Achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century will require nothing short of the complete transformation of the world’s energy system, the International Energy Agency warned. The projection shows the electricity sector must reach the goal already by 2040 and that solar and wind power would together account for nearly 70% in 2050.
The energy sector is the source of three quarters of greenhouse gas emissions and it is the crucial element for the push to avert the worst effects of climate change. The International Energy Agency has just calculated a pathway to drive global net emissions to zero in 30 years.
Developers of solar and wind power have one of the most ambitious tasks as annual capacity additions must grow four times by 2030 from the level measured in 2020, the record year so far, according to Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.
“Our roadmap shows the priority actions that are needed today to ensure the opportunity of net zero emissions by 2050 – narrow but still achievable – is not lost. The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal – our best chance of tackling climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced,” IEA’s Executive Director Fatih Birol said as the special report was released.
Oil, gas, coal expansion stops now
Countries that have pledged to achieve the goal now cover around 70% of carbon dioxide on a global scale. But the agency said the current plans and measures are still consistent with a temperature rise of 2.1 degrees by 2100. Global emissions fell in 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis but are already rebounding strongly as economies recover. Further delay in acting to reverse that trend will put net zero by 2050 out of reach, the document’s authors warned.
The global economy is expected to double in size by mid-century but total energy demand must be lowered by 8%
In the net zero emissions scenario, global energy demand in 2050 is 8% smaller than today but serves an economy more than twice as big and a population with two billion more people. Emission reductions from the energy sector include a 75% cut for methane from fossil fuels.
Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development and no new coal mines or mine extensions. The biggest innovation opportunities concern advanced batteries, hydrogen electrolyzers and direct air capture and storage of CO2.
More than 1 GW in wind power capacity must be added per day from 2030
The roadmap calls for a boost to annual additions in photovoltaics to 630 GW and 390 GW for wind by 2030. For solar power, it is equivalent to installing the world’s currently largest solar park roughly every day.
Renewable sources have a share of 88% in global electricity generation in 2050, against 29% from last year, where the combined photovoltaic and wind capacity would make up nearly 70%. Last year 114 GW of wind power was installed, compared to 134 GW in solar power, IEA said. The pace of additions can decelerate to 350 GW for wind by 2050 and remain the same for photovoltaics, the findings show.
Last year 114 GW of wind power was installed, compared to 134 GW in solar power
The agency sees an almost tenfold increase in the number of households with rooftop photovoltaic systems in thirty years, from 25 to 240 million. The capacity of solar thermal and geothermal energy in buildings is projected to rise from 2% to 12% by 2050 and advance from almost nothing to 2% in industrial production.
Hydropower and nuclear, the two largest sources of low-carbon electricity today, provide an essential foundation for transitions, IEA said.
Roles of energy efficiency, consumer choices
In order to reach climate neutrality, the share of zero-carbon-ready buildings in total stock needs to climb to over 85% by mid-century from less than 1%. Unit energy consumption in home appliances must be cut by 40%.
Mobility alternatives account for 4% of emission cuts in the net zero projection
In the charts, the number of heat pumps jumps ten times to 1.8 billion and the share of electric cars in stock reaches 86%. Currently it is in the vicinity of 1% and the threshold for 2030 is 20%.
“Net zero by 2050 cannot be achieved without the sustained support and participation from citizens. Behavioral changes, particularly in advanced economies – such as replacing car trips with walking, cycling or public transport, or foregoing a long-haul flight – provide around 4% of the cumulative emissions reductions in our pathway,” the document adds.
Fossil fuel cars are out by 2030 in large cities
The authors estimated that 55% of the cumulative emission reductions are linked to consumer choices such as purchasing an electric vehicle, retrofitting a house or installing a heat pump. According to the projection, passenger cars with internal combustion engines aren’t produced anymore in 2035, and the global electricity sector has already reached net zero emissions by 2040.
Furthermore, getting to carbon neutrality implies highway speed limits of 100 kilometers per hour and a ban on cars with internal combustion engines in large cities, both by 2030.
The scenario includes enabling electricity access to all 786 million people that don’t have it now within ten years.