UN Renewables ‘Bible’ Says Clean Energy Can Outstrip Demand

Wind and solar power are among six renewable energy options that have the potential to outstrip total world energy needs and may grow as much as 20-fold over the next four decades, a draft United Nations report said.

Geothermal, biomass, solar, wind, hydropower and electricity from the ocean’s waves and tides could more than meet the global energy needs for power, heating and transport based on 2008 demand, according to the study by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.

In practice, less than 2.5 percent of that potential will be used, the panel said, basing the finding on four scenarios out of 164 examined in the UN’s biggest assessment of alternative energy. A shift to low-carbon energy will require a global investment of as much as $12.3 trillion by 2030, it said.

“This study will establish itself as ‘the bible’ of renewable energy for the coming years,” said Sven Teske, renewable energy director of Greenpeace International and a lead author of the report. “It’s one of the most comprehensive surveys of all the different technologies and their costs.”

The full report is about 1,000 pages, Teske said. He declined to comment on the report’s contents. A 29-page draft of the study’s “summary for policymakers” was sent to Bloomberg by an official involved in its preparation who declined to be named because it hasn’t been made public yet.

Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the UN panel, declined to comment on the draft, which will be debated by government representatives from the group’s 194 members in a four-day meeting that starts tomorrow in Abu Dhabi.

‘Subject to Revision’

“Whatever is in draft form right now is subject to revision,” Nuttall said today in a phone interview. “Starting tomorrow, governments will review the draft and comment on it. They’ll go through it line-by-line and this will be then subject to the approval of governments. We don’t expect that to happen until late on May 8th or early May 9th.”

The IPCC in 2007 published its most definitive report on climate change, which is used to guide international climate treaty negotiations and for which it shared the Nobel Peace Prize. The panel has since admitted errors in that study, including exaggerating the melting of Himalayan glaciers.

Renewable energy for electricity, heating and transport is set to increase by a factor of three to 20 by 2050, according to the “majority” of scenarios examined, the panel said in the summary draft. That projection doesn’t include traditional biomass, which is principally the burning of wood for cooking in developing countries.

Burning Fossil Fuels

Moving from fossil fuels to renewables requires new policies to attract “significant increases” in investment, with up to $5.1 trillion required from 2011 through 2020, and as much as $7.1 trillion needed the following decade, the panel said. That compares with the $20 trillion the Paris-based International Energy Agency has estimated needs to be spent on all energy infrastructure by 2030.

The researchers said a range of policies was open to governments to encourage clean energy, including low-interest loans, subsidies and placing a price on carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.

“Scenarios are largely consistent in indicating widespread growth in renewable energy deployment around the globe,” the draft said. “If decision-makers intend to increase the share of renewable energy and, at the same time, to meet ambitious climate mitigation targets, then long-standing commitments and flexibility to learn from experience will be critical.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net.

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.