The International Energy Agency sounded the alarm Thursday about the “critical need” to rapidly accelerate clean energy innovation. That’s because the climate goals set by governments and corporations around the world depend on technologies that have not yet reached the market.
“The message is very clear: in the absence of much faster clean energy innovation, achieving net-zero goals in 2050 will be all but impossible,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said in a statement.
Major parts of the world economy don’t have clean energy options as yet. Power companies are dumping coal in favor of increasingly affordable solar and wind power. And all the major auto makers are racing to develop the best electric vehicles to compete with Tesla.
Yet there are few technologies available to bring emissions down to zero in areas such as shipping, trucking and aviation, the IEA said. The same problem exists in heavy industries like steel, cement and chemicals.
“Decarbonizing these sectors will largely require the development of new technologies that are not currently in commercial use,” the report said.
And that is no slam dunk. It took decades to scale up solar panels and batteries to make them economical. And plenty of technologies failed along the way.
“Time is in even shorter supply now,” the IEA report said.
‘Disconnect’ between goals and efforts
That’s not to say progress isn’t being made.
Still, the IEA said there are “no single or simple solutions to putting the world on a sustainable path to net-zero emissions.”
About three-quarters of the cumulative reductions in carbon emissions to get on that path will need to come from technologies that have “not yet reached full maturity,” the report said.
For instance, while battery technology has evolved significantly, the IEA said “rapid progress” is required to transition battery prototypes to the world’s long-distance transportation needs.
Yet there isn’t enough money being deployed by corporations or the public sector toward researching next-generation energy solutions.
“There is a disconnect between the climate goals that governments and companies have set for themselves and the efforts underway to develop better and cheaper technologies to realize those goals,” the IEA’s Birol said.
Pandemic deals blow to energy spending
That disconnect, like so many others now, is being amplified by the pandemic.
That slowdown in spending undermines efforts to develop clean energy solutions.
“Failure to accelerate progress now,” the IEA report said, “risks pushing the transition to net-zero emissions further into the future.”