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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 is sobering, challenging

The International Energy Agency has released its Energy Technology Perspectives 2012.  It examines the energy technology options and policies needed for what it calls the 2DS scenario: one that will “ensure an 80% chance of limiting long-term global temperature increase to 2°C .”  They are not great odds, and a 2°C warmer world is still a daunting future - but far less catastrophic than our current trajectory of triple that.

The Executive Summary is a must-read that clearly discusses the magnitude of the challenge.  Despite the fact that renewable energy sources supplied 16.7 percent of global energy consumption in 2011 and comprised 44 percent of all new generating capacity built in the world last year, the world is not moving fast enough toward clean energy and efficiency.  The summary points out that nine out of ten technologies that hold potential for energy and CO2 emissions savings are failing to meet the deployment objectives needed to achieve the 2DS scenario.   

IEA singled out as “particularly worrisome” the slow uptake of energy efficiency technologies and the lack of progress in carbon capture and storage (CCS), among others.  IEA said that CCS could account for up to 20% of cumulative CO2 reductions in the 2DS by 2050. This requires rapid deployment of CCS; however, scale remains the issue - there are no large-scale CCS demonstrations in electricity generation and few in industry. That, in my view, underscores the potential significance of the Pennsylvania model that was developed with the help of the Clinton Climate Initiative during my tenure at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. 

IEA also discusses the role of natural gas as a bridge fuel to a low carbon future.  To cut CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2050, coal use would need to fall by 45 percent compared to 2009. Natural gas – at half the carbon emissions of coal - would be the replacement fuel.  But the report makes clear that its viability for electricity generation beyond 2025 must be tied to CCS. The report says that post-2030, natural gas must increasingly play a supporting role to renewables.

The report presents a set of daunting challenges.  While there are very strong economic arguments for starting immediately to make the investments needed to achieve a low-carbon future, we are not moving wisely or nearly fast enough. 


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