IEA Report: World Energy Outlook 2018 examines future patterns of global energy system

Major transformations are underway for the global energy sector, from growing electrification to the expansion of renewables or upheavals in oil production. Across all regions and fuels, policy choices made by governments will determine the shape of the energy system of the future.

At a time when geopolitical factors are exerting new and complex influences on energy markets, underscoring the critical importance of energy security, World Energy Outlook 2018, the International Energy Agency’s flagship publication, details global energy trends and what possible impact they will have on supply and demand, carbon emissions, air pollution, and energy access.

The WEO’s scenario-based analysis outlines different possible futures for the energy system across all fuels and technologies.

Oil markets, for instance, are entering a period of renewed uncertainty and volatility, including a possible supply gap in the early 2020s. Solar PV is charging ahead, but other low-carbon technologies and especially efficiency policies still require a big push.

In all cases, governments will have a critical influence in the direction of the future energy system. Under current and planned policies, modeled in the New Policies Scenario, energy demand is set to grow by more than 25% to 2040, requiring more than $2 trillion a year of investment in new energy supply.

In power markets, renewables have become the technology of choice, making up almost two-thirds of global capacity additions to 2040, thanks to falling costs and supportive government policies. This is transforming the global power mix, with the share of renewables in generation rising to over 40% by 2040, from 25% today, even though coal remains the largest source and gas remains the second-largest.

This expansion brings major environmental benefits but also a new set of challenges that policy makers need to address quickly. With higher variability in supplies, power systems will need to make flexibility the cornerstone of future electricity markets in order to keep the lights on. The issue is of growing urgency as countries around the world are quickly ramping up their share of solar PV and wind, and will require market reforms, grid investments, as well as improving demand-response technologies, such as smart meters and battery storage technologies.

Electricity markets are also undergoing a unique transformation with higher demand brought by the digital economy, electric vehicles and other technological change.

The IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario offers a pathway to meeting various climate, air quality and universal access goals in an integrated way. In this scenario, global energy-related CO2 emissions peak around 2020 and then enter a steep and sustained decline, fully in line with the trajectory required to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

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