The International Energy Agency (IEA) has published its World Energy Outlook 2019 and it makes for uncomfortable reading if you were hoping that countries around the planet may collectively be on track to make our societies more sustainable.
This report looks at how today’s decisions will have an impact on the energy systems of the future. It also gives recommendations on how governments around the world can achieve climate, energy access and clean air goals.
Within the report, the IEA has examined three scenarios. The first is the current policies scenario, which looks at the policies in force today and assumes that nothing will change. Under this scenario, there will be a steady increase in global energy emissions, and demand will climb by 1.3 per cent.
This, in turn, will put strain on every element of energy markets, the organisation explained.
Under the stated policies scenario, there is not much better news. While this scenario also accounts for policy intentions as well as current policies, it still revealed that the world as a whole is falling well short of achieving a sustainable energy future by 2040.
A predicts that if we only do what has been suggested for policies already, we will still see CO2 levels rise to a point where they lead to “severe impacts” from climate change, and millions will still be without access to reliable energy supplies. Deaths from pollution-related illness are also expected to increase under this scenario.
However, despite the fact that the world is currently off track when it comes to developing a sustainable energy future, all is not lost.
According to the IEA, countries can still work together to meet their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement. But this will require “rapid and widespread changes across all parts of the energy system”.
Dr Faith Birol, executive director at the IEA, stressed that there is no simple or single solution that will bring about the transformation that’s required in global energy systems.
“Many technologies and fuels have a part to play across all sectors of the economy. For this to happen, we need strong leadership from policy makers, as governments hold the clearest responsibility to act and have the greatest scope to shape the future,” she asserted.
The IEA report also noted that electricity is one of the few energy sources to experience a rise in consumption over the coming two decades. However, it adds that almost all of this increase in generation will come from wind and solar PV generation.
When it comes to sustainable energy generation, there are some locations that are better suited to some power sources than others.
A recent article for Fast Company shared the findings of a report by the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE), which looked at where in the world investors and companies should focus their efforts when it comes to boosting output of renewable energy.
By way of an example, the report highlighted the fact that installing a wind turbine or solar panel in India could save 30 times as many lives as one installed in the US, because air pollution in India is so much worse than in the States.
Jonathan Buonocore, lead study author and Harvard C-CHANGE research associate, explained why this is the case.
“Since renewable energy has benefits for climate and health by displacing fossil fuels, the benefits you get are determined by the fossil fuels you’re displacing,” he said.
It’s not only about what fuels you’re replacing either, but also about the number of people who live close to the power plant in question, and the impact it has on their health.
As a result, the climate benefits of renewable energy are greatest in countries that still rely predominantly on coal to power their towns and cities. Nations like Mongolia, Botswana, Iraq, Estonia and Australia were all named as places that could see particularly significant benefits from switching to renewables.
The model that’s been developed by C-CHANGE to predict the positive health and climate benefits of different schemes has been used in the US to work out where wind farms would make the greatest difference. They found that the Upper Midwest of the country is the place that would see the greatest positive benefits.
Mr Buonocore said that he hopes the research can be used to help guide investors, as well as to help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
“A lot of investors out there, sustainability investors, are trying to have a positive social impact with their investments. The idea is that this kind of information would help those types of people better target what they invest in and where,” he told the news provider.
Despite continued concerns about the global effort to curb emissions and limit the impacts of climate change, there has been some positive news this week too.
Wood Mackenzie recently released a forecast stating that over half (53 per cent) of Europe’s energy will be supplied by renewable sources by 2030, Energy Live News reported. Wind and solar technology in particular has seen significant growth and these will continue to be the main areas of investment, the company added.
It also suggested that many countries within Europe are therefore on track to meet the goals under their individual national energy and climate plans. The organisation is predicting a continued phase-out of coal will mean that solar and wind production overtakes the fossil fuel in Europe by the end of this year.
What’s more, wind power in particular is expected to grow in prominence across Europe. By the late 2020s, the firm is predicting that wind will produce more electricity than gas.
However, there are some barriers to the uptake of renewable energy that will need to be overcome. Business News Wales recently highlighted a report from global energy recruitment firm Samuel Knight International, which warned that there aren’t enough skilled workers in the sustainable energy sector to meet the growing demand.
Lara Anton, renewable energy consultant at the firm, said that while there has been a global call for more renewable energy solutions, there hasn’t been the same kind of publicity given to the need for people with skills in this field.
“Just as there are global calls for renewable energy options for consumers, there should also be worldwide outcry at the lack of people working in solar and other sustainable energy sources,” she asserted.
Any firm that already operates in areas such as offshore wind needs to ensure that all their employees are suitably trained and ready for work in what can be a challenging environment.
Regularly running GWO working at heights courses, and other applicable courses, can allow any new hires to access the training they need promptly once they start working for your business.
Firms operating in offshore wind and other renewable energy sectors also need to do more to promote the career opportunities to the next generation of workers. Encouraging more young people to enter the sector and forge a career in sustainable energy would help start to narrow the skills gap.
With other forms of energy generation expected to fall, at least in Europe, with renewables taking their place, it could also be worth targeting experienced professionals in these areas with a recruitment drive to bring more energy experts onboard with sustainable energy companies, and offer them the necessary training to allow them to work in this alternative market.
According to Samuel Knight International, firms working in sustainable energy need to make their voices heard and promote the need for more skilled workers in the sector.