Selected extracts from the Special Report on Renewable Energy sources policy makers summary.
The Message: The scenarios used to achieve CO2 stabilization may be achieved using renewable energy at a cost of 1% Global GDP per year.
I have tried to distill what I think are some of the most important statements from the 26 page summary, and to include some of the graphics not published in mainstream media. See the original (link above) for detailed explanations.
Integrating sustainable development with renewable energy adoption is a theme of the paper which I have highlighted.
The full report will be out at the end of the month.
On a global basis, it is estimated that Renewable Energy (RE) accounted for 12.9% of the total 492 Exajoules (EJ) of primary energy supply in 2008 (Box SPM.2) (Figure SPM.2). The largest RE contributor was biomass (10.2%), with the majority (roughly 60%) being traditional biomass used in cooking and eating applications in developing countries but with rapidly increasing use of modern biomass as well.
Traditional biomass (17%), modern biomass (8%), solar thermal and geothermal energy (2%) together fuelled 27% of the total global demand for heat.
Deployment of RE has been increasing rapidly in recent years (Figure SPM.3). Various types of government policies, the declining cost of many RE technologies, changes in the prices of fossil fuels, an increase of energy demand and other factors have encouraged the continuing increase in the use of RE.
Despite global financial challenges, RE capacity continued to grow rapidly in 2009 compared to the cumulative installed capacity from the previous year, including: wind power (32% increase, 38 Gigawatts (GW) added), hydropower (3%, 31 GW added), grid-connected photovoltaics (53%, 7.5 GW added), geothermal power (4%, 0.4 GW added), and solar hot water/heating (21%, 31 GWth added).
Of the approximate 300 GW of new electricity generating capacity added globally over the two year period from 2008 to 2009, 140 GW came from RE additions.
The use of decentralized RE (excluding traditional biomass) in meeting rural energy needs at the household or village level has also increased, including hydropower stations, various modern biomass options, PV, wind or hybrid systems that combine multiple technologies.
The global technical potential of RE sources will not limit continued growth in the use of RE. A wide range of estimates are provided in the literature, but studies have consistently found that the total global technical potential for RE is substantially higher than global energy demand. The technical potential for solar energy is the highest among the RE sources, but substantial technical potential exists for all six RE sources. Even in regions with relatively low levels of technical potential for any individual RE source, there are typically significant opportunities for increased deployment compared to current levels.
In the longer term and at higher deployment levels, however, technical potentials indicate a limit to the contribution of some individual RE technologies. Factors such as sustainability concerns, public acceptance, system integration and infrastructure constraints, or economic factors may also limit deployment of renewable energy technologies.
The levelized cost of energy for many RE technologies is currently higher than existing energy prices, though in various settings RE is already economically competitive. Ranges of recent levelized costs of energy for selected commercially available RE technologies are wide, depending
on a number of factors including, but not limited to, technology characteristics, regional variations in cost and performance, and differing discount rates. Some RE technologies are broadly competitive with existing market energy prices. Many of the other RE technologies can provide competitive energy services in certain circumstances, for example, in regions with favourable resource conditions or that lack the
infrastructure for other low-cost energy supplies.
Monetizing the external costs of energy supply would improve the relative competitiveness of RE. The same applies if market prices increase due to other reasons.
The cost of most RE technologies has declined and additional expected technical advances would result in further cost reductions. Significant advances in RE technologies and associated long-term cost reductions have been demonstrated over the last decades, though periods of rising prices have sometimes been experienced (due to, for example, increasing demand for RE in excess of available supply).
As infrastructure and energy systems develop, in spite of the complexities, there are few, if any, fundamental technological limits to integrating a portfolio of RE technologies to meet a majority share of total energy demand in locations where suitable RE resources exist or can be supplied. However, the actual rate of integration and the resulting shares of RE will be influenced by factors, such as costs, policies, environmental issues and social aspects.
Renewable energy and sustainable development
Historically, economic development has been strongly correlated with increasing energy use and growth of GHG emissions and RE can help decouple that correlation, contributing to sustainable development (SD). Though the exact contribution of RE to SD has to be evaluated in a country specific context, RE offers the opportunity to contribute to social and economic development, energy access, secure energy supply, climate change mitigation, and the reduction of negative environmental and health impacts. Providing access to modern energy services would support the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
- RE can contribute to social and economic development.
- RE can help accelerate access to energy, particularly for the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity and the additional 1.3 billion using traditional biomass.
- RE options can contribute to a more secure energy supply, although specific challenges to integration must be considered.
- In addition to reduced GHG emissions, RE technologies can provide other important environmental benefits.
o Lifecycle assessments (LCA) for electricity generation indicate that GHG emissions from RE technologies are, in general, significantly lower than those associated with fossil fuel options, and in a range of conditions, less than fossil fuels employing CCS.
o Most current bioenergy systems, including liquid biofuels, result in GHG emission reductions, and most biofuels produced through new processes (also called advanced biofuels or next generation biofuels) could provide higher GHG mitigation.
o The sustainability of bioenergy, in particular in terms of life cycle GHG emissions, is influenced by land and biomass resource management practices. Proper governance of land use, zoning, and choice of biomass production systems are key considerations for policy makers.
o RE technologies, in particular non-combustion based options, can offer benefits with respect to air pollution and related health concerns.
o Water availability could influence choice of RE technology. Conventional water cooled thermal power plants may be especially vulnerable to conditions of water scarcity and climate change.
From this point on the report is uses projections based on scenarios.
Mitigation potentials and costs
A significant increase in the deployment of RE by 2030, 2050 and beyond is indicated in the majority of the 164 scenarios reviewed in this Special Report11. In 2008, total RE production was roughly 64 EJ/yr (12.9% of total primary energy supply) with more than 30 EJ/yr of this being traditional biomass. More than 50% of the scenarios project levels of RE deployment in 2050 of more than 173 EJ/yr reaching up to over 400 EJ/yr in some cases.
More than half of the scenarios show a contribution from RE in excess of a 17% share of primary energy supply in 2030 rising to more than 27% in 2050. The scenarios with the highest RE shares reach approximately 43% in 2030 and 77% in 2050.
RE can be expected to expand even under baseline scenarios. Most baseline scenarios show RE deployments significantly above the 2008 level of 64 EJ/yr and up to 120 EJ/yr by 2030. By 2050 many baseline scenarios reach RE deployment levels of more than 100 EJ/yr and in some cases up to about 250 EJ/yr.
The scenario review in this Special Report indicates that RE has a large potential to mitigate GHG emissions. Four illustrative scenarios span a range of global cumulative CO2 savings between 2010 and 2050 from about 220 to 560 Gt CO2 compared to about 1530 Gt cumulative fossil and industrial CO2 emissions in the IEA World Energy Outlook 2009 Reference scenario during the same period.
Scenarios do not indicate an obvious single dominant RE technology at a global level; in addition, the global overall technical potentials do not constrain the future contribution of RE. Although the contribution of RE technologies varies across scenarios, modern biomass, wind and direct solar commonly make up the largest contributions of RE technologies to the energy system by 2050.
Individual studies indicate that if RE deployment is limited, mitigation costs increase and low GHG stabilization concentrations may not be achieved.
A transition to a low-GHG economy with higher shares of RE would imply increasing investments in technologies and infrastructure. The four illustrative scenarios analyzed in detail in this Special Report estimate global cumulative RE investments (in the power generation sector
only) ranging from USD2005 1,360 to 5,100 billion for the decade 2011 to 2020, and from USD2005 1,490 to 7,180 billion for the decade 2021 to 2030.
Increasing the installed capacity of RE power plants will reduce the amount of fossil and nuclear fuels that otherwise would be needed in order to meet a given electricity demand.
The annual averages of these investment needs are all smaller than 1% of the world GDP.
Policy, implementation and financing
Barriers to RE deployment include:
- institutional and policy barriers related to existing industry, infrastructure and regulation of the energy system;
- market failures, including non-internalized environmental and health costs, where applicable.
- lack of general information and access to data relevant to the deployment of RE and lack of technical and knowledge capacity; and
- barriers related to societal and personal values and affecting the perception and acceptance of RE technologies.
Although not explicitly stated in this summary, converting the traditional biomass faction of current energy production to some combination of modern biomass, solar, wind (etc) seems to be a priority for several reasons. Obviously to lower the GHG emissions, but also to reduce the health effects of particulate smoke and increase the transfer of technology to developing countries as part of the millennium development goals. As the populations using traditional biomass are frequently not connected to a centralized system, that objection/barrier is not a consideration in the implementation cost for adopting decentralized RE approaches. Obviously, nuclear is not an option for these people (numbering some 1.4 billion - see above).