The world is falling down left and right in the battle to prevent runaway global warming. But, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which advises the world's industrial countries on energy issues, renewable energy is the silver lining amid the gathering clouds. Of the 11 key energy developments that the IEA views as necessary to prevent a global temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, only mature renewable energy technologies are on track to carry their share of the world's emission reduction load by 2020. Energy efficiency improvements in industry, vehicle fuel economy improvements, and electric vehicle development are all showing signs of progress, but not yet enough.
The IEA report is a stiff rejoinder to those who would redirect resources currently used for deployment of existing clean energy technology to research and development of "breakthrough" technologies. (We favor increased R&D, too, just not at the expense of reduced deployment of the emission reduction tools we have available today.) Indeed, the deployment of existing renewable energy technologies, according to the IEA report, is the only thing currently happening at the speed and scale necessary to address the climate challenge.
Big, centralized technologies, such as coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS) and nuclear power, continue to lag. Both CCS and nuclear power are extremely unlikely to deliver their share of the climate protection load by 2020 - CCS due to inadequate progress on demonstration projects (and, IMHO, the lack of any kind of sustainable business model in the absence of strict emission targets and cap-and-trade) and nuclear due to both its long lead-time for construction and, more recently, Fukushima.
Centralized technologies aren't the only places we are falling behind, however. The IEA report also points out that we need to do a much better job of tapping the massive potential for improved energy efficiency in buildings.
As the world scrambles to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, we need to make sure that we are continuing to pursue strategies with demonstrated success. The world is doing an increasingly good job of installing solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable energy technologies. Leaders in the United States and elsewhere should resolve to accelerate our progress along that path, even as we continue to work to develop and integrate the technologies of the future.