Bright future for renewable energy around the globe

duurzame energie_

The world’s sources of renewable energy — solar, wind, hydro, and more — are on a path to overtake coal as the world’s most used energy.

A new report from the International Energy Agency, “World Energy Outlook 2015,” predicts that “renewables will overtake coal as the largest source of electricity generation by the 2030s.”

“Renewables contributed almost half of the world’s new power generation capacity in 2014,” says the report’s executive summary. “The coverage of mandatory energy efficiency regulation worldwide expanded to more than a quarter of global consumption.”

The report advises that as world leaders get ready to meet in Paris on Nov. 30 for the UN Conference on Climate Change, aka COP21, or the 21st Conference of the Parties, “it is more important than ever for policy-makers, industry, and other stakeholders to have a clear understanding of the state of the energy sector today, to see which changes are transient or cyclical, which are here to stay, what risks and opportunities might lie ahead — and what can be done to put the energy system on a more secure and sustainable footing.”

The bad news, of course, is that China has been under-reporting its coal consumption by up to 17 percent, according to a story in The Guardian. The revelation may mean that China “has emitted close to a billion additional tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.” China remains the world’s largest consumer of coal. China has pledged to hit “peak emissions” of coal and make 20 percent of its energy mix renewable by 2030 — and it promises to try to reach that goal more quickly.

Yet China also is No. 2 in the world in the use of solar power, at 18.3 gigawatts, behind only Germany, which leaves all other nations in the dust at 35.5 GW of power. These figures are derived from the amount of installed photovoltaic solar  (PV) energy capacity in each country and come from the blog of Pure Energies, a part of NRG Home Solar.

For those keeping score, Italy is in third place at 17.6 gigawatts (no surprise to me, given the miles of solar farms I saw in southern Italy on a recent trip). Japan is fourth at 13.6 GW (much of it from floating solar farms off Japanese coasts), and the United States is fifth at 12 GW. Last summer, Germany reached a point where it got 78 percent of its daily energy usage from renewable sources.

The use of solar power has increased so much that energy usage measurement had to change from megawatts to gigawatts in just five years. That’s how quickly the solar industry has grown.

The IEA report warns that current low oil prices shouldn’t lull the world into a sense of complacency when it comes to the future of energy. “An extended period of lower oil prices would benefit consumers but would trigger energy-security concerns by heightening reliance on a small number of low-cost producers, or risk a sharp rebound in price if investment falls short,” the report says.

“It would be a grave mistake to index our attention to energy security to changes in the oil price,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, a Turkish economist and energy expert. “Now is not the time to relax. Quite the opposite: a period of low oil prices is the moment to reinforce our capacity to deal with future energy security threats.”

The full report contains much information on current and future energy usage projection and production in the two countries with the largest populations — China and India. Both are making major strides in renewable energy but are striving for the proper balance of economic growth and energy production. India, for example, needs $2.8 trillion in energy investment, as its power structure needs to quadruple by 2040 to keep up with the needs of the population. Currently, 20 percent of the Indian population, or 240 million people, lack access to electricity.

While the report projects that world energy demand will grow by nearly one-third between 2013 and 2040, it makes some recommendations that can be done at no net economic cost, repeating those from a report given months ago:

    • Increasing energy efficiency in the industry, buildings, and transport sectors.
    • Progressively reducing the use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants and banning their construction.
    • Increasing investment in renewable energy technologies in the power sector from $270 billion in 2014 to $400 billion in 2030.
    • Phasing out of remaining fossil-fuel subsidies to end-users by 2030.
    • Reducing methane emissions in oil and gas production.

“The framework for climate action agreed at COP21 needs to provide a procedure which will secure progressively stronger climate commitments over time,” if the world is to keep to an emissions trajectory consistent with the goal of limiting temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, the report concludes. “A clear and credible vision of long-term decarbonization is vital to provide the right signals for investment and to allow a low-carbon, high-efficiency energy sector to be at the core of efforts to combat climate change.”

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