The Covid-19 pandemic has caused more disruption to the energy sector than any other
event in recent history, leaving impacts that will be felt for years to come.

This IEA World Energy Outlook [WEO] examines in detail the effects of the pandemic, and in particular how it affects the prospects for rapid clean energy transitions.

It is too soon to say whether today’s crisis represents a setback for efforts to bring about a more secure and sustainable energy system, or a catalyst that accelerates the pace of change.

My 3 nuggets that stands out from the report:

[1] “For projects with low-cost financing that tap high-quality resources, solar PV is now the cheapest source of electricity in history.”

Solar electricity is some 20-50% cheaper today than the IEA [International Energy Agency] had estimated in last year’s outlook, with the range depending on the region.

There are similarly large reductions in the estimated costs of onshore and offshore wind.

The lower costs and more rapid growth for solar seen in this year’s outlook means there will be record-breaking additions of new solar capacity in every year from 2020, the IEA says.

[2] The worst effects are felt among the most vulnerable

Reversing several years of progress, our analysis shows that the number of people without access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is set to rise in 2020.

Around 580 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lacked access to electricity in 2019, three-quarters of the global total, and some of the impetus behind efforts to improve this situation has been lost.

Governments are attending to the immediate public health and economic crisis, utilities and other entities that deliver access face serious financial strains, and borrowing costs have risen significantly in countries where the access deficit is high.

[3] This year’s version of the highly influential annual outlook offers four “pathways” to 2040, all of which see a major rise in renewables.

The IEA’s main scenario has 43% more solar output by 2040 than it expected in 2018, partly due to detailed new analysis showing that solar power is 20-50% cheaper than thought.

Despite a more rapid rise for renewables and a “structural” decline for coal, the IEA says it is too soon to declare a peak in global oil use, unless there is stronger climate action. Similarly, it says demand for gas could rise 30% by 2040, unless the policy response to global warming steps up.

This means that, while global CO2 emissions have effectively peaked, they are “far from the immediate peak and decline” needed to stabilise the climate.

The lower costs and more rapid growth for solar seen in this year’s outlook means there will be record-breaking additions of new solar capacity in every year from 2020, the IEA says.

The IEA says achieving net-zero emissions will require “unprecedented” efforts from every part of the global economy, not just the power sector.

For the first time, the IEA includes detailed modelling of a 1.5C pathway that reaches global net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. It says individual behaviour change, such as working from home “three days a week”, would play an “essential” role in reaching this new “net-zero emissions by 2050 case.

It has been awesome to see the IEA continually revise up the solar forecasts.

Despite the challenges faced by Sub-Saharan Africa, the opportunity presented by the falling costs of renewables means that it will be cheaper for the continent to catch-up taking advantage of lower renewable costs.

I predict continued revisions in the coming years. Solar adoption will continue to rise quickly because it will be the obvious economical decision.

And, that’s fantastic.

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