The latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) – “Achieving Net Zero Electricity Sectors in G7 Members” – released on 20 October, is designed to inform discussions at the November COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
The 99-page report, which was requested by the UK, which holds the G7 Presidency this year, is based on the IEA’s to Net Zero by 2050. It says G7 members are well placed to fully decarbonise their electricity supply by 2035, which would accelerate the technological advances and infrastructure rollouts needed to lead global energy markets towards net zero emissions. It follows the G7 Summit, where the leaders of Canada Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the US. The USA and the EU all committed to reach “an overwhelmingly decarbonised” power system in the 2030s and net zero emissions across their economies no later than 2050.
The G7 now accounts for nearly 40% of the global economy, 36% of global power generation capacity, 30% of global energy demand and 25% of global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Its clean energy transition is already underway, with coal making way for cleaner options, the report notes. The electricity sector accounts for one-third of the G7’s energy-related emissions, down from a peak of nearly two-fifths in 2007. In 2020, natural gas and renewables were the primary sources of electricity in the G7, each providing about 30% of the total, with nuclear power and coal close to 20% each.
As with earlier IEA reports, nuclear is seen to play a secondary role to renewable energy sources in achieving net zero targets. According to the IEA’s pathway to net zero by 2050, renewables need to provide 60% of the G7’s electricity supply by 2030, whereas under current policies they are on track to reach 48%. The G7 has an opportunity to demonstrate that electricity systems with 100% renewables during specific periods of the year and in certain locations can be secure and affordable, the report notes.
At the same time, increased reliance on renewables does require the G7 to lead the way in finding solutions to maintain electricity security, including seasonal storage and more flexible and robust grids. It notes that “mature technologies such as hydropower and light-water nuclear reactors contribute only about 15% of the reductions in the IEA pathway”, while 55% come from “deploying technologies that either still have huge scope to grow further, such as onshore wind and solar PV, or in early adoption phase, such as heat pumps and battery storage”. Technologies still in development, such as floating offshore wind, carbon capture and hydrogen, would deliver another 30%.
Summary and policy recommendations of the report are:The IEA Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario (NZE) targets a pathway intended to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C. The scenario focuses on the energy sector, which is responsible for around threequarters of global CO2 emissions today. It describes a possible pathway to reach net zero emissions by 2050 without any offsets outside of the energy sector; applies a comprehensive energy modelling framework; and builds on the latest energy data, state of technology and policy settings worldwide. The IEA Net Zero by 2050 Roadmap lists over 400 sector-specific and technology-specific milestones, enabling the global electricity sector to reach net zero by 2040, enabling emissions reductions in other sectors through electrification. Milestones for 2030 include electric vehicles passing 60% of new car sales, the scaling up to 150 million tonnes of low-carbon hydrogen production, and all new buildings being zero-carbon ready. In industry, all electric motors are best in class by 2035 and 90% of heavy industry production uses low-emissions technologies by 2050. Overall, the energy efficiency of key products is set to double over the next decade.Investment in the energy system in the NZE more than doubles by 2030 to nearly $5 trillion, and the electricity sector attracts more investment than any other. Annual average investment in clean power and electricity networks more than triples by 2030, fuelled by growth in electricity demand and by dramatic growth in wind and solar PV generation. Innovation and international cooperation are important in reaching net zero. While the technologies needed to achieve the emissions reductions targets by 2030 in the NZE are widely available, over half the reductions in 2050 come from technologies not yet available on the market. International cooperation is essential to bring new technologies to commercial maturity and to unlock the financing needed. Without the cooperation assumed in the NZE, the deployment of key technologies and achievement of net zero emissions could be delayed by decades. Transitions to net zero electricity call for a rapid scaling up of renewables and other low-emissions technologies to displace unabated fossil fuels. Global renewables capacity more than triples to over 10 000 GW by 2030, with annual additions of wind and solar PV exceeding 1000GW that year. Wind and solar PV rise from 10% of generation in 2020 to 40% by 2030 and 70% by 2050. Global unabated coal-fired generation drops by two-thirds by 2030 and is fully phased out by 2040 in the NZE. Carbon capture technologies, hydrogen and ammonia help to reduce emissions from remaining coal and natural gasfired power plants. Hydro and nuclear power maintain an important role in generation and contribute to rising system flexibility needs, complementing the growth of battery storage.
Peter Altmaier, Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy said the energy sector plays a key role on theway to climate neutrality. “Solutions are at hand, such as the exit from coal-fired power generation in Germany and other countries. The IEA report shows how the G7 can live up to its pioneering role in this regard – a matter that will continue to be topical during the German G7 presidency in 2022.”
The statement on the report by the G7 Presidency of the UK— Net-Zero Power: Commitment to Action – welcomed the IEA report and said decarbonising power systems in the 2030s requires the G7 to further scale-up renewables deployment and triple investment in generating clean power and supporting grid infrastructure in the next decade. “Delivering the potential of energy efficiency, ‘the first fuel’ to reduce emissions, is also essential to a just and people-centred energy transition, energy security and job creation.” The statement noted that international collaboration is key to accelerating innovation and deployment of clean technologies. “We note Mission Innovation’s goal to demonstrate by 2030 that power systems in different geographies and climates are able to effectively integrate up to 100% variable renewable energies.”
It adds: “A range of institutions are working with international partners, including G7 members, to develop and deploy critical initiatives in the power sector, not least the work of the IEA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, the Clean Energy Ministerial, Mission Innovation, the Super-Efficient Appliance Deployment Initiative, and the work of the Powering Past Coal Alliance and the Energy Transition Council.” The International Atomic Energy Agency is not acknowledged.
The statement concludes: “The UK G7 Presidency welcomes the milestones and recommendations set out in the report and values the role the IEA has in tracking and reviewing progress on the global energy transition. The report’s findings will contribute to informing further action and we hope it will lay the groundwork for collaboration between G7 members going forward.” There is no mention anywhere in the statement of nuclear energy.
Photo: Cover of the IEA report Achieving Net Zero Electricity Sectors in G7 Members (Source IEA)