People think using more energy is a bad thing, says International Energy Agency chief Fatih Birol – but as long as we can make it cleanly, it needn’t be
4 August 2021
Adam Vaughan: How do we need to change the world’s energy systems to reach net-zero emissions by 2050?
Fatih Birol: Between now and 2030, we have to make the most of the existing clean energy technologies: solar, wind, electric cars, energy efficiency. But this alone is not enough. To use renewables at a maximum level, in an economically efficient way, requires more than having solar photovoltaic panels and windmills. We need strong and distributed grids and storage – in batteries, hydrogen and hydropower.
I think there is not enough attention on the second part. It is a major handicap of our push for renewable energies.
Some 50 per cent of the reductions to reach net zero in 2050 will need to come from technologies not on the market today. We have a very short period to innovate those technologies, such as hydrogen, batteries and carbon capture, utilisation and storage. We will also need clean-energy technologies in the industrial sector, from cement to steel. [Use of] unabated coal, oil and gas will need to be extremely minimal. This is a major point. A total transformation of the energy system is needed, a Herculean task.
How far off-track are we?
We are not only off-track, the gap is widening and widening. With the rebound of the [global] economy, we expect an increase of about 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions this year, which would be the second largest increase in history. Most [emissions reduction] pledges are lacking what specific energy policies will be put in place, and how those policies will be financed.
It will be much more difficult and much more …