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Renewables could quadruple by 2050 with policy incentives, says IEA

PARIS, France, June 28, 2006 (Refocus Weekly)

The world must “act urgently and decisively” to promote renewable energies, says the International Energy Agency.

“The world is not on course for a sustainable energy future,” warns ‘Energy Technology Perspectives: Scenarios & Strategies to 2050.’ The report is a response to the G8 leaders at the Gleneagles Summit last July, which directed IEA to advise on alternative scenarios and strategies for a clean energy future.

“Technologies can make a difference,” says Claude Mandil of the IEA. “A sustainable energy future is possible, but only if we act urgently and decisively to promote, develop and deploy a full mix of energy technologies including improved energy efficiency, CO2 capture and storage, renewables and, where acceptable, nuclear energy.”

“We have the means; now we need the will,” he explained. “We find that clean and more efficient technologies can return soaring energy-related CO2 emissions to today’s levels by 2050 and halve the expected growth in both oil and electricity demand.”

The 486-page report explains how energy technologies can make a difference by 2050 in power generation, buildings, industry and transport, and assesses how energy security can be enhanced and the growth in CO2 emissions contained by using a portfolio of current and emerging technologies. The major strategic elements of a successful portfolio are energy efficiency, renewables, CO2 capture and storage, and nuclear power.

“Improved energy efficiency is an indispensable component of any policy mix, and it is available immediately,” says Mandil. Accelerating efficiency improvements alone could reduce global energy demand in 2050 by an amount equivalent to half of current consumption but, to achieve this, governments “must be willing to implement measures that encourage the investment in energy-efficient technologies.”

Carbon capture & storage (CCS) from generating stations and industrial processes should be a high priority, and deploying CCS, along with more renewables, more nuclear and more efficient use of natural gas and coal, “can significantly de-carbonize global electricity generation by 2050,” adds Mandil. “With the right policy incentives, we think there is scope for renewables to quadruple by 2050 and for nuclear to gain a more important role in countries where it is acceptable.”

The greatest progress in renewable energy technology is expected in solar PV, where production costs were US$178 to $542 per MWh in 2005, and will drop to $60 to $290 by 2050, the report predicts. The cost of tidal energy will drop from $122 to $90, while solar thermal drops from $105-$230 to $60-$175, offshore wind from $66-$217 to $60-$180, small hydro from $56 to $49, onshore wind from $42-$221 to $35-$205, large hydro from $34-$117 to $33-$113, geothermal from $33-$97 to $29-$84, and biomass from $31-$103 per MWh to $29-$94 by 2050.

Reductions in investment costs are also the most precipitous for solar PV, dropping from $3,750 per kW in 2005 to $1,000 in 2050.

The report was released against a backdrop of high oil prices and global CO2 emissions from energy use that are 25% higher than a decade ago. The “groundbreaking” IEA publication takes a detailed look at status and prospects for key energy technologies and “puts forward strategies for attaining scenarios unimaginable under current trends.” Technology holds great promise for the future, but “we must act now if we are to unlock the potential of current and emerging technologies, and reduce the impact of fossil fuel dependence on energy security and the environment.”