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Renewables will overtake coal as long as climate pledges are kept

By Dr Anthony Horton

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) wind, solar and other renewables will overtake coal and become the world’s premier electricity source by 2030 if the pledges made by countries in the lead up to Paris are met.

According to IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, if today’s energy corporations assume that climate action isn’t going to affect their business they are making a fatal error, akin to assuming that interest rates will stay the same for the next quarter of a century.

In a first for UN climate talks, nearly every country is charged with limiting their greenhouse gas emissions under the global agreement to be signed in Paris this December. The measures tabled by a large number of countries should rapidly reduce fossil fuel use (especially coal) according to the IEA. It also cautions that initiatives launched to date won’t be enough to stop global average temperatures increasing below 2°C, a level which countries had previously agreed shouldn’t be exceeded because it could increase the risk of catastrophic climate change.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Birol explained that for the wellbeing of all of the world’s people, the bond between economic growth and emissions had to be severed. In 2014, carbon dioxide emissions stalled and economic growth across the world grew, which raised speculation that the previously thought inseparable link between economic growth and emissions may be finally splitting. He was adamant that there was no guarantee that carbon dioxide concentrations would plateau in the future as a number of countries are still building coal fired power plants.

The IEA is seeking a long term deadline for the phase out of greenhouse gas emissions as part of the Paris agreement as that will offer stronger guidance for business investment than the current warming limit of 2°C. Last week, the G7 nations backed a phase out of greenhouse gas emissions this century and a sharp reduction by 2050.

The nearly 200 countries negotiating the Paris climate agreement are divided, with some saying that emissions should be almost eliminated by 2050 while others say a firm deadline isn’t necessary. In order to meet climate targets, renewable energy investment would have to rise sharply from the $270 billion reached globally in 2014 in order to power the world’s electricity grids, cars and factories. Renewables accounted for approximately half of all new power plant capacity last year and the IEA expects that share to rise in the near future. They accounted for 22% of global electricity generation compared to coal at 41%, and according to IEA’s analysis of countries’ Paris pledges shows that renewables’ share will increase to 32% by 2030.

Anthony Horton blogs on his own site: The Climate Change Guy

 

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14 comments

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  1. miriamenglish

    It is notoriously difficult to forecast what is going to happen to renewable energy. Even the most optimistic projections tend to underestimate it badly. Here are two graphs I found a couple of days ago relating to wind power and solar power and various groups’ attempts to tell what would happen:

    Cumulative installed global solar photovoltaic capacity

    Cumulative installed global wind capacity

    Note that Greenpeace, who tend to be decried as wild-eyed idealists by politicians and other conservative groups were closest to reality, but even they greatly underestimated the explosive takeoff of renewable energy. (These graphs came from an article http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/graph-of-the-day-renewable-energy-boom-underestimated-by-nearly-all-45906 )

    Another comforting set of graphs I found recently, which I made a bit easier to read so I could post to facebook:

    You can find the original at http://nextgenamerica.org/epa-rule/coal-for-sale-but-whos-buying/

    So I don’t think we need worry too much about dumb politicians. Renewable energy is growing faster than anybody expected, and not even dolts like Tony Abbott and his corrupt flock of vultures can stop it. Sure, they can hurt it, and damage Australia’s potential, but they can’t prevent people seeing that they can save money and give their kids the future that the politicians (other than the Greens) seem so intent on stealing from them.

  2. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Thanks Miriam,

    for the link to your graphs. I will post this to every social media site I can. (Please put a ‘p’ in companies in heading.)

  3. Michael Taylor

    Miriam, one of the downfalls of WordPress.org is that it’s difficult to add images to a comment. Only the links work. There’s probably a way of doing it, but it would be way over my head.

  4. Michael Taylor

    I’ve checked to see if there’s a plugin (widget) that we can install which will allow commenters to attach an image, but it has been untested with our version of WordPress so I’ll sit on it for a while.

  5. miriamenglish

    Thanks Jennifer for catching that. (Big oops!) I am normally very good at seeing typos. I’ve fixed it and also moved the text at the bottom of the graphic up a bit so it isn’t obscured so badly by the stuff facebook plonks on top of it. And thanks for reposting it. Spread it far and wide. 🙂

  6. miriamenglish

    Thanks Michael. I’ll see if I can look into it if I get time.

  7. Harquebus

    Renewables are an alternative only, they are not a solution. Manufacturing, constructing and maintaining them is a waste of precious finite fossil fuel resources and the processes used to manufacture rare earth magnets and polysilicon are very polluting and damage the environment.
    We would do much better to abandon rampant consumerism and conserve precious resources. Forget the economy and growth and so what if a few billionaires go broke.

    Moderator: I’ve posted these before and no one reads them anyway so, feel free to delete them.

    “There’s not one step of the rare earth mining process that is not disastrous for the environment.”

    Big Wind’s Dirty Little Secret: Toxic Lakes and Radioactive Waste

    “China’s rise has come at a horrific social and environmental cost.”
    http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31478-china-s-communist-capitalist-ecological-apocalypse

    “Apart from water and air, humble sand is the natural resource most consumed by human beings.”
    “Sand mining has erased at least two dozen Indonesian islands since 2005.”
    http://www.wired.com/2015/03/illegal-sand-mining/

  8. miriamenglish

    I read them, Harquebus. I’d argue that you’re wrong, though. They truly are a solution. In their current form they are merely a bridge to where we need to go, but they are a less disastrous bridge than fossil fuels. Fossil fuels had their day and were useful for ushering in a new era for humans. The trouble is, it was too much of a good thing and we’ve poisoned our world with their over-use. We have cleaner sources now and can use them to lessen the impact and move to a different growth, where instead of consuming more and more raw materials and growing greater in population we grow in knowledge and culture, while recycling and building to last. A dream? I know a lot of people think so, but there is a swelling of discontent with business-as-usual.

    As for renewable energy, we are gradually moving away from silicon, towards organics. It will take time. I sincerely hope we’ve left enough time. Nobody can say we will make it, and nobody can say we won’t. Research and development proceed at an uneven and accelerating pace. We can use organics. Plants use it for capturing energy from the sun, and they do it using the blind, fumbling process of evolution. We are insightful humans; we may well leapfrog the performance of photosynthesis by designing more efficient capture systems.

    For a long time photosynthesis, in the form of blue-green algae or cyanobacteria was very inefficient. Green plants stepped that up to a much higher level of efficiency. Still later grasses came up with a tiny improvement that lifted their efficiency even higher. All that is done using mere random mutation. We humans have a great advantage over evolution. We can see several steps ahead and connect things that evolution, because of its process could never manage.

  9. diannaart

    Sustainable energy sources, population stability are only 2 aspects of the widely diverse program needed for mitigating the worst of climate change.

    It will require cooperation between nations, corporations and citizens on such an immense scale – I wonder if it is humanly possible.

    Can we put aside our differences long enough to repair and maintain our ecosystem; planet Earth?

  10. miriamenglish

    Michael, this page talks about a very small change that allows commenters to add a single image per comment:
    https://wordpress.org/support/topic/allow-users-to-post-images-in-comments

    It involves editing wp-includes/kses.php and changing it from:

    $allowedtags = array ('a' => array ('href' => array (), 'title' => array ()), 'abbr' => array ('title' => array ()), 'acronym' => array ('title' => array ()), 'b' => array (), 'blockquote' => array ('cite' => array ()),

    to:

    $allowedtags = array ('a' => array ('href' => array (), 'title' => array ()), 'abbr' => array ('title' => array ()), 'acronym' => array ('title' => array ()), 'b' => array (), 'blockquote' => array ('cite' => array ()), 'img' => array ('alt' => array (), 'align' => array (), 'border' => array (), 'height' => array (), 'hspace' => array (), 'longdesc' => array (), 'vspace' => array (), 'src' => array ()),

    save the file then re-upload it.

  11. miriamenglish

    Dianna, yes, ecosystem collapse is a very scary bullet it is getting increasingly difficult to dodge as we move closer and closer toward it.

    The previous horrible LNP Newman QLD government as a last act of vandalism changed the laws about tearing out forests a few days before it was removed from office. The current Labor government doesn’t appear to be eager to return the law to the more ecologically responsible form either. Almost everywhere we look we are trashing the very systems that keep us alive.

    The one thing we have in our favor is that when we finally wake up, life may be able to regrow capacity fairly quickly, especially if we help.

    I’ve mentioned this before, but my parents are total plant geeks. They bought a block of land that had once been a pineapple farm. The ground was dead and badly damaged. All that was growing there was grass. They spent some years toiling patiently away at it. Now, after about 30 years, they have created a rainforest. Actually it was a nice forest about 5 years ago, but it has matured very nicely since then. It is full of birds and flowers and fruits. We can do a pretty good job of fixing things if we try.

    Many of my stories show a future were cities and suburbia have all moved underground, returning the surface to bushland without buildings or roads. It can be done, though the longer we postpone it the harder (and more necessary) it becomes.

  12. Michael Taylor

    Thanks Miriam. I’ll take a look at it.

  13. cartoonmick

    One doesn’t have to be a scientist to realise we are in for major problems if we keep depositing our rubbish in our house.

    Renewable energy sources are the only way to go, and the sooner the better.

    Politicians are the main impediment to any effective action with renewables.

    They need to get the message and take realistic action NOW.

    This cartoon depicts a simple pollution solution . . . . .

    Editorial / Political

    Cheers
    Mick

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