Solar power on track to meet net-zero targets by 2050, IEA says

Increasing policy support, especially in China, the US, the EU and India, expected to boost capacity in coming years

Workers inspect solar panels in Taizhou, in China’s Jiangsu province. AFP
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Solar energy generation is now on course to meet net-zero emissions targets by 2050, the International Energy Agency has said.

The agency upgraded the tracking status of solar photovoltaic (PV) generation to “on track”, from “more effort needed”, in a report on Wednesday.

Solar PV generation surged by a record 270 terawatt hours last year to 1,300 terawatt hours, surpassing wind for the first time.

“The annual growth in generation in 2022, of 26 per cent, is now aligned with the average compound annual growth rate needed from now to 2030 in the net-zero scenario,” the Paris-based agency said.

The Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario (NZE) outlines a path for the global energy sector to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

The scenario, which aligns with key UN Sustainable Development Goals, is consistent with the aim of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels – as called for in the Paris Agreement.

“Continuous growth in the economic attractiveness of PV, massive development in the supply chain and increasing policy support, especially in China, the US, the EU and India, are expected to further accelerate capacity growth in the coming years,” the IEA said.

Last year, the US enacted the Inflation Reduction Act, which offers a series of tax incentives on wind, solar, hydroelectric power and other renewables, as well as a push towards electric vehicle ownership.

The IRA will spur about $3 trillion of investment in renewable energy technology, according to Goldman Sachs.

It could double the amount of energy produced by the US shale revolution more than a decade ago, the investment bank said in an April report.

The REPowerEU Plan seeks to increase the share of renewables in the EU’s energy mix to 45 per cent by 2030, up from a previous target of 40 per cent.

India, Asia’s third-largest economy, is aiming for 500 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030, as it seeks to reduce its dependence on costly imports of polluting fossil fuels.

“The clean energy economy is rapidly taking shape, but even faster progress is needed in most areas to meet international energy and climate goals,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“This update of tracking clean energy progress highlights some very promising developments, underlining both the need and the potential for greater action globally.

“The extraordinary growth of key technologies like solar and electric cars shows what is possible.”

Electric vehicle sales grew by 55 per cent, reaching a record high of more than 10 million, according to the IEA.

For the first time, the announced manufacturing capacity for EV batteries is “enough” to meet the projected demand in 2030 under the NZE scenario, the agency said.

Investment in renewable energy needs to double to more than $4 trillion by the end of the decade to meet net-zero emissions targets by 2050, the IEA said in its World Energy Outlook last year.

The IEA’s Stated Policies Scenario, which is based on the latest policy settings worldwide, expects clean energy investment to rise to slightly more than $2 trillion by 2030.

Updated: July 12, 2023, 12:29 PM