The first Clean Energy Progress Report released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA) finds that while “impressive progress” has been made in developing clean energy technologies in recent years, demand for fossil fuels has continued to surge. Coal has met 47% of global new electricity demand over the past decade, “eclipsing clean energy efforts made over the same period of time,” the agency says.

The report essentially assesses global deployment of clean energy technologies and provides recommendations for countries on future action and spending. It was presented in Abu Dhabi at the second Clean Energy Ministerial.

The IEA, an autonomous organization whose membership includes 28 countries, says that aggressive clean energy policies are required to enhance clean energy growth over fossil fuels, including “removal of fossil fuel subsidies and the implementation of transparent, predictable and adaptive incentives for cleaner energy options.”

"Despite countries’ best efforts, the world is coming ever closer to missing targets that we believe are essential for meeting the goal agreed in Cancun to limit the growth in global average temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius," Ambassador Richard Jones, deputy executive director of the IEA, told reporters.

Coal is the “fastest-growing global energy source,” the IEA report says. It recommends that countries deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) to achieve climate goals. Around 100 large-scale projects are needed by 2020, “but countries must accelerate their policy and funding support for the large-scale CCS demonstrations,” it says. However, while noting that more than 70 CCS projects are currently planned, the report also says that it is uncertain how many will be realized because of recent delays in allocating public funding.

According to the report, policy support in some countries has helped strong growth of solar photovoltaic and wind power, but efforts to achieve sustainable energy goals may be curtailed by weakened backing as a result of government austerity plans. “Instead of eliminating successful policies, governments need to put in place dynamic schemes that respond to technology markets,” the IEA recommends.

"In the case of solar energy, at least ten countries now have sizeable domestic markets, up from just three in 2000," the report’s authors observe. "Wind power also experienced dramatic growth over the last decade; global installed capacity at the end of 2010 was around 194 Gigawatts, more than ten times the 17 Gigawatts that was in place at the end of the year in 2000."

Despite this and other progress with renewable sources of energy, the report states that worldwide renewable electricity generation since 1990 grew an average of 2.7% per year, which is less than the 3% growth seen for total electricity generation.

While nuclear capacity has remained nearly flat for the past decade, countries are currently constructing 66 nuclear reactors that should add 60 GW by 2015, the agency notes. “However, the recent earthquake in Japan and resulting damage have led countries to review nuclear safety and investments across the board,” it says. “As a result, nuclear expansion is likely to be slower than planned.”

Other key recommendations note that an “increased level of systems thinking is needed to integrate the broad range of individual clean energy technologies into the energy system,” and “increased attention and resources” are needed to expand smart grid pilot projects on a regional level.

Sources: POWERnews, IEA