The International Energy Agency Targets Net Zero by 2050
Hydrogen and Fuel Cells are Key Components in Enabling Long-duration Power Storage and Generation and Universal Energy Access
The International Energy Agency special report “Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector” indicates that the pathway to the critical and formidable goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is narrow but will bring huge benefits. Execution of the roadmap will require an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported and used globally. This comprehensive study makes a detailed examination of how to transition to a net zero energy system by 2050 while ensuring the parallel achievement of three crucial objectives: stable and affordable energy supplies, universal energy access, and robust economic growth.
The study indicates that the ambitious effort to tackle climate change and limit global warming to 1.5°C demands enormous scale and speed and moving the world onto that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments that will go far beyond the climate pledges made to date. Individual governments’ actions must be underpinned by ever broader international cooperation.
To guide the global journey to net zero by 2050, the IEA roadmap sets out more than 400 milestones, including a cessation of investment in new fossil fuel supply projects and in new unabated coal plants. The roadmap designates that by 2035 there will be no sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars and that by 2040, the global electricity sector will have already reached net-zero emissions.
This wholesale transition to clean energy will depend on immediate and massive deployment of all the clean and efficient energy technologies available today – from renewable wind and solar to EVs and energy efficient building retrofits – alongside a combination of improved energy efficiency and an all-out global drive to accelerate innovation. With the primary source of energy being photovoltaic, other important technologies include advanced batteries, electrolyzers and hydrogen and direct air capture and storage. Hydrogen will figure centrally in the energy system to refine hydrocarbon fuels and as an energy carrier in its own right and can be burned or used in fuel cells for electricity and heat in a wide variety of applications.
Alongside clean energy resources, universal energy access in the net zero 2050 energy system mandates that developing economies must receive the financing and technological know-how they need to build out their energy systems to meet the needs of their expanding populations and economies in a sustainable way, delivering electricity to the underserved.
According to the report, almost all off-grid or mini-grid solutions will be100% renewable. Decentralized systems that rely on diesel generators, which are also deployed in some grid-connected systems to compensate for low reliability, will be phased out later and replaced with solar and storage systems. To ensure robust economic growth, the roadmap dictates that total annual energy investment in the net zero pathway will expand to USD 5 trillion by 2030, adding an extra 0.4 percentage points a year to global GDP growth as per an analysis carried out by the IEA together with the International Monetary Fund. The surge in private and government spending will create millions of jobs in clean energy, not only working to increase energy efficiency, but also in the engineering, manufacturing and construction industries. The impact of these developments should result in an increase in global GDP of 4% higher by 2030 than would be achieved in line with current trends.
Oil and gas production while declining will continue to pose energy security challenges; variability in the supply of certain renewables and cybersecurity risks will be increasingly important issues when electricity will play such a central role in global energy systems. Moreover, the dependence of clean energy technologies and infrastructure on critical minerals introduces risks of price volatility and supply disruptions that would be barriers to the energy transition. The IEA looks to governments to build mechanisms and markets to ensure the expanded and flexible supply of electricity.
The findings in this IEA special report will be the basis for the discussions at COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention conference to be held in Glasgow this November.
To read the full IEA special report, click here:
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