UN Report Claims Renewable Energy to Grow 10-Fold in Next 40 Years

Released yesterday by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the report claims that close to 80 percent of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies.

Over 160 existing scientific scenarios on the possible penetration of renewables by 2050, alongside environmental and social implications, have been reviewed with four analyzed in-depth. These four were chosen in order to represent the full range.

The most optimistic of the four, in-depth scenarios projects renewable energy accounting for as much as 77 percent of the world’s energy demand by 2050.

Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, Co-Chair of the working group that released the report expressed his confidence in the scientific and technological validity of the report. "The IPCC allowed us to bring together a broad spectrum of experts on each of the technologies reviewed in collaboration with scientists studying energy systems as a whole. It represents a systemic, broad, impartial and state of knowledge report on the present and future potential of a low carbon, more resource efficient energy path" he said.

The 120 researchers participating in the project also studied the challenges linked to how renewable energy can be integrated into existing and future energy systems including electricity grids and likely cost benefits from these developments.

Though in some cases renewable energy technologies are already economically competitive, the production costs are currently often higher than market energy prices. However, if environmental impacts such as emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases were monetized and included in energy prices, more renewable energy technologies may become economically attractive.

The report emphasizes that 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 renewables deployment scenarios.

While the report concludes that the proportion of renewable energy will likely increase even without enabling policies, past experience has shown that the largest increases come with concerted policy efforts.

The six renewable energy technologies reviewed are:

  • Bioenergy, including energy crops; forest, agricultural and livestock residues and so called second generation biofuels
  • Direct solar energy including photovoltaics and concentrating solar power
  • Geothermal energy, based on heat extraction from the Earth’s interior
  • Hydropower, including run-of-river, in-stream or dam projects with reservoirs
  • Ocean energy, ranging from barrages to ocean currents and ones which harness temperature differences in the marine realm
  • Wind energy, including on- and offshore systems

For more information on the report, please visit the IPPC.