Wind energy is bright light in an otherwise grim report

» By | Published 24 Apr 2013

Maria van der Hoeven, IEA

The continued expansion of wind power, coupled with a decrease in costs for the emissions-free electricity-generating technology, was one of the few positive notes in a new International Energy Agency (IEA) report on efforts to create a low-carbon world.

The IEA report, which was presented in India last week to the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM), said that wind power capacity grew by 19% from 2011 to 2012 despite ongoing economic problems.

In its report, Tracking Clean Energy Progress, the IEA described onshore wind power as “one of the most cost-competitive renewable energy sources” and noted generation from 2000 to 2011 increased by 400 TWh (+27% per year), reaching an estimated 435 TWh in 2011.

By 2017, the report said, onshore wind generation is expected to reach almost 1,000 TWh.

In terms of offshore wind, the report said the sector reached an estimated 12 TWh in 2011, up from almost 9 TWh in 2010 (+40%). “At current expected growth rates, generation should reach 80 TWh in 2017,” the report said, adding “progress will depend on securing grid connections and tackling technical and financial difficulties.”

In order to take full advantage of the benefits of wind power and other renewables, the report recommended governments should reflect the true cost of energy in consumer prices, including through carbon pricing.

It also said governments should phase out direct and indirect fossil-fuel subsidies and increase economic incentives for clean energy technologies while implementing long-term, predictable policies that will encourage investors to switch from traditional energy sources to low-carbon technologies.

The report, which also found that solar photovoltaic capacity grew by about 42% last year compared to 2011 levels, painted a bleak picture of international efforts to promote a low-carbon world.

“The drive to clean up the world’s energy system has stalled,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven told the CEM, which brings together ministers representing countries responsible for four-fifths of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

“Despite much talk by world leaders, and despite a boom in renewable energy over the last decade, the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago.”

Van der Hoeven added an overall lack in progress in reducing warming greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide should serve as a wake-up call.

“We cannot afford another 20 years of listlessness. We need a rapid expansion in low-carbon energy technologies if we are to avoid a potentially catastrophic warming of the planet but we must also accelerate the shift away from dirtier fossil fuels.”

Following the release of the report, the Reuters news agency noted that “with power generation still dominated by coal and governments failing to increase investment in clean energy, top climate scientists have said that the target of keeping the global temperature rise to less than 2C this century is slipping out of reach.”