Bold changes needed, IEA proclaims

09 November 2011

An insecure, inefficient and high carbon energy system will exist in 2035 unless radical changes take place, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warns in the latest edition of its World Energy Outlook report.


The future of energy is facing challenges and uncertainty due to factors such as the current depressed economic climate, the nuclear accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant, and the security of supply of oil and gas from the Middle East and North Africa. Key trends are pointing in 'worrying directions' with carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions up over recent years, a worsening in energy efficiency performance, and a record high level of spend on oil imports.


The report makes its predictions based on the analysis of three global energy scenarios incorporating divergent future energy policies relating to climate change and energy security. The New Policies Scenario assumes that current energy policy commitments are implemented cautiously over the coming years, leading to a global temperature rise of 3.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels. The Current Polices Scenario assumes no new polices are added to those as of mid-2011, resulting in an increase in CO2 emissions and a global temperature rise of over 6°C. The 450 Scenario starts with the target of trying to restrict a global temperature rise to less than 2°C and implements the measures needed to meet this.


However, the report warns that it is becoming increasing unlikely that the world can hope to feasibly achieve the 450 Scenario as four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permitted by the scenario are already locked-in by existing energy and efficiency. It notes that for every $1 of investment not made in low carbon investment prior to 2020, $4.3 will need to be made after this date to achieve the same result.


New policies


Under the New Policies Scenario, global energy demand is set to rise by one-third between 2010 and 2035, with India and China continuing to dominate growth and China moving firmly into the lead as the world’s largest energy consumer. All forms of primary energy production increase, with renewable energy and gas showing the largest growth, but nuclear generation also increasing by about 70% from today.


The report advises "that the age of fossil fuel is far from over" and, even though their contribution to the share of primary energy falls slightly from 81% in 2010 to 75% in 2035, there is still a net increase in overall consumption. Indeed, natural gas is on the verge of a "golden age" with Russia, the USA, China, Canada and Australia all increasing their production and tapping into "unconventional" resources.


Vehicle use continues to propagate across the world, and China and India both dramatically increasing their dependence on oil imports. However, the cost of oil permanently rises as demand increases and production shifts to a smaller number of producing countries. The use of biofuels resultantly triples in order to meet transport demand.


On the subject of nuclear power, the report concludes that it will prove more expensive and simply much harder to tackle climate change if future nuclear energy supply was to be halved.  While renewable energy sources would surely receive a boost in this situation, the end result would see an increase in the use of coal and gas and a net 6.2% increase in global CO2 emissions compared with the New Policies Scenario.


The future of renewable energy deployment remains heavily conditional on increasing subsidies, with global subsidies of $66 billion per year needing to climb to $250 billion per year if renewable targets are to be met. Rising deployment outweighs any advantage brought about by improved competitiveness.


The report concludes by noting that "if we don't change direction soon, we will end up where we are heading."


IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven commented: "Growth, prosperity and rising population will inevitably push up energy needs over the coming decades. But we cannot continue to rely on insecure and environmentally unsustainable uses of energy. Governments need to introduce stronger measures to drive investment in efficient and low-carbon technologies." She added, "The Fukushima nuclear accident, the turmoil in parts of the Middle East and North Africa and a sharp rebound in energy demand in 2010 which pushed CO2 emissions to a record high, highlight the urgency and the scale of the challenge."


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News