IEA: Deep Disparities Define Global Energy System
Deep disparities define today’s energy world, according to the World Energy Outlook 2019 produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The are disparities arising from well-supplied oil markets and growing geopolitical uncertainty, from the gap between the ever-higher amounts of greenhouse gas emissions being produced and the insufficiency of stated policies to curb them and from the gap between the promise of energy for all and the lack of electricity access for 850 million people around the world.
The path the world is on right now is shown by the Current Policies Scenario, which provides a baseline picture of how global energy systems would evolve if governments make no changes to their existing policies. In this scenario, energy demand rises by 1.3 percent a year to 2040, resulting in strains across all aspects of the world's energy markets and a continued strong upward march in energy-related emissions.
The Stated Policies Scenario, formerly known as the New Policies Scenario, incorporates today’s policy intentions and targets in addition to existing measures. The aim is to hold up a mirror to today’s plans and illustrate their consequences. The future outlined in this scenario is still well off track from the aim of a secure and sustainable energy future. It describes a world in 2040 where hundreds of millions of people still go without access to electricity, where pollution-related premature deaths remain around today’s elevated levels and where CO2 emissions would lock in severe impacts from climate change.
The Sustainable Development Scenario indicates what needs to be done differently to fully achieve climate and other energy goals that policy makers around the world have set themselves. Achieving this scenario – a path fully aligned with the Paris Agreement aim of holding the rise in global temperatures to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C – requires rapid and widespread changes across all parts of the energy system. Sharp emission cuts are achieved thanks to multiple fuels and technologies providing efficient and cost-effective energy services for all.
“What comes through with crystal clarity in this year’s World Energy Outlook is there is no single or simple solution to transforming global energy systems,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “Many technologies and fuels have a part to play across all sectors of the economy. For this to happen, we need strong leadership from policy makers, as governments hold the clearest responsibility to act and have the greatest scope to shape the future.”
In the Stated Policies Scenario, energy demand increases by one percent per year to 2040. Low-carbon sources, led by solar PV, supply more than half of this growth, and natural gas accounts for another third. Oil demand flattens out in the 2030s, and coal use edges lower. Some parts of the energy sector, led by electricity, undergo rapid transformations. Some countries, notably those with “net zero” aspirations, go far in reshaping all aspects of their supply and consumption.
However, the momentum behind clean energy is insufficient to offset the effects of an expanding global economy and growing population. The rise in emissions slows but does not peak before 2040.
Shale output from the U.S. is set to stay higher for longer than previously projected, reshaping global markets, trade flows and security. In the Stated Policies Scenario, annual U.S. production growth slows from the rapid pace seen in recent years, but the U.S. still accounts for 85 percent of the increase in global oil production to 2030, and for 30 percent of the increase in gas. By 2025, total U.S. shale output (oil and gas) overtakes total oil and gas production from Russia.
“The shale revolution highlights that rapid change in the energy system is possible when an initial push to develop new technologies is complemented by strong market incentives and large-scale investment,” said Birol. “The effects have been striking, with U.S. shale now acting as a strong counterweight to efforts to manage oil markets.”
The higher U.S. output pushes down the share of OPEC members and Russia in total oil production, which drops to 47 percent in 2030, from 55 percent in the mid-2000s. But whichever pathway the energy system follows, the world is set to rely heavily on oil supply from the Middle East for years to come, says Birol.
Alongside the task of putting emissions on a sustainable trajectory, energy security remains paramount for governments around the globe. Traditional risks have not gone away, and new hazards such as cybersecurity and extreme weather require constant vigilance. Meanwhile, the continued transformation of the electricity sector requires policy makers to move fast to keep pace with technological change and the rising need for the flexible operation of power systems.
“The world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions. This calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is committed to tackling climate change,” said Birol. “Our Sustainable Development Scenario is tailor-made to help guide the members of such a coalition in their efforts to address the massive climate challenge that faces us all.”
A sharp pick-up in energy efficiency improvements is the element that does the most to bring the world towards the Sustainable Development Scenario. Right now, efficiency improvements are slowing: the 1.2 percent rate in 2018 is around half the average seen since 2010 and remains far below the three percent rate that would be needed.
Increasingly cost-competitive offshore wind projects are on course to attract a trillion dollars of investment to 2040. Europe’s success with the technology has sparked interest in China, the U.S. and elsewhere. In the Sustainable Development Scenario, offshore wind rivals its onshore counterpart as the leading source of electricity generation in the European Union, paving the way to full decarbonization of Europe’s power sector. Even higher deployment is possible if offshore wind becomes the foundation for the production of low-carbon hydrogen.
The report states: “Meeting rising demand for energy services, including universal access, while cutting emissions is a formidable task: all can help, but governments must take the lead. Initiatives from individuals, civil society, companies and investors can make a major difference, but the greatest capacity to shape our energy destiny lies with governments. It is governments that set the conditions that determine energy innovation and investment. It is governments to whom the world looks for clear signals and unambiguous direction about the road ahead.”