Greenpeace: Making 100% renewable energy possible

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The investment necessary to move toward 100% renewable energy by 2050 would be more than covered by future savings in fuel costs, according to a new study by Greenpeace, researched in collaboration with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR).

World Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook 2015 also predicts that more jobs would be created in the energy sector – with the solar industry alone employing as many people in the future as the coal industry does today.

The report examines the current state of energy supply, the political challenges of maintaining global temperatures below critical levels and the increasing benefits and breakthroughs of renewable energy that could lead to a 100% sustainable energy future.

“Dynamic change is happening in energy supply, but the change needs to happen faster,” Greenpeace states. “This energy [r]evolution scenario proposes a pathway to a 100% sustainable energy supply, ending CO2 emissions and phasing out nuclear energy, and making redundant new oil exploration in the arctic and deep sea waters such as off the coast of Brazil. It also demonstrates that this transformation increases employment in the energy sector.”

Within 15 years, renewables’ share of electricity could triple from 21% today to 64% — almost two thirds of global electricity supply could come from renewable energy, accordintg to Greenpeace. Even with the rapid development of countries like Brazil, China and India, CO2 emissions could fall from the current 30 gigatonnes a year to 20 gigatonnes by 2030, the study finds.

With regards to jobs, the solar PV industry could employ 9.7 million people by 2030, more than 10 times as many as it does today. Jobs in wind power could grow to 7.8 million over the same period.

Sven Teske of Greenpeace, the lead author of the report, says, "The solar and wind industries have come of age and are cost-competitive with coal. It is very likely they will overtake the coal industry in terms of jobs and energy supplied within the next decade.”

“It’s the responsibility of the fossil fuel industry to prepare for these changes in the labor market and make provisions. Governments need to manage the dismantling of the fossil fuel industry which is moving rapidly into irrelevance.”

Teske adds that every dollar invested in new fossil fuel projects “is high risk capital which might end up as stranded investment.”

The necessary investment is more than covered by savings in future fuel costs. The average additional investment needed in renewables until 2050 is about $1 trillion a year, the report calculates. Because renewables don’t require fuel, the savings over the same period are $1.07 trillion a year, more than meeting the costs of the required investment. The study says the cross-over point could occur between 2025 and 2030.

“We must not let lobbying by vested interests in the fossil fuel industry stand in the way of a switch to renewable energy, the most effective and fairest way to deliver a clean and safe energy future, so more than meet the costs of the investment,” says Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International.

“I would urge all those who say ‘it can’t be done’ to read this report and recognise that it can be done, it must be done and it will be for the benefit of everyone if it is done.”

The Paris climate summit in December will offer global leaders the opportunity to take the necessary and critical steps to fight climate change by accelerating the transformation of the world’s energy sector away from fossil fuels and towards 100% renewable energy by mid-century, Greenpeace states.

“With this Greenpeace scenario, the Paris climate agreement must deliver a long-term vision for phasing out coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy by mid-century, reaching the goal of 100% renewables with energy access for all,” Naidoo adds.

The current situation

The Greenpeace study points out that the energy sector is changing rapidly. “Renewable energy technologies have become mainstream in most countries as a result of dramatically falling prices. A global renewable energy supply is no longer science-fiction, but work in progress.”

Citing data from REN21, the report says renewables contributed 60% of new power generation worldwide last year and in some countries the share was even higher. The three main power generation technologies, solar PV, wind and hydro together added 127 GW of new power generation capacity worldwide in 2014.

This increase in market share has driven huge cost reductions, especially for PV and wind power, forcing other renewable energy technologies to reduce costs, Greenpeace says — and this despite an environment in which subsidies are weighted heavily in favor of fossil fuels, which receive a global annual subsidy of $550 billion, more than double the subsidy for renewables.

Greenpeace describes power generation as “the most dynamic sector.” Renewable energy supplied 21% of electricity generation in 2012, with hydropower being the main renewable source. Heating and transport lag behind. The number of electric vehicles worldwide doubled year on year, however, although the number remains small at 665,000. E-mobility and recent developments in battery storage, including significant cost reductions, could herald a change in the role of renewable energy in the transport sector, the study says.

Good news

While the emissions landscape is changing rapidly, fossil fuels still account for 81.2% of the world’s primary energy supply. Nevertheless, in 2014, for the first time in 40 years, global energy-related CO2 emissions remained stable in spite of continued economic growth, thanks mainly to declining coal consumption in China. If global mitigation efforts are strengthened, Greenpeace states, this trend will continue.

The organization warns, thought that the transition to renewables needs to happen more quickly if it is to keep pace with the growth in energy demand and the necessary replacement of fossil fuel-based energy supply.