Global Energy Authority Looks Skyward for the Future

The International Energy Agency recently released its annual World Energy Outlook, and while it is, of course, bleak, there were dappled rays of hope. 

Every year, the World Energy Outlook report attempts to bridge gaps in the public understanding of what global superpowers have promised to do, what they’re actually doing, what the environment is doing right now, what it will do if those promises are kept, and what it will do if they’re not.

It’s a hefty undertaking, and it usually yields mostly bad news. Which is a shame, because it’s considered the foremost global authority on energy projections.

But 2020 wasn’t like every other year.

Several key events – and we bet you know which ones we mean – have altered the IEA’s predictions significantly. The oil industry’s fall from grace, the sharp decline in energy usage as offices, bars, movie theaters, and more public energy sinks closed, the unparalleled decrease in travel…

All pandemic-related factors collided and ultimately encouraged the IEA change their normally long-term approach to predicting the evolution of the energy-sector…

Instead, this report focuses on the next 10 years of the energy sector, with an eye towards spaces the pandemic has made ripe for clean energy transitions.

The IEA’s biggest prediction? 

Solar energy is going to dominate.

Let’s take a look at what some of the biggest factors were in the IEA’s analysis, and why they think solar is going to become cheaper, more available, and mainstream.

What 2020 Changed

Global emissions dropped this year – by 2.4 Gigatonnes, bringing them back to where they were a decade ago. 

But as the report clarifies, emissions dropped because of economic suppression – which we all know will not be a strategy adopted by the global elite in order to curb climate change. Low economic growth has been a temporary respite, and will ultimately affect the poorest parts of the world the most strongly, as long as it continues.

There are some questions that need to be answered, however…

How much longer will the world be rendered immobile? If a vaccine is developed, will people return to offices and public work spaces? Will the economic setback usher in new, clean energy investments or drive the money-makers back into the arms of familiar and comfortable fossil fuel projects?

Here are some of the major highlights from the report regarding what’s happened this year…

  • The demand for coal, gas, and oil all fell, by 7%, 3%, and 8%, respectively.
  • The demand for renewable energy rose by about 1%.
  • Total global electricity demand fell by about 2%.

Those numbers may seem so small as to not have an impact, but remember – the global temperature rising by just 1.5 degrees Celsius is considered catastrophic. 

Certain parts of the world are using more energy than others – for example, India’s energy usage has increased, while sub-Saharan Africa will have even more people without electricity than it did in 2019 (580 million.)

The report outlines several possible scenarios constructed by the IEA – some expecting us to return to pre-pandemic energy usage by 2021, others by 2023, and still another by 2025.

Which means the world has some time to invest heavily in what the report imagines will be our energy savior: solar power.

Solar Should Eclipse Fossil Fuels

One scenario in particular, the Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS), renewable energy will be able to meet up to 80% of the global energy demand by 2030.

Considering most developed countries in the world, and an increasing number of private businesses, are aiming to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, that’s a pretty affirming percentage!

Net-zero emissions: a situation in which our carbon output is neutralized by carbon sequestering; in other words, when we absorb as much carbon through natural and technical practices as we put out into the atmosphere.

Hydropower, in this prediction, will still be the largest source of renewables. But because of the rapidly lowering cost of solar energy projects, the emerging storage solutions slated to house the solar-generated power, and the availability of metals and minerals necessary to create solar equipment, experts consider its eventual position as the king of the renewable energy sector a given. 

Solar power will be followed by offshore wind – mainly because building wind farms is costly, and takes longer to make a discernible dent in region fossil fuel usage.

Here’s the problem: large global economies that have the resources to implement a widespread energy shift will likely do so, as the demand for coal looks unrecoverably low and the demand for oil is projected to flatten by 2030. 

But smaller global economies, especially those hit hardest by the pandemic, simply won’t be able to invest in the infrastructure necessary to situate solar energy as the dominant energy source.

And as those who follow the renewable energy sector know, even implementing solar energy will require natural gas, and solar energy has yet to evolve enough to power heavy land travel, air travel, or marine travel. The International Gas Union endorsed the IEA’s report, saying they were prepared to meet natural gas demands for the world to move closer to clean energy. 

These predictions are certainly welcome in a year of near-constant disappointments. 

But what really needs to happen in order for them to come true is sweeping policy reform.

Luckily, the IEA laid out a plan for that too. Check it out and reach out to your local representatives about it – we don’t emphasize local government enough, but change starts small! 

With enough voices saying the same thing, our policy makers may just see the light. 

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

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