Close to 80% of the world's energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies, a new report shows.
The findings, from over 120 researchers working with the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), also indicate that the rising penetration of renewable energies could lead to cumulative greenhouse gas savings equivalent to 220 to 560 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide through 2050.
The findings, launched after being approved by member countries of the IPCC in Abu Dhabi, are contained in a summary for policymakers in the Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN).
‘The report shows that it is not the availability of the resource, but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades,’ says Ramon Pichs, co-chair of the IPCC's Working Group III. ‘Developing countries have an important stake in this future. This is where most of the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity live, yet also where some of the best conditions exist for renewable energy deployment.’
The SRREN has reviewed the current penetration of onshore and offshore wind, direct solar energy, bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower and ocean energy and their potential deployment over the coming decades.
Wind power capacity installed at the end of 2009 met close to 2% of worldwide electricity demand, according to the SRREN. The review shows a high expansion rate of wind development in North America, Europe and, more recently, China and India.
A greater geographical distribution of wind deployment is likely to be needed to achieve the higher deployments indicated by the scenario literature. Under the demand projection of some scenarios, global wind power share grows to more than 20% by 2050, according to the SRREN.
Over 160 existing scientific scenarios on the possible penetration of renewables by 2050, alongside environmental and social implications, have been reviewed, with four scenarios analyzed in depth.
While the scenarios arrive at a range of estimates, the overall conclusion is that renewables will take an increasing slice of the energy market. The most optimistic of the four in-depth scenarios projects renewable energy accounting for as much as 77% of the world's energy demand by 2050.
Public policies that recognize and reflect the wider economic, social and environmental benefits of renewable energies, including their potential to cut air pollution and improve public health, will be key for meeting the highest renewable energy deployment scenarios, according to the IPCC.