The International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that electricity grids around the world need expansion to meet net zero emissions goals. The IEA stated this in its recent Net Zero roadmap report.
According to the agency, small modular clean energy technologies like solar photovoltaics (PV) and batteries alone are not sufficient to deliver net zero emissions (NZE).
It will also require electricity transmission and distribution grids to be expanded by around 2 million kilometres each year to 2030 to meet the needs of the NZE Scenario.
The IEA also said that countries will need to focus on large new, smarter, and repurposed infrastructure networks; large quantities of low-emissions fuels; technologies to capture CO2 from smokestacks and the atmosphere; more nuclear power; and large land areas for renewables.
More about electricity grids of the future
In the IEA report, it was stated that building grids today can take more than a decade, permitting a particularly time-consuming bottleneck.
The same is true for other kinds of energy infrastructure. So, policymakers, industry, and civil society need to work together to nurture a “build big” mentality and expedite decision-making, while preserving public engagement and respecting environmental safeguards.
For countries to meet the need for electricity system flexibility, they will require massive growth of battery energy storage and demand response.
They will also need expanded, modernized, and cyber-secure transmission and distribution grids, as well as more dispatchable low-emissions capacity, including fossil fuel capacity with carbon capture technology, hydropower, biomass, nuclear, hydrogen, and ammonia-based plants.
The IEA report notes that the electrification of end-uses ranging from electric vehicles to space heating to industrial production, combined with economic development and population growth, drives growth and raises the share of electricity in final consumption from 20% in 2022 to almost 30% in 2030 and more than 50% in 2050.
The IEA further highlighted four key milestones for the electricity sector in countries to reach the Net Zero Emissions scenario:
Tripling of renewables capacity
The first of four key milestones for the electricity sector in the NZE Scenario is the tripling of global renewables capacity by 2030.
This leads to the share of renewables in electricity generation rising from 30% in 2022 to about 60% in 2030.
By 2050 in the NZE Scenario, the total installed capacity of renewables is eight times the level in 2022, and it generates nearly 90% of the global electricity supply.
Doubling of electricity grid investments
The second key milestone for the electricity sector is the doubling of grid investments by 2030.
In the NZE Scenario, electricity transmission and distribution grids expand to meet the growing demands of electrification, connect thousands of new renewable energy projects, and reinforce systems that need to adapt to changing system dynamics.
Global annual investment in grids to 2030 reaches $680 billion, and it remains at a high level through to 2050.
Close to 70% of this investment is for distribution grids to expand, strengthen, and digitalize networks. In addition to the scaling up of investment, regulatory and policy reforms facilitate timely and efficient development and modernization of grids to support clean energy transitions.
95% reduction in fossil fuel use
The third key milestone for the electricity sector is a 95% reduction by 2040 in the unabated use of fossil fuels to generate electricity which includes the complete phase-out of unabated coal.
Emissions from unabated coal were nearly 10 Gt CO2 in 2022, making up almost 75% of the electricity sector total and 27% of total energy sector emissions.
Rise of nuclear power
The fourth key milestone for the electricity sector is for nuclear power to more than double from 417 gigawatts (GW) in 2022 to 916 GW in 2050.
Despite this growth, the share of nuclear power in generation declines slightly in the NZE Scenario from 9% in 2022 to 8% in 2050.
After three decades of modest growth, a changing policy landscape is opening opportunities for a nuclear comeback.