International Energy Agency Calls for Massive Clean Energy Technology Push

June 11, 2008 | Teryn Norris,

By Jesse Jenkins & Teryn Norris

A sustainable and prosperous energy future is within our reach, but
only if we launch an all-out effort to ignite an "energy technology
revolution" through massive investments in clean and affordable energy
technologies and infrastructure. That's the main thrust of the International Energy Agency's landmark report, Energy Technology Perspectives 2008, released last Friday.

"A global revolution is needed in ways that energy is supplied and used,"
the 600+ page IEA report concludes.  Recognizing the central energy
challenges facing the global community in the 21st Century, the report
delves into what it would take for "all countries to put in motion a
transition to a more secure, lower-carbon energy [system], without
undermining economic growth" (ETP2008 Fact Sheet available here [pdf]).

The short answer: we
need massive investments in the research and development,
demonstration, and deployment of a broad portfolio clean energy
technologies and the infrastructures that will enable them.

To secure a sustainable and prosperous future, the IEA report calls for $45 trillion in additional investment in clean energy -- a major global technology push designed to ensure breakthroughs in the cost and performance of a variety of clean energy technologies, both nascent and mature, and ensure their rapid deployment. This all-out technology push would cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050 and would cut oil consumption by more than a quarter, major steps towards stabilizing the climate and ending our global oil addiction.

The role of technology RD&D is essential to securing a sustainable energy future, according to the IEA report.

"Although currently known technologies are capable of delivering the emission reductions required, many of those technologies face significant technical and cost barriers," the report says. The IEA calls on the world's developed nations to ramp up investments in energy technology research, development and demonstration (RD&D) in order to break through these technical and cost barriers and ensure abundant supplies of clean, affordable energy. "Current levels of investment are very unlikely to achieve the sort of step change in technology that is needed" to drive a clean and prosperous energy future, the report says. "Even a doubling of current levels of investment may not be enough."

So what's the right level of investment in RD&D?

According to the IEA, total "learning investments," investments needed to get to a mature technology ready for widespread commercial deployment, would require $1.75 trillion over the next 20 years alone and another $5.25 trillion between 2030 and 2050. The report concludes that "a massive increase [in] energy technology Research, Development and Deployment (RD&D) is needed in the coming 15 years, in the order of USD 10-100 billion per year."

The IEA's BLUE Map scenario, which aims to achieve the 50% global emissions reductions by 2050 recommended by the IPCC, calls for massive investments in a host of new energy technologies. The report highlights 17 technologies with the following criteria:

  • Largest potential CO2 reductions
  • Advanced stage of RD&D
  • Balanced portfolio of technologies

These are the amounts it recommends for all of the power generation technology and two of the transportation technologies, advanced biofuels and plug-in hybrid and battery technologies. All investment figures are over the period from 2010-2050.

Power Generation:

$200 -- $240 billion :: Solar Photovoltaics (PV)
$600 - 700 billion :: Wind energy (onshore and offshore)
$300 - 350 billion :: Concentrating solar power (CSP)
$110 - 130 billion :: Biomass energy (gasification and co-combustion plants)
$1.3 - 1.5 trillion :: Carbon capture and storage (CCS -- fossil fuel plants)
$650 - 750 billion :: Nuclear power plants
$350 - 400 billion :: Coal gasification (IGCC)
$350 - 400 billion :: Coal ultra-supercritical steam (USCSC)

$4.0 - 4.6 trillion :: Electric and plug-in vehicles
$100 - 120 billion :: Second generation biofuels (cellulosic, butanol)

The average year-by-year investments in deployment necessary between 2010 and 2050 needed in the power sector include, amongst others:

  • 55 fossil-fuelled power plants with CCS
  • 32 nuclear plants
  • 17,500 large wind turbines
  • 215 million square meters of solar panels

In the transportation sector, 1 billion zero-emissions vehicles would need to be deployed between 2010 and 2050.

Will such an undertaking require technological breakthroughs

Many well-known climate advocates have argued that all the technology exists today.  The IEA report, however, dedicates an entire section to "RD&D breakthroughs required for technologies in power supply" (their words, not ours!)  Indeed, the report calls for technological breakthroughs in nearly every single one of its recommended technologies.

Clean energy generation technologies necessary to achieve deep emission reductions will require target action in basic science, applied R&D, demonstration, deployment, and commercialization.  Image Credit: International Energy Agency, Energy Technology Perspectives 200

The total breakdown of investments for IEA's BLUE Map scenario, including power generation and transportation, are listed below.  All of these amounts are the investments required above the baseline levels of investment expected between 2010 and 2050:

$3.6 trillion :: Power generation
$1.4 trillion :: Transmission
$2.5 trillion :: Industry
$6.4 trillion :: Residential
$1.0 trillion :: Services
$32.8 trillion :: Transport
-$2.1 trillion :: Distribution
-$0.6 trillion :: Transformation
Total:  $45 trillion

A Daunting but Achievable Challenge

"The world faces the daunting combination of surging energy demand,
rising greenhouse gas emissions and tightening resources," said Nobuo
Tanaka, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) on
the report's release. "A global energy technology revolution is both
necessary and achievable; but it will be a tough challenge."

A tough challenge for sure, but it's a challenge we're ready for.  The technologies to build a sustainable and prosperous energy future are at our fingertips. As the wealthiest global society in history, we have the resources we need to break through the barriers to their deployment and build the future we know is possible.  Now it's time to put the cash on the table - time to invest in the all-out technology push the IEA calls for.

As the IEA says, its "Now or Never."

Breakthrough will post several more posts on the landmark IEA report as we conduct in depth analysis of the report's findings throughout the summer. Stay tuned...


I have read of this report last week. What will be interesting is whether it will be discussed at such venues as PowerVote, since it keeps coal and nuclear in the mix.

By R Margolis on 2008 06 12