Road Transport: The Cost of Renewable Solutions

The latest in a steadily expanding series of costing studies from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) describes “an increasingly positive outlook” for the use of renewable energy in road transport from 2020 onward.
Road Transport: The Cost of Renewable Solutions (80 pages; English only), says the signs are encouraging, but continued research and development, funded by both public and private sources, remains essential. As are continued investments in recharging stations for electric cars and refuelling stations for biomethane vehicles.
“The signs are promising: a range of technology pathways are being explored, amid competition to prove the efficiency, reliability and ‘up-scalability’ of innovative new renewable transport fuels,” said IRENA’s Director-General, Adnan Z. Amin. “Electric vehicles, using renewable electricity, are also part of the intensifying competition, with mass-produced plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles appearing from a range of manufacturers, and costs will keep coming down with wider deployment.”
But policy changes, and short-sighted reactions to budgetary constraints, could undermine important achievements to ready the transport sector for a sustainable energy future just when the outlook appears so promising.
“Delaying, or rolling back, support and infrastructural investment for these renewable technologies at this stage would endanger the progress made towards aspirational targets for future years,” Mr Amin warned.
Renewable energy use is low in the transport sector, accounting for only 2.5% of energy consumption for all types of transport, and 3.3% for road transport.
Conventional biofuels have suffered due to price volatility of their feedstocks, which are closely tied to food crops. Advanced biofuels – with less linkage to food prices – are just starting to be produced at commercial scale and need further support for research, development and deployment to find the least cost-technologies.
“While the road just ahead is challenging, we can now see the beginnings of widely available, competitive renewable options for transport,” IRENA’s Director-General, Adnan Z. Amin.
The report entitled Road Transport: The Cost of Renewable Solutions was released today (3 July) at the United Nations Office at Geneva on the occasion of the annual meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
In 2010, land, air and sea transport together accounted for around 26% of total final energy consumption, down from around 27% in 2000. The energy consumption for transport increased by 1.9% per year between 2000 and 2010, increasing from 79.5 EJ to 96.3 EJ in 2010.
Energy consumption in the transport sector is dominated by road transport, which accounted for 76% of total transport demand in 2010. Aviation accounted for 11% of energy consumption in the transport sector in 2010, with 62% of this consumption coming from international aviation, up from 52% in 2000. Sea transport also accounted for around 11% of total transport consumption in 2010, up from 10% in 2000.
Land transport energy consumption is dominated by road transport, which accounts for 76% of energy consumed and is the focus of this report. Oil products dominate the road transport sector, although their share has fallen from 99% in 2000 to 95% in 2010. In 2000, 59 EJ of oil was consumed for road transport globally, compared to 0.4 EJ of biofuels and biogas, 0.1 EJ of natural gas and virtually no electricity.
By 2010, oil consumption globally for road transport had grown to 70 EJ, but biofuels had risen almost sixfold to 2.4 EJ and accounted for 3.3% of road transport energy consumption. Natural gas consumption grew sevenfold between 2000 and 2010 to reach 0.9 EJ in 2010.
Electricity consumption for road transport actually fell between 2000 and 2010.