Renewables can power the world

Almost 80% of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewable energy in 2050, if governments implement the right policies, a new report shows.

The study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes the world’s leading climate scientists, is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the trends and potential of renewable energy. It has been produced to assess how renewables can mitigate climate change and to serve as a knowledge basis for policymakers.

Launched on 9 May, The Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) was approved by government representatives from 194 nations.

Policies reflecting the wider economic, social and environmental benefits of renewable technologies, including their potential to cut air pollution and improve public health, will be key to making use of the full potential of renewables, the report concludes.

Youba Sokona, co-chair of one of the report’s working groups, said: “The potential role of renewable energy technologies in meeting the needs of the poor and in powering the sustainable growth of developing and developed economies can trigger sharply polarised views. This IPCC report has brought some much needed clarity to this debate in order to inform governments on the options and decisions that will be needed if the world is to collectively realise a low-carbon, far more resource efficient and equitable development path”.

Ramon Pichs, also a co-chair, added: “The report shows that it is not the availability of the resource, but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades.”

The study reviewed the current role and future potential of six renewable energy technologies. For most, costs have declined and the authors expect significant technical advancements and further cost reductions in the future. The study also shows that combining different renewable sources will improve reliability of energy supply.

When measured in 2008, 13% percent of global energy supply came from renewables. By 2050, solar energy could become one of the major sources, the report identifies, while global wind power’s share could grow from 2% in 2009 to more than 20%.

Hydropower, currently the largest renewable source for electricity, is likely to grow in absolute terms but decrease its overall share in global electricity supply from 16% in 2008 to 10-14% in 2050. Geothermal could meet 5% of heat demand, with bioenergy forecast not to have a significant share in the renewables mix. Tidal and wave power are unlikely to noticeably contribute to global energy supply before 2020 due to its early stage of development.

The investment required to fully deploy renewable technologies and limit the effects of climate change would only cost around 1% of global GDP, said IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri.

“The IPCC and governments of the world signal loud and clear: fossil fuels and nuclear are no real alternatives to renewables,” said Dr Stephan Singer, director for global energy policy for WWF International. The organisation claimed however that the IPCC underestimates how quickly renewables could be deployed, especially when combined with top level energy efficiency. WWF’s own analysis, The Energy Report, shows a pathway to a 100% renewable energy future by 2050.