IEA special report – Sustainable Recovery

“Three years and $3 trillion.” The headline caught our eye. It was in Bloomberg News. “A new report from the International Energy Agency details what it will take to lock in this year’s drop in emissions.”

Energy consumers take note. The IEA report is worth reading because it gets specific.

Some background first. The COVID 19 pandemic set the energy demand curve on its ear. Less economic activity gives us a real life look at reduced carbon emissions from less energy intensity.

Out of this two paths may merge.

“Plummeting carbon emissions and big government spending—two of the defining narratives of 2020 so far—could create an unprecedented opportunity for the world to meet the goals enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate change agreement,” is how Bloomberg’s reporters frame up the IEA report. “With $1 trillion of investment over each of the next three years, global energy-related CO₂ emissions could end up falling in 2023 by 4.5 billion metric tons, or 14% of last year’s total.”

Odd how numbers that seemed out of reach – reducing carbon emissions and spending trillions in dollars – are almost accepted now.

Like a holiday tree, the efficient energy framework can accommodate several ornaments. From the report: “In drawing up a sustainable recovery plan for energy, we have focused on three overarching objectives:

  • to create jobs,
  • to boost economic growth, and
  • to improve resilience and sustainability.

While some measures could contribute to all three objectives, there are inevitably some trade-offs. Taking into account country-specific circumstances and the world’s shared goals on sustainability, we have developed a practical, concrete and time limited global sustainable recovery plan for the energy sector that would collectively deliver on all three objectives.” (Figure 3.1 in the report, above).

Jobs, so critical during the economic slowdown from the pandemic, are seen as a way to build for the future in the IEA report. An illustration shows just where those jobs could be (left).

ECC considers smart execution on the training and development strategy as a critical facet of the plan. Utilities have for years noted the retirement wave hitting the workforce. They have worked hard to get educational institutions up to speed and recruit new employees to fill that gap. My experience with corporate community relations is that there has to be clear objectives and accountability on training, not just dollars thrown at schools.

The IEA report put together a table that illustrates how much greenhouse gas abatement can be gained in different parts of the energy economy (right). I don’t recall seeing a graphic like this before. It is a useful guide for policy making.

Two areas of the report ECC thinks merit special attention: Small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) and batteries. Here’s a short look, but we will write more about each one in later blogs.

SMR: Says the report, “SMRs offer the possibility of providing low-carbon nuclear power with lower initial capital investment and better scalability than traditional larger reactors, and with the ability to use sites that would be unable to accommodate traditional large reactors. Construction lead times are also expected to be much shorter as a result of factory manufacturing and the use of advanced modular construction techniques.”

Batteries: “Although the power sector now offers increasing opportunities for the use of batteries to support intra-day changes in demand and to help the integration of variable renewables, the current focus of battery  manufacturing capacity for the energy sector is on electric cars.” The question as ECC sees it is this: What is a battery these days? The need to save stored energy and shift when it can be used is important for several kinds of power generation.

Readers of our blogs will find this IEA report interesting. Worth the time.

We’ll end with a summary of the report’s policy recommendations, below.