Editorial - VGB PowerTech Journal 9/2020

IEA´s World Energy Outlook 2020 and more...
New horizons, new challenges and electricity in focus

This year’s „World Energy Outlook“ (WEO) of the International Energy Agency (IEA) is dedicated to a detailed documentation of the structure and quantity of global energy consumption and, in addition, a look at the options for future development. Three scenarios show how the world could be supplied with energy in 2040 and what challenges this would pose for the respective paths. The path known as the “Stated Policies Scenario” comprises analysis and synthesis for all energy sources, taking into account current policies and technological developments. The “Sustainable Development Scenario” shows which changes are necessary to achieve the declared goals of emission reduction with regard to climate, air quality and access to energy. The “Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Case” is a scenario with the objective of a balanced balance of climate-relevant emissions in 2050, i.e. a net zero scenario.

Due to the current and foreseeable continuing effects of the Covid 19 pandemic, the authors of the WEO devote a separate chapter with a separate analysis to its foreseeable effects on the energy sector and, above all, to the prospects for the transformation of the energy supply to lower-emission energies. According to the report, it is currently too early to determine whether the current crisis is slowing down the transition to a more sustainable energy system - e.g. because other, fundamental challenges tend to shape decisions to a greater extent - or whether it is acting as a catalyst to accelerate the pace of change. The horizon chosen for this analysis is 2030. It is currently estimated that global energy consumption will fall by 5 % in 2020, energy-related CO2 emissions by 7 % and investment in the energy sector by 18 %. The transport sector is a major contributor to the fall in demand, due to the significant restrictions on private transport. Global electricity demand is only slightly down by 2 % in comparison, with a slightly higher share of renewable energies. Depending on the further development of the pandemic, its duration and its impact on private and economic life, global energy demand will not return to pre-crisis levels until 2023 to 2025. In addition, the authors fear a renewed imbalance in the consequences of the Covid 19 pandemic, i.e. growth and above all an improvement in the living conditions could slow down again in the emerging and developing countries − similar to the situation in the wake of the global financial and economic crisis in 2008/2010.

Nevertheless, with the framework conditions of a further growing world population and the increasing quality of life associated with the availability of energy for everyone, world energy consumption will continue to grow in the long-term perspective up to 2040 in the “Stated Policies Scenario”. For the two more amibitional scenarios “Sustainable Development Scenario” and “Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Case” a decrease of about 8 % and 25 % respectively is reported. Common to all three scenarios is the special role of electricity. The IEA acknowledges this in a separate report entitled „Power systems in transition. Challenges and opportunities ahead for electricity security“.

Electricity, according to the IEA, is an integral part of all modern societies and supports a number of critical areas, from health care to finance and transport. It is also the basis for digitisation and a secure power supply is therefore essential for our digital life 24/7. The energy sector is undergoing fundamental changes: Decarbonisation with rapid growth in variable renewable sources, digitisation, with new challenges in terms of cyber attacks and climate change. Recent events in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic should once again have highlighted the crucial importance of electricity in all areas of our lives, such as the expansion of home office solutions - even though secure electricity supply has not been further affected by the pandemic in most regions and areas and security of supply measures have been effective.

The report takes up the many changes and their challenges and focuses on the three key aspects mentioned above. Looking ahead, electricity will play a greater role in heating, cooling and transport, as well as in many digitally integrated sectors. For example, all scenarios on energy consumption trends show a growth in electricity demand of around 50 % compared to today. According to the IEA, not only quantity aspects but also robust measures are needed to ensure secure and reliable 24/7 supply − security of supply is at the top of the energy policy agenda.

The structural change is explained in detail in the IEA report. It outlines the issues and challenges for energy technologies in electricity supply and calls for further urgently needed framework conditions to establish established and new technologies in the electricity system of the future.

In any case, technical expertise is required − a task for VGB and all those involved in VGB for our energy future!