Many clean generating technologies lagging in their deployment rates, the IEA says

Energize Weekly, June 12, 2019

While the deployment of carbon-free electricity generation advanced in 2018, many key technologies are lagging in the pace needed to reach international goals, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“The world is currently not on track to meet the main energy-related components of the Sustainable Development Goals agreed on by 193 countries in 2015,” the agency said.

The IEA has created a Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) that would meet the goals and is tracking 13 key generation technologies against it.

Only two of the technologies were found to be on track to meet the scenario – photovoltaic (PV) solar and bioenergy electric generation.

Five technologies – onshore and offshore wind, hydropower, nuclear, natural gas-fired power – fell into the need more effort category.

Geothermal, concentrating solar, coal-fired power, ocean generation and carbon capture were deemed “not on track.”

Global electricity demand increased 4 percent in 2018, with low-carbon generation expanding 6 percent. The power sector accounted for 42 percent of global carbon emissions.

Coal remained the largest source of electricity generation with an increase of 2.6 percent for a total of 38 percent of all generation in 2018.

For the year, power sector carbon dioxide emissions rose by 2.5 percent. Coal was responsible for 80 percent of this increase.

Coal-fired generation, without carbon-capture technology, has to decrease 5.8 percent per year to 2030 to be in line with the SDS, the IEA said.

Natural gas-fired power generation increased 4 percent in 2018, based on strong growth in China and U.S. natural gas-fired generation accounted for 23 percent of overall power generation.

Under the SDS, natural gas increases to 2030, primarily replacing coal-fired plants, and then declines slowly to 2040.

While renewable energy generation increased 7 percent in 2018, with wind and PV solar responsible for 60 percent of the increase, the rate of growth of renewables overall is still lagging, the IEA said.

“Although the share of renewables in global electricity generation reached 26 percent in 2018, renewable power as a whole still needs to expand significantly to meet the SDS share of half of generation by 2030,” the agency said.

The decline in average carbon intensity of electricity generation must accelerate to 3.4 percent per year to meet the SDS level of cutting emission per kilowatt-hour to less than half the current level.

One non-carbon technology the IEA singled out as representing challenges for meeting clean electricity goals was nuclear generation, where projections show some declines in capacity.

In 2018, an additional 11.2 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity was added worldwide, and 6 GW of new projects were launched, as well as refurbishment programs to extend the life of existing plants.

“Nevertheless, more efforts in terms of policies, financing and cost reductions are needed to maintain existing capacity and bring new reactors online,” the IEA said.

Under current trends, nuclear capacity in 2030 would amount to 497 GW – about 8 percent short of the SDS goals. The IEA calls for “at least a doubling” in the current annual rate of nuclear additions.

“The lack of further lifetime extensions of existing nuclear plants and new projects could result in an additional 4 billion tons of CO2 emissions,” the agency said.

Against this backdrop, the IEA said global power investments fell in 2018 by 1 percent to $775 billion, with lower capital spending on generation.

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