IEA: gas 'not low-CO2' energy source

Far from progressing, the decarbonization of the world’s energy mix is if anything sliding backwards, according to a new International Energy Agency report, which nevertheless hammers home the growing centrality of renewables.

In its annual Energy Technology Perspectives report, the IEA claims that under any conceivable future scenario – whether good or ill for climate change – electricity will be the world’s fastest growing source of energy, representing a tremendous opportunity for renewables.

Further underscoring its profound pivot towards renewables in recent years, the IEA also insists that natural gas “must be seen for what it is – a transitional fuel, not a low-carbon solution unless coupled with carbon capture and storage [CCS]”.

Under its most climate-friendly scenario, the IEA says that natural gas will lose its status as a low-carbon fuel by 2025, by which time it will have a higher carbon intensity than the global electricity mix.

The future of CCS, meanwhile, is deemed “uncertain” at best, with the technology “advancing slowly” at present.

Three forms of low-carbon energy – onshore wind, PV and hydropower – are very successfully “forging ahead”, the IEA finds, while two others – concentrating solar power and nuclear – are effectively stagnating.

For all of its optimism regarding renewables, however, the report concludes that wind and solar are losing ground to coal, and “the overall picture of progress remains bleak”.

“Growing use of coal globally is overshadowing progress in renewable energy deployment, and the emissions intensity of the electricity system has not changed in 20 years, despite some progress in some regions,” says IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven.

The growth in coal-fired generation since 2010 has been greater than all non-fossil sources combined, and 60% of the new coal capacity built over the last decade was subcritical, the least efficient kind commercially available.

Among other interesting findings for renewables, the report concludes that energy storage technologies are “unlikely to be a transformative force”, running contrary a narrative that is popular among sectors focused on variable sources of energy, like the wind and sun.

Energy storage technologies like batteries will increasingly find themselves competing with stronger internal grids, better interconnection and demand-side integration, and more flexible generation, taking the edge off many of the advantages they would otherwise bring to the table, the IEA says.