World Energy Outlook 2023: Clean Energy Revolution Gathers Momentum

What will it look like to actually reach our net zero goals? How will the world’s economy react? What do we need to do to make it happen?
When we buy a shiny new EV or install a heat pump to keep our home warm without burning fossil fuels, it can be hard to understand how that fits into the worldwide transition to renewable energy.

Each October, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) releases its World Energy Outlook (WEO) (1), a kind of worldwide status update on the clean energy transition. This year’s edition highlights that the world is on the brink of a clean energy revolution, with renewable sources and electric vehicles poised to play a central role by 2030. However, the report emphasizes the urgent need for more robust policies to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius, as outlined in the Paris Agreement.

The key takeaways from the WEO 2023 are as follows:

  • Electric Vehicles (EVs) The report projects that nearly ten times as many electric cars will be on the world’s roads by 2030, reflecting the remarkable growth of this technology. EVs are set to reshape transportation, reducing carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Renewables Clean energy sources such as solar and wind are projected to become the primary drivers of global power generation. Solar photovoltaic alone is expected to generate more electricity than the entire U.S. power system currently does, with renewables approaching a 50% share of the global electricity mix by 2030.
  • Heat Pumps and Electric Heating Electric heating systems, including heat pumps, are expected to outsell fossil fuel boilers globally, further reducing carbon emissions from the residential sector.
  • Shift in Investment The report highlights a significant shift in investment trends, with three times more funding going into new offshore wind projects compared to new coal- and gas-fired power plants.

These positive developments are contingent on governments worldwide maintaining their current policy commitments. However, the 2023 WEO emphasizes that even stronger measures are essential to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5° Celsius.

The report also underscores the profound implications for the fossil fuel industry. It predicts that global demand for coal, oil, and natural gas is peaking this decade, marking a historic shift away from these energy sources. Fossil fuels’ share of global energy supply, which has held steady at around 80%, is projected to decline to 73% by 2030, with energy-related carbon dioxide emissions peaking by 2025.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol stated, “The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide, and it’s unstoppable. It’s not a question of ‘if,’ it’s just a matter of ‘how soon’ – and the sooner, the better for all of us.” Birol emphasized the need for governments, companies, and investors to support clean energy transitions, citing numerous benefits, including economic opportunities, energy security, cleaner air, universal energy access, and a safer climate.

Despite these positive developments, the report cautions that current trends may not be sufficient to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5° target. Inaction could lead to global average temperatures rising by approximately 2.4° Celsius this century, far above the Paris Agreement’s threshold.

To address these challenges, the WEO outlines a five-pillar strategy:

  • Tripling Global Renewable Capacity This involves a substantial increase in renewable energy infrastructure to meet growing demand.
  • Doubling Energy Efficiency Accelerating energy efficiency improvements is crucial for reducing overall energy consumption.
  • Methane Emissions Reduction The report calls for a 75% reduction in methane emissions from fossil fuel operations, which are potent contributors to global warming.
  • Innovative Financing Large-scale financing mechanisms are needed to triple clean energy investments in emerging and developing economies.
  • Transition from Fossil Fuels This pillar involves ending new approvals for unabated coal-fired power plants and ensuring an orderly decline in the use of fossil fuels.

The report stresses the importance of international collaboration to accelerate clean energy transitions, especially as emerging economies’ energy demands continue to grow.

In light of ongoing geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and the recent global energy crisis, the WEO-also examines the evolving energy security landscape. The report notes that natural gas markets, which faced concerns about security and price spikes, are set to see pressures ease as new liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects come online, contributing to more stable gas supply.

The World Energy Outlook 2023 provides a comprehensive look at the shifting global energy landscape, offering hope for a cleaner, more sustainable future. It underscores the importance of strong policies and international cooperation to navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by this energy revolution.

Cleaning up the dirtiest vehicles on the road

Anyone who has been stuck in traffic behind a garbage truck knows that they are filthy. A vehicle that hauls tons of household waste every day is going to be dirty. If you happen to be outside when they pass, you can probably smell them as they rumble down your street.

But garbage trucks are dirty in another way. Of all the major vehicle categories, garbage trucks have the absolute worst fuel economy rating—coming in at 2.5 mpg. They also have the third highest fuel consumption rate, averaging 10,000 gallons a year. (1)

Stopping a garbage truck from smelling bad may be beyond our abilities, but cities across the U.S. are starting to make them more green.
In a groundbreaking move for sustainable waste management, Portland, Oregon, recently unveiled its first electric garbage truck, signaling a shift toward cleaner urban refuse fleets. The innovative vehicle, operated by COR Disposal and Recycling, boasts a robust 400-kilowatt-hour battery pack and aims to address environmental concerns in East Portland, an area disproportionately affected by the emissions of traditional garbage trucks. (2)

Image courtesy Portland General Electric

This electric trash hauler represents a growing trend, with 48 zero-emissions refuse trucks deployed across the United States as of June, according to Calstart, a clean transportation group.(2) While this marks progress, it is still a fraction of the total municipal garbage truck fleet, indicating room for expansion in the electric vehicle sector.

However, the upfront cost remains a significant barrier for waste-handling companies. Despite the long-term financial benefits, electric garbage trucks are still two to three times more expensive to purchase than their diesel counterparts. To address this challenge, some states offer tax incentives and grant funding to encourage the adoption of zero-emissions vehicles.

In Portland, the new electric truck, a Peterbilt Model 520EV, came with a price tag of approximately $665,800. COR Disposal and Recycling received support from Portland General Electric’s Drive Change Fund and utilized grants from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Fuels Program.

Federal initiatives, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, further contribute to making electric refuse trucks more accessible. The Commercial Clean Vehicle Credit offers tax credits of up to $40,000 for qualifying vehicles, while the Clean Heavy-Duty Vehicle Program allocates $1 billion through 2031 to assist communities in transitioning to zero-emissions vehicles and infrastructure.

Projections from the International Council on Clean Transportation suggest that with continued support, zero-emissions models could constitute between 70 and 77 percent of refuse trucks sold in the United States by 2035.

Looking ahead, the push for widespread adoption of electric refuse trucks hinges on addressing infrastructure challenges, particularly the need for sufficient charging stations. Balancing the deployment pace of electric vehicles with the expansion of electricity capacity presents a hurdle that requires careful planning, including the use of on-site solar panels, backup batteries, and smart-charging software.
As cities strive to overcome these obstacles, the transition to a zero-emissions fleet appears promising, with Portland leading the way in embracing the future of sustainable waste management.

The Weekly Sunsong

Lloyd Cole’s haunting I’m Gone has been on our minds of late: