Despite encouraging signs of progress in a number of sectors, more effort is needed to put the world on track to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century, according to the IEA’s latest assessment of global progress in clean energy technologies.
The annual Tracking Clean Energy Progress (TCEP) update assesses 55 components of the energy system – sectors, technologies, infrastructure and cross-cutting carbon mitigation strategies – and assesses their progress in 2021 towards reaching key mid-term milestones by the end of this decade set out in the IEA path to net-zero emissions by 2050. The TCEP analysis is available as a comprehensive online resource on the IEA website.
Recent technological developments and policy actions suggest momentum is accelerating in some key regions and sectors. Initial estimates are that 2022 will be a record year for renewable power capacity build-out, with an increase of about 340 gigawatts, roughly equal to Japan’s total installed power capacity. China accounts for about half of these additions. This year is also expected to set another all-time high for EV sales, rising to 13% of total light commercial vehicle sales worldwide. Pipelines for both hydrogen projects and carbon capture and storage plants continue to expand, and last year saw record sales of heat pumps. A pilot project last year used hydrogen to make completely fossil-free steel, and the first commercial production of non-lithium sodium-ion batteries is slated to begin next year.
“There are more signs than ever that the new global energy economy is making great strides,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “This reinforces my belief that today’s global energy crisis can be a tipping point towards a cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy system. But this new IEA analysis shows the need for greater and sustained efforts across a range of technologies and sectors to ensure the world can meet its energy and climate goals.”
On the political front, the historic US Anti-Inflation Act passed in August earmarks $370 billion for investments in energy security and climate change, and gives a boost to a variety of clean energy technologies, from solar, wind and electric vehicles to carbon capture and hydrogen. Meanwhile, the European Union, with its REPowerEU plan, is raising its renewable energy and energy efficiency targets and committing significant resources to achieving them.
Governments are also spending more on clean energy R&D, which could reach $35 billion in 2022, while venture capital investments in clean energy start-ups hit an all-time high in 2021. Governments are supporting large R&D and demonstration projects through policies such as the US bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the EU Innovation Fund, Japan’s Green Innovation Fund and China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, with an increasing focus on heavy industry, hydrogen and carbon capture.
Despite these positive signs, this year’s TCEP, which assesses the current state in 2021, found that only two components – electric vehicles and lighting – were fully on track for their 2030 milestones in the IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 scenario two like last year. Global electric vehicle sales have doubled in the last year and account for nearly 9% of the auto market, while over 50% of the global lighting market now uses LED technology. Of the remaining areas of pursuit, 30 were rated as “needing more effort” and 23 as “not on track.” Areas not on track include improving the energy efficiency of building designs, developing clean and efficient district heating, phasing out coal-fired power generation, eliminating methane flaring, migrating aviation and shipping to cleaner fuels and the cleaning of cement, chemical and steel production.
Along with TCEP, the IEA is also releasing an enhanced Clean Energy Innovation Tracker, which includes an update to the Clean Technology Guide, as well as a new publicly available global database of clean energy demonstration projects, providing project-by-project information including location, sector, technology, technology readiness, status, Financing and schedule of operations. The database responds to the need to monitor how public and private support for demonstration projects translates into projects on the ground.
The clean energy transition will require a diversity of technologies and fuels in all parts of the energy system, requiring comprehensive and ambitious policy packages that adequately support the transition in all sectors, the TCEP analysis shows. This current decade is a critical time to lay a solid foundation for achieving longer-term goals.