Global Renewable Energy Is Growing, But Is It Fast Enough?

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"Global Renewable Energy Is Growing, But Is It Fast Enough?"

How can we design an energy system that improves the quality of life of those who use it? In an event last Thursday entitled Policy Briefing: The Present and Future of Renewables in the United States and Around the World, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) pointed out that this is the type of question that we should be asking.

While the event highlighted the growth of renewable energy and its future prospects all over the world, Rep. Holt emphasized what he sees as the lack of urgency in deploying the amount of renewables and clean energy needed to really address climate change. He added, “We are losing track in this country [and] we have lost track here in Congress that about now we are barreling past 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere … and that is not driving our energy policy and it should.”

During her presentation on the forthcoming Renewables 2013 Global Status Report (GSR 2013), Renewable Energy Policy Network of the 21st Century (REN21) Executive Secretary Christine Lins shared some good news on the current status of energy policy globally: the number of countries that have renewable energy targets has doubled since 2005 and now includes 120 countries – more than half of which are developing countries.

The GSR 2013 will be published in June, and Lins presented some of the main insights from it, including:

  • Renewable energy makes up 18% of global final energy consumption
  • 25% of global power generation capacity comes from renewable energy
  • Cumulative installed capacity of solar photovoltaics (PV) has reached 101 gigawatts (GW), including 30 GW added in 2012
  • Solar PV module prices fell 40% in 2011 and another 20% in 2012
  • Cumulative installed wind capacity reached 282 GW, including 40 GW added in 2012

The event not only reviewed the current status of renewable energy, but also looked to the future with a presentation by Eric Martinot on the Renewables Global Futures Report (RGFR). Martinot, who authored the report, interviewed 170 leading experts and analyzed current renewable energy projections to provide an outlook on the future of renewable energy.

There were three main takeaways from Martinot’s presentation on the RGFR:

  1. Most industry experts (interviewed by Martinot) believe that shares of renewable energy could reach at least 30-50% in the long term – showing that conservative projections that predict renewable energy shares of less than 20% out to 2040, like those from ExxonMobil, are no longer credible
  2. Renewable energy investment is expected to nearly double by 2020, though many experts agree that higher levels of investment will require new investors and equity sources, such as oil companies, aggregated securities funds, pension funds, insurance funds, etc.
  3. In the transition to greater levels of renewable energy, there will be opportunities for companies other than manufacturers and installers of renewable energy products, including electric power utilities, automakers, oil companies, IT companies and building materials manufacturers

Both the GSR 2013 and the RGFR offered insights into the renewable energy sector, showing positive trends in renewable energy deployment and investment. But, as Rep. Holt said, this growth and the policies that are driving it must be coordinated with our overall climate goals to ensure that it’s enough to drastically reduce our emissions.

If we can do this, we will be able to address climate change in a meaningful way while also improving the quality of life for people around the world.

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35 Responses to Global Renewable Energy Is Growing, But Is It Fast Enough?

  1. fj says:

    Making up for lost time and huge inertia we we must do this as fast as possible.

  2. question says:

    Definitely need to push renewables as fast as possible. I plotted the growth of renewables over the past couple decades. Some hope, and a call to action can be seen in the plot in the link:
    https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B58v5Th2S6GJSGNwYjNzQUkzRlE&usp=sharing

    Clearly the next few years leading up to 2020 are absolutely crucial. If we “stay on the line” and ramp up wind and solar at the same rates as we have been doing recently then wind, solar and hydro will all have about the same contribution to the global energy budget. And all will be acknowledged “major players” with plenty of muscle. If we fall below the line then the replacement of fossil fuels by renewables will be delayed, possibly significantly. So the hopeful part is that we are actually on track right now for a fast transition. The call to action is that the next 7 years are crucial.

  3. question says:

    Definitely need to push renewables as fast as possible. I plotted the growth of renewables over the past couple decades. Some hope, and a call to action can be seen in the plot in the link:
    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B58v5Th2S6GJRm9UZ0gzVWpCbm8/edit?usp=sharing

    Clearly the next few years leading up to 2020 are absolutely crucial. If we “stay on the line” and ramp up wind and solar at the same rates as we have been doing recently then wind, solar and hydro will all have about the same contribution to the global energy budget. And all will be acknowledged “major players” with plenty of muscle. If we fall below the line then the replacement of fossil fuels by renewables will be delayed, possibly significantly. So the hopeful part is that we are actually on track right now for a fast transition. The call to action is that the next 7 years are crucial.

  4. SecularAnimist says:

    Mari Hernandez wrote: “If we can do this, we will be able to address climate change in a meaningful way while also improving the quality of life for people around the world.”

    And the reality that we CAN DO THIS — address climate change while simultaneously improving the quality of life for people around the world — is, of course, exactly the message that the New Deniers strive to shout down with their defeatism and fear-mongering about humanity’s supposed unwillingness to accept the cruel and draconian “sacrifices” that they falsely claim dealing with global warming will necessarily impose.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The people who currently run this planet have no interest in global poverty alleviation, no interest in the ecological health of the planet and one interest in life only. To become as rich and powerful as possible, before they return to the carbon cycle, after which time they have no interest in whether human life goes on or not.

  5. Superman1 says:

    It is not the ‘share’ of renewable energy that is the critical metric; it is the absolute value of fossil fuel use. I know of no credible projections by governmental, inter-governmental, or industry organizations that show this absolute value dropping at all in the foreseeable future, much less dropping the drastic amounts required to save the biosphere.

    • Superman1 says:

      Those who spout the mythology that we can save the biosphere without making drastic personal and economic sacrifices are as credible as James Forrestal in his final days.

      • SecularAnimist says:

        Superman1, you are the poster boy for lack of credibility, since you have NEVER, EVER, not even ONCE, provided ANY factual support WHATSOEVER for any of your defeatist fear-mongering about “drastic sacrifices”. Indeed, you have NEVER, EVER, not even ONCE, specified exactly what these “drastic sacrifices” might be.

        And it’s worth noting in addition, that although you have been repeatedly asked to do so, you have so far failed to mention even ONE “sacrifice” — “drastic” or otherwise — that you yourself have made.

        Nor have you EVER offered anything but bogus, fossil fueled, anti-renewable bumper sticker slogans to support your attacks on the potential of wind and solar technology to rapidly phase-out fossil fuels without requiring “drastic sacrifices” (particularly from the millions of people in the developing world who already use hardly any fossil fuels and have no electricity at all, whose lives can be, and are being, “drastically” improved by solar-powered off-grid rural electrification programs).

        It seems that the only “example” you wish to set is that of a defeatist bloviator with nothing better to do than to attack anyone and everyone who is trying to find a solution to the problem.

        • Superman1 says:

          Offering complete fantasy as you do does not constitute ‘trying to find a solution to the problem’.

          • Superman1 says:

            Further, I have offered copious factual statements about levels of sacrifice required. I’ll repeat some here for the umpteenth time. Kevin Anderson states that ‘planned austerity’ (read as global Depression) is required to meet the 2 C limit, and even admits that 2 C is a factor of two too high.

          • Superman1 says:

            To meet the more severe and realistic 1 C target, we would need far more sacrifice than the global Depression required for a 2 C target. Dr. Tim Garrett states that nothing less than global economic collapse is required. It is actually quite simple to envision how this would have to happen, but it doesn’t meet your political agenda, so it’s disparaged.

          • Superman1 says:

            For all new readers on this site, treat any statements of sacrifice-free solutions to the climate change problem the same way you treat offers of free products in the mail. They have similar credibility. If climate change can be stopped, and it’s a big IF at this point, the most drastic sacrifices would be required from all citizens of this planet. That’s why I have a hard time seeing how it can be stopped, and have an easy time understanding why no serious progress is being made to sharply reduce the use of fossil fuels.

          • Brooks Bridges says:

            I just googled “Kevin Anderson” to obtain some background for your “copious factual statements”. I got 1) Kevin Anderson (actor) 2) Kevin Anderson (tennis) 3) Kevin Anderson (Author) Kevin Anderson (digital research editor) and more.

            Who is this person we are supposed to totally accept as the last word on doom?

            And once again I ask – What is the purpose of your, certainly copious statements, that we are doomed? Obviously there are degrees of “doom”. By constantly saying we live in la la land do you hope to inspire greater effort to avert greater doom? Do you feel it is only if “We’re f**ked” sinks in to every person on the planet that we’ll do more? You are not nearly as specific as to the action you wish to provoke as you think you are.

          • Superman1 says:

            Brooks, I mentioned two names: Kevin Anderson and Tim Garrett. Anderson was Director of the Tyndall Research Center, the UK’s top climatology research center. He is now a Professor at the University of Manchester, and has written a series of papers in the last few years that I believe are the best in linking climate science and policy. Garrett is a Professor at University of Utah, and has written on the linkage between economics and climate.

          • Superman1 says:

            Brooks, ” You are not nearly as specific as to the action you wish to provoke as you think you are.” See my response to Ed below. I believe, based on the latest science, we have no remaining room to maneuver; the options left are clear. Convince me otherwise!

          • Raul M. says:

            Several years ago there was a program 4 degrees (?) where the speaker told of how action was required immediately. He even told of a very cold reception to the news. Well it’s several years later and the news has become (worse ?).

    • Ed Leaver says:

      I notice question and fj have provided links supporting their contentions. I happen to agree its total fossil fuel consumption and ghg emission that counts. Increasing renewables share is but a hopeful trend, but we’ll have to do far better than what the figures on pages 10, 16, and 18 of the standard industry bau projection out to 2030 suggests. From these one might guess 240 Gt oil equivalent consumed as fossil fuel the next 18 years, emitting maybe 220 Gt of the “560 Gt Carbon” Dr. Hansen thinks we might get away with if we’re feeling lucky. Which would subsequently require a pretty abrupt reversal and essentially no ff consumption after about 2060 if that’s what we really want to make.

      As an aside, “installed power (GW) capacity” remains a fairly meaningless indicator of “deliverable energy (GWh) delivered at the time the customer needs it.” The UNSW study linked by JR and JS shows (one) correct way to go about obtaining a workable mix.

      • Superman1 says:

        Ed, Our options depend on where we think we are now, and how much room we have to maneuver. Kevin Anderson thinks 1 C is a scientifically plausible limit, but uses 2 C in his computations because I believe he thinks 1 C is infeasible.

        • Superman1 says:

          We’re at 0.8 C and the Arctic ice cap is essentially gone. What happens afterwards is anyone’s guess, but it’s a very risky situation. In my view, we’re over the allowable CO2 concentration limit now, and any further emissions place us further out on the limb.

          • Superman1 says:

            I find it hard to agree with anyone who says we have a 500 GT budget left before we run into trouble. My only take on those statements is that they are for political reasons rather than technical ones, like many of the posts here. Given where I believe we are now, the only remaining options are the harshest cutbacks possible.

          • Ed Leaver says:

            I don’t disagree with you. But the 560 GtC figure is Jim Hansen’s, not mine. (Neither am I a climatologist.)

  6. fj says:

    Many commonsense strategies can save a huge amount of energy and environment.

    Ho Chi Minh City Scrambling to Put Transit in Place Before People Start Buying Cars

    http://m.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/04/ho-chi-minh-city-scrambles-put-transit-place-people-start-buying-cars/5413/

  7. onyerlefty says:

    Nuclear power is our only chance. With 1 plant/week we could stabilize carbon by 2050.

    Put the toys away, time for power tools.

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      Poisoning the planet in order to save it! ME

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        But think of the profits, ME, in one of the few industries that only grows more and more expensive over time, and which the state (ie the peasants) must underwrite and repair the ecological damage from. Nuclear is the ultimate ‘Free Lunch’ for the parasite elite. What’s not to love? It helps delay renewables, too, another win for the Bosses.

      • quokka says:

        Except nuclear power isn’t “poisoning the planet”. The contribution to background radiation from the nuclear fuel cycle is trivial. On a planetary scale, nuclear power is a complete wimp in the pollution contest.

        About ten million tonnes of toxic industrial chemicals are dumped into the environment annually. Two million of those are carcinogens. Add to that air pollution from fossil fuels, use of ag chemicals, fertilizer run off etc etc, and it is abundantly clear that chemical pollutants are many orders of magnitude worse problem than anything produced by the nuclear power industry ever could be.

        How many species of life are under direct or indirect risk of extinction due to the use of nuclear power? Is there even one species?

        • Merrelyn Emery says:

          Have you seen the graphs for accelerating disasters? How long before another power plant or dump gets hit? Safety depends on stability and that’s long gone, ME

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          quokka, a lesser evil is still evil. And totally unnecessary if we go with renewables. I can see one use for nuclear. To burn up the waste that earlier generations of nuclear lunatics built up, then close them down for good. We won’t need them, so why take the risk of another Fukushima?

        • Ed Leaver says:

          “Abundantly” is relative. In 2010-2011 US averaged about 800 TWh electric from nukes per year. Figuring 2.2 lb/kWh from coal and 1.3 lb/kwh from gas, and ignoring wind & solar (for now) because they are not direct replacements, our current nuclear plant is avoiding 770 million tonnes CO2 (coal equivalent), or 480 million tonnes if from gas each year, the former being 0.04% of our allotted 560*(44/12)=2050 Tt CO2 (unless Hansen really meant 560 GT CO2, in which case its 0.14%), evenly distributed through about 4.2 billion cubic kilometers of air, each contributing its share to our ongoing climate catastrophe. In contrast, US nuclear plant generates about 2 kilotonnes Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) which we in the US choose to consider “waste”. At a density of about 8, if concentrated this 2,000,000 kg SNF would occupy 250 cubic meters, a cube less than 10m on a side, but in fact needs be distributed through whatever volume of steel, concrete and rock is required to give it enough thermal space to cool. The stuff is hot, and it takes a while to cool down. About 250,000 years, after which you’ve still got a plutonium mine good for another couple million (for whatever its worth). But SNF, though no longer suitable for light-water reactor (LWR) consumption, still contains over 95% of its original fissionable energy. One suggested alternative is to burn spent light-water reactor fuel in fast neutron reactors, such the IFRs proposed by GE-Hitachi to burn the UK’s surplus plutonium. Such commercial fast reactors have yet to be built and, if one includes the depleted uranium already produced during LWR fuel fabrication, face the daunting challenge of burning through some thousand years worth of already accumulated fuel. And that’s only if the entire country were powered by the miserable things. Pick your poison.

          • quokka says:

            Of course “abundantly” is relative. I’m certainly not advocating it, but you could probably dump all the DU in the world into the deep ocean trenches and the adverse effects would be minimal compared to chemical pollution. There already several billion tonnes of U in the oceans. Even the global effects of fallout from the lunacy of atmospheric weapons testing when something like 14 tonnes of Pu were blown up in the atmosphere are very likely smaller by orders of magnitude than those of chemical pollution.

            As for SNF, after a few years it can go into dry cask storage. It just sits there, occupies relatively little land, has minimal environmental impact and generally quite innocuous. There is a world of difference between potentially dangerous materials that are managed securely and those that are not. Our descendants might have to deal with some of it but the problem is MUCH easier than drawing down many gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere and much less risky than whatever geo engineering measures might need to be adopted to cool the planet.

            In any case, large scale nuclear power expansion would almost certainly, sooner or later, demand transition to a closed fuel cycle. There are no intrinsic barriers to doing this and no reason to believe that for example PRISM would not do what it says on the tin. The things that separate PRISM from all other fast reactors – eg metal fuel, full indefinite passive cooling in the event of station blackout, passive safety even in a failure to SCRAM scenario – have all been developed and comprehensively tested at Argonne. It’s time to get on with it.

            All energy technologies have their downsides (including all renewable technologies). Our circumstances demand a far more honest assessment of capabilities and collateral damage than in what currently passes for energy debate. Material from 1970s anti-nuclear leaflets no longer cuts it. Time is short.

    • fj says:

      With the $billions in subsidies and cost overruns and lots of other waste you’ll require a lot more can be done with sensible clean tech.

  8. fj says:

    It is not really clear that the sacrifices will be that difficult.

    If we manage to get the crisis under control people will have favorite things that they might have to give up but people in the developed world will probably have good lives.

    In the developing world eradicating poverty will likely be the easiest and best way to keep the entire civilization stable and working together with a strong sense of purpose and community.

  9. fj says:

    In a huge number of instances there is a lot of waste which can easily be eliminated with no real hardship.c

  10. fj says:

    By far the most hardship will come from extreme climate events.

  11. fj says:

    It wont be much of a sacrifice to breathe clean air or not get stuck in traffic for two hours.