Proven technologies for a net zero system already largely exist, with renewable power, green hydrogen and bioenergy set to dominate the future energy system, a report has said, though the “window of opportunity” to achieve the 1.5°C Paris Agreement pathway is closing fast.
On 16 March, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published a preview of its World Energy Transitions Outlook, setting out how 90% of decarbonisation solutions in 2050 will involve renewable energy through a direct supply of low-cost power, efficiency, renewable-powered electrification in end-use and green hydrogen. The “last mile” of CO2 reductions needed for net zero will be delivered through carbon capture and removal technologies alongside bioenergy.
IRENA’s 1.5°C pathway sees electricity becomes the main energy carrier in 2050 with renewable capacity growing more than ten-fold in that same time period. The highest growth of electrification (30-fold) will come in transport, with direct or indirect electrification delivering almost 70% of carbon emission reductions in this area, while green hydrogen is set to emerge as a major source of electricity demand.
By 2050, 30% of electricity use will be dedicated to green hydrogen production. Hydrogen and its derivatives, namely e-ammonia and e-methanol will account for around 12% of final energy use. It forecast that as electrolyser costs fall, combined with further reductions in renewable electricity costs, green hydrogen is likely to be less expensive than the estimated cost of blue hydrogen in many locations during the next 5-15 years.
In the 1.5°C pathway, hydrogen is able to mitigate close to 12% and 26% of CO2 emissions from industry and transport, acting as a solution for these hard-to-electrify sectors. It further forecast a demand of 613Mt of hydrogen – two-thirds of which will be green hydrogen – by 2050, with the electricity demand to reach almost 21,00TWh by 2050, almost the level of global electricity consumption today. This requires a significant scale-up of electrolysers’ manufacturing and deployment, with an average of around 160GW having to be installed on an annual basis to 2050. It expects this to occur from 2030 onwards, exceeding 400GW per annum by 2050.
It stressed the importance of innovation in driving the energy transition process, with an integrated approach across different dimensions needed. With reducing the cost of low carbon technologies an overriding priority for innovation, a suite of emerging technology solutions will shape the sector’s decarbonisation, with renewable power generation sources set to be economically attractive driven by innovation and economies of scale. It highlighted the need for special attention to be given for the expansion of emerging technologies, such as green hydrogen.
Elsewhere, it drew on how financial markets and investors are already reacting to the coming energy transition by directing capital from fossil fuels to other energy technologies, including renewables. Energy transition investment is set to have to grow by 30% over planned investment, reaching $131tn between now and 2050, working out at around $4.4tn every year. It stressed the importance of national social and economic policies, which will be key to delivering the transition at the speed needed to restrict global warming to 1.5°C.