IEA: More needs to be done on grid upgrades

Policy makers and companies need to take action to improve and expand grids to ensure reliable electricity in the clean energy transition, according to a new report.

The study from the International Energy Agency (IEA), called Electricity Grids and Secure Energy Transitions, offers a stocktake of grids worldwide, finding signs they are not keeping pace with the rapid growth of key clean energy technologies such as solar, wind, electric cars and heat pumps. 

Without greater policy attention and investment, shortfalls in the reach and quality of grid infrastructure could put the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C out of reach and undermine energy security, the report warns.

Around 80 million kilometres of new and additional power lines will be needed by 2040 as well as how grids are operated and regulated, with the prediction that investment needs to double to $600bn a year by 2030 to meet requirements.

The report identifies a growing queue of renewables projects waiting for the green light to be connected to the grid, pinpointing 1 500 gigawatts worth of these projects that are in advanced stages of development. This is five times the amount of solar PV and wind capacity that was added worldwide last year.

A new scenario developed for the report, the Grid Delay Case, examines what would happen if grid investment is not scaled up quickly enough and regulatory reforms for grids are slow. It finds that cumulative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions between 2030 and 2050 would be almost 60 billion tonnes higher due to a slower rollout of renewables that results in higher fossil fuel consumption. 

The report also identifies several strategic actions that can make a difference. These include expanding and strengthening grid interconnections within countries, between countries and across regions to make electricity systems more resilient and allow them to better integrate rising shares of solar and wind power. 

IEA Executive Director Fatih Biro said: “The recent clean energy progress we have seen in many countries is unprecedented and cause for optimism, but it could be put in jeopardy if governments and businesses do not come together to ensure the world’s electricity grids are ready for the new global energy economy that is rapidly emerging. This report shows what’s at stake and needs to be done. We must invest in grids today or face gridlock tomorrow.”

“Ensuring the developing world has the resources it needs to build and modernise electricity grids is an essential task for the international community. By mobilising financing, providing access to technology and sharing best practices on policies, leading economies can help improve people’s lives, strengthen sustainable development and reduce the risks of climate change.”

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