IPCC – Wind energy and solar power have the potential to outstrip demand for energy by 2020

Renewable energies such as wind turbines or solar power are set to surge by 2050, and expected advances in technology will bring significant cost cuts, a draft United Nations report showed. The most comprehensive U.N. overview of the sector to date said renewables excluding bioenergy, which is mainly firewood burned in developing nations for cooking and heating, could expand by three to 20 times by mid-century.

"The cost of most renewable energy technologies has declined, and significant additional technical advancements are expected," the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a draft obtained by Reuters, based on a review of 164 scenarios. "Further cost reductions are expected, resulting in greater potential for climate change mitigation and reducing the need for policy measures to ensure rapid deployment," it said. The IPCC is to meet in Abu Dhabi from May 5-13.

“This study will establish itself as ‘the bible’ of renewable energy for the coming years,” said Sven Teske, renewable energy director of Greenpeace International and a lead author of the report. “It’s one of the most comprehensive surveys of all the different technologies and their costs.” The full report is about 1,000 pages, Teske said. He declined to comment on the report’s contents. Renewable energy for electricity, heating and transport is set to increase by a factor of three to 20 by 2050, according to the “majority” of scenarios examined, the panel said in the summary draft.

It said most scenarios pointed to a "substantial increase in the deployment of renewable energy by 2030, 2050 and beyond." In 2008 renewable energy production accounted for about 12.9 percent of global primary energy supply and was dominated by bioenergy with 10.2 percent, followed by hydropower, wind energy, geothermal energy, solar power and ocean energy.

The projected expansion is likely to continue even without new measures to promote a shift from fossil fuels as part of a U.N.-led fight against climate change, it said. U.N. talks on a new deal to combat global warming have made little progress. A summit in Copenhagen in 2009 failed to agree on a binding treaty to combat global warming, which IPCC blames mainly on emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Costs of renewables have been a hurdle. "The levelized cost of energy for many renewable energy technologies is currently higher than market energy prices, though in other cases renewable energy is already economically competitive," the report said.

The draft, written before Japan’s nuclear disaster in March, also said renewables by 2010 would probably account for a bigger share of low-carbon energies than nuclear power and fossil fuels from which greenhouse gases are captured and buried. The 30-page summary for policymakers, part of a Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources, will be published on May 9.

The summary is due to guide governments, investors and companies, including wind turbines firms such as Denmark’s Vestas and Suzlon and solar photovoltaic firms such as First Solar or Suntech Power Holdings. Most of the 164 scenarios showed renewable energies would rise to supply above 100 exajoules (EJ) a year by 2050, reaching 200-400 EJ a year in many scenarios. That is up from 64 EJ in 2008, when world supply was 492 EJ, it said. The exajoule, or 10 to the 18th power joules, is a typical measure of global energy use.
Deployment of renewables has leapt in recent years. About 140 gigawatts of added electricity generating capacity came from renewables in 2008-09 of a world total of 300 GW, it said.

The review of 164 scenarios showed that renewable energies could lead to cumulative carbon dioxide savings of 220-560 billion tonnes from 2010 to 2050. That compares with 1.53 trillion tonnes of cumulative fossil and industrial carbon dioxide emissions in a reference scenario for the same years.

Global renewables investments, in four illustrative scenarios, were forecast at $1.36-$5.1 trillion for the decade to 2020 and $1.49-$7.18 trillion from 2012-30. Real costs would be lower, due to factors including savings on other energies.The report is called the “Renewables Bible,” and will serve as a reference guide for renewable energy growth. The report indicates that there’s enough potential for the six renewable energy sources — which also include geothermal power, biomass fuel, hydropower and power harnessed from oceanic waves — can grow 20-fold over the next decade. The United Nations examined 164 scenarios to come to the conclusion in a comprehensive survey of the current renewable energy environment.

But in reality, only around 2.5 percent of that potential growth will happen based on the current growth trajectory for renewable energy, according to the report. That’s because a complete shift to renewable energy sources will cost global markets around $12.3 trillion by 2030. Global markets will have to invest around $5.1 trillion over the next decade and an as much as an extra $7.1 trillion between 2020 and 2030 to complete the shift.

Most of the scenarios examined by the United Nations still pointed to a substantial increase in the amount of renewable energy deployed by 2020 and 2030. Global markets added around 140 gigawatts of power from renewable sources between 2008 and 2009, bringing the world total up to around 300 gigawatts. That’s mostly dominated by biomass energy sources, which account for around 10 percent of renewable energy generation.

Paris-based International Energy Agency said that a total of $20 trillion needs to be spent on energy infrastructure to expand it and meet demand by 2030. Right now, renewable energy sources account for around 13 percent of global energy usage. In some of the best scenarios, renewable energy would account for up to 77 percent of global energy usage by 2050.

Renewable energy accounted for 12.9 percent of global primary energy supply in 2008. The top contributor was biomass (10.2 percent) — mainly firewood used in developing nations — ahead of hydropower (2.3), wind (0.2), direct solar energy and geothermal (0.1 each) and ocean (0.002 percent).

RECENT EXPANSION – Of about 300 gigawatts of new electricity generating capacity added globally in 2008 and 2009, 140 GW came from RE. Developing countries host more than 50 percent of global RE power generation capacity, with China adding more capacity than any other country in 2009.

OUTLOOK – "Studies have consistently found that the total global technical potential for renewable energy is substantially higher than both current and projected future global energy demand." Solar power has the highest technical potential.

CLIMATE CHANGE – Climate change could affect renewable energy availability — trees might grow in different regions, cloud formation could affect solar power and rainfall shifts can affect hydropower. "Research into these possible effects is nascent," it said.

COSTS/TECHNOLOGY – "The levelized cost of energy for many renewable energy technologies is currently higher than market energy prices, though in other cases renewable energy is already economically competitive."

More renewable energy technologies would be economically attractive if impacts such as greenhouse gases emissions were included.

"The cost of most renewable energy technologies has declined and significant additional technical advancements are expected…further cost reductions are expected."

Areas of potential improvement range from next-generation biofuels to turbine designs for offshore wind energy. Further cost reductions for hydropower are "likely to be less significant" than some other renewable energy technologies.

DEVELOPMENT – Renewable energy can help development goals in poor nations. In poor rural areas lacking grid access, renewable energy can lead to substantial cost savings already.

REVIEW OF 164 EXPERT SCENARIOS – Shows renewable energy could give carbon dioxide savings of between 220 billion and 560 billion tonnes from 2010 to 2050 compared to 1,530 billion tonnes of cumulative fossil and industrial CO2 emissions in a reference scenario.

In most scenarios reviewed, renewable energy makes a higher contribution to low-carbon energy supply by 2050 than the options of nuclear power and fossil carbon capture and storage.

In 2008, total renewable energy production stood at roughly 64 exajoules (EJ). In contrast, projected levels of RE deployment in 2050 are greater than 100 EJ/yr in most scenarios and reach 200 EJ/yr to 400 EJ/yr in many scenarios.

"An increase of production level of renewable energy (excluding traditional bioenergy) anywhere from roughly three-fold to twenty-fold is necessary," it said.

"The scenarios indicate that even without efforts to address climate change renewable energy can be expected to expand."

"Scenarios do not indicate an obvious single dominant renewable energy technology at a global level."

POLICIES – "A shift to a low-carbon economy based largely on renewable energy will require additional policies to attract significant increases in investment in technologies and infrastructure."

Four illustrative scenarios estimate global investments ranging from $1.36 to $5.10 billion for 2011-20, and from $1.49 to $7.18 billion for the decade 2021-30. Real costs will be lower, partly because of savings in other energy investments.