The IEA’s ‘Net Zero’ Roadmap Analyzed

From Forbes

Tilak Doshi Contributor

I analyze energy economics and related public policy issues.

Mr. Doshi has a fascinating article over at Forbes on the transformation of the IEA from a useful energy advisory body to an ideologically captured one.

In May 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) – the West’s energy advisory body established in the wake of the 1973 oil price shock — issued an astonishing report entitled “Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.” It espoused an end to all new investments in oil and gas (let alone coal) from 2021. The IEA “road-map” was, as expected, met with strong support from “climate emergency” alarmists. For instance, Climate Action 100+, a group of investors with $68 trillion in assets under management, hailed the report as a “watershed moment” and reiterated the IEA’s call for an immediate end to new investment in fossil fuels. Among industry practitioners, however, it led to widespread ridicule. The Saudi oil minister, for instance, called the report a sequel to “La La Land”.

It is no surprise that assessments of the report are polarized between those within the climate industrial complex and those outside. We now have a forensic analysis of the IEA report conducted by the Energy Policy Research Foundation published last week. It was funded by the RealClearFoundation. The analysis was edited by Rupert Darwall, author of two insightful books on the climate debate. The analysis now allows an exposé of the assumptions and conclusions contained in the IEA report.

In part:

The EPRF Exposes IEA’s Magical Thinking

The best of all possible worlds promised by IEA in its “net zero by 2050” vision (a cleaner energy system with the net addition of millions of high-paying jobs) will come about if policy makers put an immediate end to investments to all new fossil fuels developments projects, ban internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 and stop all carbon emissions in the power generation sector by 2040.

Perhaps the most fundamental assumption of the IEA’s net zero roadmap is that of the plunging costs of wind, solar and battery technologies rapidly displacing demand for fossil fuels which currently account for 82% of the world’s primary energy supply according to BP’s latest annual statistical bulletin. (Nuclear power hardly rates a mention.) This assumption undergirds the entire edifice of IEA’s claims regarding the “net zero” future. Take away the supposed cheap and effective “renewable energy” offered by the wind, solar and battery technologies, and all of IEA’s policy advocacy – in parallel with Europe’s green fantasies – collapses into the ash-heap of history.

The IEA report asserts that “Ever-cheaper renewable energy technologies give electricity the edge in the race to zero.” In its projections to 2050, the further adoption of solar panels and wind turbines increases their share of electricity generation from 10% in 2021 to 69% in 2050. To achieve large-scale, low-carbon electrification around the world, continued cost reductions are needed in solar PV and offshore wind. Solar PV capital costs drop by 57%–63% by 2050, and offshore wind by 60%–68%.

EPRF’s analysis shows that the IEA’s optimistic expectations on wind and solar displacing fossil fuels are illusory. Cost declines in solar PV modules were attributable to Chinese manufacturing practices with vast economies of scale, cheap coal-based power supplies, and “mercantilist” support from the Chinese central and local governments which practiced predatory pricing in export markets.

The IEA’s net zero report fails to account for additional high-voltage transmission lines to connect renewable power generators to distant demand centers and large increases in intermittent renewable power sources. Given the prohibitive costs of grid-scale battery storage, intermittent weather-dependent power supplied by wind and solar technologies continue to suffer from inadequate storage capacity. This imposes costs of grid vulnerability, as system operators need to continually balance intermittency with dispatchable power from coal and natural gas-based power generators. The EPRF study confirms the relationship between intermittency and power system integration costs. Data from Eurostat shows a trend of rising electricity prices for households in 28 European countries with the share of intermittent renewables in power generation.

The EPRF study also points out that the world will need to mine enormous amounts of critical minerals used for solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and grid networks. The study states that “the incremental need for critical minerals, particularly lithium, graphite, cobalt, and nickel, will be at least 1,800% by 2040, even in a less aspirational [IEA] scenario.” Even the IEA conceded in its World Energy Outlook that although 80% of demand for copper in its less ambitious net zero scenarios might be covered by announced production plans, “meeting the additional demand could be very challenging.”

The IEA’s “magical thinking” on a “net zero” future is illustrated by its absurdly optimistic forecasts of new innovations and technologies that are yet unproven to be commercially viable. According to its flagship Energy Technology Perspectives, “getting to net zero is not possible without more innovation”. In the IEA’s net zero future, about 50% of all emissions reductions in 2050 come from technologies that are at prototype or demonstration stages today. Out of a database of over 500 individual clean energy technologies at various stages of ‘Technology Readiness Levels’, only 29 technologies (less than 6%) have achieved some commercial competitiveness.

The IEA’s rosy forecasts for wind and solar took another beating last week when Siemens Energy share prices tumbled after it announced that its profits would suffer a large hit as the result of failures in many of its installed wind turbines. Energy economist Professor Gordon Hughes pointed out that this will inevitably mean that wind power is going to become more expensive still. In another recent development, Sweden’s new conservative government adopted a new energy target last week citing the “instability” of solar and wind power generation. It gave “the green light to push forward with plans to build new nuclear plants in a country that voted 40 years ago to phase out atomic power.”

In April, P. Gosselin referred to a “catastrophic report” in Germany where a “whopping 88% of those surveyed see move to green energies as unachievable!” Germany is the poster child of the net zero-focused Energiewende (energy transition) and most citizens were enthusiastic supporters of wind and solar technologies. As Gosselin reminds us, “those days are over”. The massive costs and technical limitations of intermittent, weather-dependent renewable energy have become increasingly apparent in recent years. Industry leaders have warned over the past two years of an exodus of the manufacturing sector to countries such as China and the US due to expected electricity shortages and spiraling energy prices.

In summary

The IEA Is Now An Advocacy Organization

It is not possible to do full justice to the breadth of the analytical critique contained in EPRF’s report in the space of this column. A short list of key IEA’s assumptions that cannot stand the test of the EPRF’s forensic analysis would include the following. The IEA’s scenarios assume that all countries in the world cooperate towards a net zero future. This even though a wide range of countries have no intentions to compromise their economic growth at the altar of green ambitions. This contrasts with Western governments which all seem willing to commit to net zero targets despite the adverse impacts on their citizens welfare. China, India, Russia, Vietnam and Indonesia are just some of the larger countries of the Eurasian continent which, despite stated targets for renewable energy, are expanding their coal consumption, along with oil and gas, to meet surging energy demand as pointed out by David Blackmon.

The IEA sets great store by expected improvements in energy efficiency. According to the IEA, the historical average rate of annual energy-intensity improvements (that is, the reduction in the use of energy per dollar of GDP produced) must nearly triple throughout the next decade. Yet another IEA assumption that seems patently improbable is that the share of all hydrocarbons (oil, gas, coal) in global primary supply decreases from about four-fifths in 2021 to less than one-fifth in 2050.

Other unrealistic assumptions include decreasing oil and gas prices through the forecast period despite falling production, and high CO2 prices for all regions including the poorest developing countries. The list goes on, but the reader must have already guessed at the IEA’s dubious modelling based on such assumptions. In its executive summary, the EPRF study states that “the IEA has made many questionable assumptions and milestones for ‘Net Zero Emissions’ about government policies, energy and carbon prices, behavioral changes, economic growth, and technology maturity.”

Energy economists might be surprised by the IEA’s reliance on such questionable assumptions and achievement milestones. However, once it is recognized that the IEA has ceased to be an authoritative source of analytical studies and become an advocacy group to support the Green movement, it all falls into place.

The IEA’s original mandate was the assurance of required energy supplies at reasonable cost. The subversion of this mandate is put forward succinctly by Mr. Darwall in his foreword to the report: “The IEA could have chosen to remain faithful to its original mandate, but as the Energy Policy Research Foundation report shows, in seeking to become a cheerleader for net zero,

The full article is an interesting read and can be found here:

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Tom Halla
June 30, 2023 2:20 pm

Despite what some greens think, Moore’s Law does not apply to solar and wind. Both are at a high percentage of the possible performance, so any improvements will be minor.

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 30, 2023 2:52 pm

Unless there’s a breakthrough in storage.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Milo
June 30, 2023 2:55 pm

Most chemical batteries have limits. Heinlein’s Shipstones are fiction.

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 30, 2023 7:47 pm

Hopium1 and Hopium2 at extremities of the table of elements are out there somewhere if they’d only stop being distracted by sodium and indulging in chemical doping.

Bryan A
Reply to  observa
June 30, 2023 9:34 pm

I believe they’re disguising themselves as Euphorium1 and Euphorium2 by playing Euphoniums

Reply to  observa
July 1, 2023 3:39 am

Hypium 1 and 2 are closely related to Opium 1 and 2.

They all create an irrational state of euphoria in mostly ignorant people, who likely could not hold a job in the private sector, except as a robotic coffee pourers at Starbucks, or shelf stackers at Walmart

They work for the government or a government financed NGO, such as the IEA, which has become a shill for renewables, as has the traditional media in Europe and the US

Its extremely glossy “reports” are laden with energy nonsense cover to cover.

The more ignorant people, including legislators, just love such reports, because they have lots of pictures, with suggestive talking points

William Howard
Reply to  wilpost
July 1, 2023 8:00 am

Mixed with a generous helping of “Magical Thinking”

Bryan A
Reply to  William Howard
July 1, 2023 8:30 am

And Proxy Dust (can’t forget the Proxy Dust)

Reply to  Milo
June 30, 2023 4:31 pm

Entropy can be forestalled; it will not be denied.

Reply to  Scissor
July 1, 2023 3:42 am

Entropy, on an A-to-Z basis, cannot be forestalled; it is a never ending process. Think losses, inefficiency, wear and tear

William Howard
Reply to  wilpost
July 1, 2023 8:01 am

Any Rand said it best – one can ignore reality but one cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality

Bryan A
Reply to  Milo
June 30, 2023 9:29 pm

Find a way to make Stacked Pumped Storage function affordably and pumped storage
batteries could go anywhere you could excavate a pit, even existing old coal pit mines. Provided you had sufficient surrounding solar capacity to recharge the upper cistern in 4-6 hours (the length of time solar is available)… about the only practical use for solar aside from running a calculator and Off Grid necessities.

It doesnot add up
Reply to  Bryan A
July 1, 2023 5:59 am
John Hultquist
Reply to  Milo
June 30, 2023 9:32 pm

Relying on storage means surplus power to charge it, while demand is being met. Sometimes that might happen. When storage is depleted, what happens next?
When solar and wind return, does the electricity go to storage first or only when demand is met? How many weeks of storage will be needed?
I fail to see how storage is going to solve anything.

Iain Reid
Reply to  Milo
July 1, 2023 12:07 am


storage alone cannot make up for the technical deficiencies of renewable generation, even if a miracle happens and large scale and very very cheap storage appears.

Richard Page
Reply to  Tom Halla
June 30, 2023 3:01 pm

Greenies persist in thinking of them as new technology that can improve with time and experience. However any student of history can tell them that we’ve been using wind power since the year dot, worked many of the flaws out and improved them to their peak before discarding them for something better. As far as wind and solar are concerned, this is about as good as it gets.

Reply to  Richard Page
June 30, 2023 4:38 pm

Yes, and as some have pointed out, petroleum is used for more than energy, the number 6000 useful products being mentioned.

All the net zero schemes pretty much only focus on energy and ignore mass. Chemical engineering deals with heat and material balance. The net zero folks aren’t very good at engineering.

Richard Page
Reply to  Scissor
June 30, 2023 4:48 pm

I don’t think the ‘net zero folks’ are very good at real life – fantasy, now, they’re all over that, just not good at anything in the real world.

William Howard
Reply to  Tom Halla
July 1, 2023 7:59 am

Wonder what Moore’s law has to say about the wind not blowing, the sun not shining, clouds, etc. which drive the actual output from the stated to some fraction of its potential

michael hart
June 30, 2023 2:50 pm

“The IEA’s “magical thinking” on a “net zero” future is illustrated by its absurdly optimistic forecasts of new innovations and technologies that are yet unproven to be commercially viable.”

I think that goes to the heart of the problem. Certainly in the UK, IMO, the government was captured by the green quasi-free market idea. All they had to do was kick start the market for solar and wind with government subsidies, and simple economics would do the rest.

Unfortunately the simple economics point down the toilet. I don’t know when we will get a government, of any colour, that recognises the mistake.

Reply to  michael hart
June 30, 2023 4:39 pm

The printing presses are eventually limited by ink or paper. Government stupidity is not so constrained.

Reply to  Scissor
June 30, 2023 7:10 pm

Unlike money (and so many other things) paper does grow on trees.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  michael hart
July 1, 2023 7:35 am

Certainly no chance if Labour win the next election. They seem to think they only need to announce a policy and it will magically happen. Total unreliable supplied electricity by 2030 and masses of ‘green jobs’. Pie in the sky thinking.

Ron Long
June 30, 2023 2:56 pm

OK, so I researched the IEA, and found a torturous road-map to dysfunctional bureaucracy, funded by a strange mixture of member country public funds (tax money) and private foundation contributions. Their initial mandate, to foster the availability of energy fuels, has been totally corrupted by movement into Net-Zero dogma, as Mr. Doshi claims. Stand-by for even more crazy activities.

Rud Istvan
June 30, 2023 2:59 pm

The last useful factual thing IEA ever did was their 2008 survey of ~800 oil field decline rates, comprising all the major fields in the world and about 85% of total then crude production. The average decline rate per year was ~5.7%, meaning discovered conventional oil production peaked about then even tho IEA denied it. That, plus fracked shale recovery rates (on order of 1.5-2% of estimated OIP), plus creaming curve estimates for as yet undiscovered conventional fields, enabled a fairly precise calculation of peak total oil production timing. That happens very soon. Was covered in several illustrated energy essays in ebook Blowing Smoke, most notably ‘IEA Facts and Fictions’.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 30, 2023 3:28 pm

Should have added the following. Actual ‘peak’ is a shallow flattish peak gamma function with a long tail, NOT Hubbert’s brutal logistics function. Provable from oil basins like North Slope or North Sea that have peaked and since significantly declined. So the ‘peak’ has NO catastrophic consequences—the true crude production peak shoe does not even begin to pinch economically until between 2040-2050.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 30, 2023 4:44 pm

Coal can eventually be processed into fuels and chemicals economically in significant volumes to displace oil but just not in today’s environment.

J Boles
June 30, 2023 3:03 pm

Those big solar panel farms out in the desert, acres of them…I would think that by now there would be somewhere a similar sized battery farm, rows and rows of lead/acid batteries each as big as a house, tens of acres of them.

Reply to  J Boles
June 30, 2023 7:12 pm

Ready to invest your savings?

Reply to  AndyHce
July 1, 2023 2:48 am

Fiduciary mandates which have been brainwashed by Carneyspeak ESG blx might just take that decision out of “JB’s” hands (or holdings/pension funds or “all of the above”)

Richard Page
June 30, 2023 3:05 pm

Where are all these groups coming from? Every time I look there’s a new acronym, think tank, NGO or activist group popping up in the news somewhere vying with the others to prove their green credentials or signal their virtue. It’s beyond farcical – we have become hostages to green ideology that we neither want, need or voted for. Where can I sign up to get off this runaway bandwagon, please?

Chris Morris
June 30, 2023 3:14 pm

The IEA in another document admit the price of wind and solar is going up.
They haven’t even factored in the price rises that will occur because all the wind turbine manufacturers are bleeding red ink.
So their own documents are contradictory. Or is it just one is driven by magical thinking?

Reply to  Chris Morris
June 30, 2023 7:14 pm

Since when does propaganda have to be consistent?

John Hultquist
Reply to  Chris Morris
June 30, 2023 9:47 pm

Siemens Gamesa wind turbine division just demonstrated the fallacy of bigger is better. I hope Siemens elaborates on the recent failures.
A lot of investors think they know of better places to invest. After the big drop, some are buying on the dip. Makes sense if the Company is basically strong.

Chris Morris
Reply to  John Hultquist
July 1, 2023 5:48 pm

The wind turbines have gone past the point of the technology. Unless new miracle substance (like stronger the carbon fibre but cheaper) occurs, their big turbines are too unreliable to allow viable operation.
The wind turbine manufacturers (include GE) have nowhere to hide from their liabilities so will be wanting taxpayer bailouts. That will be a godsend to the sceptical policymakers and the population outside the bubbles.

June 30, 2023 3:25 pm

Add them to the defund list.

Ronald Stein
June 30, 2023 4:20 pm

Sweden’s’ recent shock to Europe is consistent with Ronald Stein’s recent 23-minute interview on the subject of The World Needs More Than Intermittent Electricity from Wind and Solar. 
Unwilling to continue the pursuit of occasional electricity from wind and solar, Sweden Shocks Europe: Abandons ‘Unstable’ Green Energy Agenda, Returns to Nuclear Power.

Richard Page
Reply to  Ronald Stein
June 30, 2023 4:53 pm

With Germany’s track record, this should not have come as a shock to the EU. Either they are very easily shocked, in which case they are totally unsuited to leadership, or they are completely out of touch with the real-world consequences of their actions.

Wayne Raymond
June 30, 2023 5:21 pm

On my computer, the final paragraph of this report was cut off. Here is the full statement from the source given:
The IEA’s original mandate was the assurance of required energy supplies at reasonable cost. The subversion of this mandate is put forward succinctly by Mr. Darwall in his foreword to the report: “The IEA could have chosen to remain faithful to its original mandate, but as the Energy Policy Research Foundation report shows, in seeking to become a cheerleader for net zero, the IEA has allowed itself to be used as a tool for climate extremism, has misled policymakers, and has endangered the world’s economy and Western security, all while forsaking the purpose for which it was created.”

Reply to  Wayne Raymond
June 30, 2023 5:53 pm

And all of this monumental displacement to eliminate about five percent of the 4/100ths of one percent of atmospheric CO2. A monumental error in judgement.

June 30, 2023 7:16 pm

The IEA report seems to have ignored at least two of the most basic laws of economics:

\1) As demand for a commodity increases, the price to meet demand will increase. It’s pretty obvious that the richest and most available (cheapest) ores needed for expanding wind and solar power are the ones currently being mined.

2) As future production of a commodity is constrained, the value of present production is increased. Current fossil fuel producers can confidently predict that future prices will rise, because governments intend that rising prices will be used to force decrease demand.

As some savant said about ten years ago: “Electricity prices will necessarily skyrocket!”

Dave Andrews
Reply to  hiskorr
July 1, 2023 7:49 am

The recently published Statistical Review of World Energy 2023 by the Energy Institute (who have taken over its publication from BP) notes that the price of lithium carbonate rose 335% in 2022 to an average record high of $47,000 per tonne. Cobalt rose at a more leisurely 24% to $64,000 a tonne.

June 30, 2023 7:49 pm
June 30, 2023 9:41 pm

I could care less whether IEA stayed true to its original purpose. Clearly it hasn’t. Any outfit that proposes a plan like this should be made to set the example. They must be made to transition immediately to a carbon free existence, no more ICE vehicles, no more electricity generated by fossil fuel or nuclear, no more airline transportation, no rail travel, no ocean liner travel. We will compromise and allow byproducts such as synthetic fabrics, plastics and some petrochemicals but these people need to walk the walk or keep their mouth shut.

Phillip Bratby
June 30, 2023 11:52 pm

Is there any organisation that hasn’t been taken over by the woke left? “The long march through the institutions” has come to fruition.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Phillip Bratby
July 1, 2023 5:34 am

Yes, they snuck up one us.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Phillip Bratby
July 1, 2023 7:56 am

My pet theory about the IEA is more prosaic and is ‘Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA, wants to be the first Turkish General Secretary of the UN’

July 1, 2023 7:36 am

There are three things Netzero gets you poor, cold, and early in the grave.

Douglas Pollock
July 2, 2023 7:48 am

Science and logics at their most inconsistent level in all of human history.

Pitágoras - IEA.gif
July 3, 2023 10:36 am

The IEA Is Now An Advocacy Organization”

IEA always was an advocacy agency.

When early LCOE (Levelized Cost of Energy) for renewables turned out to be outrageously expensive, IEA applied renewable subsidies as costs against fossil fuels. This lowered various renewable energy technologies and made fossil fuel LCOE much higher.

Then when critics pointed to these facts, IEA went to great lengths and myriad methods to hide data where IEA applied renewable costs and subsidies against fossil fuels.

IEA’s LCOE is not GAAP, (Generally accepted accounting principles), compliant.

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