IEA makes mockery of Turnbull’s renewable energy scare campaign

Perhaps it’s finally time for Malcolm Turnbull and his Coalition colleagues to put away their ideological and indefensible attacks on wind and solar.

Even the most conservative of energy organisations, the International Energy Agency, has concluded that wind and solar will contribute will become the dominant source of energy in most major economies within two decades, and renewable energy will account for 60 per cent of all generation by 2040 if the world is to reach its 2°C climate target.

Scenarios prepared by the IEA in its annual World Energy Outlook, a 700 page document considered the reference point of the world’s pre-eminent, if conservative, energy organisation, says wind and solar (variable energy) will be the biggest single source of energy in the EU by 2030, and in China, US and India by 2035.

Compare this to the Coalition’s abject criticism of the 50 per cent renewable energy targets set by Labor states in South Australia, Queensland and Victoria (40 per cent by 2025), and the national target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030 by the federal opposition.

Turnbull and co argue that these targets are reckless and unachievable, but the IEA is saying the exact opposite. Not only are they achievable, but they will be essential to meet the targets in the very treaty that Australia and more than 100 other countries have ratified.

iea solar wind 2016

The IEA – created in 1974 in response to the oil crisis and basically created to support fossil fuels – has long underestimated the role of renewable energy and still does, according to some critics. But it is rapidly recognising the importance of wind and solar.

This graph graph above illustrates how the IEA has lifted its forecasts for wind and solar over the past year. The light colour represents its forecasts made in the same report last year, the coloured lines are the additions since then, and the green shade is the extra that will need to be delivered for the 2°C scenario.

It means that the contribution of wind alone to the world’s electricity requirements will be more than coal, oil and nuclear combined by 2040, making a mockery of the Coalition’s renewable energy scare campaign, and on their reliance of bogus assessments by the likes of Bjorn Lomborg.


The Danish climate contrarian has made a career out of playing down the impact of climate change, and the prospects of wind and solar. Coalition MPs, including the head of their environmental committee, constantly refer to him when they want to diminish the role of wind and solar. Even BHP swallows his nonsense.

But as the IEA makes clear “renewable energy is the growth story” of their latest report. By 2040, most renewable energy generation will be competitive without any subsidies, but in the interim government policies will be key.

It cites the efforts of Germany, Italy, Japan, China and the US, whose pro-renewables policies have accelerated price falls by a decade. It urges governments to look at system integration measures to give power systems sufficient flexibility.

These include stronger grids, the availability of plants ready to dispatch power at short notice, incentives for system-friendly deployment of renewable technologies, demand-response and energy storage.

All these are recommended by a joint grouping of Australian power generators, both fossil fuel and clean energy, consumers and business lobbies. The key message is that Australia and other countries need to push the accelerator, not the brakes, on the energy transition.

iea heat and transport

The IEA also made clear that wind and solar and other renewable will play a critical role in providing heat – the biggest energy consumption in the world – and in fuelling transport, through electric vehicles, for instance. It says there is great untapped potential in these two sectors.

For instance, about 715 million EVs will be needed by 2040 for the world to meet climate targets, and it is essential that these are powered, or charged, by renewables.

IEA scenariosNo doubt, many critics – such as Lomborg – will rely on the IEA’s “main” scenario. But even this suggests that wind and solar will provide more than 37 per cent of the world’s electricity – more than coal – but as this graph shows, the main scenario leaves the world travelling in the wrong direction to meet climate targets.

The role or wind and solar will be even greater if the world is to meet the 1.5°C aspiration target in the Paris climate agreement that Australia and others have ratified.

The IEA says if that target is to be met, then the world’s electricity grid will need to be at zero emissions by 2040, with an even greater share of wind and solar. “This is unchartered territory,” it says.

And it’s importance to reinforce the declining prospects and influence of coal. In the past year alone, the IEA has slashed its global thermal coal power generation projections by 18 per cent, mostly because of the seismic shifts in India and China and the declining cost of  wind and solar.

“The transition continues to gather pace and this report is a dire warning to anybody labouring under the illusion the story of thermal coal has a happy ending,” says Tim Buckley, energy analyst with the IEEFA.

“Coal is losing market share not only due to climate and energy policies cutting pollution, but also because, in an increasing number of cases, renewable energy is a cheaper alternative.

“In the unlikely event that the short-term tailwind for the coal sector in the US continues or the US sees a slowdown in renewables as a result of the new administration, the IEA analysis shows that emerging economies are now well placed to assume low-carbon leadership.

“In this scenario, we will see the rise of China and India as new clean energy superpowers, outflanking the US, dodging stranded asset risk and powering their economies from limitless sources.”



32 responses to “IEA makes mockery of Turnbull’s renewable energy scare campaign”

  1. Kenshō Avatar

    As the effects of climate change become more and more apparent from those areas and countries most effected, this will eventually create international pressure to hurry. Then those of us dragging feet will feel the pain the most. Biodiversity will likely suffer greatly. Food and water security increasingly effected. We’ll end up trying to play catchup with all the consequences at once… Yet we wait for the collective consequences to be apparent to us all.

    1. RobSa Avatar

      Yes. Turnbull is squashing innovation.

  2. Ian Avatar

    For instance, about 750 million EVs will be needed by 2040 for the world to meet climate targets, and it is essential that these are powered, or charged, by renewables.

    Small statement , massive implications.

    Unbelievable that the battery connection between renewables and decarbonising transportation is not readily recognised. The world is nowhere near ready to stop using oil. Wind and solar is old hat, its cheap, its plentiful, and the industry supporting it is well established. Why have a Sunshot initiative or a renewable target, that’s beating a horse that has already won. Good for political brownie points, but not showing much leadership. We have to move onto the next stage: using renewables to move goods and people. Batteries have got to be a huge part of this.

    1. Ian Avatar

      Germany, the leader with its energiewende, has 40GW of solar, 50GW of wind and only 24 000 plug in electric vehicles, including hybrids sold in 2015, that is 0.7% of the new vehicle market.

      Energiewende? More like Energieausfall! (Energy failure if you don’t have google translate)

      1. Professor Ray Wills Avatar
        Professor Ray Wills

        In 2015, German renewable energy was about 187.4 TWh of a total generation of about 645.6 TWh, about 30.6% of generation.

        Saying Germany only had 0.7% PHEV/EVs in 2015 is spurious – like saying Germany only had 0.7% smartphones in 2006 – clearly that was no guide to the number of smartphones today. The relevant datum will be how many EVs/ PHEVs Germany has in 2025.

        1. Ian Avatar

          Nein mein guter Professor, the point is that the Germans, the leaders in renewable energy , with a massive investment in money and human energy have done exceedingly well in reducing their reliance on Nuclear and fossil fuels for their electricity needs, but they, like the rest have done exceedingly poorly in decarbonising transport. They, like the rest of us, need to pull their industrial fingers out and get moving on battery manufacturing.

          1. nakedChimp Avatar

            Do you mean ‘the Germans’ or do you mean ‘the Automakers’ and there specifically ‘die Fuehrungsetage’?

          2. AussieEngineer Avatar

            This won’t go down well with some readers, but I seem to recall that Germany is increasing brown coal burners at the same rate as it is reducing nuclear power and their CO2 emissions have been flat (ie not improving) for the last few years. Thus, Germany is not an example of nation-wide CO2 emissions reduction at all.

            It seems to me that their efforts with solar and wind, especially wind, have been for no net environmental gain but of great financial cost and that elimination of carbon-free nuclear power has been a very large step backwards… or, in Trump’s phrasing: a Yuge cost for no gain.

          3. AussieEngineer Avatar

            Giles has said absolutely nothing about Germany’s CO2 emissions as a nation over the past several years.

            Giles, the Germans aren’t winning. In fact, they are going backwards. Electricity is only a fraction (say, 25%) of the whole picture. Comprendez? This isn’t about petty points scoring, it is about getting a job done, and Germany isn’t doing much at all. Neither is my own country.

          4. Lightfoot Avatar

            Oh so negative mr aussie engineer. I like to look on the bright and sunny side of these things. We have Renew Economy, we have ARENA, we have more than a dozen new large scale solar farms starting construction in the immediate future, we have the Zcell and the Aquion batteries being deployed around Australia, we have great STC policy and stability for reducing costs to consumers installing solar pv, we have visionary organizations like BZE and Enova, and we have an enormous groundswell of interest watching battery prices and developments, with tens of thousands of residential households eager to purchase when the time is right.
            Great work is being done all around you, and the changes you so desperately desire are coming.

          5. Rod Avatar

            I am also surprised that this site gets a lot of negativity.
            My theory is that those of us who have personally experienced success in lowering our personal emissions (and costs) via PV, energy efficiency, storage, EVs etc. can see the possibility and benefits if everyone gets on board.
            The negative comments, if not from those with a vested interest in the status quo, may be from people who are yet to come over to the light side. Who still have their doubts as to the reliability, cost benefit etc. of alternative energy and energy efficiency.
            We can’t expect FF sources to be replaced overnight but as the new FF or Nuclear can’t compete on price they will be replaced with RE eventually.
            We can’t expect FF transport to be replaced overnight but as FF vehicles need replacing, the benefits of battery powered vehicles will become evident to many, assuming the purchase price is similar to FF vehicles.
            I am also heartened by some of the work being done with improving the efficiency of trucks and buses.
            The trend towards a sharing economy will also help reduce emissions.
            So, all in all lots to be positive about IMHO but we all need to take a bit of personal responsibility to make it happen and the sooner the better.

          6. AussieEngineer Avatar

            Optimism can neither be eaten nor banked.
            Engineering involves as a core philosophy, understanding of and management of risks of all kinds.

            If the risk factor is CO2 emissions and Germany is held up as an example of the way to manage the associated risks, then I cry foul. Germany has done no such thing – its achievements are negligible, despite staggering costs.

            We must do better.

            If saying this makes me a pessimist in some eyes, then so be it. It is also absolute, demonstrated, measured truth. Sadly, not all are ready to accept truth and choose instead to trust in dreams.

          7. Giles Avatar

            “It is also absolute, demonstrated, measured truth.” Really? Germany has already cut Co2 emissions by more than 20% since 1990 and aims to achieve 40% by 2020 and 95% by 2050. Australia’s record and ambitions look pathetic in comparison.

          8. AussieEngineer Avatar

            I have seen figures for German national CO2e emissions that are in the range 0 to 2% reduction in recent years. It would be nice to see a reference to a primary source for your 20% figure, Giles.

            While you are at it, perhaps a follow-up article on the value of the ongoing German commitment to decommissioning existing zero carbon nuclear power plants while simultaneously expanding filthy lignite generation. Germany is, IMHO, not a suitable candidate for consideration as a low-carbon emitting economy.

          9. Giles Avatar

            Here’a graph. As in the earlier graph, it shows no expansion in lignite. Yes, the nuclear phase out makes it harder, but now they have come up with their most ambitious target.

          10. Math Geurts Avatar
            Math Geurts

            The graph shows that if Germany had not decided to premature retirement of some base load nuclear plants in 2011 retirement of some base load lignite plants after 2011 would have been very hard to avoid. That would have resulted in lower CO2 emissions in Germany.

  3. Mike Dill Avatar
    Mike Dill

    Quote: “Coal is losing market share not only due to climate and energy policies
    cutting pollution, but also because, in an increasing number of cases,
    renewable energy is a cheaper alternative.”
    We are seeing this now, and this trend shows no sign of stopping. Once again the IEA plays a very conservative tune. Building new nuclear or coal is not rational now. Building new NG peakers is almost even with storage now, even in the USA.

    1. BrianLandon Avatar

      Nuclear is the cleanest and most efficient. it powers 60% of all energy now. Wind supplies at best 10 per cent and is very expensive(and ironically it needs oil to run it!!

      Yes, energy poverty is here to stay! Just can’t wait til 1/2 of your cheque goes to paying your hydro/heating bill!! lol

      and the biggest polluters–factories,etc still get you the taxpayer to foot the bill!!
      ONLY the rich and the politically connected get their fancy Tesla cars–but you must be rich, to afford a 75 k Tesla!!(which by the way was taxpayer funded to the tune of over $5 billion last year alone.

      1. Mike Dill Avatar
        Mike Dill

        You are correct that nuclear power is clean, if you do not count the mining or fuel disposal or decommissioning. Keeping nuclear plants running where they already exist should be a priority as the carbon price of the cement and steel has already been paid.
        I dispute your statements as to the percentages of generation and costs. Where the wind blows, wind is cheaper than nuclear, and currently has a larger percentage of generation. In the USA the current operating cost of nuclear is above 6c/kWh when those externalities are included. Currently wind is slightly below that cost after adding in all the costs and subtracting out the government incentives.

  4. Math Geurts Avatar
    Math Geurts

    IEA’s basic expectation for 2040:
    37% of power generation from renewables compared with 23% today.

    1. john Avatar

      When a politician thinks that only the tame media is everyone information source you can understand why he/she will talk the company line.
      In the main he/she is on safe ground as commercial TV is probably most peoples news and information.
      How many people have heard of the science program on RN?
      As to the papers when there is one company that is doggedly anti anything new what else would one expect from the politician.

      1. Math Geurts Avatar
        Math Geurts

        I am sorry but for me IEA’s basic scenario still seems more or less in line with what Turnbull says.

        1. Kenshō Avatar

          Every now and again I get pissed off. As I have three degrees in welfare oriented stuff related to social work, human development and meditation, I can read between the lines and know what I’m looking at. You continually want to white ant anything said. You think you have valid intellectual argument, though what you have is reduced capacity to understand bigger intellectual trends and consequences, due to your addictions. The principal addiction is your depression, negativity and constant approach to deconstruct or find a hole in anything. You need to deconstruct you and find where the holes are and put yourself back together. To pull yourself apart and feel your your real feelings you will first need to stop drinking, stop medicating yourself, stop emoting, stop gratifying your petty desires and nurturing your petty hurts. Only a person of such petty concerns could possibly keep spitting out the utterly selfish comments you keep posting, attempting to erode the more altruistic comments of others who actually care for their fellow human beings and their planet. Your comments serve no purpose other than catharsis of your negative emotional state. Everyone else can see you.

  5. john Avatar

    On the subject of bjorn lomborg this desmog backgrounder is a start.
    Link to lomborg errors.

    I would not put my faith into the political scientist when talking energy.
    When as pointed out even the IEA get it, perhaps it is time to admit that yes there is going to be a change in direction and one country that should be in the forefront is Australia with its abundant solar resources especially not to mention the others.

  6. earwig Avatar

    “making a mockery of the Coalition’s renewable energy care campaign” – Is that a typo? Is this supposed to be “scare campaign?”

  7. JonathanMaddox Avatar

    Make it 75%, while electrifying heating and 75% of transport, and we could have a deal.

  8. Job001 Avatar

    The IEA is consistently horrid at forecasts for the last 15 years always favoring coal or fossil fuels while slighting solar. IEA is completely unreliable and untrustworthy.

    1. Ian Avatar

      This report appears horrid as well. Look at Nuclear- the most expensive and ‘problematic’ power available- INCREASES from 11% 2014, to 18% 2040!

  9. howardpatr Avatar

    Cayman Turnbull won’t concern himself with what the IEA says – not when he can be in a “coalition” with Trump and the scary anthropogenic climate change deniers all around both of them. At least Trump is plain ignorant whereas Turnbull is a turncoat on climate sciences. What worse?

    1. Kenshō Avatar

      Turbull is more stagnant than Trump. Turbull is a conservative diplomat, without the support of his party. Trump genuinely has existed in an echo chamber running a limited economic paradigm, though knows he has been in the same sinking ship American economy with the American people. Trump is strong willed and unpredictable. We don’t yet know how he will respond as broader information rolls in. All we do know is something radical for better or worse will happen. What we know of Turbull and team is nothing happens.

  10. Ben Rose Avatar

    IEA’s assumption is very conservative. My modelling for Sustainable Energy Now in WA shows that all coal on the SWIS can be replaced by increasing wind and PV from the existing 14% of generation to 46.5%. It will increase the existing LCOE by about 2c/ kWh; the current RET would provide that increase if extended to 50%. No more gas or battery storage is required to achieve this and additional transmission would only cost 0.3c/kWh. The system would be robust and reliable.
    85% of WA coal power stations will be >30 years old by 2021 and need to be replaced. The cost of replacing them with wind and PV is no more than renewing the existing coal (without CCS).
    PS Giles let me know if you want me to write an article on this for RenewEconomy.

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