IEA World Energy Outlook 2023 optimistic for bioenergy prospects
Noting that some of the immediate pressures from the global energy crisis have eased, the report nevertheless stated that energy markets, geopolitics and the global economy are unsettled - with an ever-present risk of further disruption.
Continuing conflict from Russia's invasion of Ukraine and a risk of protracted conflict in the Middle East, coupled with a downbeat macro-economic mood - with stubborn inflation, higher borrowing costs and elevated debt levels - define the difficulties faced.
The IEA said that the emergency of a new clean energy economy, led by solar PV and electric vehicles (EVs), offer hope for the way forward.
Clean energy investment has risen by 40% since 2020, with a strong economic case for mature clean energy technologies as well as the importance of energy security - particularly in fuel-importing countries.
The report affirmed that modern bioenergy, which comes in solid, liquid and gaseous forms, make up more than half of global renewables supply today. Overall production increased by 5% in 2022, reaching 40 EJ.
Solid bioenergy (biomass) currently accounts for the vast majority of production, according to the IEA.
It is mostly derived from organic waste sources, such as forestry residues or municipal solid waste, and often pelletised for use in power generation or industry, with a small but important share used in the buildings sector.
In the STEPS*, modern solid bioenergy reaches 44 EJ in 2030 and 57 EJ in 2050.
In the APS** and the NZE*** Scenario, production rises to more than 70 EJ by 2050. This provides dispatchable renewable power, a cost competitive source of clean heat for industry and an alternative to the traditional use of solid biomass in emerging market and developing economies.
Biogas and biomethane
Biogas and biomethane are the smallest part of the bioenergy supply chain, but there is growing interest in biomethane in particular as a source of low-emissions domestic gas supply, especially in Europe.
Worldwide, around 300 bcm of potential production from agricultural wastes and residues lies within 20 kilometres of major gas pipeline infrastructure, providing a good match with possible large-scale production and injection into gas networks.
In the STEPS, combined biogas and biomethane production nearly doubles by 2030 to reach 80 billion cubic metres equivalent (bcme).
In all scenarios, the share of biomethane in total biogas demand increases, driven in large part by the value attached to its use as a dispatchable source of energy and drop-in substitute for natural gas.
In the APS, total biomethane production reaches 240 bcme by 2050; in the NZE Scenario, this rises to nearly 300 bcme.
Total bioenergy supply
Total modern bioenergy supply is around 65 EJ in the APS by 2030 and over 70 EJ in the NZE Scenario.
By 2050, the total sustainable potential assessed by the IEA of around 100 EJ is fully exploited in both the APS and the NZE Scenario, with large increases in the use of organic wastes and short rotation woody crops more than offsetting a decline in the use of conventional bioenergy crops and the traditional use of solid biomass.
Around 10% of total bioenergy use in the NZE Scenario is equipped with bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) by 2050, and this plays a critical role in offsetting residual emissions.
Charlotte Morton, chief executive of the World Biogas Association, commented: “The latest World Energy Outlook makes clear that we must act now to transform our energy systems.
"It is good to see the IEA growth projections for biogas increasing from 8% to 22% a year to 2030, with actual potential demonstrating these could be even higher with the right support.
"The WBA is developing a Biogas Framework and International AD Certification Scheme that will facilitate such rapid scale up, which will deliver massive economic advantages to those countries taking the lead."
IEA scenarios key:
* Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS): This scenario is designed to provide a sense of the prevailing direction of energy system progression, based on a detailed review of the current policy landscape. Whereas the APS reflects what governments say they will achieve, the STEPS looks in detail at what they are actually doing to reach their targets and objectives across the energy economy. Outcomes in the STEPS reflect a detailed sector-by-sector review of the policies and measures that are actually in place or that have been announced; aspirational energy or climate targets are not automatically assumed to be met. The STEPS is now associated with a temperature rise of 2.4 °C in 2100 (with a 50% probability).
**Announced Pledges Scenario (APS): This scenario assumes that governments will meet, in full and on time, all of the climate-related commitments that they have announced, including longer term net zero emissions targets and pledges in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), as well as commitments in related areas such as energy access. Since most governments are still very far from having policies announced or in place to deliver in full on their commitments and pledges, this scenario could be regarded as giving them the benefit of the doubt, and very considerable progress would have to be made for it to be achieved.
*** Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) Scenario: This normative scenario portrays a pathway for the energy sector to help limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels in 2100 (with at least a 50% probability) with limited overshoot. The NZE Scenario has been fully updated and is the focus of the recently released Net Zero Roadmap: A Global Pathway to Keep the 1.5 °C Goal in Reach (IEA, 2023d). The NZE Scenario also meets the key energy-related UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): universal access to reliable modern energy services is reached by 2030, and major improvements in air quality are secured. Each passing year of high emissions and limited progress towards the SDGs makes achieving the goals of the NZE Scenario more difficult but, based on IEA analysis, the recent acceleration in clean energy transitions means that there is still a pathway open to achieving its goals.