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IEA’s energy outlook on renewables “absurdly pessimistic” - Greenpeace

The International Energy Agency (IEA) today released its annual World Energy Outlook 2017 - a set of scenarios for global energy consumption and production which has a long history of dramatically underestimating renewable energy development.

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The report does highlight, however, how a shift to clean energy and stronger air pollution regulation could prevent a staggering 1.6 million deaths per year from outdoor air pollution by 2040, while continued dependence on fossil fuels would see premature deaths from outdoor air pollution rise from 3 million today to more than 4 million in 2040 worldwide.

“This is an important reminder that the world is not on track to prevent catastrophic climate change and that air pollution from fossil fuels continues to claim millions of lives every year. Urgent action is needed across the world to shift away from coal, oil and gas,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, Energy Analyst at Greenpeace East Asia

However, the agency has painted a grim picture when it comes to the uptake of renewables. Incorporating real-world trends in renewable energy into the scenarios would show that the shift to renewable energy that is needed to address climate change and deadly air pollution is much more attainable than IEA projections make it seem. [1]

“The IEA is absurdly pessimistic about renewables,” said Myllyvirta. “The agency continues to project that annual investment in key renewable energy technologies will stagnate at current levels. This is a prediction made with stubborn consistency in every single one of the last 15 annual outlooks, and each time, it’s been proven breathtakingly wrong.”

Greenpeace’s breakdown of the World Energy Report projection:

  • Coal: Projected coal consumption and CO2 emissions in the business-as-usual (‘New Policies’) scenario have been adjusted downward marginally, reflecting progress with renewable energy and energy efficiency globally and in particular in China and India.

  • Oil: Oil consumption has been revised marginally upwards, failing to capture progress with electric vehicles in China and globally.

  • China: Projected construction of new coal-fired power plants has been revised down in China, in line with the cancellation of large amounts of planned capacity this year.

  • India: Projected coal-fired capacity in India has been revised upward, despite the amount of new coal power projects plummeting in the past year and projected capacity utilisation falling to levels that destroy the business case for new coal projects.

  • Air pollution: In India and Southeast Asia, air pollution is projected to get even worse in the report’s ‘New Policies’ scenario, whereas the rapid increases in renewable energy and stronger air pollutant emission standards in the ‘Sustainable Development’ scenario would see the amount of Indians exposed to pollution above the highest WHO interim target fall from 65% today to 10% in 2040, and in Indonesia from 30% to near-zero. In China, 50% of the population would still be be exposed to pollution above the national air quality standard in 2040, marginally down from 65% currently. In a clean energy pathway the percentage would fall to near-zero.

  • Nuclear: Despite acknowledging substantial fallbacks for nuclear (energy policy shifts in Korea and France, the Westinghouse collapse) the IEA still assumes significant growth under each scenarios:  while generation from nuclear power hardly changed in the last 15 years (2591 TWh in 2000 and 2571 TWh in 2015), for the next 15 years it assumes 34% growth in NPS scenario (3440 TWh in 2030) and 67 % in the SDS scenario (4295 TWh in 2030).


[1] For example, in the World Energy Outlooks published in 2002-2010, the annual solar power additions in the year 2015 were projected at 1-5 gigawatts, while the actual market size that year was 50 gigawatts - an astounding 10 times as high as the IEA projected just 5 years prior.

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