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Renewables and natural gas to lead future energy growth

Renewables and natural gas will be the biggest contributors to the growth in world energy production from now until 2040, but much will depend on government policies, according to the head of the International Energy Agency.

“Renewables have been a big success in electricity production – the next chapter is to make use of them for heat and transportation,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told a Friends of Europe conference on Monday 21 November in Brussels.

Launching the 2016 edition of the IEA’s flagship World Energy Outlook, Birol said that greater efforts are needed to ensure that power generated by renewables can be delivered in a way that makes them easy to use. “We need to do a lot of work on integration,” he said.

Global energy demand will rise by 30 per cent by 2040, according to the IEA’s main scenario. But trends for different sources of energy will differ greatly. Renewable energy will see by far the quickest growth, while natural gas will be the fastest-growing fossil fuel. Oil demand will rise more slowly, while coal growth will eventually halt due to environmental concerns.

The conference took place just after the COP22 climate change talks in Marrakech, and improvements in energy efficiency were highlighted as a major contributor to the fight against climate change. Birol said that these improvements will need US$23 trillion of investment, while total investment in global energy supply of some $44 trillion is needed – 60 per cent going to fossil fuel extraction and supply, and nearly 20 per cent to renewable energies.

The European Commission Vice-President for the Energy Union, Maroš Šefčovič, also highlighted the importance of energy efficiency, stating that it “should be seen as a fuel source on its own”. He added that “we need to create conditions where renewables are better embraced in the energy system”.

Meanwhile, Jane Burston, European Young Leader and Head of Climate and Environment at the London National Physical Laboratory, underlined the importance of emissions trading schemes as mechanisms to reduce global emissions from the power sector, as already seen in China through their national scheme or in Europe with the EU Emissions Trading System reform.

But despite reforms and increased spending, 1.3 billion people have not access to electricity in 2040. That could push some countries to opt for the cheapest way to provide power, even if this results in higher greenhouse gas emissions. “Billions remain without basic energy services,” said Birol. “Some of the decisions in those countries may need to be made only exclusively on the basis of cost and the demands of the people.”

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