Following through on their commitment to bring emissions from electricity generation to net zero in the 2030s, leading industrialized nations can spur decarbonisation in other economies and sectors.
G7 members are well placed to fully decarbonize their electricity supply by 2035, which would accelerate the technological advances and infrastructure rollouts needed to lead global energy markets towards net zero emissions by 2050, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency. The report was requested by the United Kingdom, which holds the G7 Presidency this year.
The pathway laid out in the report – Achieving Net Zero Electricity Sectors in G7 Members – underscores how the G7 can serve as first movers, jump-starting innovation and lowering the cost of technologies for other countries while maintaining electricity security and placing people at the center of energy transitions.
The new report builds on the IEA’s landmark Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050 to identify key milestones, challenges, and opportunities for G7 members. Following on from June’s G7 Summit, it is designed to inform discussions at the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, for which the UK also holds the Presidency.
At the G7 Summit, the leaders of Canada Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States – plus the European Union – committed to reaching “an overwhelmingly decarbonized” power system in the 2030s and net zero emissions across their economies no later than 2050.
The G7 now accounts for nearly 40% of the global economy, 36% of global power generation capacity, 30% of global energy demand, and 25% of global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Its clean energy transition is already underway, with coal making way for cleaner options. The electricity sector now accounts for one-third of the G7’s energy-related emissions, down from a peak of nearly two-fifths in 2007. In 2020, natural gas and renewables were the primary sources of electricity in the G7, each providing about 30% of the total, with nuclear power and coal close to 20% each.
Reaching net-zero emissions from electricity would require completing the phase-out of unabated coal while simultaneously expanding low emissions sources of electricity, including renewables, nuclear, hydrogen, and ammonia. According to the IEA’s pathway to net-zero by 2050, renewables need to provide 60% of the G7’s electricity supply by 2030, whereas under current policies they are on track to reach 48%.
The G7 has an opportunity to demonstrate that electricity systems with 100% renewables during specific periods of the year and in certain locations can be secure and affordable. At the same time, increased reliance on renewables does require the G7 to lead the way in finding solutions to maintain electricity security, including seasonal storage and more flexible and robust grids.
In the IEA’s pathway to net-zero by 2050, innovation delivers 30% of G7 electricity sector emissions reductions to 2050, which will require international collaboration while also creating technology leadership opportunities for G7 countries. Mature technologies like hydropower and light-water nuclear reactors contribute only about 15% of the reductions in the IEA pathway. About 55% come from deploying technologies that either still have huge scopes to grow further, such as onshore wind and solar PV, or in the early adoption phases, such as heat pumps and battery storage. Technologies still in development, such as floating offshore wind, carbon capture, and hydrogen, would deliver another 30%.
The new report underscores that people must be placed at the center of all clean electricity transitions. Decarbonizing electricity could create as many as 2.6 million jobs in the G7 over the next decade, but as many as 300,000 jobs could be lost at fossil fuel power plants, with profound local impacts that demand strong and sustained policy attention to minimize the negative impacts on individuals and communities. Household spending on energy should decline by 2050, as rising spending on electricity is more than offset by lower expenses for coal, natural gas, and oil products. Governments must foster efficiency gains and structure energy tariffs for consumers and businesses so that all households can benefit from these cost savings.
“G7 members have the financial and technological means to bring their electricity sector emissions to net zero in the 2030s, and doing so will create numerous spill-over benefits for other countries’ clean energy transitions and add momentum to global efforts to reach net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “G7 leadership in this crucial endeavor would demonstrate that getting to electricity sectors with net-zero emissions is both doable and advantageous, and would also drive new innovations that can benefit businesses and consumers.”