The International Energy Agency (IEA) has recently released its World Energy Outlook 2023, offering insights into the global energy sector. The report acknowledges the sector's fragility but underscores its capacity to enhance energy security and reduce emissions effectively.
While some of the immediate pressures from the global energy crisis have eased, the IEA report emphasizes that energy markets, geopolitics, and the global economy remain unsettled, with an ever-present risk of further disruptions. Factors such as ongoing conflicts, like Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the potential for protracted conflicts in the Middle East, coupled with economic challenges marked by inflation, higher borrowing costs, and elevated debt levels, define the complexities faced by the energy sector.
Nevertheless, the report identifies a promising pathway forward through the emergence of a new clean energy economy, driven by solar photovoltaic (PV) and electric vehicles (EVs). Clean energy investments have surged by 40% since 2020, creating a strong economic case for mature clean energy technologies and highlighting the importance of energy security, especially for fuel-importing nations.
One notable aspect of the IEA report is its focus on bioenergy, with modern bioenergy accounting for over half of the global renewable energy supply. Biomass, in solid, liquid, and gaseous forms, plays a significant role in this supply chain. In 2022, overall bioenergy production increased by 5%, reaching 40 exajoules (EJ).
Solid bioenergy, mainly derived from organic waste sources like forestry residues or municipal solid waste, is the dominant contributor to bioenergy production, with a notable portion used in power generation, industry, and the buildings sector. The IEA projects modern solid bioenergy to reach 44 EJ in 2030 and 57 EJ in 2050, rising even further in alternative scenarios.
Biogas and biomethane, while smaller in scale within the bioenergy supply chain, are gaining interest as sources of low-emission domestic gas supply, particularly in Europe. The report indicates that the potential for biogas and biomethane production lies close to major gas pipeline infrastructure, aligning with large-scale production and injection into gas networks. By 2030, combined biogas and biomethane production is expected to nearly double, reaching 80 billion cubic meters equivalent (bcme). In more ambitious scenarios, this figure rises significantly, emphasizing the growing importance of biomethane as a dispatchable energy source and a drop-in substitute for natural gas.
The IEA's projections also point to a robust future for total bioenergy supply, with increasing utilization of organic wastes and short rotation woody crops offsetting declines in conventional bioenergy crops. Bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is anticipated to play a critical role in offsetting residual emissions, with around 10% of total bioenergy use in the IEA's net-zero emissions scenario equipped with BECCS by 2050.
The World Biogas Association (WBA) has welcomed the IEA's growth projections for biogas, reflecting an increase from 8% to 22% annually until 2030. The WBA is actively working to facilitate this rapid scale-up through the development of a Biogas Framework and International AD Certification Scheme.
The IEA's report underscores the urgent need for transforming global energy systems, recognizing the crucial role of bioenergy and biomethane in addressing environmental and economic challenges.