Renewable Energy Can Power the World in 40 Years: IPCC


Photo credit: Tom Rafferty via Flickr/CC BY-SA

So it looks like renewable energy can power the world, after all. And no, it's not some hippie dippy Stanford researchers or a cleantech pioneer making the case this time -- it's the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. You know, the guys who authored that definitive report on the state of climate science that nobody pays any attention to here in the US? The new report argues that the world can get 80% of its power from renewable sources by 2050 -- just as long as governments pursue the kind of policies that would make it happen.As if. Right now, the government of world's biggest energy consumer (that'd be us, the United States), has been deadlocked by a political party that's allergic to climate science, and generally hostile to helping out renewable energy.

Nonetheless, here's the meat of the IPCC's energy report, via the Guardian:

  • The investment that will be needed to meet the greenhouse gas emissions targets demanded by scientists is likely to amount to about $5trn in the next decade, rising to $7trn from 2021 to 2030.

  • the production of renewable energy will have to increase by as much as 20 times in order to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

  • Renewables will play a greater role than either nuclear or carbon capture and storage by 2050, the scientists predict.

  • wave and tidal power were "unlikely to significantly contribute to global energy supply before 2020".

  • Wind power, by contrast, met about 2% of global electricity demand in 2009, and could increase to more than 20% by 2050.

If the "full range of renewable technologies were deployed", the report states, we could get to nearly 80% clean power in under 40 years, and keep the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere below 450 parts per million (scientists say it should be 350).

But there are clearly some massive hurdles between that goal -- for instance, despite the fact that an investment of that size would only cost around 1% of global GDP annually, who's going to come forward with that cash? Right now, global clean tech investment is a mere fraction of that ($240 billion or so) And as always, the notion that such a plan would "cost 1% of GDP" is misleading -- that stat probably doesn't account for the tremendous health benefits and health care savings that would be generated the world over, from cleaner energy production. Such an effort would also spur innovation and create a vibrant global cleantech industry -- which would contribute to GDP in ways that are difficult to predict.

The bottom line is, large-scale deployment of clean energy tech isn't only necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change -- it's probably be a pretty good deal for the health and prosperity of the world's citizens, too.

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