Opinion | On the climate change front, it’s not all doom and gloom

Opinion | On the climate change front, it’s not all doom and gloom

Opinion | On the climate change front, it’s not all doom and gloom

The convulsions across Europe resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the reduction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies from Russia resulted in electricity consumption falling in the European Union by 3.2 per cent last year and 3.1 per cent in 2022. Despite last year’s 50 per cent fall in electricity prices in the EU, the IEA does not expect consumption in the EU to match 2021 levels until 2026 “at the earliest”.

While overall power demand contracted in Europe and the US, China and India have provided most of the momentum for additional demand worldwide. The IEA report says that countries outside advanced economies are set to account for 85 per cent of the additional demand for electricity through to 2026.

China’s efforts to transform its energy market remain critical. Electricity demand rose by 6.4 per cent last year, and that will gradually slow to 4.7 per cent in 2026 as the country becomes less reliant on heavy industries. Increased demand last year came partly from its domestic electric vehicle market and production of photovoltaic cells.

China will add 1,400 terawatt hours to global demand for electricity by 2026, equivalent to 50 per cent of the EU’s current total electricity demand.


China’s public transport goes green as electric buses hit the streets

China’s public transport goes green as electric buses hit the streets

The bad news from China is that it is still building coal-fired power plants. But the good news is that most of these are expected to be used to provide standby power, only to be switched on when renewable power falls short.

The IEA expects renewables to meet all China’s additional electricity demand between now and 2026, with the country still leading strongly on the commissioning of new renewable power, and a large share of new nuclear power generation. The report says China is now home to 16 per cent of nuclear power generation worldwide, compared with 5 per cent in 2014.

Confirming this clean energy trend, China’s National Energy Administration said this month that renewables now account for over 50 per cent of the country’s installed power generation capacity. The IEA has noted that the country doubled solar capacity and boosted wind capacity by 66 per cent last year.


China’s largest photothermal power facility drives development of new form of energy

China’s largest photothermal power facility drives development of new form of energy

Demand for electricity has grown even more strongly in India, but from a lower base than China. It grew by 7 per cent last year, surpassing that of Japan and South Korea combined. It is expected to continue growing at an annual rate of above 6 per cent through to 2026. This will add demand equivalent to Britain’s energy consumption over the next three years.

While electricity demand in the US slipped by 1.6 per cent in 2023, largely due to milder-than-average weather, the IEA predicts 2.5 per cent growth in 2024, and growth averaging 1 per cent in 2025-26, with surging demand from data centres. It says energy demand from data centres will rise from 460 TWh in 2022 to more than 1000 TWh in 2026 – equivalent to Japan’s entire electricity demand.

As a complete outlier to global trends, the IEA report expresses concern about decades of stagnant electricity demand across Africa, noting that back in 1990, African nations consumed 40 per cent more electricity per capita than Southeast Asia, and 65 per cent more than India. Three decades later, Africa consumes 70 per cent less per capita than Southeast Asia, and half as much as India, as the continent’s economies have stagnated.

A technician examines solar panels on the roof of a company in Nairobi, Kenya, on September 1, 2023. Access to electricity remains a major challenge for over half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa, and power outages are common. Photo: AP
The IEA report notes a strong recovery in commissioning nuclear power plants, suggesting that this has played a significant part in boosting clean energy generation, reducing reliance on fossil-fuel-powered plants, and cutting carbon emissions.
Nuclear-powered energy, underpinned by the commissioning of small modular reactors, is forecast to grow nearly 3 per cent a year on average up to 2060, driven by France, Japan, China, India, South Korea and the European Union. The agreement by 20 countries at the Cop28 UN climate conference to triple nuclear capacity by 2050 was also mentioned, despite still-strong concerns about nuclear power among environmentalists.

Can Red Sea attacks speed up Southeast Asia’s clean energy transition?

The overall result of the success in building so many new clean energy power plants is that carbon emissions are expected to fall by more than 2 per cent in 2024, and decline further to 2026.

As a result of this modest but important progress, the IEA expects almost 50 per cent of the world’s electricity generation to come from low-emission sources by 2026 – up from under 40 per cent last year.

These may be baby steps, but they are steps in the right direction, and vindicate the overall aim: make energy generation clean, and then electrify everything.

David Dodwell is CEO of the trade policy and international relations consultancy Strategic Access, focused on developments and challenges facing the Asia-Pacific over the past four decades

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