solar farm
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The International Energy Agency has released a 2050 net zero emissions roadmap for the global energy sector.

The new publication, Net Zero by 2050, calls for the immediate and massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies, stating that achieving net zero by 2050 hinges on the clean technology push to 2030.

The pathway requires solar and wind to scale up rapidly to reach annual additions of 630GW and 390GW respectively by 2030. This is four times the record levels set in 2020. Or put another way for solar PV, it is equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day.

At the same time electric vehicles (EVs) increase from around 5% of global car sales to more than 60% by 2030.

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All of this requires a massive increase in clean energy investment. For example, the number of public charging points for EVs should rise from around 1 million today to 40 million in 2030, requiring annual investment of almost $90 billion by then. Annual battery production for EVs should increase from 160GWh today to 6,600GWh in 2030 – the equivalent of adding almost 20 gigafactories each year for the next ten years.

The rollout of hydrogen and carbon capture and storage after 2030 requires the foundations to be laid, with investments in CO2 pipelines and hydrogen infrastructure increasing from $1 billion today to around $40 billion in 2030.

2050 energy sector

The IEA’s publication is the third to present an achievable 2050 net zero plan in recent weeks, after earlier reports from IRENA and the industry constituted Energy Transitions Commission, although any comparisons are outside the scope of this overview.

IEA’s 2050 pathway envisages a global energy demand around 8% smaller than today, but serving an economy more than twice as big and a population with 2 billion more people.

The 2050 energy sector is based largely on renewable energy, with two-thirds of total supply from wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydro. Solar becomes the largest source, accounting for about one-fifth of energy supplies.

Fossil fuel use, similarly near one-fifth of total supply, remains in goods where the carbon is embodied in the product such as plastics, in facilities fitted with carbon capture and storage and in sectors where low emissions technology options are scarce.

Electricity accounts for almost half of the total energy consumption in 2050, playing a key role across all sectors from transport and buildings to industry. To achieve this, total electricity generation increases over two-and-a-half-times by 2050 with almost 90% coming from renewable sources. Wind and solar PV together account for nearly 70%. Most of the remainder is from nuclear.

Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director, describes the opportunity for net zero emissions by 2050 as “narrow but still achievable” and says the roadmap shows the priority actions that are needed to ensure it is not lost.

“The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal – our best chance of tackling climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5 °C – make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced,” he says.

Priority actions

Among other priorities in the report is the need to boost innovation, with increased government R&D spending. The technologies needed to achieve the necessary cuts in emissions by 2030 already exist. But in 2050, almost half the reductions come from technologies that are currently at the demonstration or prototype phase.

Around $90 billion of public money needs to be mobilised globally as soon as possible to complete a portfolio of demonstration projects before 2030. Currently, only roughly $25 billion is budgeted for that period.

Emerging energy security risks also should be addressed. Governments need to create markets for investment in batteries, digital solutions and electricity grids that reward flexibility and enable adequate and reliable supplies of electricity.

The growing dependence on critical minerals required for key clean energy technologies calls for new international mechanisms to ensure both the timely availability of supplies and sustainable production.

Another priority area is the impact on individuals and communities. The pathway anticipates the creation of 14 million jobs by 2030, but around 5 million jobs are expected to be lost as fossil fuels decline. Policy attention will be required to address the social and economic impacts and to ensure jobs are widely spread.

International cooperation also needs to be heightened. Governments must work together in an effective and mutually beneficial manner to implement coherent measures that cross borders. This includes managing domestic job creation and local commercial advantages with the collective global need for clean energy technology deployment.