What role can renewables play in fighting climate change and providing primary energy?

Renewable energy has a key role to play in the energy mix of countries in the 21st century. Renewable power currently represents about 11% of energy source predominantly from hydropower, wind, solar and hydro power. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), in 2018 renewable energy mix was represented by 63% renewable hydropower, 18.1% onshore wind energy and 8.3% solar.

However solar and wind power are rapidly becoming more viable as a primary source of energy as the latest generations of these clean technologies become cheaper and cost effective. In 2014 there were only three countries in the world where wind was the
cheapest source of energy, and no country for solar. By 2019, 12 countries cheapest source of energy was wind, and in 11 countries where solar was cheapest (see graph below).

And solar and wind do not need to be the cheapest source of energy to be more propagated, just cost competitive. According to Al Gore, 5 years ago solar and wind were only cost competitive in 1% of the world, today this is 2/3rds of the world and in 5 years-
time predicted to be true for 100% of the world. This bodes very well for the developing world. As they build their energy systems, they can leap-frog old dirty technology and go straight to clean sources of power.

Which countries have embraced wind and solar?

 

According to the Wind Energy Agency, global capacity by 2019 had reached 650,758 GWh (above), with China providing 36.3% of the total world’s capacity at 236,402 GWh, the USA, the second largest producer at 16.2% at 105,466 GWh and Germany third at 9.4%. Wind capacity is being created constantly though Asia’s lead is notable.

According to IRENA, China also solar capacity leads with 32.6% of total global capacity producing 178,070 GWh of electricity generation, again with the USA as second producer but approximately 2.5 times less at 85,184 GWh, and Japan third at 62,667 GWh.

 

China’s commitment to clean power is not confined to renewable power construction and use. Production of solar and wind equipment is predominantly Chinese. 7/10 of the world’s largest solar companies are Chinese and 5/10 of world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers are Chinese.

 

According to McKinsey’s Report Energy Insights’ Global Perspective Jan 2019,  after more than a century of rapid growth, global fossil fuel as a primary energy demand will plateau around 2030, primarily driven by the penetration of renewable energy sources into the energy mix. They are predicting a de-coupling of energy growth from economic growth for the first time in history, with global GDP forecast to double between 2016 and 2050 but global primary energy demand to only grow 14%. The predict that renewables, coupled with nuclear, will double their share in the overall energy mix from now until 2050 (from 19% to 34%) and will provide more than half the electricity by 2035.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carbon emissions are projected to decline due to decreasing coal demand, oil demand growth slows substantially also with a projected peak in the early 2030’s, though McKinsey project gas will continue to grow its share of the global energy demand plateauing after 2035. These projections conclude that the Paris Agreement goal of no more than 2 degrees of warming since the pre-industrial era is still not achievable under this scenario.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In short, the growth of renewable energy across the world, especially in Asia, is a vital part of the program to mitigate the effects of climate change. The technology is now cost competitive and available although research and development continues to create even
more efficiencies and we still need to conquer the challenge of storage of renewable power.

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Source: Wind Energy International Organisation

Source: Wind Energy International Organisation

Source: IRENA

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