Monday, May 16, 2011

IPCC Report Indicates that Most of the World's Energy Needs Could be Met by Renewables

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a report which indicates that nearly 80 percent of global energy demand could be met by renewable sources of energy by 2050. On May 9, the IPCC released the Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. The report compares 164 different scenarios and most of these scenarios project a substantial increase in the deployment of renewable energy. The report predicts that by 2050 wind power could supply more than a fifth of our energy and with the right technical advances solar power could provide one-third of our energy.

The report indicates that renewable energy can reduce greenhouse gases by 33 percent, contribute to sustainable economic growth, create jobs, and provide cheaper electricity to poor rural areas. The report suggests that we can become so energy efficient that the predicted population of 9 billion by 2050 could use less energy than 7 billion people on the planet today.

The IPCC report was prepared by 120 scientists and it is the most comprehensive high level review of renewable energy to date. The report predicts that the costs will fall considerably in the coming years due to technological advances. The report also predicts that enewable energy options will surge and account for a much larger percentage of the total energy usage.

“Most of the 164 scenarios showed renewable energies would rise to supply above 100 exajoules (EJ) a year by 2050, reaching 200-400 EJ a year in many scenarios. In 2008-2009, 140 GW of the 300 GW of new global electricity generating capacity came from renewables.

According to the report the six of the most promising renewable energy technologies include solar, wind, bioenergy, geothermal, and ocean. The fastest-growing technology is grid-connected solar electric power, which saw a 53% increase in installed capacity during 2009. However, the report suggests that solar photovoltaics will continue to be among the more expensive options for some years.

The biggest single source, accounting for about half of the global total, is the burning of wood for heat and cooking in developing countries.This is not always truly renewable, as new trees to replace the burned wood are not always planted.

To make renewable energy more competitive we need to get the costs down. The report also indicates that renewable energy would be "economically attractive" if the environmental costs of fossil fuel emissions were included in prices.

Unlike fossil fuels, the expansion in renewable energy is not limited by any notion of a finite supply.The report concludes there is more than enough to meet the world's current and future energy needs. The report says that almost half of current investment in electricity generation is going into renewables, but growth will depend on having the right policies in place.

The report indicates that we could cut in global greenhouse gas emissions of about one-third compared with business-as-usual projections by 2050. Currently, renewables supply 12.9% of the global energy supply.

"With consistent climate and energy policy support, renewable energy sources can contribute substantially to human well-being by sustainably supplying energy and stabilising the climate," said Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC working group that produced the report."However, the substantial increase of renewables is technically and politically very challenging," he added.

The IPCC report indicates that, “The projected expansion is likely to continue even without new measures to promote a shift from fossil fuels as part of a U.N.-led fight against climate change.” Governments have agreed to limit the global average temperature rise to 2C at the most. To achieve the reductions agreed to at UN climate talks in Cancun, at the end of 2010 governments must make use of renewable energy sources on a very large scale. To meet international climate targets, governments will need to advance ambitious national policies and strong international cooperation to stimulate renewable investment.

To achieve even more growth in renewables requires ambitious national policies and strong international co-operation. According to UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, "It is also clear that ambitious national policies and strong international cooperation are together the key to the swift and extensive deployment of renewable energies in all countries."

"While the report concludes that the proportion of renewable energy will likely increase even without policies," the reports authors said in a press release, “past experience has shown the largest increases come with concerted policy efforts.”

The IPCC brought together the most relevant and best available information to provide the world with this scientific assessment of the potential of renewable energy sources to mitigate climate change. It concludes that, “The technical potential of renewable energy technologies exceeds the current global energy demand by a consider amount, globally, and in respect of most regions of the world.”

The report indicated that renewable energy could provide up to 77% of the world's power by 2050, but this is less than 3% of total potential (under the 164 scenarios reviewed). The report indicates that wind power alone is capable of supplying more than 100% of future demand, and solar power many times more.

Although not included in the IPCC report, the WWF’s new Energy Report details a road map for achieving 100% renewable energy by 2050. Leading the WWF to say that the IPCC report, “underestimates the potential of deploying renewable energy even faster, especially when combined with top level energy efficiency."

The IPCC report demonstrates that with the right governmental backing we could get almost 80 per cent of our energy from renewable energy sources by 2050. If we do not see government support the IPCC report also lays out a bleaker vision for the future. Under this scenario we could consume more energy by 2050, and only 15 percent of the world's energy needs would be met by renewable energy.

© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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