IEA: spend money, save the world

The International Energy Agency is calling for a technology revolution. Trouble is it's going to cost $45,000bn.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

The IEA today urged a massive investment in green technologies over the next 40 years, in order to halve greenhouse emissions by 2050, which will have businesses the world over scratching their heads. When we say massive investment, that means 1.1% of annual economic output, roughly equivalent to the GDP of Italy. We can imagine a few of the world’s bean-counters spitting out their Fairtrade coffees over that.

Speaking in Tokyo yesterday, the organisation’s executive director Nobuo Tanaka said the world needed a technology revolution that would ‘completely transform the way we produce and use energy’. This includes accelerating the development of hydrogen fuel cells and carbon storage, and investing to commercialise energy forms that are currently too experimental or expensive for such cash-conscious times. Still, if we’re to meet the goal of cutting CO2 emissions by 50-85%, the target set last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it’ll surely involve chucking our money in new directions.

The IEA suggests this would include building 32 new nuclear plants and 17,500 wind turbines a year, as well as kitting out 35 coal-fired power stations annually for carbon capture and storage. Tanaka also announced that nearly one billion electric and fuel-cell cars need to be on the roads by 2050.

All of which could leave the world’s troubled car manufacturers in a bit of a spin. While the big guns are all switching to hybrid or electric vehicles in the West, with the backlash against gas-guzzlers and rising fuel prices, the fastest-growing vehicle markets are in China and India, where cheap still beats green every time. That’s why Nissan is planning to launch an ‘ultra low-cost’ car with Indian motorcycle maker Bajaj Auto, to compete with Tata’s Nano, in 2011. Such ideas may make sound business sense, but hardly fit with the IEA’s plans.

Nissan is striving to boost its green credentials by producing a pure battery/electric car to launch in the US in 2010 and be mass-marketed globally two years later. Apparently, it will be ‘a sexy electric car that will be fun to drive’. Going green really does mean a big change in perceptions.

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