member) says the energy mix for the world’s electricity supply needs to be flipped within a few decades, from 68 per cent fossil fuels now to at least 65 per cent renewables by 2050.


And it argues that action is needed now, or it will get more costly. Already, the delays in action in the last few years has increased the bill to $44 trillion from $36 trillion. While that sounds like a big number, the IEA says it is a small percentage of globa GDP over the next three decades, and would be more than offset by $115 trillion in fuel savings.


Interestingly, the IEA is recommending countries adopt the very policies that the Abbott government is now trying to stop through the closure of the Clean Energy Finance Corp, the defunding of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and the likely reduction in the renewable energy target.

The IEA specifically says that support for policies such as loan guarantees, financing, and first of kind demonstration projects is needed to alleviate the risk for investors. “Without this support, these projects have the potential to be severely delayed or may not be developed,” it notes. These are exactly the sort of projects that would be supported by the CEFC and ARENA.

It says this is needed to address climate change. On a business as usual scenario, the world is heading towards catastrophic average global temperature increases of 6C. Even with the modest policies foreshadowed by government, it is still heading for around 4C.

“The longer we wait, the more expensive it becomes to transform our energy system,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said.

“A radical change of course at the global level is long overdue. Growing use of coal globally is overshadowing progress in renewable energy deployment, and the emissions intensity of the electricity system has not changed in 20 years despite some progress in some regions.”

In Australia, coal fired generation has actually fallen significantly in recent years, but all forecasts are now that this will reverse in coming years because of the policy making decisions by the Abbott government, including the repeal of the carbon price, the anticipated diluting of the renewable energy target, and the dumping of other clean energy supporting institutions and mechanisms.

It is, perhaps, instructive that the Abbott government policies are being guided by advisors – such as Maurice Newman and Dick Warburton, and the Institute of Public Affairs – who do not accept the science of climate change and see no need to act.

Or, in the case of Treasurer Joe Hockey, they see wind farms as “utterly offensive”, in the case of industry minister ian Macfarlane policy must be structured to extract “every molecule” of gas, and in the case of Queensland conservative premier Campbell Newman, the economy must be centred around the extraction of coal.

The IEA makes it clear that the latter is untenable, and even gas fired generation will need to be phased out – or cleaned up with carbon capture and storage technology – by 2025 as its role as a transitional fuel begins to wind down.

Its interesting to note that in this graph, the two biggest contributions to emissions reductions to meet the 2DS scenario are energy efficiency measures (33 per cent) and renewables (34 per cent). CCS (13 per cent) and nuclear (7 per cent) have relatively minor roles to play, and the IEA notes that the technology hurdles, and the costs, may impede the deployment of one or both.


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About the Author

is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia's energy grid with great interest.

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