The expansion of renewable energy projects across the world is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise gloomy picture of global progress towards clean energy targets a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said in an annual report to the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM).
IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven told the CEM, which brings together ministers representing countries responsible for four-fifths of greenhouse gas emissions, “The drive to clean up the world’s energy system has stalled.” She added that despite much talk by world leaders, and despite a boom in renewable energy over the last decade, the average unit of energy is still just as dirty as it was twenty years ago.
The report ‘Tracking Clean Energy Progress’ introduces the Energy Sector Carbon Intensity Index (ESCII) which shows how much carbon dioxide is emitted, on average, to provide a given unit of energy. In 1990 the ESCII stood at 2.39 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of oil equivalent (tCO2/toe) and had barely moved by 2010 at 2.37 tCO2/toe.
“As world temperatures creep higher due to ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide – two thirds of which come from the energy sector – the overall lack of progress should serve as a wake-up call,” Ms. Van der Hoeven continued. “We cannot afford another 20 years of listlessness. We need a rapid expansion in low-carbon energy technologies if we are to avoid a potentially catastrophic warming of the planet, but we must also accelerate the shift away from dirtier fossil fuels.”
Despite alarmingly slow progress for a number of technologies, the report does note some positive signs. From 2011 to 2012, solar PV and wind technologies grew by an impressive 42% and 19% respectively. Emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India are also increasing their efforts to deploy renewables while advanced vehicle technologies are also progressing well. Hybrid-electric vehicles broke the 1 million annual sales mark in 2012 and electric vehicle sales also doubled to 110,000 vehicles.
Ms Van der Hoeven also emphasised the growing potential of energy efficiency measures while also noting that there remains a wide difference in standards across the globe with very few regions currently having comprehensive fuel economy measures in place.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) will be critical in a world that continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels however while CCS technologies have matured in many applications they are unlikely to be deployed commercially until governments make firm policy commitments.
The report also gives a number of policy recommendations and stresses that the true cost of energy must be reflected in consumer prices through carbon pricing and the phasing-out of fossil-fuel subsidies. Renewable energy technologies, particularly wind, solar and electric vehicles will need to be supported for several years more but such subsidy policies should also be flexible and transparent. There should also be more stringent and broader energy performance standards, building codes and fuel economy standards that can drive energy efficiency.