Under a scenario consistent with the Paris climate targets, offshore wind will dominate by 2050, while gas will be the key to secure short-term emission cuts, according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook.
A huge growth in the deployment of offshore wind power could easily get the European Union to net-zero emissions by 2050 and achieve its Paris Agreement climate goals, according to a scenario presented by the International Energy Agency in Brussels on Monday (18 November).
“A carbon neutral Europe has to put offshore wind in front,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said at an event presenting the report in Brussels.
Under a “sustainable development scenario” that meets the Paris Agreement’s target of keeping global temperature rise well below 2°C, nuclear, solar PV hydro and onshore wind all remain relatively stable after 2025.
But offshore wind would see rapid growth. Coal is almost completely phased out, while gas use grows in the short term and declines after 2025.
The reason for the bullish prediction for offshore wind, Birol said, is that recent cost reductions and experience gained in Europe’s North Sea are scaling down costs and increasing efficiency. And Europe’s success with the technology has sparked interest in China, the United States and elsewhere.
Increasingly cost-competitive offshore wind projects are on course to attract a trillion dollars of investment worldwide by 2040. It is more attractive than onshore wind because turbines are larger, tapping into more reliable winds farther away from shore.
“Offshore doesn’t face the public opposition that onshore sometimes does,” said Birol. “We see that technology can provide a big leap forward in terms of cost reduction. Many oil and gas companies today with experience in offshore oil and gas drilling are also looking at offshore wind.”
Birol said the surge in Europe’s offshore wind power is going to resemble the surge seen over the past decade in US shale gas.
“Ten years ago the IEA said, before anyone else, we are going to see a silent revolution in the US. Now I’m going to tell you one more thing. The cost reduction we have seen in shale and solar PV, we will be seeing a similar trend in offshore wind cost reduction in the future,” Birol said.
Role of gas
The US shale gas boom was also a major focus of the outlook report, with the United States expected to account for 30% of the increase in gas production up to 2030. By 2025, total US shale output – oil and gas – will overtake the total production from Russia.
OPEC and Russia will together for the first time fall to less than half of total oil production by 2030, under the IEA scenarios.
The report envisions gas grids as being a “crucial mechanism to bring energy consumers” under the Paris Agreement scenario, typically delivering more energy than electricity networks and providing a “valuable source of flexibility”.
“From an energy transitions perspective, natural gas can provide near-term benefits when replacing more polluting fuels,” the report says.
“A key longer-term question is whether gas grids can deliver truly low- or zero-carbon energy sources, such as low-carbon hydrogen and biomethane”. It notes that while hydrogen is enjoying a wave of interest at the moment, it is still expensive to produce.
Boyana Achovski, Secretary General of Gas Infrastructure Europe, said at the event that this is one of the sector’s main focuses at the moment. “We’re always advocating for increasing and upscaling renewable gases,” she said. “We welcome the recommendations in the outlook to introduce low carbon gas standards. For the moment there are 43 renewable hydrogen projects and 15 power to methane projects. We think it’s extremely important and necessary that these projects are supported.”
The IEA’s new assessment of the sustainable potential for biomethane supply suggests it could cover 20% of today’s gas demand.
Awaiting European Green Deal
One of the main focuses of the new Commission, starting on 1 December, will be sector integration so that all of these energy sources can be used most efficiently, said Ditte Juul-Jorgensen, the new director general of the European Commission’s energy department.
“We see very interesting plans among industry to lower emissions from production process by changing energy carriers,” she said.
The European Commission is expected to unveil the ‘European Green Deal’ of new president Ursula Von Der Leyen on 11 December. It will contain a strategy for meeting the Paris Agreement and net-zero 2050 goals, and will be closely linked to an upcoming package reforming EU gas rules. That legislation is expected to focus heavily on incentivising development of renewable gas.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]