According to the latest evaluation of global progress by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the rapid advancement of key clean energy technologies demonstrates the emergence of a new energy economy at a faster pace than anticipated. However, to achieve the target of net zero emissions by 2050, momentum in solar power, electric vehicles (EVs), and heat pumps needs to expand across more countries and various sectors of the energy system.
The IEA’s annual update of the Tracking Clean Energy Progress online resource, reveals significant gains in the past year. Electric car sales soared to a record high of over 10 million in 2022, marking a nearly tenfold increase in just five years. Additionally, renewable electricity capacity experienced its largest-ever deployment, reaching 340 gigawatts (GW). As a result, renewables now account for 30% of global electricity generation. Furthermore, investment in clean energy soared to a record-breaking USD 1.6 trillion in 2022, an increase of almost 15% from 2021, demonstrating sustained confidence in energy transitions even during uncertain economic times.
However, the transition to clean energy is occurring at varying speeds across regions and sectors. For instance, China, the United States, and Europe accounted for nearly 95% of global electric car sales in 2022. To ensure widespread progress in electric vehicles and other critical technologies, stronger international cooperation is necessary, particularly among emerging and developing economies.
While some parts of the energy system, such as electricity generation and passenger cars, have experienced accelerated deployment due to falling costs and mature technologies, rapid innovation is still needed to address emissions in more challenging sectors like heavy industry and long-distance transport. Although positive strides have been made in innovation in recent years, further acceleration is required to bring low-emission technologies for these areas to market.
The 2023 update of Tracking Clean Energy Progress, available on the IEA website, assesses over 50 different components, including sectors, technologies, and infrastructure, to track progress towards aligning the global energy system with the path to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Additionally, the IEA unveiled the newly redesigned Clean Energy Technology Guide and the accompanying Clean Energy Demonstration Projects Database, which provide an interactive platform to visualize the readiness and geographical distribution of more than 500 innovative technologies across the global energy system.
IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol emphasized the need for accelerated progress, stating, “The clean energy economy is rapidly taking shape, but even faster progress is needed in most areas to meet international energy and climate goals. 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.”
The analysis conducted by the IEA acknowledges that while many sectors have yet to align with international climate goals, there have been crucial advancements in the past year. Notably, the announced manufacturing capacity for electric vehicle batteries has reached levels sufficient to meet anticipated demand requirements in 2030, as outlined in the IEA’s net zero emissions scenario for 2050. This progress is supported by major industrial strategies like the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States and the European Union’s Green Deal Industrial Plan.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) technology has been upgraded to “on track” as its progress aligns with milestones consistent with net zero ambitions. In 2022, solar PV generated a record-breaking nearly 1,300 terawatt-hours (TWh), registering a 26% increase from the previous year. The number of manufacturing projects in the pipeline for solar PV has also surged, especially with substantial government support in China, the United States, and India. If all announced projects materialize, global manufacturing capacity for solar PV will more than double within the next five years, surpassing the projected demand in the IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 Scenario.
The buildings sector has experienced notable progress, with governments introducing stringent building energy codes and performance standards. The use of efficient and renewable technologies like heat pumps and low-emissions cooling equipment is accelerating. Furthermore, global energy efficiency policies have been strengthened in the past year, including new policies enacted in India for appliances, vehicles, industrial facilities, and commercial buildings. Policy advancements have been observed in various regions worldwide. Indonesia recently became the first country in Southeast Asia to establish a legal and regulatory framework for carbon capture, utilization, and storage. In late 2022, Namibia released a hydrogen strategy.
In terms of innovation, several technologies have achieved significant breakthroughs. The world’s largest battery manufacturer announced the production of sodium-ion electric vehicle batteries, offering alternative battery chemistry that reduces reliance on critical minerals. Two large-scale demonstrations of solid oxide electrolyzers, an efficient technology for low-emission hydrogen production, commenced operations earlier this year. Innovations in clean technologies for aluminum refining and cement-making have also progressed, addressing emissions challenges in these industries. Additionally, in early 2023, the first shipment of liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) was transported from Belgium for geological storage beneath the North Sea off the coast of Denmark, marking a milestone achievement in the carbon capture sector.
While progress has been observed across all evaluated components of the energy system, the majority are not yet on track to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Stronger policy support and increased investment are essential across a wide range of technologies and regions worldwide to facilitate a faster and broader transition towards clean energy, ultimately making net zero emissions by 2050 achievable.