What Will Renewable Energy Look Like In 2030?

Like many others, the International Renewable Energy Association has released a global road map to clean energy. But unlike others, IRENA’s REmap 2030 is looking to double renewable energy worldwide by 2030, using technologies available today. The hope is to increase efficiency and access in hopes of advancing “the share of renewables in the global energy mix up to 36 percent,” the report said.

The no-brainer? The cost to do so is nothing compared to the cost of sitting idly by while catastrophic climate change annually rings up billions in losses, damage and tragedy.

“When considering climate change mitigation, health impact and job creation, the transition practically pays for itself,” said IRENA’s director-general Adnan Z. Amin in a press release. “More renewables in the energy system provide greater flexibility, increase energy independence, and make the system more resilient.”

“A 2005 study projected the cost of climate inaction to be more than twice the cost of climate action, plus climate damages we’ve already essentially locked in,” CleanTechnica director Zachary Shahan told SolarEnergy. (Check out his informative breakdown of REmap 2030.)

“Since then, the effects of global warming have come faster and stronger than projected, and the expected effects of global warming have gotten worse,” Shahan added. “Meanwhile, we’ve been slow to implement the necessary solutions. The cost of implementing solutions as quickly as possibly is insignificant compared to the cost of not implementing these solutions.”

REmap 2030’s suggested solutions seem to make obvious sense. Deployment of modern renewables (excluding biomass) needs to be accelerated threefold. Energy taxes and subsidies need to be overhauled to cut off the cash pipeline to the fossil fuel industry. Solar is the renewable champ in IRENA’s future mix, needing to grow twelvefold from 100GW to 1250 GW. Solar thermal comes in next with a needed tenfold growth, wind with a fivefold growth, while hydropower has room to grow around 60 percent. More troubling solutions like biofuels are projected to grow sixfold, which is a problem given all the arable land global warming is taking away from us.

“Biofuels come with a host of issues regarding our food supply, water supply, and climate,” Shahan said. “I was disappointed to see such high biofuel growth in the report.”

IRENA’s “five areas of national action” read more diaphanous: “Planning realistic but ambitious transition pathways; creating an enabling business environment; managing knowledge of technology options and their deployment; ensuring smooth integration of renewables into the existing infrastructure; and unleashing innovation,” Dolf Gielen, director of IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre in Germany, said in the press release.

Gielen’s terminological haze is by no means limited to IRENA’s report: Most other roadmaps to clean energy, originating from dirty fuel titans like Exxon to renewable disruptors like Greenpeace, are often hard to read, much less follow, sometimes on purpose.

“Projections vary wildly based on assumptions used, and are used by different companies and organizations in order to not only prepare for the future but to also try to shape it,” explained Shahan, who lunched with Gielen after IRENAs report landed. “REmap’s overall projections fall approximately halfway between projections from Exxon and leading environmental nonprofits like the World Wildlife Federation and Greenpeace. I asked Gielen why IRENA’s projections were so much lower than those of WWF & Greenpeace’s — as it’s quite obvious Exxon’s is on the pessimistic end — and his answer was that those more optimistic projections assumed a much greater increase in energy efficiency. The renewable energy growth projections were actually very similar.”

IRENA has calibrated for that discrepancy by clearly claiming that our renewable energy future could be much brighter if we would just retire our fossil fuel plants already. Their obsolete, lethal energy and business models are sucking up much-needed money and innovation from other deserving sectors, such as solar, which is adding jobs to the American economy at ten times the national average.

In the final analysis, IRENA’s roadmap may seem ambitious, but that’s only if you count how lazy we have treated catastrophic climate change. It leaves room for acceleration if we somehow hurry up and electrify Earth’s fleets or get lucky with a technological breakthrough. But what renewable champions are left with is an even-handed plan for a brighter future that might come if we modestly upped our game.

“It’s an ambitious but realistic projection,” Shahan told SolarEnergy. “It leaves room for positive surprise, but it also leaves a buffer for difficulties along the way.”

This article appeared at Solar Energy