IEA grid report calls for 80 million kilometres of new power lines

A new IEA report on global electrical grids has found that 80 million kilometres of power lines will have to be replaced or added by 2040 to hit climate targets and ensure energy security.

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Claimed to be the first global stocktake of its kind, Electricity Grids and Secure Energy Transitions found that grids around the world are failing to keep pace with increasing electrification, as more renewable energy, electric cars and heat pumps are rolled out. In order to stay on track, the IEA claims that grid investment needs to double to more than $600 billion a year by 2030.

According to the report, there is ‘a large and growing queue’ of renewables awaiting grid connection. This includes 1500GW in advanced stages of development which is is five times the total amount of solar and wind capacity added worldwide last year.

“The recent clean energy progress we have seen in many countries is unprecedented and cause for optimism, but it could be put in jeopardy if governments and businesses do not come together to ensure the world’s electricity grids are ready for the new global energy economy that is rapidly emerging,” said Fatih Birol, IEA executive director.

“This report shows what’s at stake and needs to be done. We must invest in grids today or face gridlock tomorrow.”

A new scenario developed for the report, the Grid Delay Case, examines what would happen if grid investment is not scaled up quickly enough. The scenario predicts that cumulative CO2 emissions between 2030 and 2050 would be almost 60 billion tonnes higher due to a slower rollout of renewables that results in higher fossil fuel consumption. This is equivalent to the total CO2 emissions from the global power sector over the past four years. It would put the global temperature rise well above the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C, with a 40 per cent chance of exceeding 2°C.

Recommendations to relieve the gridlock include expanding and strengthening grid interconnections within countries, between countries and across regions to make electricity systems more resilient and allow them to better integrate renewables. The report also recommends that governments back large-scale transmission projects and that digitalisation is embraced to bring more flexibility to grids worldwide.

“Today’s IEA report is a wake-up call that the progress made to date in renewables deployment could be put in jeopardy without decisive, immediate action to modernise our grids,” commented Matthew Boulton, director of Solar, Storage and Private Wire at EDF Renewables.

“The rapid growth of renewables is key to unlocking a secure and affordable energy transition. However, where we have seen investment in renewables nearly double since 2014, for grids, it has barely changed.

“The report rightly calls for bigger, stronger and smarter grids. The rapid uptake of batteries in the UK is helping to make the grid smarter, but it needs to be bigger and stronger to support the UK’s journey to net zero. We need a strategic view of how to best channel this investment, and how to expand the skills base that will be required to deliver these big infrastructure projects.”