IEA: Variants on the route to a low-carbon future

The energy system does not always develop according to optimum approaches, so optional ways to limit carbon exist

The modelling and analysis of the IEA flagship technology series Energy Technology Perspectives (ETP) do not predict the future. Rather, the three ETP scenarios – 6° Scenario (6DS), 4° Scenario (4DS) and 2° Scenario (2DS) – reveal the impacts of different technology and policy choices, providing a quantitative approach to support decision-making in the energy sector.

Energy modelling is the backbone of the ETP series of publications. It combines forecasting, which shows the end result of specific choices, and back-casting, which lays out plausible pathways to a desired end state. The series starts from the globally agreed-upon target of reducing emissions to limit global temperature rise for its core 2DS, taking into account rising global population and steady economic growth. The 4DS and 6DS reflect less stringent ambitions for emissions and climate change mitigation.

Ultimately, the analysis explores how to transform the global energy system to break the link of economic activity, energy demand and emissions – optimising costs and benefits globally. The scenarios do not necessarily reflect the lowest-cost approach, which can miss many subtleties (e.g. political preferences and capital constraints) plus is not always suitable for end-use sectors: buildings, transport and industry.

The energy system does not always develop according to optimum approaches, as some technology decisions may be based on other considerations, such as behavioural aspects, or influenced by political and economic circumstances. So in its 2014 edition, ETP includes several 2DS variants for how different sectors can meet or possibly exceed long-term carbon reduction goals in different ways.

  • High Renewables illustrates an expanded role of renewables in the electricity sector based on reduced deployment of nuclear power and delayed commercial introduction of carbon capture and storage. Faster deployment of renewable technologies reduces their costs.
  • Electrifying Transport projects massive electrification of transport. The 2DS is already ambitious in terms of transport electrification, especially for light-duty road passenger applications, but this variant sees aggressive electrification of road freight vehicles.
  • Electrified Buildings examines greater deployment of heat-pump technology for both space heating and domestic hot water in the European Union and China.

Source: IEA, 2014

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