The pace of deployment of some clean energy technologies – such as solar PV and electric vehicles – is showing promising progress, but faster change is needed across most components of the energy system to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest evaluation of global progress.
The annual update of the IEA’s Tracking Clean Energy Progress online resource shows notable gains in the past year. Electric car sales reached a record high of more than 10 million in 2022, a nearly tenfold increase in just five years. Renewable electricity capacity additions rose to 340 GW, their largest ever deployment. As a result, renewables now account for 30% of global electricity generation. Investment in clean energy reached a record $1.6 trillion in 2022, an increase of almost 15% from 2021.
The transition to clean energy is occurring at different speeds across regions and sectors, however. For example, nearly 95% of global electric car sales in 2022 took place in China, the United States, and Europe.
Clean energy deployment is also occurring faster in some parts of the energy system – such as electricity generation and passenger cars – where costs have fallen and technologies are already relatively mature. Meanwhile, innovation is still needed to bring to market clean technologies for parts of the energy system where emissions are harder to tackle, such as heavy industry and long-distance transport. Positive steps on innovation have been made in the past few years, but further acceleration is needed to soon bring to market more low-emissions technologies for these areas, IEA says.
The 2023 update of Tracking Clean Energy Progress tracks progress towards aligning the global energy system with a path to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. It does this by assessing over 50 different components, from sectors to technologies to infrastructure. The IEA also released the redesigned Clean Energy Technology Guide, an interactive digital database that allows users to visualize the readiness and geographical distribution of more than 500 different innovative technologies or components across the global energy system, along with the accompanying Clean Energy Demonstration Projects Database.
Although many sectors are not yet fully on track for international climate goals, the new analysis identifies crucial advances over the past year. For the first time ever, announced manufacturing capacity for electric vehicle batteries has reached levels sufficient to fulfill expected demand requirements in 2030 in the IEA’s scenario for achieving net zero emissions by 2050. This is backed by the momentum from industrial strategies such as the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States and the European Union’s Green Deal Industrial Plan.
Solar PV has been upgraded to “on track”, as its progress now aligns with milestones consistent with net zero ambitions. Solar PV generated a record of nearly 1,300 TWh in 2022, up 26% from 2021 and logging the largest absolute generation growth of all renewable technologies in 2022. The number of manufacturing projects in the pipeline for solar PV also saw massive growth in the context of widespread government support, especially in China, the United States, and India. If all announced projects are realized, global manufacturing capacity for solar PV will more than double in the next five years, outpacing 2030 demand in the IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 Scenario.
Notable progress was made in the buildings sector – which has been upgraded from “not on track” to “more efforts needed” in the Tracking Clean Energy Progress three-tier rating system. Governments are increasingly introducing stringent building energy codes and performance standards, and the use of efficient and renewable technologies for buildings such as heat pumps and low-emissions cooling equipment is accelerating. Energy efficiency policies were also strengthened globally in the past year, such as in India, which enacted new policies for appliances, vehicles, industrial facilities, and commercial buildings.
Policy is advancing in many regions. Earlier this year, for example, Indonesia became the first country in Southeast Asia to establish a legal and regulatory framework for carbon capture, utilization and storage, and Namibia released a hydrogen strategy in late 2022.
Several technologies have seen breakthroughs in innovation since the last updates to the IEA’s Tracking Clean Energy Progress and Clean Energy Technology Guide. The world’s largest battery manufacturer announced it would begin production of sodium-ion electric vehicles batteries, an alternative battery chemistry that can help reduce reliance on in-demand critical minerals. Two large-scale demonstrations of solid oxide electrolyzers, a technology to produce low-emission hydrogen, started operating earlier this year. There have been positive steps in innovative clean technologies for aluminum refining and cement-making – both industries in which emissions are difficult to tackle. Furthermore, in early 2023, the first shipment of liquid carbon dioxide was taken from Belgium to be geologically stored off the coast of Denmark beneath the North Sea.
While progress can be observed across all of the 50-plus components of the energy system evaluated in Tracking Clean Energy Progress, the majority are not yet on a path consistent with net zero emissions by 2050.