World Energy Outlook 2020

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The analysis targets the key uncertainties facing the energy sector in relation to the duration of the pandemic and its implications, while mapping out the choices that would pave the way towards a sustainable recovery. The strategic insights from the WEO-2020 are based on detailed modelling of different potential pathways out of the crisis, covering all regions, fuels and technologies and using the latest data on energy markets, policies and costs.

“The economic downturn has temporarily suppressed emissions, but low economic growth is not a low-emissions strategy – it is a strategy that would only serve to further impoverish the world’s most vulnerable populations. Only faster structural changes to the way we produce and consume energy can break the emissions trend for good. Governments have the capacity and the responsibility to take decisive actions to accelerate clean energy transitions and put the world on a path to reaching our climate goals, including net-zero emissions.”

Read the full press release.

Dr Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director

Executive Summary

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused more disruption to the energy sector than any other event in recent history, leaving impacts that will be felt for years to come. This IEA World Energy Outlook (WEO) examines in detail the effects of the pandemic, and in particular how it affects the prospects for rapid clean energy transitions. It is too soon to say whether today’s crisis represents a setback for efforts to bring about a more secure and sustainable energy system, or a catalyst that accelerates the pace of change. The pandemic is far from over, many uncertainties remain and crucial energy policy decisions have yet to be made.

This Outlook explores different pathways out of the Covid-19 crisis, with a particular focus on a pivotal next ten years to 2030. At this hugely consequential moment for the energy sector and for the urgent global response to climate change, the WEO-2020 illustrates the historic nature of the choices, opportunities and pitfalls that will shape where we go from here.

Our assessment is that global energy demand is set to drop by 5% in 2020, energy-related CO2 emissions by 7%, and energy investment by 18%. The impacts vary by fuel. The estimated falls of 8% in oil demand and 7% in coal use stand in sharp contrast to a slight rise in the contribution of renewables. The reduction in natural gas demand is around 3%, while global electricity demand looks set to be down by a relatively modest 2% for the year.

The 2.4 gigatonnes (Gt) decline takes annual CO2 emissions back to where they were a decade ago. However, the initial signs are that there may not have been a similar fall in 2020 in emissions of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – from the energy sector, despite lower oil and gas output.

Uncertainty over the duration of the pandemic, its economic and social impacts, and the policy responses open up a wide range of possible energy futures. By considering different assumptions about these key unknowns, along with the latest energy market data and a dynamic representation of energy technologies, this Outlook examines:

  • The Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS), in which Covid-19 is gradually brought under control in 2021 and the global economy returns to pre-crisis levels the same year. This scenario reflects all of today’s announced policy intentions and targets, insofar as they are backed up by detailed measures for their realisation.
  • The Delayed Recovery Scenario (DRS) is designed with the same policy assumptions as in the STEPS, but a prolonged pandemic causes lasting damage to economic prospects. The global economy returns to its pre-crisis size only in 2023, and the pandemic ushers in a decade with the lowest rate of energy demand growth since the 1930s.
  • In the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), a surge in clean energy policies and investment puts the energy system on track to achieve sustainable energy objectives in full, including the Paris Agreement, energy access and air quality goals. The assumptions on public health and the economy are the same as in the STEPS.
  • The new Net Zero Emissions by 2050 case (NZE2050) extends the SDS analysis. A rising number of countries and companies are targeting net-zero emissions, typically by midcentury. All of these are achieved in the SDS, putting global emissions on track for net zero by 2070. The NZE2050 includes the first detailed IEA modelling of what would be needed in the next ten years to put global CO2 emissions on track for net zero by 2050.


Global energy demand rebounds to its pre-crisis level in early 2023 in the STEPS, but this is delayed until 2025 in the event of a prolonged pandemic and deeper slump, as in the DRS. Prior to the crisis, energy demand was projected to grow by 12% between 2019 and 2030. Growth over this period is now 9% in the STEPS, and only 4% in the DRS. With demand in advanced economies on a declining trend, all of the increase comes from emerging market and developing economies, led by India. The slower pace of energy demand growth puts downward pressure on oil and gas prices compared with pre-crisis trajectories, although the large falls in investment in 2020 also increase the possibility of future market volatility. Lower growth in incomes cuts into construction activities and reduces purchases of new appliances and cars, with the effects on livelihoods concentrated in developing economies. In the DRS, residential floor space is 5% lower by 2040, 150 million fewer refrigerators are in use, and there are 50 million fewer cars on the road than in the STEPS.

Reversing several years of progress, our analysis shows that the number of people without access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is set to rise in 2020. Around 580 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lacked access to electricity in 2019, three-quarters of the global total, and some of the impetus behind efforts to improve this situation has been lost. Governments are attending to the immediate public health and economic crisis, utilities and other entities that deliver access face serious financial strains, and borrowing costs have risen significantly in countries where the access deficit is high. Regaining momentum on this issue is particularly challenging in the DRS. In addition, we estimate that a rise in poverty levels worldwide in 2020 may have made basic electricity services unaffordable for more than 100 million people who already had electricity connections, pushing these households back to relying on more polluting and inefficient sources of energy.

Renewables grow rapidly in all our scenarios, with solar at the centre of this new constellation of electricity generation technologies. Supportive policies and maturing technologies are enabling very cheap access to capital in leading markets. With sharp cost reductions over the past decade, solar PV is consistently cheaper than new coal- or gasfired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest cost electricity ever seen. In the STEPS, renewables meet 80% of the growth in global electricity demand to 2030. Hydropower remains the largest renewable source of electricity, but solar is the main driver of growth as it sets new records for deployment each year after 2022, followed by onshore and offshore wind. The advance of renewable sources of generation, and of solar in particular, as well as the contribution of nuclear power, is much stronger in the SDS and NZE2050. The pace of change in the electricity sector puts an additional premium on robust grids and other sources of flexibility, as well as reliable supplies of the critical minerals and metals that are vital to its secure transformation. Storage plays an increasingly vital role in ensuring the flexible operation of power systems, with India becoming the largest market for utility-scale battery storage.

Electricity grids could prove to be the weak link in the transformation of the power sector, with implications for the reliability and security of electricity supply. The projected requirement for new transmission and distribution lines worldwide in the STEPS is 80% greater over the next decade than the expansion seen over the last ten years. The importance of electricity networks rises even more in faster energy transitions. However, the financial health of many utilities, especially in developing economies, has worsened as a result of the crisis. There is a disparity in many countries between the spending required for smart, digital and flexible electricity networks and the revenues available to grid operators, creating a risk to the adequacy of investment under today’s regulatory structures.

Coal demand does not return to pre-crisis levels in the STEPS and its share in the 2040 energy mix falls below 20% for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. Coal use for power generation is heavily affected by downward revisions in electricity demand and its use in industry is tempered by lower economic activity. Coal phase-out policies, the rise of renewables and competition from natural gas lead to the retirement of 275 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity worldwide by 2025 (13% of the 2019 total), including 100 GW in the United States and 75 GW in the European Union. Projected increases in coal demand in developing economies in Asia are markedly lower than in previous WEOs, and not enough to offset falls elsewhere. The share of coal in the global power generation mix falls from 37% in 2019 to 28% in 2030 in the STEPS, and to 15% by then in the SDS.

The era of growth in global oil demand comes to an end within ten years, but the shape of the economic recovery is a key uncertainty. In both the STEPS and the DRS, oil demand flattens out in the 2030s. However, a prolonged economic downturn knocks more than 4 million barrels per day (mb/d) off oil demand in the DRS, compared with the STEPS, keeping it below 100 mb/d. Changes in behaviour resulting from the pandemic cut both ways. The longer the disruption, the more some changes that eat into oil consumption become engrained, such as working from home or avoiding air travel. However, not all the shifts in consumer behaviour disadvantage oil. It benefits from a near-term aversion to public transport, the continued popularity of SUVs and the delayed replacement of older, inefficient vehicles.

In the absence of a larger shift in policies, it is still too early to foresee a rapid decline in oil demand. Rising incomes in emerging market and developing economies create strong underlying demand for mobility, offsetting reductions in oil use elsewhere. But transport fuels are no longer a reliable engine for growth. Oil use for passenger cars peaks in both the STEPS and the DRS, brought lower by continued improvements in fuel efficiency and robust growth in sales of electric cars. Oil use for longer-distance freight and shipping varies according to the outlook for the global economy and international trade. Upward pressure on oil demand increasingly depends on its rising use as a feedstock in the petrochemical sector. Despite an anticipated rise in recycling rates, there is still plenty of scope for demand for plastics to rise, especially in developing economies. However, since oil used to make plastics is not combusted, our scenarios see a peak in total oil-related CO2 emissions.


Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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