- Click here to view an embargoed copy of the IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives Special Report on Clean Energy Innovation. (24.70 MB)
A significant and concerted global push to accelerate innovation will be needed to pave the way to the energy sector reaching net-zero emissions, according to International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) Energy Technology Perspectives (ETP) Special Report on Clean Energy Innovation.
The report discusses the fact that the world has seen a proliferating number of pledges by numerous governments and companies to reach net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the coming decades as part of global efforts to meet long-term sustainability goals, such as the Paris Agreement on climate change.
But it laments that there is a stark disconnect between these high-profile pledges and the current state of clean energy technology.
While the technologies in use today can deliver a large amount of the emissions reductions, the ETP says they are insufficient on their own to bring the world to net zero while ensuring energy systems remain secure, even with much stronger policies supporting them.
Considering that energy efficiency and renewables are fundamental for achieving climate goals, large portions of these emissions will require the use of other technologies.
Much of these emissions come from sectors where the technology options for reducing them are limited – such as shipping, trucks, aviation and heavy industries like steel, cement and chemicals.
The ETP notes that decarbonising these sectors will largely demand the development of new technologies not yet in use and says many of the clean energy technologies available today need more work to bring down costs and accelerate deployment.
It is for this reason that the authors of the report believe innovation is the key to fostering new technologies and advancing existing ones, and the report aims to assess the ways in which clean energy innovation can be significantly accelerated with a view to achieving net-zero emissions and enhancing energy security.
In a foreword in the report, IEA executive director Dr Fatih Birol notes that while the world has witnessed progress in technologies like solar photovoltaic (PV), wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries, “the technological advances that will still be needed demand a step change in both the speed at which innovation occurs and the scale at which new technologies are deployed”.
This progress must be achieved in a way that makes energy systems more secure and resilient, he says, noting that the energy innovation challenge facing the world extends to sectors that have not significantly changed for many decades. He adds that these do not yet have commercially available low-carbon options.
The required step-change also requires a rapid evolution of the technology mix, particularly in some emerging economies that are just starting out on their decarbonisation journeys, he adds, lamenting that the “under appreciation” of these urgent challenges in today’s energy debate is a real concern.
However, the ETP Special Report on Clean Energy Innovation provides reason for hope, says the IEA.
The report pinpoints the areas where innovation is most urgently needed and, crucially, recommends that governments integrate clean energy innovation into the heart of their energy policy-making.
“This report represents a new chapter in the IEA’s work under the ETP banner. It is three years since the IEA released its last ETP report, and we have used that time to reflect on the critical technology challenges that need to be addressed in such sectors as long-distance transport and heavy industry, which are all too often neglected,” he comments.
According to Birol, “the time away has also allowed [the agency] to develop improved modelling tools that now provide the sector with “unparalleled capacity to answer key technology questions in more detail”.
The return of ETP, starting with this special report and continuing with the release of the flagship ETP 2020 publication later this year, could not come at a more pivotal moment as Covid-19 has further complicated efforts to accelerate clean energy transitions, Birol says.
Since the crisis erupted, the IEA has mobilised its resources to support governments and other energy stakeholders, notably with the publication of its Sustainable Recovery Plan as part of the World Energy Outlook (WEO) series.
The plan shows how specific policies and targeted investments over the next three years could simultaneously boost economic growth, create millions of jobs and make 2019 the definitive peak in global greenhouse gas emissions.
The ETP special report builds on that foundation by setting out the key priorities for innovation to continually drive emissions down from that peak, all the way to net-zero.
Together, the ETP and WEO reports will provide the foundation for the IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit, which will bring together dozens of Ministers and CEOs, as well as leaders from the investment community and civil society, with the aim of driving economic development by accelerating transitions towards clean, resilient and inclusive energy systems.
“It is my firm conviction that the efforts we are now making – including the revamp of the ETP series – are significant advances in the IEA’s modernisation agenda that I launched in 2015, which is putting the agency at the forefront of sustainable and secure clean energy transitions globally,” Birol says.