PARIS – Governments must spend more on research and development of renewable energy before such secure and clean power can make a real contribution, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Monday.
The West’s energy watchdog found in a study of its 26 member states that the oil price shocks in the 1970s initiated a surge of investment in total energy research, peaking at $16 billion in 1981, and in renewables, such as solar, wind and hydro-power.
But the budget for total energy research then dropped to about half its peak by 1987, while the renewables’ share of that budget has shrunk from 8.4 percent from 1974 to 1986, to 7.7 percent from 1987 to 2002.
“The declining share of public funding for energy R&D allocated to renewable energy appears to be inconsistent with the political intentions of many IEA countries to increase the share of renewables in the total primary energy supply,” said the IEA in a statement.
In setting renewable energy policies, IEA governments often cite future energy security and environmental benefits of renewables, which do not produce carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas blamed for causing global warming.
“Today’s big challenges are security of supply, as a consequence of high oil prices, and climate change concerns. Renewables can (do so), but are not sufficient to stabilise CO2 emissions worldwide…or to contribute to security,” said Rick Sellers, author of the study and head of the IEA renewable energy unit, at a news conference.
The share of renewables in the total primary energy supply in IEA countries, which rose from 4.6 percent in 1970 to about six percent in 1992, was last on a downward trend, slipping to 5.5 percent in 2001, the IEA said.
From 1990 to 2001, traditional renewables including hydro-power, biofuels and geothermal energy grew more slowly, failing to compensate for the rise in wind and solar generation.
As a result, renewable energy sources fuelled only 15 percent of total electricity production in 2001, slumping from its 24 percent share in 1970.
“Renewables could play a key role in the global energy mix with further commitment to research and development and technology innovation, but our study shows that unfortunately we still have along way to go,” said IEA Executive Director Claude Mandil.
Mandil is due to present the study “Renewable Energy – Markets and Policy Trends in IEA Countries” at a renewable energy conference in Bonn this week.