IEA calls for energy technology ‘revolution’

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As current levels of carbon emissions approach “unsustainable levels”, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has released a report urging governments to implement a “global energy technology revolution” to reverse existing trends.

The report, entitled “Energy Technology Perspectives 2008” and released on 6 June, indicates that if countries continue with their existing policies, global carbon emissions will rise by 130% whilst oil demand will increase by 70% by 2050. 

If these predictions are correct, the report suggests major oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia would need to raise oil production levels five-fold by 2050. This would be difficult seeing as Saudi Arabia recently refused to increase oil production despite two personal appeals by President Bush. 

While countries have recently been more receptive to recognising that there is a problem with sustainable development, they are still far from initiating any action to reverse this trend, the report laments. 

It proposes radical changes to the way the world is using its energy supplies, including a “virtual decarbonisation of the power sector”. While the IEA is in favour of much-debated carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, it stresses that no single form of energy or technology is capable of providing a final solution. Instead, it highlights a mix of alternatives including renewables, nuclear energy, carbon-free transport and improved energy efficiency. 

Yet IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka warned that a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 will pose a “formidable challenge” to countries. “It will essentially require a new global energy revolution which would completely transform the way we produce and use energy,” he said. 

He adds that this could be very hard to achieve seeing as the developed world’s economy is set to grow four-fold by 2050, while developing countries such as India and China are looking at a ten-fold increase. This naturally brings more use of energy with it, which will create unsustainable pressure on natural resources, said Tanaka, calling for “urgent and necessary” action, with whichever remedial option is chosen. 

The IEA itself views tougher regulations on energy efficiency of buildings, appliances and vehicles as an essential part of its goal of reducing 50% of emissions by 2050. It says this represents an especially cost-effective policy option which could have an immediate impact. 

But the agency recognises that there are currently only a few options open to countries to reduce their carbon emissions. It therefore urges a huge increase in investment in R&D and demonstration projects. This would boost the commercial use of technologies such as solar PV, CCS, advanced biofuels, electric batteries, fuel cells and hydrogen production, it says. 

However, the report stresses that implementation of this revolution is laid squarely at the feet of national governments, adding that they have the difficult task of persuading the public that a major shift in priorities is needed. 

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