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"From an economic standpoint, the extra spending on clean energy following the 2008 crisis contributed positively to the broader recovery, especially through efficiency programs, which bolstered the badly hit construction sector," executive director Dr Fatih Birol wrote yesterday.
Government money helped drive development of low-carbon tech that led to increases in wind power and solar panel use, and stimulus packages improved power and gas networks, though carbon intensity didn't go down.
In 2009 when the crisis was in full flight emissions went down by 400 million tonnes of CO2 (this is compared to the 90MMt the agency estimates coal-to-gas switching saved in 2018) but rebounded by 1.7 billion tonnes the following year.
Already emissions and pollution are far down this year as travel and much industry has ceased but this is "nothing to celebrate".
It has made five recommendations: build on what is there but think big; choose tech that "is ready for the big time"; be careful of large and complex projects; industrial policy should play to a nation's strengths and that nations must "consider the bigger picture".
It suggests given the huge economic shock a clean energy investment push should be done "on a major scale… policies that have an existing legal and institutional structure are the easiest to scale up."
In Europe and the US the things that mobilised investment were in feed-in tariffs and production tax credits, which were in place pre-GFC.
Solar and wind were already well understood but manufacturing was small scale and expensive - much like electrolysers are now - but stimulus allowed production to rise and costs to eventually fall. These and batteries "have the potential to be the coming decade's breakout technologies".
"Support for carbon capture, utilisation and storage needs to focus on the infrastructure required for transporting CO2 and on high-density sources such as the petrochemical industry, whose activity - and emissions - have not been hit hard by the current crisis," it said of where investment is most useful.
Other less complex investments are things like energy efficiency.
"A high number of standardised, small efficiency projects - such as retrofitting municipal buildings and replacing electric engines used by small businesses - are less likely to get bogged down than a single large and complex development."
It also suggests that ultimately funding should avoid regional interests and look to broader energy infrastructure.