Renewable Energy May Meet 77% of Demand by 2050, UN Report Says
Solar power, wind and other forms of renewable energy may meet as much as 77 percent of global consumption by 2050, according to a United Nations report.
Moving beyond fossil fuels such as oil and coal to develop geothermal, biomass, solar, wind, hydropower and electricity from the ocean’s waves and tides will require as much as $5.1 trillion in investment from 2011 through 2020 and an additional $7.2 trillion for the decade ending in 2030, according to the study by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released today in Abu Dhabi.
Renewable energy in developing countries, which will have the largest energy demand growth, will depend on “appropriate finance and technology being available,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Industrialized nations need to create the right policy conditions and incentives so that the development and installation of clean-energy technologies also receive a major boost in their own energy mixes.”
The 25-page summary of the UN’s biggest assessment of alternative energy was agreed line-by line by representatives of 194 countries over four days of talks that ended early today in the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The document describes a report that stretches to more than 900 pages.
Renewable energy production made up 12.9 percent of total primary energy supply in 2008 and may reach as much as 43 percent by 2030, the report said. The upper end of the 164 scenarios assessed indicated greenhouse gas savings equivalent to up to 560 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions from 2010 to 2050, compared with about 1,530 gigatons in the same period under the reference scenario described in the International Energy Agency’s 2009 World Energy Outlook.
“The hard facts are still in there, but the language was made softer and watered down,” said Sven Teske, the renewable energy director of Greenpeace International and an author of the report. “A lot of times where we had said ‘can’ and ‘will,’ it was changed to ‘could’ and ‘may’.”
Stephan Singer, an official reviewer of the report and director of the environmental group WWF International’s energy program, also said the summary had been diluted and that lawmakers should read a longer version known as the technical summary for a clearer picture of renewable energy. At the same time, he said renewable energy has more potential than suggested in the UN study.
“If we can say already today that we can go to 77 percent, the door is open to go further,” Singer said in a telephone interview from Abu Dhabi. “With current technologies, 95 percent of energy from renewables is technically possible by 2050. With human ingenuity and new technologies, and if we conserve more energy, 100 percent is possible.”
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 with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. The panel has since admitted errors in that study, including exaggerating the melting of Himalayan glaciers.
The absence of carbon pricing and promoting research and development are barriers to renewable energy, according to one of the report’s lead authors.
“Coal is cheap and abundant, and relatively equally distributed around the world,” Ottmar Edenhofer told reporters. “Without carbon pricing, it is costless to deposit CO2 in the atmosphere, but it has externalities like extreme weather and pollution.”
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