Bioenergy ‘overlooked giant of renewables’ says IEA chief

Bioenergy will be the boom area of renewables in the next five years according to a report released today by the International Energy Agency.

“Bioenergy is the overlooked giant of the renewable energy field” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, who added that modern bioenergy will have the biggest growth in renewable resources between now and 2023.

He said bioenergy’s share of world total renewables’ consumption “is about 50 cent today – in other words as much as hydro, wind, solar and all other renewables combined. We expect modern bioenergy will continue to lead the field and has huge prospects for further growth. But the right policies and rigorous sustainability regulations will be essential to meet its full potential.”

The IEA’s latest renewables market forecast predicts that while solar PV and wind will continue to grow globally, “bioenergy remains the largest source of renewable energy because of its widespread use in heat and transport, sectors in which other renewables currently play a much smaller role”.

Birol said bioenergy is one of the “blind spots” of the energy system – “issues that are critical to the evolution of the energy sector but that receive less attention than they deserve”.

The report highlights that there is significant untapped potential of bioenergy in the cement, sugar and ethanol industries. “Bioenergy growth in the industry, transport and electricity sectors combined could be as considerable as that of other renewables in the electricity sector,” said the IEA. “A significant proportion of this potential relies on wastes and residues that offer low lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate concerns over land-use change. In addition, using these resources can improve waste management and air quality.”

This bioenergy potential was given added resonance today, as the release of the IEA study coincided with the launch of a report from the United Nation’s IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), which demanded a drive to keep global warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees instead of the 3 degrees which scientists believe we are now heading towards. And to do this, it calls for an annual investment in clean energy of $2.4 trillion each year to 2035.

In the IEA’s five-year forecast, China leads global growth in renewable energy as a result of policies to decarbonize all sectors and cut air pollution, and it also becomes the largest consumer of renewables, overtaking the European Union.

Of the world’s largest energy consumers, Brazil has the highest share of renewables: almost 45 per cent of total final energy consumption because of significant deployments of bioenergy and hydropower.

Over the five years to 2023, the IEA forecasts that hydropower will remain the largest renewable electricity source. However, it is solar PV that will dominate renewable capacity expansion – the report forecasts that it will expand by almost 600 GW – more than all other renewable power technologies combined, or as much as twice Japan’s total capacity, reaching 1 terawatt (TW) by 2023.

The report states that despite recent policy changes, “China remains the absolute solar PV leader by far, holding almost 40 per cent of global installed PV capacity in 2023. The US remains the second-largest growth market for solar PV, followed by India, whose capacity quadruples.”

Windpower is predicted to remain the second-largest contributor to renewable capacity growth, with capacity expected to expand by 60 per cent.

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Christian Pilgaard Zinglersen, Head of the Clean Energy Ministerial Secretariat at the International Energy Agency, will be speaking about renewable energy systems at European Utility Week in November next month, alongside Dolf Gielen, the IEA’s Director of Innovation and Technology. For details about the event, click here.

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