Coal Use Criticized by IEA as Energy Leaders Meet in Abu Dhabi

Global consumption of coal and natural gas will grow faster than demand for renewable energy, the International Energy Agency said in a report urging governments to boost incentives for clean power.

Coal, the dirtiest fuel in terms of carbon emissions used for generating power, has provided 47 percent of new worldwide electricity in the past decade, while gas accounted for 33 percent, the Paris-based agency said. That compares with a 6.5 percent share for plants that burn waste or use renewable sources such as the wind and sun.

The recommendations were prepared before today’s meeting in Abu Dhabi of government energy leaders from the U.S., China, Japan, Germany and other countries. Making buildings and manufacturing more energy efficient is one of the best ways to wean the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels, IEA Deputy Executive Director Richard Jones said today.

“Half of future savings have to come from energy efficiency if you want the low-cost solution,” Jones said in an interview in Abu Dhabi. “For example lighting technology, insulation, appliances, they take about a year to recoup the cost,” he said.

Lawmakers should phase out fossil-fuel subsidies, promote biofuels and boost support for renewable energy, electric cars and carbon capture and storage, according to the report. The average annual growth rates for wind and solar power since 2005 have averaged 26 percent and 50 percent respectively, according to the report.

“The past decade has seen a dramatic rise in global investment in renewable energy, led by wind and solar,” IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka said in the report’s foreword. “Unfortunately, the news is not all good.”

Nuclear Power

The share of power generated from sources such as wind and sunshine fell to 18.5 percent in 2008, the latest year given, from 19.5 percent in 1990, mainly due to a drop in new hydroelectric plants, the report said.

With governments reviewing their nuclear-energy strategies following the crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi atomic-power station, “smarter, more ambitious policies are clearly needed” to ensure the world is able to fight climate change and increase energy security, Tanaka said.

For a 50 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, global nuclear power capacity needs to rise to 512 gigawatts by 2020 from 375 gigawatts at the end of last year, according to the report. That’s a “real challenge” and means a “significant number” of new plants must begin construction in the next five years, the IEA said.

“Nuclear power continues to be part of our mix,” Jones said. “We recognize it isn’t for every country, and the growth will be stretched out because of the Japanese situation.”

The meeting in Abu Dhabi includes ministers from the European Union and more than 20 other states accounting for more than 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. It was started in 2010 by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and this year’s meeting is taking place today and tomorrow.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net; Ayesha Daya in Abu Dhabi at adaya1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net.

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