In May 2011, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a literature study assessment of the contribution of six major renewable energy sources (REs) to the mitigation of climate change. In the majority of the scenarios, REs are expected to become the dominant climate change mitigation option by 2030. The report ranks them ahead of improved energy efficiency, nuclear power, and fossil fuels as well as carbon capture and storage (CCS). RE growth is expected to be the strongest in developing countries.
The IPCC report is based on 164 global scenarios from 16 different large-scale integrated models. The renewables considered are bioenergy, direct solar energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, ocean energy, and wind energy.
The baseline scenario described in the report reckons on a continuation of the global carbon intensity of the year 2007, which is projected to lead to CO2 concentrations of 600 ppm by 2050. Even in this most negative scenario, REs are expected to expand by 60% to 400% by 2050. This is mainly because:
The most positive scenarios described in the report presume a strong global climate policy aimed at stabilizing CO2 concentrations at 440 ppm. In these positive scenarios, renewables are expected to expand from 12.9% of the world primary energy supply in 2008 to 43% by 2030 and 77% by 2050.
The report divides the world into Annex I countries (OECD plus Russia, Belorussia, and the Ukraine) and Non-annex I countries. Widespread growth is expected with the deployment of RE around the world, but the largest installed capacity in the long-term is projected for Non-annex I countries.
By 2030, the installed capacity of the RE technologies listed above - not including wind energy - is expected to be the greatest in Non-annex I countries. Concerning wind energy, the report projects that the majority of such capacity by 2050 can also expected to be located in Non-annex I countries. The main causes of this massive deployment in these countries are again the limited long-term availability of fossil fuels and the ability of REs to provide energy access in remote areas. The ability of non-thermal RE to provide energy without additional stress on water supply can also become an important asset in many developing countries.
The average 'levelized cost' of energy for most RE technologies is currently still higher than existing energy prices, as long as the external costs are not monetized. The 'levelized cost' means the cost of an energy generating system over its lifetime. However, in certain settings, RE systems are already competitive. The average levelized costs of all six technologies described in the report are declining and expected technical advances will result in further cost reductions.
The report does not expect a single RE technology to dominate the global market.
The development of RE is crucial in all of the climate change mitigation scenarios that aim at a carbon concentration below the baseline scenario of 600 ppm. Without massive (government) investments in RE, the cost of GHG emission mitigation will grow very high. In short: climate change mitigation without support for renewables is not realistic.
The investments in RE technology required in the different scenarios range between USD2005 130 and 720 billion annually. The latter figure is five times the global RE investments in 2009 but still below 1% of the world GDP.
Most studies stress that the combined government support of both R&D and market deployment is the most rational strategy. A combination of both types of support increases the effectiveness of investments, since it creates a positive feedback cycle that attracts private money.
Two types of market failures create a rationale for this support:
In order to be effective, policy frameworks should be systematic and provide stability over a timeframe relevant to the investments.
The IPCC literature study points out that electricity is expected to attain a higher share of RE compared to other energy carriers in the coming decades. For this reason, the development of RE goes hand in hand with the development of:
Development in those four technology domains will stimulate the development in RE technology and vice versa.Log in to post comments