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With growth in clean energy ‘unstoppable,’ fossil fuels will peak by 2030, energy agency says

The way the world is powered will change dramatically by the end of the decade, thanks to surging demand for electric vehicles and clean energy technologies, a new report from the International Energy Agency says.

The IEA projects that by 2030: 

  • Nearly half of the world’s electricity supply will come from renewable energy.

  • Ten times as many electric cars will be on the road.

  • Heat pumps and other electric heating systems will outsell fossil fuel boilers.

  • There will be three times as much investment in new offshore wind projects than coal- and gas-fired power plants.

  • Solar energy will generate more electricity than the entire U.S. power system currently does.

The projections, which are based on government policies that are already in place worldwide, are part of the IEA’s annual World Energy Outlook, released Tuesday.

The growth in renewables has major implications for fossil fuels, with peaks in global demand for coal, oil and natural gas now expected to come this decade.

Under this scenario, oil and gas will plateau over the next three decades, with demand increasing in developing countries while declining in more advanced economies. Demand for coal is expected to decline.

“The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it’s unstoppable,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said in a statement.

“Governments, companies and investors need to get behind clean energy transitions rather than hindering them.”

The new 354-page report builds on previous IEA  assessments of the rise of renewable energy and the decline of fossil fuels. 

A report in September first suggested the possibility that fossil fuels could peak by the end of the decade, prompting the oil cartel OPEC to release a statement warning that such forecasts were unfounded and could lead to “energy chaos on an unprecendented scale.”

Stronger policies needed

Despite such criticism, the report is a sign that the transition toward renewable energy is gaining momentum, according to Ember, a global energy think-tank.

“We are hurtling towards an electric future faster every day,” said Ember’s global insights lead, Dave Jones.

“It’s been a long time coming, but renewable electricity will soon be built at a scale that can at last halt the rise of fossil fuels, not just within the power sector, but across the entire economy.”

man at podium
IEA executive director Fatih Birol said the report is encouraging, but governments, companies and investors still need to do more to speed up transitions to clean energy. (Michel Euler/The Associated Press)

The report also included a stark warning: much stronger policies are needed to limit fossil fuel emissions to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. 

The challenge comes a month ahead of COP28, a pivotal United Nations climate conference in Dubai, where there are aims for a commitment to triple renewable capacity globally by 2030.

“Every country needs to find its own pathway, but international co-operation is crucial for accelerating clean energy transitions,” Birol said.

‘Wake-up call’ for Canada

Globally, investments in clean energy continue to rise, but experts in Canada say the country needs to do more to be a leader.

Only $2.8 billion was invested in solar energy in Canada last year, compared with $37 billion in oil and gas investments, according to federal data.

“This report is a great moment in the energy transition globally and a wake-up call for the energy transition in Canada,” said Stephen Thomas, who specializes in clean energy at the David Suzuki Foundation.

Federal government policies, such as regulations to make electricity cleaner and the promised cap on emissions from fossil fuel production, will help spur that transition, he said.

The IEA report also highlighted the crucial role that needs to be played by banks and investors in helping fund the transition. 

Richard Brooks, the climate finance director at environmental organization, said the report makes clear that Canada is at a crossroads. The country could lead the world in oil production growth in 2024, and Brooks said investments in new infrastructure risk being stranded.

“Canadian institutions, particularly our banks and our pension funds, have been part of the problem rather than part of the solution, and now is the opportunity to change that direction,” said Brooks, who is based in Toronto.

“Right now, our Canadian banks are really stepping on the accelerator when it comes to emissions growth, at a time when we need to be stepping on the brakes.”

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