Major shifts underway today are set to result in a considerably different global energy system by the end of this decade, according to the IEA’s new World Energy Outlook 2023. The phenomenal rise of clean energy technologies such as solar, wind, electric cars and heat pumps is reshaping how we power everything from factories and vehicles to home appliances and heating systems.
The energy world is set to change significantly by 2030, based on today’s policy settings alone. World Energy Outlook shows there are set to be almost 10 times as many electric cars on the road, with renewables nearing half of the global power mix, but much stronger policies needed for 1.5 °C.
The latest edition of the World Energy Outlook (WEO), the most authoritative global source of energy analysis and projections, describes an energy system in 2030 in which clean technologies play a significantly greater role than today. This includes almost 10 times as many electric cars on the road worldwide; solar PV generating more electricity than the entire US power system does currently; renewables’ share of the global electricity mix nearing 50%, up from around 30% today; heat pumps and other electric heating systems outselling fossil fuel boilers globally; and three times as much investment going into new offshore wind projects than into new coal- and gas-fired power plants.
All of those increases are based only on the current policy settings of governments around the world. If countries deliver on their national energy and climate pledges on time and in full, clean energy progress would move even faster. However, even stronger measures would still be needed to keep alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C.
The combination of growing momentum behind clean energy technologies and structural economic shifts around the world has major implications for fossil fuels, with peaks in global demand for coal, oil and natural gas all visible this decade – the first time this has happened in a WEO scenario based on today’s policy settings. In this scenario, the share of fossil fuels in global energy supply, which has been stuck for decades at around 80%, declines to 73% by 2030, with global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions peaking by 2025.
“The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it’s unstoppable. It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s just a matter of ‘how soon’ – and the sooner the better for all of us,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “Governments, companies and investors need to get behind clean energy transitions rather than hindering them. There are immense benefits on offer, including new industrial opportunities and jobs, greater energy security, cleaner air, universal energy access and a safer climate for everyone. Taking into account the ongoing strains and volatility in traditional energy markets today, claims that oil and gas represent safe or secure choices for the world’s energy and climate future look weaker than ever.”
As things stand, demand for fossil fuels is set to remain far too high to keep within reach the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5 °C. This risks not only worsening climate impacts after a year of record-breaking heat, but also undermining the security of the energy system, which was built for a cooler world with less extreme weather events. Bending the emissions curve onto a path consistent with 1.5 °C remains possible but very difficult. The costs of inaction could be enormous: despite the impressive clean energy growth based on today’s policy settings, global emissions would remain high enough to push up global average temperatures by around 2.4 °C this century, well above the key threshold set out in the Paris Agreement.
The WEO-2023 proposes a global strategy for getting the world on track by 2030 that consists of five key pillars, which can also provide the basis for a successful COP28 climate change conference. They are: tripling global renewable capacity; doubling the rate of energy efficiency improvements; slashing methane emissions from fossil fuel operations by 75%; innovative, large-scale financing mechanisms to triple clean energy investments in emerging and developing economies; and measures to ensure an orderly decline in the use of fossil fuels, including an end to new approvals of unabated coal-fired power plants.
“Every country needs to find its own pathway, but international cooperation is crucial for accelerating clean energy transitions,” Dr Birol said. “In particular, the speed at which emissions decline will hinge in large part on our ability to finance sustainable solutions to meet rising energy demand from the world’s fast growing economies. This all points to the vital importance of redoubling collaboration and cooperation, not retreating from them.”
At a time when rising geopolitical tensions in the Middle East have refocused attention on energy security concerns once more and when many countries are still contending with the impacts of the global energy crisis that erupted last year, the WEO-2023 examines the evolving range of energy security challenges. The fraught situation in the Middle East comes 50 years after the oil shock that led to the founding of the IEA, creating further uncertainty for an unsettled global economy that is feeling the effects of stubborn inflation and high borrowing costs.