Monday, May 09, 2011

IPCC Report On Global Potential Of Renewable Energy

May 9: A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), prepared by over 120 researchers, indicates that close to 80 percent of the world's energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies. The findings also indicate that the rising penetration of renewable energies could lead to cumulative greenhouse gas (GHG) savings equivalent to 220 to 560 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtC02eq) between 2010 and 2050. The upper end of the scenarios assessed, representing a cut of around a third in greenhouse gas emissions from business-as-usual projections, could assist in keeping concentrations of greenhouse gases at 450 parts per million.

    IPCC said in a release that this could contribute towards a goal of holding the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius – an aim recognized in the United Nations Climate Convention's Cancun Agreements. The findings, released today after being approved by member countries of the IPCC in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, are contained in a summary for policymakers of the Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN). The summary is a short version of a roughly a thousand page comprehensive assessment compiled by over 120 leading experts from all over the world for IPCC's Working Group III.

    Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, Co-Chair of Working Group III said, "With consistent climate and energy policy support, renewable energy sources can contribute substantially to human well-being by sustainably supplying energy and stabilizing the climate. However, the substantial increase of renewables is technically and politically very challenging." The SRREN report, approved by government representatives from 194 nations, will provide input into the broader work of the IPCC as it prepares its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) which is scheduled for finalization in September 2014.

    The report reviewed the current penetration of six renewable energy technologies and their potential deployment over the coming decades. Over 160 existing scientific scenarios on the possible penetration of renewables by 2050, alongside environmental and social implications, have been reviewed with four analyzed in-depth. These four were chosen in order to represent the full range. Scenarios are used to explore possible future worlds, analyzing alternative pathways of socio-economic development and technological change.

    The six renewable energy technologies reviewed are: Bioenergy, including energy crops; forest, agricultural and livestock residues and so called second generation biofuels; Direct solar energy including photovoltaics and concentrating solar power;
Geothermal energy, based on heat extraction from the Earth's interior; Hydropower, including run-of-river, in-stream or dam projects with reservoirs; Ocean energy, ranging from barrages to ocean currents and ones which harness temperature differences in the marine realm; and, Wind energy, including on- and offshore systems.
    The researchers have also studied the challenges linked to how renewable energy can be integrated into existing and future energy systems including electricity grids and likely cost benefits from these developments. While the scenarios arrive at a range of estimates, the overall conclusions are that renewables will take an increasing slice of the energy market.
    The most optimistic of the four, in-depth scenarios projects renewable energy accounting for as much as 77 percent of the world's energy demand by 2050, amounting to about 314 of 407 Exajoules per year. As a comparison, 314 Exajoules is over three times the annual energy supply in the United States in 2005 which is also a similar level of supply on the Continent of Europe according to various government and independent sources.
    According to the report, the 77 percent scenario is up from just under 13 percent of the total primary energy supply of around 490 Exajoules in 2008. Each of the scenarios is underpinned by a range of variables such as changes in energy efficiency, population growth and per capita consumption. These lead to varying levels of total primary energy supply in 2050, with the lowest of the four scenarios seeing renewable energy accounting for a share of 15 percent in 2050, based on a total primary energy supply of 749 Exajoules. While the report concludes that the proportion of renewable energy will likely increase even without enabling policies, past experience has shown that the largest increases come with concerted policy efforts.
    Key Findings from the Summary for Policymakers include: 
  • Of the around 300 Gigawatts (GW) of new electricity generating capacity added globally between 2008 and 2009, 140 GW came from renewable energy.
  • Despite global financial challenges, renewable energy capacity grew in 2009—wind by over 30 percent; hydropower by three percent; grid-connected photovoltaics by over 50 percent; geothermal by 4 percent; solar water/heating by over 20 percent and ethanol and biodiesel production rose by 10 percent and 9 percent respectively.
  • Developing countries host more than 50 percent of current global renewable energy capacity.
  • Most of the reviewed scenarios estimate that renewables will contribute more to a low carbon energy supply by 2050 than nuclear power or fossil fuels using carbon capture and storage (CCS).
  • The technical potential of renewable energy technologies exceeds the current global energy demand by a considerable amount—globally and in respect of most regions of the world.
  • Under the scenarios analyzed in-depth, less than 2.5 percent of the globally available technical potential for renewables is used—in other words over 97 percent is untapped underlining that availability of renewable source will not be a limiting factor.
  • Accelerating the deployment of renewable energies will present new technological and institutional challenges, in particular integrating them into existing energy supply systems and end use sectors.
  • According to the four scenarios analyzed in detail, the decadal global investments in the renewable power sector range from 1,360 to 5,100 billion US dollars to 2020 and 1,490 to 7,180 billion US dollars for the decade 2021 to 2030. For the lower values, the average yearly investments are smaller than the renewable power sector investments reported for 2009.
  • A combination of targeted public policies allied to research and development investments could reduce fuel and financing costs leading to lower additional costs for renewable energy technologies.
  • Public policymakers could draw on a range of existing experience in order to design and implement the most effective enabling policies--there is no one-size-fits-all policy for encouraging renewables.
    Sven Teske, Renewable Energy Director from Greenpeace International, and one of the lead authors of the report said, "This is an invitation to governments to initiate a radical overhaul of their policies and place renewable energy center stage. On the run up to the next major climate conference, COP17 in South Africa in December, the onus is clearly on governments to step up to the mark. The IPCC report shows overwhelming scientific evidence that renewable energy can also meet the growing demand of developing countries, where over two billion people lack access to basic energy services. And it can do so at a more cost competitive and faster rate than conventional energy sources. Governments have to kick start the energy revolution by implementing renewable energy laws across the globe."

    The "Energy [R]evolution" scenario -- a joint project of Greenpeace International, the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) and the German Space Agency (DLR) -- was chosen as one of the lead scenarios of the report. Since the first edition was launched in 2005, Greenpeace has published the Energy [R]evolution in over 40 countries and developed national scenarios, as well as three editions of its global version.

    Access a lengthy release from IPCC with more details (click here). Access the 26-page Summary for Policymakers report (click here). Access a webcast of the press conference (click here). Access a website on the report for extensive background (click here). Access more information on the IPCC and the report (click here). Access a release from Greenpeace International and link to more information (click here). [*Energy/Renewable, *Climate]