IEA Forecasts Global Renewables Expansion, Dismal Outlook for CCS

By 2035, renewables will hold a 30% share of the global power mix but just 1% of the world’s fossil fuel–fired power plants will be equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS), reports the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its newly released World Energy Outlook (WEO-2013).

The annual report presents a central scenario in which global energy demand rises by one-third in the period to 2035, driven higher by India and Southeast Asian countries rather than by China.

And though several initiatives to mitigate climate change are underway—as with the U.S. Climate Action Plan, China’s plans to limit coal’s share in its domestic energy mix, Europe’s debate on 2030 energy and climate targets, and Japan’s discussion of a new energy plan that may or may not include nuclear power—global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will still rise by 20% by 2035. That means, according to the IEA’s New Policies Scenario, which takes into account the impact of already announced climate change measures and other policies, the world will be on a “trajectory consistent with a long-term average temperature increase of 3.6C, far above the internationally agreed 2C target,” the report says.

Coal is expected to remain a cheaper option than natural gas for power generation in many regions, though that could change depending on policy interventions to improve efficiency, curb air pollution, and mitigate climate change, the agency says. Coal demand is set to increase 17% to 2035, with two-thirds of that increase occurring by 2020. While coal use will decline in Europe, India is poised to become the world’s largest coal importer by the early 2020s, while the U.S. will meet all its energy needs from domestic resources by 2035. The IEA, however, dismally projects that widespread deployment of CCS technology will stall, estimating that only about 1% of global fossil fired–power plants will be equipped with CCS by 2035.

Nearly half of the increase in global power generation will, meanwhile, be from renewables—and generation from wind, solar photovoltaics, and hydro will make up an expected 30% share of the global power mix by 2035. That will put it ahead of natural gas and just behind coal as the leading fuel. The output from nuclear power is also expected to eventually increase by two-thirds, led by China, South Korea, India, and Russia.

China will lead the world in renewables installations by 2035, its total renewable output totaling more than in the European Union (EU), the U.S., and Japan combined. Overall, the massive renewables increase will likely create challenges, the IEA foresees, raising questions about current market design and its ability to “ensure adequate investment and long-term reliability of supply.”

Electricity prices will also vary, the agency forecasts. Average Japanese, European—and even Chinese—industrial consumers will pay twice as much for power as their counterparts in the U.S.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)