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IEA calls for $36 trillion more in clean energy investments

The International Energy Agency said the world's clean energy investments are sorely lacking and this week called for an additional $36 trillion of funding by 2050.
The International Energy Agency said the world's clean energy investments are sorely lacking and this week called for an additional $36 trillion of funding by 2050.

In a sharply-worded introduction to a 700-page report, IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said governments and private industry need to do far more if the world is to hold global warming to what most scientists say is an acceptable level.

"Our ongoing failure to realize the full potential of clean energy technology is alarming," said van der Hoeven. "Under current policies, both energy demand and emissions are likely to double by 2050."


The IEA consists of mostly industrialized nations and was set up in the early 1970s to counterbalance OPEC. It conducts energy market research and helps coordinate releases from strategic oil stockpiles.

The report urged governments to set higher targets for renewable energy use, called for a price on the emissions of carbon dioxide, and an end to subsidies for fossil fuels -- which worldwide it said were seven times larger than renewable energy subsidies in 2011.

"Too little is currently being spent on every element of the clean energy transformation pathway," said van der Hoeven.

Wind: Kansas' other energy boom

The IEA's call for the extra $36 trillion in clean energy investments seems like a huge number, it's actually just 35% more than what the world will invest in energy infrastructure by 2050 anyway.

IEA noted the extra investment -- which works out to $130 per person per year -- could ultimately lower the world's energy costs by $150 trillion by 2050 because that money would not have to spent on buying more oil, gas or coal.

The fuel for most renewable energy systems -- the wind, the sun, the earth's heat -- is free, while fossil fuel systems require the constant purchase of fuel, mostly from a handful of resource-rich nations.

"Continued heavy reliance on a narrow set of technologies and fossil fuels is a significant threat to energy security, stable economic growth and global welfare, as well as to the environment," the report said.

Unlike some naysayers who think renewable technology cannot be scaled up to produce the magnitude of energy the world demands, IEA believes renewables can do the job -- if the right investments are made.

"Policy can unleash the potential of technology to ensure a sustainable energy future for our planet," the report said.

Monday's report, titled Energy Technology Perspectives, said that while wind and solar energy have made considerable progress in the last few years, other technologies have been neglected.

A lack of progress in energy efficiency and the technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions and store them underground is particularly alarming, the report said -- especially given the world's projected continued reliance on coal.

But as reliance on coal gradually diminishes with utilities beginning to favor natural gas -- touted as a clean alternative for electricity production -- IEA says reliance on other forms of alternative energy will also grow.

By 2025 IEA expects energy alternatives like geothermal, wind, and the sun to form a larger slice of the total energy pie, which it says means natural gas will no longer be considered clean in comparison.

That raises "questions around the long-term viability of some gas infrastructure investment if climate change objectives are to be met," the report said.

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