IEA tells Australia it's on wrong track on climate, more wind and solar needed | RenewEconomy

IEA tells Australia it’s on wrong track on climate, more wind and solar needed

IEA says some countries are reshaping their energy supply with climate targets in mind, but Australia is not one of them.


The energy policy promises of global governments have the world “well off track” on global climate goals, the International Energy Agency has warned, with no thanks to Australia’s plans to buck the global trend on coal production.

In the Stated Policies Scenario of its latest World Energy Outlook – which aims to “hold up a mirror to today’s plans and illustrate their consequences” – the IEA describes a world in 2040 where CO2 emissions lock in severe impacts from climate change.

If they are to meet the “Sustainable Development” scenarios where global temperatures are kept within the bounds aimed for in the Paris climate treaty, then governments need to do the virtual opposite of what they are doing now – and explicitly encourage investment in wind and solar, energy efficiency, demand management and electric transport.

These conclusions come in the latest WEO, a voluminous 811-page dossier that tracks where the world is going on energy and emissions, and where it should be going.

Its outlook is bleak because, despite the Paris commitments, the world’s appetite for fossil fuels is projected to stay relatively strong – despite the plummeting cost of renewables and associated storage technologies and the urgent advice of the world’s climate scientists – with demand for coal falling only slightly, and demand for gas rising by 35 per cent.

In the Stated Policies Scenario – which it should be noted is a notch up from the Current Policies Scenario, which assumes a continuation of the status quo – energy demand increases by 1 per cent a year to 2040, with low-carbon sources led by solar PV set to supply more than half of this growth, and natural gas accounting for another third.

“Oil demand flattens out in the 2030s, and coal use edges lower. Some parts of the energy sector, led by electricity, undergo rapid transformations. Some countries, notably those with ‘net zero’ aspirations, go far in reshaping all aspects of their supply and consumption.”

Australia, it is noted, is not one of these countries, but rather distinguishes itself as “one of the few major producers” projected to increase its coal production out to 2040, even as domestic demand falls.

“Our projections are consistent with the development of some new mines, although there are large uncertainties over the extent of import demand in Asia and the financing environment for greenfield projects,” the report says.

If Australia’s coal plans look outdated in the Stated Policies Scenario, they look plain stupid under the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, where renewables well and truly dominate by 2040, and coal production plummets by more than 60 per cent compared to today.

In this scenario, low-carbon technologies are projected to provide almost 85 per cent of generation in 2040; mostly from wind and solar PV.

Coal-fired generation “plummets,” the report says, with almost all coal-fired power plants without carbon capture repurposed to provide flexibility, or retired.

Although gas-fired power provides important balancing services, especially to help meet seasonal variability in demand, its use peaks in the mid-2020s as battery storage and demand-side management take on a much larger role in meeting short-term flexibility needs.

So what is needed to gear government policies up to the Sustainable Development Scenario?

For starters, says the IEA, it will require around 20 per cent more investment than in the Stated Policies Scenario, with a “significant reallocation” away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, efficiency and supporting low-carbon technologies.

Indeed, on these graphs above it shows the scale of annual investments needed. Renewables needs to double, and so does investment in efficiency. Investment in fossil fuels needs to slow down dramatically. It clearly has little hope for carbon capture, and nuclear investment is just a fraction of wind and solar.

Investment in electricity grids and batteries would also have to “rise strongly”, in part to accommodate all the wind and solar PV.

Spending on energy efficiency would have to nearly quadruple, by 2040, 45 per cent of which would be put into buildings. Electric vehicles adoption and development will also be important.

Unhappily, none of these things are anywhere on federal policy agenda for Australia, whose current government is too busy denying its climate denial to get on with what needs to be done.

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  1. Felix MacNeill 10 months ago

    Sophie just made a horribly pertinent observation: that the government is now denying denial.
    Does anyone want to deny that?

  2. Mark Roest 10 months ago

    Hello Sophie; you say “For starters, says the IEA, it will require around 20 per cent more investment than in the Stated Policies Scenario, with a “significant reallocation” away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, efficiency and supporting low-carbon technologies.” Do you know, or can you find out, what costs they are using to calculate that 20%?
    It seems reasonable that if the cost of renewable energy and storage are about 25% less than the basis cost numbers used to calculate, and the same amount is spent, then we would hit the target. If a switch in renewable energy and storage technologies costs 40% or 50% less per unit, then we could surpass the target at the stated level of investment, and people who want to save life would be encouraged instead of discouraged. Another benefit is that it would be profitable to switch — the power of capitalism, freed from monopolies and oligopolies, could kick in big time.
    The numbers I suggest you use (or suggest they use as a best case scenario) are:
    1. A global average of $70/kWh capacity for saline batteries, with 1 to 2 kWh/kg specific energy, and 5,000 cycle life by 2022, and 10,000 cycle life by 2025
    2. Well under 15 cents a Watt for 27% efficient thin film solar, with low installation costs, and viability of use for building-integrated solar.
    3. Cutting current costs of onshore and offshore wind power in half by 2025, through breakthroughs in structural geometries and materials for tower and blades, plus onsite construction to remove the size constraints of highway curves and bridges, and gearless generators.
    4. Cutting cost of energy efficiency measures by at least 30%, and increasing adoption dramatically, with breakthroughs in construction and insulating materials, a heavy switch to onsite generation and self-use by microgrids as the dominant model (augmenting rooftop solar PV with solar canopies to serve both buildings and all the vehicles associated with them), an end to natural gas service to new and remodeled buildings, and switching to heat pumps for space heating and cooling, with distributed ownership and financing on fair terms so most of the money saved stays in local circulation.
    5. Switch from 5 to 13 year retention of ICE vehicles to a million miles useful life for new generation, ultra-light-weight, composite-body battery-electric vehicles, and at least 500,000 miles for converted (repowered) vehicles that were in good condition.
    I also suggest that this scenario is totally viable, as the technologies, and much of the design work, have already been almost completed — it’s a matter of integrating disruptive technologies into our product and services purchasing decisions, and ensuring greatly accelerated availability of funding to startups focused on disruption of inadequate and invalid business offerings. Society must switch from immune responses to technologies that are triple-e sustainable to welcoming them with open arms, and training immune responses on incumbent products which are bad for the environment and our own humanity, like internal combustion and fossil fuels, the western industrial diet (heavy on beef and using intensive confinement to minimize labor expense, rather than creating healthy animals and lots of humans taking care of them, while growing food for organic, whole foods, largely vegetarian diets), industrial health care, and lots of other deviations from an economy based on the natural surpluses of ecosystems managed in the ways indigenous peoples used, to live in harmony with the life around us.
    Yes, it’s a bit wordy and complicated, but that’s a portion of how much change we need to implement. We also have to switch from our current practices that lead to wildfires turning into infernos. And prepare to deal with ever-faster sea level rise, and the need to move populations and accept them in other places, and integrate them culturally and economically. Just like taking in members of your extended family if they lose their home in a fire or flood.

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