Jul 2, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Pandemic worsening lack of clean-energy innovation, report says

Illustration of a CFL lightbulb on its side, with a 100 dollar bill overlay

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Most technologies necessary to aggressively tackle climate change are not yet ready on a mass scale, and the coronavirus is likely to delay development.

Driving the news: That finding is from a report from the International Energy Agency released Thursday, ahead of a meeting of top government officials next week to discuss clean-energy innovation and how to incorporate it into economic recovery plans.

The big picture: Three-quarters of the cumulative emissions reductions needed to put the world on a sustainable path come from technologies that are in early stages of development, the IEA found. The agency is calling on governments to keep and eventually increase research and development budgets and incorporate additional provisions into whatever policies they’re passing to recover from pandemic-induced recessions.

How it works: The IEA, an intergovernmental research organization, said technologies exist today to reach goals of net-zero carbon emissions within 30 years, but the scale of development is too slow. The fastest examples of technologies maturing are things like LED lights and lithium ion batteries, which took 10 to 30 years to reach mass scale.

  • The IEA studied the readiness of some 400 technologies and put them into four main categories, including: electrification of heating and transport, carbon capture, low-carbon hydrogen and bioenergy, energy derived from organic material.
  • While wind and solar in electricity are growing rapidly, technologies to clean up other sectors, like manufacturing and transport, are lagging.

What they’re saying: “When we look at those, we come up with the conclusion that in the absence of much faster clean energy innovation, achieving our international climate goals will be all but impossible,” Fatih Birol, International Energy Agency executive director, told Axios Wednesday in an interview.

The intrigue: In one model achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, the IEA found an average of two hydrogen-based steel plants would have to begin operating every month for the next 30 years. Today, such technology only exists at the prototype stage.

Go deeper: Coronavirus is causing a huge drop off in energy investment

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