Can the World Run on Renewable Energy?

Published May 29, 2015

2015-05-29 09:12:15

From the April, 2015 Special Report: Making the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy, published by Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) and Knowledge@Wharton

WITHOUT DOUBT, RENEWABLE ENERGY IS ON A ROLL.

Denmark is producing 43% of its energy from renewables, and it aims for 70% by 2020. Germany, at more than 25% now and 30% soon, is going for 40% to 45% clean power by 2025, 55% to 60% by 2035, and an incredible 80% by 2050. China, despite many challenges, is the world’s leading source of renewable investment, as well as the largest solar manufacturer.

The United States, with about 13% renewable energy generation, has some catching up to do, though California (where some developers are incorporating solar into every house they build) points the way forward. The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that the solar market in the U.S. grew by 41% in 2013, and that it made up 20% of all new generating capacity in that year.

Both solar and wind are making strides. A global Bloomberg survey predicted that solar will grow more than 20% internationally in 2014 (as it did between 2012 and 2013). And the Global Wind Energy Council projects that 2014 will be a very good year internationally for wind as well, with dramatic increases over 2013 and at least 47 gigawatts of wind installed around the world.

ROOM FOR GROWTH

But all this positive movement could obscure the fact that renewable energy is still a very small part of the mix both in the U.S. and globally. The big percentage increases start from a small base (even with its rapid growth, solar is still less than 1% of generation in the U.S., and the official consensus is that the world will run on fossil fuel energy for the foreseeable future). The International Energy Agency’s “World Energy Outlook 2013” reports, “Today’s share of fossil fuels in the global mix, at 82%, is the same as it was 25 years ago; the strong rise of renewables only reduces this to around 75% in 2035.”

Business as usual is also predicted for the U.S. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) does envision a gradual emissions reduction through energy-efficiency and the use of renewables. The agency said, “Improved efficiency of energy use in the residential and transportation sectors and a shift away from more carbon-intensive fuels such as coal for electricity generation help to stabilize U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.” But the agency’s projections of electricity generation by fuel to 2040 still show overwhelming dominance by natural gas, nuclear energy and coal. At the most, renewable energy could achieve parity with nuclear power, but remain well below the agency’s projections for natural gas and coal. Today’s low oil prices are another challenge to the rise of renewables.

Please click here to read the full article in “Making the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy”.

Comments

One response to “Can the World Run on Renewable Energy?”

  1. Very insightful article.
    As mentioned in the article, the real challenge would be to nudge the society behaviour and choice appropriately when the fossil fuel led energy cost drops below the RE led energy cost. May be it is time to study the Day-side energy availability against the Night-side and pass on the delta by extending the international grids — transfer any surplus energy from the ‘Day Side-half of Planet to Night-side half instead of costly storage…

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