Massive cleantech deployment needed to reach net zero

Chief Europe Correspondent
Graph of global deployment of clean energy techonologies
Source: International Energy Agency, “Energy Technology Perspectives 2023” • Analysis based on IEA’s Net Zero Emissions Scenario.

Countries need to “dramatically” increase the scale and speed of clean energy technology deployment for a chance to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century, the International Energy Agency (IEA) found in a new report.

Global production of electric vehicles needs to increase 15-fold by 2050, while the deployment of renewables needs to quadruple in that time.

Low-emission synthetic hydrocarbon fuels, primarily jet kerosene, would need to grow from today’s minimal production to 2.4 billion liters in 2030 (more than the oil consumption of Japan’s domestic aviation industry in 2021), the report found.

These fuels, a type of sustainable aviation fuel, are made from synthetic gas, a mixture of hydrogen obtained through electrolysis, carbon monoxide and CO2 collected from direct air capture or from burning biomass for energy.

The industry would need to produce over 105 billion liters of low-emission synthetic hydrocarbon fuels by 2050, equal to the total oil consumption of domestic and international aviation in the United States and the European Union in 2021.

Production of low-emission hydrogen through electrolysis or from natural gas with carbon capture and storage needs to jump from around 0.5 million tonnes (Mt) in 2021 to 450 Mt in 2050. In energy equivalent terms, this increase equals about half of the world’s energy consumption from all forms of transportation in 2021.

The IEA’s Net Zero Emissions (NZE) scenario tracks a pathway for the global energy sector to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

The decarbonization process envisioned in the NZE scenario rests on eight main pillars: behavioral change to reduce energy demand, energy efficiency, hydrogen, electrification of energy systems, bioenergy, wind and solar, carbon capture, utilization and storage and other shifts to cleaner fuels (from coal to natural gas, nuclear, hydropower, etc.)

Behavioral changes and energy efficiency gains don’t require fundamental changes to existing energy systems. However, the other pillars, responsible for 70% of the cumulative emissions reductions by 2050, require massive deployment of new infrastructure, the report found.

The global market for key mass-manufactured clean energy technologies will be worth around $650 billion a year by 2030—more than three times its value today—if countries fully implement their announced energy and climate pledges.

Assuming no major regulatory delays, bringing cleantech manufacturing facilities online takes about one to three years.

“Government policies and market developments can have a significant effect on where the rest of these projects end up,” the report states.